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Summary

  1. Newsnight Live is your one stop shop for elections analysis from the Newsnight team, updated throughout the day
  2. Key events today include the Liberal Democrat and UKIP manifesto launches
  3. You can watch Evan Davis' interview with David Cameron at 7.30pm on BBC One
  4. Tonight's Newsnight presenter is Emily Maitlis - join her at 10.30pm on BBC Two

Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

UKIP's big squeeze

Toughest plans for public spending of any major party

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

Nigel Farage
Getty

I've been tracing through what UKIP thinks of the deficit. In brief: like the Tories, they're roughly following the OBR's dummy plans for public spending from the last Budget. But they're doing it in a way that means steeper spending cuts.

I will focus on the current budget - that's the day-to-day spending budget. UKIP wants the current budget in surplus in 2017-18. The OBR path to that requires a £34bn cut in departmental spending over the two years to that target. Then, things get easier.

The Tories have taken the edge off this tough first two years with a plan to cut £12bn from welfare and to raise a further £5bn from tackling tax avoidance by 2017-8. That would mean spending on services need not take the brunt.

What is UKIP doing? It has found cash, too. The biggest items are leaving the EU and cutting the aid budget. But while they have found £23.9bn, they've also spent £19.4bn of it.

As a consequence, they have only identified £4.5bn* a year towards easing the required cuts in the current budget in the two years to 2017-18.

That means that they need to find £30bn per year of real-terms reductions between this year and 2017-18 to fill the hole. Since they intend to shield the NHS and defence, this load would not be evenly spread.

Reasonable people can differ about how to make sense of their plans. But I think, on generous assumptions, they imply that the departments for which we have no specific plans face average cuts of 22% across the first two years.

On similar terms, I think the equivalent number for the Tories comes to a shade under 15%.

After 2017-18, when they have met their target, they intend to keep squeezing for a year, then increasing spending fast in the final year. They plan to run an overall surplus in 2019-20 - including all state spending,

I should note, by the way, that UKIP has introduced one fine innovation - external audit of their plans. How did that do? I applaud them for the idea. The table of costings is very helpful, too.

But:

  • While I have used UKIP costings here, I have questions about some of them: the university plan, the expected receipts from leaving the EU and savings from HS2. Publishing workings would be very welcome.
  • Some quite big proposals seem to have been wholly uncosted. Getting schools to provide childcare and smaller class sizes would not be cheap. I have basically assumed no uncosted policies will happen.
  • The presentation could have been a bit easier to follow. The external company - CEBR, a City consultancy - muddled up tax, spend, current and capital budgets. It was all a bit of a headache to disentangle.

* I've got a different number to UKIP because I'm using figures for current budget spending only, since that's what their 2017-18 fiscal target relates to.

Cameron and Davis - the verdicts

@farahjassat

David Cameron and Evan Davis interview
BBC

As the clips of tonight's leadership interview hit the airwaves, web commentators have started to deliver their verdict.

The Guardian's Andrew Sparrow had this to say.

One of Evan Davis’s strengths as an interviewer is that he is willing to ask what journalists describe as left-field question; something a bit unusual, where the answer isn’t easy to predict. And today he came out with a corker. Do you agree that there are lot of rich people who are undeserving?

Fraser Nelson,editor of the Spectator, placed his emphasis on Cameron's position on defence. Defenceless on defence was the title of this blog.

But Cameron was less prepared for being challenged from the right. Davis asked him on his failure to commit to the basic Nato minimum of spending 2pc of GDP on defence – in spite of his badgering other countries to do so at the Nato summit in Wales. “I don’t think that you’re willing to say Britain will stick to its international obligation on defence,” he said. “We’re keeping it clearly this year. And next year,” said Cameron. And in future years – well, he didn’t say.

David Cameron and humble pie

Marc Williams

Newsnight Election Producer

David Cameron
BBC

Having spent the bulk of the day prepping Evan and helping him to execute his David Cameron interview, I'm now sat in an edit cutting down the full 30 minute version to around 12 minutes for tonight's Newsnight.

Going through the interview again, while his caginess over welfare and defence and his anger at the "Party of the Rich" label were bits which will get attention, what caught my eye was his admission that the Tories didn't win in 2010 because "people weren't fully sure we had all the ideas and plans".

This is as close as I've seen the Prime Minister confess that his 2010 campaign was a bit of a turkey, with its economic doom-mongering put under the slightly incongruous and amorphous Big Society umbrella.

What is interesting is that there aren't really that many new ideas and plans in the 2015 manifesto compared with 2010. Their pledge to eliminate the deficit? They promised that in 2010. Their pledge to get net migration down to tens of thousands? They promised that in 2010. Their pledge to spend more money on the NHS? They promised that in 2010. Their pledge to raise the Inheritance Tax threshold? They promised that in 2010.

I could go on. The one part of the Tory offer in 2015 which is markedly different from 2010 is the £7bn of unfunded tax cuts that they have pledged for the end of the parliament. Such unfunded commitments were resisted strongly by George Osborne in opposition.

This implies that the lesson Team Cameron have taken from their "failure" in 2010 (not that they would use that word) was not that they needed an additional step change towards modernisation, but rather that they needed a good old-fashioned retail Tory offer: more cash in your pocket.

Low earners and income tax - a sleight of hand

Ed Brown, Newsnight Producer

Ed Brown

Newsnight producer

We now have both Conservative and Lib Dem manifestos with big offers on income tax - both claiming to be helping out low earners with their tax burden. I have two points on this.

Firstly - the minimum wage claim from the Conservatives - that they will uprate the personal allowance to make sure nobody working 30 hours on the minimum wage will pay income tax. Remember that they've committed to raise it to £6.70 this autumn and £8 by end of Parliament. Take a look at this table:

Minimum wage taxpaying
BBC

You'll see that whilst those on 30 hours on the minimum wage will not pay any income tax at the end of the Parliament - those working 35 hours (a full working week) will be - about £392.

Remember as well that people working 30 hours on the minimum wage are not paying income tax ANYWAY - they have yearly income of £10,140, less than the current threshold. So this is a bit of a sleight of hand - a maintenance of the status quo not a big change.

My second point is fairly well covered territory but worth repeating as it seems to have got lost - income tax threshold raises benefit higher earners as much as lower earners. Take a look at this chart of the income tax giveaways under Lib Dem and Conservative plans.

Conservative and Lib Dem income tax giveaways
BBC

The Lib Dems have told me that their intention is to make sure higher rate taxpayers get the same cash benefit as lower rate ones (this isn't in their manifesto).

And it's worth pausing for a moment and looking at the Conservative (red) bars.That's the impact of them raising the higher threshold to £50,000 as well as the personal allowance. In cash terms, progressive these plans (at least in isolation) are not.

Tonight's Newsnight running order

Zach Brown, Newsnight producer

A big political show coming up tonight...Evan Davis has been talking to the Prime Minister and will be discussing his interview with Rachel Sylvester, Tim Montgomerie and Jonathan Freedland. We've been at LibDem and UKIP manifesto launches today, Allegra and Laura report. David Laws will be live in the studio And does anyone really care about manifestos anyway? We've been down to Speakers' Corner to find out Join us at 10.30pm on BBC2

Latest seats forecast

BBC Newsnight Index

Newsnight Index Graphic
BBC Newsnight

For the course of the general election campaign, Newsnight each evening will be publishing an exclusive Newsnight Index on the likely outcome, based on a sophisticated forecast model. It is produced by Professor Chris Hanretty from the University of East Anglia and his colleagues at electionforecast.co.uk. For more information on how the Index is produced, see here

Cameron has 4% chance of success

(On his own terms)

Ed Brown

Newsnight producer

David Cameron told Evan Davis today:

"We are only 23 seats short [of a majority] and if I fall short of those 23 seats I will feel I have not succeeded in what I want to achieve."

Newsnight's election index puts the chance of that (a Conservative majority) at 4%.

Not impossible - but if our index is right, he'd better at least brace himself for failure on this measure.

Cameron spells out what success or failure will look like

David Cameron
bbc

David Cameron has been telling Newsnight's Evan Davis how many seats the Conservatives need to win to succeed in this election - watch here.

The camera on Cameron

Evan Davis

Newsnight Presenter

David Cameron and Evan Davis
bbc

I’ve just come through 30 minutes with David Cameron. The resulting interview is on BBC 1 at 7.30.

First thing to note: Cameron was in a remarkably upbeat mood. We all noticed it as soon as he arrived. What we couldn’t tell was whether he’s a man confident that he’s on course to be returned to Number 10, or whether he is demob happy in the sure knowledge that he’s about to be spending more time with his family.

Apart from that we learned these:

1. He is willing to quote dodgy statistics. He compared spending cuts made in the last parliament with the ones to be made in the next. It sounded like most of the cuts have now been made, but the stats he used looked very similar to ones the Statistics Authority admonished him for using back in December. “The figures for ‘savings’ during this Parliament and the next Parliament are drawn from different sources, are derived in different ways, and so are not directly comparable” said the National Statistician, Sir Andrew Dilnot.

2. He is “angry” about the “undeserving rich”. He jumped at the chance to show some annoyance at rapacious capitalists. In fact, I saw more anger at the rich in my half hour with him, than I can remember seeing in the whole last five years. His problem is, as Lynton Crosby apparently likes to say, is that “you can’t fatten a pig on market day” and it may be too late to adopt that tone now, if it doesn’t chime with the message of the last few decades.

3. He thinks that failing to get a majority in this election, would be a failure. He didn’t say he would resign if that was the case (of course) but he said if that happened, “I would not have succeeded in what I want to achieve”.

Update 20:45

The Conservatives have called to say I’m wrong to argue David Cameron used dodgy statistics of the kind he’d been admonished for using before (see the paragraph numbered 1 in my post above). They say the PM was making a like for like comparison this time.

It remains the case however that he did try to give the impression that we are 80 per cent of the way through austerity. He said “In the last parliament, we had to make an adjustment of 120 billion in terms of spending reductions and taxes. In this parliament the figure is 30 billion”. The Institute for Fiscal Studies think these numbers do not give an accurate impression, believing we are little more than half way through austerity on the Conservative plans.

Drawing Nigel Farage

Cartoonist Steve Bell told Newsnight's Laura Kuenssberg how he goes about drawing Nigel Farage at the UKIP manifesto launch earlier today.

Watch it here

Sketch of Nigel Farage
BBC

UKIP's education policy

A few curiosities

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

UKIP's manifesto takes some positions that echo the Conservative manifesto of 2005. Some may be direct lifts.

For example, "UKIP will drop the arbitrary 50 per cent target for school leavers going to university". There is, in fact, no such target. To the extent that it existed as more than rhetoric, it's been gone for a long time. It may be a relic of past manifestos.

I have asked UKIP for a few details on the costing for their higher education proposals. The independent auditor of the party's proposals, alas, didn't ask the right questions. Higher education finance is quite a specialist subject.

On schools, the party promises a return to grammar schools. It's worth bearing in mind that, while they have some support, the evidence base in support of them remains weak, at best. Where they remain, poor kids tend to do much worse.

BBC
BBC

For example, this graph shows the distribution of GCSE grades for children eligible for free school meals in selective counties and in the rest of the country. It is measured in GCSE points, and only includes traditional GCSEs.

From left to right, the line shows the share of the relevant populations getting results ranging from zero points (no passes) through to 40 (5 A*s). The lines are population densities, which may be new to some readers.

Broadly, if one line is higher over a certain range than the other, it means the those children have a higher chance of ending up in that range.

The red line is higher in the range zero to about 20. That means poor children in grammar school areas are more likely to get very low grades than children in non-selective areas.

Conversely, you can also see poor children in comprehensive areas are more likely to get much higher grades. The blue line is markedly higher on the right hand side of the graph, which represents higher grades.

Coming up at 7.30pm on BBC One

Evan Davis interviews David Cameron

Ian Katz, Newsnight Editor

@iankatz1000

Tweets

@EvanHD suits up for his interview with the PM this evening. See it on BBC1 at 7.30pm, then discussed on #Newsnight

Evan Davis in hi vis jacket
BBC

Newsnight has left the mainland!

Katie Razzall

Newsnight Special Correspondent

Anglesey beach
BBC

We are on Anglesey as part of our 'Coastal Vote' series, dipping our toe into seaside politics.

The island is a Labour seat with nationalists Plaid Cymru the main challenger. They can only dream of the kind of numbers the SNP is polling against Labour in Scotland. But Ynys Mon, as the constituency is called in Welsh, is their best hope of winning another seat. There were 2461 votes in it in 2010.

Plaid is positioning Labour as the party of the reviled Westminster establishment. There's big wealth disparity here, with million pound homes and rich holidaymakers on the one hand and on the other, a local economy that has seen job losses; the jobs that survive are all too often zero-hours contracts.

Most people so far have told me it's hard to distinguish between the two parties in terms of policies. Labour's tough talk on zero hours has made an impact though.

Along the way, I'm picking up some welsh. 'Popty ping' is my favourite. That's 'microwave'. Very useful.

Putting David Cameron under the microscope

Neil Breakwell

Newsnight Deputy Editor

David Cameron promo
BBC

David Cameron is next up to face Evan Davis in ‘The Leader Interviews’. It will be shown tonight at 7:30pm on BBC1 and we’ll have post match analysis later on Newsnight.

You can watch Nick Clegg’s interview from Monday here.

The interviews are taking place at the still under construction Francis Crick Institute. When complete, in 2016, it will be one of the world’s leading medical research institutes. Their mission is to understand why disease develops and to find new ways to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, stroke and infections.

Interior of the Crick Institute
Crick Institute

Our mission there today is, if I’m honest, a little less noble. It’s to test David Cameron’s record, values and plans for the future. The Prime Minister, like many politicians, can speak both passionately and on occasions, evasively, when under cross examination.

Fortunately, cleverer colleagues than me have been working on the interview. My suggestion if met with stonewalling would simply be to throw back the words of the man whose name the building honours:

Mr Cameron, “ 'You', your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: 'you’re nothing but a pack of neurons' ” !

Prime Minister, thank you very much.

Do UKIP's sums add up?

Being taken seriously comes with serious scrutiny

Laura Kuenssberg

Newsnight Chief Correspondent

Everything at UKIP's manifesto launch today was designed to show a more professional party than ever before, in particular they were falling over themselves to emphasise their independently assessed costings. The leadership might not have remembered to tell the activists who turned up at the launch today the first part. They took to shouting "disgusting question", "shame" or booing and jeering when journalists asked questions that weren't even especially awkward. Wanting to be taken seriously comes with more serious scrutiny. The media have long stopped treating UKIP as a sideshow and that means their membership might have to accept their leaders being put on the spot. Second, providing independent costings was a smart idea. The sums, on the numbers that have been provided, do add up. But all the numbers are based on UKIP getting back billions, savings that would be made if the UK left the EU. It's worth saying there is a huge range of estimates on whether we would lose or gain. UKIP boasted they are the only party to have their financial claims audited like this. That's true, but they too, like the rest, are basing their economic credibility on the notion of what might be.

Nick Clegg: Home Secretary?

The Deputy Prime Minister tells Newsnight about his plans for the next Parliament

Allegra Stratton

Newsnight Political Editor

We got the chance to sit down with Nick Clegg today after his manifesto launch. I have it on good authority both that he has had a conversation with David Cameron about the possibilities of another Tory-Lib Dem government; and that in 2010 the Liberal Democrat leadership considered him demanding he become Home Secretary... as well as deputy prime minister. In an on-camera interview Chris Huhne, former energy secretary and pivotal to the 2010 negotiations, told me a few months ago that was exactly what they considered back then. Anyway, today, Nick Clegg categorically denies both suggestions. Here is our exchange:

STRATTON: Have you had any conversations with David Cameron about the possibilities of another Conservative Lib Dem coalition?

CLEGG: No.

STRATTON; So Conservatives who say you have, they have been fibbing have they?

CLEGG: Yes

STRATTON: So, it is not the case that you have said I would possibly like to be Home Secretary?

CLEGG: No. I have never said that, I don't want to do that. What complete nonsense.

STRATTON: When in 2010 you went into the coalition, there was a judgment that perhaps it would be a good idea as deputy prime minister to have your own department... Is that something you would rule out? In the next parliament?

CLEGG: Yes

STRATTON: Why?

CLEGG: It means you can knock heads together... It means you have no vested interests in the government machine ... It means, as has been the case over the last five years, the PM and myself meet more than, sometimes once a week to thrash things out and that's exactly what I intend to do next time.

Laura Kuenssberg, Newsnight Chief Correspondent

@bbclaurak

Tweets

Farage almost acknowledges campaign has had to become more tightly focused 'more rifle than shotgun'

Clear Blue Water

Mark Urban

Newsnight Defence and Diplomatic Editor

Vanguard submarine
PA

Having seen the two main parties sticking to the political shipping lanes in their defence and foreign affairs platforms, we're now seeing the others sailing in more challenging waters today.

The Liberal Democrats have not spilled too much ink on defence but their pledge on Trident to "step down the nuclear ladder and end the unnecessary 24-hour nuclear patrols of the high seas" has big implications. It would allow the party to start reducing the readiness of the Trident force immediately, by mothballing one or two submarines, and in the longer term buy fewer than the four replacement ballistic missile carrying submarines that the Tories have committed to.

Lib Dem assertions that the submarine patrols are a relic of "a cold war threat that no longer exists", or that campaigning against Female Genital Mutilation should be a main plank of British foreign policy, are telltale signs that the party's activists have had a big role in formulating this paper. But given that Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato Secretary General until last autumn, said in a Radio 4 program that I presented last night that a new cold war has started, and there is a widespread view that the security climate in Europe has chilled markedly, the manifesto's language could sound odd to many.

However while Mr Rasmussen and others think President Putin's actions provide a clear rationale for keeping Trident at sea, UKIP begs to differ - for its own ideological reasons. The Russian leader's macho pursuit of national interest appeals to many Kippers. Instead the party's manifesto published today justifies the continued possession of British nuclear weapons in terms of "rogue states such as North Korea and Iran" developing atomic arsenals.

Lord Dannat, former head of the army, once tipped as a Conservative minister, has warned that the party's cuts to defence have caused many in the forces to switch to supporting UKIP and there is some evidence in the party's manifesto of it listening to expert advice. The suggestion, for example, that the government reconsider which aircraft should fly off Britain's two new aircraft carriers (in the hope that off the shelf conventional jets could be used instead of the highly costly F35B) fits with the ideas that a great many RAF and naval types express to me.

Similarly, a UKIP manifesto proposal for closer integration of the espionage community, with the various agencies answering to a new Director of National Intelligence, shows it's listened to expert opinion and is trying to present the party as having serious ideas about government. Committing to maintaining the Nato goal of spending 2% of GDP on the military (something the Tories and Labour won't do) also allows UKIP to argue it's backing verbal commitment to the forces with hard cash.

Ultimately, many in Whitehall would argue that the smaller parties can suggest anything they'd like in these manifestos, pleasing their base, while never being put to the test in government. But that isn't always a safe assumption.

I can recall discussing the Lib Dem 2010 manifesto commitment to a referendum on EU membership. It resulted from a Europhile base wanting the country to commit more fully to integration, but had to be hastily jettisoned when the party found itself in coalition negotiations with the Conservatives, many of whom also yearned for a referendum on EU membership but for entirely different reasons!

A few Green party mysteries

A few big questions

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

There are some quite odd things about the Green manifesto, which was released yesterday. Take the summary spending table, here, on page 81 of the document.

Green manifesto table
The Green party

There's something very strange about it: notice the way they have constructed their budget. They have taken the coalition's spending totals for 2015-6 - £743bn a year - and frozen that. Then they have a separate budget line pouring additional money in on top each year. This is not the normal way to present a budget.

So to get the English NHS budget for 2019-20, you have to look up the current level, then look up the amount extra they plan to spend on it in the "change" section of their budget. So, you can see below, they have pencilled in extra cash for the health service.

Green manifesto table
The Green party

What's odd about this way of constructing a budget is that there are items inside that £743bn budget line that are changing, whether or not the Greens want them to. There are, under the water, cuts and growth that must be going on.

Debt service costs, for example, are rising. And, of course, that £743bn is eroded by inflation.

They have some proposed savings, some of which are doubtful (I'm not sure how you can cancel Trident and get more than £3bn a year immediately). But even if you include them and you protect budget lines they want to shield, the Greens have to explain where about £20bn of cuts will be distributed within existing budgets.

Even if they keep the Trident savings and money from shutting prisons, I suspect the generals, admirals and the police might be in for a very rough time. That's perhaps a bit surprising: they're increasing spending by about £200bn.

Now: tax. To be honest, I don't know where to start with this.

Green manifesto table
The Green party

The plan here is for wealth tax and Robin Hood taxes of a scale that, together, they would bring as much as our current corporation tax income. Does it work? What will the consequences be? What will they bring in? This is unknowable.

What about the huge tax avoidance income? In her interview with Laura last night, I do not think Natalie Bennett, the Green leader, was wholly convincing on how a Green government could cut tax avoidance at such scale.

Location, Location, Location

James Clayton, Newsnight Producer

This is by far the 'coolest' location of the launches. An achingly trendy converted warehouse in South London. What does this tell us about the launch? Well, unlike Manchester (Labour heartland) and Swindon (vulnerable Tory seats) it's hard to see why the Liberal Democrats have come to Battersea. It's a Labour/Tory marginal. Far more likely the LD press op were worried that the lobby wouldn't treck very far to listen to what is not an especially newsmaking launch.

Lib Dem manifesto launch
BBC

Fiscal Plans Compared

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

Consultancy firm Capital Economics have just put out the following rather neat graph.

A graph of how the three parties would cut spending by 2017/18.
BBC
Source: Capital Economics

Both the Conservatives & the Liberal Democrats say they would balance the current budget (excluding investment) by 2017/18. They've set out different paths as to how that would be achieved.

Labour by contrast will only say that they will balance the current budget "as soon as possible". As Capital Economics' chart shows, that is a pretty ambiguous plan.

Are the markets panicking?

Not really or at least not yet

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

Over the last few weeks there's been occasional talk of the "markets panicking about the UK election". This is usually driven by a fall in the value of the pound against the US dollar. But the thing about any currency pair (in this case sterling/dollar) is that it is (by definition) a two sided story. The dollar has been strengthening against most currencies over the past six months.

To get a better picture of "market panic", at least when it comes to the pound, we need to look at the performance of sterling against a broader basket of currencies. That's what the chart below does over the last year.

A chart of the pound over the last year
BBC
Source: Bank of England

Sterling did fall in March but it's still higher than it was for most of 2014. The bigger picture is shown below.

A chart of the pound since 1990
BBC
Source: Bank of England

Against a broad basket of currencies the pound is higher than it has been for most of the last seven years.

At the moment there really isn't much sign of the currency markets losing faith in sterling. That of course could change. But the thing to watch is the pound against a broader basket not just sterling/dollar.

Jess Brammar, BBC Newsnight producer

@jessbrammar

Tweets

Just chatted to the great [Guardian cartoonist] Steve Bell at UKIP launch and had a sneak peak at his sketches of Farage

Steve Bell
BBC

Jess Brammar, Newsnight Producer

@jessbrammar

Tweets from UKIP manifesto launch

Adam Smith Institute: "UKIP’s crackdown on unskilled immigrants breaks with evidence, common sense, and moral decency"

Allegra Stratton, Newsnight political editor

@BBCAllegra

Tweets:

In 2010 Clegg considered home sec as well as DPM; sources say it's in play again. Clegg rules out any dept role

Jess Brammar, Newsnight producer

@jessbrammar

Tweets

UKIP members here very vocally supportive of Farage standing by his HIV "health tourists" comments. Groaned at journalist who asked about it

James Clayton, Newsnight producer

"JamesClayton5

Tweets:

Lib dem board falls onto group of activists, hurting one. I thought LD's were meant to be pro health and safety?

Lib Dem activists
BBC

James Clayton, Newsnight producer

@JamesClayton5

Tweets

Nick Clegg rules out to @BBCAllegra taking a departmental role in future government. #LibDemManifesto

Lib Dem budget plans: closer to Labour or the Conservatives?

It depends...

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

The basic Liberal Democrat pitch on the public finances is that they will “borrow less than Labour and cut less than the Conservatives”. This sounds like a policy of equidistance – giving the Lib Dems the ability to do a deal with either side, but in reality it’s a bit more tricky.

The Lib Dem plan is to balance the cyclically-adjusted current budget (i.e. the budget excluding capital spending adjusted for the state of the economy) by 2017/18 while still borrowing for “productive investment”. By contrast the Conservatives aim to balance the overall budget and Labour aim to balance only the current budget. To slightly oversimplify, the Lib Dems are closer to Labour on borrowing for investment but closer to the Conservatives on the need to balance the current budget relatively quickly.

But that doesn’t mean that doing a deal with either party would be equally straight forward. A Lib Dem-Tory deal would require either the Conservatives to give up on an overall surplus or the Lib Dems to rule out borrowing for “productive” investment. That may well be possible but requires a big move from one party or the other. By contrast the big issue in a Labour-Lib Dem deal would be the exact timing of when the current budget was actually balanced – the Lib Dem’s 2017/18 vs the Labour’s “as soon as possible”. The timing here really matters as achieving balance in 2017/18 would require cuts in public spending but waiting till the end of the Parliament wouldn’t.

Of course even if a deal with either party could be achieved on the overall target, there would still be the difficult issues of exactly what cuts or tax rises were used to hit it. Even if, for example, the Lib Dems and Conservatives could agree an overall target there is a big gap between on welfare savings.

Chancellor's red box
BBC

Laura Kuenssberg, Newsnight Chief Correspondent

@bbclaurak

Laura is at the UKIP manifesto launch and tweetsundefined

Room going nuts, cries of shame when telegraph asks about lack of black faces in manifesto

Pragmatism vs distinctiveness: the Lib Dem dilemma

Ed Brown

Newsnight producer

Nick Clegg has said that the front page of his manifesto has "near religious" status in negotiations for a coalition. These are his red lines - the things that, in practical terms, will make his party different in any coalition.

The problem is, to my eye, when you look down the list it's difficult to see which of them the other parties would really disagree with.

The Tories have already committed to the income tax cut and £8bn for the NHS in their manifesto - and were briefing their commitment to schools funding this morning.

Labour have flirted with the income tax cut - have very similar plans for the deficit - and it's hard to see them, in practice, objecting to more funding for the NHS.

Lib Dems will tell you that this is about priorities and moderation - they are supposedly fairer than the Conservatives and more fiscally responsible than Labour. They will say this is a realistic manifesto, full of pledges that are achieveable in a coalition - that they have learnt the lessons of promises from last time like tuition fees that they said were unachieveable with another party.

The worry for them might be that they have gone too far the other way - in setting out red lines that are achievable, they may have lost what made them to distinctive to voters in the first place last time around.

Comfort zone

Laura Kuenssberg

Newsnight Chief Correspondent

Nigel Farage
PA
Nigel Farage during the launch of the Party's manifesto at the Thurrock Hotel in Essex

This might be dismissed as frippery but I reckon manifesto launches tell us rather a lot about how the parties see themselves. And without reading too much into it, how in this campaign, despite the last 48 hours, they're all really playing to their base.

Manifesto launches are a big chance to make a statement about who you represent and who you stand for. The images that are published and broadcast from the events are for many voters some of the few glimpses they see of the parties' efforts.

And so - the Lib Dems are launching this morning in an experimental art space, in a gently smart part of London. The Conservatives held their event in a school in the Wiltshire market town of Swindon.

The UKIP manifesto launch, which we are at today, is at a hotel in Essex that also runs Fawlty Towers evenings. Labour's launch was a grand affair in its urban Northern comfort zone of Manchester.

Despite the last 48 hours with a little political cross dressing, they are not really going to surprise us, or push themselves to reach very far from their base.

Maybe even in politics a lot comes down to location, location, location.

Michael Gove and child benefits

@maitlis

Emily Maitlis

Newsnight Presenter

Michael Gove
BBC

Some interviews go round in circles and yield very little. It is a sort of morris dance if you will. A few bells, a shaken stick or two then everyone slaps their thigh and moves on.

Occasionally, just occasionally, they yield a line - a bit of news - neither party was expecting. So it was last night with Chief Whip Michael Gove.

Lord knows how many times we've asked the parties to cost their unfunded spending or admit to whatever cuts are coming. On Newsnight, as Michael Gove ruled out future cuts to pensioners and disability, he admitted he couldn't do the same to child benefit.

Here's a link to the interview if you missed it.

It's an odd way to do politics - this not ruling out - but it maybe as near as we will get this time round to learning any more about the Conservative spending plans.

So I will take my one line - and the absence of a denial - and say yes it looks like child benefits may be cut further in a future conservative government.

It's a slow and frustrating way to work. But currently, it's the best chance we have of working out what's going to happen.