Osborne hits the unemployed and poor students

A new seven day wait before people can claim benefits and a freeze in student maintenance grants will hit the poor hardest.

George Osborne was careful in his Spending Review to avoid spelling out who would lose from the £11.5bn of cuts he announced. As Ed Balls asked in his impressively fluent response, will there be fewer police officers, fewer nurses, fewer Sure Start centres? Will free museum entry end? We weren't told today. 

But the Chancellor made no attempt to disguise two of the biggest losers: students and the unemployed. In the case of the former, Osborne announced that maintenance grants would be frozen, a real-terms cut of £60m that will fall hardest on low-income undergraduates and that entirely undermines the government's commitment to social mobility. 

In the case of the jobless, Osborne announced that he would introduce "a new seven day wait before people can claim benefits."  It will delight the tabloids, but it's hard to think of a more callous policy. As charities regularly testify, benefit delays are the biggest reason for food bank referrals. Forcing claimants to wait a minimum of seven days, with every chance of further administrative delay, will inevitably force thousands more to turn to emergency support. 

Even after handing the highest earners an average tax cut of £100,000, the Chancellor again had the chutzpah to claim that "we're all in this together". But after today's announcements, it's even more dangerous to be poor in Osborne's Britain. 

George Osborne leaves 11 Downing Street in London on June 19, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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No, William Hague, there's nothing anti-democratic about opposing Brexit

The former Tory leader appears to be suffering from a bout of amnesia. 

William Hague just made an eyecatching claim in the House of Lords during the debate over Article 50. He attacked those Remainers still seeking to restore Britain’s European Union membership in general and Tony Blair in particular, saying that if he had called on voters to “rise up” against New Labour after he lost the election, Blair would have told him to listen to the voters.

To be fair to Hague, it has been sixteen years since he went down to crushing defeat to Blair, so he may have forgotten some of the details. Happily, the full text of his resignation speech the morning after is still online.

Here’s Hague, 2001:

"The people have spoken. And just as it is vital to encourage everyone to participate in our democracy, so it is important to understand and respect the result. The Labour party have won the election and I have already congratulated them on doing so. But they have done so without great public enthusiasm….It is therefore a vital task for the Conservative party in the coming parliament to hold the government to account for the promises they have made and the trust people have placed in it.”

And here’s Blair, 2017:

“I want to be explicit. Yes, the British people voted to leave Europe. And I agree the will of the people should prevail. I accept right now there is no widespread appetite to re-think. But the people voted without knowledge of the terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind. Our mission is to persuade them to do so.”

And here’s Blair’s last line which has so offended William Hague:

“This is not the time for retreat, indifference or despair; but the time to rise up in defence of what we believe – calmly, patiently, winning the argument by the force of argument; but without fear and with the conviction we act in the true interests of Britain.”

This is funny, because here’s William Hague’s last line in 2001:

"I wish I could have led you to victory but now we must all work for our victories in the future.”

 Here’s what the “you lost, get over it” crowd have to explain: what is the difference between these two speeches? Both acknowledge a defeat, acknowledge the mountain to climb for the defeated side, but resolve to work harder to secure a better result next time.

It’s particularly galling when you remember that taking Britain back in would not require a second referendum but a third: because the Brexiteers, far from losing in 1975 and getting over it, spent four decades gearing up to take Britain out of the European Union.

There’s a more valid criticism to be had of the value of a continuity Remain campaign which appears to hold many of the people who voted to Leave in distaste. Certainly, at present, the various pro-Remain forces look more like the unattractive fringe that lost in 1975 than the well-disciplined machine that won the replay in 2016. But the fact there was a replay in the first place shows that there’s nothing anti-democratic about continuing to hold on to your beliefs after a defeat. What is anti-democratic is trying to claim that the result of any electoral contest, however narrow or how large, means that everyone who disagreed with you has to shut up and pretend you were right all along. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.