James Harding resigns as editor of The Times

His departure was "at the request of News Corp".

James Harding, the youngest ever editor of the Times, has resigned after five years.

His departure was announced in an address to staff at 3.30pm, and was "at the request of News Corp". He is due to appear on BBC's Question Time tomorrow.

Lech Mintowt-Czyz, the paper's news editor, tweeted: "His staff, me included, just gave him a long standing ovation." His colleague Patrick Kidd added: "Feel immensely saddened by James Harding's enforced resignation, like when Andrew Strauss went. Universally admired, a real positive force."

In a statement to staff, Harding said: "It has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of the Times. I have therefore agreed to stand down. I called Rupert this morning to offer my resignation and he accepted." 

He referenced the paper's campaigns on cycling deaths, its coverage of child sex abuse rings and the work of his foreign and deputy editors as being memories of which he was particularly proud. 

The BBC's Robert Peston has tweeted that John Witherow will move from the Sunday Times to replace Harding, but this has not been confirmed by the company.

There are currently wider changes at News Corporation under way. Robert Thomson, the current managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, was recently named as the head of News Corporation’s new separate publishing arm. His appointment prompted the resignation of News International chief executive and Murdoch veteran Tom Mockridge, who had hoped to take on the role. News Corp has yet to announce a replacement for Mockridge. Gerard Baker, the deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal, will succeed Thomson as head of the News Corp-owned paper.

Harding was known as a cerebral and calm editor. His paper's coverage of the hacking scandal - which affected his sister paper, the News of the World - was praised for its fairness and objectivity. It appears likely that his departure heralds more integration between the daily and Sunday operations.

In the November ABC figures, the Times's circulation was measured at 399,321 copies, a year-on-year fall of 3.37 per cent.

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James Harding. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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.