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Wallace no more: Ed Miliband seems to have a plasticine “cameo” in the new Shaun the Sheep film

Aardman’s revenge.

A hundred years from now, what will we remember of Ed Miliband’s tenure as Labour leader? The accusations of fratricide that dogged his ascent to the top?
The wild popularity of predistribution? That time he ate a bacon sandwich?

No. Chances are, it will be the frequent and not always favourable comparisons that have been made between his face and that of a British cultural icon: Wallace, from Wallace and Gromit. Even this mole’s own esteemed publication has not been immune to this:

Wallace’s heart has always been in the right place (and he certainly is a skilled inventor – he built a rocket that went to the moon and back, after all) but he does frequently need to be rescued from scrapes by Gromit – an element of the comparison that various political opponents have gone out of their way to tease out.

But now, Wallace creators Aardman have gone one better. They appear to have actually given Ed Miliband a plasticine cameo in their new film about beloved W&G spin off character Shaun the sheep. Here he is:

It’s a shockingly good likeness. Shaun himself rather captures our reaction when we first saw it:

Here he is again, just in case you weren’t sure the first time:

Judging by the trailer, “Ed” is a waiter in a restaurant that the cunningly-disguised sheep frequent while on a trip to the big city. He’s obviously going to steal the limelight, to Shaun’s despair:

David Cameron, who has long enjoyed throwing the Wallace comparison in Ed’s face, is clearly going to be delighted. In fact, he probably did a happy dance just like this pig when he first heard about it, this mole imagines:

Aren’t election campaigns fun?

I'm a mole, innit.

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.