Local elections

Three points from a remarkable night

This has been a remarkable election night. To my mind, there are three big stories out of the polls. First, the George Osborne masterminded campaign for a new Conservative majority is on track. AV, barring some shock, has been defeated and the Conservative vote has held up remarkably well in the English local elections. Indeed, right now the Tories have actually gained councilors in England. Add to this that the next election, if the coalition lasts to 2013, will be fought on new constituency boundaries that are more favourable to the Tories and things are looking promising for the party.    The coalition looks secure. Even after last night’s drubbing,

Calamity may lead to concessions for Clegg

If the expected happens today, the political debate will rapidly move to whether Cameron should offer some concessions to Clegg to bolster his position. I hear there are two camps in Downing Street on this question with Steve Hilton a particularly ardent advocate of the no more concessions line.   Hilton’s position may surprise some but makes sense when you consider how his public service reform programme has, as Ben Brogan writes today, already been diluted for political reasons.    My current expectation is that there won’t be many concessions to Clegg. One well placed Tory told me last night that “Clegg picked the question and the date. He can

A session of Dickens, Ernie the Milkman and Jack Dromey

There was an eerie, eve-of-battle calm about today’s PMQs. The real bust-up isn’t due till Friday. The votes will be in, AV will be out, Clegg will be down and Huhne will be calculating his next move. Before today’s session everyone expected Labour to co-ordinate an ambush and try to light Cameron’s ever-combustible fuse. But the chamber was under-populated and the opposition hadn’t troubled to devise a battle-plan. Miliband carried the fight to the PM. With an assured forensic performance he methodically built up the case against Cameron as a promise-breaker, a question-dodger and a budget-slasher. Cameron dealt with the assault by absorbing rather than repulsing it. But at the

James Forsyth

A very quiet exchange

PMQs today was dominated by the parties trying to get their lines out ahead of the voting on Thursday. David Cameron accused “Labour local authorities of playing politics with people’s jobs” and urged voters “not to let Labour do to your council, what they did to our country.” He received plenty of chances to make his local election case as Tory backbenchers served up one patsy question on councils after another. Ed Miliband jibed that the coalition was no longer two parties working together in the national interest but “two parties threatening to sue each other in their own interest,” a reference to Huhne’s hyperbolic threat to sue over the

A campaign in the heartlands

The AV referendum: it’s enough to make you long for the life to come. As James notes, this Easter Sunday has been shaken by the Lib Dems’ righteous fury over the conduct of the campaign. Many will think this anger synthetic, but its virulence is striking nonetheless. Gone, it seems, is the bonhomie of earlier days, when ministers were surprised by how amenable they found each other. Perhaps they will now put aside childish things and trust in their better judgement. The AV furore is beginning to relegate the local elections, which might concern the government because these elections are paramount to its reform of local government. Councillors and officials

Local hero fears complacency as Labour disintegrates

The SNP have this morning been put a whopping 13 points above Labour in the Scottish Parliament race: on 45 percent and 46 percent of the vote in two separate polls. Given that they went into this election campaign somewhere around 35 percent, this represents a huge leap giving them a near-impregnable lead in the Holyrood race. And that’s what’s worrying them in SNP headquarters. Salmond’s strategists, packed into a third-floor office suite behind the Scottish Parliament fear that – in the words of one senior Nationalist – “we have gone too early”. That Labour may now plausibly play the underdog card, and SNP votes may be inclined to stay

Miliband’s pre-election surgery

Miliband-o-rama on this Good Friday, with the Labour leader spread all across the papers. The Mirror reports that he is to have an operation to have his adenoids removed this summer, in a rather extreme bid to “improve his voice”. The Guardian says that he’s to deliver a speech next week — presumably with adenoids still intact — that will engage with the “Blue Labour” thinking of Maurice Glasman. And, if that’s not enough, there’s a curious interview with Miliband in the Sun. I say “curious,” because there aren’t too many interviews where a party leader goes through the (less than flattering) nicknames that have been bestowed upon him —

Clegg breaks the mould

For weeks now, the genteel coalition has been getting grubbier. Today the Deputy Prime Minister cut loose and went into campaign mode as the leader of the Liberal Democrats. With both eyes on preserving his party’s loosening roots in local government, he assaulted (£) Conservative and Labour councils for cutting services. Clegg was not assisted by the more prominent Lib Dems in local government: the ubiquitous councillor Richard Kemp, the Lib Dems’ chief at the Local Government Association, asserted, almost with a note of relish, that the party is going to get a ‘kicking’. It probably will. But, as James argues, Clegg’s immediate concern after 5 May will be to

The coalition can’t go on together with suspicious minds

Vince Cable’s attack on the PM’s speech today is just the latest elbow to be thrown in what has been a fractious few weeks for the coalition. The immediate cause of these rows has been the need for the Lib Dems to assert their distinctiveness before the May elections and tensions over the AV referendum. The Lib Dems, who feel that their leader is being ‘swiftboated’ by the Tory-funded No campaign, have been increasingly assertive in the last month or so. But there are dangers to this strategy. For one thing, it has eroded trust within the coalition. Ministers are now not being frank with each other because they don’t

Cameron’s other speech

There is no rest for the Prime Minster. After delivering his speech on immigration in Romsey this morning, there was another to deliver, 62 miles away in Woking, this afternoon. This second CamSpeech of the day was billed as a scene-setter for the local elections — and so it proved. Rather than dwelling on a single policy area, the main purpose was to rattle through 101 reasons to vote Tory on 5 May. If there is anything to be taken from the text, it is just how upfront and unapologetic it is. There is little room for nuance, but plenty of room for sweeping, and forceful attacks, on Labour. This

An election jam in Leicester spells trouble for Clegg

Nick Clegg is campaigning in Leicester today, ahead of the local election. The Labour party has just confirmed that Sir Peter Soulsby has stood down as MP for Leicester South today to seek election as the town’s Mayor. A happy coincidence? Probably not. Labour are already running a coherent campaign in Leicester. Michael Crick points out that the by-election will fall on 5 May, together with the local council elections, the Mayoral election and the referendum on the alternative vote.  A party spokesman has opened new parliamentary candidate Jonathan Ashworth’s (who used to work for Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband) campaign by saying: ‘Both Peter and Jon will offer the

Gove raises the spectre of an electoral pact

Michael Gove has reignited talk of a Tory Lib Dem pact by urging people in Hull to vote Lib Dem to keep Labour out at the local elections. Gove’s intervention was not planned but it does reveal how he thinks. Gove’s department is the most coalitionised. Not only is there a Lib Dem minister there in Sarah Teather, tellingly the only Lib Dem minister not to moan to the Telegraph’s undercover reporters about her colleagues. But there is also David Laws, who is acting as an unofficial adviser to Gove. Anthony Wells’ thorough analysis of an electoral pact suggests that it could do well in the seats where it matters. 

We await their lordships

The May 5th date for the AV referendum is under threat because the bill paving the way for it might not get through the House of Lords in time. The problem is that the referendum bill is linked to the plan to equalise constituency sizes which Labour is steadfastly opposed to. So Labour lords are blocking its progress. One Lib Dem lord complains that the problem is ‘all these Scottish ex-Labour MPs who are behaving like they are still in the Commons.’ Labour is stressing that it would happily allow the bill to be split in two and then vote through the May 5th date. But the coalition won’t agree

Clegg sets his alarm clock

My prediction for this week: we’re going to see a whole lot of defiant frontage from Nick Clegg. The last parliamentary session closed with him under attack over tuition fees; this one begins with the possibility of heavy defeat in Oldham East – and he’s got to respond accordingly. Hence his interview on Today this morning, in which he dismissed the idea of a Lib Dem drubbing in May’s local elections as “total nonsense,” and stressed that the coalition is “setting in motion a number of very liberal reforms”. There was also a warning over bonuses, along the usual lines, for state-owned banks. But the most intriguing news in Lib

Keeping the troops happy

A media narrative is rapidly emerging that the Tories are taking advantage of the Liberal Democrats, using them to defend the coalition’s most unpopular polices. On the Today Programme this morning, Justin Webb pressed Paul Burtstow, the Lib Dem health minister, on whose idea it was that he, the Lib Dem, come on the programme to defend the government against the Health Select Committee’s critical report. The implication was clear, that Burstow had been sent on because it was bad news. I think this narrative is a bit shonky. Yes, the Liberal Democrats took the brunt of the criticism over the fees hike but that was because they were breaking

A Royal Holiday

Kate Middleton and Prince William will marry on Friday 29th April at Westminster Abbey. I can scarcely contain my indifference, even at this early stage; but congratulations to them all the same. Number 10 has confirmed that the occasion will be marked by a public holiday. There is, you see, nothing like a right Royal bash and the darling buds of May to dispel the privations of austerity ahead of awkward elections and a referendum on 5th May. Then again, an Arctic breeze and intermittent hail will have the opposite effect.  

Tactical considerations over the timing of the AV referendum

A referendum on AV was the concession that Nick Clegg felt he needed to get a coalition deal with the Tories past his party. But the referendum poses obvious dangers to the coalition, just imagine the sight of Nick Clegg and the leader of the Labour party sharing a platform to denounce the Tories’ ‘reactionary’ opposition to electoral reform.   The Guardian this morning reports that the Lib Dems are pushing for this referendum to take place in May 2011 at the same time as the Scottish and Welsh elections. There is, as the article notes, a huge benefit to the Lib Dems in getting this referendum in early before

Banging on about Europe will cost the Lib Dems seats

In his interview with the FT, Nick Clegg says that the Lib Dems have been too “reticent” about making Europe a dividing line with the Tories. There’s little doubt that Clegg, a former MEP is an ideological pro-European. But if he starts banging on about Europe he’ll cause his party problems. The Lib Dems have several seats in the South West, one of the most Euro-sceptic regions of the county. As the European elections results there showed, when Europe is the issue the Lib Dems do badly. If Clegg really does intend to make Europe a key campaign dividing line, then the Tories will fancy their chance of picking up