Sir Trevor "grilling" Cameron?? He couldn't grill a frozen burger . . .

And don't forget the broadcaster's John Major interview.

The dumbing down of British politics continues apace. Hot on the heels of Piers Morgan's cringe-inducing "interview" with Gordon "Plonker" Brown comes ITV1's next headline-grabbing contribution to enlightening the non-voters of this nation: Trevor McDonald Meets David Cameron.

(Full disclaimer: I worked on ITV1's Jonathan Dimbleby programme, which many would argue was the last genuine attempt by the broadcaster to give attention and airtime to domestic political coverage.)

The Cashcroft-owned PoliticsHome headline for this story is:

Cameron faces McDonald grilling

"Grilling"? Sir Trevor McDonald, knight of the realm and ex-anchor of News at Ten, couldn't grill a frozen beefburger that had been left to defrost on his kitchen counter for several hours. Ronald McDonald, of Golden Arches fame, could probably do a better job of examining the Tory leader's policies forensically.

In the original Telegraph story, it says Cameron was asked to appear on Morgan's show but declined, explaining that he preferred to do "something a bit more substantial".

"Bit more" are the key words.

Let me remind those of you with short memories (ie, much of the Westminster village) that in 1996 News at Ten was reprimanded by the ITC (the predecessor to Ofcom) over its seven-minute interview with the then Tory premier, John Major. The ITC chairman, Sir George Russell, described Sir Trevor's questions as "a little too friendly and relaxed", and even "inappropriate".

At one point, Sir Trev, whom critics accused of grovelling, said to Major:

I have been reading some of the interviews you have been giving to newspapers recently and what comes over is the extraordinary dedication you have for this job.

Bring on Dave!


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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.