16 to 21 November
Peace and harmony has broken out and a deal has been struck as to who pays to electrify railway lines in the south Wales valleys. The answer is, Westminster and Cardiff Bay governments are splitting the bill in half. The UK government will fund the upgrade of the Swansea-London mainline by 2018 at a cost of £850m, and will put £125m towards electrifying the Valley lines. Reduced costs and increased revenues are expected to cover the rest of the project’s predicted £463m cost. So the original targets for completion remain in place. Electrification of the main line from London Paddington to Cardiff is due to be completed by 2017, and extended to Swansea by 2018. Electrification of the Valleys will follow shortly afterwards.
The Welsh Government have struck a pay deal with NHS staff. The deal covering 77,000 workers covers a two year period and includes a 1% pay rise from next April. There has been industrial action in England but it was suspended last week in Wales when the two-year offer was put to the unions and accepted. It includes a cash payment this year, the introduction of the living wage for the lowest paid from January, and a 1% rise across the board from April.
Nicola Sturgeon was sworn in as Scotland’s First Minister. She takes over from Scotland’s longest serving first minister, Alex Salmond, who is now a mere backbench MSP. Salmond is likely to fight a Westminster seat. John Swinney becomes deputy first minister. Nicola Sturgeon is expected to set out her first programme for government, including planned legislation, on Wednesday 26th November.
Next year’s general election is “unpredictable beyond comprehension” according to Nigel Farage and on that there surely is agreement. His UKIP notched up its second parliamentary byelection win in Rochester and Strood making them a party of two in the Commons. Ukip’s Mark Reckless defeated his former party by 2,920 votes inflicting a humiliating blow on David Cameron. The prime minister promised to throw everything at winning the contest and visitied the seat five times and ordering his MPs to each make at least three trips of course as we know Glyn Davies didn’t obey. UKIP got 16,867 votes, or 42.1% of the poll. His Conservative opponent, Kelly Tolhurst, took 13,947 votes (34.8%). The Tory vote fell by 14.4 percentage points. Labour’s Naushabah Khan came third with 6,713 (16.8%, down 11.7 points) and the Liberal Democrats just 349 (0.9%, down 15.4 points). The Lib Dems came behind the Greens, who polled 1,692 (4.2% up 2.7 points). UKIP did not receive the kind of result that makes the seat a safe bet at the general election.
When all the grief should be going in the direction of the Tories, Labour again managed to shoot themselves in the foot in Rochester. Emily Thornberry tweeted a picture of a modest house draped with Cross of St George flags with a white van outside and the words images of Rochester. The tabloids described the tweet as snobbish and sneering. It certainly was crass. Not the best approach to winning working class voters to the Labour cause. Ed Miliband has sacked her from the shadow Cabinet.
YouGov/Sun Con 34% Lab 33% LD 7% UKIP 14% Green 6%
Survation/Daily Record Con 17% Lab 24% LD 6% SNP 46% UKIP 5% (Scotland)
Opinium Con 34% Lab 33% LD 5% UKIP 18% Green 4%
Ashcroft Con 29%(-1) Lab 30%(+1) LD 9%(-1) UKIP 16% (nc) Green 7% (+1)
Populus Con 35% (+1) Lab 36%(+1) LD 7%(-1) UKIP 11%(-2) Green 5%(nc)
YouGov/Sun Con 33% Lab 32% LD 7% UKIP 15% Green8 %
YouGov/Sunday Times Con 31% Lab 33% LD 7% UKIP 18% Green 5%