Is Osborne about to abolish the culture department?

Speculation grows that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport could be abolished in the Spending Review, with its functions hived off to other departments.

When George Osborne announced the seven government departments that had agreed "in principle" to cuts of up to 10 per cent in next month's Spending Review, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) was a notable absence. Notable because the department is not one of those ring-fenced from cuts, nor is Culture Secretary Maria Miller one of the cabinet militants (dubbed the "National Union of Ministers") bidding to blunt Osborne's axe. But an answer to this conundrum could be at hand: the DCMS may not exist at all after the review. 

Shadow culture minister Dan Jarvis tweeted last night that "well placed sources in Whitehall" suggested that "#CSR13 may scrap @DCMS - with Culture, Media & Sport going to other Govt depts". When I spoke to Jarvis this morning he told me that while he was "not convinced" that significant savings could be made by scrapping the department, "the government could go down this road to demonstrate that it is 'leading by example' in these tough times and has found way in which 'to do things more efficiently'." 

Rumours that the DCMS could be abolished first began last year, after an Institute of Economic Affairs report suggested that the move would save £1.6bn a year, but it was abandoned after a campaign by Labour and cabinet resistance from the Lib Dems. Now, with Osborne attempting to identify £11.5bn of cuts for 2015-16 (he's currently £9bn short), the option appears to be back on the table. 

As in 2012, Labour has pledged to oppose the move, with Jarvis warning that it would be "driven by short-term expediency, rather than the desire to plan for the long-term". He told me: "Abolishing the department wouldn't be in the long-term interests of sports, or the arts, or the constituent parts of the culture brief. With the importance that they represent to people's daily lives, they deserve that focal point that sits at cabinet." He added: "the DCMS brief, based on its economic contribution alone, well deserves its own department." 

But a DCMS source told me there was "absolutely no truth in these rumours". The source said:

Unsurprisingly, Dan Jarvis doesn’t know what he’s talking about. There is absolutely no truth in these rumours. In Leveson and Equal Marriage, DCMS is responsible for two of the government’s most politically complex policies, alongside delivering one of the government’s largest infrastructure projects - Broadband. The department’s responsibilities continue to expand and its role is more central than ever before.

We'll find out who's right when Osborne's big day arrives in less than a month (26 June). 

Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Maria Miller. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.