The Week in Review: Britain's austerity groundhog day

Bill Murray in Groundhog Day - when the same thing happens again and again and again...
Bill Murray in Groundhog Day - when the same thing happens again and again and again...
Alex Stevenson By

This is Britain's version of groundhog day: every time George Osborne updates us on the state of his austerity plans, we're told there are five years to go until the misery is over. It's happened before. This week it happened again, with the news that the spending cuts and tax rises will have to continue until the 2017/2018 financial year. "We are making progress," the chancellor insisted - an argument accepted in full by rapt Tory MPs. It didn't exactly feel like it. And as the Institute for Fiscal Studies concluded, there's a strong chance even these predictions just won't add up by the time we get to 2017/18.

All of this might seem like the perfect opportunity for the opposition to stick the boot in and make the coalition deeply uncomfortable. Unfortunately, Ed Balls was having a bit of an off-week. He got into a hopeless muddle, prompting instant mockery from the government benches. And then he raised eyebrows by blaming the whole thing on his stammer. This was perfect timing from our point of view, for we had only just published a podcast examining the particular agonies of being shadow chancellor right now.

What of the most influential man in Britain called Brian this week? Lord Justice Leveson jetted off down under to take part in a symposium on privacy, where he mouthed off about the only issue not really covered in his report - what his reforms mean for the internet. Back in Britain, the fallout from his report continued to be critical. There was lots of anguish from the Conservative party's leading politicians, who are determined to do everything they can to wriggle out of his recommendation of legislation. Much of it took place behind closed doors, but a viable solution might have begun emerging by the end of the week.

This was also a week of small-scale conflict, in which individuals with big opinions of themselves engaged in little spats. John Bercow came under fire from one of his predecessor's in the Speaker's chair, Betty Boothroyd, over his sartorial choices. Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, found himself blasted by one of his own MEPs (this is, admittedly, almost a daily occurrence in the UK Independence party). Nadine Dorries, reality TV reject, continued her ineffectual attacks on the already discredited ex-chief whip Andrew Mitchell.


Another very small person was making the news - small in size, that is. The foetus now growing in the womb of the Duchess of Cambridge caused quite a big splash in all the newspapers earlier this week. Any succession worries were swiftly put to bed. A prank call to the nurse at the hospital where she was staying might have seemed funny at the time, but it has reportedly ended tragically. A grim end to what will be viewed by many as a grim week.

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