Cameron challenges Miliband over pensions…

CAMERON-PENSIVE“David Cameron will today accuse ‘dithering’ Ed Miliband of not trusting people with their own cash as he makes his party’s pensions revolution a key election issue. … The PM will say Labour is ‘all over the place’ as it tries to respond to last week’s Budget revelation. … Around 400,000 people are expected to benefit immediately as changes giving retired workers complete access to their pension pots are ushered in on Thursday.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Labour ministers on Sunday appealed for calm after two dire polls led to back-bench MPs openly criticising Ed Miliband for his failure to get through to voters.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Labour is facing a dilemma over how far to back George Osborne’s plans to let people take large lump sums out of their pensions, with Dame Anne Begg, the chairman of the Commons work and pensions committee, joining senior figures warning of unforeseen dangers in the proposals.” – The Guardian
  • “The Treasury needs to come clean about whether George Osborne’s own department helped design the widely derided Tory poster suggesting beer and bingo tax cuts for hardworking people are the kind of things ‘they’ enjoy, Labour said on Sunday night.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “Five days on and Labour is still in complete disarray over what to make of George Osborne’s Budget.” – Sun editorial (£)
  • “The Tory firework had gone straight through the Labour catflap. The hand grenade had tinkle-plinked down the periscope and was bouncing about in the cabin of the Labour submarine and – KABOOM! – their position was destroyed.” – Boris Johnson, Daily Telegraph
  • “Let’s celebrate the Chancellor’s bravery on pensions – now perhaps the Government can tackle other mighty vested interests” – Mary Dejevsky, The Independent
  • “George Osborne’s ‘brilliant’ budget could turn out to be a dud” – Chris Huhne, The Guardian
  • “Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson should learn from George Osborne and go for a simple yet bold policy on devolution” – Brian Monteith, The Scotsman

> Today:

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – Has Osborne defied gravity with a post-Budget bounce?

…as Which? backs the Government’s reforms

OSBORNE blue tie“Britain’s consumer watchdog Which? has joined up with Saga and pension experts to praise George Osborne’s people power reforms, saying they will ‘transform the way people of all ages save for their future’. … In a rare intervention into the political arena, the consumer champion claimed the measures will introduce ‘genuine flexibility and choice for millions of people planning for their retirement’.” – Daily Mail

  • “Felicity Kendal and Simon Callow lead a star cast thanking George Osborne for a tax break which they claim will deliver ‘powerful encouragement’ to British theatre.” – The Times (£)
  • “Buy now, pay later schemes offered by some of the UK’s biggest retailers are responsible for more borrowers falling into unaffordable levels of debt than payday loans.” – Financial Times
  • “The gap between the pay of top earners and the lowest-paid has ‘soared’ in parts of the country, revealing huge wage inequality, new [TUC] research has shown.” – Daily Mail

Does Osborne want the Tories’ immigration target to be missed?

“The Chancellor predicted almost half a billion pounds in savings from restricting migrants’ rights to benefits over the next Parliament when he laid out the public finances last week. The extra cash helped balance the Budget, contributing to the cost of giveaways such as the increase in the personal tax allowance and tax-free childcare. However, the Treasury assumptions that underpin that estimate use a forecast that sees net migration at 150,000 next year, and remaining well above the target throughout the next Parliament.” – The Times (£)

  • “True liberals should be wary of open borders” – Melanie Phillips, The Times (£)

17,000 homes have been bought under Help to Buy

House icon“More than 17,000 homes have been bought under the Government’s Help to Buy scheme, latest figures show. … First-time buyers made up 80 per cent of the purchases — and 77 per cent were outside London and the South East.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Ultimately, Britain has little choice. If we are to preserve our countryside, we can only do so by coming to a more nuanced understanding of which bits of it are worth preserving. Meanwhile, people need places to live.” – Times editorial (£)

> Today: Cllr Antonia Cox on Local Government – The Government should not be boosting short term letting

> Yesterday: WATCH – 17,000 homes bought under the Government’s Help to Buy scheme

NHS 1) The Government steps in to prevent the incineration of miscarried babies

“Thousands of miscarried and aborted babies have been incinerated by NHS hospitals without their mothers’ knowledge, an investigation has found. … The scandal of how the NHS treats parents who lose a child in early pregnancy was uncovered as part of a Channel 4 Dispatches programme to be broadcast tonight. … Last night health minister Dan Poulter stepped in to order an immediate ban on incinerating foetal remains.” – Daily Mail

NHS 2) The health service needs an extra £2 billion, says its departing chief executive…

NHS“The NHS needs an extra £2bn, the departing chief executive has said, with ‘very tight’ finances threatening to push the service into the red before the next general election. … The comments by Sir David Nicholson, as he prepares to step down this week as head of the NHS in England, underline the pressures on public finances just days after George Osborne warned in his Budget that there must be no let up in expenditure controls.” – Financial Times

  • “Doctors were lambasted last night for complaining that the GP service was under ‘threat of extinction’ at the same time as demanding a pay rise.” – Daily Mail

> Today: Lord Ashcroft on Comment – By tackling diabetes, we can boost the nation’s wealth as well as people’s health

NHS 3) …although could be losing £5 billion a year from fraud

“Fraud is costing the NHS up to £5billion a year – the equivalent of 250,000 nurses or the entire annual budget for cancer, a report claims. … Dentists charging for patients who do not exist, or drugs being stolen and sold on eBay are just two examples of the corruption. … A further £2billion could be missing due to financial error, it is claimed.” – Daily Mail

  • “Time to think how we share out the NHS cake” – Daily Telegraph editorial
  • “If the nation can’t afford cuts to vital frontline services, it certainly can’t afford such industrial-scale abuse.” – Sun editorial (£)
  • “Patients, not GPs are getting the raw deal” – Daily Mail editorial
  • “Look at the Welsh NHS’s failure before voting for Labour” – Trevor Kavanagh, The Sun (£)
  • “Safety fears made me quit being a GP. The system’s broken” – Phil Hammond, The Times (£)

Cheesed-off Tory ministers

“Environment ministers attacked their Tory colleagues in the Department of Health over a campaign urging people to stop eating as much full-fat cheese and milk. … Senior Tories warned that the poster campaign would have alienated farmers still reeling from the floods as well as cheese producers in key marginal constituencies.” – Daily Telegraph

IDS wants to recruit more public sector workers to tackle family breakdown

IDS on Marr“Midwives, GPs and registrars will be enlisted to help couples stay together and reduce levels of family breakdown under government plans, The Daily Telegraph has learned. … Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions secretary, is examining series of new policies aimed at reducing the ‘stigma’ surrounding counselling and relationship support services.” – Daily Telegraph

Willetts declines to rule out a tuition fees hike

“The Conservative universities minister has refused to rule out raising tuition fees for students after the next election, amid warnings from Labour that the current system is a ‘financial timebomb’ that will leave a big hole in higher education funding. … David Willetts, who oversaw the tripling of tuition fees to a maximum of £9,000 in 2012, said the government would ‘have to see how the income of universities performs’ when asked whether he would consider raising fees after 2015.” – The Guardian

Truss takes aim at Britain’s political dynasties

“Education minister Liz Truss said having too many MPs from the same family leads to the ‘usual suspects’ winning elections and undermining the meritocracy. … She took aim at Labour’s ‘Red Princes’ – the children of former ministers running for Parliament – but said the problem could be found in every party.” – Daily Mail

  • “Never mind Dave’s Etonians. Labour’s ruling dynasties are just as privileged.” – Dominic Lawson, Daily Mail

Patel criticises the decision not to name a TV comedian in court case

“But despite the serious nature of the accusations against the comedian, he was referred to simply as ‘Mr X’ during the inquest after the coroner backed an informal agreement to protect his name. … Criticising the move, Tory MP Priti Patel said: ‘Nobody should be going down the legal route to prevent the disclosure of basic facts around a court hearing. … The public need to know that key evidence and key facts are not being kept from them.’” – Daily Mail

Further coverage of Lord Ashcroft’s mega-poll on Europe

CAMERON EU fence“A poll has found that just 20 per cent think the Prime Minister can get a better deal with Brussels, while 72 per cent do not. … The findings, which come from a major piece of research commissioned by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft, cast doubt on the electoral effectiveness of Mr Cameron’s pledge of an in-out referendum by 2017.” – Daily Mail

  • “Britain should be able to join forces with other like-minded nations to scrap European Union laws, an influential committee of peers has said. … The House of Lords EU committee has called for national parliaments to be given the power to work together to force the review and abolition of existing legislation.” – Daily Telegraph

> Yesterday: Lord Ashcroft on Comment – Should we leave the EU? Britain isn’t sure, either way

Tory peer caught up in lobbying row

“A senior Conservative peer, who denied that he ever lobbied MPs and peers on behalf of a Caribbean tax haven, had signed a £12,000-a-month contract that stated he would do so, an investigation for The Independent has revealed. … Lord Blencathra has previously been investigated by the Lords Commissioner for Standards for his work on behalf of the Cayman Islands government and insisted in written evidence that none of his work involved lobbying Parliament.” – The Independent

  • “The body that sets MPs’ expenses rounded up their monthly rental allowances to the nearest £100 in a string of generous measures that escalated second-home payments to £17,400 a year.” – The Times (£)

The Internet is corrupting relations between boys and girls, warns Baker

“Internet pornography has ‘corrupted’ relationships between boys and girls, a Home Office minister has said. … Norman Baker has warned that boys no longer know what ‘consent’ means and that some think ‘exploitative’ relationships are the norm.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “An investigation is under way at the Home Office amid fears that a racist ‘glass ceiling’ is preventing black and minority ethnic staff from winning promotion to senior jobs. … The move has been prompted by perceptions among ethnic minority staff in the Government department and its agencies that they are disadvantaged during promotions and appraisals, and when bonuses are handed out.” – The Times (£)

Labour policy 1) Think-tanks urge Miliband to be bold

MILIBAND soulful“Ed Miliband faces renewed questions about Labour’s strategic direction as a coalition of thinktanks and party intellectuals urges him not to play safe by fighting the election with a manifesto aimed only at exploiting Conservative unpopularity. … In a letter published in the Guardian, 19 leading figures from groups including the Fabian Society, Compass, Policy Network and Progress express unease that Miliband may not secure a mandate for the kind of change they believe Britain needs.” – The Guardian

Labour policy 2) More checks for prison officers

“In a move to crack down on corrupt officers, Khan will say that a Labour government would ban the worst offenders from working in prisons and an independent hotline would be created to allow staff to report on wrongdoing by colleagues. … Khan will also call on ministers to consider closed visits, with screens separating inmates and visitors, to reduce the flow of drugs and other contraband into prison.” – The Guardian

Labour policy 3) Sell off land for self-builds

“People who want to build their own homes will be able to join local ‘land waiting lists’ as part of Labour’s plan to tackle Britain’s housing crisis. … In an interview with The Independent, Emma Reynolds, who six months ago became the party’s first shadow  Housing minister, said she wanted to make councils sell off small areas of unused or derelict land to people who want to build their own homes.” – The Independent

Labour policy 4) An emphasis on cyber-security

“Labour will call on Monday for the next strategic review of defence to take more account of the growing threat of cyberwarfare and consider forcing all private companies to report serious online attacks threatening the UK’s national infrastructure. … In a speech, Vernon Coaker, the shadow defence secretary, will call for the 2015 defence review to focus more on long-term strategy and not be so led by the Treasury.” – The Guardian

Flint highlights the dominance of the Big Six

Caroline Flint“Ofgem, the energy watchdog, has failed to make inroads into the market dominance of the Big Six suppliers over the last five years – an omission that many believe is responsible for soaring domestic power bills – figures published today show. … The Decc numbers, provided to and published by Flint after a written question in parliament earlier this year, show a market that is next to static.” – The Guardian

Peer rages against the decision to enshrine Sharia law in Britain’s legal system

“The Law Society has told solicitors to draw up the ‘Islamic compliant’ wills if clients ask. … The wills deny women an equal share of inheritances and exclude non-Muslims. Children of unwed parents would not count as legitimate heirs. … House of Lords cross-bencher Baroness Cox branded it ‘deeply disturbing’. She added: ‘This violates everything we stand for.'” – The Sun (£)

  • “Moves to enshrine Sharia law into the British legal system are astonishing and very troubling.” – Sun editorial (£)

Scottish justice minister: Scotland could ditch the Queen

“The Queen could be removed as head of state if Scotland votes for independence, a senior SNP minister has said. … Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish justice minister, said ‘it will be for the people of Scotland to decide’ if the country becomes a republic or remains a monarchy.” – Daily Mail

  • “An interim written constitution setting out the foundations of an independent Scotland if the country votes Yes in the referendum will be published this summer, the Deputy First Minister is to say.” – The Scotsman
  • “Scotland must start healing the divisions created by the independence debate before the referendum even takes place, a senior Church of Scotland official has said.” – The Scotsman

Former army chief demands a reversal of cuts to make a “military statement” to Russia

Russian flag“Britain should make a ‘military statement’ to Russia by retaining 3,000 soldiers in Germany in a reverse of planned defence cuts, the former head of the Army says on Monday. … He says in an article for The Telegraph that ‘greater military capability’ must underpin diplomacy in crises such as those in Ukraine and Syria, and that maintaining a British presence in Germany would send that message.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “Russian troops have seized a naval base in Crimea, which was still flying a Ukrainian flag after Russia’s annexation. … First Lieutenant Anatoly Mozgovoy told Reuters on the phone from inside the base that there were shots fired and that the Ukrainian soldiers were unarmed.” – Daily Mail
  • “The glamorous foreign minister of a breakaway region of Moldova is calling on Vladimir Putin to make her country his next conquest in eastern Europe.” – Daily Mail

And comment:

  • “Lord Dannatt, a former head of the Army, is assuredly right when he says that ‘to remove further resources from defence would be sending exactly the wrong message at this time’.” – Daily Telegraph editorial
  • “Beijing should think long and hard before striking a gas deal with an opportunistic Kremlin” – Times editorial (£)
  • “We’ll be relying on Putin’s gas for years yet” – Matt Ridley, The Times (£)
  • “A solution to Crimea could be found in Cuba” – David Owen, The Guardian
  • “These Syrian children are proof that we can provide education in the midst of conflict” – Gordon Brown, The Guardian

News in brief

  • Hillary Clinton hints at a presidential run in 2016 – The Guardian
  • Gains for the National Front in French local elections – Daily Mail
  • Continuing row over new Newsnight correspondent – Daily Mail
  • Turkey’s Prime Minister defiant over Twitter ban – Financial Times
  • Heseltine takes full control of the publishing group Haymarket – Financial Times

And finally 1) Who’s the weirdest of them all?

“Geeky Ed Miliband is the ‘weirdest’ of all the party leaders — and the most likely to have been unpopular at school, a poll found. … The YouGov survey for the Buzzfeed website showed that 41 per cent of voters think Mr Miliband is ‘very or fairly weird’. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg got 34 per cent and Prime Minister David Cameron 27 per cent.” – The Sun (£)

And finally 2) Thatcher for Farage?

THATCHER resolute“Margaret Thatcher would have been secretly cheering Nigel Farage on, according to a former Cabinet minister. … Jonathan Aitken said yesterday that the Ukip leader ‘voices a lot of her prejudices’, citing immigration and the “domination” by Brussels of British affairs.” – The Times (£)

And finally 3) The onesie and only Sam Cam

“In the words of her husband, it could have been a ‘career- ending fashion disaster’. … But Samantha Cameron pulled off a bright-red onesie with aplomb yesterday as she took part in a charity run for Sport Relief. … Fashion consultant Mrs Cameron got well and truly into the spirit of the Sport Relief Mile in Cutteslowe Park, Oxford, completing the outfit with a pair of matching Sport Relief deely-boppers.” – Daily Mail