Ed Miliband cannot have enjoyed the revelation last Friday that two out of three Labour voters want to ditch him and install his brother as party leader instead. But a new poll released today is potentially far more damaging.
According to a Times/ Populus survey, a third of Labour’s own voters prefer David Cameron to Ed Miliband as prime minister. It also showed that over the last four months, there has been a 5 percentage point increase in the number of people who are dissatisfied with Cameron but would still prefer him to be in Downing St than the Labour leader.
Speaking at Labour’s conference fringe, Rick Nye, director of Populus, made clear that Mr Miliband has a difficult task – because even if his party is increasing its lead against the Tories, the statistics do not look so good when the leaders are pitched head to head. As a result, the likeliest outcome of next election is a hung parliament, with Labour the largest party but no overall majority, Nye said.
As I reported today, the Treasury is looking seriously into the idea of adopting German-style “mini jobs”, a scheme long championed by free market Conservative MPs. The model is that workers can earn up to €400, or £314, tax free each month, while their employers benefit from flexible labour with minimal bureaucracy: they pay a flat rate of wage taxes, insurance and pension contributions.
It is easy to see why companies and jobseekers might be clamouring for the government to pick this up, but there is actually a serious political case as well. Tories who were frustrated by the Liberal Democrats’ opposition to radical labour market reforms put forward by Adrian Beecroft have been calling for ministers to come forward with some new deregulation measures for some time.
The Lib Dems themselves are keen not to be seen as too obstructionist on this issue given the drive for growth, and party officials have assured me that they are not pushing back against the mini jobs idea. Could this be the middle way?
It is not often that political parties admit to having made mistakes, and this particular mea culpa has been a long time coming. But in an opinion piece for The Times today, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, says that the Labour government was wrong not to have recognised sooner that immigration needed to be controlled. She writes:
We should have brought the points-based system in earlier to restrict low-skilled migration. And we should have adopted transitional controls for Eastern Europe.
This is an important moment, since Labour figures have always privately acknowledged that they cannot really take the Home Office to task on its immigration reforms until they have publicly addressed their own historical mistakes in this area (although Jonathan Portes, an economist who worked as a civil servant in Downing St at the time, would argue that no such apology is necessary). Ed Miliband is due to announce a new policy approach on immigration tomorrow, and it seems that a certain amount of self-punishment is required in the run-up. Cooper says candidly in her article that this is not the “easiest subject” for Labour to discuss, and suggests that the party lost touch with the electorate’s anxieties about the effect that migration would have on jobs and communities:
The two police chiefs who attracted so much controversy earlier this month with a plan to open up their forces to a £1.5bn private sector contract were summoned to the home affairs committee yesterday to explain their ideas to MPs. But anyone hoping this would help to clarify which elements of policing might be carried out by private staff and which would remain the remit of police officers and their civilian officials would have been sorely disappointed.
Confronting the committee, Chris Sims, chief constable of West Midlands police, and Lynne Owens, chief constable of Surrey, were keen to distance themselves from the idea that they were privatising the police force. Ms Owens said:
We will not give our crown jewels to a private sector company.
Mr Sims even denied that the procurement process was an outsourcing project – claiming that while Cleveland, Lincolnshire, Avon & Somerset, Cheshire and Northamptonshire police forces had all entered into contracts which effectively hand over services to a company, this was not the model West Midlands and Surrey would follow.
So, will Labour field candidates for the election of police and crime commissioners or will it find a way to avoid putting up its own contenders?
Toby Harris, Labour peer and former chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, warned conference delegates in Liverpool on Monday that party grandees are considering not contesting the PCC vote in November 2012. But this morning, Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary, was quick to dismiss suggestions of a boycott. She told the BBC:
That’s not what we are proposing but we will have to consider how we respond to the legislation that has just gone through Parliament. We will be thinking about the best way to respond to do that.
There is a growing confusion over the government’s target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands by 2015 – at least, its chief adviser on immigration issues seems to think so.
As I reported last month, the 21 per cent increase in net migration over the past year, taking the total to 239,000 – more than twice the level the home office needs to reach in four years’ time – must have made uncomfortable reading for the department’s number crunchers.
However, speaking at London’s Global Immigration Conference yesterday, Professor David Metcalf, chair of the Migration Advisory Committee, suggested that the firm target of less than 100,000 was actually more of an “aspiration” for the government. He told the lawyers at the International Bar Association event:
There are certain tensions within the coalition about whether [the tens of thousands] is a firm target or an aspiration.
This is not the first time that such tension has been mooted.
Tom McNally, the Lib Dem peer and justice minister, may face a less than positive reception when he returns to the Ministry of Justice after the party conference in Birmingham.
As the Guardian reported today, Lord McNally has already weighed in against his Tory colleagues at repeated fringe events, suggesting that the decision to add the word “punishment” to the government’s legal aid and sentencing bill was the work of “little elves that work in No 10″ helping the prime minister to get the right-wing media on side.
These comments were followed by a remarkably frank discussion of the MoJ’s move to transform the justice system and reduce reoffending through payment by results, at a fringe meeting looking at who should profit from the penal system.
Asking rhetorically whether the introduction of private providers into the prison service was “a sin against the holy ghost [of public provision] or a sensible way of the government financing much-needed services and competition”, Lord McNally acknowledged that the PBR drive had ultimately pragmatic motives.
Number 10 may have been reluctant to comment this morning on revelations by the FT’s Chris Giles about a £12bn ‘black hole’ in the public finances but Lib Dems, cornered at their conference in Birmingham, were more open.
Senior Lib Dem MPs quizzed on Monday suggested they were not entirely surprised by the 25 per cent increase in the structural deficit, but not surprisingly, are still not in any mood to back further cuts to bring it under control.
Grumblings of discontent were heard along House of Lords corridors today as Labour and Lib Dem peers accused the coalition of rushing through legislation on the controversial police and crime commissioners with a cunning timetabling ploy.
Following the derailing of the bill by Lib Dem peers in May, the government has now provoked fresh displeasure by tabling the parliamentary ping pong – where the bill is batted back and forth between the two houses – for next Wednesday, the same day that the legislation on fixed term parliaments is also due to be debated.
Labour Lords in particular complained that it was extremely unusual for two such major bills to be scheduled so close together, and are accusing the coalition of what they have diagnosed as a “political stitch-up”. The idea, they say, is to get the contentious police reform package through parliament before Nick Clegg has to face any gip on the subject from Lib Dem party members at their conference, which starts the following Saturday.
With Jim and Alex still on frontline duties, Helen Warrell and Johanna Kassel, who have helped steer the FT’s online election coverage, will keep you up-to-date with the most recent results.
And on that note, we’ve heard from all three leaders and more pundits than we can shake a stick at. So 18 hours and thousands of words later, we are going to sign off from the live blogging. We will continue to update the blog as the final results come in and if there is any breaking news. But thanks for joining us and make sure to watch the Westminster blog and FT.com for all the latest news and developments over the weekend.
4.05 HW: Tory reactions on Cameron’s statement are surprisingly slow to emerge by Peter Hoskin on Spectator Coffee House is surprised that Cameron has gone so far in his advances towards the Lib Dems and is impressed by the Tory leader’s “clarity” in setting out the areas where he isn’t willing to compromise with Nick Clegg – namely Europe, cutting the deficit and immgration.
With Jim and Alex on frontline duties, Helen Warrell, who has helped steer the FT’s online election coveage, will man this blog. Jim, Alex and others will contribute. Follow the news, drama and tension of the unfolding result.
12.05: As the clock has struck noon, we are going to take a 10-minute rest. In the meantime, Robert Shrimsley, writer of the armchair election, has written a post, which will appear above very shortly. We will be back soon…
11.59 HW: An ongoing tussle on electoral reform as both major parties continue to woo the Lib Dems: Charlie Whelan, former press secretary to Gordon Brown, says he is “sure” that Labour will offer the Lib Dems proportional representation as an incentive to form a Lib-Lab coalition. Meanwhile Conservative sources tell the BBC that Cameron “hasn’t ruled out” the possibility of some sort of electoral reform.
11.51: Jim’s headline of the day goes to The Sun: “Right Wing Brings Down Ukip”. Let’s hope Nigel Farrage is enjoying the joke as much as everyone else…