Apparently, tales of fluffy squirrels are turning kids against badger shooting and fox hunting. Image: Dan Murrell/NS
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Commons Confidential: Cons against cuddly toys

Plus: the latest from the party conferences.

Glass of wine in hand and tieless, David Cameron moved across a room full of hacks at the Hyatt hotel in Birmingham with the smoothness of a ballroom dancer. His wingman was his chum-cum-Chief Whip, Michael Gove; the former Times scribbler was the sole minister invited to the conference soirée. Cameron let slip that his “utterly heartbroken” speech in Aberdeen in the nervy days before Scotland’s referendum had been vetted by Gordon Brown. That the Tory premier bowed to his Labour predecessor reinforces the impression that, for ten days in September, old Irn-Broon was running the country.

The ConDems are disintegrating as coalition rivals battle for votes. In Taunton Deane, Jeremy Browne, the Lib Dems’ answer to Leslie Phillips (see page 23), defends a majority of 4,000 against the PR Rebecca Pow, a Tory wannabe granted a podium speaking spot at the Con conference. My mole recalled Browne’s private assessment of Pow. “I don’t feel particularly threatened,” said the Limp Dem, “but I imagine she organises a very good garden party.” Talk about damning with faint praise.

The Beast of Bolsover, Dennis Skinner, skipped his last meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee to avoid being patronised by Ed Miliband. The veteran lost his committee seat as collateral damage in what looked like an inept plot by the leader’s office to oust the Scouse critic Steve Rotheram. Miliband praising his unintentional victim would have tested the patience of a beast with a hatred of hypocrisy.

The Tories want a cull of cuddly animal toys and tales of Mr Tod. Brian Williams, a Shropshire councillor, warned a Countryside Alliance gathering that fluffy squirrels and the like were turning kids against badger shooting and fox hunting. And there I was, thinking it was because sending hounds to tear animals apart for fun is repellent and scientific evidence doesn’t support blasting badgers.

Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles joins the honourable order of high achievers who’ve rejected a gong. The head of the anti-extremist group, I understand, declined a peerage offered by Miliband. Unsurprisingly, I found no mention of this refusal in Hope, the modest Lowles’s book about the campaign that defeated the BNP.

In the Manchester boozer Briton’s Protection, a pub serving fine ales and 300 whiskies, a young Labour researcher ordered a cup of Earl Grey. The landlady had to pop out to buy a box.

In Birmingham, the boxes of Sunday Telegraphs placed all over conference weren’t so clever when the headline screamed “Tory crisis” after Brooks Newmark quit and Mark Reckless defected.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2014 issue of the New Statesman, ISIS vs The World

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.