Web Only: the best of the blogs

The five must-read blogs from today, on left-wing bloggers, Nigel Farage and Charles Clarke

1. The online left thinks 2010 will be their year

Guido Fawkes blogs on James Crabtree's NS piece and predicts that the growth of the online left could help "consign the Labour Party to irrelevance for a good while".

2. The Noughties were Britain's first Tory-free decade

Over at Next Left, Sunder Katwala notes that the Noughties were only the second decade in modern British political history (after the Eighties) of one-party rule.

3. Buckingham Tories ordered by CCHQ to campaign for John Bercow or stay silent

ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie blogs on David Cameron's warning that he will eject anyone found campaigning for Ukip's Nigel Farage at the next election.

4. 10 key Lib Dem questions for 2010

Over at Liberal Democrat Voice, Stephen Tall lists the ten key questions his party must answer next year.

5. No ifs, no buts: Gordon is here to stay -- so let's get on with it

LabourList's Jack Scott says that Charles Clarke has made a fool of himself by calling for Gordon Brown to resign (again). He warns: "Changing the leader doesn't make it any easier to change our country."


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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.