Today’s employment numbers are terrific news for the country and the Government. Yet they also highlight a key error made by the Labour Party. After an electoral defeat, every Opposition has a choice. It can spend its time carping at the Government of the day. Or it can focus on the future and how it would be different with the Opposition party back in power.
Carping usually leads to defeat. Using the time in Opposition to build the case for a better future has a better track record of success. So it is with Labour. They did not spend their time working out what their vision for Britain’s future should be. They have spent their time indulging in negative campaigning, making bold predictions of imminent apocalypse and now find themselves looking ever more absurd with each passing set of employment and economic statistics.
Come the election, it looks increasingly likely that Ed Miliband will be hamstrung by his prediction that we would see “the disappearance of a million private and public sector jobs”. Since the election, unemployment is down 251,000 and there are a record 30.39m in work. The private sector has created over 1.7 million jobs and more than made up for the decrease in public sector jobs. It shows just how unwise the Labour leader was to predict a jobs slump.
As employment improved, Labour switched their attack to the number of full time jobs in the economy. Miliband criticised the Government for the number of jobs which were “part-time, low-paid or insecure”. Yes, the number of people in part-time work increased in the past quarter by 74,000. However, in the year to February 2014, the number of people in full-time work increased by 562,000. That is 562,000 more people able to provide for themselves and their families. Yet again, Labour had taken another unwise hostage to fortune.
Next, Ed Miliband focussed on long-term unemployment – especially youth unemployment. Long term unemployment is the most lagging of indicators and must surely have seemed a sound attack to make. Particularly as it had gone up so much in the last Parliament under the Labour Government of which he was a part. Under the last Labour Government the long-term youth unemployment claimant count increased a staggering 311 per cent. In the event, Iain Duncan Smith’s work programme has been making strides in tackling the long term unemployment problem. Long-term youth unemployment is down nearly 33 per cent in the past year. Perhaps more painfully for Miliband, long-term youth unemployment rose 1800 per cent in his own constituency in the previous Parliament and is now lower than it was at the time of the 2010 General Election.
The final stage in getting the country back on track is seeing a rise in real wages. Recessions see falling wages for a number of years afterwards. Labour’s crash was the deepest recession in a century. So it has caused one of the biggest squeezes in wages in this country’s history. Hard-working people have been feeling the pinch. Today’s figures show that may be starting to happen. Wages rose 1.7 per cent while inflation is 1.6 per cent. There is a sense that we may be at or near the tipping point where people’s wages will begin to rise again above inflation. This is the final piece in the jigsaw for people to start feeling the economic recovery in their pockets. Small wonder then that Labour are now seeking to shift focus again on the fall in real wages which was the consequence of the recession they caused.
The thing that should really worry Labour is what are they for, beyond the carping? They have laid out no long term economic plan. The ideas they do come up with are too often half-baked and unfunded. It’s unclear if they are on the side of the welfare claimants or the working. Jobs for all or just the public sector. All that is clear is their prescription for any problem is more spending, more taxes, more borrowing and more debt. Not very convincing. With a year to go who they stand for is ill-defined, their plan is unclear and what economic case they had is fast disintegrating. Their failure to focus on the future is increasingly catching up with them.
By contrast the Conservative case is now very clear and very simple. The Conservatives have a long-term economic plan. We are repairing Labour’s mess, growing the economy and getting people back to work. Most importantly we are succeeding in doing what we said we would – and with greater success than anyone expected. There may yet be bumps in the road. Yet, thanks to the nation’s determined hard work and a clear plan, real progress is being made.