7.45pm ToryDiary: On the actual AV ballot paper question, the No campaign gains a poll lead for the first time

5.45pm Dr Matthew Goodwin on Comment: Muslims and their attitudes in Modern Britain

4.15pm Daniel Hamilton on Comment: BBC local radio stations – allow advertising to help them survive

2.30pm Roger Helmer MEP on Comment: George Osborne must say no to the Sheriff of Nottingham tax

12.30pm WATCH: Ken Clarke explains why he will vote No to AV

11.15am ToryDiary: CCHQ sends out new anti-AV booklet to activists

10.45am Christian May and Harry Cole on Comment: British and American flags fly everywhere, Tony Blair is a national hero and a gold statue of Bill Clinton stands proudly on the main street. Welcome to Kosovo.

ToryDiary: Clegg should intensify his new macho strategy

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Comment –

Harry Benson: Where is the Government's family policy?

Nik Darlington: Getting football governance right

Local Government: Say no to Legoland homes


Hague concedes that tsunami help is a "stretch" for the Foreign Office

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"David Cameron said the Japanese earthquake was a 'terrible reminder of the destructive power of nature' and pledged to help the country….Everyone should be thinking of the country and its people and I have asked immediately that our Government look at what we can do to help.'  The Queen said: ‘I was saddened to hear of the tragic loss of life caused by the earthquake which has struck North-East Japan today.’ " – Daily Mail

"The Foreign Office yesterday set up a crisis centre with a telephone helpline for Britons caught up in the catastrophe or those concerned for friends and relatives in Japan.  Meanwhile Foreign Secretary William Hague said the UK had rapid deployment teams “ready to go”, both from Britain and within the affected region.  British search and rescue teams are also on four hours’ notice to fly to the disaster zone." – Daily Express

Yesterday –

Cameron outflanked by Germany over Libya no-fly zone

"During a six hour Brussels summit, an angry Prime Minister fought to persuade other EU leaders to send clear message threatening military action on the same day that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi unleashed air strikes and launched a massive military offensive against Libyan rebels.  "We are witnessing, what can only be called, barbaric acts with Gaddafi brutally suppressing a popular rising led by his own people," he said." – Daily Telegraph

"However, Mr Cameron and Mr Sarkozy were rebuffed by Germany and others after spending six hours attempting to marshal diplomatic support for more forthright language backing specific military options to be considered.  The summit laid bare the difficulties Mr Cameron has faced in his attempts to galvanise the debate over possible action against Libya – an effort that has brought resistance from Washington, most EU leaders and British defence chiefs." – Financial Times (£)

Libya comment –

  • We mustn’t pass up the chance to do nothing – Matthew Parris, The Times
  • Hague hung out to dry – Amanda Platell, Daily Mail
  • No fly zones and the Libyan uprising – John Redwood's blog

 Yesterday –

Clegg rallies activists and bashes bankers at LibDem spring conference – and proposes an "A list"…

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"Nick Clegg has sought to steel his Liberal Democrat activists to face demonstrations outside their party's spring conference, telling them at the opening rally that being in government meant they must get used to protest.  The party, he said, had to realise they had "put down the placards and taken up the reins of power".  Some 3,000 activists, the highest number ever, have registered for the conference in Sheffield, where Clegg is MP for Sheffield Hallam. It is the second since the party entered government, and a test of its ardour." – The Guardian

"Interviewed on BBC Radio Sheffield, he said: “I am like anybody else: you want to wring the neck of these wretched people who behaved so irresponsibly and then we are now having to bail them out.”  His comments are an escalation of banker-bashing rhetoric by senior politicians and came in a week when Mervyn King, Bank of England governor, accused banks of ripping off gullible customers." – Financial Times (£)

"Nick Clegg has said his own party is “too male and too pale” to represent Britain properly. Urgent action was needed to boost the number of female and non-white Lib Dem MPs, the party leader told its spring conference in Sheffield. If a proposal on diversity passes today, it will be the first time that the party has supported positive discrimination — with reserved places for women, ethnic minorities and disabled people on a limited list of “approved candidates”." – The Times (£)

…But a sitting LibDem MP – plus a former one – attack the Government's NHS plans…

And there's a double assault on Clegg from Labour: Miliband says that he won't share a platform with Clegg over AV…

“What do we say about Nick Clegg? He’s a slightly tragic political figure, I think. He’s made a terrible, terrible mistake in the direction he’s taken his party. Most Lib Dems are motivated by decent values … I do find it slightly mystifying. [They must] go to bed at night and ask themselves: 'What are we doing here?’” Ending months of speculation, he says categorically that he will not be sharing a pro-AV platform with Mr Clegg." – Daily Telegraph

…While Balls says that Labour couldn't work with him in government

"Clegg looks an increasingly desperate, shrill and discredited politician, losing both public and party support. People think that if Clegg says something, it cannot be the truth. The Liberal Democrats need to have some real hard thinking about what they stand for." He says it would be impossible for Labour to govern with Clegg after the election, arguing: "I don't see how Nick Clegg could change direction again with any shred of credibility, or how he could work with Labour now, but that is not true of Liberal Democrats more widely." – The Guardian

Yesterday –

Danny Alexander blames councils for hoarding cash while cutting services

"In an attack on local authorities which he accused of sitting on reserves of more than £2.6 billion, the Liberal Democrat minister claimed that Labour preferred to blame the Government for job losses and cuts to services rather than dip into “rainy day” funds.  He singled out Manchester City Council, which this week announced cuts of £109 million while running a reserve of £108 million." – Daily Telegraph

Osborne urged to merge tax and national insurance in budget

George Osborne headshot "The biggest tax shake-up for ­decades which would merge income tax and National Insurance under a single rate is being considered by Chancellor George Osborne.  It could save companies and the Government hundreds of millions of pounds a year, say experts.  The plan emerged after the Chancellor appointed experts last year to dramatically simplify Britain’s complicated tax system.  His response to the Office of Tax Simplification (OTS) report will be made in his Budget on March 23." – Daily Express

Treasury drops plan to change aviation duty

"Ministers have scrapped plans to change aviation duty – a key promise in last spring’s coalition agreement – claiming it would thwart an international convention written during the second world war.  The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have long advocated the policy of switching from a “per passenger” duty to a “per plane” levy as a green measure to end the current situation whereby empty flights are not taxed." – Financial Times (£)

Gove targets failing teachers in review

"He ordered a review of the standards by which teachers are judged to concentrate more on their ability to control the classroom and improve pupil performance.  Mr Gove said only 1.5 per cent of those who applied to train failed to make it into the classroom. "Headteachers and teachers have told me in no uncertain terms that the current teachers' standards are ineffective, meaningless and muddy, fluffy concepts," he said." – The Independent

Free Schools or clubs for the privileged? – Independent Editorial

Lansley draws fire after delaying A&E decision

"Andrew Lansley has put off a decision to close the “blue light” accident and emergency department at Chase Farm hospital in north London, prompting accusations that the move sent “absolutely the wrong signal” to other NHS managers struggling with similar hospital reconfigurations.  The health secretary has given Enfield council a month to come up with a “viable alternative” to keep Chase Farm open, a decision that was warmly welcomed by local MPs." – Financial Times (£)

BMA to debate NHS reforms – The Independent

Right to a family life top reason to let foreign convicts stay in UK

Dominic Raab "Tory MP Dominic Raab, who obtained the figures, said: ‘It is one thing to argue against deporting an individual into the arms of a torturing state. But it makes a mockery of British justice to allow hundreds of criminals and suspected terrorists to claim family ties to defeat a deportation order.  This is a novel expansion of human rights by the UK courts, and an escalating threat to our border controls. Whilst the Coalition partners may not agree on scrapping the Human Rights Act, we should look urgently at specific amendments to deal with the growing deportation problem." – Daily Mail

Coalition and Political News in Brief

  • Lord Patten's BBC Trust role approved by MPs – BBC
  • Don't let unions ruin my reforms, says Hutton – Daily Mail
  • Chiltern anger stokes high-speed rail debate – Financial Times (£)
  • Alex Salmond rules out fees for Scottish students – Daily Telegraph
  • IMF could be used to resolve friction, says King – The Times (£)

We must fight the unions over pensions

For almost all public sector workers there is no reason why their retirement age should not rise to match that of the private sector. There is no reason why women should not enjoy equality with men in this regard. And there is no reason why, just as the private sector has had to end final salary schemes, the state should not do so as well. The market must be allowed to operate.  If public sector workers become aggrieved at the prospect that they are no longer a special case, they have the choice of leaving to work in the private sector." – Simon Heffer, Daily Telegraph

Other comment

Jim Murphy latest Shadow Minister to criticise Khan approach

"I blogged on Thursday that Yvette Cooper had slapped down an apparent attempt by Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, to distance Labour from Tony Blair's landmark pledge to be "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime". Now Jim Murphy, the shadow defence secretary who is one of Labour's sharpest thinkers, has entered the fray. In a speech on Saturday, Murphy will make clear his unease about the Khan approach when he calls for Labour to avoid trashing the party's recent record in government." – Wintour and Watt, The Guardian

Life's tough for £40,000 families, says Miliband – Evening Standard