Cameron threatens ‘all-out war on mediocrity’ and thousands of new academies…

Cameron1“Thousands of coasting state schools will be forced to become academies in an ‘all-out war on mediocrity’ if the Conservatives remain in power, David Cameron will say today. Up to 3,500 primary and secondary schools judged to require improvement by watchdogs will be at risk of being taken over by new headteachers, backed by other successful academies or expert sponsors.” – Daily Mail

…as Morgan tells Gove to keep his hands off education…

“Pumped-up Education Secretary Nicky Morgan this morning angrily rejected claims Michael Gove was still meddling in schools policy – insisting: ‘I’m in charge.’ Mrs Morgan dismissed as ‘complete nonsense’ revelations that her predecessor is receiving confidential documents from her department despite being sacked six months ago.” – Daily Mail

…and pledges to protect the schools budget

MANIFESTO money“Spending on schools will be protected by the Tories should the party win the election, a Cabinet minister indicated today. Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, said that she had been battling for the party’s current commitment to the schools budget to be continued after the election. The party would soon have “more to say” on the issue, she added. The commitment would protect the education of five to 16-year-olds, meaning even bigger cuts for unprotected departments.” – The Times (£)

Tim Montgomerie: Schools need better teaching, not more money

“Countries that put their faith in tried and tested teaching methods have sped past high-spending nations such as Britain and America in international league tables. Britain, in particular, became obsessed with reducing class sizes, despite the evidence that it is teacher quality that really determines a child’s performance. The result has been fewer pupils sitting in classrooms led by the limited number of good teachers that we do have. So it was disappointing to hear Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, boasting yesterday about her fight to maintain the schools budget.” – The Times (£)

>Yesterday: Harriet Maltby on Comment: A way to save up to 14 per cent of the NHS budget

Meanwhile Lord Butler attacks May’s university extremism policy

MAY Home Office big“Lord Butler of Brockwell, the former head of the civil service who went on to become Master of an Oxford College, has criticised plans by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, to ban extremists from speaking on university campuses. Saying that the proposals went “too far” in limiting free speech, he accused the Government of seeking to treat universities “like schools,” saying that students were adults who had a right to make up their own minds about important matters after listening to different viewpoints.” – Daily Telegraph

Hague warned by backbench Tories over English votes proposals

“Senior Tory MPs have demanded a showdown meeting with William Hague today as a major rebellion grows over English votes for English laws, The Sun can reveal. Bosses of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee will insist ministers enforce an outright ban on Scottish MPs from having any say on England-only issues. They fear No10 is close to choosing a watered down plan instead.” – The Sun (£)

>Today: John Redwood on Comment: England wants to get EVEN. Now Hague must ensure that it does.

Rural councils claim residents are penalised by funding shortfall

money“David Cameron is facing anger from Tory shires claiming that his proposals for local government funding will “isolate” many people in rural areas. Scores of councils have told the Prime Minister that they are concerned about “the long term viability of many rural communities” because of a settlement which they say will place an unfair burden on countryside local authorities to implement further cuts.” – Daily Telegraph

Committee calls for aid budget to be maintained

“The conclusion will anger many Tories, who want to see David Cameron end a commitment to foreign aid that has seen it balloon from £3.8 billion in 2003 to £11.4 billion a decade later. It included a budget increase of £2.7 billion in 2013, when other departments were being slashed. Conservative backbenchers have already opposed plans to enshrine the target into law, a measure pledged in the coalition agreement signed in 2010.” – The Times (£)

Boris Johnson: Why I support Timpson’s offender employment scheme

boris-johnson“No wants to employ an ex-offender – no one, that is, except Timpson. It all began a few years ago, when one of the Timpson family was at a meeting in a prison and met a young man who impressed him. He gave the prisoner his card, and told him to get in touch when he got out. The young man has gone on to become a highly successful employee, and manager of a store. They now employ 250 others – the majority of whom, all the statistics say, would otherwise have gone on to reoffend.” – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Prison rehabilitation: the moral, conservative mission

MPs call on Heywood to clarify hung parliament procedure

“MPs have warned that the increasing likelihood of neither the Tories nor Labour winning a majority on May 7, means that the public must be told what ‘the rules of the game’ are. But they risk controversy by calling for the all-powerful Cabinet Secretary to clarify whether David Cameron will remain in office until a new Government is formed and what his powers would be.” – Daily Mail

Knives out for ‘haunted’ Miliband as election panic sets in…

MILIBAND Ed red background“Ed Miliband’s hopes of winning the General Election were fading last night after his leadership came under heavy fire from his own party. The embattled Labour leader faced a new crisis as the party’s biggest private donor joined the withering attacks on his NHS policies. And Mr Miliband was described as looking ‘haunted’ because he knew that his party was on course to lose the Election, according to the editor of Britain’s leading Labour-supporting magazine.” – Daily Mail

  • Leadership under fire as critics repeat attacks on Miliband’s NHS and mansion tax policies – Daily Telegraph
  • Labour steal a punchline from Blackadder – The Sun (£)
  • Kendall emerges as favourite in leadership stakes – Daily Telegraph
  • Author of excruciating Miliband memoir now claims UKIP could take 20 Labour seats – The Sun (£)

…but he leads Cameron by 20 points amongst mothers

“While the Tories are trailing Labour by three percentage points among female voters, when it comes to mothers Mr Cameron’s party is 20 points behind. Only 28 per cent of mothers with children under 18 plan to vote Conservative, against 48 per cent for Labour, according to the latest Populus poll for the Financial Times.” – Financial Times

No attack ads aimed at Cameron as party seeks to avoid ‘presidential’ contest

Miliband and Salmond“Labour has promised not to use any pictures of the Prime Minister in election posters– in a bid to stop the campaign turning into a presidential-style run off between David Cameron and Ed Miliband. The party said it would not use negative personal attacks on Mr Cameron – and would focus on policies instead of personalities. It comes as the Tories attempt to use the ‘nightmare’ scenario of Mr Miliband becoming Prime Minister to scare voters off electing Labour.” – Daily Mail

  • Ed’s £63,000 monthly travel bill embarrasses his party – Andrew Pierce, Daily Mail

Balls’ plan to turn every region into a powerhouse for £30bn

“Labour is due to set out plans to make every region in England an economic “powerhouse” by allowing city and county councils to take charge of an additional £30 billion of public money. Speaking in Milton Keynes, Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, will promise that under a Labour government, local authorities would also be able to keep any additional revenue raised from business rates during periods of growth.” – Daily Telegraph

Ummuna leads attack Boots the chemist

Umunna on Marr“Labour went to war with Boots yesterday after the chemist chain warned of catastrophe if the party won the general election. Stefano Pessina, the firm’s acting boss, said Ed Miliband’s policies were ‘not helpful for business and not helpful for the country’. Labour business spokesman Chuka Umunna hit back with a series of extraordinary attacks on Mr Pessina and his firm, which has 70,000 UK workers. He questioned whether Boots paid enough tax while fellow Labour MPs said they would not listen to a multi-millionaire who lived in ‘a big mansion’.” – Daily Mail

>Today: Lord Flight’s column: Economic management. Labour, nil points. Conservatives, neuf points. But here are a few reservations.

Academics attack Miliband’s tuition fees policy

“In a letter to The Times, leaders of England’s universities have appealed to Ed Miliband to abandon the policy, calling it “implausible” that he could guarantee to replace the £10 billion of lost revenue over five years. Several have gone farther, accusing the Labour leader of failing to understand that cutting fees would only benefit higher-earning graduates and could remove opportunities for poorer students, who are applying in record numbers.” – The Times (£)

Scotland 1) Labour facing Scottish crisis as separatist voters stick with the SNP

LABOUR dead rose“Senior Labour figures are worried that the party may fail to halt the Scottish National Party’s advance – because many Scots do not believe that Labour can win the general election. There is growing Labour alarm that the party’s “Vote SNP, get Cameron” message is failing to win back natural Labour supporters who backed the Yes camp in last September’s independence referendum and are likely to stick with the SNP at the May election.” – The Independent

Scotland 2) Desperate duo offer yet more powers…

“Jim Murphy and Gordon Brown will on Monday pledge that a Labour government would radically extend Scotland’s powers over welfare, following speculation that Brown is to take a prominent role in his party’s general election campaign in the hope of repeating the success of his last-minute intervention in the independence referendum. Murphy, the new Scottish Labour leader, and Brown will share a platform in Edinburgh to announce a “distinctive Labour change”.” – The Guardian

Scotland 3) Alexander again refuses to rule out Nationalist coalition…

Douglas Alexander“Labour’s chief election strategist repeatedly refused to rule out a coalition with the Scottish Nationalists yesterday. Douglas Alexander dodged questions over whether Labour would enter a power-sharing deal with Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond if it fails to win a majority in May. There are increasing signs of a split at the top of the Labour Party over the issue of a deal with the SNP, currently on course to win dozens of Labour seats in Scotland.” – Daily Mail

  • Alexander undermines pact by scorning Sturgeon’s demand to scrap Trident – Daily Telegraph

Scotland 4) Salmond boasts that he will force left-wing policies on England

“Alex Salmond will force left-wing policies on Tory England if the SNP hold the balance of power after the next election, he boasted today. The former First Minister, who is standing for Parliament in May, said he would work with other parties except the Tories to ‘see more progressive politics introduced across these islands’. Mr Salmond also refused to rule out becoming Deputy Prime Minister in a Labour-SNP Coalition – but said it was more likely that his party would prop up Ed Miliband in return for more powers for Scotland, a hike in the minimum wage and scrapping Britain’s nuclear deterrent.” – Daily Mail

Scotland 5) SNP fabricated justifications for fracking ban claims expert

snplogo“SNP ministers are deliberately misleading the Scottish public by pretending their fracking ban is about health and environmental concerns instead of political posturing, an expert they asked to research the controversial practice has said. In a damning intervention, Professor Paul Younger, Ranking Chair of Engineering at the University of Glasgow, said the Scottish Government’s justifications for unveiling an indefinite moratorium on fracking were “all made up” and “completely feigned”.” – Daily Telegraph

UKIP knew of defecting MEP’s links to kidnapper before selecting him as an MEP

“When Amjad Bashir sensationally defected to the Conservatives last week, Ukip leader Nigel Farage claimed his party had been ‘begging’ him to drop the MEP after being ‘increasingly alarmed by his behaviour over the last few months’. But The Mail on Sunday can reveal the party was warned about his links with a convicted criminal a year ago – months before he was elected to the European Parliament.” – Daily Mail

Greens criticised for advertising job paying less than the living wage

Green Party poster“The Green party has been accused of hypocrisy after advertising a job paying below the London living wage, in breach of one of its cornerstone policies. The party is committed to raising the minimum wage in line with the living wage — an hourly rate based on the amount needed to cover the basic costs of living. The current rate is £9.15 in London and £7.85 elsewhere in the UK.” – The Times (£)

Fringe parties thrive as voters sever old allegiances

“Both parties have lost their place in society, they once stood for big forces in Britain, with big roles in the local hierarchy, you would know what the local Conservative Association or Labour party were up to,” says Paul Goodman, editor of the ConservativeHome website. “That is no longer the case.” – Financial Times

Philip Stephens: Britain bids adieu to political stability

Ashcroft poll“The proud British boast has long been that, whatever else might be said about the Sceptered Isle, it was a beacon of political stability. Others were forever held hostage to the incertitude and grubby dealmaking of coalitions; Britain’s two-party system guaranteed decisive single-party rule. No longer. The coming general election is shaping up as a contest not so much about who will win, but about which of the main contenders will lose less badly.” – Financial Times

  • Uncertainty is key to democracy and Britain must get used to it – Financial Times

News in Brief:

  • Bristol introduces first outdoor smoking ban – Daily Mail
  • Queen fears UK isn’t ready for Charles – The Times (£)
  • Royal Marine is world’s deadliest sniper – The Sun (£)
  • Discovery of rare Michelangelo bronzes solves greatest mystery in art history – Daily Telegraph
  • Battle over HS2 ‘gravy train’ intensifies – Financial Times
  • Japan goes on high alert after hostage murder – The Independent