Monthly Archives: March 2010

The folks in Downing Street will be busily choreographing Gordon Brown’s announcement for the election. There’s one unlikely venue they should consider: parliament. No prime minister has announced an election in the chamber for 75 years.

The history of all this is all laid out in a fascinating table in the Rallings and Thrasher book of British electoral factsRead more

hat-tip Guido: This was originally created by Armando Iannucci’s Time Trumpet.

The Brown team assembled today for the last full cabinet photo before the election. Two ministers were notably absent: Alistair Darling and David Miliband. They both had good excuses. But somehow it seems fitting. Was this as close as Brown will ever get to his fantasy cabinet? You have to wonder whether Ed Balls assumed the chancellor’s place. Smiles everyone!

Blair is looking even more orange than usual, and rather thin around the face. Maybe it is the bright red “A future fair for all” Labour wallpaper behind him. Rhetorically he hasn’t changed much: still lots of pregnant pauses and persuasive hand movements. Read more

No one was paying much attention to what Labour would do with its fourth term; most people had presumed that it would lose on May 6. Now that the opinion polls have narrowed, it’s worth examining what plans Gordon Brown has for the next five years. Read more

9pm (JP) Scheduled against Eastenders and Coronation Street, this was always going to be a warm-up to the main event; the leaders’ debates. But instructive nevertheless. A big thanks here to Ian Mulheirn from the Social Market Foundation for providing intellectual ballast. (He moved house only yesterday and may have some apologies to make when he arrives home. Heroic).

8.58pm (AB) It’s all over. A lively if completely unenlightening debate. Who would have thought there was an election on? In picking a winner, it is always worth remembering that it is not relative performance that is important. It’s about what the public thought of you before the debate — and whether that changes. Darling made no big mistakes. There were a couple of decent gags and some flashes of passion, which may have surprised some viewers. Osborne stood his ground and certainly looked calm. The negative side was that he made little of the National Insurance announcement and sometimes looked like he was being ganged up on. Cable threw and landed the most punches. But the fact the other two didnt even bother to discuss Lib Dem policy was telling.

8.55pm (AB) Some thoughts from Chris Cook, a star FT leader writer:

Vince is winning, so far, cementing his place as the cabbie’s favourite politician. Smashed MPs and bankers in his intro minute, and clobbered Osborne over the (beserk-in-a-recession) IHT cut.

8.53pm (JP). They are wrapping up. Darling boasts (sotto voce) about having made the right calls. Job opportunities are the main thing, he says. Vince says “who can you trust?”. Labour led Britain into “this mess” and wasted money on over-centralised public services, argues Cable. He doesn’t like the Tories either. “Now they want another chance to get their noses in the trough and reward their rich backers.” St Vince isn’t being so saintly right now. Don’t hold back chap. Last but not least, Osborne is summing up. He points out, rightly, that Labour has been in power for 13 years. “They took one of the strongest economies in Europe and now we have one of the weakest.” It’s a powerful argument. You only have one chance to get Labour out, he says. Read more

We were the first to reveal that Mandelson favourite Tristram Hunt was likely to get the Stoke Central seat.

Now I can reveal that Hunt, an urbane historian, has just made it on to the shortlist for the seat. Byron Taylor of TULO, the trade union liaison group, is NOT on the list. Read more

Part of the £12bn Tory efficiency savings will come from “tighter control of public sector recruitment”.

George Osborne’s aides are making clear that it is not a full hiring freeze. But it will come close to it in parts of the public sector. In crude terms, they’re arguing that frontline jobs should be refilled while backoffice jobs are sacrificed to “natural wastage”. Read more

This may be pertinent after the Tory promise to pay for its National Insurance cut with efficiency savings across Whitehall. The quotation speaks for itself: David Cameron, May 19, 2008:

The government ‘efficiency drive’ is one of the oldest tricks in the book. The trouble is, it’s nearly always just that – a trick. In fact it’s such a cliché, there was an episode of Yes Minister about it, called ‘The Economy Drive.’ Ministers are summoned, officials instructed, the media prepared for sweeping savings in the running costs of government. And then, a few months down the line, the sheepish-looking ministers and officials come back and say ‘well actually, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as we’d hoped, Prime Minister.’” Read more

Sir Peter Gershon is the latest adviser to Labour who has jumped ship to the Tories. This morning George Osborne said he would oversee new efficiency cuts under a Tory government.

He hasn’t always been close to the Conservatives, however…

From the FT, 21st of July, 2004:

Sir Peter Gershon, whose efficiency review has led to plans for 75,000 civil service jobs to be cut along with another 15,000 in local government, told the Financial Times:

“I do think it is extremely unfortunate the way the Conservatives have chosen to utilise images [of] civil servants stereotyped as unproductive, bowler-hatted, bureaucrats.”

 Read more

Just a note to say that Alex and I will be live blogging tonight at 8pm as Alistair Darling, George Osborne and VInce Cable go head to head in a Channel 4 debate.

Here is the full verdict from the Institute of Fiscal Studies:

This appears to be the crux of it. Read more

It’s been through more changes than a Lady Gaga set, or so it seems. But the reform of the MPs’ allowance system has now reached an end.

The biggest news from this morning’s press conference:

MPs will be allowed to employ their spouses – after earlier indications that this would be banned. You may remember that it was the Derek Conway scandal (his son wasn’t working desperately hard in the Commons) that sparked the entire expenses furore.

However, MP’s will be restricted to hiring only one significant other, or “connected party” (whether sibling, daughter, son, wife, girlfriend, husband, boyfriend, mistress, etc).

This is despite 59 per cent of respondents wanting the practice banned – and only 22 per cent putting the opposite view. Sir Ian responded by saying that his committee’s job was to “weigh up” the counter-arguments rather than simply instate the public view.

Why the fudged compromise? The best question of the day goes to Rosa Prince at the Telegraph, who asked why – if it was okay to hire one family member – it wasn’t okay to hire several.

I’m not sure Sir Ian answered it properly.

Other news from this morningRead more

Clearly the Conservatives felt the need for a new, more positive policy and have come up with the old Tory favourite: a tax cut. George Osborne has just spelled out a pledge to partially reverse a 1 per cent rise in national insurance due to take place in one year’s time. It is likely to be welcomed by some business groups. Read more

Tories promise a partial reversion of next year’s National Insurance rise

Labour throw money at the regions in string of pre-election announcements Read more

What is behind the dip in Tory poll numbers? Read more

Some facts to remember amid the political hullabaloo over Alistair Darling agreeing that his cuts would be more severe than Margaret Thatcher.

1) Thatcher raised public spending Read more

Alex and I share an office with George Parker, the FT’s political editor, and Jean Eaglesham, FT chief political correspondent. Read more

The betting markets have moved sharply against the Tories today. There was little movement on Budget day. But since 8.45am this morning the odds on a Tory majority have dropped five per cent on Betfair, the online betting exchange. It is one of the biggest one day movements since the non-election of 2007.

Now, Labour still seem well out of the running, at least according to the punters. But the Tory odds are heading towards the critical 50/50 mark, a remarkable shift given that the odds on a Cameron majority were close to 70 per cent just a couple of months ago. The chances of a hung parliament now stand at close to 40 per cent. Read more