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8pm Two new posts on Comment –

6.30pm WATCH: Did Ken Clarke have a nap during the Budget?

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ROLLING BLOG OF REACTION TO THE BUDGET

6pm Jesse Norman on Comment: This Budget is an important move towards Real Capitalism

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5.45pm ToryDiary: CCHQ launches post-Budget campaign leaflets aimed at families and pensioners

4.45pm Nick Wood on Comment: There was never going to be a quick fix to Labour's economic mismanagement – and all Tories must now be braced to ride the coming storm

4.30pm Andrew Lilico on Comment: A healthily underwhelming Budget – but one that the financial markets should like

Picture 15 4.15pm Two Budget video clips:

3.30pm Jill Kirby on Comment: Today's Budget contained rather too many shades of Brown

3.15pm Matthew Sinclair on Comment: There was plenty to welcome in the Budget – but it is being paid for in some ugly ways

3pm Charlie Elphicke MP on Comment: This was a pro-jobs, pro-business Budget which exceeded its billing

1.45pm ToryDiary: Wealthier households will pay most to clear up Labour's deficit

Announcements

ROLLING BLOG OF BUDGET ANNOUNCEMENTS

Arguments

ROLLING BLOG OF BUDGET ARGUMENTS

1pm ToryDiary: Today's PMQs was barely even a warm-up for the main event

11.30am Local government:

11.15am LISTEN: The BBC's Stephanie Flanders, Robert Peston and Nick Robinson preview the Budget

ToryDiary: Cameron warned to keep his focus on the economy

Picture 12 On Comment, ConHome's expert panel preview today's Budget:

Elizabeth Truss Also on Comment, Elizabeth Truss MP writes that An A-Level Baccalaureate would ensure more students attained academically rigorous qualifications

Parliament: George Osborne says operations in Libya will cost tens, not hundreds, of millions of pounds

Local Government:

ThinkTankCentral: Bruges Group paper proposes that Britain leave the EU and join EFTA instead

Gazette: Tory MPs Stephen Crabb and Edward Timpson prepare to run the London Marathon (and would appreciate your sponsorship!)

WATCH: Colonel Gaddafi makes his first public appearance since the air strikes began, declaring "We will be victorious"

George Osborne will announce an increase in the personal income tax allowance today (but by how much depends on which paper you believe)…

George Osborne Budget Day square "Twenty-five million workers will be promised tax cuts of up to £320 a year in today’s Budget. George Osborne will increase the amount people can earn without paying tax to £8,085 next year. Everyone on less than £115,000 will benefit and – crucially – the Chancellor is not bringing down the higher rate threshold to pay for the move." – Daily Mail

"George Osborne will today unveil a surprise £205 tax cut for 23million Brits on modest wages. He will up personal allowances in his Budget for everyone not paying the higher rate of tax to ease the pain of spending cuts." – The Sun

"Chancellor George Osborne is to announce a £625 rise in income tax personal allowance that will benefit about 25 million taxpayers. Whitehall sources last night estimated that his measures will slash the average annual income tax bill by about £200 from next year." – Daily Express

…as The Times splashes with good news for first-time buyers

"First-time buyers are to be helped on to the housing ladder as George Osborne seeks to use today’s Budget to ease the pain of austerity Britain. Ten thousand people buying newly built homes will receive 20 per cent of the cost from the Government and the builder in low-interest loans to put towards a deposit. Mr Osborne hopes that the change — part of the Government’s strategy for growth — will help to support 40,000 construction jobs." – The Times (£)

Other Budget coverage

  • Osborne to appeal to "squeezed middle" – The Guardian
  • Budget relief on the cards for drivers after pump prices reach record highs – Daily Mail
  • A checklist of what to expect in the Budget – Jim Pickard of the FT

> Pre-Budget coverage on ConHome yesterday:

Cuts-shy ministers to face star chamber…

"Cabinet ministers who struggle to deliver promised cuts are to be hauled before a “star chamber” and threatened with the clipping of their spending authority under Treasury reforms to bolster expenditure control. The decision to resurrect the cross-government spending committee comes as the Treasury enters a critical phase in implementing the spending review amid doubts over whether departments such as defence and health will meet budget targets." – FT (£)

…but John Redwood discovers Whitehall departments are still recruiting

John Redwood 2 "Whitehall departments are still recruiting thousands of staff, official figures revealed yesterday – despite a Government pledge to slash the number of civil servants. The figures, obtained by former Tory Cabinet minister John Redwood, show that Coalition efforts to cut the civil service payroll are being undermined by continuing recruitment drives in Whitehall. The figures reveal that nine major departments have lost a total of almost 9,000 staff between them since the General Election in May last year. But they have also decided to recruit more than 4,100 new staff – cutting the reduction in overall headcount to just two per cent." – Daily Mail

UK economy delivers double blow to George Osborne ahead of the Budget

"The retail prices index (RPI) measure of inflation hit a 20-year high in February, while the public sector borrowed a record amount, casting a pall over George Osborne's latest tax and spending plans. The data flagged up the risks around the recovery as over-target inflation combines with sluggish growth… The Government's preferred measure of inflation, the consumer prices index (CPI), shot to a 28-month high of 4.4pc from January's 4pc, the Office for National Statistics said, ahead of expectations it would come in at 4.2pc…  The RPI gauge, which some see as a better reflection of the cost of living as it includes more housing expenses, leapt from January's 5.1pc to 5.5pc, the highest since 1991." – Daily Telegraph

> Yesterday on ConHome:

William Hague: The Arab Spring is more important than 9/11

William Hague 2011 "It is not for us to choose the government of Libya — that is for the Libyan people themselves. But they have a far greater chance of making that choice now than they did on Saturday, when the opposition forces were on the verge of defeat. With our partners we have halted the advance of Gaddafi’s troops towards Benghazi and prevented his planes from wreaking havoc from the skies, and this has undoubtedly saved many lives." – William Hague writing in The Times (£)

Wave of popular uprisings in Africa could even topple Mugabe, says HagueDaily Telegraph

Lib Dem minister admits there is no Libyan exit strategyDaily Telegraph

  • What looked like a triumph for Cameron is beginning to seem a curse – Nigel Morris in The Independent
  • Though the risks are very real, the case for intervention remains strong – Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian
  • Cameron urges Saudis to promote ‘sensible dialogue’ on protests – Bloomberg

> WATCH: William Hague says the military operation in Libya has already saved many lives and will continue until there is a complete and genuine ceasefire on Gaddafi's part

Whitehall "fears new era of spin under Cameron’s media chief"

"David Cameron’s chief spin-doctor is to increase his power base significantly after the exit of two of the most senior communication officials in Whitehall. As relations between the Civil Service and Downing Street deteriorate, Craig Oliver, the Prime Minister’s new media chief, will extend his influence across all Whitehall departments, mirroring the power of Alastair Campbell." – The Times (£)

Nick Clegg "set to rein in NHS reforms"

Nick Clegg 2011 "Nick Clegg told a meeting of his MPs in Westminster yesterday that he would now be "taking the lead" within government to rein in its programme of reform for the NHS. The Liberal Democrat leader said he was determined to ensure changes were made to the health and social care bill, the clearest sign that he will personally negotiate with the health secretary, Andrew Lansley. A senior party source said that the Lib Dem leader had decided to "front up" the issue with the Conservatives." – The Guardian

NHS manager numbers finally falling after 66% rise under Labour Daily Telegraph

Foreign students to be cut by up to 100,000 as Theresa May announces clampdown on fake colleges

"Home Secretary Theresa May said the 'radical' clampdown would close fake colleges and block entry for those who cannot speak good English. There will also be tougher restrictions on non-EU students staying in the country after their course finishes – including a rule that they must find a job that pays at least £20,000 a year. Mrs May told MPs that while the coalition wanted to attract the 'brightest and best' to the UK, the visa system became 'broken' under Labour." – Daily Mail

  • Non-EU students need A-level English to get a visa in new crackdown – The Times (£)

> Yesterday's ToryDiary: Theresa May reveals details of how the Government is cracking down on bogus student visas

Other political news in brief

  • Theresa May to rein in Equalities watchdog – Daily Mail
  • Portugal edges towards 'inevitable' bailout from EU partners – The Guardian
  • West Midlands Chief Constable warns of danger of reforming DNA database rules – The Times (£)
  • UK announces £6 million funding to tackle piracy – The Independent
  • BBC budget cuts will see programmes axed, more repeats and the return of "Pages from Ceefax" – The Independent

And finally… Samantha Cameron depicts the Downing Street rat for charity sketch

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"Samantha Cameron has finally captured the Downing Street rat – in a drawing to be auctioned for charity. The Prime Minister’s wife, 39, did an art foundation course at Camberwell College Of Arts before studying Fine Art for her degree at Bristol University. And her skills are on show in the picture of her family’s new cat, Larry, looking on as the rodent scurries in front of the country’s most famous front door." – Daily Mail

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