Can anything derail The King’s Speech?

On Baftas weekend, a look at this year’s blockbuster British film.

Last year's Baftas set the tone for the awards season, with five winners of top-tier awards – The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow, Christoph Waltz, Mo'Nique and Up – going on to glory at the Oscars.

This year, of course, the chatter is all about The King's Speech, which has 14 nominations. But, as the Independent's behind-the-scenes guide to the awards notes, it could suffer from having its votes split betwen the Best Film and Outstanding British Film awards.

The Independent article also offers an interesting analysis of why so few films get all the attention. (This year, it's The King's Speech, Black Swan, True Grit and The Social Network.) Although 207 films were entered in the various categories for the Baftas, the average number seen by the academy's 13,000 voters was 37. Understandably, most people don't have time to watch 400-plus hours of movies in the run-up to the awards, and so the films with the biggest marketing budgets and a critical head of steam benefit from their high visibility.

This year, that means that the top gongs at the Golden Globes were split between The King's Speech and The Social Network; the latter did better at the London Critics' Choice awards, beating the British film four to one. The Screen Actors Guild, meanwhile, gave Colin Firth and his film an award each, with Natalie Portman taking Best Actress and The Fighter the other two movie awards.

The other obvious trend during awards season is the bias against "commercial" films. As the Telegraph notes here, the Harry Potter franchise has had 23 Bafta nominations over the years but only one win (for production design). Similarly, last year's Oscar votes went to the determinedly small-scale Hurt Locker, rather than Avatar. (Say what you like about the blue aliens and the plot that was oddly reminiscent of Pocahontas, but James Cameron did invent a whole new type of film-making . . . )

Not that the Baftas are averse to films that happen to rake in the cash. The King's Speech is about to pass $200m worldwide at the box office, from a reported budget of £15m. (By comparison, The Social Network, with the advantages of a well-known writer and director and a subject that everyone has an opinion on, has taken $220m.)

The Guardian's Andrew Pulver and Xan Brooks report that the success of The King's Speech gives hope to the "lost middle" of the world film industry – movies that are neither giant money-hoovers nor tiny indie flicks. If so, a Bafta triumph would be a huge boost for a sector shaken by the scrapping of the UK Film Council.

The full list of Bafta nominees is here.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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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.