Closed Election: Labour hit by two cyber attacks — as it happened

Labour Launch Their General Election Campaign Bus And Slogan

Incidents highlight concerns election may be vulnerable to cyber interference, Farage under pressure to pull Brexit party out of more seats, UK jobs market cools.

Good morning

Hello and welcome to the FT’s rolling coverage of the UK general election this Tuesday morning.

We will have all the latest headlines, any market developments plus comment and analysis from the FT’s experts.

Please do leave your thoughts in the comments section below, including any features or additions you would like to see added to this blog.

Today’s papers

Nigel Farage kept attention on his Brexit party and gave Boris Johnson a boost yesterday by deciding not to contest hundreds of Tory-held seats. His decision leads many of this morning’s newspapers.

Here at the FT we write that Mr Farage hinted at a broader retreat, while the Telegraph said he “bowed to immense pressure within his own party” amid a broader decline in support.

The Daily Mail wants further concessions from Mr Farage, with the Brexit Party still standing in dozens of Labour-held marginals. The newspaper is urging its readers to write to Brexit party candidates asking them to stand down.

Farage faces calls to pull candidates out in Labour seats

George Parker, Sebastian Payne and Laura Hughes write:

A big decision looms for Nigel Farage: will he pull his candidates from Labour held seats that Boris Johnson is targeting to secure a House of Commons majority and see through Brexit? 

Mr Farage refused to rule out such a possibility — candidate nominations close on Thursday — and pollsters agree that if he really wants to avoid a hung parliament and ensure that Mr Johnson is able to deliver Brexit, the Brexit party should pull out of contesting key Labour seats. 

Chris Curtis, political research manager of YouGov, said that based on current polling Mr Farage’s decision not to fight Tory-held seats could — at the margins — help Mr Johnson fend off Remain inspired challenges from the Liberal Democrats in southern England and the Scottish National party in Scotland. 

But Mr Curtis concluded that on current polling, Mr Farage’s Monday announcement would make very little difference to the outcome of the election. “If he pulled out of Labour seats there would be much more of an impact,” he said. 

Read the full analysis on Mr Farage’s next move here.

Farage refuses to stand aside in more seats

Nigel Farage has said the Brexit party will not be offering the Tories more help by standing aside from Labour held marginal seats. 

Instead, Mr Farage called on the Conservatives to give his party a free run at Leave-supporting constituencies that have no history of voting Tory. 

Discussing calls from parts of the Tory party from him to stand aside, Mr Farage told the BBC: “This is almost comical isn’t it, I have just gifted the Conservative party nearly two dozen seats.”

He added: “If they believed in ‘Leave’ what they would do is stand aside in some seats in Labour areas where the Conservative party have not won for 100 years and will never win.”

Labour: Voters won’t accept Farage/Johnson ‘coalition’

Labour’s Angela Rayner, the MP for Ashton-under-Lyne in Greater Manchester, said Mr Farage had “gone into a coalition with the Tory party” which will not be accepted in “working class areas” including her own constituency.

Ms Rayner told the BBC:

“[Mr Farage], Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, the three amigos as I like to call them, want to sell off our National Health Service, deregulate our market and take us back to something that looks even worse than Margaret Thatcher, and I don’t think working class communities will accept that.”

Labour to water down some radical policies

Stepping away from the Brexit party’s plans for a moment, the FT’s Jim Pickard reports that the Labour leadership is set to water down some of the more radical policies backed by party members earlier this year when the election manifesto is finalised this week.

Senior party officials are expected to push back against some of the measures approved by its membership at the annual conference in September, which marked a further shift to the left for what was already one of the most leftwing mainstream political parties in Europe.

Delegates backed several pledges including one on immigration that included free movement of EU citizens after Brexit, a 2030 net zero-carbon target, the nationalisation of the “big six” energy suppliers and a plan to effectively scrap private schools.

You can read Jim’s full story here.

Clinton: ‘Dumbfounded’ Russian report not released

Former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has intervened into the rumbling questions surrounding the publication of a parliamentary report investigating Russian influence in UK politics. 

The report, by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, is not expected to be released until after the general election, despite calls from opposition parties for voters to be able to see it before they cast their ballots. 

The report includes analysis from British intelligence agencies and requires clearance from the Government to be released.

Mrs Clinton told the BBC she was ”dumbfounded” the report has not yet been released. 

“Every person who votes in this country deserves to see that report before your election happens,” she said.

The government has said it is not suppressing the document and that it requires security clearance. 

UK jobs market stutters

Hiring in Britain fell at the fastest pace in four years and wage growth cooled more than expected between July and September, as the most resilient part of the economy stuttered ahead of the election.

As the FT’s economic reporter Valentina Romei writes, the labour market has been one of the brightest parts of the British economy this year with employment rates reaching an all-time record high in the summer and real average earnings accelerating at the fastest pace since 2015.

Read more from Valentina here.

Emoticon Labour says it has experienced a cyber attack

The opposition Labour party says it has experienced a “sophisticated and large scale cyber attack” on its digital platforms, the PA news agency reports.

Update: We are awaiting more details on this from the Labour party, but as of 10.30am its main website, Facebook and Twitter accounts were functioning as normal.

Labour insists cyber attack did not cause data breach

The FT’s Jim Pickard and Sebastian Payne report:

Britain’s Labour party experienced a “sophisticated and large-scale cyber-attack” on its digital platforms on Monday, it has revealed.

The party said it was confident that its security systems ensured there had been no data breach but said it had reported the attack to the National Cyber Security Centre.

“We have experienced a sophisticated and large-scale cyber-attack on Labour digital platforms. We took swift action and these attempts failed due to our robust security systems. The integrity of all our platforms was maintained and we are confident that no data breach occurred,” a spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

“Our security procedures have slowed down some of our campaign activities, but these were restored this morning and we are back up to full speed. We have reported the matter to the National Cyber Security Centre.”

Although the party has not said which digital platforms were targeted it is thought that some involved election tools which could contain details about voters.

Niall Sookoo, Labour’s executive director of elections, wrote to campaigners to explain why systems were working slowly on Monday.

“Yesterday afternoon our security systems identified that, in a very short period of time, there were large-scale and sophisticated attacks on Labour Party platforms which had the intention of taking our systems entirely offline,” he wrote.

“I would I like to pay tribute to all the teams at Labour HQ who identified this risk and acted quickly to protect us.”

Separately The Times revealed on Tuesday that Labour had published the names of people who had donated through its website in what could – according to experts – be a breach of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules.

Labour removed the information from its website after being alerted by journalists.

Pound steady while European stocks gain

Sterling was little changed even after job figures showed hiring has dropped at the fastest clip in four years and wage growth cooled more than expected in the three months to September.

The pound trimmed some of Monday’s gains, falling 0.2 per cent against the dollar at $1.2830. Against the euro the UK currency was recently trading at €1.1649, or 85.82p.

European markets were positive in mid-morning trading on Tuesday as London’s FTSE 100 rose 0.4 per cent while the bellwether Stoxx 600 rose 0.2 per cent. The 10-year gilt steadied, with yields at 0.818 per cent. Yields move inversely to prices.

“Equities are gaining and safe haven assets are under pressure, as the market has moved into risk-on mode, with the twin headwinds of trade and Brexit risk perceived to have eased,” said analysts at Morgan Stanley.

Labour’s conundrum: Voters keen on policies but popularity still lags

The Labour party’s policies resonate strongly with the British public, polling data shows. Yet they continue to trail the Conservatives in popularity — polling has the opposition party consistently around 10 points behind the Tories.

Which begs the question — why?

The answer, it seems, is public scepticism on economic questions. At least, that is what the latest YouGov polling has found.

The numbers break down as follows:

Labour’s stance on a host of issues — not least raising tax on the highest earners — is a winning policy among voters. Almost two-thirds support raising the tax rate on earnings over £123,000 a year from 45 per cent to 50 per cent. Most people also support Labour’s call to nationalise the railways and force companies to give a third of board seats to workers.

But … when it comes to other issues — notably those that relate to its management of the economy — voters are not so convinced, the YouGov data seems to indicate.

“While people like the pledges they also don’t think they are realistic: 53 per cent of Britons brand Labour’s policy platform ‘not affordable’,” says Matthew Smith, lead data journalist at YouGov.

On top of this, only 16 per cent of those polled trust Jeremy Corbyn most to run the economy. And 57 per cent reckon the country could be headed for recession if Labour win.

Labour has yet to release its election manifesto, however. As the FT’s Jim Pickard reported last night, the leadership may look to water down some of the more radical policies backed by party members earlier this year when it publishes the manifesto later this week.

Frank Dobson dies

Former Labour health secretary Frank Dobson has died aged 79.

Dobson served as MP for Holborn and St Pancras for 36 years between 1979 and 2015, and was in Tony Blair’s first cabinet following Labour’s landslide election victory in 1997.

He left cabinet to run as Labour’s candidate in the inaugural Mayor of London election in 2000, but was beaten by Ken Livingstone’s independent challenge. Dobson later described his decision to leave government as his biggest regret, but said he had been motivated to reform London’s housing crisis.

In a valedictory interview in 2015, Dobson said he would give this advice to new MPs: “Nobody’s really important here: the only people who are important are those who cry when you die, not the ones who look at your majority.”

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow since 2010, said her former colleague “was so kind and supportive to all of us when we were first elected as well as being passionate about the Labour Party and what it could do for Britain”.

And he also had some of the filthiest and funniest jokes you have ever heard which could make any event a cracking night out if completely unsuitable for tender ears!

Dobson’s family announced the death via the Press Association news agency.

Recruiters call for stronger links between companies and education

The next government should strengthen links between universities and employers, support the apprenticeship system and ensure better careers guidance for students, a group of leading employers said on Tuesday.

The Institute of Student Employers called in a manifesto for greater engagement and partnership between companies and higher education, including workshops, placements and contributions to the curriculum, writes Andrew Jack, global education editor.

“The bedrock of the UK’s productivity has to be how it educates and trains people at the start of their careers, ensuring that they develop the skills and attributes that the economy needs to thrive,” Stephen Isherwood, chief executive of the institute, said in a statement.

Our industry needs sustained government investment. We are asking for quality careers advice in schools, alignment of education and migration policies with the skills that our economy needs, and employer engagement in the development of vocational education.

The comments follow pledges by both the leading parties to strengthen vocational education, and a call by Labour this morning for free life-long learning.

The Institute said any chances to the apprenticeship system should be gradual, and called for the parties to make the levy system on employers to be more transparent and flexible.

Corbyn attacks flooding response

Jeremy Corbyn has attacked the government’s “woeful” response to flooding in the North and Midlands, claiming they would have acted more swiftly if they had occurred in the South of England, reports Andy Bounds from Manchester.

“If this had happened in Surrey instead of Yorkshire and the East Midlands, I think it would have been a very different story,” Mr Corbyn told an audience of party activists in Blackpool this morning.

Boris Johnson finally called an emergency Cobra meeting for this morning, five days after heavy rain caused rivers to burst their banks. Some 400 homes were flooded and more than 1,000 evacuated.

The Conservatives are targeting Leave-voting seats in the region. Don Valley, scene of the worst flooding, is high on their list so the sluggish response could affect the election.

More rain is on the way and the rail line between Sheffield and Manchester was shut this morning as rivers continued to swell.

Mr Corbyn called on the government to provide “Bellwin money” – extra funds to help local authorities with the clean-up.

“Under the Tories frontline flood response and Environment Agency staff have been slashed by a fifth – and fire and rescue staff by nearly a quarter.”

Corbyn: Cyber attack was ‘very serious’

Jeremy Corbyn has said the cyber attack on the Labour party was a “very serious” incident.

The party said it has repulsed a “sophisticated and large-scale cyber attack” on its digital platforms on Monday, and that it was confident that its security systems ensured there had been no data breach.

“It was a very serious attack against us,” Mr Corbyn said. “If this is a sign of things to come in this election I feel very nervous.”

Poll Tracker: Conservatives retain solid lead

The Tories remain comfortably ahead of Labour in terms of the public’s voting intention, according to the latest FT general election poll tracker.

Boris Johnson’s party went into the general election campaign with an 11-point lead over Labour, according to the FT’s poll of polls. The gap has since widened slightly, as indicated by polling compiled by John Burn-Murdoch, Martin Stabe and Cale Tilford

The poll tracker combines all voting intention surveys published by major British pollsters. The trend line uses only the most recent poll from each pollster and weights them according to when they were conducted.

Here is the poll of polls as it stands today:

More details on the Labour cyber attack

Jim Pickard, Sebastian Payne and Helen Warrell report:

According to party and security officials, the incident was a distributed denial of service attack — where vast volumes of data are directed at computer servers overwhelming them and causing websites to slow down or crash.

But while a malicious denial of service attack can be effective it is considered by cyber experts to be relatively unsophisticated. Attribution may be more difficult compared with other types of cyber attack, security officials said.

The BBC quoted a Labour party “source” who said the attack could have come from “Russia or Brazil”, but security officials said there was no evidence at this stage that the attack had come from a hostile state such as Russia.

The incident nevertheless underlines the nervousness around possible cyber attacks during the general election. In recent weeks the NCSC has briefed all the main political parties on the threat posed to the election and campaign teams by cyber attackers.

You can read more details here.

What is a ‘denial of service’ attack?

The cyber attack on the Labour party is believed to have been a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack.

Duncan Hodges, senior lecturer in cyberspace operations at Cranfield University, said these attacks are “really quite common”.

A DDOS attack involves a whole set of bots or ‘zombie machines’ that make what appear to be valid requests from a website. This causes a huge surge in traffic and requests which seem legitimate, so the website will try to fulfil them causing massive problems.

Mr Hodges said these attacks are seen “all the time”, and this kind of capability can be hired for as little as $100.

“I wouldn’t call this attack sophisticated, but it is certainly co-ordinated and large scale in that it involved multiple attacks,” he added.

Richard Breavington, a partner and cyber risk expert at law firm RPC, said:

Perpetrators frequently attack when they expect organisations to be at their most busy and most stretched; as they are then most vulnerable, for political organisations it would be the election period.

FT analysis – The Liberal Democrat/Tory battlegrounds

John Burn-Murdoch has been looking at the seats the Liberal Democrats hope to win from the Conservatives.

Based on current polling in each region, there are around a dozen constituencies — mainly in the South — that were won by the Tories in 2017 but could be in Lib Dem hands on December 13 based on how the parties are polling relative to 2017.

These include Zac Goldsmith’s super-marginal seat of Richmond Park, and stretch as deep into Tory territory as Winchester, where the Lib Dems trailed the Tories by 17 percentage points in 2017.

Another handful of seats will be slightly harder to reach, but still make the list of Lib Dem targets.

These include Remain-leaning London constituencies such as Putney, Wimbledon and the Cities of London & Westminster — where Chuka Umunna will stand in the seat vacated by Conservative MP Mark Field — as well as seats like Eastleigh, Guildford and Taunton Deane.

FT analysis also suggests the Brexit party’s decision not to stand in Conservative-held seats could raise the bar the Lib Dems need to clear, pushing seats like Eastleigh back over the line from Lib Dem gain into Tory hold.

Will Boris Johnson betray Nigel Farage?

In today’s Brexit Briefing Sebastian Payne asks whether the new-found friendship between “Brexit buddies” Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage will stand the test of time.

The Brexit party leader yesterday opted to stand down almost half of his candidates in the upcoming election to ensure that the Leave vote is not split in hundreds of Conservative-held seats.

Mr Farage made his decision — which will be a boost to the Conservatives on December 12 — on the back of two commitments by Mr Johnson: not to extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020, and to pursue a Canada-style free trade deal with scant political alignment with the EU bloc.

With Mr Farage vowing to hold him to account, the prime minister will be under significant pressure to deliver on both, or face a resurgent Brexit party.

The pledges put the UK on course towards another Brexit cliffedge in 2020, as few believe that a comprehensive trade deal between the UK and the EU can be wrapped up within 12 months.

For more on how this is likely to play out, check out Seb’s Brexit Briefing here.

Labour hit by second cyber attack

The Labour party has been hit by a second cyber attack in as many days, according people familiar with the matter.

The attack — which attempted to force the party’s web services offline — began today at around 13:20 UK time and peaked about an hour later.

As with Monday’s incident, the attack is thought to be a distributed denial of service — where vast volumes of data are directed at computer servers overwhelming them and causing websites to slow down or crash.

Labour’s website was working normally at the time of writing.

Trader watch: Political certainty a ‘firm favourite’ for the pound

Something strange happened in the currency markets yesterday: the pound recorded a (relatively) significant move.

Sterling rose nearly 1 per cent after the Brexit party’s decision to stand down in hundreds of Tory-held seats handed Boris Johnson a boost, before settling 0.6 per cent higher for the day.

It was the most significant move in either direction for the currency during the election campaign, which has otherwise been marked by sluggish trading, and demonstrated that significant political moments have cut through into the markets.

Neil Jones, head of FX sales for financial institutions at Mizuho Bank, said that if the polls are leaning towards a single party majority then the pound is likely to appreciate.

“It is somewhat regardless at this stage as to what majority,” he said. “Essentially any majority government or successful coalition should push the pound higher. Political certainty is a firm favourite for a currency.”

Reads for your commute home

Another day of the 2019 general election campaign is nearly over — as, hopefully is your work day.

So here are some pieces — both election-focused and otherwise — to keep you occupied on your trip home:

In this analysis, Pilita Clarke profiles Cheltenham, one of a handful of Reman-leaning constituencies the Lib Dems could take from the Tories come December 12.

FT reporters in London, Newcastle and Beijing took a look at the plans by China’s Jingye Group to rescue British Steel — and the questions that have been raised surrounding its motives and business logic.

Finally, check out this excellent piece by Jude Webber on how continued violence by drug cartels is straining Mexico-US relations and is increasing pressure on President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to take a tougher stance.

Markets close: Equities positive on trade optimism

It has been a strong day for stocks with investors increasingly hopeful that the US-China trade war is easing, ahead of a hotly-anticipated speech from President Donald Trump.

London’s FTSE 100 gained to close up 0.5 per cent, while Frankfurt’s Dax 30 ended the day up 0.7 per cent. The Cac 40 in Paris rose 0.4 per cent, as did the composite Stoxx Europe 600.

Meanwhile gold was trading at $1,454 a troy ounce — close to its lowest level in three months — as an upbeat mood pushed investors out of the precious metal, which is seen as a haven asset.

“Equities are gaining and safe haven assets are under pressure, as the market has moved into risk-on mode, with the twin headwinds of trade and Brexit risk perceived to have eased,” said analysts at Morgan Stanley.

The pound was up 0.1 per cent against the dollar at $1.2859 and 0.2 per cent against the euro at €1.1674.

Boris Johnson’s Lib Dem opponent in Uxbridge withdraws

Liz Evenden-Kenyon, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Uxbridge and South Ruislip — the constituency currently held by prime minister Boris Johnson — has said she is pulling out of the race for personal reasons.

Ms Evenden-Kenyon said she was withdrawing due to an illness in her family.

“Therefore, today, I have to make a choice, before nominations close. So today I am stepping aside as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Uxbridge and South Ruislip.”

She said the announcement would give the party time to find another candidate before nominations close on Thursday.

What happened today?

The big campaign news of the day came in the form of a pair of cyber attacks on the Labour party, in which hackers targeted the opposition party’s computer systems.

The party said in a statement on Tuesday that it had suffered a “sophisticated and large-scale” attack on its digital platforms on Monday. Hours later a party official confirmed it had been targeted in a second attack.

The incidents highlighted concerns that the upcoming general election could be vulnerable to cyber interference.

Separately, Nigel Farage said the Brexit party would not be offering the Conservatives more help by standing aside from Labour held marginal seats. Yesterday Mr Farage said his party would stand down its candidates across all Tory-held seats.

Elsewhere, former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wandered into the debate over the release of a parliamentary report investigating Russian influence in UK politics. Mrs Clinton told the BBC she was “dumbfounded” the report has not yet been released.

That’s it for today

We will shortly be closing down Election Central for the evening. Thank you for reading.

As ever, if you have any suggestions or ideas for the blog, please let us know in the comments section below.

See you all tomorrow.