POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'Thatcher Was Modest Compared To This'

27/06/2013 08:22 BST
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In an image grab from pooled video footage taken on June 26, 2013 British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivers the spending review statement at the House of Commons in London. Osborne unveiled plans to further slash British public spending as the government clings to austerity, despite a pledge to also boost investment of railways and roads. AFP PHOTO/POOL == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT ' AFP PHOTO / POOL ' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - NO RESALE == (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

The ten things you need to know on Thursday 27 June 2013...

1) 'THATCHER WAS MODEST COMPARED TO THIS'

Austerity has failed to get growth or balance the budget. George Osborne's solution? More austerity, of course. If at first you don't succeed, try and try again, I guess. Or as Einstein is said to have put it: "Insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results".

So, £11.5bn in extra cuts from 2015, including: Treasury budget cut by 10 per cent; Cabinet Office budget cut by 10 per cent; local government budget cut by 10 per cent; Culture, Media and Sport budget cut by 7 per cent; Foreign Office cut by 8 per cent; Home Office cut by 6 per cent and the Ministry of Justice budget cut by 10 per cent.

Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Osborne claimed that his Spending Review isn't an election pitch. Er, okay.

The Guardian splashes on "the cuts that keep on coming":

"Unveiling the results of his spending review 2015-16, the chancellor claimed that it would be possible to achieve £5bn of the sought-after savings through efficiencies, although this will include the loss of a further 144,000 public sector jobs. Police, student grants and charities will also be hit."

One of the cunning ways in which the coalition has managed to mask the depth and unpleasantness of its austerity programme is to outsource a big chunk of its cuts to local councils - yesterday, Osborne reduced the local government budget again, by 10% in 2015-16. Overstretched council budgets now face being reduced by up to 30% in overall terms over the next five years - with the ten poorest areas, according to Labour, losing out six times more than the ten richest areas. All in this together, eh?

My HuffPost colleague Tom Moseley reports:

"In his speech, Osborne paid a jokey tribute to local government secretary Eric Pickles, saying he had been 'a model of lean government'.

"But Richard Kemp, the former vice chairman of the Local Government Association and the Lib Dem leader on Liverpool Council, told The Huffington Post UK Pickles had been 'an absolute disaster'.

"Asked where the spending cuts would be felt, he said: 'It will be the ones you see when you go outside the front door. Street cleansing will be reduced, bin collection will be reduced, parks will not be as well-attended as before, youth clubs might be open for fewer hours. These are the cuts that everyone will see. Then there are cuts to services for disabled and vulnerable people. 95% of people won't see that, but it's a big problem for the 5% who do.'"

Tom also spoke to Tony Travers, local government expert at the LSE:

"[Travers] told The Huffington Post UK: 'Nothing quite like this has happened at any point since 1945. Certainly not Mrs Thatcher in her heyday...they were modest compared to this. There is nothing like it.'"

2) 'COLD AND HUNGRY'

This is perhaps the most egregious (and pointless) money-saving measure ('reform'?) announced in the Spending Review - via my HuffPost colleague Ned Simons:

"Government plans to make people wait seven days before they can claim unemployment benefit will leave children 'cold and hungry', anti-poverty campaigners have warned.

"... Alison Garnham, the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said the chancellor was pursuing a policy that would hurt families on low incomes and lengthen foodbank queues.

"'We’re talking about parents doing the right thing but who have very little in the way of savings to tide them over if they lose their job. There should be no doubt this will leave more families and children cold and hungry and push more families towards doorstep lenders and foodbanks,' she said."

The Independent splashes on the story: 'The Wonga coup: Osborne's 'gift to the payday lenders'. The paper's Andrew Grice reports on the impact of the "unexpected £365m package of further cuts in welfare":

"Chris Mould, executive chairman of the Trussell Trust, which has launched 325 foodbanks, told The Independent that 30 per cent of the 346,000 people it helped in 2012-13 were referred to them because of benefit delays and a further 15 per cent due to benefit changes. 'Any decision that delays further the timely receipt of social security will make things worse for some,' he said. 'Lots of people are referred to us because they already have problems with debts, many with short term loan organisations.'

"... Labour will back most of the welfare changes but will look closely at the seven-day delay before supporting it. 'If it is a blank cheque for Wonga, we will be more suspicious,' said Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor."

Whether Balls eventually backs the measure, on behalf of the Opposition, is another question altogether, however. He's been dodging the question since yesterday afternoon.

Meanwhile, other papers, on the centre-right, are more positive about Osborne's policies on benefits:

'George Declares War On Welfare Britain' (Daily Mail)

'Osborne Wields Welfare Axe' (Telegraph)

'Osborne Turns His Guns On Benefits' (Times)

We've got two more years of this - as the election approaches, expect the Tories - led by Osborne and IDS - to continue turning welfare into a wedge issue, a dividing line, in the most nakedly populist ways...

3) NO MORE PROGRESS IN PAY

It wasn't just welfare claimants targeted by the Chancellor yesterday. Public sector workers took a hit, too. Again. From the Guardian:

"Millions of public sector workers will lose automatic annual pay rises and see any additional pay hikes held at about 1% as part of a cuts package announced by George Osborne on Wednesday.

"The news provoked a furious response from unions, who warned of future critical staff shortages in nursing, education and social services... [Osborne] told the Commons automatic pay deals for civil servants would end by April 2016 in favour of performance-related rises.

"Progression pay can at best be described as antiquated; at worst, it's deeply unfair to other parts of the public sector who don't get it and to the private sector who have to pay for it," he said... Osborne said public sector pay rises would be limited to an average of up to 1% for 2015-16, saving at least £1.3bn. According to the Treasury, some public employees have enjoyed automatic pay increases of up to 7%.

"... Dave Prentis of Unison accused Osborne of making local government a "whipping boy" of the Conservative party, adding: 'How can he squeeze more out of council workers when three quarters now earn less than £21,000 as a result of the government's three-year pay freeze?'"

4) DID GIDEON OUTSPIN GORDON ON INVESTMENT SPENDING?

Channel 4 News' economics editor, Faisal Islam, is pissed:

"I think we may have seen the most egregious statistical chicanery (* see update below; it’s not) I have witnessed in a Treasury fiscal event in 13 years of covering economics for newspapers and TV.

"I was quite shocked to hear the chancellor claim that investment spending would be £50bn. This would be fiscal stimulus territory. I got some return tweets about PSGI: 'Public Sector Gross Investment'. Then the chancellor talked of £300bn of investment. That too sounded quite high. Again it was gross investment.

"The traditional standard measure of government investment spending is 'net investment' which accounts for depreciation on the government’s giant stock of capital. It is the way government investment has been measured for decades... The only reference to net investment was as a footnote to a table about the impact of the Royal Mail pension. Nothing. Nada. Gone. Erased. PSGI is now the only measure, and it has the happy side effect of sounding bigger... officially, capital investment by government has been CUT. That’s not the impression you would get from the chancellor’s speech.

"I deduce that it’s £155bn over the next six years rather than the £300bn figure used in Parliament. I’m not sure that even Gordon Brown would have tried this one. In fact, in similar circumstances, he did not."

He adds:

"The OBR and the Statistics Commission might have something to say about this."

Asked by Evan Davis about all this on the Today programme, the chancellor denied it was 'Brown-esque', saying only that investment spending was "higher than the plans we inherited".

5) 'ALL BENEFITS CLAIMANTS SHOULD LEAN ENGLISH'

Oh Andrew, a typo? Really? What bad timing...

My HuffPost colleague Felicity Morse reports:

"Tory MP Andrew Selous was left red-faced on Wednesday after making a spelling mistake in a tweet insisting all benefit claimants should learn English.

"The Member of Parliament for South West Bedfordshire made the gaffe following the spending review, tweeting:

"'@Andrew_SelousMP Strongly support the loss of benefits unless claimants lean English.'"

Whoops! And there's more:

"Chancellor George Osborne revealed the new policy in his spending review earlier on Wednesday, saying: 'From now on, if claimants don’t speak English, they will have to attend language courses until they do.'

"However the government has actually cut funding for language lessons, with the coalition's strategy on skills in 2011 meaning that the only people eligible for full funding for English courses were those on 'active benefits' – jobseeker's allowance (JSA) or employment support allowance (ESA)."

Hmm...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this (spoof) video of Andy Murray versus Andy Murray at Wimbledon. It's the final you all want to see. Right?

6) RUDDY HELL, MATE

Not since Brutus thrust his knife into Caesar's groin have we seen a political stabbing like this - and, that too, Down Under. Yes, in tiny, quiet, faraway Oz - from the Daily Mail:

"Australia's first woman prime minister was ousted yesterday - by the bitter rival she deposed three years ago. Julia Gillard was voted out as leader by her party, which faces heavy defeat in an election due in September.

"Labour MPs voted 57 to 45 to reinstate Kevin Rudd, 55, who was prime minister from 2007 to 2010, when he quit hours before a leadership vote sparked by Miss Gillard.

"... She has been dogged by in-party feuding and personal attacks - many of which she said were sexist - and was lampooned this week for appearing in a magazine knitting a toy kangaroo for the forthcoming royal baby."

Rudd is now expected to call an early election - which he is also expected to lose to arch-conservative Tony Abbott.

7) STAY AWAY, SAYS MAY

Bad news for America's most high-profile anti-Islam bloggers (and EDL boosters), Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller. My HuffPost colleague Jessica Elgot reports on the success of a Hope Not Hate petition to the Home Office:

"Two US far-right activists have been banned from the UK, in a personal intervention from Home Secretary Theresa May, after a concerted campaign to stop the two addressing an English Defence League rally in Woolwich.

"... Geller and Spencer have both now posted a letter from the Home Office on their respective blogs, a letter which warns them against against travelling to the UK.

"The Home Office confirmed to HuffPost UK that the two had been banned from entry.

"'The Home Secretary will seek to exclude an individual if she considers that his or her presence in the UK is not conducive to the public good,' a spokesman said. 'We condemn all those whose behaviours and views run counter to our shared values and will not stand for extremism in any form.'"

It couldn't happen to a nicer couple...

8) SUPREME COURT MAKES HISTORY

Yesterday the US Supreme Court, led by 'swing' justice Anthony Kennedy, struck down the Defence of Marriage Act (Doma). What does this mean? From the Guardian:

"Gay rights campaigners in the United States were celebrating a stunning victory yesterday after a supreme court ruling struck down a controversial federal law that discriminated against homosexual unions.

"The court also dismissed a separate appeal against same-sex marriage laws in California, restoring the right to gay marriage in the largest US state and nearly doubling the number of Americans living in states where gay marriage would be legal.

"Together, the two rulings mark the biggest advance in civil liberties for gay people in a generation, and come amid growing political and international recognition that same-sex couples deserve equal legal treatment."

9) LEAKERS SHOULD BE 'SHOT IN THE BALLS'

Quiz question: who once said that leakers should be "shot in the balls"?

Yep, you guessed it: NSA whistleblower (and leaker-in-chief!) Edward Snowden, in a discussion on the online tech news site ArsTechnica back in 2009 when he was a CIA technician stationed in Geneva, Switzerland,

I guess he's been on, ahem, a journey since then...

10) COMEDIANS? OR BULLIES?

Two questions worth asking after yesterday's PMQs and Spending Review. 1) Do Cameron and Osborne need new people to write their 'jokes'? 2) Are these two guys just old-fashioned, unfunny bullies? From the Independent's Andy McSmith:

"Will there come a point when Eric Pickles gets bored of hearing the boys at the top end of the Cabinet joke about his weight? The Communities Secretary reacted in his customarily good-natured way yesterday as George Osborne praised him for turning his department into a 'model of lean government'... joking about someone's weight is the idle humour of the school bully, even if the person targeted appears not to mind. Likewise, jokes about someone's name, like this gross example from Mr Cameron at yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions - 'It's not just people at Wimbledon who are saying "new balls please".'

"Only one politician has made a good joke about Ed Balls's surname, and that was right at the start of his political career. In 1994, after Gordon Brown had delivered a speech which referred to 'neo-classical endogenous growth theory and the symbiotic relationship between growth and investment', word went around that the author of these words was his newly recruited young researcher, Ed Balls.

"'There you have it!' Michael Heseltine declared at the Conservative Party conference a month later. 'The final proof. Labour's brand new, shining, modernists' economic dream. But it's not Brown's - it's Balls.'"

"That was funny. All subsequent jokes about Ed Balls's name are unfunny.

"Likewise jokes about Eric Pickles' waistline... [It] is the idle humour of the school bully."

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"His friends call him George, the President calls him Jeffrey... but to everyone else he's just Bungle." - Ed Balls responds to the Chancellor's Spending Review in the Commons yesterday.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42

Conservatives 31

Lib Dems 11

Ukip 10

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@George_Osborne We're backing people who want to work hard and get on by freezing council tax and ending something for nothing in welfare

@hilarybennmp No explanation from Chancellor as to why the ten most deprived councils are losing 6 times as much in spending power as ten least deprived

‏@Queen_UK Spending review: thinking of cutting George Osborne. #wasteofmoney

900 WORDS OR MORE

Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Guardian, says: "The chancellor has tried to gloss over a dire financial situation by playing the game he knows best."

Benedict Brogan, writing in the Telegraph, says: "The Chancellor has taken a decisive first step along the 2015 campaign trail."

David Aaronovitch, writing in the Times, says: "Revelations about police subterfuge and the alleged CQC cover-up show how much more open we are as a society."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol