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Reform UK leader rules out helping Tories at general election and says party will stand in every seat in Britain – UK politics live | Politics

Tories and Labour ‘two sides of same socialist coin’, Reform UK claims

The Reform UK press conference is over. Here are the main points.

  • Richard Tice, the Reform UK leader, said his party would be standing candidates in every seat in Britain at the general election and he ruled out standing aside to help any Conservatives. He said he could be “absolutely categoric that we are not doing any deals with the Tories … under any circumstances”. At the last election the Brexit party, Reform UK’s predecessor party, did not stand candidates against sitting Conservative MPs. Nigel Farage, the party leader, did this to help the Conservatives, but a subsequent academic analysis said the move may have helped reduce the scale of Labour’s defeat. Tice said he would stand candidates against all Tories even though some of them were pleading with him to put up a Reform UK candidate against them. He said:

The truth is the Tories are terrified … In the new year the special pleading has already started: ‘Oh, please don’t stand here, please don’t stand there, I’m one of the nice guys, I believe in everything that you believe in.’

Richard Tice speaking at his news conference. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images
  • Tice said he was “very confident” that Farage would play a role in the party’s election campaign, but he said Farage was still considering exactly what that would be. (See 11.32am.) But having Farage stand as a candidate was “the least likely thing”, he said.

Richard Tice says the country needs a “serious wake-up call” as the alternative to the Tories is “Starmageddon”. He adds: “We are facing a catastrophic cocktail of economic incompetence and cultural pillage.

Richard Tice says the country needs a “serious wake-up call” as the alternative to the Tories is “Starmageddon”. He adds: “We are facing a catastrophic cocktail of economic incompetence and cultural pillage.” pic.twitter.com/4jHbWbiKb0

— Martina Bet (@martinabettt) January 3, 2024

  • But Tice’s main argument was that Labour and the Conservatives were “two sides of the same socialist coin”. He made it clear that Reform UK is offering a very rightwing alternative, proposing government spending cuts of around 5%, lifting the starting rate of income tax to £20,000, a ban on “non-essential” immigration and the scrapping of net zero policies. This is from the Economist’s Matthew Holehouse.

Slides from Richard Tice Reform UK launch. Calls for 5% govt spending cuts and bonfire of EU law, or risk bond market wrath. Feels like a return to UKIP’s pre-2010s Thatcherite roots.

Slides from Richard Tice Reform UK launch. Calls for 5% govt spending cuts and bonfire of EU law, or risk bond market wrath. Feels like a return to UKIP’s pre-2010s Thatcherite roots. pic.twitter.com/8BqbEPmKGh

— Matthew Holehouse (@mattholehouse) January 3, 2024

And here is the image used to illustrate the claim that Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer have similar policies.

  • Tice claimed Reform UK is the only party of the working class. (Tice a multi-millionaire businessman, Farage is a former City trader, and both were educated privately.)

  • Ben Habib, the party’s co deputy leader, will be Reform UK’s candidate at the Wellinborough byelection, it was announced. In a statement Habib said:

My message is clear. Labour and the Tories are two sides of the same coin. A vote for either means more uncontrolled mass immigration. Higher taxes. Longer GP waiting lists. And the cost of living crisis will get worse.

Crime and antisocial behaviour are real problems here. We will get dozens more police on the beat and smash the ‘county lines’ drug gangs. Violent criminals will be locked up for life. No more politically correct nonsense.

Ben Habib speaking at the press conference.
Ben Habib speaking at the press conference. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Key events

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, refused to rule out joining a Labour-led coalition after the general election. Asked by GB News at his photocall if he would consider joining such a coaltion, Davey replied:

I’m focused on the general election.

There are many, many Conservative MPs that Liberal Democrats can defeat across the whole of the south of England, parts of London, parts of Manchester, parts of Yorkshire, in Scotland, in Wales.

Liberal Democrats are really on the march, we’ve shown with our historic by-election victories and our amazing local election results across the country, that we are now an amazing campaigning force in British politics.

Davey has ruled out joining a coalition with the Conservatives.

If voting at the general election is at all similar to what current polling suggests it would be now, Keir Starmer is not going to need to look for a coalition partner because he will have a healthy majority. Starmer does not seem to show much interest in working with the Lib Dems. By contrast, Tony Blair had a keen interest in Lib-Lab cooperation ahead of the 1997 general election and he told Paddy Ashdown privately that he would like to have Lib Dem MPs in his government. In the event, his majority was so enormous the idea was swiftly abandoned after polling day.

Ed Davey speaking to journalists after launching his campaign poster in Guildford this morning.
Ed Davey speaking to journalists after launching his campaign poster in Guildford this morning. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA
Ed Davey with Lib Dem activists posing as removal workers at his poster launch this morning.
Ed Davey with Lib Dem activists posing as removal workers at his poster launch this morning. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

Here is John Crace’s take on Richard Tice, the Reform UK leader. John is the Guardian’s sketchwriter.

Richard Tice at Reform Party press conference.

Like a charisma free second hand car salesman auditioning for CBeebies

Richard Tice at Reform Party press conference.

Like a charisma free second hand car salesman auditioning for CBeebies

— John Crace (@JohnJCrace) January 3, 2024

Tories and Labour ‘two sides of same socialist coin’, Reform UK claims

The Reform UK press conference is over. Here are the main points.

  • Richard Tice, the Reform UK leader, said his party would be standing candidates in every seat in Britain at the general election and he ruled out standing aside to help any Conservatives. He said he could be “absolutely categoric that we are not doing any deals with the Tories … under any circumstances”. At the last election the Brexit party, Reform UK’s predecessor party, did not stand candidates against sitting Conservative MPs. Nigel Farage, the party leader, did this to help the Conservatives, but a subsequent academic analysis said the move may have helped reduce the scale of Labour’s defeat. Tice said he would stand candidates against all Tories even though some of them were pleading with him to put up a Reform UK candidate against them. He said:

The truth is the Tories are terrified … In the new year the special pleading has already started: ‘Oh, please don’t stand here, please don’t stand there, I’m one of the nice guys, I believe in everything that you believe in.’

Richard Tice speaking at his news conference.
Richard Tice speaking at his news conference. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images
  • Tice said he was “very confident” that Farage would play a role in the party’s election campaign, but he said Farage was still considering exactly what that would be. (See 11.32am.) But having Farage stand as a candidate was “the least likely thing”, he said.

Richard Tice says the country needs a “serious wake-up call” as the alternative to the Tories is “Starmageddon”. He adds: “We are facing a catastrophic cocktail of economic incompetence and cultural pillage.

Richard Tice says the country needs a “serious wake-up call” as the alternative to the Tories is “Starmageddon”. He adds: “We are facing a catastrophic cocktail of economic incompetence and cultural pillage.” pic.twitter.com/4jHbWbiKb0

— Martina Bet (@martinabettt) January 3, 2024

  • But Tice’s main argument was that Labour and the Conservatives were “two sides of the same socialist coin”. He made it clear that Reform UK is offering a very rightwing alternative, proposing government spending cuts of around 5%, lifting the starting rate of income tax to £20,000, a ban on “non-essential” immigration and the scrapping of net zero policies. This is from the Economist’s Matthew Holehouse.

Slides from Richard Tice Reform UK launch. Calls for 5% govt spending cuts and bonfire of EU law, or risk bond market wrath. Feels like a return to UKIP’s pre-2010s Thatcherite roots.

Slides from Richard Tice Reform UK launch. Calls for 5% govt spending cuts and bonfire of EU law, or risk bond market wrath. Feels like a return to UKIP’s pre-2010s Thatcherite roots. pic.twitter.com/8BqbEPmKGh

— Matthew Holehouse (@mattholehouse) January 3, 2024

And here is the image used to illustrate the claim that Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer have similar policies.

  • Tice claimed Reform UK is the only party of the working class. (Tice a multi-millionaire businessman, Farage is a former City trader, and both were educated privately.)

  • Ben Habib, the party’s co deputy leader, will be Reform UK’s candidate at the Wellinborough byelection, it was announced. In a statement Habib said:

My message is clear. Labour and the Tories are two sides of the same coin. A vote for either means more uncontrolled mass immigration. Higher taxes. Longer GP waiting lists. And the cost of living crisis will get worse.

Crime and antisocial behaviour are real problems here. We will get dozens more police on the beat and smash the ‘county lines’ drug gangs. Violent criminals will be locked up for life. No more politically correct nonsense.

Ben Habib speaking at the press conference.
Ben Habib speaking at the press conference. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Ed Davey calls for early election as he promises Lib Dems will offer ‘Tory removal service’

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, unveiled a poster in Guildford this morning saying his party would be offering a “Tory removal service” at the next election. At his photocall he said:

The Liberal Democrats are the leading Conservative MP removal service in the ‘blue wall’ and beyond. Four historic byelection wins and sweeping gains in last May’s local elections show that voters across the country are turning to us for change.

People are fed up with waiting for promised hospitals that are never built, an end to sewage being dumped in our rivers and real action on the cost of living.

It shouldn’t be up to Rishi Sunak to cling on for another 12 months, desperately hoping for something to turn up and causing even more damage as he tries to keep his fractured party behind him.

To reinforce his call for an early election, Davey said that he would table a fixed-term parliaments bill when the Commons returns next week that would legislate for the election to be held on 2 May. But the bill will never be put to the vote because Davey was not one of the 20 backbenchers who won the chance to get a bill debated in the private members’ ballot at the start of this session of parliament.

Ed Davey unveiling a new Lib Dem campaign poster.
Ed Davey unveiling a new Lib Dem campaign poster.
Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Nigel Farage still deciding what role to play in Reform UK’s election campaign, its leader Richard Tice says

Nigel Farage has not appeared at the Reform UK press conference. At the start there were longish speeches from Richard Tice, the party’s leader, and Ben Habib, the party’s co-deputy leader. It was announced that Habib would be the party’s candidate at the Wellingborough byelection.

Before he started taking questions, Tice said that Farage was still considering that role he would play in the party in the election campaign and that he did not want to say too early. “A good poker player does not show his hand early,” Tice said.

In a report for the i, Chloe Chaplain and Hugo Gye say Farage could end up running Reform UK’s election campaign. They say:

Mr Farage has left the door open to playing a more frontline role in the general election, but i understands any imminent return would be unlikely to see him appointed leader, with him taking up a position heading the party’s election campaign.

UPDATE: At the press conference Tice said:

We’ve been talking over the Christmas period and [Farage is] obviously giving a lot of thought as to the extent of the role he wants to play in helping Reform UK frankly save Britain. He is still assessing that.

Nigel is the master of political timing but I’m very clear the job at hand is so big to save Britain, the more help that Nigel is able to give in the election campaign, frankly, the better.

Richard Tice at the Reform UK press conference this morning.
Richard Tice at the Reform UK press conference this morning. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Sunak likely or almost certain to fail on three of his five priorities, says Institute for Government thinktank

Tomorrow will mark the anniversary of the speech where Rishi Sunak unveiled his five priorities for 2023. At the time he was evasive about when some of these might be achieved, but that does not allow him to escape a performance review one year on. The Institute for Government thinktank has just published its assessment of his record, it’s not very positive.

According to the IfG, Sunak can only say he has achieved one of his five pledges. He’s on track on another, but the IfG says that the three others are either doubtful or likely to be missed. On stopping the boats, the IfG says it is almost certain that this will not happen before the election.

Here is the scorecard.

Scorecard for Sunak’s five pledges
Scorecard for Sunak’s five pledges. Photograph: IfG

And here is an extract from the report.

Sunak’s record is mixed. He has achieved his inflation pledge, and is on track for the economy to continue growing in 2024, albeit slowly. Debt is forecast to fall – in 2028/29 – but this relies on implausibly tight spending plans for which we have little detail, and therefore this pledge seems in doubt. Both cutting NHS waiting lists, the pledge over which Sunak had the most direct control, and stopping small boats crossings, the pledge he seemed least likely to meet last January, are off track.

The Reform UK press conference is just starting. My colleague Ben Quinn is there, and he says there are around 50 journalists at the event – which is partly a consequence of nothing else going on at Westminster this morning.

It is still not clear yet whether Nigel Farage, who founded Reform UK when it was the Brexit party, is turning up.

50+ journos await Reform UK’s leader “& special guests” at a posh London hotel
No sign of Nigel Farage (unless they’re hiding him in the cloakroom) pic.twitter.com/JElkAKePp0

— Ben Quinn (@BenQuinn75) January 3, 2024

Council tax needs reform because it’s ‘broadly regressive’, says Vaughan Gething, contender for next Welsh first minister

Vaughan Gething, economy minister in the Welsh Labour government and favourite in the contest to succeed Mark Drakeford as first minister, has criticised the council tax system as “broadly regressive”.

He made the comment in an interview with the Financial Times in which he defended the Welsh government’s plan to reform how the tax operates in the UK. It is consulting on three options, one of which would just involve a property revaluation, but two of which would involve getting the owners of valuable homes to pay more, and cheaper homes to pay less, possibly with the creation of new bands.

Currently council tax in Wales in based on property values from 2003. In England and Scotland it is still based on property values from 1991, when the tax was established, because successive governments have worried about revaluation being unpopular.

Gething told the FT:

The council tax consultation is not about trying to raise the average council tax or hit people in the middle or lower scale, it’s about how can you rebalance how that works.

You could have people at the top end paying more and people at the bottom paying less.

Gething also defended the Welsh government’s plan to allow local authorities to impose a tax on tourists staying overnight in visitor accommodation. He said this was a “mainstream idea” adopted in many places abroad. He said:

In the future local authorities would decide what to do, it wouldn’t be a Wales-wide measure, the tourism levy would be a choice for different authorities to make.

The only other candidate who has so far declared he is standing is Jeremy Miles, minister for education and the Welsh language. Nominations do not close until the end of the month, but all the other members of the Welsh government seen as potential contenders have ruled themselves out.

Yesterday Miles announced five early pledges on X.

If I am elected Welsh Labour leader and First Minister in 2024, here are 5 things I will do in my first week as FM:

1. Appoint a government where at least half of all ministers are women

— Jeremy Miles (@Jeremy_Miles) January 2, 2024

If I am elected Welsh Labour leader and First Minister in 2024, here are 5 things I will do in my first week as FM:

1. Appoint a government where at least half of all ministers are women

2. Kick start the setting up of a new Delivery Unit in the Welsh Government – we will look at everything we do with an absolutely relentless focus on practical delivery

3. Get the review of 20 mph underway, it will be 6 months from introduction, so as I said on day one of my campaign – there’s no need to delay

4. Initiate fresh discussions with patients, health bodies and health unions about how we help the NHS adapt to respond to current and future pressures

5. Direct the establishment of a new National Economic Council to advise the government on strategic policies to deliver sustainable economic prosperity and solidarity

I will be announcing policy priorities in the coming weeks. Today’s 5 actions point to kind of government I want to lead – reflecting our communities, focused on the economy, relentless in protecting and improving public services, and open to scrutiny. Let’s get on with it!

Bookmakers have Gething as the favourite in the leadership contest, but a poll for ITV Wales last year, carried out just days before Drakeford announced his retirement, found that 72% of people in Wales could not say who they wanted to be next first minister.

Vaughan Gething.
Vaughan Gething. Photograph: Dimitris Legakis/Athena Pictures

Junior doctors on a picket line outside the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle this morning.
Junior doctors on a picket line outside the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle this morning. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Victoria Atkins, the health secretary, has restated her call for the BMA to call off the junior doctors’ strike in England. Speaking to Sky News she said:

We’re very concerned about the consequences [the strike] will have, not just for this week of industrial action, but also in the weeks following, because consultants and other clinicians who are picking up the slack as junior doctors, doctors in training, are not at their work – that will be reflected in the weeks coming up with people trying to catch up with the lost time.

So it’s going to have a huge impact on our health system. My ask of the junior doctors committee is to call off these strikes and get back round the negotiating table.

Victoria Atkins
Victoria Atkins. Photograph: Sky News

Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister, has posted a message on X pointing out that his government has managed to avoid a junior doctors’ strike.

Six days of Junior Doctor strikes in England, all because of a UK Government that chooses tax cuts for the wealthy over paying NHS staff fairly.

We have taken different choices in Scotland and avoided a single day of NHS strikes. Our budget gives the NHS a real-terms increase.

Six days of Junior Doctor strikes in England, all because of a UK Government that chooses tax cuts for the wealthy over paying NHS staff fairly.

We have taken different choices in Scotland and avoided a single day of NHS strikes. Our budget gives the NHS a real-terms increase. https://t.co/gXpEwVNktL

— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) January 3, 2024

Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chair of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, told PA Media this morning that his organisation was not obsessed with calling strikes. He said:

The notion that we’re hellbent on calling strikes, and all we want to do is call strikes, is not what we want. What we want is to negotiate an offer we can put to our members and for our members to accept it.

But he also said the six-day strike by his members in England starting today could be followed by further action if the government did not improve its offer.

I hope they come back to the table now – but from all of the signals they are sending it won’t be until our strike action finishes. And I hope at that point we can come to a resolution.

So as soon as our strike action finishes we will be asking the government to get back round the table, which as we’ve seen from what they have been saying so far, they should be very willing to do very rapidly.

If the government stall, or they don’t come to the table, or they make excuses, or they try to push things down the line without any clear reason as to why that is happening, then we will be led by our members.

In the past when those kinds of actions have been displayed by the government, our members have wanted us to call for further strike action. I hope that we don’t have to go there but I can’t rule it out.

Junior doctors on a picket line this morning outside St Thomas' hospital in London.
Junior doctors on a picket line this morning outside St Thomas’ hospital in London. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

According to a report by Steven Swinford in the Times today, Labour is considering offering tax cuts at the general election. He says:

Rachel Reeves is weighing up plans to offer income tax or national insurance cuts in Labour’s general election manifesto to show that the party is on the side of “opportunity and aspiration”.

The shadow chancellor is facing pressure from frontbenchers to make a “retail” offer on tax to voters who are struggling with the cost of living crisis. She has said she makes “no apology for wanting working people to have more money” and that she believes the tax burden is too high.

Reeves believes that tax cuts offered by Labour must be “bombproof” and should not threaten the party’s fiscal credibility, which she views as integral to an election win.

Swinford also says that, while Labour is opposed to cutting or abolishing inheritance tax, it is likely to support any move to cut income tax if Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, does that in the March budget. There have been reports suggesting a 2p cut in the basic rate of income tax is being considered. At the weekend a report in the Sunday Times quoted an unnamed cabinet minister as saying:

The tax cuts in March will be enormous. Either they work or we leave Labour with a major headache.

While junior doctors are on strike, some of their work will be covered in hospitals by consultants. But Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, which represents NHS trusts, told LBC this morning that contingency plans at individual hospitals would be in “jeopardy” if just one or two consultants were sick.

She explained:

Across the whole country leaders are telling us that this particular round of industrial action, coming at the time that it does, and being of such a long duration, is going to be perhaps [the NHS’] toughest challenge yet …

Plans have been put in place and people have been working very, very hard on these rotas. But the rotas are just about covered so it only takes a consultant or two to go off sick – there’s a lot of Covid and flu, norovirus, other winter viruses around at the moment and a couple may go off sick – then that is going to put the entire plan in jeopardy, which is why the leaders across the NHS are so concerned that this is skating on thin ice.

Junior doctors on a picket line outside the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle this morning.
Junior doctors on a picket line outside the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle this morning. Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Junior doctors want 35% pay increase over time, not immediately, says BMA leader

Good morning. When Dominic Cummings met Rishi Sunak in secret last summer to offer his advice on how Sunak might win the election, he said the prime minister should settle the NHS strikes (presumably by paying staff more). Sunak decided against employing Cummings as his campaigns supremo, but NHS staff were offered better pay deals and by the end of the year nurses, consultants and other health workers had ceased, or at least paused, strike action. But Sunak has not done enough to satisfy junior doctors in England and this morning they started a six-day strike – the longest in the NHS’s 75-year history.

As Denis Campbell reports in his overnight preview, this strike is taking place during what is seen as the busiest week of the year for hospitals.

Andrew Gregory has a Q&A about why the strike is taking place here.

And Archie Bland has an explainer that assesses some of the claims and counter-claims being made by people on each side.

The BMA, which represents junior doctors (hospital doctors below consultant level – most of them have considerable experience, and would not be considered “junior” in another workplace), says the junior doctors want a 35% pay rise to compensate for the extent to which their pay has fallen in real terms over the past 15 years.

But, in an interview on the Today programme this morning, Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chair of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, said that his members were not expecting a 35% increase immediately. He said:

We’re not asking for any uplift or pay restoration to happen overnight. We are not even saying it has to happen in one year. We’re very happy to look over deals that would span a number of years.

But what we need to do is to start a way towards that, and especially not further the pay erosion. That average 3% pay uplift [the latest offer from the government, on top of the 8.8% offered last summer] would still have amounted to pay cuts for many doctors this year.

The government says it will not negotiate with the BMA while the strike is taking place. But Trivedi said this was an unnecessary condition which the government had ignored in the past. He explained:

That’s a rule of their own making. There is no law that prevents them from talking to us while strike action is happening. And in fact we saw this same government adopt a different approach when they were dealing with the criminal barristers. They negotiated with the barristers and stopped them from striking while they were striking by coming up with an offer that was appropriate to put to their membership.

Trivedi said that, if the juniors doctors were not on strike, they would just be ignored by the government.

The Commons is still in recess, and Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer are expected to hold their first public events of the year tomorrow, not today. But Reform UK is holding a start-of-year press conference at 10.30am, and Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, is also holding a campaign event in Guildford, where he will be highlighting his party’s prospects of winning seats in the Tories’ “blue wall”.

If you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a laptop or a desktop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting, too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line; privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate); or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

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