3pm WATCH: Cameron rejects in/out EU referendum at PMQs

12.45pm ToryDiary: David Cameron tells Ed Miliband at PMQs that he won't take lectures from Labour about dealing with Libya

Noon Will Tanner on Comment: Mutuals require clarity and guidance if they are to change the public service landscape

11.15am Donna Edmunds on Comment: A truly progressive Government would lower tobacco duty

ToryDiary: Yes, there's a growing UKIP threat to the Conservatives. But it's got less to do with the EU than you may think

Paul Goodman on Comment: An open letter to soon-to-be BBC Trust Chairman, Chris Patten

Also on Comment, with Andrew Lansley poised to announce new restrictions on tobacco sales today, Simon Clark asks: Whatever happened to the party of business, de-regulation and personal responsibility?

Local Government:


Gazette: Liam Fox picks the winner of ConHome's British Political Facts competition

WATCH: Iain Duncan Smith says the Government will make it "crystal clear" to young people that it "pays to save" for retirement

Tory "crisis talks" over threat of AV defeat amid warnings that apathy will gift Yes vote victory

NO2AV logo "David Cameron has told colleagues they cannot afford to lose the referendum on the electoral system amid warnings that the Yes vote could win amid widespread apathy. With the poll just weeks away, crisis talks have been held by senior Tories on how the party can convince voters to reject Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s plans to scrap first-past-the-post. With polls making widely-varying predictions, Conservative Cabinet ministers are increasingly concerned a low turnout in the May 5 referendum could deliver a Yes vote by default." – Daily Mail

> Recent ConHome coverage:

Michael Gove cuts special needs register for children by 170,000

Michael Gove 2010 "Michael Gove will today announce he is seeking to remove at least one in ten children – some 170,000 – from the special needs register. The Education Secretary is to act on an official report which found schools have wrongly labelled too many pupils as 'special needs' to cover up poor teaching." – Daily Mail

"A Green Paper published by the Coalition is expected to recommend better pastoral support for all pupils, improved teacher training and changes to the way children are assessed. It comes amid claims that many pupils currently identified as having special needs are simply underachieving. In some cases, children are diagnosed with behaviour, learning and communication problems despite falling behind for other reasons, such as being born in the summer months, a lack of parental support or speaking English as a second language." – Daily Telegraph

An announcement is expected on establishing a Commission on a British Bill of Rights

"A commission will be set up within days to consider whether the Government should bring in a "British Bill of Rights" following mounting controversy over rulings by the European Court of Human Rights. The move will delight Conservative MPs, many of whom want Britain to curb the power of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) after it ordered the Government to grant prisoners the vote at general elections… The commission will try to find a compromise acceptable to the Coalition partners but ministers in both parties admit the divide between them may be too wide to be bridged." – The Independent

Put an end to ‘Legoland’ homes, says Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps 2010 "Housing minister Grant Shapps will today call for an end to the ‘identikit Legoland homes’ blighting Britain. Ministers are keen for more diverse housing developments using local materials that help tie them to the surrounding area. In a speech to promote new local planning powers, Mr Shapps will say: ‘We all recognise the bog-standard, identikit Legoland homes that typify some new developments – all looking exactly the same on streets that could be anywhere in the country." – Daily Mail

Cameron abandons softy-softly approach to Whitehall

"David Cameron has appointed nine new policy advisers as he scraps his hands-off approach to Whitehall and seeks to assert his grip over Cabinet ministers. The new team, made up of six Civil Service high-flyers and three experts from the private sector, will “man-mark” government departments and try to head off policy chaos before it hits the headlines. It will also draw up policies for the second half of the parliament, to feature in an updated coalition agreement." – The Times (£)

Westminster questions Hague’s future

William Hague serious square "William Hague’s future as foreign secretary is being questioned at Westminster, after he gave another subdued response to the mounting criticism of his handling of the crisis in Libya. Mr Hague cut a passive figure in the Commons on Monday as he shouldered the blame for the botched SAS operation in the Libyan Desert and on Tuesday he gave a rambling answer to a question on whether he still had the appetite for the job." – FT (£)

"William Hague insisted yesterday he will remain Foreign Secretary ‘for an extended period of time’ amid extraordinary  suggestions that his replacement has already been lined up. Mr Hague was forced into an excruciating defence of his job after colleagues and officials proclaimed that he has ‘lost his mojo’ and was ‘tired and ‘unengaged’." – Daily Mail

  • Tories question William Hague's commitment to role after SAS wrangle – The Guardian

Government to unveil further restrictions on tobacco sales

"The Government is expected to unveil proposals that will force tobacco companies to sell cigarettes in plain, unbranded packaging. Under the guidelines, packets will lose their logos, graphics and distinctive colours, leaving health warnings as the most noticeable marking. The move, which is designed to drive down smoking rates, will make England the first country in Europe to have plain packaging." – Press Association

Ruling was right on Christian couple banned from fostering because of beliefs on homosexuality, says Cameron…

Picture 21 "David Cameron has stepped into the row over the Christian couple who have been barred from fostering children because of their belief that homosexuality is wrong. He appeared to back the courts by saying Owen and Eunice Johns had been dealt with in an ‘appropriate way’, and added that Christians must be ‘tolerant and welcoming’ towards homosexuality." – Daily Mail

> Yesterday's ToryDiary: Christian freedom and gay rights

…as he "sails through" an appearance on The One Show

"Shortly after a phone call with Barack Obama on the Libya crisis, the PM appeared on TV to answer questions on happiness, the royal wedding and whether an owl or a cat would be better at catching the Downing Street rat. It helped that the interrogation was syrupy, as the ConservativeHome website put it, and that the presenters giggled nervously." – The Guardian

  • Cameron vows to help families over rising prices – BBC
  • Cameron says Britain is ready to halt Libya slaughter – The Sun
  • Cameron rates his life as 6 out of 10 – Press Association

> Last night's ToryDiary: David Cameron enjoys his audience with the 4.5 million viewers of BBC1's One Show

Priti Patel attacks degree courses for prisoners

PPC Priti Patel "People will be people will be 'outraged' when they discover that taxpayers' cash is being used to fund degree courses for prisoners, a Tory MP warned today More than 1,600 prisoners have registered to start Open University course modules this financial year, with all but a few benefiting from public or charity funding. The figures were revealed in a parliamentary answer to Priti Patel, MP for Witham, who condemned the gold-plated rights' given to inmates." – Daily Mail

Czech MEP elected leader of ECR group in European Parliament

"A Czech MEP and pronounced climate change sceptic has pipped a British Conservative to become the leader of the Tories' group in the European Parliament. Jan Zahradil defeated Timothy Kirkhope, widely touted as the favourite to become chairman, and a Polish rival in a vote to find a new head of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group." – Daily Telegraph

> Yesterday's ToryDiary: Jan Zahradil beats Timothy Kirkhope for leadership of European Conservatives and Reformists

Sir Malcolm Rifkind: Guantanamo Bay detainees are not ordinary criminals

RIFKIND NEW "Barack Obama made Guantanamo's closure one of his key campaign pledges. Upon taking office in January 2009, one of his first executive orders mandated that the jail would be shut within the year. He was also determined to ensure that, wherever possible, detainees would be tried in civilian courts within the United States… Despite all the President's efforts, however, these pledges have evaporated. Today, Guantanamo remains open. This week it was announced that it will not be civilian courts that will try such detainees, but Bush-era military commissions, which had been suspended for two years… Does this mean that Obama has lost the moral high ground? Not necessarily." – Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP writing in the Daily Telegraph

Political news and comment in brief

  • Simon Heffer: If David Cameron doesn't get a grip, his troubles will only get worse – Daily Telegraph
  • Cancer charities attack welfare reform plans – The Guardian
  • Police could stage massive demo over wages cuts and job losses – The Sun
  • Labour demand Chris Patten should quit Tories if appointed to BBC post – The Independent
  • David Miliband: Why the Left is losing across Europe – The Times (£)

And finally… Efficiency department misses most deadlines

"The ministry charged with driving government efficiency is further behind on its reform timetable than any other Whitehall department, according to its own monitoring system. For the second month in a row, the Cabinet Office has set the record for the number of deadlines missed in its “business plan”, making it the clear government laggard on a performance measure introduced by the coalition." – FT (£)