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Morning Call: pick of the papers

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

1. Who really wants to roll back the state? Not the right (Guardian)

While this government props up big business and delves into our private lives, there is a tradition of individualism on the left waiting to be reclaimed, says Owen Jones. 

2. Hedge fund titans are testing US democracy (Financial Times)

If branches of government bow to big business, public policy will be decided by the highest bidder, warns Edward Luce. 

3. John Smith would have led us to a decent world (Guardian)

The Labour leader, who died 20 years ago today, was a political giant who ought to inspire a better kind of politics, says John McTernan. 

4. Unemployment will scar us for years (Independent)

The figures make it look as if unemployment is going down, but they hide a multitude of sins and as usual it is the poorest that suffer the most, writes David Blanchflower. 

5. Local elections matter more than their European equivalents (Daily Mirror)

They may be at the bottom of the democratic pile, writes Kevin Maguire. But we need good councillors much more than we need MEPs.

6. Could John Smith have envisaged where his "parliament" would lead? (Daily Telegraph)

The institution he so desired has nourished the very political ideology he despised, writes Alan Cochrane. 

7. The NHS is being suffocated by cynical politicking (Independent)

But let’s never forget that it represents the best of British idealism and energy, says Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. 

8. In our own modest way, we’re living in a Boko Haram world (Daily Telegraph)

There is no consistency or fairness in the BBC’s disgraceful treatment of its Radio Devon DJ, says Boris Johnson. 

9. There is a way to cut knife crime – the Tories just aren't delivering it (Guardian)

Grayling and co, eager to win headlines and dish the Lib Dems, aren't so bothered about a policy that actually works, writes Chris Huhne. 

10. Humans are not all the same under the skin (Times)

There are genetic variations between races, but they don’t matter, writes Matt Ridley. It is co-operation that brings progress to our species. 

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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.