A million sickness benefit applicants found to be fit

PENNING Mike ruins“The DWP claims 980,400 people – 32%, of new applicants for Employment and Support Allowance – were judged capable of work between 2008 and March 2013. More than a million others withdrew their claims after interviews, it adds….Minister of State for Disabled People Mike Penning said: “As part of the government’s long-term economic plan, it is only fair that we look at whether people can do some kind of work with the right support – rather than just writing them off on long-term sickness benefits, as has happened in the past.” – BBC

Peers vote to delay EU referendum Bill

“The Conservatives have suffered a setback in their attempts to legislate for an “in-out” EU referendum in 2017. A bill authorising a vote was approved by MPs earlier this month but there are doubts whether it will make it through the Lords before the end of the current session in April to become law. Peers earlier voted by a majority of 87 to amend the wording of the referendum question proposed in the bill.” – BBC

  • “Lord Hill, Conservative Leader of the Lords, accused Labour and the Lib Dems of ‘yet another U-turn’ on their position on an EU referendum. ‘Having accepted this Bill in the House of Commons, they are now trying to kill it in the Lords,’ he said. A No10 source said the Tories would try to get another MP to reintroduce the legislation in the Commons in the next session of Parliament.” – Daily Mail
  • “Mr Cash, the MP for Stone, said: “As I understand it from the House of Lords, the European Union (Referendum) Bill is now, in effect, a dead parrot.” That’s a reference to the classic Monty Python sketch where a pet shop owner refuses to admit that a bird he sold is no longer alive. The Conservatives last night accused Labour and the Lib Dems of trying to deny voters a say on whether Britain should stay in the EU. Lord Dobbs, the Tory peer trying to steer the Bill through the Lords, said it was suffering “death by a thousand cuts”.” – The Sun(£)
  • “It is an absolute outrage to learn that plans are afoot for senior civil servants to weigh in on the side of staying in the EU when we vote on the matter again….The Daily Express can promise this: when the in/out referendum comes, as it most certainly will despite the Labour Party’s attempts to block it, any civil servant who departs from objectivity by even a whisker will be held unsparingly to account for his misdeeds.” – Leader Daily Express

Cameron calls for Britain to be the Reshore Nation

CAMERON China“David Cameron has said Britain has the potential to become the “reshore nation” as he announced the creation of a new Government body to encourage companies to locate jobs in the UK that would once have gone to the Far East. The Prime Minister said that although the practice of offshoring – which involves jobs being moved to countries such as China or India to cut costs – is well-known, “reshoring” is a growing phenomenon that can help to drive economic growth.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “The returning firms include the model train manufacturer Hornby, which is bringing some manufacturing from India to Britain; food manufacturer Symingtons (China to Leeds); Raspberry Pi computers (switching production to Wales); Jaeger (10 per cent of its production to Britain) and Vent Axia (China to Crawley).” – The Independent
  • Fracking will take “too long” to cut energy bills for manufacturing – Daily Telegraph
  • “David Cameron yesterday refused to apologise for trying to curb welfare benefits for migrants after being taken to task over the crackdown at an international summit. In a swipe at Brussels, he suggested EU officials needed to learn some common sense. The Prime Minister hit out after being berated by a Swedish Euro-MP over Britain’s border controls during a question-and-answer session at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.” – Daily Express

Raab calls for end to foreign criminals “right to family life” in UK

RAAB blue shirt“Ministers are promising to tighten the rules using the Government’s Immigration Bill, which will be debated by MPs next week. But, in the latest challenge to the Prime Minister’s authority, 100 MPs say the Government’s proposals do not go far enough. They are backing a rebel amendment, tabled by Tory Dominic Raab, that would make it all but impossible for foreign criminals to exercise their Article 8 right to a ‘family life’. Ministers have been resisting the amendment, which they claim is so strict that it could flout the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. It could lead to a humiliating split in the Commons.” – Daily Mail

  • “Dominic Raab, the Conservative MP who has drawn up the amendment to the Government’s Immigration Bill, said it would stop foreign criminals bringing “spurious” human rights challenges. The only exception will be when the foreigner can prove they face torture, ill-treatment or death in their home country….Mr Raab said 105 MPs from Conservative, Labour and Democratic Unionist benches have already signed the amendment, which will come to a vote in the Commons on Thursday next week. Negotiations are believed to be underway behind the scenes to win backing from Labour’s front bench. If they agree to abstain, the amendment has a strong chance of going through.” – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday:ToryDiary: The Immigration Bill is in Downing Street’s hands – not the Home Office’s

Ministers say the BBC should absorb cost of free TV licences for pensioners

“Three Tory ministers have privately told the Mail that forcing the BBC to pick up the cost for over-75 licences would allow the Government to say that while the benefit is to be maintained, taxpayers will save big sums. ‘The bill for this should be met by the BBC and it will be top of the list in the negotiations over charter renewal,’ said one. The number of homes claiming a free over-75 licence has soared by more than a million since 2001 to 4.25million, while the cost to the taxpayer has more than doubled from £308million to over £600million.” – Daily Mail

Balls promises a budget surplus by 2020

guardianballs“Labour has pledged to balance the UK’s books and deliver a current budget surplus in the next Parliament if it wins the 2015 election. Shadow chancellor Ed Balls said Labour would pass a law to ensure it adheres to “tough” and binding fiscal rules. These would include eliminating the deficit and reducing debt as a share of GDP between 2015 and 2020.” – BBC

  • “The significant move means that Labour will now face the dilemma of either raising taxes after the election or adopting a similar daunting level of cuts in day-to-day departmental spending already proposed by the chancellor, George Osborne. The politics behind the statement, to be made in a speech to the Fabian Society on Saturday, underline the uphill battle that Balls and the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, have been waging to persuade voters that they will be tough on government spending, or that they have an economic plan for sustained recovery.” – The Guardian
  • “Now we know why Ed Balls has been so subdued. He’s been quietly facing up to the realisation that if he can’t beat George Osborne he’ll have to join him. Last year he said the Chancellor’s austerity plan to build a recovery had failed. He, by contrast, would borrow more in a gamble for growth. But the Osborne strategy worked. So Mr Balls has ditched talk of borrowing and is now planning his own austerity drive, plus some tax rises, if he gets into No11.” – The Sun Says(£)
  • “Ed Miliband must avoid the “comforting but fundamentally illusory assumption” that the British electorate has moved to the left following the financial crash, the joint author of Labour’s 2010 general election manifesto has warned. In a sign of concerns among supporters of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown that Miliband is misreading the mood of the electorate, the former No 10 adviser Patrick Diamond warned that Labour would only win if it united a “broad spectrum” of classes and reached beyond “partisan and tribal lines”.” – The Guardian

Labour would prefer minority Government to coalition

“Senior Labour figures say they are “attracted” to the possibility of a minority government. Labour is currently carrying out preparatory work to see what might work in practice. One figure said that “next to no” thought was going into a potential coalition deal. They believe that nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales would almost never vote against Labour in the Commons, giving them greater confidence of commanding the House. Publicly, they insist that they are gunning for an overall majority in 2015.” – The Times(£)

Farage says UKIP manifesto was “drivel”….

UKIP glass“The UK Independence Party would not scrap Trident, Nigel Farage has said, describing the manifesto that contained the policy as “drivel”. He told LBC 97.3 radio the party had never advocated unilateral disarmament but was currently reviewing its policy.” – BBC

…and calls for an end to ban on hand guns

“Nigel Farage has called for firearm laws to be relaxed, calling the current ban on handguns “ludicrous”. The Ukip leader criticised the “kneejerk” restrictions on handguns imposed after the 1996 Dunblane massacre in which Thomas Hamilton killed 16 schoolchildren and a teacher before shooting himself. The laws were brought in by Sir John Major, the then Tory prime minister, and extended to a total ban by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 1997. Asked about gun controls, Farage said: “I think proper gun licensing is something we’ve done in this country responsibly and well for a long time, and I think the kneejerk legislation that Blair brought in that meant that the British Olympic pistol team have to go to France to even practise was just crackers. If you criminalise handguns then only the criminals carry the guns. It’s really interesting that since Blair brought that piece of law in, gun crime doubled in the next five years in this country.” – The Guardian

Carney says no plans to raise interest rates

“Mark Carney yesterday said he would not raise interest rates for some time, even as Britain’s economy records the strongest growth in the developed world. The Bank of England’s Governor confirmed that borrowing costs will not rise when unemployment falls below 7 per cent – a threshold the Bank set for considering an increase less than six months ago. Mr Carney also said that any eventual increases ‘would be gradual’ and lead to rates ‘somewhat lower than before the crisis’, when they averaged about 5 per cent.” – Daily Mail

Security crackdown in UK over Syrian terrorist threat

timessyria“The number of terror suspects arrested across the UK is soaring as fears grow of the internal threat posed by Britons travelling to and from Syria. A security crackdown has seen at least 16 people held already this year, accused of planning or attempting to travel to the war-torn state or returning from its battlefields and training camps. Many of those detained, and others suspected of extremist links, are having their passports seized under strengthened Royal Prerogative powers exercised by Theresa May, the Home Secretary.” – The Times(£)

Labour, Lib Dems and Conservatives to agree more Holyrood powers

“Scotland’s main pro-union leaders are poised to establish the “bones of an agreement” on handing more powers to Holyrood before the referendum as an alternative to independence. However, the prospect of a formal “joint position” being agreed between Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives on further devolution before the historic vote in September has been ruled out because of the “unrealistic time-scales”.” – The Scotsman

Moore: No smugness – voters don’t feel better off

“Although it would be churlish not to acknowledge that this week’s unemployment figures and revised growth forecasts are good news for the Tories, and for the country, churlish is what I propose to be. It is essential – not least for their own good – that no smug smile returns to those smooth Conservative faces. I have dug out my household bills from the period shortly before the last election. At that time, the Moore family was spending about £170 each time it went to Sainsbury’s. Four years on, with more or less the same mouths to feed, we are spending £225.” – Charles Moore Daily Telegraph


Parris: The idiots guide to our Middle East policy

PARRIS Mathhew“John Fortune died last month. Rest in peace, John, you hero. By way of a tribute as the Geneva Conference on Syria kicks off, here’s my pale pastiche of this duo’s genius: the interview Bird & Fortune might have conducted this weekend.” – Matthew Parris The Times(£)

News in brief

And finally…Douglas Carswell makes citizen’s arrest

“Tory MP Douglas Carswell has made a citizen’s arrest after confronting a shoplifter in his local Boots store. Mr Carswell, MP for Clacton in Essex, tweeted details of the incident: “Just chased and caught a shoplifter in Clacton…waiting for police.” In an update five minutes later, he added: “Police response time pretty effective. Arrested. Now off to my advice surgery.” The police said a 29-year man had been arrested for stealing aftershave.” – BBC