Ministers wade into the Miller row…

Miller Times cover“Furious Tories are planning to call for Culture Secretary Maria Miller’s head in a showdown with David Cameron on Wednesday night. … And the first cracks appeared in the Cabinet with Attorney General Dominic Grieve saying his colleague had to ‘answer to her constituents’. … Separately Tory backbencher Nicola Blackwood told the BBC that ‘it’s very unhelpful for this to drag on the way that it is’.” – The Sun (£)

“Esther McVey, the employment minister, who has been tipped as a possible replacement as Culture Secretary, appeared to criticise the 32-second apology Mrs Miller gave to MPs after she was asked to pay back £5,800 of her overclaimed expenses.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “An online petition calling for her to resign if she does not return the full £45,000 initially recommended by the independent Parliamentary Commissioner had received more than 100,000 signatures by Monday night.” – The Independent

> Today:

…as does a former aide (now of UKIP)…

“Phil Heath, who campaigned for the Culture Secretary for years, said the Hampshire property she told parliamentary authorities was her main residence was ‘definitely her second home’. … The former deputy mayor of Basingstoke and Conservative councillor, who now represents UKIP, told BBC South Today: ‘She would come back once every couple of weeks on a Friday to do a surgery then she’d be sheepishly back up to London – her family were there, her children were there.’” – Daily Mail

…but Cameron keeps on supporting her

CAMERON PPB Jobs“David Cameron has defied leading newspapers, many of his own MPs and public opinion by giving a fresh vote of confidence to embattled culture secretary Maria Miller, one of only four cabinet women running departments. … The prime minister yesterday insisted that Ms Miller, who has been ordered to repay £5,800 in overclaimed expenses on a second home, had ‘done the right thing’ by apologising.” – Financial Times

  • “Miller clearly doesn’t give a stuff about the people of Basingstoke, or she would treat them with more respect instead of as a convenient meal ticket.” – Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail
  • “Yesterday afternoon [John Mann] raised the Maria Miller affair at Points of Order. His contribution was made to feel as welcome as a sneeze in a space helmet.” – Quentin Letts, Daily Mail
  • “MPs need to realise how odd their lives are; and when that oddity makes their lives better or easier than those of most other people, they need to notice and be able to justify it.” – Hugo Rifkind, The Times (£)
  • “Let’s face it, neither MPs nor the press are fit to regulate themselves” – Polly Toynbee, The Guardian
  • “Newspapers are crediting Maria Miller with too much power if they think she is out to shackle the press over the expenses scandal” – Steve Richards, The Independent
  • “David Cameron’s misplaced loyalty to Maria Miller is costing him votes with every hour that ticks by.” – Sun editorial (£)
  • “Maria Miller should resign. If she does not appreciate the need, the Prime Minister should make it clear to her.” – Times editorial (£)

Osborne wants British companies to do trade with Brazil

OSBORNE SWORD“George Osborne is freeing up ‘billions’ of pounds for British exporters – and urging them to go nuts about Brazil. … The Treasury revealed that banks will have access to cheap funding from the Bank of England – which they can turn into cut-price loans for businesses. … It hopes the scheme will fund at least £2billion-worth of loans a year.” – The Sun (£)

> Yesterday: Priti Patel MP’s column – How British exporters are now catching up with their rivals

Are we about to become a nation of savers and stronger growth? (Thanks to statistical revisions)

“A radical overhaul of the national accounts this autumn will double the official measure of household savings, presenting Britons as a nation of unexpected prudence and undercutting their widely held reputation for profligacy. … There is also a good chance that the statisticians will significantly revise up growth recorded in the economy in 2012 and last year.” – Financial Times

  • “The property boom is rapidly becoming one of the most important policy issues of our time: doing nothing and hoping it might have a happy ending may not be an option for much longer.” – Philip Johnston, Daily Telegraph

IDS says we should be able to ignore the EU over migrant benefits

“Britain should be able to ignore European Union rules and ban some migrants from claiming benefits for up to a year, the Work and Pensions Secretary said on Monday. … Mr Duncan Smith said the Government wanted to go further still, insisting that migrants should show a longer record of commitment before they get benefits. … He said the Tories wanted to restore the principle that nations ran their own welfare, ‘no matter what the European Commission tries to tell us’.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “The government’s scheme to tackle youth unemployment is ‘not sufficient’, the European commissioner responsible for employment has said.” – The Guardian

> Yesterday: Mark Hoban MP on Comment – More jobs. More full-time jobs. More jobs for women & Britons. Employment is working.

Those calling for May to do more about modern slavery now include… an Oscar-winning film director

MAY Commons Ellison“Steve McQueen, who made 12 Years A Slave, backed a devastating report by a committee of MPs and peers which said the draft bill is too weak. … Home Secretary Theresa May launched the Modern Slavery Bill, the first of its kind in Europe, last year. … But the joint committee, which was set up to scrutinise the legislation, says the Bill should be re-drafted ‘to ensure more convictions’. … They say it should also contain more powers to protect child victims of slavery.” – The Sun (£)

Shapps promises to keep up his attacks on Welsh Labour

“Labour claims that the Conservatives have launched a ‘war on Wales’ will not stop Tories attacking Labour’s record on health, housing and other issues, according to party chairman Grant Shapps. … Insisting the party would not back down, he said: ‘We will not stop beating Labour over the head over their failure in the health service and that failure didn’t happen by accident; it happened because they cut the budgets.'” – WalesOnline

Bridgen withdraws his letter of no confidence in Cameron

“Andrew Bridgen said a ‘dramatic change’ in the economy since his complaint last summer had made him think twice. He added such a vote would only help Labour leader Ed Miliband. … In his latest letter, the MP told the PM: ‘You and the Chancellor have steered our country away from the worst economic catastrophe since the Second World War. … Now as we face the General Election in 2015, I believe it is right for me to offer you my full and enthusiastic support.'” – The Sun (£)

> Yesterday: MPsETC – Andrew Bridgen writes to Cameron, withdrawing his letter of no confidence in the Prime Minister

Cable to answer further questions about Royal Mail

“Vince Cable is being recalled by MPs to give further evidence about the government’s privatisation of the Royal Mail, after a report by the spending watchdog found ministers could have achieved better value for money for taxpayers. … The business secretary and Michael Fallon are being recalled by the business select committee to answer further questions on the sell-off” – Financial Times

  • “Consumer advocates are urging policymakers not to clip the financial watchdog’s wings in the wake of its botched announcement of an insurance inquiry.” – Financial Times

Browne wants the 45p rate cut to 40p

Browne Jeremy headshot

“The top rate of tax on incomes over £150,000 a year should be cut from 45p to 40p, a senior Liberal Democrat MP will propose today. … Jeremy Browne, a former Foreign Office and Home Office minister, accuses Nick Clegg and David Cameron of ‘timidity’ in reducing the 50p rate to 45p, claiming that a lower level would help Britain compete in the ‘global race’.” – The Independent

“Nick Clegg has been confused and timid in his response to Ed Miliband’s living standards agenda, including his promise to freeze energy prices, Jeremy Browne, the former Liberal Democrat minister, says in a new book calling for his party to recapture its liberal roots.” – The Guardian

  • “Under Nick Clegg we’ve turned timid” – Browne is interviewed in the Daily Telegraph
  • “Britain must work with, rather than against, the forces of globalisation” – Jeremy Browne, The Independent
  • “…a Lib Dem ex-minister has risked alienating his party with a bold vision” – Rachel Sylvester, The Times (£)
  • “Wise words on wealth creation” – Daily Telegraph editorial
  • “Britain would be more competitive with a 40p top rate” – Independent editorial

> Today: Stephen Tall’s column – Why I preach each fortnight to the unconverted

“I will vote no to independence because I love Scotland,” says Sir Menzies Campbell

Scottish flag“A decision in September to leave the UK will bind our successors for generations to come. Are we not entitled to clear and unequivocal evidence that to do so would do more than satisfy the ambition of one political party? Are we not entitled to be confident that we can meet the uncertainties of currency and of membership of international institutions? Do we not require evidence that an economy based on unpredictable oil reserves and revenues can be sustained, with promises of high public spending and low taxation? None of these assurances is available.” – Menzies Campbell, The Guardian

  • “Scottish consumers would face a bill of £1.8bn to subsidise new green energy projects if Scotland were to vote for independence, Westminster says.” – The Guardian
  • “An SNP attempt to downplay Alex Salmond’s five-star hotel bills has backfired spectacularly after it emerged he stayed at luxury accommodation singled out by Nicola Sturgeon for direct criticism.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “The worst of the UK’s austerity cuts have yet to hit Scotland and will be felt in the next two years, according to a report.” – The Scotsman

Rennard in talks to resolve misconduct dispute, reports the Guardian

“Lord Rennard, the former Liberal Democrat chief executive, and the four party activists who have accused him of sexual misconduct have been in secret talks to resolve the dispute, the Guardian has learned. … Efforts to secure a successful mediation between Rennard and the four activists have been under way in private for weeks, but have so far not reached an agreement.” – The Guardian

  • “Staff in the House of Commons who are bullied by MPs are to get their own helpline for the first time, the Speaker has confirmed.” – Daily Telegraph

Miliband prepares to question the quality of the recovery…

Miliband coffee

“Party sources said Mr Miliband will use a speech in Birmingham today to ‘ridicule’ Government claims that the economy is on the mend. … Mr Miliband cited forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility suggesting average earnings will lag behind economic growth until at least 2018. He said the cost-of-living crisis ‘will continue for the five years of the next Parliament’ unless action is taken to ensure the rewards of economic growth are spread more evenly.” – Daily Mail

  • “Towns and cities will share in a £20billion windfall if Labour wins the next election, Ed Miliband will declare. … He will say that Labour will give more powers to local communities to boost their economies and create well-paid jobs.” – The Sun (£)

…but faces questions himself

“Nick Clegg has launched attack on Ed Miliband for not ‘apologising’ for Labour’s spending in the lead up to the financial crisis which left the UK economy heavily in deficit. … The Deputy Prime Minister said the Labour leader ‘should take responsibility for the past’ and say sorry for the party’s stewardship of the economy before 2010.” – Daily Telegraph

“Wages are growing at the fastest rate for nearly seven years for workers taking on new jobs, according to figures published today. … Starting salaries awarded to people securing a permanent job are rising quicker than at any time since July 2007 – just months before the near collapse of Northern Rock.” – Daily Mail

  • “The facts now emerging should silence the condescending assumptions of career politicians who prattle about a ‘cost of living crisis’, but have no idea how most families actually get by.” – Daniel Johnson, Daily Mail
  • “Labour risks being a one-trick party on the cost-of-living crisis” – Hopi Sen, The Guardian
  • “Miliband claims the link between growth and average earnings is broken. His party lacks credibility when it comes to answers” – Times editorial (£)

Blair: Opposition doesn’t invalidate the necessity to intervene

“He admitted that ministers should be ‘aware’ of the need to secure public support for a foreign conflict. … ‘But in my view, it doesn’t invalidate the necessity to intervene because what you’ve got to compare is the fact and the consequences of intervention with the fact and the consequences of non-intervention,’ he said. … The former Labour leader, who is still dogged by his controversial decision to take Britain to war in Iraq, said the West should have bombed Syria last year despite overwhelming public opposition in the UK.” – Daily Mail

UKIP “rising star” stops campaigning for the party

UKIP glass“Alexandra Swann was supposed to represent the party’s new, younger membership when she publicly defected from the Conservatives at Ukip’s spring conference in 2012. … However, it seems the Swann has migrated again. She told The Independent: ‘I can’t bring myself to campaign for them.’ … The party’s increasingly incendiary rhetoric on immigration has pushed Ms Swann, 25, away.” – The Independent

  • “Most supporters of the UK Independence party say they will stay with the anti-EU party after European elections in May, according to a poll, dealing a blow to Conservative hopes to win them over for the general election in 2015.” – Financial Times

Janan Ganesh: Vagueness is a danger for eurosceptics

“At the present count, there are three definitions of exit touted by eurosceptics, which is two too many for anyone who craves certainty. … the eurosceptic problem is not the drawbacks inherent to these three versions of exit, but the very fact that there are three versions. Campaigns, whether for elections or referendums, expose ambiguity and confusion.” – Janan Ganesh, Financial Times

Parliamentary group calls on the Government to do more to encourage exercise

“Half of seven-year-olds do not do any exercise on a regular basis, the report said. … It warned that lack of physical activity is a habit laid down in childhood – and is responsible for one in five premature deaths. … The report called for a Government-backed programme to encourage children into sport, outdoor play and walking or cycling, with the aim of encouraging them to carry on with physical activities throughout their lives.” – Daily Mail

  • “More than ever before, we need to get our children active” – Sebastian Coe, Daily Telegraph

Indebted NHS trust seeks private investors

NHS“Britain’s most indebted NHS foundation trust has approached private sector bidders to take over its management in a move that underscores the depth of the financial crisis in the National Health Service. … Peterborough and Stamford NHS Foundation Trust, which runs two hospitals in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire, has been left grappling with a £40m annual budget deficit after using the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) to build a new hospital.” – Financial Times

  • “Millions of older people suffer from undiagnosed depression in a silent epidemic that constitutes ‘our next big public health problem’, one of the country’s leading experts has warned.” – The Times (£)
  • “A senior A&E doctor who helped spearhead a campaign to save the emergency department at Lewisham Hospital in London is to stand in the European elections in the capital.” – The Independent

> Today: Andrew Haldenby on Comment – How has the Coalition performed on public services? Five marks out of ten

> Yesterday: Jeremy Hunt MP on Comment – Our new NHS safety movement will save lives

Police Federation chairman to quit

Police shield“Chairman Steve Williams announced his departure from the Police Federation of England and Wales today after leading major changes to the group following criticisms of officials over the ‘Plebgate’ controversy and a series of reversals in negotiations on pay and conditions. … Mr Williams, who took over the organisation in 2013, told The Independent last year that he had been called a dictator and a traitor as he sought to reverse the organisation’s fortunes.” – The Independent

  • “Dominic Grieve QC, the attorney general, has resisted calls for young and vulnerable witnesses to be cross-examined by a judge rather than several barristers to avoid aggressive courtroom questioning.” – The Guardian

Sinn Féin politician joins calls for a Troubles amnesty

“A senior member of Sinn Féin last night joined calls for an end to all prosecutions related to the Northern Ireland Troubles. … Francie Molloy, MP for Mid Ulster, said that the de-facto amnesty should apply to ‘all sides’ in the conflict — a significant move from a republican politician because it would include members of the security forces facing investigations as well as paramilitaries.” – The Times (£)

  • “We cannot forgive the murderers of Northern Ireland” – Ross Clark, The Times (£)

News in brief

  • Prince George and his parents begin tour of New Zealand – Daily Telegraph
  • Peaches Geldof dies aged 25 – Daily Mail
  • Officials searching for the missing MH370 are “cautiously hopeful” of a breakthrough – The Independent
  • Jeb Bush gives strongest indication yet that he may run for the Presidency – The Independent
  • Irish president begins British state visit – The Guardian
  • Bank overdraft fees can cost four times as much as a payday loan – The Sun (£)
  • Academy loses £1.1 million after falling for an email scam – The Sun (£)

And finally 1) Game of Boles

Screen shot 2014-03-25 at 22.06.28“A Tory minister sparked bemusement by comparing blonde female MPs to a scantily-clad character in telly’s Game of Thrones. … Nick Boles said schools minister Liz Truss and welfare minister Esther McVey could play military leader Khaleesi in the hit fantasy drama. … He then went on to suggest that Labour’s Stella Creasy and Tory backbencher Nadine Dorries could also fill the role.” – The Sun (£)

And finally 2) What’s the attraction?

“A Polish MP has flown to Britain to live as a migrant on £100 a week to see why the country is such a popular destination for young Poles. … Artur Debski had only been in the UK for a few hours before he discovered that its education and healthcare systems are two of its biggest attractions. … Another is the amount of cash that people can earn before being taxed and child benefit amounting to about £80 a month for the first child.” – The Times (£)

> Yesterday: LISTEN – Are Poles still tempted by life in the UK?