Closed Election: Tony Blair calls for tactical voting to deprive major parties of a majority — as it happened

Former British PM Blair speaks at a Reuters Newsmaker event in London

Former prime minister intervenes with warning that both Tories and Labour ‘pose a risk’ to country, Conservative manifesto in the spotlight, Lib Dems change tune with calls to avert Johnson majority, Sterling rallies as Tories extend lead.


Focus on the Tory manifesto

Good morning, welcome to the FT’s live coverage of the UK general election.

The Conservative party launched its manifesto yesterday, setting out a 10-year vision for Britain after Brexit. We will have reaction and analysis from the FT’s reporters and editors.


What was in the Conservative manifesto?

Boris Johnson launched the Conservative manifesto in the marginal Tory seat of Telford yesterday.

Here are some of the key pledges:

• Deliver Brexit by the end of January and then negotiate a new trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020

• A new immigration system would be brought in, cutting the number of low-skilled workers coming to Britain

• A ‘triple lock’ promise not to increase income tax, national insurance or VAT

• A tax cut of about £100 a year in the national insurance bills of all workers

• A £500m annual fund to fix potholes in roads

Two reads to start off with this morning.

George Parker and Sebastian Payne have the full details of the low-risk document.

And we also have analysis on the tax and spending pledges from economics editor Chris Giles.


The scale of the Tory tax and spending plans is very limited

The FT’s economics editor Chris Giles reports:

The manifesto promises are very modest. Aides to chancellor Sajid Javid sold the Tory plans as “prudent” but noted they came on top of large spending increases for the National Health Service last year and education and police in the September spending round.

At £3bn, the Conservatives’ planned increase in day-to-day spending is therefore nothing like Labour’s proposed £83bn, and the Lib Dems’ £50bn (on an equivalent basis).

Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank, said: “The gap between the parties on public spending is now huge.”


Tories defend their contested nurses pledge

Culture secretary Nicky Morgan has insisted the Tory party has already recruited thousands of nurses as her party’s promise to have 50,000 more in 10 years is accused of being overly ambitious. Spending on the NHS is an early election flashpoint following the release of the Conservative manifesto in Telford yesterday.

“We know that demand on the NHS continues to grow,” she told Sky News this morning. “We are already recruiting more professionals in the NHS and we know that’s one of the clear priorities of the people of this country.”

Jonathan Ashworth, shadow health secretary, tweeted “In 10 years?! This fake 50,000 unravels further. Yet again it’s shown you simply can’t trust the Tories with our NHS.”

The British Medical Association, the trade union for doctors, said they were disappointed with the health spending commitment in the Conservative manifesto because it does not meet the levels needed. Their statement stated: “Right now, the NHS is on a cliff-edge… an additional 50,000 nurses – while needed – is another ambitious target.”


What the papers say

Boris Johnson’s low-risk prospectus for power leads the papers this morning, with the Times saying that the prime minister has placed the National Health Service at the heart of a “critical” election as he pledges 50,000 more nurses and attacks Jeremy Corbyn’s “retrograde socialism”.

The daily adds Michael Bloomberg’s plan “to topple Trump in battle of the billionaires” to its front page.

The Metro and the Daily Telegraph go with a line from Mr Johnson’s speech: “The stakes have never been higher”, while the Guardian says the manifesto, with its £3bn spending gamble, reveals “clear blue water” between the parties on public expenditure.

The Financial Times outlines the $16bn ring LVMH has slipped on Tiffany.

Another story grabbing some of the headlines is of a disturbance at Birmingham’s cinema complex on Saturday as up to 100 people from rival gangs clashed with each other and with police. Blue Story, a film that depicts street rivalries in London, has been pulled from all 91 Vue cinemas, the Guardian reports.

The Sun cannot help itself: “Merry Brexmas and a happy blue year” it wishes its readers


IFS: Tory manifesto ‘remarkably’ light on policy

The lack of significant tax and spending proposals in the Tory manifesto is “remarkable”, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

The respected think-tank said:

If a single Budget had contained all these tax and spending proposals we would have been calling it modest. As a blueprint for five years in government the lack of significant policy action is remarkable.

Boris Johnson told viewers in a TV debate last week that austerity was over. But IFS director Paul Johnson said: “Taken at face value today’s manifesto suggests that for most services, in terms of day-to-day spending, that’s it.”

“Health and school spending will continue to rise. Give or take pennies, other public services, and working age benefits, will see the cuts to their day-to-day budgets of the last decade baked in.”

The IFS’s director added the pledge not to raise income tax, national insurance or VAT is a constraint that chancellor Sajid Javid “may come to regret”.

“It is also part of a fundamentally damaging narrative – that we can have the public services we want, with more money for health and pensions and schools – without paying for them. We can’t,” Mr Johnson of the IFS said.


Labour pledges rent controls in England

Labour has promised to bring in rent controls in England and “put bad landlords out of business” if it wins the election, writes Jim Pickard.

A Corbyn government would ensure open-ended tenancies – to minimise the potential for eviction – while private rents would nor be able to rise faster than inflation.

Under the proposals landlords would face an annual “property MOT” with fines of up to £100,000 for properties that are found to be sub-standard. The private rented sector has doubled in 20 years and accounts for more than one in five households in England.

“Everyone knows someone who is hit by the housing crisis in this country,” said John Healey, shadow housing secretary, on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme. “Part of the problem is a failing private rental market.”


Tories want a cross-party consensus on social care

Nicky Morgan, the culture secretary, has called for cross-party consensus on social care in response to a lack of detail in the Conservative manifesto on the matter.

Describing the manifesto as “One Nation Conservatism”, she said on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme that “there has been work going on, but it is not at a stage yet in order to be launched”.

Four months ago, speaking on the steps of Downing Street, Boris Johnson was more enterprising and promised to fix social care with a plan that was already prepared. The prime minister’s words were:

We will fix the crisis in social care once and for all.

Sir Andrew Dilnot, a British economist, who led a cross-party commission on Funding for Care and Support in 2010, described the Tory social care plans as “vague” and “unambitious” earlier on the same programme. He pointed out there is already a political consensus on funding social care and the Tories have failed to commit to a specific plan.

Labour and Liberal Democrats have promised a cap on care costs as their preferred option.


Gap widens between Tories and Labour, FT poll of polls shows

The gap has widened between the Conservatives and Labour since the start of the general election campaign, which the Tories went into with an 11-point lead over the opposition party, according to the Financial Times’ poll of polls.

Boris Johnson’s party has pulled ahead 14 points to garner a lead of 43 per cent over the opposition party which is on 29 per cent. The Liberal Democrats are on 15 per cent.

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 weighs them according to when they were conducted.


Tory pledges UK-EU trade deal by end of next year

The Conservative manifesto promises to complete a new trade deal with the EU by the end of 2020.

It states: “We will negotiate a trade agreement next year – one that will strengthen our Union – and we will not extend the implementation period beyond December 2020.”

Is this possible? Many trade experts are sceptical, but Nicky Morgan insisted this morning that the timeframe was realistic. The culture secretary told the BBC:

The trade experts that I talk to say it absolutely is eminently possible… But obviously we have to get on with this….Getting that trade agreement to a stage where it can be put to parliament is absolutely possible.

This pledge to complete the Brexit process by the end of next year was crucial in Nigel Farage’s decision to stand down half the Brexit party’s candidates at this election. But it also opens the possibility of a no-deal exit at the end of next year.

Mujtaba Rahman, managing director of the Eurasia consultancy group, said that there is no evidence that a trade deal is possible by the end of 2020.


Emoticon Blair calls for tactical voting

The FT’s George Parker reports:

Tony Blair, former Labour prime minister, has urged people to vote tactically for a
hung parliament, claiming that either Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn would “pose
a risk” if they won an outright majority.

Mr Blair said he would be voting Labour but hinted that the party was heading for
defeat and a moment of reckoning for the Corbynite left: “There’s a big debate
coming in the Labour party,” he said.

The former premier, speaking at a Reuters event, said that Mr Corbyn was offering a
revolution but added: “The problem with revolutions is never how they begin,
but how they end.”

Mr Blair wants to overturn Brexit in a second referendum and hopes that enough MPs can be elected to put pressure on Mr Johnson – if he is the leader of the
biggest party – to put his exit deal to a public vote.

He called for people to look at the election seat-by-seat and back moderate
candidates, saying he has been campaigning for such politicians in the Labour
Party.

“The polls predict a Conservative victory and put the chances of an outright Labour
victory as negligible,” he said. “But I wouldn’t trust Boris Johnson with a
blank cheque.”


‘We’re a mess’ – more from Blair speech

Tony Blair, former Labour prime minister, has launched a scathing attack on the political and economic landscape in the UK.

“We’re a mess,” Mr Blair said at a Reuters event. “The buoyancy of the world economy has kept us going up to now, but should that falter, we will be in deep trouble.”

He said that British politics is in chaos and has become a “unique political experiment” that could cause serious economic and social damage to the country’s “essential fabric”.

Mr Blair cited Brexit as the reason for “utterly dysfunctional” politics and demanded again a people’s vote to break the deadlock. In his opinion, both parties’ policies on Brexit are “fantasy”.

Describing this election as weird and unconventional, he criticised the “laboratory experiment” that has allowed populism to “run riot”.


Trade becomes an election issue

In their manifesto, the Conservatives promised to tie-up a trade deal with the EU by the end of next year, and ruled out seeking an extension for further time.

The FT’s Alan Beattie in Brussels writes that this election is the first in which trade will play a substantial role for 40 years, when Britain began outsourcing its policies to Brussels.

But precisely because of that long gap, no one seems to have much of a clue what the British public thinks on the subject.

In today’s Trade Secrets briefing, Alan writes:

Brexit is clearly hanging over everything — and the Conservatives apparently continue to get away with the most bizarre contentions on the subject. Their manifesto launched yesterday promised that a fully fledged comprehensive bespoke bilateral deal with the EU would be completed by the end of next year, no problem. Thus the Brexit and trade debate continues to roam the campaign untethered from knowledge and reality.

Trade Secrets is the FT’s must-read daily briefing on the changing face of international trade and globalisation. Sign up here.


Corbyn reassures landlords acting properly have ‘nothing to fear’

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has sought to alleviate any fears that “very good” landlords might have over the party’s plans for rent controls and fines.

I can’t imagine that any landlord would object to their property being inspected to make sure it is up to standard to be put on the rental market.

The Residential Landlords Association claimed Labour’s proposals would “lead to a serious rental housing crisis”.

“What we’re doing is ensuring that all tenants have somewhere that is safe and secure in which to live,” was Mr Corbyn’s response at the Renishaw Miners social club.

The Conservatives have pledged to introduce “lifetime deposits”, which would allow an initial lump sum to be transferred from one home to the next. The party says this will enhance rights of possession for “good” landlords.

The Liberal Democrats plan to introduce longer-term tenancies and introduce controls on rent in line with inflation.

Mr Corbyn gives bricklaying a go:


Lib Dems push voting message to ‘deprive’ Tories of majority

The Liberal Democrats have followed former Labour prime minister Tony Blair with a call to vote in such a way as to aim for a hung parliament, writes Philip Georgiadis.

Chuka Umunna, the party’s spokesperson for foreign affairs, on Monday urged voters to “deprive Boris Johnson of a majority” in the December 12 general election so as to pave the way for a second referendum on EU membership.

Mr Umunna’s speech in Watford illustrates a change of tone for the party, which started the election campaign suggesting they could win a majority to stop the UK from leaving the EU entirely.

“Voters have a choice to make at this election: give a majority to Boris Johnson,” said the former Labour frontbencher who defected to the Lib Dems this year, “or elect as many Liberal Democrat MPs as possible, necessary to deprive Boris Johnson of a majority, and ensure the arithmetic in the new House of Commons can deliver a people’s vote.”

The Conservatives are polling at 43 per cent, according to the FT’s poll tracker.


Johnson plans to recall parliament for December 17, if he wins

Boris Johnson has set out his plans for the recall of parliament if he wins the December 12 general election with a clear majority, writes James Blitz, Whitehall editor.

Downing Street said the new parliament will be summoned to meet on December 17, when the business will be the swearing-in of members, a statement released on Monday stated.

Should this prime minister return, the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech will follow on December 19.

Downing Street says the State Opening of Parliament will take place “with reduced ceremonial elements, as was the case following the early general election in 2017. This is due both to the early general election and the proximity of the State Opening to Christmas.”

The Queen and Prince Charles will attend.

The Downing Street statement says:

If there is a change of government following the election it is anticipated that the Queen’s Speech would be in January on a more usual timetable; but this would be a matter for the incoming administration.

Some Whitehall officials say the Johnson government could try and get the Withdrawal Agreement Bill passed again at Second Reading before Christmas as a signal of its intent to “get Brexit done”.


Sterling heads for first one-day advance in a week

Sterling was on track for its first one-day gain in a week as Boris Johnson’s Conservatives consolidated their lead in the opinion polls at the halfway point of the UK’s general election campaign.

The pound rebounded 0.3 per cent against the dollar, setting it up for its first daily rise since Monday a week ago. Against the euro the UK currency in early Monday trading was heading for its biggest advance in a fortnight as it added 0.3 per cent to trade at €1.1687, making €1 worth 85.53p.

“Sterling volatility has been relatively contained,” said a UBS note to investors late on Friday. “Indications that the Conservative government will emerge the winner has generally sent sterling ticking higher, and vice versa.”

The FTSE 100 unusually moved in the same direction as the currency, climbing 0.8 per cent on Monday and putting it on track for a second consecutive rise. Often, the multinational-heavy index declines when the pound rises, since many companies listed on the benchmark exchange earn much of their earnings overseas.

All the parties have now unveiled their manifestos, with Conservatives abiding their time until Sunday to show their hand in the election campaign. They launched a low-risk prospectus aimed at power and protecting their double-digit lead in the opinion polls.

The latest Financial Times poll of polls showed the Tories pulling ahead with a 14-point lead at 43 per cent over the opposition Labour party. Polls show the two main parties squeezing the smaller parties.

UBS added a note of caution however, with three weeks still to go to the December 12 general election.

Tactical voting, varying turnout rates, and voters seemingly disenchanted by the options they are being presented with could yet lead to a surprise result.


The £3bn hole in the Tory manifesto

The Conservative Party failed to cost for a £3bn spending promise in its manifesto, despite the document’s claims that its policies are “fully costed”, an analysis by FT’s Alphaville’s Jamie Powell has found.

The promise relates to the Conservatives’ spending on electric vehicle infrastructure, which the document said includes a “national plug-in network and gigafactory”. The party has budgeted £400m over four years, but the cost of a gigafactory – ostensibly a battery producing facility – was £3.4bn in the United States, and a similar facility is mooted to cost the same in Germany.

While relatively small, the £3bn deficit will cast doubt on both the Conservative Party’s commitment to the environment, and the accuracy of its spending forecasts.

However, the Conservative Party has given itself some wriggle room. In the manifesto it says there is a possibly an extra £58bn available for capital expenditure, on top of the committed £22bn, but this is dependent on interest rates remaining low.

Read Jamie’s full piece here.


FT poll tracker – update

Boris Johnson’s Conservative 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.

Here is the latest snapshot, updated today:


Johnson launches Tories’ Welsh manifesto

Boris Johnson is in north Wales for the launch of the Conservative party’s Welsh manifesto.

Speaking at the event a few minutes ago, Mr Johnson peddled through the party’s standard UK-wide pledges on policing, education, the NHS and immigration.

Let’s make sure we get enough Welsh Conservatives to insist that those investments are properly passported.

Turning to Wales, the prime minister insisted “fantastic opportunities” lay ahead for farmers in the country, with new markets opening up after Brexit.

Why should New Zealand be supplying huge quantities of lamb to China when we in the UK do not? When as far as I know – and I think somebody better check this quickly because this just occurred to me when I was driving out – Wales is closer to China than New Zealand is, as the crow flies.

In a characteristically unconventional move, Mr Johnson then paused his speech briefly while an audience member turned to Google to confirm his off the cuff assertion.

For those interested – the claim is, in fact, accurate. The distance from Cardiff to Beijing is about 5,000 miles, compared to approximately 7,000 miles between Wellington and Beijing.


Pound extends gains on Tory polling lead

Sterling is having a good day.

Fuelled by increasing confidence among traders of a Conservative majority after December 12, the pound has gained 0.6 per cent today, and is on track for its second-best trading session of the month.

A comfortable win for Boris Johnson’s party — something polls are suggesting is increasingly likely — would remove the uncertainty that has been hanging over the UK economy in relation to Brexit, putting the prime minister in a strong position to push his withdrawal agreement through parliament.

“Political uncertainty has weighed heavily on investment for the past couple of years,” said Jane Foley, head of FX strategy at Rabobank.

So, since a Tory majority would allow Johnson to pass the EU withdrawal agreement in time for a January 31 Brexit, this factor has helped to support the pound over the past few weeks.

The pound is up 0.6 per cent against the dollar at $1.2905. This marks its biggest rise since Nigel Farage’s decision to stand down Brexit party MPs from Tory-held seats on November 11 boosted Mr Johnson’s chances of a majority.

Against the euro it is up by a similar margin, at €1.716.


Gina Miller: ‘Talk of a Tory landslide is premature’

Prominent anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller has sought to reassure “despondent” voters that the Conservatives’ comfortable lead in the polls does not guarantee the party a majority next month.

The Tories have been polling strongly since the election was called and have extended an 11 point lead over Labour to 14 points as things stand, according to the FT’s latest poll tracker.

But Ms Miller pointed to the collapse of the Conservative lead under Theresa May during the 2017 campaign, arguing tactical voting could still lead to a different result come election day.

In a statement via her Remain United campaign group, Ms Miller said:

People are getting despondent when they read the headlines forgetting that in 2017, the 15 per cent lead was supposed to translate to a 100+ seat majority for Mrs May. Remain United’s data points to a Boris Johnson majority of 70 seats. But this could shrink to zero with pro-Remain smart tactical voting, as it did in 2017.

Ms Miller, a vocal critic of Brexit, shot to prominence after her successful challenge against the government in 2017, when the Supreme Court found that parliament — not the government — had to decide when to trigger the Article 50 notification that allows Britain to leave the EU.

In September she won another victory against the government when the country’s highest court declared the prime minister’s prorogation of parliament unlawful.


Markets round-up: Trade deal hopes push stocks higher

Driving stock markets today is, as usual, speculation over the chances of a trade deal between the US and China. During today’s European trading session, the speculation was positive, so global equity markets were happy.

In London, the FTSE 100 closed 1 per cent higher. Frankfurt’s Dax 30 added 0.6 per cent, meanwhile, and in Paris, the Cac 40 was up 0.5 per cent. Earlier, in Asian trade, the Hang Seng closed up 1.5 per cent.

Wall Street also made gains in early trade, with the S&P 500 up 0.6 per cent.

The gains follow a move by Beijing on Sunday to issue guidelines on strengthening China’s intellectual property safeguards. The country’s alleged theft of foreign intellectual property has been a sticking point in resolving trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.

The move – coupled with optimistic comments over the weekend from US national security adviser Robert O’Brien – has raised investor hopes that the world’s two largest economies could still finalise a long-awaited “phase one” trade deal by the end of the year.

In currencies (see below) sterling gained as the Conservatives consolidated their polling lead. Gold, a haven asset sought out in times of market turmoil, slipped 0.3 per cent as investors exited the metal.

Bond markets were steady, with yields on the 10-year gilt in the UK and Bund in Germany remaining flat.


Opinion: Jeremy Corbyn’s platform is a tragic betrayal of Britain

This election should be there for Labour’s taking, argues the FT’s Robert Shrimsley.

Instead, a self-indulgent and ideologically obsessed clique is holding open the door of Number 10 for Boris Johnson. It is a shocking abandonment of those very voters who most need a change.

Faced with the prospect of a hard Tory Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn has managed to construct a prospectus that looks even more economically ruinous; a manifesto that effectively tells outside investors the UK is closed for business.

There are many individual Labour policies that will be popular and much is to be said for its diagnosis of the economy’s ills — be they overmighty employers, monopolistic utilities, rentier capitalism or a lack of investment.

Yet rather than choosing a few major reforms — decarbonising the economy, renationalising rail, improving the National Health Service or building homes — Labour has opted not to make any choices.

If Labour loses it will be because the leadership was too ideologically inflexible to compromise with voters. For all those yearning for more investment in public services, a fairer economy, a saner Brexit and those just desperate to be rid of a government which has deepened the divides in the nation, Labour’s approach is a shameful betrayal.

Read Robert’s full piece here


What happened today?

• Today’s agenda was dominated by reaction to the Conservative’s cautious manifesto, released last night. The Institute for Fiscal Studies described the party’s lack of significant tax and spending proposals as “remarkable”.

• The pound rallied as the Conservatives extended their lead in the polls, with traders betting a Tory majority would allow Boris Johnson to push through his Brexit deal and end the lingering uncertainty.

• Labour promised to bring in rent controls in England and “put bad landlords out of business” if it wins, ensuring open-ended tenancies to minimise the potential for eviction.

• Tony Blair made his most significant contribution of the campaign so far. The former Labour prime minister urged people to vote tactically for a hung parliament in order to stop both the Tories and his own party winning an outright majority.


That’s it for today

We are halfway there now, with just two-and-a-half weeks to go until December 12.

The Conservatives have managed to retain a comfortable lead over Labour, but as history shows, nothing can be taken for granted in this game.

With campaigning set to be stepped up as we enter the home stretch, we’ll be continuing to monitor developments live here on this blog. So watch this space.

Until tomorrow.