Johnson and Javid claim there’s nothing to fear from EU exit…

Javid Sajid“Two senior Conservatives tipped as potential successors to David Cameron have broken ranks to insist Britain should not fear an exit from the EU. London Mayor Boris Johnson insisted a British exit – or ‘Brexit’ – ‘wouldn’t be disastrous’, while Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, a rising Tory star, said it was ‘not something anyone should be frightened of’.” – Daily Mail

  • Boris claims Britons who join ISIS are sexually frustrated losers – Daily Telegraph
  • Johnson: I am not a serious, practicing Christian – Daily Telegraph

…as Culture Secretary becomes latest Cabinet minister to express concerns over plain packaging

“A second Tory Cabinet minister has raised doubts about forcing tobacco companies to sell cigarettes in plain packets. The news came as it emerged that Jane Ellison, the public health minister, was telling MPs that there was no final decision as late as 24 hours before the announcement was made. Sajid Javid, the Culture secretary, said that he had not decided how to whether to back the plans and would be “driven by the evidence”. – Daily Telegraph

  • Minister claims Australia provides insufficient evidence – The Sun (£)
  • The House magazine meets Sajid Javid – PoliticsHome

Cameron defends Westminster

Cameron1“David Cameron has defended MPs against the cynicism of the British electorate by saying politicians “love” their communities and “overwhelmingly” enter Westminster for the right reasons. The Prime Minister said Britain’s political class was motivated by helping those “less fortunate than ourselves” and improving society. It comes with polls consistently showing the public holds MPs in contempt and amid smaller parties such as Ukip and SNP attracting voters with anti-Westminster rhetoric.” – Daily Telegraph

Ministers accused of campaigning with public money

“Ministers were facing fresh accusations of electioneering on the taxpayer last night after flocking to marginal seats across the country to announce £1billion in new spending. Some 21 ministers, including half the Cabinet, made official visits to towns and cities across England to announce details of the Government’s ‘Growth Deals’. Between them, they visited 19 seats that are either marginal constituencies or neighbouring marginals.” – Daily Mail

Social media expert claims neither big party has properly got to grips with it

Twitter“Labour and the Conservatives do not understand how to use Facebook and Twitter, according to the web guru who helped to bring the SNP to power in 2011. Both parties are failing to use social media properly to communicate with voters, which will undermine their election campaigns, according to Kirk J Torrance, the director of Industrial New Media.” – The Times (£)

Education 1) Cameron under pressure to spare schools cuts

“Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, is understood to be pressing for a repeat of the promise made before the 2010 election that schools be spared austerity cuts. However, spending in other public services would have to be cut by a further 2 per cent if Mr Cameron bows to pressure to add schools to the list of protected budgets, the Institute of Fiscal Studies said yesterday.” – The Times (£)

Education 2) School rankings suffer as exams reforms kick in

BARRIE CHARACTER EDUCATION“Twice as many state secondary schools are now considered to be underperforming compared with last year after a crackdown on the exams system. League tables, published yesterday, show 330 schools fell below the Government’s ‘floor target’ for GCSE results in 2014, up from 154 in 2013. In those schools, fewer than 40 per cent of pupils gained at least five C grades at GCSE, including English and maths. Pupils were also judged to have made poor progress in these two subjects.” – Daily Mail

Education 3) Nicky Morgan: Standards matter more than ranks

“These were big changes, and we knew that they would have an impact. After all, that’s why we introduced them. But schools have known about these changes since 2013 – and the tables published yesterday show how much things have changed. All told, 90,000 more young people took the core academic GCSEs which employers and universities value, and which open doors for the future, compared to 2010 – an increase of 71 per cent in just four years.” – Daily Telegraph

Education 4) Jewish schools claim to be latest victims of Morgan’s British values drive

MORGAN Nicky headshot“Ofsted is unfairly targeting Jewish schools because of a ‘hodge-podge of Left-wing ideals’, one of its inspectors has claimed. Rabbi Nessanel Lieberman said the watchdog had an agenda to criticise the faith schools because they did not conform to its ideology. The inspector, registered with Ofsted since 2009, said Jewish schools were increasingly falling foul of new rules on British values.” – Daily Mail

>Today: Eric Pickles MP on Comment: Antisemitism must not be allowed to gain even a toehold in Britain

May attacks EU over ‘surge’ of foreign criminals entering Britain

“Theresa May last night tore into EU states for the surge in foreign criminals roaming Britain. The Home Secretary said member states on the Continent were not doing enough to alert officials in the UK about known criminals leaving their country. She was speaking at a meeting of European Ministers in Riga, the home town of Arnis Zalkalns, the killer of schoolgirl Alice Gross.” – The Sun (£)

Backbenchers 1) Davis blames Whitehall for Chilcot delay

David Davis“The Conservative former shadow home secretary David Davis has accused Whitehall of holding up the findings of the Iraq war inquiry, saying the process has been “littered with people who were central to the very decisions the inquiry is investigating”. Speaking on Thursday during a Commons debate on the delayed publication of the Chilcot report, Davis said he did not think witnesses at the inquiry were to blame, and suggested some of the delay was down to “the conflict between the inquiry and Whitehall – including Sir Jeremy Heywood and others – about what can and cannot be disclosed”.” – The Guardian

Backbenchers 2) Halfon calls for action over hospital parking fees

“In the past year only three have cut charges – Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, Burton and Nottingham University Hospital. Some 118 hospitals have left them unchanged. Tory campaigner Rob Halfon said: “I praise the hospitals that have followed the new Government guidelines saying that hospital charges should be fair. “But it seems incredible that when the Government do the right thing, some greedy hospitals are not only ignoring the guidelines but are fleecing vulnerable patients.”” – The Sun (£)

Backbenchers 3) Davies attacks rape reforms which contradict presumption of innocence

Police shield“Tory MP Philip Davies said: ‘It is not clear how anyone is supposed to prove that consent was given. Is the CPS really suggesting that you have to get a signed statement off someone before they have sex? ‘Nobody wants to see rapists walk free. I’m as hardline as they come on crime, but this is ridiculous. Our legal system is based on people being innocent until proven guilty and the CPS are trying to turn that on its head.’” – Daily Mail

Backbenchers 4) Tory MPs mount coordinated attack on Gatwick expansion plans

“Building a second runway at Gatwick airport would be a disaster for the area, causing transport gridlock and “irreparable damage” to the surrounding towns and countryside, local Tory MPs have warned. The opposition, under the banner of the “Gatwick Co-ordination Group”, includes six Conservative MPs, and is informally backed by Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister.” – Financial Times

Backbenchers 5) ‘Beserkers’ attempt to disrupt documentary filming

Television“A group of rebel right-wing Conservative MPs tried to “knock over” a BBC cameraman in an attempt to sabotage an uncompromising documentary about the House of Commons. The Tory backbenchers — called “the beserkers” by Downing Street staff — were determined to resist the intrusion of the cameras which were filming a four-part series presented by Michael Cockerell, the veteran broadcaster.” – The Times (£)

Fraser Nelson: The Prime Minister should boast of the marriage tax break

“The married couple’s tax break, promised during the last election campaign, has been viewed with embarrassment inside the Government. Mr Osborne tried to pass the whole agenda on to Iain Duncan Smith’s department but to no avail: a tax cut needs to come from the Treasury. He put it off until April 6 – the last month of a five-year parliament. This means that, in the middle of a general election campaign, four million married couples will be given a tax cut.” – Daily Telegraph

Labour accused of hiding Welsh NHS failings

NHS_Logo“Labour has been accused of airbrushing the NHS from its leaflets in Wales to disguise its poor record there. Campaign leaflets circulated in England to mark the start of the new year were titled Building an NHS with time to care. The version distributed in Wales, however, fails to mention the NHS, despite Ed Miliband’s vow to make the future of the health service a centrepiece of his bid to become prime minister in May.” – The Times (£)

  • Ex-minister fuels party row over health privatisation – The Times (£)

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Labour’s long-term decline as the party of trust on the NHS

Cuts are driving a ‘radical reimagining’ of public services, claims Cruddas

“Labour’s policy chief has admitted that the government’s austerity programme has had positive impacts by encouraging innovation and a “radical reimagination” of public services. Jon Cruddas said that while he is not “uncritical” of the public spending cuts, it has helped create “quite radical interventions” and helped people “get out of silos” and shape public services to the needs of families.” – Daily Telegraph

McClusky bails out Miliband, but Tories warn he’ll have his price

Miliband Labour Left“Ed Miliband last night received a £1.5 million donation from left-wing firebrand Len McCluskey’s trade union Unite. The union said it gave the cash to Labour’s general election campaign fund because of fears the Conservatives could be elected in May on a ‘tide of big business cash’. The Tories said the donation would ‘not come for free’, highlighting a series of policy demands made by Unite.” – Daily Mail

>Today: ToryDiary: What the Conservative leadership should learn from Ed Miliband

Child abuse victims receive threats after Vaz’s committee leaks enquiry papers

“Survivors of child sex abuse have received death threats after their names and confidential details were published by MPs after being leaked by the Government’s inquiry into historic child abuse. A group of victims have written to the Home Secretary expressing ‘grave concern’ that documents leaked by a member of the inquiry were published online. The Home Affairs Select Committee published the documents on its website without blanking out the names of the victims, it has emerged.” – Daily Mail

New report suggests boost for Labour in the rise of the immigrant electorate

Britain shield“The Runnymede Trust, an anti-racism organisation, found that 68 per cent of these voters backed Labour in the 2010 election. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats received just 16 per cent and 14 per cent of their votes respectively. The authors of yesterday’s report said that although migrants will not vote as a bloc, patterns suggest they are likely to prefer parties viewed as ‘positive’ about race equality and immigration. They added that the growing significance of the ‘migrant vote’ is being largely ignored by the main parties.” – Daily Mail

Dan Hodges: Labour has sold its soul to UKIP on immigration

“It’s not the racist dog-whistling. Or the political stupidity of trying to outflank Ukip and the Tories on territory where they simply can’t be outflanked. Or the moral cowardice in not taking a stand on an issue where every mainstream party now has to take a stand. It’s the hypocrisy of Labour’s new anti-immigration leaflet that cuts to the bone. The sheer, naked, self-righteous, two-faced, hypocrisy.” – Daily Telegraph

Miliband promises yet more ‘Home Rule’ for Scotland

Scottish flag“Ed Miliband has urged voters to reject the Scottish National party in May, admitting that the results from Scottish seats could prove crucial in determining the overall result. Speaking in Glasgow where he spent part of the day campaigning, the Labour leader told voters to choose Labour and prevent the Conservatives from returning to power in four months’ time. He also held out the prospect of a “home rule” bill for the country.” – Financial Times

  • Scottish Labour given full backing to make own decisions – The Guardian

…as Murphy ‘astonished’ at how easy he has found it to take on SNP

“Jim Murphy, the new Scottish Labour leader, has described the Scottish Nationalists as “sluggish, lethargic and off the pace,” saying he has been “amazed” at how easy it has been to take them on. Since being elected last month, the former Scotland secretary said he had found the Nationalists far less formidable than he had been warned, despite recent polls which suggest the SNP could be on course to take dozens of seats from Labour at the general election.” – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Video: WATCH: Lord Ashcroft discusses his polling, UKIP and the SNP surge

Clegg warned that his leadership will not survive losing more than 11 seats

CLEGG Bird“Senior Lib Dems have privately warned Nick Clegg will only be able to stay on as leader if he wins more than 45 MPs at the election. If the party falls below this threshold it will be too small to enter into Coalition with Labour or the Tories, MPs believe, leaving Mr Clegg’s position as party leader untenable. The Deputy Prime Minister is expected to ‘fall on his sword’ if he cannot lead the party back into Government after the election.” – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Any coalition agreement should require the consent of “the wider party” – the members, just not MPs

Cable aims to break “male clique” running universities

“Universities are to be criticised for appointing disproportionate numbers of white men to leadership positions, and may have recruitment targets imposed to boost diversity. Vince Cable, the business secretary, is due to say today that universities must go “much further” to install more women as vice-chancellors and to governing councils. He will make this one of the priorities for the coming year in his annual letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England.” – The Times (£)

Greens, UKIP and the SNP set out their stalls

UKIP glass“Ukip would pull Britain out of the EU, although it could put this to a retrospective referendum. It would not remain in the European Free Trade Area or European Economic Area while those treaties maintain a principle of free movement of labour. EU citizens would come under the existing points-based system for time-limited work permits.” – Financial Times

>Today: Local Government: UKIP councillor defects to the Conservatives

>Yesterday: Lord Ashcroft on Comment: ‘Revolt on the Right’ provides a timely triumph at the Paddy Power Political Book Awards

News in Brief

  • Tesco set to cull 2000 head office jobs on top of 2000 lost to store closures – Daily Mail
  • Censored: Blair’s links with African regime – The Times (£)
  • House prices wobble as election looms – Daily Telegraph
  • Record numbers seek UK university places – Financial Times
  • Beer sales rise for the first time in a decade – The Sun (£)
  • File on Mark Duggan shooting lost in the post – The Guardian
  • Anger as energy firms see profits soar – Daily Mail