Rules of engagement

The latest hostage situation leaves many wondering how best to approach already complicated relation

The diplomatic stand off that began on March 23 between the Iranian and British governments finally came to an end on April 4, to the delight of everyone involved. Sunny Hundal had a view shared by many who did not believe the increasingly strong publicity rallying behind the British government. He said, “This is not to say Iran’s actions were justified or right but any call for war was just idiotic posturing that the Foreign Office was never going to take seriously.”

It remains to be seen whether or not we will ever find out the true version of events which led to this hostage crisis. Iain Dale said he had “conflicting emotions while watching the conversations between the Navy personnel and the Iranian President after his press conference. I’m sure many of us could say the same. Craig Murray said it was evidence that a "softly, softly" approach could prove effective with Iran.

It is nearly election time again for local councils in England, for the Welsh Assembly and for the Scottish Parliament. Mike Tansey pointed out how there are 16 independent candidates for the Sunderland local election who had submitted their nomination papers by the time nominations closed on Wednesday. And for anyone who missed the drunken antics of a young Lib-Dem candidate in Scotland, the Ridiculous Politics blog has the details.

The Spy blog questions the Government’s latest plans to introduce ‘shouting’ CCTV cameras. This blog hits the nail right on the head. It asks, “The immediate question which springs to mind is why the existing CCTV
surveillance cameras, linked as they must be to a live camera operator in a control room, they have not already eliminated such behaviour? That is the false promise on which hundreds of millions of pounds of Central Government and Local Government funds have been spent on such systems.”

And Ellee Seymour highlighted details of a woman who won an industrial tribunal this week against her employer which sacked her for blogging while at work. Under the pseudonym of La Petite Anglaise, Catherine Sanderson won a year’s salary, plus costs, after the tribunal agreed there was no evidence to prove she had brought disrepute to the company. She had often blogged from work at Dixon Wilson, where she worked as a secretary. She has also won a lucrative book deal in which she tells her story in full.

Adam Haigh studies on the postgraduate journalism diploma at Cardiff University. Last year he lived in Honduras and worked freelance for the newspaper, Honduras This Week.
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.