Five questions answered on the Royal Mail sale

is it “short changing” tax payers?

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna has said privatisation of the Royal Mail undervalues the company. We answer five questions on Umunna’s Royal Mail comments.

By how much does the Shadow Secretary think Royal Mail is being undervalued by?

Umunna said on BBC Radio 4's Today programme he thinks the privatisation of the Royal Mail undervalues the company by as much as £1bn, with City investors and hedge funds being the biggest beneficiaries of the sale.

He added that the sale is “short changing” tax payers.

When is the Royal Mail being sold?

Shares of Royal Mail will be sold to the public from 15 October. Up to 62 per cent of the business will be sold, with the rest remaining state-owned. A 10 per cent stake has been reserved for Royal Mail employees.

A £750 minimum purchase stake is required by members of the public and a £500 minimum purchase stake by employees.

What else has Ununna said?

He believes the £750 minimum purchase stake is too steep for the public.

"That is a lot of money for most people - it is out of reach for many. Most of the people benefiting from this will be the speculators and the hedge funds,” he told Radio 4.

Labour has said they will not renationalise the Royal Mail if the party got in power at the next election.

What is the current value of the Royal Mail shares?

Initially the government priced the shares at 260-330p, but it is thought they will be sold between 300-330p.

On Friday it was reported that demand for shares is outstripping supply.

What has the government said in regards to the Shadow Business Secretary’s comments?

The Department for Business said: "This is a commercial transaction and government is following normal commercial practice in setting and publicising the share price and delivering value for the taxpayer. The value of Royal Mail will depend on a number of factors, notably the company's on-going financial performance, its future prospects and the level of investor interest."

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.