Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Labour politics: the meh index (Guardian)

Miliband needs to find a persuasive alternative vision to the one Cameron has to begun to sketch out, says a Guardian editorial.

2. The left talks gibberish while Cameron racks up successes (Daily Telegraph)

After three years, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition’s daring reforms are starting to pay dividends, says Peter Oborne.

3. Cameron wants to reform the NHS. But it was his government that handed over the levers (Independent)

The labyrinthine management structures of the NHS and BBC stymie change, says Steve Richards.

4. Primary school tests follow the Piccadilly Circus rule (Guardian)

Wait long enough and every education policy comes round again, writes Peter Wilby. New exams for younger pupils is the latest example.

5. Britain's rentier society fit for a royal (Financial Times)

Never mind education, hard work or getting a good job – having the right ancestors matters, writes Chris Giles.

6. After Liverpool we need a better way of dying (Times)

My time on the review of the controversial ‘care pathway’ showed me how unprepared most of us are for our end, writes David Aaronovitch.

7. Unemployment: signs of recovery that leave too many behind (Independent)

With long-term joblessness on the rise, the auguries are far from promising, says an Independent editorial.

8. Does Whitehall need more party placemen? (Daily Telegraph)

Reform of the Civil Service is overdue, but its impartiality may be under threat, says Sue Cameron.

9. Ten years ago today, Dr Kelly's body was found. The subsequent cover-up is one of the great scandals of our age (Daily Mail)

We still do not know for certain why or how Dr Kelly died, writes Stephen Glover.

10.  A strong leader in Japan is not a minus (Financial Times)

Love him or loathe him, Abe is someone with whom his foreign counterparts can do business, writes David Pilling.

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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.