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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

Talking tough: Cameron v Miliband

Who is the real Man of Steel?

You may have noticed the macho talk between Ed Miliband and David Cameron has been ramping up as election day gets nearer. With apologies to Hans Zimmer and Zack Snyder, we've been trying to work out which one wins the Newsnight Man of Steel title. Perhaps tonight's playout will help...

Picture of Man of Steel
Warner Bros
Ed or Dave?

Ministry of No

The Cabinet Office's trouble with transparency

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

Today, the Institute for Government has issued their regular transparency monitor. HM Revenue and Customs reject the most, understandably: almost everything they do (whether you like this fact of life in Britain or not) is confidential. Second place, though, goes to the slippery Cabinet Office.

Foi response records
IFG

Regular readers of my blog might recall that I wrote about the odd case of Stephen Parkinson and Nick Timothy, a pair of special advisers at the Home Office. To recap: these Tory appointees were barred from being Conservative candidates because they (rightly) refused to campaign for the party.

As special advisers, they are forbidden from campaigning by an unequivocal section of the special advisers’ code. But other special advisers seem to have campaigned, claiming they had permission from the Cabinet Office.

This is odd: the special advisers’ code is to reassure the public about what these publicly paid political appointees may do. If exemptions from the rules are being granted by the Cabinet Office in secret, that is a matter of serious concern.

So, using the Freedom of Information Act, I sought to see any such guidance from the Cabinet Office. They claimed it would cost too much to find - taking several days to track down. This is self-evidently untrue.

So I appealed the decision. Initially, the department claimed not to have received my request. The whole thing was delayed for months. When I got their decision, the officials agreed with themselves. It would still cost too much to find.

So an election is underway. We have no idea what special carve-outs were granted to allow state employees to take part in it - as candidates or as campaigners. Still, there's more.

Nicholas Howard, who works in the prime minister’s office, recently replied to one my requests. I requested an email sent by the prime minister. I cannot have it, alas, because it would take too long to find it.

That is because “an email may not have been preserved as an electronic document and may also form part of another record”. What does that mean? They may have kept copies of emails, elsewhere, you see, so they cannot just check his email account.

Okay, so what happens if you specify that you just want them to search for emails still held inside the email account only? If you do that, Mr Howard replies that the Act “does not give the requester any power to dictate where the department should search for that information”.

Catch 22.

The Communist Manifesto

Marc Williams

Newsnight Election Producer

Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung
AP
Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung

The front page of the Daily Mail this morning dripped with derision for Labour's latest policy of increasing taxation on unused land to encourage development:

"Red Ed's threat to confiscate unused land branded 'Stalinist' as backlash grows over his plan to control property market," it said.

"Stalinist" is pretty strong as a criticism and hard to justify after even a cursory look of Stalin's record, but, in evidence for the prosecution, Labour did get an unlikely endorsement recently. In their manifesto for the upcoming election, the Communist Party of Britain had this to say:

"Communists have no illusions about the nature of the Labour leadership. However, neither should anyone on the left view the return of the Conservatives to office with equanimity. The election of a Labour government would at least provide the opportunity to rebuild working class self-confidence."

It goes on:

"The Communist Party therefore considers that a clear Labour victory on May 7 is essential."

It's not all good (or bad?) news for Mr Miliband, though: the Communists are not very impressed with his economic policy, saying:

"It was the right-wing policies of the Blair and Brown governments which led to defeat in 2010. In the absence of mass working-class pressure, there is no reason to believe that an incoming Labour government under Ed Miliband would be fundamentally different."

To be fair, the Communists do not seem particularly impressed with any of the other political offers: UKIP "mobilises xenophobia" and its claim to be anti-establishment is "completely bogus"; the SNP have spending plans which have "little difference" from the Labour ones; the Greens are not a "coherent radical force". The less said about their view of the Coalition parties the better.

Dressing down for battle

...but where will it end?

David Cameron wearing suit and tie
BBC
David Cameron on Friday...suit and tie
David Cameron wearing shirt and tie
Getty
David Cameron on Monday...shirt and tie
David Cameron in shirt giving speech
BBC
David Cameron on Tuesday....shirt

David Cameron on Wednesday?

Not worse, just different

Mark Urban

Newsnight Defence and Diplomatic Editor

Daily politics show
BBC
BBC Daily Politics election defence special

If there’s one salient fact that emerged from today’s BBC Daily Politics election defence debate it is that none of those taking part want to spend any more on the armed forces. When asked whether, given what’s been going on in Ukraine and the Middle East, the security environment had changed for the worse, none would agree, all choosing instead to describe today’s prospects as ‘different’.

As the questions tracked across the size of the forces, possible threats to UK security, or what returning jihadists get up to, Michael Fallon (defence secretary), Vernon Coaker (Labour’s front bench defence person), and Sir Nick Harvey (Liberal Democrat) all avoided committing themselves to the target agreed at last September’s NATO Wales Summit, of committing 2% of GDP to the military. Mr Fallon maintained the Conservative line that there would be real growth in the budget for equipment (rather than the overall spending plan) and Mr Coaker that Labour’s blueprint for more public spending would allow defence to escape the ravages expected to befall departments left unprotected by David Cameron, should he be re-elected.

The others taking part in the debate were Angus Robertson of the SNP and Rebecca Johnson from the Greens. She made clear her party’s rejection of the 2% target, portraying it as a scheme to get European money into the coffers of US defence contractors, while he implied there was a job to do protecting the UK’s conventional forces from the cuts that would be needed to fund a Trident replacement. But Mr Robertson did not guarantee to invest the £100bn estimated through life cost of the missile system in other branches of the military. As for UKIP which is committed to the 2% target, alas we could not hear from them today, as the debate format limits us to five participants and the party has been part of several other programmes in the series.

What kind of defence budget will emerge from a new government facing these constraints? Vernon Coaker stressed the importance of a rigorous Strategic Defence and Security Review after the election – as opposed to previous exercises of this kind which have often started with a desired spending level and then cut the forces to meet it. Labour argues that Conservative commitments not to cut the regular army below 82,000, to increase the defence equipment budget (modestly), and to go for four Trident replacement boats, will further restrict their room for manoeuvre.

It’s worth thinking about that for a moment: defence, as an unprotected government could face cuts of 18% under the Conservatives. It would likely be less than that under them, and indeed Labour are certainly not going to leave the department immune from pruning. So there will be pain, and given the imperatives of Trident replacement and some other commitments that cannot be escaped, it will be grim.

What will the targets be? All manner of rumours are ricocheting around Whitehall. Some of the larger ships in the Royal Navy (including one of the much trumpeted new aircraft carriers) could be sailing straight into mothballs. The RAF is desperate to push its force of combat jets above seven squadrons (four of Typhoon fighters, three of Tornados) but it could easily drop below that. And there is scepticism that both of the country’s rapid deployment brigades (the Army’s 16 Air Assault and Royal Marines 3 Commando) can come through SDSR2015.

It won't be pretty, which is why despite the last Secretary-General of NATO telling us we are in a new cold war, much of the Middle East imploding, and the government last summer describing the fight against Islamic State as a generational struggle, everyone today chose to characterize the world in the way they did. It’s not got less safe or more dangerous. It’s just different.

Which came first - the politics or the economics?

Dr Chris Hanretty

Newsnight index
BBC

Duncan has pointed out that gross domestic product per head hasn't really recovered (see here).

That might explain why economic optimism continues to lag behind the recovery in gross domestic product. But economic optimism is as much about people's politics as it is about the economy.

Let me give an example.

The British Election Study has for the past year been collecting information on three things:

- People's feelings as to whether their own household finances have improved over the past year

- Objective information on levels of, and changes in, household income, grouped in different brackets

- People's party identification

chick and egg
BBC
Political behaviour and the state of the economy is like chicken and egg

In general, 22% of people think their household finances got a little or a lot better over the past year: not a figure which indicates much optimism.

For people whose household income went up by one "bracket" (about £5,000 for most households), 27% of people think their household finances got a little or a lot better over the past year. As we would expect, that's slightly more than the figure for the general population: but not much more. Increases in household income can be eaten away by rising expenditures, leaving people feeling poorer than before.

Let's now break that in to separate figures for people who intend to vote Conservative, versus those who intend to vote Labour.

Still thinking just about people in households with growing income, 41% of likely Conservative voters thought their household finances had got better.

But the equivalent figure for likely Labour voters is just 14% -- almost a third.

So even when we look at households where incomes are growing, Labour voters are just more pessimistic about the economy.

The economy has a huge influence on political behaviour. But that link runs both ways. Like the chicken and the egg, it's hard to work out which comes first.

Would a long period with no government hurt growth?

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

If the election's outcome proves to be as messy as many are forecasting, then it isn't hard to see the process of agreeing a new government taking a while.

Would this uncertainty hurt the economy?

Very possibly not. Belgium after all managed to go 589 days without a government in 2010-11. As can be seen below, that didn't really seem to have an impact on economic growth.

a graph
BBC
Source: OECD

Tories and sport

Where do the Conservatives have the leading edge?

Marc Williams

Newsnight Election Producer

David Cameron playing circket
PA
David Cameron in Sri Lanka in 2013

A few days ago the Daily Mail published an interesting chart showing how the majority of football clubs in the Premiership and Football League were in Labour constituencies. Before the election was called, 55 of the 92 clubs in England’s top four divisions were based in Labour constituencies. The Tories had 29.

Now of course most football grounds are situated in big urban areas which you might not expect to be Conservative, not in the last thirty years at least. But, I wondered, maybe there's something about football's working class roots that makes it more likely to be based in more left-leaning areas.

So, I wondered whether it was true for other sports. What about, say, cricket? Here's the list of teams participating in the County Championship:

Chart of cricket grounds
BBC

So, still a healthy Labour predominance, despite cricket's less egalitarian reputation (undeserved, it should be said). But who would have thought that cricket would be one of the areas where the Lib Dems would achieve near parity with the Conservatives?

There must, I reasoned, be some sport which for which the Conservatives have the geographical edge. After going through a few other sports, I finally hit upon it: Real Tennis. I found a list of Real Tennis clubs in the UK and discovered that, of the 23 listed, 14 were in Tory-held areas (before the election was called, that is).

Table of Real Tennis clubs
BBC

Note, too, however, that the Lib Dems are not to be lightly ignored on this front either.

Real Tennis and power politics have a long joint history. It was Henry VIII's favourite sport and also presented Shakespeare with one of his most famous scenes.

Housing costs

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

Housing has been a issue in this campaign. To see one reason why, take look at this tweet from economist Joe Sarling.

To get a mortgage as a first time buyer, you need almost 2x salary & 10x deposit vs the early 1980s #ukhousing

To get a mortgage as a first time buyer, you need almost 2x salary & 10x deposit vs the early 1980s #ukhousing

Harman on the road

Laura Kuenssberg

Newsnight Chief Correspondent

BBC
BBC
On board the Harman pink bus

Love it, hate it, mock it, or ignore it, Labour's Pink Bus has been on the road for weeks now and with it, has carried out visits to more than 70 seats that will be close in this election. There is a serious point to this separate strand of the Labour campaign - in 2010, around a million more women chose not to vote then men, nine million of them; and Labour wants their votes.

Newsnight's been with Harriet Harman on the bus on a tour of some South East marginals today, fuelled by wine gums and biscuits, the activists, not the bus. And her bus does appear to have allowed a different kind of campaigning to take place. In part, it's been the mode of transport for a senior politician doing the standard kind of visit to local parties to gee them up. But observing Harman holding meetings with female tube drivers, mums who've dropped their kids off at nursery or trying to stop young female voters in the street (shock, senior politician meets real person in unplanned encounter), in a way that does feel a bit different to standard campaign visits, particularly the ones we've seen so many of in this election.

As my producer Matthew wrote below, Ed Miliband has not been on the bus, the snacks weren't enough to tempt him, even though Ed Balls and Chuka Umuna have both been along for the ride. Harman insists she has always had his full backing and he will hopefully come along before the end of the campaign.

But does the bus campaign translate into votes? Well, Harman believes Labour has got lots of reasons to be cheerful. Although she stops short of saying Labour will win, she does talk, not very cryptically, about how the party is connecting in a big way, saying they are in 'touching distance'.

Judge for yourself at 22.30 tonight

Politician talking to voter shock

Shock - senior politician talks to normal member of public, Harriet Harman chasing voters down the street to press them for Labour votes

Politics in pink

Matthew Thompson, Newsnight producer

BBC
BBC

Greetings from the Labour pink bus! Newsnight has joined Harriet Harman as she continues her Women2Women tour of the country, trying to engage at least some of the 9 million women who didn't turn out to vote at the last election. The bus initially received criticism for its garish pink colour, and was accused of being patronising, but Harman has ploughed on regardless.

Indeed, Labour have taken some care to highlight "women's issues" in their campaign, with a separate "women's manifesto" launched a few days after the main one. The thing is, whilst Ed Balls, Chuka Umunna and others have all boarded the pink bus, Ed Miliband has yet to grace it with his presence. Harman herself has been notably absent from the airwaves, aside from a brief appearance on Andrew Marr last week. Perhaps because she's been busy driving her pink bus around the country... but you can't help but feel that it has struggled to emerge as more than a luminous pink sideshow.

Tune into tonight's show to see more.

Marginal matters

Why Labour's ground war might be their trump card

Laura Kuenssberg

Newsnight Chief Correspondent

BBC
BBC

Let’s face it, a Labour meltdown in Scotland is potentially so dramatic, and might have such far reaching consequences for the complexion of not just the next government, but also the future of the left in the UK, that there are very good reasons why so much press and political attention has been drawn there.

One Labour strategist says frustratedly, ‘if it wasn’t for Scotland we’d be looking at 310, 320, maybe even a majority.’ What happens will matter enormously, no question. Strategically, it makes sense for the Tories to try to draw voters back to them by talking up the 'threat' of a Labour administration that can only function with SNP support, and for the SNP to suggest continually they'd usher in Labour to neutralise the feeling many Scottish voters have harbored for a long time that there is no point voting for the SNP in a general election because on Labour can beat the Tories.

But if we are trying to work out what is actually going on, rather than just focusing on the extraordinary drama of the Scottish saga, it is just as important to look at what is happening, and more to the point, who is winning in the territories where traditionally, general elections are fought and won.

Marginal seats where the incumbent MP has less than a majority of 10 percent, are traditionally, where elections are won and lost. And by that equation there are nearly 200 seats where voters' decisions can shift the outcome for the country, 194 of them in fact according to this BBC estimate. The important thing, the vast, vast majority of those seats where the result is likely to move, unlike the majority of parliamentary seats that don't change party allegiance for decades, are in England.

Labour sources tell Newsnight that its ground campaign is, in many parts of the country, better run, and more fruitful than their opponents' efforts. They now have 200 organisers working in the field, have spoken to 2 million voters since the start of the year and are well on their way to speaking to more than 4 million voters by the time polling day comes. The belief, it is one to one contact, not the vigorous war being fought on our tv screens and in newspaper columns, that will shift opinions. They make great play of their online efforts too - with around 20,000 people signing up to volunteer through their digital campaign since the start of the year. Although the Conservatives are significantly better financed, Labour believes they are outmanning and outplaying them in some places.

In the first phase of the campaign numbers suggested Labour had talked to 40% of voters - phone canvassing, nearly twice as many as the Tories, on 21%. 65% of likely voters have had some form of party literature from Labour, only 42% from the Conservatives. Lord Ashcroft, the Conservative peer who has been behind enormous marginal polling studies has often reported a similar picture - that the Labour ground war seems in many parts of the country to be reaching more voters.

What's that I hear you cry? 'They would say that, wouldn't they?" Well of course, but in talking to candidates privately - it is more rare to find a Conservative candidate who is enthusiastic about the progress of their campaign, than a Labour candidate who believes their ground war is going much better than they had expected. It is the pavement pounding, the envelope stuffing, and the persuasion in close seats that really counts. However fascinating and fundamental the way voters are shifting in Scotland, just because something new becomes vitally important, the old rules do still apply. The marginals still matter.

PS - I can't help myself noting however one staggering fact as it looks likely that Scotland is heading towards a total inversion of its Westminster representatives. In 2010 not one SINGLE Scottish seat changed hands. This time, nearly all of them might.

A full version of this article is available here.

A messy outcome?

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

The latest projections from Election Forecast (the people behind the Newsnight Index) point to a very messy outcome at next week's election.

To get a sense of just how messy - take a look at this graphic on possible coalitions from the FT.

a graph
FT
Source: Data from Election Forecast

An age of appeasement?

Lewis Goodall

Newsnight producer

BBC
BBC

Nigel Farage told Evan Davis last week that UKIP was changing its tone.

For the first time he indicated that in order 'to get noticed' the party had occasionally used a heightened language and a tone: "To wake people up to the truth of what is going on you sometimes have to say things in a way to get noticed."

He went on to say that the party no longer needed to do this and had fought a very positive election campaign.

That may well be true but if his speech this morning was anything to go by he hasn't yet lost his knack for using an emotive phrase or two.

He said that the Barnett Formula (which assigns funding to the different nations of the UK) is "an act of appeasement."

Appeasement is obviously a very historically loaded term. I'm not sure how the SNP and Scotland might feel with the parallel with Nazi Germany (or for that matter David Cameron and Ed Miliband with Neville Chamberlain).

It isn't the first time Mr Farage has used the phrase. He first mentioned it just over a week ago. If it becomes a UKIP theme, don't be surprised if sparks fly both north and south of the border.

Five things we know about GDP

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

a graph
BBC
Source: ONS

The latest GDP stats show growth slowing to 0.3% in the first quarter of this year – well behind expectations of a slowdown to 0.5%. It’s only one data point and is subject to revisions, so there’s always a danger of overanalysing. Taking a look at the slightly longer term, here are five things we can be reasonably sure about.

1. Quarterly growth has been slowing since early 2014. To that extent, this isn’t just an outlier – even if it is revised back up to around 0.5% the big picture will be unchanged.

2. Whilst overall GDP is now well above pre-crisis levels, that’s been driven by the service sector. Production (and manufacturing within that) and construction remain well below where they were in 2008.

3. Whilst GDP is now back above its 2008 level, GDP per head is not. To a large extent the recovery has been driven by “more people” rather than “people producing more”. This explains why the recovery hasn't felt like a real recovery to many.

4. The UK’s productivity performance remains exceptionally weak. Even with slower growth in Q1, the growth of output is still behind the amount of hours worked.

5. In international terms the UK's recovery since the crisis has been firmly mid-table when it comes to the G7 group of advanced economies – our nearest peers. Ahead of much of the Eurozone but behind Germany and the US.