Labour

Kiran Stacey

Another strange twist in the Labour/Falkirk story. After days of insisting this was an internal party matter, the party has now handed its investigation into the matter to police.

The allegations are that the Unite union bulk-bought membership of the party for its officers in an attempt to unfairly influence the outcome of the ballot to select a new candidate in the Scottish constituency.

Tom Watson

The affair yesterday claimed the scalp of Tom Watson (left), Ed Miliband’s elections coordinator, who is close to Unite – he is a former flatmate of its secretary general, Len McCluskey. The party also suspended officials up in Falkirk and suspended the candidate selection process, hoping that might put an end to the matter. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Traditional roles were reversed at today’s PMQs. Cameron pulled the ingenious trick of almost entirely ignoring what Ed Miliband asked (it was about school places). He attacked instead on the news that Unite have apparently tried to unfairly influence the outcome of a Labour candidate selection process in Falkirk.

The attacks were clumsily crowbarred in, but that will not matter when it comes to replaying the clips on television tonight. Here was one example: Read more

Kiran Stacey

HS2 protest signThe planned high speed rail project from London to the midlands and the north is starting to look very uncertain indeed.

After the news last week that the estimated costs have spiked by £10bn since the beginning of the year, we then revealed in the FT that the government’s cost/benefit analysis assumed that no one would work on a train, increasing the apparent benefit of getting to your destination more quickly. Another chunk was taken out of the expected returns.

Now it seems that, having proposed the scheme in the first place, Labour is also getting cold feet. Lord Mandelson, the former business secretary who does not usually have much truck for nimbyism, launched a bitter attack on the project in this morning’s FT. He writes: Read more

Kiran Stacey

Trident missileGeorge Osborne has been touring the TV and radio studios this morning talking about the deals he has managed to strike with some of the smaller government departments for how they are going to cut their budgets in 2015/16. Talking about the settlements made with departments including Justice, Energy and Communities, the chancellor told the BBC:

We are now about 20 per cent of the way there with a month to go. I don’t think any chancellor in history has made this much progress with a month to go.

Osborne still has a huge amount to achieve in the next month, particularly in the face of intransigence from big departments such as the MoD and the Home Office. But in the middle of the spending round process, another decision on a massive item of government spending will also come a step closer. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg this morning insisted he would stay in government until 2015, and would not need to create any “breathing space” for his party by pulling his ministers out before the general election. This is what he said in a speech in London:

The public will see me [campaigning] as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Constitutionally the government still ticks over. Ministers are slightly more “absentee landlords” in Whitehall offices during that six week period.

Of course, Clegg is right that the public is used to ministers leaving their day jobs and hitting the campaign trail during the weeks leading up to a general election. And he may also be right that voters would think it very odd if the Lib Dems pulled out of the coalition just before an election in order to assert their own identity more clearly. Read more

Jim Pickard

I revealed a few weeks ago that half the 2015 candidates picked so far by Labour are from the trade unions, a trend that will raise questions over Ed Miliband’s attempts to rebrand his party. Now some of his own MPs are openly admitting that the unions are dominating the selection process even more than in 2010.

Labour remains dependent on union funding, including from Unite, Unison and the GMB. Since he became leader of the party it has received 81 per cent of its donations from the unions.

Key to the debate is that the rules were recently changed, making it harder for non-union candidates without deep pockets to become a general election candidate. (Unite itself claims on its website that it was responsible for this change, saying its interventions had ‘changed the Labour party rule book’.) Candidates now need to run campaigns for 11 weeks instead of four and send out more mailshots than previously. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Over lunch recently, a Labour strategist spelled out the terms of the next election in the starkest terms. “They want to fight it on welfare,” he explained. “We want to fight on the NHS.”

So despite the threat of the statistics authorities confirming that Britain has entered a triple-dip recession tomorrow, Ed Miliband chose to focus this PMQs on the NHS.

The problem was, his material is a little thin. He began by mentioning rising waiting times in A&E wards, as well as the example in Norwich of an inflatable tent being used as a makeshift ward. His first question was: Read more

Kiran Stacey

Protests against Cameron, Clegg and ThatcherAs today’s parliamentary session in memory of Margaret Thatcher began, several journalists repositioned themselves in the Tory side of the chamber, looking at Ed Miliband. The Labour leader, it was though, would have the most difficult job, caught between being respectful and saying what he really thought about the Tory leader whom so many of his colleagues spent decades opposing and trying to oust.

In the end, he played a difficult hand very well. The key passage was one where he listed her successes and mistakes. I will quote the entire passage below, but it’s worth noticing three things:

1) He quotes the successes first, and is generous about them, even her economic legacy;
2) He mentions some of what her critics see as her most egregious mistakes, such as section 28 and her lack of concern for society as a whole;
3) When mentioning her mistakes, he nullified Tory moans by praising the Tories for turning their backs on them. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Peter MandelsonAmid the genteel surroundings of the Park Lane Hotel ballroom last night at the CBI’s annual black-tie dinner, Lord Mandelson was at his waspish best.

His keynote speech was ostensibly about Britain’s role in Europe, but he couldn’t resist throwing in a few barbed remarks about his Labour colleagues, both past and present. Departing from his pre-prepared script, the former business secretary had this to say about Gordon Brown, the man he served so closely in the dying days of the Labour government:

I can’t remember which who the member of the government was who claimed we abolished boom and bust. Well, we abolished boom…

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Elizabeth Rigby

A few weeks ago over a long lunch, a senior Tory warned that Cameron was going to end up cornered over press reform after Lord Puttnam rather unhelpfully decided to add Leveson-friendly amendments into the defamation bill.

The person said the amendment to introduce a cheap arbitration service between newspapers and the public meant that Leveson could end up being “put into law through the back door”. He added:

It is going to cause Cameron a huge problem when the bill comes back to the Commons.

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Kiran Stacey

Boris Johnson and Maria Hutchings doorknocking in Eastleigh

Boris Johnson and Maria Hutchings campaigning in Eastleigh

We are now just a week from the Eastleigh byelection and the likely result is starting to take shape.

The Lib Dems have emerged as the decisive favourites. They have run an impeccable campaign, from choosing a man who was the antithesis of Chris Huhne, to limiting the campaign to three weeks, preventing their rivals from getting their machinery properly off the ground.

For a full explanation of why the Lib Dem ground operation has been better than the Tory one, James Forsyth’s piece for the Spectator gives an excellent summary. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Today’s exchanges at PMQs sounded fairly hackneyed and well-worn. Ed Miliband chose to ask about the economy, and the usual argument took place – the Labour leader accused the coalition of stifling growth, the prime minister said it was all Labour’s fault for borrowing too much.

But Miliband did give one revealing answer during the debate. The Labour leader pointed out:

[Cameron] is borrowing £212bn more than he promised.

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Jim Pickard

One big question which hangs like a fog around Labour is what the party would do with the benefits bill if it was in power.

Ed Miliband’s argument is that if he was prime minister, the social security tab would not have risen so sharply in the past few years because there would be less unemployment. Clearly that is not a hypothesis that can be tested. Read more

Kiran Stacey

David Cameron and his party criticised for 'shirkers vs workers' rhetoric. Getty Images

MPs on all sides of the Commons have piled into the Tories – and particularly George Osborne – over the party’s developing narrative of “shirkers vs workers” (or if you like “skivers vs strivers”).

Sarah Wollaston, the Tory MP, was one of the first from her side to speak out against the kind of image seen in one of her party’s latest campaigns, which depicts an unemployed person slumped on a sofa, apparently unwilling to work. She told the Commons: Read more

Tom Burgis

George Osborne

Welcome to our rolling coverage of the Autumn Statement.

George Osborne has missed his fiscal targets and cut corporation tax.

We’ll bring you all the day’s developments live. By Tom Burgis and Ben Fenton.

15.45: We’re winding up the blog now, but you can follow events as they unfold through constantly updating stories on the front page of FT.com

15.31: A representation of the “flamethrower of uncertainty” can be found in the documentation of the OBR. It is also known as a “fan chart”. I doubt George Osborne is a fan of it, though.

15.24: Chote speaks of the “flamethrower of uncertainty”- a favourite phrase, unsettlingly enough, of the OBR, which is a chart showing forecasts in a wide range that makes the chart lines look like a firebreathing dragon.

15.18: Chote says that the variation in the possible range in the forecast of net debt figures for the UK is a large number, but is “dwarfed by the scale of uncertainties” on the issuance of debt. I think that’s the second time he has said that in his address.

15.12: The Spectator is running a rather scary chart showing the lost output of the current “seven-year slump” in the UK.

15.07: Robert Chote, director of the Office for Budget Responsibility, is live now, going through his department’s figures that underpinned the bad news Mr Osborne has just had to deliver.

15.05: Gavyn Davies has blogged for the FT with his view on the autumn statement while the FT’s Lucy Warwick-Ching has collated some very interesting instant reaction from personal finance experts.

14.49: Hannah Kuchler on the FT’s UK desk has been keeping an eye on business reaction to the autumn statement.

She says:

The CBI, the employer’s organisation, urged the government to stick to its guns on deficit reduction to retain international credibility, saying it was no surprise that austerity would last longer than expected.

John Cridland, director-general, welcomed investment in infrastructure and support for exports, but said the proof was in the delivery. He said:

“Businesses need to see the Chancellor’s words translated into building sites on the ground.”

But the British Chambers of Commerce was less positive, declaring the statement not good enough for a country meant to be in a state of “economic war”.
The government is just “tinkering around the edges”, John Longworth, the BCC’s director general said, adding: “The Budget next March must make truly radical and large-scale choices that support long-term growth and wealth creation. That means reconsidering the ‘sacred cows’ of the political class, including overseas aid and the gargantuan scale of the welfare state. Only a wholesale re-prioritisation of resources, to unlock private sector finance, investment and jobs, will be enough to win the ‘economic war’ we are facing. The danger is that our political class is sleepwalking with its eyes open.”

14.40: Lionel Barber, the FT’s editor, just passed by the live news desk so we asked him what he thought of the autumn statement.

The Chancellor is in a hole, but the good news is that he’s stopped digging. The FT supports the government’s fiscal stance, but is there more to be done on monetary policy to boost growth? That’s the question.

14.26 Who says the British don’t like doing things the French way? Might we surmise from this tweet from the BBC’s Robert Peston’s interview with Danny Alexander, Osborne’s Lib Dem No2, that the UK’s crediworthiness might be going to way of its Gallic cousins’?

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/Peston/statuses/276330461142327296"]

Others are more chipper:

[blackbirdpie url="https://twitter.com/MJJHunter/statuses/276330252601524225"]

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Kiran Stacey

Ed MilibandIf Labour wanted evidence of how difficult they will find it to outflank the Tories on Europe, it was there for them today during prime minister’s questions. This afternoon’s debate, during which Tory rebels will vote to push the government into backing a cut in the EU budget, seemed to offer the Labour leader a golden opportunity to embarrass Cameron in front of his own backbenches.

But the ploy failed. As Miliband attacked on why the PM didn’t back a cut in the budget, Cameron hit back, criticising the Labour leader of opportunism:

The whole country will see through what is rank opportunism… Labour gave away half our rebate in one negotiation. Today, they haven’t even put down their own resolution on this issue.

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Kiran Stacey

Alex Salmond believes last month’s speech by Johann Lamont was a game-changer. In it, the Labour leader in Scotland argued that many of the universal benefits currently enjoyed by Scots are not affordable in the long-term. Attacking what she called the “something for nothing” culture, she said:

Johann LamontI believe our resources must go to those in greatest need.

But if the devil’s greatest trick was to convince the world he didn’t exist, Salmond’s most cynical trick was to make people believe that more was free, when the poorest are paying for the tax breaks for the rich.

She picked on four things she believed should be scrapped: the council tax freeze, free personal care for the elderly, free prescriptions and free university education. Read more

Kiran Stacey

One of Ed Balls’ big announcements during his speech on Monday was his call for the government to use £4bn of the money from the auction of the 4G mobile phone spectrum to build 100,000 affordable homes.

Even before he spoke, the Guido Fawkes blog was speculating that the shadow chancellor may have been tipped off that the government was going to do exactly this, and wanted to get out ahead of them and look like he was setting the agenda. According to Guido:

It’s well known that Balls still has ‘people’ inside the Treasury and there is plenty of speculation doing the rounds that he had got wind of the 4G auction goodies fund and has pulled a fast one on the chancellor.

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Helen Warrell

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. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Ed Balls’ speech to Labour conference was sweeping in its scope, taking in equalities, police, the NHS and education, and ending with a passage parading through Labour’s greatest hits. His passage on the post-war Labour government was stirring stuff:

Conference, our predecessors were elected that year to rebuild a country ravaged by conflict.

They faced even greater challenges than we face today: an economy enfeebled by war; a national debt double the size of ours today. And they made tough and unpopular decisions: to continue with rationing; to cut defence spending; and to introduce prescription charges.
But that Labour Cabinet also remained focussed on the long-term task ahead. And they learned from history and rejected the failed austerity of the 1930s.

And that meant they could put in place long-term reforms, enduring achievements, vital to our country’s future: the Beveridge report; new homes for heroes; the school leaving age raised; and, for the first time ever, a National Health Service free to all, based on need not ability to pay – over 60 years later, celebrated in our Olympics opening ceremony for all the world to see, still today the greatest health service in the world.

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