Cameron hasn't created "a million" private sector jobs

How the PM is misleading voters about the government's economic record.

One of David Cameron's favourite boasts is that "one million new jobs" have been created in the private sector since the coalition came to power. The claim appeared in his conference speech and he repeated it at today's PMQs. It's an impressive stat, cited by Cameron as proof that "our economy is rebalancing". The problem, however, is that it's not true.

The most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that private sector employment has risen by 1.07 million in the two years since the coalition took office (the figures are for June 2010-June 2012), so, at first glance, Cameron's claim might appear to be correct. But what the Prime Minister doesn't want you to know is that a significant part of this increase was due to the reclassification of 196,000 further education and sixth form college teachers as private sector employees. As the ONS stated:

These educational bodies employed 196,000 people in March 2012 and the reclassification therefore results in a large fall in public sector employment and a corresponding large increase in private sector employment between March and June 2012.

If we strip out these 196,000 jobs, the increase in private sector employment is a less impressive 874,000.

Yet, far from correcting this error, Cameron compounded it by today boasting that there were a "million more people in work" than when Labour left office, a claim that takes no account of the 432,000 public sector jobs lost since June 2010 (who says there haven't been cuts?). The true rise in employment is 462,000 (from 29,128,000 to 29,590,000), or 538,000 less than the figure used by Cameron.

After complaining for years about Gordon Brown's manipulation of economic statistics, the government came to power promising a new regime of transparency. But Cameron's willful distortion of the facts on employment suggests he isn't prepared to practice what he preached.

David Cameron makes a speech on crime at The Centre For Social Justice earlier this week. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How worried are Labour MPs about losing their seats?

Despite their party's abysmal poll ratings, MPs find cause for optimism on the campaign trail. 

Labour enters the general election with subterranean expectations. A "good result", MPs say, would be to retain 180-200 of their 229 MPs. Some fear a worse result than 1935, when the party won just 154 seats. Rather than falling, the Conservatives' poll lead has risen as the prospect of electing a government concentrates minds (last night's YouGov survey, showing the Tories a mere 16 points ahead, was an exception).

Though Conservative strategists insist they could lose the election, in an attempt to incentivise turnout, their decision to target Labour MPs with majorities as high as 8,000 shows the scale of their ambitions (a Commons majority of circa 150 seats). But as well as despair, there is hope to be found in the opposition's ranks.

Though MPs lament that Jeremy Corbyn is an unavoidable drag on their support, they cite four reasons for optimism. The first is their local reputation, which allows them to differentiate themselves from the national party (some quip that the only leaflets on which Corbyn will feature are Tory ones). The second is that since few voters believe the Labour leader can become Prime Minister, there is less risk attached to voting for the party (a point some MPs make explicit) "The problem with Ed Miliband and the SNP in 2015 was that it was a plausible scenario," a shadow minister told me. "It was quite legitimate for voters to ask us the question we didn't want to answer: 'what would you do in a hung parliament?' If voters have a complaint it's usually about Jeremy but it's not the case that he looks like he can become prime minister."

The third reason is the spectre of an omnipotent Tory government. MPs appeal to voters not to give Theresa May a "free hand" and to ensure there is some semblance of an opposition remains. Finally, MPs believe there is an enduring tribal loyalty to Labour, which will assert itself as polling day approaches. Some liken such voters to sports fans, who support their team through thick and thin, regardless of whether they like the manager. Outgoing MP Michael Dugher (who I interviewed this week) was told by an elderly woman: "Don't worry, love, I will still vote Labour. I vote for you even when you're rubbish."

Ben Bradshaw, the long-serving MP for Exter, who has a majority of 7,183, told me: "We're not anything for granted of course. On the current national polling, the Tories would take Exeter. But having covered five polling districts, although the leadership is undoubtedly a big issue on the doorstep, most people say they'll still vote for me as their local MP and we're not detecting any significant shift away from 2015. Which is slightly puzzling given the chasm in the opinion polls." Bradshaw also promotes himself as "the only non-Tory MP in the south-west outside Bristol": a leaflet shows a blue-splattered map with a lone red dot. The Labour MP warns voters not to be left in a "one-party state". 

As in 2010, Labour may yet retain more seats than its vote share suggests (aided by unchanged boundaries). But the fate of the Liberal Democrats in 2015 - when the party was reduced from 56 MPs to eight - shows that local reputations are worth less than many suppose. Theresa May has succeeded in framing herself as a figure above party interests, who needs a "strong hand" in the Brexit negotiations. At the very moment when a vigorous opposition is needed most, Labour has rarely been weaker. And when the public turn resolutely against a party, even the best men and women are not spared.  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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