Leading Article: Nice idea, Mr Brown, but where are these jobs coming from?

Share
Related Topics
Like the tides, if not quite as regularly, capitalist economies like ours have swung from boom to bust.

Economists say there are signs that the distance from peak to trough may be lessening, but their continuing existence is not in doubt. The Chancellor of the Exchequer may this week be walking on water, but it can confidently be asserted that within the next few years the British economy will turn downwards and unemployment rates will turn up. Who then will collect their P45s first? The test of Gordon Brown as an effective politician - in his own terms - then arrives. If the first out are the young with marginal skills, those living on estates in Merseyside, Manchester or Peckham, older men and young black men, then all his impassioned rhetoric yesterday about social justice and opportunity for all will sound dreadfully hollow.

Perhaps Mr Brown does believe that 200 years of economic history came to an end on 1 May; that his invocations of the long-term view, together with his skills as a macro-economic manager, will guarantee stability and the abolition of the economic cycle. Even so, to redeem his high- flown promises to the excluded and the unemployed he will have to perform the amazing feat not just of seeing employment grow while the economy is booming, but to continue to see jobs created even when it dips. That commitment to turn the welfare state into a "platform" for work was well made, and the measures announced by Labour so far are a plausible mixture of sticks and carrots. The Government, he said, in a phrase which demonstrates the distance Labour has travelled in recent years, cannot prevent people losing their jobs, but can assist them to get the next one.

But if you are saying to the unemployed, "the age of exclusion is over", you are committing the state to ensuring that demand remains high in an age when Keynesian tools have been discarded. Perhaps Labour is confident that it can guarantee that British business will deliver the jobs on which the expansion of opportunity depends. Perhaps Mr Brown has a plan for conjuring jobs out of the public sector while reducing the national debt. Either way, he did not dilate upon method yesterday, except - unknowingly? - in mentioning ways in which employment might be reduced. If British business is, as he promised, made more competitive, is it not possible that jobs are cut?

The trouble is, Mr Brown also wants to alter the arithmetic of employment. It is not just a question of finding work for those who are unemployed now. His measures will surely also increase the supply of labour. Better child-care facilities - much needed, it is true - ought to mobilise women who are not now classified as jobless. The assault on definitions of disability and long-term sickness being prepared by Harriet Harman will also have the effect of redefining as employable large numbers who are not so classified. Reaching "full employment" may involve creating around 1 million more posts, but Labour is embarking on these other measures that may add hundreds of thousands of people to the labour pool.

Then there is the geography: where are those jobs going to be? In the south-east of England, in East Anglia and other growth regions, the response may be easy: already there are bottlenecks in the supply of labour. Skip over the (rather tricky) question of whether those unemployed can in fact be trained for available slots. What is the mechanism by which jobs are created in those regions, notably Merseyside and peripheral Glasgow, where unemployment remains high? Not a word yesterday about regional policies. Mr Brown was anxious to distance himself from the policy failures of the Wilson and Callaghan years, but he may find himself having to revisit their big-spending remedies for geographical exclusion.

Hubris is stalking the Brighton conference hall this week. Gordon Brown had, before the election, made the dampening of expectations his stock- in-trade. Yesterday he let rip. Popular, clever, charming the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be. He has certainly during the past week or so pulled off the amazing feat of appearing utterly convincing on the world stage at the International Monetary Fund while continuing to speak plausibly about domestic priorities for reducing income inequality. But sooner or later those delegates who currently sit so politely on New Labour benches will expect results on the employment front. They may even take Mr Brown at his word, which means he will inevitably be found wanting. The question is, by how much?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Administrator

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are a world leadin...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kennedy campaign for the Lib Dems earlier this year in Bearsden  

Charles Kennedy: A brilliant man whose talents were badly needed

Baroness Williams
Nick Clegg (R) Liberal Democrat Leader and former leader Charles Kennedy MP, joined the general election campaign trail on April 8, 2010  

Charles Kennedy: The only mainstream political leader who spoke sense

Tim Farron
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral