In this week's New Statesman: Lucky Dave

David Miliband | Alistair Darling interview | Giles Fraser on "Thatcher's bishop," George Carey | Vi

lucky dave

Witney GP: "Nobody supports the NHS changes"

In an exchange over the government's controversial health reforms during Prime Minister's Questions last Wednesday, David Cameron cited "a supportive GP . . . who hails from Doncaster" - Ed Miliband's constituency.

In this week's New Statesman, Sophie Elmhirst travels to David Cameron's own constituency, Witney, in west Oxfordshire, where a senior partner of a local GP practice tells her:

"I would say very few GPs are happy with [the NHS reform] at all . . . Not a question of supporting it, it's a question of going along with it.

"In my practice, nobody supports the changes . . . people think there should be more clinical involvement in commissioning. But I don't think many people think that GPs are the right people to commission. They need input into it - but if we wanted to be managers we would have trained to be managers, not doctors."

The GP adds:

"Most GPs are incredibly worried about conflict of interest. How can you be a patient's advocate and look after the money? A lot of people think the whole thing's designed to fail so they can bring private providers in. It's the one big bit of the economy that hasn't got private money in it."

Of the effects of the health-service overhaul on patients, the Witney GP says:

"The public have just got no idea what's hitting them . . . Things are going to fail, hospitals will close, because the money's not going to be there. Things will get taken over. And if you're going to have to make a profit out of it, you're not going to have the same service."

Exclusive: David Miliband's challenge to his party

In his most significant intervention since the Labour leadership contest in 2010, David Miliband uses a New Statesman essay to lay out a seven-point plan for the party.

Calling for a renewal of the radical, reforming spirit that Labour felt in 1994, he begins his essay with a critique of Roy Hattersley's reactionary definition of social democracy, and denounces the faction he describes as "Reassurance Labour":

For some, [Hattersley's stance] will be seductive. It is what I shall call Reassurance Labour. Reassurance about our purpose, our relevance, our position, even our morals. Reassurance Labour feels good. But feeling good is not the same as doing good - and it gets in the way when it stops us rethinking our ideas to meet the challenges of the time. And now is a time for restless rethinking, not reassurance.

Read the article in full here

Alistair Darling interview

In an interview with the New Statesman, the former chancellor Alistair Darling says the economic crisis "turned out to be worse than even I thought it would be". Of the eurozone, Darling says:

"You particularly need to resolve this problem where you have a rich core around Germany and you have a poor core around the Mediterranean countries. Those imbalances are just not sustainable. If you don't do that, you are consigning yourself to maybe two decades of stagnation in the southern part of Europe, and that would drag down northern Europe . . . [Germans] are worried about inflation, although I don't actually think that's a big problem.

"They would do well to remember that what precipitated the rise of Hitler was deflation, high unemployment and hopelessness, and it's that hopelessness that is beginning to permeate the body politic in Germany. The last quarter of German growth was pretty disappointing. If you start to hit people's aspirations you end up with a pretty lethal combination."

Of Ed Miliband's leadership, Darling says:

"In politics if you make an assertion that something needs to change I think you have to have an example of how you do it . . . In relation to growth . . . I think that's absolutely critical. Do we have to do more to present this in a sharper way? Of course we do.

". . . I'm not arguing that you should publish your manifesto three years before the event. [But] people want to know roughly where you're going with it. You remember in the run-up to the 1997 election we were quite careful about what we promised and when Tony [Blair] took over in 1994 we didn't have the entire thing spelt out. But I think . . . ending assisted places and giving national education to three- and four-year-olds was one of the early ones because that was an indicative promise . . . It sent a clear message that what we were talking about in crude terms was the many against the few. That's the sort of thing that we need to be doing now."

Of his former cabinet colleague, David Miliband, Darling says:

"I would like him back on the front bench. For his knowledge, and his judgement. When I've seen him on various programmes talking about foreign affairs he talks with authority. I understand his reluctance. There's always comparisons. He is probably right to take a rain check. Certainly he would be a gain."

Giles Fraser: George Carey's outlook is "straight from the Thatcherite self-help handbook"

The former canon chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral, Giles Fraser, responds to the recent intervention in the debate over welfare reform made by George Carey, Rowan Williams's predecessor as Archbishop of Canterbury. Carey, Fraser writes, showed "all the intellectual subtlety of Jason Statham trying out ballet" when he inveighed, in an article in the Daily Mail, against a benefits system that rewards "fecklessness and irresponsibility".

Carey's attack, according to Fraser, was "entirely predictable. His outlook comes straight from the Thatcherite self-help handbook. But in the current Church of England, he represents a very limited constituency." Much more representative, Fraser thinks, are the bishops who presented "a common front against legislation that would affect some of the most vulnerable in our society".

The clergymen routinely dredged up by the right-wing press to fulminate against benefit cheats, homosexuality or multiculturalism are, Fraser goes on, "all yesterday's men. It is significant that the go-to bishops - Carey and the former bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali - are both retired (though neither in the golf-playing sense, unfortunately)."

As for Dr Williams's likely successor in Lambeth Palace - the Bishop of York, John Sentamu - Fraser insists that he is:

. . . not a right-wing cleric from Central Casting. For all his instinctive conservatism about homosexuality, [Sentamu] was at one with his fellow bishops on welfare reform. The truth is that there is no longer a plausible George Carey-type candidate in the Canterbury stakes. And that says a lot about whom Lord Carey speaks for. He has become a one-man band, peddling a narrow version of Christianity as old-school as the Iron Lady. So, come on, George, do us all a favour - take up golf.

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

All this plus Rafael Behr's Inside Westminster cover story, "Lucky Dave", in which he asks how much longer voters will give Cameron the benefit of the doubt as his policy failures continue to mount; Vivienne Westwood talks to Jemima Khan about the dark side of fashion, her least favourite politicians and why Prince Charles is her hero; in the Critics, the poet David Harsent writes about the reality of sleeplessness, and the Irish author William Trevor pays tribute in a substantial essay to the short fiction of V S Pritchett.

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Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at 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.