Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Labour's golden policy key? Build, build and build more (Guardian)

We've seen intellectual Ed, writes Polly Toynbee. But if Miliband wants to win in 2015, he needs one idea that has our inner optimist jumping for joy.

2. A wary, weary west is leaving Syria in the butchers’ hands (Daily Telegraph)

It doesn’t matter where we put the red lines: the terrible truth is that we are more powerless than we dare to admit, writes Benedict Brogan.

3. Growth will not decide the next election (Financial Times)

A strong economy at the next UK election could harm the Conservatives, says Janan Ganesh.

4. Ed Miliband doesn’t sound like the next PM (Times)

Two years ago just 23% thought he would be the best qualified, writes Peter Kellner. Now it’s risen to a mighty 24%.

5. What links the MMR scare and austerity? (Guardian)

Both sagas have their roots in dodgy academic papers, the agenda-pushing press and politicians – and willing believers, writes Aditya Chakrabortty.

6. Some missionary zeal at last, thanks to IDS (Times)

This week’s benefit reform shows what ministers can do if they are willing to face down Whitehall’s mandarins, says Rachel Sylvester.

7. However Ukip fares in this week's elections, the politics of protest can only take you so far (Independent)

The party remains far clearer about what it stands against than what it stands for, writes Donald Macintyre.

8. Confront UKIP with proper Tory policies (Daily Mail)

Re-introducing grammar schools, reclaiming control of Britain’s borders and ending abuse of human rights should be core Tory positions, says a Daily Mail editorial. 

9. Syria undermines Obama's strategy (Financial Times)

The president’s aim is to pivot to Asia rather than the Middle East, writes Gideon Rachman.

10. France shows us how to deal with jihadis (Daily Telegraph)

Why are our Gallic neighbours so much better at deporting terrorist suspects, asks Philip Johnston.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

George Osborne's surplus target is under threat without greater austerity

The IFS exposes the Chancellor's lack of breathing space.

At the end of the last year, I noted how George Osborne's stock, which rose dramatically after the general election, had begun to plummet. His ratings among Tory members and the electorate fell after the tax credits imbroglio and he was booed at the Star Wars premiere (a moment which recalled his past humbling at the Paralympics opening ceremony). 

Matters have improved little since. The Chancellor was isolated by No.10 and cabinet colleagues after describing the Google tax deal, under which the company paid £130m, as a "major success". Today, he is returning from the Super Bowl to a grim prognosis from the IFS. In its Green Budget, the economic oracle warns that Osborne's defining ambition of a budget surplus by 2019-20 may be unachievable without further spending cuts and tax rises. 

Though the OBR's most recent forecast gave him a £10.1bn cushion, reduced earnings growth and lower equity prices could eat up most of that. In addition, the government has pledged to make £8bn of currently unfunded tax cuts by raising the personal allowance and the 40p rate threshold. The problem for Osborne, as his tax credits defeat demonstrated, is that there are few easy cuts left to make. 

Having committed to achieving a surplus by the fixed date of 2019-20, the Chancellor's new fiscal mandate gives him less flexibility than in the past. Indeed, it has been enshrined in law. Osborne's hope is that the UK will achieve its first surplus since 2000-01 just at the moment that he is set to succeed (or has succeeded) David Cameron as prime minister: his political fortunes are aligned with those of the economy. 

There is just one get-out clause. Should GDP growth fall below 1 per cent, the target is suspended. An anaemic economy would hardly be welcome for the Chancellor but it would at least provide him with an alibi for continued borrowing. Osborne may be forced to once more recite his own version of Keynes's maxim: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.