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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. Scroll down to see entries
  3. Tonight on Newsnight - a health special live from UCH hospital in London, 2230 BBC Two

Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

Latest seat forecast

The Newsnight Index

Newsnight index
BBC

One poll today had the SNP taking all 59 of Scotland's Westminster constituencies. Tonight's Newsnight index doesn't go that far, but it does put the SNP on 48 seats, up one on yesterday. It is at the expense of the Conservatives, who the forecast now put at 9 ahead of Labour.

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

What did we learn from Milibrand?

Matthew Thompson, Newsnight producer

Russell Brand
BBC
Tapping into Russell Brand's following may help Miliband

On a day in which the Tories made a significant pledge on lower taxes, Labour promised not to cut tax credits, and the Lib Dems announced an extension of free school meals, it may strike you as strange that much of the political conversation today was dominated by Ed Miliband's decision to sit down for an interview with a stand up comedian.

Perhaps you can blame it on election fatigue - it has after all been a very long short campaign. But there is little doubt that Russell Brand, love him or loathe him, carries real heft. With 9.5m followers on Twitter (David Cameron, by contrast, has just under 1m, Ed Miliband only 454,000) and a YouTube channel with over 1m subscribers, Brand reaches a demographic - largely young, often disillusioned - that most politicians can only dream of. You can sneer that Ed's decision is a joke as David Cameron has done, but on that evidence it's hardly surprising.

The content of the interview, however, was less instructive. Brand ranted predictably about transnational corporations, HSBC, and "normal people" like him. It's hard to resist the temptation at this stage to point out that "normal people" don't have 9.5m Twitter followers and the Leader of the Opposition sitting on their sofa. But there we are.

The questions were often laughably soft - "Are you the man to stand up to the nasty banks, Ed?" You may as well have asked David Cameron if he was the man to deliver a long-term economic plan. Ed was allowed to come across as engaging, affable, with just a touch of that steel he is so keen to remind us he possesses - telling Brand he was plain "wrong" to suggest that there had been no developments in politics since the suffragettes. In all, there was much sound, and little light. But from Labour's perspective, that was rather the point.

Some people may lament this lack of substance, and there will be much gnashing of teeth over the reduction of political debate to a celebrity popularity contest. But we who inhabit the bubble must be aware that we are firmly in the minority. I would draw your attention to a ComRes poll out this morning which shows a startling lack of public awareness of the content of the party manifestos. I dare say many more people will watch the "MiliBrand" interview than will watch Newsnight this evening. But did we learn anything new from this encounter worth discussing tonight ? Not really.

Battle bus in the wars

Yvette Cooper inspects damage to Labour's Pink battle bus
BBC
Yvette Cooper inspects damage to Labour's pink battle bus

Newsnight is used to sending our reporters into war zones across the world. Little did we know, however, the risks that we were taking when we sent Laura Kuenssberg onto Harriet Harman's pink battle bus yesterday.

Thankfully she emerged unscathed, but, just 24 hours later, we received this pictorial evidence of how close she came to danger. It seems that while parking for a media event, the bus had a little altercation with a bollard.

It is not known who was driving the bus at the time or what their gender was. Thankfully, no one was injured.

Could Russell Brand help Miliband win the election?

Marc Williams

Newsnight Election Producer

Russell Brand and Ed Miliband
Russell Brand/YouTube

As the hit counter on Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband powers upwards throughout this afternoon, the big question is whether his performance will do anything to drag out that 18-24 demographic who, sadly, have become less likely to vote over the past few elections, as this chart shows:

Chart of turnout for 18-24 year olds
BBC

As it shows, turnout in 2005 fell below 40% for the age group before rallying somewhat in 2010.

But how important is it for Ed Miliband to win this group for him to get into Downing Street in just over a week's time?

Look at the table below, which gives the share of the vote for the three main parties in this 18-24 group since October 1974.

Number of 18-24 year olds voting for each party since 1974
BBC

As you can see, there are only two elections since where the Conservatives have won this demographic: Mrs Thatcher's initial victory in 1979 and her landslide follow up in 1983. It's important to mark how the Tories were able to eke out substantial victories in both 1987 and 1992 while just losing the youth vote to Labour.

On the other hand, the huge deficits they had during the Blair years illustrates that the Conservatives can't be too phlegmatic about the young vote deserting them. A look at current polling paints a pretty bleak picture for the Tories on this front. For example, the latest ICM poll puts them at 18%, Labour at 51% and Lib Dems at just 2% among the 18-24 group.

This would mean that Labour were two points higher than Blair got in 1997, while the Conservatives were nine points lower than their landslide defeat that year. Mildly astonishing to think that the Lib Dems might go from near parity with Labour in 2010 to near annihilation among young voters this time around.

So, in many ways Ed Miliband is playing on fruitful territory by courting the Russell Brand generation. However, as that turnout graph shows, getting their applause and getting their vote may be two separate things.

Escaping the bubble

Stephen Smith, Newsnight correspondent

Nigel Farage campaigning
BBC
Newsnight has been following Nigel Farage on the road

Do you have the feeling that the General Election campaign is being fought inside a bubble? That the parties and - let’s be honest – the media are talking to each other, but the voters aren’t getting much of a look in?

We did. So we set out to make a film about the strange, hermetic snow-dome in which #GE2015 is taking place. We began by tracking UKIP leader Nigel Farage down to a pub – not the most taxing bit of sleuthing ever, I’ll admit. Mr Farage is seen in pubs so often that you could be forgiven for thinking his team have mocked up the interior of a saloon bar – like the Rovers Return or the Queen Vic – and wheel it around everywhere he goes as a travelling backdrop. In fact, if I was running his campaign, I would tap up a friendly brewery to fit out the UKIP minibus as a little pub on wheels.

We found Mr Farage in a convivial social club in Ramsgate. He was accompanied by some veterans of the services for an event in a function room. Some drinkers couldn’t stir themselves from the public bar to go and listen to his message – about UKIP’s pro-defence spending aims. Which suggests that either some voters are happy to let the election drift past them, like a gaudy balloon - or else that these regulars had been exposed to the Farage message already.

The leaders of the two big parties – as we may have to stop calling them – have faced the most criticism for fighting the election out of sight of flesh-and-blood voters. We spent a pleasant if fruitless afternoon on the Essex Riviera, after what proved to be a duff steer that the PM was coming to Frinton. But we managed to catch up with Mr Cameron yesterday – in the somehow rather fitting environment of a company which makes radar.

The City's running commentary

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

Over the past few weeks, I've been providing a running commentary on the City's running commentary about the election.

Sometimes though it's best to ignore the commentary and look at what's actually happening in the markets.

Personally I'm struggling to see any signs of panic. 

What "election panic"? Against a broad basket of other currencies, Sterling +2.0% in last month, +4.1% since Jan 1st & +5.4% in last year.

2007 and all that

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

It may be 2015, but the economic record of the 1997-2010 government is still very much an issue in this campaign.

One big feature of the debate over that record is a simple question: was the economy in an unsustainable boom in 2007?

It's a question with contemporary as well as historical relevance. I've blogged on it today.

Newsnight Election: NHS Debate

Daniel Clarke, Newsnight producer

Newsnight NHS Debate
BBC

Tonight on Newsnight Evan will be presenting the programme live from the MacMillan Cancer Centre at University College Hospital to explore and debate the huge electoral issue that is the NHS.

We'll be joined by the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, his Labour shadow Andy Burnham, and the Lib Dem Health Minister Norman Lamb - alongside doctors, patients and experts.

The Sturge Surge in context

Marc Williams

Newsnight Election Producer

Nicola Sturgeon and Anthony Eden
BBC
Nicola Sturgeon and Anthony Eden may soon have a joint claim to fame

An STV poll out today puts the SNP on track to win all 59 of the seats in Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon's party polled 54% of the vote. This is a pretty mind-boggling prospect and had me scuttling through the history books to find a time when a party had a similar hegemony in a single region of the UK.

The first point is that there is only one time in modern history where a party in Scotland has polled over 50% in a general election. But it was not Labour. It was, in fact, the Conservative Party of Anthony Eden in 1955, which got 50.1% of the vote.

There is no example since 1945 (as far as I can see) of one party winning every single seat in a nation or region. The closest that I can find is the Conservative performance of 1987. In that election, Mrs Thatcher won not only 19 out of the 20 seats in East Anglia but also an incredible 107 of the 108 seats in the South-East (excluding Greater London).

Cameron’s tax straitjacket

Ed Brown

Newsnight producer

Duncan this morning pointed out that Treasury civil servants historically haven’t liked governments binding their hands on tax rises as the Conservatives did this morning as they don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.

To illustrate the extent to which Cameron has bound the hands of a future Conservative government, I’ve been doing some colouring in. This chart is from the budget, and tells us how much the government expects to receive in taxes - broken down by tax.

Tax pie chart
BBC

The red lines are my shaky handed addition - they show the areas that Cameron has ruled out raising taxes on today.

I’ve also added some blue lines on corporation tax - the Conservative manifesto says they oppose Labour’s plans to raise it, and they want to keep it low, so we can assume they're not getting much more out of that.

You can see what Duncan meant - if something goes horribly wrong in the next five years, this doesn’t leave a Conservative Government much room for manoeuvre.

The Exit Poll:

Emily Maitlis

Newsnight Presenter

Emily at exit poll touchscreen
BBC

A week tomorrow, as Big Ben Strikes 10pm, and the nation breathes a collective sigh of relief, you're either thinking a) phew, that’s over. Or b ) if you're me, just beginning.

The Exit Poll will be shown to a few of us just moments before we go live on a 20 hour election marathon special. Even David Dimbleby and our Editor get just a ten minute warning.

Politicians will by then have a pretty good idea of whether to expect good news or not. Their agents will have been phoning through snippets from marginal seats all day. But it is a rare party chairman who puts their neck on the block the minute the polls close. The broadcasters do and if it goes wrong (most famously in 1992) we will be hearing about it for the next 30 years.

So how do we put the Exit Poll together - where is it strong and where should we admit its weaknesses? Well - at the crack of dawn a team of 140 researchers from NOP and Ipsos Mori fan out. They head to 140 (mostly marginal) seats across Great Britain. They will be carrying a stack of ballot papers and their own ballot boxes. Every 10th person coming out of the voting booths is asked to write down how they voted and put their piece of paper in the box. The results are phoned through to one tiny room in a secret location in London.

Waiting to receive the data is a small team of psephologists lead by three men - the BBC's John Curtice, Sky's Michael Thrasher and ITN's Colin Rallings. They're the holy trinity of the whole exercise. The three broadcasters sink or swim together on this one. Joining forces means we can afford a bigger sample and we are likely to get a better result.

This exercise won't tell them who has won the most votes. They have no idea If turnout has crashed in some areas and soared in others. But they think they can work out who has won the most seats. And they do this by measuring how many votes have changed since they visited the same polling stations in 2010.

Measuring the change means that the postal votes shouldn't matter. They assume that the change in the postal votes will be about the same as among the ones cast on the day. And they don't assume some kind of universal swing. They work out if, say, student seats are acting differently and use the census to factor all those tiny differences in.

15 minutes before David stands in front of his screen they will come up with some numbers. This time they're going go to try and predict seat totals not only for Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. They're going to try and predict some for UKIP, Plaid, Greens and the SNP too. They've never had to do his before - but this is a different kind of election.

Last time they were spot on with their estimate. I remember staring at what looked like a move backwards for the Lib Dems and realising - with something approximating shock - that Cleggmania was a media construct, not a voting strategy. This time - it's all going to be harder - especially for UKIP and the SNP who aren't fighting national campaigns. We ask our psephos to put their necks on the block. And thankfully they do. The Exit poll is of course just a sample - adjusted as real results declare. But that's the moment the giant touch screen will come to life. This time around we will not only be bringing real results as they happen - but using the Exit poll to try and determine just where we will see seats change hands. Bear with me - it’s a massive leap forward - but it could be quite an exciting one. 

What do disaffected voters think of #Milibrand ? @BBCNewsnight will find out - when the full @rustyrockets Ed Miliband interview comes out

No tax rises - electoral common sense?

Ed Brown

Newsnight producer

The FT this morning carries David Cameron’s promise to put in law a commitment not to raise income tax, VAT, or National Insurance in the next Parliament.

Let’s put aside any worries over its economic wisdom and look at whether it will achieve what, at this stage in the election, is plainly its aim: to win votes.

First, the case for the defence - some of the Government’s tax cuts have been very popular. This is what people told YouGov they thought of some measures in the 2013 budget:

Income tax and fuel duty chart
BBC

Both tax cuts - both apparently pretty much universally popular. But there’s a second thing to think about - how much do people care about tax levels? This is what people volunteered to Ipsos Mori in March as being the most important issues facing the country (see if you can spot tax):

Issue index
BBC

Doesn’t seem like it’s that much of a priority does it - although I suspect if you asked what were most important issues “facing people like me” or similar you might get a different response. We might also hypothesise that some of the tax stuff might be leaking into people’s views on the economy which they do think is important - but that’s pure speculation.

In fact, the British social attitudes survey suggests that when people think about tax and spend in the abstract the majority of people in the UK consistently either want higher tax and spend or the status quo:

Social attitudes graph
BBC

And, when YouGov asked people whether they’d be willing to have a national insurance hike to fund the NHS a lot of them said yes (including about half of Conservative voters).

NINHS chart
BBC

So, odd as it may seem in the current political climate, there may actually be some votes to be gained in tax rises if you frame the issue in the right manner.

My suspicion is that the Conservatives announced their tax cuts policies on the basis of the first chart - and this announcement is just a way of bringing them up the agenda again. Or perhaps they’re, (horror of horrors), actually doing them because they believe it’s the right thing to do.

But on this evidence it’s far from clear that promising no tax rises is a guaranteed vote winner - just ask William Hague.

The Conservative tax pledge

What happens if growth is weak?

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

Chancellor's red box
BBC

The Conservatives’ pledge to legislate against increasing income tax, VAT or national insurance contributions is unlikely to go down well with Treasury civil servants. Traditionally they've warned politicians against binding their hands in what is an uncertain future.

The Conservatives have already made clear that they do not intend to raise any of those three taxes (in fact they plan to cut income tax through increasing the personal allowance) and they intend to run surplus on the overall government budget by the end of the Parliament.

The IFS pointed out last week that those goals are achievable – but at the cost of large cuts in unprotected departments and large (and largely unspecified) cuts to welfare spending.

But those forecasts are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility being broadly right about the path of the recovery. What if it isn’t?

At the Autumn Statement the OBR demonstrated the uncertainty around its central forecast by publishing two alternative scenarios – a high productivity one and weak productivity one.

If productivity growth remains weak then public borrowing as a share of GDP will be around 3 percentage points higher than currently expected. So if the Conservatives won and still wanted to run a budget surplus they would have to find additional cuts or tax rises worth some 3% of GDP – on top of everything they have already planned.

At that point the desire to run a surplus and the law against raising taxes could come into direct conflict.

The future is unknowable and that’s why the Treasury as an institution usually prefers to keep its options open.

What is the coalition's tax record?

Big cuts outweighed by some big rises

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

The effect of coalition tax changes (in £millions) introduced since 2010
BBC
The effect of coalition tax changes (in £millions) introduced since 2010

Tax policy is the flavour of the day (even though, this pedant notes, the meaningful content of the Tory tax announcement today - not increasing a range of taxes - was actually in their manifesto).

So I thought it would be worth looking at this table - my summary of the OBR’s estimates of the effect of coalition tax changes over the next five years, drawn from their “policy measures database”.

This is a Treasury-side document, so positive numbers mean measures “generate revenues” (tax hikes) and negative ones are cuts. I've split out the costings for some of the really big moves.

There’s been one great big rise: the main rate for VAT moved up to 20%. That is expected to bring in £13.9bn this year, eventually rising to £16.5bn.

That more than covers the cost of increasing the personal income tax allowance, but it won't for much longer. Meanwhile, changes to corporation tax have reduced government revenues at £5bn and fuel duty by a further £6bn.

Despite those big giveaways, taxes have been increased as a result of tax decisions. The OBR estimates that active decisions at budgets since 2010 have increased tax take by around £5bn this year, rising to £10bn next.

What’s causing that big lift from this year to next?

It’s an odd change: a change to pensions which means £5bn is being raised from inside the public sector. So it looks like a tax rise and gets scored as a tax rise. In practise, it will feel an awful lot like a £5bn budget cut for public services.