Politics

In spite of his genuinely radical pensions reforms, George Osborne’s Budget had a familiar underlying theme: austerity will be with us, or at least some of us, for the rest of the decade. In this respect, the next parliament will be like the last.

However, the way the public finances are measured will change. The below is quite wonkish but it could have an important political consequence, making it more likely that the chancellor will meet the second part of his “fiscal mandate” – that public sector net debt excluding financial transactions is falling as a share of GDP by 2015/16, despite nothing having changed in the real world.

I’ll try to make the following as painless as possible. Read more

Ed Miliband’s announcement on the EU in the Financial Times today is partly a recognition of this:

But it is also made with a keen awareness of this:

The Labour leader is trying to stem the bleeding of support from his party to those on the right. Europe might not be a salient issue but in today’s populist climate, it is a symbolic one. Read more

I know what you’re thinking: Alex Salmond doesn’t need political advice. He is a MacMachiavelli, a crafty schemer, “the best politician in Britain”™.

But if the referendum on Scottish independence due September 18 were held tomorrow, the Scottish National Party leader would lose, opinion polls suggest.

What to do?

I don’t claim to support this idea but what if the SNP leader were to pledge a second vote after negotiations for independence were concluded? Scots could better understand what it is they are actually voting for and perhaps those inclined towards Devo Max would find it an attractive option. Read more

On Thursday, the government published its needlessly controversial report that reviews the impact of migration on the UK labour market.

In a post yesterday, I argued that the alleged worry about publishing the new document derives from how Home Secretary Theresa May used a January 2012 report from the independent Migration Advisory Committee. The MAC report was replete with caveats and qualifications, a necessary feature of empirical analysis about migration.

Thursday’s report supports the MAC findings – not the use of the findings but the findings themselves. Read more

Like many people from Edinburgh, I once worked at Standard Life. It was the summer of 2001 and I spent an enjoyable few weeks opening, sorting and delivering mail alongside a pony-tailed Australian with a fondness for somnolent afternoons. Working for the big fund manager full-time was a popular idea among my peers; it was a running joke at my school that the careers advice office should be renamed the Standard Life recruitment department. My neighbour with the nice car worked for the company.

The point of these hokey anecdotes: Standard Life is a big employer in a city where one in ten people work in financial services. I suspect most people will know someone – or know of someone – who works there. The charts below from Edinburgh City Council show the capital’s top companies by pre-tax profits (2011) and employment (2012). The latter also includes public sector organisations; Standard Life was the sixth biggest employer and the third biggest private sector employer in Edinburgh as of 2012.


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In a lecture last year, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, HM Treasury permanent secretary and perhaps the most powerful old Etonian in Britain, explained the “Origins of Treasury control”. Sir Nicholas said that Treasury’s power came from three sources: conflict, links to Parliament and being able to outwit the rest of officialdom. All three were in evidence this morning, as George Osborne cited his top official’s advice and told Scots they can have independence or the pound – but not both. Read more

An independent Scotland would be refused entry to a monetary union with the rest of the UK, according to reports on Wednesday. George Osborne, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander – a Cerberus of currency doom – are later this week expected to individually reject the Scottish National party’s proposal for a formal sterling union. I do not know whether this means a monetary union would be ruled out under any circumstances – but words being used by those involved in the interventions include “definitive” and “emphatic”. So far, the chancellor has said that a monetary union would be “very difficult”. Read more

“Equality of What?” asked Amartya Sen in 1979. The question pithily captures the defining debate of the political left. On Monday evening, in his Hugo Young speech, Ed Miliband gave an answer to Sen’s question: (nearly) everything. Read more

The chart below shows how the past few years have been the longest sustained period of falling real wages on record, according to official statistics.  Read more

This chart provides some context for the removal of Sally Morgan, the former chair of Ofsted, by Michael Gove, education secretary.  Read more