Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Forget Ken's cronies. Now it's Boris's buddies (Guardian)

Boris Johnson's choice of Andrew Gilligan as London's cycling tsar increases the whiff of cronyism around the London mayor, writes Sonia Purnell.

2. Cameron can prove de Gaulle was right about us all along (Daily Telegraph)

Eurosceptics should not barrack the PM’s speech when it comes: they should bank it, says Charles Moore.

3. Cuba’s ideals failed. But at least it had them (Times) (£)

A Tory isn’t supposed to think this, writes Matthew Parris. But Havana’s revolutionaries had something that is missing in Britain.

4. A load of Thunderballs: James Bond is fiction, not a police instruction manual (Guardian)

A shocking ruling (let's call it the 007 standard) gives undercover police licence to break hearts, writes Jonathan Freedland. It's the hacking of people's lives.

5. This week has looked like an obscene remake of earlier western interventions (Independent)

We are outraged not by the massacre of the innocents, but because the hostages killed were largely white, blue-eyed chaps rather than darker, brown-eyed chaps, says Robert Fisk.

6. Barack Obama’s second term (Financial Times)

The US president must recapture the promise of a better politics, says an FT editorial.

7. Both Labour and the Lib Dems are guilty of gross hypocrisy and confusion over the EU (Daily Mail)

The two centre-left parties are in denial about the state of public opinion on the issue, and their utter failure to respond to it, writes Simon Heffer.

8. Unthinkable? Paul Krugman for shadow chancellor (Guardian)

If Barack Obama doesn't want the Nobel laureate as his treasury secretary then Labour should snap him up, says a Guardian editorial.

9. Life in the high street yet (Daily Telegraph)

To save our town centres, we must make them places for meeting and recreation – and why not have people living there, says a Telegraph leader.

10. Armstrong took his countrymen for a ride (Financial Times)

The American self-image of resilience, hard work, charity and ‘dreams has its dark side, writes Christopher Caldwell.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

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.