Saturday, 7 December 2013

Mandela passes away..

Good morning. The death of Nelson Mandela has rightly wiped out coverage of the Autumn Statement. Our rolling blog will keep you updated with the reaction to the loss of this remarkable figure, and we will be posting the tributes and recollections of key figures there throughout the day. If you read nothing else, the Telegraph's magisterial obituary is gripping. And David Blair's assessment of Mandela's record is a lucid and compelling account of a remarkable life. The news dropped just before 10 last night, in time to knock George Osborne off the news bulletins. Below you can catch up with the key verdicts on the Chancellor's statement, which can be summarised broadly as: Comeback for Osborne, disaster for Balls, glimmer of hope for Tories, ominous consequences for Labour, nagging doubts about the economy, terrible truth about public finances, and a long haul ahead for Britain.
There is no ambiguity about it: yesterday was a very good day for George Osborne. The Mail has a photo of the happy Chancellor - "The smile that says Britain's on the mend" - and few disagree. Mr Osborne's message - "Britain's economic plan is working", but the job is far from done - is a hint of the one he'll take to the electorate in 2015. If the OBR's forecast of 2.4% growth for 2014 does prove correct, then the expectation is that will feed through to living standards - a grown-up response to Ed Miliband's energy price freeze. That's why there is an increased feel of optimism among Conservative MPs, although no one is under any illusions that it'll be easy: whether this lasts all the way until May 2015 is the acid test. Will the Conservatives regret being committed to a full five-year Parliament, denying them the option of an early election? Steve Richards says that "Osborne could fight the election campaign tomorrow. Labour still has some big decisions to make."
The FT says that "Mr Osborne did not shy away from acknowledging these hard truths. His motive, however, was largely political. This was to remind voters not only that the coalition’s deficit-reduction mission was incomplete but that a putative Labour government was the gravest threat to its completion." Jeremy Warner warns that "the challenges remain as daunting as ever", and calls for further "reforms to boost business and trade." We argue that it was vindication for the Chancellor's strategy - but that "The annual cap on social security spending announced in the Autumn Statement should be a precursor to far more ambitious reforms of state provision." The Guardian is less complimentary "The return of wage growth was pushed back by another year in the smallprint of Thursday's figures. These reveal that the average worker is now in for 15 lost years. Recovery or not, Mr Osborne will not really regain his swagger until he can do something about that."
Politics being what it is, a good day for Mr Osborne translates into a very, very bad one for Ed Balls. Nothing says that quite like the comments of a Labour MP to The Sun: "He f****d it up. I was watching it thinking, 'We are f****d'... Ed Miliband should have sacked him in the last reshuffle. It's a sign of weakness that he didn't." The Mail's headline says it all: "Red Balls! Knives are out for humiliated Ed: Day of mockery for the shadow chancellor who still can't accept he was wrong", while its leader says "The Chancellor puts Balls out for the count". We plump for "New Balls please, jeer buoyant Tories".
Quentin Letts is on blistering form: "Being a politician, naturally, he opted for churlish. He began by shouting that Mr Osborne was ‘in complete denial’. And from that moment he was finished. Even Labour MPs (horribly quiet behind him) could see that the man in denial was puce-chopped Ballsy, not the vindicated Mr Osborne." Aditya Chakrabortty writes in The Guardian that "Balls delivered the same attack lines he has been using since 2010. "Flatlining", "slowest recovery for over 100 years", "tax cut for millionaires": all were present and technically correct, just rather shopworn after three years of constant service." Questions will inevitably be asked about whether Mr Balls will remain in his post until the election. That remains very likely, but the prospect of Alistair Darling, fresh from keeping Scotland in the Union, replacing Mr Balls next autumn is one that many will find allurring. Still, if there is one certainty about Mr Balls, it is that he will fight.
Not all Conservatives had reason for cheer yesterday. Iain Duncan Smith is going to miss his deadline of getting all existing and new benefit claimants on to universal credit by 2017. John McTernan says: "What? This is his flagship reform. Everything should have been considered before the reform was embarked on. It's hard enough to reform benefits on their own. Worse when you require a whole new integrated government IT system." But, through a combination of the Autumn Statement and the passing of Nelson Mandela, the problems with universal credit will now escape much scrutiny.
It wouldn't be like George Osborne to miss any opportunity to rack up the political damage. There will be a vote six months before the electionon whether to support Mr Osborne's blueprint to reduce the debt once the deficit has been eliminated. The idea is to expose divisions in Labour; any no vote would be paraded as a sign that Labour still hadn't learned its lessons. And there's another possible trap too: the welfare budget will be capped for the first time next year and Labour will be challenged to match it, presumably at the time of the next budget.
The Mail aims its fire at the experts who didn't see the recovery coming. This includes the BBC - and its "entrenched and mindless opposition to all public sector cuts"; Stephanie Flanders; David Blanchflower; and Paul Krugman. "They are the Jeremiahs who, for the past three years, have been talking down the economy — predicting that the austerity ‘cuts’ would precipitate a triple-dip recession and misery for millions of people."
The Morning Briefing email is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter 
The PM pays tribute:
@David_Cameron: A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time. I've asked for the flag at No10 to be flown at half mast.

In the Telegraph  
Best of the rest 
Philip Collins in The Times - As usual, we’re addicted to the short term
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail - He blinked. Croaked. He's vermili on Balls!
9.15am TaxPayers' Alliance and Institute of Economic Affairs post-Autumn Statement briefing. 2 Lord North Street, Westminster, SW1P 3LB.
10am Sentencing of Marine A. Sergeant Alexander Blackman, who was formerly known only as Marine A, was convicted last month of the murder of an injured Afghan insurgent.

12.30am IFS Autumn Statement analysis. IFS researchers will present their analysis of The Autumn Statement 2013. Studio Theatre, Rada, Chenies Street