London draining life out of rest of country - Vince Cable

Vince Cable

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London "is becoming a giant suction machine draining the life out of the rest of the country", Business Secretary Vince Cable has warned.

Mr Cable made the comment while saying that he believed regional airports should be expanded rather than London's Heathrow Airport.

The Lib Dem minister told BBC Radio 4's Today some "more balance" was needed.

But Mayor of London Boris Johnson said Mr Cable's assertion was "stupefying and ridiculous".

And Labour criticised the coalition for "dismantling" regional developments agencies, arguing that its alternative approach to addressing economic imbalances in the UK had been "feeble".

Mr Cable, whose constituency includes Heathrow flight paths, has long opposed plans for a new runway there.

Start Quote

It's no good him talking about regional imbalances when his government dismantled the institutions that were addressing that”

End Quote Chuka Umunna Shadow business secretary

He was speaking after Sir Howard Davies' Airport Commission shortlisted three options for expanding UK airport capacity, two of which involved Heathrow.

With much of the business world in favour of more airport capacity in south-east England, Mr Cable was asked whether he stuck by his opposition to expansion at his local airport.


He said: "What this report is doing [is] trying to reconcile two different things.

"One is to try to ensure that, for the economic interests of the country, we have more connection to the big emerging markets.

"On the other hand we have hundreds of thousands of people in London living under the flight path with very serious issues of noise.

"All the parties have made it very clear that we can't make that problem worse."

The "way forward", he argued, was to make "more use of provincial airports".

Mr Cable described Sir Howard's report as "very well argued".

But he added: "One of the big problems that we have at the moment, which I don't think the report sufficiently addresses, is that London is becoming a kind of giant suction machine, draining the life out of the rest of the country.

"More balance in that respect would be helpful."

Key figures for London and UK compared

Shadow business secretary and Labour MP for Streatham in London, Chuka Umunna, said: "It's no good him talking about regional imbalances when his government dismantled the institutions that were addressing that - Regional Development Agencies - then put feeble substitutes in their place in the form of Local Enterprise Partnerships which they gave no powers to nor appropriate budgets."

The London mayor, who also opposes Heathrow expansion, described Mr Cable as "the cabinet minister in charge of supposedly growing the UK economy".

He argued: "He's talking rubbish. I'm amazed and I fundamentally disagree. In fact the opposite is true: London now contributes more to UK GDP than ever before.

"This city is the motor of the UK economy, and the gateway to recovery across the country, attracting record levels of overseas investment, all of which is helping not hindering recovery.

"Far from being a drain on the the rest of the UK London is helping to drive job creation and growth outside the capital as well as in it."

The BBC's former economics editor, Stephanie Flanders, explored the issue of London v provincial cities in this film for BBC One's The Editors

During the Today programme interview Mr Cable made clear that he would argue "ferociously" in government against Heathrow expansion but said it was not a matter over which he would be prepared to resign.

The final Airports Commission report is due by summer 2015, after the next general election.

The rise and fall of unemployment around the UK since 2005
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Claimant count - June 2012


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1313.

    Back in the 70s the same was said of Birmingham. It was, apparently, sucking the life out of the rest of the Midlands and the North. Cue a raft of policies aimed to curb that growth and shift it elsewhere. Well the first bit worked, but the second bit didn't.

    So before we hobble London we'd want to be sure its success is transferable. I don't think it's that simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1305.

    That the truly beautiful parts of the country aren't easily accessible to tourists is part of their charm. Any sensible person would rather take in the Lake District or Brecon Beacons.

    That said, the whole country would surely be better off if there were a network of major cities rather than the eggs in one basket model we seem to be stuck with at present.

  • rate this

    Comment number 890.

    London is a great city but I do think Vince Cable has a point. He was talking in the context of the proposed expansion of Heathrow, surely it does make sense to spread air travel across the UK? Also, such an expansion would make London less desirable and even more congested than it already is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 877.

    Reality is people like living and working in London and it is simple the main hub into England (not uk....). like it or not these are facts.

    But there is oportunity to have business elsewhere its just that the bussinesses that make the most money employ the richest workers and they dont want to live up north or anywhere else. I wouldnt given the choice!

  • rate this

    Comment number 847.

    London and the South East are grossly overstretched in so many ways. The rest of the country has spare 'capacity'.

    In the 1960's there was proper regional policy, which encouraged much activity that didn't need to be in London out to the regions. Such policy should be a standard component of every government's portfolio.


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Politics Live

    23:59: Recap of day's events

    Midnight approaches, meaning it's time to wrap up today's Politics Live blog. Here's a recap of the day's big political developments:

    • Downing Street has declared David Cameron will only participate in one leaders' debate - and ruled out a head-to-head with Ed Miliband
    • Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP have criticised the prime minister's stance
    • Fresh polling from Lord Ashcroft indicates the SNP are on track for substantial gains in Scotland - including taking Labour's safest seat
    • The SNP's Alex Salmond has reaffirmed his party's interest in a deal with Labour and declared his party is enjoying "massive support" north of the border
    • The debate over immigration has continued after Nigel Farage's speech and Ed Miliband's focus on the issue in PMQs

    The campaign countdown continues tomorrow from 6am GMT - join us then.

    23:58: TV debates

    And here's the Lib Dem response to Downing Street's letter. A spokesperson says: "The public want these debates to happen and it is not right for one party to dictate their terms to try and gain an advantage. The Tories clearly do not want to discuss and debate the merits of their manifesto with the British public - it's why they don't want them to happen during the campaign - but the Liberal Democrats do. David Cameron and the Conservatives should stop thinking they can hold these debates to ransom."

    23:56: Ashcroft reflects

    We have been reporting the findings of a series of opinion polls conducted by Lord Ashcroft which make for very interesting reading and which have prompted a lot of political reaction, particularly in Scotland. The Conservative Home website has published a presentation the peer made earlier in which he set out his thoughts on the state of the polls two months ahead of the election.

    23:55: TV debates

    A UKIP party spokesperson responds to Downing Street's TV debates letter: "After praising what a good thing debates were for democracy as recently as 2014, why is David Cameron now acting chicken and running as far away from them as possible?"

    23:45: Front pages The Daily Telegraph
    Telegraph front page

    Home Secretary Theresa May is being advised that anti-drugs lessons might be counter-productive, the Telegraph reports.

    @jillongovt Jill Rutter, Institute for Government

    tweets: debates should not be cosy deals between parties. Rules should be agreed by @ElectoralCommUK and @Ofcom and parties should have to comply

    23:34: Front pages The Guardian
    Guardian front page

    The Guardian highlights BBC Trust chair Rona Fairhead's call for a major shake-up of corporate governance at the broadcaster.

    23:28: 'Running scared' BBC News Channel

    Lance Price, a former adviser to Tony Blair, says David Cameron's stance on election debates is "entirely predictable" and suggests that the PM will pay a "heavy political price" for his decision to "run scared". While politicians have ducked out of debates before, he tells the BBC News channel that Mr Cameron is different because he was "so enthusiastic" about debates in 2010 when he was opposition leader. A seven-way debate will not be "very satisfactory", he adds.

    23:25: Front pages The Times
    Times front page

    Tomorrow's Times previews the final Budget of the parliament, which it reports could feature a pre-election giveaway for workers. That, at least, is the fear of senior Labour figures.

    23:23: Tories 'bullying broadcasters'
    Douglas Alexander

    Labour has responded to David Cameron's TV debates demands with a statement from Douglas Alexander, the party's general election strategy chair. He says Labour continues to support the broadcasters' proposals, before adding: "This is an outrageous attempt from the prime minister to bully the broadcasters into dropping their proposals for a head-to-head debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. That it comes only hours after Ed Miliband called David Cameron's bluff and said he would debate him any time, any place, shows the lengths David Cameron will go to run scared of a debate with‎ Ed Miliband."

    23:19: Front pages The Independent
    Indy front page

    The Independent's front page features a striking story concerning Lord Gus O'Donnell, the former head of the civil service, who attacks the political classes for not being sufficiently rooted in reality.

    @paulwaugh 23:18: Paul Waugh, editor

    tweets: UK's never had a Chinese-heritage MP. But now 3 PPCs in May: Alan Mak (Con Havant), Steven Cheung (LD Walthstow), Philip Ling (LD Tooting)

    @stephentall 23:04: Stephen Tall, Lib Dem blogger

    tweets: Lots of outrage against Cameron kiboshing TV debates. Can't share it. The broadcasters have been stupidly arrogant. Got what they deserved.

    23:01: 'Not a pleasant place' BBC Newsnight BBC Two, 22:30
    Anne Begg MP

    Dame Anne Begg, the Scottish Labour MP, is on Newsnight responding to this evening's polls from Lord Ashcroft. "This is not a pleasant place to be," she admits. "I'd much rather we were doing better, but often when our back's against the wall that's when Labour comes out fighting - and we will be fighting in every constituency to hold on to what we've got." Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond told the programme that the SNP would not work with the Tories, but Dame Anne pointed out the nationalists were happy to cooperate with Scottish Conservatives when they governed as a minority. "I think the people of Scotland are a bit cannier than perhaps Alec gives them credit for," she says, before warning: "The person who will be the most smug if the SNP continue to do well will be David Cameron."

    22:53: A 'progressive' Labour-SNP government? BBC Newsnight BBC Two, 22:30
    Alex Salmond

    The SNP could never do a deal with the Conservatives, Alex Salmond tells Newsnight, but a Labour-SNP alliance is very plausible. "We think we can do business with the Labour party and use the influence that Scotland has to make sure that progressive politics… can be brought to bear," he says. "Working with our allies in Plaid Cymru we can be a progressive and perhaps decisive force in the next parliament."

    22:50: Tony Blair donation The Guardian

    Tony Blair is donating £1,000 to each of Labour's 106 target marginal seats, the Guardian reports. Writing to the candidates who'll benefit from his donation, the former prime minister says: "I have every confidence that with your drive, determination and organisational skills, you will deliver a successful local campaign that will also see our party returned to government." The cash boost has been welcomed by party HQ, but a spokesperson insisted Labour's campaign "is based on millions of conversations with people on their doorsteps and in their communities".

    22:47: 'Keep calm' BBC Newsnight BBC Two, 22:30
    Alex Salnond voting in September's independence referendum

    Alex Salmond has been interviewed on Newsnight after Lord Ashcroft's polls suggested the SNP are set to make big gains in Scotland. "We're trying to keep calm," he says, after declaring the change underway north of the border represents a "new direction for politics" that will result in "the breaking of the Westminster establishment".

    @CairneyPaul 22:38: Paul Cairney, politics professor at Stirling University

    tweets: New poll suggests that even Wee Jimmy, who just joined the SNP for a laugh, will take a safe Labour seat.

    @johnprescott 22:34: John Prescott, ex-deputy PM

    tweets: Cameron knows Ed Miliband would destroy him in a one-on-one debate. Our PM is nothing but a coward and a chicken #tvdebates

    @nick_clegg 22:31: Nick Clegg, Liberal Democrat leader

    tweets: @David_Cameron The British public want the debates so let's get on with it. Stop holding them to ransom by trying to dictate the terms.

    22:18: 'Muddy waters' James Landale Deputy Political Editor, BBC News

    James Landale, speaking on the BBC News at Ten, offers some insight into the broadcasters' thoughts behind the scenes. Privately, he says, they think No 10's proposal for a single TV debate is a "pretty meagre offer". He adds: "They also reject the idea this has been a chaotic campaign. Others suggest doubt one political party will be able to dictate terms in this process." This means the prospects of any TV debate are now far from clear: "Water that was pretty muddy has just got even muddier."

    22:17: TV debates: Broadcasters' response

    The holding statement from the broadcasters in response to Downing Street's TV debates ultimatum confirms that they have received a letter and pledges commitment to "providing our audiences with election debates", before adding: "22 million people watched the debates in 2010 and we believe the debates helped people to engage with the election. The broadcasters have set out their proposals and continue to talk to all the relevant parties on an equitable basis. We will respond to the Conservatives' proposal in due course."

    22:06: Polls latest The Guardian

    Lord Ashcroft predicted a 272-272 dead heat this evening as he released his latest batch of marginal polls. The Guardian has now updated its poll projection by boosting the Tories' advantage by four seats - giving them 276 to Labour's 271. The SNP are forecast to get 52, with the Lib Dems on 25, others on 21 and UKIP on four. If that was the result, it would mean another two-party coalition would seem improbable:

    • Labour and the SNP would not have enough MPs between them for a clear majority
    • Labour and the Lib Dems would be even further away from a workable coalition
    • The current coalition couldn't form a stable government either
    • The only plausible scenario for a comfortable majority involves combining Labour's MPs with those of the SNP and the Liberal Democrats
    22:01: Ivan Lewis, shadow Cabinet member

    tweets: By denying voters the chance to compare +contrast the two men who want to lead our country, Cameron is displaying breathtaking arrogance.

    22:00: No 10 debate proposal
    David Cameron leaves for PMQs earlier

    Here's a bit more on Downing Street's proposal for a single 90-minute debate:

    • The seven leaders of the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green, UKIP, Plaid and SNP parties should be invited, with the DUP leader permitted to argue his case for inclusion
    • Lots should be drawn between the broadcasters as to which channel hosts the debate
    • The debate should take place in the week beginning 23 March
    @goddersbloom Former UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom

    tweets: I sometimes think UKIP policy depends on who Nigel Farage met in the pub the night before.

    @FraserNelson Fraser Nelson, Spectator editor

    tweets: SNP surge helps Cameron but at what cost? I'd rather live a lifetime under Labour than a day in a fractured, diminished, disunited Kingdom.

    21:38: Cameron letter to broadcasters The Daily Telegraph

    According to the Daily Telegraph, Mr Cameron has reportedly made a "final offer" to the broadcasters in a letter to Sue Inglish, chair of the broadcasters' leaders' debates committee, from his director of communications Craig Oliver.

    It reportedly reads: "Despite the prime minister having been clear about his concern around holding debates in the short campaign, you did not consult us before issuing a press release last October outlining your plans for three debates during that period. Had you consulted us, we could have also told you that we also did not think it was appropriate to exclude the Green Party from the process.

    "Despite all of this, we then entered into negotiations in good faith, during which I made the case for a more representative debates structure, including the Greens. It is fair to say that the desire to exclude the Greens was clear from all other parties present.

    "Three months later - and again without consultation - you surprised us again by proposing a new seven-party structure, this time not only inviting the Greens, but Plaid Cymru and the SNP as well. Again, this was a flawed proposal - that has resulted in the DUP initiating what appears to be legitimate legal action.

    "Since this proposal has been suggested, there has been chaos. In recent weeks, you have avoided letting the parties sit in a room to hammer out proposals, making progress impossible."

    "This is our final offer, and to be clear, given the fact this has been a deeply unsatisfactory process and we are within a month of the short campaign, the prime minister will not be participating in more than one debate."

    21:30: Breaking News The Daily Telegraph

    The Daily Telegraph is reporting that David Cameron has ruled out taking part in a head-to-head election debate with Ed Miliband and has "sent an ultimatum" to broadcasters that he will only take part in a single debate between seven leaders provided it is staged before 30 March, more than a month before the general election on 7 May.

    21:19: Scottish polls

    This is BBC Scotland correspondent James Cook's take on the Ashcroft polling we have been discussing this evening.

    21:11: UKIP 'in retreat' The Daily Telegraph
    Nigel Farage

    Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Dan Hodges suggests UKIP have "fatally overplayed their hand" when it comes to immigration and are now "in retreat". "The inflammatory language is gone. The posters of burning Union Jacks and forlorn British brickies are gone. The 50,000 net annual immigration target is gone," he writes. In its place, he suggests, are a range of measures which amount to "your typical managed migration boilerplate".

    20:56: Immigration debate continues BBC News Channel
    Alp Mehmet

    Alp Mehmet, a vice-chair of the immigration pressure group Migrationwatch, has been on the BBC News channel after a day of debate about the issue. His view is that more control is needed on new arrivals: "A lot of them are skilled, a lot of them are not skilled, some of them are frankly looking for a better life," he says. "That's what we need to control." Mr Mehmet was an immigration officer in the 1970s when, he says, the government's approach was more effective. "There's a great deal that we've abandoned that we could revert to," Mr Mehmet claims. "One is interviewing people - looking people in the eye and confirming what they're saying is true, that if they are coming here for a short stay that is indeed what they intend to do. At the moment there is less control on that than there should be."

    @ReelectWDavid Wayne David, Labour MP

    tweets: It is truly pathetic to see Cameron twisting and turning to try to get out of TV debates with @Ed_Miliband . Is it because he is #chicken ?

    20:44: '2010 fluke' Sky News
    Image of 2010 election debate

    Independent journalist John Rentoul tells Sky News it was a "complete fluke" that election debates took place at all in 2010 as it just happened to suit all of the three main party leaders. With UKIP, the Greens and the SNP to be factored in this time, things are much more complicated and, in his opinion, the debates won't happen. The public will be short-changed but "that's life", he suggests.

    20:32: Murphy: 'Bad news'
    Jim Murphy

    Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy has offered his take on Lord Ashcroft's polling presentation, which suggests that the SNP could win 56 of Scotland's 59 seats. He said: "This is bad news for Scottish Labour but great news for the Tories. David Cameron will be rubbing his hands with glee when he sees these polls, because any seat the SNP take from Scottish Labour makes it more likely the Tories will be the largest party across the UK."

    @CCHQPress Conservative Press Office

    tweets: UKIP left in the dark on @Nigel_Farage's immigration policies - just making it up as he goes along

    20:24: Election dead heat?

    Perhaps the most striking conclusion from Lord Ashcroft's polls out this evening is the prediction he's making about what all these numbers mean for the national picture. "As things stand, Labour losses in Scotland could offset their gains from the Tories, leading to something close to a dead heat," the Tory peer says. His forecast is that Labour and the Tories could both end up with 272 seats in the Commons. "This, then, is the battle: can the Conservatives fight back against Labour faster than Labour can fight back against the SNP? It is just as well I never bet on politics."

    @MorayMP 20:23: Angus Robertson, SNP Westminster leader

    tweets: Huge honour to wish Westminster @Plaid_Cymru leader Elfyn Llwyd a great retirement at St David's Day reception

    Elfyn Llwyd and Angus Robertson
    20:17: Ashcroft's Scottish outlook
    Scottish poll data

    Here's the table showing the results of Lord Ashcroft's polling, released this evening, in eight Scottish marginal seats. Some of the more eye-watering statistics worth highlighting are:

    • In Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Gordon Brown's constituency, the SNP are registering a swing of 28.5% that puts them on track to take the seat
    • The SNP lead by 5% in former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy's constituency of Ross, Skye and Lochaber
    • It's a dead heat right now in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale - the only Conservative-held seat in Scotland
    • Labour has an advantage of just 1% in East Renfrewshire, where the party's Scottish leader Jim Murphy faces a 20.5% swing by the SNP
    20:07: London holidays House of Lords Parliament
    Houses in the Belgravia area of London

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    19:59: Clegg office update
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    19:52: Ashcroft polls
    Ashcroft polls

    Lord Ashcroft has polled 12 marginals in total, four of which are potentially vulnerable Conservative seats. His snapshot suggests Labour could take two of them - but suggests there is all to play for in three of them.

    • Colne Valley, a three-way marginal in 2010 won by Jason McCartney, is under threat
    • High Peak, Andrew Bingham's seat, has an identical swing of 5% to Labour - but as the Tory majority is under 5,000 Lord Ashcroft puts Ed Miliband's party ahead
    • Norwich North, won by Chloe Smith in a 2009 by-election, is set to return to the Labour fold. UKIP is polling especially strongly here, registering 16%
    • The Vale of Glamorgan is currently held by Alun Cairns - and he's enjoying a 6% swing in his favour
    19:46: Whose socks?
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    19:35: UKIP on immigration Channel 4

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    19:28: Broadcasters' 'naive' on debates Sky News
    2010 election debate

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    @mrchrisaddison 19:21: Chris Addison, comedian

    tweets: Would it be more appealing if we told the leaders the debate would be moderated by Mrs Merton?

    19:08: Commons wraps up business House of Commons Parliament
    Mark Reckless

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    @Markfergusonmp 19:03: Mark Ferguson, LabourList editor

    tweets: Latest Ashcroft polling in Scotland is shocking. When the only ray of light is that your leader might keep his seat, be concerned.

    18:54: Expenses row
    Bob Blackman MP

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    18:50: Ashcroft polling in Scotland

    Here's the highlights of Lord Ashcroft's findings from Scotland:

    • Of Scotland's 59 seats, as many as 56 could be taken by the SNP
    • Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy is set to lose his seat in Ross, Skye and Lochaber
    • The Conservatives' sole seat in Scotland is very, very close to being taken by the SNP
    • Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy is on track to hold his seat
    • The SNP has a 6% lead in the seat being vacated by Gordon Brown in Kirkcaldy
    @robindbrant 18:50: Robin Brant, Political Correspondent

    tweets: .@LordAshcroft has polled in 4 @Conservatives (over lab) marginals, says too close to call in three of four

    18:44: Ashcroft polling

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    • 40% are not feeling the effects of the economic recovery
    • 58% don't want any more austerity, compared to 42% who say we need more
    • UKIP is the most popular party when it comes to immigration, on 31% to 22% for both Labour and the Conservatives
    18:29: Labour defeated on austerity House of Commons Parliament

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    @stephenkb 18:27: Stephen Bush, Staggers editor

    tweets: I wonder: does the Conservative message that the worst has passed actually make it easier for people to give it over to "nice-but-wet" Ed?

    18:27: 'Scary guy' Putin
    Alastair Campbell quote

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    18:20: Miliband debate latest
    Ed Miliband

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    "If he thinks they are an essential part of our democracy, it's time he stopped wriggling, it's time he stopped running scared and he actually said these debates are going to happen and he's going to take part.

    "Yes I'll do it earlier than planned because David Cameron has made another excuse today saying he doesn't like the date. Well if he doesn't like the debate, then let's move the date and let's make the debates happen."

    @Ed_Miliband 18:12: Ed Miliband, Labour leader

    tweets: David Cameron said he would do the live TV debate with me if it happens earlier than planned. I will do it anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

    18:05: Clegg double-take
    Nick Clegg (centre) ahead of a discussion on drugs policy Nick Clegg tweeted this picture of himself and Richard Branson ahead of their joint appearance at a debate on drugs in central London. No - you are not imagining things, there is only one deputy prime minister in the picture although the other participant in their discussion is wearing a strikingly similar shirt to the Lib Dem leader.
    17:50: Punch and Judy politics
    David Ward

    David Ward, who pressed David Cameron about the rowdiness of PMQs during the session, has elaborating his views on the state of the Commons' flagship event. The Liberal Democrat MP doesn't hold back. "Most people in the real world, outside of the Westminster bubble, think that prime minister's questions is pathetic and is the manifestation of all the things which are wrong with politics at the moment," he says. "People in Bradford see politicians evading simple and often important questions, being loud, boisterous and frankly just looking like a bunch of out of control public school children. No wonder people get apathetic about voting when they see how this lot carry on in the weekly 'Punch and Judy' show."

    17:50: Field: Don't 'throw in the towel' BBC News Channel
    Passport controls at Heathrow

    Returning to the immigration debate, Labour's Frank Field says a target on net migration is essential to "give direction" to policy, suggesting that to ditch it would be to "throw in the towel". "When you fail, you try next time to fail less spectacularly. That is how progress is made," the MP - who backs temporary curbs on freedom of movement within the EU - tells the BBC News channel. But economist Jonathan Portes disagrees, saying the Conservatives' current target has been a "miserable failure" and any numerical target is counter-productive.

    17:41: PMQs verdict The Spectator

    This lunchtime's exchanges disappointed Isabel Hardman at the Spectator, who wasn't impressed by rowdy MPs' heckling clashing with sensitive questions. "They were getting carried away to the extent that when a serious question did come up, many MPs were rolling so fast down a hill of heckling and laughing that they couldn't stop themselves when they needed to," she writes. Laughter over Labour MP Barry Gardiner's opening sentence of his question - "my father died of cancer" - was especially shameful, she says.

    17:40: Mexican visit
    Labour leader Ed Miliband (left) and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at Buckingham Palace. Earlier we showed you a picture of David Cameron meeting the Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto at Downing Street. Well, Ed Miliband has also met the Mexican leader, who is on a state visit to the UK. But the venue for their encounter was different - the two held talks at Buckingham Palace
    17:32: Eurostar sell-off BBC Radio 4

    Earlier today the Treasury announced it is selling taxpayers' 40% stake in Eurostar for £757.1m. The decision is a "disaster", Kat Hobbs, founder of the We Own It pressure group, has told BBC Radio 4's PM programme. "What we had was a public asset that could be run for the benefit of all of us, and George Osborne has sold it off - it's an ideological decision," she says. Dr Eamonn Butler, from the Adam Smith Institute, disagrees. "It's a good deal for the taxpayer, actually," he says, highlighting the fact that three-quarters of a billion pounds will help pay down the national debt. "It means there is more money in taxpayers' pockets."

    17:30: Reckless on immigration policy BBC News Channel

    UKIP MP Mark Reckless has been defending the party's immigration policy on the BBC News Channel. He declines to mention the word cap but says that between 20,000 and 50,000 applications for work visas were likely to be approved every year under the system his party is proposing. He acknowledges that total migration numbers could exceed 50,000 a year because of dependents and others coming into the UK but insists overall levels would be "significantly reduced" by applying the same restrictions to EU nationals as to non-EU migrants through an Australian-style points system.

    @hattmarris84 17:27: Matthew Harris, LBC executive producer

    tweets: EXCL: Colonel Bob Stewart MP has told @IainDale on LBC that he has seriously considered resigning as an MP over defence cuts.

    17:15: 'Worst ever' PMQs
    Paul Flynn

    Labour veteran Paul Flynn has seen one or two PMQs in his time, and it's his view that today's exchanges were the "worst ever". He called for the "demeaning spectacle" to be abolished if it could not be improved - you can read BBC Wales' story on his comments for more.

    17:15: Defence spending House of Lords Parliament
    Lord West

    Peers have been debating defence spending this afternoon. Former Labour defence minister and former First Sea Lord Lord West has called for the Conservatives and Labour to make a joint pre-election pledge to maintain spending at 2% of GDP. Lord West said spending, as a percentage of national output, was at a 25-year low and ministers were "horrifyingly complacent" about the resources needed to deal with the threats facing the UK.

    17:09: Spending debate House of Commons Parliament

    In the Commons the opposition day debate on future government spending has seen Labour's shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Chris Leslie, claim that stagnant wages, falling tax receipts and rising welfare costs have had a "devastatingly corrosive effect" on the health of the country's public finances. "The majority of people are not feeling the benefit of the recovery and the squeeze on living standards has never been so prolonged since the 1920s," he said. Treasury minister David Gauke insisted public spending is only "returning to the levels of 2002-03, before the previous government lost control of public spending". Mr Gauke also criticised Labour for opposing the government's policies to unwind the deficit. He said it is "down by half as a percentage of GDP, thanks to the stability we have put in place".

    16:58: PMQs verdict New Statesman
    Prime Minister's Questions

    George Eaton at the New Statesman has given his verdict on today's PMQs. He says Ed Miliband had the better arguments, but the leader of the opposition's questions didn't stop David Cameron losing his cool. "Cameron simply blustered through it at all," he writes. "Miliband's arguments were by far the stronger but at no point did the PM appear truly uncomfortable."

    16:53: Downing Street on drugs

    Throughout the day, we've been reporting Nick Clegg's call for changes to the UK's drugs policy following his joint appearance with Sir Richard Branson. Now Downing Street has rejected any shift in approach. "The prime minister and Nick Clegg, as you well know, take a different view on this," a Downing Street spokesman says. "The prime minister thinks we have got the right approach and you see that in the fact that drug use is falling."

    16:49: Debate discussions

    No 10 has responded to Channel 4 and Sky News' offer to reschedule their planned TV election debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. A Downing Street spokesman says: "We have heard lots of different things from different broadcasters for quite some time now. It is one for the political parties, but my understanding is that discussions are continuing."

    16:47: Shaking up PMQs
    Jack Straw

    Jack Straw, the former leader of the House of Commons, is speaking out to MPs on the procedure committee about prime minister's questions. "It's become less productive and more vulgar as the years have gone by," he says. Mr Straw thinks this is partly because PMQs now takes place in one half-hour chunk on Wednesday lunchtimes. Before 1997 it took place in two 15-minute sessions on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. What frustrates Mr Straw is that it's the whips who decide this format, not backbenchers, a fact he says is "completely unacceptable". His comments follow yesterday's launch by Labour of its political reform agenda, which didn't call for a return to the pre-1997 schedule.

    16:22: Immigration punishment
    Peter Kellner

    "When parties are seeking votes what matters is the plausibility, the credibility of what they say," YouGov president Peter Kellner says on the BBC News channel. "If you have one party saying we'll stop immigration, and another party saying we will control it better… voters will go for the more credible promise." He thinks Nigel Farage is being "quite smart because he's not promising the moon, he's promising something that is perhaps deliverable". The Tories, by contrast, will be "punished" for having failed to meet their 2010 manifesto commitment of cutting net migration from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands. But only those "for whom immigration matters to them personally" will turn their backs on David Cameron, Mr Kellner adds.

    16:21: Steel 'driven mad' by e-mails
    Lord Steel

    Let's put aside thoughts about election debates and policy wrangles for one moment and reflect on the issue of e-mail etiquette. Former Liberal leader Lord Steel is concerned about the subject and has written a letter to The Oldie magazine. "Am I the only person driven mad by receiving emails from all and sundry beginning 'I hope you are well?' he writes. "When did this start and when will it end?"

    16:15: Lib Dems vs Greens
    Ed Davey

    Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey has gone on the offensive against the Greens in an interview with sustainable living publication BusinessGreen. "They are very against the single market in Europe, which is disastrous for the environment," he said. "They want to nationalise everything - I think they'd undermine green business quicker than any party imaginable. They want to nationalise whole swathes of Britain's energy system." Green MEP Molly Scott Cato responded by saying Mr Davey's attacks showed "just how desperate" the Lib Dems have become.

    16:06: Handover time

    Stepping aside with dignity is something all the party leaders may have to get familiar with if the results don't go their way on 7 May. It's something our early bloggers, Matthew West and Victoria King, are able to do with the same combination of grace and panache that's typified their copy all day. They're relinquished their keyboards as it's time for Gavin Stamp and Alex Stevenson to take over and keep you updated until midnight.

    16:03: Mexican talks in No 10
    David Cameron (right) and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto

    David Cameron has been holding talks with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in 10 Downing Street. The two countries' respective foreign ministers have also signed a declaration on closer co-operation.

    16:02: Commons action House of Commons Parliament

    In the Commons chamber, MPs have agreed legislation devolving the power to set Corporation Tax to the Northern Ireland government. The Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill will now go before the House of Lords for further scrutiny. A debate on future government spending called by Labour is now underway. Chris Leslie is leading for the opposition while Treasury minister David Gauke is representing the government in the early stages.

    16:01: More on TV debates

    Broadcasters have offered to change the date of a planned election debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband if the leaders agree. You can read our full story here.

    @ChrisMasonBBC 16:02: Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: if you watched them all back to back, starting now, non stop, you'd still be watching on Saturday morning.

    @ChrisMasonBBC 15:50: Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: A little #PMQs factoid @edgingtont dredged out for #Wato @bbcradio4: today was the 130th encounter between Messrs Cameron&Miliband...

    15:48: 'Completely pointless' House of Commons Parliament
    James Gray MP

    James Gray, a Conservative member of the procedure committee, launches a scathing attack on Thursday's debates held by the backbench business committee, which he says are "about as important as the Oxford Union - they're completely pointless". Mr Gray says the government has covertly accrued power in parliament while MPs work hard in their constituencies. "The executive go their merry way and occasionally say to select committee chairmen 'aren't you important', when in fact they're not," he adds. Sir George Young, who was leader of the House in the first years of this parliament, replies: "You do a serious disservice to the backbench business committee."

    @anntreneman 15:44: Ann Treneman, Times sketch writer

    tweets: I have just spent some time in a basement with Sir Richard Branson and Nick Clegg. Surely this is beyond the call of duty

    15:38: Debate statement
    Leaders' election debate from 2010

    Channel 4 has issued a statement about its proposed head-to-head debate between Ed Miliband and David Cameron, the subject of a row at PMQs earlier. It reads: "Sky News and Channel 4 are continuing to prepare for a head-to-head debate between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition on 30 April. However, in response to media inquiries following today's PMQs, we would obviously be willing to host a debate on a different day the two main party leaders could agree on."

    15:38: Excuses, excuses House of Commons Parliament
    Thomas Docherty

    The Commons' procedure committee is questioning former leaders of the House, including Jack Straw - you can watch live coverage by clicking on the 'live coverage' tab at the top of this page. Labour MP Thomas Docherty apologises to the chair for being late but his excuse gets a decent laugh: "My plane was diverted to Stansted because its brakes weren't working, which I always think is something they ought to try before they take off."

    15:22: Clegg "invasion" update
    Sheffield Hallam protest

    Here's an update on the situation in Sheffield Hallam, where Nick Clegg's constituency office was briefly occupied by student protesters earlier. The arrival of the police swiftly brought proceedings to a close, the Sheffield Star reports. Sociology student Alison Kwan told the paper: "We were intimidated out of the office by the police so we went to the car park to have a seminar." This isn't the first time the deputy prime minister has had trouble with students, either, as our story from November 2010 shows.

    15:17: Blue Labour returns
    Blue Labour books

    Blue Labour, the movement co-founded by MP Jon Cruddas and peer Maurice Glasman, is the subject of a new collection of essays being published this week. Today's launch at the University of Kent launch is taking place as supporters try to argue that small-c conservatism might just be the way forward for Ed Miliband's party. It's not for the faint-hearted though, as this example indicates: "Critiquing the dominance in Britain of a social-cultural liberalism linked to the left and a free-market liberalism associated with the right, Blue Labour blends a 'progressive' commitment to greater economic equality with a more 'conservative' disposition emphasising personal loyalty, family, community and locality." Might be a bit late for the manifesto, perhaps.

    15:11: Labour on immigration

    Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has responded to Nigel Farage's immigration speech this morning. "The Tories and UKIP have got themselves in a ridiculous tangle on their immigration promises," she says. "The Tories' net migration target is in tatters and they are arguing over whether to keep it. Now it seems UKIP are just as chaotic and confused." Ms Cooper's team privately admits Labour has had to work hard to address concerns about immigration in seats, particularly in the north of England, where it faces a threat from UKIP. But they insist Labour is making progress in engaging with concerned voters. Ms Cooper adds: "Nigel Farage's slippery approach is just designed to exploit concerns about immigration and increase division rather than ever setting out practical policies to control and manage immigration in a sensible way to make the system fair."

    15:07: Straw before MPs
    Jack Straw

    They have more than 75 years combined parliamentary experience between them so Sir George Young and Jack Straw should know everything there is to know about Commons procedure. The veteran Conservative and Labour MPs' knowledge will be put to the test when the two men - who are both former leaders of the Commons - appear before the Commons procedure committee in a session starting about 15:00. The session should have an added edge to it given Mr Straw's recent suspension from the Labour Party over "cash for access" allegations - which are now being investigated by the parliamentary watchdog.

    14:52: Paul Waugh, editor of Politicshome

    tweets: TweetOfTheDay RT @Kevin_Maguire: Geriatric John: RT @BuzzFeedUKPol Shocking news about Sir Menzies Campbell

    Menzies Campbell
    14:40: Defence budget warning
    RAF Tornado GR4 in Afghanistan in November 2014

    The UK's defence chiefs should be prepared to resign en masse if the next government tries to impose any further cuts on the armed forces, a former head of the RAF has warned.

    Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Graydon said the current service chiefs could face a "very, very difficult decision" if they are confronted with the prospect of further cutbacks after the general election in May.

    He was speaking at a meeting of the UK National Defence Association (UNDA) campaign group, at which he also warned military chiefs could not carry on pretending they had the resources they needed.

    14:35: Immigration vs everything else
    Issues index

    Nigel Farage's speech on immigration, one of UKIP's biggest campaigning issues, and Ed Miliband's attack on David Cameron over the issue in PMQs have got pundits asking how important the debate about net migration actually is to the election campaign. Yesterday's updated "issues index" from polling firm Ipsos Mori suggests it is an important issue for voters but not the most important.

    14:32: Tory MP faces expenses payback
    Bob Blackman MP

    Conservative backbencher Bob Blackman faces repaying more than £1,000 after losing an appeal against an inquiry that found he claimed mileage expenses for up to five times the real distance. An investigation by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) watchdog found last month that the Harrow East MP made more than 700 claims for travel around his constituency that were either "inaccurate" or not allowed under the rules. Mr Blackman refused to accept the findings, insisting he would hand back£237 for journeys to party political engagements and from his home to his office. Ipsa has said today it is standing by its original ruling.

    14:25: Online voting
    Mobile phone

    Online voting could boost youth voter turnout from 44% in 2010 to as high as 70%, a report out today claims. The idea is being pushed by parliamentarians after the Speaker's Commission on Digital Democracy voiced its support for pilots in time for a 2020 rollout. Industry figures have suggested this is unlikely, but that isn't stopping WebRoots Democracy from making the case for online voting. "The UK is a politically active nation online, and we need to translate this passion to voting: the bedrock of our democracy," founder Areeq Chowdhury says. "Analogue methods of politics will increasingly become incompatible with the digital world of today."

    14:18: Green team

    Back to Mumsnet, where Natalie Bennett is asked who's actually in charge of the Green Party. Is it true, she's asked, that she could share responsibility for the TV election debates - if they happen - with Caroline Lucas, her predecessor and the party's only MP?

    Ms Bennett answers thus: "The Green Party leadership is a team - that's something we've always made clear, and one of the things that is different about the Green Party. So we - and I - are perfectly comfortable with different people representing us in different forums, indeed we like to be able to share opportunities around.

    "That helps make it clear that unlike another party I think you could identify, we're not a one-man band!

    "Sometimes you might see me on the TV, sometimes Jenny Jones as our member of the House of Lords, sometimes Caroline, and sometimes one of our brilliant Young Green candidates."

    14:12: Trident debate
    Trident submarine

    David Cameron was quick to turn Tory backbencher Liam Fox's question about Trident on Labour, amid fears from some that the SNP could insist on moving Britain's nuclear deterrent away from Scotland in coalition talks. "People don't want to see a grubby deal between the people who want to break up Britain and the people who want to bankrupt Britain," the prime minister said. The issue was highlighted by CND canvassing results published yesterday which suggested that three-quarters of Labour's parliamentary candidates would vote against Trident replacement.

    @stefanstern Stefan Stern, columnist

    tweets: @IanDunt Yes, but Dave is still on the hook because of all those quotes he gave last time about how marvellous and essential they are.

    @IanDunt Ian Dunt, editor of

    tweets: If Brown held out against TV debates, the media reaction would have been much more severe than it has been against Cameron.



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