Good news on unemployment - but will it last?

Unemployment has fallen to 7.9 per cent - but it's expected to rise next year.

Ahead of the first PMQs since the conference season, the latest employment figures offer a much-needed boost for David Cameron. Unemployment fell from 8.1 per cent to 7.9 per cent (or from 2.58m to 2.53m) over the last quarter, the lowest level since May 2011, while employment rose by 212,000 to 29.6 million, the highest level ever recorded. Similarly encouraging is the news that, for the first time in a year, youth unemployment is back below a million - it fell 62,000 to 957,000 (or from 21.8 per cent to 20.5 per cent) .

However, it's worth noting that 59 per cent (125,000) of the 212,000 new jobs created are part-time and that London was responsible for nearly half (101,000) of the rise in employment (a total of 1.4 million people are working part-time because they can't find full-time jobs), suggesting that the labour market received a temporary boost from the Olympics. The jobless rate rose by 0.2 per cent in Scotland and by 1.2 per cent in Northern Ireland. In addition, 6 per cent (13,000) of the 212,000 jobs are on "government supported training and employment programmes". In the last year, the number of people on these programs has risen by 89 per cent.

In addition, as I've pointed out before, unemployment is expected to rise next year to 2.7m owing to further spending cuts, a lack of growth, and rising productivity. For now, however, Cameron can promote a narrative of recovery.

The fall in unemployment is a boost for David Cameron ahead of today's Prime Minister's Questions. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.