Danny Alexander brings home the pork with fuel duty cut in Lib Dem seats

Of the 10 areas that will benefit from a fuel duty rebate, eight are held by Lib Dem MPs.

As we get closer to the general election, we are likely to see ever more instances of "pork barrel" politics, an invaluable US term to describe the use of government money for the benefit of ministers' constituents (derived from an old practice of giving slaves a barrel of salt pork as a reward). 

Labour is pointing today to the targeting of rural fuel duty relief at Lib Dem seats in Scotland. Of the 10 areas that Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander will announce will benefit from the rebate scheme (a 5p reduction in fuel duty), eight have Lib Dem MPs, including two in his own Inverness constituency. Here's the full list: 

· Acharacle (Scotland – Lochaber), postcode: PH36 – Charles Kennedy

· Achnasheen (Scotland – Ross & Cromarty) postcode: IV22 – Charles Kennedy

· Appin (Scotland – Argyll and Bute) postcode: PA38 – Alan Reid and Charles Kennedy

· Carrbridge (Scotland - Badenoch and Strathspey) postcode: PH23 – Danny Alexander

· Dalwhinnie (Scotland - Badenoch and Strathspey) postcode: PH19 – Danny Alexander

· Gairloch (Scotland - Ross & Cromarty) postcode: IV21– Charles Kennedy

· Lynton (England – Devon) postcode: EX35 – Sir Nick Harvey

· Strathpeffer (Scotland - Ross & Cromarty) postcode: IV14 – Charles Kennedy

As the FT's Kiran Stacey points out, this isn't the first time that Alexander, whose seat is being aggressively targeted by Labour, has doused his constituents with state largesse, "including funding for a tourist railway, a bailout for the London-Scotland sleeper train and tax breaks for ski lifts."

But Alexander has hit back this morning, declaring of the "pork barrel" charge: "That is total nonsense from the Labour party who refused throughout in their entire 13 years in office to recognise that in remote and rural communities is greater than in other parts of the country.

"The list of towns here are selected according to a series of strict and objective criteria which are based on what we think the European Commission will need to know about in order to approve the scheme – it would have been nice to have a longer list but on the other hand, what matters most here, is having something that we have a reasonable chance of being agreed and to make happen."

Danny Alexander delivers his speech at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last month. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.