CommentPlus: pick of the papers

The ten must-read pieces from this morning’s papers.

1. Nick Clegg: Florida, here we come (Guardian)

The coalition's rush to redraw constituency boundaries will disenfranchise millions of poor and minority voters, warns the Labour MP Tristram Hunt.

Read the CommentPlus summary.

2. Five years? Four years? Keep counting down (Times)

Given David Cameron's private scepticism over the war in Afghanistan, the timescale for withdrawal is shortening by the day, writes Rachel Sylvester.

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3. Today's Keynesians have learned nothing (Financial Times)

The choice is not between stimulus and austerity, argues Niall Ferguson, but between policies that boost private-sector confidence and those that kill it.

4. But what if the big society doesn't work? (Independent)

David Cameron's "big society" is likely to struggle without greater resources and investment, writes Steve Richards.

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5. Big society? It's all about liberating the locals (Times)

Elsewhere, the Tory MP Rory Stewart says that if we set local communities free, many services now threatened could be saved.

6. Britain's nuclear choice can be cheap and scary (Financial Times)

There is no point in spending billions on renewing Trident, argues Gideon Rachman. Instead, the government should choose an unspecified, cheaper option, build it -- and then shut up about it.

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7. Some say Zimbabwe's diamonds are drenched in blood. They are wrong (Guardian)

To the NGO and human rights world, Zimbabwe's diamonds are a symbol of repression, writes Petina Gappah. But if channelled properly, these riches could transform the country.

8. BP and Lockerbie matter more than Obama (Times)

David Cameron must promise full co-operation with the Senate investigation into BP and the Lockerbie bomber, says John Bolton.

9. It will take more than jam and Jerusalem to create David Cameron's big society (Daily Telegraph)

A fractured Labour Party will not be forgiven for standing by as Britain is broken apart, writes Mary Riddell.

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10. Hungary blunders (Financial Times)

In its treatment of Hungary, the IMF should send a signal to other governments tempted to flirt with indiscipline, says a leader in the Financial Times.

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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.