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Summary

  1. Newsnight Live is your one stop shop for elections analysis and observations from the Newsnight team every day of the election campaign.
  2. It will be updated every day as we count down to the election on 7 May.

Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

On tonight's programme...

By Richard Crook, Newsnight producer

Gunter Grass
Reuters
  • Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt is in the studio to discuss Labour's manifesto launch.
  • Highlights of Evan Davis' interview with Nick Clegg. The Spectator's Fraser Nelson, Lib Dem adviser Julia Goldsworthy and the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland will be here to discuss Clegg's legacy in government and the Lib Dems prospects on May 7th.
  • Looking back on the life of Nobel Prize-winning author Günter Grass, who died today aged 87.

Red lines and coalitions

The importance of Clegg on welfare

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

Tonight, Nick Clegg pledged that, in the event of another Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition, his party would veto Tory plans to slice £12bn out of the benefit bill.

It's worth remembering that this welfare commitment is very important to the Tory plans. This is because, without the welfare saving, unprotected departments face 25% cuts from 2016 to 2018. And with them, it drops down to 15%.

Bear in mind that the the police, local government and the military are all in there.

Without a majority or a partner party who will agree to welfare cuts, the Tories would probably have to change their fiscal targets or raise taxes to make ends meet. As I've said before, the prospect of a hung parliament makes every manifesto pledge a little more hypothetical than usual.

Four things I learned about Nick Clegg today

@EvanHD

Evan Davis

Newsnight Presenter

nick clegg and evan davis
BBC

Having spent half an hour interviewing the Lib Dem leader this afternoon, I think I learned four things about him.

1. He's genuine in his belief he did the right thing to go into coalition. He has no doubt and he isn't feigning his self-belief. Lots of people who are not Nick Clegg think the party would be far better off if he had turned down the ministerial car. Not him.

2. If you thought Clegg's attacks on the Conservatives could be read as an attempt to disassociate himself from the government of the last five years, think again. He is proud of the government's record because he doesn't think this has been a particularly right-wing government. He was even willing to be prompted into the "Hell Yes, I'm proud of what this government's done" line. This will not appease his many critics on the left who think he has Tory blood on his hands and hate the fact he shows no remorse.

3. He thinks this country has improved substantially over the last few decades. He said he thought that back in the 70s and 80s, things worked better in the Netherlands than in this country, but that is not any longer the case. He didn't put it down to Margaret Thatcher, but wouldn't put it down to any other government either. (He nevertheless thinks Britain can learn a thing or two from other countries).

4. He is at his best when he's angry. We saw it at one point when he turned on my suggestion that as someone from a mutlinational, multilingual, well-to-do family, the EU works better for him than for the working class. It could have been an awkward moment for him, but he used his indignation at the question to turn it to his advantage.

All this adds up to the fact that Nick Clegg still has a story to tell, and one he can tell with conviction. His problem is that in a world of binary left-right politics, it's hard to keep supporters on both sides of the central dividing line, and so by going in to coalition he inevitably has to sacrifice half or more of the support the Lib Dems had, and so now a lot of people simply won't listen to him at all.

Tonight's Newsnight Index

By Richard Crook, Newsnight producer

Newsnight Index
BBC

This election may be the toughest in modern memory to call so we've enlisted the help of Dr Chris Hanretty and the Election Forecast team to help. Each day they produce the Newsnight Index - their latest estimate of how many seats each party will win.

Their prediction is based on a sophisticated model which factors in previous polls, census data in various seats and results from previous elections.

You can see the Newsnight Index on our programme every night. But for those of you who can't wait that long, you'll find the latest forecast published on this live blog daily at around 5pm.

Today's Index shows a boost for the Conservatives on yesterday's forecast, and a small decline for Labour. The SNP meanwhile are unchanged.

Clegg would reject Tory welfare cuts

By Richard Crook, Newsnight producer

Evan Davis sat down with Nick Clegg today in the first of our Leader Interviews.

When pressed on welfare spending, the deputy prime minister described the Conservative plans as "downright unfair", and said there would be no repeat of the last coalition were they to insist on the proposed £12bn cuts.

Read the full story here.

Newsnight will broadcast the highlights tonight at 10:30pm, and joining us to give you their thoughts will be Julia Goldsworthy and the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland.

You can watch the full interview with Nick Clegg at 7:30pm on BBC One.

Evan Davis with Nick Clegg
BBC

A lesson in credibility

...or why Labour might get away with not promising the NHS an extra £8bn

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

Today's election battle is in one way very odd. Labour have a looser overall fiscal envelope than the Conservatives. That's because they are targeting only balancing the current budget not the overall one. This means that there is more space for spending commitments under Labour's targets than under the Tories.

And yet it is the Conservatives who have pledged to meet the Stevens plan to increase NHS spending by £8bn in real terms by 2021 - without specifying exactly where the money would come from. Despite having more fiscal space - Labour haven't matched the pledge.

This is a lesson in how credibility works. The Conservatives are seen to have established their fiscal credibility and so can make large spending or tax pledges without setting out the funding in a way Labour simply couldn't. But Labour are seen by the public to be credible on the NHS and so can get away with not signing up to the chief executive of NHS England's plan.

Further defence cuts loom

By Nick Hopkins, Investigations correspondent

There certainly isn’t a great deal of succour in the manifesto for Britain’s armed forces…only one of the 80-odd pages is devoted to defence.

And that page doesn’t say a great deal. If you are in the Army, you want to be reassured there won’t be more cuts to troop numbers.

There is no such commitment. The RAF wants the same. It isn’t there.

Under Labour, the Navy will get a Trident replacement. But there’s no mention of whether that will mean four new submarines or three. Which is important to defence geeks – and BAE Systems, the firm which will build them.

Labour has agreed to continue to spend 0.7 per cent of the national income on foreign aid.

Which is like rubbing salt in an open wound if you are in the military.

The bald truth is that defence won’t be ring-fenced from further cuts.

Which is not what the chiefs thought they were signing up to five years ago when they agreed to make massive savings to the military budget.

They thought that was it. Job done. They were wrong.

What is Labour's defence policy?

@MarkUrban01

Mark Urban

Newsnight Defence and Diplomatic Editor

Vanguard nuclear submarine
PA
Modernising the British nuclear strike force is assured in the manifesto, but how is not precisely spelled out

The defence and security aspects of the Labour manifesto acknowledge the “unpredictable security landscape”, promising to push ahead with a “fiscally responsible and strategically driven” Strategic Defence and Security Review soon after the election. It leaves open though all sorts of options, from how much they will spend (nobody should hold their breath on NATO’s 2% of GDP target) to replacing Trident.

Modernising the British nuclear strike force - the subject of some of the party’s bitterest battles of the past - is assured through a commitment to “a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent”. Some have commented that since Trident is not named, today’s formulation would not exclude some other alternative, for example deploying nuclear-armed cruise missiles on board hunter killer submarines instead.

While the Labour formulation is vaguer than some might like, and hence might leave wriggle room in a possible coalition negotiation with the SNP, the use of the term "Continuous at Sea Deterrent" implies to me the type of ballistic missile system that the UK has deployed for the past 50 years, first with Polaris and then Trident systems.

The manifesto commitment to support the UK defence industry “to grow Britain’s defence exports” is an echo of the party’s historic support, via the unions, of people working in that branch of the economy. It remains to be seen how well a drive to boost arms sales would sit with the aspiration expressed elsewhere in today’s document to “support human rights, always putting individual freedom and democracy at the heart of our foreign policy”. That phrase reminds us of another party tradition, the "foreign policy with an ethical dimension" advocated by Robin Cook after the 1997 election.

Overall then the Labour manifesto acknowledges changes for the worse in the international security environment, and the importance of maintaining strong armed forces, without offering commitments on the funding or size of those forces.

Moving on from New Labour

@BBCAllegra

Allegra Stratton

Newsnight Political Editor

Ok, so on to the second question I asked Ed Miliband. It was: "You said you wanted to move on from New Labour, which of the policies in this manifesto today would not have been in the 1997 manifesto?"

His answer: "You could have asked me a better question. Which of the policies wouldn't have been in the 2010 manifesto, that I wrote."

He's half right. That would have been an interesting question... But it wouldn't have quite got to what he feels he is proposing today that Blair and Brown couldn't sign up to.

Ed Miliband said: "I'm doing something that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown certainly didn't do in 1997 because I'm going into the election saying there are going to have to be reductions in spending outside protected areas. I think part of it is about changing circumstances, and about adapting to these changing circumstances, which is what the Labour Party has already done. And as I've said, I've outlined today my own political project, as I've done over the last 4 and a half years."

What I found interesting about this is that Ed Miliband seemed to be suggesting he has a tougher lot than his predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Usually there is a sense that somehow Ed Miliband is playing catch up with these past figures... That they are three time election winners, that bestrode the centre ground of British politics and he is struggling to get above 35% in the polls. Here Ed Miliband is suggesting he has it harder than they did.

Reshaping British Capitalism?

How ambitious are Labour's plans?

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

As I said this morning, there's a feeling of Harold Wilson-redux to Labour's economic plans today. And as Chris has argued below, Team Miliband's admiration for the German economic model clearly comes across in the manifesto.

But changing the shape of British capitalism is a (very!) big ask.

I've blogged today on the combination of Wilsonian rhetoric,German ambitions and fairly modest polices.

Rhetoric and policy

How well do the plans match the ambitions?

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

Ed Miliband
AFP/Getty
Ed Miliband launching his manifesto

Manifestos are tough. Politicians have to give people enough detail that they will believe their grand narratives. But, if they give too much detail, they end up stuck in thickets and defending a shopping list. They want to plant enough trees that you can see the wood - and no more.

My impression of the Labour manifesto is that you can split it in two.

First, whether or not you like their plans, there is a Teutonic musk to the rhetoric: more highly skilled, better paid jobs. Team Miliband has always had a bit of a thing about the German economy, which has had a good time lately.

Duncan has, rightly, pointed out there is a touch of Harold Wilson to it all (see his entry below at 12:14) - there is an ambition to recast the state with nudges and pushes. But the details are all a little modest. The policies do not quite add up to the rhetoric.

You can cast cuts to tuition fees, more high-level apprenticeships, a higher minimum wage and a state-owned bank as nudges in the same direction. But none is that big. And, together, they don't get you to Berlin.

But Labour has a second string: living standards. The proposals in this domain are not novel, nor that big and they are not transformative. They also get pretty expensive if you keep extending them indefinitely.

But, whether or not you like the proposals (protecting tax credits, a short freeze on rail fares, no VAT, NI or income tax rises), they are clear. And the test for whether they match the rhetoric is much easier than for their other plans: do they get a bit of cash to some hard-pressed people?

So Labour has a pretty clear retail offer on living standards, even if it's short-termist and not that grand. And some grand ideas on recasting the country, but the path there is not yet that clear.

Why polls are not what they seem

@Edsbrown

Ed Brown

Newsnight producer

ICM have just released a poll that puts the Conservatives ahead with a six point lead. This has got a lot of people rather excited.

Wiser heads will tell you that it is most likely a freak - a result of what statisticians call "sample error". Most polls have a sample of 1,000 people - which means that the numbers in them are usually accurate (about 95% of the time) to within 3% of the actual, underlying truth - ie. if a pollster says that Labour are on 34%, then they are almost certainly between 31 and 37%.

Take a look at this chart. It shows the Conservative lead over Labour in a series of 20 polls (let's say for the sake of argument they are over 20 days). If the line is at zero, that means level pegging - if it's above zero, conservatives are ahead, if it's below Labour are.

Have a look at it, and tell me what the story of this campaign is:

Graph
BBC

Perhaps a slight lead for Labour in the first five polls, followed by an uptick for the Conservatives later in the campaign?

Except here's the rub. These polls aren't real. I got my computer to take the underlying assumption that Labour and the Conservatives were neck and neck on 33% and then got it to add sample error as you would expect. So the ACTUAL Conservative lead these polls are showing is zero. The rest is, quite literally, statistical noise. A 6 point lead could easily be caused by this.

So, next time you see a poll that looks unusually good for your party, remember this chart. You're almost certainly reading too much into it.

The impact of Labour's cuts approach

@BBCAllegra

Allegra Stratton

Newsnight Political Editor

We're on our way back from Miliband in Manchester. Pretty buoyant performance from the Labour leader. There is a bit of a "Let Bartlet beBartlet" feeling to the Labour team.

I asked him two questions. His answers to both were pretty interesting.

First up the increasingly raw question about how little the Labour Party actually needs to cut to still meet its goal of eliminating the deficit in line with George Osborne's charter. Think tanks that Ed Miliband respects, have said that even in accordance with the Osborne-imposed tight reduction of the deficit, it is still possible that from 2016 Labour could get away with reducing the deficit at a slower pace - technically taking the country out of austerity. So a Labour government could end up quite close to the SNP, without busting the terms of the charter.

I asked: "The IFS has said for 2016 it would be coherent to do zero billions of cuts. Do you rule that out right now?"

Miliband said: "Yes".

He went on: "We've said very clearly that there are going to have to be reductions in unprotected areas, and we couldn't have been plainer about that.

"Our objective is to have a surplus on the current budget and have the national debt falling as soon as possible in the next parliament."

This is a development. It means that even though there are think tanks saying that Labour could get away with doing zero cuts from 2016, the Labour leadership believes it is right to go further. Labour would find it easier to keep the SNP on side if didn't make cuts from 2016. But today Miliband has ruled that out.

Interviewing politicians - high vis required

@iankatz1000

Ian Katz

Newsnight Editor

Evan Davis prepares for interview
BBC
Preparing for political interviews is a dangerous business - producers Marc Williams and Ed Brown, with presenter Evan Davis

By about this time next year, the Crick Institute will be home to 1,500 scientists making it the biggest biomedical research centre in Europe – a striking symbol of British science muscle. So it seemed a fitting spot to interview the party leaders about their visions for the future of Britain. It'll certainly provide no shortage for rebuilding Britain metaphors.

The folks who run the Crick Institute have been remarkably tolerant, even agreeing to down tools for several hours on the day of each of our interviews. But filming an interview on a building site presents its own challenges – for starters all our production staff must sport full building site safety gear at all times. The politicians should feel quite at home .

Evan’s full interview with Nick Clegg will be on BBC1 at 7.30pm and he’ll be discussing it with Jonathan Freedland and Julia Goldsworthy on Newsnight tonight. On Wednesday he's talking to David Cameron here.

The post-manifesto age

@maitlis

Emily Maitlis

Newsnight Presenter

Two weeks ago my (non political, non journo) friend was running round swearing that no party had yet published their manifesto.

It struck me as odd that she was genuinely angry – not just because it seemed like a delightfully unnormal thing to get angry about (‘WHY CANT I FIND MORE POLITICAL LITERATURE TO READ RIGHT NOW’) but because she must know – as presumably we all do now – that a manifesto these days can only ever really be an indication of a party’s direction of travel.

The Post Manifesto Age is a grandiose way of saying we’re in a funny place when it comes to party pledges. The electorate has to understand that the eventual policy will be a soupy, stewy, possibly gristly affair (that means hard to swallow) which will emerge as a result of the various and contradictory priorities of whomever forms part of our eventual government.

On Thursday I'll be interviewing the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Their Westminster leader Nigel Dodds has said he’ll work with either Tories or Labour – but not the SNP. He’s made clear he will expect the Tories to drop the so-called bedroom tax and for Ed Miliband to include an EU referendum if they wants the DUP's help. I can’t see either party agreeing to those measures right now. Can you?

So here’s one for you. What does the DUP really expect from this? A fundamental change of policy? A kingmaking sense of power? Or is this a polite way of throwing up things they care about but then settling for a bit more hard cash if push ever comes to shove.

And if a party is forced to renege on its manifesto pledge by another party holding its toes to the fire, well – is that a broken promise? Or the mature compromise of 21st Century multiparty politics?

Nigel Dodds
Getty
DUP leader Nigel Dodds has set out his wishlist for any coalition deal

English or Cornish?

By Newsnight correspondent Katie Razzall

Almost as far away from Scotland as it’s possible to be and still standing on UK soil, there’s a whiff of nationalism in the air. I’ve been to St Austell and Newquay to examine how the Liberal Democrats are faring in one of their traditional heartlands.

“Neck and neck” with the Tories goes the briefing. Recent Ashcroft polling, which the Lib Dems dispute, puts them behind the Conservative candidate.

But in Cornwall, I found plenty discussing their identity and the need for devolution of powers. Many people there don’t even believe they are English, just Cornish.

The Liberal Democrats, who held all the Cornish seats after the 2005 election and currently hold three, have tried in coalition to tap into that sentiment. The Cornish have been recognised as an official minority. The Lib Dems have promised a law-making Cornish Assembly.

But with their national popularity at a low, will it be enough in a place that has voted Liberal for many decades? When I talked about the Lib Dems, many folk mentioned David Penhaligon, the Liberal MP for the area who was killed in a car crash in 1986. “He would have been Prime Minister”, they said, with a misty look in their eyes.

As someone else put it to me later, many of the elderly Lib Dem stalwarts in this constituency are "still voting for a dead man”.

Minimum wage at £8 an hour - slim pickings?

Lewis Goodall

Newsnight producer

wallet
bbc

Already the trade unions are cheering and business leaders are griping.

Both are cheered and dismayed in equal measure by Ed Miliband's pledge to increase the national minimum wage (NMW) to more than £8 an hour by October 2019.

That's an extra £1.50 an hour than the current rate, a great headline.

In fact the Labour leader had already announced this policy back in September,

On 21 September, Ed Miliband announced at party conference that the rate would increase to £8 by 2020 - today they've brought that forward by a year.

If you're one of the 1.2 million people on the NMW an extra £1.50 in your pocket every hour will be very welcome indeed.

But there's an important caveat here. We would probably expectover 90%of that increase to happen anyway.

The Low Pay Commission (who every year make a recommendation as to what rate the minimum wage should be) have had a consistent record of recommending increases since it was established back in the late 1990s.

Indeed, over the past decade the average rate of increase has been 2.9% a year.

So if we already take as a given the twenty pence increase pencilled in for October this year which the government has already approved, if the minimum wage increased at that average every year, what would it end up as?

Current rate (for adults):£6.50

2016:£6.70

2017:£6.89

2018:£7.09

2019:£7.30

So we would probably expect the minimum wage to reach £7.30 in any event, if the Living Wage Commission acted in the way they have done over the past decade. Or only around 9.5% less than what Labour have pledged today.

Labour are effectively pledging to increase the rate by an extra 17.5p a year until 2019.

That is important- it means that by the end of 2019, someone on the minimum wage would earn £5.60 a day more under Labour than they would if the wage went up only at the average rate. Which is a significant increase, especially with inflation as low as it is at the moment (i.e. non existent)

But given we'd expect 90% of that increase to take place come what may and inflation is projected to pick up again in the years ahead, neither those trade unions nor business leaders should get too vexed.

A more political Low Pay Commission

Labour's minimum wage pledge is a big change

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

A payslip
BBC

One of Labour's key pledges today is to increase the minimum wage to £8 an hour by 2019. That's a year earlier than they originally promised.

At present the minimum wage is set each year by the government, acting on the advice of the Low Pay Commission (LPC). The LPC, which brings together business representatives, trade unions and academic experts, considers the evidence each year and recommends a level of the minimum wage that it believes would not endanger employment. In theory the government could ignore this advice and the set wage at any level it choose, but in reality such a step would be very unusual.

So setting the LPC an actual cash target is a big change.Rather than looking at the data each year and making a recommendation based on that, they'll instead simply be in charge of the pace of the rise towards £8 rather than starting from scratch.

Changing the remit of the LPC allows Labour to firmly offer an £8 minimum wage but any lessening of the LPC's discretion will make securing business support for the process more tricky.

Going Dutch?

How OBR costings could change British politics

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

Today’s manifesto says that Labour would “legislate to require all major parties to have their manifesto commitments independently audited by the Office for Budget Responsibility at each general election”. That might sound like quite a minor administrative change but it would have a profound impact on how British general elections work.

The Netherland’s provides an example of how. Their equivalent of our own OBR is the CPB or Centraal PlanBureau – its name is usually translated into English as the innocuous sounding “Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis”, although a more direct translation would be the “Central Planning Bureau”.

Dutch political parties submit their manifestos to the Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis/ Central Planning Bureau which analyses them and provides detailed costings and economic modelling. That has the advantage of providing an independent and objective set of numbers that are free from political controversy or spin. But to do that the CPB needs the parties to submit detailed plans well before the election.

The manifestos unveiled this week will almost certainly have been finished last week. That wouldn’t be an option under the Dutch system and that would be quite a big change in how our own election campaigns have traditionally run.

Labour's schools upheaval

A top-down reorganisation that's gone under the radar

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

Ed Miliband
AFP/Getty
Ed Miliband announcing his plans this morning

The biggest item in Labour's education policy today is not new, but has perhaps been under-scrutinised. Their proposed introduction of "Directors of School Standards" (DSSs) is potentially quite a big deal.

According to the original blueprints, there could be about 40-80 of these local schools tsars, overseeing the schools in their local area. So they will tend to have areas encompassing more than one local authority (of which there are 150 involved in schooling).

The original plan for DSSs also envisaged that LAs would "join together to appoint a shared DSS across a local area or sub-region".

These new regional bosses would be able to supervise local authority schools and academy schools alike, which would be novel. Academies currently answer to the Department for Education, while LA schools answer to the LAs.

There's another big DfE power they will take, too. The DSSs would be "responsible for commissioning new schools where there is a local shortage of places, encouraging innovative bids from established providers, good local authorities, parents, teachers and entrepreneurs."

Note Labour's choice of words: yes, there could be new schools run by local authorities - but new schools could also be run by other private groups, too – as free schools are. The DSSs would not mark the return of the almighty local authority.

It would be quite a big upheaval though. It would mean transferring power from the DfE in Whitehall and its 8 local commissars to as many as 80 new bodies.

Miliband dons Osborne's clothes

Ed Brown

Newsnight producer

Yesterday, a politician appeared on the Andrew Marr programme to talk about how his party was going to spend more on protecting the NHS.

Today, another politician stood up and gave a speech about how their party would be responsible with the nation's finances, in contrast to the other party that wanted to fund public services "on an IOU".

The first was George Osborne - the second Ed Miliband.

For those of us who have spent the last five years listening to Labour banging on about the NHS and the Conservatives about the nation's finances, this is ODD.

Manifesto red lines

Marc Williams

Newsnight Election Producer

All of the talk about manifestos has revolved around what each party's "red lines" would be in the event of a hung parliament.

Labour have started off strongly today. Their manifesto literally has red lines at the end of each chapter. As you can see:

Labour manifesto
Labour Party

Are Labour trying to convey some kind of subliminal message to the other parties?

The return of Harold Wilson?

Labour and the supply side

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

Picture of Harold Wilson
BBC

The economic policy debate in this Parliament has been dominated by discussions about public spending and the deficit. That's continued today with Labour putting their new fiscal plans on the first page of their manifesto.

But there's more to economic policy than just government spending. What really stands out from a quick skim read of the economic bits of Labour's plans is the emphasis on what economists call the "supply side of the economy". There's a whole section on improving productivity and how Labour plan to generate more high skill, high wage jobs.

The policies that Labour hope will help them achieve this goal are things like setting up a state-owned British Investment Bank and an Infrastructure Commission, working with employers on skills policy and a focus on innovation.

There's a whole section on "industrial strategy". Much of it feels more Harold Wilson than Tony Blair.

How the fiscal gap between the parties works out

Some numbers around the differences

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

An abacus
BBC

Notwithstanding Evan's scepticism (see below, at 11.46), I thought it was worth explaining what the fiscal gap between the parties is, we can tinker with the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts to have a go at working it out. These are ballpark figures, but I hope they will help.

We know that the Conservatives want to balance the current budget - that's the day-to-day budget excluding spending on infrastructure - by 2017-18. Their plans imply that they will spend £720bn in that year.

In the same year, Labour could spend more than £760bn. That figure presumes that Labour will only seek to balance that same current budget line by 2019-20.

It is, by the way, possible that Labour could edge to 2020-21, but we don't have figures for that. So I'm sticking with 2019-20. Either way, going for a later target lets them spend more throughout the parliament.

By 2019-20, the Conservatives' plans to run an overall surplus means that they could spend £809bn on both day-to-day spending and investment on longer-term kit. Achieving that requires overall cuts to departmental spending over the parliament.

If Labour aims to balance the current budget in 2019-10, they would need to only cover their current budget from the same revenue. So the scale of the difference between the party is roughly the size of the net investment budget.

That is a spending line currently pencilled in for roughly £30bn for that year. Labour could actually gently increase spending over the parliament and hit their fiscal targets.

What does this mean for debt? The Treasury estimates that the Labour path means national debt at 78% of GDP, as against 72% of GDP on the Conservative path in 2019-20. That's a significant difference, but it is not an Earth-shattering one.

It's not just the economy stupid

Evan Davis

Newsnight Presenter

One thing is bothering me slightly about this election campaign. We are quite naturally getting hung up on the parties' fiscal plans, but are we not in danger of doing so to the exclusion of everything else?

I can see why we've got here. Labour don't want to admit in plain language the blindingly obvious point - they'll borrow and spend more than the Conservatives; the Conservatives on their part don't want to tell us how they will cut spending to the level they propose. These pieces of obfuscation are important; they are central to the parties' programmes and deserve to be interrogated. Getting into the nitty gritty of their fiscal plans is how you test their credibility.

But for all our attempts to expose the differences between the parties, we haven't actually given expression to the central issue dividing them - how fast should we aim to get the national debt down?

Is the faster, Tory trajectory the right one because it leaves us with lower debt interest payments in future? Or is the more leisurely and less painful Labour one to be preferred? That is really the distinction between those two parties. Even if the parties don't want to have that argument, maybe we should have it anyway.

For what it's worth, I think public opinion will not be determined by precisely when a party is committed to eradicating the current deficit. It'll be on broad perceptions of competence and the potential for callousness in delivering the desired outcome.

The public know that fiscal plans often change once the election is out the way (if not in the months after, they change in the years after). And there are plenty of other things to talk about in this campaign (such as foreign policy; Britain's overall economic performance; constitutional reform; integrity in public life to name a few).

So while we need to clearly set out the basic difference of spending plans, we don't want to get too hung up on the minutiae of tax and spending. (And I say this as a devotee of fiscal maths, and a former researcher at the Institute for Fiscal Studies).

Duncan Weldon, Economics Corespondent

@DuncanWeldon

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

tweets:

Labour manifesto feels more Wilson than Blair - 'national renewal', productivity, industrial strategy.

Allegra Stratton, Political Editor

@BBCAllegra

Allegra Stratton

Newsnight Political Editor

tweets:

Am told the significant items in this manifesto: Accelerated min wage rise and protection for working tax credits both new.

Party like it's 1906

Newsnight Election Producer Marc Williams

Keir Hardie in a carriage
Topical Press Agency/Getty Images
Labour Leader Keir Hardie campaigning in the 1906 General Election (Hardie on far right of the car)

Party manifesto week is upon us. First off today is Labour. Most people, of course, do not read manifestos. One reason, perhaps, is that they are just too long now. Consider, in contrast, the Labour Party manifesto of 1906. It was just 243 words in length, that’s Twitter length by the standards of the time.

Other than length, there is little in that manifesto that Ed Miliband would disagree with, allowing for the slightly different priorities of the age. Take this passage:

“The House of Commons is supposed to be the people's House, and yet the people are not there. Landlords, employers, lawyers, brewers, and financiers are there in force. Why not Labour? The Trade Unions ask the same liberty as capital enjoys. They are refused. The aged poor are neglected.

"The slums remain; overcrowding continues, whilst the land goes to waste. Shopkeepers and traders are overburdened with rates and taxation, whilst the increasing land values, which should relieve the ratepayers, go to people who have not earned them. Wars are fought to make the rich richer, and underfed schoolchildren are still neglected.”

Other bits, not such much: an attack on Chinese migrants stealing British jobs would be a bit too Ukip-flavoured for the modern Labour Party.

In that 1906 election, the first that Labour fought as The Labour Party, leader Keir Hardie delivered a breakthrough result. They increased their number of MPs from just 2 to 29, setting them on course for their eventual usurping of the Liberal Party. Whether former political advisor and Harvard lecturer Ed Miliband can be as effective a salesman of the Labour message as Hardie, who worked down a mine at the age of 10, remains to be seen.

Labour's sales pitch on spending

They want to spend more than the Tories, but not sound like it

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

Labour officials and shadow ministers walk to manifesto launch
Press Association
Labour officials and shadow ministers walk to their manifesto launch

And they're off. We have some commitments. As Duncan has pointed out (below, at 11:23), there is the fiscal commitment. Their plans state that the party would spend more than the Conservative plans imply, but all their plans announced before the election will come with a specific source of funding.

Labour's summary of the document highlights a few things:

  • Raising the minimum wage to more than £8/hr by October 2019
  • A fare freeze for train passengers and commuters
  • No rise in the basic or higher rate of income tax, National Insurance or VAT.
  • Protecting tax credits in the next parliament
  • A new National Primary Childcare Service

The fare freeze is politically interesting: the Tories have committed to something similar, but Labour is keen to note their version is "fully funded" and they have identified specific spending commitments to cancel to pay for it. The Tories have not committed to any specific spending sources.

That sort of little policy illustrates how Labour is attempting something quite difficult: sounding tougher than the Tories on spending control while spending more.

4 years 6 months ago...

Laura Kuenssberg

Newsnight Chief Correspondent

'What are you going to say about the deficit, anything?'

'Erm no not yet'

'But don't you have to say something?'

'We don't really think so'

'But if you don't say something then for the next five years the Conservatives will slam you for borrowing'

'Erm, we're not planning on it, our economic plan will be better'

'But don't you think you'll have to say something, sometime?'

'Erm...'

About four and a half years ago this is roughly the conversation I had with a colleague and one of Ed Miliband's team. The other reporter and I were shall we say, rather surprised that this was the position the new Labour leadership had decided to take.

They had strongly held beliefs that their economic arguments were better and didn't want to be pushed into apologising or acknowledging mistakes they hadn't made.

Their conviction was that there was no need for Labour to make a bold statement on borrowing. Although there were many (including David Miliband) who believed the opposite and warned that the party had to be clearer about mistakes it might have made and indeed how they planned to pay off the national debt and worried, that the Tories would have too easy a time in the absence of Labour tackling the issue head on.

Fast forward to April 2015, and Labour's big manifesto idea is to lock themselves into a promise on borrowing. The whys and wherefores of the particular position will be debated endlessly.

But the political calculation to sell a tough message, at the last minute, may struggle to convince.

Labour's borrowing pledge

The gap between the parties is still huge

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

Treasury sign
BBC

The first page of Labour’s manifesto leads with their plans for reducing government borrowing. What’s new today is the rhetoric, centred around a pledge of a “Budget Responsibility Lock”. The actual substance of the policy of unchanged and a large gap remains between Labour and the Conservatives.

Labour have pledged to balance the "current budget" whilst the Tories are aiming for a balance on the overall budget. In effect this means that, under a Labour chancellor, the government could still borrow to finance capital spending (investment). That would mean an overall deficit of around £25-£35bn and is the largest gap between the two big parties in a generation.

The waters have been somewhat muddied by Labour’s claim that none of their polices would requie "additional borrowing". The word "additional" is pretty important here. Labour might not need to engage in "new"borrowing but they would reduce existing borrowing at a slower pace than under George Osborne’s plans.

There’s an economic and a political calculation being made here. Economically, Labour are implicitly arguing that with government borrowing costs so low, it makes sense for the government to borrow to invest. That’s a perfectly reasonable economic argument. But politically, Labour are clearly worried that any talk of borrowing is toxic and so are trying to camouflage a policy that many prominent economists would support.

Laura Kuenssberg, Chief Correspondent

@bbclaurak

Laura Kuenssberg

Newsnight Chief Correspondent

tweets:

This speech is a hundred times better than Ed M's conference speech... altho Lab versus vested interests theme familiar

First leader interview tonight

Evan Davis

Newsnight Presenter

I know the Labour manifesto launch is big, but do not forget that today is the first of our leader interviews. I'll be talking to Nick Clegg for half an hour; the encounter will be shown on BBC One at 7.30 this evening - straight after the One Show.

Highlights and post-match analysis will follow later on Newsnight.

David Cameron will be with me this Wednesday, 15th April

Ed Miliband next Monday, 20th April

Nigel Farage on Wednesday 22nd April

and Nicola Sturgeon on Monday 27th April

Allegra Stratton, Political Editor

@BBCAllegra

Allegra Stratton

Newsnight Political Editor

tweets:

Jon Cruddas, manifesto author, Stewart wood, part of Miliband's cerebral cortex. On stage not behind scenes for once

Labour manifesto launch
BBC

Allegra Stratton, Political Editor

@BBCAllegra

Allegra Stratton

Newsnight Political Editor

tweets:

Skim read Labour manifesto, v elegant and v helpful summaries but I have missed the news story. Apparently not all policies have been included

Here's one Kirsty made earlier - around 8.30am in fact

Kirsty Wark

Newsnight Presenter

The morning started well. I came downstairs to a blizzard of feathers. Stella, our black labrador pup had exploded a leather chair in my husband's study and was covered in the evidence. Our elderly black labrador Pepper just lifted one grey eyebrow as if to say "I told you so."

But now I'm safely on the train bound for London with a skinny flat white, the remains of the Sunday papers, and today's batch. The best bit about the journey is heading through Southern Scotland to Cumbria. The views always lift the heart.

Today it's the Labour Manifesto - Allegra's off to Manchester to report tonight. Will we manage to wrest something interesting from it? That's the challenge.

Evan will be brainstorming with producers before his interview this afternoon with Nick Clegg who insists he's tougher and wiser. Evan will be joining me on tonight's Newsnight to discuss how it went.

The biggest non surprise is Hillary running for The White House - can we make anything of that today? So early, so sunny. Haven't had breakfast yet….

Welcome to Newsnight Live

Ian Katz

Newsnight Editor

If a week is a long time in politics, as Harold Wilson may or may not have said, 24 hours can feel like an age in an election campaign. That’s why for the next few weeks the Newsnight team will be bringing you their take on the campaign day, as it unfolds, here.

We won’t be telling you who said what and where – God knows there’s no shortage of news about what the politicians are up to – but our experts will try to shed a bit of light on what matters and what doesn’t, what stacks up and what crumbles under a gentle prod, and what is really going on behind the soundbites, spin and smears.

You’ll find contributions not just from familiar presenters and on-air correspondents but also from the team of producers and editors whose names whizz by in a thankless blurr at the end of each night’s show. I should warn that a number of them are the sort of people who read Bank of England minutes for fun. This may be a terrible idea.

As well as analysis and insights into the day’s campaign developments, we’ll give you an early taste of the show coming up each night, and the thinking behind our running order.

Later today Evan Davis will be talking to Nick Clegg in the first of a series of half hour interviews with the party leaders. You’ll be able to watch it in full on BBC One at 7.30pm but we’ll give you a preview here.

Before that our team will be delivering their verdict on the Labour manifesto being unveiled this morning.

If you’d like to make suggestions about what we cover on Newsnight Live, or on the show, please tweet us at @BBCNewsnight.

Enjoy.