Danny Alexander is in tiggerish mood as he poses for photographs by the banks of the sparkling river Ness at the foot of the Scottish highlands.
The Lib Dem Treasury chief secretary is giving what could be one of his last ever major interviews as an MP – an Ashcroft poll undertaken in February showed him 29 points behind the SNP.
The Scottish polls aren’t moving. Since Ipsos Mori shocked political observers at the end of October by showing a 29-point lead for the SNP, Labour have looked on course to lose dozens of seats to the Nationalists, perhaps ridding them of a Westminster majority.
This has unsurprisingly been seen as a disaster for Labour, and in the long run it probably is. But in the aftermath of what could be an incredibly tight general election result, Ed Miliband’s party might have managed to manoeuvre itself into a very strong position.
Mark Garnier is a brave breed of Tory MP. The former fund manager and member of the Treasury select committee has spoken out in the past in defence of banks being able to set their own bonuses. And now he is making a rare warning from within the Tory party about the destabilising effect of an EU referendum.
Garnier’s background in the City means he is closer than most to mainstream opinion among financial services businesses in the UK. And he thinks investors are already moving money elsewhere:
If [investors] have to make an investment decision, then that is reliant on getting access to [the] single market — that money is being spent in Frankfurt, Madrid or Paris right now, not London.
For the last 10 years, Hope Not Hate has been one of the more effective anti-racism campaign groups around, achieving particular success in helping defeat the BNP in Barking at the last election.
But for the next few months at least, the group has a different, more mainstream enemy in its sights: Ukip. It is a significant shift of strategy for the group, and one which some from both inside and outside the organisation are unhappy about.
Nick Lowles, HNH’s founder, has told us his activists are planning to an extensive – and expensive – campaign in over 300 constituencies in the run up to May, focusing mainly in places where Ukip hopes to win seats.
He told the FT: Read more
Nick Clegg celebrates the Eastleigh byelection result
For well over a year, the Liberal Democrats have told supporters, commentators and their own MPs that they will fare better than their national poll ratings suggests.
At next year’s election, argue Nick Clegg’s strategists, the party will do well in areas they already have MPs, particularly given most of them are Tory-Lib Dem marginals, where the coalition of voters they have forged will stay with them for fear of letting the Tories in. This will let them retain about 40 of their 57 seats, think those at the top of the party, allowing for heavy losses to Labour in the north. Read more
One of the most frequent criticisms of the campaign against Scottish independence is that it can come across as high-handed and patronising. Number 10 has been particularly alert to the danger of southern Tories leading the campaign for exactly that reason. David Cameron said in January:
I humbly accept that while I am sure there are many people in Scotland who would like to hear me talk about this issue, my appeal doesn’t stretch to every single part.
Given that sensitivity, you might be surprised at the latest attempt by the UK government to appeal to Scots thinking of voting no. Read more
Four polls have been published in the last 24 hours, all suggesting the same thing: the race for next year’s general election is now neck and neck.
Of course it is a symbolic moment that two of these polls show the Tories two points ahead – they are the first polls to put the governing party in the lead since early 2012. But within the margin of error, the race is essentially tied.
So what has happened in the last few days and weeks to cause Labour to slip from a pretty steady five point lead?
Unfortunately, the Lord Ashcroft poll can’t tell us, as it is the first in a series and so has no previous survey against which we can accurately monitor trends. Even more frustratingly, the ICM and the Populus polls seem to suggest very differing reasons for the poll move. Read more
Nigel Farage in Scotland last year
Nigel Farage is in Edinburgh today, trying to improve his party’s reputation north of the border.
He is unlikely to receive a warm reception, even if it doesn’t go as badly as last time, when he was forced (!) to barricade himself in a pub when surrounded by dozens of anti-Ukip protesters telling him to “Go home to England.” Read more
The Sunday Times’ front page this weekend will have surprised many people who are watching the Scottish referendum campaign with interest. The paper reported a new poll by Panelbase showing a bump for the independence campaign. Their headline read: Read more
With two months to go until the European elections, the leaders of the Liberal Democrats and the UK Independence Party went head-to-head tonight in a live televised debate on the issue of Britain’s membership of the EU. This was the FT’s live coverage. By Kiran Stacey
20.50 Well there we have it. A clear win for Nigel Farage in the first Europe debate, if not necessarily for those who want the UK to leave the EU. Both sides will try to claim victory in the coming days though – and the real test will come on May 22 at the European elections. Read more
The comments of Stanley Johnson about the Tory leadership prospects of his son Boris in this morning’s papers have made something of a stir. The London mayor’s father was quoted in the FT and the Guardian saying the Tories should change their leadership rules to allow Boris to run even if he wasn’t an MP at the time, a proposal that has been attacked by many in the party.
But it is Stanley’s comments on Boris’ views on Europe that might have a more long-term effect on his son’s leadership credentials. He told an audience of pro-European Tories (of which he is one):
Boris is a very good European, I can tell you that.
Ed Miliband’s op-ed for the FT today on Europe has finally crystallised what each of the parties’ European position will be going into next year’s election. But anyone listening to Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary on the Today programme this morning would be forgiven for not understanding exactly what Labour’s position is. This is what he said:
The next Labour government will legislate for a lock that guarantees there cannot be a transfer of power from Britain to the European Union in the future without that in/out referendum. It’s an agenda for reform in Europe, not immediate exit from Europe.
So what does this mean, and how does it compare to the other two parties? Read more
For many years, and most noticeably during the tenure of Tony Blair, the UK used to pride itself on acting as a bridge between its partners in the EU and the US.
In the run up to today’s European summit in Brussels, it looked like David Cameron was trying to play the same role. The prime minister struck a powerful note this morning as he entered the Justus Lipsius building, telling journalists he would be there in Ukraine’s “hour of need”, adding:
This matters to people in Britain because we benefit from a world in which countries obey the rules and we also benefit when we enable people like those in Ukraine being able to choose their own future.
Pro-Russian troops in Crimea
As MPs return to Westminster after a tumultuous weekend in Ukraine, recriminations are flying around parliament over who is to blame for allowing Putin to deploy his military forces in Crimea.
For some Tory MPs, the person most at fault is Ed Miliband. By leading his MPs in voting against action in Syria (which would also have meant taking on Russia), he made any western military threat we could issue impotent, they argue. Here, for example, is Sajid Javid, the Treasury minister: Read more
The prime minister surprised the Westminster press corps yesterday when he held a press conference to spell out his action to tackle flooding. It wasn’t just the press conference that surprised – it has been 238 days since his last at Downing Street – but what he said. He told reporters:
Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for, it will be spent.
He repeated that pledge at today’s PMQs, promising a string of spending measures to help relieve the burden on families and businesses. They include: Read more
One of the government’s main tax-cutting drives has been to encourage councils to keep tax rises to a minimum. Ministers have done this in two ways: firstly, by giving councils a cash incentive to freeze council tax; and secondly, by forcing any council that wants to raise tax by 2 per cent or more to put it to a local referendum.
Since that policy began, Eric Pickles, the local government secretary, has been irritated (but perhaps not surprised) to see dozens of councils raising tax by 1.99 per cent – just below the threshold. So recently, as revealed last week in the FT, he began pushing for a lower limit of 1.5 per cent. Read more
Nigel Farage, Ukip leader
It might still be four months away, but attention is beginning to turn to May’s European elections, and especially the role that Ukip is going to play in them. What seems now fairly certain is that the party will come either first or second, pushing the Tories into third, and possibly prompting another bout of soul-searching among the governing party.
Whether it manages to top the ballot or not, Ukip’s likely success will see a host of previously unknown politicians catapulted into positions of power in Brussels. As next year’s general election approaches, these will be the figures we will see appear increasingly on our television screens – but who are they, and what do they tell us about the party?
An extensive study by the FT shows that the party is an interesting mix of people, some young, some old; most from the right, but a few from the left. Some have libertarian instincts, but most are social conservatives. All, of course, are united by a visceral dislike of Europe, and perhaps counter-intuitively, given this is nominally a libertarian party, of immigration too.
This is what we found: Read more
Many furrowed brows today at Lib Dem HQ at the continuing prominence of Lord Rennard, the Lib Dem peer accused of harassing women.
An internal party inquiry, the results of which emerged last night, found there was not enough evidence to take disciplinary action against Rennard, but that there was “credible evidence” he had violated the personal space of the women involved and should be forced to apologise.
This was enough, believe many at the top of the party, to make sure Rennard did not return to the team helping draw up the next Lib Dem manifesto, and possibly even enough to withdraw the whip altogether. Read more
Last week, we reported on the suggestion by the BBC’s Nick Robinson that a truce had been agreed by Ed Miliband and David Cameron not to let PMQs descend into a slanging match. Certainly in the first week back after Christmas, we saw a new, civilised tone from both leaders and a rather subdued House having to watch it take place.
If there was ever an agreed truce, it lasted a week.
This week, Miliband led on bank bonuses – an issue on which Labour is currently leading the debate, as we revealed this morning. The Labour leader asked whether Cameron would accede to the request RBS is expected to make for bonuses of over 100 per cent of salary. The question was designed to embarrass the PM, who does intend to let RBS have their way. Read more
We revealed in this morning’s FT that the Treasury is making it clear to investors in UK debt that if Scotland goes independent, the rest of the UK will still be liable for the debt that it has issued.
In other words, however the debt is carved up, if an independent Scotland defaults on one of its repayments, it will be English, Welsh and Northern Irish taxpayers who will have to pay up.
In one sense, this seems to give Alex Salmond a much stronger hand in any negotiation with the rest of the UK (again, if Scotland becomes independent) about how assets and liabilities should be carved up. After all, if the UK is guaranteeing Scotland’s debts, Salmond could turn round and insist his government will only keep up with repayments in return for another of his demands – for example, being allowed to use sterling. Read more