Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Vanishing Point..

 This latest round of Ashcroft polling has been nervously awaited for some time by all three parties and it will dominate thoughts and conversations at Westminster over the coming days. The peer-turned pollster has surveyed fourteen Labour seats which either voted Yes or only backed the Union by a narrow margin, Danny Alexander's Inverness constituency and the seat of Gordon, where Alex Salmond is seeking to make his return to Westminster. The SNP leads in fifteen out of sixteen seats polled. 

Both Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, and Margaret Curran, his Labour shadow, would lose their seats if anything close to these results was repeated at a general election. Douglas Alexander, one of Labour's biggest foreign policy brains, would lose his seat. (Yes, there is an ongoing debate about volatility of these mega-polls as opposed to their older equivalents, but the movements in public opinion in this poll are large enough that that shouldn't matter.) The Liberal Democrats look to be an entirely finished party; after yesterday's YouGov showed them tied with the Scottish Socialist Party, Lord Ashcroft shows them finishing a distant second in both Inverness and Gordon. Even keeping three of their Scottish seats looks unlikely. 

And what of Labour? These are among the seats that we would expect to be most vulnerable to a movement of Yes supporters away from the Labour column so it may be that the losses elsewhere are less severe. (On the ground, Labour organisers estimate that the party will hold onto around twenty of its seats.) As I blogged yesterday, the really troubling thing is that we are beginning to see signs of a Ukip-style "Mr Bean/Sean Bean" divide in how the SNP's voters perceive political affairs which suggests that, frankly, there's very little that either Jim Murphy or Ed Miliband can do that will make a significant difference to Labour's electoral chances.

If there is any comfort to be found at all in this poll it is that for all the SNP's massive advantage in terms of membership size it doesn't appear to have a similar advantage in on-the-ground presence (just 23% of voters in Gordon have heard from the SNP, while the near-dead Liberal Democrats have managed to reach 16%). As Rafael Behr writes in his column today, Labour strategists estimate that canvassing is worth an extra 4% on the day, so it may be that the Nationalists regret not pressing their advantage. 

It will contribute to the mood of fatalism around the Opposition. Monday's PLP meeting was a subdued affair with many MPs out on the campaign trail and those who were there in a quietly miserable mood. (Ben Riley-Smith has details of a rallying against the noises off in recent days at the same meeting.) I thought after the last mini-coup that Labour had one last panic in them before the election. It may be that the Ashcroft numbers are the thing that sets it off. 


Labour's row with business rumbles on. Privately many in that party feel that the row has been put up by CCHQ with many of the big figures thus far having close connections to the Conservative Party. But that one of Gordon Brown's former ministers from his "Government of All The Talents" phase has joined the chorus of criticism will detract from that claim. Digby, now Lord, Jones has said that Labour looks as if it won't "support wealth creation", while Brent Hoberman, the founder who sat on Mr Brown's business council, says that the likes of Stefano Possini are "entitled to have a view of how business is percieved", Chris Hope reports. Chuka Umunna, who has been quietly working to mend fences over the last few days, has attempted to put an end to the conflict with some concilatory words in the Guardian. "The way we will be able to reform this economy is through a partnership with business," Mr Umunna says, "We don't want a confrontation." 


Duelling speeches from Iain Duncan Smith and Rachel Reeves on welfare today. Mr Duncan Smith will hail a "monumental reversal of reckless spending" in a speech to the think-tank Reform later today, before warning that Labour will send welfare spending into a "time warp" by reversing his reforms. Nuh-uh, Ms Reeves, will say in another speech. She'll highlight the cost of in-work benefits and the low wage economy while highlighting the cost of the DWP's departmental blunders.   "IDS: We've reversed the boom in benefits" is our splash. 


Labour's biggest donor, John Mills, has called for Labour to change the rules on European migration with a column in the Sun. He says that keeping Britain's social capital at current levels, £120,000 must be spent on new investment for each additional person and that the only way to keep costs down is to have greater controls over migration.


A Labour government will train all teachers to deal with homophobic bullying and make age-appropriate sex and relationship education compulsory in schools as part of a package of messages to tackle homophobic bullying in schools, Tristram Hunt announced yesterday. "Sex Lessons At 5 Under Labour" the Mail screams in its splash


In the Guardian, Nick Watt profiles the strategists at the heart of the Conservative election campaign, including the "master and apprentice" style relationship between Lynton Crosby, the veteran Australian, and twentysomething No 10 aide Adam Atashzai. 


The House of Commons have voted in favour of "mitochondrial DNA transfer" or "three-parent babies" yesterday. Confused? Tom Chivers and Emily Ashton have put together a handy explanation about what it is, while Cristina Odone explains her mixed feelings on the subject. 


Tuition fees cost the same as buying a cup of "posh coffee" every day, Greg Clark, the minister for universities, has said. He's "out of touch" reply Labour, and they're right. A graduate earning £30,000 pays back £2.20 a day. It's very hard to get posh coffee for just £2.20. Ben-Riley Smith has the story


Brian Cox says that he will no longer let the Labour Party use the D:Ream song "Things Can Only Get Better". He "can't quite see a clear direction" from any of the parties now, Professor Cox says. It is unclear if the former D:Ream star will travel to Labour fundraisers and karaoke nights to enforce the ban. 

I'm available by pressing reply or on Twitter - our cartoon is the work of Christian Adams- a gallery of his work is available here.


Conservatives 33% Labour 34% Liberal Democrat 7% Ukip 15% Greens 7% (Ashcroft-Opinium-Populus-YouGov) 

You can get in touch with me via email or on Twitter . Our cartoon is the work of Bob Moran, who you can also follow on Twitter or on his website.  


YouGov:  Labour 33% Conservatives 33%  Ukip 14% Liberal Democrat 7% Green 7% 


@tombradby: Rough summary; we tried to answer the West Lothian Question. And, er, we failed.


From the Telegraph

Mary Riddell - There's a non-Miliband manifesto waiting in the wings

Cristina Odone - My battle with myself over three-parent babies

From elsewhere

Rafael Behr - Can Ed Miliband's ground game withstand the Tory air assault? (Guardian)

Jane Merrick - The Elsa Generation is the future of feminism (Independent)


0930 LONDON: Defence Secretary Michael Fallon appears before the Defence select committee.

1000 LONDON: Institute for Fiscal Studies launches Green Budget 2015.

1000 LONDON: Rachel Reeves speech on Labour's Plan to Make Work Pay.

1000 LONDON: Sir John Chilcot to give evidence to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.

1200 LONDON: Prime Minister's Questions. 

1800: Jeremy Hunt on LBC radio.

1000 LONDON: Tower Hamlets election petition trial starts. The petition, which seeks a re-run of last May's mayoral contest in the borough, has been brought by four residents against Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman and returning officer John Williams. 

1300 LONDON: Tristram Hunt school visit with Coronation Street actor Charlie Condou.

1400 LONDON: Cross-party group of politicians to hand a letter to Number 10. Residents of Heathrow villages will have their homes demolished if a new third runway is built. 

1430 LONDON: Alistair Carmichael appears before the Scottish Affairs committee.

1830 LONDON: BBC Trust chairman speaks at the Royal Television Society.


COMMONS - 1130: 

International Development Questions. 

Prime Minister's Questions. 

A Ten Minute Rule Motion: Public Sector Efficiency (Employee Participation). 

Two Opposition day debates: i) 18-25 apprenticeships ii) Electoral registration. 

A short debate on Scottish representation in the Union. 

Westminster Hall: 

0930: Dairy industry. 

1100: Activities of National Grid in Montgomeryshire. 

1430: Effects of Government policy on UK poverty. 

1600: Slow broadband at Tech City. 

1640: Radiotherapy services in North East Hertfordshire. 

LORDS - 1500: 


Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill - Report stage (Day 2). 

A short debate on the review into the setting of Universal Credit conditionality when children are in distress.