An increasingly rare sight. Photo: Getty
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Whatever happened to the election posters in our windows?

You could always tell it was election time from the posters in people's windows. Where have they vanished to?

There was a time – not so long ago – when you knew there was an election in the air because house and flat windows were suddenly adorned with posters – red, blue and yellow – telling the passer-by that this house was voting Labour/Conservative/Liberal (as was).

But here we are amidst the ‘most exciting election campaign ever’ and there’s not a window poster to be seen. I live in a marginal constituency, and I work in another, and despite my best efforts to date, I have seen none.

It’s a pity; not just because the posters added to the general excitement (and made for very useful TV pictures to illustrate which party might be winning on the doorstep)) but because it was always fascinating to discover that that slightly stuck-up lady down the road was in fact a socialist and that the nice bloke on the other side of the road was a Tory.

It was also great for morale if you were a party worker, either delivering leaflets or knocking on doors, to see a street festooned with window posters advertising your candidate.

But those days appear to have gone. It’s been a gradual trend over the past few elections which now seems to have reached some sort of apotheosis.

But why? Is it because we have all migrated online and we’re still busy putting up posters but these are now done online on Twitter Facebook or elsewhere?

Or is it because we are all now so privatised, and perhaps wary, and think it’s better to keep our political opinions to ourselves?

Or is it because, despite the excitement of the politicians, pundits and activists – this election has left the general population unmoved? And could it be that I speak to soon, that after the leaders’ debates campaign fever will really take a grip and our streets will once more become a sea of red, blue, yellow, green and purple?

Maybe, or maybe not; and if it’s the latter it's a tad worrying. For if this campaign, clearly the most unpredictable in living memory, doesn’t stir the blood of the average voter, then political disillusionment is even more profound than any of us might have thought and our democracy is in deep trouble.

So come on, it’s time to come out, open that envelope from your party of choice and show the world your political colours.

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.