Nigel Farage arrives to speak at Ukip public meeting at Old Basing Village Hall on April 9, 2014 in Basingstoke. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How Ukip is turning left on the economy

The party now favours strict limits on zero-hour contracts, the abolition of the bedroom tax and progressive taxation. 

For most of its existence, Ukip has positioned itself well to the right of the Conservative Party on the economy, advocating a radically smaller state, significantly lower taxes and a major programme of deregulation (albeit not in the area of immigration). But as the party rises to greater prominence, it is beginning to moderate its stance. 

In a piece for the Daily Express on Friday, Nigel Farage echoed Labour's criticisms of zero-hour contracts and called for larger employers to sign "a tough code of conduct as to how they are applied." While stating that he has no "truck with militant trade unionism", he also took aim at "over-mighty corporations" who "refuse to accept any social obligation towards loyal employees". 

This intervention is part of a pattern of economic populism from Ukip. As Alex Wickham of Guido Fawkes notes, the party campaigned during the recent Wythenshawe by-election to "protect your benefits" and has declared its opposition to the bedroom tax. Farage has also abandoned Ukip's previous policy of a flat tax of 31 per cent, arguing that higher earners should pay at least 40 per cent. 

These stances will antagonise the party's sizeable libertarian wing but they are politically astute. Far from craving a laissez-faire approach, most of the party's supporters favour an expanded state and higher public spending. Polling by YouGov shows that 78 per cent support the nationalisation of the energy companies and 73 per cent back the renationalisation of the railways. Rather than a "code of conduct" for employers, 57 per cent simply want zero-hour contracts to be banned. Rather than a flat tax, the same number support the reintroduction of the 50p rate. 

Given Ukip's success in attracting working class supporters, it makes no sense for the party to alienate them by adopting a programme of turbo-Thatcherism. In this era of insecurity, there is a large market for a party that combines hostility towards the EU and immigration with a critical stance towards big business. As Farage and his allies know, it is this approach that has enabled the Front National to achieve such success in France.  

Wary of attacking Ukip over its immigration stance, Labour has recently focused on campaigning against its free market policies. But if the party's drift to the left continues, it will become much harder to do so. 

Update: Here's the statement put out by Labour's Jon Ashworth on the launch of Ukip's European election campaign. Unsurprisingly, it focuses on attacking the party over its economic positions, rather than the EU or immigration. 

UKIP would have us believe they stand for working people but the truth is very different – they’re even more right wing than the Tories. A vote for UKIP is a vote for higher taxes for working families, charges to see your GP, huge tax giveaways for the rich and even deeper cuts to public services. Only Labour can make Britain better off.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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