8.45pm MPsETC: Survation for the Mail on Sunday has Maria Hutchings and the Conservatives four points ahead of the Liberal Democrats in Eastleigh. Labour's support is sliding & UKIP's is growing.

1.45pm ToryDiary: The downgrade: some commentators' reactions

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12.45pm WATCH:

11.30am MPsETC: Conservative MPs react to Moody's verdict

ToryDiary: The downgrade. Black Friday?

Mark Field MP on Comment: The deeper discontent beneath the mansion tax debate

LeftWatch: Ten women claim Lib Dems' campaign chief molested them. When did Nick Clegg know?

MPsETC: UKIP is doing well in Eastleigh but its manifesto for the campaign reveals a silly and populist dishonesty

It was expected – and it's happened. Britain has lost its AAA credit rating

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 05.29.55"Moody’s said last night that it would cut its assessment of Britain’s creditworthiness from AAA to AA1, marking the first time in the UK’s history that it has had a less-than-perfect rating. The Bank of England will suffer the same fate as a consequence. The move marks a blow not only for the UK’s prestige among international investors but for the Chancellor, George Osborne, himself — who has set huge store by his ability to maintain an unblemished rating." – The Times (£)

Moody's brings in the verdict. It warns that debt will peak at almost 100% of GDP

"Moody’s blamed weakness in the eurozone for also hurting the UK economy, and the rating agency now expects that the UK’s gross general government debt level will peak at just over 96 per cent of GDP in 2016. The difference between a triple-A and a double-A country, he said, was the ability to absorb shocks such as financial crises, and there was now uncertainty about whether, having intervened to prop up the City in 2008, the UK had the capacity to intervene again if needed." – Financial Times (£) 

Osborne is defiant…

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 09.23.40" 'Tonight we have a stark reminder of the debt problems facing our country – and the clearest possible warning to anyone who thinks we can run away from dealing with those problems. 'Far from weakening our resolve to deliver our economic recovery plan, this decision redoubles it. We will go on delivering the plan that has cut the deficit by a quarter, and given us record low interest rates and record numbers of jobs.' " – Daily Mail 

…(And Balls is exultant)

"George Osborne said keeping the credit rating was the key goal of his economic policy. As his economic plan has floundered, it has been the last thing he has clung on to. And bizarrely his response tonight suggests he is not reflecting on why things have gone so badly wrong, but using this downgrade as one more reason to plough on with his failing plan – regardless of the damaging impact on struggling families and businesses." – The Guardian

"The politics of this are toxic for Osborne"

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 08.24.41
"The entire strategy that he and Cameron embarked on after the election was based on the notion that under their stewardship Britain has a credible plan to get its finances in order. The truth is that when they say they are "dealing with the country's debt" they are almost doubling it. They decided to front-load tax rises, and back-load their spending cuts in the expectation that by now the UK would be powering into a strong recovery. The strategy is now in ruins." – Iain Martin, Daily Telegraph 

> Today: ToryDiary – The downgrade. Black Friday?

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – Moody's downgrades the UK's credit rating

Chancellor visits injured British troopsThe Sun

Eastleigh: A Times poll finds the LibDems five points ahead of the Conservatives.  A third of UKIP supporters voted Tory last time.  A quarter voted LibDem…

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 09.03.17"Mr Cameron could yet be vulnerable to a further surge from the UK Independence Party, which is attracting former Tory and Lib Dem supporters and is already beating Labour into third place. The Populus poll for The Times puts the Liberal Democrats on 33 per cent, the Conservatives on 28 per cent, Ukip on 21 per cent and Labour on 11 per cent. It underlines the extent to which UKIP has become the anti-Establishment party of the moment. Of the projected UKIP vote, a third voted Tory in 2010, a quarter voted Lib Dem and a quarter did not vote at all." – The Times (£)

…But there's bad news for the party.  Clegg is dragged into the Rennard allegations as at least ten women claim the party's Chief Executive
molested them – and that the leader's office knew about it.  The claims are compared to Savile scandal by a leading LibDem
activist: "There is a gulf…but there is also a potentially worrying

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 08.52.49"The
Deputy Prime Minister has been dragged into the sex scandal surrounding a
top Liberal Democrat accused of molesting women. Amid mounting claims
of a cover-up, it emerged Nick Clegg’s private office was made aware of
the claims as long as five years ago.  Aides to the Lib Dem leader
refused to say how much he knew about the allegations that former party
chief Chris Rennard had groped a string of female activists." – Daily

Farron-led inquiry will question Burstow, Swinson

disciplinary inquiry, to be led by a panel of independent party figures
and lawyers, will also question Paul Burstow, chairman of the
parliamentary party and a former health minister, and Jo Swinson, who is
now Minister for Women. The women interviewed on Channel 4 claimed that
neither Ms Swinson nor Mr Burstow, who was then the Liberal Democrat
Chief Whip, were prepared to take their complaints any further." – The
Times (£)

Lord Rennard's statement

Rennard is deeply shocked by and strongly disputes the allegations made
against him in the Channel 4 News broadcast on 21st February. He
regards the report as a total distortion of his character. “Not a single
complaint of misconduct was made against him to his knowledge during
the 27 years he worked for the Liberal Democrat party. Despite the claim
made by one woman in the report, Lord Rennard continued working closely
with her for 10 years after the alleged event described.” – Financial
Times (£)

Mike Hancock controversy re-surfaces

for a constituent of Mike Hancock, the Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth, wrote
to the party on Friday asking it to reopen an internal inquiry into his
behaviour. Hancock is being sued for alleged sexual assault against the
woman, who suffers from a mental illness, after she had approached him
for help with noisy neighbours in 2009. The Lib Dems cleared Hancock in
February last year of any wrongdoing." – The Guardian

Stephen Tall: "It isn't good enough"

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 08.54.18"So
far the party has said only that “we urge anyone to contact the Chief
Executive or use our confidential whistle blower procedure if they have
issues they wish to raise as a result of Channel 4′s report.” That isn’t
good enough. It isn’t reasonable to expect those who wish to allege
sexual misconduct to send an email or letter to the chief executive
unless they can be sure he and he alone will have access to such
correspondence. As for the whistle-blower’s procedure, I wish you luck
finding it on the party’s website or via a Google search. I haven’t been
able to unearth it." – Stephen Tall's Blog

  • Rennard: the sandal-wearing Mystic Meg of the Muesli Party – Daily Mail

> Today: LeftWatch – Ten women claim Lib Dems' campaign chief molested them. When did Nick Clegg know?

Talking of the Savile crisis…

"Lord Patten, the BBC chairman, accused senior managers at the
broadcaster of "frantic faffing about" as they failed to get to grips
with the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse crisis, in transcripts published in
full for the first time. He said they were overwhelmed by a labyrinthine
bureaucracy unmatched by communist China…Alan Maclean QC, a member of
the inquiry team, said relationships between executives were "toxic" and
"poisoned" to such an extent that its director general, George
Entwistle, would not talk to the Newsnight journalist who first tried to
tell the Savile story." – The Guardian

The centre-right papers targets their howitzers at the BBC.  The Sun, the Mail, the Times (£) and the Telegraph all fire off damning editorials.

Back in Eastleigh, IDS (and Shapps) take the gloves off and call Huhne a liar

DUNCAN SMITH 2"The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has urged his party's candidate at the Eastleigh byelection to constantly remind voters that the former holder of the seat, the disgraced Liberal Democrat MP Chris Huhne, "is a liar". Duncan Smith, a former Conservative party leader, said Hutchings should also go hard on the local Liberal Democrat council and get over the Tory message that it was pushing through developments on green sites while claiming to be protecting the countryside." – The Guardian

  • Eastleigh looks to be a two-horse race – Matthew Engel, Financial Times
  • Labour fear fourth place – The Sun
  • Maria Hutchings: I am not being hidden – The Guardian
  • Is Ed's pal the sickest man in politics? – Andrew Pierce of the Daily Mail lays in to John O'Farrell
  • The politicians are losing in Eastleigh – Michael Deacon, Daily Telegraph

Danny Alexander says that the tax threshold should be raised further

"Danny Alexander, the Lib Dem Chief Secretary to the Treasury, suggested the radical tax cut for the low-paid should be the centrepiece of his party’s next manifesto. The measure would mean that no one earning the national minimum wage would pay income tax. But some Tories fear the proposals would put a further squeeze on middle-income households. Mr Alexander said: “The Lib Dems are the only party that will radically cut taxes for people on low and middle incomes that will build a stronger economy and a fairer society so that everyone can get on in life.” – Daily Express

And there's bad news for UKIP, too.  One its MEPs defects to the Conservatives

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 08.56.31"Marta Andreasen, who was elected as a UKIP MEP in 2009, said she is going to join the Conservatives because they now offer the only realistic option for those wanting to bring about real change in Europe. Miss Andreasen, 58, was one of UKIP’s most high-profile MEPs and her departure is a serious blow. It also represents a significant coup for Mr Cameron, who has been under pressure from his own party to toughen up his Eurosceptic credentials in order to deal with the electoral threat from UKIP." – Daily Mail

> Today: MPsETC – UKIP is doing well in Eastleigh but its manifesto for the campaign reveals a silly and populist dishonesty

Prime Minister accused of breaking pledge as foreign criminal deportations fall

"Fewer foreign criminals are being deported despite a pledge by David Cameron more than two years ago to ‘intervene personally’. Since 2010 there has been a spectacular fall in the number sent home after committing serious offences here. In the year of the General Election, 5,342 were deported.  In 2011, in the Coalition’s second year of office, the figure was down 13 per cent to 4,649." – Daily Mail

Cameron India visit comment:

  • Cameron's right, our future lies with India. So why is he so fixated with Europe? - Robin Harris, Daily Mail
  • The Prime Minister acknowledges the shame of the Amritsar massacre in India, but many more died on the NHS’s filthy wards – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph
  • Apologising for Amritsar is pointless – William Dalrymple, The Guardian

> Yesterday: Peter Hoskin in this week's Culture Column: Next time David Cameron goes to India, he should take some artists with him

"Cameron bans Obama from bringing Michelle to G8 as he decrees summit will be WAG free zone"Daily Mail

Obsorne & Gove want tougher strike laws, but Maude & McLoughlin are opposed

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 09.00.18"Right-wing Tory ministers are pressing David Cameron to include the proposals in the party’s next general election manifesto, The Independent understands. The planned legislation would make industrial action illegal unless at least 50 per cent of union members take part in a strike ballot. Supporters of the threshold – who insist the potential policy is “under active discussion” in Downing Street – believe the plan would prove highly popular with the voters." – The Independent

Germany's President: make English the language of the EU

"Joachim Gauck earned applause for his remarks, made in Berlin on Friday in a speech on Europe's future at a time of rising German scepticism towards Brussels. "Dear English, Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish and new British citizens, we want to continue having you on board," he said. "We need your experience as the oldest parliamentary democracy, we need your traditions, your sober-mindedness and your courage." – The Guardian

Patrick O'Flynn: The next Tory leader could be…Theresa May

May & Cameron
"Mrs May has a lot else going for her too.  She is the only woman with real seniority in a party that is lagging badly among women voters.  She is a self-made, grammar school girl in a party thought to be too posh and public school.  And at 56 she is thoroughly grown-up in a party that is held to have produced too many bumptious young men. She has not yet fulfilled her university boast but do not doubt that she is padded up in the pavilion as the bowling gets trickier for the man at the crease." – Daily Express

Graeme Archer: Let's talk about the exodus of 600,000 whites from London

"Discernment is required: nobody decent is arguing for a return to the homogeneity of Call the Midwife’s Poplar. Finally, politicians have admitted that to notice the scale of the immigration engineered by the last Labour government doesn’t make one racist. But neither is it wrong to discuss the cultural changes that large-scale immigration can cause. Six hundred thousand Londoners have left. They didn’t all sell ex-council houses in Barking, in order to purchase five-bedroom cliff-top villas in sunny Leigh-on-Sea." – Daily Telegraph

Screen shot 2013-02-23 at 05.29.11Ant and Dec tried drugs and, worse, Ant voted Conservative
Agony for the Daily Mirror

Benefits 1) Commute three hours a day or lose benefits, jobseekers are told Daily Mail

Benefits 2) Labour could link benefits level to work history Daily Telegraph

Wild horses implicated in food scandalFinancial Times (£)

Hospital taken over by private firm shows highest levels of patient satisfactionDaily Mail

Fuel 1) Cost of diesel breaks the £7 barrierThe Sun

Fuel 2) AA warns of price sharks pushing up petrol costsDaily Express

> Yesterday:

Scottish Catholic cardinal says that priests should marryHerald Scotland

Al-Qaeda wants terror knowledge spread throughout Europe to 'whack' people hereDaily Telegraph

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – Islamist terror and extremism: "They haven't gone away, you know"

Conservative MP Geoffrey Dickins warned of powerful paedophile ring 30 years agoThe Independent

And finally… No U-turns: Thatcher battle bus is sold for £17,000

"The 28-ton “battle bus” is thought to have been built in the 1980s for the former Prime Minister to use on a Northern Ireland tour. The vehicle went under the hammer and beat the estimate of £10,000, selling for a final £16,940 to a vehicle collector. Jonathan Humbert, of Northamptonshire-based JP Humbert Auctioneers, said: “There was immense interest. It sold to a spontaneous round of applause in the saleroom.” – Daily Express