We are hearing many rumours about the climb-downs to be expected in Osborne’s Autumn Statement, which is due tomorrow, and how the Liberal Democrats are positioning themselves.
In the Guardian we learn the welcome news: George Osborne set to drop plan to end housing benefit for under-25s. “Lib Dems revolt against David Cameron’s ‘unjust’ move in runup to chancellor’s autumn statement”
The Guardian also devotes a whole article to Matthew Oakeshott’s comments: Lib Dems urge Nick Clegg to stand up to Tories over spending plans. He said “he wanted Clegg to show the same vigour and forthrightness as he had demonstrated over his response to the Leveson report.”
Elsewhere in the same paper, Patrick Wintour previewed the Autumn Statement under the headline: George Osborne prepares for climbdown on missed fiscal targets. “Chancellor must admit he cannot meet second target of reducing debt as proportion of national income by end of parliament”. He then goes on to quote from a statement from the Social Liberal Forum:
The Social Liberal Forum would not support a Government that takes regressive spending decisions, on the welfare budget in particular, that will go beyond the term of this Parliament. … If the state of the economy leaves the Coalition with a choice between investing in future growth by easing the deficit reduction programme and cutting support to the most vulnerable people in society, it can only choose the former.
The Social Liberal Forum crops up again in the Huffington Post which claims: Nick Clegg Under Pressure From Lib Dems To Resist Benefit Cuts (which you must go to if only to check out the photo of Nick Clegg holding Osborne in an arm lock). Prateek Buch, SLF Director, is quoted as saying that the Social Liberal Forum was keeping Lib Dem ministers “aware of feelings in the party” in an attempt to win the “battle” against benefit cuts with just two days to go until the statement.
In the Independent quotes a letter from some 50 charities under the headline: Cutting benefits to poorest ‘a tragedy’, then goes on to say “Liberal Democrat sources said they believed that they had negotiated a “balanced package” which would be seen as fair.”
Even the Mail has a quote that sounds pretty authentic:
Osborne wants to demonstrate that fairness means both the rich paying their fair share and ending ‘the something-for-nothing’ culture.
The Liberal Democrats take a different approach. Their concern is, as one of them puts it, to prove that ‘when we ask people to tighten their belts, the people we begin with are those with the biggest waistbands’.
* Mary Reid is the Monday Editor on Lib Dem Voice.