Cameron v Brown: the video war

Who will win the contest for Most Convincing International Statesman?

Ah, the joys of new media. And, more to the point, politicians doing new media. And, even more to the point (I am so near the point now I can nearly touch it), politicians competing with each other on who can do new media better.

"This is how to CONNECT," I hear them cry from the bunkers of Westminster. "We will talk straight into their homes. It will be like being IN their homes. They will become our friends!"

And so to two recent offerings from Teams Brown and Cameron, or in their YouTube guises: webcamerontv and Number10. This time they have taken the cameras to Afghanistan: it's the Battle of the International Statesmen.



Spot the difference: Brown wears a smart suit whereas Cameron wants to show he's down with the troops and sports a bullet-proof contraption. (Although once he's talking to the troops he's back in his Oxfordshire-constituency-roaring-British-fires woolly jumper which rather undermines the pervious hardman look.)

Other highlights: Brown trying to banter with heroically patient troops; the soldier standing behind Cameron whose eyes keep veering to the left; Cameron's weird "opposition" joke (I suspect there was a Conservative Party New Media recruit brought along for the ride to hold up a sign saying "Laugh now please, if you would" at appropriate moments.)

The winner? On video views, Cameron by a mile. On statesmanlike dignity? The troops. For gamely tolerating the whole thing.


Sophie Elmhirst is features 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.