5.45pm Local Government: Tories held Harrow council seat in yesterday's sole by-election

CAMERON-AT-CSJ5pm ToryDiary: Cameron recommended as model of fiscal and compassionate conservatism to US Republicans

4.30pm WATCH: Bookmaker Betfred wins auction to buy the Tote in £265 million deal

4pm LeftWatch: Labour voices begin to distance themselves from Ken Livingstone after Mladic smear – but what will Miliband and Co. have to say about it?

3.15pm Luke de Pulford on Comment: Citizens UK's response to Islamism is constructive; the alternative would be a recipe for disaster

2.30pm LeftWatch: A Labour Party lacking strategy and leadership has retreated to its class war comfort-zone

Picture 71pm Paul Goodman writes about the Anna Soubry he first observed at an FCS conference in 1979: "I was transfixed.  Less by the quality of the argument (if that's the right way of describing what was taking place) than by the gorgeous pouting allure of the speaker.  To my youthful imagination, her primal rage suggested Helen of Troy getting down and dirty."

11.30am Jonathan Isaby on Comment: If you've ever wanted to tell the BBC what you think of its news coverage, here's your chance

10.45am LISTEN: Defra committee chair and Tory MP Anne McIntosh says fish quotas should not be traded as an economic commodity and that inshore fishermen should have their fair share of them

ToryDiary: The Liberal Democrats' best impact has been to raise the income tax threshold; their worst impact has been to stop Human Rights law reform

Spencer Pitfield on Comment: The Free Schools initiative is mercifully challenging the notion that there's a ‘set’ way of educating special needs children

Local Government:

Gazette: Corby MP Louise Bagshawe has married Metallica manager Peter Mensch

WATCH: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney announces his bid for the US Presidency

Francis Maude to save billions by changing "bonkers" Whitehall procurement practices

Francis Maude 2010 "The government is to centralise the buying of goods and services across departments in a bid to save £3bn. The move follows a review by tycoon Sir Philip Green who said Whitehall was not making the most of its scale, buying power and credit rating." – BBC

"Some civil servants were spending £73 on a box of paper while other departments spent £8, the review revealed. Meanwhile Government departments and agencies paid between £350 and £2,000 for the same laptop and between £85 and £240 for the same printer cartridge from the same supplier. Mr Maude said: ‘It is bonkers for different parts of Government to be paying vastly different prices for exactly the same goods. We are putting a stop to this madness which has been presided over for too long’." – Daily Mail

…as he slashes fees paid by government to consultants

"Management consultancy firms have lost more than £800 million in revenues during the past year as the Government has slashed public contracts and renegotiated far lower fees, it emerged yesterday… Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, disclosed yesterday that the central government consultancy bill has been cut from £1.6 billion to £800 million this year because Whitehall has stopped hiring consultants at £2,500 a day." – The Times (£)

> This week's ConHome interview with Francis Maude

More knife thugs are being let off prison…

Sun No to Soft Justice campaign "Fewer thugs are being jailed for carrying knives, figures revealed yesterday. Only one in five is locked up – compared with nearly one in four a year ago. Meanwhile the number getting cushy community sentences has gone up. The statistics pile further pressure on soft-touch Justice Secretary Ken Clarke. And they make a mockery of the Tories' pre-election pledge that anyone carrying a knife should be jailed." – The Sun

…as Clarke snubs reformers’ campaign to spare women from prison

"Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, is set to reject calls to speed up the closure of women’s prisons, in a blow to penal reformers who want thousands of female offenders to be spared jail. He is also to ignore demands to appoint a “women’s justice champion” with the task of ensuring that the specific needs of female offenders are at the heart of his department’s work." – The Times (£)

Call to lift sanctions drives push for peace with Taliban

"Britain and the United States are pressing for United Nations sanctions against 18 former senior Taliban figures to be lifted later this month in the strongest indication yet that the western powers are looking for a negotiated peace with the Taliban." – The Guardian

Theresa May to meet French counterpart "in fight to stem migrant hordes"

Theresa May blue "A crisis summit has been called between Britain and France next week in a bid to tackle cross-Channel border control failures. In the wake of a damning report exposing UK border officials for creating a secret amnesty for tens of thousands of asylum seekers, Home Secretary Theresa May will hold the meeting with her French opposite number in Calais." – Daily Express

Families where no one has ever worked doubled under Labour

"The toxic legacy of worklessness left by Labour has been laid bare in stark figures. Between 1997 and 2010 the number of households in which no one has ever had a job almost doubled from 184,000 to 352,000. This equates to more than 550,000 people for whom worklessness has become a way of life, according to the Office for National Statistics." – Daily Mail

Why Liam Fox may be safe in his job, in spite of tiffs with David Cameron

Liam Fox 2011 "First, Mr Cameron would struggle to justify removing Dr Fox after persisting with Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat business secretary, who barely bothers to hide his distaste for the Conservatives. The Tory right, who have few voices in the cabinet (such as Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson), would not be slow to highlight the double standards. Second, Dr Fox is well regarded by the armed forces, who recognise his sympathy for their plight. Carrying the defence brief in opposition, he bonded with his Labour opposite number, Bob Ainsworth, over their shared struggle to persuade their party leaders to take the military’s low morale and underfunding more seriously. But the biggest factor in Dr Fox’s favour is the growing perception that he was prescient to warn of the impact of defence cuts." – The Economist

  • Ministry of Defence accelerates redundancies – The Guardian

MPs urge changes to fishing quota management

"The way ministers are managing the fishing industry in England and Wales has been criticised by MPs. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee said it was "unacceptable" that the government was not monitoring the trading of EU fish quotas." – BBC

New state schools set for private finance

Michael Gove 2011 "A wave of 100 new state schools could be built using private funding as part of a strategy to allow the Department for Education to cope with its meagre capital budget, the most pressing problem facing Michael Gove, education secretary. A first tranche of 20 schools would open in 2014-15 under the plans, which are yet to be agreed by the Treasury. But, if the principle of a new raft of PFIs is approved, officials said, a larger national programme could follow." – FT (£)

Latest MPs' expenses figures show dramatic drop in rule breaking…

"MPs claimed more than £3.2m in taxpayer funded expenses in the first two months of this year and less than 0.6% of them broke the rules, according to new figures which add to evidence that the system has been largely cleaned up since the scandal of two years ago. Of 26,500 individual claims made in January and February this year, the 154 that were rejected for breaching expenses rules appear to have done so due mainly to administrative error." – The Guardian

…although one MP continued claiming after pleading guilty to expenses fraud

"The jailed former MP Eric Illsley continued to claim several thousand pounds from the public purse after admitting fiddling his expenses. He pleaded guilty on 11 January to fraud totalling £14,000, but did not resign from the Commons until 8 February, two days before he was imprisoned for a year. He was paid £6,766 for claims submitted in January and February, including £2,253 for photocopier hire, £2,302 to rent an office in his Barnsley Central constituency, and £19.95 for food and travel." – The Independent

Civil servants blow your cash on flowers, booze and gift vouchersDaily Mirror

The Telegraph's Damian Reece says George Osborne must give companies a reason to stop hoarding their cash…

George Osborne speaking 2011 "Rather than ease up on public spending restraints, George Osborne needs to redouble efforts to unleash growth. In this area, however, the Coalition has been peculiarly pedestrian. Consumer spending won't come to the rescue, but exports and investment can. Companies are hoarding cash which they are refusing to invest because of a lack of confidence." – Damian Reece in the Daily Telegraph

…as both the Guardian and Express takes the Chancellor to task for his tax raid on gas and oil producers

"The politics were clear and must have seemed clever: Big Oil should pay for little motorists. But it was a bad move on three counts. First, gas is not the same as oil – the link the chancellor made was largely rhetorical. Second, it was a waste of tax money, frittering away most of an extra £2bn a year to make a lunge for drivers' affections. Had he used the money to invest in North Sea renewables, Mr Osborne would have been on safer, and certainly higher, ground. Finally, this measure was sprung on the industry without consultation." – Guardian editorial

"It is increasingly clear that Chancellor George Osborne made a mistake with his tax on the North Sea industry which prompted Centrica not to reopen one of its fields." – Peter Cunliffe in the Daily Express

How the EU spends £20m a year promoting left-wing causes in the US

"Brussels is pouring nearly £20million a year from its human rights budget on lecturing the Americans on left-wing causes. The EU Human Rights Fund is intended to help promote Western values in the developing world. But a shock report has found at least £17million of cash – around £2million from British taxpayers’ – has been ploughed into promoting the pet causes of Eurocrats in the US… The study by the Heritage Foundation, a centre-right Washington think-tank, found a further £4million has been ploughed into pro-EU propaganda in the US, including funds for advertising and publicity material." – Daily Mail

  • ECB boss wants central EU control of national budgets – The Guardian

Michael Gerson: David Cameron offers lessons to American conservatives

David Cameron and US flag "Responsible budgets are essential — inseparable from a commitment to limited government. But conservatism also involves a suspicion of abstract ideology and a concern for real-world consequences. The belief that some spending is wasteful while other spending is useful is not the evidence of inconsistency; it is the definition of political prudence… Cameron is now forced to limit the most expansive, unsustainable commitments of the British welfare state. But he is showing Disraeli’s talent for making the distinctions that define a statesman." – Michael Gerson in the Washington Post

John McTernan: Ease and authority make David Cameron hard to beat

"For voters, David Cameron passes this test of instant approval, as he has ever since he made his famous note-free speech at the 2005 Tory conference to seize the leadership. Indeed, his leadership qualities are already being touted as the key difference, the key choice, for the general election in 2015. For all their current tribulations, Tory MPs cling to the idea that in a straight choice between Dave and Ed, the winning line will be: “Whatever you say about Cameron, he’s a leader.” – John McTernan in the Daily Telegraph

Comment in brief

  • When Alastair Campbell is the Labour Party’s largest donor we know that politics is bankrupt – Philip Collins in The Times (£)
  • The BBC's cuts look set to be driven by politics not quality – The Economist
  • Do we need a second chamber at all? – Martin Kettle in The Guardian

Other political news in brief

  • Mass jabs for babies to check resurgence of TB – The Times (£)
  • Betfred set to become preferred bidder to take over the Tote – Sky News
  • Greece waits for lenders' verdict on austerity plan – The Independent
  • Mladic admitted to hospital on eve of Hague appearance – The Times (£)

And finally… Canadian MPs elect 32-year-old as their new Speaker

"Two weeks removed from his 32nd birthday, Regina-Qu’Appelle MP Andrew Scheer was elected Speaker… the youngest Speaker in the history of the House of Commons." – The Globe and Mail