The news this morning has been dominated by the piece written in today’s Times by Nigel Lawson, the former chancellor, who has said he would vote to leave the EU.
He repeated criticisms first made to the FT back in January, when he attacked David Cameron’s strategy of renegotiating powers from Brussels. He told us at the time:
It would be politically very difficult, if not impossible, for Cameron to agree to give up our budget rebate and that’s a precondition of any change.
One of the most interesting aspects of the Ukip successes today is watching how the Tories respond. We are getting signs that David Cameron is going for a placatory tone, backing away from previous characterisations of the party as “loonies and fruitcakes”.
But one of the more telling interventions came this morning from John Baron, who has led a campaign of eurosceptic Tory backbenchers trying to force the prime minister to legislate in this parliament for an EU referendum in the next.
Baron told the Today programme: Read more
Of all the campaigns in this local election, the Lib Dem one has probably been the lowest-key. As Westminster has focused on the steady rise of Ukip, and what that means for both the Tory and Labour vote, the Lib Dems have plugged away beneath the radar.
That suits Nick Clegg. His party is predicted to lose over 100 seats from today’s vote, and the less attention the media pays to Lib Dem failures, the better, from his point of view.
That was summed up by Clegg’s final day of campaigning, which was spent on a whistle-stop trip to the Harvey’s brewery in Lewes, where he met a maximum of 15 members of staff during a tour of the brewery, before conducting a few interviews and dashing back to London on government business. Read more
David Cameron threw the ground troops a tasty little campaigning morsel on Tuesday with news that prisoners would not be getting any perks - Sky TV, state-of-the-art gyms – on the inside as the Tories sought to prove they were no soft touch party.
It was a helpful dog whistle for Tory activists campaigning ahead of the county council elections. But privately, the Conservative leadership is bracing itself for big losses. Ukip is gaining momentum and could well give Cameron a bloody nose on Thursday.
The party is instead trying to look beyond this electoral test to the big one in 2015. The process started in earnest back in January with the arrival of the pugnacious Lynton Crosby as election chief. Last week it was given another push as Jo Johnson was brought in with a handful of backbenchers to work in No 10′s policy unit. Read more
Today sees a fresh spat in the running war between Vince Cable and some of Britain’s biggest pub owners.
Last week, the business secretary launched a new statutory code of conduct which larger pub companies will have to sign up to. Cable said at the time:
In too many cases tenants are being exploited and squeezed, through a combination of unfair practices, lack of transparency and a focus on short-termism at the expense of the long-term sustainability of the sector.
We brought the news this morning that communities which accept fracking projects could get lower energy bills in an attempt by the government to stop likely resistance to such schemes.
Several options to cajole rural England to accept the contentious drilling schemes are being discussed as ministers prepare to announce that shale gas reserves are much larger than previously estimated.
Fracking has transformed the US energy market, triggering a production boom that pushed gas prices to 10-year lows last year. Read more
There is one statistic that stands out ahead of next week’s local elections: the number of candidates being fielded by the UK Independence Party.
In the wake of Ukip’s big surge in the Eastleigh by-election – where it picked up 28 per cent of the votes – several respected psephologists believe the fringe party is in line for further gains among some of the 2,409 seats being contested across the country.
What is striking is that Nigel Farage has found something like 1,700 candidates for the contest on May 2.
Last time these seats were fielded, in 2009, Ukip put up people in 24 per cent of seats. Now the figure is 72 per cent.
By contrast the Lib Dems have gone from contesting 90 per cent of the seats to 73 per cent.
It’s not hard to see why Ukip might perform well: mid-term blues; the Lib Dems no longer being a “protest vote” party; the popularity of their immigration-EU policies with much of the public.
As others have written repeatedly, many naturally Tory-leaning voters are prepared to use their local or European vote to back Ukip – before returning to the Conservatives Read more
The guru is back. Steve Hilton, fresh from his sojourn in the US, is to return to Number 10 to advise the new political policy unit, headed up by Jo Johnson, we have been told.
Except that’s not quite the case. Hilton, whose wife works for Google on the west coast, will stay in his beloved California. Number 10 advisers tell us he is expected to fly to London “a few times a year” to discuss policy ideas with the new policy board.
When Hilton left to take up a new role at Stanford University last year, some insisted the PM’s most unconventional of thinkers would be back in time for the next election. But those in the know insisted he would never return, saying he had become disillusioned with politics in government, and had lost a long-running battle with the more moderate factions within the Cameron operation. Read more
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
Ukip is winning thousands of votes from the Tories because of the coalition’s controversial plan for a new high-speed rail route: so says Nigel Farage, the leader of the anti-Brussels party.
In a recent debate with Tory former cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan – who has fought HS2, which cuts through her constituency – Farage said: “We’re against HS2, which your party’s not, and that’s why we’re getting so many votes in your constituency.”
But this belies the fact that the Ukip manifesto for 2010 called not only for more high-speed rail but no fewer than “three new 200mph-plus high-seed rail lines”.
Where would they be? “This would include a new line between London and Newcastle with a spur to Manchester, a London-Bristol-Exeter line and a linking route via Birmingham”.
In addition, a Ukip government would produce a Hong Kong-style Thames Estuary airport with another “high-speed rail service to London, the UK and the Continent”.
But by 2012 the party appeared to have a change of heart. Its local government manifesto Read more
In the run-up to last year’s reshuffle, a rumour circulated that Jo Swinson was going to be elevated from being Nick Clegg’s PPS, not only to ministerial level, but straight into the cabinet – specifically as Scotland secretary.
This didn’t happen – Swinson was instead made a junior minister at Bis. But with half a eye on a reshuffle later this year (which seems to have now been pushed back from a provisional June date to autumn at the earliest), the rumours have started once more.
There are plenty of reasons some in the party are pushing the idea: Read more
By Sarah Neville
Comments to the FT from one of the most important figures in the NHS this morning ask the most fundamental question that can be asked about the NHS: in an era of austerity can a universal free health service survive?
Malcolm Grant, chairman of NHS England, told us that he thinks a future government will have to consider more widespread user charges in the health service unless the economy picks up.
Grant made clear that he would not support any departure from the defining principle of a free-at-the-point-of-use NHS. But that doesn’t matter – these are macro-economic decisions for government that fall beyond his remit. Read more