Chancellor George Osborne during a meeting of G7 finance ministers on May 28, 2015 in Dresden. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Osborne's budget surplus trap will force Labour to finally offer economic clarity

The party will need to decide whether to make the case for investment or to embrace fiscal conservatism. 

Like Gordon Brown before him, George Osborne delights in laying traps for his political opponents. His proposed new budget surplus law, which will force future governments to pay down debt "in normal times", is a classic of the genre. Having conceded, to varying degress, that Labour should not have run a deficit before the crash, the party's leadership candidates will now be challenged to say whether they support the Chancellor's measure. Should they vote in favour of the plan, Labour will be forced to pledge to fund new investment through higher taxes, allowing the Tories to run a 1992-style "bombshell" campaign, or commit to even deeper cuts in current spending.

There is no policy merit in Osborne's proposal. Governments can currently borrow at ultra-low rates to fund growth-stimulating infrastructure projects. But Osborne, a fiscal dogmatist, is determined not to take advantage of this historic opportunity. To extend his favoured household analogy, he has declined to take out a national mortgage even when offered exceptionally generous terms. While it is prudent for governments to run surpluses in times of growth (as a reserve fund against economic shocks), it is not always possible or even desirable. Only in seven of the last 50 years has the UK done so (including three times during Brown's chancellorship). Should the private sector be unwilling or unable to invest, the state must intervene as a spender of last resort. 

Labour will wait to see the detail of the Chancellor's proposal in the Budget on 8 July before saying whether it will support or oppose the policy (most crucially, the definition of "normal times"). Shadow chancellor Chris Leslie said: "We need to deal with the deficit, and no-one would disagree with a surplus when economic circumstances allow or that investment is needed if the economy is in a downturn. But rather than giving speeches full of distraction techniques the Chancellor should be focusing on driving up productivity, setting out how he will pay for his multi-billion-pound election pledges and explaining who will bear the burden of the still unexplained cuts planned.

"Sensible reductions in public spending and a balanced approach are needed - but the public need straight answers from the Chancellor now rather than politics."

But assuming it does not abstain from voting, it will need to take a side. This will force it to confront the unresolved dilemmas of Ed Miliband's leadership. While sensibly leaving room to borrow to invest, Labour almost never made the case for doing so, for fear of deepening its profligate reputation. But this policy stance, along with its failure to tackle the "overspending" question, also made it an unconvincing advocate for fiscal conservatism. If Osborne's gambit forces it to finally offer clarity, rather than ambiguity, it may yet have something to thank him for. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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UnHerd's rejection of the new isn't as groundbreaking as it seems to think

Tim Montgomerie's new venture has some promise, but it's trying to solve an old problem.

Information overload is oft-cited as one of the main drawbacks of the modern age. There is simply too much to take in, especially when it comes to news. Hourly radio bulletins, rolling news channels and the constant stream of updates available from the internet – there is just more than any one person can consume. 

Luckily Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and former Times comment editor, is here to help. Montgomerie is launching UnHerd, a new media venture that promises to pull back and focus on "the important things rather than the latest things". 

According to Montgomerie the site has a "package of investment", at least some of which comes from Paul Marshall. He is co-founder of one of Europe's largest hedge funds, Marshall Wace, formerly a longstanding Lib Dem, and also one of the main backers and chair of Ark Schools, an academy chain. The money behind the project is on display in UnHerd's swish (if slightly overwhelming) site, Google ads promoting the homepage, and article commissions worth up to $5,000. The selection of articles at launch includes an entertaining piece by Lionel Shriver on being a "news-aholic", though currently most of the bylines belong to Montgomerie himself. 

Guidelines for contributors, also meant to reflect the site's "values", contain some sensible advice. This includes breaking down ideas into bullet points, thinking about who is likely to read and promote articles, and footnoting facts. 

The guidelines also suggest focusing on what people will "still want to read in six, 12 or 24 months" and that will "be of interest to someone in Cincinnati or Perth as well as Vancouver or St Petersburg and Cape Town and Edinburgh" – though it's not quite clear how one of Montgomerie's early contributions, a defence of George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard, quite fits that global criteria. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the full page comment piece Montgomerie got in Osborne's paper to bemoan the deficiencies of modern media on the day UnHerd launched. 

UnHerd's mascot  – a cow – has also created some confusion, compounded by another line in the writing tips describing it as "a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". At least Montgomerie only picked the second-most famous poster animal for herding behaviour. It could have been a sheep. In any case, the line has since disappeared from the post – suggesting the zoological inadequacy of the metaphor may have been recognised. 

There is one way in which UnHerd perfectly embodies its stated aim of avoiding the new – the idea that we need to address the frenetic nature of modern news has been around for years.

"Slow news" – a more considered approach to what's going on in the world that takes in the bigger picture – has been talked about since at least the beginning of this decade.

In fact, it's been around so long that it has become positively mainstream. That pusher of rolling coverage the BBC has been talking about using slow news to counteract fake news, and Montgomerie's old employers, the Times decided last year to move to publishing digital editions at set points during the day, rather than constantly updating as stories break. Even the Guardian – which has most enthusiastically embraced the crack-cocaine of rolling web coverage, the live blog – also publishes regular long reads taking a deep dive into a weighty subject. 

UnHerd may well find an audience particularly attuned to its approach and values. It intends to introduce paid services – an especially good idea given the perverse incentives to chase traffic that come with relying on digital advertising. The ethos it is pitching may well help persuade people to pay, and I don't doubt Montgomerie will be able to find good writers who will deal with big ideas in interesting ways. 

But the idea UnHerd is offering a groundbreaking solution to information overload is faintly ludicrous. There are plenty of ways for people to disengage from the news cycle – and plenty of sources of information and good writing that allow people to do it while staying informed. It's just that given so many opportunities to stay up to date with what has just happened, few people decide they would rather not know.