Jim Pickard

There is a fascinating piece in the Times today looking at how many of the seats hit by flooding are marginal constituencies. It concludes that a disproportionate number of marginals have been affected, in particular Lib/Tory two-ways in the southwest.

Of the 40 most marginal seats held by the Tories, 15 have been hit by flooding, writes deputy political editor Sam Coates. Of the 20 most marginal LibDem seats, 12 have been flooded. By contrast hardly any vulnerable Labour areas have been hurt by the recent weather. Read more

Jim Pickard

Sir Andrew Dilnot, the head of the UK Statistics Authority, has concluded that the government may have given a misleading impression of how much it has invested in various infrastructure schemes – including flood defences.

I wrote at the back end of last year about the government’s “National Infrastructure Plan” and how it seemed to use statistics in a questionable wayRead more

Jim Pickard

There has been an interesting shift in the polls north of the border with a rise in the support for independence from 26% to 29% in recent days.

The latest survey still points towards a “no” vote in September when the Scots get their historic chance to vote for independence from the United Kingdom. Support for the status quo has remained steady at 42 per cent, according to the survey by TNS BMRB of 1,000 people. Read more

Jim Pickard

By Andrew Bounds

More trouble in the shires for Conservative high command as one of its dwindling band of female MPs faces a “campaign to unseat her mounted by local gentry”, according to her allies.

The Yorkshire Post, which opened the curtains on goings-on at Thirsk and Malton Conservative association, quotes one source who dubbed it “our very own Falkirk”, a reference to Labour’s attempts to influence candidate selection in the Scottish town.

The charge that unions unknowingly signed up members of a selection committee wounded Labour leader Ed Miliband. In James Herriot country the allegation is that the local association “co-opted” people to pack the executive committee and deselect Anne Read more

Jim Pickard

David Cameron has today thrown his weight behind the small but growing trend of “reshoring” – or returning production from overseas to theUK.

Speaking in Davos, the prime minister said he was setting up a government advisory service to help companies that want to reshore. The service, “Reshore UK”, will offer advice on questions such as locations. Read more

Jim Pickard

Last October, at the height of the political row over energy bills, we reported on the growing concerns of senior business people (including the CBI) about the impact on Britain’s future infrastructure.

The coalition was engaged in an attempt to rein back bills in a direct reaction to Ed Miliband’s promise of a 20-month price freeze.

The most interesting was Sir John Armitt, former chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, who told me that Britain needed long-term investment and policy to get energy projects off Read more

Jim Pickard

Workers with savings who lose their jobs after fewer than four years in employment could lose their automatic entitlement to out-of-work benefits as a result of Labour’s proposals to strengthen the contributory element of the welfare system.

Rachel Reeves, shadow welfare secretary, has floated plans to give more money to jobseekers who have been working for longer in an attempt to restore the Beveridge principles of the welfare state. Read more

Jim Pickard

I’ve looked through Labour’s manifesto from 1979 and it looked more than vaguely familiar:

There are frequent mentions of “living standards”.

Labour will promise to take great care to “protect working people and their families through the hardships of change.”

Government DOES have a role in creating employment, limiting price rises, and helping industry – contrary to what the right wing believes.

Foremost in the party’s aim is to “keep a curb on inflation and prices” and help “men and women struggling with low pay”.

Labour believes that “fair earnings for working people” should be put ahead of the “demands of private profit.”

And then I looked at the specific policies and noticed rather a few which have been adopted by Ed Miliband’s Labour in opposition.

Strengthening and extending consumer protection.

Setting up “job creation programmes”.

Bank reform: “The banking sector would benefit from increased competition.” Read more

Jim Pickard

George Osborne was poised to make an announcement about the minimum wage at Tory conference last autumn, I’m told by several Whitehall sources. The chancellor changed his mind at the last minute.

In theory, Mr Osborne decided to hold back in order to respect the sanctity of the Low Pay Commission, the independent body which has set the rate for over a decade.

But then again he had no plans to over-ride the commission, I’m told. (Instead his words would have been more about saying that he would welcome a higher rate – if the body recommended it.)

In practice it may just be that the chancellor was beaten to the announcement by Vince Read more

Jim Pickard

Yesterday’s big news was about Cameron promising to keep the pensions “triple lock” if the Tories win a majority government in 2015. (A big if.)

Today’s was about Osborne’s £25bn trap for Labour, dressed up as a promise of fiscal rectitude. (This is the figure of cuts needed in the next Parliament, according to the chancellor.)

More quietly, however, we’ve also had interesting new mood music about the other benefits granted to pensioners – such as free TV licenses – with aides to the prime minister saying he was “attracted” to keeping them after 2015.

This in itself is a big story, even if it is not yet a definitive promise to keep them.

In the past some Tory MPs, including planning minister Nick Boles, have suggested that there should be means-testing for pensioners’ benefits – given that the rest of the welfare system has seen cuts since 2010.

As my colleague John McDermott argues today: “The burden of austerity is being Read more

Jim Pickard

Later this month will see a ballot of 600 local Tories in South Suffolk as to whether Tim Yeo, the former minister, should go forth once more as their candidate in the 2015 general election.

Yeo, chairman of the energy select committee, is not going quietly despite having lost a re-selection vote at the end of November. Read more

Jim Pickard

There was an exchange in the Commons this week between Danny Alexander and former Labour Treasury minister John Healey over the stats in last week’s National Infrastructure Plan.

Healey challenged the chief secretary to the Treasury over a chart in the report (page 5) which shows higher infrastructure investment by the coalition than in the last five years of the previous Labour government. The Labour MP asked Alexander whether he would let the chart be vetted by the UK Statistics Authority or the Office for Budget Responsibility. Read more