Osborne's deficit continues to grow

Despite no shortage of austerity, borrowing was £1.3bn higher in April than in the same month last year.

As George Osborne awaits the verdict of the IMF on his great austerity experiment at 12pm, the latest borrowing figures are being written up as a positive for the Chancellor. The deficit for April came in at £6.3bn, around £2bn lower than expected, and public sector net borrowing for the previous year (2012/13) was revised down from £120.6bn to £119.5bn (compared to a deficit of £120.9bn in 2011/12).

But dig deeper into the data, and the picture isn't so positive for Osborne. Once the effects of the transfer of the Royal Mail Pension Plan and the QE coupons from the Bank of England are stripped out, the deficit stood at £10.2bn last month, £1.3bn higher than the previous year. As last month's dramatic welfare cuts showed, there's been no shortage of austerity. But the government is still borrowing more than in 2012. As for the national debt, which David Cameron falsely claimed the coalition was "paying down", that now stands at £1.2trn, or 75.2 per cent of GDP. 

George Osborne delivers a speech at media company Unruly, on April 25, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn ends 2016 with victory - for Parliamentary Beard of the Year

The award's founder thinks Tom Watson could still beat him, though. 

Jeremy Corbyn may be facing a by-election backlash, but there is one area in which he is the undisputed victor - the Parliamentary Beard of the Year awards.

Corbyn has held onto his title in 2016 thanks to a "beard and eyebrow combo" that left facial-hair lovers watching Prime Minister's Questions stunned. 

The Opposition leader scored a similar victory to his recent leadership election, with more than half the poll. It is his seventh win since 2001. 

Keith Flett, the spokesman for the Beard Liberation Front which awards the prize, praised Corbyn for leading the way in acceptance of unshaven politicians.

He said: "It used to be tough to scrape together a list of 10 MPs. That is no longer a problem.

"I am not sure you hear people saying 'I wouldn't vote for Corbyn because he has a beard', which you would have 20 years ago."

Flett believes many more MPs could have had a shot at victory, if they would only dispense with their razors.

He said: "We always thought that David Cameron would have been vastly improved by having a beard. but there was always some doubt as to whether that was ever possible."

Flett also mourns the demise of Labour deputy leader Tom Watson's beard, which clinched the prize in 2009.

He said: "He had a magnificent beard, which he subsequently shaved off, because he claimed his partner didn't like it, and he has refused all entreaties to regrow it.

"We had a conversation recently where he said the key thing he had in common with Corbyn was they both won Beard of the Year."

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.