Ed Miliband is busy preparing to face off against Nicola Sturgeon, Nigel Farage, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood tonight for the BBC’s “challengers’ debate”, and now it emerges – as we have reported on our front page today – that his American polling guru pays no tax on his fees in Britain.
The admission from David Axelrod, ex-adviser to Barack Obama, will be uncomfortable for the Labour leader, who wants to crack down on foreigners who pay lower rates of tax. His apparent lack of interest in Labour’s campaign, despite being reportedly paid £300,000 by the party, has led some MPs to know him as an “invisible man”. “I don’t think he brings anything to the party,” one fumed. “I have heard nothing from him and I don’t want to.” Others feel that the guru, nicknamed “the Axe”, just isn’t hacking it.
Axelrod isn’t the only American in Miliband’s stable of advisers. Michael Sheehan, who coached Obama and Clinton for the presidential debates and charges up to £10,000 a day, is said to have been helping out. David Cameron won’t be in the debate, but he’s already trying to put Miliband off his stride by bringing up the “Lab-SNP coalition” trope – warning that Nicola Sturgeon’s party could act as “the chain to Labour’s wrecking ball”. The Tory leader may be choosing his words carefully after the Sun newspaper was accused of sexism for mocking up Sturgeon as Miley Cyrus astride her wrecking ball to hammer home how her policies “will ruin Britain”.
Miliband faces four potential wrecking balls in tonight’s debate, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP swinging in from the left, and Ukip from the right. Farage, a Ukip MEP tells me, “will definitely get stuck in”. Labour strategists hope that more TV exposure will help their man. Miliband’s personal approval rating soared after his interview with Jeremy Paxman, however it was dented by his performance on the seven-way debates alongside new faces like Nicola Sturgeon. We’ll be following it all on our live-blog here.
The Labour leader is putting himself up alongside four newer faces again, who will all see him as the biggest target. Cameron faced this risk in the seven-way debates, when he aimed to stay statesmanlike and above the fray, without letting any of his opponents – tempted to have a pop at the prime minister – land any direct hits. Miliband will want to model himself as the next prime minister, while the others will want to take him down a peg. Few in the Labour ranks expect Miliband to come out tonight. “I think he will do OK,” one Labour MP tells me, suggesting – with West Wing-esque advice – that it depends on how natural Miliband is tonight: “Let Ed be Ed.”
AUDACITY OF HOPE
Ukip activists jeered and booed the Telegraph’s Chris Hope after he asked Nigel Farage at the party’s manifesto launch why the only black face in the manifesto appeared on the overseas aid page. As Farage’s face fell at the question, the room of activists then interrupted him with heckles which lasted for around 45 seconds. One UKIP MEP later expressed fury to me about Hope’s “impertinent” question. However, James Kirkup says Ukip should apologise for Hope’s “disgraceful treatment”.
326 IS THE MAGIC NUMBER
David Cameron has suggested that he will consider himself a failure of the Tories do not win a majority in next month’s election, Peter Dominiczak reports. The Prime Minister said that he will not have “succeeded in what I want to achieve” if the Conservatives do not win the contest outright, after gaining 306 seats at the 2010 election. This comes as a poll found the Conservatives are set to win 14 marginal constituencies from the Liberal Democrats in the South West following a collapse in support for Nick Clegg’s party.
OUT OF POWER
The Liberal Democrats had an embarrassing moment after a power cut at the launch of their election manifesto. Nick Clegg’s microphone fizzed out and the lights went off shortly after he answered one question from a journalist and a couple from Lib Dem supporters.
DANNY’S INNER SAATCHI
Lib Dem Treasury chief Danny Alexander has presented voters with a rather aggressive choice this election. “Whose hands do you want around the throat of the next government?,” he asked BBC Newsnight’s Allegra Stratton. “Is it Nigel Farage, Alex Salmond, or do you want the Liberal Democrats?” Meanwhile, Nick Clegg ruled out taking over a government department in a future coalition.
RIGHT SAID ED
Ed Miliband has said he feels “sorry” for his previous girlfriends after a former senior BBC journalist was unmasked as his secret lover, Steven Swinford reports. Stephanie Flanders, who later became the corporation’s economics editor, was dating Miliband while he was working at the Treasury and she was BBC Newsnight’s economics correspondent.
50p TAX COULD BE CHUKA-D
Labour could drop the 50p tax rate once the deficit is reduced amid concerns that it will be “tax for the sake of taxing”, Labour’s shadow business secretary has said. In what appears to be a significant split with Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, Chuka Umunna said that he believes in keeping the “tax burden as low as possible”. Steven Swinford has more.
THE VERY LIBERAL DEMOCRATS
Nick Clegg has defended the right of parliamentary candidates to attend strip clubs, Matthew Holehouse reports. The Liberal Dem leader said he would not act as the “thought police” and “censor” the “personal behaviour” of those seeking elected office. His remarks came after Maajid Nawaz, the Liberal Democrat candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn and a self-described “feminist”, was exposed in a newspaper attempting to touch a woman during two £20 dances at Charlie’s Angels strip club in east London.
LABOUR’S ‘BENNETT MOMENT’
Footage has emerged of the moment a Labour election candidate appeared to ‘forget’ the party’s policies in a painful interview in Chiswick, west London, in a manner reminiscent to Green party leader Natalie Bennett’s infamous “mind blank” on LBC radio. Ruth Cadbury, Labour candidate for Brentford and Isleworth, was caught off-guard in the awkward interview with a local website when asked what Labour’s key manifesto promises were.
AND ON THE SEVENTH DAY…
Negotiations to form a government after the election could go on for weeks, the former cabinet secretary who brokered the Tory-Lib Dem government has indicated. Sir Gus O’Donnell said the parties were already indicating red lines in an act of “public foreplay” designed to make clear where there could be areas of policy overlap, Ben Riley-Smith reports.
IS IT ALL JUST POLL-OCKS?
Keiran Pedley’s Polling Matters podcast is back, and this week he spoke to yours truly (shameless plug), and Stephen Bush (formerly of this parish) about the General Election campaign so far, including the manifestos and impact of the Leaders’ debates. What role does the media have to play in polling? Are the parties’ tactics working? How clear are the polls?
Fears of a mansion tax, jitters over the election result and increases in stamp duty have paralysed the housing market and caused a “worrying” price bubble because so few properties are being put on sale, estate agents have warned. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said buyers are scrambling to buy the few homes that are currently on the market, Gordon Rayner reports. Meanwhile, research has revealed that rich property owners will struggle to sell their homes if Labour wins the general election in May.
TRUE BLUE WORKERS
David Cameron said on Tuesday that the Tories were the “true workers’ party”. To show this, the Sun took three Tory ministers – Helen Grant, Greg Clark and Mike Penning – back to their roots for a series of fascinating profiles.
PASSOVER THIS AWKWARD POLL
A poll that suggested Labour would win Margaret Thatcher’s old constituency was flawed because it was conducted during Passover, the Conservative defending the seat has said. Mike Freer said that many Jewish voters who might have backed the Conservatives in Finchley and Golders Green would have been observing the festival so not have taken part in the poll by Lord Ashcroft. Emily Gosden has more.