7 Days

Train crash Four people died and 34 were injured after a train from London, carrying 200 people, came off the rails near Hatfield. The Great North Eastern Railway service to Leeds was travelling at more than 100mph when it left the tracks and split into two. The cause of the crash is still being investigated but police ruled out terrorism.

Crime is out Crime rates are the best for nine years. The British Crime Survey reported that the overall crime rate has dropped 10 per cent in the last two years and that burglaries are down 21 per cent to their lowest level for 18 years. Paul Wiles, research director at the Home Office, said the overall drop could be a consequence of crime becoming less "fashionable".

Activist set free The British human rights campaigner James Mawdsley is to be released by the Burmese authorities after more than a year of solitary confinement and the threat of having to serve out a 17-year sentence. The 27-year-old, who has made it his life's mission to fight for human rights in Burma, was arrested on 31 August last year for carrying pro-democracy leaflets. The leaflets condemned the military regime and called for the release of the Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been held under house arrest since her party won Burmese elections 11 years ago.

The chosen one An unexpected package was delivered to Jeremy Paxman at the BBC: the Enigma machine, used during the Second World War to crack German codes, and believed to be the one stolen from Bletchley Park museum on April Fools' Day.

Acid love Birmingham Crown Court heard how Andrew Gardner, a former hospital laboratory technician, waited 20 minutes before calling an ambulance for his partner, Karenina Longe, who was screaming with agony after drinking sulphuric acid. Gardner denies that he gave Longe the drain cleaning fluid because he could not accept their relationship was over.

This article first appeared in the 23 October 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Why Brown should hold his nerve

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A simple U-Turn may not be enough to get the Conservatives out of their tax credit mess

The Tories are in a mess over cuts to tax credits. But a mere U-Turn may not be enough to fix the problem. 

A spectre is haunting the Conservative party - the spectre of tax credit cuts. £4.4bn worth of cuts to the in-work benefits - which act as a top-up for lower-paid workers - will come into force in April 2016, the start of the next tax year - meaning around three million families will be £1,000 worse off. For most dual-earner families affected, that will be the equivalent of a one partner going without pay for an entire month.

The politics are obviously fairly toxic: as one Conservative MP remarked to me before the election, "show me 1,000 people in my constituency who would happily take a £1,000 pay cut, then we'll cut welfare". Small wonder that Boris Johnson is already making loud noises about the coming cuts, making his opposition to them a central plank of his 

Tory nerves were already jittery enough when the cuts were passed through the Commons - George Osborne had to personally reassure Conservative MPs that the cuts wouldn't result in the nightmarish picture being painted by Labour and the trades unions. Now that Johnson - and the Sun - have joined in the chorus of complaints.

There are a variety of ways the government could reverse or soften the cuts. The first is a straightforward U-Turn: but that would be politically embarrassing for Osborne, so it's highly unlikely. They could push back the implementation date - as one Conservative remarked - "whole industries have arranged their operations around tax credits now - we should give the care and hospitality sectors more time to prepare". Or they could adjust the taper rates - the point in your income  at which you start losing tax credits, taking away less from families. But the real problem for the Conservatives is that a mere U-Turn won't be enough to get them out of the mire. 

Why? Well, to offset the loss, Osborne announced the creation of a "national living wage", to be introduced at the same time as the cuts - of £7.20 an hour, up 50p from the current minimum wage.  In doing so, he effectively disbanded the Low Pay Commission -  the independent body that has been responsible for setting the national minimum wage since it was introduced by Tony Blair's government in 1998.  The LPC's board is made up of academics, trade unionists and employers - and their remit is to set a minimum wage that provides both a reasonable floor for workers without costing too many jobs.

Osborne's "living wage" fails at both counts. It is some way short of a genuine living wage - it is 70p short of where the living wage is today, and will likely be further off the pace by April 2016. But, as both business-owners and trade unionists increasingly fear, it is too high to operate as a legal minimum. (Remember that the campaign for a real Living Wage itself doesn't believe that the living wage should be the legal wage.) Trade union organisers from Usdaw - the shopworkers' union - and the GMB - which has a sizable presence in the hospitality sector -  both fear that the consequence of the wage hike will be reductions in jobs and hours as employers struggle to meet the new cost. Large shops and hotel chains will simply take the hit to their profit margins or raise prices a little. But smaller hotels and shops will cut back on hours and jobs. That will hit particularly hard in places like Cornwall, Devon, and Britain's coastal areas - all of which are, at the moment, overwhelmingly represented by Conservative MPs. 

The problem for the Conservatives is this: it's easy to work out a way of reversing the cuts to tax credits. It's not easy to see how Osborne could find a non-embarrassing way out of his erzatz living wage, which fails both as a market-friendly minimum and as a genuine living wage. A mere U-Turn may not be enough.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.