Last updated: April 5

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Leaders of seven of the parties standing in next month’s UK general election are appearing in a one-off TV debate on Thursday night.

This is the only occasion that Conservative prime minister David Cameron will appear on a podium at the same time as any of the others, including his main rival for Number 10 Downing Street, Labour leader Ed Miliband. But in what is predicted to be the closest election in modern times there is as much interest in the smaller parties who could hold the balance of power.

By Mark Odell and Jim Pickard

 

Some supporters of Scottish independence believe in the conspiracy theory that MI5 was working against a Yes vote. Others have so much optimism bias about the economics of independence that I worry there is dopamine* in their Irn-Bru.

And let’s not mention the secret oil fieldsRead more

Martin Freeman video

 

The Labour Party has always boasted the lion’s share of celebrity endorsements and this election promises to be no different as the opposition tonight releases an election broadcast starring Sherlock actor Martin Freeman and Doctor Who hero David Tennant.

The video, which will run at 5.55pm on BBC Two, 6.55pm on BBC One and 6.25pm on ITV, features Freeman telling a camera that the 2015 general election will be “a choice between two completely different sets of values.” Read more

Take a look at our new graphic which details our four key battlegrounds: SNP target seats; Tory-Labour marginals; the rise of Ukip; and the collapse in Lib Dem support.

This week’s data are a timely reminder that with less than seven weeks to go until polling day and Labour and the Tories neck and neck when recently published polls are averaged, the relationship between poll leads and who might become prime minister is not straightforward. Read more

Jim Pickard

Research by Elizabeth Rigby, Jim Pickard, Kiran Stacey and George Parker

The refurbishment of Muni Theatre in Pendle might not seem an obvious priority for George Osborne in his annual Budget statement.

But the north-western town is one of a number of marginal election battlegrounds to have benefited from the chancellor’s generosity just weeks from polling day. Read more

John Aglionby

Chancellor George Osborne has promised “no giveaways, no gimmicks” in today’s Budget – but there is sure to be plenty of politics.

Less than two months before the UK’s general election, he will attempt to translate the economic recovery into votes for the Conservative party at what is shaping up to be the most unpredictable general election in living memory.

By John Aglionby, Claer Barrett and Jonathan Eley

 

Lucy Warwick-Ching

sec-budget-box

On Thursday March 19 2015 between midday and 1pm (GMT), a panel of experts will answer your questions about this year’s Budget.

Submit your questions in the live reader comments field (on the right-hand side of this post) or email the money team at money@ft.com.

You can also tweet questions to #FTBudget2015

We will choose a selection for our panel to answer. On the panel are:

  • Patrick Stevens, tax policy director, Chartered Institute of Taxation
  • Adam Palin, tax reporter, Financial Times
  • Josephine Cumbo, pensions correspondent, Financial Times

The discussion will be moderated by Lucy Warwick-Ching, FT Money Online editor.

 

“If we sat here 40 years ago, having this conversation your point would probably have been valid. I don’t think it is today. I really don’t think it is today.” — Nigel Farage, Channel 4, 12 March, via BBC.co.uk

In an interview with Trevor Phillips, former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, to be broadcast by Channel 4 next week, Nigel Farage argues that laws against racial discrimination are no longer necessary. He also insists that the United Kingdom Independence party, which he leads, is a “colour blind” political party. Read more

The idea that a staunchly leftwing Scotland is ideologically different – and diverging – from England is among the arguments used by advocates of independence.

One of the ways this is supposedly expressed is via Scots’ more liberal attitudes to immigration. During the referendum campaign, the leaders of the Yes side called for a more open policy than the UK government’s. And for the most part, they expressed a nationalism based on citizenship rather than on ethnic or family ties. Alex Salmond, then leader of the Scottish National party, contrasted a Scotland that welcomed immigrants with an England increasingly uneasy with its border policies. Read more

Given the Scottish National party’s imperious poll ratings it easy to conclude that, despite the Yes side’s defeat in last year’s referendum, independence is inevitable.

But the release on Wednesday of annual fiscal figures from the Scottish Government suggest that, at least when it comes to the economic case for independence, 2014 was an unusually good year for nationalists, one that may not repeat itself anytime soon. Read more

HSBC’s chief executive Stuart Gulliver is due to appear before the Public Accounts select committee at 3:15pm amid a scandal over its role in alleged tax-dodging by clients of the company’s Swiss private banking arm

He will be joined by Chris Meares, former chief executive of HSBC Global Private Banking, and Rona Fairhead, a non-executive director of HSBC where she is a member of the financial system vulnerabilities committee as well as the nomination commitee. Ms Fairhead is a former chief executive of the Financial Times Group.

By Mark Odell and Jim Pickard

 

Jim Pickard

You might think that Labour has left it a little late, given that the Tory election slogan is now painfully over-familiar.

But the opposition party has chosen to enter the general election campaign promising a “Better Plan for a Better Future”.

The slogan is a deliberate take on the Tories’ more familiar promise of a long-term economic plan, which has been tested almost to destruction by Conservative MPs for several years. (Experts often say that the point at which Westminster is sick of a message is the point at which the public may start to remember it…)

Labour strategists are aware that referring to their rivals’ message could look defensive – but they argue that it is a “realistic” strapline that does not over-promise.

The party will argue that the Tories’ plan will only benefit the “few at the top”, whereas their alternative vision will help working families.

Labour has rolled out three separate themes over the last three months: NHS was the theme in January, the “next generation” – including tuition fees – was February, while Read more

Jim Pickard

He is one of the most powerful people in Westminster: shadow foreign secretary and chair of Labour’s entire election campaign.

Yet Douglas Alexander is under pressure on multiple fronts: determined to prove that he has the right election strategy while holding off the SNP in Scotland – with his own constituency under threat from the nationalists.

Tonight we’re running a detailed profile in the FT.

Meanwhile here are some observations from some of those who know him well.

Labour MP: Douglas lost the David campaign and the 2010 election: “Why did Ed risk giving him so much power again?”

Ally: “There has to be someone making unpopular decisions. He has been there for a long time and he has always had the political jobs, where you aren’t the one handing out the Read more

Lucy Warwick-Ching

mas_isa-coins

On Thursday March 5 2015 between midday and 1pm (GMT), a panel of experts will answer your questions about Isas.

Submit your questions in the live reader comments field (on the right-hand side of this post) or email the money team at money@ft.com.

You can also tweet questions to#FTisa

We will choose a selection for our panel to answer. On the panel are:

  • Jason Hollands, managing director, Tilney Bestinvest
  • Adrian Lowcock, head of investing, Axa Wealth

The discussion will be moderated by Lucy Warwick-Ching, Money Online editor and Adam Palin FT Money reporter.

 

HSCB’s group chairman Douglas Flint (above, left) and chief executive Stuart Gulliver (right) are due to appear before the Treasury select committee at 2.15pm after being hastily summoned amid a bruising scandal over alleged tax-dodging by clients of the company’s Swiss private banking arm

They are followed by Lin Homer, chief executive of HM Revenue & Customs

by John Aglionby and Mark Odell

 

Kiran Stacey

Mark Garnier is a brave breed of Tory MP. The former fund manager and member of the Treasury select committee has spoken out in the past in defence of banks being able to set their own bonuses. And now he is making a rare warning from within the Tory party about the destabilising effect of an EU referendum.

Mark Garnier

Garnier’s background in the City means he is closer than most to mainstream opinion among financial services businesses in the UK. And he thinks investors are already moving money elsewhere:

If [investors] have to make an investment decision, then that is reliant on getting access to [the] single market — that money is being spent in Frankfurt, Madrid or Paris right now, not London.

  Read more

John Aglionby

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney on Thursday presented the central bank’s last quarterly inflation report before the May 7 general election, with a cut in its inflation forecast grabbing the headlines.

By Emily Cadman and John Aglionby

 

Elizabeth Rigby

Labour’s most senior women are to tour 70 marginal constituencies in a hot pink “woman to woman” campaign bus as the opposition party seeks to harness its lead among female voters.

Lucy Powell, vice-chair of the party’s general election campaign, said targeting women was central to Labour’s election efforts as the party launched its first “proper” women’s election campaign, complete with a 16-seater campaign minibus to tour the country. Read more