Has the Spectator backed down on HIV/Aids?

Rumour has it that the screening has been cancelled

I blogged here about the Speccie editor Fraser Nelson's strange decision to screen the pseudoscientific and propagandistic film House of Numbers as a "Spectator debate".

Ben Goldacre and Sunder Katwala claim, on Twitter, that the Spectator has now cancelled the event. Sunny Hundal, over at Liberal Conspiracy, says:

Update: Just got off the phone with someone in Spectator magazine's events department.

The screening of the film House of Numbers has been cancelled as of today because several panel members pulled out at the last minute. They said that would have left the discussion "unbalanced".

"Unbalanced?" That's an understatement. The whole thing reeked of pseudo-contrarianism and a hopeless attempt at mischief-making, rather than any serious desire to debate scientific theories.

I note that the link for the event on the Speccie website is now broken, but here is the cached page.

And I await the next round of "denialism" by the folks over at Old Queen Street. Sunder Katwala speculates on the Next Left blog:

Forget Aids. Forget climate change even. There is surely one yet bigger question where the science seems entirely settled -- yet is ideologically contested -- and where those attempts to question the consensus then generate a vociferous scientific backlash.

"Whenever any debate hits this level, I get deeply suspicious," writes the editor.

So how long, I wonder, before we might now expect the Spectator to ask another question:

Is the theory of evolution really all it is cracked up to be?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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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.