Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. The Lib Dems aren't going to rescue themselves by being timid (Observer)
They need to be seen as kinder than the Tories, safer with the economy than Labour and more radical than either, says Andrew Rawnsley

2. You'll be sorry as the wolves circle, Clegg (Sunday Times £)
Leaders are now suspiciously quick to resort to "sorry", says Martin Ivens

3. I don't believe Mitchell said the P-word (Sunday Telegraph)
The Chief Whip has a temper but it's not in him to use the word "pleb", say Matthew d'Ancona

4. The key pillars of our economy need reshaping, starting with finance (Observer)
The first in a three-part series, by Will Hutton

5. Can "three jobs" Laws really save the Lib Dems? (Daily Mail)
He is said to be working 20 hours a day, says James Forsyth

6. An EU referendum could be the crucial moment of David Cameron's career (Sunday Telegraph)
The outcome could mark Cameron as one of history's consequential Prime Ministers

7. Clegg's apology hands leadership to to Cable (Independent on Sunday)
The leader is stalked by his more popular rival, says John Rentoul

8. Mitchell must go, then we can discuss policing (Independent on Sunday)
The snobbish outburst of a cabinet minister shouldn't stop a debate about policing

9. Nick's sorry? Yeah, and the dog ate my homework (Daily Mail)
Clegg's hollow excuses have make him look like a man in a sorry state, says Viv Groskop

10. Troll away, vile trolls, you're doing us a service (Sunday Times £)
Free speech has no boundaries, says India Knight

A year on from the Spending Review, the coalition's soothsayer has emerged to offer another gloomy economic prognosis. Asked by ITV News whether he could promise that there wouldn't be a double-dip recession, Vince Cable replied: "I can't do that.

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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.