Does Justine Greening want to cut aid spending?

The new International Development Secretary reportedly opposes the decision to ring-fence spending.

Does the new International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, believe her department's budget should be cut? That's the suggestion from the Times's Sam Coates, who reports today (£) that Greening opposed the decision to ring-fence aid spending (or rather, to increase it by 35%) and, partly for that reason, didn't want the job. Shadow international development secretary Ivan Lewis told me that he wrote to Greening last night "asking for urgent clarification on this." He added that Cameron's decision to appoint her "raises questions about his commitment" (to the 0.7% target).

But could all this be another one of George Osborne's cunning plans? As I wrote yesterday, a higher-than-expected deficit could prompt the Chancellor to cut aid spending in later years in order to meet his fiscal rules. The decision to install Greening in place of Andrew Mitchell, a passionate supporter of the 0.7% pledge, removes at least one obstacle to doing so.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening arrives in Downing Street earlier this week for the first cabinet meeting since the reshuffle. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Ignored by the media, the Liberal Democrats are experiencing a revival

The crushed Liberals are doing particularly well in areas that voted Conservative in 2015 - and Remain in 2016. 

The Liberal Democrats had another good night last night, making big gains in by-elections. They won Adeyfield West, a seat they have never held in Dacorum, with a massive swing. They were up by close to the 20 points in the Derby seat of Allestree, beating Labour into second place. And they won a seat in the Cotswolds, which borders the vacant seat of Witney.

It’s worth noting that they also went backwards in a safe Labour ward in Blackpool and a safe Conservative seat in Northamptonshire.  But the overall pattern is clear, and it’s not merely confined to last night: the Liberal Democrats are enjoying a mini-revival, particularly in the south-east.

Of course, it doesn’t appear to be making itself felt in the Liberal Democrats’ poll share. “After Corbyn's election,” my colleague George tweeted recently, “Some predicted Lib Dems would rise like Lazarus. But poll ratings still stuck at 8 per cent.” Prior to the local elections, I was pessimistic that the so-called Liberal Democrat fightback could make itself felt at a national contest, when the party would have to fight on multiple fronts.

But the local elections – the first time since 1968 when every part of the mainland United Kingdom has had a vote on outside of a general election – proved that completely wrong. They  picked up 30 seats across England, though they had something of a nightmare in Stockport, and were reduced to just one seat in the Welsh Assembly. Their woes continued in Scotland, however, where they slipped to fifth place. They were even back to the third place had those votes been replicated on a national scale.

Polling has always been somewhat unkind to the Liberal Democrats outside of election campaigns, as the party has a low profile, particularly now it has just eight MPs. What appears to be happening at local by-elections and my expectation may be repeated at a general election is that when voters are presented with the option of a Liberal Democrat at the ballot box they find the idea surprisingly appealing.

Added to that, the Liberal Democrats’ happiest hunting grounds are clearly affluent, Conservative-leaning areas that voted for Remain in the referendum. All of which makes their hopes of a good second place in Witney – and a good night in the 2017 county councils – look rather less farfetched than you might expect. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.