7.45pm Gazette: Downing Street confirms Andrew Cooper as Director of Political Strategy

7.15pm Seats and candidates: Conservatives spent £39,432 in Oldham, less than Lab £97,085, LDs £94,540, UKIP £43,855

6.15pm ToryDiary: Good week for Eric Pickles, Andrew Turner and, yes, Caroline Spelman

5.30pm Local government: Ken Livingstone attacks Boris for meeting bankers

4.45pm LeftWatch: Is Andy Burnham defying Ed Miliband or misleading the public?

4pm ToryDiary: Gove isn't the 'heir to Blair' but the heir to Ken Baker

Picture 133pm WATCH: Nick Clegg and David Cameron argue for and against changing the electoral system

2pm ToryDiary: Conservatives gain 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, TWENTY new MPs

1.15pm George Freeman MP on Comment: There is such a thing as a modern growth strategy – It's just not the same as the failed industrial activism of the past

12.30pm WATCH: Ann Widdecombe dances with Lord Mandelson at a charity event 

Noon George Eustice MP on Comment: Is First Past the Post really unfair to Lib Dems?

Picture 311.30am ToryDiary: Lord Heseltine tries to rewrite history over Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands

11.15am Local Government: How to cut library spending without cutting libraries

11am Alex Deane on Comment: The Lib Dems – no promises on Coalition, at or after the next election

9.45am Local Government: Yesterday's council by-election results

9.30am Local Government: More Lib Dem councillors quit

ToryDiary: David Cameron warns that under AV Gordon Brown might still be Prime Minister today

Parliament: An audit of rebelliousness on the Tory backbenches since Christmas

MAUDE FRANCIS 2 Francis Maude MP in Comment: National Citizen Service will teach our teenagers about socal responsibility and help bring Britain back together

Also in Comment: Charles Tannock MEP: It's time to ask whether the UK should remain a member of the Council of Europe

Local Government:

Seats and Candidates: Matt Smith selected to contest Cardiff Central at Welsh Assembly election

Cameron is "cleared to defy Europe on human rights"

Prisoners votes "Britain would escape serious sanction if David Cameron defied demands by a European human rights court to give prisoners the vote, according to confidential government legal advice shown to The Times. An eight-page leaked document prepared for Nick Clegg makes clear that the Strasbourg court is only able to put “political rather than judicial” pressure on Britain, meaning the Government can ignore demands by prisoners for compensation." – The Times (£)

  • High Court to rule on attempt to block compensation bid by prisoners barred from voting at the general election. – Press Association

Caroline Spelman confirms forest sell-off has been abandoned

"Caroline Spelman was forced to issue a humiliating apology in the House of Commons yesterday as she confirmed a U-turn on controversial plans to privatise England’s forests. Taking full responsibility for the fiasco, the Environment Secretary was forced to tell MPs: ‘I am sorry, we got this one wrong’." – Daily Mail

  • Forest sell-off U-turn is a victory for people power – David Babbs in The Guardian

> Yesterday in Parliament: Caroline Spelman formally cancels the forest sell-off consultation: "I am sorry. We got this one wrong."

> WATCH: Caroline Spelman's dignified statement on forests to the Commons

The Right-wing press gives the Welfare Reform Bill a warm welcome…

"The Coalition’s Welfare Reform Bill, published yesterday, at long last confronts a wasteful and corrupt benefit system that has turned welfare dependency into what George Osborne, the Chancellor, has memorably described as “a lifestyle choice”… However, a Government that is earning an unwelcome reputation for U-turns must stiffen its sinews… Mr Cameron must stand firm: this is one battle the Coalition, and the country, cannot afford to lose." – Daily Telegraph editorial

"The enactment of this Bill cannot come soon enough with its sanctions against those who turn down jobs, its cap on benefits and its tax breaks which will allow people to keep more of what they earn. No doubt the devil (and the compromises) will be in the detail. But it is a welcome move and a good start." – Express editorial

SUN-SAYS "The Coalition deserves credit for confronting one of the evils of this age. Welfare Secretary Iain Duncan Smith will be remembered as the architect of a revolution aimed at restoring self-respect to millions stuck in the benefits rut. His new universal credit, replacing Labour's crazy tangle of handouts, simplifies welfare at a stroke… The Coalition is being brave and bold. Now let it be as brave and bold with those pesky European judges." – The Sun Says

…but, unsurprisingly, the Left aren't convinced

"David Cameron trampled on the lives of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people yesterday with the most ruthless overhaul of the welfare system in more than 60 years." – Daily Mirror

"The entire bill is underpinned by a recasting of the rules on indexation, which will steadily make the poor poorer. Instead of being pegged to the total cost of living, benefits will in future be pegged to the cost of shopping, thereby stripping the rising price of keeping a roof over one's head out of the general calculation – and at just the same moment that housing benefit is being cut back." – Guardian editorial

  • These welfare reforms won't end our costly sick-note culture – Mary Dejevsky in The Independent

> Yesterday's ToryDiary: Government unveils the most radical welfare shake-up for 60 years as David Cameron pledges to "make work pay"

> WATCH: The Prime Minister summarises the thinking behind the Government's plans and explains how those who work will reap the rewards

Tory Right lobby against ex-party chairman Lord Patten getting BBC post

PATTEN Chris "The culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has interviewed candidates for the job of BBC Trust chair and is understood to have submitted the name of his preferred candidate to the prime minister, as rightwing Conservative backbenchers mount a rearguard action to stop Lord Patten from getting the job… David Cameron will have to decide who takes the position in the coming days, with former CBI director general Sir Richard Lambert also in the running, while Dame Patricia Hodgson, the principal of Newham College, is hoping that Conservative backbench support could yet propel her into the role." – The Guardian

Coalition 'lacks growth strategy', warns Business, Innovation and Skills Committee

"In a stark warning to the Coalition about its marshalling of the economy, the Business, Innovation and Skills [BIS] Committee claimed there is a "worrying gap" between the Government's ambition for growth and its policies to achieve it. "The focus on economic growth is welcome but warm words and aspirations are not enough," said Adrian Bailey, chair of the committee. "Unless the [Government] develops detailed plans to help industry then this positive message will mean little to UK businesses." – Daily Telegraph

> Recent ConHome Comment on growth:

Peter Oborne: Cameron's Big Society ambition is magnificent

OBORNE "I do not deny that there are problems with the Big Society. They concern implementation, explanation, and very worrying structural flaws. But the ambition is magnificent. David Cameron has set out to restore pride, duty, reciprocity, independence and civic obligation to Britain – and he has embarked on this mission with exemplary vigour and enthusiasm." – Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph

Liam Fox risks Lib-Dem backlash with steel order for new nuclear sub

"Liam Fox is to order the steel for the first new nuclear deterrent submarine – despite the Liberal Democrats winning a delay to the formal decision on replacing Trident until after the next election. The Defence Secretary insisted that the super-strength metal for the submarine hull had to be ordered in the next few years to ensure it was ready in time to continue as Britain's nuclear deterrent." – Yesterday's Evening Standard

Michael Gove launches defence of faith schools

"Michael Gove has launched a passionate defence of faith schools, telling them they can avoid "unsympathetic meddling" from secularists by becoming academies. Writing in this week's Catholic Herald, the education secretary praised Catholic schools and attributed their strong academic performance to their religious ethos." – The Guardian

  • Secularists claim Government is breaking EU law with academies – Press Association

Hague expresses concern over Bahrain violence

William Hague serious square "The UK has expressed its concern over the violence which has taken place in Bahrain, the foreign secretary says… Mr Hague said he did not believe any UK nationals had been caught up in the violence in Bahrain. "We have conveyed our concern about these events and the level of violence to the government of Bahrain," Mr Hague said. "We are greatly concerned about the deaths that have occurred. I have this morning spoken to the foreign minister of Bahrain and our ambassador spoke last night to the minister of the interior. In both cases we stressed the need for peaceful action to address the concerns of protesters, the importance of respect for the right to peaceful protest and for freedom of expression." – BBC

Jeremy Warner: Why Angela Merkel and David Cameron see eye to eye

"Since becoming Prime Minister, Mr Cameron has formed the closest of bonds with his German counterpart; they seem to agree on almost everything, from fiscal austerity to the perils of multi-culturalism. Bizarrely for a British prime minister, Mr Cameron finds himself more closely aligned with the German view than that of his opposite number in the United States. A new special relationship seems to be in the making." – Jeremy Warner in the Daily Telegraph

A third candidate is expected to stand for leadership of European Conservatives and Reformists in Brussels

European Conservatives and Reformists logo "Professor Ryszard Legutko has been chosen by MEPs of Poland's Law and Justice party to stand for the chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), the Tories' anti-federalist group in the European parliament… The leadership election is due to take place on 8 March and is expected to be close run. Legutko will stand against the British MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, Timothy Kirkhope, and a Czech MEP, Jan Zahradil." – The Guardian

Balls warns BoE Governor to leave the "political arena"

"Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, has criticised Mervyn King, Bank of England governor, saying he should step out of the political arena and stop tying his credibility to the coalition’s “extreme” deficit-reduction plans… “The last thing you ever want is for the Bank of England to be drawn into the political arena,” said Mr Balls, one of the architects of Labour’s plan in the 1990s to give the Bank its independence. “Central bank governors have to be very careful about tying themselves too closely to fiscal strategies, especially when they are extreme and are making their job on monetary policy more complicated.” – FT (£)

Political news in brief

  • Tory councillor is member of notorious biker gang – Sky News
  • Badger cull decision faces delay – BBC
  • Obama to make State Visit to UK in May – Daily Express
  • UK Fuel Prices Soar To A Record High – Sky News
  • UK government offers Holyrood five-year terms – BBC

And finally… Belgians strip to mark world record for not having a government

Picture 14 "What would be a humiliation for many turned into a party for Belgium on Thursday as the country's citizens marked 249 days without a government, a figure that they are treating as a world record in political waffling… About 50 people, most students, stripped to their underwear in the northern city of Ghent and stood to form the word 'unity', fuelled by shots of Dutch gin to keep warm. "There's an expression in Dutch to be naked and meaning to make a fool of oneself. Nothing has happened, the politicians have negotiated for 249 days and it is still a stalemate so they are making fools of themselves." said co-organiser Jouwe Vanhoutteghem, a masters student at Ghent University." – Daily Telegraph

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