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Good morning and welcome back to Election Central.

Today the parties are finalising their candidate line-ups ahead of the deadline for submitting nominations.

Follow the action live here, where we will be bringing you rolling coverage of the day's proceedings, along with the latest insight from FT reporters.

Swinson rules out Lib Dem backing for a Corbyn government

The FT's Laura Hughes reports:

Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader, has said she would sooner push the UK into another general election than put Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street in the event of a hung parliament.

Ms Swinson, who could hold the balance of power if no party wins a House of Commons majority in the December 12 election, rejected the possibility of the anti-Brexit Lib Dems entering a parliamentary pact with Mr Corbyn.

Asked whether she would back Mr Corbyn in a confidence vote aimed at forming a minority Labour government, Ms Swinson suggested her party would either reject him or abstain.

“Look, Liberal Democrat votes are not going to put Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street,” she said in an interview with the Financial Times. “He is not fit to do that job.”

Asked if she would therefore prefer to move straight to another election, Ms Swinson replied: “I would, yes. I would rather go into another election than see Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn in that position [of prime minister] as a result of Lib Dem votes.”

Check out Laura's full piece here

What the papers are saying

Heckling on the campaign trail and the prime minister's investment pledges featured prominently on today's newspaper front pages.

The Guardian has led this morning on a backlash against comments by Len McCluskey, head of the Unite union, in which he called for Labour to take a tougher line on free movement of workers.

The Telegraph has focused on efforts by the Conservative party to convince the Brexit party to stand down more candidates. Nigel Farage rejected a deal that would have seen his party stand in just 40 key seats, where the Tories would only stand "paper candidates", the paper reports.

At the FT, we have run with Laura Hughes's interview with Jo Swinson, in which the Liberal Democrat leader said she would rather another general election than put a Corbyn government into power.


Farage confirms Brexit party will stand in all Labour-held seats

George Parker, the FT's political editor, reports:

Nigel Farage on Thursday confirmed his Brexit party would officially contest Labour held seats at next month's election, in spite of huge pressure on him to pull out of Tory target seats.

Speaking ahead of Thursday's deadline for candidate nominations, Mr Farage said: "I said on Monday we would be fighting 300 seats and that's exactly what we are going to do."

Mr Farage was being urged by senior Brexiters, Eurosceptic Tories and pro-Brexit newspapers to give Boris Johnson a clear run against Labour in key marginals, to avoid the risk of splitting the Leave vote.

The closure of nominations will reveal how many - if any - Brexit party candidates have pulled out of the December 12 contest of their own volition, in defiance of the party leader.

The Brexit party leader told the BBC's Today programme that Mr Johnson wanted "a Conservative government, not a Brexit government" and that he did not trust the prime minister.

On Monday, Mr Farage pulled his candidates out of more than 300 seats won by the Conservatives at the 2017 election, but his refusal to withdraw from Labour territory will dismay some Brexiters.

Arron Banks, who has bankrolled the Brexit cause over many years, wanted the Brexit party to contest only 40 seats where it stood the best chance of winning its first parliamentary seat.

Mr Farage said that Mr Banks, a former Ukip backer and a self-styled "bad boy of Brexit", had "given up". He said his old friend was suffering from "Brexhaustion".

Mr Banks has claimed that Mr Farage's position could put Brexit at risk, because pro-EU parties could win the election and bring forward a second referendum.

Patel vows Tories will cut overall immigration into Britain

Priti Patel, home secretary, has promised to cut overall immigration to Britain if the Conservatives win the election, while claiming that the policy would not lead to skills shortages in key parts of the labour market, writes George Parker.

Ms Patel issued a statement on Tory policy after Victoria Atkins, her fellow Home Office minister, last week repeatedly declined to say whether immigration would be higher or lower if Boris Johnson wins the election.

Ms Patel, in a statement released by the party, said: "We will reduce immigration overall while being more open and flexible to the highly skilled people we need, such as scientists and doctors."

This can only happen if people vote for a Conservative majority government so we can leave the EU with a deal.

There were no details of how the policy would operate or why the Conservatives were more likely to meet their promise to sharply cut immigration at this election than in previous contests.

David Cameron fought elections in 2010 and 2015 with a promise to reduce net immigration to "the tens of thousands" and failed to deliver the promise. Theresa May gave the same unfulfilled promise in 2017.

Labour insists gender pay proposals not a 'tick-box exercise'

Labour is looking to focus on the gender pay gap in its campaigning today, with the shadow secretary of state for employment rights rejecting assertions its policies would merely lead to an increase in bureaucracy.

If elected, Labour would require that by the end of 2020, all employers with more than 50 employees obtain state certification on gender equality or face further auditing and fines.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4, Laura Pidcock dismissed the contention of the CBI, the employers' organisation, that its policy would ramp up company paperwork rather than addressing the root of the issue.

I don’t think it’s a bureaucratic requirement to say women should be paid the same. There are some very easy things employers can do.

Ms Pidcock said the party's push to close the pay gap between men and women was more than a "tick-box exercise" for employers.

There has to be - and we believe there should be - proof of how they are working to close that gap. And if there is absolutely no proof of how they are working towards the elimination of that gap, then there will be some form of penalty

Donald Tusk takes parting shot at Brexiters as he leaves office

Across the Channel, Brexit remains in focus, with outgoing European Commission president Donald Tusk describing Brexit as a delusion of those “longing for the empire” as his term in office winds up.

Jim Brunsden, Michael Peel and Laura Hughes report that Mr Tusk has warned Britain will be a “second-rate player” on the global stage after its EU exit.

The former Polish prime minister is an outspoken critic of Brexit who once warned that Leave campaigners such as Boris Johnson merited “a special place in hell”. But his comments go further than before in expressing his conviction that Britain’s departure is a profound mistake. 

“I have heard repeatedly from Brexiters that they wanted to leave the European Union to make the United Kingdom global again,” Mr Tusk said in remarks to students at the College of Europe on Wednesday. “The reality is exactly the opposite.”

Mr Tusk, who has chaired EU summits for the past five years, said leaders from across the globe, including from India, Canada and South Africa, had shared their conviction with him that Brexit would leave Britain “an outsider, a second-rate player, while the main battlefield will be occupied by China, the United States and the European Union”.

“‘Why are they doing this?’ — I was asked this regretful question everywhere I went,” he said, noting that he was free to speak frankly days before he leaves office.

Read Jim, Michael and Laura's full piece here

Markets round up: Stocks mixed as Germany dodges recession

It has been an uneasy start to the day for European equities, despite the news that Germany narrowly avoided slipping into recession in the third quarter.

Bourses in London, Frankfurt and Paris all edged down slightly, as stocks struggled for direction, leaving the composite Stoxx Europe 600 0.1 per cent lower.

Equity markets have been unnerved in recent days by comments from Donald Trump in which the US president indicated he was ready to ramp up the trade war with China with the imposition of major new sanctions.

The pound was flat against the dollar at $1.2848 and against the euro at €1.1676.

FT analysis: Parties finalise their candidate line-ups

The deadline for candidate registration is 4pm today. While all eyes are on the Brexit party to see if they will stand down candidates in the tightest Labour-Conservative marginals, we have dug into those selected by the two main parties to examine what sort of MPs will make up the next parliament.

The Tory party’s selection process has been rushed, opaque and confusing for candidates. Yet the officials in charge of the process have broadly fulfilled the wishes of prime minister Boris Johnson to ensure that the next parliamentary party is not a sect dominated by white male hardline Brexiters, Sebastian Payne finds.

In fact, the Tories are set to return their most diverse group of MPs yet. In the seats safely held by the party, there is a broad range of ethnicities, backgrounds, ages and political beliefs among candidates.

Around 40 per cent of candidates are women — compared with 21 per cent of the last parliamentary party. While traditional Conservative professions are dominated by finance and professional services, there are plenty of political advisers and representatives from local government too.

On the Labour side, Jim Pickard reports that the parliamentary party will remain mostly centrist – despite fears from some that Jeremy Corbyn would deselect moderate MPs.

There are 36 vacancies created by sitting MPs either quitting or leaving the party that the Labour party consider winnable. Of the potential successors being lined up, 21 are from the hard left of the party, four from the so-called soft left and 11 from the relative right of the party.

Read more about the candidates who will make up the next parliament here

Brandon Lewis: Russia report will be released after election

A report into Russian influence in UK politics will be released after the election, the minister of state for security has insisted, despite pressure to bring forward its publication.

Speaking on BBC's Radio 4, Brandon Lewis held the government line that the findings of the investigation by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee would not be released until after next month's poll, even as opposition parties have called for voters to be able to see it before they cast their ballots.

His comments come on the heels of former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton this week saying she was "dumbfounded" the report has not yet been released.

But the government has insisted that pre-election "purdah" means documents that may prove controversial cannot be released for the next few weeks.

Mr Lewis said:

This report will be published. Obviously we are in purdah now. These reports as you know go through a process which takes four to six weeks on average over the last couple of years.

We're now in purdah, which will obviously delay that a little bit, but once the election is out of the way, we will publish that report."

McCluskey comments highlight Labour divisions on immigration policy

Jim Pickard reports:

Labour’s tensions over immigration policy have burst into the open once again after an intervention by Len McCluskey, the powerful leader of Unite the Union.

Jeremy Corbyn was put in an awkward position at the party conference in September after delegates effectively voted for open borders: with free movement to continue after Brexit, end to all detention centres and no migration targets.

But many Labour traditionalists believe that policy would be anathema to traditional working class voters.

The issue needs to be resolved ahead of Saturday, when various stakeholders – union leaders, MPs and activists – meet to decide the Labour manifesto for the general election.

Mr McCluskey told the Guardian that he would oppose any attempts to extend free movement.

“We will have to see what’s in the manifesto, but I don’t think [what conference voted for] is a sensible approach and I will be expressing that view,” McCluskey said. He argued that he wanted to shore up the party’s support in marginal seats in the Midlands and north of England being targeted by Boris Johnson.

That prompted a backlash from activists. Alena Ivanova, from the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, said the Unite chief should focus on fighting for the full rights of all workers in the UK.

“A Romanian care worker and a British bus driver have more in common with each other than they do with their boss. That is the basis of the trade union movement,” she said.

“Len MCluskey’s job is to fight for their full rights, for decent pay and the right not to be deported and harassed by the state because of their immigration status.”

Warnings over bleak winter for the NHS

Holding an election in mid-December opens up the possibility of voting taking place against the backdrop of an NHS "winter crisis".

The FT's Bethan Staton reports that the NHS recorded its worst ever performance for accident and emergency waits in October, according to monthly statistics released today, prompting doctors and health charities to warn that the health service could be facing one of its bleakest winters yet.

Only 83.6 per cent of A&E patients were seen within the four-hour target window last month, according to NHS combined performance statistics, leaving some 320,000 waiting for longer.

The official target of 95 per cent of patients seen in four hours has not been met since July 2015.

Dr Rebecca Fisher, a senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said NHS funding had not matched a rising need for care. “The NHS does not have enough staff, or enough equipment, to meet the needs of the population it serves,” she said.

Key targets for planned treatment were also missed, with 76.9 per cent of cancer patients starting treatment in September compared to an 85 per cent target.

Professor John Appleby at the Nuffield Trust, a health charity, said the NHS was on course to see 100,000 trolley waits in the coming months. In October, 80,000 were stuck on trolleys because no beds were available.

These figures show the next Government will immediately be faced with one of the bleakest winters in the NHS’s history.

Liberal Democrats attack Labour over handling of antisemitism

The FT's Laura Hughes writes:

The actor Eddie Marsan is speaking in central London at a Liberal Democrat press conference, in which the party will pledge this to protect worshipers from hate crimes and terror attacks.

Marsan, who has spoken before about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, says he doesn’t believe Jeremy Corbyn is fit to lead the party over his handling of the issue.

“I think you are either anti-Semitic or you are ignorant”, he said.
“Either way that should disqualify you from being Leader of the Labour Party.”

Farage hits out at Tories for lack of 'gratitude' to Brexit party

Nigel Farage lashed out at the Conservative party for "disgraceful" ingratitude over his decision to withdraw Brexit party candidates from Tory-held seats and reiterated his pledge to take on Labour across the country.

The Brexit party leader on Monday opted to pull his candidates out of more than 300 seats won by the Conservatives at the 2017 election. But he has been adamant that he would still contest Labour-held constituencies, despite Tory pressure not to do so in order to avoid splitting the Leave vote next month.

"I had expected a degree of reciprocity from the Conservatives," Mr Farage told an audience of Brexit party members in Hull. "All they’ve tried to do — and they are still doing it as we speak — is to try and use all sorts of tactics to get our people to stand down."

Far from being grateful, what you’ve seen over the last few days is wall to wall abuse from the Conservative party.

He said the party would "fight Labour in every seat in this country" as he looked to paint the party as out of touch and elitist, telling members Jeremy Corbyn's party was "more about Hoxton than about Hull".

Mr Farage has insisted the Brexit party needs to take seats in Westminster in order to hold Boris Johnson to commitments to end the transition period by the end of next year and pursue a Canada-style free trade deal with the EU.

SNP and Labour clash over independence

Labour and the Scottish National party are still trading barbs over a possible second independence referendum.

There was widespread confusion over Labour’s policy yesterday. Jeremy Corbyn initially ruled out a referendum during the first term of a Labour government, but later opened the possibility of approving a vote after 2021 if he becomes prime minister.

This morning the BBC reported that Mr Corbyn said there would not be a referendum “in the first two years”.

Here is Nicola Sturgeon's response to that:

Mr Corbyn had earlier tweeted that: “Just like in 1979, the SNP are willing to usher in another heartless Conservative government,” a reference to the nationalists’ role in the fall of James Callaghan’s government that led to the election of Margaret Thatcher.

Lunchtime markets update

London’s FTSE 100 was 0.3 per cent lower in early afternoon trading, with global stocks under pressure following weak economic data from Germany and China.

Futures trade pointed to a weaker open on Wall Street after the S&P 500 chalked up its 20th record closing high for 2019 on Wednesday.

Sterling was back in a holding pattern: edging a fraction lower against the dollar and flat against the euro.

Martin Wolf: Election promises will hit brutal economic reality

The UK election is a competition in irresponsibility, writes the FT's chief economics commentator Martin Wolf.

The Conservatives promise to take the UK out of the world’s deepest free trade area, though nobody knows quite how and when. Labour is even more obscure on Brexit and outbids the Tories in making expensive, radical and incredible promises, across the board.

Yet the economic realities will not respond to the charms of Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn, as voters may. What are those realities? Four need particular attention: productivity; employment; investment; and the external balance. These realities are linked and impose tight constraints on the true, as opposed to fanciful, choices the UK now faces.

Martin's full opinion piece has just gone live. You can read it in full here.

Labour blames government for 'disgraceful' NHS figures

Labour and the Conservatives have clashed over the health service, after figures showed the NHS recorded its worst ever performance for A&E waits last months.

The statistics have prompted doctors and health charities to warn that the health service could be facing one of its bleakest winters yet.

Labour has focused on the NHS in the early stages of the campaign, and its leader Jeremy Corbyn said the figures were “disgraceful.”

“It is a problem of the lack of staff and the luck of funding for it.”

Mr Corbyn said a Labour government would increase NHS funding by £26bn a year by 2023/2024.

Prime minister Boris Johnson blamed “huge demand” for the NHS’s poor performance. He said Labour’s economic policies would make it “impossible” to fund the health service, in comments reported by the BBC.

Labour has traditionally polled well on the NHS, but will be disturbed by recent data released by YouGov. Asked on who voters would trust more on the NHS, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn were tied on 27 per cent.

Trader Watch: Pricing the election outcomes

Axa Investment Managers, the €757bn asset management arm of insurer Axa, has just sent through a detailed analysis of the election campaign.

Top line: a small Tory majority is the most likely outcome but beware any simple conclusions:

“The interaction of four political parties - with strong and possibly dominant cross-party election goals - makes the assessment of this election more complex than a simple analysis of the swing in political sentiment from left to right.”

Axa forecasts growth of 1.2 per cent next year in the event of a small Conservative majority and Brexit in January, and gilt yields and sterling to rise.

Our central forecast would provide a window of opportunity for the Bank of England to tighten policy in Q3 2020, but on balance we expect policy to remain on hold, with the prospect of rate cuts the following year depending on the global outlook and decisions around a Brexit transition extension.

In contrast, Axa said Brexit under a Labour-led government would likely be more business friendly but that the party's broader economic programme would “create its own significant uncertainties.”

Labour’s radical economic agenda and proposed higher taxation would increase business uncertainty weighing on investment. Moreover, its fiscal programme would likely provide a significant boost to demand, while also raising inflation prospects, Bank Rate, gilt yields and sterling.

Campaigners disrupt Boris Johnson bakery visit

Protests have forced the prime minister to change his plans as he campaigned in Somerset today.

Boris Johnson diverted his campaign after a group of protestors, including activists from Extinction Rebellion, gathered outside a bakery he was due to visit in Glastonbury.

We can't use most of the pictures coming in on the wires thanks to the protestors' slightly colourful language on their placards, but one or two are family-friendly:

The prime minister’s interactions with the public have not gone to script this week, and he was heckled on several separate occasions after visiting flood hit parts of Yorkshire yesterday. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also been confronted, most recently by a pro-independence protestor in Scotland.

Emoticon Candidate nominations now closed

The deadline for registering candidates for the election has just closed. 

While this procedural event often passes largely unnoticed, there is close attention on how many candidates Nigel Farage's Brexit party will put up across the country. 

Mr Farage has so far refused to buckle to intense pressure to pull out of the tightest Labour/Conservative marginals to avoid splitting the 'Leave' vote. Earlier this week the Brexit party said it would give Boris Johnson a clear run in the more than 300 seats the Tories already hold. 

Confirmation on the Brexit party's plans as we get it. 

Brexit party candidate stands aside in key marginal

A Brexit party candidate due to stand in one of the most marginal seats in Britain has unilaterally decided to bow out of the election.

Rupert Lowe said in a tweet:

It is with a heavy heart I have decided not to contest Dudley North as a Brexit Party candidate.

I am putting country before party as it is highly conceivable my candidacy could allow Corbyn’s Momentum candidate to win.

They are simply not fit to govern.

Labour's Ian Austin won Dudley North in 2017 by less than 0.1 per cent of the vote. Mr Austin quit the party this year and has urged voters to back the Tories.

Earlier today The Argus reported that the Brexit party candidate in Hove, which was not a marginal seat at the last election, has also pulled out and endorsed the Conservatives.

It is not yet clear whether this is part of a wider trend or two isolated examples.

Nigel Farage has tweeted this afternoon that a senior Tory aide has offered some Brexit party candidates jobs if they withdraw.

Traders expect sterling volatility into the election

Investors are now expecting swings in the pound in the run up to the general election.

Shifts in the options market, where bets are made on exchange rates, show pricing for sterling volatility has shot up today.

Investor expectations for swings in sterling over the next month have risen more than 50 per cent as the time frame has moved to cover the December 12 election day and its aftermath.

Still, the pound has been largely unmoved by the election campaign thus far, and has settled into a trading range between $1.28 and just under $1.30 over the last two weeks.

Emoticon EU set to sue UK over commissioner row

Jim Brunsden in Brussels writes:

Brussels is set to sue the United Kingdom over Boris Johnson’s refusal to appoint a member of the next European Commission, escalating a dispute with London over the obligations that arise from last month’s Brexit delay.

Brussels will make the move after the UK rejected repeated requests from Ursula von der Leyen, the EU commission’s incoming president, to propose a British member of her team, according to several people familiar with the matter.

Under the EU’s treaties, the commission’s ruling college is supposed to have one member from each EU country, but the British government wrote to Brussels this week to say that the UK could not make a nomination during its period of election purdah.

The commission will launch a formal “infringement procedure” against the UK, a process that in theory could lead to Britain being hauled before the European Court of Justice for refusing to comply.

Ms von der Leyen hopes that her commission will be able to take office on December 1, depending on ongoing parliamentary approval procedures. EU officials said that the infringement procedure was necessary to provide legal cover for the new commission.

Update: The Commission has just confirmed the news:

Polling guru John Curtice offers insights into the election

John Curtice, the polling guru and senior fellow with think-tank The UK in a Changing Europe, gave an election analysis to political journalists at Westminster today.

The FT's Whitehall editor James Blitz has some takeaways:

What Johnson needs to win

If the Conservatives maintain their 10 point lead, it’s highly likely that they will get a majority big enough to allow Mr Johnson to get his Brexit deal ratified. However, given the Tories will lose a fair chunk of their 13 seats in Scotland and some others to the Lib Dems in England, he cannot do much worse than that. “The target lead for the Conservatives is probably around 6-7 points. If it falls below that we are looking at a hung parliament.”

Why Scotland matters

What happens in Scotland has become fundamental to British politics. Until 2010, pollsters could ignore Scotland because Labour would win 40 seats north of the border and that was that.

“But,” says Sir John,” the chances of Labour winning a majority (in the Commons) are frankly as close to zero as we can safely say, given they are utterly incapable of winning anything in Scotland.”

The red wall is not what it seems

To guarantee a majority, the Conservatives need to win Labour-held seats in the north of England in what is called the “Red Wall”. But Sir John notes that, at the last election in 2017, there was already a big swing by leave voters towards the Conservatives in many of these seats, such as Bishop Auckland and Workington.

So the challenge for the Tories is not to win over more Labour voters: “They already have those voters.” Instead, what’s interesting is that in these seats some 60 per cent of Labour voters voted Remain at the 2016 referendum.

In Sir John’s view, the critical issue now is how many of these Labour voters swing to the Liberal Democrats. If they do, that could reduce Labour’s vote share and allow the Conservatives to come through and win in any seats.

You can read more details from Sir John's talk in today's Brexit Briefing.

Emoticon Brexit party is standing in key marginals

Local authorities have now published details of which candidates are standing in each seat in the UK.

Early indications are that the Brexit party has fielded candidates in the key Labour/Conservative marginals.

Local authority information shows that the party has put up candidates in battleground constituencies including Newcastle-under-Lyme, Crewe and Nantwich and Barrow and Furness.

Interestingly, there is no Brexit party candidate in the ultra-marginal seat of Canterbury though.

If you want to look through the data yourself, Democracy Club has crowdsourced links to each local authority.

Farage claims Tories offered peerages in bid to woo Brexit party

Laura Hughes and George Parker

Nigel Farage claimed allies of Boris Johnson had offered eight peerages to Brexit party supporters, in a desperate last-minute attempt to persuade the Eurosceptic group not to field parliamentary candidates at the election in key Labour seats.

The Brexit party leader said Britain was becoming “like Venezuela” and that figures “deep inside Downing Street” had launched an extraordinary bid to persuade his group to stand down its candidates to avoid splitting the Leave vote.

Mr Johnson is targeting Labour seats in the north of England and the Midlands to secure a House of Commons majority at the election.

But Mr Farage is insisting on fielding Brexit party candidates in these seats, in a move that could enable Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to hold onto the constituencies.

Mr Farage said that he had turned down repeated offers of a place in the House of Lords by unnamed Tories, but that a Downing Street operation had then tried to dangle peerages in front other “senior figures” in the Brexit party.

“It was suggested that eight of them could go to the House of Lords,” Mr Farage said in a video. “All they had to do was come to Nigel and convince him to stand down in a whole load more marginal seats.”

In a tweet, Mr Farage claimed the prime minister’s chief of staff Edward Lister had called Brexit party candidates to offer them jobs if they did not stand in seats that are Tory targets.

A Conservative spokesman said:

"Neither the Conservative party, nor its officials have offered Brexit Party candidates jobs or peerages - we don't do electoral pacts."

An official added: "Nigel can't deliver Brexit, but he could end up blocking it. His outburst is a result of this fact dawning on him"

That's all for this evening

We are closing down for now, do check back in to the FT website through the evening for the latest stories from the election campaign and elsewhere.

For now though, let's close with the latest election video from the FT as Robert Shrimsley and Miranda Green reunite with their pens and paper to map out how Brexit's Leave and Remain alliances are shaping the election. 

See you tomorrow morning from 7am.

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