6.45pm WATCH: As the Lib Dems prepare to gather in Sheffield for their spring conference, Nick Clegg says his party needs to hold its nerve

4.30pm WATCH: After chairing a meeting of Cobra, William Hague says the UK is preparing to send aid to earthquake-hit Japan

3pm Jonathan Isaby on Comment: Now Lib Dems blast their party leadership over "dismal" Barnsley campaign

Picture 151pm WATCH: David Cameron sends his condolences to the people of Japan

12.45pm Local Government: Council by-election results from yesterday

12.30pm ToryDiary: William Hague and David Cameron pledge to assist the people of Japan affected by today's earthquake

11am Chris Skidmore MP on Comment: Historians warn that AV would break the precious principle of One Man, One Vote

10.45am Local Government: Barbara Windsor signs up to become Boris’s ‘Street Party Champion’

ToryDiary: The Coalition cannot defeat the incompetence narrative. They must find a superior story for the government.

Also on ToryDiary: The quietly impressive rise of Theresa May and Rule change eases the way for Coalition candidates

Alex Deane on Comment: Why I won't be completing the Census

Also on Comment, Robert Halfon MP writes: My father thinks he shook hands with Colonel Gaddafi

Local Government:

Bernard Jenkin 2011 wide Parliament: Bernard Jenkin explains why he wants to see a reduction in the size of the Government and the number of PPSs

International: The Wisconsin Assembly votes to limit collective bargaining rights of public sector unions

Gazette: The Young Britons’ Foundation holds its 2011 Parliamentary Rally

WATCH: Sir John Major tells Sky News the events sweeping the Middle East are as important at the break-up of the Soviet Union

Cameron and Sarkozy urge EU allies to be ready for 'all contingencies' in Libya

David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy Downing Stree "David Cameron, the Prime Minister, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, have written a joint letter to European allies, urging them to be ready for "all possible contingencies" in Libya, including the possible imposition of a no-fly zone to prevent air attacks by dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The letter, on the eve of an emergency summit of European Union leaders in Brussels, condemned the Libyan authorities use of airpower in attacks on their own people as "unacceptable". And Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy called on the EU to unite in calling for Gaddafi to go, arguing that his regime has "lost any legitimacy it may have once had". – Daily Telegraph

  • Full text of the Cameron/Sarkozy letter – The Guardian
  • EU prepares Gaddafi quit ultimatum – Press Association
  • Prestige of EU and Nato will be lost if Gaddafi clings to power, says Sir John Major – Daily Telegraph

> Mark Pritchard MP on Comment yesterday: The Libyan people should not be left defenceless in pursuit of freedom

David Cameron’s strategy for avoiding EU trouble falls foul of events

"Today’s parliamentary Conservative Party is the most sceptical ever. The 2010 intake, in particular, “just find Europe nauseating”, says an MP, himself deeply Eurosceptic. Most newspapers are implacably hostile. To appease such forces while avoiding rifts inside the coalition, Mr Cameron’s government has ended up in a defensive crouch. Fatally, European decisions end up being judged against the sole yardstick of sovereignty, rather than that of Britain’s interests. Ministers are worried and should be. Tory MPs, the press and voters already imagine Britain to be powerless in the face of EU diktats. Now Britain risks a real loss of influence—and the government is unwilling to do very much about it." – The Economist

We won't repeat Labour's mistake of allowing new EU citizens the right to work immediately in UK, vows Immigration Minister

Damian Green 2010 2 "The ‘mistake’ of giving  millions of new EU citizens immediate rights to work in Britain will not be repeated, Damian Green vowed last night. The immigration minister said the toughest possible restrictions – normally a seven-year ban on taking a job – would apply to nations trying to join the union. They include Turkey, Croatia, Iceland, Macedonia and Montenegro… Mr Green told the Mail: ‘This Government will push for stringent controls to stop workers from new member states from being able to access our labour market – we will not repeat the mistakes of the past." – Daily Mail

Cameron faces backbench pay revolt

"David Cameron faces a backbench revolt two days before this month's Budget when MPs are asked to freeze their salaries for up to two years. The Prime Minister has been warned that a Government motion for MPs to forgo their recommended 1% pay rise this year will face opposition when it comes before the Commons on March 21… Tory backbencher Mark Field said there would be strong opposition to the Government's motion on March 21. "Many of us feel that the idea of getting an independent review on these things is that it should be an independent review," he said." – The Independent

Nick Clegg: No regrets, no remorse, no turning back on the path he has chosen…

Picture 9 "Nick Clegg has told his anxious party to "hold its nerve" as he trumpeted a long list of government policies he claimed the Conservatives would not have brought in unless they were in coalition with the Liberal Democrats… The Liberal Democrat leader signalled a new phase in the Coalition in which he and Mr Cameron will not always use the same language to promote the Government's policies, allowing the two parties to explain to their activists and the public that they are implementing their own values. He revealed that he told Mr Cameron he was talking "complete bilge" as he sat next to him at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, after he defended the current first-past-the-post system." – The Independent

…but the Lib Dem rank and file are restless

"Liberal Democrat ministers will be lambasted by a restless rank and file this weekend for failing to go far enough in attacking Britain’s banks. Party members, desperate to see Nick Clegg distance his party from the Conservatives, have put forward an emergency motion attacking bankers at the spring conference in Sheffield. The event, being held close to Mr Clegg’s own constituency, is expected to attract 10,000 protesters. Police are erecting a £2 million “ring of steel” around City Hall amid claims that the Lib Dem leader is at risk of kidnap." – The Times (£)

  • This is an opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to show that they are not crypto-Conservatives – Independent editorial

Lib Dem minister proposes concessions over foundation hospitals in health bill…

"Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat health minister who is facing a possible revolt at his party conference this weekend over the health shake-up, has offered concessions by promising that foundation hospitals can be made more accountable to elected health bodies." – The Guardian

…as Andrew Lansley seeks to dispel myths that have arisen over the Government's NHS plans

"This government is committed to protecting and modernising the National Health Service (NHS). But as we do this, some myths have been propagated that I would like to dispel. The first myth is that we are cutting the NHS budget. The opposite is true. At a time when we are acting decisively to reduce the deficit, we will increase spending on the NHS by £10.7bn over this Parliament." – Andrew Lansley in Total Politics

  • Doctors seek BMA no confidence vote in Lansley – The Guardian

Peter Oborne: William Hague isn’t bad at his job – he’s the victim of a smear campaign

William Hague serious 2011 "The critics claim that he has lost interest in his job, and that as a result he has made a series of mistakes. In particular, they say, the crisis in the Middle East has been grotesquely mishandled. Some say Hague’s finished. Sometimes, when the sharks circle, there really has been gross negligence, lying or deceit. But I don’t believe that this is the case with Hague. On the contrary, I believe that he has handled recent events reasonably well." – Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph

Ministers "determined" to crush union revolt over changes to public sector pensions

"Union chiefs yesterday warned that millions of workers in the public services, including teachers, nurses and firefighters, will walk out in a series of coordinated strikes designed to wreck the proposals… Fury among union bosses erupted afte publication of a Government- commissioned report from pensions adviser Lord Hutton… Chancellor George Osborne was considering the proposals last night. But Whitehall insiders insisted ministers will not be intimidated by union threats. One source said: “We are looking at this issue calmly and with clear heads. It has been ignored for years under Labour. But the plain fact is that public-sector pensions are unaffordable and unsustainable in their present form.” – Daily Express

  • A cleverly designed package of reforms will still arouse the unions’ ire – The Economist
  • Simon Jenkins: Those who've flunked pensions reform for 40 years can hardly complain now – The Guardian

> Yesterday's ToryDiary: The death knell is sounded for final salary public sector pensions

Lord Patten: I won't quit Tories when I take BBC Trust job

PATTEN Chris "Lord Patten, the chairman-designate of the BBC Trust, told MPs yesterday that he would not resign his membership of the Conservative party or cease his paid advisory work for BP once he starts in the £110,000-a-year job at the top of Britain's public broadcaster. The peer and former Conservative cabinet member – who also admitted that he "hardly watches television" and complained that BBC bosses wanted to paid as much as "bankers from Barclays" – did say he would stop taking the Conservative whip in the Lords." – The Guardian

Richard Littlejohn slams the BBC's cuts overage

"You can’t turn on the BBC without being force-fed lurid details of the apocalypse about to befall us because of the Coalition’s attempts to tackle the massive budget deficit bequeathed by the last government. If you believe everything you hear on the Beeb, by this time next year there won’t be a hospital left open in Britain, the schools will all have been boarded up and the streets will be overrun with old age pensioners begging for a crust after being evicted from their council day centres — probably at gunpoint." – Daily Mail

Laura Kuenssberg identifies a new group of Tory MPs – "The Forty"

"What do a former army officer, a successful "chick lit" novelist, a former adviser to the Queen and a trained classical singer have in common? They are all Conservative MPs and they are also members of their party's newest campaigning group at Westminster. The Forty as they are calling themselves, are the party's MPs with the narrowest of majorities – 18 of them won their seats with margins of less than 1,000." – BBC

Historians say AV poses threat to democracy…

NO2AV logo "A change to Britain’s voting system would threaten the principle on which democracy is built for the first time since universal suffrage was granted, a group of 26 prominent historians warn today. The group which has written to The Times today warns that the Alternative Vote system will destroy the notion of “one man or woman, one vote”. Professor Antony Beevor, Dr Amanda Foreman, Professor Niall Ferguson, Simon Sebag Montefiore and Dr David Starkey are among the high-profile signatories." – The Times (£)

…as Lord Owen and other peers say "No to AV, Yes to PR"

"Once changed, a new voting system has to be tested over a substantial period of time – otherwise it will destabilise our political system and encourage cynical attempts to change the system for reasons of partisan advantage. In the light of that conclusion, based on the fundamental need for stability in constitutional reform, we will reluctantly vote no to the alternative vote, while continuing to campaign for the principles behind proportional representation under the slogan "No to AV, Yes to PR".  – Letter in The Guardian from Lords Owen, Alton, Skidelsky and Trench and the Bishop of Blackburn

Huhne's call for the "Europeanisation" of British politics

"Chris Huhne, the Climate Change Secretary, told a private meeting of EU supporters of his desire for the UK to switch to a European style of politics, with frequent coalition deals… This angered the “No To AV” campaign, which is fighting for a “no” vote in the May 5 referendum on switching from the first-past-the-post electoral system to the “alternative vote” method. The campaign’s director Matthew Elliott said: “Britain’s tradition of stable parliamentary government is now threatened by the Lib Dem campaign for AV.” – Daily Express

> Yesterday's ToryDiary: Another reason to vote NO2AV: AV is part of the "Europeanisation" of British politics

Theresa May quadruples ticket touting fine for Olympics

Theresa May Home Secretary "The maximum penalty for ticket touting at the 2012 London Olympics is set to be raised from £5,000 to £20,000, Home Secretary Theresa May has said. In a statement, Mrs May said: "The change will ensure that there is a more substantial deterrent to serious and organised criminal groups." Some 6.6 million tickets go on sale to the public next week." – BBC

Glasgow Tory candidates demand vote-rigging investigation over internal selection process

"Two Tory candidates have demanded an investigation into their own party’s ranking process after making allegations of vote-rigging for May’s Holyrood election. They allege that a questionable boost to the Conservative membership in Glasgow skewed a result that will determine which Conservatives are elected to the Scottish Parliament as list MSPs." – The Herald

Labour news in brief

  • Sadiq Khan slapped down by Yvette Cooper over dropping "tough on crime" mantra – The Guardian
  • Cut car fuel VAT now, says Ed Balls – BBC
  • Burnham accuses Gove of trying to bring back grammar schools by back door – The Guardian

Other political news in brief

  • David Cameron calls for a 'national change in attitude' towards veterans' mental health – Daily Telegraph
  • Latest YouGov poll has Lab 45% | Con 34% | Lib Dem 9% – YouGov 
  • Minister tries to shore up Prince Andrew's role – FT (£)
  • Lansley asks regulator to assess controversial new fertility treatment – BBC
  • Lib Dem MP uses parliamentary privilege to disclose Sir Fred Goodwin's super-injunction – Daily Telegraph 
  • Prisoners must get the vote (says peer who's supposed to be neutral) – Daily Mail
  • Peers to be allowed to use iPads the Lords chamber – ePolitix
  • Energy policy role at No 10 for former BP man – The Guardian
  • MPs' nice little earners from the BBC – The Sun
  • Samantha Cameron becomes Save The Children ambassador – Daily Express

And finally… The owner of Julian Brazier's canine assailant is fined

Julian Brazier "A farmer whose dog bit the Minister for Transport [sic] has received a £300 fine, after the previously well-behaved farm animal sank its teeth into the politician’s thigh. Kenneth Powell, 69, of Great Cantal Farm, Llanbister Road, pleaded guilty to owning a dog which was dangerously out of control when he appeared before Llandrindod Magistrates on Wednesday… Mr Brazier, the Conservative MP for Canterbury and Whitstable, was walking with local farmer William Haywood and Haywood’s two children, who identified the dog as being called Towser… Magistrates awarded £150 compensation to Julian Brazier." – County Times