Osborne's deficit keeps growing

Despite the return of growth and no shortage of austerity, the deficit was £1.3bn higher in July than at the same point last year.

Despite the recent run of positive economic data, today's borrowing figures show that the coalition's deficit reduction plan remains off track. Borrowing in July (excluding financial interventions and the QE coupons from the Bank of England) was £0.5bn, £1.3bn higher than in the same month last year when it stood at £-0.8bn, and higher than the market forecast of a £2.5bn. So far this financial year, the deficit is £36.8bn compared to £35.2bn at this stage last year. 

The Treasury has responded by pointing out that government spending was higher than usual due to local government accounting changes and timing changes for some departments, and that underlying tax receipts are by up 3.4%. But even taking this into account, the figures remain poor. After all, there has been no shortage of austerity. Infrastructure spending has fallen by 42 per cent, VAT has risen to 20% and 423,000 government jobs have been cut, so that the public-sector workforce is at its lowest level as a share of employment since 1999. Despite all this, progress on deficit reduction has stalled. 

As for the national debt, which Cameron falsely claimed the government was "paying down", it's now passed the £1.2trn mark (75% of GDP), the highest level since the late 1960s. 

 

George Osborne plays with Titas during a visit to a nursery in Hammersmith on August 5, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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