Liononomics: hard cash trumps t-shirts with fluffy lions on them

Why WWF campaigners should have been working for the Zambian tourist board.

According to reports, Zambia has just banned lion hunting, but only because it can make more money per lion from tourism than from hunting.

So much for all that campaigning and wearing of T-shirts - turns out that those WWF devotees should have been working for the Zambian tourist board all along.

Sylvia Masebo, Zambia's minister for tourism, told Reuters that the big cat numbers were decreasing too rapidly to merit the estimated £1.8 m earned from hunting each year:

"Tourists come to Zambia to see the lion and if we lose the lion we will be killing our tourism industry," said Masebo. "Why should we lose our animals for $3 million (£1.8 m) a year? The benefits we get from tourist visits are much higher."

According to blog, though, she kinda took this back afterwards, in various "clarifications". Now she's saying that although potential hunters will no longer be awarded tenders, those with existing tenders can still hunt:

“Some of the clarifications on the process are that no tender that was awarded has been cancelled, instead, what was stopped was the process of tendering itself. I did not cancel the tender for safari hunting but merely stopped the process,” Masebo said much to the astonishment of the delegates.
From the meeting, it was clear that Masebo acted emotionally to announce the ban on leopard and lion hunting mainly on account of wrong advice from her friends, a close associate to Masebo said.
“Masebo is a puppet of individuals like Yousuf Zumla who is her chief advisor and has personal agenda to settle old score with competitors  and has been using his relationship with Masebo not knowing that he is harming the entire sector,” said one of the delegates close to Masebo.

Awww. Photograph: Getty Images
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.