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.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.