A good news day for Osborne? Wages set to outstrip prices

Osborne Growth“George Osborne on Tuesday welcomed a fall in inflation to 1.6 per cent, amid hopes at the Treasury that data to be published on Wednesday will show average earnings are finally rising more quickly than prices. … Consumer price inflation fell from 1.7 per cent to 1.6 per cent in March, raising the prospect that wages will soon be outstripping inflation for the first time in almost five years. Some MPs sense a political tipping point.” – Financial Times

“Figures today are expected to show another fall in the overall unemployment rate, which has dropped by more than 300,000 since the end of 2011. … However, a survey by the Resolution Foundation suggests that many previously jobless people have opted to work for themselves because they have no alternative.” – The Independent

  • “Has George Osborne finally decided that Conservatives can win the battle of ideas? The Chancellor’s new-found confidence, derived from a well-received budget and a growing economy, seems to be inspiring him to seek a change in the terms of debate.” – Jill Kirby, The Times (£)
  • “These caveats should not be allowed to obscure the clearest evidence yet that economic policies ridiculed by the shadow chancellor during the first three years of this parliament are in fact working.” – Times editorial (£)
  • “Ed Miliband bet the house on never-ending economic doom and gloom. The good economic news means he’s had the rug pulled out from under his feet.” – Sun editorial (£)
  • “The Chancellor should take care with dynamic modelling” – Financial Times  editorial
  • “The Labour Party has painted itself into a corner – and is now running out of corner.” – Daily Telegraph editorial

> Yesterday: Nick Faith on Comment – Tomorrow will be a defining day for the Coalition’s economic message

Gove under fire for appointing former counter-terrorism chief to probe Birmingham schools

gove“Chris Sims, Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, said the decision to call in Peter Clarke, former head of Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command, to investigate claims about schools in Birmingham was ‘desperately unfortunate’. … In remarks echoed by the leader of Birmingham City Council Sir Albert Bore and local MPs, he said the move would ‘inevitably’ lead people to ‘draw unwarranted conclusions’ about the allegations that hardline elements in the Muslim community in the city had orchestrated a dirty tricks campaign to increase their influence.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “Heavily criticised by David Laws, his own Liberal Democrat deputy, for axing Dame Sally Morgan as the chairman of Ofsted, Michael Gove is now advertising the post.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Victims of bullying only stand a 26 per cent chance of achieving a top grade in all their GCSEs, a new report revealed.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Parents are placing their children in attached nurseries from the age of two in a bid to get them into the best primary schools, says a new report.” – Daily Mail

And comment:

  • “Warnings of four-year-olds with no school to go to may be an exaggeration, but Britain needs more places even so” – Independent editorial
  • “A longer school day can help win the war on poverty” – Ross Clark, The Times (£)

Villiers tries to organise Northern Ireland’s National Crime Agency

“Northern Ireland’s chief constable will control the National Crime Agency (NCA) if nationalist parties agree to its deployment in the region, the secretary of state has said. … In a pre-Easter message, the Northern Ireland secretary, Theresa Villiers, also pledged that there would be no amnesties for any more IRA members ‘on the run’ after the freeing of the IRA Hyde Park bomb suspect, John Downey, in February when he produced a ‘comfort letter’ from Tony Blair’s government assuring him and others they would not be prosecuted for their crimes.” – The Guardian

  • “Senior Foreign Office official Robert Hannigan has been named as the next head of the UK’s eavesdropping agency GCHQ.” – The Guardian

Has Hammond worsened tensions within the pro-Union campaign?

Scottish flag“On Tuesday [Philip] Hammond told an audience of defence workers in Glasgow that the departure of the Royal Navy from an independent Scotland could jeopardise ‘billions of pounds of investment’ and thousands of jobs. … Mr Hammond’s intervention was supposed to put the SNP on the back foot but it also exposed tensions between Labour and Conservatives over the way the pro-union campaign is run. … The cross-party campaign, led by former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling and based in Edinburgh, says it was not told until late in the day that Mr Hammond was planning to visit Scotland; the defence secretary denies this.” – Financial Times

  • “UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was accused of making threats and engaging in ’emotional blackmail’ last night after he warned workers that their jobs would be among thousands at risk if Scotland voted for independence.” – The Scotsman
  • “Labour has promised Scottish women better childcare, higher pay and equal representation on the boards of public bodies to counter nationalist efforts to increase female support for independence.” – Financial Times

And comment:

  • “A more flexible attitude to nuclear would reassure Nato and others that the SNP takes defence seriously” – Allan Massie, The Scotsman
  • “The SNP’s proposals for its future armed forces are risible and would undermine the UK’s safety” – Con Coughlin, Daily Telegraph

Select committee slams security blunders in Afghanistan

“Blunders by British commanders were ‘devastatingly exploited’ by the Taliban to carry out an attack on Camp Bastion while Prince Harry was deployed in Afghanistan, a damning report says today. … The defence select committee was also scathing about the Ministry of Defence, accusing officials of being ‘obstructive and unhelpful’ in the face of the committee’s inquiries to establish what had happened.” – Daily Mail

  • “Defence Secretary Philip Hammond needs to remember that he’s not there to defend his bureaucrats.” – Sun editorial (£)

> Today: James Gray MP on Comment – Defence policy – a retreat to “splendid islolation”?

Fox: Snowden is guilty of treason

FOX Liam blue background“Fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden is guilty of treason for leaking details of eavesdropping operations by GCHQ and the NSA, Liam Fox declared yesterday. … In a speech in the United States, the former defence secretary said the former spy has endangered the lives of British spies and their families by revealing the techniques used by the intelligence agencies to al Qaeda and foreign enemies. … And he accused the editor of The Guardian of ‘egotism and self-importance’ for continuing to print Snowden’s revelations after being warned that they damaged national security.” – Daily Mail

  • “Let us not imbue his cowardice with higher motives. Let us not confuse his egotism with public service. Let’s not call his treachery by lesser terms. Let us be clear about the intent and impact of his actions. Let us be clear to the American people and their allies about the threats they now face from enemies inside and out, terrorist and criminal. For once, let’s say what we mean. Let us call treason by its name.” – Liam Fox, Wall Street Journal

Bone criticises the Government’s aid spending

“Since the election, the Department for International Development has given £3.3 billion to 12 organisations that offer ‘poor’ or ‘average’ value for money. … Shockingly, DfID has increased funding for five of the groups. … Conservative MP Peter Bone said: ‘Because they are so determined to meet the 0.7 per cent target, there has been no time to hand out money based on need. … So they have been in a rush to give it to organisations that are below value for money – and that’s just crazy.” – Daily Mail

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – The aid budget increased 28 per cent last year – what have we got to show for it?

Paul Goodman: The great NHS showdown is coming – soon

HUNT Doctor Carla Millar“Health spending has relative protection from the squeeze on public spending (the so-called ring-fencing of the NHS budget) but is still experiencing the tightest settlement in its history — a rise of just 0.1 per cent a year in real terms for the lifetime of this parliament. There must, therefore, come a point when, without further reform, hospital managers close wards, pleading that they are unable to keep them open. Patients queue for even longer at A&E. Ambulances are forced to park outside, unable to discharge the people they carry.” – Paul Goodman, The Times (£)

  • “Patients are being put at risk because of a ‘shocking’ shortage of hospital beds, say experts. … Britain has the second lowest number of hospital beds per head of population among 23 European countries after removing more than 50,000 in the last decade alone. … An international report has found that France has more than twice the number of beds per head, while Germany has almost three times as many.” – Daily Mail
  • “More than 450,000 NHS workers will be balloted for strikes in a bitter dispute with the Government over pay.” – The Sun (£)

Clegg caught up in Cyril Smith row

“Mr Clegg had said that when all Lib Dem MPs and peers were asked two years ago whether they had heard of the child abuse claims against the 29-stone MP for Rochdale, ‘no one said they did’. … But ex-leader David Steel admitted speaking to Smith about the allegations as long ago as the 1970s and his office issued a statement about them to the Rochdale Alternative Press newspaper in 1979.” – Daily Mail

  • “Nick Clegg faces a probe by Britain’s top mandarin into why he uses taxpayers’ cash to pay his £110,000-a-year adviser.” – The Sun (£)
  • “A parliamentary aide who was bullied by a politician has described the ‘totally impossible’ predicament of MPs’ staff.” – The Times (£)

> Today: The Deep End – The ruling tribes of British politics – Day 3: The Lib Dem rank-and-file and the Orange Bookers

Farage battles to justify his expenses claims…

UKIP glass“Mr Farage also faced charges of hypocrisy yesterday as it emerged that he has claimed ‘general expenditure allowances’ from the European Parliament averaging £15,000 a year to pay for the same office … Questioned on Sky News whether he was running in his office ‘a sauna’ or ‘Tracey Island’ – the headquarters in the TV children’s series Thunderbirds – Mr Farage attacked the interviewer Dermot Murngahan as an ‘establishment’ stooge and added: ‘We are  running machines, running banks of computers, running photocopiers.’” – Daily Mail

“Nigel Farage said today he was prepared to allow independent auditors to verify Ukip accounts after The Times revealed that he was facing an investigation into the use of £60,000 of European Union funds” – The Times (£)

  • “I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back” – Nigel Farage, The Independent

> Today:

> Yesterday: LISTEN – Nigel Farage defends himself from allegations of expenses abuse

…but faces further allegations

“Nigel Farage and other senior Ukip officials traduced colleagues who raised concerns about how the party handled millions of pounds in funds, whistleblowers and former members alleged. … Mr Farage called a senior female Ukip official a ‘stupid woman’ and told her to ‘shut up’ when she asked for an independent audit into party finances, according to Delroy Young, formerly Ukip’s only black executive. Another member was allegedly physically threatened.” – The Times (£)

  • “If the allegations are true, and if they stick, they could make Mr Farage look like a member of the political class which he mocks and despises so effectively.” – Guardian editorial

Nearly one million people using food banks

Food bank“Nearly a million people have received emergency food supplies in the past year, almost triple the previous number, according to figures released by the Trussell Trust on Wednesday. … The charity, which runs more than 400 food banks, blamed “static incomes, rising living costs, low pay, underemployment and problems with welfare” for the explosion in demand.” – Financial Times

  • “More than 40 Anglican bishops and 600 church leaders have signed a letter, calling on David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband to tackle the causes of food poverty, including low wages, rising food prices and an inadequate welfare benefit safety net.” – The Guardian

UN critic of sexism in Britain told: how about Saudi Arabia?

“A United Nations official has been slammed for claiming that Britain was one of the most sexist countries in the world. … Rashida Manjoo, a South African human rights expert, said sexism in the UK was more ‘in your face’ than any other country she had visited. … But critics ridiculed her report – pointing to other countries such as Saudi Arabia where women suffer routine repression.” – The Sun (£)

News in brief

  • Andy Coulson denies any involvement in the targeting of Milly Dowler’s phone – Daily Mail
  • Tributes to those who died at Hillsborough, 25 years ago – Daily Mail
  • Even casual use of cannabis alters the brain, claims researchers – Daily Telegraph
  • 12-year-old girl becomes Britain’s youngest mother – Daily Telegraph
  • Westminster report warns about the arrival of giant hornets – The Sun (£)
  • Ukraisian forces retake airbase from pro-Russian militants – The Sun (£)
  • Super Tuesday for EU bank regulation – Financial Times
  • Silvio Berlusconi to perform community service – Financial Times
  • Prince Charles refused to side with Rushdie in ‘Satanic Verses’ row, claims Amis – The Independent
  • More than 100 missing as ferry sinks off the coast of South Korea – The Guardian
  • Tory mayor resigns over remarks about disabled people – The Guardian
  • The pay freeze on Welsh Assembly politicians will end next year – WalesOnline

And finally 1) Cameron abroad

HolidayTalk about boom and bust … here’s David Cameron on his Easter hols — surrounded by topless sunbathers. … Cam, in sunglasses and swim shorts, took a dip in the sea before lying on his front in the sand. … An onlooker said yesterday: ‘He seemed very comfortable lying on the beach where there is a relaxed attitude to clothes. He didn’t even seem to notice he was surrounded by topless women.'” – The Sun (£)

  • “David Cameron will pay a heavy price in 2015 for alienating immigrant voters” – Mary Riddell, Daily Telegraph

And finally 2) Roadworks

“Conservatives in Barnet, north London, asked for volunteers in Finchley, her constituency for 30 years, to rename their street for the Grantham-born political titan. … However, a year on and Barnet Council has received no applications for a name change. … Council leader Richard Cornelius admits a road in one of the borough’s new developments could now be named after Thatcher as an alternative.” – Daily Mail