UK politics

Maija Palmer

Is the referendum debate causing a rift in Scottish society? The Church of Scotland is worried enough about this to propose a service of reconciliation following the vote in September. We put the question to our panelists – were their personal relationships strained? Were they worried about life after September 18?

Most of them said no – Scots are grown up enough to have the debate without lasting damage. But interestingly, our pro-Union panelists were the ones most clearly voicing fears about a divide. Read more

Jim Pickard

Danny Alexander is in a cheerful mood this morning, hailing a “jobs-rich recovery” on the back of fresh employment data. The figures “leave Labour’s economic narrative in tatters”, says the Lib Dem chief secretary to the Treasury.

Certainly, earnings are nudging ahead of inflation for the first time in six years – if you ignore a bonus-related blip in 2010.

(Average earnings rose 1.7 per cent in the three months to March on a year earlier, nudging ahead of March’s 1.6 per cent consumer price inflation rate.)

If that trend continues it could seriously wound Labour’s “Cost of Living” narrative.

Although – and this is a major caveat – the Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated that real incomes will not return to their 2009-10 levels until 2018 at the earliest.

Employment soared by nearly a third of a million in only a quarter, the biggest three-month jump in over 40 years.

(Employment continued to rise rapidly, up by 283,000 to a record 30.43m in the three months to March compared with the previous quarter, the biggest quarterly increase since records began in 1971.)

Expect to hear lots of noise about this from David Cameron at PMQs later today.

And yet, the labour market is still not quite as wholesome as coalition ministers would like to suggest.

Today’s figures show a further drop in youth unemployment by 48,000, taking it to its lowest level since 2008. And yet young people are Read more

Kiran Stacey

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

Kiran Stacey

Nigel Farage in Scotland

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

Jim Pickard

It is the Lib Dems who complain most vociferously about Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system.

If Britain had PR (proportional representation) the yellow party would have had 150 MPs in the current Parliament. Instead, they picked up 57 seats.

That may explain why Lib Dems are apostles of electoral reform.

But in 2015 they may appear beneficiaries of the voting system – at least in comparison with Ukip.

That is because most experts predict that the LibDem vote will hold firm in their strongholds such as Colchester, Eastleigh or Twickenham, where they retain a decent ground presence. Senior figures still expect to hold at least 40 seats, even if the party’s share of the vote was to halve from its previous showing of 23 per cent. Read more

Maija Palmer

The FT has already written more than 800 articles referencing the Scottish independence referendum – and there are still five months of campaigning and debate to go. But what are the Scots themselves saying?

From more than 280 applicants we have selected a group of seven Scottish readers to give us their views as the campaign develops. Two support independence, two would like Scotland to remain part of the UK, and three have yet to make up their minds. Read more

Kiran Stacey

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

Maija Palmer

Jim Pickard

When George Osborne stands up tomorrow he hopes to convince business that the coalition is doing all it can to help industry.

One of the biggest measures the chancellor is expected to set out is a freeze in a tax on fossil fuels called the “carbon price floor”. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Stanley Johnson

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.

 Read more

Our readers have shared their views on Tony Benn, the former MP and champion of the UK left, who died on Friday aged 88. We received many thoughtful comments about the politician famed for his staunch belief in socialism, and have shared some of them below:

Tony Benn Read more

Jim Pickard

This interview with Tony Benn was never published by Weekend FT:

Former MP Tony Benn smokes his pipe outside the Palace of Westminster, London, Tuesday 18 March, 2003, during the debate in the House of Commons on the possibility of war aganist Iraq. See PA story POLITICS Iraq. PA Photo: Matthew Fearn

Tony Benn has not been chatting for long when my right hand begins to ache and I regret leaving my dictaphone at home.

The 83-year old has led the conversation through the Iraq War, training as a pilot in Rhodesia, Alan Greenspan, John Bolton and Herbert Asquith.

We have only been going for ten minutes or so. A cup of tea, balanced on a wooden stand in the corner of Benn’s living room, remains untouched as I scribble away.

Mr Benn has agreed to meet for a “Lunch with the FT” interview but asked do it at his house over tea rather than a restaurant.

The note pad on my lap is filling with reams of scrawled shorthand as my pen struggles to keep pace with Benn’s fruity vowels.

The voice, reminiscent of 1940s broadcasters, is one trademark of this most reknown of British politicians. Another is his pipe, from which he emits streams of tobacco smoke in my direction.

Some would say that Benn, former flag-bearer for the left-wing, has never stopped fighting a series of lost causes – from unilateral nuclear disarmament to the nationalisation of British industry.

Even now he is at it again, writing to all MPs urging them to vote for a referendum on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. It probably won’t happen, but that’s not the point. Benn opposed the UK’s Common Market membership in the 1975 referendum and will not give up the fight.

The man’s energy is impressive. On the day we meet he is due to attend a meeting of the Stop the War Coalition, of which he is president, ahead of a demonstration at the weekend. He is meanwhile putting together a guest speech to the Scottish Parliament.

He is a natural orator. The opinions come spilling out, sometimes in an ordered fashion, at other times in a jumble of inter-connected thoughts.

Carbon trading? Dreadful idea. The troops in Afghanistan? They should all be called back, like Prince Harry. Hilary Clinton or Barack Obama? Definitely Obama.

Not that Benn is entirely self-centred. Most interviewees, especially politicians, show little more than a cursory interest in the person they are talking to. Why bother, if you might never see the journalist again?

By contrast, he has done his homework on Google: “I see you worked at the Western Daily Press in the 90s,” he beams as I arrive at the door of his house on Holland Park Avenue, in one of London’s most expensive areas.

Later, he comments: “I saw that you won a prize last year?” I know I shouldn’t succumb to this flattery but the effect is disarming.

He offers tea or coffee, shows me into a living room filled with old furniture and paraphernalia – ranging from a Toby jug in his image to old miners’ lamps – and swiftly appears with a tray of hot drinks. His hands tremble as he pours my tea.

There are busts of Keir Hardie and Karl Marx, a mug (”Labour and Proud of It”) and a piano which he cannot play. “It’s a bit of a museum,” he says, faux-apologetically.

I lean back in my chair to avoid the fug of smoke and ponder Benn’s status as a political hero to the most unlikely of people.

Previously I had sieved through Benn’s press cuts. Recent profiles had all been glowing, Read more