Will George Osborne really make those 25 per cent cuts?

Michael Portillo warns Chancellor that extra tax rises may be needed to take the strain off cuts.

The most significant moment in George Osborne's Budget came when the Chancellor confirmed that he will cut spending on all non-protected departments (everything except Health and International Development) by 25 per cent on average. We won't get the full details until the spending review in October but that figure is chilling enough on its own.

Osborne told the House that he recognised the "particular pressures" on education and defence, a clear suggestion that spending in these areas will not be cut by that amount. But concessions for some means even more pain elsewhere. How would our substandard transport system cope with cuts of say 30 per cent?

It is for such reasons that some Tory figures are starting to doubt whether it will be either desirable or possible for Osborne to cut spending by this amount.

Michael Portillo, once chief secretary to the Treasury, has said he is "highly sceptical" that Osborne will maintain his plan to reduce the deficit through a 77:23 ratio of spending cuts to tax rises. He predicts that the coalition will revert to something like the 50:50 split adopted by Ken Clarke during the last major period of fiscal retrenchment in the 1990s.

Even the Economist, which endorsed the Tories at the election, has called for a more balanced apporach:

The Tories have said they want to rely on taxes for a fifth of the consolidation. That may be too ambitious. If something like 2 per cent of GDP were found by higher taxes, leaving spending to be cut by 5 per cent of GDP, it would still be a tougher mix than all but two of the ten biggest OECD deficit-cutters managed.

I expect once the cuts start hurting their constituents, a significant number of Tory MPs will feel the same way.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What Labour MPs who want to elect the shadow cabinet are forgetting

The idea is to push Jeremy Corbyn to build an ideologically broad team, but it distracts from the real hurdle – management.

Labour MPs who have been critical of Jeremy Corbyn are pushing to vote for shadow cabinet members – rather than having all the posts appointed by the leader.

Most of the parliamentary Labour party who are not Corbyn loyalists believe this should be the “olive branch” he offers them, in order to put his recent words about “unity” and “wiping the slate clean” into action.

Corbyn and his allies have refused to consider such an idea outside of a “wider” democratisation of the party – saying that Labour members should also get a say in who’s on the frontbench. It’s also thought Corbyn is reluctant due to the shadow cabinet having three representatives on the National Executive Committee. He wouldn’t want his opponents voting for those, tipping the balance of the Committee back towards centrists.

Shadow cabinet elections were a longstanding convention for Labour in opposition until Ed Miliband urged the party to vote against them in 2011. Labour MPs on different wings of the party believe a return to the system would avoid Labour’s frontbench being populated solely by Corbyn’s ideological wing.

But there is a complication here (aside from the idea of a party leader having to run an effective opposition with their opponents in key shadow cabinet positions).

Proponents of shadow cabinet elections say they would help to make Labour a broad church. But really they could put those in the “make-it-work” camp who initially helped form Corbyn’s team in a difficult position. Initially conciliatory MPs like Thangam Debonnaire and Heidi Alexander have since left their posts, revealing frustration more at Corbyn’s management style than policy direction. Chi Onwurah MP, who remains a shadow minister, has also expressed such concerns.

One senior Labour MP points out that the problem with shadow cabinet elections lies in those who left Corbyn’s shadow cabinet but had wanted to cooperate – not in bringing ideological opponents into the fold.

“There were lots of people on his team who actually liked Jeremy, and wanted to make policy with him,” they tell me. “And many of them eventually felt they had to leave because of how difficult it was to work with him. They wanted to stay but couldn’t. If people like that couldn’t stay, will they go back? It will be much harder for him to show them he can work differently.”

One of the “make-it-work” faction voices their concern about returning to the shadow cabinet via elections for this reason. “A lot of us [who left] are still really interested in our policy areas and would be happy to help if they asked,” they say. “But it was too difficult to be taken seriously when you were actually in those shadow cabinet meetings.”

My source describes a non-collegiate approach in meetings around the shadow cabinet table, where Corbyn would read out pre-written opening statements and responses when they delivered their ideas. “It was like he wasn’t really listening.”

The plan to reintroduce shadow cabinet elections barely left the ground in a meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee on Saturday night, on the eve of Labour conference.

This is in spite of Labour MPs urging the NEC to make a decision on the matter soon. Jon Ashworth, an NEC member and shadow minister, told me shortly after Corbyn’s victory speech that this would be “a good way of bringing people back” in to the team, and was determined to “get some resolution on the issue” soon.

It doesn’t look like we’ll get that yet. But for some who have already tried serving on the frontbench, it’s a distraction from what is for them a management – rather than an ideological – problem.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.