Kiran Stacey

Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage, Ukip leader

It might still be four months away, but attention is beginning to turn to May’s European elections, and especially the role that Ukip is going to play in them. What seems now fairly certain is that the party will come either first or second, pushing the Tories into third, and possibly prompting another bout of soul-searching among the governing party.

Whether it manages to top the ballot or not, Ukip’s likely success will see a host of previously unknown politicians catapulted into positions of power in Brussels. As next year’s general election approaches, these will be the figures we will see appear increasingly on our television screens – but who are they, and what do they tell us about the party?

An extensive study by the FT shows that the party is an interesting mix of people, some young, some old; most from the right, but a few from the left. Some have libertarian instincts, but most are social conservatives. All, of course, are united by a visceral dislike of Europe, and perhaps counter-intuitively, given this is nominally a libertarian party, of immigration too.

This is what we found: Read more

Jim Pickard

By Andrew Bounds

More trouble in the shires for Conservative high command as one of its dwindling band of female MPs faces a “campaign to unseat her mounted by local gentry”, according to her allies.

The Yorkshire Post, which opened the curtains on goings-on at Thirsk and Malton Conservative association, quotes one source who dubbed it “our very own Falkirk”, a reference to Labour’s attempts to influence candidate selection in the Scottish town.

The charge that unions unknowingly signed up members of a selection committee wounded Labour leader Ed Miliband. In James Herriot country the allegation is that the local association “co-opted” people to pack the executive committee and deselect Anne Read more

Jim Pickard

David Cameron has today thrown his weight behind the small but growing trend of “reshoring” – or returning production from overseas to theUK.

Speaking in Davos, the prime minister said he was setting up a government advisory service to help companies that want to reshore. The service, “Reshore UK”, will offer advice on questions such as locations. Read more

Jim Pickard

Last October, at the height of the political row over energy bills, we reported on the growing concerns of senior business people (including the CBI) about the impact on Britain’s future infrastructure.

The coalition was engaged in an attempt to rein back bills in a direct reaction to Ed Miliband’s promise of a 20-month price freeze.

The most interesting was Sir John Armitt, former chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, who told me that Britain needed long-term investment and policy to get energy projects off Read more

Elizabeth Rigby

It is impossible to describe how enormously distressed I am by this situation and I am certainly too ill to attend the House of Lords today.

In the interests of my party and all concerned, I will now release a statement that I have prepared:

In 2009, I was the subject of a smear campaign in relation to House of Lords allowances. The timing of this campaign was clearly chosen as it was in the middle of major election campaigns, for which I was then responsible. I warned Nick Clegg how I considered that the party might be damaged in those elections as a result of those allegations. I said that I would bring forward my planned resignation as the Liberal Democrats Chief Executive on health grounds. I had not intended resigning until after helping Nick and the party through the 2010 General Election campaign. Read more

Jim Pickard

Workers with savings who lose their jobs after fewer than four years in employment could lose their automatic entitlement to out-of-work benefits as a result of Labour’s proposals to strengthen the contributory element of the welfare system.

Rachel Reeves, shadow welfare secretary, has floated plans to give more money to jobseekers who have been working for longer in an attempt to restore the Beveridge principles of the welfare state. Read more

Jim Pickard

I’ve looked through Labour’s manifesto from 1979 and it looked more than vaguely familiar:

There are frequent mentions of “living standards”.

Labour will promise to take great care to “protect working people and their families through the hardships of change.”

Government DOES have a role in creating employment, limiting price rises, and helping industry – contrary to what the right wing believes.

Foremost in the party’s aim is to “keep a curb on inflation and prices” and help “men and women struggling with low pay”.

Labour believes that “fair earnings for working people” should be put ahead of the “demands of private profit.”

And then I looked at the specific policies and noticed rather a few which have been adopted by Ed Miliband’s Labour in opposition.

Strengthening and extending consumer protection.

Setting up “job creation programmes”.

Bank reform: “The banking sector would benefit from increased competition.” Read more

Kiran Stacey

Nick CleggMany furrowed brows today at Lib Dem HQ at the continuing prominence of Lord Rennard, the Lib Dem peer accused of harassing women.

An internal party inquiry, the results of which emerged last night, found there was not enough evidence to take disciplinary action against Rennard, but that there was “credible evidence” he had violated the personal space of the women involved and should be forced to apologise.

This was enough, believe many at the top of the party, to make sure Rennard did not return to the team helping draw up the next Lib Dem manifesto, and possibly even enough to withdraw the whip altogether. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Last week, we reported on the suggestion by the BBC’s Nick Robinson that a truce had been agreed by Ed Miliband and David Cameron not to let PMQs descend into a slanging match. Certainly in the first week back after Christmas, we saw a new, civilised tone from both leaders and a rather subdued House having to watch it take place.

If there was ever an agreed truce, it lasted a week.

This week, Miliband led on bank bonuses – an issue on which Labour is currently leading the debate, as we revealed this morning. The Labour leader asked whether Cameron would accede to the request RBS is expected to make for bonuses of over 100 per cent of salary. The question was designed to embarrass the PM, who does intend to let RBS have their way. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Alex SalmondWe revealed in this morning’s FT that the Treasury is making it clear to investors in UK debt that if Scotland goes independent, the rest of the UK will still be liable for the debt that it has issued.

In other words, however the debt is carved up, if an independent Scotland defaults on one of its repayments, it will be English, Welsh and Northern Irish taxpayers who will have to pay up.

In one sense, this seems to give Alex Salmond a much stronger hand in any negotiation with the rest of the UK (again, if Scotland becomes independent) about how assets and liabilities should be carved up. After all, if the UK is guaranteeing Scotland’s debts, Salmond could turn round and insist his government will only keep up with repayments in return for another of his demands – for example, being allowed to use sterling. Read more

Kiran Stacey

Today’s PMQs was striking, but not particularly interesting.Ed Miliband decided to split his questions (always a recipe for taking some of the heat out). His first set were focused on the response to flooding over Christmas and New Year.

The Labour leader could have attacked the government for not doing more to get emergency services out in time, or not putting enough pressure on energy companies to restore power quickly. But he didn’t. Apparently seeking to start PMQs off on a calm and consensual note, Miliband began by asking:

Could the prime minister update the house on the number of people affected and what action is being taken now to ensure that areas affected by further flooding are getting the support they need?

 Read more

Jim Pickard

George Osborne was poised to make an announcement about the minimum wage at Tory conference last autumn, I’m told by several Whitehall sources. The chancellor changed his mind at the last minute.

In theory, Mr Osborne decided to hold back in order to respect the sanctity of the Low Pay Commission, the independent body which has set the rate for over a decade.

But then again he had no plans to over-ride the commission, I’m told. (Instead his words would have been more about saying that he would welcome a higher rate – if the body recommended it.)

In practice it may just be that the chancellor was beaten to the announcement by Vince Read more

Jim Pickard

Yesterday’s big news was about Cameron promising to keep the pensions “triple lock” if the Tories win a majority government in 2015. (A big if.)

Today’s was about Osborne’s £25bn trap for Labour, dressed up as a promise of fiscal rectitude. (This is the figure of cuts needed in the next Parliament, according to the chancellor.)

More quietly, however, we’ve also had interesting new mood music about the other benefits granted to pensioners – such as free TV licenses – with aides to the prime minister saying he was “attracted” to keeping them after 2015.

This in itself is a big story, even if it is not yet a definitive promise to keep them.

In the past some Tory MPs, including planning minister Nick Boles, have suggested that there should be means-testing for pensioners’ benefits – given that the rest of the welfare system has seen cuts since 2010.

As my colleague John McDermott argues today: “The burden of austerity is being Read more

Jim Pickard

Later this month will see a ballot of 600 local Tories in South Suffolk as to whether Tim Yeo, the former minister, should go forth once more as their candidate in the 2015 general election.

Yeo, chairman of the energy select committee, is not going quietly despite having lost a re-selection vote at the end of November. Read more

Kiran Stacey

A demonstrator is arrested during protests in support of miners, 1984During much of 1984, Britain was hit by some of the worst industrial action the country has ever seen, as the National Union of Mineworkers downed tools and upped pickets to resist planned cuts to the coal industry.

Today, we are able to tell the full story of what happened during that tumultuous year with the aid of top-level government papers that have just been released under the so-called “30-year rule”. The main revelation is that, at the depths of the conflict, with the dockworkers also out on strike, Thatcher considered declaring a state of emergency and getting troops to help transport coal across the country to keep power stations running.

But the documents also contain a trove of other fascinating information, which helps us answer more fully than ever before the key questions of the events of one of the most significant years in British history. So here are five questions about the miners’ strike that the new papers help answer: Read more

Kiran Stacey

The last PMQs before a recess is always important for doing what the session is really designed for: crystallising the mood of each side of the House.

Tomorrow MPs will head off to their constituencies for several weeks, where they will be unencumbered by daily Commons business and free of the whips’ influence. It is during these breaks that leaders can become unstable and plots can begin to form, and so it is even more important for the leaders of the two main parties to give their troops something to cheer at this time.

Under these terms, today’s PMQs was a clear victory for Cameron. Read more

Jim Pickard

There was an exchange in the Commons this week between Danny Alexander and former Labour Treasury minister John Healey over the stats in last week’s National Infrastructure Plan.

Healey challenged the chief secretary to the Treasury over a chart in the report (page 5) which shows higher infrastructure investment by the coalition than in the last five years of the previous Labour government. The Labour MP asked Alexander whether he would let the chart be vetted by the UK Statistics Authority or the Office for Budget Responsibility. Read more

Jim Pickard

Ed Miliband used to hate the Heathrow third runway project so much that he nearly quit as energy secretary towards the end of the Gordon Brown regime in protest.

Now, his aides say that he wants aviation expansion in the South-east and is open-minded about where that should be. One said his position on location is “neutral”. Another senior Labour MP said “all options are now on the table.” Read more

Jim Pickard

Vince Cable, the business secretary, yesterday warned of a danger of house prices “getting out of control” as Whitehall’s official forecasters predicted a near return to the bubble of 2007.

In real terms the market will by 2018 peak at just 3 per cent below the heights last seen six years ago, the Office for Budget Responsibility estimated in new figures produced on Thursday.

The OBR has revised upwards its forecast by some 10 per cent since March, in part because of the projected impact of the coalition’s controversial Help to Buy mortgage scheme.

Annual house price inflation is not expected to return to the giddy pace of the last decade, with in-year rises set to peak at 7.2 per cent in 2015, the OBR suggested.

But the inflation-busting rises from 2013 to 2018 will together add more than 20 per cent to a market that Read more

Janan Ganesh

Today, George Osborne had the rare pleasure of announcing economic news that is better – not worse – than was expected when he last held a major fiscal event. The Autumn Statement declared that growth, employment and the public finances are all heading in the right direction. Even some bad news from the past, such as the double-dip recession earlier in the parliament, was revised out of existence.

But the chancellor’s political challenge was to combine all this optimism with unwavering commitment to austerity, the cause that defines him and the government. Veering off this theme to join the opposition Labour party in a skirmish over living standards this autumn has left the Tories looking like slaves to the news cycle. Read more