Cameron supports Hunt over NHS pay, in the face of union anger

HUNT Doctor Carla Millar“The public sector could be hit by fresh waves of industrial action after the government refused to give state workers an across the board wage rise. … Ministers today announced the 1 per cent would go ahead for all but the best paid managers. … But it would not apply to around 600,000 staff who receive automatic annual incremental pay rises just for staying in their job for another year, which can be worth up to 3 per cent. … Mr Cameron, speaking during his trip to Israel: ‘NHS staff are worth a 1 per cent pay rise and everyone in the NHS will get at least a 1 per cent pay rise, either through the 1 per cent raise or through the progression payments that they otherwise receive.’” – Daily Mail

  • “Union boss Len McCluskey yesterday vowed to continue his campaign to intimidate ‘bad bosses’ with demonstrations outside their family homes.” – Daily Mail
  • “Union bosses have been accused of squandering more than £200 million of their members’ cash in just five years. … Annual accounts submitted by Unite show that its ‘General Fund’ has dwindled from £225.9 million when it was formed in 2007 to just £13.3 million in 2012.” – The Sun (£)

And comment:

  • “The pay restraint that has been announced is only a pause. Now there must be a long-term programme of reform.” – Times editorial (£)
  • “…there needs to be reform to allow for public sector pay to be decided not just on a region-by-region basis, but according to individual merit.” – Daily Telegraph editorial
  • “…the NHS is a big part of the bloated public sector wage bill that is a legacy of Labour.” – Sun editorial (£)
  • “…the savings from rejecting the pay review body’s recommendations will make barely an impression on the looming financial crisis” – Guardian editorial

The Prime Minister uses his last day in Israel to criticise the humanitarian situation in Gaza…

CAMERON looking right“Speaking at the end of his visit to Israel and the occupied territories, the British prime minister said: ‘The situation in Gaza is unacceptable. There are 1.7 million people living in Gaza, a huge number are reliant for their life on food aid, there is extremely high unemployment, there is very low provision of healthcare.’ … Cameron gave a gloomy assessment of the state of the Middle East peace process after two days of talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, saying a successful outcome was only possible, not probable.” – The Guardian

  • “A government watchdog has called on the Department for International Development (DfID) to do more to improve the quality of care at Kenyan health facilities after recording patient complaints of petty corruption and ‘physical and emotional abuse’ by staff.” – The Guardian

…before heading to Scotland to scrap with Salmond

“Business leaders are demolishing Alex Salmond’s claims that critics of Scottish independence are waging a campaign of political scaremongering, David Cameron will say today. … In a speech to the Scottish Tory conference in Edinburgh, the Prime Minister will cite a series of warnings about separation that have recently been made by companies such as BP, Shell and RBS.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “The Conservatives should delay discussing which extra powers to devolve to Holyrood until after a No vote in the independence referendum, a former Scottish Secretary has warned.” – Daily Telegraph

Budget 1) Lord Lawson joins other Tories in attacking the 40p tax creep

Nigel_Lawson_006“Too many ‘middling professionals’ have been dragged into the higher band of tax and should have their burden cut, according to the Conservative chancellor who introduced the 40p rate. … Lord Lawson of Blaby told The Telegraph that Coalition policies that were pushing more and more middle earners into the higher rate of tax were ‘a mistake’.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “The political challenge to Osborne springs from Tory MPs, often the older generation and in seats facing little threat from Labour, who are dismayed the chancellor is focusing tax cuts on the low-paid rather than on the party’s traditional support base of middle-income earners.”- Nicholas Watt, The Guardian
  • “‘There is no limit to what a man can do,’ it said, ‘if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.’ This should be the motto of the next Budget. This Coalition Government does have a good story to tell. The question is whether ministers can stop feuding for long enough to tell it.” – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph
  • “There is no money for tax cuts, but Chancellor George Osborne should aim for a fairer and flatter tax system” – Jeremy Warner, Daily Telegraph

> Today: ToryDiary – Lawson is right: Osborne should cut the basic rate

Budget 2) Ministers want to appeal directly to Scotland

“Cabinet ministers have told the Financial Times they want to use next week’s announcement by George Osborne to show Scots why the country is better off in the UK, turning the Budget into a pro-union campaigning tool. … The Scotland Office in Westminster is pushing the idea of devolving air passenger duty, a tax on fliers which the Scottish National Party says is unfairly applied to Scottish regional airports.” – Financial Times

  • “The prospect of Scotland voting to leave the United Kingdom in six months’ time was dismissed by a senior Cabinet minister. … Although polls suggest support for independence is growing, Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, insisted his department was not planning for a ‘yes’ vote.” – The Independent

Budget 3) Extra £1 billion found to fund tax cuts…

pound-coin“Danny Alexander, Treasury chief secretary, has freed up £1bn for potential tax cuts in the Budget with a shake-up of the way public sector pensions are funded. … the move will create some much-needed fiscal space for George Osborne, the chancellor, as he looks to fund an increase in the personal tax allowance in next week’s Budget from £10,000 to at least £10,500 – a policy that would cost about £1.5bn.” – Financial Times

  • “More than 400,000 households will miss out on savings of up to £400 a year on energy bills because of government cuts to subsidies for insulation, according to an official analysis.” – The Times (£)
  • “Household energy bills could rise by more than £600 a year within six years to help power companies keep the lights on, the consumer group Which? has claimed.” – Daily Telegraph

And comment:

  • “Petrol is this Government’s great stealth giveaway, the mini-economic stimulus nobody mentions.” – Gaby Hinsliff, The Times (£)

Budget 4) …or is it for infrastructure?

“The Treasury also announced that individual departments would have to make a greater contribution to pensions. This will give Osborne an extra £1bn that will help fund infrastructure projects to ‘balance’ the HS2 high-speed rail line amid fears of ministerial resignations over the introduction of the hybrid bill on the project next month. … Sources close to the chancellor say that a series of road and other infrastructure projects will speak to the Conservative faithful opposed to HS2.” – The Guardian

  • Nearly 250 tall building are currently planned for London – The Independent

> Yesterday: Majority – A budget for the marginals: 3) Sort out Britain’s roads

Is Help to Buy helping?

help-to-buy-logo-jpg“Thousands more first-time buyers are stepping onto the property ladder, aided by the government’s Help to Buy mortgage support scheme, latest figures reveal. … The number of loans offered to first-time buyers hit 21,800 in January, an increase of nearly 40 per cent compared to the same month in 2013, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML).” – Financial Times

  • “It is mad to subsidise debt to buy houses while not allowing borrowing for social amenities.” – Martin Wolf, Financial Times

And are Tory family policies working?

“Some 69 per cent of children  aged 16 and under were living with both parents in 2011-12 compared with 67 per cent the previous year – a difference of around 250,000 – according to the latest Family Stability Indicator. … Ministers seized on the figures as evidence that their policies to support stable families were working.” – Daily Mail

The Government deploys bailiffs to take on benefit cheats

“Major benefit cheats are to have their assets seized by bailiffs as part of a new crackdown on the £1.2 billion scandal. … The Department of Work and Pensions is to use new powers to access the credit rating references of fraudsters to target their cars, computers, state-of-the-art TVs and other high value items. … Sources said the new access would allow officials to target those with valuable assets.” – Daily Mail

  • “Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions is facing ‘meltdown’ over three of its biggest projects, Margaret Hodge, chairman of the Commons public spending watchdog, has said.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “Benefit fraud cost taxpayers £1.2billion last year — an increase of £100million. The crackdown on this obscene criminal culture can pull no punches. If crooks are to be tackled, threats must be backed with action.” – Sun editorial (£)

Eustice defends the badger cull from backbench disapproval

Badger“MPs have overwhelmingly voted for the controversial badger call to be abandoned in favour of vaccination. … The backbench vote, of 219 to 1, has no direct consequences, but campaign groups described it as a ‘disaster’ for the Government. … Environment Minister George Eustice acknowledged that the cull could be improved but said that vaccines are ‘still far from fully effective’.” – Daily Mail

Mark Wallace: “Serco and G4S ripped us off – the public sector must start to play hardball”

“If a company destroys value, fails to honour contracts and deceives clients, that is a betrayal of the principles on which the market rests, and we should all support severe consequences for such behaviour. The same goes for outright market manipulation, such as the Libor scandal – free marketeers should come down hard on those who seek to undermine the rules and institutions by which the system operates.” – Mark Wallace, Comment is Free

  • “Civil servants failed to spot problems on a series of botched outsourcing contracts, meaning scandals involving suppliers G4S, Atos, Capita and Serco only surfaced because of whistleblowers, a parliamentary committee has found.” – Financial Times

Tory donor Lord Ballyedmond among those killed in helicopter crash

“A Conservative Party donor worth £500million is feared to be among four who were killed in a helicopter crash in thick fog in Norfolk. … The emergency services were called at 7.30 yesterday evening following reports that the civilian aircraft had come down near the stately home of Lord Ballyedmond, also known as Dr Edward Haughey, in Gillingham, near Beccles. The helicopter was understood to be on its way to Northern Ireland.” – Daily Mail

Lib Dems moot a policy to ban all petrol and diesel cars by 2040

“Liberal Democrats want to ban all conventional cars by 2040 and allow only electric and ultra-low emission vehicles on the roads. … Every diesel and petrol car would be scrapped by then or earlier if there are enough technological advances. … The extraordinary policy, contained in the Lib Dems’ ‘green manifesto’ launched this week, has the backing of senior figures including party president Tim Farron.” – Daily Mail

Growing speculation about a Lib-Lab pact

Libdem bird vs TORY“Labour and the Liberal Democrats have quietly aligned policy pledges in more than a dozen areas, prompting speculation that they are preparing the ground for a coalition after next year’s general election. … Ed Miliband’s decision this week to effectively rule out a referendum on the EU if he becomes prime minister was the latest in a series of moves which bring the two parties more closely into line. … An analysis by the New Statesman identifies 14 areas where Labour and the Lib Dems have converged, including cutting pensioner benefits, reducing the voting age to 16 and a mansion tax on expensive homes.” – Daily Mail

  • “Labour and Lib Dems are natural allies again” – George Eaton, The Times (£)
  • “Coming to a view on Europe may not have been the toughest challenge he has faced as Labour leader, even if his party has a modest eurosceptic wing. But his stance is far more sensible than the one set out by Mr Cameron.” – Financial Times editorial

> Yesterday: Lord Ashcroft on Comment – Miliband’s referendum non-pledge will win votes for Labour – if the Conservatives let it

Balls claims that he’s learnt from his mistakes

“Ed Balls went further than ever before yesterday in taking responsibility for the financial crisis. … The Shadow Chancellor said that he had learnt from his mistakes when asked how he would counter the question the Tories will put at the next general election: ‘Why hand the keys back to the guy who crashed the car?'” – The Times (£)

  • “David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, has said that he regrets bringing in flexible jail terms for serious offenders, admitting that they have led to ‘injustice’.” – The Times (£)

Tony Benn has died, aged 88

Tony Benn“Former Cabinet minister and veteran left-wing campaigner Tony Benn has died at home, his family has said. … The 88-year-old former Labour MP had been seriously ill. … Mr Benn became an MP in November 1950 and served in the Cabinet under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. … A major figure on the left of the party, he narrowly missed out on the deputy leadership in 1981 and went on to be a popular public speaker, anti-war campaigner and political diarist.” – BBC

  • “The establishment insider turned leftwing outsider” – Michael White, The Guardian

Giles Fraser could stand as a Labour MP

“The former Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s who resigned over attempts to remove anti-capitalist protesters from the cathedral’s courtyard is considering a bid to become a Labour MP. … Giles Fraser, whose resignation won him huge popularity on the Left, is weighing up whether to run for a Commons seat after expressing an interest to senior Labour figures.” – The Times (£)

Andrew Pierce asks: “Could Farage’s ‘weakness for women’ be his Achilles’ heel?”

UKIP glass“Relying, as ever, on his cheeky-chappie persona, he said of his wife: ‘She has been fantastically supportive not in the style of some political wives fawning and simpering on stage glittering at my side at receptions. … But by supplying sanity and stability at home. I am glad that my family has not joined me on the tightrope on which I have elected to prance and preen.’ … After this week’s tawdry headlines and allegations that he used taxpayers’ money to employ his wife and ex-mistress, one wonders how much longer Nigel Farage  will be able to safely walk that tightrope.” – Andrew Pierce, Daily Mail

  • “Operation Get Nigel Farage is politics of the lowest form” – Owen Jones, The Guardian

And further news reports:

  • “The sex-swap MEP who accused Ukip leader Nigel Farage of having a fling with an aide says he once told her: ‘What happens in Brussels stays in Brussels.'” – The Sun (£)
  • “A video of Nigel Farage shows him saying that as an MEP he could earn as much as a Goldman Sachs banker through claiming expenses and employing his wife.” – The Guardian

Former Government drugs adviser downplays the threat of legal highs

” The number of deaths from so-called legal highs is being overestimated with many of the fatalities due to substances either wrongly classified or already outlawed in the UK, a former government drugs advisor has claimed. … Official figures, including those from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), are giving a potentially misleading impression of the scale of the problem fuelling a media and political overreaction, according to Professor David Nutt.” – The Independent

  • “Genetically modified crops could be more nutritious than natural produce, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser has told the Prime Minister.” – Daily Telegraph

And comment:

  • “All of this only re-emphasises the confusion at the heart of the ‘war on drugs’, and the extent to which it is failing.” – Independent editorial

Philip Collins: “We must give up our faith in religious schools”

“What you believe in your own time is your affair but it is not relevant to the public education of children. It would be an easy matter simply to remove the right to religious selection. No schools would close and nothing would get worse. It would just be a modest removal of an irrelevant obstacle to good schools for children whose parents kneel before the wrong deity.” – Philip Collins, The Times (£)

News in brief

  • Yesterday’s memorial service for Sir David Frost – Daily Mail
  • Self-described “Scottish and Irish Sympathiser” jailed for plotting various London terror attacks – Daily Mail
  • Official in line for promotion despite accidentally flashing secret Crimea papers – The Sun (£)
  • Zuckerberg calls Obama to criticise the pace of surveillance reform – Financial Times
  • Distant relatives of Richard III join legal battle over his final resting place – Financial Times
  • Britain’s most senior judge warns that people cannot debate traditional issues because of liberal “censoriousness” – Daily Telegraph

And finally: If only every Lib Dem would leave for Florida

“A Liberal Democrat Councillor is representing her Bognor Regis constituents from Florida for more than three months a year. … Jeanette Warr, 77, receives the full annual allowances despite living in the U.S. during the winter. … Last year’s figures show the ex-town mayor was paid £5,259.88.” – Daily Mail