George Osborne will give his Autumn Statement this week. Photo: Flickr/altogetherfool
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More borrowing and a stubborn deficit: what will we hear in the Autumn Statement?

George Osborne will deliver his Autumn Statement on Wednesday. What will it contain?

The Chancellor will deliver his Autumn Statement on Wednesday. Although the government insists that it is leading the country through a recovery, deep economic difficulties remain and will cloud George Osborne’s announcements this week.

The Treasury still hasn’t managed to bring the deficit under control, and over the next five years, whatever government we have will have to borrow up to £75bn. Borrowing is going to be higher this year than last year, and the deficit is only down a third since 2010.

So in these gloomier than planned circumstances, how will the Chancellor frame the Autumn Statement to attempt to win the support of an electorate that will be voting in the next government in under six months?

 

Roads

We knew infrastructure would be a big part of the Autumn Statement, and probably next year’s Budget, mainly because of the hints dropped by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander over the past few months, and also Osborne’s vocal enthusiasm for infrastructure projects.

This has manifested itself in £15bn to be spent on new road funding in England, which includes:

  • A tunnel under Stonehenge, to tackle a notorious bottleneck
  • Improving M25 junctions
  • 100 road improvement schemes
  • Adding 1,300 new miles of extra lanes to motorways and A-roads

The problem politically with these plans is that they don’t exactly amount to a big, sexy infrastructure project, such as the “HS3” scheme that ministers have recently been discussing. Also, the amount of money the government is planning to spend on this was initially announced in 2013, meaning Labour can dismiss this as a “re-announcement”.

 

NHS

Whenever any politician comes up with a proposal for the health service now, it is highly politically significant because Labour is attempting to bring the subject to the top of the agenda, as it is the party most trusted with the NHS. Indeed, the Tories have reportedly been advised in the past by their election strategist Lynton Crosby that they should try to avoid talking about the NHS, so unlikely is it that the public will trust them with it following this parliament’s controversial Health and Social Care Act.

However, there is a funding crisis in the NHS that Osborne has to plan on fixing. But he will be approaching this in the Autumn Statement with very few fireworks. He will pledge to spend an extra £2bn a year on the NHS, to stave off the funding hole.

This has been welcomed by NHS England, but such a figure will only be able to keep the health service going as it is at present, rather than allowing for growth and new investment. It is also lower than the figure the Labour party has already announced it will spend annually on the NHS, £2.5bn. Also, Osborne is only gaining the extra cash from under-spending and further efficiency savings from other Whitehall departments. The Guardian has called this the equivalent of “rummaging down the back of the sofa”.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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