Article

Labour and the Tories are blind to the slow death of our economy

  • Brexit is exacerbating the failings of the nation’s economy – and yet the main parties are happy to wave it through

  • Chuka Umunna MP

British politics has gone from bad to worse. The two main parties at the heart of the system are utterly broken. The Labour Party, which is currently under a formal investigation for institutional racism by the Equality & Human Rights Commission, will be the subject of a BBC Panorama documentary on Wednesday which asks “Is Labour antisemitic?”

Before that Channel 4’s Dispatches programme on the “Battle for the Tory Party” will tonight reveal that Tory members have been suspended from the party for Islamophobia.  Both main parties have a hate problem, both are falling apart and that’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the problems besetting both parties. This is not normal.

Whilst those two main parties stagger on, divided and failing to perform their duties as an official opposition and government, more data has emerged illustrating how the Brexit chaos their leaderships have helped to create is doing real damage to the economy – and the UK hasn’t even left the EU. It has become a cliche but it is nevertheless true that Brexit will not solve any of the problems we were promised it would. 

Britain needs a better economy than the one we are saddled with. It is dysfunctional, unequal and too many can’t get on and live a secure, happy and fulfilling life. Where you end up in life is still dictated by the circumstances of your birth. According to the latest figures, around 1 in 5 Brits live in relative poverty, including over 4 million children. Inequality is at 1980s levels. 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies estimates that median real wages for employees are still 3 per cent below where they were in 2008 and 13 per cent below where we might reasonably have expected them to be based on rates of growth seen in the years prior to the 2008 global financial crash.

The British economy is still too unproductive: the average worker here takes five days to produce what his or her German or French counterpart does in four. This is not the fault of workers collectively but a failure of business to invest and government to provide them with the requisite skills. We may be one of the largest economies in the world but our regional cities drastically underperform their continental counterparts and our least successful regions are among the poorest in western Europe. It is a pretty depressing picture.

However, in spite of all of this both main parties remain committed to delivering Brexit which any respected economist will tell you will only exacerbate these problems. It is worth noting that for all the noise emanating from the Labour leadership suggesting they wish to hold a “people’s vote”, possibly with Remain on the ballot (who knows?), it is always accompanied by various caveats.

To put it bluntly, you cannot trust a word their leadership says on the issue, not least because they all say different things. The formal Labour policy, like the Tories, is to prioritise facilitating Brexit with their alternative Brexit deal.  But what is becoming clearer by the day is that Brexit is harming the country right now.

The UK services sector makes up around 80 per cent of the economy. The latest data shows it came to a standstill last month with one of its worst performances for a decade. This followed pretty dire figures for construction and manufacturing sectors. Last week it was reported that the construction industry fell to its weakest level in more than a decade – housebuilding, commercial and civil engineering all saw falls in activity. The PMI for the manufacturing sector also fell to its lowest level in 6 years with production falling at its fastest pace since October 2012. 

Official figures back up this bleak picture – the Office for National Statistics tell us that productivity fell for the third quarter in a row. The common factor in all of this is the uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote, the principal reason for this slew of bad economic data. It is worth remembering: this is relating to what is happening in the here and now, before considering the forecast for future months.

It is therefore unsurprising that yesterday’s poll for the Independent by BMG found that the public would prefer to cancel Brexit or hold a people’s vote instead of crashing out of the EU with no deal which the likely future Tory PM Boris Johnson is threatening to do.

It doesn’t have to be this way. My party provides a clear, unequivocal alternative. Not only are we campaigning for a people’s vote in all circumstances on the Brexit issue but we are unapologetic about our goal – to stop Brexit. 

Our other principal mission is to resolve the issues which caused 52 per cent of those who voted for Brexit (37 per cent of the electorate) to do so in the first place. The Liberal Democrats are the only political party in Britain that can get into government at the next general election that is committed to doing this and with a unity of purpose. What is clear is that no party can hope to competently deal with the country’s problems when they are themselves so divided and preoccupied, and dealing with so many problems of their own. This is the case for both Labour and the Tories.