Graffiti in Greece reflects the unemployment rate: a quarter of workers are jobless. Photo: Getty.
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Across Europe, those born abroad are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed

The UK’s foreign-born unemployment rate is comparatively low, and its unemployment rate is one of Europe’s lowest.

You can read this piece in full on May2015.com – our election site.

To understand the endless Eurozone crisis, a useful fact to grasp is this: the unemployment rate in Germany, the continent’s biggest and richest country, is a fifth of the rate in Greece, its most indebted and crisis-ridden.

Looking at European unemployment rates also helps to make sense of this year’s election, now little more than 100 days away. Debates over policy in this election have so far been familiar, formulaic and vapid. But ever day a battle quietly rages over the economy.

May2015’s Drilldown shows how the Tories lead Labour on the issue. But why are they ascendant? Part of the reason is unemployment. George Osborne presided over more than two years of anemic growth in 2011 and 2012, but the UK’s unemployment rate is now among the lowest in Europe.

5.9 per cent of British job-seekers were unemployed as of November 2014 (per FT.com, where you can track this data in impressive detail). That compares to 10.0 per cent across the European Union (EU-28).

Only two countries have a significantly lower unemployment rate – Germany and Austria – and the UK is still within a percentage point of both of them.

These are the statistics Osborne can use to preface his election Budget. Two years ago he had little to offer. Unemployment had only just fallen below 8 per cent and growth had been either negative or negligible in five of the previous nine quarters.

As the economy improved, its importance fell in voters’ minds. In April 2013 nearly 80 per cent of us thought it one of the three most important issues facing the country. Now only half do.

In turn, immigration gradually succeeded it as the greatest issue facing the country (although there is now some evidence voters are tiring of the subject).

One of the subjects which unites both issues is foreign-born workers. How do first-generation immigrants fare in the job market?

In the UK, as in almost every European country, the foreign-born are considerably more likely to be unemployed. The unemployment rate among foreign-born Brits is 8.5 per cent – around 30 per cent higher than the national rate. [1]

That is good compared to most of Europe: foreign-born unemployment is, on average, nearly 80 per cent higher.

The foreign-born are less likely to be employed in the UK, but the differences are nowhere near as stark as in places like Sweden or Belgium.

Both countries have similar unemployment rates to the UK, but foreign-born unemployment is at, or near, 20 per cent. It is less than 9 per cent in the UK.

The graph below maps the national rate (blue line) and foreign-born rate (red bars) on the same graph. [2]

The EU is the barometer for the UK. As the Guardian reported yesterday, the number of EU migrants claiming benefits in the UK pales in comparison to the number of Britons claiming benefits in wealthier EU countries.

Those numbers were a reminder of how the EU is a great benefit to some Britons. Comparing unemployment rates is a reminder of how the UK is now outperforming many European countries – and could hand the Tories the election.

[1] These numbers are for 2013, the most recent year for which EU-wide data is available, and are for unemployment among 20-64 year olds.

[2] Foreign-born data isn’t, as you can see, available for every country.

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.