Europe 1) Hammond’s grand tour to build support for European reform…

EU Exit“David Cameron has ordered Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to visit every European country before the election to build support for major reform of Brussels. The Prime Minister, who is to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel next week, wants Mr Hammond to hold talks with every member state to set out Tory demands for change.” – Daily Mail

Europe 2) Cameron and Merkel to meet months after immigration stand-off

“Diplomats are pushing for a press conference which could expose tensions publicly over Mr Cameron’s attempt to try limit immigration from within the European Union. In October the German Chancellor reportedly told Mr Cameron that he was approaching a “point of no return” with the EU over a proposal to limit the migrant intake from other member states.” – Daily Telegraph

Welfare reformers step up the pace to stop Labour undoing progress

idspic“The Government’s benefit reforms will be accelerated in the months before the election to stop Labour reversing them if the party wins the general election. Iain Duncan Smith said he would ensure that there would be a “step change” in the roll-out of Universal Credit in the first three months of the year.” – Daily Telegraph

Preparing for May: The Prime Minister warns that Miliband heralds “economic chaos”…

“Letting Ed Miliband into Number 10 could trigger “economic chaos” that would “destroy jobs and destroy livelihoods”, David Cameron has warned as he dubbed May’s general election the most important in a generation. The Prime Minister used his first speech of 2015 to say Labour’s economic plan would lead the country into a “dead end” of high taxes and spiralling debt and urged voters to “stay on the road to security” by re-electing the Conservatives.” – Daily Telegraph


…as the Tories are set to outspend Labour three to one at the general election…

Rosette shield“Labour is likely to be outspent by the Conservatives by a factor of three to one in the general election, the party’s election boss has admitted, but insists it can still win the tightest battle in generations through an intensive ground war built around local party activism. The message comes before a rally in Manchester on Monday where Ed Miliband, the party leader, is due to mount a ferocious assault on Tory plans for the health service.” – The Guardian

…Wilson claims that a rainbow coalition would lead to a second election…

“Another Coalition comprising three parties after May’s general election would force a second election within months, a Tory minister has said. Rob Wilson said that a hypothetical coalition two more than two parties – a so-called “rainbow Coalition” – would lead to a second election later this year.” – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Support rises among party members for a second coalition with the Liberal Democrats

…and Tebbit warns that Tories can only win if UKIP implodes

marginal polling - ukip“David Cameron can only hope to win the election if Ukip ‘implodes’, Tory grandee Lord Tebbit warned today. As the Conservatives launched their first election poster of the campaign, the former party chairman said the Prime Minister will pay a heavy price for breaking a promise to tackle immigration. He said that only a collapse in support for Ukip – which has made big gains in the past year – would allow the Tories to form an overall majority after May 7.” – Daily Mail

Thousands of illegal immigrants caught by crackdown on fake jobs

“Jobs in kebab shops, massage parlours and petrol stations were advertised as highly qualified roles to allow employers to “sponsor” workers from overseas to come to the UK. A crackdown by immigration officials discovered more than 2,500 immigrants were given visas for jobs which either did not exist or were completely different from those advertised.” – Daily Express

Maude’s plan for more outside experts in the civil service sunk by Number 10

Number 10“A year ago Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, announced that ministers should be able to handpick external advisers and build up their private offices, in what was seen as an attempt to politicise Whitehall. The idea, proposed amid a growing mistrust of civil servants, was to let ministers appoint up to ten experts from the private sector, more than doubling the size of their office, to create an extended ministerial office (EMO).” – The Times (£)

Conservative pledge to ban six-figure golden goodbyes from public sector

“The Conservatives will today pledge to end six-figure pay-offs in the public sector if they win the general election. Tory sources said the party’s manifesto will promise the swift introduction of a new ‘public sector redundancy pay cap’ to end the culture of obscene ‘golden goodbyes’ to fat cats employed by the State. In future, pay-offs will be limited to a maximum of £95,000 in all but exceptional cases.” – Daily Mail

Government older workers’ champion welcomes rise of over-60s apprentices

Building shield“Far from slowing down as they near retirement age, more and more over-60s are learning a new trade as apprentices. Figures show they are the fastest-growing age group among those in the Government’s on-the-job training scheme – intended to help school leavers. The number of workers aged 60 or over taking up placements has soared from 400 to 2,480 in the past five years.” – Daily Mail

Health 1) NHS paying huge sums to agency staff as full-time workers duck departments

“Hospitals are routinely paying stand-in accident & emergency doctors almost £2,000 a day as staff refuse to work permanently in “war zone” departments, according to the most detailed analysis of NHS spending on locums. Even the most junior doctors are earning up to £1,000 a day while tens of millions of pounds are paid out as commission to staffing agencies, the study reveals.” – The Times (£)

Health 2) Matthew Parris: A political taboo that reveals the narrowness of our political debate

NHS_Logo“More notable than any serious disagreement between Labour and Tories on future health policy is one huge agreement: rightly or wrongly (and polls suggest rightly) both are convinced that privatisation is the great unspeakable, and political death. In government both parties have privatised some of the delivery of healthcare; both have been pleased with the results but both are terrified of words like “profit”.” – The Times (£)

Health 3) Welsh wait longer for ambulances under Labour-run local NHS

“The NHS in Wales is performing worse than its English counterpart, with patients facing longer waits for an ambulance and delays for diagnostic tests, according to a parliamentary report. The study, produced by the House of Commons library, also found that Welsh patients had to wait longer in A&E, and that a cancer treatment target had not been met since 2008. The Conservative party seized on the report to claim that Labour could not be trusted to run the NHS.” – The Times (£)

>Yesterday: Andrew Bell on Comment: The 15 hospitals whose fate could swing the next election

Alexander claims Labour reform has left it in touch with the public

LABOUR dead rose“Here, Labour is engaging with the anger felt by so many in the only way a progressive party can. Not making false promises, nor pandering and posturing, but by letting people back into politics and setting out concrete ways we can change lives for the better. Under Ed Miliband’s leadership, we are changing both our party’s structures and culture.” – Douglas Alexander, The Guardian

  • Miliband’s new politics is dead. Don’t send flowers – Dan Hodges, Daily Telegraph
  • Karen Danczuk claims party has been hijacked by “middle class do-gooders” – The Sun (£)

>Yesterday: Left Watch: “Balanced and tough” – big-spending Balls teeters like a circus strongman trying to walk the austerity high wire

Scotland 1) Senior Labour figures fear “toxic” leader could decimate Scottish vote

“Party sources say their leader’s “toxic” presence on the campaign trail could boost the Scottish Nationalists, who are already 20 points ahead in opinion polls. Mr Miliband was forced to flee an Edinburgh shopping centre to escape a protest during last autumn’s independence referendum. Now insiders say Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy — dumped as shadow defence secretary by Mr Miliband — wants to be left alone to run his own campaign.” – The Sun (£)

Scotland 2) How ‘auld enemies’ Cameron and Brown cooperated to save the UK

guardianbrown“David Cameron and Gordon Brown suspended years of animosity to co-ordinate their efforts to keep Scotland within the union, including swapping tips on speeches, the Financial Times has learnt. The political foes were thrown together last year by polls suggesting the 300-year-old UK was at risk and their armistice was to last only a matter of days, but it was an important factor in the final stages of the referendum campaign.” – Financial Times

Scotland 3) Charles Moore: The battle to keep our Union together has only just begun

“When Labour introduced devolution after their great victory in 1997, they thought they were building an anti-Tory citadel north of the border. Perhaps they were, but they were also ensuring that they would lose control of it. Thus does devolution start the slide towards independence. Like a date rapist, the SNP claims that No really meant Yes.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Scots Tories pounce on WWF report which claims Scotland has enough wind power – Daily Telegraph
  • SNP under pressure over poor classroom performance – Daily Telegraph

IPPR criticised by watchdog for appearing too close to Labour

labour-rose“The Charity Commission found the Institute for Public Policy Research – once dubbed “Tony Blair’s favourite thinktank” – had “exposed itself to the perception that it supported the development of Labour Party policy”. The Commission started its inquiry after a complaint from Charlie Elphicke, a Tory MP, about the IPPR’s close links with Labour last year. The IPPR, like many other political thinktanks, is a charity which by law has to remain neutral.” – Daily Telegraph

Was Clegg’s great aunt a Soviet agent?

“The couple, and their Soviet connection, are now of particular interest as they were the grandparents of Nick Clegg. And while some intriguing details of the Deputy Prime Minister’s Russian relative have come to light since he first entered office, the extraordinary story of Moura’s life can finally be told following The Independent’s trawl through the National Archives.” – The Independent

News in Brief:

  • Meet the GP persecuted for writing critically of the NHS – Daily Mail
  • Rail boss claims services won’t improve for two years – The Times (£)
  • Fourth death linked too “Superman” ecstasy batch – The Guardian
  • Holiday windfall for Britons as Euro slides – Daily Telegraph
  • A&E struggles to keep up with festive demand – The Independent
  • Police allegedly fail to arrest drunk yobs as it creates too much work – Daily Express
  • GPs claim a seven-day NHS is “neither desirable nor feasible” – Daily Mail