"It's got to do with Iran" - Chief Rabbi caught off guard on the Today programme

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says Gaza conflict is "to do with Iran" after not realising he was still on air.

There was an amusing moment on the Today programme this morning when, after delivering Thought For The Day, Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was asked by presenter Evan Davis for his thoughts on the situation in Gaza. Not appearing to realise he was still on air, he sighed and replied, "I think it's got to do with Iran, actually", a moment of candour that prompted co-presenter Sarah Montague to whisper, "we, we're live!"

Sacks then delivered a more banal response offering a "a continued prayer for peace, not only in Gaza but for the whole region. No one gains from violence, not the Palestinians, not the Israelis. This is an issue here where we must all pray for peace and work for it."

One wonders: did Sacks not finish his point because he thought it was inappropriate or because he thought Today thought it was inappropriate?

You can listen to the exchange in full above.

Update: The BBC has apologised for catching Sacks off-guard. A spokesman said: "The Chief Rabbi hadn’t realised he was still on-air and as soon as this became apparent, we interjected. Evan likes to be spontaneous with guests but he accepts that in this case it was inappropriate and he has apologised to Lord Sacks. The BBC would reiterate that apology."

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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.