The BBC's Labour prism?

Glasgow East, Tory cycling and Moses Obama on tour

The Nats are biting

The Scottish Government faced the British Government and won - when the SNP candidate, John Mason, emerged victorious in the Glasgow East by-election, early in the hours of Friday morning. But while nationalists got some hard-earned sleep, Not a Sheep complained bitterly that the BBC’s coverage of the by-election was seen “through a Labour prism”.

Seeing it through a Labour prism, On Liberty Now asked:

“Is it now time for Gordon Brown to call a general election, lose, have the Tories get tainted with the economic downturn and then David Milliband can walk into Downing Street in 2013?”

As dawn broke over Glasgow, Tartan Hero was off to the victory photo-call…

Serbs him right

The arrest of Bosnian Serb sociopath Radovan Karadzic, who had been posing as a cross between Rowan Williams and Gillian McKeith, has brought a sliver of light into our dark world.

Harry’s Place carried an interesting profile of the man, by former New York Times Balkans reporter, Daniel Simpson. He touched upon some of the circumstances that allowed the former Republika Srpska president to lie low for some 13 years:

“The weather-beaten folk he went to ground amongst had been reared on tales of centuries of relentless oppression. Even if they loathed the man they loved his cause: the avenging of bygone misfortunes, by wanton aggression if needs be.”

While Sarajevo celebrated, Euro-collaborative blog Kosmopolit wondered what the future held for Serbia. Setting out a ‘to do’ list for its pro-western government, the blog pointed to progress in the Stabilisation and Association Process, recognition of Kosovo, acquisition of status as a an EU candidate state - and the arrest of Karadzic’s charming former associate Ratko Mladic, as well as the ex-president of the breakaway Republic of Serbian Krajina, Goran Hadzic.

A blog entitled Finding Karadzic had been tracking news coverage of the hunt for Karadzic online the past four years, and reflected:

“The world is a better place today than it was yesterday. Those of us interested in international criminal justice sometimes grow weary at the unfairness and impunity that are often the end results of the worst misconduct in the world by some of the worst people in the world.”

The blog also helpfully provided a link to PSY Help Energy - Karadzic’s Uri Gelleresque cashcow of a site flogging daft notions to credulous Belgraders.

Fascinatingly, TechCrunchIT touched on the role that the web may have played in Karadzic’s capture, speculating that: “a technology trail was traced either through a cell phone or an IP address,” and wondered whether an online email account had given the big-haired bastard away.

What have we learned this Week?

Cycling is a hot-button issue. Ed Vaizey opined that cycling was a conservative mode of transport (“utter bollocks” according to liberal Wit and Wisdom) while some unhuggable hoodie nicked Dave Cameron’s cycle from outside Tesco.

Strolling through Westminster on Thursday morning, a straw-mopped cyclist flashed recklessly past me. The workmen digging up the road cheerfully cried “hello Boris!” – but the demon blond cyclist might just as easily have been’s peddle-driven editor.

Across the Pond

Moses Obama took his mighty staff on a tour of the Holy Land before addressing a million backpack-wearing Germans, while back on the home front McCain was whinging about the media. Fred Stopsky advised him to can it and quit while he’s ahead.

Videos of the Week

To celebrate the absolute and final conclusion of the wearisome Thatcher state funeral debate (“only if she’s still alive!” “Only if it’s subject to compulsory competitive tendering!” “Only if I can wear my Red Wedge t-shirt!”) – here’s a round-up of the best pop videos which are lyrically disrespectful to Thatch.

Elvis Costello was keen to Tramp the Dirt Down, while the Beat similarly demanded that she Stand Down. Angelic Upstarts shouted for an answer, The Style Council shouted to the top, and said ”thank you Maggie Thatcher”, (but very sarcastically), while Tears for Fears damned that “politician granny with her high ideals” and the Specials got ”left on the shelf”.

Quote of the Week

“Was there Kool Aid in the water which created this monster? No there was a cultural meme, a blindfold if you will, which occluded not only his sight but that of the greater Butcher of Belgrade, Milosevic.”

Canadian Catholic blogger, Theology in the Vineyard.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
Photo: Getty Images
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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.