A summary of today’s events
Polling day. Follow our live coverage of the results from 9pm here.
Defeat in Thursday night’s parliamentary vote on the principle of military action in Syria is not an existential wound for David Cameron, whatever his more excitable enemies say. But, after several months of good form, the prime minister looks weaker than at any time since taking office more than three years ago. Failing to win over Liberal Democrat MPs in his coalition government is one thing. Being defied by his own Tories is quite another. Prime ministers are simply not supposed to lose House of Commons votes on major matters of foreign policy.
Mr Cameron recalled parliament from its summer recess in the assumption that securing its support for some kind of intervention in Syria would be straightforward. That has turned out to be mortifyingly complacent. And this is not merely hindsight speaking. It should have been obvious after the apparent chemical attack by the Syrian regime earlier this month that the widespread revulsion in Britain was not matched by an appetite to get involved. Voters and MPs were openly sceptical; the armed forces were privately reluctant. Only an assiduous campaign of persuasion would have swung the argument, and it never came. William Hague, Mr Cameron’s well-regarded foreign secretary, was too reticent. Read more
Ed Miliband’s argument is that if he was prime minister, the social security tab would not have risen so sharply in the past few years because there would be less unemployment. Clearly that is not a hypothesis that can be tested. Read more
Welcome to our rolling coverage of the Autumn Statement.
George Osborne has missed his fiscal targets and cut corporation tax.
We’ll bring you all the day’s developments live. By Tom Burgis and Ben Fenton.
15.45: We’re winding up the blog now, but you can follow events as they unfold through constantly updating stories on the front page of FT.com
15.31: A representation of the “flamethrower of uncertainty” can be found in the documentation of the OBR. It is also known as a “fan chart”. I doubt George Osborne is a fan of it, though.
15.24: Chote speaks of the “flamethrower of uncertainty”- a favourite phrase, unsettlingly enough, of the OBR, which is a chart showing forecasts in a wide range that makes the chart lines look like a firebreathing dragon.
15.18: Chote says that the variation in the possible range in the forecast of net debt figures for the UK is a large number, but is “dwarfed by the scale of uncertainties” on the issuance of debt. I think that’s the second time he has said that in his address.
15.12: The Spectator is running a rather scary chart showing the lost output of the current “seven-year slump” in the UK.
15.07: Robert Chote, director of the Office for Budget Responsibility, is live now, going through his department’s figures that underpinned the bad news Mr Osborne has just had to deliver.
15.05: Gavyn Davies has blogged for the FT with his view on the autumn statement while the FT’s Lucy Warwick-Ching has collated some very interesting instant reaction from personal finance experts.
14.49: Hannah Kuchler on the FT’s UK desk has been keeping an eye on business reaction to the autumn statement.
The CBI, the employer’s organisation, urged the government to stick to its guns on deficit reduction to retain international credibility, saying it was no surprise that austerity would last longer than expected.
John Cridland, director-general, welcomed investment in infrastructure and support for exports, but said the proof was in the delivery. He said:
“Businesses need to see the Chancellor’s words translated into building sites on the ground.”
But the British Chambers of Commerce was less positive, declaring the statement not good enough for a country meant to be in a state of “economic war”.
The government is just “tinkering around the edges”, John Longworth, the BCC’s director general said, adding: “The Budget next March must make truly radical and large-scale choices that support long-term growth and wealth creation. That means reconsidering the ‘sacred cows’ of the political class, including overseas aid and the gargantuan scale of the welfare state. Only a wholesale re-prioritisation of resources, to unlock private sector finance, investment and jobs, will be enough to win the ‘economic war’ we are facing. The danger is that our political class is sleepwalking with its eyes open.”
14.40: Lionel Barber, the FT’s editor, just passed by the live news desk so we asked him what he thought of the autumn statement.
The Chancellor is in a hole, but the good news is that he’s stopped digging. The FT supports the government’s fiscal stance, but is there more to be done on monetary policy to boost growth? That’s the question.
14.26 Who says the British don’t like doing things the French way? Might we surmise from this tweet from the BBC’s Robert Peston’s interview with Danny Alexander, Osborne’s Lib Dem No2, that the UK’s crediworthiness might be going to way of its Gallic cousins’?
Others are more chipper:
Ed Miliband used his conference speech a few weeks ago to try to steal the mantle of Benjamin Disraeli*, the 19th century Conservative prime minister. Or at least his “One Nation” phrase.
Michael Gove has made a speech at Politeia today where he praised the Miliband effort, calling it “beautifully-written and elegantly delivered” while hailing the Labour leader for being “gifted“, “thoughtful without being ponderous, serious without being humourless” and so on.
This, of course, was just a warm-up before the Tory education secretary laid into Miliband.
Irony of ironies, key to the Gove critique was the idea that the speech showed how Miliband was “in almost every sense of the word” conservative. Read more
It probably seemed like a great idea to David Cameron when he criticised Jimmy Carr’s tax affairs during a round of TV interview in Mexico. His comments – attacking the immorality of avoidance – chime with the public mood. People don’t like to find out that others aren’t paying as much tax at a time of austerity, unemployment, spending cuts and so on.
But the Cameron stance quickly unravelled within minutes of him uttering the words on Wednesday afternoon. First question was why the prime minister criticised a single comedian and not those closer to home (Sir Philip Green, Lord Ashcroft, etc) whose tax affairs have been questioned in the past.
Second question was why the PM attacked Carr but not Gary Barlow, the cuddly Take That singer who supported the Tories before the last election. Asked about Barlow on Wednesday, he said something vague about having not reached his computer yet. By today, it was a matter of no comment.
During a press conference today Cameron sought to shift into reverse gear, saying it was everybody’s right to arrange their tax affairs efficiently and that he wouldn’t provide a “running commentary” on individuals’ tax. Yet the genie is already out of the bottle. The spotlight will now be on members of Cameron’s family, his friends, his donors and his MPs; who else has been a little too efficient in Read more
Welcome to our live blog on the local elections
Through the day, we’ll be providing results from the local elections held yesterday in England, Scotland and Wales, with additional comment from the FT’s political reporting and commentary team as well as pulling in analysis and illumination from wherever we find it on the web.
The results are still coming in, but with the national pattern now becoming clear we’re going to put this blog on pause, at least until we get some sense of what is going to happen in the contest for London mayor. Here are the 11am headlines:
Journalism is the first draft of history, not the last. For a good example it’s worth turning to the first few months of Gordon Brown’s regime, which were described almost universally as a brilliant example of political leadership – as the new PM tackled floods and whatever else. In retrospect this was a rather generous verdict.
And according to the journalistic narrative, Ed Miliband has had a catastrophic start to 2012. Just awful. The Labour leader is up to his armpits and flailing, such is his predicament. Such is the verdict from many of our most learned commentators of late. Read more
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. Read more
Ed Miliband is set to give a speech on Saturday proposing an end to Labour’s two-yearly shadow cabinet elections. The move may antagonise some of his frontbenchers but will be welcomed elsewhere; the system did seem like a bit of an anachronism.
It also cements Ed Miliband’s power base. Any challenge to his authority can now be nipped in the bud; he also has greater power of patronage over any young up-coming – and most importantly, loyal – MP who catches his eye.
Aides say that this is not the prelude to a “night of the long knives” reshuffle by Miliband, who moved swiftly to get rid of Nick Brown last autumn as chief whip. There won’t be a reshuffle this summer or around conference time, they insist.
Incidentally, David Miliband gave a private speech yesterday for a
charity (UPDATE: sorry, fund-raising) event at a hotel in Bloomsbury. He doesn’t seem to be a fan of the shadow cabinet elections (which he didn’t enter) either; he said it was a great shame that the talented Pat McFadden hadn’t made it in. Hard to disagree.
FURTHER UPDATE: (Friday morning). Yes, David Miliband has publically endorsed the move as a good idea.
Ed Miliband will announce his proposal at the national policy forum in Wrexham Read more
It is hard not to conclude that Ed Miliband won the major clash of the day at PMQs* over the direction of NHS reform.
Ed Miliband’s stag do will be a very “Miliband affair” as it will take place at his home and partner Justine will be there, writes Allegra Stratton of the Guardian in her increasingly must-read column*.
How does this fit with Ed’s attempts to portray himself as a down-to-earth man of the people? Read more
There was something faintly depressing – as well as predictable – at the comments from David Cameron’s spokesman this morning ruling out any review of Britain’s drugs policy. And at Ed Miliband taking a similar stance.
The issue has reared its head once again after former cabinet minister Bob Ainsworth called for legalisation. But is such a controversial subject that party leaders fear they cannot even raise the possibility without being mauled by critics. Read more
One Labour figure suggested my Monday blog on Ed Miliband was rather “snippy”* for suggesting that Ed Miliband was not doing brilliantly in the polls. No doubt he will not take kindly to me pointing out that Ipsos Mori has more bad news this morning.
The 60-year old cabinet veteran Alan Johnson has insisted that he is sticking around for the long-term, despite signals that he is not exactly bonding with Ed Miliband. Their disagreement over the graduate tax and the 50p income tax band are the most visible signs of tension. They are also spending less time together than you might expect. As the FT reported a few weeks ago:
Mr Johnson and Mr Miliband have been allocated the same offices in Westminster’s Norman Shaw buildings once occupied by Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne before the election. But the shadow chancellor spends most of his time in his old office in a separate building.
The Miliband team aren’t desperately happy that Ed’s decision not to attend tomorrow’s TUC rally has been construed in some quarters (see my last blog) as a U-turn. They are claiming that the event isn’t even a rally anyway.
Ed proudly supports the rights of people to voice concerns and lobby Parliament, they tell me. “But there is no rally, people won’t be marching, it’s not placards and braziers.”
They are half right (yes it’s only an event at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster) and half wrong (it is still a self-styled ‘rally’). Read more
I was in the room at Manchester’s TUC conference when Ed Miliband was asked if he would attend the anti-cuts TUC rally tomorrow in London. “I’ll attend the rally, definitely,” he replied. As I wrote at the time it was a significant moment, not least because David Miliband sounded much more ambivalent. Their different replies may have made a difference in terms of crucial votes from union members.
Pat McFadden has become the latest senior Labour figure to question the party’s own proposals for a graduate tax, urging his colleagues instead to back the coalition’s plan for further education funding laid out by Lord Browne this week – writes Elizabeth Rigby.
In a shot across the bows of Ed Miliband, his new leader, the Blairite former business minister of state said yesterday that Labour should stop opposing the plans and concentrate on making the Browne proposals more palatable to less affluent pockets of society. Lord Browne’s report on higher education, which is likely to be backed by the coalition, has advocated charging more for courses funded through student loans rather than a pure graduate tax. Read more
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