The rebels enter Gaddafi's base

Rebel fighters reported to have entered Gaddafi's house after storming his compound.

Events in Libya continue to develop at a rapid pace, with the rebels now reported to have entered Colonel Gaddafi's house after breaking into his military compound at Bab al Aziziya. A gold statue of Gaddafi has been toppled (you can see a screengrab of the rebels stamping on the statue's head here) and the rebels are climbing over his famous sculpture of a fist crushing a US fighter jet. Iconoclasm has rarely looked more satisfying.

The whereabouts of Gaddafi himself are still unknown, although he is thought to be inside the compound. Earlier this afternoon, the Russian chess federation chief Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who visited Gaddafi in June, said he spoke to to the Libyan leader by phone today. He told Reuters that Gaddafi's eldest son Mohammad called him and "gave the phone to his father, who said that he is in Tripoli, he is alive and healthy and is prepared to fight to the end."

It's worth noting that Nato Colonel Roland Lavoie played down the importance of capturing Gaddafi at a press conference in Naples earlier today. He said:

If you know, let me know. I don't have a clue. I'm not sure it really does matter. The resolution of this situation will be political. Everyone recognises that Gaddafi will not be part of that solution. He's not a key player any more.

This contrasts with the stance taken by Mustafa Abdul Jalil, the head of the National Transitional Council, who has said "the real moment of victory is when Gaddafi is captured."

It's also important not to forget the danger to civilian life at this time. Amnesty International has issued a statement warning that prolonged fighting in Tripoli is "seriously endangering civilian lives and has the potential to create a humanitarian crisis." It is imperative that the allies, who intervened in Libya to save lives, do everything possible to minimise civlian casualties.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.