Jeremy Warner: Unemployment surges higher

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Outlook Mass unemployment is back, and this time it's serious. Yesterday's data puts the country on track to exceed the jobless totals of both the two previous recessions, at least in nominal terms, with some possibility that even in percentage terms the ranks of the unemployed will outstrip those of the early 1980s, when the jobless rate reached 12 per cent.

That's the sort of level at which the misery of unemployment produces social unrest. Unlike the early 1980s, where it was largely the industrial heartlands of the Midlands and the North that were affected, the consequences of this recession are across the board, south as well as north, middle class and white collar as well as working class and blue collar.

Britain's "flexible" labour market, once lauded for its apparent ability to create jobs, is for the time being working in the opposite way to the one intended, as it makes workers easier to lay off than on the Continent. Eventually, its benefits should reassert themselves, but that first requires business activity to start picking up again.

I don't want to be accused by Lord Mandelson of talking the economy down, but it's hard to see the green shoots of economic spring appearing early enough to save his beleaguered Prime Minister from electoral defeat.