Morning Call: pick of the comment

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

1. Better to have no deal at Copenhagen than one that spells catastrophe (Guardian)

Naomi Klein warns that a climate change deal that limits the rise in average global temperatures to 2C would be disastrous for Africa.

2. Why new challenges need new people (Financial Times)

Martin Wolf says that the "post post-Thatcher era" requires politicians who have the flexibility to recognise new challenges. Gordon Brown now has to prove he can do so.

3. For a balanced verdict on Blair, look beyond Chilcot (Independent)

John Rentoul argues that the Chilcot inquiry is being intimidated into passing an unduly critical verdict on Blair.

4. Heroes of New Labour (Economist)

Bagehot names the outstanding figures of the New Labour era, including Lord Adonis, Donald Dewar, Lord Mandelson and Robin Cook.

5. The influence of Prince Charles the lobbyist is out of hand (Times)

Paul Richards argues that our deference to the crown prevents us from questioning "the secret relationship" between the heir to the throne and government ministers.

6. A perfectly proper Prince (Daily Telegraph)

But a leader in the Telegraph says that Charles has a duty to take a close interest in government policy, and calls on republicans to declare their true motives.

7. A global order swept away in the rapids of history (Financial Times)

Philip Stephens says that the choice now is between a world of co-operative multilaterism or one of narrow nationalism.

8. Not even Cameron can control the politics of anger (Guardian)

Martin Kettle predicts that, if elected, Cameron will struggle to cope with a hostility towards politicians "almost revolutionary" in its force.

9. A toxic childhood won't be cured in school (Times)

Alice Thomson says that Ed Balls should blame parents for the materialism of school children.

10. Gamblers who must be punished (Independent)

Paul Collier argues that bankers who take excessive risks should be criminalised.


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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.