Soon Alan Rusbridger will be looking through this window from the other side. Photo: Muir Vidler/New Statesman
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Staff ballot for next editor is causing untold angst at the Guardian

The staff at the Guardian get a chance to vote on who they think the next editor should be. But how can they do that when they don't know who all the candidates are?

Word reaches the Mole of yesterday's NUJ chapel meeting at the Guardian to discuss the staff ballot on the next editor, due to take place later this month. The ballot is causing much angst in Kings Cross, due to the fact that democracy often produces inconvenient results - i.e. the Scott Trust is worried that the staff won't agree with their choice for an heir to Alan Rusbridger.

The word among the comrades was that headhunters approached the BBC's Robert Peston as an external candidate, although no one knows whether he showed any interest. 

Internally, the contest is between Janine Gibson, recently returned to London after winning a Pulitzer for the US web operation, and Katharine Viner, who replaced her in America after setting up a Guardian outpost Down Under. (Gibson was described by Michael Wolff in GQ as "rather a Fleet Street character - messy, crude, unread and gossipy to an invariably trouble-making end", although he declined to mention that she sacked him as a columnist, which may colour his judgement). Comment supremo Jonathan Freedland has not applied, although the architect of the Guardian website's redesign, Wolfgang Blau, may have thrown his hat into the ring.

The key point from yesterday's meeting was that the staff ballot will be open to regular freelancers - anyone who earns more than half their salary from Guardian commissions. That means a lot more votes from contributors to, say, Weekend Magazine, the Review pages and G2. And which of the candidates came up through features rather than news? Viner. 

The other great unspoken in the room yesterday was the King Across the Water - Newsnight's Ian Katz. "What if the editor of, say . . . Newsround applied?" said staff, hypothetically. Would he - OR SHE - be part of the ballot? No one knows if former Guardian lifer Katz has applied for the job, but it would certainly undermine his position at the BBC if word got out he wanted to jump ship.

When the ballot was held last time, there were four candidates, but all were from the Guardian. The voting system, aptly for the Guardian, is slightly confusing - it's single transferable vote, meaning the candidates with the lowest support in each round is knocked out and their voters' second choices are given to the remaining contenders. Last time - as many of the hacks present remembered - Rusbridger won by a landslide in the first round. 

The big problem this time is what to do if there is an external candidate who doesn't want to publicise their application. Is it fair if they're not on the ballot? What's the point of the staff voting if the Scott Trust could appoint someone who was never even put to a public vote? Such questions were left undecided, although there was talk of an emergency chapel meeting if the staff vote and board decision were not the same. 

After a few rousing renditions of the Red Flag and a hearty quinoa buffet, the meeting broke up. The hustings will take place at the end of the month - but who knows whether all the candidates will be there, or just the internal ones?

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.