Labour win in Wythenshawe (while UKIP beat the Tories into second place)

FARAGE eating“Labour has held onto its seat in the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election with a comfortable majority while UKIP beat the Tories into second place. … Michael Kane won with 13,261 votes, beating UKIP’s John Bickley, with 4,301, in second. … Rev Daniel Critchlow, for the Tories, came third on 3,479 votes, and Lib Dem Mary Di Mauro, came fourth on 1,176.” – BBC

  • “The anti-EU party’s candidate was John Bickley, a businessman who grew up in the area in a staunchly Labour household. … He said the result showed the progress Ukip were making, telling Sky News: ‘In the north of England we’re shaping up to be the only opposition to Labour.'” – Daily Mail
  • “The UK Independence Party has secured one of its biggest one-off donations from the wife of a former Conservative donor, the Electoral Commission revealed yesterday.” – The Times (£)

> Today: ToryDiary – No-one expected a Tory victory in Wythenshawe, but that’s no excuse for such a pedestrian campaign

The death of recall?

“David Cameron has walked away from a pledge to allow voters to expel MPs who have lost the confidence of their electorate from Parliament, The Independent has learnt. The Prime Minister had previously backed the move to let voters ‘recall’ MPs who had been sent to prison or found guilty of ‘serious wrongdoing’ by their colleagues. … But Mr Cameron and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, have refused to include the legislation needed for it to become law in the last Queen’s Speech before the election – in effect killing the policy.” – The Independent

  • “Why has the Coalition forgotten its promise to give constituents the power to bring errant MPs to book?” – Independent editorial

Floods 1) Cameron announces a review of funding rules

Flood“Another 1,000 homes are likely to flood as fresh storms hit Britain this weekend, the Environment Agency admitted on Thursday. … David Cameron declared that ‘we cannot let this situation happen again’ as he announced a review of funding rules governing flood defences for rural communities. … He suggested a Treasury formula that requires every £1 spent on flood defences to deliver at least £8 of economic benefit had been applied too rigidly, to the detriment of farming areas.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “Conservative ministers are set to make an embarrassing U-turn and ask the European Union to pick up some of the bill for the flooding crisis following Coalition clashes over whether to approach Brussels for help.” – The Independent
  • “A former Conservative environment minister who has been criticised along with the Environment Agency for mismanaging flood prevention has hit back at what he described as ‘politicians seeking to become armchair hydrologists’.” – The Guardian
  • “It is a symbol of the floods but the sandbag is under fire as experts say it is a hopelessly outdated and ineffective way of protecting people’s homes.” – Financial Times

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – Never again can money be no object

Floods 2) The crisis turns party political

“Just as charm-lite Eric Pickles tried to lay blame on ex-Labour minister Granny Smith of the Environment Agency (motto: ‘Dredging Not Preferred’), so Labour is frantically hoping to blame David Cameron for not spending more of our money on, well, something. It doesn’t matter quite what. They just want money to be spent. … During an emergency statement yesterday by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, his Labour opponent, Mary Creagh, could scarcely conceal the zeal, the sticky excitement, the fervour in her voice when she noted that some people have now died as a result of the bad weather.” – Quentin Letts, Daily Mail

  • “This ludicrous Lib Dem minister has seized on the flooding to launch an intemperate, invective-packed attack on his so-called partners in government.” – Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail
  • “The record rainfall and storm surges that have brought flooding across the UK are a clear sign that we are already experiencing the impacts of climate change.” – Lord Stern, The Guardian
  • “When the storms have passed, we must start dredging the quangos” – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph
  • “What the sceptics choose to ignore is the strength of the foundation stones of the science.” – Guardian editorial
  • “The delay in accepting EU flood money is dogma gone mad” – Independent editorial
  • “Having anticipated the current floods, Britain should have been prepared for them” – Times editorial (£)

Osborne tells Salmond: You can’t share Sterling…

Scottish flag“The pound is not an asset to be divided up ‘as if it were a CD collection’ and an independent Scotland will not be allowed to share it, George Osborne insisted yesterday. … The Chancellor was backed by Labour and the Liberal Democrats as he delivered a stunning blow to Alex Salmond’s dream of persuading Scots to vote to break away from the UK. … In a highly unusual move, the top civil servant at the Treasury, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, agreed that sharing sterling with an independent Scotland would be ‘fraught with difficulty’.” – Daily Mail

  • “Mr Osborne is right to have come to this judgment and to have presented it so emphatically. The risks of any currency union have been amply demonstrated by the travails of the euro.” – Financial Times editorial
  • “The onus is now on the Yes campaign to spell out its ‘Plan B’ in the absence of formal currency union.” –  Scotsman editorial
  • “An independent Scotland would not need to share currency with the rest of the United Kingdom” – Andreas Whittam Smith, The Independent

> Yesterday: WATCH – Osborne rejects sharing sterling with an independent Scotland

…as other Government insiders caution the nationalists…

“UK ministers could block full independence for Scotland if Alex Salmond makes ‘impossible demands’ after a Yes vote in September’s referendum. … One senior government source said: ‘A Yes vote in the referendum would be the start of a process, not the end of one. We would start negotiations. But if Alex Salmond made impossible demands, we would not just roll over and agree to everything he wanted. If we could not reach agreement, the status quo would be the default option.'” – The Independent

  • “An independent Scotland might attract a higher number of international migrants than at present, with no significant change in cross-border movement between Scotland and England, Wales and Northern Ireland, experts have suggested.” – The Scotsman

…but the SNP leader bites back

SALMOND on Marr “Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, retaliated by accusing the chancellor of ‘bluff, bluster and posturing’ and insisting that a currency pact was ‘overwhelmingly’ in the interests of both countries. … Ignoring Osborne’s jibe that to threaten a debt default was like threatening ‘to burn my own house down in protest’, Salmond warned that if there was no deal on sterling, there would be no deal on Scotland paying its share of the £1.6 trillion of national debt expected by 2016.” – The Guardian

  • “If the English and Scots don’t kiss and make up, I could soon be married to a foreigner…” – Tom Utley, Daily Mail

The Treasury is owed £22 billion in unpaid taxes, overpaid benefits and fines

“The Treasury is owed at least £22 billion by individuals and businesses, watchdogs have revealed. … The National Audit Office accused the Government of not doing enough to collect the huge sum – which is worth £350 for every man, woman and child in the UK. … It is made up of unpaid tax, overpaid benefits, outstanding fines and court confiscation orders.” – The Sun (£)

  • “At least £80billion of student loans will NEVER be repaid, MPs revealed yesterday. … The powerful Public Accounts Committee said hard-up graduates and undergraduates will owe a staggering £200billion in loans within 30 years.” – The Sun (£)
  • “In a report published Friday, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) warned that the expansion of the private sector may not be evenly spread across Britain. Its finding will fuel the debate over whether the Government’s economic strategy will deliver a ‘fair recovery for all.'” – The Independent

And comment:

  • “An expansion of private borrowing to buy ever more expensive houses is deemed good, but an expansion of government borrowing, to build roads or railways, is not. … None of this makes much sense.” – Martin Wolf, Financial Times

Carney’s change of heart over forward guidance is welcomed by the FT

Mark Carney“…the governor was right to abandon his flagship policy. Lowering the unemployment threshold below 7 per cent would have sent a confusing message to investors, who would have wondered just how credible the new target might be. Swapping one variable with another – say, the growth rate of real wages – would have been just as puzzling.” – Financial Times

  • “Despite Carney’s claim that ‘forward guidance has worked’, it is left looking like an unnecessary disruption to Bank action” – Guardian editorial

The shortfall in troop numbers is growing

“The shortfall in the number of full-time troops needed to run Britain’s armed forces has more than doubled in the past three months, even as the Ministry of Defence pushes ahead with redundancies across the military. … About one in 20 jobs in the army, navy and air force is now unfilled, compared with one in 40 in October.” – Financial Times

  • “Army chiefs were left seething last night after the Afghan government freed a Taliban master bomber suspected of maiming and killing British troops.” – The Sun (£)
  • “Relations between Washington and Kabul took another turn for the worse on Thursday as Afghan president Hamid Karzai criticised a lack of US respect for its sovereignty” – The Guardian
  • “The government has brought in Sir Peter Gershon, known as the ‘cost cutter in chief’, to oversee the building of Britain’s aircraft carriers after costs soared to almost double initial estimates.” – Financial Times
  • “Charity aid convoys are at the centre of a counter terrorism investigation over fears they are supporting Al-Qaeda militants in Syria.” – Daily Mail

And comment:

  • “The new jihadists make al-Qaeda look like tired old has-beens” – Con Couglin, Daily Telegraph

Blocked! Gove’s plans for longer teaching hours

GOVE, Michael blue sky“Education Secretary Michael Gove had wanted to lift limits on the number of days and hours they work. … But the School Teachers’ Review Body said the changes weren’t required because most already work longer than they need to. … Union leaders said the decision was ‘a huge blow’ for Mr Gove, who wants schools to open for up to 10 hours a day.” – The Sun (£)

  • “The outgoing head of Ofsted has accused the education secretary of becoming a caricature of himself in his efforts to act tough.” – The Guardian
  • “Schools are misusing the examinations appeal system which was designed for ‘a more innocent era’, according to a review of GCSE and A-level marking by the qualifications regulator.” – Financial Times

> Today: John Bald on Local Government – British state schools need to use more textbooks

Truss wants good childcare to be made available through schools

“Horse-riding, debating and orchestra practice should be available to children through after-school clubs, an education minister said yesterday. … Elizabeth Truss set out her vision for a system of school-based childcare that she said would not only help working parents but also offer children the types of opportunities available to their wealthier peers.” – The Times (£)

Hunt asks former M&S boss to help fix underperforming NHS trusts

HUNT Doctor Carla Millar“The National Health Service is asking one of Britain’s most prominent former retail bosses to help it turn round 14 under­performing hospital trusts. … Sir Stuart Rose has been asked by Jeremy Hunt, health secretary, to apply some of the leadership skills from his seven-year stint running Marks and Spencer to the health service. He will report back at the end of the year.” – Financial Times

> Yesterday: Dr Phillip Lee MP on Comment – NHS reconfiguration must happen – we need bold leadership to make the most of it

Business leaders slam the Government’s latest EU report

“The dossier – titled a Balance of Competences report – was compiled by the Foreign Office. It claimed Britain’s membership of the EU had benefited trade, environment and culture. … Matthew Elliott, chief executive of pressure group Business for Britain, said: ‘The Balance of Competences review is increasingly looking like a bureaucratic whitewash. … The voices of people with legitimate concerns about the EU have been marginalised in favour of the testimonies of groups that take a similar line to civil servants in Whitehall.'” – The Sun (£)

  • “Britons have an historical aversion to Europe and find the idea that foreign courts can overrule decisions of Parliament ‘little short of offensive’, the UK’s most senior judge has said.” – The Times (£)

And comment:

  • “With elections in May likely to give rise to the most Eurosceptic parliament in the EU’s history, Europe’s long-running financial and economic crisis is threatening to spill over into an all-encompassing political one.” – Jeremy Warner, Daily Telegraph

> Today: Matthew Elliott on Comment – The Balance of Competences review is unbalanced – and here’s how it can be put right

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – A balance of incompetencies review?

May puts off a plan for compulsory police redundancies…

“Police are to keep their right to a job for life after Theresa May said yesterday that she would not introduce proposals allowing compulsory redundancies. … Giving chief constables the power to lay off officers was one of the most controversial plans put forward by Tom Winsor, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, in his review of pay and conditions.” – The Times (£)

  • “Two former Labour home secretaries, Alan Johnson and Charles Clarke, have called for elected police and crime commissioners to be abolished, describing them as ‘an unhappy and unsatisfactory interlude in the history of British policing’.” – The Guardian
  • “The police were facing demands for time limits on sex abuse investigations after being accused of a celebrity witch-hunt following the acquittal yesterday of Dave Lee Travis over indecent assault charges dating back 37 years.” – The Times (£)

…as Davis takes on the Police Federation

Police helmet“Police union bosses may have claimed up to £5million in expenses for booze, food and other ‘unjustified’ perks, it was claimed last night. … Former shadow home secretary David Davis cited the ‘astonishing’ figure as he condemned the embattled Police Federation for behaving like the worst trade unions from the 1970s. … Labour MP Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, said he was ‘deeply concerned’ and would investigate.” – Daily Mail

  • “The Metropolitan Police is considering a leak inquiry into Plebgate disclosures in The Times to ‘ascertain what, if any, offences may have been committed’.” – The Times (£)

Spelman backs all-women shortlists

“A female Tory MP claims the Conservatives should consider ‘all-women’ candidate shortlists. … Caroline Spelman today said it should be part of a ‘spectrum’ of measures to improve female representation in the party. She said: ‘I think you shouldn’t rule it out. … I remember being quite surprised as party chairman that ten times as many men apply to do the job of being an MP as women.'” – The Sun (£)

  • “Tory men are throwing their weight behind a campaign to boost the party’s number of female MPs. About a dozen male MPs have joined their female colleagues on a scheme to mentor would-be candidates.” – The Times (£)
  • “A memo has been sent to Conservative MPs advising them on how to avoid having to pay interns. The document says it is wise to avoid certain words and phrases in job adverts in case they create ‘potentially hostile’ situations with unpaid staff.” – The Independent

Isabel Hardman: Boris’s people are positioning him for the post-Cameron era

“The mayor does have agents working on his behalf in the Commons, suggesting that MPs are meeting up with him, and talking him up. This effort seems to have escalated in the past couple of months, partly because Boris has been unsettled by the improving prospects of George Osborne. … I understand that these agents are not collecting names of supporters, though, because in the words of one of them, ‘He is not going to make a move on Cameron. This is about post-Dave.'” – Isabel Hardman, Daily Telegraph

Lib Dem donor arrested in Rolls-Royce investigation

LibDemDead“A prominent Indian backer of the UK Liberal Democrat party and his son were the two suspects arrested earlier this week in connection with an investigation into allegations of bribery by Rolls-Royce. … Sudhir Choudhrie and his son Bhanu were arrested on Wednesday as part of the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into alleged bribery in Indonesia and China by the engine and turbine maker.” – Financial Times

Adonis recommends moving the Lords up north

“The House of Lords should be moved to the North to make members more empathic to the country’s needs, Lord Adonis has argued. … The life peer, the former Labour secretary of state for transport, said moving the Lords to a city in the north of England would be a ‘significant step’ to improving democracy.” – Daily Telegraph

Philip Collins on Miliband’s latest “power to the people” proposals

“Mr Miliband’s pledge that local people will be consulted on decisions is the latest instance of the common Labour illusion that what we most lack in our lives is the opportunity to sit on the consultation panel of the Clinical Commissioning Group. I think I might be washing my hair that night.” – Philip Collins, The Times (£)

  • “The glory of what Miliband proposes is its sheer creative anarchy.” – John McTernan, The Scotsman

> Yesterday: LeftWatch – Pinning Down Miliband: Welfare policy

City watchdog warns against rip-off pensions

pound-coin“Insurers are snatching £230million a year from savers’ pensions by luring them into rip-off deals, the City watchdog has uncovered. … In a landmark report today, the Financial Conduct Authority declares that Britain’s £14billion pension industry was fundamentally flawed. It found that 150,000 retirees every year are being dumped into pensions that typically deprive them of 10 per cent of their income.” – Daily Mail

News in brief

  • Renzi ousts Letta as Italy’s Prime Minister – Financial Times
  • The French economy grew by 0.3 per cent in the last quarter, avoiding recession – The Guardian’s Business Blog
  • Belgium becomes the first country to legalise euthanasia for children – Daily Mail
  • Speed limit of 60mph to be imposed on a three-mile stretch of the M3 (to meet Brussels’ green targets) – Daily Mail
  • Mail bombs raise fears of new Irish terror threat – The Times (£)
  • The Big Six energy firms received 5.5 million complaints last year – Daily Telegraph

And finally: Money for nothing

“Minister are to spend up to £250,000 of taxpayers’ money deciding who will choose a Press regulation recognition panel which may ultimately have nothing to do. … Sir David Normington, the commissioner for public appointments, told MPs the process had caused him ‘a lot of grief’.” – Daily Mail

  • “The mother of a disabled girl have criticised housing officials after they installed a £40,000 eyesore ‘slalom-style’ ramp over ten levels outside her home.” – Daily Telegraph

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