The Henley streaker: a very British way to welcome the Olympic torch

The torch's relay around Britain has been marked by indifference and disruption, as well as cheering crowds.

Yet another gatecrasher has managed to inject an element of ridicule into the progress of the Olympic torch around the country.

A naked man ran down the street as the procession reached Henley-on-Thames, holding his very own torch aloft as he ran:

He's not the first to distrupt the torch's progress around the UK by any means. In fact, it would seem that Britain has welcomed the symbol of the Olympic spirit with our traditional blend of indifference, mischief and civil disobedience.

There was the incident in Coventry, where two children tried (and almost succeeded) in simply taking the torch out of the hand of its bearer:

As my colleague Alex Hern reported over the weekend, there was also a highly questionable incident when police pushed a boy off his bike as he cycled alongside the torch party:

Another man tried to get near it as it came through Cleethorpes.

In Ezdell, a man was astonished to receive a visit from two plain clothes policemen after he handed out leaflets publicising the torch relay's connections with Nazi-era Germany.

The flame went out here, and had to be rapidly relighted:

Well done, Britain. An excellent reception for a very silly tradition. Although, the whole Torch thing was arguably doomed from the start - it did go out during the lighting ceremony in Greece...

An Olympic Torch bearer holds it aloft at the Giants Causeway. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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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.