Osborne ponders another tax cuts for companies…

OSBORNE SWORD“The Chancellor angered employers by indicating he is ready to contemplate an increase of almost 11 per cent in the present £6.31-an-hour rate to £7 to restore it to pre-recession levels. … But if the rise is approved by the independent Low Pay Commission, Government sources say he is likely to ease the pain for businesses – probably with more cuts in employers’ National Insurance contributions.” – Daily Mail

  • “The Tories must speak for the middle classes” – Daily Telegraph editorial

…that surely won’t fall foul of Crosby’s “no minor policies” rule

“Political strategists in Number 10 have issued an edict to Government departments effectively banning them from promoting initiatives that are not central to the party’s key election themes of crime, the economy, immigration and welfare. … The plan is understood to be the brainchild of the Tories’ election guru Lynton Crosby, who last year told David Cameron to ‘get the barnacles off the boat’ in order to win in 2015.” – The Independent

Charities call on Cameron to aid Syrian refugees

“Britain must accept its ‘shared responsibility’ for Syria’s refugees and join a UN scheme to welcome those fleeing the conflict, a coalition of 25 aid agencies and charities tells David Cameron. … In an open letter published in The Independent, the organisations call on the Prime Minister to ‘transform the lives’ of Syrians displaced by the civil war in their country by committing the UK to participate in the UNHCR’s global resettlement programme.” – The Independent

  • “The moral case for our taking in a proportion of the refugees is overwhelming. Families in the UK may well be feeling the squeeze, but most would find the suffering of these innocent civilians difficult to comprehend.” – Independent editorial

Face the public if you dare raise council tax levels, Pickles tells local authorities

PICKLES Eric 2009“Eric Pickles warned local authorites yesterday that if they want to raise council tax this year they will have to put their decision to a local referendum. … George Osborne has called for a council tax freeze for the third year running but many town halls are threatening to raise the tax to supplement budget cuts.” – The Times (£)

  • “A new ‘aggressive approach’ by HMRC has seen a 23pc rise in the amount raised by challenging estates over inheritance tax, new figures suggest.” – Daily Telegraph

Prisoners who go on the run face two more years in jail, announces Grayling…

“Prisoners on licence who go on the run after breaking the terms of their release will face up to two additional years behind bars. … The measure will tackle the 800 inmates a year who abscond rather than be sent back to jail – and then face no additional punishment when they are found. … Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the new measure will stop inmates ‘getting away’ with absconding and result in more fugitives being returned quickly to jail.” – Daily Mail

  • “A Prison Service recruitment drive is to target former officers who left with generous payoffs in the latest example of a public sector ‘merry-go-round’ in which former staff are rehired.” – The Times (£)
  • “A staggering £51 million has been handed to prison wardens in redundancy payouts since the Coalition came to power, the Sun can reveal.” – The Sun (£)

…as the Chief Inspector of Constabulary warns that murders could be going unreported in certain communities

Police helmet“Some minority communities are operating their own justice systems with offences as serious as murder going unreported to police, according to the Chief Inspector of Constabulary. … Tom Winsor said that officers were never called to some neighbourhoods that ‘administer their own form of justice’. In an interview with The Times, he added that such alternative systems were run not by criminals but by ‘law-abiding people’.” – The Times (£)

  • “Britain’s most dangerous terror suspects who are being freed from strict court controls will be allowed to live anonymously in communities – to protect their human rights.” – Daily Telegraph

Truss speaks out against “segregation in toy departments”

“Toy makers risk damaging girls’ chances at maths and science by marketing certain toys only at boys, an education minister warned last night. … Elizabeth Truss called for an end to ‘segregation in toy departments’ that results in some products being marketed only at one sex.” – Daily Mail

  • “More than 150,000 children are being taught in underperforming state secondary schools despite reforms designed to raise standards.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Plans to stop experiments counting towards science A-levels will leave youngsters without vital skills for the workplace, business leaders have warned.” – Daily Mail
  • Space science GCSE launched in Northern Ireland – Daily Mail

Julian Brazier MP: “Bring on the reserves and their proud history”

“In Afghanistan, where the Army is now excelling itself, our partners the US Marines deploy many reserve units. Australia and Canada give peacekeeping tasks to their reserves, and have deployed combat companies to Afghanistan. All three allies have proportionately larger reserve forces than we plan to recruit.” – Julian Brazier, The Times (£)

Heffer’s “cunning plan to save David Cameron’s bacon”

Bacon“If Mr Cameron wants to stay in power, he should bring forward the referendum to, at the latest, the day of the next General Election — May 7, 2015. He should also hound the Labour Party for their denial of voters’ democratic rights. This certainly ought to win him extra votes. Sadly, however, Mr Cameron won’t do this. … Instead, he seems hell-bent on sacrificing the Tory Party — and, more importantly, Britain — because of a misguided desire to keep his own seat at the top table of the European club.” – Simon Heffer, Daily Mail

Parris: “The Tory fifth column wants Cameron to lose”

“Definition: ‘Fifth column . . . [2] any group of hostile or subversive infiltrators; an enemy in one’s midst.’ … One does not use the expression lightly. But I believe that a group of Conservative backbench MPs — quite a small group, much smaller than what the news media like to call the ‘Tory Euro-rebels’ — are content that should their party lose the coming general election, this will suit their plans.” – Matthew Parris, The Times (£)

Clegg tells Cameron to come clean over garden cities

CLEGG Bird“David Cameron must be ‘honest and upfront’ about the Government’s plans to build two new garden cities in Kent and Buckinghamshire, Nick Clegg has said. … His comments, made in an article for The Telegraph, will be seen as a direct challenge to David Cameron to publish a ‘prospectus’ for future developments, which was drawn up after the Prime Minister gave a speech supporting the idea nearly two years ago.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “The Government has yet to notice that much property development in London has little to do with providing homes.” – Ross Clark, The Times (£)

Lib Dem activists: the whip should be withdrawn from Rennard if he fails to apologise

“Nick Clegg last night risked civil war in his party as he insisted Lord Rennard should not rejoin the Lib Dem group in the Lords unless he apologises over sexual harassment allegations. … It came as a former party activist, who claims to have been the victim of ‘scary’ unwanted advances after Lord Rennard trapped her in a room, attacked the party for letting him get off scot-free. … And Mr Clegg was placed under further pressure last night after more than 100 Lib Dem activists signed a letter urging him to demand the withdrawal of the whip from Lord Rennard if he fails to apologise.” – Daily Mail

  • “Even podgy Lib Dem peers like Lord Rennard deserve justice, Mr Clegg” – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph
  • “A close friend of mine was involved in an encounter with Lord Rennard. Now I feel I ought to speak out” – Laura Willoughby, The Independent
  • “Nick Clegg has a woman problem” – Andrew Grice, The Independent
  • “I feel sorry for Nick Clegg” – David Steel, interviewed in The Guardian

Alexander warns Scotland that independence could mean more money to the EU

“Launching a UK government paper that argues for continued union, Danny Alexander, UK Treasury chief secretary, said that, as part of the UK, Scotland was expected to contribute a net £3.3bn to the EU budget over the seven years from 2014-2020. However, he said that as an independent state it would face a bill of at least £5.2bn or more.” – Financial Times

  • “We have heard enough about the supposedly Braveheart idea of Scottish independence, but what of the emotional case for Britain and the union?” – Gerry Hassan, The Scotsman

Davey talks emissions targets with the EU

Ed Davey“Ed Davey, the energy secretary, has called on EU heads of state to endorse a target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, but reject a specific binding renewables target. … The Europen Commission is due to issue a paper next Wednesday that is likely propose a EU-wide renewables target in line with the wishes of Germany and France, but Davey, in a Guardian interview, claimed his call not to impose a binding renewables target was gaining traction.” – The Guardian

  • “Shale gas executives and government officials collaborated in private to manage the British public’s hostility to fracking, emails released under freedom of information rules reveal.” – The Guardian
  • “In shale, Britain has a second chance to mend its fortunes” – Misha Glenny, Financial Times
  • “The future of fracking” – Geoffrey Lean, Daily Telegraph

Miliband vandalises the economy – just by talking

Ed Miliband stare“Ed Miliband was accused of ‘economic vandalism’ yesterday after his declaration that Labour wanted a ‘reckoning’ with the banks led to more than £500million being wiped off the value of taxpayer-owned lenders. … After a £500million slump in the combined value of Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds yesterday, Business Secretary Vince Cable said Mr Miliband’s arguments were out of date, pointing out that two new banks – TSB and Williams & Glyn’s – had already been set up out of the two state-owned lenders.” – Daily Mail

  • “Aides to Mr Osborne said the fall in the share price was ‘not catastrophic’ and that any uncertainty created by Labour’s plans would probably not effect plans to sell the taxpayer’s stake in Lloyds in coming months.” – Financial Times
  • “Labour has warned the governor of the Bank of England to stay out of political debates after he attacked Ed Miliband’s proposals to cap bankers’ bonuses and cap the market shares of retail banks.” – Financial Times

And comment:

  • “Once again, Ed Miliband cannot be faulted for shrewdly identifying an issue of huge concern to the public. … Yet, as with Mr Miliband’s plans to seize land from house builders and freeze energy prices, his anachronistic statism displays sheer economic illiteracy.” – Daily Mail editorial
  • “Politicians would do better to seek ways to lower the barriers to new entrants. There is a trade-off between bank strength and competition, and start-ups may need to be offered greater regulatory freedom than established operators.” – Financial Times editorial
  • “But as the agenda on economic regulation shapes up, nagging questions remain on tax and spend. Extra capital spending is floated, but few specific commitments are made, a missed opportunity since investment is the surest route to better jobs.” – Guardian editorial
  • “Ed Miliband’s wish to curb the banks is part of a coherent approach that leads in the wrong direction” – Times editorial (£)
  • “Ed Miliband’s big plan is anti-big business, not anti-business. Now he must convince the electorate” – Andrew Grice, The Independent

> Today: ToryDiary – Why do politicians insist on ramming credit down small businesses’ throats?

> Yesterday:

Labour to get tough on the jobless young

“Labour will take away benefits from young jobless as part of a drive to get them into work. … Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves will next week unveil new tough conditions on state giveaways for the first time.” – The Sun (£)

The police wind down their investigations in Falkirk

“Officers had been examining a cache of e-mails held on the work computer of Stevie Deans, who was accused of seeking to fix a Labour selection contest. … Last night, Police Scotland confirmed that the inquiry had concluded and ‘there is no evidence of any criminality’. … Mr Deans has now been given a job as an official with Unite.” – The Times (£)

HS2 gets a new construction chief. He gets £750,000 a year

high-speed rail“An executive has been hired on a £750,000-a-year  salary to build the HS2 high speed rail project – even though the controversial scheme may never go ahead. … Simon Kirby, 48, was yesterday appointed as construction chief for the £50billion project … Critics have already called the pay deal an ‘absolute disgrace’ and said it smacks of a ‘jobs for the boys merry-go-round’.” – Daily Mail

  • “Elderly drivers would be treated more considerately on the roads by alerting other motorists to their age, figures suggest.” – Daily Telegraph

News in brief

  • Zara Phillips gives birth to baby girl – Daily Telegraph
  • Duke and Duchess of Cambridge set up companies to protect their “brand” – Daily Telegraph
  • Prince Harry moves from flying military helicopters to planning public ceremonies – Daily Mail
  • Pope Benedict XVI removed nearly 400 priests in two years for molesting children – Daily Mail
  • Body found in the hunt for missing three-year-old Mikaeel Kular – The Guardian
  • UKIP kicks off its by-election campaign offensive in Wythenshawe and Sale East – The Times (£)
  • Margaret Thatcher’s London home is to go on sale for £12 million – The Independent
  • Peter Robinson brands Martin McGuinness a “dictator” over breakdown of Northern Ireland talks – The Independent
  • Obama defiant on US surveillance activities – Financial Times

And finally: Cameron’s dinner guests

“David Cameron has used public money and the sumptuous surroundings of his official country retreat to woo a procession of senior Liberal Democrats as well as the provost of Eton College, newly released documents show. … Chequers has also been used to entertain controversial foreign leaders including the emir of Qatar, whose country’s preparations for the World Cup in 2022 have been mired in slavery allegations.” – The Guardian