Osborne's £5bn plan is too little, too late

A programme funded by cuts elsewhere is an insufficient stimulus.

It's easy now to forget that George Osborne scrapped the pre-Budget report (introduced by Gordon Brown in 1997) in the belief that major decisions on tax and spending should be reserved for the Budget itself. The new slimmed-down autumn statement was designed to include little more than the OBR's latest forecasts on growth, borrowing and jobs. But confronted by a renewed economic crisis, Osborne has turned it into a second Budget in all but name.

Aware that the OBR's gloomy forecasts will dominate the news on Tuesday, the Chancellor has got his retaliation in early. After announcing up to £40bn of credit easing at the weekend, today's papers report that Osborne has found an extra £5bn for capital projects including road, rail and broadband infrastructure.

So, since ministers have repeatedly pledged not to a spend a penny more, where is the money coming from? In part, from lower than projected departmental spending and higher corporate tax receipts, but also through a planned freeze on working tax credits. Significantly, the extra £5bn does not effect Osborne's pledge to eliminate the structural deficit, which is based on current not capital spending. Indeed, the squeeze on current spending will help the Chancellor to meet that target within the next five years (the coalition's fiscal mandate). But it's still a significant U-turn by him. At the time of the Lib Dem conference when some ministers were agitating for an extra £5bn of capital spending the Treasury simply replied: "we have our spending plans and we are sticking to them". If it's not Plan B (Osborne has not and will not change course on the deficit), it's still some way from Plan A.

But is it too little, too late? Almost certainly yes. The decision to fund the project through savings elsewhere means that there will be no net increase in demand, little new stimulus. With unemployment at 2.62m and growth almost non-existent, Osborne needed something special. This isn't it.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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