Jim Pickard

There was a touch of swagger about George Osborne on Wednesday as he told the country he had created a “strong” economy and could afford to divert billions of pounds of extra cash towards the NHS and a new road-building programme.

The public finances were in a “stronger” state than expected with a surplus expected by the end of the decade, he promised: “Out of the red and into the black for the first time in a generation.” Read more

Jim Pickard

Ed Miliband has fought 20 by-elections as leader of the Labour party: during this time he has gained one seat (Corby) and lost another (Bradford West).

There is a historic parallel for this achievement and it is not one that Mr Miliband will like to be reminded of. Read more

Jim Pickard

1] Dislike of the “Westminster elite”.

 

The SNP are poles apart from Ukip when it comes to their actual policies: the former is pro-European and broadly left-wing, the latter the opposite.

But there is a palpable read-across from the 45 per cent of Scots who voted “Yes” for independence last month and the huge numbers of English voters who backed Ukip on Thursday.

Both parties are mining the same seam of discontentment about the main three parties in Westminster.

Labour and Tory activists say they are getting the same negative message on the doorsteps, Read more

Jim Pickard

1] Don’t put too much faith in a single poll.

It was the Sunday Times YouGov poll – putting Yes at 51 per cent – which threw everyone into a blind panic. In retrospect that was a statistical outlier. The first rule of polls is always to ignore a single poll. That was thrown out of the window as Westminster woke up to the implications of the United Kingdom breaking up. Read more

Jim Pickard

Boris Johnson has teased Rupert Murdoch for his flirtation with Scottish independence, saying the media baron need look no further than his own business to understand the meaning of “Better Together”.

The London mayor joked that he wanted to see the four parts of the union kept together: The Sun, the Sun on Sunday, the Times and the Sunday Times, referring to Mr Murdoch’s four British newspapers: “It would be insane, to put that history, that union, that great collective endeavour at risk and to break up those titles, as some have from time to time suggested should be done.” Read more

Jim Pickard

The Romans used to predict the future by examining the entrails of dead animals. These days we use opinion polls, often with similarly haphazard results.

Even some of the most robust Westminster commentators are refusing to make firm bets about how the landscape will look after next May’s general election. It will be the closest fought, most unpredictable, most exciting battle for a generation. Read more

Jim Pickard

Greg Barker, the Tory energy minister – who posed with David Cameron in the Arctic eight years ago – is stepping down from the government in a vivid symbol of the Conservative party’s changing priorities.

Mr Barker, who as climate change minister was the number two in the energy department, is also set to quit politics altogether by stepping down as an MP next May. Read more

Jim Pickard

As phone hacking returns to the House of Commons three years after it rocked the political establishment, it seems a good time to recap the best moments – and worst – of Ed Miliband as Labour leader:

MILIBAND HIGH POINTS

Winning the leadership, September 2010

Miliband confounds the sceptics by riding a wave of support from trade union members to beat his brother, David, by the tightest of margins.

In front of a packed hall in Manchester, Ed Miliband struggles with his emotions as he pronounces his love for his elder brother, and says: “Today the work of the new generation begins.”

One Nation Speech, October 2012

Ed Miliband surprises on the upside as he delivers, without notes, a confident speech promising to build a “One Nation Britain” in the spirit of Disraeli.

In a speech that draws heavily on his own background, the Labour leader promises to block or reverse coalition policies on education and the health service, but warns he will have to keep many of the Read more

Jim Pickard

Tax relief on pensions looks set to become a key battleground at next year’s general election with Labour and the Lib Dems both mulling a raid on well-off savers.

Steve Webb, the pensions minister, told us in an interview that he was optimistic that a cut in tax relief for higher-rate pensions would be in the Lib Dem manifesto.

Mr Webb said that the idea was gaining traction within the party leadership in the run-up to the manifesto being finalised later in the year.

Introducing a new system of flat-rate tax relief would penalise the well-off but could benefit many savers on lower incomes, giving them a greater incentive to save. “A significant majority of pension savers would get more tax relief, which seems like a good thing to me,” he said.

As such the policy would fit the Lib Dem narrative of helping low-income workers, having fought for several increases in the income tax threshold throughout the current Parliament.

Nick Clegg, the party leader, is understood to be sympathetic to Mr Webb’s idea, subject to further modelling work on the implications. “I’ve found the idea being increasingly well-received, both within and beyond the party,” said Mr Webb.

Labour has already promised to cut pension tax relief for those earning £150,000 from 45 per cent to 20 per cent.

Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, believes the move could raise £1.3bn a year, which Read more

Jim Pickard

Tonight is the annual speech by George Osborne to a City audience at Mansion House. We revealed this morning that the chancellor will set out plans to speed up development of disused industrial sites, in his latest attempt to stop housing shortages from holding back economic growth.

He will explain a package of planning reforms and state investment, worth hundreds of millions of pounds, to speed up housebuilding.

Osborne will roll out nationally a plan – proposed by Boris Johnson in London – for investing public money in cleaning up former industrial areas, in exchange for deals with developers and local authorities to guarantee speedy housebuilding. He will also set out planning reforms that could give an effective “presumption in favour of development” on brownfield sites.

But I’m told that the biggest surprise tonight may not be on the “supply” side but rather on the “demand side”.

Osborne, I’m told, still believes that there is no bubble in the London housing market, and that recent price rises are mainly a function of cash buyers and under-supply. Yet the coalition have been under pressure since Mark Carney warned in May that the housing Read more

Jim Pickard

Ed Miliband has been widely criticised for what critics claim is a plan to seize power with just 35 per cent of the vote.

The theory is that Miliband believes he can cobble together a “coalition” of core party voters alongside disaffected Lib Dems – giving him just votes to get into Downing Street. The maths is that Labour picked up about 29 per cent in 2010: add 6 per cent from Lib Dem defections and Miliband is home and dry.

Some Labour officials and MPs deny that this is the plan: others accept that it is the most realistic chance of power for the opposition party. (There is no shortage of left-ish policies to prove the theory.)

There is a dismissive tone to the idea of a “core strategy”. Commentators believe that it shows Miliband “turning his back on Middle England” and pursuing a policy platform advocated by the unions. Many Blairites are appalled by the idea, warning Read more

Jim Pickard

Ministers have been wrangling for years over how to introduce a new law allowing voters to kick out MPs who break the law.

But the final result has fallen far short of what was expected from some of its leading advocates, such as Tory MPs Zac Goldsmith and Douglas Carswell. It is not “Total Recall”, they say.

Mr Goldsmith said on Wednesday that the new law was “meaningless” – and vowed to work with Labour to amend the legislation.

Under the Recall of MPs Bill, constituents will be able to sack their MP if they are sentenced to up to 12 months in jail. Alternatively, they could trigger a by-election if the Commons’ authorities (usually the Standards and Privileges Committee) decides there has been “serious wrongdoing” by a Right Hon. Member. A by-election would then occur if 10 per cent of constituents signed a Read more