Five things you didn't know about Saad Hariri

Profile: Syria’s richest foe.

A bomb blast in central Beirut and the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan have stirred things up in Lebanon. Countrywide anti government protests, next year’s forthcoming elections and a national fear of what Syria’s regime might plot next have put the spotlight on Lebanon’s opposition Future Movement. But the Movement’s fiery leader has more reason than most to fear violence in Syria. Here are five things you may not have known about Saad Hariri:

  1. His father Rafiq Hariri, who was Prime Minister of Lebanon for a total of 10 years, was assassinated in a similar explosion on 14th February 2005. A UN Special Tribunal named four Hezbollah leaders responsible for the attack. Saad maintains that the members were under orders from President Assad of Syria.
  2. Saad’s own term as Prime Minister ended in 2011 when Hezbollah members of his coalition government resigned over his endorsement of the tribunal’s verdict.
  3. Formally a businessman, Saad Hariri is worth $2 bn. Collectively, the Hariri family is worth about $9.6 bn making them one the wealthiest families of the Middle East. Their riches come from Saudi Oger, a family construction company that rode the petrodollar boom in Saudi Arabia. Another company, Solidere, has rebuilt most of the war battered downtown Beirut.
  4. Jacques Chirac is a close friend and, since stepping down as French President, has lived in a Paris apartment owned by the family.
  5. Evidently fearful of further assassinations, most of the Hariri family live abroad. His many siblings and half-siblings live in elaborate Parisian apartments or palatial Saudi homes. Saad himself spends most of his life in Saudi Arabia, where he has moved his wife and two sons.
Saad Hariri. Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

Photo: Getty Images
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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.