Look left, look right...turn away Photo: Ashley Cowburn
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Lib Dems unveil their first election poster - at 8.20am, in the rain

Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, launched the Liberal Democrat's first election poster this morning - it rained, and the crowd looked bored.

It’s 8.20am. It’s raining. And I’m standing opposite the House of Lords, with a dozen Liberal Democrat activists. Two of them are wearing yellow ties and an older chap – donning a fedora – has opted for a yellow waistcoat. Unfortunately, they are all holding orange signs. Much like the “alternative” Lib Dem budget, today’s poster unveiling was a damp squib. Political bloggers, Guido Fawkes –  whose chicken enthusiastically stomped around College Green at the Greens' poster launch –  didn't even bother turning up.

“One, two, three, give us a cheer!” shouted one supporter, holding up the Lib Dem diamond plaque, as Danny Alexander walked towards them.

“Wheyyyy” around four or five of the dozen supporters cheered, half-heartedly.

"That's the spirit!" shouted back the one enthusiastic Lib Dem on planet earth. 


"Can we go home now?" 

Everyone look at the young Lib Dem  Photo: Ashley Cowburn

But wait: Danny Alexander has arrived. THE POSTER IS UNVEILED. On the left-hand side of the poster is Ed Balls, trying to pout. On the right-hand side is George Osborne, with an invisible hook in his mouth. Written on the poster: "Look left, look right, then cross Liberal Democrats". 

I look to the left and see the miserable Lib Dems. I look to the right and see the photojournalists heckling Alexander: "giz a pose Danny!" I look to my shoes.

"The truth is," Alexander declares, pointing his hands left and right in an attempt to confuse everyone."The economic recovery that we're enjoying, would not be happening without the Liberal Democrats...when you look to the next Parliament the biggest risk to that government - the biggest risk to that success - are owned by Labour and the Conservative party. 

"We have an opportunity for light at the end of the tunnel. But the Tories want to switch the lights off. The Labour party on the other hand have no plan... they'll take us back to the mess that they created." 

"AYY!" interjects the old chap with the fedora. 

"And so, our message to this government," Alexander continues "the Liberal Democrats are the only party that can keep this government going..."  

Ashley Cowburn writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2014. He tweets @ashcowburn



Photo: Getty Images
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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.