Deploy Boris, urge nervous ‘senior Tories’

BORIS blue and red‘David Cameron is facing calls to place Boris Johnson centre-stage in the election campaign amid mounting concerns among senior Tory figures that the party needs a more positive message…“We need to appeal to people’s hearts as well,” said one minister. “That is the bit that is missing at the moment.” Mr Johnson told The Times that the Tories were capable of reaching voters “in any community, in any constituency in this country”.’ – The Times (£)

>Yesterday: Stephen Tall’s column: Some farewell advice

Rifkind to leave Parliament in May

‘Tory grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind is to quit as an MP after being caught up in the ‘cash for access’ scandal. The former foreign secretary was filmed by undercover reporters after bragging that he could see any foreign ambassador in London and has ‘useful access’ to every British ambassador in the world.’ – Daily Mail

  • Cracknell, Snow, Paxman…who might replace him? – Daily Mail
  • Downing Street’s role in sealing his fate – The Times (£)
  • No 10 speaking to possible successors – The Sun (£)


UK set to ‘break NATO defence spending’ target of 2 per cent

DEFENCE cuts‘Britain will break a Nato pledge on defence spending within two years, George Osborne has secretly conceded. Despite dodging the controversial issue in public, The Sun can reveal the Chancellor has told David Cameron the Government’s cash for the military will drop below two per cent of our annual national income by 2017. Top brass now have serious fears that they could be left unable to counter the growing twin threats of Russian imperialism and Islamic extremism.’ – The Sun (£)

  • British training troops head to Ukraine – Daily Mail
  • Kremlin propagandists ramp up the rhetoric – FT
  • North Korea heading for 100 nuclear weapons – Daily Telegraph
  • 100 Army horses put down in six years – Daily Express



Osborne should finish the job, says the OECD

‘George Osborne deserves a “pat on the back” for Britain’s economic recovery and should be allowed to “finish the job”, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has said. In a ringing endorsement for the government’s handling of the recovery, the OECD said that Britain was a “textbook” example of how to restore growth and fix the public finances.’ – The Times (£)

>Today: Francis Maude MP on Comment: What we’ve done to improve value for money in government. And what we plan to do next.

NHS budget to be devolved to Manchester councils

NHS‘Greater Manchester is to be handed control of its entire £6bn NHS budget, the M.E.N. can reveal. The surprise decision – a national first – represents a quarter of the region’s public spending budget and is the latest wave of devolution. From April 2016, Chancellor George Osborne wants to give town hall bosses and local health leaders powers over every penny spent on public health; social care; GP services; mental health; and acute and community care.’ – Manchester Evening News

  • New fears that Hinchingbrooke Hospital was stitched up – Daily Mail
  • GPs’ weekend opening pilots reduce pressure on A&E – Daily Telegraph
  • £9.3 million cost of sending cancer patients abroad for treatment – The Sun (£)
  • Mitochondrial donation legalised – FT
  • 200 hundred eye appointments cancelled every day in Wales – WalesOnline
  • Conservative MP says astrology opponents are ‘racist’ – The Sun (£)

>Yesterday: To The Point: The NHS privatisation that Parliament should be discussing

Cameron: We should have cut benefits for migrants faster

‘The PM was asked by MPs about what lessons he would draw from the Government’s failure to hit its net migration target. Giving evidence to the Commons liaison committee he said: ‘The biggest lesson I would learn is we need to act more rapidly on the financial draw to Britain. I think that the way the tax credit system and benefit systems work to make Britain a massive draw – not only because we’re creating so many jobs but also the financial draw – we needed to act on that faster.” – Daily Mail

  • Carswell denies rift with Farage over immigration – The Guardian

IDS: Do more to keep over-55s in work

idspic‘Britain cannot afford to continue consigning millions of over-55s to the ‘scrapheap’, Iain Duncan Smith will say today. The Work and Pensions Secretary will urge bosses to do more to keep older workers, saying there is no such thing as a fixed retirement age.’ – Daily Mail

  • Pension reforms ‘not ready’ – FT
  • As the old get better off, the young struggle – Daily Mail
  • Public Accounts Committee’s concerns about Universal Credit – FT
  • Labour parliamentary candidate quits after receiving excessive benefits – The Sun (£)

Ministers declare war on cold callers

‘Companies that plague people with unsolicited cold calls face fines of up to £500,000 as part of a wide-ranging clampdown to be announced today. Rules will be rewritten to ensure that it is easier for companies making nuisance phone calls and texts to be punished. Their executives could also be held liable for the fines under plans drawn up by the government.’ – The Times (£)

Truss pledges to continue badger cull as bovine TB falls

Badger‘Thousands more badgers would be shot to protect cattle from tuberculosis if the Conservatives won the general election, Liz Truss, the environment secretary, promised farmers yesterday. Her commitment to extend culling to more counties came as evidence emerged that trial culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire had substantially reduced TB in cattle.’ – The Times (£)

Natalie Bennett apologises for “mind blank” in disastrous interview

‘The Green party leader was lambasted yesterday for a “car crash” interview in which she failed to answer basic questions about party policy. Natalie Bennett said later that she had suffered a “mind blank” but conceded that it had been an “excruciating” performance.’ – The Times (£)


>Yesterday: WATCH: Sky News on Bennett’s ‘car crash’ interview

Most British Muslims oppose attacks on cartoonists (but a quarter have ‘some sympathy’)

Charlie Hebdo Cover‘The majority of British Muslims oppose violence against people who publish images depicting the Prophet Muhammad, a poll for the BBC suggests. The survey also indicates most have no sympathy with those who want to fight against Western interests. But 27% of the 1,000 Muslims polled by ComRes said they had some sympathy for the motives behind the Paris attacks.’ – BBC News

In-fighting strikes Greek Government after climbdown for EU cash

‘Greece won agreement for a four-month extension of its cash lifeline yesterday after abandoning key policy promises on which the ruling party swept to power and amid warnings that the country would need “further support” in only a few months…there were signs of a backlash among supporters and members of Syriza, the ruling left-wing party, with reports of a stormy cabinet meeting yesterday as ministers learnt details of the compromises.’ – The Times (£)

  • New EU rules on golf buggies and mobility scooters – The Times (£)

>Today: The Deep End: Our politicians don’t understand risk – and the same may be true of the experts who advise them

News in Brief

  • Teenage pregnancies are at record lows – The Times Leader (£)
  • Argentina issues new Falklands banknote – The Sun (£)
  • Judge spotted driving seized Porsche – Daily Telegraph
  • Row over Inside the Commons swearing claims – Daily Mail
  • Tasers drawn on 400 children a year – BBC News
  • A new pill drastically reduces the risk of HIV infection – The Times (£)
  • MI5 spies to give evidence in wigs – The Independent
  • Cruel for rats – gerbils actually caused the Black Death – Daily Mail
  • 920,000 voters ‘missing’ from the electoral register – The Sun (£)
  • IPCC chief resigns amid harassment allegations – The Times (£)