Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. It should've been clear deposing Gaddafi was the easy bit (Guardian)

The west has once again started a fire it cannot extinguish, says Simon Tisdall.

2. Not Ofqual? Not Gove? Is no one responsible for the exam fiasco? (Independent)

It’s not that ministers wield too much power over our education system – but rather that they don’t wield enough, says Steve Richards

3. Mere abuse won’t silence us on assisted dying (Times) (£)

The Health Minister ’s critics don’t have any evidence — only trumped-up platitudes, says Terry Pratchett.

4. Russia begins its slow pivot to Asia (Financial Times)

Moscow is looking to the east but has a lot of catching up to do, writes David Pilling.

5. The victims of a prejudice against my city (Independent)

Deep-seated prejudices about "wallowing" Scousers have kept the Hillsborough injustice in the dark for too long, writes Jane Merrick.

6. Infighting could scupper welfare reform (Daily Telegraph)

David Cameron needs to get a grip before the universal credit scheme fails, warns Sue Camer

7. A Burberry-style profits warning is nothing to envy (Guardian)

The rich think their luxury lifestyles are coveted, writes Zoe Williams. But that's not the feeling that immodest spending evinces these days.

8. The euro’s demise may be the final chapter of the ERM debacle (Daily Telegraph)

The drama of 1992 showed why Germany cannot lead Europe out of a monetary crisis, says Jeremy Warner.

9. Psychodrama hears Conservative voices (Financial Times)

Voters are doomed to endless performances in which rightwing MPs invoke the spirit of Thatcher, says Robert Shrimsley.

10. Boris Johnson is no laughing matter (Guardian)

The mayor of London did not deliver the Olympics but is sucking up the credit for them, writes Suzanne Moore.


Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

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.