Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Our hate figures and heroes are mere surfers on the tide of history (Independent)

From Thatcher to Mandela - history is not one grand soap opera, in which the characters at the top pull huge levers that dictate the fate of millions, writes Owen Jones. 

2. The right won on economics. Now for Act II (Times)

Writing on the subject of this week's New Statesman debate - "This house believes the left won the 20th century" - Tim Montgomerie says Communism was repudiated in the last century but conservatives are losing the culture wars to the left.

3. America’s problem is not political gridlock (Financial Times)

Throughout US history, division and slow change have been the norm rather than the exception, writes Larry Summers.

4. Thatcherism is no museum piece – it’s alive and kicking (Daily Telegraph)

Britain could benefit hugely from the astral guidance of its heroic former prime minister, says Boris Johnson.

5. Digital money talks, even when it trades in hats and hamburgers (Guardian)

The often bizarre trade in virtual goods exposes some timeless truths about human nature, writes NS deputy editor Helen Lewis. 

6. Spare a thought for the late unlamented one-nation Tory (Guardian)

Margaret Thatcher never represented all of her party, writes John Harris. But her legacy now obscures its centrist, socially concerned wing.

7. Has Cameron at last learnt Blair's lesson that the British are not naturally left-wing? (Daily Mail)

What the increasingly influential Lynton Crosby understands is that people want passionately to govern themselves in accordance with their own historic culture, writes Melanie Phillips.

8. Why the US is looking to Germany (Financial Times)

When it comes to the labour market, America is suffering from a rising case of ‘German envy’, says Edward Luce.

9. Spare a thought for the late unlamented one-nation Tory (Guardian)

Margaret Thatcher never represented all of her party, writes John Harris. But her legacy now obscures its centrist, socially concerned wing.

10. Secret arrests would be an affront to justice (Daily Telegraph)

Secret arrests, like secrecy of any kind, make for bad justice, says a Telegraph editorial. This wrong-headed proposal should be abandoned immediately. 

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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.