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  1. Newsnight Live is your one stop shop for post election news and analysis from the Newsnight team, updated throughout the day

Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

The path to power for Labour's hopefuls


Laura Kuenssberg

Newsnight Chief Correspondent

Ed Miliband at conference
Labour has changed the way they elect their leader

One departing member of the Labour party’s staff said to me today: "The building reeks of depression." People are being made redundant, posters are being taken down. There is very little to cheer. 

But as two other candidates who want to be the party’s next leader join the contest - Mary Creagh and perhaps Tristram Hunt - Labour must gee itself up for to organise a contest that will set its future direction, and fast.

Now the timetable is set, the next task is to form the electorate. After the embarrassment of claims of vote rigging in Falkirk, Ed Miliband changed the rules for union voting.

Ironic, given that he edged ahead of his brother because of the backing of individual members. But his rule changes could have a profound impact on who gets a say.

Members of unions that are affiliated to the party - around 2 million people - used to get a vote automatically, if they chose to use it. Most of them didn’t but their votes altogether counted for a third of Labour’s electoral college no matter how many of them bothered to fill in the forms.

Not any more. Labour has moved to one member, one vote, where MPs, MEPs, party members and "affiliate members" have an equal status. Crucially though, union members only get a chance to vote if they sign up or affiliate as individuals. This has to be proactively done; unions can’t just transfer their lists onto the party’s voting lists with impunity.

We just don’t know what impact this could have on the race. Believe one theory and in the next few weeks the unions will scramble to get as many of their members as possible to become affiliates, with potentially as many as 200,000 of them signing up to have a say. They will certainly try, and try hard, keen to exert as much influence as possible. 

But I’m told so far, only about 500 union members have taken the opportunity to do so. That number will inevitably rise, and perhaps rise very fast indeed, giving union members  a say that could rival the party’s membership, standing right now at around 230,000. 

But that is also rising, and the party is also making its own efforts to sign up new "affiliates" – members of the public who can pay £3 for the right to vote in the leadership election without becoming full party members.

So tonight there is nothing certain about how much influence the unions will really have over the choice of the next Labour leader. What is clear is that there is no one candidate yet the unions will stand behind. 

Equally, there is no one candidate they would collaborate to block – almost as important. One union boss said to me they may yet try to tempt someone else to be a candidate. Endorsements will matter, but individual members aren't necessarily swayed by their leaderships.

Under Ed Miliband the suggestion that the unions had a grip over Labour HQ prospered because of the manner of his election, and it stuck to him as he did take the party to the left and frankly, had plenty of other problems.

But as the party looks to the General Election in 2020, and maybe beyond, the votes of union members will be important, but entirely decisive, maybe not.

The party’s bigger problem right now is finding a leader who can convince the party and the public Labour can be relevant again and fast.

You can watch a clip of our interview with Len McLuskey, the boss of the biggest union, Unite, here. Or catch the full encounter on Newsnight tonight at 10:30pm. 

Back to basics

How do the Lib Dems come back from beyond the brink?

Marc Williams

Newsnight Election Producer

Dog waste bin and a pothole

As Tim Farron and Norman Lamb contest the leadership of the Liberal Democrats, the temptation for both will be to get back to the core Lib Dem playbook and fight hyper-local campaigns: what might be called a "dog poo and potholes" strategy. 

This was the basis of the Lib Dem rise from their formation. It firstly enabled them to build up a solid councillor base which gave them both an activist army and a hotline to the pressing local issues that residents cared about. Secondly, from that stock of activists came a cohort of parliamentary candidates who defeated Tory and Labour incumbents that they painted as out of touch with local people.

Local government has, then, always been very important to the health of the party. However, long before their collapse last week, all was not well with the Lib Dems and local government. Look at this, which shows councillor numbers for the three main parties since 1973 (colour-coded for who was in Government at the time)

Graph showing local councillors by party since 1973
Number of councillors for the three main parties since 1973

After a stellar rise in councillor numbers under the SDP/Liberal Alliance in the 1980s, Paddy Ashdown then built up a formidable power base in town halls across the country in the run up to the 1997 election.

The early 2000s were a period of stagnation, but the election of David Cameron as Conservative leader in 2005 presaged a gradual but definite decay in Lib Dem councillor numbers. Their entry into Coalition in 2010 accelerated this decline. As of the local elections last week, the total number of Liberal Democrat councillors has dipped below 2000 for the first time since the heady days of the formation of the SDP in 1981. Five years of Coalition has been undone around 30 years of growth.

The important thing to note, however, is that the rot had started to set in before they got into bed with the Tories. 

Before Tim Farron or Norman Lamb even think about how they can start to regain ground at a parliamentary level, this systemic local decline needs to be addressed. 

David Hockney: I didn't vote last week

Richard Crook, Newsnight Producer

David Hockney
David Hockney described the smoking ban as 'mean'

The artist David Hockney admitted he didn't vote in the last election in his interview with Newnight. 

Speaking to Stephen Smith, he said: "I didn't vote, no. I'd only just arrived. 

"I'd not been in England for two years, so I haven't been following it much.

He added that he "didn't really care much" about the election. 

However, while he stopped short of supporting any party, he did back UKIP's pledge to legalise smoking areas in pubs. 

On the smoking ban, he said: "I think its just a mean, mean thing they've done.

"There's 20 per cent of people still smoking, and smoking has gone up in the United States,and I’m told Australia as well. 

"I’ve always thought it would. The young smoke because they think they’re immortal."

It wasn't all politics though. You can watch David Hockney discuss perspective, selfies and becoming a national treasure on tonight's Newsnight at 10:30pm. 

Northern Discomfort

The cabinet is anything but a northern powerhouse

Lewis Goodall

Newsnight producer

Can the Tories capture the North with their devolution plans?

So the cry has gone out. It wasn't just an electoral ploy, the chancellor's desire to create a "Northern Powerhouse" is undimmed.

Chancellor George Osborne clearly has a laudable ambition to create a new economic bloc to rival London. Politically though he must too be very aware of his own isolation in the Cabinet in representing a constituency north of Stoke.

In the cabinet there is currently only one minister with a northern English constituency, the chancellor himself in Tatton. Aside from this, in paid ministerial posts there are only five Tory MPs with constituencies in the north (for north, I am using the EU regions of the North West, North East and Yorkshire and Humber).

  • Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) 
  • Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby)
  • Andrew Jones (Harrogate)
  • Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North)
  • Rory Stewart (Penrith and the Border)

That means on the government payroll of 80 ministers only 7.5 per cent are from the North despite the fact that the three regions together make up around a quarter of the UK population (and one third of England).

Contrast that to Surrey, which has 11 MPs, of which no fewer than seven are ministers, including the foreign secretary, justice secretary and health secretary. Or to put it another way, Surrey has three times the representation of the entire north of England in the Cabinet.

Now the Tories don't do so badly in the north, in the rural and suburban parts of the region they have dozens of seats, especially in Yorkshire and the north west so the PM does have room to address this as the years go by. But in this reshuffle at least he hasn't chosen to do so. And if the party wants to get a more substantial majority in the years ahead they must do better in the northern towns and cities. 

Perhaps the Northern Powerhouse will have well and truly failed if George Osborne hasn't a little more company in cabinet from some of his neighbours.

Len McCluskey: Blame Scottish Labour for defeat


Emily Maitlis

Newsnight Presenter

Emily Maitlis with Len McCluskey
Emily Maitlis grilled Len McCluskey on Labour's future

"What did Labour do wrong?" I asked Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite Union.

They didn’t get enough votes, he replied. I was starting to think it might be a slightly unrewarding interview. Then he added:

“I lay the blame for that very squarely at the feet of Scottish Labour. 

"Not only have they lost Scotland but I think they've been responsible for making certain that the Tories were back in power in Westminster.”

Calling for Jim Murphy to resign he continued: “In Scotland my view is very, very strongly that we have to say to the Scottish people we’re sorry for letting you down, for making you feel abandoned, and Scottish Labour is under new management."

"I think Jim and his colleagues should just leave the scene.”

He went on to tell me his thoughts on the prospective Labour leaders. And I asked him whether an endorsement from Unite could spell the kiss of death for any one of them.

You can see the full interview on BBC2 tonight at 10:30pm. 

Who are the wrong 'uns?

Lewis Goodall

Newsnight producer

UKIP figures
Raheem Kassam and Chris Bruni Lowe

This time last week Patrick O'Flynn was saying this:


Now he's saying this: 

" I have been a loyal supporter of his leadership all the way along but a couple of people in his inner circle - for want of a better term - they are wrong 'uns."

He added that the advisers want to take UKIP "in a direction of some hard right ultra-aggressive American Tea Party movement." He also said Mr Farage has become a "snarling, thin-skinned aggressive man" who should be challenged for the leadership.

But can it be that a man O'Flynn continues to describe as "my political hero" could be persuaded to take so many mistakes by a couple of "wrong uns"? 

Shortly after Mr. O'Flynn made his comments one of Mr. Farage's principal advisers, Raheem Kassam, changed his Twitter biography to "wrong 'un". He has just resigned from the party so he'd probably be a good person with whom to start.

Raheem Kassam

He was hired by Mr. Farage last year. He is a member of the Bow Group, the Henry Jackson Society, the Young Britons' Foundation.  He is a former manager of the Student Rights organisation, which claims to "ensure freedom of speech and freedom from political oppression for students". Last February, he helped to establish a London outpost of Breitbart, a Right-wing US-based news and opinion website. He was also part of the British Tea Party movement. He says his hero is the American liberatarian senator Barry Goldwater.

He also knows a thing or two about dysfunctional organisations having worked for Lehman Brothers. 

Chris Bruni-Lowe

Bruni-Lowe used to work for the People's Pledge. Until last year he was a Conservative and defected with Douglas Carswell and ran the by-election campaigns in Clacton and Rochester and Strood.  He worked on the "No to AV" campaign and apparently harbours some ambition to work on elections in the United States.

Matthew Richardson

Matthew Richardson is the party's secretary. According to leaked documents last year he has been charged with ensuring “all of the bad stuff is kept out of the public domain”, i.e. the controversial comments sometimes made by its party members. Mr Richardson was appointed as UKIP had been impressed by his  “online reputation management”. He has apparently offered to resign in the wake of today's events.

The precise byzantine nature of the clash of personalities disguises a greater truth. Perhaps UKIP, without the disciplining factor of an imminent general election is simply facing an identity crisis. The raison d'etre of the party was to secure a referendum on Britain's continued membership of the EU. That is now a certainty. Obviously they can fight for Britain's leaving in 2017 but by the time of the next election in 2020 our status within the organisation will be determined, one way or the other. UKIP will need a new purpose.

Perhaps part of this is a first salvo in that fight. The two new wings of the party, one led by Douglas Carswell, advocate of e-democracy, libertarian, evangelist of "Gladstonian liberalism" on the one hand and the populist, immigration bashing and controversy courting Mr. Farage, with many permutations in between.  Mr. O'Flynn blames the gentlemen above for trying to turn the party into a Tea Party style U.S. operation but its worth remembering that five years ago Nigel Farage declared precisely that ambition, long before Messrs Bruni-Lowe, Richardson or Kassam arrived on the scene. 

UKIP is a relatively small party united by a common spine of dislike for the EU. Beyond that there's genuine debate as to where the party should go and which voters it should target. Perhaps that's why some senior party members wanted to have that leadership contest to have that debate in the open, as a result of the NEC's decision to reject Mr. Farage's resignation, that has not happened (yet).

Or they might just hate each other. Either way, right now the People's Army looks to have turned its guns entirely on itself.

Life after parliament


Katie Razzall

Newsnight Special Correspondent

John Hemming
Lib Dem John Hemming addresses his constituents for a final time after losing his seat

A week on from the election and it’s not just the 91 MPs who lost their seats who are smarting.   If you can’t shed tears for them, spare a thought for their employees, now facing redundancy.

I’ve made a film with three former backbenchers who are now preparing for life outside Parliament.

Dame Anne Begg, labelled one of Labour’s so-called Blair babes in 1997, lost Aberdeen South to the SNP.  As she packed up her London flat for the last time, she told me: “There are now 200 Labour staffers unemployed in Scotland.  If 200 people lost their job in a single workforce, we’d get a taskforce.”

John Hemming was Lib Dem MP for Birmingham Yardley.  Unlike some of his colleagues, who sobbed on the night their party was annihilated, he’s surprisingly upbeat.  I found him packing up his Westminster office, slagging off the Parliamentary broadband system and allocating his printer, fridge and air conditioning unit to a Conservative MP in the absence of many Lib Dems (“there are only 8 left, so if anyone’s going to get my stuff, she should” – it turns out they’ve worked on family issues together in the past).

The last of my three ousted parliamentarians is Lee Scott.  A Conservative, he lost Ilford North by only 589 votes and it hurts.  The pain of defeat is still etched on his face; he told me he isn’t sleeping and is deeply worried not just about his own future but his staff’s too.

My film’s on tonight; there’s even a parrot in it.  Tune in if you can.

The Productivity Challenge

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

a graph

Yesterday saw the release of upbeat employment figures from the Office for National Statistics and a downbeat productivity forecast from the Bank of England.

Whilst unemployment continues to fall and wages continue to grow, policy makers are becoming more pessimistic on Britain's productivity.

In the last Parliament it was easy to concentrate on the silver lining of strong employment growth but in this Parliament, the cloud of weak productivity may be a bigger issue.

I've blogged today on the next stage in Britain's productivity puzzle

How are MPs' offices divvied out?

James Clayton, Political Producer

The Houses of Parliament

This week there’s been one question, above all others, that’s been at the forefront of MPs’ minds: which office am I going to get?

Offices in Parliament are extremely variable – in their size and also their proximity to the chamber. Some, like Iain Duncan Smith's former office, are great palatial chambers – wood panelled – and with spectacular views of the river. Others are windowless caves, tucked away in the bowels of Parliament. They’re so small staff have to work in different offices to their MPs.

Thankfully, there are some unofficial rules for how they are allocated (by the whips’ office) – to maintain order. Here they are:

1.       Serving your time. As an MP gets more senior they are given better and better offices. The worst offices are given to new MPs.

2.       Ministerial positions. In theory if an MP is a minister they should be given smaller, grottier rooms. The idea is that they’ll be spending most of their time in ministerial offices.

3.       Goody two-shoes. Voted with your party unquestioningly in the last parliament? Well, it’s time for a reward. Whips use their room allocation duties to thank MPs for their loyalty.

4.       Rebels. Oh dear. You’re probably not getting a good office.

5.       Former ministers. The best offices are allocated to grandees – previous secretary of states that need the dignity of a statesmanlike pad.

The slight problem the whips have is that one man’s rubbish is another man’s treasure, and often it’s quite hard to work out what the good, and bad, offices actually are.

The perceived wisdom is that the best offices are in the Palace itself. If you can’t get in there then Portcullis House is the next best option. Then it’s Norman Shaw South (which is slightly closer to House of Commons than Norman Shaw North) and after that it’s 1 Parliament Street (which sports small offices that are miles away from the chamber).

The slight problem with this is that (other than Portcullis House) these buildings are blessed with exceptionally varied offices. Norman Shaw South has some incredibly spacious and luxurious suites - so good in fact that the Leader of the Opposition has their offices there (despite a relatively long walk to the voting lobby). Some offices in the Palace itself are dingy and grotty.

As a result rather than allocate offices per se, whips will often give MPs the choice of certain rooms. In fact, some MPs will scope out potential offices before an election is called (you might know of one retiring MP that has a particularly sweet set up) and then ask for it early and loudly on Monday morning.

The whole procedure is completely preposterous and anachronistic – but I promise you – this is one issue that MPs really do care about.

Are we all middle class now?


Evan Davis

Newsnight Presenter

Len McCluskey
Len McCluskey, head of Unite, refutes the claim that Labour lost because they were "too left wing"

A week since polling day and debate is raging in the Labour Party at what went wrong and, by implication, which voters need to be targeted next time round.

Obviously, we've heard a lot from the "aspiration nation" side of the argument, suggesting Labour needs to re-awaken its friendship with the more affluent middle class in order to win southern seats off the Conservatives.

But then, yesterday in the New Statesman, Labour's deputy chair, Jon Trickett made a devastating argument against that point of view, suggesting that it was the working class that “sunk labour”.

He showed how Labour's poll rating had not dived among ABC1 voters in recent elections (loosely, the professional and middle class), but it had in fact dropped among its base - the C2DE categories (from a 48 per cent share to 37 per cent between 2005 and 2015). His conclusion is that the party needs to reconnect to working-class voters who switched to UKIP, SNP or the Greens.

Can both sides of this argument be right? Answer: quite possibly. The party does appear to have lost a proportion of its traditional votes and needs them back. But equally, it needs to be aware that the C2DE categories have been shrinking in recent decades. 

I was looking for the figures yesterday in preparation for an interview with Liz Kendall, and it turns out the C2DEs have gone from 65 per cent of the population in 1968, to 52 per cent in 1998, to 46 per cent today. (And while I don't have figures on this, within the C2DE category, I expect the share of state pensioners in the E category is rising, and they may well need to be treated separately from the C2s, the skilled manual workers).

In summary, Labour's biggest support has come from a group that has been getting smaller.

The overall size of the C2DEs may now be stabilising. But if it is, it's stabilising as a minority of the country not a majority. When John Prescott joked that we are all middle class now, he wasn’t quite right. But most of us are, and that makes Labour's dilemma all the more acute.

Rebuilding the Northern powerhouse

George Osborne's economic masterplan has a political subtext

Marc Williams

Newsnight Election Producer

George Osborne signing the devolution agreement in Manchester in 2014
George Osborne signing the devolution agreement in Manchester in 2014

The Chancellor George Osborne is today making his first speech following the Conservative victory last week. There are no prizes for guessing what the subject is: the Northern Powerhouse, his big political project.

The stated aim of the Powerhouse is economic: namely, that by giving more powers to the great Northern cities you can bring about greater prosperity. But there has always been an underlying political goal, which is to continue the tentative steps that the Tories have made over the past few elections to rebuild their power base in the North.

It cannot be denied that modest progress has been made. Look at these tables of vote share and seats won since 2001 in the North East, the North West and Yorkshire & Humber.

Tory performance in the Northern regions

3 out of 30 seats in the North East is hardly great, but it’s three times what they had 14 years ago. Likewise, around a third of the votes and seats in Yorkshire & Humber is a fairly solid representation.

However, it’s only when you look at the picture with a longer lens that the full extent of the Conservative weakness in the North becomes apparent.

A generation ago, the Tories were major players in the big cities of the North. Not any more.

  • Manchester: in 1975, they had 50.2% of the local election vote. In 2014, they got 8.2%
  • Liverpool: in 1978, they had 36.7% of the local election vote. In 2015, they got 6.3%
  • Newcastle: in 1978, they had 45.6% of the local election vote. In 2014, they got 10%
  • Sheffield: in 1975, they had 41.8% of the local election vote. In 2006, they got 7.1%

The Tories have no representation on any of the above councils as well as Knowsley and Gateshead. Look at this decline since the late Seventies:

Tory councillors in 1978 and 2015

It really makes it all the more impressive that David Cameron managed to get an overall majority given the restricted appeal of his party. As Margaret Thatcher was on the point of starting her long period of hegemony in 1979, her party had a healthy presence in the North. She also had 22 seats in Scotland on 31.4% of the vote.

The great irony is that, despite his attempts to pitch himself as a “One Nation” Conservative on the steps of Downing Street last week, David Cameron has considerably less purchase nationwide that Mrs Thatcher, widely considered poisonous in Scotland and the antithesis of the consensual “One Nation” philosophy.