A Budget bounce? Tories and Labour neck-and-neck in the polls

Osborne Growth“The Tories are neck and neck with Labour after a post-budget poll bounce, prompting senior figures to urge Ed Miliband to sharpen his policies and stop speaking like a ‘Hampstead academic’. … Today’s YouGov poll for The Sunday Times puts the Conservatives on 36%, just one point behind the opposition, the smallest margin in five months, with chancellor George Osborne’s personal approval ratings surging.” – Sunday Times (£)

  • “A Survation poll for The Mail on Sunday shows Labour on 35 (up one point on their January rating), the Tories on 34 (up four), UKIP on 15 (down three) and the Lib Dems on nine (down three).” – Mail on Sunday
  • “The Tory party chairman says British businesses are proving they have what it takes to survive today’s economic challenges. … Grant Shapps made the comment following a two-day ‘budget tour’ of the North of England last week. … On his 1,000 mile trek he visited small to medium-sized enterprises in 15 constituencies along the M6, from Stockport to Blackpool and Carlisle, where manufacturing still forms 20 per cent of the economy.” – Sunday Express
  • “People who cash in their pensions in order to save or invest the money risk losing their right to free social care if they fall ill or become too frail to look after themselves, leading charities have warned.” – The Observer
  • “George Osborne is set for an election windfall of up to £4.6bn as savers rush to take advantage of the pensions revolution announced in last week’s budget.” – Sunday Times (£)

And further post-Budget comment:

  • “Osborne’s budget could be a game changer” – Sunday Times editorial (£)
  • “Now the Tories must show the decision to liberate pensioners from the annuity straitjacket is not just a flash in the pan but a herald of many similar policies.” – Mail on Sunday editorial
  • “It was a Lib Dem Budget.” – Danny Alexander, interviewed in the Sunday Telegraph
  • “Not since Margaret Thatcher gave people the right to buy their council homes in 1980 has a reform so perfectly encapsulated the values that inspired her.” – Toby Helm, The Observer
  • “At last, a real supply-side revolution” – Janet Daley, Sunday Telegraph

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

New Lord Ashcroft poll: Voters don’t think Cameron can claim back powers

ASHCROFT blue shirt“Fed-up voters don’t trust David Cameron to win a better deal for Britain from the EU, a poll reveals today. … Three out of four have little faith in the PM delivering his promise to claw back power from Brussels. … More than half of the doubters think his efforts will be blocked by other member states. … The rest either think he lacks clout as a negotiator — or that he wants to keep Britain in Europe even if the talks fail. … The poll, by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft, is a blow to Mr Cameron’s bid to secure seven major changes as a price for staying in the EU.” – Sun on Sunday

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

The Prime Minister faces a revolt over hunting

“A growing number of Conservative MPs have warned David Cameron that he risks losing a vital Commons vote if he pushes ahead with what they believe is an attempt to weaken the ban on hunting to woo rural voters away from Ukip. … The Blue Fox, a group of anti-hunt Conservatives, said that 27 Tory MPs had contacted them to declare their disquiet over the developments, with another significant cohort yet to decide whether they will vote against the plans because of sizeable pro-hunt support in their constituencies.” – The Observer

Hague attacks “bullying” Russia

Russian flag“The Foreign Secretary has launched a blistering attack on ‘bullying’ Russia over the invasion and annexation of Crimea. … Vladimir Putin’s ‘outrageous land grab’ and the build up of troops along the Russian border is the biggest threat to European stability this century, William Hague says in an article for The Telegraph.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • “The illegal annexation of Crimea is an outrageous land grab, and the referendum that preceded it was a mockery of democracy.” – William Hague, Sunday Telegraph
  • “…our Prime Minister is puffing himself up like a bullfrog, and busily creating a new Cold War that will benefit nobody except spies and weapons-makers, for a cause he doesn’t understand and can’t explain.” – Peter Hitchens, Mail on Sunday

Hunt likens Mid Staffs to Chernobyl

“Jeremy Hunt the health secretary, has compared the Mid Staffordshire NHS trust scandal to the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown and other international disasters as a turning point in safety culture. … In a speech on Wednesday at Seattle’s Virginia Mason hospital, one of the world’s safest, Hunt will set out new measures and outline progress on patient safety in the wake of Mid Staffs.” – Sunday Times (£)

  • “Alarming lapses in cancer care are exposed this weekend by new figures showing thousands of patients are at risk of premature death because of delays in treatment.” – Sunday Times (£)

Pickles plans to end home extension charges

PICKLES Eric 2009“The government plans to scrap local authority charges for extensions to family homes and conversions of annexes into granny flats. … Eric Pickles, the communities secretary, wants to stop councils imposing ‘section 106’ levies on homeowners. They can add thousands to the cost of extending a family home or converting outbuildings into an annexe.” – Sunday Times (£)

The Government extends its Troubled Families programme

“Tiny tearaways will be targeted by ‘Shameless squads’ to stop them turning into the yobs of the future, The Sun on Sunday can reveal. … An expansion of the Government’s Troubled Families programme will focus on keeping kids on the straight and narrow from the moment they arrive at school. … It is part of a boost to the crusade which will see an extra 40,000 failing families helped this year.” – Sun on Sunday (£)

  • “The government is facing intense pressure to prevent more young girls from being lured into criminal gangs, as a shocking report exposes how they are subjected to brutal sexual exploitation and used to hide weapons and carry drugs for male gang members.” – The Observer
  • “Police will get new powers to tackle sex beasts who groom children under planned law changes.” – Sun on Sunday (£)
  • “One of the most senior officials in the Police Federation is embroiled in a criminal investigation over a £25m charity contract that would have benefited a business acquaintance.” – Sunday Times (£)
  • “Islamic law is to be effectively enshrined in the British legal system for the first time under guidelines for solicitors on drawing up ‘Sharia compliant’ wills.” – Sunday Telegraph

Redwood calls for action to help 40p rate payers

Redwood John Oct 11“The Conservatives must ensure fewer people are paying the 40p rate of income tax, one of the authors of the party’s next election manifesto has said. … With pressure intensifying for the Tories to offer a firm manifesto commitment to raise the 40p threshold in the next parliament, John Redwood, chairman of the Tory party’s economics affairs committee, said income tax had now become ‘dangerous’ and risked discouraging work.” – Sunday Telegraph

Shapps accused of breaching data protection laws

“The besieged Conservative party chairman, Grant Shapps, is again under fire after the party was accused of breaching data protection laws in a ‘vast contravention of personal privacy’ that could lead to an official investigation. … The party will be reported to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) this week after Mr Shapps failed to respond to two letters from a professional body that enforces ethical research standards.” – Independent on Sunday

  • “The controversial post-Budget bingo ‘poster’ blamed on Grant Shapps, the Tory chairman, was designed in the Treasury and signed off by the Chancellor, the Telegraph has learnt.” – Sunday Telegraph

Tory MPs take on the BBC again, this time over political bias…

Biased BBC“The BBC has been plunged into a row over political bias after one of its popular dramas was apparently used as a platform to criticise Government policy. … Tory MPs are furious that BBC1 courtroom drama Silk – which has more than five million viewers – has taken a stance against proposals to cut the legal aid bill, which currently costs taxpayers £2 billion a year.” – Mail on Sunday

  • “James Naughtie, the BBC broadcaster, has lamented the rise of ‘tedious sound bite-politics’, admitting that even his own Radio 4 Today programme does not always schedule enough time for in-depth interviews.” – Sunday Telegraph
  • “A child protection expert has warned that the BBC’s multi-million pound inquiry into the Jimmy Savile scandal is ‘too narrow’ to uncover the truth about the DJ.” – Mail on Sunday

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – The BBC is dragged closer to the real world by decriminalising the licence fee

…and resist EU money for First World War commemorations

“Tory Eurosceptic MPs are blocking European funding for first world war commemorations because they say the European commission is seeking to promote partial views on the war and further the cause of political integration. … Under the leadership of Bill Cash, who is using his power as chairman of an influential Commons committee, the group of MPs is obstructing EU plans to spend £154m on the projects.” – The Observer

New Conservative group calls for “managed migration”

“David Cameron faces a revolt by his MPs this week as they form a new group calling for the Conservative Party to end its ‘near obsession’ with immigration and attempts to ‘outdo’ Ukip. … More than a dozen MPs, led by the backbencher Mark Field, will unveil the group Conservatives for Managed Migration on Tuesday. They are warning that the Government’s ‘arbitrary’ cap on immigration numbers risks damaging the economic recovery and sends the wrong message about what the Tory party stands for.” – Independent on Sunday

Davey hails “game changing” development in renewable energy

Ed Davey“Millions of homes across the UK could be heated using a carbon-free technology that draws energy from rivers and lakes in a revolutionary system that could reduce household bills by 20 per cent. … The Energy Secretary, Ed Davey, has described the development as ‘game changing’ in relation to Britain’s need for renewable energy against the backdrop of insecurity in Russia, which supplies much of Europe’s gas, and the political row at home over soaring fuel bills.” – Independent on Sunday

  • “The United Nations will officially warn that growing crops to make ‘green’ biofuel harms the environment and drives up food prices” – Sunday Telegraph

Who will take on Osborne? The Lib Dems seek an answer

“A row is brewing between Liberal Democrat MPs and grassroots supporters over who should take part in the would-be chancellors’ television debate during next year’s general election campaign. … As the minority coalition partner, the Lib Dems do not have a shadow chancellor. Nick Clegg must choose between the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, and the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, who represented the Lib Dems in the 2010 debate.” – Independent on Sunday

And will Labour share power with the Lib Dems? Douglas Alexander suggests not

“Labour will refuse a coalition with the Liberal Democrats after the next general election, the party’s chief strategist has said as he pledged to make them pay for their actions in government. … Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary and chairman of Labour’s general election strategy team, said it was “nonsense” to argue for a power-sharing deal with the Lib Dems.” – Sunday Telegraph

Miliband faces turmoil over the Chancellor’s pension reforms…

Miliband coffee“Ed Miliband faced anger last night after Labour officially backed George Osborne’s pensions revolution. … Labour rebels claimed letting the elderly cash in big pension pots instead of buying annuities – incomes for life – could lead to some running out of money. … And senior Labour MP Austin Mitchell said he feared it could see unscrupulous relatives or fraudsters preying on those who cash in pensions.” – Mail on Sunday

  • “Wherever the Labour party eventually comes out on this particular policy, its instinctive reluctance to trust people is striking.” – Camilla Cavendish, Sunday Times (£)
  • “If there is one single thing that will cost Labour victory, it is voters not trusting the two Eds to be competent custodians of the national finances.” – Andrew Rawnsley, The Observer

…and over benefits

“Labour was in turmoil over benefits last night after letting slip plans to give claimants MORE money. … Welfare spokesman Rachel Reeves said she wanted to reverse changes aimed at saving cash and making work pay. … But she was slapped down by party chiefs, who insisted Ed Miliband backed Coalition plans for a £119billion benefits cap.” – Sun on Sunday (£)

  • “The European Commission is to take Britain to court over its attempts to limit benefits payments to migrants in a ‘politically explosive’ case ahead of the European elections.” – Sunday Telegraph

And comment:

  • “Tory failure to tackle financial squeeze on families is pushing up welfare costs” – Rachel Reeves, The Observer
  • “Setting a cap on welfare spending is a momentous punctuation mark in the history of the post-war state” – Matthew d’Ancona, Sunday Telegraph

Labour wants veterans to build homes

“Troops returning from the front line will lead a house-building boom by Labour. … Armed Forces veterans looking for work will be signed up to fill the skills gap in the construction industry. … They will go to the front of the queue for jobs under Ed Miliband’s pledge to build 200,000 homes a year. The ‘Heroes for Homes’ plan will be unveiled by shadow housing minister Emma Reynolds this week.” – Sun on Sunday (£)

  • “Big businesses could be forced to publicly admit to major cyber attacks from criminal gangs or state-backed terrorist groups, should Labour regain power next year.” – Independent on Sunday

Stephen Kinnock, the latest Labour heir

“Neil Kinnock’s son, Stephen Kinnock, is the latest Labour heir to stand for Parliament after he was selected to as the party’s candidate to fight a safe seat. … The son of the former Labour leader will stand in 2015 for the seat in Aberavon, which the party has continuously held since the 1920s. … Kinnock, 44, has worked for the British Council and World Economic Forum, and is married to Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt…” – Mail on Sunday

Farage rages against infidelity claims

UKIP glass“UKIP leader Nigel Farage has vehemently denied having sex with his aide Annabelle Fuller and says he has not even kissed her. … And he has dismissed claims that his 14-year marriage to German wife Kirsten is in trouble as a result of the latest headlines about his  so-called ‘womanising’. … In his most candid interview ever, the man bidding to change the landscape of British politics in May’s Euro elections told The Mail on Sunday … the Tories are falsely trying to smear him as a ‘dishonest, drunken womaniser’.” – Mail on Sunday

  • “Nigel Farage rants about how he wants Britain off the EU ‘gravy train’ — while living a life of luxury in a penthouse suite owned by a wealthy eurocrat.” – Sun on Sunday (£)

And comment:

  • “…if it looks like Nige and his chums are lining their pockets while condemning others for the same thing, he won’t be a ‘man of the people’ for long.” – Sun on Sunday editorial (£)
  • “UKIP is dominating Tory thinking. It was the only subject at a parliamentary party meeting addressed by David Cameron and his campaign manager Lynton Crosby last Tuesday.” – James Forsyth, Mail on Sunday
  • “Nick and Nigel hack at each other – but it’s the big boys who get hurt” – Adam Boulton, Sunday Times (£)

GP services are “under threat of extinction”, says GP chief

“The leader of Britain’s family doctors has warned that GP services are ‘under severe threat of extinction’ because they cannot cope with the growing demand for care. Practices are forcing patients to endure long waits for appointments, and allowing them too little time with their GP, according to Dr Maureen Baker, who chairs the Royal College of GPs.” – The Observer

The Environment Agency’s £13 million in expenses claims

UK notes and coins“The Environment Agency has been accused of spiralling ‘out of control’ after it was revealed its staff claimed £12.8 million in expenses last year. … The figure is up more than £3.8 million – or 43 per cent – on the previous 12 months. … Just half of that rise could have covered the cost of river dredging that may have saved the Somerset Levels from flooding– work the beleaguered quango decided not to carry out.” – Mail on Sunday

  • “MPs were facing a new backlash over expenses last night after it emerged they have been making claims for designer spectacles worth hundreds of pounds. … Former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, along with Government and Shadow Ministers, are among those who have made claims for glasses at the taxpayers’ expense.” – Mail on Sunday
  • “Treasury staff have taken off a combined ten years in sick days for stress, anxiety and depression in the wake of the financial crisis.” – Sun on Sunday (£)

Former officer criticises Britain’s “turkey shoot” tactics in Afghanistan

“Soldiers based in Helmand from 2006 to 2009 were permitted to open fire on anyone approaching their bases while carrying a weapon. … But Major Streatfeild, who commanded a company of riflemen fighting the Taliban, said many of those shot and killed as a result posed no risk to British forces, in what amounted to ‘a turkey shoot masquerading as professional soldiering’.” – Mail on Sunday

News in brief

And finally 1) Brown has it both ways

“He once described Gazza’s wonder goal against the Scots at Wembley as one of his favourite footballing memories. … But Gordon Brown, who no longer courts the English vote, has now spoken of his heartbreak at watching Gary McAllister’s botched penalty for Scotland in that famous Euro ’96 match.” – Mail on Sunday

And finally 2) Microphone fiend

Microphone“In an interview in today’s Mail on Sunday Event magazine, Education Secretary Mr Gove sings the praises of a rap singer who has mocked the Prime Minister, London Mayor and Chancellor for being members of the upper-crust Oxford group known for its drunken high jinks. … One song says Mr Cameron is a ‘dud’ leader who treats people like ‘serfs’ and makes people want to ‘punch him in the dimples’, and ridicules his claim to like the The Smiths pop group.” – Mail on Sunday

  • “The Education Secretary provided George Osborne’s central joke, which compared Ed Miliband with treacherous King John.” – Sun on Sunday (£)

And finally 3) Boris at the pumps

“Boris Johnson fills up his battered family car — as punters last night fuelled his leadership ambitions. … The London Mayor, 49, who is normally seen on his trusty bike, took the 12-year-old blue Toyota to a petrol station in the capital.” – Sun on Sunday (£)