Labour party

At the seven-way leaders debate last week, Nicola Sturgeon took full advantage of a simple fact: she knows much more about UK politics and policies than her opponents know about Scotland’s. A skilled and experienced politician, the Scottish National party leader took advantage of these information asymmetries. She made the most of her perceived underdog status; many commentators said that she “won”.

On Tuesday night, as the overdog rather than the underdog, and debating other Scottish party leaders in a mere four-way TV showdown, Ms Sturgeon was always going to be challenged more — on her government’s record and her policies for 2015. She was criticised for Scotland’s rising NHS waiting lists, its unequal access to higher education, her dubious pledge to increase spending while reducing public debts and for her government’s centralising reforms to policing and cuts to further education. And when she refused to rule out another independence referendum in the near future – a wholly sensible and legitimate choice – the audience had a wee heckle.  Read more

The independence referendum is still being fought in Scotland, but this time the nationalists are winning. This is one implication from 16 constituency polls commissioned by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft and released on Wednesday.

They support what has been increasingly obvious ever since Scots voted No on September 18: there is a new landscape in Scottish politics. The Scottish Nationalist party is projected to replace Labour as the dominant force north of the border.

Here are the headline results of Lord Ashcroft’s polls (click to expand):

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The universities reforms of 2012 did not shift the cost from taxpayers to graduates, as some of the rhetoric around them suggested, but amounted to an increase in the subsidy for universities that will be paid for via higher fees for graduates while the taxpayer costs stays roughly the same. Hence, perhaps, the letter from vice-chancellors about Labour’s supposed policy.

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“[P]erhaps the biggest polling movement in recent UK history that almost no-one has heard of”, is how Professor Roger Scully, a leading authority on Welsh politics, describes the decline since 2012 in support for the Labour party in Wales.

I can’t speak for others’ knowledge of Welsh politics, but Prof Scully might be right:

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The general election in May is one of the most difficult to predict in British history. The result will undermine old certitudes. An incumbent’s share of the vote typically dwindles from one election to the next. An opposition has never won with Milibandite ratings on both the economy and the strength of its leader. Two-party politics, injured in 2010, could be confirmed dead in 2015. Six parties could have a critical role in deciding the allocation of seats. The 650 constituency races each have their own dynamic; it doesn’t make much sense to think of this as a single election.

Scotland is a case in point. Since the independence referendum on September 18, the Scottish National party has taken a big opinion poll lead over the Labour party:

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And doesn’t he have lovely moustache:

The image is produced by YouGov, a polling and market research company. Using its database of opinion surveys, it has built a nifty new marketing tool that shows the quintessential characteristics of the people who like a certain brand. This brand could be a newspaper, a supermarket, a music group – or even a political party Read more

In an ideal world all zero-hour contracts would be of the Augie March variety: they would represent the preference of an individual for freedom and flexibility. Instead, they are too often the unwanted consequence of a low wage, insecure labour market.

Data released Wednesday morning by the Office of National Statistics tell us more about zero-hours contracts, longstanding arrangements that have been more widely used and more widely discussed in the aftermath of the last recession. The data, as well as new research from the Resolution Foundation tell us more about how many people are employed under these arrangements – and, crucially, who they might be.  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

On Saturday, Ed Balls announced that a Labour government would bring back the 50 per cent tax rate on incomes over £150,000. His main justification is that it would raise more revenue than government estimates suggest. Is the shadow chancellor correct? Read more

In 1894, Mark Oldroyd, a Liberal MP with a fondness for mill girls and justice, published a pamphlet about the living wage. The textiles factory owner from Dewsbury, Yorkshire wrote that: “A living wage must be sufficient to maintain the worker in the highest state of industrial efficiency, with decent surroundings and sufficient leisure”. It was the first formal call for a wage which met the basic needs of a worker and his family. Notably, it was also a deliberate effort to preserve the value and moral worth of work itself. Read more