Right now employment is at a record high in the UK, and despite what your "trendy lefty" friends will spout on Facebook and Twitter, wages are actually rising faster than inflation. OK -- so there hasn't been huge wage growth in the past decade, but let's not forget we've been coming out of a financial crisis, and at the same time, interest rates have been at a historic low for years and inflation has almost been negligible. So a circa 3% growth in wages will do just fine, thanks very much.
So that's the reality. It's when you come to speak to people that you find a skewed picture, as Nielsen recently discovered. Its global review of consumer confidence for 2016 found that the UK finished 2016 with slightly higher confidence than 2015. What's more, we're fourth in the European league table of confidence with an average level of 102, which is way above the European average of 81. The likelihood of UK citizens making purchases rose to its highest level on record. And the barometer for how things are feeling economically, the age-old question of whether people are trying out a cheaper supermarket, is at its second-lowest level on record. Despite the rise of the discounters, only just over one in five Britons are trying out a cheaper grocery store.
Both the official figures and Nielsen's research show that our confidence is up, but then you get to what we're worried about. For the first time, the economy is now our top concern, overtaking the threat of terror and immigration. Hence, you can now queue up the headlines that will come out of this research. For anyone looking for evidence we should reverse Brexit somehow, the figures are all here. Consumers are so worried about the economy, the fear of a split with the EU is higher even than terrorism and, ironically, immigration (one of the issues that lay behind the vote to leave).
But these are questions about concerns, not reality. I have been telling trendy lefty friends for several months now that the economy has not fallen off a cliff after the Brexit vote, as was widely predicted. People are obviously very concerned about what happens after Brexit, and rightly so. That's why economic concerns are top of the table. It's not because of a reality -- it's because of a fear.
One of the many emails to hit my inbox this week is the announcement of a new Commonwealth trade association, a meeting point for Commonwealth countries to meet and discuss trade. Regular readers will know I've been banging on about this for months now. The Commonwealth has been overlooked for many years, but come Brexit, I strongly suspect a free trade or low-tariff zone will open up between the UK and the likes of Canada, South Africa, India, New Zealand and Australia. Then there is the potential for a trade deal with the US. Apparently, Turkey is banging loudly on the door for trade talks too.
When it comes to splitting up, the UK economy is a pretty hot date. We will have a lot of suitors. If common sense prevails in the EU, and today's tough rhetoric gives way to a sensible chat about economic realities, rather than hurt political pride, we're likely to get a good deal with the EU too. Anyone fancy a swap of free services for free trade in cars? It would be mutually beneficial, wouldn't it? As for food, I think we'll all be fine with wine, cheese, fruits and so on from the Commonwealth if tariffs make EU goods too pricey. The pound in your pocket may be worth fewer Euros, but that's not a bad thing for exporters. Even if they face tariffs of 10% to 20%, which is unlikely, they can counterbalance this against the weaker pound making their goods 10% to 20% cheaper.
I do highly regard the friendship of trendy left luvvies, even if I think they should grow up from their days of student politics and they think I'm a diehard Tory and denier of the impacts of Brexit. I proudly voted to Remain and would happily stay an EU citizen, but we lost the vote and now we have to live with that and begin to get excited by the new possibilities that leaving the EU opens up.
The point is, the stats that "Remoaners" are citing to back up the disasters they regularly forecast are mainly around confidence. They ignore the actual figures on the country's economic dashboard. Also, the points about the economy they will raise have nothing to do with Brexit. The country is in a lot of debt regardless of our membership of the EU and people get ill and put a winter strain on the NHS every year, regardless of whether we voted to Remain or Leave. All the stuff about the UK becoming an cheap offshore labour market for U.S. corporations to exploit ill-protected workers is yet just another baseless prediction of doom and gloom.
If you agree, here's a great putdown for those who, for some unknown reason, have an in-built inability to have confidence in the UK. When they go on about a lack of partnership chances and a reduced openness to trade with EU partners, just tell them that this is obviously rubbish. Who needs two governments to tell two entrepreneurs it's a good idea they do business together? But here's the killer argument. It will also mean a reduction in EU transport and energy companies,which are state-owned or state-funded using their tax money to come over the UK and buy up our energy providers and train companies.
Fair trade via state-funded takeovers? I can assure you, there really is no comeback on that one.
Oh, and a final point. When the trendy left go on and on, as they do, about people not voting for this and not voting for that, just ask someone, how long did you want the ballot paper? It was an In or Out, Yes or No question. We said Out. Now we must live with it and relish the new horizons, not doing what Brits do best -- thinking we have nothing to offer.
It's that lack of confidence that feeds research that feeds more lack of confidence.