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.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.