Midnight Lord Ashcroft on Comment: Conservatives 3% ahead of Lib Dems in first Eastleigh by-election poll

7pm Jeremy Hunt MP on Comment: A narrow focus on finance and targets was a large driver of the Mid Staffs tragedy

4pm Jill Kirby on Comment: Michael Gove is right to change course

12.45pm Local government: Cutting the spare room rent subsidy is fair

Noon Chris Skidmore MP on Comment: Richard III's remains should lie in state at York

Screen shot 2013-02-07 at 12.05.5510.30am Lord Ashcroft on Comment: My memorable night at the inaugural Paddy Power and Total Politics book awards

ToryDiary: Why Cameron must win Eastleigh

MPsETC: There is a lot of illiberalism amongst so-called liberals and a lot of intolerance from those who once preached tolerance

Henry Hill's Red, White and Blue Column: The fate of the UUP is a warning to Scotland's Conservatives

Lord Risby on Comment: How Cameron's use of trade envoys is boosting business for Britain abroad

Local Government:

The Deep End: Would a shale gas bonanza be bad news for Britain?

As the LibDems go for a quick win in Eastleigh, Clegg helps to block Gove's English Baccalaureate plan (useful timing for the junior Coalition partner)…

Screen shot 2013-02-07 at 08.31.33
"Michael Gove, the
Education Secretary, will announce a major climbdown over his
controversial plans to scrap GCSEs in favour of a new English
Baccalaureate. In a surprise statement in the Commons, Mr Gove will
reveal that he is abandoning plans to introduce the new qualification in
2015. GCSEs will remain, although they will be reformed in an attempt
to restore confidence in them as an internationally respected
qualification." – The Independent

  • "The
    report from the education select committee was more damning still, with
    Graham Stuart, the Conservative MP who heads it, saying he could not
    even see a case for dispensing with GCSEs." – The Guardian

…(Gove will announce changes to GCSEs today)…

a statement to MPs today, he will say he is now pressing ahead with
more modest plans to reform the existing GCSE system. He has already
watered down an idea for a two-tier exam system based on the old
0-Levels and CSEs. But he will insist he can still make changes to GCSEs
and ensure they match up to the best exams in the world. He wants to
slash coursework and focus on more rigorous end-of-year exams. A report
by the cross-party Commons education committee last week criticised him
for trying to do “too much, too quickly”." – The Sun

(Elsewhere, the Twitter war between Toby Helm of the Observer and Tory Education News goes on – see here and here.)

> Yesterday:

…And the Deputy Prime Minister excludes top earners from childcare vouchers…

highest earners will be excluded from a new government scheme to help
families pay for childcare after the Liberal Democrats insisted that top
rate taxpayers should not receive any handouts. Any parent who earns
more than £150,000 will not be eligible for childcare vouchers,
according to government officials, as the Treasury finalises a financial
package of up to £1.5bn to help parents pay for the soaring cost of
childcare. Families with young children could receive a tax break worth
up to £2,000 per household." – Financial Times (£)

…As he winds up to fight his partners over the mansion tax. Shapps fights back.

emerged Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg plans to accuse Tories in a speech
today of protecting the rich by blocking his mansion tax proposal. But
Tory party chair Grant Shapps has hit back, slamming shamed former Lib
Dem MP Huhne for lying to constituents, adding: “They’ll welcome the
opportunity to express the way they feel about it very soon.” The clash
came as the Eastleigh, Hants, by-election was pencilled in for February
28 last night. Mr Clegg will launch the Lib Dems’ campaign today and
their candidate will be selected Saturday." – The Sun

> Today: ToryDiary – Why Cameron must win Eastleigh

Same-sex marriage vote fall-out: Cameron comes out fighting…

"After staying on the sidelines before Tuesday night’s vote, the Prime
Minister used the first opportunity to give the Bill his unvarnished
backing. The great thing about the vote is that two gay people who love
each other will now be able to get married, and I think that is an
important advance,” he said. But he ruled out allowing straight couples
to enter civil partnerships, saying that such a move would weaken
marriage. “I am a marriage man. I am a great supporter of marriage. I
want to promote marriage, defend marriage, encourage marriage.” – The
Times (£)

(…A day late…)

Tim Montgomerie, editor of the unofficial party supporters’ website,
ConservativeHome, criticised David Cameron for failing to take part in
Tuesday’s Commons debate – instead doing a short clip for the evening
news.  He said: ‘He took a principled stand on equal marriage but didn’t
then fight for it. He didn’t even turn up for the debate." – Daily Mail

Burrowes "fights on to win"

Burrowes, a leading Tory opponent of the Bill, who will now sit on the
committee that will examine it, said he would be “constructive” as he
sought amendments but added: “I am in it to win it.” He believed
three-quarters of the 40 Tory MPs who abstained on Tuesday had major
concerns about the measure, and even some of those  who supported it did
so with “a heavy heart”. Mr Burrowes said: “We succeeded in one
objective – sending a message very clearly and loudly to the Lords.” –
The Independent

  • Pro same-sex marriage Church of England priests to conduct freelance same-sex weddings – Daily Telegraph
  • Mike Freer MP: why I went public about being gay – The Independent

Peter Oborne: The Prime Minister's plan is to fight the next election like a President – not as the leader of his party

is time to remind the Prime Minister that the Conservative Party, which
he has the temporary privilege of leading, has been one of our great
civic institutions for the past 200 years. Throughout this period, it
has gained its strength and durability from its deep provincial roots
rather than its metropolitan centre, allied to the strong sense that it
represents the British nation as a whole. There is something ugly about
the casual way that Mr Cameron and his allies are disdainfully trashing
the organisation he leads in order to promote his own popularity." –
Daily Telegraph

  • The night of 127 ayes. And heroes every one of them – Matthew Parris, The Times (£)
  • Bonkers Tories, empty Labour – David Aaronovitch, The Times (£)
  • Miliband attacks Cameron over "bedroom tax" – The Guardian
  • Cruddas says that opposing the Government isn't enough – The Sun

> Yesterday:

Prime Minister: Pro Union poll in Northern Ireland will lift spiritsNewsletter

The choice after 2015: 3p on income tax (or the equivalent). A raid on pensioner benefits…or the deficit lingering for longer

Screen shot 2013-02-07 at 08.21.20"Households face the threat of tax increases equivalent to an extra three pence on income tax as the Government struggles to put the brake on its ever-heavier borrowing, a respected think-tank has warned. The Green Budget published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that the next government may have to impose “substantial” rises in taxes after the 2015 election because the hole in the public finances will prove to be too large to cure entirely through spending cuts. Alternatively, the Government could raid pensioner benefits for savings or simply borrow more money for longer." – The Times (£)

  • IFS says that diminishing oil revenues will have a major impact on Scotland’s economy if it becomes independent – Scotsman
  • On the current proposals, the budgets of Whitehall departments – with the exception of health, schools and overseas aid – will be a third smaller by the fiscal year 2017-18 than they were in 2010-11 – Financial Times (£)
  • 1.2 million public sector workers will be axed" 300,000 more than predicted under Coalition plans – The Sun

Francis Report 1): Cameron pledges shake-up

Screen shot 2013-02-07 at 08.22.36
"David Cameron apologised for the failings yesterday and promised to end
the culture of complacency that allowed truly dreadful care. He plans
an overhaul of regulators who allowed systematic failings, including a
new Chief Inspector of Hospitals, a beefed-up complaints process and a
system to sack managers who preside over bad care. The Prime Minister
also announced an immediate investigation into five hospitals with
persistently high death rates, the warning sign that finally exposed the
scandal at Stafford Hospital." – The Times (£)

Francis Report 2) Why has no-one been sacked?

of victims and MPs lined up to castigate the conclusions by Robert 
Francis QC that no one should be scapegoated over the disgrace.  They
said Sir David and former Stafford managers should ‘carry the can’ for
the Health Service’s abject failure to ensure a proper standard of care
at the hospital. As many as 1,200 patients are feared to have died from
neglect at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust between 2005 and 2008 with
thousands of others subject to ‘inhumane’ and ‘degrading’ treatment." –
Daily Mail

Martin Kettle: Will anything really change?

Screen shot 2013-02-07 at 08.32.33"A
bipartisan approach is fine if the approach is a good one. But what if
it repeats the errors of the past? That is the danger with the response
to the Francis report. If the problem that spilled into patient
mistreatment and neglect in Stafford was, as Cameron says, an excess of
attention to financial and management targets at the expense of patient
care, it is not evident from today's exchanges that the solution will be
much better. Change the culture, said Cameron. Miliband agreed. Ensure
staff levels are benchmarked, said Miliband. Cameron concurred. More
training. More regulation. A place for targets. The frontbenches were as
one on these too." – The Guardian

  • "Never
    forget that the worst of these horrors were happening when health
    spending was at its height after Labour had tripled it." – Daily Mail
  • "Labour’s
    NHS created a hospital where starved patients drank from flower vases
    and wallowed in filth while smug managers and bullying nurses callously
    abandoned them to die alone and in agony." – Sun Editorial
  • "The
    public must be supplied with much better information about what goes on
    in hospitals and they in turn must take their patients more seriously."
    The Times (£)
  • The real problem destroying the NHS? Jobsworths who want to please politicians more than patients – Harriet Sergeant, Daily Mail
  • The boss must go. NHS staff must step up – Phil Hammond, The Times (£)
  • Money rather than reform sometimes really is the answer – Steve Richards, The Independent

> Yesterday:

More than half of public sector staff do not trust their bossesFinancial Times (£)

Carney to make first Select Committee appearance today.  Osborne presses more QE…

Screen shot 2013-02-07 at 08.24.23"George Osborne let slip his frustration with the Bank of England on Wednesday, calling for looser monetary policy to boost economic recovery. In an extremely unusual move on the day before the BoE’s monetary policy committee announces the outcome of its monthly meeting, the chancellor put pressure on the bank to take action. Mr Osborne said decisive moves by the government on the deficit “means that . . . monetary policy action by the BoE can and should continue to support the economy”. – Financial Times (£)

  • The five questions Carney must answer – Chris Giles, Financial Times (£)
  • Osborne yesterday behaviour at Royal Bank of Scotland “totally unacceptable” – Daily Express
  • The Government has mishandled its Libor response – Allister Heath, City AM

But Jesse Norman asks: Is there too much already?

evidence is that QE is becoming less effective and less fair with the
passage of time. Meanwhile, a policy introduced to support business has
been targeted at gilts, while the banks have struggled to pass on the
benefits in more loans or lower costs to companies. A policy of easy
money has hugely cushioned the blow of recession, but it has also
suspended the business cycle and may be slowing down recovery." – The
Times (£)

There is no wall of hostility to our EU plans, says Hague

"Giving evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee Mr Hague said that Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has a “passionate belief” that Britain should remain in the EU. “Governments have reacted in a wide range of ways,” Mr Hague said. “Chancellor Merkel has reacted in a pragmatic way and that is true of many other European capitals.” He added: “The French government, which very clearly has many different views about the future development of Europe, has said very clearly they want to keep the United Kingdom in. The idea that there is some wall of hostility to the ideas we have put forward I think would be a mistake.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Trade Minister Lord Green warns of business fears over referendum – The Times (£)
  • Cameron is right on Europe – and Germany is wrong – Hans-Werner Sinn, The Times (£)
  • After 30 years of waste, EU finally moves to end scandal of dumping dead fish – Daily Mail

Dominic Raab MP: Why the Tories need a meritocrat's manifesto

Dominic Raab"A Conservative message of self-help must reach beyond the middle classes – and give those who have had a rough ride a second chance. Fight for Peace in East London – where I volunteer – helps disaffected teenagers out of a rut. It combines boxing and martial arts, personal development, numeracy and literacy, and youth support…Pollsters are right that fairness remains a Tory blind spot. But we don't need to ape Labour. Strengthening consumer clout, promoting mutual tolerance and giving the underdog a shot would help define the stubborn optimism that tough times demand." – Dominic Raab, The Guardian

Obama chooses British-born Sally Jewell as new Interior SecretaryThe Times (£)

Environment Minister Richard Benyon says that a plastic bag tax may not be the best optionDaily Telegraph

Maggie's home town split over whether it wants her statueDaily Mail

Jemima Khan: Julian Assange risks becoming 'Australian L Ron Hubbard'The Guardian

Uprising in Tunisia as regime critic is murderedThe Independent

House prices are rising at fastest rate in three years thanks to Government's £80billion boostDaily Mail

Former Northern Rock chairman Matt Ridley joins LordsFinancial Times (£)

And finally…Prescott blows a fuse as Mandelson beats him to becoming High Steward of Hull

"Lord Prescott, who recently failed in his bid to become Humberside’s first elected police and crime commissioner, responded by firing off a letter to city hall demanding to know why he had not been consulted. One source said councillors who saw the letter were ‘rolling about on the floor laughing’ at his self-important tone." – Daily Mail


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