George Osborne attends a press conference at the French Economy Ministry in Paris on April 28, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Osborne's speech is also an attack on Tory EU withdrawalists

The Chancellor's denouncement of those who want to "pull up the drawbridge and shut Britain off from the world" applies to a significant number in his own party.

George Osborne will not mention Ukip by name in his speech to the CBI today, but it will be clear that he has them in mind when he says:

Political parties on the left and the populist right have this in common: they want to pull up the drawbridge and shut Britain off from the world.

They want to constrain foreign investment in our economy, and deprive us of the British jobs that it has created in industries from car manufacturing to energy. They want to set prices, regulate incomes, impose rent controls, wage war on big business, demonise wealth creation, renationalise industries — and pretend that they can re-establish control over all aspects of the economy.

The Chancellor's attacks on Labour are nothing new (although as a supposed friend of the minimum wage it's odd to hear him denounce Ed Miliband for wanting to "regulate incomes") but more striking is his decision to brand Nigel Farage's party a threat to the economy. In a direct echo of Nick Clegg's language, he denounces Ukip's support for immediate EU withdrawal as an attempt to "pull up the drawbridge and shut Britain off from the world". 

Europhiles will note the irony that it is Osborne's party that has threatened the UK's EU membership by pledging to hold an in/out referendum by 2017. In his interview on Today on Monday, Miliband described the possibility of withdrawal as "the biggest threat to prosperity". Many businesses are far more worried by the Tories' euroscepticism than they are by Labour's proposed energy price freeze or the reintroduction of the 50p tax rate. Martin Sorrell recently revealed that he and others had told David Cameron that "if he were to drop the referendum he would be a shoo-in". That's almost certainly not the case (as Sorrell appeared to forget, most voters support a referendum) but it shows how desperate businesses are for Britain to remain in the EU. 

To this, Osborne would reply that it is only by renegotiating the UK's relationship with Brussels that the government can preserve its membership. As he argued in his recent speech to Open Europe: "If you cannot protect the collective interests of non-eurozone member states, then they will have to choose between joining the eurozone, which the UK will not do, or leave the European Union...I believe it is in no-one's interests for Britain to come to face a choice between joining the euro or leaving the European Union. We don't want to join the euro, but also our withdrawal from a Europe which succeeded in reforming would be bad for Britain. And a country of the size and global reach of Britain leaving would be very bad for the European Union."

But if Osborne is committed to reforming the EU, his contempt for those who favour automatic withdrawal ("they want to pull up the drawbridge and shut Britain off from the world") is also clear. And that is not just an attack on Ukip but on a significant number in his own party. That, in turn, suggests that Osborne is confident that he'll be in government after 2015, potentially as Foreign Secretary, rather than wooing EU opponents in a Conservative leadership election. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.