I think it was a close run thing, but the winner tonight was David Cameron.
Ed Miliband was workmanlike, but he didn’t do as well as Nicola Sturgeon, who scored a direct hit when she said – correctly – that Ed would do a deal with the SNP if it’s his only hope of forming a government on May 8th. That got the biggest cheer of the night, not because that’s a government the audience would like to see, but because she nailed exposed Ed’s dishonestly so effectively. A win for Sturgeon means this debate won’t have helped Labour in Scotland.
Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett did okay, which, again, will hurt Labour, because a vote for Plaid Cymru and the Greens will, in many constituencies, help the Conservatives.
Nigel Farage did less well than he usually does – and that will help the Tories too. Miliband made a tactical error in going for Farage because, according to the pollsters, UKIP defectors will break for the Tories over Labour at a rate of two to one. If Miliband succeeded in persuading anyone not to vote UKIP, that will help the Tories.
Finally, the reason this was good for the Prime Minister is because it gave us a taste of the chaos that will ensue if Ed Miliband is in a position to form a government on May 8th. This is what a “rainbow coalition” would look like – a weak Labour leader being pushed to the left by three anti-austerity party leaders.
I’m disappointed that Ed Balls’s suggestion that the Office of Budget Responsibility should audit the parties’ manifestos was never taken up, not least because we will never know what Robert Chote thinks of the Green Party’s claim that all its proposals are “fully costed”. Believe it or not, this includes the commitment to spend £45 billion on loft insulation in the next Parliament.
It’s quite something, the Greens’ manifesto. No doubt you’ll have already read about some of their more reasonable measures – such as the “complete ban on cages for hens and rabbits” and the insistence that “UK taxpayers’ money is not used for bullfighting”. But the sheer scale of their financial profligacy is breath taking. (To read more, click here.)
Ed Miliband sometimes reminds me of Captain Renault, the hypocritical police captain in Casablanca.
One minute he's claiming to be shocked – shocked! – to discover the terrible mischief that his opponents have been getting up to. The next, he's happily committing the same misdeeds himself.
We saw a good example of this on Thursday when the Labour leader accused the Conservatives of waging a campaign based on "deceit and lies". This was in response to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon's warning that Labour would scrap Britain's independent nuclear deterrent.
"I think David Cameron should be ashamed," he harrumphed. "He's got nothing positive to say about the future of the country, he's got no forward vision for the future of the country, and he sends out his minions like Michael Fallon to engage in desperate smears."
Yet Labour's campaign has been based on nothing but "deceit and lies". (To read more, click here.)
I’ve been trying to think of a good football analogy to describe the battle between the two main parties as the general election approaches. One suggestion is the second leg of a Champions League game, with the Conservatives having won the first leg by one goal to nil. If we assume that the Tories are playing at home, that means Labour has to score two goals to win, whereas all the Tories have to do is not concede. Last week’s debate certainly felt like that, with Cameron playing a tight, defensive game and Miliband trying to score at every opportunity. The Conservative leader ended up winning on aggregate because the Labour leader failed to find the back of the net.
But a Champions League match suggests two teams of real quality, which is where the analogy breaks down. The past few weeks have felt more like a game in the bottom half of the Championship, something I’m all too familiar with as a QPR supporter. In these games you rarely see any quality. Rather, the team that wins is the one that makes the fewest unforced errors. Forget about Real Madrid versus Bayern Munich. This is Millwall versus Brighton on a rainy Tuesday night in April. (To read more, click here.)
On the face of it, Lord Ashcroft’s latest marginals polls contain slightly better news for Labour than for the Tories. In this latest round of polling, the billionaire non-dom has looked at those Conservative-held marginals where Labour is the main challenger: Blackpool North and Cleveleys, Gloucester, Harrow East, Hove, Kingswood, Loughborough, Morecambe and Lunesdale, Pendle, Pudsey and Stockton South.
The last time he polled these seats, the Tories were in the lead in six, with Labour leading in three and one seat being too close to call. This time, the Tories are only leading in five, with Harrow East being added to Hove, Morecambe and Lunesdale and Stockton South as possible Labour gains. The likely explanation, according to Ashcroft, is that support for Ukip has fallen, with Ukip defectors skewing in Labour’s favour in Harrow East.
Nevertheless, there are two reasons why Conservatives shouldn’t be too disheartened. (To read more, click here.)
The editor of The Spectator isn’t the only person thinking about the prospect of Ed Miliband becoming the next Prime Minister. Eighty educationalists have signed a letter in the Daily Mail today warning about the danger of a future Labour government curtailing academy freedoms. They’re concerned about Ed Miliband’s pledge that Labour would reintroduce ‘a proper local authority framework for all schools’ – which sounds a lot like placing all taxpayer-funded schools back under local authority control.
The letter-writers flag up two freedoms they are particularly concerned about: the freedom that academies and free schools have to set their own pay and conditions and the freedom they have over the curriculum.
They’re right to be worried. Labour has already said it will make it illegal for taxpayer-funded schools to employ teachers without Qualified Teacher Status, a policy that might have been written by the teaching unions who know that enlarging the pool of potential labour has weakened their bargaining power. It’s likely that a Miliband-led government would force all schools to adopt union-dictated pay and conditions as well.
When it comes to rowing back on curriculum autonomy, Labour has form. One of the first things Ed Balls did on becoming the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families in 2007 was to insist that all academies set up from that moment on would have to follow the national curriculum. He also tried to force those academies that were already open to teach the national curriculum, and only failed after a successful legal challenge. (To read more, click here.)
Ed Miliband has been getting a lot of praise for admitting that he ‘blubbed’ while watching Pride, a British film released last year.
It’s a rose-tinted, nostalgic look back at a critical moment in 20th-century British history. Every drop of sentiment is wrung out of the story, with brave young men and women risking their lives to take on an evil dictator.
So what is it about, this heartwarming tale of British derring-do?
The Battle of Britain? The Falklands crisis? The Iraq War? (To read more, click here.)
As a Tory, I’ve been thinking a lot about inequality and poverty recently. Have they really increased in the last five years? Or is that just scaremongering on the part of the left?
By most measures, there’s little evidence that the United Kingdom became more unequal in the last Parliament. Take the UK’s “Gini coefficient”, which measures income inequality. In 2009/10, it was higher than it was at any point during the subsequent three years. Indeed, in 2011/12 it fell to its lowest level since 1986. Data isn’t available for the last two years, but there’s no reason to think it’s exceeded what it was when Labour left office. George Osborne claimed that inequality had fallen in his budget speech and the Institute of Fiscal Studies confirmed this, providing you assume everyone has faced the same rate of inflation since he became Chancellor.
The fact that Labour’s track record on tackling income inequality is worse than the Coalition’s doesn’t mean present levels are acceptable, of course. The median income of the highest-earning 10 per cent of couples with two children is roughly eight times larger than the median income of their equivalents in the bottom 10 per cent. Is that too high? (To read more, click here.)
In The Purple Revolution, Nigel Farage describes how he prepared for his second debate against Nick Clegg last year: "I spent the next five days off the booze, I took some long country walks near the house in Downe – in my job I rarely have time to exercise – went to the steam room a few times and had some early nights. Normally, I go to bed at about 1am and then up at 5am or so. I was determined not to feel and look like a wreck in the next debate. I wanted to be in the position for once in my life where I did not feel completely shattered."
It’s a safe bet that David Cameron and Ed Miliband haven’t been preparing for tonight’s leaders’ “debate” on Sky News and Channel 4 by going for long country walks. While Cameron has been busy running the country, Miliband has been holed up with an American debate “coach”. Michael Sheehan, who helped prepare Barack Obama for his televised encounters with Mitt Romney, charges up £15,000-a-day and specializes in turning lemons into lemonade. Sheehan’s corporate clients include Google, Facebook and Amazon, all of whom have been criticized by Miliband for avoiding tax, as well as Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company that was fined $1.415 billion for illegally marketing an unapproved drug to dementia sufferers. So much for Miliband’s attack on “manufactured, polished and presentational politics”. (To read more, click here.)