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Labour has 99% chance of forming next government, says elections expert – UK politics live


Labour has 99% chance of forming next government, says elections expert Prof John Curtice

A lot of political commentary in the media is framed by the notion that there is still some doubt about the outcome of the next general election. In part that is just sensible caution, because nothing in life is certain, and unexpected things happen; in part that is because parts of the print media are very rightwing, and find it hard to conceive that Labour can or should form a government; and in part that is because journalism is about narrative, and it spoils the story if you reveal the ending in advance.

But it is probably time to give up pretending that the Conservatives might win. There are few people in the world of political commentary more cautious than Prof Sir John Curtice, the psephologist and lead election analyst for the BBC, and even he has decided it’s all over for the Tories.

Curtice told Sam Blewett from Politico that there is now a “99% chance of Labour forming the next administration”. He said the chances of a Tory revival were small and that, even in the event of a hung parliament, Keir Starmer was better placed to become PM than Rishi Sunak. “The Labour party will be in a much stronger position to negotiate a minority government than the Conservatives because, apart from possibly the DUP, the Conservatives have no friends in the House of Commons,” Curtice said.

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Key events

Tory MPs urge Gove to use leasehold reform bill to end ‘fleecehold’

As the leasehold and freehold reform bill goes through the House of Lords, the governmen is being urged to use to ban so-called “fleecehold” estates.

The term refers to estates where leaseholders have to pay the owners unreasonable bills for private maintenance contracts, including charges for amenities that would normally be provided by a council. Up to four million people are said to be living in these estates.

In a recent report, the Competition and Markets Authority condemned the practice. It said:

The CMA found a growing trend by developers to build estates with privately managed public amenities – with 80% of new homes sold by the eleven biggest builders in 2021 to 2022 subject to estate management charges. These charges are often high and unclear to homeowners. Whilst the average charge was £350 – one-off, unplanned charges for significant repair work can cost thousands of pounds and cause considerable stress to homeowners. The report highlights concerns that many homeowners are unable to switch estate management providers, receive inadequate information upfront, have to deal with shoddy work or unsatisfactory maintenance, and face unclear administration or management charges which can often make up 50% or more of the total bill.

Now 46 Conservative MPs, including the former levelling up secretary Sir Simon Clarke, the former deputy PM Thérèse Coffey, the former “de facto” deputy PM Damian Green, the former housing secretary Robert Jenrick, the former levelling up minister Neil O’Brien and former housing ministers Rachel Maclean, Kit Malthouse and Kelly Tolhurst, have signed an open letter to Michael Gove urging him to use the bill to ban “fleecehold”.

They have also urged Gove, the levelling up secretary, to use the bill to “address the unfair system of forfeiture”, under which leaseholders can lose their homes if they don’t pay money they owe to freeholders.

Opening the debate in the Lords earlier, Lady Scott of Bybrook, minister for social housing and faith, told peers that the government recognised forfeiture was “a real and significant problem”. She added:

We are working through the detail of this and we will report back to the house shortly with more detail as we consider the matter further.

46 Conservative MPs (including me) write to Michael Gove today to calling on the government to stop the creation of Fleecehold estates, empower the people already stuck on them, and end Forfeiture.

The Leasehold Bill has its Second Reading in the Lords today: let’s sort this pic.twitter.com/3VFBByZi6Y

— Neil O’Brien MP (@NeilDotObrien) March 27, 2024

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Home Office tried to cover up my critical reports, says sacked border chief

David Neal, who was recently sacked from his post as the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration, has said the Home Office routinely used a factchecking process to try to “cover up” criticisms in his inspection reports. Emily Dugan has the story here.

Leasehold reform bill has been ‘eviscerated’ and won’t do what it was originally meant to, peers told

Michael Gove’s leasehold and freehold reform bill was described as “eviscerated” legislation that will not do what he wanted it to do in the Lords today.

Lady Taylor of Stevenage, a Labour levelling up spokesperson, made the claim as she spoke in the second reading debate on the bill. She said:

This bill is certainly not the leasehold bill that the Labour party would have wanted. Most importantly, it is not the bill that the beleaguered legions of leaseholders would have wanted. And, to be candid, I don’t think it’s even the bill that the secretary of state [Michael Gove] wanted.

Taylor said that, when Gove originally set out his plans for the bill, he described leasehold as an “outdated feudal system that needs to go”. He also said that he wanted to reduce the ground rents that current leaseholders have to pay to “peppercorn” levels, or virtually nothing. She went on:

So the secretary of state clearly wanted to see a scrapping of the feudal leasehold system and a capping of ground rent to peppercorn rents. But, from the original vision for the bill, what we have before us today is a virtually eviscerated shell of a bill with little to give comfort to the people and families who had hoped to realise their dream of home ownership, and have found instead that being a leaseholder simply doesn’t offer the security and control of their lives that their dream promised.

Taylor said that Labour would have to finish the job of leasehold reform after the general election.

Whether this bill receives royal assent or not before this poll is dissolved, a Labour government will have to finish the job of finally bringing the leasehold system to an end and by overhauling it to the lasting benefit of leaseholders and reinvigorating commonhold to such an extent that it will ultimately become the default and render leasehold obsolete.

In her speech opening the debate on behalf of the government Lady Scott of Bybrook, minister for social housing and faith, said the bill would increase the rights of existing leaseholders. She said they would get “the security of an automatic 999-year lease extension, with ground rent reduced to a peppercorn on payment of a premium”.

On existing ground rents, she said the government was still considering the results of a consultation it launched on what to do about them.

The House of Lords briefing paper explains in detail what the bill in its current form will achieve.

Lady Taylor of Stevenage speaking in the Lords today. Photograph: Parliament TV

Labour says higher death rates for black and Asian women during childbirth is ’emergency’ needing urgent action

Sammy Gecsoyler

Labour’s shadow equalities secretary has called the higher rates of death black and Asian women face during childbirth an “emergency” that is not being urgently addressed after it emerged that the government taskforce responsible for tackling disparities in maternity care only met twice last year.

Speaking at an event on Tuesday night organised by the Labour African Network, Anneliese Dodds outlined some of the steps the party plans to take to address the maternal mortality gap between black and Asian women and their white peers if they enter government.

A report published by the House of Lords in December showed that black women were 3.7 times more likely to die during or in the first year after pregnancy than white women. Another report released in January found that Asian women were twice as likely to die during or in the first year after pregnancy than white women.

The Maternity Disparities taskforce, which is responsible for tackling disparities in maternity care, met twice in 2023, despite initial plans to meet every two months.

Dodds said:

I view this situation as an emergency, it is incredibly urgent. When something is urgent, you would expect to see urgent action from government … but we are not seeing that urgent action in practice at all.

Last month, the Guardian revealed that, under a draft race equality act that is being drawn up by Labour, the party would bring in a new target to close maternal health gaps experienced by black and Asian women and update clinical training to better serve the diverse patient population.

Dodds said:

We need to be reviewing and updating cross cultural content and clinical training. That includes courses resources, presentation of physical symptoms, and the different expression of pain.

Dodds added that Labour would reinstate a target dropped by NHS England in 2022 that 75% of women from Black, Asian and other ethnic minorities and the most deprived areas would receive continuity of care “as soon as staffing allows”.

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In the House of Lords peers have just started debating the second reading of the leasehold and freehold reform bill. The bill has already passed through the Commons.

Normally, at this stage of the process, the content of a government bill is all but finalised. But, as No 10 admitted on Monday, the government has still not decided how far it will go in terms of cutting ground rents for existing leaseholders.

Lady Scott of Bybrook, minister for social housing and faith, is opening the debate.

Water companies in England face outrage over record sewage discharges

Water companies in England have faced a barrage of criticism as data revealed raw sewage was discharged for more than 3.6m hours into rivers and seas last year in a 105% increase on the previous 12 months, Sandra Laville and Helena Horton report.

Small boat arrivals for 2024 currently 23% higher than at same point last year, latest figures show

Some 338 people were detected crossing the English Channel to the UK yesterday, bringing the cumulative number of arrivals so far in 2024 to 4,644: a new record for the first three months of a calendar year, PA Media reports. PA says:

The previous record for arrivals in the three months from January to March was 4,548 in 2022.

There were 3,793 arrivals in the first three months of 2023.

The cumulative number of arrivals so far this year, 4,644, is 23% higher than the total at this point last year, which was 3,770, and 12% higher than the total at this stage in 2022, which was 4,162.

There were 29,437 arrivals across the whole of 2023, down 36% on a record 45,774 arrivals in 2022.

Commenting on the figures, Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, said:

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Rishi Sunak keeps on telling the British people that small boat arrivals are coming down and his promise to stop the boats remains on track.

Can he not see what is happening from inside his No 10 bunker, or does he think we can’t see it for ourselves?

Either way, it’s time to get a grip and restore order to the border.

A reader asks:

What has the Labour party has said regarding pension age and keeping the triple lock?

In the past Labour has defended the triple lock. In its national policy forum report it said: “Labour recognises the triple lock in how it has protected pensioners’ incomes and providing certainty in retirement. That is why Labour has defended the triple lock when the Conservatives have sought to break their promises.” The party has not said what it will say about the triple lock in its manifesto, but the i ran a story last month saying it would a commitment to keeping the triple lock. Hugo Gye and Callum Mason reported:

Multiple sources from the party said that Sir Keir Starmer and shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves would back the policy in their election manifesto, which is currently being drafted by officials.

A senior Labour insider said that the state pension would have to grow in real terms because Britain’s housing crisis means more people are reaching pension age without the security of owning their own home or having a council tenancy. The source warned: “There is a tsunami of pensioner poverty heading our way over the next few decades.”

Labour does not have a firm policy on when the state pension age should rise to 68, but when the government postponed a decision on this until the next parliament, Labour welcomed the decision.

Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, is struggling to win support within government for an ambitious version of leasehold reform. Legislation is going through parliament, but Gove has not secured agreement for a proposal to in effect reduce ground rents to zero.

In an interview with Times Radio this morning, Rachel Maclean, the Conservative party’s deputy chair for women, said opposition to leasehold reform was coming from “very well organised, very deep pocketed” campaigners who were making bogus arguments about the impact getting rid of ground rents would have on pensions funds with investments in property. The government should “not bow to pressure from these people”, she said.

Referring to the argument about pension funds, she said:

First of all, the amount of pension funds invested in property is very tiny. I don’t have the figure in front of me, but it’s minuscule. It’s in single figures or percentages.

Secondly, the industry has known this is coming for a very long time. It was in our manifesto. It’s been in numerous government manifestos, and there has been a departure away from this model, historically for decades.

And thirdly, all these pension funds are supposed to be adhering to ethical standards now. That type of business model is unethical. So what on earth are they doing on their ESG [environmental, social and governance] reports if what they are really doing is creaming off money from people who bought properties in good faith and they are holding the balance of power. It is pure rent seeking.

Labour has 99% chance of forming next government, says elections expert Prof John Curtice

A lot of political commentary in the media is framed by the notion that there is still some doubt about the outcome of the next general election. In part that is just sensible caution, because nothing in life is certain, and unexpected things happen; in part that is because parts of the print media are very rightwing, and find it hard to conceive that Labour can or should form a government; and in part that is because journalism is about narrative, and it spoils the story if you reveal the ending in advance.

But it is probably time to give up pretending that the Conservatives might win. There are few people in the world of political commentary more cautious than Prof Sir John Curtice, the psephologist and lead election analyst for the BBC, and even he has decided it’s all over for the Tories.

Curtice told Sam Blewett from Politico that there is now a “99% chance of Labour forming the next administration”. He said the chances of a Tory revival were small and that, even in the event of a hung parliament, Keir Starmer was better placed to become PM than Rishi Sunak. “The Labour party will be in a much stronger position to negotiate a minority government than the Conservatives because, apart from possibly the DUP, the Conservatives have no friends in the House of Commons,” Curtice said.

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Minister claims Abdul Ezedi case shows ‘credulous clerics and lefty lawyers’ are helping people abuse asylum system

A minister has claimed that “credulous clerics and lefty lawyers” are helping people abuse the asylum system.

Andrew Griffith, the science minister, made the comment this morning in the light of revelations about how Abdul Ezedi, the man accused of being responsible for the Clapham chemical attack, came to be granted asylum.

As Matthew Weaver reports, Ezedi was granted asylum by a judge who accepted he was a Christian convert despite concerns about his honesty, court documents have revealed.

Griffith was doing an interview round on behalf of the government this morning and he told Sky News that cases like this showed why the government was right to be changing the asylum system. He said:

We can’t run an asylum system based on credulous clerics and lefty lawyers. That is why we are fundamentally reforming it.

People like the case you mentioned [Ezedi] … should not be here, because we want to get to a position, it is very clear, if you come here illegally from a safe country, France is a safe country, it is a fellow member of the G7, it is a member of the European Union, it has signed all of the same treaties to protect refugees that the UK has, so if you come here illegally, you will not be able to say.

That would apply to this case, as it would many other cases that people are concerned about.

That is the law that we are trying to get through the House of Lords right now. We are a couple of busloads of peers away in terms of the votes to be able to get that through the House of Lords and then that will create the system that we want that would have prevented this tragic case.

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MPs and peers sign letter urging UK government to ban arms sales to Israel

Parliamentary pressure is building on the UK government to ban arms sales to Israel, amid signs that Israel intends to ignore the UN security council resolution passed this week calling on all sides to commit to a ceasefire, Patrick Wintour reports.

Labour calls for immediate ban on bonuses for bosses at polluting water companies

The Labour party has said that water company bosses should not be getting bonuses if their firms are still polluting rivers and the sea. It has also said they should be criminally liable for repeated failures to tackle pollution.

In the light of today’s figures showing raw sewage discharges have more than doubled in the past year, Labour is saying these sanctions should be introduced immediately. Steve Reed, the shadow environment secretary, said:

The Conservatives’ are too weak to get tough with polluting water companies.

Instead of imposing Labour’s ban on water bosses’ bonuses, Steve Barclay [the environment secretary] has weakly chosen to only talk about doing it.

The evidence is clear. We don’t need the dither and delay of a consultation, we need immediate action.

That is why Labour will put the water companies under tough special measures. We will strengthen regulation so law-breaking water bosses face criminal charges, and give the regulator new powers to block the payment of bonuses until water bosses have cleaned up their filth.

Sunak’s triple lock pledge could mean pension age rising to 68 earlier, Tory ex-ministers warn

Good morning. One sure sign that an election is on the way is that pensions increasingly become a topic of political conversation. At the weekend Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, said that keeping the pension triple lock would be in the Conservative party’s manifesto. At the liaison committee yesterday the Tory MP Stephen Crabb asked Rishi Sunak to confirm that he wanted to keep it in place for the whole of the next parliament. Struggling to suppress his belief that this was a daft question, because the answer was obvious, Sunak replied that it was safe for Crabb to assume that the answer was yes.

The triple lock is a pledge to increase the value of the annual state pension every year in line with earnings, inflation, or by 2.5% – whichever is higher. Introduced by the coalition government, it is designed to ensure that pensioners never start falling behind other groups in terms of living standards. Over the last decade it has helped pensioners considerably, and you can see why Sunak wants it in the manifesto. But it does not come cheap.

Today the i points out that Sunak cannot make this promise without inviting awkward questions about when the age at which people can start getting the state pension will rise from 66 (the current age) to 68. It is going up to 67 later this decade, and is currently due to rise to 68 in the 2040s. Last year a report said the government should bring forward the rise to 68 by three years, but Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, announced he was postponing the decision until the next parliament.

In her i story, Alexa Phillips quotes two of the Conservative party’s best experts on pensions as saying that keeping the triple lock in place for another five years could mean the rise in the state pension age to 68 having to happen earlier. David Willetts, a former minister who is now president of the Resolution Foundation thinktank, told the i that the coalition government was only able to afford the triple lock because the state pension age was going up. He said:

The argument was, if we speed up the increase in the pension age, there will be fewer pensioners, and we’ll be able to pay them a higher pension.

That was the trade-off on which the triple lock rested when it was first introduced, and it is a reminder that somehow or other these pledges have to be paid for, even with unpalatable measures like that which have come back and proved to be very controversial.

And David Gauke, a former work and pensions secretary, told the i that Sunak’s promise would mean the government having to revist the state pension age decision. He said:

The triple lock proved to be more expensive in practice than was anticipated when the policy was first announced, just because of the way in which the economy operated after 2010. It did more to increase the value of the state pension than anyone had thought was likely.

Ultimately, governments are going to have to take into account the wider fiscal situation. If you prioritise the increase in the state pension, then one way you can address that is by looking at the age in which it comes into play.

Why is this so salient as an election issue? Because pensioners are far more likely to vote than other age groups. This chart, from a British Election Study report, illustrates this, with turnout figures for the last three general elections, by age group.

Election turnout figures, by age Photograph: British Election Study

The Commons is in recess, and it looks as if it may be a quiet day at Westminster. Here are some of the things in the diary.

Morning: The Environment Agency publishes sewage discharge figures.

Morning: Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, meets mayors and mayoral candidates in the west Midlands.

Afternoon: Peers debate the second reading of the leasehold and freehold reform bill.

If you want to contact me, do use the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a laptop or a desktop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting, too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line; privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate); or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

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