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Summary

  1. Newsnight Live is your one stop shop for elections analysis from the Newsnight team, updated throughout the day

Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

Tuition fees and universities

A side-effect of two tuition fee policies

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

Alex Salmond
PA

Today, Alex Salmond, the former first minister, got an honorary degree from Glasgow, one of Britain's great, grand old higher education institutions - an incubator of the British Enlightenment.

Mr Salmond has described the abolition of tuition fees for Scots at Scottish universities as his grandest achievement. England has pursued ever-higher fees - now at £9,000 a year - while Scotland has not.

Neither is "right" or "wrong". Scotland has made a choice that new graduates should not start life with a load of student debt. England has decided that people who benefit from higher education should pay for it.

But it is worth taking a look at a seldom-noted effect of this divergence. Scottish universities are notably poorer. Glasgow is Scotland's second biggest institution by income, but wouldn't make England's top 10.

And if you compare England's biggest 3 - Cambridge, Oxford and UCL - they now have greater income than all of Scotland's 18 higher education institutions put together. And by a very significant margin.

These figures are from 2012-13, by the way, when England's £9,000 fee policy was not in full effect (most undergraduates were still on the old system at this point). The gaps will be growing fairly sharply.

Comparison of English and Scottish universities
BBC
Incomes of Scottish and select English universities (£000s)

The English sector is, of course, much bigger in any case. It will spend more on new kit and buildings this year than the income of the Scottish universities. But even comparing institutions like-for-like, there is a gap.

The problem for Scotland is that, with fewer resources, they are more likely to lose contests for research contracts. And then, if their income falls again, they might lose more work. There are vicious cycles here.

Bad Day for Russell Brand

Emily Maitlis

Newsnight Presenter

Russell Brand on Newsnight
BBC

Voter registration closed at midnight last night. If you were anywhere near the BBC (watching, listening, or online) you won't have missed the efforts we went to to get more people to register.

The good news is: it worked. Almost half a million people applied to vote in a single day.

On 20 April, 485,012 voter registration applications were made - nearly three times as many as the previous record of 166,000 on National Voter Registration Day (5 February 2015).

The Electoral Commission reports that since the start of their registration campaign on 16 March, 2015 there have been 2,296,530 online applications to register to vote. 707,171 applications were made by 16 – 24 year olds.

Latest seat forecast

BBC Newsnight Index

Newsnight Index
BBC

Tonight's Newsnight Index shows a one seat gain for Labour. The Tories remain out in front on 283 seats but nowhere near a majority. The SNP remains solidly the third biggest party.

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 the 'explainer' on our YouTube page here.

How might a coalition work?

A hard-line nerd explains

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

I recommend this video from my BBC News colleague Christian Fraser and Akash Paun of the Institute for Government on the maths of how the parties fit together. The video is a particular treat for Newsnight viewers: it's using our very own Chris Hanretty's forecast - better known as the Newsnight Index.

Talking about benefit reform

What's important and what's big?

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

A Jobcentre Plus
PA

This evening, Newsnight is going big on benefits. I've made a film about the coalition's reform, as part of it - and there's something for everyone to dislike in it.

Changes to benefits have been so widespread that it's impossible to do justice to them all. Or, indeed, any one of them.

Simply picking topics to look at is tough: some things that don't affect a lot of people can be enormously important to the people they hit. And some contentious decisions have not been particularly big money-raisers.

I've been guided by the fiscal terrain. My focus tonight is on what the past five years tells us about savings in the next. That means taking in what people think of welfare, what benefits do and winners/losers since 2010.

The big point to all this is that containing and cutting benefit spending is very hard. In short, stuff happens. For example:

  • The amazing jobs number of the past five years created a windfall of a bit more than £300m per annum in 2014-15 in reduced jobseekers' allowance claims.
  • The rise in house prices was a major driver of an unforeseen surge in housing benefit costs, which cost well over £3bn.

When assessing the Conservative manifesto, who want to take £12bn out of the benefit bill by 2017-18, that unpredictability is a big concern.

Twitter - to broadcast or engage?

James Bray, Newsnight producer

BBC
Demos graphic

Moving beyond the dazzling visualisation that we were ogling earlier, there are a few interesting nuggets to pull out of the mass of data that Demos have assembled to create the election Twittersphere.

One is the distinction between "broadcasters" and "engagers".

George Galloway - so prolific a tweeter that he warrants his very own constellation in the Twittersphere - has tweeted over 5,000 times but around 70% of those tweets are statements and broadcasts. Only around 30% of his tweets are replies to other users.

Compare that to Tim Farron, a model of engagement on Twitter - fully 93% of his tweets are responses to other users in the galaxy.

Many MPs hardly engage with people in the Twittersphere at all, and this is especially the case with party leaders: none of Cameron's tweets are replies, 3% of Farage's, 12% of Miliband's and just 16% of Clegg's.

So it turns out the leaders' online campaigns look a lot like their real world campaigns: carefully stage-managed messages, contact with the hoi polloi kept to a minimum.

Paper chase

Marc Williams

Newsnight Election Producer

A newsstand showing multiple UK newspapers
Getty

On the Daily Politics' Foreign Affairs debate earlier, UKIP's Foreign Affairs Spokesman William Dartmouth explained the Tories' policy of increasing foreign aid spending by saying that:

"This was simply a device by the Conservative Party to try and get Guardian readers to vote for them."

Now, it's a point of debate about whether that's true or not. The question is: if that was the plan, did it work?

Ipsos-Mori have a really interesting time series which looks at newspaper readership by party going back to 1992.

What has happened to the Guardian vote?

In 1992, 15% of Guardian readers supported the Tories. This fell to 8% in 1997, fell again in 2001 to 6%, before rising slightly to 7% for 2005.

And what about 2010? What was the electoral fruit of all those huskies, all that "hoodie-hugging" and all those aid promises that made up the Cameron modernisation project? The Guardian vote went up to 9%. This actually represented a 0.5% swing towards Labour.

So, on the face of it, not so much of a tactical triumph.

Some interesting other snippets from that research:

  • In 1992, 65% of Daily Mail readers supported the Tories, In 2010, it was 59%
  • In 1992, 64% of Times readers supported the Tories. In 2010, it was 49%
  • In 1992 (the election wot the Sun won), 45% of Sun readers supported the Tories. In 2010, it was 43%

Anyway, everyone knows that the most telling dissection of the reading habits of the British people came courtesy of The Rt Hon James Hacker MP.

Might the election have some economic impact after all?

Perhaps on the pound...

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

As I've noted over the past few days the majority of asset management firms, economic consultancies and investment banks seem relatively sanguine on the long term economic implications of the UK election. But that isn't to say there isn't the potential for some financial market impact in the short run.

There has already been talk of the value sterling suffering as the election approaches. But as I noted last week, there is a risk of confusing a strong dollar with a weak pound.

That said, Capital Economics today have noted that the UK has a very large current account deficit - that is to say the UK is borrowing heavily from overseas. As I've blogged before that may represent a vulnerability.

The current account, as share of GDP, since 1820 is shown below. It's currently larger than at any time since the second world war.

The UK current account since 1820
BBC
Source: Capital Economics

Capital today argue that:

"A Tory victory may prompt global investors to sell sterling because the party has committed to hold an EU referendum by 2017. Alternatively, a Labour government would tax corporate profits more and has indicated that it would intervene in markets it deemed too profitable, undermining the case for investing in the UK."

In other words whoever wins, sterling may (and it's still a "may" at this point) be heading for a fall. In this case the election would provide the catalyst rather than the ultimate cause.

How much economic impact will the election have?

Not much - according to economists

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

Another day, another economic research note lands in my inbox.

Yesterday, I noted how Morgan Stanley were rather unimpressed by all the plausible post-election government outcomes but still thought that the UK economy would growth around 2% in 2015/16

Today Oxford Economics have chipped in to argue that:

"The reality seems to be that governments, of whatever political colour, don’t actually make much difference to the long-run rates of economic growth which financial assets are ultimately priced off."

In the long run, what really matters is productivity growth. And changing that is something British governments have struggled with for decades.

A picture of some coins
BBC

Is winter finally over?

Death rates are back to normal

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

They say a swallow doesn't make a summer, but does declining mortality make a spring?

Some good news, for a change. Weekly death rates are starting to return to their historic levels, after a winter with very high excess death levels. (I wrote about this phenomenon at its height here and here.)

Here is today's ONS release on deaths registered in England and Wales up to "week 15" of the year. You can see that the blue line was higher (at points, thousands higher), but is now below the red.

This indicates that earlier in the year, deaths were higher than the average death rate for corresponding weeks over the past 5 years. Happily, it has now finally fallen below them.

Death rates in England and Wales
ONS
Death rates in England and Wales

This difference was big and strongly significant during the bleak midwinter. Public Health England, our health protection agency, takes more time to release its analysis than the ONS, but it compares these results against a model which projects the "normal" death rate.

They show that it was a grim winter, but the death rate is now back at normal levels.

PHE death rate analysis
PHE

They actually break it down. They show that the high death rate was driven by deaths among the elderly.

PHE death rate analysis for over-65s
PHE

You can see why flu was a major suspect for the death spike from this data tracking the disease from PHE's disease surveillance. We know that the H3N2 flu subtype in circulation was both tough on the elderly and, thanks to bad luck, our vaccine offered weak protection against it.

Furthermore, it was showing up in our hospitals.

PHE flu surveillance
PHE

p.s. I have to admit to a fascination with Public Health England. They worry about weird stuff like the risk of an ebola outbreak in a prison and publish data on how many cases of leprosy get reported each week (FYI: none this week, but seven in the last six months).

Tory peer criticises 'pointless' strategy of 'irritating Scots from Westminster'

Laura Kuenssberg

Newsnight Chief Correspondent

Lord Norman Tebbit
BBC

Another Tory peer has criticised the Conservative Party’s strategy for dealing with the SNP – telling Newsnight it is a “distraction” from the party’s hopes of a majority.

It follows former Scotland secretary Lord Forsyth’s claim yesterday that the Conservative’s approach to the SNP is a “short term and dangerous game".

They’re not exactly friends. But Lord Tebbit has just added to the Tory unease about the leadership’s relentless warning of the risk of the SNP.

He’s just told Newsnight that David Cameron's repeated claims about the SNP are “puzzling” and “pointless” may push Scots to vote tactically for Labour, and are a distraction from the “prime target”' of securing a Conservative majority.

Tebbit has been a long-time critic of David Cameron. But he is sharply dismissive of the strategy, and David Cameron's leadership, saying he does not have a “hinterland of experience, unlike previous generations of politicians - who were 'real men'.”

Tebbit said: “What I find puzzling now is the prime minister's position that the SNP is far worse than Labour because, if so, as there are not many seats in Scotland where the Conservative Party has a chance to win, the logic would seem to be that Conservatives should vote tactically for Labour as the lesser of two evils.

“I think it's a huge scare tactic against Labour and whether the particular seat in the House of Commons is occupied by a Labour member or an SNP member perhaps it's not a great difference.

“Having bungled the Scottish referendum it seems pointless to just irritate Scots by shouting at them from Westminster - the English are irritated into voting for UKIP, by being shouted at from Westminster - and the Scots are irritated similarly.' He said, "the risk to the union comes from the SNP, not from anyone else.”

The focus on the SNP, he said, is “not helping Mr Cameron's prime task which is to elect Conservative members of Parliament.”

“I just cannot read Mr Cameron's mind, it's a foreign country to me,” he added.

Tebbit went on to suggest that the current Tory leader has struggled to take resounding leads in the polls because he is remote from voters.

He said: “Men like Churchill, Atlee, Bevan, were real men with real depths of experience.

“They had not gone from school to university to being a special adviser to working in an advertising agency - they had some experience of life - or Mrs Thatcher who was a scientist and worked as a scientist in industry.

“He doesn't have that hinterland of experience any more than Mr Miliband. These days there are too many people in Parliament without adequate experience of life as it is lived by most people in the country.

However, Tebbit said it is still possible for the Tories to win a majority, if Cameron “concentrates on the great issues facing the country - the prime one is of security.”

“A hospital is a wonderful asset unless it's been bombed by an ISIL lunatic in which case it's useless - we are not devoting enough resource nor enough thought in a world that is more dangerous than it has been for very many years.”

Will full fiscal autonomy happen?

The SNP's ambition keeps getting more expensive

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

Stewart Hosie, SNP deputy leader
European Photopress Agency
Stewart Hosie, SNP deputy leader

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has been a repeated annoyance to the Scottish National Party. It keeps casting a wry slide rule over the SNP's ambition for independence and for full fiscal autonomy, where Scottish spending would be covered by Scottish taxes.

Their previous estimate was that there would be a £7.6bn gap to fill via higher taxes or cuts to services in 2015-16 under FFA. This number is a useful way to think of the challenge of Scottish fiscal autonomy: it is the cost of maintaining the same budget balance as the rest of the UK.

Stewart Hosie, the SNP's deputy leader, said that this gap can be closed by growth projected in coming years and extra powers. Today,an IFS releasesought to "examine and reject" his critique of their analysis.

First, would "the £15bn of Scottish growth predicted to 2020" close the gap,as Mr Hosie claimed? Well, no. This is rather uncontroversial, but well worth working through.

Even if future oil price rises eat into it, the structural fiscal gap is widely expected to increase by 2020. Scotland's population is ageing faster than the rest of the country and North sea production is dropping.

IFS projection of effects of FFA
IFS
IFS projection of effects of FFA

So could Scotland increase its tax bases through policies that more fiscal independence would bring it? This is a fairly unknowable counterfactual, but I think it is fair to say that the IFS concludes that this is a long shot.

To close the gap by 2019–20, for instance, Scottish revenues per person would need to grow by more than twice as much as forecast for the UK as a whole – 4.5% in real terms per year – between 2013–14 and 2019–20. As we have highlighted before, the types of policies previously outlined by the SNP as potential ways to boost growth, such as cuts to corporation tax and air passenger duty, and increases in childcare spending, would, at least in the short to medium run, cost the government money, and widen rather than shrink the fiscal gap, even if they did boost growth

IFS, "Full fiscal autonomy delayed?"

There are, of course, excellent reasons why a nation might wish to go it alone on principle. Or a bit more alone. But, as the IFS says, there would be serious fiscal challenges - more austerity or tax rises - to a Scotland that sought to pay for its own spending.

The election Twittersphere

James Bray, Newsnight producer

The echo chamber characteristic of Twitter is often alluded to, but many of us are reluctant to believe in it. Naturally, we tend to want to hang on to the illusion that our online musings penetrate beyond our ideological brethren. If we're sticking the boot in to the other side, we want them to feel it.

Thanks to the think tank Demos, those illusions just got harder to sustain. We can now clearly see the shape of the Twittersphere as it relates to this General Election. The galaxy below maps over five million tweets over the past nine weeks, which mention, are sent from, to, or about every MP on Twitter, as well as around 1,000 parliamentary candidates. A star's intensity mirrors the prolificacy of its user, and the faint white lines map the routes individual tweets have taken. The galaxy very noticeably clusters along party lines, with the media, as you might expect, lurking among them. Popular tweets are very much shared along partisan lines.

It's a rich data pool and we'll update it with more detail and conclusions in the coming days; in the meantime, see if you can find Newsnight...

(The version below is just for show - clickherefor a super-high-res version orherefor a guided tour by our own David Grossman)

BBC
Demos

Playing the Major card

Laura Kuenssberg

Newsnight Chief Correspondent

Sir John Major
Getty

What a surprise! The prime minister has just felt moved to tweet: “A great speech by Sir John Major warning of the recipe for mayhem if Ed Miliband is propped up by the SNP.”

The man who used to occupy Number 10 has been out on the stump on behalf of his party this morning, warning of dire consequences if the Scottish nationalists were able to call the shots in a deal, however loose, with a Labour government.

Certainly Sir John feels strongly about the union, although you might think bigging up the SNP threat could actually threaten the union even more – that’s what Labour is intent on arguing today - he was one of the voices who argued against devolution in the first place.

But it’s worth pondering what else his intervention really means.

It’s unimaginable that Sir John stepped up to the podium today without co-ordination from Conservative Campaign Headquarters. And David Cameron has used this tactic before.

When it looked like Gordon Brown might call a snap election in 2007, for example, Sir John waded in to accuse him of using the armed forces as a "political prop".

Major backed him very publicly over the gamble to offer a renegotiation on our relationship with the EU in 2013.

Sir John has not always been supportive but at big moments, perhaps when Cameron feels he needs a bit more ballast, Sir John seems to be there to answer the call.

Whether this tactic, and the Tory strategy to keep hammering this idea of the SNP "threat" works, is a quite separate question.

The polls, they ain't a-changing

By Dr Chris Hanretty

Yesterday Duncan Weldon noted how the Newsnight Index forecasts for three main parties (Conservatives, Labour, and Liberal Democrats) were "holding steady". For those like me who look at polling regularly, this election can feel like the psephological equivalent of trench warfare: a bitterly-contested campaign over a scarce few decimal points.

But is this election in fact less variable than previous elections? Below is a plot which shows the average daily change in opinion polls for the top three parties, in the year preceding the election, for different elections. It's taken from a model of pooling the polls that we use for the Newsnight Index.

The daily changes are so small they have to be measured in hundredths of a percent. The average across all elections is just six hundredths of one percent: about 18,000 people switching between parties, equivalent to the average attendance at a Championship football match.

Chart of average daily change in smoothed polls, year preceding election
Electionforecast.co.uk

Some of these figures don't really need to be explained -1983 is about the SDP, and 2010 is about Cleggmania.

For some elections - like those of 1997 and 2005 - more stable vote intentions may have been because the result was a foregone conclusion.

But in 1992, the polls seemed stable, even though they were ultimately wrong.

So far 2015 is the fourth "most stable" election of the last nine.

I doubt that's a description many people will be using about the likely outcome...

Playing a Major role

Marc Williams

Newsnight Election Producer

Former Prime Minister Sir John Major
BBC

The former Prime Minister Sir John Major has made a speech today, setting out his view of the damage to the Union of a putative Labour-SNP deal .

After maintaining a near-monastic silence for the first 8 years or so after his landslide defeat by Tony Blair in 1997, Sir John has been more vocal during David Cameron's leadership. The prevailing view is that he is deployed by Tory HQ whenever they want to give Mr Cameron a bit of a boost, so I though I'd have a quick check of his major (so to speak) interventions since the 2005 election to see how helpful they have been to David Cameron.

May 2005

Major warns of the importance of fighting from the centre ground, widely seen as an attack on Cameron’s leadership rival, David Davis

"Plainly, you cannot win elections without winning the centre ground of British politics. We need to present a wide-ranging party and one that brings all talents of the party onto the shadow cabinet."

HELPFULNESS RATING: ***

October 2005

As the Tory leadership contest rages, Major talks about a future shadow cabinet which clearly presumes that Cameron will be leader.

'I live in hope that when we have selected one of the two Davids, that we'll have a Shadow Cabinet that includes Ken Clarke, Malcolm Rifkind, William Hague, David Davis, Liam Fox.”

HELPFULNESS RATING: **

January 2006

Major endorses Cameron’s leadership.

"David seems intent to preserve what works and perfectly prepared to change what doesn't and what seems out of date… I think that's a very traditional Conservative approach and I'm very pleased with what's happened so far.''

HELPFULNESS RATING: ***

March 2006

Major accuses Tory right-wingers of undermining Cameron’s leadership, urging people who "nibble away at the party" to support their new leader.

HELPFULNESS RATING: **

October 2006

Major endorses Cameron’s strategy.

"We have to make sure that the right-wing of the party doesn't have the whole party dancing to its tune.The right-wing is not in tune with the majority of people in the United Kingdom these days.

"I think if the right-wing were to win their battle with David Cameron then the Conservative party will lose. If he wins his battle with the right-wing I think he will win the election and become Prime Minister.”

HELPFULNESS RATING: ***

October 2007

As David Cameron fights for his political life with Gordon Brown threatening a snap election, Major strikes a damaging blow against Brown by calling his trip to Iraq to visit British troops “cynical electioneering”.

HELPFULNESS RATING: *****

December 2008

Major warns that the UK is facing an "avalanche" of job losses next year and Mr Brown is to blame for the economic "train wreck".

HELPFULNESS RATING: ***

February 2010

Major accuses Tony Blair and Gordon Brown of “lying, destroying trust in politics and wrecking the economy.”

HELPFULNESS RATING: ***

May 2010

Major endorses a Lib Dem-Tory coalition deal.

"Many Liberal Democrats won't like it, many Conservatives might not like it, but the national interest very possibly would like it. And if that is the price to ensure we have stability to deal with our economic problems then I think that is the way we should go."

HELPFULNESS RATING: *****

November 2010

Major calls for the coalition to be made more permanent, reflecting a “mini realignment”.

“It will be hard pounding but its programme is essential to national well-being and so, if uncompleted, I hope some way can be found to prolong co-operation beyond this Parliament. It may be that a temporary alliance will turn into a mini realignment of politics: after all, in a world that is changing so comprehensively, why should politics not change, too? Neither party will admit that possibility at present, not least because it would upset their core vote but - if events turn out well for the Coalition - I, for one, would not be surprised at that outcome.”

HELPFULNESS RATING: **

December 2010

Major offers criticism of Cameron’s policy of announcing a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"I don't think this is a war that's going to be won in any conventional sense but what I am wary of is giving advance notice of leaving. If you were [the] Taliban what would you do on hearing that troops were leaving in 12 to 24 months? I think you would just wait until they had gone. We have to be clear what we are doing and do it."

HELPFULNESS RATING: *

March 2011

Major says that intervention in Libya could happen with a “coalition of the willing”, if a UN mandate were unobtainable.

HELPFULNESS RATING: **

June 2011

Major defends Cameron’s policy on increasing the aid budget.

"Of course these are tough times at home. But there are even greater hardships being suffered by those who live in the kind of abject poverty few of us can ever imagine."

HELPFULNESS RATING: **

November 2011

Major says that the “special relationship” between the UK and the US had run its course.

HELPFULNESS RATING: *

June 2012

Major implicitly criticises Cameron for cosying up to Rupert Murdoch in his evidence to the Leveson inquiry.

"I don't think it is the role of the prime minister to court the press and I think it is undignified if it is done a little too obviously,"

HELPFULNESS RATING: *

September 2012

Major says that economic recovery is underway.

"Recovery begins from the darkest moment. I'm not certain, but I think we have passed the darkest moment."

He also urges Conservatives to rally behind their leader, saying that Cameron was the right man to lead the party into the 2015 General Election

HELPFULNESS RATING: ****

February 2013

Major gives his support to Cameron’s policy of having a referendum on EU membership.

"I don't like referenda in a parliamentary system, but this referendum could heal many old sores and have a cleansing effect on politics. It will be healthy to let the electorate re-endorse our membership, or pull us out altogether. At present, we are drifting towards - and possibly through - the European exit. We need a renegotiation, and a referendum endorsement of it. If this is denied, the clamour for it will only grow".

HELPFULNESS RATING: ****

October 2013

With Ed Miliband making political capital out of calling for an energy price freeze, Major calls for a windfall tax on energy companies.

HELPFULNESS RATING: NO STARS

November 2013

Major says that he is appalled that "every single sphere of British influence" in society is dominated by men and women who went to private school or who are from the "affluent middle class"

He says: "I remember enough of my past to be outraged on behalf of the people abandoned when social mobility is lost."

Turning to the Conservatives' prospects at the 2015 general election, he says that if the party decided to "shrink into our comfort zone we will not win General Elections - the core vote cannot deliver a general election majority".

HELPFULNESS RATING: *

May 2014

With the Tories easily beaten by UKIP in the European Elections, Major says that the defeat will help David Cameron.

“The results of these elections right across Europe have made a renegotiation much easier.

“It is apparent now to governments right across Europe that reform of the EU is necessary, it isn’t working as it should, it isn’t working in the way which European citizens think it should.

“I think that gives a great deal of power to the British determination to renegotiate because they will have allies today which, in the 1990s, we frankly didn’t have.”

HELPFULNESS RATING: ****

August 2014

Major makes a positive speech about immigration, seen as an implicit criticism of Cameron’s approach on the issue.

"There was a different social value placed on immigration. I saw immigration at very close quarters in the 1950s.

"They shared my house. They were my neighbours. I played with them as boys. I didn't see people who had come here just to benefit from our social system. I saw people with guts and the drive to travel halfway across the world in many cases to better themselves and their families.

"And I think that is a very Conservative instinct."

HELPFULNESS RATING: *

November 2014

In a speech in Germany, Major warns that Britain will not accept the levels of EU migration projected.

"There is a very real risk of separation that could damage the future of the United Kingdom - and Europe as a whole."

“Our small island simply cannot absorb the present and projected numbers at the current speed: it is not physically or politically possible without huge public disquiet."

Separately, he says that UKIP is "profoundly un-British in every way" because of its views and voters were only backing it out of frustration with the economy. "That will fade away as the economy improves, and it is materially improving," he said.

HELPFULNESS RATING: ***

January 2015

Major predicts that Britain will vote to stay in the EU.

“That case must be used to recapture the hearts and minds of the British people. And it is a much more attractive case than the negativism of anti-European sentiment. So I'm not worried. There has always been a minority of the population who emotionally regard themselves as being British but not European. But this feeling fades with each generation.”

HELPFULNESS RATING: ***

Welfare: a stormy debate

Alex Campbell

Newsnight producer

Ed Miliband
BBC

One of the most quietly revealing answers from Ed Miliband in his interview with Evan Davis yesterday was the response to the notion of the “undeserving poor.”

Some might have expected him to reject it out of hand – perhaps even to feign revulsion. In fact, his answer was much more nuanced.

“I don’t like the phrase but there are definitely people…who could work who are not doing so…and we’ve got to be tough.”

You can see it here.

It reflects the wider potential toxicity of the welfare debate; now so often oversimplified as “strivers versus skivers.”

Those opposed to the coalition’s welfare reforms have to balance their belief that spending cuts have caused genuine hardship against the opinion polls – such as yesterday’s in the Financial Times – which indicate substantial popular support for cutting back benefits.

Tonight, Newsnight is planning a special feature in which we'll audit the coalition’s record on welfare and try to reflect every side of this increasingly complicated debate.

And the whole of Evan Davis' interview with Ed Miliband is on the iPlayer here.

Guess who? John Major goes back to the future

@edsbrown

Ed Brown

Newsnight producer

John Major said this about the prospect of the SNP supporting a Labour minority government today:

"So, Labour would be in hock to a Party that – slowly but surely – will push them ever further to the Left."

Who do you think said this?:

"The real problem is one of a tiny majority. Don't overlook that. I could have all these clever, decisive things which people wanted me to do but I would have split the [spoiler] party into smithereens. And you would have said I had acted like a ham-fisted leader."

Guessed yet? It's John Major again, but this time talking 20 years ago about his problems in getting the Maastricht treaty past what he called the “bastards” in his own party in Parliament.

There are no shortage of Conservative right wingers and eurosceptics who could cause trouble for a Conservative minority government, or even one with a slim majority - not least if a euro referendum is held in 2017.

Maybe John Major is right about Labour and the SNP. But he could just as easily be warning about the dangers of his own party’s right wing.

Allegra Stratton, Political Editor

tweets

Major says on referendum: "Once in a generation vote becomes once in a parliament vote". The SNP will create "merry hell."