Saturday, 29 May 2010

Worth remembering it is Clegg who would do the firing

Amazing story from the Telegraph today on David Laws paying £40,000 to his partner, with much of the furore focussing on the fact he has been “outed” as gay.

Certainly the “revelation” of Mr Laws’ sexuality is not much of a revelation to his Yeovil constituents, many of whom thought they’d “known” about it for years.

The question will be which way the argument falls on privacy vs expenses. Paul Waugh suggested this morning that, rather like the Ecclestone F1 affair early in New Labour’s honeymoon, Cameron and Clegg should be able to ride this one out.

But it is worth remembering that during the early days of the coalition, it was stressed that the hiring and firing of Lib Dem ministers was the job of the DPM aka Nick Clegg. Will the Orange Bookers rally round?

Here is what some Westcountry politicians (past and present) have been saying this morning:

Julia Goldsworthy on Twitter:
“Judge politicians on how good they are, and allow them personal privacy. David Laws has intellect and integrity - this country needs him.”
Foreign office minister and Taunton MP Jeremy Browne on the Today programme:
"I've known David for about 15 years and can tell you categorically that this is a human story, it is not a financial story. He is a deeply private man and he has a personal wish not to have his life put up in lights.
"This is not about David being motivated by money. He gave up a very lucrative job to go into politics. He could have earned a lot more money that this.
"What it is about is him wanted to be a private person and I think he should be able to be that."
He referred to the row as "a massive distraction, motivated possibly by politics, to try and tear David down."
Hat tip Politics Home 
Lord Ashdown said:
"The central question is, what does a partnership actually mean...I don't believe you should be making a judgement about that.
"David has referred this to the parliamentary commissioner as he, as a man of integrity, would, and we must now wait for his judgement.
"His moral authority has only been damaged if what he has done is an act of wrongdoing. You and I do not know whether that is the case at the moment."
Hat tip Politics Home 
Kevin Davis, the Tory candidate in Yeovil, said:
“I actually think Mr Laws was doing a good job as Chief Secretary but I fear that he can only come to the conclusion that he must step down. I say this reluctantly because the coalition needs good people to work for it but the fact is that he has now undermined that coalition by raising again the problem of sleaze and expenses, just when we thought that matters had been cleared up and we could move on.”

Minister says £6 billion cuts are "peanuts" compared to what's coming

The £6 billion of cuts announced this week is “peanuts” compared to the budget bloodbath expected in the autumn, farming minister Jim Paice warns today.

In the Saturday Interview, Mr Paice admits he has no “wadge of money” to spend on new projects as the belt-tightening begins.

On Monday, Chancellor George Osborne announced cuts to all government departments. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was told to find £162 million, the equivalent of 5.3 per cent of its total budget.

Mr Paice told the Western Morning News it was “very tough” to find the savings, but hopes that this first round of cuts can fall on “backroom” costs while protecting frontline services.

But the comprehensive spending review, planned for the autumn, is likely to involved far greater reductions as the Treasury moves to tackle the £150 billion deficit.

Mr Paice said: “This £6 billion is peanuts compared to what we are going to have to do over the next three years as we move into the comprehensive spending review. That’s where all departments, not just Defra, are going to start saying there are some things which we currently do which we will have to stop doing.”

Quangos like Natural England and the Environment Agency will be told to stop some of their work altogether, while Defra itself prepares to abandon some of its output.

“You’ve going to have to take out whole heads of expenditure.”

Mr Paice insists farming is his priority, as he sets out a “clear direction” for officials at the department which was heavily criticised by the Tories in opposition.

Key issues high on his agenda include planning for a cull of badgers, clamping down on unclear food labelling, cutting red tape and demanding Whitehall buys British food.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Lib Dem MP said he wouldn't become a Lord. Guess what?

January 17 2007

Matthew Taylor announes he is quitting as an MP and tells the WMN he had no immediate job plans after he leaves the green benches behind him – but ruled out a move to the House of Lords.

“I would assure people that whether they like it or not they won’t have heard the last of me.”

May 28 2010

Matthew Taylor becomes Lord Taylor.

To be fair, he has a great explanation for this u-turn.

"I only intend to have some continuing national voice in Parliament on these issues for a short while longer. When I announced in 2007 that I would not be seeking re-election as an MP, I fully expected that by the General Election the then Labour Government would have honoured its pledge to have an elected House of Lords. Therefore I expected no new peerages would be made. I have accepted this unexpected honour with the specific intention of abolishing myself by voting through the new Coalition Government's pledge to democratise the Lords."

Congratulations to Matthew, and to two other former Westcountry MPs and ex-ministers, Tory Angela Browning and Labour's Jim Knight, who also become peers.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Lib Dem MP says public "appalled" at coalition policy on badger cull

A Westcountry Lib Dem MP has become the first in the region to publicly criticise government policy.

Torbay MP Adrian Sanders condemned the coalition's plans for a cull of badgers in the region to deal with the spread of TB, saying people would be "appalled" at the idea.

Such a move would be a “massive waste of public money”, Mr Sanders claimed.

And he pinned his hopes on a government u-turn after reports new Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman was blocking the policy – a claim denied by the minister.

A targeted cull of diseased badgers in the areas where bovine TB is at its worst was both Conservative and Liberal Democrat policy before the election.

Last year, 40,000 cattle were destroyed nationally as a result of the disease, with almost half in the South West region.

The coalition agreement, published last week, pledged: “As part of a package of measures, we will introduce a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine tuberculosis.”

On the same day a national newspaper claimed the policy was being “blocked” by Ms Spelman while she “reviews the scientific evidence”.

But at a press conference Ms Spelman insisted there was no change in stance, and warned “time has been lost in dealing with this issue” while Labour refused to sanction a cull.

The Western Morning News understands that officials at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have already begun drawing up plans for a cull in England, after the Welsh Assembly begins its own programme.

But Mr Sanders, Lib Dem deputy chief whip, said: “So many Torbay constituents are appalled by the idea of a badger cull; there is not enough scientific evidence that it would make any difference and any cull would simply be a massive waste of public money.”

“Culling badgers simply is not the right way forward.”

Tories oppose naming Plymouth street after Michael Foot as "overtly political"

A growing row over whether a road in Plymouth should be named after Michael Foot was flagged up to me by a couple of people on Twitter yesterday.

There seems to have been some debate about whether or not the former Labour leader could be classed as "local" to the city he served as MP, and was of course one of the most famous Argyle fans.

This is from today's Western Morning News:

A row has broken out over whether a Plymouth street should be named after former Labour party leader and city MP Michael Foot.

Mr Foot, who died aged 96 in March, was MP for Devonport from 1945 to 1955 and fought for cash to rebuild the city which was blitzed during the Second World War.

Labour councillor Nicky Wildy said she wanted part of a new development in Devonport to be named after Mr Foot.

But Conservative cabinet member Ian Bowyer said it was “overtly political”.

Ms Wildy said: “To describe our suggestion as political is an insult. I don’t think it is about politics at all. It is about Michael Foot.

“He is better known locally for supporting Plymouth Argyle than as an MP. I don’t see why we can’t name a street after him.”

Mr Bowyer said he had nothing personal against Mr Foot.

He said: “In the current climate, with unease about politicians, I believe it is not the right time. However illustrious the name, it is overtly political. It could have been Winston Churchill as far as I was concerned.”

No plans for the development proposed for the Mount Wise area have yet been submitted to the city council.

Liam Fox praises maiden speech of MP who has been here for five years

Oh dear. New defence secretary Liam Fox is obviously a very busy man but last night he got in a bit of a muddle about which MPs were new and which weren’t.

Winding up the defence and foreign affairs debate on the Queens Speech, he praised Plymouth Moor View Labour MP Alison Seabeck for her “incredibly informed maiden speech, albeit a highly political one”.

Except Ms Seabeck was elected in May 2005. And in the last five years has probably spoken on defence more than any other issue in the Commons, often with Mr Fox sitting across the chamber from her.

“It was not my maiden speech,” she insisted, clearly a bit put out.

He apologised: “In any case, she made an incredibly informed speech that I thoroughly enjoyed.”

Got out of that one… just.

In her not-maiden speech, Ms Seabeck boasted how she and ex-Labour MP Linda Gilroy (defeated in this year’s election) had “lobbied very hard” to raise awareness of Plymouth’s defence industry in government.

She might also start lobbying to raise awareness of Plymouth’s MPs too.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Anti-war banner on the side of Parliament - photo

This is an admittedly not very good photo of the banner the peace protestors have unfurled on scaffolding on the side of Speaker's House.

In case you can't read it, it says:

"We respect the soliders. We do not support the war"

In the best British tradition regarding post-horse bolting stable door management, the place is now swarming with police, who are doing a lot of pointing at the banner and scratching heads.

I suspect heads will being banged together by Commons authorities before the end of the day.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Spot the difference: Pensions/Earnings links delayed?

Thursday May 20 – Coalition Agreement launch
We will restore the earnings link for the basic state pension from April 2011.
Tuesday May 25 – Queen’s Speech
The main benefits of the Bill would be to help ensure the future affordability of the State Pension, including the restoration of the link between earnings and the basic State Pension from 2012.
12.15pm: No-one at the Department for Work and Pensions is available to explain this at the moment. They are all in a meeting, apparently.

12.20pm UPDATE: DWP are now saying that the 2012 figure is wrong, and shouldn't have been in the Queen's Speech notes. Asked if it would actually happen in 2011, a spokesman said "that is what it says in the coalition agreement".
Not a great typo to have made though.

£780m Labour housing pledges was not "fully and securely funded"

Labour ministers promised thousands of new homes would be built despite hundreds of millions of pounds in funding not being secured.

The Department for Communities and Local Government took the highly unusual step of releasing details of the scale of Labour’s largesse in the months before the general election.

A trawl of records showed “the previous Government made commitments that were not fully and securely funded”.

It included an eye-watering £780 million towards housing priorities as part of Gordon Brown’s flagship Housing Pledge.

It is understood that the money – half of a £1.5 billion fund - depended on the Home Office and the health, education and transport departments “underspending” on their annual budgets. This money will now be used to tackle the deficit.

A spokesman for Communities and Local Government said the state of the public finances is “severe”.

David Laws, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the government was instead allocating an £170 million to “fund investment in social rented housing in 2010-11, to help deliver 4,000 social housing starts”.

The Homes and Communities Agency is also cutting £50 million from housing market renewal schemes and £30 million from the gypsy and traveller programme.

No new or further commitments will be entered into.

However Labour’s John Healey, the housing minister until the election, claimed the government’s failure to defend the housing budget would lead to cuts in jobs and homes.

"This is bad for the economy, bad for families' and bad for a housebuilding sector that has been kept going through recession by public investment.

"In failing to defend housing, the new ministers at CLG have shown little fight. On the back of David Cameron's downgrading of Housing Minister to a non-Cabinet post, they've made the Treasury's task of public investment cuts much easier.”

Queen's Speech Day - all bling and bluster

This is the fifth Queen's Speech I have covered for the WMN.

Every year I get a ticket to watch HM dryly reading out the list of Bills from the limited press gallery in the House of Lords.

Every year there is a lot of hanging about, much tittering at over-the-top frocks, cheap looking tiaras and Lords, ladies and high commissioners trying to wedge themselves into their tiny allocated seat.

Every year I make lots of notes for a sketch.

And every year almost none of it gets into the paper, because the contents of the Bills and the exchanges in the Commons are more newsworthy by the end of the day.

I had already begun the fear the same this year. Until the Sunday papers got their mits on apparently the whole Queens Speech.

Which means for the first time exactly what Lady Fotherington-Forsyth-Smythe is wearing risks being the big unknown political shock.

Although there is the small matter of Harriet Harman's first proper outing against David Cameron in the Commons.

Can she really complain about leaks to the press with a straight face?

Monday, 24 May 2010

Where's the meat then, George?

George Osborne made great play at his outdoor press conference this morning about how he was being much more open about the efficiencies than Labour ever were.

No more hiding behind vagaries of “efficiency savings”.

The message does not seem to have got through to all government departments though.

The Department for Communities and Local Government will be saving £362m in cuts in grants to local government.

Asked which grants, I was told: “You might have to wait until the Budget.”

That would take us to the end of June – almost three full months into this financial year. Until then presumably, councils must twiddle their thumbs and wait to be told if the money John Denham, John Healey et al promised just a few weeks ago will ever turn up.

Over at Defra, £162 million in cuts are planned, including vagaries like “limiting recruitment and reducing the number of non-permanent staff; operational savings in IT, estates and procurement; and savings within the delivery of selected programmes”.

Again details hard to come by.

The Department for Transport promises to make savings on “the deferral of £54m that would have been spent on lower priority schemes”.

The Department for Business pledges “£82 million from efficiencies in Universities”.

Fingers crossed that by the end of the day there is a bit more meat on these bones.

At present, it looks like a vegetarian’s feast.

Here come the cuts - Lib Dems about to find out the downside of being in power

It may all be smiles this morning as George Osborne and new Lib Dem best friend David Laws set out £6 billion in cuts, a small but useful first step towards cutting the £156 billion deficit.
Hilariously Labour are grumbling that this is being made to the media first, not Parliament. Almost beyond parody.
Though someone should have a word with the Lib Dem ministers who professed to being disgusted by the 'accidental' leaking of the entire Queen's Speech to two Sunday papers.
As the coalition negotiations showed, if you don't want things to leak, they don't.
Frankly Lib Dem MPs might be better trying to placate their grassroots, who are up in arms not about HOW the cuts are being announced, but that their nice little party is being implicated in the bloodbath.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Live from Whitehall, The Coalition. Forget Prog-Rock, this is prog(ressive) politics.

Lead singer David Cameron sat the first 20 minutes out, leaving his incongruous backing band to thrash out their solos on the platform.

First up, deputy lead singer Nick Clegg rattled through some familiar riffs – freedom, fairness, responsibility. He must get used to playing these big stages.

Next, Home Secretary Theresa May brought a bit of glamour, promising bobbies on the beat, cutting paperwork and more freedom.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, was having technical trouble. When he was due to take centre stage, a roadie was adjusting his microphone. Ms May offered to fill time by dancing, though it is Mr Cable who is more usually found twirling ladies around ballrooms.

In the awkward delay, Mr Cable joked: “We're making it up as we go along.”

Unfortunately this had the ring of truth to it. Flicking through the coalition agreement, where policy clashes have occurred the wording of the final statements are a fine blend of compromise, vagaries and fudge.

The vote on hunting has become a vote on whether there should be a vote on hunting. Lib Dem Chris Huhne’s energy department will draft the government’s pro-nuclear policy and he will then campaign against it.

And a pledge to freeze council tax for two years has become a one year commitment, while they will “seek to freeze it for a further year, in partnership with local authorities”.

Cutting the deficit takes precedence over everything, we were told again and again. Except, it seems, when there is a publicity budget to spend.

Towering over yesterday’s coalition press conference, at least ten feet tall, were two floor-to-ceiling billboards almost entirely blank but bearing the logo of this new politics.

Inevitably, it also had the mark of a design guru – a colon. It read: “The Coalition: our programme for government.”

The Coalition was written in green. Blue (Tory) and yellow (Lib Dem) of course make green. Keep up at the back!

Mr Cameron insisted it would be “churlish” to look for the holes in the agreement, when hacks should be focussing on all the things they could agree on.

The mood music may be positive now, but as the axe falls on pet projects and divisions emerge on key policies, Tory and Lib Dem backbenchers may be less willing to dance to The Coalition’s tune.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Does this mean the vote to repeal the Hunting Act is on?

Defra today released the full list of ministerial responsibilities for its new (wholly-Conservative) team.
Top man Jim Paice, as widely expected and welcomed in the industry, has become Minister of State for Agriculture and Food.
His responsibilities include:
• Farming
• Food
• Animal health (including endemic and exotic diseases)
• Responsibility and cost-sharing
• Welfare of farm animals
• Single Payments Scheme
• Forestry (including Forestry Commission)
• Agriculture and forestry carbon budgets
• Hunting and shooting
• Agricultural Wages
• Gangmasters Licensing
• Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS)
• Better regulation
• Deputising for the Secretary of State at EU Agriculture Council

Now, the appearance of 'Hunting and shooting' seems significant. A quick trawl through the archive shows none of Labour’s last Defra team was responsible for either of these things.
Shooting is obviously a major industry, and a popular country pursuit, so it is good news that a minister is now overseeing it.
But what about hunting? It has proved impossible to get any information out of the new coalition government about the likelihood of the Tory promise of a free vote on repealing the Hunting Act 2004.
But surely you wouldn’t have a minister responsible for something which remains illegal, would you? It is certainly back on the radar.
I understand new Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman will be setting out her priorities later this week. I suspect this subject will be raised.

Looking down on a sea of Lib Con heads - but where's the Labour Wally?

The WMN perch in the press gallery gives me a fine view of the opposition benches. Almost directly above where the Prime Minister sits, for the last three and a half years I have been able to survey the dozen or so Westcountry MPs on the Tory and Lib Dem side.

Now, I have a problem. In the whole of Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset there are just two Labour MPs.

Ben Bradshaw is shadow culture secretary – for the time being at least – leaving Alison Seabeck as the sole backbencher. I shall resist the temptation to suggest this presents me with a political game of Where’s Wally.

Alison’s attempt to stand out during the election of the new Speaker – by wearing an ultra-loyal Labour Red jacked and matching specs – was limited in its impact with the bulk of her female colleagues doing the same.

As it was she was on a green bench near the front and gave me a wave. I suspect in the coming weeks she will be vital voice of opposition in the region.

On the Lib-Con side it was positively bulging, though I laregly only had a view of the top of their heads.

Newly-appointed ministers and very green MPs jostled behind the Speaker’s Chair. Conservative Sarah Wollaston, the GP-turned-MP for Totnes, stood at the door behind the Speaker clutching what appeared to be some forms from IPSA, the expenses watchdog. Very sensible.

East Devon Tory MP Hugo Swire, newly-installed as Northern Ireland Minister, was in the thick of it too.

Amid the mêlée, one impertinent Tory was trying to barge them all out of the way.

“Can I just squeeze through?” inquired… oh… it’s our new Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Punctuality man! At least he was there, though. Gordon Brown, having attracted respect for staying on as an MP, let himself down by not showing up for this parliamentary formality. Indeed, in all the gushing of congratulations to the elections winners and losers, he was completely forgotten.

On the Lib-Con frontbench, the behind-the-scenes struggle for government jobs became all too physical.

It began as the senior ministers returned from a brief but constitutional visit to the Lords.

Business Secretary Vince Cable parked himself on the bench first, tactfully leaving a large space either side, resisting the temptation to cuddle up to his new Tory friends.

Next came Theresa May, new Home Secretary but not a natural bedfellow of Mr Cable.

Things were looking tight when Justice Secretary Ken Clarke spot an inch of green leather between Cable and Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, plonking himself down with a real “oomph”, sparking cheers from the press gallery as if a champion wrestler had just sat on a floored opponent.

Just when it was all looking a bit like sardines in a tin, new Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman came along and somehow found a slither seat to perch on. Though it may actually have been Mr Hammond’s knee.

This is the cosy consensus in action.

Sir Peter Tapsell becomes Father of the House, having first been elected an MP in 1959. He had previously served as an aide to Eden, and frankly knows the place inside out.

Presiding over the re-election of John Bercow as Speaker, he had to endure some truly dreadful jokes at his expense, which he did with good grace.

In the end, Bercow was elected without a fuss. Attempts by Tory troublemakers including Nadine Dorries to force a vote were scuppered by Sir Peter.

We were told to be back for 3.10pm tomorrow. Obviously someone has a big lunch planned.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Ashdown asked for Miliband to rescue Lib-Lab pact

I spoke to Paddy Ashdown yesterday for our first Saturday Interview after the election.
As always he was on great form, quoting the politician's prayer - Lord make my words sweet and reasonable for I may have to eat them - he knows he has said one or two things about the Tories.
But he revealed a lot about his personal role in trying to rescue a deal with Labour, including making an indirect plea to one D Miliband.
Here is an extract:
It is clear Lord Ashdown would have preferred to have seen the Lib Dems enter government with the Labour party – something he came tantalisingly close to doing with Tony Blair in 1997, a deal scuppered by senior Labour ministers.
For three decades the Lib Dems have aimed to be a party of government in their own right by trying to “create a realignment of the left around broadly moderate and liberal values”.
That was the vision of former leaders including former one-time North Devon MP Jeremy Thorpe, David Steel and Jo Grimond.
He insists it was “very important” that the Lib Dem negotiators pursued talks with Labour, even in “pretty fragile circumstances”.
“My job in this process was to keep the Labour option alive because if we hadn’t we would have had no bargaining power with the Tories. So of course many of us, the whole party, would have preferred to do that.”
He insists Mr Clegg simply “kept his promise” that whichever party had the most votes and seats had the right to try to form the government first.
“Did I think it would end up precisely as it ended? No. Did I think there would be a serious attempt to do this? Yes I did.”
Two factors caused the Labour talks to fail. “The first was the old Neanderthals, the old knuckle draggers, stopping it happening for tribal reasons.”
In particular he blames former Deputy PM John Prescott, outgoing justice secretary Jack Straw, and former home secretaries David Blunkett and John Reid. “These were the old tribalists who stopped things happening in ‘97.”
He admits that Mr Brown was also a key roadblock to doing a deal in 1997. The outgoing Labour leader has “many, many personal gifts – one of them is not the personal gift required to run the country”.
But he is also critical of the would-be future Labour leaders who failed to see the potential of doing a deal with the Lib Dems this week.
“I think there was a failure of action by those who could have staked out very clearly this is where they wanted to go.
“By this I mean David Miliband. There was a point, and I will say to you that, not directly but indirectly, I know that this point was made to him: that he ought to come out clearly and say if he was leader of the Labour party he would back this.
“But I fear greatly that he decided that for reasons of a leadership election, he wouldn’t. I think that’s true of others too.”
UPDATE: The Independent on Sunday has picked up the story today. However Jane Merrick reports that:
The accusation that Mr Miliband, the frontrunner in the race to succeed Gordon Brown, could have denied the Conservatives power was rejected by sources close to the former foreign secretary last night.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Three more ministers for the Westcountry

David Cameron and Nick Clegg tonight appointed three Westcountry MPs to senior government jobs as their Liberal Conservative coalition took shape.

The move, on top of Yeovil MP David Laws' Cabinet job, gives the region a much bigger voice in Government than it had under Labour.

Liberal Democrat North Devon MP Nick Harvey becomes minister of state for the armed forces at the Ministry of Defence. He had previously been the frontbench spokesman on defence matters for his party.

He said: “It is an important job at a time when we are fighting a major war in Afghanistan and obviously I want to ensure the best possible support for our troops and the best possible outcome from the defence review.”

Jeremy Browne, the Lib Dem MP for Taunton Deane and former treasury spokesman, becomes a minister of state at the Foreign Office. He told the Western Morning News how he heard the news from Mr Clegg: “I got a call from the man I must start get used to calling the Deputy Prime Minister when I was in Tesco in Taunton.”

And Hugo Swire, long-serving Conservative MP for East Devon, becomes minister of state for Northern Ireland.

All three men are on the rung below Cabinet level on the ministerial ladder. Mr Laws was named Chief Secretary to the Treasury earlier this week, sitting in Cabinet and working alongside Chancellor George Osborne. West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin will be a minister at the Cabinet Office.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Maybe someone should have a look at Vince’s Twitter feed

Ah, the perils of the web. As Vince Cable is confirmed as Business Secretary, it might be worth whoever operates his Twitter account either taking it down or removing some of the less complimentary comments about his new Cabinet colleagues.

Tory Inheritance Tax cut costs £6bn and benefits 3000 wealthiest estates 3:05 PM May 2nd via web
Labour and the Tories are as bad as each other. Their plans would drive public finances into the ground 11:48 AM Apr 1st via web
Tory policy on NICs is school boy economics 1:15 PM Mar 29th via web
Osborne is out of his depth 7:01 PM Feb 24th via web
Labour and Tories are accusing each other of being confused and contradictory on the economy, and they're both right. 1:44 PM Feb 1st via web
Tories confused about cuts 4:09 PM Jan 29th via web
Lack of clarity in Labour and Tory approaches to banks 10:29 AM Dec 7th, 2009 via web

Lib Dem MP reveals 80% of new government policies are from Lib Dem manifesto

The remarkable thing overnight and this morning is the extent to which the Tories have given way to the Lib Dems on key policies.

Both sides have been able to drop their more bonkers ideas (Inheritance Tax/illegal immigrant amnesty) while moving on to the “liberal conservative” ground that both David Cameron and Nick Clegg favour.

Full details of the deal will come out this morning, with Prime Minister Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Clegg (better get used to that) giving a press conference at 2.15pm

In the meantime, Andrew George - the staunchly independent Lib Dem MP for St Ives has put out a statement – admitting he favoured a deal with Labour but was satisfied the Tory deal is right for the country.

He also reveals 80 per cent of the new government’s policies are from the Lib Dem manifesto not the Tories’.

We’ll find out in the next few hours.

Andrew George's statement:

“The electorate had given MPs a clear mandate. One which required them to work together. There was no overall winner of the General Election.

“Liberal Democrats have always argued for consensus politics. In any case, it is the inevitable consequence of electoral reform. So this is consensus politics in practice.

“The last thing the country needs right now is unstable Government followed by another General Election in the autumn. I believe that the agreement reached is not only a good one for the Liberal Democrats – as the statement to be released later this morning will show – 80% of the policy commitments of the new Government are items from the Liberal Democrat rather than Conservative manifesto.

“Personally, I had hoped for an alignment of the centre left. However, the Labour Party were very clearly not prepared to do any kind of deal. They were not prepared to compromise. They wanted to go into opposition.

“I am aware that whichever way these negotiations went many local electors would be unhappy. I am keen to speak to as many people as possible about the challenges we faced, the conundrums we had to overcome in negotiation and the justification of having to come to a deal which, above all, put the national interest first.

“I will be holding public meetings in the coming months and am keen to hear from all who have an opinion on the matter. My Parliamentary colleagues and I will be releasing a joint statement later in the day setting out our ambitions for Cornwall in the new Government.”

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Which Westcountry Lib Dems are heading for ministerial office?

Some might say it's early days, but we are hurtling towards the endgame so why not play at fantasy reshuffle.

Rumours are the Lib Dems will get six seats in a Cameron Cabinet, and according to some notes photographed on Nick Clegg's lap, they'll have a minister in every department.

So, who from Cornwall, Devon and Somerset could get a red box? This is my take (with their current job - at least at the time of writing) including their chances as I see it.

And crucially, as far as I am aware Lord Ashdown has not ruled out taking a government job. Brown famously offered him Northern Ireland after becoming PM. Could Paddy achieve what he set out to do 13 years ago, and get a seat at the top table?

Schools spokesman and negotiator David Laws (Yeovil)

LikelyDefence spokesman Nick Harvey (North Devon)
Treasury spokesman Jeremy Browne (Taunton Deane)
Commons spokesman David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Deputy chief whip Adrian Sanders (Torbay)
Communities spokesman Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall)
Andrew George (St Ives)
Paddy Ashdown???

Only just elected
Steve Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay)
Tessa Munt (Wells)

*Julia Goldsworthy would surely have been a shoe-in, had she not lost Camborne and Redruth by just 66 votes.

Ben Bradshaw smiles as Adam Boulton almost loses it - again*

I have some sympathy for Adam here. I have had infuriating conversations with Labour candidates, MPs and activists who fail to accept the outcome of the election. One even told they were "absolutely ecstatic" with the result.

It's like trying to get Granny to start making arrangements for Grandad's funeral, but she refuses to accept that he is dead.

And the maths being peddled by Labour is bonkers. They say that if you add the Labour and Lib Dem vote together it is more than the Tories, which proves the majority of the nation are anti-Tory, so the Rainbow Coalition is the only option.

But the Tories got more votes than Labour on their own, and combined with the Lib Dem votes is double the Labour vote.

It is true no-one won this election outright, but that is because voters turned their back on Labour in favour of the Tories and the Lib Dems, who both saw their vote share rise.

The idea that voters all got together on Wednesday night to conspire to create a hung parliament - as some on all sides seem to suggest with all this "the people have spoken" stuff - is equally bizarre.

As an aside, a colleague noted that it is only a matter of time before a cartoon appears saying: "We have been without a government for three days - and things have never gone more smoothly."

* In case you haven't seen it elsewhere, here is the Adam Boulton v Alastair Campbell row which happened yesterday.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Lib Dem: You can’t trust the f***ing Tories

It seems we are inching towards a deal between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, with both leaders due to meet their MPs today.
They should not underestimate the unease and distrust in their ranks at the – especially among the Westcountry contingent who have just spent four weeks slogging it out in one of the dirtiest election campaigns many said they had seen.
Today’s Western Morning News contains a number of juicy comments from both Tories and Lib Dems – some on the record, some off – which should give the consensual negotiators pause for thought.
It seems to have brought out the potty-mouthed worst among them.
Liberal Democrats
One Lib Dem in the region said a deal with the Conservatives would be a "f***ing travesty". This morning on the way into a sun-drenched Parliament, a Lib Dem MP told me: “You can’t trust the f***ing Tories.”
Another frontbencher said: "Not many Lib Dems joined the Lib Dems to help the Tories, but every party lost so we are where we are. There are probably quite a lot of Tories who are not thrilled by the prospect of working with Liberal Democrats."
On electoral reform, a Devon Lib Dem source said: "This is what we have been waiting for, for 80 years. The economic crisis is huge but will continue for a few years. Constitutional reform would last 100 years. I am left with the slight sense the Tories are just leading us a dance and don't really want a deal at all."
Tories in the region seem no keener to cosy up to Lib Dems.
Hugo Swire, Tory MP for East Devon and a former member of the Mr Cameron's shadow cabinet, ridiculed the idea that the Lib Dems are "the new, fresh party", saying they had been a "disaster" when running Westcountry councils.
"The reason we kicked them out of overall control in Cornwall, the reason we kicked them out of Devon County Council and Somerset County Council… is we know how completely useless they are when they are in power."
One option understood to be being considered is a "confidence and supply" deal, under which the Lib Dems would undertake not to bring down a minority Conservative administration in return for assurances on certain policy areas.
"Given how flaky the Liberals are, how long that will last, who knows," Mr Swire added.
A Labour source claims Lib Dems in the region will defect to them on mass: "There will be mass insurrection among the Liberal Democrat grassroots."
And Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw said: "I still find it hard to believe that the Lib Dems would agree to a deal with the Conservatives without a referendum on electoral reform and if they fail to reach a deal with the Conservatives then our door is always open.
"We support a fair voting system. It was in our manifesto. There is an alternative to a Con-Lib collation, in a progressive alliance of Lib Dems, Labour, possibly the moderate Northern Ireland parties, that could deliver that historic political reform and manage the country and the economy stably for the next two or three years."
2pm UPDATE: All morning I have been speaking to MPs, new and old, of all three parties. A selection of their views:
Labour: "Brown must go, it's just a question of when. He was toxic on the doorstep."
Tory MP on Lib-Dems: "They will sh*t on you, they will be b*st*rds and then they will stab you in the back."
Lib Dem MP telling Tories: "Play your cards right and I'll make you my PPS."

Sunday, 9 May 2010

After the Westcountry Lib/Con battles turned nasty, can they really all be friends?

The Conservative / Lib Dem battlegrounds in the Westcountry are not for the faint hearted. This campaign, to put it bluntly, got nasty.

Dozens of Lib Dem posters dumped on Dartmoor; two students arrested for vandalising Tory billboards; rumours of LibDem affairs; a Lib Dem reportedly calling a council worker a Nazi; private financial troubles splashed across front pages; Tories targetted for having second jobs; Lib Dems targetted for having no principles...

All this just in Devon and Cornwall.

In the three and a half years I have worked for the Western Morning News, most days I have had a Lib Dem on the phone tearing into the Tories (either an individual or 'them' as a whole) while Conservatives likewise condemned Lib Den local tactics and national irrelevance.

The scars of the 1980s and 1990s run deep.

On election night Lib Dem careers crashed by the smallest margins. Julia Goldsworthy, once tipped as a Lib Dem leader, lost to Tory George Eustice by just 66 votes. Lib Dem supporters wept, through disappointment, anger and sheer exhaustion. Imagine how they'll be feeling to see the possibility that George could be sharing power with Julia's old colleagues by the end of the week.

Lib Dem hopefuls like Karen Gillard and Terrye Teverson fought tough campaigns but were defeated by Tories. Bitterness reigns.

Others, notably Adrian Sanders, Jeremy Browne and David Heath increased their majorities despite being considered "in the bag" by Tories a week ago. Five years of hard constituency work clearly counting for more than Ashcroft's big bucks.

Others still, like Andrew George in St Ives, saw big majorities dramatically eroded.

Labour was in most areas an irrelevance. This was hand-to-hand, street-by-street combat between the Tories and Lib Dems, which took no prisoners.

And now they must form a government?

The public (or at least those out shopping and suddenly confronted by vox-popping hacks) have often wondered why the parties "can't all just work together". This weekend, we are finding out.

The conflict comes when voters realise that some of the policies they like could be sacrificed as part of the "working with" others.

Even if the leaderships present a tidy deal in Westminster - no foregone conclusion - this will get messy in the bombed out election battlefields of the Westcountry.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Westcountry map turns (patchy) blue

The Tories have made some gains in Cornwall and Devon.
After a slow start last night, with the Lib Dems holding on in Torbay, Somerton & Frome and Taunton Deane, it began to look as if there would be little change to the Westcountry map.
The dozen Tory targets were looking unlikely. Since I went to bed though there has been a run of upsets:

Con Oliver Colvile took Plymouth Sutton and Devonport from Lab Linda Gilroy
Con Sarah Newton won Truro and Falmouth, beating Lib Dem Terrye Teverson
Lib Dem Julia Goldsworthy was narrowly defeated by Tory George Eustice
Lib Dem Karen Gillard was defeated by Con Sheryll Murray in South East Cornwall
And of course, earlier in the night Tory Anne Marie Morris ousted Lib Dem Richard Younger-Ross.

Steve Gilbert retained St Austell & Newquay for the Lib Dems, beating Caroline Righton
Lib Dem Dan Rogerson held North Cornwall
Lib Dem Nick Harvey held North Devon
Con Mel Stride won Central Devon

I will post all the detailed results later but it seems the background to the changes rests on a collapse in the Labour vote, halving in some seats.
In Somerset, the only change has been the Lib Dems taking Wells from Tory David Heathcoat-Amory.
St Ives in Cornwall is likely to remain Lib Dem while Torridge & West Devon is expected to stay Conservative. Counting in both seats doesn't start until 9am.

Westcountry results so far

Really am clocking off now. Back from 9am
03.45am Plymouth Moorview: Lab HOLD
Alison Seabeck has held this safer of the two Plymouth seats, though Matthew Groves slashed her majority from a healthy 7,740 to just 1,588. The Tories had made noises to suggest they could have taken this.

Alison Seabeck (Lab) 15,433 (37.16%)
Matthew Groves (C) 13,845 (33.34%)
Stuart Bonar (LD) 7,016 (16.90%)
Bill Wakeham (UKIP) 3,188 (7.68%)
Roy Cook (BNP) 1,438 (3.46%)
Wendy Miller (Green) 398 (0.96%)
David Marchesi (Soc Lab) 208 (0.50%)
Lab maj 1,588 (3.82%)
Notional 7.77% swing Lab to C
Turnout 41,526 (61.74%)

03.35 West Dorset
Despite the high hopes of Paddy Ashdown yesterday, Oliver Letwin clings on

Oliver Letwin (C) 27,287 (47.59%, +1.07%)
Sue Farrant (LD) 23,364 (40.75%, -1.15%)
Dr Steve Bick (Lab) 3,815 (6.65%, -1.09%)
Oliver Chisholm (UKIP) 2,196 (3.83%, +1.79%)
Susan Greene (Green) 675 (1.18%, -0.61%)
C maj 3,923 (6.84%)
1.11% swing LD to C
Turnout 57,337 (74.59%, -1.70%)

03.35am Tiverton & Honiton: Con HOLD
As expected, former Tory MEP Neil Parish has held the seat vacated by Angela Browning

Neil Parish (C) 27,614 (50.30%)
Jon Underwood (LD) 18,294 (33.33%)
Vernon Whitlock (Lab) 4,907 (8.94%)
Daryl Stanbury (UKIP) 3,277 (5.97%)
Cathy Connor (Green) 802 (1.46%)
C maj 9,320 (16.98%)
Notional 0.28% swing C to LD
Turnout 54,894 (71.47%)

03.25am Bridgwater & West Somerset: Con HOLD
No shock here.

Ian Liddell-Grainger (C) 24,675
Theo Butt Philip (LD) 15,426
Kathryn Pearce (Lab) 9,332
Peter Hollings (UKIP) 2,604
Donna Treanor (BNP) 1,282
Charles Graham (Green) 859
Bob Cudlipp (Ind) 315
Electorate: 76,560 — Turnout: 71.18%

03.25am Newton Abbot: Con GAIN
Confusion reigns. The BBC (who are winning the battle for my TV viewing) reported the Lib Dems held this seat. It has now been confirmed that Richard Younger-Ross is out, and Anne Marie Morris has take it - apologies.

Anne-Marie Morris (C) 20,774 (43.03%)
Richard Younger-Ross (LD) 20,251 (41.94%)
Patrick Canavan (Lab) 3,387 (7.01%)
Jackie Hooper (UKIP) 3,088 (6.40%)
Corinne Lindsey (Green) 701 (1.45%)
Keith Sharp (Ind) 82 (0.17%)
C maj 523 (1.08%)
Notional 5.79% swing LD to C
Turnout 48,283 (69.63%)

03.00am THOUGHTS
The Tories so far have not had a good night in the Westcountry. While big Labour majorities have fallen elsewhere and the Lib Dems seem to be struggling, here in the Westcountry the Tories have failed to take a seat yet. Exeter stayed Labour. So-called easy wins like Taunton, Somerton & Frome and Torbay have stayed Lib Dem and increased their majorities.
No results from Cornwall yet, but the Lib Dems in the region could yet stand between Cameron and a victory/majority. I could yet be wrong of course...
I am clocking off now, in search of sleep. I'll be on BBC Somerset at 9am and back in the office and online all day working up our full round-up of results for Saturday's WMN.
I bid you adieu...

02.57am Taunton Deane: Lib Dem HOLD
Jeremy Browne has held this seat, despite being high on the Tory target list. Mark Formosa fought North Cornwall in 2005 and failed there too. This is a coup for the Lib Dems, and even some Tories will privately welcome Jeremy's return to the Commons on a substantial 3,993 majority

Jeremy Browne (LD) 28,531 (49.06%)
Mark Formosa (C) 24,538 (42.20%)
Martin Jevon (Lab) 2,967 (5.10%)
Tony McIntyre (UKIP) 2,114 (3.64%)
LD maj 3,993 (6.87%)
Notional 1.78% swing C to LD
Turnout 58,150 (70.45%)

02.48am Totnes: Con HOLD
Dartmoor GP Sarah Wollaston has held the Totnes seat vacated by retiring MP Anthony Steen, almost doubling the Tory majority from 2,693 to 4,927.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (C) 21,940 (45.86%)
Julian Brazil (LD) 17,013 (35.56%)
Carole Whitty (Lab) 3,538 (7.40%)
Jeff Beer (UKIP) 2,890 (6.04%)
Lydia Somerville (Green) 1,181 (2.47%)
Mike Turner (BNP) 624 (1.30%)
Simon Drew (Ind) 390 (0.82%)
Dr Stephen Hopwood (Ind) 267 (0.56%)
C maj 4,927 (10.30%)
Notional 2.27% swing LD to C
Turnout 47,843 (70.42%)

02.37am Somerton and Frome: Lib Dem HOLD
Incredibly, David Heath has defied the odds and increased his slender 595 majority to a whopping 1,817. This should have easily fallen to Conservative Annunziata Rees-Mogg and was one of 12 seats in the Westcountry the Tories needed.

David Heath (LD) 28,793 (47.50%)
Annunziata Rees-Mogg (C) 26,976 (44.51%)
David Oakensen (Lab) 2,675 (4.41%)
Barry Harding (UKIP) 1,932 (3.19%)
Niall Warry (Leave EU) 236 (0.39%)
LD maj 1,817 (3.00%)
Notional 0.94% swing C to LD
Turnout 60,612 (74.33%)

02.20am East Devon: Con HOLD
No surprise this. Hugo Swire is returned as Tory MP, with a small swing to the Lib Dems

Hugo Swire (C) 25,662 (48.33%)
Paull Robathan (LD) 16,548 (31.17%)
Gareth Manson (Lab) 5,721 (10.78%)
Mike Amor (UKIP) 4,346 (8.19%)
Sharon Pavey (Green) 815 (1.54%)
C maj 9,114 (17.17%)
Notional 1.03% swing C to LD
Turnout 53,092 (72.62%)

02.10am Exeter: Labour HOLD
Not a huge surprise that Ben Bradshaw has hung on, his majority cut from 8,559 to 2,721, but even this week Tory strategists were hopeful of claiming a Cabinet scalp. Ed Balls has a similar majority in Yorkshire, but he must be looking safe too.

Ben Bradshaw (Lab) 19,942
Hannah Foster (C) 17,221
Graham Oakes (LD) 10,581
Keith Crawford (UKIP) 1,930
Chris Gale (Lib) 1,108
Paula Black (Green) 792
Robert Farmer (BNP) 673
Electorate: 77,157 — Turnout: 67.72%

01.45am Yeovil: Lib Dem HOLD
David Laws (LD) 31,843 (55.71%)
Kevin Davis (C) 18,807 (32.90%)
Lee Skevington (Lab) 2,991 (5.23%)
Nigel Pearson (UKIP) 2,357 (4.12%)
Robert Baehr (BNP) 1,162 (2.03%)
LD maj 13,036 (22.81%)
Notional 2.74% swing C to LD
Electorate 82,314; Turnout 57,160 (69.44%)

Plymouth University elections guru Prof Michael Thrasher says Torbay results indicates that the Tories “will struggle to take tough Lib Dem targets” in the Westcountry.

01.33am Exeter
Ben Bradshaw has just been on Sky. Asked if he could work with the Lib Dems, he said: "I have always said I would be very happy to work with anyone."

He also admitted: "It may be that the Conservatives win an outright majority. If the exit poll is right it’s not possible for us to continue to govern on our own."

01.12am Torbay: Lib Dem HOLD
This was on the Tory target list. Should have fallen to them, and even this week Tory sources were saying they were confident. It looks like Labour seats are falling to the Tories easily, while the Lib Dems are putting up a strong fight, which raises a question about how much the Westcountry map will change.

Adrian Sanders (LD) 23,126 (46.99%)
Marcus Wood (C) 19,048 (38.71%)
David Pedrick-Friend (Lab) 3,231 (6.57%)
Julien Parrott (UKIP) 2,628 (5.34%)
Ann Conway (BNP) 709 (1.44%)
Sam Moss (Green) 468 (0.95%)
LD maj 4,078 (8.29%)
Notional 1.14% swing C to LD
Turnout 49,210 (64.62%)

Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell told the BBC: "Torbay was an interesting one. It's not going all the Tories' way."

Ashdown: A comprehensive rejection of Labour

Lord Ashdown said politicians should wait until next week to “make more sensible decisions” if a hung parliament is delivered.

He also told ITV News the Tories would “try to play the trick of Milosevic of turning an election into a street battle”.
He said: “What you have got here is an uncertain result – a rather poor result for Mr Cameron – but the phrase ’a comprehensive rejection of Labour’ is the phrase you are going to hear.”

Benn: Conservatives have made progress

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn, sporting a very large rosette, tells Sky News says "one of the stories tonight is the number of people who have come otu and voted".
There has been "some" trouble in Leeds with people trying to vote.
Asked if Labour will lose majority: "On the basis of the exit poll it looks as if Conservatives have made progress." Must work towards a parliament that works.
"I think that it is going to depend entirely on the results. But at the same time I think certainly as far as Labour is concerned if there are others with whom we can work, that is something we should contemplate.
"It's going to depend on the result itself. The things that we have fought this election on... just because the election is over doesn't mean we will stop fighting."

Thursday, 6 May 2010

This is what is needed for the next few hours

Exit poll – are Westcountry Lib Dems in trouble?

So the exit poll is saying: Con 307
Lab 255
Lib Dem 59
Other 29
For the Lib Dems to LOSE seats is remarkable after all the excitement of Cleggmania. With Tories and Lib Dems across the Westcountry admitting they had not seen the post debate surge for Clegg witnessed elsewhere in the country, I suspect this poll could mean gains for the Tories in the South West against the Lib Dems, while the Lib Dems make gains in the north against Labour.
All politicans are queuing up to say exit polls are always wrong, though mainly citing 1992.
But Paddy Ashdown on ITV has been magnificent: “Your figures are inaccurate … polls are nearly always innaccuare, wildly inaccurate."

The Westcountry seats to watch tonight

(Pic copyright Western Morning News)

With a few hours to go before we start getting results, here is my take on Westcountry seats, the ones to watch and the safe seats which would cause a political earthquake if they changed hands.
They are in no particularly order and all come with the proviso that they will be completely wrong.

North Cornwall: Despite The Independent claiming Dan Rogerson is a new candidate today, the Lib Dem is actually seeking re-election and is looking difficult to unseat for Tory Sian Flynn

Taunton Deane: This seat has changed hands at every election since 1997. Lib Dem Jeremy Browne defends a slender 1,868 majority over Tory Mark Formosa, who unsuccessfully contested North Cornwall in 2005

South East Cornwall: A strange one this. Lib Dem Colin Breed is retiring, and his party’s candidate Karen Gillard could not be more different. Tory Sheryll Murray is well-known, particularly in fishing circles, but both women have a Marmite tendency to split opinion

Truro and Falmouth: Terrye Teverson belongs to Lib Dem royalty in the Westcountry, but her Tory challenger Sarah Newton is one of the new breed of Cameroon local candidates and is less than 4,000 votes behind

North Devon: On paper, Lib Dem Nick Harvey should be vulnerable, but Tory candidate Philip Milton will struggle to erode the 5,276 majority. With a crowded field of nine candidates, a split vote could let either of them through

Exeter: Ben Bradshaw is the most senior Labour minister in the South West and defends a 8,559 majority over Tory Hannah Foster – a similar margin enjoyed by Ed Balls, who has been the target of a high profile decapitation strategy in Yorkshire. It would be a real shock if the Conservatives took this seat this time round – not least for the Tories themselves

Newton Abbot: Lib Dem Richard Younger-Ross sits on a 4,830 majority and is on the Tory target list. Whether or not Anne Marie Morris sneaks in will be a bellweather of the Tory performance nationally

Plymouth Sutton and Devonport: Tory Oliver Colvile is standing in this tough seat again, hoping to reverse Linda Gilroy’s 4,472 majority. Cuts to the dockyard and the government’s unpopularity could prove critical but Labour will not give up without a fight

Somerton and Frome: Lib Dem frontbencher David Heath is the most vulnerable in the Westcountry. Tory Annunziata Rees-Mogg is considered favourite to erode his 595 majority, but Mr Heath has form for hanging on against the odds

South Dorset: Labour’s employment minister Jim Knight looks vulnerable. It only takes a swing of 1.86 per cent for the Tory Richard Drax to take this seat on the south coast. He admits: “It will always be the case that if things go really wrong for the party nationally it will be really tough for me… but I don’t think we will be in that situation.”

St Austell and Newquay: After boundary changes and the retirement of Lib Dem Matthew Taylor, this is a new seat with a new slate of candidates. Lib Dem Steve Gilbert defends a 5,723 majority and former newsreader Caroline Righton needs a substantial swing of 6.22 per cent to win it

Torbay: Lib Dem Adrian Sanders is under real pressure from Conservative Marcus Wood, with barely 2,700 votes between the two parties in 2005. Mr Sanders says “this has been the most enjoyable election campaign I have ever fought”


Central Devon: As a new seat, swiping chunks from several others, Conservative Mel Stride starts out as the notional incumbent, with Lib Dem Phil Hutty 2,300 behind

Torridge and West Devon: Late in the campaign the Lib Dems said they thought their man Adam Symons could win this, though Tory Geoffrey Cox will have to be unlucky to see his 2,732 majority evaporate

Totnes: After Tory Anthony Steen’s retirement, the result here is uncertain. Dartmoor GP Sarah Wollaston was selected in an open primary and is the frontrunner, but Lib Dem Julian Brazil is only 2,700 votes behind while Labour, UKIP, the Greens, BNP and two independents crowd the field

Camborne and Redruth: The region’s true three-way marginal. Defended by Lib Dem high flier Julia Goldsworthy who faces tough competition from Tory George Eustice, a former spin doctor for David Cameron and Michael Howard who can trace his local roots back centuries. Labour’s Jude Robinson is in 2nd place on paper. What happens to the Labour vote will prove crucial.

St Ives: Lib Dem Andrew George’s 10,000+ majority looks safe but the Tories think they could make a big dent in it

East Devon: A Tory stronghold for donkeys years, Hugo Swire will not be going anywhere

South West Devon: Tory Gary Streeter is safe, though Labour’s Luke Pollard has put up a spirited fight and will hope to be rewarded with a more winnable seat next time

Plymouth Moorview: The safer of Labour’s two seats in the city, with Alison Seabeck defending a 7,740 majority though some optimists in the Tory party seem to think Matthew Groves could take it

Tiverton and Honiton: Former MEP Neil Parish should retain this for the Tories, after Angela Browning’s retirement

Bridgwater and West Somerset: Ian Liddell-Grainger’s Tory stronghold got safer with boundary changes, and defends a notional majority of 10,081

Yeovil: The seat once held by former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown, David Laws keeps up the tradition with a notional majority of 8,779

West Dorset: Tory policy chief Oliver Letwin defends a majority of only 2,461, and the Lib Dems have played up the idea they could take it. All depends on the Clegg-effect and seems unlikely

In case you haven't voted in the Westcountry, here is the Western Morning News leader on why you should

Today, the politicians must stop talking and start listening. The Westcountry’s voice must be heard. In the closest general election contest for a generation, every seat in the region, indeed every vote, will count.

The Western Morning News has always, in its 150 year history, avoided endorsing any political party in an election. Instead, we seek to honour our commitment to stand full square behind the needs of the Westcountry.

And what the region needs today is for every voter from the Scilly Isles to the Somerset Levels to stand up for the place we are lucky enough to call home. The party leaders and their candidates have finished their campaigns. Now they must pause and await our verdict.

We do not seek to tell you how to vote, only that your vote is crucial to deciding how the Westcountry fares in the years ahead.

Life will not be easy. Difficult decisions need to be made. After the years of plenty, pain will come. Whoever finds themselves in power when the dust has settled tomorrow will be forced to wield the axe like never before. Tax rises and deep spending cuts are inevitable.

This is not an election in which the Westcountry can afford to sit on the sidelines.

Too often we have complained, under successive governments of all hues, that the Westcountry has been overlooked. From the decline of rural communities to rising water bills. From the treatment of the elderly in an ageing region to the exodus of young people unable to find work or afford a home in the place they grew up and love.

We have chronicled the rise and fall of industries like tourism, agriculture and fishing on which our economy depends. And we have argued for our fair share in funding for our schools, hospitals and roads.

With the record national debt casting a grim shadow over all of this and more, now more than ever every community needs a strong voice in Westminster.

We can take heart that democracy in the Westcountry seems alive and well. There are 25 per cent more candidates standing in the region than in 2005. The region’s hedgerows, car windows and front gardens are once again sporting the placards and billboards of political activism. The number of hustings, high street stalls and internet campaigns have swelled. Voter registration is up, turnout is expected to increase.

And more parties than ever are fielding candidates. Alongside Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, ballot papers feature a selection from a long list of smaller parties, including the UK Independence Party, the Greens, Mebyon Kernow, the BNP alongside socialist, communist, democrats and independents.

Few could now truly argue there is no-one to vote for, nor that all the parties are the same.

When our London Editor Matt Chorley embarked on his Marginal Mystery Tour, in late March, criss-crossing the region’s election battlegrounds, he encountered an electorate that was angry and disenchanted. Things have changed thanks, in part, to the TV leaders’ debates, which gave the politicians an open platform, and the cynicism and apathy which took hold in the wake of the expenses scandal has been sidelined. Trust in politics may not have recovered, but a belief that each vote can make a difference has returned in the nick of time.

Two thirds of the seats in the region could change hands on a swing of less than seven per cent from one party to another. Given the volatility of the opinion polls, anything can happen. For once, politicians are truly at the mercy of the electorate and we should not overlook this rare opportunity to make our vote count.

The Liberal Democrats go into today’s election as the front runners in the Westcountry. They hold the most seats and are ahead in the regional polls. Their leader Nick Clegg has high hopes that his MPs could be at ministerial desks on Monday morning.

The Conservatives have made no secret of the fact that they need to turn vast swathes of the region blue. Of the 116 seats, David Cameron needs for an overall majority, at least a dozen are in Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset. We have been inundated with visits by the leader himself and his shadow cabinet. If he manages to cross the line when the results are in, we hope this flirtation becomes a long-lasting relationship and not a hastily abandoned affair.

The Labour party is less represented, holding just four seats in Plymouth, Exeter and South Dorset. But as the party of government for the last 13 years, its influence should not be underestimated and investment has transformed services and lives.

There has been much talk this week of voting tactically to keep one or other party in or out of government. But if the result is inconclusive, the number of votes will matter as much – maybe more – than the number of seats each party has secured. It is worth voting for the outcome you want.

The horse-trading and backroom deals which will follow if the result is close means every MP will matter. But before any of them can take up their seats they need you, the voter, to give them that privilege. And this time your vote – the Westcountry vote – counts.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Now Darling says Labour supporters in Tory/Lib Dem marginals should vote for "next best choice"

Chancellor Alistair Darling has become the latest minister to hint at Labour supporters backing the Lib Dems in areas where they are best placed to keep the Tories out.
In an interview in today’s Western Morning News, Mr Darling insisted every voter had to decide for themselves who to back at the ballot box, and “would encourage people to vote Labour”.
But in the wake of Ed Balls and Peter Hain saying similar things, Mr Darling said:
“We and the Liberals have many areas where we share a view, on political reform for example and that is opposed by the Tories.
“I think every voter knows what the score is in their constituency and they have got to make their own mind up and think if they cannot get the first choice, go for the next best choice. It is for the voters to choose at the end of the day. My job is to set out our case.”
Last week Mr Balls told me that Labour and the Lib Dems have “common cause” to “stop the Conservatives”.
“In some places people vote Liberal to stop the Conservatives, in other places they are voting Labour to stop the Conservatives. Of course, I think everybody should vote Labour but I do want to stop a Conservative government.”
And of course he repeated that on Tuesday, while Welsh Secretary Peter Hain who said, in an interview with The Independent, that people should “vote with their heads, not their hearts”.
Also speaking to me for today’s paper, Nick Clegg rejected these advances, knowing it could spell disaster for Lib Dems in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset who do not want to be seen as an extension of Gordon Brown’s unpopular party. He said Labour ministers were “just desperately trying to save their own skin”.
“Don’t let any politician tell you how to vote. It’s your choice, it’s your country, it’s your future.
“I am asking you to vote for something, to vote for a different politics, for fairer taxes by raising the income tax threshold to £10,000, for smaller class sizes and more one-to-one tuition for your children, for rebuilding the banks to get them lending again and for a decent and open politics.
“I think it’s a measure of how desperate Labour have become that they are now trying people to try to second guess how other people will vote, when I think people should be voting with their hearts.”

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

What price democracy?

Newton Abbot pensioner Gordon Green, 82, had to fork out £1.32 for a letter where postage had not been paid, only to discover it was an election leaflet from Lib Dem Richard Younger- Ross, who has since insisted Mr Green would be compensated if he contacted his constituency office.
It is not just the main parties leaving voters out of pocket. Western Morning News reader Andrew Hall has been in touch to say he traveled to a hustings to hear from two Independent candidates standing in the Westcountry, Dr Stephen Hopwood in Totnes and Brian Gerrish in Plymouth at the Totnes Truth Festival.
“This festival was advertised as "Free" - imagine my surprise therefore to be told that free admission could only be gained by paying a £10 donation as the speakers needed to be paid,” Mr Hall writes.
“What is the world coming to when we have to pay to hear what Prospective Parliamentary Candidates have to say? What next, £10 to have a look at their duckhouses?”

Monday, 3 May 2010

Someone in Labour HQ has a good idea shock

Few would argue the Labour campaign thus far has been great. One of the big surprises is why the Tories aren't doing better given how woeful the Labour effort has been. Bigotgate, Elvis and even today photos of Gordon Brown praying in front of a stained glass window suggest there is no real direction or control.

So knock me down with a feather. This video on the Labour party site, taking a satirical swipe at David Cameron's Big Society, is smart and funny with a strong message.

Even if there is an argument for people getting more involved in their communities instead of relying on the state, this cleverly portrays a busy mum trying to run a home as well as most of the public sector. The moment when she is looking for yet another ringing phone in her messy kitchen and answers "hello parole board" and claiming there are always breakouts at the prison when The Robinsons are in charge were particularly good.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Do visits = votes?

I'm on my way to Newquay this grey Sunday morning. David Cameron is meeting tourism leaders, holding a Q&A and setting out his stall for the final push. That overall majority alludes him still.
This is the third time he has been to Devon and Cornwall since the election was called, previously visiting Saltash and, in week one, nearby Plymouth. He was also in Exeter a week or so before the campaign proper began.
Nick Clegg, by contrast, has been down here just once, Redruth, on the same day as the Cameron Saltash egg incident. The Lib Dem leader is in Wells, Somerset today, but I understand will not venture into his party's heartland of Cornwall and Devon again this side of polling day. Vince Cable, who was down last week, will be in Cornwall on Tuesday.
The Conservatives have won the battle for faces in marginals, with almost every member of the shadow cabinet coming down here at least once.
Labour has been less prominent. Darling, Johnson and the two Eds - Balls and Miliband - are the most high profile but have stuck to Plymouth and Exeter.
Clearly, the visits mean press coverage. I wouldn't have got up at 6am on a Sunday to go to Cornwall unless a political big hitter was visiting.
Some voters may feel flattered, others impressed by a little political celebrity on their doorstep. It is also a big boost for the morale of battle weary activists.
But does it win votes in the seats where a big cheese rocks up for 20 minutes?
Would your vote be swayed by a party leader rolling into your town?
And will Gordon Brown make it down here before Thursday? Don't hold your breath.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

What do Labour do about the Lib Dems? Cabinet not sure

Senior Labour party figures are split over the way to prevent a Tory landslide in the Westcountry by wooing Liberal Democrat support.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the Western Morning News yesterday that he would not disrespect voters in the region by telling them to vote tactically.

But his comments appear to contradict remarks made by Schools Secretary Ed Balls on Wednesday, when he highlighted Labour’s “common purpose” with the Liberal Democrats in wanting to “keep the Conservatives out”.

Mr Balls said: “In some places people vote Liberal to stop the Conservatives, in other places they are voting Labour to stop the Conservatives. Of course, I think everybody should vote Labour but I do want to stop a Conservative government.”

Other senior Labour figures to suggest Lib Dem support could help Labour include Business Secretary Lord Mandelson and Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, who said he would be "very comfortable" working with the Lib Dems.

But speaking as Labour stepped up its campaign with a new set of posters, Mr Miliband told the WMN: “I respect people in the Westcountry very much indeed and I am not going to tell them how to vote tactically.”

Outside Labour strongholds in Exeter and Plymouth, all of the major marginal battles in are between the Conservatives and Lib Dems. The Tories need to win a 10 Lib Dem seats in the Westcountry to secure a Commons majority of just one.