The ghastliness of Carol Vorderman

National icon turns into poor man's Sarah Palin.

I have an embarrassing confession to make: I used to have a crush on the former Countdown co-presenter Carol Vorderman. Not any more.

Her performance last night on BBC1's Question Time was one of the worst by any panel member I have ever seen. It wasn't just that she outed herself nakedly as a partisan Conservative, having gone down the "they're all as bad as each other" route. It wasn't just the ghastliness of her clichéd, shrill, pub-boring, parochial approach.

It was, I'm afraid, her sheer stupidity. I thought this woman was hailed as our great national genius! Instead, she trotted out sluggish conventional wisdom at every turn.

The key example was with the Jon Venables affair, on which she was the only panel member to insist not only that Jamie Bulger's parents have a "right" to know what Venables has done to go back into prison, but that the public does, too. She could not answer why, and it became clear that her desire was based on: a) ignorance, b) crude populism and c) nosiness.

It was left to our own excellent Will Self to argue bravely that the child killers may not have been evil. (I don't necessarily agree with that, but boy, was it a courageous view to articulate in that Middle England arena.)

Carol, you were so lovely on Countdown. Please stay out of politics, though. I know Sarah Palin, and you're no Sarah Palin.


Read Will Self's columns for the New Statesman

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Will George Osborne soften the tax credit cuts for low-earners?

Labour MP Frank Field offers the Chancellor a partial escape route. 

The Conservatives are the real "workers' party". That is the message that will be delivered repeatedly at the party's conference in Manchester. To this audacious rebranding, there is no more awkward rejoinder than the coming cuts to tax credits. The new "living wage", which will reach £9 by 2020, will not compensate for the losses that low and middle-income families will endure. As the IFS has calculated, three million households will be £1,000 a year worse off. When MPs recently voted in favour of the cuts, there was a small but significant Tory rebellion (former leadership candidate David Davis and Stephen McPartland voted against). It is the loss of income that low-paid workers (the "strivers" in Conservative parlance) will suffer that they object to. 

Now, Frank Field, the chair of the work and pensions select committee, and one of the Labour MPs most respected by the Tories, has offered George Osborne a partial escape route. In a letter to the Chancellor, the former social security minister argues that he should protect the poorest by raising the withdrawal rate for those earning above the new minimum wage. At present, the planned increase in the taper rate from 41 per cent to 48 per cent and the reduction in the earnings threshold from £6,420 to £3,850 will result in 3.2 million families losing an average of £1,350 a year. 

Field writes: "As you will know I welcome wholeheartedly the introduction of the National Living Wage. But its potentially revolutionary impact will be extinguished next year by these cuts to tax credits. Might I therefore ask please whether you would consider introducing a mitigation policy, at nil cost to the Treasury, to protect the lowest paid while the National Living Wage is phased in?

"There is one cost neutral policy in particular which could protect National Living Wage-earners: a secondary earnings threshold paid for by a steeper withdrawal rate for those earning above this new minimum rate.

"This option would retain the existing £6,420 income threshold but introduce a second gross income of £13,100, the equivalent of working 35 hours a week on the National Living Wage. For gross earnings between £6,420 and £13,100, the taper rate would be kept at 41 per cent. The lowest paid working families, therefore, would experience no reduction in tax credit income compared with the current system. To keep the policy cost neutral, gross earnings above £13,100 would need to be tapered at 65 per cent.

"Might this be something you are willing to consider for the Autumn Statement?"

It might indeed be something Osborne is willing to consider. The Sun reports that Boris Johnson, the Chancellor's chief rival for the Conservative leadership, has been studying the proposal and has warned him of "political disaster" if the lowest-paid are not protected. The Mayor of London, frustrated by Osborne's deft appropriation of the "living wage" he championed, is looking for new means of differentation. Past form suggests that Osborne may well give himself some protective cover when he delivers his joint Spending Review and Autumn Statement on 25 November. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.