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.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

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