By Andrew Gimson
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Six months in to what was proving to be an unhappy prime ministership, Ed Miliband woke early and found he could not go back to sleep. His aides had assured him that “a quiet weekend at Chequers with no media” would do him a power of good. But as the wind howled round the ancient mansion and the rain splattered against the window panes, his fevered brain allowed him no rest.
What did they mean, no media? What were they trying to protect him from?
The Prime Minister crept from his bed, taking care not to disturb his spouse, who was sleeping the sleep of the Justine. He felt for his dressing gown and slippers, found them and tiptoed in to the corridor, where a low light burned.
Elizabethan architecture situated on the edge of the Chilterns and given a heavy make-over in the early 20th century was not quite his thing, and he had not yet mastered the geography of Chequers. But he set off down the corridor, not knowing what he would find.
By Mark Wallace
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Their most awkward moment came as their leader stood in for the Prime Minister at PMQs. Veteran eurosceptic Edward Leigh brandished a Lib Dem leaflet from 2008, asking whether the person claiming to be Nick Clegg who promised "a real referendum on Europe" was "an imposter or a hypocrite"?
At the time, this was a pledge Clegg felt strongly about - going to the point of trooping his MPs out of the Commons when the Speaker rejected an amendment proposing an EU referendum.
Obviously his position has changed, and he now seems dedicated to stopping the people getting a say.
The Deputy PM's standard get-out nowadays is to point to his party's 2010 manifesto (with no justification for the change in policy since then). It said:
"The European Union has evolved significantly since the last public vote on membership over thirty years ago. Liberal Democrats therefore remain committed to an in/out referendum the next time a British government signs up for a fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU."
By Mark Wallace
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The media is intent on a "Tory splits" narrative. Given the obsessive focus on any hint of disagreement on the blue side of the House, it is surprising that there has been so little reporting of Labour's splits.
They do have them - three in the last four days, in fact. Here they are:
Yesterday, various figures from the left and right of the Labour Party launched Labour for a Referendum - only days after Ed Miliband publicly rejected the idea of giving the people a say on Britain's EU membership. The rebels aren't just eurosceptic "usual suspects" like Kate Hoey, they include Brussels fans like former Europe Minister Keith Vaz.
By Peter Hoskin
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For any Kremlinologists among us, Lord Adonis’s new book and his interview with today’s Guardian are sure to be fruitful reads. Not only are they about the Kremlinology of days past: about how the absence of any relationship between Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown helped scupper a LibLab Coalition after the last election. But they are also about the Kremlinology of days to come: about how a LibLab Coalition might be born in 2015.
Among Lord Adonis’s main points is that Labour should, as the Guardian interview puts it, “prepare for coalition, even when [they] are fighting all out for a majority”. He reckons that the mistakes of the last election ought to be corrected, such that Ed Miliband reaches out to the Lib Dems now and dangles the possibility of major Cabinet positions in front of their rapacious eyes.
Earlier in the week, I wrote about Len McCluskey's development of a "party within a party" of Unite MPs on the Labour benches. Now, further concerns are mounting about the extent of the unions' power over the Labour Party's selection procedures.
Jim Pickard of the Financial Times has carried out research which shows that 16 of the 43 Parliamentary candidates selected so far enjoyed direct trade union support in their nomination campaigns. (For the record, the six candidates Unite has so far laid claim to are Lisa Forbes in Peterborough; Clive Lewis in Norwich South; Suzy Stride in Harlow; Sarah Owen in Hastings; Carol Dean in Tamworth; and Adrian Heald in Crewe and Nantwich.)
They have also sought to skew the pitch for future selections. As Jim Pickard puts it:
"...the rules were recently changed, making it harder for non-union candidates without deep pockets to become a general election candidate. (Unite itself claims on its website that it was responsible for this change, saying its interventions had ‘changed the Labour party rule book’.) Candidates now need to run campaigns for 11 weeks instead of four and send out more mailshots than previously."
On yesterday's Daily Politics, Labour rising star Stella Creasy was challenged over the issue, and she conceded that it is now "difficult" to be selected for a parliamentary seat without the backing of the unions.
By Mark Wallace
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Oh dear. It seems that having bailed out the Morning Star, a paper which has coincidentally been very flattering about him of late, Unite's Len McCluskey now expects other left wing news outlets to dance to his tune.
Guido has revealed a letter sent by Len to the Editor of the New Statesman raging against "confected" reports that he wanted Ed Miliband to sack the Blairites in the Shadow Cabinet.
In fairness to the Unite leader, the quotes in the article don't show him calling for sackings. They say if Ed is "seduced" by Blairites "then the truth is that he’ll be defeated and he’ll be cast into the dustbin of history." All very measured, I'm sure you agree...
However, he has started to cobble together a position on immigration because the economic interests of that base have endangered by the Blair/Brown opening up of our borders.
Meanwhile, Labour as well as the Conservatives are under threat from UKIP, and John Mann's piece on Labour List today is well worth reading in this regard.
By Paul Goodman
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YouGov's Peter Kellner warns wisely in the Guardian against reading today's results forwards into 2015. Yesterday's elections were concentrated in blue counties, not spread across the whole country. The turnout will be much higher in 2015. And so on.
However, it's clear that UKIP's progress isn't just bad for the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats - it's bad for Labour, too. Miliband needs to make progress in suburban and even rural areas if he is to win with a strong majority in two years' time.
The results so far suggest that his advance is very slow. In Lincolnshire, Labour lost 15 seats in 2009, and gained eight yesterday. In Essex, the corresponding figures are 12 and eight. Two steps back, one step forward.
By Peter Hoskin
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Thanks to the assiduity of Martha Kearney, Ed Miliband and his deficit enlargement plan are in the news. Would he borrow more to fund his proposed VAT cut? Um, ah, well, he wouldn’t admit it on Radio 4’s The World at One yesterday. But he did on ITV’s Daybreak this morning. “A temporary cut in VAT, as we are proposing,” he deadpanned, “would lead to a temporary rise in borrowing.” Now all he needs to do is admit that Labour’s overall fiscal plans would probably mean a rise in borrowing, too.
But forget Mr Miliband for a moment. In the past week, the most significant fiscal claim from a Labour figure has come from Ed Balls – although it has been reported far less extensively. It was issued during his response to last week’s growth figures, and not just once but again and again. First, speaking to the Beeb:
“The government inherited an economy which was recovering, started to grow strongly. Unemployment was falling, the deficit was coming down.”
And in the same interview:
“In 2010, they inherited an economy which was growing more strongly, unemployment was falling and the deficit was coming down.”
And then on the Daily Politics:
“[The deficit] is down by a third because what happened in the first year of this Government inherited from Labour when the economy was growing, unemployment was falling and the deficit was going down.”
A-wha?! The Coalition inherited a declining deficit? This claim requires more than a sceptical, raised eyebrow. It requires some charts.
I have discussed before the indulgent attitude that Ed Miliband takes towards the far left and also noted how blatant Len McCluskey of the Unite union had been about his intentions. Mr Miliband poor judgment was recently confirmed by his schmoozing of George Galloway.
Peter Watt, a former Labour Party General Secretary, has warned Ed Miliband that far left union activists are "running rings" the Labour leader in candidate selections. So far these have been for Euro Election candidates. Recently The Times splashed on the subject. Still, who cares about Euro MP selections as who cares about the European Parliament, aren't the Lefties more Eurosceptic than the Blairites anyway, etc.
However Mr Watt says the same will happen for selections for Labour candidates to be MPs at Westminster in their target seats at the next election.
"We shouldn’t be surprised; it is what the trade unions have been saying that they would do. Unite have a political strategy that explicitly says that they will operate on this basis; get onto local committees, selection panels and regional boards and then wield power to get sympathisers selected."