Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. The coalition gives Clegg a veto on arming Syria (Independent)

The greatest vindication of the Lib Dem leader's decision to take his party into government may still be to come, says Mary Dejevsky.

2. Borrowing for homes and roads would be popular (Times)

George Osborne is in no position to give lectures on borrowing, writes Mark Ferguson.

3. What's holding Britain down isn't benefits. It's low pay (Guardian)

Our brand of capitalism has become cannibalistic, writes Zoe Williams. The minimum wage isn't enough, and has become a profound drag on our economy.

4. Ashcroft and the Tories should part company (Daily Telegraph)

The Conservative peer's vicious and damaging public criticisms of the PM have gone too far, says Peter Oborne.

5. Stephen Hester's departure is a huge gamble, and one I fear will backfire (Daily Mail)

Changing the captain at this stage could be a huge error and, in the end, actually slow repair and recovery, writes Alex Brummer.

6. Ahmadinejad: we’ll miss him when he’s gone (Daily Telegraph)

Iran’s president was the bogeyman the west loved to hate, writes Richard Spencer. But his successor will be much tougher to deal with.

7. Big data has to show it’s not Big Brother (Financial Times)

We do not know yet what this new technology of data analysis and artificial intelligence means, writes John Gapper.

8. Europe must condemn Erdoğan, but without hubris or illusions (Guardian)

Europe should support those who stand up for our shared values, but don't expect miracles from Turkish democracy, writes Timothy Garton Ash.

9. Do you mind being snooped on? Take a test (Times)

Whatever your view, we all need to trust those who act in our names and the laws governing their activities, says David Aaronovitch.

10. NSA surveillance: who watches the watchers? (Guardian)

It's not the widening of state intrusion that's wrong, but the weakening of the safeguards that should be there to protect us, says Paddy Ashdown.

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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.