Lib Dems

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:

  • Labour has done very well across England, winning an estimated 39 per cent share of the vote, compared to 31 for the Tories  and 16 for the Lib Dems.
  • So far, Labour has won 22 new councils and 470 new councillors. The councils are spread across England, including Carlisle, Birmingham and Southampton.
  • Nick Clegg and William Hague have both re-pledged their commitment to the coalition, amid sniping from the Tory benches that the party needs to move to the right.
  • Four cities – Manchester, Nottingham, Bradford and Coventry have all voted no to a directly elected mayor. Birmingham is predicted to go the same way.
  • Boris Johnson is pulling ahead in early counting for London mayor. Brian Paddick, the Lib Dem, is being pushed for third place by Jenny Jones, the green, and Siobhan Benita, the independent.

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Jim Pickard

For weeks there have been rumbling tensions about the implementation of the Vickers reforms after the FT first revealed that they may not be completed until as late as 2019.

We splashed this morning on how there will indeed be no major restructuring until after the 2015 general election – after Vince Cable accepted that it would be impossible to implement such major reforms before then. (Although the legal framework will be put in place during this Parliament.)

This would reinforce the Treasury’s insistence all along that there was no major Tory-Lib Dem split over the issue.

So who was responsible for creating the impression that the Lib Dems were adamant on immediate reforms to the banking sector to split retail from investment activities?

Step forward Lord Oakeshott, former Treasury spokesman for the party in the upper chamber, who said in the Evening Standard a few weeks ago:

“What would not be acceptable is for Vickers to come out with a radical solution and then the government not to implement it immediately and in full…Every Liberal Democrat from top to bottom is united about that. It will be absolutely criticala Lib-Dem red line, bottom line, sine qua non – whatever you want to call it. That will be crunch time for the Coalition. If the Vickers Report is kicked into the long grass, it will be curtains for the Coalition.

In mid-August Oakeshott was interviewed again, this time by the FT, where he made the same point again:

Can anyone in the Treasury or the banks seriously suggest we kick Vickers’ reforms into the long grass until 2019? When Vickers reports, our

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Jim Pickard

Allegra Stratton at the Guardian set the ball rolling yesterday on whether the Lib Dems are planning a new type of mansion tax – albeit under a different name.
The proposal is being kicked around by senior Lib Dem figures (such as Richard Reeves, policy wonk to Nick Clegg) but is meeting resistance from Tories. It is also unpopular with other Lib Dems such as David Laws (who is playing a key role in co-writing their “Tax 2020″ document). That’s right: Laws does not want it.
Wealthy FT readers in big houses may rest easy for a while longer.
Here’s our news take on it:
Owners of £1m-plus homes would have to pay capital gains tax when they sell up under attempts by senior Liberal Democrats to revive their “mansion tax” proposals.
At present CGT is paid at 28 per cent when a second home is sold but main residences are exempt from the levy.
But Lib Dems are considering whether sellers could be forced to pay the duty on any profits beyond a £1m tax-free threshold – a policy which could bring in billions for the exchequer.
Treasury officials have had discussions with experts in the property industry to find out how many people live in multi-million pound homes and where they are located.
However, the proposals are likely to meet fierce resistance from Tory ministers given that many Conservative voters live in homes worth more than £1m.
Vince Cable, as opposition Treasury spokesman, was forced to revise his original “mansion tax” proposal – an annual levy on big homes – after the Lib Dems realised that it would harm many of their suburban voters in south-west London.
The business secretary’s attempts to revive the mansion tax as a device to

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Jim Pickard

We were speculating only yesterday afternoon just how irritating George Osborne must find it to have a so-called “Lib Dem Treasury spokesman” criticising the Treasury and the banks week in, week out. By the evening the answer was spelled out as Lord Oakeshott parted company with the government by apparently mutual consent.

I last spoke to the peer last Friday, when he obligingly furnished a quote for our front page criticising the bonus paid to Bob Diamond, chief executive of Barclays. Read more

Jim Pickard

If all low-carbon energy is given a public subsidy then has nuclear power been subsidised? You might have thought so.

But Chris Huhne insisted yesterday that this was not the case. Read more

Jim Pickard

Phil Woolas has just lost an historic court case in which he was accused of making false claims before the general election. There will now be a re-election for his seat, which he won in May with a majority of just 103 votes.

The case was the first of its kind for a century.

As the FT reported last month:

Phil Woolas was re-elected by a slim majority in Oldham east and Saddleworth, beating the Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins. Mr Watkins claims Mr Woolas made false statements about him in an attempt to influence the result.

The court heard that Mr Woolas’s campaign team aimed to “galvanise the white Sun vote” against Mr Watkins, claiming Mr Watkins had tried to “woo” and “pander” to Muslim fanatics and militants, the court was told.

Now the Labour MP has lost the case it will set a curious precedent for British elections, where mud-slinging is widespread and many candidates are thrifty with the actualité.

Without wanting to trivialise a no doubt serious case, where does Woolas’s defeat leave Britain’s political parties in future elections? Will their leaders have to muzzle all candidates for fear of twisting the truth?

Take this general election, where the Lib Dems made a fervent promise to protect tuition fees and prevent them from rising higher. It was a promise worth its weight in hot air. Should some of their MPs face fresh elections? Read more

Kiran Stacey

The Andy Coulson phone hacking affair is in danger of descending into a political slanging match, when it is actually much more important than that. It is about press practices, the rule of law, personal privacy – not just the Coulson’s future as David Cameron chief spinner.

These are all issues one might expect Liberal Democrats to get excited about. But the party bigwigs have been silent on the matter – a far cry from before the election, when Chris Huhne said:

Andy Coulson’s defence is that he did not know what was going on despite the mounting evidence that his newsroom was widely using illegal phone hacking. Either he was complicit in crime, or he was one of the most incompetent Fleet Street editors of modern times. Neither should be a top recommendation to David Cameron.

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Jim Pickard

It is hard to know sometimes whether Simon Hughes is playing a fiendishly complex strategic game in order to leverage anti-Tory forces within his own Liberal Democrat party and thus enhance his own reputation. Or whether he just can’t resist saying controversial things.

So it was with the VAT rise. Tuition fees. And with council housing. And now Mr Hughes (deputy leader the Lib Dems) is insisting that there will be no electoral pact between his party and the Tories come the next general election. (This is in contrast to Tories such as backbencher Mark Field, who has proposed a non-aggression agreement). Read more

Kiran Stacey

The Guardian’s story that Labour is planning to vote against the AV bill as it currently stands is an important development in the passage of electoral reform. But Labour won’t be able to block the bill. What is really worrying pro-reform campaigners is the growing movement to change the date of the referendum. The FT revealed this morning that Labour is close to agreeing with Tory rebels to vote for an amendment for such a change.

Electoral reform campaigners

Electoral reform campaigners

The “yes” movement calculates the bill will get through the Commons – rebel Tories will be whipped into submission on that point by party bosses who know that without it the coalition is likely to crumble.

But if those rebels team up with Labour to force a change of date (something on which Tory whips might give them more leeway), Lib Dems and other AV campaigners know the chances of a “yes” vote are significantly reduced. At the moment, the referendum is scheduled for May 5, when there are regional elections in Wales and Scotland. That should boost the turnout in those places, where support for AV is strongest.

So what chance the government suffering its first Commons defeat on the issue of the date? Read more

Jim Pickard

It would have been more of a surprise if the coalition had decided to hold its referendum on voting reform on a different day; for example in October.

The working assumption for the last month has been that the ballot would co-incide with the May 5 local elections, as the BBC is reporting this morning. The only arguments against that had been that a] it could confuse people if they had to vote on two separate things and b] the Electoral Commission may not be in favour. Neither seem to be major obstacles.

The Lib Dems are itching to get on and hold the referendum as soon as possible; for many it is the one major reason for being in government – as strange as that may seem to sceptics.

Their first challenge will be explaining the AV system to people and then convincing them to care one way or another. The second will be rebutting a strong anti campaign by their supposed friends in the Tory party.

Meanwhile Labour will not hesitate to exploit the situation to its own advantage. Forget the fact that some Labour figures have gone public on their enthusiasm for electoral reform in recent years. (Some have seemed more sincere than others). Key frontbenchers see the referendum as a golden opportunity to force the downfall of the coalition, as splits appear between the yellow and blue partners. Read more

There was a big move overnight against the Tories in the betting markets. A hung parliament is now the most likely outcome of the election, according to punters on Betfair, the online betting exchange. The odds at midday on Saturday are:

Tory Majority — 6/5 — 46 per cent probability Read more