Osborne woos grey vote with £5bn boost to pensioner bonds…

OSBORNE non-broken sword“George Osborne was accused of ‘buying votes’ yesterday after he lifted a cap on high-interest pensioner bonds weeks before the General Election. The Chancellor announced that he was axing the £10billion limit on the government-backed savings accounts after they proved hugely popular. But the cost of extending the scheme to hundreds of thousands more savers aged 65 and over will be borne by the taxpayer.” – Daily Mail


…as he prepares for Greek exit ‘meltdown’…

“Britain has started preparations for a disastrous Greek exit from the Eurozone, Chancellor George Osborne revealed yesterday. He said the Treasury was stepping up “contingency planning” as he warned the crisis was close to getting out of control. Greek officials are refusing to apply for an extension of its current £182billion bailout which runs out on February 28. The new left-wing government wants a renegotiation.” – The Sun (£)

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: The dangers of an early EU referendum

…and fights with Balls and Clegg over local devolution

Libdem bird vs TORY“The process has been held up because West Yorkshire has refused to accept a mayor as a precondition of its new powers… Ed Balls, the Labour party’s shadow chancellor, wants to deny the Conservatives a political victory and is backing the rebellious county. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister, has blamed the “clammy hand of the Treasury” for delaying the deal, adding that Mr Osborne had a “personal preference” for mayors.” – Financial Times

Defence 1) Hammond adopts harder line against Putin

“Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has accused Vladimir Putin of behaving like a ‘mid-20th- century tyrant’ over his annexation of the Crimea and support for rebels in Ukraine. In a significant hardening of rhetoric, Mr Hammond called on the Russian president to ‘trim his behaviour’ to reflect the decline in his country’s economy. He appeared to be falling more on the side of the US – where some officials have compared peace talks with Russia to the appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s – against Germany and France.” – Daily Mail

Defence 2) Stewart urges greater defence spending

STEWART, Rory headshot“Ministers were yesterday urged to stand up to Russia with long-term investment in Britain’s Armed Forces. The Government has agreed to spend two per cent of GDP on defence until 2015-2016. But Rory Stewart, head of the Defence Select Committee, said the Ukraine conflict means we should spend that amount for years to come. He said: “Putin is testing us. We need a manifesto that lays out a long-term obligation.”” – The Sun (£)

>Today: Bernard Jenkin MP in Comment: “There are no votes in defence.” Or so they say…

Morgan and Clegg announce fresh £6 million boost to school renovation programme

“Billions of pounds of extra public money will be spent on renovating schools in England despite fears that the programme is failing to deliver. Nicky Morgan, the Education secretary, and Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, are setting out how another £6billion will be spent on schools in England on Monday.” – Daily Telegraph

Rural affairs: Shapps seeks to lift US embargo on British meat…

SHAPPS Grant favourite“A Cabinet Minister will this week urge America to bin a ban on haggis. Tory party chairman Grant Shapps will declare it is time to stop blacklisting the Scottish dish as part of a new bid to boost British exports. He also wants the US to end its ban on British lamb and venison. Haggis consists of sheep’s heart, lungs and liver. America banned foods containing sheep’s lung in 1971.” – The Sun (£)

…as Vaizey announces satellite-enabled superfast rural broadband

“People in parts of rural Britain will shortly be able to browse an internet service which has been delivered to their homes by satellite. Ed Vaisey, the junior Culture minister, said homes in Exmoor which are hard to reach for conventional wires will be able to use internet which is routed through satellites. The news comes after MPs said Britain risks becoming a “two-tier society” because some homes were not able to connect to the internet.” – Daily Telegraph

Health 1) Hospitals told to end cover-up culture…

nhs-cartoon“Hospitals must end the use of gagging clauses to silence whistleblowers, an inquiry will say this week. A long-awaited report by Sir Robert Francis will demand the NHS does far more to end its ‘cover-up culture’ and will highlight fears confidentiality clauses are still being used. Last year Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote to all trusts demanding they ensure none of their contracts include gagging orders – but campaigners fear the practice remains.” – Daily Mail

Health 2) NHS bosses now face jail for lying about problems

“NHS bosses face two years in jail for lying about poor care, as ministers intensify a campaign against a culture of cover-up in the health service. Hospitals that cannot prove they have owned up and apologised to patients for mistakes will also be fined £10,000 for losing negligence claims under plans to be announced today.” – The Times (£)

Health 3) Former police officers warn plain packs will boost counterfeit cigarette trade

Smoke“Police will struggle to cope with counterfeit cigarettes hitting Britain’s streets if cigarettes have to be sold in plain packets, warn retired police officers in letter to The Daily Telegraph… Jane Ellison, junior health minister, shocked Westminster last month when she unveiled the plain packaging plans in response to a Scottish Labour initiated vote on smoking.” – Daily Telegraph

Health 4) Lee calls for smokers, drinkers and the promiscuous to pay the NHS

“Tory MP Dr Phillip Lee claims that individuals who knowingly make unhealthy choices should meet at least part of the cost, either directly through charges or indirectly through insurance. Writing exclusively for the Sunday Express, Dr Lee, the MP for Bracknell in Berkshire, says: “We should introduce more personal responsibility into how we fund our health care. “We all make choices in life and long may we be free to do so: what we eat, what we drink and how much we exercise. But many of these decisions can adversely affect our health.”” – Daily Express

Health 5) Bruce leads campaign against sex-selective abortion

Baby shield“Led by Tory MP Fiona Bruce, around 100 MPs are believed to be in favour of an amendment to the Serious Crime Bill, which is likely to be debated on 23 February. The amendment reads: ‘Nothing in section 1 of the Abortion Act 1967 can be interpreted as allowing a pregnancy to be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child.’” – Daily Mail

Boris Johnson: Ed will never understand that capitalism can cure cancer

“It isn’t just the new taxes they want to impose on property, or the financial transaction tax, or the hikes in income tax. It’s the underlying mindset – the intellectual failure to grasp that the profit motive can be good; that it can be necessary; that capitalism is not just compatible with satisfying the wants of the poorest and neediest in our country – but essential if we are to meet the biggest challenges facing the human race.” – Daily Telegraph

Mandelson defends Miliband’s business credentials…

MILIBAND Ed red background“Ed Miliband is not anti-business and would make a “very good prime minister”, Lord Mandelson said today after a number of business leaders said they were concerned about a Labour victory in May’s general election. Lord Mandelson was speaking after Mr Miliband told leaders of UK overseas territories that their countries would be blacklisted and sanctioned if they did not reveal information on tax avoidance and compile a register of offshore companies.” – The Times (£)

…as Labour leader unveils latest imposition on business: a month of paid paternity leave…

“Ed Miliband will today provoke another clash with business as he pledges to double the length of paid paternity leave – and guarantee fathers almost twice as much money. At present, paid paternity leave lasts two weeks, but the Labour leader wants to introduce what he will call a ‘father’s month’ by extending this to four. In addition, he will increase statutory paternity pay by more than £100 a week to at least £260 a week – the equivalent of the minimum wage – so more working fathers can afford to take time off.” – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Joe Storey in Comment: The root cause of the cost of living crisis is government

…and British offshore centres hit back over planned crackdown

MANIFESTO money“Britain’s offshore financial centres have hit back at a threat by the Labour opposition to put them on a tax haven blacklist, saying the attack is misinformed and likely to damage UK interests. Bermuda, Jersey and Guernsey reacted angrily to a planned crackdown unveiled by Ed Miliband, the Labour party leader, saying they had already done more than other countries to tackle the opaque corporate structures used in financial crime. A move against them would damage UK jobs and investment, they said.” – Financial Times

Blair pledges to help Miliband win

“Tony Blair has moved to end talk of a rift with Ed Miliband as he pledged to offer whatever support the Labour leader wants in the runup to the 7 May election. With Miliband under intense pressure after a succession of business leaders criticised his policies as bad for the country, the former prime minister made clear that he was ready to aid Miliband’s push to restore Labour to power. The Observer understands that talks between Labour officials and Blair’s office have been going on for weeks about the role he might play in the election campaign.” – The Guardian

  • Does Blair hope Ed will save his skin? – Peter McKay, Daily Mail

Almost 40 Labour MPs employ zero-hours contracts

LABOUR holes“Nearly 40 Labour MPs are employing staff on zero-hours contracts — despite leader Ed Miliband blasting bosses who use them. Karen Buck, a parliamentary private secretary to Mr Miliband, has six staff on the contracts, figures from Parliament watchdog IPSA show. The figures reveal 36 Labour MPs employed staff on casual contracts, which do not have a set minimum number of hours, in 2014.” – The Sun (£)

Tristram Hunt concedes that nuns can make excellent teachers

“Yesterday, he was repeatedly asked on the Andrew Marr Show whether nuns could be good teachers, but kept avoiding giving a direct answer until the host demanded for a seventh time that he answer the ‘very straightforward question’. The former TV historian eventually conceded: ‘I am sure there are brilliant teachers who are nuns who are doing a fantastic job.’” – Daily Mail

Farage attacks Rotherham MP who found it ‘hilarious’ when protesters shut him in UKIP office

UKIP glass“Despite promises from Nigel Farage that Ukip would be running a “positive” general election campaign, the party leader has been caught branding Labour MP Sarah Champion as a “disgraceful woman,” and joked about placing protesters outside her officers and shouting abusive slogans. Champion had accused Farage of rubber-necking victims of child abuse when he visited her scandal-hit constituency of Rotherham on Friday.” – The Independent

Trevor Kavanagh: Voters aren’t daft – Ed’s lead won’t last

“In fact the Tories are quite happy to be tucked in behind a clapped-out front-runner who is flagging before he even enters the home straight. Labour’s lead won’t last. It has already evaporated in some polls and is likely to disappear altogether just as Cameron is ready to kick up a gear. After five years of austerity, Tory strategists could not have hoped for a better run-up to this battle if they had choreographed it themselves.” – The Sun (£)

News in Brief

  • Thousands of Muslims rally in Whitehall against Charlie Hebdo – Daily Mail
  • Merkel seeks US help for Ukraine peace plan – The Times (£)
  • ‘Male dominated’ Westminster to display more artworks of women – Daily Telegraph
  • MPs call for ‘internet ASBOs’ to tackle anti-Semitism – Financial Times
  • Fears grow that Baltic states could be Putin’s next target – The Independent
  • UK faces deflation for the first time in over 50 years – Daily Mail