Nick Clegg gives a speech on International Development at The Village Hall in Hoxton Square yesterday. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Will Clegg suffer death by a thousand cuts?

The Lib Dem leader has avoided a palace coup but party activists are circling. 

If Nick Clegg's position as Lib Dem leader is more secure than it was at the start of the week (largely thanks to the ineptitude of his enemies), it is also clear that he is not safe yet. While he has the support of a majority of his party's MPs (who have the power to trigger a leadership election through a vote of no confidence), he could still face a contest if at least 75 constituency associations and student groups demand one.

It is significant, then, that Clegg is coming under increased activist pressure. In a letter to today's Times, the well-organised Social Liberal Forum writes that "It’s right that the party re-examines its strategy, how we deliver it, and what we will be offering the electorate at the general election in 2015 — and it is right that this debate should include who leads the party. The membership will hold the key to this re-examination, and we acknowledge that views differ on how to approach these issues within the party — as they do within the Social Liberal Forum (SLF)."

But while it's unsurprising to see the left-leaning SLF challenge Clegg's leadership (its co-chair Naomi Smith is an aide to Lord Oakeshott), it's the intervention of Liberal Democrat Voice editor Stephen Tall that will most trouble the party's high command. The usually loyal Tall, who has edited the activist website since 2007, argues persuasively that Clegg should resign on the grounds that the party "needs a leader who can negotiate the best deal possible to advance the Lib Dem manifesto". 

He writes: "I don’t think Nick will be able to secure a Coalition deal with the Conservatives that Lib Dem members will be prepared to sign up to: there is too much suspicion lingering from the current deal. Nor do I think Nick will be able to do a deal with Labour that he will be able credibly to communicate to the voters as anything other than a complete about-turn on the previous five years of cohabitation with the Tories.

"In short, Nick is one of the impediments (not the only one, but a not insignificant one) to the Lib Dems being free to negotiate a second Coalition if that’s the hand we’re dealt."

He adds that Clegg could remain as Deputy Prime Minister until May 2015, allowing the new party leader to "present the party’s manifesto unencumbered by the compromises of coalition." 

It's the kind of pragmatic argument that could quickly gain ground among party members (39 per cent of whom currently want Clegg to resign). While the Lib Dem leader has avoided a palace coup, the danger is that he now suffers death by a thousand cuts at the hands of his activists. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.