by Jon Ashworth
So we’re all back after our constituency week and I’m spending my time as a dutiful whip touring the tearoom, smoking room and the various other nooks and crannies hidden away in the palace of Westminster to catch up with fellow members of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
The first day back after recess always has that back to school feel and we’re all eager to swop stories of what we got up to. Talking to colleagues, I’m struck by the extent to which unemployment is affecting all our constituencies in similar ways.
Last week we learnt that unemployment, youth unemployment, over 50s unemployment all rose again across Leicester South. I’m not surprised. In recent months, I’ve found more and more people turning up at my advice surgery desperate for any guidance I can offer to help them find work. Almost every Labour MP I’ve spoken to this week tells a similar story.
And yet we have a government that is completely failing to show any grip and put in a place any strategy to deal with the unemployment crisis so many areas of the country now face. I’m well aware it’s so clichéd to remind Labour Uncut readers that Norman Lamont twenty years ago famously said “unemployment is a price worth paying” but I’ve become convinced that the government’s complete lack of action in tackling unemployment suggests that David Cameron probably harbours that attitude even he is not so gauche as to say it in the way his former boss did.
Take for example when I asked Cameron at PMQs when he had last met a young unemployed person, I was amazed he couldn’t answer. What’s more neither he nor George Osborne could tell me when they last visited a jobcentre plus office. Instead of organizing Downing Street summits on the wretched and disastrous health bill, where are the Downing Street summits on youth unemployment? Where are the meetings out in unemployment hotspots to find out what needs to be done?
The prime minister’s answer also revealed more about his attitude when he went on to tell me the future jobs fund created just ‘phoney’ jobs. His words. Not the “good scheme” as he had described it before the election.I couldn’t believe it and nor could many watching at home who began to inundate my office with examples of real jobs they found through the future jobs fund.
One young person told me “the future jobs fund has changed my life forever and given me an opportunity to have a career in the arts.”
Sam from Lewisham emailed “I had my first ever phone call returned after 8 months of being unemployed and actively looking for work” and that thanks to the future jobs fund Sam found “a first line IT support role at a prestigious, global company in London at the top of their trade.” None of that sounds “phoney” to me.
Increasingly the prime minister gets tetchy and grumpy at PMQs almost petulant as if he’s deeply offended when challenged on the detail of how tough things are for folks at the moment. So whether it’s unemployment, the rising cost of living and the squeeze in household incomes he shows a complete lack or urgency about the scale of the problem facing households across Britain.
Perhaps he just doesn’t recognise the picture Labour MPs have been painting for months, after all in David Cameron’s Witney there are 950 out of work, in George Osborne’s Tatton its 1,176 and in Chris Grayling’s Epsom and Ewell its 1,031. In the constituency I represent Leicester South its 4,524.
In May last year David Cameron declared “it’s time to reverse the trend of rising youth unemployment.” I wholeheartedly agree. But what effective action has he taken since then? Zilch, nada, nowt and instead of action every month we see the grim reality of youth unemployment climbing higher and higher.
In opposition David Cameron and his team put huge effort into rebranding and presenting himself as a new type of caring cuddly compassionate Conservative. But as unemployment continues to rise and more and more young people are left without hope, it’s clearer than ever that the rhetoric completely fails to match the reality of how tough things really are in Cameron’s Britain. So for all the smart soft focus photo opps, their approach to unemployment gives the lie to a modernised Tory party.
David Cameron can ignore high levels of unemployment like their predecessors did. He can even in the privacy of the Downing Street flat sing je ne regrette rien in the bath should he want to like Norman Lamont apparently did. But it’s not the 1980s or 1990s anymore. The next election will be fought on growth and jobs and this generation of Tories are giving us neither.
Jon Ashworth is Labour MP for Leicester South and an opposition whip