European elections: Alternative history of UK politics

1979 - Conservative landslide
Margaret Thatcher at the 1980 Tory conference

Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives swept all before them in the first ever direct elections to the European Parliament, gaining a massive 48.4% of the vote in the UK and 60 of the 78 available seats. The historic poll took place less than a month after Thatcher's far less emphatic general election victory, but with rain bucketing down across much of Britain, and voters weary of electioneering, just 30% bothered to cast a ballot - half the average turnout across the rest of the European Economic Community, as the EU was then known.

Tory election poster

The European Parliament had existed in some form since the 1950s, with its members chosen by national governments. The EEC eventually caved in to calls for greater democratic accountability in the mid-1970s, but plans for an election in 1978 were scuppered by James Callaghan's Labour government, which could not decide on a voting system. In the end it opted for first-past-the-post, as at general elections, with 81 single member constituencies across Britain. Northern Ireland used the Single Transferable Vote system while the EEC's eight other member states all used some form of proportional representation.

Barbara Castle 1974

One result of this was that the Liberal Party had no representation in the European Parliament, despite gaining 12.6% of the vote. The SNP, with one seat, was the only other British party to get a look in. The Tories were a staunchly pro-European force in those days, while Labour was increasingly dominated by left-wingers who wanted Britain out. Former cabinet minister Geoffrey Rippon, chief negotiator for Britain's entry into the Common Market, was the Conservative group leader in the new Parliament. Stanley Johnson, father of London Mayor Boris, was among the new Tory MEPs, as was Bill Newton-Dunn, father of The Sun's political editor Tom Newton-Dunn, who later crossed the floor to join the Liberal Democrats and is the only British MEP from the 1979 intake to still sit in the Parliament. Fiery eurosceptic and scourge of the Common Agricultural Policy Barbara Castle - pictured above in 1974 - led Labour's 17 new MEPs.

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1984 - Kinnock's first test
Neil Kinnock in 1984

Britain was in the grip of the miners' strike when it went to the European polls in the summer of 1984. It was a hugely important election for new Labour leader Neil Kinnock, pictured here in a protest against the EEC butter mountain, who was battling to rebuild the party after its humiliating general election defeat a year earlier under Michael Foot. Labour gained a respectable 34.7% vote share and took 15 seats from the Conservatives, who comfortably topped the poll. But, more importantly for Kinnock, the SDP-Liberal Alliance, which had come within 2% of overtaking Labour at the general election, slumped to 19% of the vote and, thanks to first-past-the-post voting, got no MEPs.

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1989 - Labour tops the poll
Neil and Glenys Kinnock in 1988

A landmark election for Labour, which had been transformed into a pro-European force under Neil Kinnock, but was reeling from a hefty defeat at the 1987 general election. The party polled more than the Conservatives for the first time in a national election since 1974, with 39% of the vote. However, it proved to be a false dawn for Kinnock, pictured here with wife and future Labour MEP Glenys, who would go on to lose to John Major in 1992. The Green Party achieved a stunning breakthrough on the back of public concern about climate change, collecting more than two million votes, or 15% of the total. It had only secured 70,853 votes in 1984 as The Ecology Party - but thanks to the voting system the Greens did not gain a single MEP in 1989. It was a good year for the SNP, which doubled its vote.

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1994 - Enter UKIP, more Labour joy
Margaret Beckett

Hardly anyone noticed the debut of the fledgling UK Independence Party, which collected just 150,251 votes - a 1% share. The headlines were grabbed instead by the drubbing of Tory leader John Major at the hands of Labour, under the interim leadership of Margaret Beckett, following the sudden death of John Smith the previous month. The Conservatives lost 14 seats and slumped to 28% of the vote, to Labour's 44%. The Liberal Democrats finally managed to gain representation in Brussels, collecting a 17% share of the vote and two MEPs. They might have had three if Richard Huggett, standing as a "Literal Democrat", had not gained over 10,000 votes in the Devon and East Plymouth constituency. The Greens failed to capitalise on their 1989 surge, losing 78% of their vote.

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1999 - Hague's finest hour
William and Ffion Hague at 1999 Tory conference

William Hague pulled a remarkable result out of the bag in 1999, saving his floundering leadership of the Tory Party and suggesting that he might even be in with a chance of beating Tony Blair. Labour slumped to 26% of the vote, to the Tories' 34%. In retrospect, it is clear Hague's anti-euro message struck a chord with voters, rather than the man himself. This was also the year that the anti-EU UK Independence Party gained its first significant representation, with Nigel Farage among its three new MEPs. UKIP was helped by the introduction of proportional representation, which also meant the Greens gained their first two MEPs, including future Green MP Caroline Lucas. Turnout was a woeful 23% - but European elections in the UK would never be the same again.

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2004 - Kilroy was here
Robert Kilroy-Silk

Signing up TV personality and former Labour MP Robert Kilroy-Silk - fresh from being sacked by the BBC for making controversial remarks about Arabs - turned out to be a masterstroke for UKIP (in the short-term, at least). The party went from three MEPs to 12 on the back of the publicity it generated. Michael Howard's Conservatives topped the poll, getting 4.1% more than Labour, which was suffering a public backlash against the Iraq war. Mr Howard could not convert this into a victory over Tony Blair in the following year's general election, however. Mr Kilroy-Silk attempted to take over UKIP before stomping off to form his own party, Veritas. But the writing was on the wall for the traditional mainstream parties in British politics. The smaller parties were on the march.

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2009 - Brown meltdown
Gordon Brown

The year Gordon Brown came face to face with the scale of Labour's unpopularity under his leadership. The party suffered the indignity of being beaten by into third place by UKIP, which won 16.6% of the vote to Labour's 15.8%. The two parties had 13 MEPs each. The Conservatives, with 27.9% and 25 MEPs, won by a country mile in an another European election result that did not prove an accurate guide to the next general election. It was the first year the SNP had won the biggest share of a Euro poll in Scotland - and the first time since 1918 that Labour had failed to come first in Wales. The collapse of Labour's vote in its traditional northern English heartlands opened the door to the British National Party, which gained two MEPs in an electoral breakthrough that sent a chill through the political establishment.

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Politics Live - PM's Questions

  1.  
    13:03: 'One of the first' House of Commons Parliament

    Labour's David Winnick says Walsall Manor Hospital was "one of the first to declare a major incident" over demand in its A&E department. The Walsall North MP calls on the health secretary not to "minimise" the problems.

     
  2.  
    13:02: Ammunition for Labour Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Norman Smith says the fact the NHS document at the centre of today's exchanges refers to local politics and the media will give Labour ammunition with which to maintain their claims that hospitals are being put under political pressure to avoid calling major incidents.

     
  3.  
    13:00: Breaking News Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    The former leader of Plaid Cymru has compared the Trident base on the Clyde to Auschwitz in an interview with the BBC. Lord Wigley's comments come the day after events across Europe to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi camps.

    Asked about a report that the Trident base could be moved to Wales, Lord Wigley said: "No doubt there were many jobs provided in Auschwitz and places like that but that didn't justify their existence and neither does nuclear weapons justify having them in Pembrokeshire."He is currently Plaid Cymru's general election coordinator.

    (You can listen to the interview on BBC Radio 4's World at One, via the Live Coverage tab on this page.)

     
  4.  
    12:59: Women in politics Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    With a pic of New Labour's 'Blair babes' in the background, the Daily Politics is now looking at the issue of getting more women into Parliament. As Caroline Flint points out, Labour has more women MPs and ethnic minority MPs than all the other parties put together. But she adds: "There was positive discrimination going in favour of men in my party and in other parties for many, many years." David Willetts accepts the Conservatives "need to make more progress" - but says he hopes there will be many more Tory women in Parliament after the election.

    Daily Politics on women in politics
     
  5.  
    12:58: 'Not seen that way' House of Commons Parliament

    Gisela Stuart, the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, says that Jeremy Hunt's argument that the decision to declare a major incident is purely operational "is not seen that way on the ground". Mr Hunt insists that the decision "must be taken locally".

     
  6.  
    @bbcnickrobinson Nick Robinson, BBC Political Editor

    tweets: Real NHS story is not who said what about it but who will do what to strengthen an NHS under real pressure in future #pmqs

     
  7.  
    12:53: In Pictures: Prime Minister's Questions
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
    PMQs
     
  8.  
    12:54: Listening to the doctors Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    On the Daily Politics, Conservative ex-minister David Willetts is debating how to improve the NHS with shadow energy and climate change secretary, Caroline Flint. He says that medical advice often suggests raising standards of care means there should be fewer A&E departments - with the inevitable result that A&E gets politicised. She replies by saying that "on one level they may say that, but too often that is said out of the context" - and that doctors have to focus on prevention as well as cure.

     
  9.  
    12:53: Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Norman Smith says: "If anyone was in any doubt that the NHS was the top issue in the campaign currently, they just need to look at today's PMQs and following Emergency Question." Earlier this week a BBC/Populus poll suggested that people think the NHS is the most important issue to be covered by the news ahead of the election. The NHS came ahead of the economy, immigration, welfare and jobs.

     
  10.  
    12:50: 'Leaning from on high' House of Commons Parliament

    Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, who chairs the Health Select Committee, asks for reassurance that "the secretary of state will never lean on operation decision-making". Mr Hunt says "that kind of leaning from on high" happened under Labour rather than under the present government.

     
  11.  
    12:47: 'A new low' House of Commons Parliament

    Jeremy Hunt says that Labour's "desperate desire to weaponise the NHS" means the opposition has reached "a new low". He accuses Labour of "focusing not on patients but on politics".

     
  12.  
    12:45: 'Called into question' House of Commons Parliament

    Andy Burnham says the NHS guidance he has seen means "the claims that this is purely local is called into question right now".

     
  13.  
    12:45: Keeping the backbenchers happy James Landale Deputy Political Editor, BBC News

    James Landale says Conservative MPs will be "relatively happy" with the PM's performance because he has "muddied the waters" on the NHS. "It was interesting the prime minister didn't directly refer to Alan Milburn, the former Labour health secretary's criticisms - he chose not to get into that debate. Instead he focused on the phrase 'weaponise' and on Wales again and again. As long as the Tories feel they have something to say about the issue, they'll probably be content."

     
  14.  
    No revelations in PMQS

    John Pienaar tells Five Live that there were no great revelations in today's PMQs. He said in the run up to the elections , PMQs will become more about political campaigning and bashing the other side rather than presenting options and alternatives. He expects more information about parties' policies will emerge through the media in coming days.

     
  15.  
    12:44: Andy Burnham urgent question House of Commons Parliament

    Andy Burnham says Mr Hunt's claim "does not appear to be entirely accurate". The shadow health secretary claims that "major incidents should be agreed with the director on call with NHS England".

     
  16.  
    12:41: 'Local issue' House of Commons Parliament

    MPs can use urgent questions to require a minister to make a statement to the House at short notice. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says: "We have been brought here to discuss a local operational issue" which, he claims, Labour is trying to "spin". He adds: "The decision to declare a major incident is taken locally."

     
  17.  
    12:39: Commemoration service House of Commons Parliament

    David Cameron says the special commemorative event will be held at St Paul's Cathedral on 13 March to mark the end of British combat operations in Afghanistan.

     
  18.  
    12:39: Urgent question on the NHS House of Commons Parliament

    PMQs ends and now shadow health secretary Andy Burnham puts an urgent question to the government. He asks Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to make a statement on what guidance has been issued by NHS England on declaring a major incident.

     
  19.  
    @robindbrant Robin Brant, BBC Political Correspondent

    tweets: .@David_Cameron reveals there will be a special service at St Pauls and parade in March to mark end of UK military role in Afghanis

     
  20.  
    @paulwaugh Paul Waugh, PoliticsHome editor

    tweets: Cameron in supremely confident mood. Now even getting gag out of his chat with Greek PM: "I asked him what his long term economic plan was"

     
  21.  
    12:38: Greece's new PM House of Commons Parliament

    Jeremy Corbyn wants to know if David Cameron's had time to congratulate the new Greek prime minister - and help Greece write off their debt. The PM says he has had the "privilege" of speaking to Alexis Tsipras, and adds: "I asked him what his long-term economic plan was." That gets a lot of laughter from the government benches.

     
  22.  
    @anntreneman Ann Treneman, political sketchwriter

    tweets: Dave's voice is going on strike I think. This makes me wonder if Dave's frog in his throat is labour supporting

     
  23.  
    12:33: Trident 'not moving'

    The Ministry of Defence releases a statement saying: "Today's Scottish Daily Mail inaccurately reports that Ministry of Defence officials are examining plans to move Britain's nuclear-armed submarines from Scotland to Wales. The MOD is fully committed to retaining the deterrent on the Clyde and indeed we are basing all our submarines there from 2020. We can be very clear the MOD is therefore not planning to move the nuclear deterrent from HM Naval Base Clyde to Wales, or anywhere else."

     
  24.  
    12:33: House of Commons Parliament

    Conservative MPs cheer the mention of the party's "long-term economic plan" catchphrase by Lancashire and Fleetwood MP Eric Ollerenshaw, who asks about support for coastal communities.

     
  25.  
    @ShippersUnbound Tim Shipman, Sunday Times political editor

    Tweets: In the House that felt like 4-2 to Cameron. On television I suspect it was 4-2 to Miliband. So I'm going 3-3. More hot air than light

     
  26.  
    12:29: Hinchingbrooke hospital House of Commons Parliament

    Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert raises the privately-run Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire. Mr Cameron says Labour is in confusion over the extent of private sector involvement in the NHS.

     
  27.  
    12:27: A whisper in Cameron's ear House of Commons Parliament

    George Osborne has a habit of whispering advice to the prime minister as questions are asked, and this week is no exception. He's leaned forward, unlike every other Cabinet frontbencher, throughout these exchanges so he can get past Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers to give Cameron hints.

    David Cameron answers questions at PMQs - with help from George Osborne
     
  28.  
    @nicholaswatt Nicholas Watt, Guardian chief political correspondent

    Tweets: Will @David_Cameron's voice last till end of PMQs

     
  29.  
    Vicki Young, BBC Political Correspondent

    tweets: Felt like both Cameron and Miliband went off script at #PMQs as they yelled at each other about NHS. Cam's voice croaky from shouting

     
  30.  
    12:25: Skinner on food banks House of Commons Parliament

    Labour veteran Dennis Skinner asks David Cameron to apologise to people using food banks, on "zero hours" contracts and using payday loans. Mr Cameron says the government has acted on food banks and zero hours contracts, and uses the question to mention criticism of Labour election tactics from former Labour ministers Alan Milburn and John Hutton in this morning's papers.

     
  31.  
    @bbcnickrobinson Nick Robinson, BBC Political Editor

    tweets: Small irony. Watching from my sickbed as PM tries to shield himself on NHS by quoting my "weaponise" report. Time for an aspirin! :) #pmqs

     
  32.  
    @MSmithsonPB Mike Smithson, Political Betting

    Tweets: Today's #PMQs is the best argument against having TV debates. This is dire.

     
  33.  
    @Kevin_Maguire Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror associate editor

    Tweets; Miliband let Cameron off the hook for breaking promises by shutting NHS units. Won't keep that #pmqs in his video highlights

     
  34.  
    @thomasbrake Tom Brake, Lib Dem MP

    tweets: #pmqs nhs centre stage. All that was missing was a reference to #savesthelier.

     
  35.  
    @andybell5news Andy Bell, Channel 5 News political editor

    tweets: Win for Cameron - Miiband failed to make new #NHS attack stick after NHS England shot it down - also still vulnerable on the w word

     
  36.  
    12:19: Stuck in the middle? House of Commons Parliament

    Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Gilbert is next up after the prime minister's tussle with Ed Miliband. He invokes Stealers Wheel hit Stuck in the Middle with You, saying there are "clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right".

     
  37.  
    Robin Brant, BBC Political Correspondent

    tweets: Did I just hear correctly, @Ed_Miliband accused PM of having a 'war on wales' ?

     
  38.  
    12:17: Leaders clash House of Commons Parliament

    More angry exchanges between the leaders. After David Cameron calls the Opposition "completely useless", Mr Milband says there are "99 days to kick out a prime minister who has broken all his promises on the NHS".

     
  39.  
    @iainmartin1 Iain Martin, political journalist

    Even by the standards of #PMQs this is dire.

     
  40.  
    @ShippersUnbound 12:16: Tim Shipman, Sunday Times political editor

    Tweets: Michael Gove doing a good impersonation of the Churchill dog, nodding judiciously as Dave speaks

     
  41.  
    @DavidJonesMP 12:15: David Jones, Conservative MP

    tweets: Remarkably, Miliband raises Welsh NHS; silly, silly.

     
  42.  
    @tombradby Tom Bradby, ITV News political editor

    Tweets: Ed is normally pretty good at PMQs, but he looks a bit flustered today. This issue over the word 'weaponise' is tricky.

     
  43.  
    12:14: Miliband v Cameron House of Commons Parliament

    David Cameron is now questioning Ed Miliband's motives about the NHS. "He told the political editor of the BBC he wants to weaponise the NHS, so I ask him again: get up there and withdraw." Miliband responds - "I'll tell him what my motive is: it's to rescue the National Health Service from this Tory government."

     
  44.  
    12:12: Picture: Ed Miliband asking question
    Ed Miliband in the Commons
     
  45.  
    12:13: House of Commons Parliament

    Now we're on to this morning's story about "major incidents" being declared by NHS trusts. Mr Cameron says the new guidance on when one can be declared was issued by the NHS in the West Midlands, "without any instruction" from ministers or the Department of Health.

     
  46.  
    12:10: Miliband v Cameron House of Commons Parliament

    Ed Miliband is asking about David Cameron's "bare knuckle fight" to preserve A&E and maternity units. The PM responds by returning to the Labour leader's comment - to BBC political editor Nick Robinson - about wanting to "weaponise" the NHS. He demands an apology, Mr Miliband says it is a "ridiculous smokescreen".

     
  47.  
    @iainjwatson Iain Watson, BBC political correspondent

    Tweets: No surprise that Ed Miliband goes on the #NHS consistently top of voters concerns according to polls

     
  48.  
    12:09: Picture: Ed Miliband House of Commons Parliament
    Ed Miliband
     
  49.  
    12:08: Cigarette packaging Robin Brant Political Correspondent, BBC News

    The Prime Minister's official spokesman has refused to say directly if David Cameron supports moves to bring it in The government has pledged to give MPs a vote on new regulations before the election. Asked if the PM was concerned about the prospect of a rebellion by some of his own MPs the spokesman said: "The right thing to do is to proceed as the government has set out for some considerable time."

     
  50.  
    12:06: Labour's Eds listen to first answer
    Ed Balls and Ed Miliband
     
  51.  
    12:06: NHS at PMQs House of Commons Parliament

    The NHS gets its first PMQs mention in question two, from Labour MP Lilian Greenwood who suggests the health service is not a priority for David Cameron. The PM says the government has invested in the NHS and attacks Labour's record in Wales.

     
  52.  
    @MartynExpress Martyn Brown, Daily Express political correspondent

    Tweets: Women on front bench - Tories 8 v Labour 8 #pmqs

     
  53.  
    12:05: Picture: Cameron takes first question
    David Cameron
     
  54.  
    12:04: Picture: Frank Field House of Commons Parliament
    Frank Field Labour MP Frank Field asks when the Chilcot inquiry report will be published
     
  55.  
    12:04: PMQs under way

    Labour MP Frank Field gets Prime Minister's Questions up and running, asking about delays to the Iraq War inquiry. David Cameron says he too is frustrated at the timing.

     
  56.  
    12:04: UKIP defector James Landale Deputy Political Editor, BBC News

    James Landale says most voters won't be too bothered by the negative stories emerging about Amjad Bashir, the former UKIP MEP who has defected to the Tories. He says: "As ever with defections, they are never as clean as political parties would like. The problem for UKIP is that most voters are less aware of the detail that goes on underneath."

     
  57.  
    @nedsimons 12:03: Ned Simons, Huffington Post UK assistant political editor

    Tweets: Can't wait for Miliband and Cameron to shout NHS statistics at each other for ten minutes. #PMQs

     
  58.  
    12:01: Miliband's only PMQs option: The NHS James Landale Deputy Political Editor, BBC News

    James Landale on the Daily Politics says he thinks the Labour leader will focus all six of his questions on the NHS. "I would be amazed if Ed Miliband doesn't go on health - that's his subject of the week, he has to go on it. "

     
  59.  
    12:00: Immigration target Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Earlier on Daily Politics David Willetts was pressed by Andrew Neil to accept that the Conservatives have failed on immigration. Ministers had sought to cut net migration below 100,000. Mr Willetts suggested a Tory-only government might have made more progress, saying: "We had a commitment in our manifesto which was not part of the coalition agreement and therefore not the basis on which the government was to act."

     
  60.  
    12:00: NHS England BBC News Channel

    Dr Barbara Hakin, national director of commissioning operations for NHS England, says: "Local hospitals continue to have responsibility for deciding whether to declare major incidents, but before doing so best practice dictates that they take account of the wider impacts on other parts of the NHS so that patient safety in the round is protected. That's why NHS England's local area team in the West Midlands decided to issue these guidelines. This was not a decision of the Department of Health."

     
  61.  
    12:00: Major NHS incidents BBC Radio 5 live

    John Pienaar tells 5Live that Guidance to NHS Trusts on declaring a major incident will surely feature during PMQs

     
  62.  
    11:57: EU-US trade deal

    Trade minister Lord Livingston is facing questioning about the EU-US trade deal which many fear could reduce Britain's control over the NHS. Around 150,000 people responded to a recent EU consultation on the issue voicing their concerns, most of them negative. But Lord Livingston, a strong supporter of the deal, is not concerned. "Ninety-seven per cent of the responses were standard," he says. "I'm not entirely sure that represents the totality of everyone's views. However, it's important we recognise everyone's concerns."

     
  63.  
    11:55: 'No-go areas' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    Quentin Letts, the Daily Mail sketchwriter, is on BBC Two's Daily Politics talking about the issues the political parties would rather steer clear of. Neither the Conservatives nor Labour want to discuss Trident, he claims, while the Liberal Democrats are keen to avoid talking about anything connected with tuition fees. "There are issues that are of great interest to the voters, and yet the politicians are shying away from it," Letts says. "It's totally unsustainable, particularly with such a long election campaign."

     
  64.  
    11:52: 'Responsibility of the government' House of Commons Parliament

    Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Ivan Lewis cautions MPs on the government side about "believing everything that you read in the Sun" concerning alleged contacts between Labour and Sinn Fein.

    Conservative Andrew Robathan had suggested that Labour should speak to Sinn Fein about security in Northern Ireland.

    Mr Lewis says that Conservatives are asking that "the Labour party take responsibility for things that are clearly the responsibility of the government".

     
  65.  
    11:46: Daily Politics line-up

    Joining Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn on Daily Politics are ex-Conservative minister David Willetts and Labour's shadow minister Caroline Flint. They are discussing the suggestion that up to 100 Conservative MPs might oppose the plan to bring in standardised (plain) cigarette packaging.

    Daily Politics
     
  66.  
    11:42: Labour and Sinn Fein House of Commons Parliament

    Conservative MP Andrew Robathan asks about a story, reported in the Sun, that "the Labour party have been talking to Sinn Fein about a possible link-up after the election".

    A cry of "absolute rubbish!" is heard from the Labour benches.

     
  67.  
    11:38: Northern Ireland questions House of Commons Parliament

    Northern Ireland questions have begun in the Commons. The first question is from Labour MP Tom Greatrex, about the the security situation in Northern Ireland. NI Secretary Theresa Villiers tells him the threat level remains "severe" but there have been "a number of significant arrests, charges and convictions".

     
  68.  
    @EmmaReynoldsMP 11:32: Emma Reynolds, shadow housing minister

    tweets: Since 2010 we have been building 356 fewer homes than we need - Gov't is presiding over the lowest level of house building since 1920s.

     
  69.  
    11:24: 'Trojan horse' plot

    Chief Inspector of Schools Sir Michael Wilshaw has called on the Department for Education to do more to help schools involved in the alleged "Trojan horse" plot in Birmingham to recruit more good staff. "There are big problems about leadership and staffing, in recruiting people," Sir Michael says.

    Sir Michael Wilshaw
     
  70.  
    11:23: Commons questions House of Commons Parliament

    MPs will meet in the House of Commons in a few minutes' time.

    Prime Minister's Questions is at noon and Labour's urgent question on the NHS will follow.

    First, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers will take questions from MPs. That's from 11:30 GMT.

     
  71.  
    11:14: Ambulance times 'worst on record'

    Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's tweets refer to the story emerging from Wales today that its ambulance response times are the worst ever. Just 42.6% of call-outs met the eight-minute target time in December, well below the 65% target. Tracy Myhill, interim chief executive at the Welsh Ambulance Service, has conceded the figures are "unacceptable" - but also points out the 40,000 calls received that month are a record high.

    Ambulances at a hospital The Welsh Ambulance Service has said it was working to address underlying issues
     
  72.  
    11:11: Urgent question

    We'll be hearing plenty more about hospitals' "major incidents" in the House of Commons today. Labour's Andy Burnham has just been granted an urgent question on today's developments, which will follow PMQs. Will Ed Miliband choose the same subject for his clash with David Cameron?

     
  73.  
    11:10: Strike news

    The PCS union says workers at the National Gallery in London are to stage a five-day strike in a row over the privatisation of services.

    National Gallery staff protest
     
  74.  
    11:04: Hunt hits back

    More from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has responded to Labour criticism over revised guidance on when some hospitals can call a "major incident". In a series of tweets, he says a local decision taken in the West Midlands has been "cynically exploited" by Labour's Andy Burnham and criticises the NHS in Wales, for which Labour is responsible.

    Jeremy Hunt tweets
     
  75.  
    Sebastian Payne, The Spectator

    tweets: I'm going to be covering #GE2015 for @spectator in a Mini. Track my progress at http://specc.ie/1CcLE4b #MiniElection

    Sebastian Payne
     
  76.  
    10:55: Trident staying put

    A Ministry of Defence spokesman denies a report in the Daily Mail that officials are examining plans to move the Trident nuclear fleet from Scotland to Wales.

    The spokesman says: "The Ministry of Defence is not doing any work on this. There are no plans to move the deterrent."

    Trident
     
  77.  
    10:52: Ofsted under scrutiny

    MPs continue to press Sir Michael Wilshaw - they want to know whether allegations that inspectors asked children inappropriate questions about sexuality and faith are true. He's insisting that, having "looked at the evidence base thoroughly", there is "no evidence to suggest inspectors used inappropriate language to these children". What the inspectors were trying to establish, he explains, is whether homophobic bullying was taking place. So they had to use direct language in order to establish this.

     
  78.  
    @Jeremy_Hunt Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt

    tweets: Labour should focus on improving care for patients in Wales instead of trying to score political points in England.

     
  79.  
    10:45: Care costs: Regional variations BBC News Channel

    Paul Lewis, who presents Moneybox on BBC Radio 4, says the costs of care in old age vary widely in different areas. There will be a £72,000 cap on costs in England from 2016, but no such measure in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, he adds.

    Care calculator launched by BBC

    Paul Lewis
     
  80.  
    10:42: Jonathan Beale, BBC Defence Correspondent

    tweets: Best factoid in Fallon speech : the MOD owns 15 golf courses! #defence

     
  81.  
    10:35: Christian schools & Ofsted

    Sir Michael Wilshaw is in defensive mode over at the Education Select Committee where MPs are quizzing him on Ofsted's critical reports for Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland and the Durham Free School. He denies a "political agenda" against Christian schools, telling MPs the lead inspectors were "very critical of what they saw".

    "They saw poor behaviour, they saw declining standards, they saw a lot of bullying. I think it has to be recognised that parents always - even when schools are declining very badly - always try to support the school. These two schools are doing badly. Parents deserve better."

     
  82.  
    10:25: Care calculator

    Caring for people in old age - and how it should be funded - is rarely far from the political debate. The BBC has launched an online guide which will tell you how much care costs in your area.

    Older person's hand
     
  83.  
    10:20: On the committee corridor

    It's not just Ofsted's Sir Michael Wilshaw who's facing questions in Parliament today:

    • Mark Harper, the disability minister, is being grilled over the impact of the coalition's disability and incapacity benefit reforms.
    • Universities minister Greg Clark faces questions over the government's approach to science policy.
    • And, starting at 10:30 GMT, trade minister Lord Livingston will again address the concerns of some MPs that the EU-US trade deal known as 'TTIP' imperils the NHS.
     
  84.  
    @jamswilliams85 10:19: James Williams, BBC Wales Political Reporter

    tweets: The @WelshGovernment has announced how it will spend the £70m of extra money it got as a result of the Autumn Statement.

     
  85.  
    10:12: NHS incidents: Who approved guidance? BBC News Channel

    Labour's health spokesman Andy Burnham says he wants to know who approved guidance, issued in the West Midlands, on when NHS trusts should declare a "major incident". He says the "perception on the front line" is that it is "more about news management than patient safety".

    Andy Burnham
     
  86.  
    10:11: Labour "woos" Sinn Fein The Sun

    The Sun is reporting that Labour has sought talks with Sinn Fein about forming a post-election coalition. The paper quotes a Sinn Fein source saying he'd been approached by members of the shadow cabinet. Sinn Fein have not taken up their five seats in Parliament and say they have no intention of doing so.

     
  87.  
    10:06: Ofsted's Sir Michael Wilshaw

    Things are up and running in Parliament already this morning, Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of Ofsted, is giving evidence to the Commons Education Committee. You can watch it as it happens on the BBC's Democracy Live site

     
  88.  
    10:03: Fracking decision

    It could be a landmark day for fracking in the UK, as Lancashire County Council decides whether or not to give the go-ahead for two drilling sites on the Fylde Coast. If it says yes, it will be the most significant development since the government called a halt to shale gas exploration in 2012, because of concerns it may have caused two minor earthquakes near Blackpool.

    BBC Breakfast's Graham Satchell has been following one woman's campaign against the application.

    fracking map
     
  89.  
    09:59: Labour List

    tweets: Labour announce plans to help build more homes http://labli.st/1CxqDzT

     
  90.  
    09:58: TV debates & NI parties The Guardian

    Northern Ireland parties Sinn Fein and the DUP are both separately considering legal action in an attempt to secure a place in the proposed TV election debates - the Guardian is reporting. Politicians have clashed over who should be included in the debates, and broadcasters are now planning to stage one involving the Conservatives, Labour, the Lib Dems, Green Party, UKIP, the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

     
  91.  
    09:52: NHS incidents: 17 questions

    Here is the document at the heart of this morning's story about guidelines on "major incidents" that have been issued to NHS hospitals in the West Midlands. It sets out 17 questions for trusts to consider before declaring one.

    Major incident guidelines
     
  92.  
    09:47: NHS incidents

    More on the developing story on new guidelines that have been issued to some NHS trusts on declaring "major incidents". A spokesman for NHS England says the guidelines are not designed to deter hospitals form declaring a major incident. He says: "This is not a note saying don't call a 'major incident'. It is advice to them saying if they are going to declare a major incident here are some things that might help."

     
  93.  
    09:41: Daniel Finkelstein, Times Columnist

    tweets: So @Nigel_Farage, in @DouglasCarswell 's list of conditions for supporting a government, immigration doesn't figure. Is this official?

     
  94.  
    09:36: Sir Jeremy Heywood & jargon

    Daily Mail sketch-writer, Quentin Letts, has accused Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood of "pure Stalinism" in his use of language.

    "Stove-piping" and "horizon-scanning" were among phrases used by Sir Jeremy while giving evidence to the Public Administration Committee on Tuesday. Letts tells the Today programme that opaque language could be an attempt to baffle.

     
  95.  
    @paulwaugh 09:29: Paul Waugh, PoliticsHome

    tweets: Milburn/Hutton/Mand feel like drummer + guitarists trying to get band back together. But minus lead singer Blair. Discuss #UglyRumours #WRM

     
  96.  
    09:26: NHS incidents

    Labour's Andy Burnham has written to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt querying new guidelines on "major incidents" issued to NHS hospitals by the West Midlands NHS region. He writes: "Procedures for declaring major incidents are long-established in the NHS and it is a highly unusual move for new guidance to be issued in the middle of a difficult winter. This had led some in the NHS to question the motives behind it."

     
  97.  
    09:22: UKIP & the smoking ban
    nigel farage

    UKIP would overturn the smoking ban as one of its election pledges, the party announced yesterday. The Times is carrying the story today saying Nigel Farage's party has promised to "amend the smoking ban to promote choice for ventilated smoking rooms". It has also set out its opposition to plain cigarette packaging.

     
  98.  
    09:11: NHS incidents Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Labour's health spokesman Andy Burnham is writing to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in relation to the new guidelines on "major incidents" issued by the West Midlands NHS region. Mr Burnham is asking whether similar guidance has been issued in trusts in other parts of the country.

     
  99.  
    09:00: Breaking News Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    The BBC has seen new guidelines that have been issued to some NHS hospitals over when they can call "major incidents." The new guidelines issued by the West Midlands NHS region include 17 additional criteria, prompting accusations that hospitals are being pressurised not to declare "major incidents". It is understood the new guidelines were drawn up after a spate of hospitals earlier this month announced they were declaring "major incidents" because of pressure on bed spaces.

     
  100.  
    08:51: Social care debate BBC Radio 4

    On the Today programme, Chris Ham, of the King's Fund, says there is a growing consensus that health and social care should be integrated. They are currently funded separately - but councils, which are responsible for social care - are warning they are struggling to cover their costs. Merging the two is a key plank of Labour's health pledges ahead of the election. With the NHS facing funding pressures of its own, Prof Ham warns against "robbing Peter to pay Paul".

    Social care
     

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