UK unemployment reaches 2.5 million

(c) born1945

Katy Owen

The latest statistics show that unemployment is on the rise having just gone over the 2.5 million threshold – or 7.9% of the population. It is difficult not to think back to this time thirty years ago when the figures were heading in a similar direction.

For Margaret Thatcher unemployment did not have a negative enough effect electorally to prevent her winning in 1983 with a background of over three million unemployed. Polls showed that while people cited unemployment as the issue most affecting the country, they gave inflation as the issue they thought most affected them as individuals. Furthermore, Thatcher seemed to succeed in convincing most voters that unemployment was not the government’s responsibility.

How does this compare to the situation now? Will the latest rise in unemployment and possible rises in the future similarly slide of this government’s back?

The first thing to say is that the Britain of the 2010s is not that of the 1980s. And Cameron is not Thatcher. He lacks her ideological dogmatism and certainly lacks her aversion to U-Turns and coalitions. He is instantly in a better position to compromise than she was. However, a lot more is expected of Cameron in 2011 than it was of Thatcher in 1980.

There are three key reasons why high unemployment rates are particularly bad news for the Conservative Party:

  1. Support for the government rests on a belief that it is doing the right thing economically. If this combination of rising unemployment, high inflation and stagnant economic growth continues then this support is sure to dissipate
  2. Unemployment in the 1980s was largely based on the decline of the manufacturing sector and primary industries. This time round it seems a lot more spread around – i.e. it is affecting middle class people and graduates, people who potential and actual Conservative voters can relate to
  3. The government has listed as one of its key aims to get more people off benefits and into jobs. The latest statistics suggest it is doing the exact opposite

It is not too late for the government to recognise they are wrong on the economy and change tack. If not there could be potentially disastrous repercussions for both parties in government at the next election.

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