David Cameron at the Conservative conference in Manchester last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How a large deficit benefits the Tories

The greater the challenge of borrowing appears, the more likely voters are to stick with the Tories.

Today's borrowing figures are a reminder of how poor the state of the public finances remains. The deficit for February stood at £9.3bn, £100m higher than in the same month last year. Borrowing for the year to date is £99.3bn and is forecast by the OBR to reach £108bn, £48bn higher than the figure planned by George Osborne in 2010. The man who promised to eliminate the structural deficit this year will now not do so until at least 2018.

Given all of this, one might expect the Conservatives to be suffering from Osborne's failure, but the reverse is likely be the case. The larger the deficit is, the easier it is for the Tories to continue to present it as the defining economic issue and to argue that it's not safe to hand the keys back to Labour. Despite Osborne repeatedly missing his borrowing targets (with the government forecast to borrow £190bn more than planned in 2010), the polls show that the Tories still enjoy a large lead in this area. The continuing black hole also means that Osborne and Cameron can run a classic 1992-style Conservative election campaign challenging Labour to say what taxes they would raise to plug the gap. Had the deficit already been eliminated, debate would likely have turned to how to spend the proceeds of growth, territory where Labour is traditionally strongest.

For Ed Miliband, the priority is to ensure that the cost of living (an area where Labour leads the Tories) remains the defining issue. But as Osborne desperately tries to overturn the opposition's stubborn poll lead, the deficit remains one of his most valuable weapons.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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It's Gary Lineker 1, the Sun 0

The football hero has found himself at the heart of a Twitter storm over the refugee children debate.

The Mole wonders what sort of topsy-turvy universe we now live in where Gary Lineker is suddenly being called a “political activist” by a Conservative MP? Our favourite big-eared football pundit has found himself in a war of words with the Sun newspaper after wading into the controversy over the age of the refugee children granted entry into Britain from Calais.

Pictures published earlier this week in the right-wing press prompted speculation over the migrants' “true age”, and a Tory MP even went as far as suggesting that these children should have their age verified by dental X-rays. All of which leaves your poor Mole with a deeply furrowed brow. But luckily the British Dental Association was on hand to condemn the idea as unethical, inaccurate and inappropriate. Phew. Thank God for dentists.

Back to old Big Ears, sorry, Saint Gary, who on Wednesday tweeted his outrage over the Murdoch-owned newspaper’s scaremongering coverage of the story. He smacked down the ex-English Defence League leader, Tommy Robinson, in a single tweet, calling him a “racist idiot”, and went on to defend his right to express his opinions freely on his feed.

The Sun hit back in traditional form, calling for Lineker to be ousted from his job as host of the BBC’s Match of the Day. The headline they chose? “Out on his ears”, of course, referring to the sporting hero’s most notable assets. In the article, the tabloid lays into Lineker, branding him a “leftie luvvie” and “jug-eared”. The article attacked him for describing those querying the age of the young migrants as “hideously racist” and suggested he had breached BBC guidelines on impartiality.

All of which has prompted calls for a boycott of the Sun and an outpouring of support for Lineker on Twitter. His fellow football hero Stan Collymore waded in, tweeting that he was on “Team Lineker”. Leading the charge against the Murdoch-owned title was the close ally of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and former Channel 4 News economics editor, Paul Mason, who tweeted:

Lineker, who is not accustomed to finding himself at the centre of such highly politicised arguments on social media, responded with typical good humour, saying he had received a bit of a “spanking”.

All of which leaves the Mole with renewed respect for Lineker and an uncharacteristic desire to watch this weekend’s Match of the Day to see if any trace of his new activist persona might surface.


I'm a mole, innit.