10 pieces of bad news that Osborne left out of his Autumn Statement

The small print shows that the economy will shrink in the current quarter and that unemployment will rise next year.

As ever, you had to scour the small print to find the bad news that George Osborne chose to leave out of his Autumn Statement. So here, complete with references to the OBR document, are the ten stats that the Chancellor would rather you didn't know.

1. The economy is expected to shrink in the current quarter, with the OBR forecasting a contraction of 0.1 per cent. (p. 48 OBR document). It states that "headline GDP growth is likely to be negative in the final quarter of 2012 as the effect from the Olympics reverses." The day before the last set of growth figures were released, Cameron boasted that "the good news will keep coming". It's now clear that it won't.

2. Despite the government's promise to "make work pay", sixty per cent of the real-terms cut to benefits (they will rise by just 1 per cent for three years) will fall on working households. (Resolution Foundation) A working family on £20,000 with two children will lose £279 a year from next April.

3. The recent fall in unemployment is expected to be reversed as the jobless total rises from 2.5 million to 2.7 million next year. (p. 83 OBR document)

4. Were it not for the inclusion of the expected £3.5bn receipts from the 4G spectrum auction - which hasn't taken place yet - the deficit would be higher this year (£123.8bn) than last year (£121.4bn). (p. 5 OBR document).

5. The measures announced yesterday by Osborne are expected to increase GDP by just 0.1 per cent over the forecast period. (p. 51 OBR document). This was no Autumn Statement for growth.

6. Earnings are forecast to rise at a slower rate than inflation until the second quarter of 2014. (p. 86 OBR document). By then, the median full-time wage will be 7.4 per cent below its 2008 level.

7. Public sector job cuts will reach 1.1 million by 2018 (p. 83 OBR document), reducing government employment to its lowest level in post-war history.

8. An extra 400,000 people will be dragged into the 40p tax band by 2015-16, paying an extra £117 per year.

9. The government is expected to lose £16.5bn on its stakes in the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds, up from an estimate of £14.3bn in March. (p. 162 OBR document).

10. Osborne's decision to cut the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p means the 8,000 people earning a million pounds or more will receive an average tax cut of £107,500 from next April.

George Osborne leaves number 11 Downing Street for the Treasury on December 5, 2012 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Russia holds the key to resolving the North Korea crisis

China is propping up North Korea’s economy, but it seems to get little influence in return.

For more than half a century, China has seen North Korea as a dangerous irritant as much as an asset. It might be useful for keeping the United States off guard, and regarded as an essential buffer by the military establishment, but China would happily ditch it if there were a better option.

The North Korean regime has tended to be characterised as uniquely irrational and unpredictable. From its perspective, however, its behaviour makes eminent sense: in fact, its argument for developing a nuclear capability closely echoes the rationale of the great powers. It has no declared intent to launch a first strike, but as long as others have nuclear weapons, North Korea reasons they serve a deterrent function. The regime also argues, as others have, that there are associated benefits with civil nuclear power.  

The long history of North Korea’s nuclear programme follows a recognisable path, previously trodden by Israel, India and Pakistan. It goes from the ambition, formed in the mind of North Korea’s founding dictator, Kim Il-sung, through the long years of a clandestine programme, to the gradual revelation of a reasonably mature, if relatively small, nuclear capability. Signalling is also an element in deterrence. The regime is certainly unpleasant and destabilising, but it is a mistake to imagine that there is no clear purpose and no plan.

The dynasty began life as a Soviet puppet, sandwiched between a powerful USSR and a weak China. But from the start, Kim Il-sung’s muscular nationalism and concern for regime survival suggested that he was unlikely to be a docile dependent of either. His attempt to unify the peninsula by force in 1950 led to a bloody war in which Mao Zedong was obliged to come to his rescue. In the course of that war, “fire and fury” did indeed rain down on North Korea: the US dropped as much ordnance on North Korea as it had during the whole of the Second World War Pacific theatre, including the carpet bombing of Japan. To this day, any building site in Pyongyang is likely to turn up some unexploded ordnance. North Korea was born in a rain of fire, which it has incorporated into its national story.

The regime succeeded in maintaining relations with both its patrons through the dramas and tensions of the Sino-Soviet split to the end of the Cold War. But as Kim Il-sung contemplated the future survival of his regime, he concluded that a nuclear programme was essential insurance, both against his major enemies (the US and South Korea) and any territorial ambitions or excessive demands from China or Russia.

China was and remains North Korea’s major ally, but that does not make North Korea obedient. Their bilateral history is a story of growing defiance and increasing alienation: Kim Il-sung ignored Mao Zedong’s attempt to dissuade him from naming his eldest son, Kim Jong-il, as his successor. He had visited Beijing once a year and had promised that his son would follow suit, but Kim Jong-il only visited Deng Xiaoping’s China once, in 1983. His next visit came three years after Deng’s death, a death for which Kim had offered no formal condolences, as even the most minimal protocol required. 

On that visit, Kim heard the unwelcome news that China, already closer to the United States than he would have wished, was to open relations with his bitter rival, South Korea. When the third dynastic leader, the young Kim Jong-un, took power in 2011, relations with China slid further. Tellingly, Kim Jong-un has not visited Beijing at all, nor has China’s leader, President Xi Jinping, visited Pyongyang, although he has held four summit meetings with South Korea.

Kim Jong-un has made his defiance publicly evident. Not only has he chosen to test his missiles and weapons, but he has selected such highly sensitive moments as last year’s G20 summit in Hangzhou to do so.

China is propping up North Korea’s economy, but it seems to get little influence in return, and the value of the relationship has long been openly questioned by China’s foreign policy analysts. China has had little success in encouraging the regime to loosen controls on the economy and make limited market reforms.

 In the current crisis, China has consistently urged restraint, while co-operating with the tightening of UN sanctions. Beijing’s attitude, however, remains ambivalent: it doubts that sanctions will be effective, and is highly sensitive to US suggestions that Chinese companies that breach sanctions would be subject to punitive measures.  For China, the dangers of bringing North Korea to the edge of collapse are greater than the difficulties of seeking another solution.

Today, North Korea’s relations with Russia are warmer than those with Beijing and if President Trump is serious in his search for someone to solve his North Korea problem for him, he could do worse than to call his friend Mr Putin. No doubt there would be a price, but perhaps Trump would have less difficulty in appeasing Russia than in making concessions to Kim Jong-un. 

In July this year, China and Russia put forward a proposal that both sides should make concessions. North Korea would suspend its nuclear and its missile testing in return for a suspension of South Korea’s annual military exercises with the United States. Buried in the joint statement was the assertion that third parties should not negatively affect the interests of other countries.

Both China and Russia aim to reduce US influence in Asia, an ambition greatly aided to date by Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, conceived as a vehicle of US influence; his treatment of long-standing US allies; and his decision to withdraw the US from the Paris agreement on climate change.

Today the US seems poised between demanding that China solve the North Korea problem and beginning a trade war with Beijing. China’s challenge on the Korean peninsula, always difficult, has grown even greater.

Isabel Hilton is the CEO of the China Dialogue Trust

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear