6pm Parliament: Tory backbenchers welcome the measures contained in the Welfare Reform Bill

3.30pm Local government: Red Ken's running mate and the tube strikes UPDATED Val Shawcross replies

3pm Parliament: Labour MEPs back plan to clobber the City with Financial Transaction Tax levied by the EU

Noon LISTEN: Lord Hutton says the responsible thing to do is to accept that because we are living longer we should also work for longer

10.45am ToryDiary: The death knell is sounded for final salary public sector pensions

10.30am Mark Pritchard MP on Comment: The Libyan people should not be left defenceless in pursuit of freedom

NO2AV logoToryDiary: Another reason to vote NO2AV: AV is part of the "Europeanisation" of British politics

Lord Flight on Comment: Watch out for the European Financial Crisis this year

Also on Comment, Matthew Sinclair writes that HS2's critics are multiplying

Local Government:

Picture 6 Parliament: Harriett Baldwin demands to know when the Government intends tackling the West Lothian Question


Gazette: New officer team elected to run the Conservative Women's Organisation

WATCH: Mark Pritchard says the international community should allow Libyan rebels access to arms to defend themselves

Public sector staff to be told: Work for longer and get a smaller pension

"Britain's army of public sector workers will today be warned early retirement is a thing of the past. Explosive pension reforms could see them forced to work more than a decade longer for a less generous retirement sum. A major Government report will recommend linking the pension age – currently 60 for most state employees – with the state pension age." – Daily Mail

Lord John Hutton "Lord Hutton of Furness’ long-awaited report on pension reforms for six million workers includes more than 30 recommendations to overhaul the £30 billion annual public sector pension bill. The key proposal, which will enrage trade unions, is to scrap the generous final-salary scheme for all public sector workers by the end of this Parliament, The Times has learnt. The highest-paid, including doctors, generals, head teachers and top civil servants, could lose tens of thousands of pounds a year from their annual pension in a switch to a less generous scheme linked to the average wage earned during a career." – The Times (£)

  • Million-strong strike planned over pensions – The Guardian

Disagreements bedevil establishment of commission into British Bill of Rights

"A long-awaited Government probe on how to tackle power-crazy Euro judges is being held up by bickering Tories and Lib Dems. A commission on whether to have a new British Bill of Rights will be formally set up next week. But the panel of seven won't have to produce any findings until as late as December 2012, The Sun can reveal. The delay is because David Cameron and Nick Clegg have already written off the inquiry, a senior Government source said last night." – The Sun

Cameron defends 'excellent' Hague over Libya fiasco as he tells Miliband: 'You're the only one to knife a foreign secretary'

David Cameron and William Hague"David Cameron yesterday publicly backed William Hague over his handling of the Libya crisis after Labour leader Ed Miliband branded the Foreign Secretary incompetent. The Prime Minister told MPs during Question Time that Mr Hague, who was not present in the Commons as he was briefing the Queen, was doing an ‘excellent’ job. Mr Cameron’s endorsement comes after claims that a replacement Foreign Secretary had been lined up." – Daily Mail

  • William Hague faces struggle against the Cabinet hawks eyeing his job – Daily Telegraph
  • Steve Richards: The rise and fall of William Hague – The Independent

Bob Stewart MP: A no-fly zone over Libya is not an easy option

"To my mind an effective no-fly zone has to satisfy several clear conditions. It should be established by the highest international authority, which means a UN Security Council resolution. But Security Council decision-making often occurs at the speed of a striking slug and coalition building is slow. If the US is prepared to lead — and the Obama Administration does not seem keen — any action will most certainly require others, not just the UK and France, to make a firm commitment as well. Other European nations must step up to the plate too." – Bob Stewart MP writing in The Times (£)

> Yesterday's ToryDiary: David Cameron tells Ed Miliband at PMQs that he won't take lectures from Labour about dealing with Libya

Liam Fox seeking to avoid £1 billion of new defence cuts

Picture 5 "Dr Liam Fox has revealed that he is in talks with the Treasury to avoid £1  billion worth of new cuts to the defence budget. The Defence Secretary told MPs that there is “quite a variance” between his budget for 2011-12 and the cost of his department’s planned programmes. Unless the gap can be bridged, the MoD and the Armed Forces face more cuts, with insiders warning that military personnel may be made redundant." – Daily Telegraph

Support for plain cigarette packaging blows cold

"Doubt was cast yesterday on the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes after the Government gave the idea only lukewarm support… In a report published on No Smoking Day yesterday, the Government offered only muted backing for the idea, committing to "consult on options to reduce the promotional impact of tobacco packaging, including plain packaging, before the end of 2011"… The ban on the display of cigarettes in shops, introduced by the former Labour government, has also been delayed by six months for large shops, to April 2012, and by 18 months for small shops, until April 2015." – The Independent

  • Retailers slam ban on smoking displays – City AM

> Yesterday on Comment:

Government's air travel tax pledge in doubt

"The government is preparing to reverse a key coalition pledge to bring in an environmental tax on air travel after finding that European Union laws would prevent it." – The Guardian

David Laws set for ministerial comeback as Clegg's "Mr Fixit"

David Laws "The former Liberal Democrat Cabinet minister David Laws is being lined up to take on a newly created frontbench role at the heart of government. Nick Clegg and David Cameron have had private discussions about appointing Mr Laws to work alongside Oliver Letwin and Francis Maude in the Cabinet Office, The Independent understands… Under the proposal, Mr Laws would, alongside Mr Letwin, be responsible for co-ordinating and driving through all aspects of the Coalition's policy agenda." – The Independent

"Sources described the role as Mr Clegg’s ‘consigliere’ in Whitehall, a mafia term popularised by the Godfather films meaning right-hand man and backstairs fixer." – Daily Mail

Clegg braced for showdown with Lib Dem activists this weekend…

Nick Clegg is facing an uprising from Liberal Democrat party activists over the coalition’s health reforms, as he prepares for what is expected to be a turbulent spring conference in Sheffield. Mr Clegg, MP for Sheffield Hallam, is expecting protests outside the conference hall over his U-turn on university tuition fees and on the coalition’s decision to scrap help for Sheffield Forgemasters, a local company." – FT (£)

  • Nick Clegg under fire from his own party over NHS plans – The Guardian

…as a £2million ring of steel is erected to protect him after 'kidnap threat'…

Nick Clegg 2011 resolute "A £2million ‘ring of steel’ is being thrown around Nick Clegg amid claims that the Deputy Prime Minister is at risk of kidnap by critics in his own constituency. Police are putting up a 6ft fence around Sheffield City Hall to protect the Liberal Democrat leader at his party’s spring conference. Aides to Mr Clegg yesterday informed the police that students are plotting to kidnap him in protest at his U-turn over university tuition fees." – Daily Mail

…and the cash-strapped party decides to quit Cowley Street HQ

"The Liberal Democrats have gone into the red for the first time after losing millions of pounds of public money funding that it had relied on in Opposition. The party said that it had decided to move out of its historic head office in Westminster and was looking for smaller, cheaper and more modern accommodation in central London… The cash crisis has been caused in part by the loss of £1.7million in public cash or “Short money” which went to the Lib Dems every year under party funding rules." – Daily Telegraph

David Cameron must not ignore calls for EU referendum

"David Cameron was yesterday challenged in the Commons to grant the British people a referendum on whether to leave the European Union. At the top of the list of people demanding such a vote, the Prime Minister was told, were 373,000 readers of the Daily Express. The Prime Minister’s response was disappointing. He said Britain should remain a member of the EU and reform it from within." – Daily Express editorial

> WATCH: Cameron rejects in/out EU referendum at PMQs

Select Committee calls for "significant" cull of Ministers and PPSs

Bernard Jenkin 2011 wide "The public administration select committee renewed calls for tougher limits on the size of the "payroll vote" – the number of MPs who hold Government positions and their aides – and suggested it should be slashed by more than 60 within four years… Senior Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the committee, said: "During the election the Prime Minister promised to 'cut the cost of politics'. The public sector is being asked to do more with less and Government ministers should not be exempt from having to re-evaluate how they work and what they do." Lowering the legal limit on the number of ministers in the Commons was "a very modest reduction and easily achievable". – Sky News

£1 billion of council tax goes uncollected as services are slashed

"Blundering town hall officials have failed to collect £1billion in council tax, it was revealed last night. Labour-led authorities were the worst culprits, with seven of its councils in the top 10 worst offenders." – Daily Express

UUP leader says election pact with Tories is dead

Conservatives and Unionists logo "Tom Elliott has said his party’s UCUNF electoral pact with the Conservatives is now dead. In the coming Assembly election the UUP leader will advise his voters to give their second and subsequent preferences to fellow unionists… Mr Elliott said: “In the Westminster election UCUNF was too much, too soon — there was too much confusion around it. I don’t think the people of Northern Ireland understood the UCUNF project and the UCUNF banner. That was the drawback.” – Belfast Telegraph

Political news in brief

  • Over £3billion overpaid in benefits because of fraud and error, say MPs – Daily Telegraph
  • MPC expected to hold interest rates – Press Association
  • Arts quangos axed 'before costs known' says watchdog – BBC

And finally… While local councils slash budgets, officials enjoy working on the Riviera

]"Boris Johnson and over 100 councillors from around the UK are this week attending a ‘networking conference’ in the south of France despite public services being cut around the country. Manchester Council is paying at least £60,000 to send at least 13 officials to the Mipim event in Cannes which is billed as one of the property industry’s biggest trade shows. Around 70 people from local councils and municipal bodies will attend the conference, plus about 40 from urban regeneration agencies but the trip comes as local authorities implement millions of pounds worth of cuts." – Daily Mail