Just picked up a first edition of The Observer and it’s leading with Nick Clegg warning that Britain faces “serious social strife” if a government without a popular mandate starts wielding the public spending axe.

It’s certainly a novel twist on the standard arguments about a hung parliament. Clegg’s pitch is basically that a minority government would be good for the country because it better represents the split of the popular vote.

A narrow victory for the Tories or Labour would wreak havoc because they would be sacking public sector workers, slashing programmes and freezing wages after having secured as little as a quarter of eligible votes. Read more

Jim Pickard

This morning’s Labour press conference wrapped up with Gordon Brown gushing about how his wife Sarah was the love of his life:

Lord Mandelson did not seem overwhelmingly enthused.

His response: “Isn’t that lovely? Goodbye.” Read more

Jim Pickard

Unless you read the financial pages you may not be aware of Corporate Britain’s latest eye-catching payout: a £92m remuneration package for Bert Becht (not to be confused with Bertold Brecht). He is the chief executive of Reckitt Beneckiser, which makes products such as Vanish and Dettol.

To be fair, Becht has set up a charitable foundation to which he has given more than £100m. Even so; isn’t there an issue with this kind of payout just months after the credit crunch?

Vince Cable told me last night this was “extraordinary” and “unbelievable” and showed the often painful differential between the highest and lowest-paid workers. Read more

Jim Pickard

David Cameron’s Tories seem to have acquired a taste for tax-cutting after the apparent success of last week’s National Insurance pledge.

During intense negotiations between the Tories and Labour this evening (over the “wash-up” of Parliamentary business – horsetrading to see which bills will make it on to the statute book) the latter have been forced to drop three tax rises which were in the Budget. Read more

Jim Pickard

I heard several weeks ago that some Labour figures were pushing for a new “living wage” in the manifesto – perhaps of £7.60 an hour – which would apply to people in London. There the minimum wage is often seen as insufficient to get by.

I didn’t believe it would happen: would the likes of Lord Mandelson allow it; given the cost implications for employers of all stripes? (The current minimum wage is £5.80 an hour). And I’m still very suspicious. Read more

Jim Pickard

In a sense Labour has been hoist by its own petard: in 1997 it secured a letter signed by numerous eminent businessmen praising its policies – and thus underlining its electability.

Now, a similar letter from 23 leading company executives threatens to do the exact reverse by criticising Labour policy just weeks before the general election. Executives from industry and the City like to back winners. (And while some of these are Tory donors, most are not).

This time the executives are backing the Conservative plan to partially reverse next year’s National Insurance increase, at the cost of about £5bn (found through efficiency savings across Whitehall).

At first glance the letter does appear to be a bombshell – and has certainly been written up in this way across the media. As George Osborne said: “This is proving to be a significant day. Gordon Brown now finds himself at war with business.”

But don’t be fooled, however, by any suggestion that the letter, now backed by the CBI, Institute of Directors, and British Chamber of Commerce, is not born of self-interest. Read more

Jim Pickard

It’s been through more changes than a Lady Gaga set, or so it seems. But the reform of the MPs’ allowance system has now reached an end.

The biggest news from this morning’s press conference:

MPs will be allowed to employ their spouses – after earlier indications that this would be banned. You may remember that it was the Derek Conway scandal (his son wasn’t working desperately hard in the Commons) that sparked the entire expenses furore.

However, MP’s will be restricted to hiring only one significant other, or “connected party” (whether sibling, daughter, son, wife, girlfriend, husband, boyfriend, mistress, etc).

This is despite 59 per cent of respondents wanting the practice banned – and only 22 per cent putting the opposite view. Sir Ian responded by saying that his committee’s job was to “weigh up” the counter-arguments rather than simply instate the public view.

Why the fudged compromise? The best question of the day goes to Rosa Prince at the Telegraph, who asked why – if it was okay to hire one family member – it wasn’t okay to hire several.

I’m not sure Sir Ian answered it properly.

Other news from this morningRead more

Jim Pickard

Clearly the Conservatives felt the need for a new, more positive policy and have come up with the old Tory favourite: a tax cut. George Osborne has just spelled out a pledge to partially reverse a 1 per cent rise in national insurance due to take place in one year’s time. It is likely to be welcomed by some business groups. Read more

Jim Pickard

Alex and I share an office with George Parker, the FT’s political editor, and Jean Eaglesham, FT chief political correspondent. Read more

Jim Pickard

I’ve just had a freedom of information request back from the Cabinet Office giving me the dates of Tony Blair’s visits to Downing Street since he quit in June 2007. Read more

Jim Pickard

It’s just that I tried the site second ago.

And it had this response: Read more

Jim Pickard

Is it morally right to bribe voters into taking a huge leveraged bet on an asset class which is overvalued? Read more

Jim Pickard

To what extent was Stephen Byers exaggerating or even fantasising when he claimed that he was able to influence the process by which National Express exited a loss-making East coast rail franchise?

That is certainly the current view of Byers himself, who – perhaps after realising he had been the victim of a journalistic sting – retracted his claims. Hilariously, he has “regretted that my misleading comments might be taken seriously”.

Originally Byers, a former transport secretary (the picture is old but I love the moustache) told the fake lobbyist that he had enabled National Express to negotiate favourable terms in jettisoning the franchise without penalties.

The problem with his self-promoting claim is that the contract ended last year with the loss of £72m to the transport company, in the form of a £32m performance bond and a £40m loan which it walked away from. Read more

Jim Pickard

Charlie Whelan has given an interview to Will Straw’s pro-Labour Left Foot Forward blog. Worth a read.

He claims the Tories are carrying out an anti-union “witch hunt”. Read more

Jim Pickard

Mea culpa. I missed the most interesting angle on the Stalybridge and Hyde selection yesterday; the exclusion of James Purnell’s anointed successor, Johnny Reynolds. He is now back on the shortlist after an intervention by both Purnell and Lord Mandelson.

Mandelson’s action re-opened the shortlist. Or so Tom Watson (who is heavily involved in the selection procedure) has said in a statement to The Times, adding, curtly: “I know of no rule that allows for an appeal once the panel has decided the shortlist.” Another rejected candidate, Glyn Ford – ironically from Unite – is now also seeking an appeal. Read more

Jim Pickard

Jack Straw has just told the House of Commons that the former Labour leader has died at the age of 96. Read more

Jim Pickard

There will be something coming out within minutes. Things aren’t looking too good for the National Bullying Helpline.

(Still nothing on PA – Widdecombe’s staff were busy writing when I last called them). Read more

Jim Pickard

When it comes to an Englishman’s home it seems there are certain things you can’t say. John Healey, housing minister, found this out to his cost yesterday when he explained that – for some people – repossession was not the worst option available to them.

Cue outrage in The Sun. And more outrage in The Express. Even the Mirror, which is rarely the first to attack the government, joined in with more than a hint of outrageRead more

Jim Pickard

Those who erupted in shock yesterday at the news that Andrew Mackay had landed a job with Burson-Marsteller will no doubt be outraged* by my latest intel.

I’m informed reliably that Julie Kirkbride, Mackay’s wife, has been chatting to several lobbying firms in the last month or so about work post-election. I’m told she is aiming for an annual salary of about £100,000 with flexible working patterns to fit around school holidays. Not certain exactly which firms she has been talking to as yet. Read more

Jim Pickard

Labour made a huge error by rejecting the chance to obtain state funding for the party – leaving it at a “catastrophic disadvantage” in the coming general election – its former general secretary has written.

Party officials have dismissed the claims by Peter Watt, who left the Labour party under a cloud after the cash-for-honours affair*, suggesting he is now embittered and vengeful. The book, Inside Out, should indeed be read through that prism** – as Rod Liddle explains.

Yet Mr Watt, as general secretary, occupied a central position within the party hierarchy from which he had unique access to its machinations. That’s why it’s fascinating to see him blame Labour for the failure of cross-party talks to address party funding in late 2007. Read more