Religious leaders rally to Cameron’s side…

CAMERON byline photo“David Cameron was last night urged to stand up to the ‘militant atheists’ who want to deny Britain’s Christian heritage. … Leaders of many faiths backed the Prime Minister’s decision to talk openly about his beliefs after it was criticised in a letter by non-believers. … MPs also said he must not allow himself to be shouted down by ‘aggressive’ atheists who want faith to be cut out of politics and national life.” – Daily Mail

  • “Campbell, who famously said that the Blair government ‘didn’t do God’, said he would have no problem with Cameron’s recent claims if he felt that the prime minister really meant them. But he said he was not convinced and argued that Cameron was proclaiming his faith because he needed ‘a new talking point after the Maria Miller fiasco’.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “Our Christian beliefs are under attack from influential and militant atheists” – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph
  • “This new breed of militant atheists are as intolerant as any religious fundamentalists” – Stephen Glover, Daily Mail

> Today: Alistair Burt MP on Comment – A means by which Ministers could try to improve the lot of Christians abroad

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – This call to drive Christianity out of public life is absurd

…as the Prime Minister stands side-by-side with Osborne

Osborne New Year speech“David Cameron and George Osborne will today defy their ‘two posh boys’ tag to launch a rare joint push to turn good economic news into votes. … The Prime Minister and his Chancellor will appear on the same stage alone together for the first time since coming to power four years ago. … In a Q&A session with East Midlands workers, they will herald the start of more than 200 new infrastructure projects this financial year.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Energy companies are to be given the freedom to ‘frack’ for shale gas under private land in a move that is set to provoke a backlash from environmentalists, residents and some MPs. … In an attempt to kick-start the fledgling shale industry, the coalition will include an infrastructure bill in the Queen’s Speech to change trespass laws, allowing companies to drill without permission in return for only minimal compensation to landowners.” – Financial Times
  • “Britain risks losing its competitive edge because a generation of children is no longer interested in winning on the sporting field, according to research.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “The number of Britons paying the 40p tax rate has risen by almost 400 per cent in 30 years. … This year 4.4million will pay higher-rate income tax compared with just 930,000 in 1984.” – Daily Mail

And comment:

  • “Tories must choose between the PM’s big-picture message and the chancellor’s old-fashioned political handouts” – Francis Elliott, The Times (£)

> Today: Priti Patel MP’s column – The Great British jobs growth story – under the Conservatives

The Tory leadership gives up on a hunting vote

fox“A vote on overturning the ban on hunting is set to be abandoned by the government, it has emerged. … The coalition agreement, signed off by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, promised that MPs would be given a free vote on tearing up the controversial Hunting Act, introduced by Tony Blair in 2004. However, senior Tories have concluded that there is no point in holding the vote before the election as most MPs support the ban.” – The Times (£)

Ministers prepare to shake up family justice

“Students and trainee lawyers will be drafted in to “hold the hands” of divorcing couples as they go through the courts under the biggest shake-up of family justice in 25 years, which comes into force today. … Half of all divorcing couples now head for the courts without lawyers, so ministers plan a network of advice centres staffed by students to guide them before they stand up in court.” – The Times (£)

  • “Baroness Cox of Queensbury is fighting to stop sharia ‘seeping’ into enforcing divorce settlements” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Assistant Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, the national policing spokesman on surveillance, said he was convinced that ‘crime isn’t down’ and had instead shifted online.” – Daily Mail
  • “This cornerstone of criminal investigation and identification may be flawed, as Mike Silverman claims that human error, partial prints and false positives mean that fingerprints evidence is not as reliable as is widely believed.” – Daily Mail

Greening transfers an extra £15 million to Afghanistan

Greening Justine Feb 2012“An extra £15million of aid was last night unveiled for Afghanistan to stop British troops’ sacrifice going to waste. … The new money will tackle medical shortages, malnutrition and violence against women. … Development Secretary Justine Greening upped the spending to ensure ‘the dedication, courage and sacrifice’ of forces heroes is not lost, she told The Sun.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Defence ministers who sacked hundreds of Royal Navy engineers are now being forced to offer up to £24,000 in bonuses to keep their comrades on, The Sun can reveal.” – The Sun (£)

Tory council attacks the Government’s housing plans

“A government decision to let housing developers scrap affordable homes to maintain profits is ‘storing up trouble for the future’ and fuelling nimbyism, a leading Tory council has warned. … The leadership of Milton Keynes has complained that the decision to water down the requirement for developers to include affordable homes in their plans was a reaction to ‘squeals’ from the construction industry.” – The Guardian

  • “A massive crackdown on mortgages will come into force next week, with borrowers facing a forensic probe into their personal finances.” – Daily Mail
  • “Homebuyers will get a £4,000 stamp duty rebate if they install insulation and other energy-saving measures.” – The Times (£)

And comment:

  • “Stamp duty is worse than a mansion tax” – Ross Clark, The Times (£)

Consider outlawing the purchase of sex, urges Spelman

Caroline Spelman“The former Tory cabinet minister Caroline Spelman has called for the UK to consider criminalising the purchase of sex and urged more male politicians to enter a public debate about the reform of prostitution laws. … Spelman, who as environment secretary from 2010 to 2012 was one of David Cameron’s few senior female ministers, said she supported the Nordic model, named after the system in Sweden, Iceland and Norway, which makes it a crime to buy, but not sell, sexual services.” – The Guardian

Quango chief sacked over past bankruptcy

“Caplin was sacked in disgrace hours after this newspaper challenged Downing Street about the Prime Minister’s decision to put him in charge of the Public Works Loans Board (PWLB) – the Treasury body responsible for £60 billion worth of loans for infrastructure projects including homes, schools, hospitals, rail and roads – after the tycoon was declared bankrupt in 2012.” – Daily Mail

Prosperous ethnic minority voters could turn Tory, claims report

Blue rosette“The report, co-written by former Labour politician and equalities tsar Trevor Phillips, suggests ‘upwardly mobile’ ethnic minority voters are more likely to vote Tory. … Mr Phillips suggests the effect is significant enough to swing the result in a string of marginal seats. … He suggests that the Tories are more likely to hang on to Labour target seats such as Hendon and Wolverhampton South West because of the impact of ‘upwardly mobile Indian heritage, Tory- voting electors’.” – Daily Mail

  • “The Conservatives have yet to select a parliamentary candidate in almost half of the most marginal seats they will need to win if they are to have a working majority after the next election, a new analysis reveals.” – The Independent
  • “Promotions for staff from ethnic minorities in the civil service have dropped sharply since the previous election amid claims that racial equality is going backwards in Whitehall.” – The Independent

> Today: ToryDiary – “Middle-class ethnic minority voters could help Tories win election”

Europe 1) Ministers visit the Continent to lay the groundwork for reform

“Ministers are organising trips for MPs to European capitals to educate them in EU reform as the government looks to shore up support for David Cameron’s renegotiation strategy. … The Foreign Office has arranged the visits over the past few months in an attempt to show the MPs how much – or how little – Britain is likely to get in any renegotiation of powers from Brussels.” – Financial Times

  • “Brits came almost bottom of the class in a basic quiz about the European Union. … Disillusioned UK voters were ranked 22 out of 27 countries – and would have been better tossing a coin to guess the answers.” – The Sun (£)

Europe 2) Let’s quit, says Lord Lawson, to win back our self-confidence

“Quitting the European Union will allow Britain to win back the self-confidence it lost after Margaret Thatcher quit as Prime Minister, Lord Lawson has said. … Lord Lawson of Blaby suggested that Britain was hanging onto its EU membership as a form of comfort blanket, and would prosper by being able to stand alone in the world, outside the EU.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “Europe’s assembly must act to tackle its internal abuses” – Financial Times editorial

Europe 3) Clegg dismisses UKIP’s claims to insurgency status…

UKIP glass“Nick Clegg has dismissed Ukip’s claim to be a party of political outsiders in an article describing it as an arm of the ‘longstanding Eurosceptic establishment’. … Writing for the Guardian, the Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister issued a rallying call to pro-Europeans and said that Nigel Farage’s assertion that he was leading an army of ‘insurgents’ was implausible in view of the strong current of Euroscepticism that existed in the Conservative party and in the media.” – The Guardian

Read Nick Clegg’s Guardian article in full

  • “Nigel Farage and his UK Independence Party have skilfully transformed themselves from a party campaigning about Europe to one preoccupied with immigration, with troubling consequences for the Tories and Labour.” – Benedict Brogan, Daily Telegraph
  • “Ukip is angry about immigration – but so are the voters” – Douglas Murray, The Times (£)
  • “No more surrendering to EU bureaucrats” – Paul Sykes, Daily Telegraph
  • “Britain’s role and place in Europe are, and certainly ought to be, much more important questions than what you think about Nigel Farage or Ukip.” – Guardian editorial

Europe 4) …as Farage’s party comes under fire for that poster campaign

“Ukip was plunged into a race storm yesterday after unveiling a series of posters campaigning against EU immigration. … The £1.5million campaign is funded by the Yorkshire businessman Paul Sykes, who is a former Tory donor. … All the posters call on voters to ‘Take Back Control of Our Country’ by backing Ukip in European elections on May 22. … But they were immediately condemned by rival politicians.” – Daily Mail

  • “The ‘wave’ of migration from Poland to Britain and other European countries is over, according to the country’s ambassador to the UK.” – The Independent
  • “British anarchists are encouraging illegal immigrants to claim they are gay if they are collared by border officials.” – The Sun (£)

Davey warns about Putin’s energy stranglehold

Russian flag“Speaking before a summit for G7 countries next month, Ed Davey, the energy secretary, warned that Mr Putin had the west in a stranglehold. Europe gets a quarter of its gas from Russia and half of that passes through Ukraine. Gazprom, Russia’s gas giant, said this month that the price of Ukraine’s gas could rise by 44 per cent. Long-term improvements to energy security would be required to protect Britain even if Russia backed down over Ukraine because Mr Putin might seek to abuse his influence again, Mr Davey said.” – The Times (£)

  • “Foreign policy towards President Putin would undoubtedly be helped by freedom from Russian energy” – Times editorial (£)

> Today: Garvan Walshe’s column – Can the West fight back against Putin’s chessboxing?

Miliband wants us to hug a hoodie wind turbine

“Britain will have to ‘embrace’ onshore wind farms if Labour wins the next election, Ed Miliband has said. … While David Cameron has called for a cap on new turbines in favour of building them offshore, Mr Miliband has defended the need for windmills in the countryside. … The Labour leader said residents ‘have the right to make their objections’ to applications in their area, but turbines must be built in places which can best generate electricity.” – Daily Mail

  • “What Mr Miliband is left with, then, is bemoaning the cost of living. It is worth persevering with. The fact that people have stopped getting poorer by the month does not mean that they suddenly feel like Zsa Zsa Gabor. The kind of palpable prosperity that characterised Britain before the crash is not coming back for many years.” – Janan Ganesh, Financial Times

Brown joins the Union campaign… with a warning about pensions

Blair and Brown“Scotland faces a £700 million pensions ‘black hole’ if the SNP wins the independence referendum, Gordon Brown will claim tonight. … The former Prime Minister will join the Better Together campaign for the first time as he launches a passionate plea to ‘keep our pensions British’. … He will highlight the ‘time bomb’ facing the country as the number of elderly Scots is set to soar from 1 million to 1.3 million over the next 20 years, putting pressure on the welfare state.” – Daily Mail

  • “Three of Scotland’s leading universities have quit business organisation the CBI as the row escalates over its formal support for the No campaign in the referendum.” – The Scotsman
  • “Scots should be given a referendum on membership of the European Union if the country votes Yes to independence, a former SNP leader will say today.” – The Scotsman

And comment:

  • “The nationalists paint the rest of the UK as right-wing and Ukippy. It’s actually a tolerant and multicultural nation” – Hugo Rifkind, The Times (£)

Danczuk: Cyril Smith inquiry is a “whitewash”

“Rochdale Council is looking into its dealings with residential school Knowl View, where boys as young as seven were abused by the Liberal MP Smith and his cohorts. … But MP Simon Danczuk – whose revelations in his book Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith were serialised in the Mail last week – has called the inquiry a ‘bogus’ exercise designed to exonerate the local authority of any wrongdoing.” – Daily Mail

Teachers set to strike during exam season

On strike“Chanting ‘Gove must go’, activists from the National Union of Teachers – the most militant classroom union – voted overwhelmingly for a national strike unless ministers agree to a series of demands on pensions and automatic pay rises. … Delegates at the NUT’s annual conference in Brighton passed an emergency motion which demanded strike action in the week beginning June 23 unless ‘significant’ progress is made in resolving the long-running dispute with the Government.” – Daily Mail

  • “The teaching profession lacks a credible voice in an important conversation” – Times editorial (£)
  • “What a shame that it is beyond any of our teacher’s unions ever to come up with something positive and constructive to say.” – Daily Telegraph editorial

> Today: The Deep End – Please, no more pointless barriers to social mobility

Oxfam criticises the welfare cuts

“The coalition’s welfare cuts have pushed 1.75 million of the UK’s poorest households deeper into poverty, leaving more families struggling to cover food and energy bills, according to a report. … The report by Oxfam and the New Policy Institute highlights a drop in the overall value of benefits, which rose by less than inflation, as well as changes to housing benefit and council tax support that have forced some families into paying housing costs they were previously deemed too poor to pay.” – The Guardian

  • “Almost 15,000 adopted children, many of them teenagers, will miss out on a £1,900 ‘pupil premium’ for publicly funded schools in England, to provide extra help for them, according to the support group Adoption UK.” – The Guardian

Steve Richards: Why not have a referendum on the NHS?

NHS“I am not a fan of referendums. … But I can see many virtues in offering a referendum on a tax rise to pay for improvements to the NHS and elderly care. Given that there can be no reasoned debate in an election campaign, and no government in this era of neurotic mistrust will have the authority to increase taxes without a mandate, why not offer a referendum on the issue? There would then be a more considered debate around a theme that affects every single voter, and intense scrutiny over what is being proposed.” – Steve Richards, The Independent

  • “At least 1,000 hospital patients are dying needlessly each month from dehydration and poor care by doctors and nurses, according to a NHS study. … The deaths from acute kidney injury could be prevented by simple steps such as nurses ensuring patients have enough to drink and doctors reviewing their medication, the researchers say.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “The most critically ill patients in Wales are 33 times more likely to face an extremely long wait for an ambulance than those in England, in further evidence of a stark divide across the border.” – The Times (£)

News in brief

  • UN demands investigation into whether the Syrian regime used chlorine gas on opponents… – Daily Mail
  • …as the Syrian regime sets an election date – The Guardian
  • South Korea claims that the North could be gearing up for another nuclear test – The Guardian
  • Moyes to be sacked – every paper, everywhere, including The Sun (£)

And finally: Bananaman

Jack Straw“Labour grandee Jack Straw has been caught eating a banana at the wheel on the M6. … The ex-Foreign Secretary was snapped chomping on the fruit while heading south on the motorway to Birmingham in his £60,000 Jaguar XJ on Good Friday. … He is the second senior Labour figure to appear to have fallen foul of the road laws in a week after Ed Balls allegedly left the scene of an accident.” – The Sun (£)