Ten things you won’t hear about while everyone discusses Kate Middleton’s pregnancy

News keeps happening, although it might not seem like it at the moment.

  1. Syrian foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi has reportedly defected from Assad’s regime. Makdissi, who is part of Syria’s Christian minority, had previously staunchly defended the regime’s crackdown, but is now said to have “left the country”. There are also reports that the UN is pulling its staff out of Syria, meaning that aid missions outside the city of Damascus will be suspended.
  2. There’s a pretty important economic event happening in the UK on Wednesday, when George Osborne will deliver his Autumn Statement (yes, it is December, but he doesn’t seem to know that). The FT have a handy outline of what you can expect if you like tax, rather than cooing over the possibility of twins, here.
  3. Five EU states have summoned their respective Israeli ambassadors to protest against Israel’s authorisation of 3,000 new settler homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
  4. Spain has requested a €39.5bn bailout from the EU for its struggling banking sector. The Telegraph reports that “€37bn of that will go to the four big banks, while €2.5bn will be dropped into the ‘bad bank’ which is soaking up much of the country's toxic property assets”.
  5. Kim Jong-Un is probably going to start testing missiles again quite soon.
  6. Paul McCartney will appear in the final print edition of The Dandy, before it goes online-only. Apparently, he’s a big fan.
  7. Despite the so-called “shareholder spring” earlier this year, where shareholders voted against remuneration packages for FTSE100 bosses, executive pay is still up 12 per cent in the last 12 months.
  8. The DRC government has regained control over Goma, but the M23 rebels are still only a few kilometres away, according to Reuters.
  9. It looks like Italy is going to have a centre-left prime minister come the spring – Pier Luigi Bersani has retained control of his party, which is ahead in the polls. The BBC says he’s a a slow-talking cigar-smoking former-communist, in case you were wondering.
  10. Some people think the world is going to end on 21 December, so French authorities are going to pre-emptively close a mountain just in case. Apparently, the doomsday cultists “believe the Pic de Bugarach is an ‘alien garage’ and that extraterrestrials are quietly waiting in a massive cavity beneath the rock for the world to end”.
Pic de Bugarach, aka Mayan doomsday mountain. Photograph: WikiCommons

Caroline Crampton is web editor of 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.