The "post-Dave" era: Telegraph authorises attack on Cameron

Deputy Editor Benedict Brogan spells out just how far the Tory Party has gone towards replacing their leader.

Prompted by Boris Johnson's now-infamous interview with Eddie Mair on The Andrew Marr Show, the Telegraph has run a column today by its Deputy Editor, Benedict Brogan, which explores the possibility that David Cameron's tenure as Tory Party leader is near its end.

Brogan writes:

The threat of plots against [Cameron] has dissipated in recent weeks, in part because even the most irreconcilable MPs accept that defenestrating a prime minister in the middle of an economic crisis would be not just bad for the party, but for the nation. Mentally, though, Tories behave as if Mr Cameron has already been ushered into the departure lounge. Those with ambition are willingly taking part in the beauty contest that has been underway for months. If we added up every MP who has at some point urged a friend to let it be known – “quietly, you understand” – that if the circumstances were right . . . then we would reach 20 without too much difficulty.

The Conservative conversation is no longer about Mr Cameron, but about who will succeed him in a leadership contest now predicated on defeat in 2015, and whether that person will be the one to put Britain back on its feet.

He heavily implies that the Telegraph has intelligence that the 20 MPs required to trigger a leadership contest are already assembled, and are now just waiting for a good time and an emerging alternative. He goes on to consider Boris Johnson, Theresa May and MPs of the 2010 intake as possible challengers for Cameron's crown, and eventually concludes that "unless he can win back his party’s attention, the search for his successor will only intensify".

Coming from such an established right-wing commentator as Brogan, it's not hard to see how his identification of a "post-Dave" state of mind in the party will stick. The implication, too, is that if you are a Tory MP and you're considering a leadership challenge, the Telegraph would like to hear from you.

David Cameron delivering his speech on immigration in Ipswich earlier this week. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is web 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.