Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The west’s Mid East dominance is ending (Financial Times)

Those calling for deeper US involvement in the Syrian conflict are living in the past, writes Gideon Rachman.

2. Forget the excuses, here's how Britain can tax the rich (Guardian)

Cameron has made a bold push at the G8, writes Polly Toynbee. But it's time our politicians admit you can't have Swedish services on US rates.

3. The Thatcherite case for staying in the EU (Daily Telegraph)

Britain is richer, safer and more powerful for being a member of this global economic giant, says Ken Clarke. 

4. Is Ed up for a referendum? He may need to be (Independent)

Tory taunts won’t go away if Miliband resists matching Cameron’s pledge, says Donald Macintyre.

5. Intervening in Syria is a terrible idea – but we might just have to (Daily Telegraph)

The advantages that come from our alliance with the US also bring a heavy responsibility, writes Benedict Brogan.

6. No Minister, you can’t have recycled paper (Times)

The wasteful practices of the National Union of Mandarins is making cuts even deeper than they need to be, writes Rachel Sylvester.

7. Borisstan: the independent city state and docking station for global wealth formerly known as London (Guardian)

What would the British capital look like in the future if it broke away from the rest of the country, asks Aditya Chakrabortty.

8. Hassan Rowhani is a man we must do business with (Times)

Iran’s new President is brave and outspoken, writes Norman Lamont. The west should see him as a Gorbachev.

9. U-turn if you want to, Ed Miliband’s still a dud (Daily Telegraph)

There's just one thing missing from Labour's recent policy changes: a convincing leader, says Dan Hodges.

10. Britain is served well by its political class (Financial Times)

The crisis response by the UK’s unloved elites has been better than in many other rich democracies, writes Janan Ganesh.

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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.