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.
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 Smyth.
I revealed in this morning’s FT that three former political heavyweights will take the lead roles in the fight against Scottish independence. Each is surprising in their own way:
For the Tories, David McLetchie. But what does choosing a former Scottish leader say about Ruth Davidson, the current one?
For the Lib Dems, Charles Kennedy. Having maintained a low profile since the beginning of the coalition (which he voted against joining), it will be a pleasant surprise to many to see the popular former leader return to frontline politics.
But it is the third one, Alistair Darling, who will be Labour’s leading figure in the campaign, that is most surprising. Whereas the other two do not have prominent Westminster roles, Darling only stopped being chancellor two years ago, and has even been talked of as a possible party leader to usurp Ed Miliband.
On the day after George Osborne admitted that he had recently lowered his short-term growth expectations, and with a row currently waging over the government’s wish to scrap the popular 50p top rate of income tax, Ed Miliband might have been expected to use the first PMQs after the summer to attack David Cameron on the economy.
But instead, we found ourselves in two rather old arguments, about police numbers and NHS waiting lists. While both are undoubtedly important subjects, somehow the debate felt a bit off-topic.
The reason for Miliband avoiding the big issue of the day became apparent later in the session, when the prime minister was asked by a Labour backbencher about the 50p rate and replied:
The person responsible for Labour’s economic policy at the last election said that they had no credibility whatsoever.
He was referring to Alistair Darling, Labour’s former chancellor, whose memoirs published this week describe a 2009 pre-Budget report whose creation was so chaotic and disunified that it resulted in a complete mess of an economic policy.
Alan Johnson heavily criticised the New Year rise in VAT from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent this morning, warning it would cost jobs and could jeopardise the economic recovery.
Is this responsible opposition? A Tory source points out that Labour would have almost certainly have done the same thing – or at least considered it very strongly.
One of the more heartening exchanges in the Wikileaks files involves Alistair Darling, the then chancellor.
After a worthy discussion about bank bonuses and financial regulation, the US ambassador delicately turned to the most important issue of the day: tax breaks for US diplomats.
Ambassador raised the new embassy project at Nine Elms, noting that the $1.2 billion project would spur redevelopment of a blighted area and create jobs.
He said that as a matter of principle, the UK should not impose value-added tax on the construction of a chancery building.
Well, as you can imagine, this suggestion didn’t go down brilliantly with Darling.
Darling responded that the government could not exempt the project from VAT, citing the recession, tight budget and elections.
The always self-depracating Alistair Darling* remembers today how he arrived in the Treasury without any inkling of the global crisis about to hit financial markets. I like the quote, not only because he is kind about the FT but also because it’s an insight into just how much of a shock the credit crunch was to many policy-makers.
When I was appointed Chancellor in the summer of 2007, I gave my first interview to the Financial Times – a paper for which I have the highest respect.
I wrote earlier today that Labour’s leadership candidates should be working hard to secure the support of a small handful of figures, including Alistair Darling.
As one of the few former ministers to survive 13 years in power – with barely a scratch – the former chancellor’s backing carries weight. Tonight he nominates David Miliband; and tomorrow the pair will be out campaigning in London against the coalition’s cuts to university places and the Future Jobs Fund. In other words, it’s more than just a tacit endorsement.
Here is the relevant letter:
Labour Party offices
78 Buccleuch Street
I am writing to let you know I will be nominating David Miliband as the next Leader of the Labour Party, and to explain my reasons for doing so. This is a crucial moment for our party so I wanted to write to you myself to set out my thinking.
Apologies for the slight delay. It’s a long walk back from the steps of St Stephen’s entrance through the corridors of the Commons and back to my desk.
So, David Miliband will stand for the Labour leadership. It’s official.
Surrounded by a phalanx of 14 MPs*, including former ministers Gareth Thomas and Jim Fitzpatrick, whip Mark Tami and several newcomers – three women were noticeably at the forefront – he made his pitch**. The actual launch won’t come until next week, in his constituency of South Shields. Here’s the text of the speech.
Miliband said it was an exciting time in politics (er, obviously) and with the new coalition there was an opportunity for Labour to dominate the left and centre-left – ie at the expense of the Lib Dems. He promised the contest would be “warm, generous, comradely” (will Ed Balls make the same vow?) and soon disappeared back into the building. No mention of his brother.
The little group lost momentum as they walked back past Westminster Hall and stood, slightly depleted, in the central lobby. One of the followers, a new MP by my estimate, seemed a bit lost. “Come with me,” said Miliband. “You can come with me.”
I wrote this morning that the Labour momentum was against a deal, with figures such as John Reid and David Blunkett saying it would be a mistake.
Paul Waugh is reporting that Andy Burnham has come out in public, saying:
You read it on this blog first – here. (hat tip Jefferson)
Now in the home run and I’m consolidating my prudent approach to gambling (Alex = hare, Jim = tortoise) with my last two bets – both of which I believe are safe.
I’ve placed £20 at Ladbrokes on the BNP not winning a single seat. No pollster or political expert has suggested in the last month that the BNP have sufficient momentum in any constituency and I have no reason to doubt this. You may consider the 1/4 odds paltry but in financial markets a 25 per cent return over 48 hours would be considered rather impressive.