Jim Pickard

1] Dislike of the “Westminster elite”.


The SNP are poles apart from Ukip when it comes to their actual policies: the former is pro-European and broadly left-wing, the latter the opposite.

But there is a palpable read-across from the 45 per cent of Scots who voted “Yes” for independence last month and the huge numbers of English voters who backed Ukip on Thursday.

Both parties are mining the same seam of discontentment about the main three parties in Westminster.

Labour and Tory activists say they are getting the same negative message on the doorsteps, Read more

Maija Palmer

The dust has settled on the Scottish independence referendum. Where does the 55 per cent No vote leave our panel? Are they still speaking to friends and family?

Jill, a staunch No voter, laments the divisions the referendum have left within families and the overall fabric of Scottish society. She would like to put the whole issue behind her and move on. Read more

Jim Pickard

1] Don’t put too much faith in a single poll.

It was the Sunday Times YouGov poll – putting Yes at 51 per cent – which threw everyone into a blind panic. In retrospect that was a statistical outlier. The first rule of polls is always to ignore a single poll. That was thrown out of the window as Westminster woke up to the implications of the United Kingdom breaking up. Read more

Jim Pickard

Boris Johnson has teased Rupert Murdoch for his flirtation with Scottish independence, saying the media baron need look no further than his own business to understand the meaning of “Better Together”.

The London mayor joked that he wanted to see the four parts of the union kept together: The Sun, the Sun on Sunday, the Times and the Sunday Times, referring to Mr Murdoch’s four British newspapers: “It would be insane, to put that history, that union, that great collective endeavour at risk and to break up those titles, as some have from time to time suggested should be done.” Read more

Maija Palmer

With only days to go until the vote, our panelists have all made up their minds. Of our three undecided voters two have gone over to the Yes camp, and one is planning to vote No, albeit with a heavy heart.

Our panel don’t believe the vote will be as close as polls currently suggest. But if it is, there are some fears about reprisals and the prospect of a ‘neverendum’ with the Yes campaign unwilling to stop pushing for another vote. Read more

Jim Pickard

The Romans used to predict the future by examining the entrails of dead animals. These days we use opinion polls, often with similarly haphazard results.

Even some of the most robust Westminster commentators are refusing to make firm bets about how the landscape will look after next May’s general election. It will be the closest fought, most unpredictable, most exciting battle for a generation. Read more

Maija Palmer

Alex Salmond’s impassioned plea for Scottish independence may have won over unsure voters, say our Scottish reader panel. As a snap poll by Guardian/ICM found Mr Salmond to have won Monday night’s television debate by a margin of 71 per cent to 29 per cent, even our panellists in the No camp had to admit that Scotland’s first minister had been the better speaker.

  Read more

Maija Palmer

With the No campaign still holding onto a poll lead, talk has turned to ‘devo max’, the devolution of further powers to Scotland and the competing visions from the main UK political parties.

Our panel of Scots is not impressed. In a surprise moment of agreement, both the No and Yes supporters find ‘devo max’ distasteful. The Yes supporters suspect the proposals would give Scotland no benefits, only the potential for budget cuts. The No supporters don’t wish to see more power given to an SNP-dominated Holyrood parliament. Read more

He has been criticised in the past for offending women, gays and the Irish. Now Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, stands accused of insulting the people of Scotland and interfering in the country’s independence referendum on September 18, writes Jamie SmythRead more

Jonathan Eley

Mark Simmonds, the Foreign Office minister, is resigning because he says the new Westminster expenses regime precludes him from renting a residence in central London of appropriate quality. He has been excoriated on social media for being out of touch. But he is right, argues Jonathan Eley. Read more

John Aglionby

David Cameron has conducted the most wide-ranging reshuffle of his cabinet since taking office, appointing Philip Hammond as foreign secretary and firing Michael Gove as education secretary. Several women, including Nicky Morgan and Elizabeth Truss, have been appointed to the cabinet.

By John Aglionby and Claer Barrett


Jim Pickard

Greg Barker, the Tory energy minister – who posed with David Cameron in the Arctic eight years ago – is stepping down from the government in a vivid symbol of the Conservative party’s changing priorities.

Mr Barker, who as climate change minister was the number two in the energy department, is also set to quit politics altogether by stepping down as an MP next May. Read more

Maija Palmer

Will 16 and 17-year-olds, who have been given the right to vote on Scottish independence, have much influence on the final outcome?

For our panel these younger voters seem an unknown quantity. Those in favour of a Yes vote predict they will vote Yes, based on a concern for jobs and free university places. Those who favour a No vote say this group is likely to vote No, as they are too much of a global generation to be swayed by the nationalist argument. Read more

Jim Pickard

As phone hacking returns to the House of Commons three years after it rocked the political establishment, it seems a good time to recap the best moments – and worst – of Ed Miliband as Labour leader:


Winning the leadership, September 2010

Miliband confounds the sceptics by riding a wave of support from trade union members to beat his brother, David, by the tightest of margins.

In front of a packed hall in Manchester, Ed Miliband struggles with his emotions as he pronounces his love for his elder brother, and says: “Today the work of the new generation begins.”

One Nation Speech, October 2012

Ed Miliband surprises on the upside as he delivers, without notes, a confident speech promising to build a “One Nation Britain” in the spirit of Disraeli.

In a speech that draws heavily on his own background, the Labour leader promises to block or reverse coalition policies on education and the health service, but warns he will have to keep many of the Read more

Kiran Stacey

Nick Clegg in Eastleigh

Nick Clegg celebrates the Eastleigh byelection result

For well over a year, the Liberal Democrats have told supporters, commentators and their own MPs that they will fare better than their national poll ratings suggests.

At next year’s election, argue Nick Clegg’s strategists, the party will do well in areas they already have MPs, particularly given most of them are Tory-Lib Dem marginals, where the coalition of voters they have forged will stay with them for fear of letting the Tories in. This will let them retain about 40 of their 57 seats, think those at the top of the party, allowing for heavy losses to Labour in the north. Read more

Jim Pickard

Tax relief on pensions looks set to become a key battleground at next year’s general election with Labour and the Lib Dems both mulling a raid on well-off savers.

Steve Webb, the pensions minister, told us in an interview that he was optimistic that a cut in tax relief for higher-rate pensions would be in the Lib Dem manifesto.

Mr Webb said that the idea was gaining traction within the party leadership in the run-up to the manifesto being finalised later in the year.

Introducing a new system of flat-rate tax relief would penalise the well-off but could benefit many savers on lower incomes, giving them a greater incentive to save. “A significant majority of pension savers would get more tax relief, which seems like a good thing to me,” he said.

As such the policy would fit the Lib Dem narrative of helping low-income workers, having fought for several increases in the income tax threshold throughout the current Parliament.

Nick Clegg, the party leader, is understood to be sympathetic to Mr Webb’s idea, subject to further modelling work on the implications. “I’ve found the idea being increasingly well-received, both within and beyond the party,” said Mr Webb.

Labour has already promised to cut pension tax relief for those earning £150,000 from 45 per cent to 20 per cent.

Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, believes the move could raise £1.3bn a year, which Read more

Jim Pickard

Tonight is the annual speech by George Osborne to a City audience at Mansion House. We revealed this morning that the chancellor will set out plans to speed up development of disused industrial sites, in his latest attempt to stop housing shortages from holding back economic growth.

He will explain a package of planning reforms and state investment, worth hundreds of millions of pounds, to speed up housebuilding.

Osborne will roll out nationally a plan – proposed by Boris Johnson in London – for investing public money in cleaning up former industrial areas, in exchange for deals with developers and local authorities to guarantee speedy housebuilding. He will also set out planning reforms that could give an effective “presumption in favour of development” on brownfield sites.

But I’m told that the biggest surprise tonight may not be on the “supply” side but rather on the “demand side”.

Osborne, I’m told, still believes that there is no bubble in the London housing market, and that recent price rises are mainly a function of cash buyers and under-supply. Yet the coalition have been under pressure since Mark Carney warned in May that the housing Read more

Jim Pickard

Ed Miliband has been widely criticised for what critics claim is a plan to seize power with just 35 per cent of the vote.

The theory is that Miliband believes he can cobble together a “coalition” of core party voters alongside disaffected Lib Dems – giving him just votes to get into Downing Street. The maths is that Labour picked up about 29 per cent in 2010: add 6 per cent from Lib Dem defections and Miliband is home and dry.

Some Labour officials and MPs deny that this is the plan: others accept that it is the most realistic chance of power for the opposition party. (There is no shortage of left-ish policies to prove the theory.)

There is a dismissive tone to the idea of a “core strategy”. Commentators believe that it shows Miliband “turning his back on Middle England” and pursuing a policy platform advocated by the unions. Many Blairites are appalled by the idea, warning Read more

Kiran Stacey

One of the most frequent criticisms of the campaign against Scottish independence is that it can come across as high-handed and patronising. Number 10 has been particularly alert to the danger of southern Tories leading the campaign for exactly that reason. David Cameron said in January:

I humbly accept that while I am sure there are many people in Scotland who would like to hear me talk about this issue, my appeal doesn’t stretch to every single part.

Given that sensitivity, you might be surprised at the latest attempt by the UK government to appeal to Scots thinking of voting no. Read more

Jim Pickard

Ministers have been wrangling for years over how to introduce a new law allowing voters to kick out MPs who break the law.

But the final result has fallen far short of what was expected from some of its leading advocates, such as Tory MPs Zac Goldsmith and Douglas Carswell. It is not “Total Recall”, they say.

Mr Goldsmith said on Wednesday that the new law was “meaningless” – and vowed to work with Labour to amend the legislation.

Under the Recall of MPs Bill, constituents will be able to sack their MP if they are sentenced to up to 12 months in jail. Alternatively, they could trigger a by-election if the Commons’ authorities (usually the Standards and Privileges Committee) decides there has been “serious wrongdoing” by a Right Hon. Member. A by-election would then occur if 10 per cent of constituents signed a Read more