Morning Call: pick of the comment

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

1. The inconvenient truths about Tory councils (Guardian)

Jon Cruddas and Chuka Umunna argue that the record of Conservative councils on green issues and public services shows up David Cameron's claim that the Tories are "progressive".

2. Even failed terrorists spell serious trouble (Times)

David Aaronovitch says that the airline "bomber" reminds us that there are jihadis who continually experiment with ways of achieving the next 9/11. The "it's all an exaggerated fuss" brigade has been proved wrong again.

3. Cameron will regret flirting with Clegg (Independent)

Michael Brown warns David Cameron that his persistent overtures to the Lib Dems dilute his political message and expose a lack of confidence.

4. Gordon Brown should forget class war and worry about civil war (Telegraph)

Mary Riddell says the Prime Minister must act to prevent an escalation of government feuding that could swiftly hand power to David Cameron.

5. Global tides that shaped the Noughties (Financial Times)

Simon Schama says that the past decade has profoundly undermined the collective optimism of the Enlightenment.

6. Gladstone was a political giant compared to our puny, modern MPs (Guardian)

Geoffrey Wheatcroft laments that no modern politician attracts the awed admiration Gladstone received from friend and foe alike.

7. Some in the US already see Arab state as "tomorrow's target" (Independent)

Patrick Cockburn warns that Yemen may become a target for US intervention, with Washington quietly supplying military equipment and training to the Yemeni armed forces.

8. In Africa they won't feel lonesome tonight (Times)

Richard Dowden says that Africa's communalism has a lot to teach a world that suffers from loneliness and depression.

9. Iran and Twitter: the fatal folly of the online revolutionaries (Daily Telegraph)

Will Heaven argues that Twitter activists have done little to give genuine support to Iranian dissidents.

10. Look back in anger at the spirit of the age (Financial Times)

John Kay looks at the phrases that encapsulated an era of financial folly.


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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.