Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. If you think Britain is on its way back to prosperity, think again, it's a mirage (Daily Telegraph)

None of the economy's structural flaws have been fixed and we still face a major crisis when interest rates go up, writes Allister Heath. 

2. Why New York survived but Detroit is dying (Times)

Britain should heed the lessons of how one city shook off its disastrous legacy but another has refused to, says Daniel Finkelstein.

3. A revitalised monarchy fills the chasm left by dreary politicians (Daily Telegraph)

Britain’s Royal family survived its dark days by embracing modernity, writes Mary Riddell. Ed Miliband, take note.

4. Britain's royal family: cut this anti-democratic dynasty out of politics (Guardian)

The monarchy embodies inequality and fosters conservatism, writes Seumas Milne. An elected head of state is embarrassingly overdue.

5. US should support a trade deal with Japan (Financial Times)

Currency manipulation suspicion is based on distant, isolated episodes, writes Adam Posen.

6. Were four killed? Or nine? In Egypt, the deaths keep racking up - and few pay any attention (Independent)

When Mubarak fell the country was bright  with optimism, writes Robert Fisk. Now life is cheap and the future brings only fear.

7. Housing market: build, build, build (Guardian)

The shortfall in new homes has led to bubbles, busts, a lopsided economy and misery for many unable to get on the ladder, says a Guardian editorial.

8. Opposition is to blame for Mugabe’s grip (Financial Times)

Party leaders must unite if they are to unseat Zimbabwe’s president, says Petina Gappah.

9. Message for the Poor (Times)

Pope Francis is helping to repair the Church’s confidence and moral authority, says a Times editorial.

10. Enjoy today, young prince. It's all downhill from here (Guardian)

The third in line to the throne cannot expect to enjoy the slightest privacy, says Simon Jenkins. The media drones are already overhead.

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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.