Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Independent's Johann Hari say that William Shawcross's biography of the Queen Mother ignores her shameless profligacy and her admiration for the far right:

Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon kept up her support for far-right politics throughout her life. She did everything she could to bolster the torturing, white-minority tyrannies in Rhodesia and South Africa, because -- as the journalist Paul Callan, who knew her, put it -- "she is not fond of black folk". Our beaming Queen Mum was Alf Garnett in a tiara.

In the Financial Times, Martin Wolf says that the Vince Cable's "mansion tax" is an excellent idea, but replacing council tax with a local income tax would be disastrous:

Mr Cable is quite right: the UK should try to raise more revenue from property taxes. But the best way to reach his objective is not to abolish council tax, but to extend it. A local income tax, by contrast, would damage incentives to work and push higher earners out of local jurisdictions with substantial numbers in relative poverty. This is a recipe for social segmentation.

In the Times, Roy Hattersley argues that it is up to Labour members to convince ministers that the party can win on a social-democratic platform:

Conferences are designed as opportunities for beleaguered leaderships to inspire the dispirited rank and file with belief in victory. At Brighton the process has to be reversed. The "floor" must convince the "platform" that all is not lost -- that social democracy can provide a winning formula. And the persistently faint-hearted have to be taught that, even if their pessimism is justified, they champion a cause that it is worth defending in the last ditch.

The Guardian's Simon Jenkins says that international summits continue to substitute grandstanding for action:

The uncritical respect accorded them by statesmen and commentators is absurd -- largely because they are all enjoying a gigantic junket. Like meetings of the G8 and G20, they are not just a waste of time and money -- they convey a false impression that statesmen are acting, rather than parading. They imply that policy is somehow being influenced by the physical communion of the great and not so good. As such they induce cynicism among those they claim to be helping.

The Economist's Bagehot column says that politicians need to stop arguing about the past and start focusing on the future:

All parties need to explain the background and evidence for their policies. But in general, as every pollster avers, it is the future more than the past that motivates voting. This is as true in Britain as it is in America. History has indeed been kind to Churchill, and not only because he wrote it; but his wartime heroics didn't save him from election defeat in 1945. Tony Blair won a third term in 2005 because, despite the debacle in Iraq, he still seemed a better future bet than the alternative.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR