Osborne's tax cut means more pain elsewhere

IFS says Tory shadow chancellor's new pledge means spending cuts or tax rises elsewhere.

George Osborne's promise to reverse part of Labour's planned £7bn increase in National Insurance is being hailed by the right as a game-changer to match his 2007 pledge to slash inheritance tax.

The Tory shadow chancellor insists that the plan will be funded through "efficiency savings" of £12bn, of which £6bn will go towards the NI cut, meaning that the Tories can still reduce the deficit faster than Labour.

But here is the verdict of the Institute for Fiscal Studies:

The Conservatives claim that the spending cuts can, in effect, be rendered painless by efficiency savings that they say their advisers have identified. Whether or not that is true, using the bulk of these spending cuts to finance the NI cut means that they are not available to contribute to the task of reducing government borrowing that the Conservatives have set such store by. Reducing the deficit more quickly than the government plans to will therefore require even greater cuts to public services spending, or to greater reliance on welfare cuts or tax increases that might be as economically costly as the NI increases they are seeking to mitigate.

It's hard to see how Osborne can pull this one off without reverting to the old Tory strategy of raising VAT, the most regressive tax of all, or by introducing just the sort of "swingeing cuts" that David Cameron has worked to distance his party from.

The Tories' promise to cut taxation, cut unemployment and cut the deficit just isn't credible after this latest announcement.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.