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.)
A strange ritual takes place on twitter most evenings at around 10.30pm. Hundreds of political anoraks start tweeting the results of the YouGov daily tracker poll that’s due to be published in the following day’s Sun. Some of them are neutrals, but the majority are politically aligned and will only tweet those results that show their party in front.
I often wonder what the point of this is, even though I’m guilty of it myself. It’s not as if anyone is going to see the tweet and say, “Ooh, I wasn’t going to vote Conservative, but now that YouGov has them two points ahead I’ve changed my mind.” I can think of only two sensible reasons for doing this, both quite weak.
The first is it has a mildly demoralising effect on your opponents Occasionally, I get replies from enraged lefties saying, “Well, what do you expect from a Murdoch rag?” That counts as a successful bit of trolling in my book. The second is it steadies the nerves of the people on your side. For both Labour and the Conservatives, it’s essential that discipline is maintained during the election period and there’s no better backbone-stiffener than a four-point lead, even if it only lasts 24 hours.
But anyone giving these reasons for crowing about good polls is engaging in post hoc rationalisation.(To read more, click here.)