In praise of Peter Oborne

Why can’t we have more conservative columnists like him?

I've been enjoying my good friend Peter Oborne's columns and blogs in the Telegraph in recent weeks. He joined the paper from the Daily Mail back in September, and has brought some much-needed sanity and balance to the Torygraph's comment pages.

Oborne is a supporter of David Cameron, but fronted a Channel 4 Dispatches investigation into Andy Coulson and the phone-hacking scandal last month. He has also been a long-standing opponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and an outspoken critic of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment (perhaps he should have a word with the Telegraph's blogs editor, Damian Thompson). Why can't we have more conservative columnists like him?

Writing today on his blog, Oborne castigates the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, for using fraudulent figures about the extent of benefit fraud.

Oborne, who is a supporter of the coalition's welfare "reforms", adds:

There was an unnecessarily snide tone to Osborne's Spending Review. [He] failed to emphasise the powerful Christian vision of moral redemption and the value of work which lies at the heart of David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith's Big Society. Indeed, his false figures on benefit fraud helped to build up the impression that the poor are mean-minded and cheating.

. . . of course there are benefit cheats, and they do need to be dealt with. But there are also many people who do their best to raise a family and make ends meet in incredibly difficult circumstances. That is why it is important that Osborne will do the right thing and issue a correction concerning his false figures about the scale of benefit fraud in Britain today.

Hear, hear!

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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PMQs review: Theresa May shows again that Brexit means hard Brexit

The Prime Minister's promise of "an end to free movement" is incompatible with single market membership. 

Theresa May, it is commonly said, has told us nothing about Brexit. At today's PMQs, Jeremy Corbyn ran with this line, demanding that May offer "some clarity". In response, as she has before, May stated what has become her defining aim: "an end to free movement". This vow makes a "hard Brexit" (or "chaotic Brexit" as Corbyn called it) all but inevitable. The EU regards the "four freedoms" (goods, capital, services and people) as indivisible and will not grant the UK an exemption. The risk of empowering eurosceptics elsewhere is too great. Only at the cost of leaving the single market will the UK regain control of immigration.

May sought to open up a dividing line by declaring that "the Labour Party wants to continue with free movement" (it has refused to rule out its continuation). "I want to deliver on the will of the British people, he is trying to frustrate the British people," she said. The problem is determining what the people's will is. Though polls show voters want control of free movement, they also show they want to maintain single market membership. It is not only Boris Johnson who is pro-having cake and pro-eating it. 

Corbyn later revealed that he had been "consulting the great philosophers" as to the meaning of Brexit (a possible explanation for the non-mention of Heathrow, Zac Goldsmith's resignation and May's Goldman Sachs speech). "All I can come up with is Baldrick, who says our cunning plan is to have no plan," he quipped. Without missing a beat, May replied: "I'm interested that [he] chose Baldrick, of course the actor playing Baldrick was a member of the Labour Party, as I recall." (Tony Robinson, a Corbyn critic ("crap leader"), later tweeted that he still is one). "We're going to deliver the best possible deal in goods and services and we're going to deliver an end to free movement," May continued. The problem for her is that the latter aim means that the "best possible deal" may be a long way from the best. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.