Ed Miliband speaks in Redbridge earlier today at Labour's local and European election campaign launch. Photograph: Getty Images.
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How private renters could swing the election for Labour

There are 37 Labour target seats in which the number of privately-renting swing voters exceeds the ruling party's majority. 

In pledging to end excessive rent rises, make long-term tenancies the norm and ban letting agents' fees, Ed Miliband has made one of his astutest interventions to date. As he noted in his speech today, there are now nine million people renting privately, with almost 50 per cent of households over the age of 35. They are currently paying an average of £1,020 a year more than in 2010 and rent payments represent 41 per cent of their gross income, compared with 30 per cent for social renters and 19 per cent for owner-occupiers. There are a huge number of votes to be won from offering this group a better deal - not least in marginal seats. 

A recent poll by the campaign group Generation Rent found that 35 per cent of private renters are swing voters and that more than half (52 per cent) consider the cost of rent to be their biggest problem. It went on to show that there are 86 constituencies in which the ruling party's majority is less than 35 per cent of the private renter population - the proportion who change their party allegiance at general elections. Of this total, I've found that 37 feature on Labour's target list of 106 seats - Miliband's plan will help the party win votes where it matters most. 

The Tories are arguing that Labour's "rent controls" (and there is a significant difference between index-linked increases and an overall cap) would be ineffective, but the desperation with which they are seeking to kill the idea (witness Grant Shapps's hyperbolic reference to "Venezuelan-style rent controls") shows that they recognise its political potency. YouGov poll of Londoners earlier this month found that 55 per cent support rent controls with just 19 per cent opposed. 

In denouncing Miliband as "Old Labour" and comparing him to Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock, David Cameron is harking back to the Tories' glory days. But when Margaret Thatcher assailed her left-wing opponents in the 1980s, she did so in the confidence that her free-market policies retained popular support. Cameron does not enjoy that luxury. Polls show that around two-thirds of voters support a 50p tax rate, a mansion tax, stronger workers’ rights, a living wage and the renationalisation of the railways and the privatised utilities. If Miliband is a "socialist", so is much of the public. The danger for the Tories is that they have positioned themselves as the defenders of the market at a time when it is not working for the majority. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.