Figures out today are expected to show that the economy grew by 0.3 to 0.4 per cent in the last three months of last year. The Times and Guardian report the different approaches of each party with Gordon Brown determined to maintain fiscal stimulus to protect the recovery while David Cameron wants cuts to take place immediately. The FT reports Brown suggesting that additional revenues from the tax on bankers’ bonuses would be split between deficit reduction and higher spending. As reported on Left Foot Forward yesterday, Vince Cable believes that the Conservatives are “dogmatic” about the speed of deficit reduction. Meanwhile, a survey of 185 business leaders by ComRes reported in the Independent found that the proportion who detected signs of economic optimism in their sector rose from 36 per cent last month to 48 per cent this month. Some 73 per cent of business leaders believe that Mr Osborne lacks experience, and 42 per cent think he is out of his depth. But a majority – 62 per cent – believes he would make a better Chancellor than Mr Darling.
The prime minister Gordon Brown flew into Belfast last night for urgent talks with his Irish counterpart, Brian Cowen, to try to rescue Northern Ireland’s power-sharing executive. As reported yesterday on Left Foot Forward, Sinn Féin and the DUP are at loggerheads over the transfer to Belfast of responsibility for policing and justice. The Independent report that the main point of leverage on the DUP, who want more time, is the possibility that a breakdown would lead to fresh Assembly elections, which could punish them for the Iris Robinson affair. The FT reports that British officials are “anxious to avoid a political vacuum developing at a time of increased dissident terrorist activity.” Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that the Conservatives held talks with the DUP and Ulster Unionist party at the home of the Marquis of Salisbury, who was the most pro-unionist member of John Major’s cabinet. The talks have prompted speculation in Northern Ireland that the Tories are attempting to establish a pan-unionist front to limit the success of Sinn Féin and the SDLP in the general election.
The Times covers the British Social Attitudes Survey, which shows that more people identify with the Conservative party than with Labour while “in an apparent contradiction, the public are more liberal on personal lives and family values.” The Guardian shows that 36 per cent of people thought sexual relations between two adults of the same sex were “always or mostly” wrong, down from 62 per cent in 1983. The BBC highlights that only 56 per cent of people think it is “everyone’s duty to vote” – down from 68 per cent in 1991. The report also shows that the popularity of the smoking ban has “soared.”
The FT report that “if the forthcoming election were to be won or lost by the number of Twitter messages, Labour would have it in the bag.” Tweetminster, which has been tracking 140-character posts from politicians, party activists, journalists and bloggers since December 2008, found that Labour MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates have more followers than the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats combined. Alberto Nardelli, co-founder and chief executive of Tweetminster, said: “The campaign will be between the Conservative party machine and Labour’s grass roots.” On Next Left, Sunder Katwala highlights “what the report captures about the quiet revolution which has been bubbling up from below in the culture of Labour politics and activism.”
An ICM poll for the Guardian shows the Conservative lead widening to 11 per cent as the Liberal Democrats gained 3 points. One academic study suggests that if today’s figures were repeated on election day the Conservatives would win 326 seats – a majority of one. UK Polling Report outline that 43 per cent say Gordon Brown helped the recovery while 50 per cent say he made things worse. The Telegraph is clearly concerned by another aspect of the poll with a headline which reads, “Third of voters believe Tories are party of ‘upper classes’.”
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