Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Be bold, Labour, and expose Osborne's skivers v strivers lie (Guardian)

Osborne's below-inflation benefit rise may not be as popular as he thinks, says Polly Toynbee. Labour can, and must, make the case against.

2. Young lives are being ruined because of our timid Treasury (Daily Telegraph)

Bold tax cuts in Sweden and Estonia show how to tackle austerity – and create growth and jobs, says Fraser Nelson.

3. A reality check for Alex Salmond (Independent)

Far from business-as-usual in its relations with Europe, a go-it-alone Scotland will have to start again from scratch, says an Independent leader.

4. Labour must cut its dependency on welfare (Times) (£)

Miliband's party cannot afford to lose the argument over welfare and the longer it refuses to tackle the problem the more likely such a defeat becomes, says Philip Collins.

5. The west must prepare for Syria’s endgame (Daily Telegraph)

The rebels’ capture of airfields and military bases has speeded up the collapse of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, writes

6. Forget the fiscal cliff: buy America (Financial Times)

The strengths of the US far outweigh its weaknesses even without cheap gas, writes Philip Stephens.

7. The Tories who jeered Ed Balls's stammer are as bad as playground bullies (Independent)

As a fellow stammerer I know this mysterious condition has nothing to do with getting your facts wrong and everything to do with the tricks of uncertain speech, writes Margaret Drabble.

8. Oh, please! Don’t play the victim card, Mr Balls (Daily Mail)

For the nastiest bully in politics to blame his stammer for his Commons disaster is rank hypocrisy, says Quentin Letts.

9. If only saying nothing were an option for William Hague of the FO (Guardian)

As Northern Ireland goes up in flames, our foreign minister still lectures other states on nation-building, writes Simon Jenkins.

10. Stale debate holds back Britain’s recovery (Financial Times)

Partisan bickering could be avoided with a division into three elements, says Samuel Brittan.

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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.