A progressive alliance: the numbers

Alliance could hope to count on the support of 330 MPs.

Following Gordon Brown's extraordinary, game-changing statement, here is a guide to how a progressive alliance could be constructed. Bear in mind that as Sinn Féin's five MPs refuse to take their Commons seats, a government needs 321 seats for a de facto majority in the House.

Progressive alliance

Labour: 258 seats

Liberal Democrats: 57 seats

Social Democratic Labour Party: 3 seats (Labour's Northern Irish sister party)

The Alliance Party: 1 seat (Lib Dems' Northern Irish sister party)

Plaid Cymru: 3 seats (currently in coalition with Labour in Wales)

Scottish National Party: 6 seats (the SNP negotiating team arrived in London last night and called for a "progressive" alternative to a Tory-Lib Dem pact)

Green Party: 1 seat (Caroline Lucas has ruled out joining a formal coalition, but maintains that she is "interested in talking about ways we might co-operate")

Independent: 1 seat (Sylvia Hermon regularly voted with Labour while an Ulster Unionist MP, and could be expected to back the government on key votes)

Total: 330 seats

Conservative alliance

Conservative Party: 307 seats (I add one seat, as the Tories are almost certain to win the delayed election in Thirsk and Malton)

Democratic Unionist Party: 8 seats (the DUP generally votes with the Tories and there has been talk of a deal for some time)

Total: 315 seats

Perhaps the clearest indicator we've had that a progressive alliance is increasingly likely is the statement issued by Nick Clegg this evening. He made it clear he was dissatisfied with the Tories' current offer:

[S]o far we have been unable to agree a comprehensive partnership agreement for a full parliament.

We need a government that lasts, which is why we believe, in the light of the state of talks with the Conservative Party, the only responsible thing to do is to open discussions with the Labour Party to secure a stable partnership agreement.

The possibility that Britain's progressive majority may finally receive adequate representation in government is more real than ever tonight.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.