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  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

The view from the Westminster Arms

...or where not to watch the Leaders' Question Time

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

So - stupidly - I thought I would go to a Westminster institution, the Westminster Arms, for the debate to watch with hardcore politicos. There were some Top Tories and even more Top 'Kippers here. It was an error.

A busload of the Conservative nomenklatura had just come back from Twickenham, and the UKIP lot are basically part of the furniture at this pub. But it was a terrible venue.

People looking to read the runes; they kept to separate rounds. I am reading a lot into that. No UKIP-Tory deals here.

I mainly learned about how subtitles were terrible. It was rather noisy, and the telly was, scandalously, not fixed to a BBC channel.

Or to put it in subtitlese: "It war swarthy near sea. Anne the tell he wars can dolour sleigh not fix said two abe be sea channel."

So I apologise if my live analysis is below par. Most of what I could glean was from the reaction of the Tories to their chap: there was genuine interest and relief about the result, although - to be honest - they didn't worry too much.

All leading politicians can bat away these sort of questions from voters all day. The useful thought was that they aren't seriously worried by this sort of event. You don't get to be a senior politician, let alone a party leader, if you can't do this in your sleep.

In this particular pub, it became fairly unfollowable after the Cameron answers, to be honest. So apologies for that. When soliciting the view of my Tory companions, I suspect they may have succumbed to partisanship rather soon.

Or, as the subtitle-writers put it: part-ice ants chip.

Clegg's 28 minutes in the sun

...but it still felt like a sideshow

Allegra Stratton

Newsnight Political Editor

So far Nick Clegg has been on the periphery of these debates. The memorable moments - Miliband vs Cameron, Wood vs Farage, Sturgeon vs Miliband have passed him by. With Clegg's party polling 15 points less than the 23% they won in 2010, this was his last chance to turn that polling around.

Half an hour on national television is a huge piece of real estate for Clegg. His party have a decent account of their time in government - and what they might then do in the next one.

However it felt to me like a lot of the energy left the room during Clegg's turn. Apart from questions on tuition fees and coalition decisions, the sense of jeopardy never seemed to be there.

Don't rule out quite a few people being persuaded by Clegg tonight. His people think some of the people that voted for him in 2010 are still undecided and could come back. But this evening didn't see him put in a knock out performance and so the story will be about which of the two principals got the better of each other - Miliband or Cameron.

Ed Miliband's final election joust

Allegra Stratton

Newsnight Political Editor

Ed Miliband has had the most jousting practice out of any of the party leaders, taking part in every debate so far.

He asked for the names of every person giving questions, a technique which should work in theory but didn't quite in practice tonight.

He did however get down and dirty, moving off the stage and getting closer to the audience. The idea was to win the audience over with these touches but they didn't reward him for it: he was to be grilled as much, if not more, than Cameron.

Whereas the PM was tested for over half his alloted time on welfare, Miliband came under pressure over Labour's record on the economy and also possible deals with the SNP. It went on for a while, and his answers didn't seem to hit the target in quite the same way as his last performance. Miliband also seemed to go further than he had before - I knew he would find it difficult when he was inevitably asked about the SNP - in ruling out a confidence & supply deal.

In short, with Ed Miliband, in these public audience encounters, you can normally tell when he thinks he has won the room. To me, it doesn't look like he thinks he succeeded in doing so.

Meet Newsnight's Young Voter Panel

They'll be giving their verdicts on the leader interviews tonight at the end of the programme.

Harriet, Aaron, Durr-e, Danny, Cherry and Nikesh are all aged between 19 and 23 - and half of them have never voted in a general election before. As well as comparing notes on VAT, our panel are exchanging heated opinions, eating pizza and playing "political cliche bingo".

Newsnight voting panel
Newsnight's young voter panel

David Cameron's declarations of passion

Allegra Stratton

Newsnight Political Editor

David Cameron literally bounded onto the stage. Words per minute were up. The smile was back. This was a performance where a declaration of passion was the key message. After accusations by both opposition and within his own party that his campaign had lacked imagination and vigour this was his chance to alter the trajectory of the campaign.

He even started a couple of sentences with "that is why I'm so passionate"

But how did he do?

Well, essentially first half was on welfare. He emerged basically unscathed. It is one of the big vulnerabilities for him in this election - you can say what your giveaways will be in minute detail but not where the pain will come. But he managed not to give away any more detail while also suggesting to a large chunk of people that this is a budget you'll target. Quite deftly done.

The second half he managed to deflect questions on immigration (failed to meet his own target on reducing migration) and coalition politics. But it was on the NHS that he managed to most successfully articulate his message - linking the performance of the NHS with the strength of a growing economy.

There were no obvious howlers. He did pretty well and managed to be more direct and persuasive than previous performances.

Nhs consistently comes out in polling as the area where public would like more money to be spent #bbcqt

Public health and poverty

The national challenge is regional

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

Mark Easton has made an extremely important point over on his blog about public health discrepancies between rich and poor. I thought it was worth noting something else about public health: it's a regional challenge.

Simon Stevens, the English NHS chief executive, hopes we will all get fitter and healthier. In fact, that's one of the parts of the calculation he's made that means the English NHS will need just £8bn a year by the end of the next parliament.

But improving health is not a uniform exercise. The challenge is very varied. So there are particular hotspots where alcohol looks a serious problem. No single policy approach will work across the whole country.

On this map of the north west, the light areas are places where residents at or below the national average rate of admissions to hospital for alcohol-related harm. The darker areas are above (100, on the key, is the expected admission rate).

Alcohol-related hospital admissions

I'm troubled by the inner cities there. The darkest red flashes means there are neighbourhoods where residents are three times as likely to end up in hospital with drink-related problems than the average. There is a problem in the north eastern cities, too.

Alcohol-related hospital admissions

London, however, does not have the same problem. 

Alcohol-related hospital admissions

The south east, though, has a problem with overweight adults.

This map works a bit differently: the lightest colour covers the fifth of the country with the fewest overweight adults, the next colour covers the next fifth and so on. The map is also running a bit further east. It shows two big things.

First, the Medway towns (bottom right) have a particular obesity problem. The two darkest red areas on this map have very high adult obesity levels.

Second, while London has less of a drinking problem than the northern cities, south London has a lot of overweight adults. 

Overweight adults

The public health challenges isn't the same from town to town. There are common threads - poverty is the big one. But the precise nature of the problems is very changeable.

Gus O'Donnell: election result will put tension on union

Former civil service chief says warns of 'legitimacy issues'

Laura Kuenssberg

Newsnight Chief Correspondent

Lord O'Donnell welcoming Cameron to 10 Downing Street whilst still Cabinet Secretary
Lord O'Donnell welcoming Cameron to 10 Downing Street whilst he was still Cabinet Secretary

There are only seven days to go in this election. I’m not going to trouble you with any more of my predictions of the actual result – there are enough people playing that game already. But is it already possible to consider how we will look back at this election once it is all said and done?

The man who used to be in charge of the civil service, Lord Gus O’Donnell, who was so instrumental in putting together the coalition in 2010, thinks it is and that there are two major shifts that makes this election very significant - and potentially very messy. Interestingly, his observations apply whoever ends up in Number 10.

Talking to me for tonight's Newsnight, Lord O'Donnell was clear: the probable success of the SNP will "put extra tension" on the union between Scotland and the rest of the UK, and the union will be "subject to strains".

The SNP of course say, time and time again, that this election is not about independence. This old Whitehall hand however believes their likely transition to the third biggest party at Westminster will put new pressure on the UK as an entity.

But he also believes, as the share of the votes of the mainstream parties declines, and as we move to a multi-party system, the incoming government may face "legitimacy issues" because there will be "unparallelled divergence between votes cast and seats received".

O'Donnell, a cross bench peer says, "it looks likely the Conservatives will win England, the SNP will win in Scotland, and we will end up, quite possibly with Ed Miliband and Labour running the UK."

"People will think at the end of this, are there better systems? On May 8th, is this relationship between votes and seats so out of kilter that we should think again about it." Although the public overwhelmingly rejected a move to an alternative vote system, O'Donnell suggests the voting system is not fit for purpose.

The irony of course, is that over the course of the last Parliament, the public have been consulted on whether it was time to end the union, and whether the voting system need to change. In both cases, voters chose the status quo. But will the likely messy outcome of next week’s ballot cause people to think again?

You can see my interview with Lord O'Donnell in full on Newsnight at 22.30.

Low hanging electoral fruit

Paths to victory for Labour and the Conservatives

Ed Brown

Newsnight producer

There is often an implicit assumption that if the Conservatives have a country wide 1% increase in vote share and Labour's stays the same then they will gain the same number of seats as Labour would if they got a 1% increase in vote share the Conservative vote stayed the same.

This isn't quite true - and to show you why, I've generated two charts.

Each chart shows how many seats my computer estimates each party would win on the basis of a given increase in their vote share, all other things held equal.

Con extra seats
Lab extra seats

Now this is very rough - I've only done it for seats where Labour and the Conservatives are in second, and of course in reality the vote changes in all sorts of different ways in different seats - it doesn't just uniformly increase or decrease. Plus we have to make some assumptions about Scotland that may not hold.

But even with those caveats you can see already that there is a contrast - Labour's first 4% increase, in theory, gets it a lot more extra seats than the Conservatives' first 4%.

In other words, on the face of it, there appear to be a lot more low hanging electoral fruit for Labour than there is for the Conservatives.

And even if this picture is wrong you can be sure that each extra percentage point of the vote a party gets nationally does not equate to the same number of extra seats.

Tonight's show...blow by blow

Kirsty Wark

Newsnight Presenter

Tonight it’s all about pugilism on Newsnight – political pugilism and well, pugilism. We’ll bring you a blow by blow account of the last of the party leaders’ TV set pieces, the Question Time Election Special from Leeds Town Hall featuring David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg – later Lord Gus O’Donnell will tell us that whatever happens next Thursday there will be “extra tensions for the Union.”

And excitingly we’re hopeful that the great British boxer Audley Harrison will be joining us live from LA, if we can jack up a studio there, to talk about Saturday night’s super fight in Las Vegas between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. It will be the richest fight in history - $250 million – but is this spectacle what boxing is all about? How will it compare to The Rumble in the Jungle?

Newsnight interviews Gus O'Donnell tonight

Newsnight's Chief Correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg has just interviewed Gus O'Donnell, the former Cabinet Secretary. They talked about the possibility of a minority government, the voting system and the rise of the SNP. You can catch the full interview tonight at 10.30pm on BBC2.

.@bbclaurak & Gus O'Donnell on tonight - tells us "history books will say this is a fundamentally important election"

.@bbclaurak & Gus O'Donnell on tonight - tells us "history books will say this is a fundamentally important election"

Jess Brammar, Newsnight producer


Gus O'D tells @bbclaurak he thinks "people will think at the end of this [election], are there better systems [than FPTP]?"

Laura Kuenssberg, Chief Correspondent


just been talking to Gus O'D -his views on minority govt, if voting system fit for purpose + how SNP success wd strain the union online soon

Why the SNP does weird things to swingometers


Ed Brown

Newsnight producer

The swingometer has been a fixture of the BBC's election coverage for as long as I can remember. It's a quick and easy way of showing the relative position of the two largest parties - Conservatives and Labour. If the swingometer swings in Labour's favour, that means they're picking up seats - if it swings against them, the Conservatives are. Simple, right?

Except this time around, there's a decent chance the swingometer to go a bit haywire. And it's all because of the SNP in Scotland.

Let's take the most extreme case - one in which the SNP gets every seat in Scotland - there was a poll a couple of days ago in Scotland that actually suggested this result. That would imply that Labour had lost about half a million votes in Scotland (assuming 2010 levels of turnout) - and 41 seats. The Conservatives would have lost 1 seat.

Scotland vote share

Half a million votes is 6.3% of Labour's votes nationally. So, all other things being equal, this would represent a 3.15% swing from Labour to the Conservatives. Despite the fact that the Conservatives will not have picked up a single seat - or gained a single vote. Weird, right?

But some stranger things could happen once you factor in England and Wales. By my calculations, with a 'uniform' 6.2% rise in their vote (3.6% swing) in England and Wales, Labour could pick up 48 seats (all else remaining equal), 41 of them off the Conservatives.

So the final result across the UK would be:

Lab: Up 8 seats

Con: Down 42 seats

Despite the fact that the Swingometer would be showing a 0.1% swing from Labour to the Conservatives (ie in the Conservatives' favour).

Does this mean that the Swingometer itself is dead? No. In this scenario, it's still useful for regional measurements - ie a Lab-SNP swingometer in Scotland would be very instructive, as would a Con-Lab one in England and Wales. But, if the polls are right, the national, UK wide swingometer may well have had its day.

Five things you need to know about the spin room

James Clayton, Newsnight producer

Spin room at BBC debate
The calm before the storm

The Spin Room has become a much maligned element of the debates. Newsnight has broadcast live from every one so far – and tonight will be no exception. This is what you need to know about them:

1. Personal space. During live broadcasts spinners will go to desperate lengths to try and make sure a reporter is saying the "right thing". During the Sky debate one spinner stood, unmovable, next to the camera during Allegra's two way - arms folded, ears pricked - staring fiercely at Allegra.

We've also had to deal with a spinner who tried to influence Allegra whilst Newsnight was on air, literally seconds before she was about to go live. On that occasion we had to pull them out of shot.

2. Texting. Print hacks will file much of their copy before the debate has ended. So any self-respecting spinner will need to get hold of hacks during the debate to try and influence their writing.

The problem is most journalists are sat on large banks of desks beavering away on laptops in front of a cinema screen sized projection of the debate. They're physically difficult to get to. Much easier then to text them - which is how most of the spin actually happens in the spin room.

3. The huddle. The lobby is used to gathering around a political spinner after PMQs to direct questions at them - otherwise known as a 'huddle'. But during the last BBC debate George Osborne himself conducted the huddle - giving journalists rare, unguarded access to the chancellor. It was a clever move. Journalists are gravitationally drawn to the largest celestial object - so putting a box office politician into the spin room will get you more coverage.

4. Nuance. The best spinners exercise a certain level of subtlety in their spin. Telling a journalist that their horse won is blunt. Reminding them of favourable moments during the debate – or alerting them to positive polling data – is actually useful and may influence a journalist. The Conservatives have made a point to say how well Nicola Sturgeon has done throughout the debates. It gives them the appearance of objectivity, whilst also facilitating Labour's demise in Scotland. It's been effective.

5. Grease. All sides know how venal the spin room can be. One journalist told me they needed "two showers" after one debate. Another spinner said it was like "a feeding frenzy, only I can’t work out who the sharks are". But at least everyone is aware of the transactional, artificial and often seedy nature of the spin room.

The Conservative welfare question

The mystery in the Tory plans

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

Ian Duncan Smith

The splash on the Guardian, about how the Tories might meet their welfare pledges, is a theme I've banged on about before. It's the heart of the biggest area of uncertainty in the Conservative manifesto.

In short, there is one big thing we don't know about the Tories plans: how they would cut spending from this year to 2017-18. They've told us they'll cut £13bn of departmental spending, raise £5bn from tax avoidance and £12bn from benefits.

But that just changes the question. How will they raise £5bn from tracking down tax dodgers. Or cut benefits? That latter question is very significant - it's big both in terms of cash, potential impact and it's an area where the coalition struggled.

First things first, here are some snippets of what the IFS say about the Tory plans:

  • "The Conservative plans thus require them to deliver around £10 billion of cash cuts to benefits in the first two years of the next parliament, compared to £15 billion of cash cuts over the whole of the current parliament."
  • "The most that the coalition managed during the last Parliament over a two year period was less than £8 billion from 2011–12 to 2013–14."
  • "Finding the savings targeted by the Conservatives would almost certainly require significant cuts to some of the main benefits – child benefit, housing benefit, tax credits and disability benefits."

Second, in dodging these questions, the Tories have repeatedly noted their record in cutting benefit spending in this parliament under the coalition as a reason to trust them.

To be clear, though, that has not been successful. Setting aside what you think the benefit system should do, should not do and whether the changes have been fair, they've definitely struggled to save the money that was planned.

Detail would be helpful for assessing their credibility. I have posted these before, but I'll wheel them out again. Courtesy of Declan Gaffney, no political friend of the Tories but a fairminded expert, this table (taken from here) shows how the coalition has not managed to cut the benefit bill as was intended.

Benefit spending
Declan Gaffney

Before the 2010 Budget, spending was forecast to hit £217bn in 2014-15. The coalition knocked this down to £203bn. It came in at £215bn. The target slipped a long way. (Note, by the way, that "cutting benefits" doesn't mean reducing spending on benefits. It means spending less than would otherwise be spent. So the coalition cut benefit spending, and spent way more.)

Partly, this is because of the rising cost of housing, which has punched a hole in the housing benefit plans. Partly, this is because of the weak implementation of programmes like the Work Capability Assessment, which punched a £3bn-a-year hole in their maths. This graph tells the story.

For years, the DWP expected that the WCA, which reassessed claimants of incapacity and disability benefits for their fitness to work, would lead to dropping caseloads some time soon. It never worked. And now the Office of Budget Responsibility has given up hoping.

OBR IB spending forecasts

That's all why this is the top question for the Tories: we don't know which groups will be affected by this policy. And there is good grounds to doubt whether they can get the money they want. If that's the case, it would require further reductions in budgets for the public services.

#Lose yourself to chance

Dr Chris Hanretty, Newsnight Index

Newsnight Index graphic

In order to construct the Newsnight Index, we (me, Ben Lauderdale at the LSE, and Nick Vivyan at Durham University) are trying to forecast the outcome in each single seat - and to do so probabilistically.

(That's really just another way of saying, we simulated a lot of elections, and work out how often things happened across all these simulations). Normally, our focus is on the likely winner in each seat. But because we forecast the vote shares for each party in each seat, we can also think about some "special losers". All Westminster candidates must lodge a deposit of £500. If they win less than 5% of the vote, that deposit is forfeited. How many candidates from the eight "main" parties might be expected to lose their deposits? Averaging across all of our simulated elections, and knowing what we know about the parties' decisions to field candidates, we would expect the following parties to lose the following number of deposits (cost in brackets):

  • Conservatives: 3 (£1,500)
  • Labour: 2 (£1,000)
  • Liberal Democrats: 155 (£77,500)
  • SNP: 0 (£0)
  • Plaid Cymru: 13 (£6,500)
  • Greens: 389 (£194,500)
  • UKIP: 94 (£47,000)

By way of contrast, in 2010, 458 of 558 UKIP candidates lost their deposit, and 327 of 335 Green party candidates lost theirs.

The election ground war

Which party is knocking on the most doors?

Emily Maitlis

Newsnight Presenter

Fascinating figures are emerging on the canvassing ground war. The question Lord Ashcroft is asking voters is astonishingly simple: in essence, which party has tried to make contact with you? The figures, broken down into a few key English marginals- Kingswood, Loughborough, Pudsey, Gloucester etc - show Labour to be a full ten percentage points ahead of the Conservatives.

Voters who've been contacted by parties (England)

Now this is interesting because - don't forget - before the election we all thought the Tories had one huge advantage: money. The advantage of having a big election war chest is precisely so you can win the ground war. The numbers from the Tory-Lab marginals in terms of voter contacts have Lab clearly ahead and this suggests - at the very least - the Tories are not yet making that advantage pay. But the really striking figures come from Scotland, where Labour face electoral Armageddon. The kind of polling they face would make your hair curl. But the figures here suggests they are fighting tooth and nail.

Voters who've been contacted by parties (Scotland)

We have heard a lot about huge increases in the SNP membership - all battle hardened activists from the referendum. We also assumed that in Labour safe seats they probably had moribund local organisations. These are places they just assumed pinning a Labour rosette on a donkey would win them an MP. I suspect though that a combination of the referendum and the fact Scottish Parliamentary/local elections are voted on via a system of proportional representation means they've actually been forced to mobilise in such places in recent memory. It looks like Labour are determined to go down fighting. The Liberal Democrats and UKIP are not fighting a general election, however. They're fighting by elections. This should give them a sound advantage. Where money is scant - in both their cases - it has to be well targeted. The ground wars they are fighting are niche, but highly visible.