The Coalition is drawing to an end in a surprisingly civil manner

It’s the last Budget before the election tomorrow and there are just a few days left of the Coalition. Which is why it is hardly surprising that a few of the pre-Budget briefings aren’t so much briefings designed to bag policies a bit more coverage but leaks by one party designed to embarrass the other. The Tories had been working on their inheritance tax policy for the Budget but will instead announce it in their election campaign because of Lib Dem opposition. But that hasn’t stopped ‘sources’ leaking Treasury analysis of the planned cut to the tax to the Guardian, and saying ‘this looks like a policy to buy more

Tories will continue Labour/SNP attacks, despite Miliband’s comments

Labour has decreed today it won’t go into a formal coalition with the SNP, but this won’t stop the Tories from attacking Ed Miliband over the possibility. Despite Miliband’s proclamation that ‘Labour will not go into coalition government with the SNP’ and ‘there will be no SNP ministers in any government I lead’, a Tory source says ‘we’ll continue to campaign on this’. So expect more stunts and adverts highlighting the dangers of any union between Labour and the SNP. Conservative HQ has upped the ante of its Labour/SNP attacks recently, running the Saatchi pocket ad (above) in The Guardian, Independent or New Statesman during Labour’s Manchester conference this weekend, while dressing up Conservative activists in Alex Salmond masks holding Soleros lollies

Nick Clegg: The Liberal Democrats are the continuity choice at the election

The Liberal Democrats sense an opportunity in all this speculation about who the Tories and Labour would do deals with in the event of a hung parliament. They believe that they can position themselves as the responsible party that will keep the country in the centre ground in contrast to the other smaller parties. Today, in his speech to the party’s spring conference, Clegg ruled out joining any coalition that involved the SNP or Ukip. He also tried to use the moment to reinforce voters’ worries about either main party governing on their own. He argued that the Tories would cut needlessly—‘Cows moo. Dogs bark. And Tories cut. It’s in

James Forsyth

How George Osborne got the Liberal Democrats to agree to an ‘interesting Budget’

George Osborne and Ed Balls have just done their pre-Budget interviews with Andrew Marr. The show, though, was dominated by talks of post-election deals rather than the contents of the Budget. Ed Balls said that Labour had ‘no need, no plan, no desire’ to do any kind of deal with the SNP. But, as Andrew Marr kept pointing out to him, he wouldn’t rule it out. While when George Osborne was asked about any kind of arrangement with Ukip, he simply took the opportunity to repeat the claim that ‘voting for Nigel Farage makes Ed Miliband the likely Prime Minister’. It was a pity, though, that more time wasn’t spent

A Vince intervention that will please the Tories

Later today, Vince Cable will launch his traditional conference attack on the Tories. He’ll denounce them for their positions on Europe and immigration. But his pre-conference interview in The Guardian will have, for once, delighted the Tories. For in it, Cable rules out a deal with the SNP. Now, this is a turn-around from Cable. Just last month, he said “We’re perfectly happy to work with the SNP. There’s no taboo on the SNP. ” But Cable’s decision to rule it out on the grounds that ‘It’s virtually inconceivable that you can have a coalition with a party that is committed to breaking up your country’ will please the Tories

Ed speaks some human

When Ed Miliband ran for the Labour leadership in 2010, his supporters boasted that he spoke human. Tonight, in a question time session with a group of young people broadcast on BBC3, Miliband showed flashes of his ability to connect with an audience. But, overall, it was a patchy performance. Miliband was very good on some subjects and dealt neatly with some left-field questions. However, he still doesn’t have the right answer to the question of whether he would do a deal with the SNP after the election in the event of a hung parliament. He dismissed the ideas as ‘a piece of nonsense from the Tories’. But, in contrast

Exclusive: Government to introduce gender pay gap legislation after Coalition row

This story was first published in tonight’s Evening Blend email, a free round-up and analysis of the day’s political events. Sign up here. Over the past few weeks, Coalition ministers have been fighting over plans favoured by the Lib Dems to force companies with more than 250 workers to publish details of their gender pay gap. Now Coffee House understands that the government will activate this legislation on Monday. The row came to an end when the Conservatives realised that they would not be able to stop the plans getting through the House of Lords, and so they caved in. Whether this will make a great difference to the gender

How bad are things for the Liberal Democrats?

One of the most remarkable things about this parliament is how the Liberal Democrats have continued to hold their nerve in the face of truly dire poll ratings. Now, partly this is because the Lib Dems are a cussed lot and don’t want to give the media the satisfaction of seeing them squeal. But it is also because their own extensive seat polling, they’ve spent £350 thousand on it in the last couple of years, makes them confident that they will do better than anyone thinks they will. Party figures familiar with the polling, present numbers that show them to be competitive in, for example, Cardiff Central; a seat that

James Forsyth

Why the Lib Dems aren’t scared of this election (and why they should be)

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”James Forsyth and Isabel Hardman discuss the disappearing Lib Dems” startat=937] Listen [/audioplayer]One of the most remarkable features of this parliament has been the sangfroid of the Liberal Democrats. Nothing seems to shake them. The mood of the two main parties is often dictated by the latest opinion polls, but the Liberal Democrats simply laugh off each record low. They weren’t even rattled by the British Election Study, which claimed that on its current performance the party will only win one seat. What explains this calmness under fire? First, the Lib Dems are determined not to give the media the pleasure of seeing them squeal. Secondly, they know

Exclusive: Tories could only rely on Lib Dem ministers in second coalition

Tories in Downing Street have concluded that they cannot rely on the support of any Liberal Democrats who are not ministers after the General Election, Coffee House has learned. Even though most talk of how a Tory-Lib Dem coalition would work focuses on the number of seats each party would win, I understand that the Conservatives are now working on the basis that a coalition majority could only include those Lib Dems who are on the government payroll. Most forecasts currently put the Lib Dems on around 25 seats, and the Conservatives expect that this would lead to 10 of those MPs being appointed ministers. The reason Number 10 has

Will anyone be able to govern Britain after the next election?

With every week that goes by, the more likely it is that the next election could result in a stalemate with neither Labour nor the Tories able to put together a deal that gives them a majority in the Commons. One Downing Street source, who has crunched the numbers, predicted to me last week that, because of what is going on in Scotland, the Tories will be the largest party on 280-odd seats. But if the Tories have only 280-odd seats, even deals with both the Liberal Democrats and the Democratic Unionists wouldn’t give them a majority. But Labour wouldn’t be able to stich one together either. For, as I

Proof that the schools revolution isn’t over

[audioplayer src=”″ title=”Isabel Hardman and Fraser Nelson discuss the plans for 50+ new free schools” startat=1694] Listen [/audioplayer]For those who assumed that the removal of Michael Gove as Education Secretary marked the end of the Conservatives’ scholastic reforms, this month may hold a surprise. More free schools are coming, The Spectator understands: at least 50 of them. Gove’s successor, Nicky Morgan, is due to announce the first of three waves this year. If the Tories win the election, Britain might have 150 more free schools by the end of the year. That means thousands more pupils enjoying independent education within the state system. This — together with the 4,400 academies

Could Britain cope with a minority Coalition government?

For all the obsessing about whether Nick Clegg would prefer to be in government with the Tories or Labour after the next election, there is very little discussion of what happens if that just isn’t enough. On 8 May 2015 we could find ourselves with a parliament made up both of a largest party too small for a majority government and a third party too small to form a stable two-party coalition government. If the Tories fail to gain seats, or lose a few, and the Lib Dems have a terrible night too, then they will still need MPs from another party to prop them up. So who do they

What will the Lib Dem ‘red line’ on a ‘Snooper’s Charter’ mean for a future coalition?

One of the obsessions that will only get worse over the next few months – along with checking every poll that comes out every day to see whether you’re six points up, four points behind, or level-pegging – is what ‘red lines’ the parties will set out for their Coalition negotiations. David Cameron has made his EU referendum one, and it turns out that this isn’t as much of a problem for the Lib Dems as all their huffing and puffing on the subject would have you believe. Nick Clegg has been setting more red lines because he is the leader of the party that wants to talk about coalitions,

Five reasons why winning in May won’t be that much better than losing

Defeat in May would be dire for either Cameron or Miliband. It would end their political career in ignominious failure. But winning would not be much better: they would be the weakest PM in living memory. Here’s why it won’t be easy for either of them: Miliband would be a prisoner of his own MPs: The best that both Labour and the Tories can hope for is the narrowest of outright victories. The 21 seat majority that John Major ground out in 1992 is, probably, beyond either of them. Miliband would then find himself having to steer swingeing cuts past a party that is simply not prepared for them. It

James Forsyth

Why no one will win on 7 May 2015

On 19 June 1815, after the battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington declared that ‘nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won’. Two hundred years later, David Cameron or Ed Miliband might feel the same way as they sit in Downing Street. Any elation over victory will be quickly overshadowed by the thought of troubles to come — in all likelihood insurmountable troubles for either man. Everyone has known for years when this election will take place, with the result that the campaign starting gun has been fired even earlier than usual. Cameron is busy prophesying economic chaos if Labour wins; Miliband is

Cameron avoids a New Year slip-up

In 2010, David Cameron stumbled in his first New Year broadcast interview over the Tory plans for a married couple’s tax allowance. This slip-up knocked him and his party off course and was a harbinger of the disastrous Tory campaign to come. Today, there were no such mistakes from Cameron as he appeared on Andrew Marr. Instead, he stuck to his competence versus chaos message and tried, fairly successfully, to avoid making any other news. In this campaign, we will see a more disciplined Cameron than the one who fought the 2010 election. The Tories are this time, in contrast to 2010, certain of what their message should be. One

PMQs sketch: Three senior politicians are accused of mass murder

Time travel came to PMQs today. The leaders discussed what year it will be in 2020. The answer, naturally, isn’t 2020. Ed Miliband quoted the OBR and claimed that the Coalition plans to shrink the state to the sort of slim-line figure it last sported in the 1930s. Rubbish, said Cameron. His diet will trim the national waistline to the dimensions it enjoyed in the late 1990s. Kenneth Clarke wittily chipped in to remind us that Blair’s government only hit this modest target by adopting the budget limits of the previous Tory administration. In which the chancellor was K Clarke. That was funny. Not much else was. Miliband’s gnashers are

From coalition to chaos – get ready for the age of indecision

A recent email from Samantha Cameron started an intriguing debate in the Prime Minister’s social circle. It was an invitation to a Christmas party at Chequers and word quickly spread on the Notting Hill grapevine that the PM was convening an unusually large gathering of friends at his country retreat. So, the guests wondered: were they being asked around because the Camerons were having a last hurrah at Chequers, sensing that they would be evicted by the electorate? Or was the bash being thrown because they were in celebratory mood, convinced that the political tide has turned their way? This confusion is understandable. We might only be three months away

Has the Chief Inspector of Schools really gone rogue?

What’s up with Sir Michael Wilshaw? The chief schools inspector was once seen as a pillar of common sense and an enthusiastic partner of Michael Gove in pragmatic schools reform. Now, he stands accused of trying to enforce a particularly toxic form of political correctness as his inspectors mark down a succession of rural English schools for being insufficiently multicultural — or as some newspapers inevitably framed it, for being ‘too white’. Some critics go further and say that Ofsted suppresses as much good teaching as it fosters and is now poised to present young people with a warped version of our national values. Sir Michael, in other words, stands