Litvinenko’s widow urges Cameron to return the Tories’ Russian donations

Russian flag“The widow of murdered Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko has called on the Conservatives to return a £160,000 donation from the wife of one of Vladimir Putin’s former ministers. … Marina Litvinenko, whose husband died in London in 2006 after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium by two ex-KGB colleagues, criticised the Tories for taking the money in return for David Cameron and Boris Johnson playing a tennis match. … ‘If David Cameron doesn’t want to appear like he is being bought, I think he should return this money,’ she said.” – Daily Mail

  • “David Cameron has distanced himself from calls for a boycott of Russia when it hosts the 2018 football World Cup, although Downing Street said it was no surprise that the issue was being raised.” – The Guardian
  • “British taxpayers underwrote more than £100m worth of exports to Russia last year…” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “The energy-efficient way to punish Putin – and protect the planet” – Chris Huhne, The Guardian
  • “The West is leaderless and Putin knows it” – Melanie Phillips, The Times (£)

Will the Tory leader win the battle of ideas ahead of 2015?

Cameron superhero 1“For a party to win this contest, its ideas must match the mood of the times. In addition, the policies that arise from those ideas must form part of a coherent political project. Speaking in the Commons in 1991, when the Conservatives were miles behind in the polls, Nigel Lawson, the former chancellor, noted confidently: ‘The Conservatives are still winning the battle of ideas and therefore will win the next election’. They were, and they did. … Cameron is a smart reader of politics, and he almost got the need for change before the crash. But his party and his ideological upbringing – and the fact that he secured the leadership with little experience – makes him ill-equipped to win the new battle of ideas.” – Steve Richards, The Guardian

> Today: Louise Burfitt-Dons on Comment – Seven reasons why women should vote Conservative in 2015

And will his preferred candidate for the BBC job prevail?

“David Cameron’s preferred candidate to run the BBC’s governing body is likely to face tough questions about whether his commercial commitments would clash with the job. … Lord Coe, the Olympic gold medallist, also has the backing of other senior Conservatives to replace Lord Patten of Barnes as chairman of the BBC Trust at a crucial time for the corporation. … Before being appointed, however, he would have to appear before the Commons culture, media and sport committee, and his business commitments are likely to face close scrutiny from the MPs, Westminster and media sources said.” – The Times (£)

Osborne may not have room to cut taxes ahead of the next election

UK notes and coins“Britain’s booming economy has not been accompanied by a corresponding rise in tax revenues, meaning that the coalition is not on course to be able to build up a sizeable war-chest in time for the autumn statement. … The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats regard George Osborne’s statement in November or December as the last big chance for the government to change tax and spending plans in this parliament, since next year’s budget will be too close to the election. … However, senior Whitehall sources are warning that despite strong GDP figures — economic growth between April and June was 0.8 per cent — there will be little room for tax cuts or more spending.” – The Times (£)

  • “The proportion of cigarettes used in Britain without paying UK duty leapt by more than 40 per cent in the last year, the latest findings from an annual study compiled for tobacco manufacturers claims.” – Daily Telegraph

> Yesterday: Jaber Jabbour on Comment – We must ensure Our Long-Term Economic Plan survives the next crash

“Theresa must not be promoted.” Today’s papers cover the FT’s weekend profile of the Home Secretary

MAY Theresa menacing“David Cameron and George Osborne decided Theresa May ‘must not be promoted’ to the Foreign Office to stifle her leadership ambitions, it has been claimed. … An official close to the Prime Minister was quoted as saying that a ‘central principle’ of the recent ministerial shake-up was that the Home Secretary must not advance further. … Mr Cameron is said to want the Chancellor to succeed him when he stands down, probably halfway through the next Parliament if he wins the next election.” – Daily Mail

Read the original Financial Times profile in full

  • “Theresa May faced calls last night to appoint a self-described ‘radical lawyer’ as chairman of the public inquiry into high-profile child abuse cases.” – The Times (£)

> Today: ToryDiary – How successful was Cameron’s reshuffle? Was he right to move Gove away from Education?

Ministers move to allay concerns about fracking

Fracking“National parks and other areas of important countryside will be protected from fracking, ministers will announce in a move that will head off anger in the Tory heartlands ahead of the election. … While stopping short of a total ban, the Government will unveil new planning guidance to make it harder to drill fracking wells in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty. … Matthew Hancock, the new business and energy minister, said that the new measures ‘will protect Britain’s great national parks and outstanding landscapes’.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “A flagship £7bn government scheme to tackle Britain’s chronic housing shortage has shifted cash from poor northern councils to rich areas in the south – with little evidence that it has boosted homebuilding.” – Financial Times
  • “The Government has been accused of ‘putting the needs of commerce ahead of the needs of bees’ as it emerges that pesticide manufacturers will fund crucial research examining the impact of their controversial chemicals.” – Daily Telegraph

And comment:

  • “The Government’s promise to limit fracking in national parks is welcome – but shale gas is still a vital part of our energy future” – Daily Telegraph editorial
  • “Another renewable myth goes up in smoke” – Matt Ridley, The Times (£)

Perry wants to cut the price of motoring

PERRY Claire“The cost of applying for a driving licence is to be slashed by up to a third under plans being announced today. … New drivers who want their first licence will pay just £34, down from the current £50. … The price of renewing licences and the fee for tacographs will also be cut under efforts to ease the cost of motoring. … New transport minister Claire Perry, promoted in this month’s reshuffle, will today launch a consultation on the plans to dramatically cut the cost of a driving licence.” – Daily Mail

Maude wants the 2021 census to be the last of its kind

“The UK census will go ahead in 2021 but after that the government wants to scrap the detailed questionnaire distributed to every household and replace it with analysis of existing data from other sources. … Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, has confirmed the government will back the National Statistician’s recommendation there should be a census in 2021, conducted at least partly online. … But he added: ‘It is the government’s ambition that beyond 2021 the decennial census would not be undertaken, instead more regular and timely administrative data would be used to produce statistics.'” – Financial Times

Clarke gives another interview: “Political leaders take too much notice of media noise”

Ken Clarke“Another non-issue, in Clarke’s mind, is the revived interest in documents that the maverick Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens passed to the Home Office 30 years ago, which allegedly named paedophiles in high places. … ‘As an old-fashioned politician, I think political leaders take too much notice of media noise, which I don’t think is very representative of the bulk of public opinion. But it’s a purely personal foible, so I won’t wax lyrical about it because I actually dislike hearing politicians grumbling about the media.'” – The Independent

Boris pledges to have a 5G mobile network in London by 2015

“Smartphone owners will be able to download films to their mobiles in less than a second by 2020 as part of a roll-out that will start in London, Boris Johnson will pledge this week. … Unveiling the capital’s first long term infrastructure investment plan, Mr Johnson said the world’s first major ‘5G’ mobile network will be deployed in the city by 2020, working in collaboration with the University of Surrey. … The mayor will also promise that much more accurate information about broadband speeds at individual properties will be made available to prospective tenants or purchasers.” – Daily Telegraph

We should be proud of our private schools, says Lamont

LAMONT Norman headshot“British people must learn to be ‘proud’ of the country’s private schools, a former Conservative chancellor has said. … Lord Lamont, who served as chancellor in Sir John Major’s government, said that he is ‘surprised’ that British people are so critical about the private education sector. … He described schools such as Eton, which was attended by David Cameron and Boris Johnson, as ‘great national assets’.” – Daily Telegraph

  • “GCSEs are the ‘new 11-plus’ as top universities are increasingly using them as a way to weed out candidates for degree courses, according to an Oxford don.” – Daily Mail

Dominic Lawson takes on the Tory MP who advocates astrology

“…for many this is no laughing matter. There are two groups, not usually associated with each other, for whom the national addiction to horoscopes is seriously disturbing. Scientists are appalled by the idea that Mr Tredinnick’s faith in star signs might have the slightest influence on official policy in the field of medicine (though fortunately it doesn’t). … And serious Christians also find the whole practice repellent, evoking as it does the pre-monotheistic era of paganism.” – Dominic Lawson, Daily Mail

Miliband’s image problems…

MILIBAND Ed red background“Ed Miliband came face-to-face with his image problems yesterday – as he was presented with cartoons portraying him as Wallace from the children’s animation films. … The Labour leader dismissed suggestions that he has become a figure of fun in the eyes of voters. … But as he laughed off comparisons with the film character on BBC1’s Andrew Marr show, it emerged that he is worried enough about his poor public image to have sought help from a world renowned expert on autism. Mr Miliband has also employed a voice coach.” – Daily Mail

  • “Mr Miliband’s problem isn’t so much that he looks and sounds detached from the real world. It’s that he is.” – Daily Mail editorial
  • “Ed Miliband is right that policies, not image, are what counts, but his ideas add up to nothing” – Boris Johnson, Daily Telegraph
  • “Ed’s problem isn’t image, it’s policies” – Trevor Kavanagh, The Sun (£)
  • “At a recent summer drinks party for high-profile Labour supporters, it wasn’t Ed Miliband’s speech that wowed the crowd. It was his wife’s.” – Mehdi Hasan, The Times (£)

…are nothing compared to his message problems. Now Labour are saying: “Vote UKIP, get Miliband”

“Ed Miliband will become prime minister if Ukip wins more than nine per cent of the vote in next year’s general election, Labour advisers have calculated. … Mr Miliband’s strategists have calculated that a significant vote for the Eurosceptic party will cost the Conservatives enough seats to put Labour in office, The Telegraph has learnt. … Senior Labour figures say that, despite losses to Ukip in recent local elections, Mr Miliband’s team believe their party has a lot to gain from its advances and the final result in May’s general election may hinge on how Mr Farage’s party performs.” – Daily Telegraph

The Labour leader proposes a public PMQs

Microphone“Ed Miliband has proposed a weekly ‘public question time’ where an audience would be allowed to tackle the prime minister on any issue of the day. … In a radical suggestion for changing the culture of politics, the Labour leader will write to the speaker of the House of Commons with more details of his idea about how to make the prime minister more directly accountable to the people. … Labour said the audience for the public Q&A should be representative of the country and that it should be held in parliament at least fortnightly, but ideally weekly.” – The Guardian

  • “Ed Miliband’s had a good idea. Seriously. … He’ll hold ‘public questions to the PM’ fortnightly if he’s elected. … We like that.” – Sun editorial (£)
  • “Ed Miliband is right that the public is tired of PMQs – but his proposed solution is no better” – Daily Telegraph editorial

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – Go on, Mr Cameron: steal Miliband’s idea for a public PMQs

And another proposal: loans for small home-builders

House icon“Emma Reynolds, the shadow housing minister, will outline a new Help to Build programme to underwrite bank loans for small companies to help them to build potentially 10,000 extra homes a year. … The proposal, which mirrors the chancellor’s £12 billion Help to Buy scheme to guarantee mortgage loans, will be included in the party’s manifesto. It follows concern that a monopoly of big companies is squeezing smaller ones out of the market. This has contributed to a critical shortage of homes, with homebuilding now at its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s.” – The Times (£)

  • “Labour’s proposal to guarantee loans for smaller housebuilders is constructive” – Times editorial (£)

> Today: Nadhim Zahawi’s column – Same old Labour, still in denial about the economy

Cooper criticises the Government’s stance towards domestic violence

“Increasingly numbers of domestic violence offenders are getting away without a criminal record, figures show. … Labour will today highlight statistics which reveal a rise in the number of slap-on-the-wrist ‘community resolutions’ in domestic cases. … Labour’s home affairs spokesman Yvette Cooper obtained data from 15 police forces which shows that 3,305 of the resolutions were used last year – up from 1,337 in 2009.” – Daily Mail

  • “Rape and sex assault victims are to be warned that their private and sex lives will be trawled over in detail when they give evidence in court, the country’s most senior prosecutor said yesterday.” – Daily Mail
  • “Private prosecutions grow as state bodies retreat in face of dwindling resources” – Financial Times
  • “Police officers are being ‘struck off’ at a rate of more than 20 a month according to a new list of those banned from working in the service.” – The Times (£)

Labour to allow cooperatives and mutuals to run railway franchises

high-speed rail“Senior figures in Labour’s transport team will suggest in Glasgow on Monday that employees and passengers could take a far greater role in running the railways, including bidding for specific franchises such as ScotRail. … Mary Creagh, the shadow transport secretary, and James Kelly, the Scottish Labour party’s transport spokesman, will also confirm the party’s 2015 general election manifesto is to include giving public sector bidders the same rights as private operators to bid for franchises.” – The Guardian

  • “Leftie Labour MPs have blasted a rail firm — for planning to scrap its first-class restaurant.” – The Sun (£)

And comment:

  • “From Concorde to the iPhone, state intervention drives technological innovation” – Paul Mason, The Guardian

Bookies turn on Harman’s policy proposals

“Labour’s plans to tax sports betting were last night panned as electoral suicide by one of Britain’s biggest bookies. … Ralph Topping, chief executive of William Hill, said bookies would have little choice but to increase the price of a flutter — hitting millions. … Labour’s Shadow Culture Secretary Harriet Harman last week said the party wanted to tax gross profits on all sports betting to fund support for problem gambling.” – The Sun (£)

The Sun launches its investigation into the state of the NHS

NHS“The National Health Service is at breaking point, an alarming analysis by The Sun shows. … Rocketing demand has left it creaking at the seams. … For the first time in the service’s 66-year history, more than a million of us every day will visit a GP over the course of this year. … But with waiting times at record levels, a quarter will be unable to get through the surgery door within seven days.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Ministers have conceded that there are not enough GPs to co-ordinate care for the frail, or to bring more care out of hospitals, where one in four patients in A&E say that they could not get an appointment with a family doctor.” – The Times (£)
  • “The Government has been accused of misleading the public over the introduction of a new in vitro fertilisation (IVF) technique that some experts believe will result in the birth of ‘genetically modified babies’.” – The Independent

And comment:

  • “The Government trumpets that it has just been voted the world’s best healthcare system. Why then do so many of us say it has got markedly worse in the past year?” – Sun editorial (£)
  • “Drop the moral blackmail, doctors, and open all hours” – Stephen Pollard, The Times (£)

The Centre for Social Justice proposes new “community banks”

Centre for Social Justice“The Centre for Social Justice think-tank urges ministers to launch ‘Community Banks’ to help millions yet to feel any benefit from the economic recovery. … It says 300,000 cannot afford to pay £700 for a bankruptcy order. … Millions are ‘excluded’ from everyday banking due to their credit records, high fees and charges. … It wants the Government to turn credit unions into Community Banks that can compete with payday lenders.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Homebuyers’ confidence in the housing market is at its lowest since April 2011 after being dented by soaring prices and fears over higher interest rates, a report shows today.” – Daily Mail

And comment:

  • “When it comes to our welfare system, we’ve lost the plot” – Tom Clark, The Guardian

The Army wants its officers to improve their language skills

“The British army may have fewer troops stationed abroad than at any point in the last century, but new plans aim to fashion a more internationally engaged and culturally aware officer corps by making language skills obligatory for senior ranks. … From October, no officer will be promoted to a sub-unit command – effectively any rank above captain – unless they can speak a foreign language, preferably French or Arabic, senior army officials have told the Financial Times. The requirement will affect hundreds of commissions.” – Financial Times

  • “Royal Legion launch campaign to commemorate all 1.12 million WW1 dead” – Daily Telegraph

Fears that anti-Semitism is on the rise

Israel flag“Jewish people in Britain are enduring a backlash of attacks, bomb threats and anti-semitic insults fuelled by the bloodshed in Gaza. … More than 100 hate crimes have been recorded by police and community groups this month, more than double the usual number. … Community safety groups fear the total could be the second highest ever recorded, after an explosion of violence during the 2009 Gaza war.” – Daily Mail

  • “Washington ratcheted up the pressure on Israel on Sunday night to end the bloodshed in Gaza after the US President, Barack Obama, stressed to Benjamin Netanyahu the need for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire.” – The Independent

And comment:

  • “Israel’s long-term security is important and has been threatened by rockets from Hamas, but it may be losing more in Gaza than it is gaining” – Times editorial (£)
  • “It is fair to question the apparently indiscriminate force with which Israel is defending itself against terror. … To take it out on Jews themselves is the height of loathsome stupidity.” – Sun editorial (£)
  • “Obama needs to play the honest broker in the Mideast” – Edward Luce, Financial Times
  • “We must ensure that schools are never targeted in armed conflict” – Gordon Brown, The Guardian
  • “What if it had been 35 Palestinian dead, and 800 Israeli?” – Robert Fisk, The Independent

News in brief

  • US says images show Russian attacks on Ukraine – Financial Times
  • Airline insurers face biggest bill since 9/11 – Financial Times
  • Emirates airline to stop flights over Iraq – The Times (£)
  • “£140,000 ransom paid” for British teacher held hostage in Yemen for five months – Daily Telegraph
  • RSPCA could stop prosecuting hunts “within months” – Daily Telegraph
  • Western countries urge their citizens to leave Libya as civil war intensifies – The Guardian
  • Paul Ryan accuses the Obama administration of “perpetuating poverty” – The Guardian
  • John Humphrys versus Melvyn Bragg – Daily Mail

And finally: The party leaders’ favourite staycation spots

Deckchairs“Cameron is urging tourists to go on a stroll in his home county as part of a UK ‘staycation’ drive by politicians. … Ed Miliband recommends a stately Victorian pile in South Yorkshire and Nick Clegg a riverside amble in Sheffield. … The MPs were praising destinations in their part of the UK for the Visit Britain drive.” – The Sun (£)

  • “The Conservatives are hoping for a summer bounce in the polls from families who find that their overseas holidays are cheaper this year because of the strong pound.” – The Times (£)
  • “Thousands of passengers arriving at Gatwick Airport on Sunday faced delays of up to five hours to get their bags – with some being told to go home without their luggage.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Passport Office staff are to strike on Monday over staff shortages which they say have led to a serious backlog in processing applications this year.” – The Guardian

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – The books which Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and Farage should really take on holiday