EU migrant cap ditched ‘to appease Merkel’…

EU Flag“Plans for a cap on the number of European migrants coming to Britain were dropped by David Cameron just 48 hours before they were due to be unveiled after protests by Angela Merkel, Government sources say. The German Chancellor is in London today for talks with the Prime Minister – and has decided not to meet Labour leader Ed Miliband. She was vehemently opposed to the idea of an ‘emergency brake’ that could be applied if EU migrants exceeded forecasts.” – Daily Mail

  • What will be on the agenda when two leaders meet? – Daily Telegraph
  • Merkel will ‘listen closely’ to Prime Minister’s red line demands – The Sun (£)
  • Chancellor is losing faith in parochial Britain – Roger Boyes, The Times (£)

>Today: ToryDiary: As Cameron meets Merkel, a list of British characteristics that baffle the Germans

>Yesterday: Deep End: The two women fighting over the future of Europe

…but she supports cuts to migrant benefits

“Angela Merkel is poised to support British plans to cut millions of pounds of benefits sent abroad to the children of migrants. During an official visit to London today, the German chancellor is expected to tell David Cameron that she can back any reasonable reforms to European Union treaties provided that they do not challenge the principle of free movement.” – The Times (£)

>Today: Daniel Hannan MEP in Columnists: Nine myths about the EU

Ministers challenge Shadows to reveal holes in spending plans

LABOUR holes“Four Tory ministers have urged their Labour rivals to come clean on the black holes in their spending plans — after a clampdown by Ed Balls. In a scathing letter, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan asked Tristram Hunt if he stood by £600million of unfunded commitments on schools given the “chaos” in Labour’s plans. And Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling and Environment Secretary Liz Truss each fired off similar challenges to their direct opponents.” – The Sun (£)

  • Conservatives press the attack on Labour spending proposals – The Independent

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Trust and doubt swing the spending battle in Osborne’s favour

Chancellor warns airlines to pass on savings from oil slump or face action…

“Power giants and airlines were warned last night to pass on plummeting fuel prices to families or face Government sanctions. George Osborne insisted they should quickly follow the lead of petrol retailers and slash their charges. The wholesale price of gas has plunged almost 30 per cent in a year while crude oil has more than halved in six months. A barrel cost just $53 last night – the lowest level in five years.” – Daily Mail

  • Oil price crash hands Osborne a pre-election boost – The Sun (£)
  • Chancellor looses a warning shot over tumbling prices – The Guardian

…as he blocks May’s efforts to deport foreign students

OSBORNE non-broken sword“Theresa May’s plan to deport foreign students after they graduate has been blocked by George Osborne, it was claimed last night. The home secretary had hoped that the proposals, which involved tightening immigration rules, would be included in the Tory election manifesto. However, it emerged that Mr Osborne had opposed the plan amid fears that it would damage the economy and universities’ finances.” – The Times (£)

Pritchard calls for change to the law regarding rape anonymity

“A Tory MP yesterday branded his accuser ‘vindictive’ and called for a change in the law after a rape case against him was dropped by police. Mark Pritchard, 48, said he was maliciously targeted by a former lover and called for those accused of rape to be allowed anonymity until they are charged. The MP for The Wrekin said the law on sex offences – which grants alleged victims anonymity but not the accused – should be reviewed so that ‘fairness plays a greater role’.” – Daily Mail

  • Government has not changed its stance, Cameron tells media – The Independent

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Pritchard is cleared – now Bercow must account for his behaviour

Chilcot delay turning into a national scandal, says Hurd

Iraq flag“Delays in publishing the findings of the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war are a scandal, peers were told last night. Demanding urgent action, Lord Hurd said the issue had ‘dragged on beyond questions of mere negligence and forgivable delay’. ‘It is becoming a scandal,’ said the peer, who as Douglas Hurd was foreign secretary from 1989 to 1995.” – Daily Mail

Government drops plans to deploy troops against ISIS

“Hundreds of British troops will no longer be sent to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq this month, amid fears of further casualties on the battlefield in an election year. Downing Street were last night said to be worried that significantly stepping up the UK’s military campaign in the Middle East could influence the general election campaign. Senior officials apparently fear there would be a public backlash if serving UK soldiers were killed while training Iraqi security forces against jihadists.” – Daily Mail

Election 1) Boris to lead Tory charge into English regions

“Boris Johnson – the Tory politician who David Cameron calls his “star player” – is to lead the party’s electoral charge in the north of England today. The London Mayor will visit a series of key northern marginal seats as part of a Conservative bid to boost the party’s popularity in the region. Mr Johnson, who is standing as an MP in west Ruislip in May’s election, is likely to campaign in Lancashire and west Yorkshire.” – Daily Telegraph

Election 2) Bank claims Cameron is on course for victory

Cameron1“Britain’s economic recovery has put David Cameron on course to remain Prime Minister after the General Election, investment bank Goldman Sachs has told clients. In a note to investors, Goldman analyst Kevin Daly said strong economic growth and an improvement in household incomes would help the Tory cause. But he cautioned that the political situation in the UK was unpredictable, with no party looking like securing an overall majority.” – Daily Mail

Election 3) Glum faces as Cabinet meets after the start of election hostilities

“After the fun of tearing chunks out of each other in the outbreak of election hostilities, the Tories and Lib Dems seemed to be suffering from political hangovers as they squeezed elbow-to-elbow around the table at Number 10 yesterday. There were glum faces all round as they gathered for the first Cabinet meeting of the year, with Lib Dem Nick Clegg – who yesterday rejected a suggestion to join the Tories – surrounded by some of his biggest critics including George Osborne and Theresa May.” – Daily Mail

Election 4) Tories accuse Labour of milking NHS meltdown

NHS_Logo“Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron tonight denied that the NHS was in crisis in a huge political row over the meltdown in A&E departments. The Tories accused Labour of ‘hypocrisy’ and ‘making capital’ out of today’s figures on emergency admissions, after shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said ‘crisis’ was the only appropriate way to describe the situation.” – Daily Mail


>Yesterday: Andy Silvester in Comment: This NHS bidding war is not sustainable

Ian Birrell: Yes, the NHS is creaking – but Labour’s hypocrisy is truly sickening

“There is no doubt the heroically dedicated and highly skilled A&E staff are under the cosh — there are too few of them, and they are confronted with too many patients. But the causes are complex, the solutions costly and few things in this debate are as they seem on the surface. Above all, Labour is behaving with gut-churning hypocrisy as it seeks to focus voters’ attention on the NHS — traditionally its strongest card — to avoid discussion of the economy and the deficit, a subject Ed Miliband famously failed to mention in his last party conference speech.” – Daily Mail

  • A better NHS is about attitudes, not money – Alice Thomson, The Times (£)

Labour civil war over Murphy’s tax raid…

Labour England“Labour was plunged into civil war over its mansion tax last night amid Scottish MPs’ plans to use millions of pounds raided from England to pay for 1,000 extra nurses north of the border. MPs queued up to attack the party’s new Scottish leader, Jim Murphy, after he boasted that he would boost the NHS in Scotland by using up to £250million raised from the controversial tax in England.” – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Left Watch: Red flag or white? Murphy’s latest pledge hurts both Labour and the Union

…as he seeks more cash to bail out Scottish oil industry

“Jim Murphy deepened Labour’s internal divisions over the mansion tax yesterday with a demand that UK taxpayers bail out Scotland’s struggling oil industry. The pledge from the new leader of the party in Scotland to fund 1,000 nurses from taxing houses in southern England — a policy he called a “real win-win for Scotland” — was condemned by Labour MPs in London.” – The Times (£)

Hunt risks another party split with ode to Israel

HUNT Tristram “In an address to Jewish community leaders, Mr Hunt said of Churchill: “How right he was.” He said that there was “no such thing as a progressive argument which denies the right of the Israeli people to a homeland”. In a warning to critics of Israel in his own party, he said that the Middle East nation had “continued importance” among political progressives.” – The Times (£)

Chorus of disapproval as artists attack Labour for refusing to reverse Tory funding cuts

“Labour rapidly denied the claim, saying on Twitter: “Tory dossier says Labour will cancel cuts to the arts budget. We won’t.” The party may have thought it had put out one fire with its rapid response, but it quickly ignited another one among its own supporters who attacked Labour for a philistine approach to the arts.” – The Independent

Who is the real Miliband?

Miliband Odd and Red“Some shadow cabinet members complain of being ignored by the leadership: “I’m not sure he spends a lot of time with people like me asking us what we think,” says one. The Labour leader has tried to make a habit of dining with MPs now and again, and sometimes drops into the House of Commons tea room after prime minister’s questions. He is not always enthusiastic about such networking. Aides sometimes have to coax him out of the office.” – Financial Times

  • Like Cuomo, Miliband leaves Labour honourable losers – Daniel Finkelstein, The Times (£)

Minutes reveal how Labour panicked the Bank of England during crisis

“The Labour government put the financial recovery at risk by rushing through new laws despite the Bank of England warning they were ‘ill-conceived and misguided’, newly-released documents reveal. Minutes from meetings held by the Bank’s directors at the height of the financial crisis from 2007 to 2009 have been published for the first time. The minutes reveal tensions between the government, the Bank and the Financial Services Authority, as they battled to stop the British economy collapsing.” – Daily Telegraph

Councillor suspended over parody poster that invokes the Holocaust

Economy Road Poster“Labour suspended a councillor last night after she posted a parody of a Conservative election poster to include an image of a Nazi death camp on social media. Rosemary Healy, who represents the Mapperley ward on Nottingham City Council, retweeted the image to her 1,500 followers on Twitter. Expressing “profound apologies”, she said she had not seen exactly what the picture was of when she sent it — she deleted the postings soon afterwards.” – The Times (£)

Labour election chief calls for darts star sex offender to be knighted

“Labour’s election chief has gaffed by calling for a convicted sex offender to be knighted. Frontbencher Lucy Powell said darts star Phil “The Power” Taylor should be honoured for his legendary exploits in the sport. That is despite the fact the 16-times world champion was previously blocked from getting an MBE after being convicted of indecently assaulting two women.” – The Sun (£)

Iain Martin: Step by step, devolution is wrecking the United Kingdom

UNION FLAG torn“What an appalling mess the devolution industry has created from a successful Union that worked well. This was what those who were worried about home rule – and particularly the asymmetrical form of devolution introduced in the late 1990s – always feared would happen. The fear was that cooperation and coexistence in the old Union would be replaced with enmity, a blame game and the perpetual pursuit of grievance politics, leading eventually to SNP domination and separation.” – Daily Telegraph

Five months from the poll only 266 Liberal Democrat candidates have been selected

“Of the 650 seats to be contested in May, Nick Clegg’s party have chosen just 266. Some senior figures are privately frustrated at the huge number of constituencies without a candidate. One high-level source said: “It looks like we are not a national party any more and that we live in just a few pockets. We are all quite frustrated.” – Daily Express

Laws savages Tories over potential education cuts

BARRIE CHARACTER EDUCATION“The Conservatives will harm British businesses and hold back poor children by refusing to protect schools spending after the election, one of the Government’s leading Liberal Democrat ministers says today. David Laws said The Telegraph’s revelation that Tory frontbenchers were ordered not to rule out future education cuts proved that David Cameron and George Osborne are no longer “compassionate” Conservatives.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Cameron and Osborne have abandoned compassionate conservatism – David Laws, Daily Telegraph

Cable demoted as Lib Dems draw up their election team

“Vince Cable has been demoted in the team of Liberal Democrat spokesmen who will take the fight to the Tories and Labour at May’s general election. Nick Clegg, the party’s leader, will confirm on Wednesday that Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will be the party’s economics spokesman for the election.” – Daily Telegraph

Davey mulls leadership bid…

Ed Davey“Ed Davey piled pressure on hapless Lib Dem chief Nick Clegg last night — by saying he fancied his job. The Lib Dem Energy Secretary said he would be interested in taking charge if his leader “hangs up his clogs”. Admitting he had thought about the job, he said: “If it one day falls to me to lead (the party), I will do that.”” – The Sun (£)

…as leader-in-waiting Farron handed high-profile foreign affairs brief

“The darling of the Liberal Democrats’ grassroots, Tim Farron, will be handed the party’s high-profile foreign affairs brief for the general election, boosting his hopes of succeeding Nick Clegg as party leader. Mr Farron, who was party president until last month, has positioned himself to the left of the party leadership since it entered the Coalition in 2010. This has seen his stock rise among activists who worried that the party is seen as too close to the Tories.” – The Independent

Not-yet-headless Nick refuses to accept he’s a minor

CLEGG Bird“I am not sure how much work Nick and his 20 special advisers do these days. Certainly most questions were answered by Tory busy-bee Greg Clark, who is being asked to devolve every bit of Britain that is not nailed down (including, yesterday, Shipley). This leaves Nick free to do important things such as miss PMQs to go visit “normal people” and to make speeches, such as this week’s, in which he claimed that only the Lib Dems could give the Tories a heart and Labour a spine.” – Ann Treneman, The Times (£)

  • Deflated Clegg back to full size as he hurtles towards the margins of significance – The Guardian

>Today: Henry Hill’s Red, White and Blue Column: Clegg takes the fight to nationalists in Wales and Scotland

News in Brief

  • Home Office loses track of hundreds due for deportation – Daily Mail
  • Malaria deaths soar as Ebola keeps the sick at home – The Times (£)
  • Waterstones reports collapse in Kindle sales as physical books make a comeback – Daily Telegraph
  • Police to be taken to court for hacking journalists’ phones – The Sun (£)
  • Anti-fracking group’s leaflet misleading, rules watchdog – The Independent
  • Independent commissioner deeply concerned at levels of public acceptance of CCTV – The Guardian