Osborne gets an American fan

The New York Times's David Brooks falls for shadow chancellor's economic dogma

David Brooks is one of the most thoughtful conservative journalists in America, so it's a pity to see him fall for George Osborne's "we're all in this together" schtick today.

Taking the shadow chancellor entirely at his word, he argues that Osborne's economic honesty and maturity provide a model for Republicans. In the most egregious passage, he writes:

Last November, Osborne opposed a cut in the value-added taxes on the grounds that the cuts were unaffordable and would not produce growth. It is not easy for any conservative party to oppose tax cuts, but this one did it.

Never mind that in February three economists from the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the VAT cut had raised real consumption by 1.2 per cent; is Brooks not aware of the tax cuts that the Conservatives have promised? He makes no mention of the party's grossly regressive pledge to raise the inheritance-tax threshold to £1m and appears unaware of the Tories' proposed tax break for married couples.

That Brooks endorses Osborne's call to withdraw fiscal stimulus -- at a time when US unemployment is at a 26-year high of 9.8 per cent -- should trouble his American readers. The greatest threat to economic recovery is not debt, but the fear of debt.The surest way for the US to increase its state deficit would be to cut stimulus spending and thereby dramatically weaken consumer demand. For the sake of the US economy, we must hope that Osborne's delusions do not win a wider audience.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Home Office made Theresa May. But it could still destroy her

Even politicians who leave the Home Office a success may find themselves dogged by it. 

Good morning. When Theresa May left the Home Office for the last time, she told civil servants that there would always be a little bit of the Home Office inside her.

She meant in terms of its enduring effect on her, but today is a reminder of its enduring ability to do damage on her reputation in the present day.

The case of Jamal al-Harith, released from Guantanamo Bay under David Blunkett but handed a £1m compensation payout under Theresa May, who last week died in a suicide bomb attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul, where he was fighting on behalf of Isis. 

For all Blunkett left in the wake of a scandal, his handling of the department was seen to be effective and his reputation was enhanced, rather than diminished, by his tenure. May's reputation as a "safe pair of hands" in the country, as "one of us" on immigration as far as the Conservative right is concerned and her credibility as not just another headbanger on stop and search all come from her long tenure at the Home Office. 

The event was the cue for the Mail to engage in its preferred sport of Blair-bashing. It’s all his fault for the payout – which in addition to buying al-Harith a house may also have fattened the pockets of IS – and the release. Not so fast, replied Blair in a punchy statement: didn’t you campaign for him to be released, and wasn’t the payout approved by your old pal Theresa May? (I paraphrase slightly.)

That resulted in a difficult Q&A for Downing Street’s spokesman yesterday, which HuffPo’s Paul Waugh has posted in full here. As it was May’s old department which has the job of keeping tabs on domestic terror threats the row rebounds onto her. 

Blair is right to say that every government has to “balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security”. And it would be an act of spectacular revisionism to declare that Blair’s government was overly concerned with civil liberty rather than internal security.

Whether al-Harith should never have been freed or, as his family believe, was picked up by mistake before being radicalised in prison is an open question. Certainly the journey from wrongly-incarcerated fellow traveller to hardened terrorist is one that we’ve seen before in Northern Ireland and may have occurred here.

Regardless, the presumption of innocence is an important one but it means that occasionally, that means that someone goes on to commit crimes again. (The case of Ian Stewart, convicted of murdering the author Helen Bailey yesterday, and who may have murdered his first wife Diane Stewart as well, is another example of this.)

Nonetheless, May won’t have got that right every time. Her tenure at the Home Office, so crucial to her reputation as a “safe pair of hands”, may yet be weaponised by a clever rival, whether from inside or outside the Conservative Party. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.