6.45pm WATCH:

5.15pm WATCH: William Hague wishes Iranian viewers a happy 1391 (the Persian New Year)

3pm Columnist Andrew Lilico: "Usually when I make recommendations, I aim to propose measures that will be palatable to policy-makers, things that they might actually be tempted to do.  But on this occasion, here are five things that I think should be in the Budget – regardless of how likely it is that they might happen." Five "ought" measures for George Osborne

Screen shot 2012-03-19 at Louise Mensch MP on Comment: Cutting aid means fewer vaccines, more mothers giving birth in appalling conditions and risking progress in conflict-affected states

12.15pm ConHomeUSA newslinks: Romney wins Puerto Rico and comfortably leads Illinois polling

11.45am Local Government:

11am Charlie Elphicke MP on Comment: We should target overseas tax dodgers, help the low-paid and only then abolish 50p

10am LeftWatch: After this morning's news from Toulouse, can we have a little less criticism, please, of Michael Gove?

Screen shot 2012-03-19 at 08.37.09
ConservativeHome focuses on the budget as Wednesday approaches:

Also on Comment: Stephen Crabb MP – Project Umubano enters its sixth year

MPsETC: The Tory backbenches are bubbling away with new thinkers and new thinking

Local Government: Lib Dems face big losses in local elections

WATCH: Cameron launches British-India GREAT campaign: "Help us to make the relationship between Britain and India one of the defining relationships of this century"

In latest pre-budget announcement, Prime Minister trails radical road tolling plan

Screen shot 2012-03-19 at 05.31.20"Drivers face new tolls under audacious plans to put Britain’s roads network in the hands of private companies. David Cameron will today say he wants to kickstart the economy by allowing firms and investment funds to compete to build, operate and maintain motorways and trunk roads. Motorists would not pay tolls to use existing roads – but firms could widen them and introduce pay-as-you-go lanes that drivers could use to beat congestion." – Daily Mail

Cameron: why should roads be different from other infrastructure?

"Mr Cameron will say: “We need to look urgently at the options for getting large-scale private investment into the national roads network. We need to look urgently at the options for getting large-scale private investment into the national roads network. “We now need to be more ambitious. Why is it that other infrastructure – for example water – is funded by private-sector capital through ­privately owned, independently regulated, utilities but roads in Britain call on the public finances for funding?” – Daily Express

Road management could mirror water industry's

Screen shot 2012-03-19 at 05.30.49"Treasury sources said that the study would include the option of turning roads into a “regulated utility”, mirroring what took place in the water industry. It would mean trunk roads being leased to companies that would be responsible for their upkeep. They would receive a guaranteed income from Government, and be monitored by an independent regulator protecting motorists.  Money could be raised by taking a slice of the £6 billion a year motorists pay in car tax." – The Times (£) 

  • "It's a policy that will drive car owners to tears. Beware their road rage come the election, Mr Cameron." – Sun Editorial
  • "Never mind using “dual” as a verb, does [Cameron] not begin to understand what has been understood in transport economics for decades, that building more roads creates more traffic? The other extracts from the speech are rubbish too. At one point he describes infrastructure as “the invisible thread that ties our prosperity together. I give up.” – John Rentoul, The Independent

Chancellor gets his presentation in early, declaring that this will be "a budget for working people"The Sun

Screen shot 2012-03-19 at 07.39.55More budget news 1) Osborne to move fast on raising thresholds, more slowly on returning to 40p top rate…

"As part of a deal between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, Chancellor George Osborne will dramatically accelerate moves to raise the personal income allowance to £10,000. He will also signal the beginning of the end of the 50p top rate of tax.  Mr Osborne is expected to say that income over £150,000 will be taxed at 45p per £1 from April 2013, and indicate his intention to bring the top rate back down to 40p the following year." – Daily Mail

…But 50p rate to go now: "if it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done  quickly"

"Mr Osborne has been persuaded by a combination of factors, not least his belief that the 50p rate does not bring in much money and the view that it sends out a negative signal about Britain to overseas investors. Furthermore, Mr Osborne does not think it would be any easier to scrap the 50p rate nearer to the election…his task will be to convince a sceptical electorate that the removal of the 50p rate is part of a broader package – painstakingly agreed with the Liberal Democrats – which transfers money from the rich to middle Britain, through the closing of tax loopholes and reliefs." – Financial Times 

> Yesterday: Columnist Nadine Dorries MP – Cutting taxes for the low-paid will do most to stimulate the economy

Budget news 2) Tax cuts to be funded by stamp duty avoidance clampdown

"The Chancellor’s pledge on stamp duty comes amid reports that rock stars, including Sir Mick Jagger and Bob Geldof, are denying Britain more than £1 billion a year in tax by placing properties into offshore companies. Mr Osborne described the practice yesterday as “completely unacceptable” and said that he would come down on it “like a ton of bricks”. Anyone buying a house to live in will have to pay the tax, however they structure the purchase, under new rules that are expected to raise about £200 million." – The Times (£) 

Clegg Thumbs UpLibDems to stress avoidance measures and to frame the Chancellor's measures as a "Robin Hood budget"The Guardian

Budget news 3) Clegg fighting plans to bring in regional pay bargaining

"The Liberal Democrats are resisting Chancellor George Osborne’s plans to bring in regional pay bargaining for  public sector workers, it emerged last night. A source close to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said there will be nothing in tomorrow’s Budget on the issue, and that Lib Dem ministers were arguing against the plans in Cabinet." – Daily Mail

  • Regional pay rates don't destroy jobs… they create them – Daily Mail

The Telegraph and Mail have the same thought on Wednesday's announcements:

Budget news 4) Royal Mail to be privatised

"A radical deal that will pave the way for the privatisation of Royal Mail while also giving a £28 billion gloss to the public accounts is set to be announced in the Budget on Wednesday. Officials at the Treasury are putting the finishing touches to a plan in which the Royal Mail severs all responsibility for its massive pension fund from the start of April. The Government will take on all the assets of the pension fund, but also its liabilities and promises to pay postal workers’ pensions for decades into the future." – The Times (£)

Budget news 5) "Osborne vows to make building on countryside easier as cracks show in Government"

"The Chancellor confirmed that planning legislation to be announced as part of this week's Budget will clear the way for the construction of more homes and infrastructure…Eric Pickles, the Community Secretary, has been keen to emphasise the Government's willingness to listen to these concerns after a series of meetings with the groups. Yesterday, Stephen Hammond, Mr Pickles' Parliamentary Secretary, insisted that changes will be made to ensure the countryside is protected." – Daily Telegraph

No budget relief for motorists over fuel duty

"Motorists will face a 3p rise in fuel duty from August as Mr Osborne resists pressure to postpone the additional levy after prices hit a record high." – Daily Telegraph

Critics fear Olympics Sunday trading move will be permanent

"Tory MP Mark Menzies, who tried to change Sunday trading law via a private member’s bill, said he was ‘absolutely delighted’ that the plan was now being taken up by the Chancellor. It would ‘send out a very powerful message that Britain is open for business’…But a Church of England spokesman said: ‘The Church would strongly oppose any further attempts to erode the special nature of Sunday, which legislation still reflects.’" – Daily Mail

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – Is this the most anti-Christian Government in British history?

Budget news in brief:

  • Stable data provide relief for Treasury – Financial Times (£)
  • Chancellor has £7 billion windfall at his disposal – Daily Express
  • Osborne has mastered the other three members of the Quad – The Times (£)
  • Former LibDem Treasurer calls for top rate to be slashed to 35p – Daily Express
  • The UK's poorest areas could drive growth – BBC

> Yesterday: George Trefgarne on Comment – How did a Conservative Chancellor deliver 7% growth after the 1930s Depression?

Budget comment – three pieces from Tory MPs:

The more leaks the better – Marie Ann Sieghart, The Independent

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – Osborne defines the purpose of the Government: The 7am worker

Osborne the courageous Chancellor.  Osborne the future leader.  The praise begins…

  • "Whether by accident or design, Osborne could be on the verge of delivering a truly radical Budget. If he pulls it off, defying all of his sceptics, including myself, he may yet be remembered as a great Chancellor." – Allister Heath, City A.M
  • "As he studies himself in the bathroom mirror this morning, does George Gideon Oliver Osborne wonder: ‘Is it possible I will have removed all obstacles to my succeeding Cameron this week?’" – Peter Mackay, Daily Mail

Hammond wants U-turn on Joint Strike Force

Hammond"Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, has recommended a U-turn on one of the most controversial proposals of the cost-cutting armed forces reforms, the Guardian has learned. David Cameron will decide this week whether to agree to an embarrassing about-face involving the Royal Navy's over-budget aircraft carriers, which are under construction…Though he knows the U-turn will be humiliating for the coalition, Cameron has been told the best option is to switch back to another version of the JSF, which was ruled out in the review because it was likely to cost more and do less." – The Guardian

Aid to India to end

"Britain is to stop doling out hundreds of millions of pounds in aid to India, the Coalition announced yesterday. International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said the  current eight-year £1.6billion aid package – which will last until 2015 – would be the last. Until then, the average annual spend on aid to India will be £280million, despite the fact that the country is rich enough to have a space programme." – Daily Mail

  • Get wise to the good news coming from Africa – Tony Blair, The Times (£)

Livingstone under fire over tax

"Ken Livingstone is facing further scrutiny over his tax affairs after a complaint was lodged with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs accusing him of “setting disallowable expenses” against tax. Labour’s mayoral candidate for London has rejected the claim, accusing critics of “vexatious complaints”. Mr Livingstone has been under pressure to explain why he fed earnings of more than £200,000 a year into a limited company, reducing his tax burden from up to 50 per cent to just 20 per cent." – The Times (£)

  • Miliband was whisked to that Hull City game in a Rolls-Royce – The Sun
  • Love the Tories – Peter Goddard, Labour Uncut

Boris in re-election mode sings the praises of the routemaster

Boris Johnson smiling"People were taking photos on their mobiles, and pointing it out to their neighbours. I hope I will be forgiven if I say that I felt a deep sense of satisfaction. An election is upon me, a knock-down, drag-out election; and in this final column before the campaign officially begins, I want to explain how that new red bus is a symbol of what I believe our administration in City Hall has achieved – and of what we are going to do in the next four years." – Boris Johnson, Daily Telegraph

  • "The storm over the Health and Social Care Bill, now at its height in the House of Lords, may by a side wind do lasting damage to the Civil Service." – Lord Wilson, former Cabinet Secretary, in the Daily Telegraph

With the Scottish Conservative Party in its death throes, let's startup an American-style Conservative Action Committee – Brian Monteith, The Scotsman

Rowan Williams to "wage war" on Government during final monthsDaily Express

Cameron adviser says music videos should be given cinema-style age ratingsDaily Mail

Priti Patel MP: the jobless can claim benefits in 135 languagesThe Sun

South American equivalent of the EU calls on Britain to negotiate over the FalklandsDaily Express

Danny Kennedy says why he has quit UUP leadership raceNewsletter

Senior Jew and Sikh fight gay marriage Daily Telegraph

Sarah Teather and Liberal Democrats blocking move to name the father on all birth certificatesDaily Mail

And finally…Dignified, elegant, indomitable: Lady Thatcher photographed enjoying the sunshine in a London park Daily Mail


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