Undercover: behind the scenes of our Tory Special Issue

The evolution of the New Statesman's Blackadder cover.

Roll up, roll up, for the third enthralling instalment of Undercover, behind the scenes of the NS party conference covers. (Read about Martin Rowson and Ben Jennings's covers by clicking their names.)

I've thought for a while that George Osborne has the "English rose" complexion of a rouged Regency fop. Behold:

So when we came to deciding our third illustrated cover for party conference season, I wondered whether David Young could do something based around an image from that time. David has been a freelance illustrator for 18 years, and is a great photo-realist painter. I met him at the Mail, where we needed to illustrate a series of pieces about Downton Abbey in a creative and not-copyright-infringing way. 

For the New Statesman, David has done two great covers already. For last Easter, he did a pastiche of Manet's Le dejeuner Sur L'Herbe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is known in the office as the "green" cover, for obvious reasons.

Anyway, The Economist liked the idea so much they did it themselves a few months later, with Sarkozy and Hollande:

This Easter, David Young did a version of Cameron on horseback, mirroring Van Dyck's famous portrait of Charles I. 

We mucked around with this a fair bit, lightening the background, adding in Rebekah Brooks and so on. For a while I thought that David had drawn the horse's head too small, then I checked back with the original. Were horses' heads smaller in the 1600s? Or was Van Dyck just bad at painting them?

Anyway, I digress. This time, we knew that we wanted to have a pastiche of David Cameron and Boris Johnson in there too (as they were the subject of the cover story) and we found this picture online:

Here's David explaining what he did next:

"My brief here was to base the cover on a photo from Blackadder the Third, but replace the faces of the Blackadder cast with those of Cameron, Clegg, Osborne and Boris Johnson. As I paint directly from photographic reference I first needed to find the right images to use. This is probably the most critical part of the whole process as I needed to find photos of the politicians that not only were at the same angle as the Blackadder image but also with similar expressions. 

David adds:

"Although my paintings are traditional I embrace modern technology so I used Photoshop to blend the new faces onto the reference photo, and then used this as a visual to make sure everyone at the New Statesman was happy with it. I then produced a painted version of this using acrylic paints on board. On this occasion I painted it in a fairly photographic style, where as previous New Statesman covers I've done have been a pastiche on known paintings where I emulated their painting style."

The finished painting is, I hope you'll agree, a work of art. The general consensus on Twitter was that George Osborne might quite like it (cue many jokes about him having "a cunning Plan B". 

My only regret is that there wasn't room for Danny Alexander as MacAdder:

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty Images
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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