100 Days To Go Until 2015 General Election

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Tuesday marks 100 days until the general election. And with leaders of all seven parties (that’s the three main ones plus Ukip, the Green Party, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru) expected to take part in television debates, this is likely to be one of the closest General Elections in modern history.

Experts are uncertain not only about which party is likely to come out with most seats on May 7, but even about whether a viable coalition will be there to be formed.

The failure of either of the two big parties to establish any kind of a lead, the polling collapse of the Liberal Democrats and the surge in support for Ukip, the Scottish National Party and the Greens have combined to make the 2015 poll less of a two-horse race to the winning line and more like a kind of random government generator.

A continuation of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition? A Labour-Lib Dem pact? An arrangement between Conservatives, Ukip and Ulster MPs? A deal under which a minority Labour administration survives with support from Scottish and Welsh nationalists, Liberals or Greens on a vote-by-vote basis? None of these is too far-fetched to be contemplated. Some more fanciful Westminster brains have even speculated over a Tory-Labour “grand coalition”, which may stretch the bounds of credibility a touch too far.

Nottingham University professor of politics Philip Cowley said: “It’s not true to say that it’s the first election which we have expected to produce a hung Parliament – but it is the first election in living memory where we expect the outcome to be as messy as it might be, with it being quite possible that a combination of the first and third placed parties will not be able to form a coalition. It’s also quite possible that we will end up with no truly ‘national’ party after the dust has settled.”

The vagaries of the UK electoral system mean Labour could win the most seats with fewer votes than Tories, while Ukip could scoop up around a fifth of national support and have only a handful of MPs to show for it. Labour could suffer a bloodbath in Scottish strongholds at the hands of an SNP which has seemed invigorated by defeat in the independence referendum.

For once, first-past-the-post favours the Lib Dems, who could become kingmakers even if they trail in fifth in the polls, thanks to the incumbency factor which seems to favour their sitting MPs. It is quite possible that the eurosceptic Conservatives and Ukip could between them secure more than 50% of the vote, but the result could be a pro-EU Labour-Lib Dem coalition.

Election expert Professor Richard Rose of Strathclyde University said: “Asking which party is ahead in the public opinion polls is meaningless in this close-fought election because seats in the House of Commons are awarded at the constituency level, not the national level.”

Instead, the result could depend on the scale of Lib Dem losses, with Tories reaping most of the benefits if Nick Clegg’s party loses MPs because they are in second place in more “yellow” constituencies, he suggested.

What does seem far-fetched is the prospect that either David Cameron or Ed Miliband will be able to settle down in 10 Downing Street on the morning of May 8 with the confidence that a solid majority in the House of Commons will enable them to implement their manifesto in full.

And yet this uncertainty comes at a time when the result of the election matters more than is often the case.

Despite the regular moan that politicians are “all the same”, the 2015 election presents voters with a change from the usual fight for the centre-ground.

While Mr Miliband promises to take on the forces of “predatory” capitalism, Chancellor George Osborne has set out plans for spending cuts which the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests could amount to a “fundamental reimagining of the role of the state”.

IFS director Paul Johnson judges the disparity between the two main parties’ economic plans to be the widest for many years, with spending cuts of at least £33 billion after 2015/16 under the Tories, compared to £7 billion with Labour, which he says has left itself leeway to borrow up to £50 billion more by 2020 at the cost of building up debt.

And of course, the result in May will determine whether Britain takes the momentous step of voting on its future membership of the European Union, with Tories promising an in/out referendum in 2017 whose result would have consequences for generations to come.

Parliament is not set to dissolve until the end of March, when party manifestos will be published and the battle-bus tours get under way. But in reality, the campaign is already in full swing, with the New Year marked by a blitz of speeches and policy announcements.

Voters can expect to hear Tory ministers intoning the words “long-term economic plan” with metronomic monotony over the coming weeks, while Labour spokesmen endlessly repeat their pledge to build “a Britain that works for you, not just the powerful few”.

Conservatives have named their six key election themes as the economy, jobs, taxes, education, housing and retirement, while Labour will take every opportunity to shift the debate onto the NHS and public services. Both may struggle to prevent Nigel Farage from dominating the headlines with his populist message on Europe and immigration.

Meanwhile, Mr Clegg will position Liberal Democrats as a restraining influence on whoever is in the best position to form a coalition after the election, offering a “stronger economy” than would be delivered by Labour governing alone and a “fairer society” than the Tories would create left to themselves.

With proposals for as many as seven parties to feature in the televised leaders’ debates expected to punctuate the campaign, 2015 is shaping up to be the first truly multi-party election, with the prospect of a patchwork parliament replacing the traditional serried ranks of blue and red.

The complexity of the likely result could mean weeks of horse-trading to forge a coalition or a “supply and confidence” agreement allowing a minority government to get its Queen’s Speech and Budget through the Commons.

Constitutional convention is that the existing PM stays in office until it becomes clear who is in a position to form a new administration, and Whitehall mandarins are now considering how best to keep the business of government going during this potentially lengthy period – and what to do if no stable government can be formed and the UK is plunged straight into a second election for the first time since 1974.

Cath Haddon, of the Institute for Government, said: “Events in May will test not only our democratic system, but also the constitutional guidance that exists around elections in this country.

“We already know what happens during an election campaign, so what we need greater clarity on is what happens between an inconclusive result and the formation of a new administration – the ‘caretaker period’.

“Government, Whitehall and Parliament should be thinking ahead now about whether the conventions for a caretaker government are clear on what role it plays and how long it should stay in government. With so much uncertainty in this election, it is important to reduce confusion in this area.”

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdallah Dies Aged 90

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King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has died aged 90 after a short illness, state television announced late on Thursday. He has been succeeded by Crown Prince Salman, his half-brother.

The news came after the king was admitted to hospital on 31 December suffering from pneumonia. His condition was said to have improved a few days later. He is to be buried on Friday afternoon.

Premier League Clubs Begin Banning Selfie Sticks

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Selfie sticks have rapidly become one of the most divisive pieces of tech on the market. Many people have jumped on the bandwagon, loving the extra quality vanity shots, but equally as many folk have been left cringing and gagging on the side-lines.

It seems that the biggest concern might not be how much of a pillock you look whilst using one though, as several Premier League football clubs have moved to ban them from their stadiums because of security concerns.

The sticks, which basically resemble a collapsible truncheon when not in use, are being outlawed because it occurred to security personnel that they could be used as, well, a truncheon, and when clubs have been forced to ban virtually everything from their terraces because of nitwits whacking each other with them, this was always going to happen.

Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur were the first clubs to legislate against them. A spokesperson for Arsenal was quoted in the New Journal as saying: “We can confirm that ‘selfie sticks’ are banned on match days at Emirates Stadium. The club’s ground regulations prohibit any object that could be used as a weapon or could compromise public safety.”

Shortly after, Tottenham Hotspur’s stance was made public after Twitter user @LiamCSWY shared his concerns in an email to their customer care team, and received a reply, which stated in no uncertain terms that: “Upon review, selfie sticks have now been banned from entering White Hart Lane. All stewards will be briefed prior to the next home fixture.”

This wouldn’t be the first time a form of technology has been deemed too dangerous to be taken to matches; in 2013, the powers-that-be at Manchester United decided that laptops and tablet PCs had the potential to be used for hiding explosives, leading them to state that no tech bigger than a mobile phone or camera would be permitted inside Old Trafford from that point on.

We can’t imagine it will be long before other clubs, or indeed other public arenas, take the same stance on these Wands of Narcissus, making us wonder if selfie sticks are even worth the investment. Sure, they give us a slightly wider angle when posing for a picture, but are they really worth all the added aggro?

Land Rover Launches Three Anniversary Edition Defenders

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As a swan song for the original 4X4, which celebrates its 68th and final year in production in 2015, LAND ROVER has announced three special limited edition models of the Defender.

The original plan, according to Land Rover Vehicle Line Director Nick Rogers, was to design and build a single, limited edition anniversary model of the iconic car to mark the occasion, but coming up with a single identity or theme for the model proved impossible: “So we developed three very different interpretations of the Defender to reflect its strength and breadth of character. Whether our customers want to celebrate Land Rover’s unrivalled off-road heritage, demand the ultimate in terms of design and performance or have a genuine thirst for adventure, there will be a limited edition Defender that will be fit for purpose.”

Therefore, the Autobiography Edition is all about creature comforts. Based only on the smallest wheelbase Defender 90 Station wagon, it gets a full Windsor leather interior and pretty much everything that the company offers as an optional cabin equipment extra as standard. The diesel engine has also been tuned to deliver 150PS instead of the usual 122PS and the finishing touch is a custom two-tone exterior paint finish.

The Heritage Edition incorporates exterior design features from Land Rovers of old, including a retro reimagining of the front grille. It also gets a coat of iconic Grasmere Green paintwork and a contrasting white roof and the effect is completed with HUE 166 graphics, a nod to the number plate on the original pre-production Land Rover.

The final special edition, the Adventure Edition, is optimized for those that really want to take the road less traveled. It has additional underbody shielding to protect it when it drives over the most unforgiving terrain as well as Goodyear MT/R tires for even better grip. The cabin also benefits from leather trim so it will be easier to wipe the mud of.

Luxury Car Brand Sales Hit Record Levels In 2014

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German automakers BMW and Mercedes said Friday they attained record sales in 2014, their fourth in a row, driven by rising demand in all regions.

BMW said in a statement it delivered more than two million vehicles to customers in 2014, “the company’s fourth record year in a row.”

It said it sold a total 2.118 million BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce vehicles, 7.9% more than the year before.

“I am delighted that we achieved our target of selling more than two million vehicles in 2014, a new record for the BMW group. We have seen good growth throughout the year, well spread across all major sales regions,” said the group’s sales and marketing chief Ian Robertson.

“We are now looking forward to building on these successes in 2015.”

Separately, MERCEDES-BENZ, which is owned by Daimler, also posted the “best-ever sales in the company’s history.”

Sales of Mercedes-Benz rose by 12.9% to 1.65 million, its fourth straight year of record demand.

“Mercedes-Benz is on a course of success. The best sales in our company’s history show that our product offensive is bearing fruit,” said chief executive Dieter Zetsche.

He attributed the group’s success “in particular to our compact cars, the new C-Class and the S-Class.”

But the group managed to increase grow unit sales in all core markets, Zetsche said. ”In 2015, we will continue our product offensive in the SUV (sports utility vehicle) segment,” the CEO added.

CES 2015 Countdown: The Best Mobile Tech Launching January 2015

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What is CES 2015?

The Consumer Electronics Show, or good ol’ CES for short, is an annual event that hits Vegas every new year. The biggest global tech firms usually launch their latest phones, tablets, TVs, smartwatches, gadgets, electronic toothbrushes and anything else techy that you’d expect to see on the high street.

When is CES 2015?

In 2015, the Consumer Electronics Show kicks off on Monday January 5th with a bunch of massive launches from the likes of Sony, Samsung and Asus. CES then runs for the rest of the week, with thousands of journos from all over the world cramming themselves into the sweaty, heaving halls of the Las Vegas Convention Centre to get hands-on time with all the sexy new tech.

So what will we see at CES this year?

We’ll see some slick and super-powerful new phones and tablets launched at the expo, but we’re expecting this year’s CES to be mostly about consumer accessories and wearables. The likes of the Apple Watch and Samsung’s Gear range have massively ignited interest in smart devices that you strap to your body and we’re expecting the little buggers to be massively popular in 2015 – even if we aren’t too keen on them just yet. Check out our Five Reasons We Hate Wearables feature.

Here’s a run-down of the biggest manufacturers that will appear at CES 2015, and what we expect to see from them…

Sony

On January 5th at 5pm Vegas time (midnight UK time), Sony will likely launch its next big flagship phone, the Xperia Z4, alongside new cameras and 4K UHD TVs. The Xperia Z4 is expected to be Sony’s best Xperia smartphone yet, packing all-new camera tech and the usual gorgeous Sony design – check out our full Xperia Z4 preview for more.

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Sadly we most likely won’t be seeing the Xperia Z4 Compact, a more dinky version of the flagship. We’re also unlikely to see the Xperia Z4 Ultra, a massive phablet model that will probably be big enough to batter a human to death. Those handsets will likely emerge at MWC 2015 in March time instead.

Samsung

Samsung’s CES 2015 event kicks off on January 5th at 2pm Vegas time (9pm UK time).

We’d be shocked to see Samsung’s new flagship phone, the Galaxy S6, emerge at CES 2015 – expect that bad boy to be launched in March at a separate ‘Unpacked’ event of Samsung’s own creation. Instead, we’re banking on the slim Galaxy A7 to be made public. This gorgeous metallic phone boasts a seriously slim design and yet still packs in some strong specs, to tide us over until the main event in March.

Samsung’s major CES focus will likely be its 4K UHD TV range, however, so expect a lot more ridiculously huge, room-filling curvy displays. And could we possibly see a pointlessly flexible TV emerge?

HTC

Word is that HTC will unveil a mysterious new wearable at CES 2015, which apparently will be unlike anything we’ve seen before. Highly intriguing stuff and we can’t wait to see what’s on offer. Considering we’ve seen all manner of random wearables this year, we can’t even imagine what this could be.

Asus

Asus’ CES 2015 launch takes place on January 5th at 11am Vegas time (6pm UK time). We’d be shocked if we didn’t see a lot more innovative tech, including new tablets that turn into laptops, phones that turn into tablets and lord only knows what else.

Nvidia

Nvidia is jumping the gun on everyone else with a huge launch at 8pm Vegas time (3am UK time) on Sunday 4th. However, while we expect them to big up the Shield Tablet and the awesome new GRID game streaming service, the main focus will be auto tech.

Last year, we saw some really smart stuff from Nvidia including a self-driving car, so we can’t wait to see what these guys come up with in 2015.

LG, Huawei

We’ve heard very little from LG in the run-up to CES 2015, while Huawei no new mobile kit will be unveiled at the expo. We’d be surprised if LG didn’t sneak out a bit of new tech however, most likely some lovely new TVs.