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  1. Newsnight Live is your one stop shop for elections analysis from the Newsnight team, updated throughout the day

Live Reporting

All times stated are UK

The continuing Tory benefit mystery

What would they cut?

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

Iain Duncan Smith

One very big question remains about the Conservatives' plans: how they would reduce the benefit bill by £12bn in two years, as they say they will? Tonight, the Guardian has spelled out some of the options which civil servants have been pondering. This is no-one's manifesto, but it shows up the £12bn question.

I thought it was worth explaining why this issue won't die.

First, there is a simple credibility issue with basing your plans on cutting benefit spending: the coalition's social security reductions have not come in as planned. I think voters deserve to know more so we can assess their credibility (I made a film about this, which you can see here).

Second, I also thought it was worth trying to help you visualise how big the hole is. Below, I have included a list of past measures, all passed by the coalition, which yielded £9bn of benefit spending reductions per year two years out.

Why £9bn and not £12bn? The Tories have announced indexing changes for working-age benefits and hope they would bring in around £3bn. As a result, I've also removed coalition freezes and so on, since they're already baked in.

This is not a prediction, of course. Not least since you can't remove child benefit from families with higher-rate taxpayers again. It's already gone. But I just hope to give you a sense of the scale of the gap. £9bn is real money.

Each measure starts with the year it was introduced. I also deliberately chose the biggest yielding changes over a two-year horizon to get us there with as few measures as possible. They're listed in order by the name of the key benefit group. Altogether, this gets you to £8.6bn:

  • Autumn 2010 - Child Benefit: remove from families with a higher rate taxpayer from January 2013
  • Autumn 2011 - Child Tax Credit: remove over-indexation
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Child Tax Credit: Remove the baby element from 2011-12
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Child Tax Credit: Reverse the supplement for children aged one and two from 2012-13
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Child Tax Credit: Taper the family element immediately after the child element from 2012-13
  • Autumn 2010 - Contributory Employment and Support Allowance: time limit for those in the Work Related Activity Group to one year
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Council Tax: reduction to receipts due to a one year freeze in 2011-12
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Deductions for non-dependents: reverse previous freezes and maintaining link with prices from 2011-12
  • Autumn 2010 - Disability Living Allowance: remove mobility components for claimants in residential care
  • Autumn 2013 - DWP fraud: sharing RTI data
  • Budget 2010 #2 - First and second withdrawal rates: increase to 41% in 2011-12
  • Autumn 2013 - Freezing work allowances (disregards) in Universal Credit
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Health in Pregnancy Grant: Abolish Budget 2013 Health interventions
  • Autumn 2013 - Help to work: benefit savings
  • Autumn 2010 - Housing Benefit: increase age limit for shared room rate from 25 to 35
  • Autumn 2012 - Housing Benefit: increase Local Housing Allowance by 1% for two years from 2014-15 with provision for high rent areas
  • Autumn 2013 - Income Tax: transferable marriage allowance
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Introduce an income disregard of £2,500 for falls in income from 2012-13
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Local Housing Allowance: caps on maximum rates for each property size, with 4-bed limit from 2011-12
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Local Housing Allowance: set at the 30th percentile of local rents from 2011-12
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Lone parent benefits: extend conditionality to those with children aged 5 and above from October 2011
  • Autumn 2014 - Reduce migrant access to benefits
  • Budget 2010 #2 - New claims and changes of circumstances: Reduce backdating from 3 months to 1 month from 2012-13
  • Autumn 2013 - Overseas life certificates: extension
  • Autumn 2013 - Pension credit passthrough
  • Budget 2014 - Personal allowance: increase to £10,500 in 2015-16 with equal gains to higher rate taxpayers
  • Autumn 2012 - Personal allowance: increase by £235 to £9,440 in 2013-14, with equal gains to higher rate taxpayers
  • Budget 2013 - Personal allowance: increase by an additional £560 to £10,000 in 2014-15
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Reduce the income disregard from £25,000 to £10,000 for 2 years from 2011-12 then to £5,000 in 2013-14
  • Budget 2014 - Restrictions on migrants' access to benefits Budget 2014 Restrictions on migrants' access to benefits
  • Autumn 2010 - Savings Credit: freeze maximum award for four years from 2011-12
  • Budget 2013 - Single-tier: impact of reform on state pension and pensioners benefits
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Sure Start Maternity Grant: apply to first child only from 2011-12
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Tax credits second income threshold: reduce to £40,000 in 2011-12
  • Autumn 2013 - Tax credits: annual entitlement
  • Autumn 2012 - Tax Credits: error and fraud
  • Autumn 2013 - Tax credits: improving collection and administration
  • Autumn 2012 - Tax Credits: recovering debt
  • Autumn 2013 - Winter Fuel Payments: overseas eligibility
  • Autumn 2010 - Working Tax Credit: increase working hours requirement for couples with children to 24 hours
  • Autumn 2010 - Working Tax Credit: reduce payable costs through childcare element from 80% to 70% restoring 2006 rate
  • Budget 2010 #2 - Working Tax Credit: Remove the 50 plus element from 2012-13

That's why reporters keep asking about it.

(T)ed Miliband's first political fight

Lewis Goodall

Newsnight producer

Hats off to ITV Meridian for unearthing this, a very youthful Ed Miliband in his first tv interview. Alas, it's not clear whether, in his election for his student junior common room president, he inscribed his promises on a tablet of stone.


Not one leader but two

Katie Razzall

Newsnight Special Correspondent


Final push and where do David Cameron and Nick Clegg begin the day? Cornwall, where all 6 seats are Tory/Lib Dem marginals. Gone are the days when all the Cornish seats were yellow (orange, in fact; the party's posters here keep the traditional vivid orange of the pre-SDP alliance days when Cornwall was liberal country). Now the Conservatives hold 3 of the 6 seats and hope for a clean sweep on Thursday.

The Deputy Prime Minister began his pre-poll, 1000-mile road trip at dawn in a windy Land's End. The constituency is St Ives (2010 Lib Dem majority, 1719), one of 3 Liberal Democrat-held seats at which the Tories have thrown all but the kitchen sink. St Austell and Newquay (2010 LD majority, 1312) was also treated to a Nick Clegg visit.

Not to be outdone and beginning his round-Britain trip, David Cameron found himself in St Ives too - before heading to North Cornwall (2010 LD majority, 2981), repeating his message that the only way to get a Conservative government is to vote Conservative.

Will that message resonate in these traditional Lib Dem heartlands on Thursday? Tonight, following in David Cameron's footsteps, I'm in North Cornwall asking if the Liberal Democrats can fight off their erstwhile Coalition partners. Like Nick Clegg, I've also been to St Austell and Newquay to look at what the Lib Dems have done to try and shore up support.

The Borgen election

Rhoda Buchanan, Newsnight Producer


The thing about analogies is that they always break down. Political analogies - and metaphors - do this more than most: they mislead, they exaggerate, they fall apart. The election isn't a race. No Miliband ever stabbed another Miliband in the back. A third term in office for David Cameron in office has almost nothing to do with a bowl of Shredded Wheat. But the 2015 election analogy that will not die is the increasingly bizarre similarity to The Danish TV drama 'Borgen'. (If you haven't yet seen Birgitte Nyborg glare wisely yet pensively out of her statsminister's office window then do not read on, you will be confused.) There's a right-of-centre coalition government. It might not retain its power after the next election. The polls are close. The TV debates show multiple party leaders at their podiums and give smaller parties bigger opportunities than they've previously had. There's the smooth prime minster, the leader of the opposition who some claim lacks leadership charisma, the far right party which campaigns on immigration and the fringe party which cares about green issues ... but one woman shines through with her common sense and moderate politics.... For SNP supporters, the analogy continues. She's different to the others and she plans to shake up Westminster/Borgen. But for those who don't support Nicola Sturgeon, this is where it breaks down. And let's face it, Nicola Sturgeon is very unlikely to end up as the next prime minister. (Although the SNP leader has recently revealed herself to be a fan of the show and even, apparently, suggested that she'd like Sidse Babett Knudsen, the actress who plays Nyborg, to play her in a film about her life.) But even if the character comparisons eventually fall apart (which of course, they all do) the Danish drama could have more to teach us. There is not likely be a clear winner and power will go to whoever can claim to have the numbers in parliament. There are likely to be many hours spent in many darkened rooms. But probably with fewer Danish pastries and more Nick Clegg.

Latest seat forecast

BBC Newsnight Index

The Newsnight Index

The Tories, still well short of a majority, have extended their lead by one seat over the long weekend. Labour are down three, and the SNP - having surged past the 50 mark for the first time last week - have added another two seats.

For the course of the general election campaign, Newsnight each evening will be publishing an exclusive Newsnight Index on the likely outcome, based on a sophisticated forecast model.

It is produced by Dr Chris Hanretty from the University of East Anglia and his colleagues at For more information on how the Index is produced, see here.

What the papers say

Fleet street exclusive: Hacks as confused as the voters

Lewis Goodall

Newsnight producer


So we know (more or less) what the papers say, nearly all of the major national publications have crossed their metaphorical fleet street boxes and endorsed a party for the election. And the result? Well they're just as confused as the rest of us.

Four of the big publications have plumped for the Tories, two for Labour (but the Daily Mirror will probably bring their tally up to three in the coming days) while most interestingly, and in a fit of radicalism, four have opted for a continuation of the current Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, most notably The Independent, which as the chart below shows, has never supported the Tories before.


But generally are there any real surprises? The truth is the big papers rarely shift party. The Telegraph and The Mail have endorsed the Conservatives in every post-war election, as has the Mirror for Labour. In recent years The Sun has generally backed the winning party (cue debate about whether they simply read the political runes or genuinely influence public opinion), whilst The Guardian has generally gone Labour with a few Liberal/Lib Dem interludes. Apart from a few outliers, most of the papers are as tribal as their readers.

The big development in this election is more papers encouraging its readers to vote tactically. This can be somewhat involved for voters in a system like First Past the Post which doesn't allow for making any more than one choice. In The Sun's case, the paper advises its readers to potentially vote for three different parties: People should generally vote Conservative but especially in key seats, The Sun's editorial today lists specifically twenty six seats where a vote for UKIP will 'allow Labour to steal a win'. They also say readers should vote Lib Dem in 14 Labour/Lib Dem marginals but to vote Tory in Conservative/Lib Dem marginals. Oh and the Scottish version of the paper says vote SNP.

And if you're not confused already- just you wait for Friday.

1892 and market panic

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

I've written two posts on Newsnight Live today. One on the hung Parliament of 1892 which led to a minority government backed by Irish Nationalists and one considering the potential market fall out from a hung Parliament on Friday.

It occurs to me that what the typical Newsnight Live reader would be really interested in is a quick look back at the market reaction to the 1892 election. (Not for nothing has Chris Hanretty dubbed me the 1890s correspondent).

As I noted earlier, 1892 produced an extremely messy outcome: an outgoing government that didn't resign until defeated two weeks later, a minority government reliant on Nationalist votes and questions about it's legitimacy in the paper of record.

But for all the turbulent politics, financial markets were calm.

Consulting a copy of Sidney Homer's "A History of Interest Rates", shows the the yield on UK consols (the benchmark for government borrowing costs of the day) varied from a low of 2.62% to a high of 2.71% during 1892. That's in line with the variation in the years immediately before and afterwards and suggests no great market panic. Hung Parliaments and weak governments don't always lead to sell offs in financial assets.

Purdah Watch II

A jolly trip to Wembley

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

A contact says that DCMS officials have been to Wembley to get photographed with the FA Cup. #purdahwatch #pingponggate

Ministers and mandarins

One of our directions is missing

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

Man in bowler hat

Within Whitehall, there's an odd process by which the civil servants show their concern about a ministerial decision. The officials request a "ministerial direction". To quote Josh Harris from the Institute for Government:

Each permanent secretary is the accounting officer for their department, directly accountable to Parliament for public spending. As accounting officer, a permanent secretary can object formally to a ministerial decision to spend money if it does not meet the Treasury criteria of regularity, propriety, value for money, and feasibility. If a spending decision breaches any of these criteria, the accounting officer has a duty to ask for a written direction to continue from the secretary of state.

Josh HarrisInstitute for Government

These "directions" are not common things.

We knew of one since 2010 - the transport secretary's requirements for the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises go beyond what is necessary and are, therefore, not as efficient as might be expected.

A brilliant freelance reporter, Philip Nye, has worked out there are a further two directions that we do not know about. His Freedom of Information requests to the National Audit Office have hit a wall.

They have refused Mr Nye's requests on the basis of section 22 of the Act (publication of one is scheduled for the future) and section 43 (publication would harm someone's commercial interests).

I've found about one of those, relating to a business department decision on helping a former mining area. But the details are a mystery. And I have no idea what the third is.

This is all within the civil service rules. But I think this obfuscation is a blunder. Let me return to Josh Harris's blog. He notes

The accounting officer... implements the decision – but the minister bears responsibility for it.

Josh HarrisInstitute for Government

The process by which ministers "bear responsibility" for their decisions is the election. I cannot understand why officials think it is acceptable to allow ministerial directions to remain confidential even now?

Surely, the general election period should start with a public laundry-washing precisely so we can decide what we think of what ministers have been up to?

Purdah Watch

Some civil servants are having a game old time

Chris Cook

Newsnight Policy Editor

People playing table tennis
European Photopress Agency
A recent Whitehall meeting

News reaches Newsnight from inside Whitehall, where civil servants are awaiting a new government. In the meantime, some ministerial private office staff may not be using their time wholly productively:

  • My favourite tale is from the Department of Health, where officials have been told off for playing ping-pong on the secretary of state's desk. This may be an improvement: they used the office for small cricket games during the last interregnum. I gather other Whitehallers have been brushing up on their rounders.
  • A group of Defra officials used purdah to go on a day-trip to London Zoo. It's got animals, you see. And Defra do animals. It's also a really jolly day out. And a lot more fun than trying to work out whether Liz Truss is coming back.
  • One thing I have heard from a few departments is that the officials seize this opportunity to reconsider office layouts. In particular, they like to consider whether those nice ministerial offices wouldn't suit them better.

I don't begrudge them this time: I spend my life causing these people problems and private office staff kill themselves to keep the government running. But I think that's why I find it quite funny when they let their hair down. Any further contributions of Whitehall leisure gratefully received.

If Sterling falls on Friday - will it be because of politics?

Not necessarily

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

Despite the odd jitter - and the occasional excited newspaper headline - the financial markets have been relatively calm about Thursday's election.

The broad view across markets is that ultimately the election will not have a major impact on the UK economy.But even if that's true in the long run, it isn't hard to imagine the pound having a bad day on Friday if the result is as messy as many are expecting.

But would sterling sell off on Friday really be about politics?

Maybe not. The various results don't neatly fit into the common view that the markets prefer a Tory victory. For example, a strong showing for the Conservatives might be welcomed due the emphasis on fiscal discipline but the uncertainty from a potential EU referendum could drive sterling down.

Equally, one could argue that a Labour minority government (especially if backed by the SNP) would run a looser fiscal policy (i.e. borrow more). A looser fiscal policy could imply a tighter monetary policy. And it may well be that the prospect of higher UK interest rates attracts buyers to sterling.

One big reason that many analysts regard sterling as potentially at risk of a sell off is the UK's very large current account deficit. As I've blogged before, we are borrowing heavily from the rest of the world. That's fine as long as the rest of the world is prepared to finance our borrowing but becomes a problem if they aren't.

It could be the case that uncertainty over the next government leaves the UK looking like less of an international "safe haven". In that case Sterling would fall but whilst the catalyst would have been the election, the real driver would be the underlying economics.

5 things that could change everything

Into the electoral unknown unknowns

Ed Brown

Newsnight producer

Two days away from the election, and the polls have barely moved. The BBC's poll of polls over the campaign is almost laughably dull. The best evidence we have, summed up by Chris Hanretty's Newsnight Index, still says we're almost certain to have a hung parliament.

But fear ye not, fellow poll watchers. The election is not over yet. Here are five things that could happen over the next couple of days - and change everything.

1) Someone does something horrificThink Mike Tyson biting off someone's ear. Yes, I find it difficult to imagine Clegg doing that as well. But it's not impossible that a senior politician could do something incredibly stupid and make his or her party unelectable.

2) The polls are systematically wrongPeople forget that in most recent elections the pollsters systematically got one or more of the parties vote shares wrong. In 2010 it was the Lib Dems. From 1992 to 2001 they tended to significantly overstate Labour's lead - partly because of the 'shy tories' phenomenon. Pollsters are getting more sophisticated, but there's no reason why they couldn't just have all made some systematic error.

3) TurnoutIt's one thing telling pollsters you're certain you'll vote - quite another to actually do it. A well organised party can control this a bit - nagging their supporters to vote on the day. But there's some evidence it can be affected by things like the weather. Do you like Nigel Farage enough to brave a hailstorm for him?

4) Weird local factorsWe simply don't know what's happening in a lot of constituencies because the polling doesn't exist. Lord Ashcroft has done a fine job of having a look at some of the more marginal seats. But even his polling isn't necessarily rock solid.

5) Unknown unknownsI can't tell you what these are (they're unknown, you see). David Hume said that more or less the only reason we believed the sun would even rise tomorrow was "custom or habit". Maybe it won't on May 8th. Stay up, watch the election programme (complete with a few faces you'll recognise from Newsnight) on Thursday night, and find out!

The £30bn choice the politicians don't want to talk about

Ian Katz

Newsnight Editor

Chancellor's red box

One of the most frustrating things for all journalists covering this campaign has been trying - and serially failing - to get politicians to give straight answers on two of the biggest questions in this election: where the Tories will make their cuts and how much Labour plan to borrow - and spend.

In their keenness to downplay the pain of the £25bn of cuts they have promised, Tories repeatedly trot out the line that they plan to cut just one pound in every hundred of public spending - that doesn't sound very much does it?

Labour politicians, meanwhile, doggedly refuse to acknowledge that they plan to borrow more than the Tories - the Tories said they would clear the deficit last time, they intone, and look what happened!

The result is that you don't have to wait long for someone to tell you that you can't get a cigarette paper between Labour and the Tories: just look at all that stuff about balancing the books on the front page of the Labour manifesto. Just look at all those Tory spending pledges on childcare and the NHS.

I was reminded of the strange gap between the rhetoric of this election and the scale of the choice we're being offered reading Ed Conway's excellent column in the Times today.

Take the two main parties: by my reckoning there is more clear fiscal water between them than at any election since 1983 - the year Margaret Thatcher trounced Michael Foot

Ed ConwaySky Economics Editor

Like pretty much every economic expert, Conway reckons Labour would borrow - and spend - around £30bn more than the Tories by the end of the next parliament. Here's Chris Giles in the FT back in March:

There is a gap of more than £30bn a year in public spending by the end of the decade, at least 1.4 per cent of national income. This is a bigger political divide seen in any election since the days of Margaret Thatcher.

Chris GilesFT Economics Editor

All of which feels like quite a big deal, doesn't it? - and a very long way away from a cigarette paper of difference. Now take a look at Evan Davis' interview with Ed Miliband two weeks ago (from 4'15'') and see if you can get a clear idea of the fiscal choice between the two big parties. Has there even been an election when the choice was this big and the politicians conspired to make it seem this small?

Elephants in the room

The two big questions we might asking on Friday

Laura Kuenssberg

Newsnight Chief Correspondent

In this strange lull before the actual results on Friday morning, you can hardly move for speculation about what might happen on Friday – not just who will be Prime Minister this time round, but the long term questions this election might throw up.

Two big fat ones seem likely.

1. Should we change the voting system?

The momentum of smaller parties like UKIP and the Greens looks likely to slam up against the brick wall of first past the post. The public roundly rejected a move to the Alternative Vote system in this parliament. But it is not impossible that the question will be asked in some form or other again in the weeks to come, perhaps on whether it’s time to move to a proportional voting system.Professor John Curtice has given his projections of what the numbers might look like under PR to the Independent this morning and the results would be transformational. Under PR the projections, Conservatives would be receive 219 seats, Labour 215, instead of 275 and 290 respectively in his current forecast. But PR wouldn’t just put Labour marginally ahead. It would be a gamechanger for smaller parties. The Greens would go from 1 MP to 33. UKIP (on this projection) from 0 to 84. But interestingly it could actually cut the impact of the SNP from 46 projected MP s to 28.

2. Can the Union between Scotland and the rest of the UK survive?

The SNP has tried to emphasise again and again that this is not a rerun of the independence referendum, arguing there would have to be a "substantial change" before they would argue for a second vote on the issue. But what is a "significant change" if it is not a near clean sweep of Scottish parliamentary constituencies on Thursday? If the SNP does as well as the polls suggest, it is intensely likely that they will argue for a second referendum in their 2016 manifesto, and it is not impossible that such a vote could take place before the next UK-wide General Election in 2020. One senior Scottish figure tells me "the union is knacked", it’s just that Westminster hasn’t realised it yet. It might sound farfetched right now, but it is not impossible that this will be the last UK General Election that includes Scotland.

Vote Lib Dem - or you'll have to vote twice

Emily Maitlis

Newsnight Presenter

This made me laugh. Nick Clegg is actually trying to terrorise the country into voting Liberal Democrat by raising the spectre of ANOTHER election before Xmas.

The Tories tried to incite fear by suggesting the SNP would be in charge.

Labour tried to incite fear by suggesting the NHS would be lost.

And the Lib Dems are trying fear by suggesting, well, we’d all have to do all this again rather too soon.

Wonder which one will strike home?

An Italian Job

What David Cameron might learn from Matteo Renzi

Lewis Goodall

Newsnight producer


David Cameron might be looking to Italy wistfully this week.

And it's not even with a thought to where his next well-deserved post-election holiday might be.

Instead he'll be eyeing up Italy's changes to the electoral system with something approaching envy. Bear with me.

The Italian parliament has just approved a new law which will provide a majority to the party which wins the most votes in a general election.

It is designed to provide the country with more stable government and end years of democratic gridlock and horse trading. It will also most likely favour the incumbent, Matteo Renzi's chances, of remaining in office.

If David Cameron receives most votes and wins the most seats (as our Newsnight Index is currently projecting) then he will doubtless claim legitimacy to govern.

It would make it much easier if he had a 40 seat "top up", as the Italians are now planning for their winning party.

If the polls are right and we head into another hung parliament it appear that the strongest argument in favour of our system, First Past the Post, is much diminished.

And if a Labour party takes office in second place in terms of votes and seats, the call for reform might prove irresistible.

And in an ironic twist, it might be the Tory party which is calling for it. The truth is, FPTP doesn't serve them any more.

They could do worse than look to Italy for how they might want to change it.

Time to bin the ballot box?

Emily Maitlis

Newsnight Presenter


Ben from Gojimo – an exam revision app – has written to tell me of a poll they conducted with 2,400 teens. Forty percent of them said they'd much prefer to vote online. Seventeen percent said by text.

I get it. Of course I do. We’d all prefer to do everything online. I rarely enter a real shop these days, get lost for words if I have to make a booking through actual human contact, stare at the phone in horror if it even dares to ring out loud (am I the only person secretly hoping it’s the recorded voice of pensions misselling lady?).

And yet….? And yet. There is something so sacred about the polling station, middle aged as it perhaps makes me sound.

It is a ritual in my house – every year, with my kids, before school. No matter how tiny the child or how local the election. We do it.

And once in the booth, with the teeny weeny pencil, no-one else is allowed near me. It has the privacy of the confessional, the changing cubicle, the loo. It’s just one moment of silence and solitude. Because no-one else is allowed in there with you.

And it’s on the walk – all four minutes of it - that you gather your thoughts, take deep breaths, try and think deep things about democracy, whilst stopping a toddler’s scooter from ending up in a drain. And I just can't imagine what it would be like if we did it by text, surrounded by mates – a communal group-think, open to peer pressure and ridicule, and someone tickling you and nicking your phone – or worse still, the voting equivalent of a drunken dial.

The polling booth is imperfect, and the paper work is often confusing. And yes it’s a faff. But it guarantees that moment of utter privacy which a text just doesn’t.

If you told me digital voting would get more people participating, would I have to change my mind? Well, of course I would. And that change – I bet – will be with us easily by the end of the decade.

But until it comes, I'm quietly celebrating that moment of enforced tranquillity. Voting is a big thing. Hard earned here, scarce in so many parts of the world.

Lets save the text for ordering the pizza afterwards.

The view from Glasgow

Kirsty Wark

Newsnight Presenter

As part of Newsnight's election caravan tonight I'll be live from a very carefully chosen venue tonight in Glasgow - a change from my normal journey south.

There's one very noticable change from the election five years ago, and much more than past elections. This used to be a city where party posters adorned every tenement window and cars with balloons and loudhailers travelled the streets mercilessly.

Social media might make a lot of noise online, but it has really done for the old fashioned way of campaigning here, and most of the windows are bare - but I don’t think that even this unseasonably wet weather will keep people from the polling stations on Thursday. There might even be some pride in voting to keep the turnout close to that of the referendum: 84.5%.

I re-read Donald Dewar's speech to the opening of theScottish Parliament the other day which is a remarkable piece of oratory whatever your political views. Here's a paragraph:

"Walter Scott wrote that only a man with soul so dead could have no sense, no feel of his native land. For me, for any Scot, today is a proud moment; a new stage on a journey begun so long ago and which has no end. "

Donald Dewar knew that devolution would evolve and so it has. So, ahead of Thursday's poll the Scottish electorate has to decide where they are on that journey and tonight the deputy leaders of Labour and the SNP, Kezsia Dugdale and Stewart Hosie will be with me to discuss red lines and policy lines.

There was a sticky moment for Kezia Dugdale on Good Morning Scotland this morning when she couldn't name the six policy pledges Ed Miliband says he's going to have inscribed on a stone plaque in the Downing Street garden if he becomes PM. I bet she'll know them tonight! For Stewart Hosie the SNP are coming under pressure to make clearer to the electorate what would be negotiable should they be in a position to exercise influence, can he at least give the voters one tonight?

1892 all over again?

Duncan Weldon

Economics correspondent

A picture of Gladstone
William Gladstone

The potentially messy outcome of Thursday's election may well lead to the party with the second most seats forming a government. The political debate today is being dominated by questions of how "legitimate" such a government would be. To any student of British political history, this all feels familiar.

It's been noted before that the last time this happened in the UK was following the 1923 general election, when Labour formed a short lived minority administration in 1924 despite having come second in terms of seats and votes.

But another precedent can be found 30 years earlier. The 1892 election produced a hung Parliament made up as follows:

Conservatives: 268

Liberal Unionists (their outgoing coalition partners): 45

Liberals: 272

Irish Nationalists: 81

The Liberal opposition had won 80 seats off the Conservative and Liberal Unionist coalition but fallen short of a clear victory. Between them the Conservatives & Liberal Unionists held 313 seats against Gladstone's Liberals' 272. The outgoing government had also won the popular vote (although before the advent of full democracy, one can argue this measure mattered less).

The end result was a Liberal minority government reliant on the votes of Irish Nationalists. But the path to this government was fraught. The outgoing Prime Minister Lord Salisbury refused to resign until defeated in the Commons almost two weeks after the election.

A quick look at the Times Digital Archive for the summer of 1892 reveals article and letters that could almost have been written today. The idea of a minority UK government relying on the votes of MPs who wanted to leave the UK was far from uncontroversial.

Headlines such as "The British Political Crisis" and "The Ministerial Crisis" are common in the weeks after the vote. A leader published just after the final results argued that despite the "separatist majority" in Parliament, "Great Britain has pronounced against the disintegration of the Empire, and in England the Unionists are in a large majority".

A letter some days later forecast that Gladstone would now lead a "weak and powerless government". Few foresaw it lasting long.

In the end though, it lasted until the general election of 1895.

Everything you ever wanted to know about: Incumbency

James Clayton, Political Producer


The life of an MP in a marginal seat is not a glamorous one. By far the most important thing you can do as an MP is to use your status as a local champion in order to win over future voters.

That means sorting out people's housing problems, giving people tours of the Houses of Parliament, meticulously replying to correspondence, campaigning in the rain on Saturday mornings…

This is not House of Cards politics. It’s grinding, hands dirty, sleeves up, usually thankless hard work.

But for each signed letter, or school visit, every media appearance and surgery appointment, a pattern will emerge. More people will see you, recognise you’re one of the good guys and vote for you come polling day.

This is the incumbency effect, and you won’t understand the results on Thursday unless you’re au fait with it.

Almost all of the seats that Labour is looking to take off the Conservatives on Thursday were won by the Tories in 2010.

That means, in pretty much every Labour target, they are going to have to deal with the electoral dividend that comes with being an MP.

How much of an advantage is this to the Conservatives? Well, Chris Hanretty (otherwise known as the personification of the Newsnight Index) has crunched the numbers.

He found that Conservative MPs who are running second time get 2% more than Conservative candidates who have ‘inherited’ their seat :


Curiously Labour has a slightly smaller incumbency lift it seems – mainly because their fresh candidates do better (relatively) than Tory ones.

The really interesting figures here are the Lib Dem stats. A sitting MP is worth nearly four points more than a fresh MP and a whopping 7% more than the national figure. It is this Liberal Democat ground success that leads many in the party to believe that they will have a surprisingly reasonable night on Thursday, holding seats they should by rights have no expectation of retaining.

The problem for the Lib Dems is the Newsnight Index factors in incumbency – and it still looks pretty grim for them.

So, for all you political geeks out there, here are the unbalanced figures – what the predictions would be if there was no incumbency factor.


They show that Labour would be easing ahead in the polls without the incumbency effect – nearly 25 MPs ahead of the Tories. Instead, they’re currently forecast to get fourteen fewer MPs than the Conservatives.

The figures also show the Liberal Democrats – without their stellar local campaigning -would be on a paltry 15 seats come Friday morning. They would lose nearly three quarters of their MPs.

The quality of MPs is also hugely variable, complicating attempts to identify an incumbency effect. Some first time MPs will see barely any electoral disbursement from their five years in office. Others will see a much larger bounce. This presents pollsters with a psephological nightmare – the uncertainty of local campaigning. It’s why the constituency based Ashcroft polling is so important.

There is an added problem for psephologists. There are former MPs, unseated in 2010, who are running in the same seats this time. Seats like Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, where the Lib Dem’s Julia Goldsworthy is standing. Or Labour’s Bob Blizzard in Waveney. They can potentially neutralise the incumbency effect by simply being known in their respective constituencies.

Finally the incumbency effect – or lack of it – goes a long way to explain how UKIP could pick up seats on Thursday. Many of their targets do not have an incumbent MP. Grimsby, Boston and Skegness, South Thanet – not to mention their two by-election victories that by definition had no sitting MP.

Allegra and I are in Stockton South today - which has a nominal 1% lead for the Tory incumbent James Wharton. It’s very likely that if he holds the seat it will be because of his incumbency.

Would the Conservatives have been better off under AV?

BBC Newsnight Index

Dr Chris Hanretty, University of East Anglia

In 2011 the Conservative party campaigned against the Alternative Vote. They believed that the system would benefit centrist parties like the Liberal Democrats, who would receive “second preferences” from both Labour and Conservative voters.

In 2015, the Conservatives would very much like to benefit from the “second preferences” of UKIP voters. They hope to turn those second preferences into first preferences – but were the Conservatives wrong to oppose AV, and would this electoral system have benefitted them were it in place for this election?

To answer this question, I’ve looked at the British Election Study (BES).

The BES asks voters to take each party in turn, and say how likely it is on a zero to ten scale that they would ever vote for this party. This question – known in the trade as a propensity-to-vote question – can be turned into a preference ordering, so that the party with the highest score is ranked first, the party with the next-highest score is ranked second, and so on.

We can then examine the second preferences of supporters of:

• different parties

• located in different countries

• in seats held by different parties

Here, for example, are the second preferences of supporters of different parties averaged over English respondents in Labour-held constituencies:


The chart shows that those who give their first preference to UKIP are more likely than supporters of any other party to give their second preference to the Conservatives. On the left, the vast majority of Green supporters give their second preference to Labour.

We can produce graphs similar to this for voters in Scotland in Labour-held seats, or voters in England in Conservative held seats. There are some differences – UKIP voters in Labour-held seats are much less likely to give their second preferences to the Conservatives than are UKIP voters in Conservative-held seats. But armed with these second preferences, we can approximate what might have happened under AV.

(Technical note: I’m going to ignore the problem of third, fourth, and fifth preferences, and assume that the remaining preferences of, say, UKIP supporters who give their second preference to the Greens are similar to the second preferences of those who start off with the Greens).

When we use these second preferences in this way, what do the results look like?

• Conservatives: 311 (281 seats in forecast)

• Labour: 244 (267 seats in forecast)

• Liberal Democrats: 26 (26 seats in forecast)

• SNP: 47 (51 seats in forecast)

• Plaid Cymru: 2 (4 seats in forecast)

• Greens: 1 (1 seats in forecast)

• UKIP: 0 (1 seats in forecast)

In this exercise, the Conservatives do end up benefitting from AV. Of the 228 seats won by the Conservatives after the first round of voting, fully 128 are the result of vote transfers from UKIP supporters. These transfers would gift the Conservatives the keys to Number 10.

The losers from AV are the Marmite parties – UKIP, the Scottish National Party, and Plaid Cymru. Labour loses – but primarily because it is pipped to post by the Conservatives in a number of seats.

It’s impossible to know whether voter and party strategies would have remained the same if the electoral system had changed. The UKIP threat might have been pre-empted, leading to a more centrist campaign on certain issues. After all, a world in which the AV referendum succeeds is a world in which the Liberal Democrats are a far more successful governing party. As with other attempts to work out the effects of otherelectoral systems, we can only give indications of likely outcomes – a parliamentary majority has to take the plunge in order to find out how it would really work.