Vince Cable attends the media launch of the Mars Yard test area at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenag. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Senior Lib Dems turn on Clegg

Vince Cable says the Lib Dem leader took a "gamble" by campaigning on Europe, while Lynne Featherstone says her party has lost its "humanity".

Only a handful of council ward results have been announced but senior Lib Dem ministers are already moving to distance themselves from the campaign fought by Nick Clegg. Vince Cable rather unhelpfully told Sky News: "The party leader took the gamble of fighting on the issue of Europe, which is a very unusual thing to do in the UK." A Lib Dem source noted that "having been silent for weeks", the Business Secretary had "reappeared for a bad night" in order to "position himself as caretaker for post-wipeout panic".

Meanwhile, fellow minister Lynne Featherstone, responding to the Lib Dems' fifth-place finish in Sunderland, praised Nigel Farage for "sounding like a human being" in his debates with Clegg (adding that he "came out of them better") and said of her party: "We've lost some of our humanity" (which certainly wasn't the line to take). While the consensus among Lib Dems remains that Clegg will survive, with his political godfather Paddy Ashdown once again coming to the rescue, the blunt criticism from two senior figures doesn't bode well.

Update: Lib Dem HQ points out that Cable went on to say some kind words about Clegg, stating that “There isn’t a leadership issue and I think [Nick] has enhanced respect as a result of the fact he has been willing to engage with these difficult issues.”

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour's Brexit strategy

No one made Labour stand in Richmond Park. 

Oh, Labour Party. There was a way through.

No one made you stand in Richmond Park. You could have "struck a blow against the government", you could have shared the Lib Dem success. Instead, you lost both your dignity and your deposit. And to cap it all (Christian Wolmar, take a bow) you self-nominated for a Nobel Prize for Mansplaining.

It’s like the party strategist is locked in the bowels of HQ, endlessly looping in reverse Olivia Newton John’s "Making a Good Thing Better".

And no one can think that today marks the end of the party’s problems on Brexit.

But the thing is: there’s no need to Labour on. You can fix it.

Set the government some tests. Table some amendments: “The government shall negotiate having regard to…”

  • What would be good for our economy (boost investment, trade and jobs).
  • What would enhance fairness (help individuals and communities who have missed out over the last decades).
  • What would deliver sovereignty (magnify our democratic control over our destiny).
  • What would improve finances (what Brexit makes us better off, individually and collectively). 

And say that, if the government does not meet those tests, the Labour party will not support the Article 50 deal. You’ll take some pain today – but no matter, the general election is not for years. And if the tests are well crafted they will be easy to defend.

Then wait for the negotiations to conclude. If in 2019, Boris Johnson returns bearing cake for all, if the tests are achieved, Labour will, and rightly, support the government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will bear no Brexit penalty at the polls.

But if he returns with thin gruel? If the economy has tanked, if inflation is rising and living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned – what then? The only winners will be door manufacturers. Across the country they will be hard at work replacing those kicked down at constituency offices by voters demanding a fix. Labour will be joined in rejecting the deal from all across the floor: Labour will have shown the way.

Because the party reads the electorate today as wanting Brexit, it concludes it must deliver it. But, even for those who think a politician’s job is to channel the electorate, this thinking discloses an error in logic. The task is not to read the political dynamic of today. It is to position itself for the dynamic when it matters - at the next general election

And by setting some economic tests for a good Brexit, Labour can buy an option on that for free.

An earlier version of this argument appeared on Jolyon Maugham's blog Waiting For Tax.

Jolyon Maugham is a barrister who advised Ed Miliband on tax policy. He blogs at Waiting for Tax, and writes for the NS on tax and legal issues.