Osborne backs an increase in the minimum wage

OSBORNE red and blue“George Osborne has called for a significant rise in the minimum wage to compensate low-income workers for the economic crisis. … Pushing up wages will ‘make sure that we have a recovery for all and that work pays,’ the Chancellor said in a move apparently aimed at Labour voters. … Mr Osborne’s support for higher wages last night drew warnings from business groups that increasing employers’ costs could result in job losses and hamper the economic recovery.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “If [smaller businesses] are to be saddled with extra costs, the Chancellor – who last week acknowledged a hasty increase in the minimum wage could ‘cost jobs’ – must help them out by cutting their corporation tax and National Insurance.” – Daily Mail editorial
  • “A small increase in the minimum wage will pay for itself and there is no better welfare policy than better pay.” – Times editorial (£)
  • “Raising the minimum wage sounds good in speeches, but those at the bottom may be looking for something entirely different. And that’s what Miliband will promise tomorrow (Friday) – not a penny here or a penny there, but ‘a different kind of economy’ altogether.” – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – Osborne backs a rise in the National Minimum Wage, and spikes Miliband’s big day

And one of his Treasury ministers, Nicky Morgan, backs a bingo tax cut

“A Treasury minister will risk infuriating her own boss by backing a ‘Boost Bingo’ campaign calling for a tax cut. … Nicky Morgan, a rising star in the Treasury, is one of more than 50 MPs supporting a drive by the bingo industry to lower bingo duty from 20 to 15 per cent.” – The Sun (£)

Hammond under pressure over IT blunders

DEFENCE cuts“The public spending watchdog will be asked to investigate a multimillion-pound IT blunder that has left army recruitment in crisis. … Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, was under pressure last night to clarify the scale of the cost attached to the botched computer system, which is at the centre of the Government’s attempt to save money by laying off regular soldiers and hiring reservists.” – The Times (£)

  • “Britain needs a ‘GI Bill’ of its own to ensure Iraq and Afghan vets’ needs are never neglected, a powerful think tank has declared.” – The Sun (£)

And comment:

  • “Not since the end of the cold war has there been a sensible threat to Britain. The defence lobby has cleverly converted criminal deeds by terrorists into threats to ‘national security’. This is lobbying talk, not reality.” – Simon Jenkins, The Guardian
  • “If we’re not talking to President Bashar al-Assad, we should be” – Con Coughlin, Daily Telegraph
  • “It is high time that Britain, and Europe, had a serious, effective and public strategic examination of defence needs and affordable options for the mid-21st century.” – Guardian editorial
  • “If Britain’s Armed Forces have to shrink they must be better run” – Times editorial (£)
  • “Defence weakness reduces our global power and leaves us impotent when it comes to challenges from abroad” – Daily Telegraph editorial

> Yesterday: LISTEN – Former US Defence Secretary says British defence cuts mean we cannot be a full partner to America

Newspaper body warns Miller against excessive press regulation

“A world body on Press freedom has warned that the British Government’s plans for a Royal Charter on Press regulation could threaten the independence of newspapers and be used by ‘repressive regimes’ to justify censorship. … The World Association Of Newspapers And News Publishers is visiting Britain and is meeting Culture Secretary Maria Miller and John Whittingdale, the chairman of the Commons culture select committee.” – Daily Mail

Ministers argue that an independent Scotland could be left stranded outside of Europe

Scottish flag“Scotland could face years outside the EU trying to renegotiate its membership if it decides to become independent after this year’s referendum, the UK government will claim on Friday. … Releasing the latest official analysis into independence, ministers will rebut assertions by Alex Salmond, Scotland first minister, that an independent Scotland could remain in the EU while negotiating similar membership terms to those it enjoys as part of the UK.” – Financial Times

  • “European Union leaders would ‘want to see Scotland as a member’ if the country becomes independent, MSPs heard yesterday. … A group of experts on the European constitution said that other EU members would be keen for Scotland to join the alliance, but warned that entry would not be without its problems.” – The Scotsman
  • Alistair Darling calls on young Scottish voters to support the union – The Independent

Despite Government efforts, benefits fraud is on the rise

“Benefit fraud and error have risen by 10 per cent in the past two years to £3.5 billion despite attempts to clamp down on abuse, government figures show. … The latest accounts from the Department for Work and Pensions reveal that benefit fraud, claimant error and official error rose by £300 million between 2010-11 and 2012-13, representing 2 per cent of the overall benefits bill.” – The Times (£)

  • “Tory MP Simon Hart maintains James Turner Street is not some isolated example of a community defined by dysfunctional attitudes to work. … The Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP says every constituency in Britain has a Benefits Street.” – WalesOnline

> Today: ToryDiary – We need to put the entire benefits system up for review

Boris adviser lays into the airports review

“The London mayor’s aviation adviser has launched a scathing attack on the independent body tasked with identifying the location of the UK’s next runway. … Daniel Moylan, adviser to Boris Johnson, accused the Airports Commission of preparing to back Heathrow’s expansion and sidelining his rival plan for a new airport in the Thames estuary.” – Financial Times

  • “Cyclists should be free to go on to a pavement to avoid hazardous stretches of road, Transport Minister Robert Goodwill has told police.” – The Independent

Bercow calls on Burma to let Aung San Suu Kyi run for the presidency

John Bercow“John Bercow has made a highly unusual intervention in a key foreign policy issue by appealing for Burma’s constitution to be amended to allow Aung San Suu Kyi to run in elections for  the country’s presidency next year. … Mr Bercow says in an Independent article that ‘if Burma is truly committed to democracy’ it must remove a bar excluding individuals whose children are foreign citizens from the Presidency.” – The Independent

Are the Home Office’s restrictions biting? Number of incoming non-European students falls

“The number of students coming to study in UK universities from outside Europe has fallen for the first time, according to figures that demonstrate the effect of Home Office immigration restrictions. … Numbers from India are down by a quarter.” – Financial Times

  • “Record numbers of top degrees are being handed out amid suspicions universities are lowering standards to boost their reputations and attract students.” – Daily Mail
  • “Tens of thousands of university graduates are earning less than school leavers taking apprenticeships, despite accumulating far higher debts, new research shows.” – Daily Telegraph

Laws lays down the law over union reps in schools…

“State schools teachers should be banned from devoting all their time to union activities, David Laws said yesterday. … The schools minister demanded an end to some staff using all their working hours to fight union causes and never setting foot in a classroom. … Taxpayers’ money should not be directed towards those who ‘spend little or no time actually teaching’.” – Daily Mail

  • “Nearly two thirds of parents said they help their children with their homework – with one in six admitting to regularly doing all of it, a study has found.” – Daily Mail
  • Polish MP slams poor UK schools – Daily Mail

…as a new school lays down the law to young offenders

“Hundreds of convicted yobs will be locked up in a new ‘fortified school’ designed to educate them out of crime. … The new £85million facility, described as a secure college by ministers, will hold around one in four of all young offenders. … It is hoped intensive education and training, combined with strict discipline, will help combat re-offending rates among young criminals.” – Daily Mail

Webb’s cap on pension charges is shelved

Shelf“Government plans to cap charges on workplace pensions will be shelved for at least a year, dealing a blow to pensions minister Steve Webb who pursued the policy despite industry opposition. … Designed to protect millions of workers being automatically enrolled into company pensions from paying high fees, a cap on charges was meant to be introduced in April.” – Financial Times

Cable dismisses the idea of a Minister for Portsmouth

“The appointment of a ‘minister for Portsmouth’ by the coalition to help the city recover from shipbuilding job losses has been dismissed as ‘tokenism’ by Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat cabinet minister. … Michael Fallon, who already straddles two departments as minister for energy and business, has been given the job in the wake of 900 job losses at the BAE Systems yard in the city.” – Financial Times

  • “The government has been forced to backtrack on its claims about flood defence spending, admitting the figure has gone down rather than up.” – The Guardiana

Rennard (still) refuses to apologise

“Lord Rennard humiliated Nick Clegg yesterday by defying his second request for an apology for making unwanted advances to female party activists. … As the women who complained about the Lib Dem peer’s behaviour claimed they had been ‘branded liars’, party leader Mr Clegg again tried and failed to wring a statement of regret from him. … The complainants are now considering taking legal action for having their ‘reputations trashed’ after the party let its former chief executive escape punishment.” – Daily Mail

  • “Nick Clegg has expressed his regret that Lord Rennard will not apologise to women who claim he harassed them, but will not try to force the peer out of the Liberal Democrats.” – The Guardian
  • “Nick Clegg should ‘man up’ and take action over evidence of sexual misconduct by a senior Liberal Democrat peer, one of his alleged victims has said, as the Lib Dem leader was warned he faces a revolt from female party activists.” – Daily Telegraph

And comment:

  • “The way in which the Deputy Prime Minister has handled complaints about the Liberal Democrats’ chief executive has been lamentable” – Independent editorial
  • “Rarely has a party leader looked so powerless.” – Daily Telegraph editorial
  • “Nick Clegg – a leader too weak to stop Lord Rennard damaging his party” – Isabel Hardman, Daily Telegraph

Miliband concedes that wages will outpace prices

MILIBAND Red Ed“The longest pay squeeze in history is likely to come  to an end this year, Ed  Miliband will admit today. … The Labour leader, who has spent months warning about a ‘cost of living crisis’, will concede that economic recovery means the average worker’s pay rise is set to outstrip inflation. … But Mr Miliband will insist that ‘a few months of better statistics’ will not mean pressures on families are over and say that the real question is about ‘who gets the rewards’ as Britain recovers.” – Daily Mail

The Labour leader’s speech also outlines his plans for banks

“Banks would be forced to sell branches to meet a new legal threshold restricting the size of high street lenders under Labour plans to be set out in detail by Ed Miliband on Friday. … The Labour leader will use an economic speech to flesh out his plan to end the dominance of four banks, which control the lion’s share of mortgages, current accounts and small-business lending.” – Financial Times

  • “A wide-ranging review of the Co-operative Group being conducted by former City minister Lord Myners is to analyse whether the chief executive should be appointed to the board, as well as the group’s relationship with the Labour party after its tumultuous 2013.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “Sixteen months to go there is still much convincing to be done on Labour’s two great contradictory electoral essentials – to win confidence as credible managers of the economy and to breathe excitement into the prospect of a Labour government. They are not there yet.” – Polly Toynbee, The Guardian
  • “Miliband is right that the industry must change. But his solutions are way behind the times.” – Paul Marshall, The Times (£)
  • “It is time to admit defeat. The bankers have got away with it.” – Philip Stephens, Financial Times
  • “Whipping the bankers – as proposed by Ed Miliband – is not the solution” – Jeremy Warner, Daily Telegraph

> Yesterday: Andrew Bridgen MP on Comment – Miliband must be constantly reminded that his economic policies have led France to disaster

And he has plans for the election of future of leaders, too

“Miliband wants to ensure that only union members who have made a decision to become associate members are able to vote in the election of the Labour leader – and he is prepared to end the electoral college in which MPs have a third of the vote, party members a third and union political levy payers a third. … Miliband has been looking at the possibility of MPs being responsible for the nomination of candidates to ensure they do not have someone foisted upon them that they oppose.” – The Guardian

However, his talks with the unions aren’t exactly going well

FIST Red“Ed Miliband has put back on the table changes to Labour’s leadership elections as he struggles to thrash out a deal to reform the party’s union link. … Paul Kenny, the head of the GMB union, the party’s second biggest union donor, claimed that talks had broken down yesterday. … The timetable means that constituency parties will have little or no time to discuss the package. ‘I am concerned that local Labour parties have still not seen any proposals,’ [Tom] Watson said.” – The Times (£)

Public Accounts Committee warns that the Government’s export target could be missed

“The government will miss its target of doubling exports to £1 trillion by 2020 if Britain fails to step up efforts to secure markets in faster-growing emerging economies, an influential group of MPs has warned. … The cross-party public accounts committee (PAC) said the country was lagging behind other major European exporters such as Germany and France, partly because Britain’s small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) were not receiving adequate help from the government.” – The Guardian

The Lords agrees to stricter punishments for its members

“The House of Lords has agreed stricter new punishments for peers caught breaking the rules. … Under the scheme they can have their £300 daily allowance docked — or be banned from facilities such as libraries, car parks and dining rooms.” – The Sun (£)

Women are delaying motherhood too long, says chief medical officer

“The country’s chief  medical officer has warned that the number of women who are choosing to have children later in life is a ‘worrying issue’. … Professor Dame Sally Davies said that trying to start a family in their late 30s and early 40s would reduce women’s chance of conception and could increase the medical risks.” – Daily Mail

  • “Britain has more single parents than almost any country in Europe, and almost one in three of them are unemployed.” – Daily Mail
  • “Working single parents who receive a pay rise should also get a cash bonus from the state, a Conservative think-tank recommends today.” – The Independent

Rulings in family cases to be made public

“Decisions by secret courts that can lead to children being taken from their parents or old people forced into care homes are finally to be opened up to public scrutiny. … Under rules set out yesterday, future judgments in the family courts and the Court of Protection must be made public except in cases where there is a clear reason to dictate they should not be.” – Daily Mail

News in brief

  • Around 63 million £50 notes are to be withdrawn – Daily Mail
  • Hollande in the merdeDaily Mail
  • British woman arrested for alleged terror offences as she tries to fly to Turkey – Daily Telegraph
  • UKIP faces ‘stitch-up’ claims over ‘cosy’ by-election contest… – Daily Telegraph
  • …as one of UKIP’s green energy critics faces accusation of hypocrisy – The Times (£)
  • Green councillors in Brighton to push for referendum on council tax rise – The Guardian
  • “Why battle to save sickly shops on the high street when we need homes?” – Ian Birrell, The Guardian
  • British spies have access to a US system that can read million of text messages from around the world – The Independent

And finally 1) From Thomas Cromwell to Margaret Thatcher

THATCHER statue“Hilary Mantel, the only female writer to twice win the Man Booker Prize, will make Margaret Thatcher the subject of her next book. … The Wolf Hall author will pen a collection of short stories about the former prime minister, who died in April last year. … The novel, entitled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, will be published in September.” – Daily Mail

And finally 2) No more sweeteners, says Cameron

“David Cameron has promised to give up sweet treats for a day – with the support of his wife – to back the campaign against obesity. … He said he will try to take up the challenge to have no sugar and no sugary drinks on one day this week.” – Daily Mail

And finally 3) The Prime Minister’s comedic turn

“David Cameron has revealed his true priority for 2014 – to keep his bald spot hidden. … The prime minister was speaking at the annual Westminster correspondents’ dinner before an audience of journalists. … The event – revived for the first time since 1974 – was an opportunity for Cameron to show off his sense of humour and poke some gentle fun at his tormentors in the press.” – The Guardian