George Osborne is given a tour of the production line at Bentley Motors on December 4, 2014 in Crewe. Photograph: Getty Images.
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What happened to Osborne's deficit trap for Labour?

There is no sign of the updated Charter for Budget Responsibility that the Chancellor promised would be published by now. 

It was supposed to be George Osborne's great trap for Labour. In his recent Autumn Statement, the Chancellor promised an updated Charter for Budget Responsibility committing the government (and in theory a Labour administration) to an aggressive pace of deficit reduction. He said: "Next week we will publish a new Charter for Budget Responsibility that will reinforce our commitment to finish the job in the next Parliament, and we will ask the House to vote on it in the new year."

The implicit aim was to force Labour to either match his plans, and commit itself to billions of pounds of additional cuts (something which wouldn't be well received by the left and the trade unions), or to oppose them and be denounced as fiscally irresponsible. Such was the pre-briefing around the move that there was speculation Osborne would publish the new Charter immediately after the Autumn Statement and stage a vote the following day. The Chancellor's Autumn Statement downgraded this to "next week", with the vote to follow in the new year. But the week referred to by Osborne has now been and gone and the promised Charter still hasn't been published. 

This delay follows confusion over what target MPs would be invited to vote on (as I reported last month). In his Budget in March, Osborne suggested that it would be on his commitment to achieve an overall surplus by the end of the next parliament. But later briefing suggested it would be on the alternative target of eliminating the structural current deficit by 2017-18. This aim, unlike that of a surplus, is endorsed by the Lib Dems. But with Nick Clegg's party focused on differentiating itself from the Tories (even as it prepares for another coalition), it was unclear whether it would be prepared to line up with the Tories. Without support from the Lib Dems, Osborne would be unable to achieve a majority for the Charter. Whatever the reason for the delay (I am awaiting comment from the Treasury), Labour has been quick to pounce. The shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Chris Leslie said:

In the Budget George Osborne was talking about a vote on balancing the overall budget. Then last month the Treasury tried to lay the ground for a big u-turn by briefing that the vote would only be on balancing the current budget, excluding capital investment.

And now, after all the hype and promises that a new Charter would have been published over the last week, the government has totally failed to publish anything. This is a total mess. As ever, these so called Tory traps are backfiring on the Chancellor.
 
Labour has set out a tough but balanced approach to get the current budget into surplus and the national debt falling as soon as possible in the next Parliament.

Our first election pledge announced this week is that we will balance the books and cut the deficit every year, while securing the future of our NHS. This will require sensible spending cuts in non-protected areas, fairer choices including reversing the Tory tax cut for millionaires and a plan to deliver the rising living standards and stronger growth needed to balance the books.
 
In contrast the Tories are pursuing an increasingly unbalanced and extreme approach. They have chosen to pencil in even deeper spending cuts, which would return public spending to a share of GDP last seen in the 1930s.

They are refusing to ask those with the broadest shoulders to make a greater contribution and ignoring the need for a plan to deliver the rising living standards that are vital to getting the deficit down. And they have now made £7 billion of unfunded tax promises, which can only be paid for by even deeper cuts to public spending or another Tory VAT rise.

George Osborne should spend less time playing silly political games and more time sorting out the economy and trying to make his sums add up.

George Eaton is political editor of 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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