Let those French rioters take a close look at yesterday's British unemployment numbers.

True, our flexible labour market is flexing the wrong way for an uncomfortably large number of our fellow citizens - it turns out that the number claiming jobseeker's allowance rose by 19,900 in February, not 14,600 as reported last month.

That made it the biggest one-month increase since the deep-recession month of December, 1992. March looked less bad, but if it goes o n like this headline unemployment will be back above a million next winter.

It might be more persuasive if our French friends look instead at the number of people in work - 28.84 million, more than at any time since National Statistics' predecessor started keeping this record in 1971. It has risen by 76,000 in the three months to February and by 147,000 over the year - two-and-a-half times the number of jobs lost.

That is reassuring after a year of the British economy coming off the boil. Whether a French fire-brand would find it so is another matter. Quite apart from the personal strain on the tens of thousands of individuals being flexed in and out of work each month, the numbers have a flip side.

The trend in manufacturing is all one way. Another 113,000 manufacturing jobs went in this latest count. That is 3.6 per cent of the total in just three months, reducing industry's headcount to 3.07 million, the fewest on modern record and probably fewer than at any time since the mid-19th century.

And whatever the wonders of the great service economy, manufacturing jobs are generally better paid.

John Philpott at the Personnel and Development has taken a look at the nature of the new service jobs taking their place. He found that nearly half those 76,000 new "jobs" were self-employed. Many of those will be people working on fixed-term contracts, rather than resilient entrepreneurs striking out on their own.

Of the rest, "jobs for employees" in Dr Philpott's phrase, three-quarters were temporary. He takes this as a sign that employers are uncertain about the economy - though he also notes that many remain surprisingly reluctant to make staff redundant.

It is all more complex and less rosy than the smug sort of politician would have us believe.

But it could also be a great deal worse - without the new contract and temporary jobs to offset those lost in industry, and now the National Health Service.

What it is not is a replica of America's flexible jobs market where people routinely move hundreds, indeed thousands, of miles to take up a new job.

Most Brits stay put and hope somebody will bring a job to them.

Arguably we do provide a degree of flexibility for the rest of Europe - to French youngsters who prefer a job in Britain to unemployment at home, as well as those Poles and Lithuanians.

Still, before you mock President Chirac's pitiful surrender to his rioters, watch now as our Govern-ment caves in to the council workers - after a single oneday strike to keep their pension age at 55. ..SUPL: