Morning Call: pick of the paper

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

1. In Theresa May's surreal world, feelings trump facts (Observer)

The home secretary's claims about health tourists are both wrong and an insult to voters, says Nick Cohen.

2. We need the spirit of the eighties (Sunday Times)

The Times dons its leader cap to applaud the sale of Royal Mail and hope for further sell-offs.

3. The BBC foists on us a skewed version of reality (Telegraph on Sunday)

The news media are engaged in a political argument about whether the purpose of journalism is to report the world as it is or to purvey an idealised view, writes Janet Daley.

4. Like Assad, Churchill liked to stockpile poison gas (Independent on Sunday)

World View: The prime minister meant to spray German troops if they landed on British beaches.

5. Malala: remember the young girl behind the public persona (Observer)

With her huge intelligence and courage it's easy to forget that she is still a teenager. Let's give her space to grow, says Catherine Bennett.

6. Scalpel slowly replaces chequebook in the Westminster weaponry (Sunday Times)

The Royal Mail flotation is a neat reminder that capitalism can work for the little guy, writes Camilla Cavendish.

7. There's a patriotic case for renationalising our railways (Telegraph on Sunday)

They're 'private', but massively subsidised, and you need to be a maths genius to work out the fare system.

8. Ed Miliband's preparing to serve two terms. In opposition (Independent on Sunday)

The Shadow Cabinet reshuffle wasn't just a cull of the Blairites, it was the suppression of the Ballsites too, says John Rentoul.

9. The age of insomnia with the internet and 24-hour news will be the death of us (Telegraph on Sunday)

The world makes no distinction between day and night, but we need sleep to stay sane, writes Jenny McCartney.

10. Should France follow our lead on Sunday trading? (Observer)

France is considering a relaxation of Sunday trading laws, as the UK did 20 years ago. Was it a change for the better?

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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.