Osborne 1) Chancellor set to unveil major business rates review

OSBORNE non-broken sword“Consumers will see prices fall in shops across the country as George Osborne prepares to announce the biggest review of business rates “in a generation”. The Chancellor will use his Budget on Wednesday to announce a “radical” investigation of how to change the system which sees 1.8million business in England paying rates which experts have warned are “crippling” small firms. Any changes to the 400-year-old business rates system raise the prospect of prices in the shops falling as firms face less punishing charges.” – Daily Telegraph

Osborne 2) Critics of pension liberalisation condemned as ‘patronising’

“People warning that pensioners could “blow” their savings because of the government’s reforms to annuities rules are “patronising” Britain’s elderly population, George Osborne has said. The Chancellor will use his Budget on Wednesday to give five million pensioners with existing annuities the right to cash them in from April next year. It will give pensioners the same opportunity to access their retirement funds as Mr Osborne announced last year for people who had not already taken their pensions.” – Daily Telegraph

Osborne 3) Balls ambushes counterpart over Chancellors’ debate

BALLS attack dog“Ed Balls today ambushed George Osborne on live TV by forcing him to agree to take part in a head-to-head election debate on the economy. The Tories had tried to argue that they would not discuss the idea of a clash between the would-be Chancellors until the leaders’ debate had been resolved – which seems unlikely. But appearing together on BBC One, Mr Balls forced Mr Osborne to shake on the deal, raising the prospect that it could be the only televised election debate between the two parties before polling day.” – Daily Mail

Trevor Kavanagh: This week will decide the election

“Even in the good times, governments struggle to increase their majorities, so it was impossible to imagine the Conservatives grabbing the lead after five years of austerity. But even those pollsters who studied their charts and muttered about marginals are now beginning to see daylight between Dave and Red Ed. My friend Peter Kellner, whose YouGov poll appears daily in The Sun, thinks Labour is flagging at the most dangerous time. The clincher comes on Wednesday when George Osborne’s Budget breaks the opinion poll deadlock and allows the Tories to kick up a gear. “If the Chancellor’s budget goes down well, his party could gain enough extra support to govern in its own right,” says Kellner.” – The Sun (£)



Tusk describes Cameron’s ambitions for EU renegotiation as ‘mission impossible’

Camerons thinking copy“David Cameron’s quest to secure a new deal for Britain in Europe by reopening the EU treaties is virtually “mission impossible”, according to the key EU politician who will run the negotiations. But Donald Tusk, the president of the European council chairing the summits that will decide the answer to the British question, told the Guardian he will offer limited help to the prime minister in renegotiating the terms of the UK’s EU membership.” – The Guardian

Prime Minister could take part in ‘digital debate’

“Downing Street is considering delivering a blow to broadcasters’ including the BBC by taking part in a live internet debate on the eve of the general election campaign. David Cameron is considering saying that he will take part in a “digital debate” organised by The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and Google – which owns the YouTube video website. It follows a major row between Number 10 and the broadcasters after they threatened to “empty chair” the Prime Minister if he did not accept their demands for three debates in the weeks before the election.” – Daily Telegraph

Melanie Phillips: Montgomerie and Gove have flinched from the big problem

The Good Right“The Good Right understands that the old politics has fractured. But it flinches from addressing how, in undermining family, education and nation, that seismic cultural shift may, unless it is fought, inescapably damage the agenda of building resilient communities. Indeed, the Good Right agenda embraces the left’s doctrine of “equality of outcomes” as a means to combat discrimination. Yet this doctrine is inimical to justice and freedom by giving self-styled disadvantaged groups a free pass for socially destructive behaviour and stifling all criticism of them.” – The Times (£)

Housing benefit bill has risen since Coalition took office

“The figures from the Department of Work and Pensions show that the cost rose to £24.6-billion in 2013-2014, up from £22.99-billion when they took power in 2010, with nearly half a million more people relying on the state handout, bringing the total to around five million. Although Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said that in 2013-2014 alone, the bill had actually fallen – by £150-million for the first time in a decade.” – The Independent

Clarke derides ‘long term economic plan’ as ‘slogan’

CLARKE Ken older“Ken Clarke has appeared to ridicule David Cameron’s economic strategy, suggesting it is a mere “slogan”. “What they’ve got to do is build on this slogan that Downing Street insists on using – a ‘long term economic plan’,” the former Chancellor said, during a television interview on next week’s budget. Mr Clarke’s suggestion that the “long term economic plan” is anything less than a fully-formed fiscal blueprint is likely to irk Downing Street.” – Daily Telegraph

Guardian presses Shapps on second job…

“But since 2012 when pictures emerged of Shapps in 2004 at a $3,000-a-head US internet conference where he was photographed wearing a badge describing himself as “Michael Green” the MP consistently defended himself saying he had stopped being Green after he took his seat in the Commons. When confronted with the audio, which shows he was still operating as Green over a year after the 2005 general election, a Tory party spokesman said that Shapps now conceded “his writing career [as Green]… ended shortly after [becoming an MP].” – The Guardian

…but he claims that everything was properly declared

SHAPPS Grant favourite“Mr Shapps tweeted: ‘Old story: all properly declared at the time and all many years ago. Labour just hate business.’ A Conservative party spokesman said: ‘Like many authors and journalists, Grant wrote with a pen name. ‘This was completely transparent: his full name and biographical details were permanently published on the company’s main website.” – Daily Mail

Hague releases Government plans to celebrate VE Day anniversary

“Singer Dame Vera Lynn, the Forces’ Sweetheart who will be 98 on Friday, was among those who called on the Government to do more to mark what is likely to be the last major anniversary at which the generation that fought at home and abroad in the war is able to gather in strength. Last month David Cameron responded and asked Cabinet minister William Hague to draw up plans for three days of national commemorations, which he unveiled yesterday. Party leaders, senior royals, veterans and organisations whose members played a part in the war effort will gather on May 8 to mark a day of remembrance at the Cenotaph in London.” – Daily Mail

Mayor will spearhead Tory blitz in London

BORIS blue and red“Boris Johnson will be charged with blowing the Lib Dems out of London in the General Election campaign – the Sun can reveal. The Mayor of London will spearhead the Tory blitz to beat Shadow Business Secretary Vince Cable in Twickenham, and Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey in nearby Kingston. And senior party sources said the Tory high flyer would also lead the assault on two other Lib Dem strongholds, in Sutton and Carshalton, south London.” – The Sun (£)

Boris Johnson: Sign me up to fight ISIS and save our history

“Most people apparently don’t give a monkeys about Ashurnasirpal or Tiglath-Pileser, or the fate of their imperial palaces. At least, I assume they don’t much care – because otherwise I simply cannot understand the sickening silence and complacency with which we are absorbing news of this tragedy. There are all sorts of reasons why I loathe Islamic State (Isil). They commit crimes of hideous violence against living human beings – defenestrating gays, beheading minorities, raping women, and so on. But there is something about their assault on the history of the region – their moronic demolition of the past – that has filled me with a special blackness and despair.” – Daily Telegraph

  • No votes in defence? The Tories should be ashamed – Iain Martin, Daily Telegraph

>Today: Lord Ashcroft in Comment: Why we should all support a memorial for those who served in the Gulf Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan

SNP 1) Osborne and Balls refuse to rule out cooperating with minor parties

snplogo“Ed Balls and George Osborne have refused to rule out deals with minor parties after the General Election. The shadow chancellor refused eight times to rule out a deal with the Scottish National Party in May, saying merely that it is “nonsense”. Despite criticising Mr Balls, Mr Osborne refused to rule out a deal with the UK Independence Party.” – Daily Telegraph

>Today: Cllr Geoffrey Theobald in Local Government: Labour and the Green Party join together to push up Council Tax

SNP 2) Miliband vs Murphy as Labour hierarchy fall out over Nat pact

“Ed Miliband wants to rule out any form of post-election deal with the Scottish National Party (SNP), but is being blocked by Labour’s leader in Scotland, party sources indicated yesterday. Jim Murphy is understood to have argued that making such a firm pledge could backfire for the party on May 7 as it attempts to claw back tens of thousands of former Labour supporters from the SNP. The issue of Labour’s response to the prospect of Nicola Sturgeon’s party winning dozens of seats in the election has opened deep divisions within Labour ranks.” – The Independent

  • Labour contemplate ‘loose relationship’ with the SNP – The Guardian
  • Sturgeon claims SNP can be ‘benefit to Britain’ – The Times (£)
  • SNP set to shake up Westminster, claims Salmond – Financial Times
  • Why some Scottish Tories will vote Labour – Alan Cochrane, Daily Telegraph

Cruddas warns that Labour could ‘disintegrate’ over the next 15 years…

LABOUR dead rose“Asked whether the Labour Party might “not exist” within ten years, Mr Cruddas, a reknowned free-thinker, replied: “Yes, yes.” “There is no safe ground for any orthodox parties and the stakes could be high potentially. They could just disintegrate in real time. And I include in that the party that I represent.” May’s General Election could offer a breakthrough in Parliament to parties that were in the fringes five years ago: the Scottish National Party, the Greens and UKIP.” – Daily Telegraph

…as alarm bells ring in Midlands marginals

“Ed Miliband faces a shock in the Midlands — known as a bellwether for the election result — amid concerns that Labour is stretching resources too thinly across the region, local MPs have warned. The party is attempting to wrestle control of 20 marginal seats across the East and West Midlands. In the event of a hung parliament, failure here could deprive Labour of the chance to be the largest party.” – The Times (£)

Firms’ fury at proposal to force them to share profits…

MANIFESTO money“Businesses attacked Labour last night over plans to force companies to share profits with employees. Senior party figures are said to be considering a proposal to oblige all firms with more than 50 staff to set up a profit-sharing scheme. Workers would then be handed a regular cash sum based on their employers’ financial position. Labour last night said the idea was not official policy, although a shadow minister said it was being considered at the top of the party. But senior business leaders warned the plan would encourage employers not to take on staff. It is the latest in a string of damaging clashes between Labour and business leaders – who have lined up to predict that Ed Miliband is a potential ‘catastrophe’ for the country.” – Daily Mail

  • The PMs safe ideas are better than a party without any – Dan Hodges, Daily Telegraph

…as top donor warns tuition fee policy will hurt working class children

“Ed Miliband’s flagship tuition fees policy will destabilise British universities and disadvantage “working class children”, Labour’s biggest individual donor has said. John Mills told The Daily Telegraph that there are “redistributive problems” with cutting tuition fees to £6,000 a year and warned the policy could hurt Labour’s economic credibility. Mr Mills, the founder of shopping channel company JML, also said Mr Miliband’s lack of business backers would lose the party votes and said it would fall short of a majority.” – Daily Telegraph

Straw rebuffed by European official over lobbying attempt

EU FLag“Mr Straw told undercover reporters that he “got in to see the relevant director general” as part of an investigation by the Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches programme into politicians’ second jobs that saw him suspend himself from the Labour party whip. However, documents seen by The Telegraph revealed that Heinz Zourek, the director general he approached, replied he did not “feel the need to meet on this issue right now”. Mr Straw pursued the issue and was later granted a meeting with one of Mr Zourek’s subordinates.” – Daily Telegraph

Blair arranges £1 million donation to curb Unite’s influence

“Tony Blair helped broker a deal to secure a £1million donation designed to curb the influence of trade unions on Labour, it emerged today. The former prime minister reportedly hosted a dinner with Hull City boss Assem Allam to secure cash to plug a hole caused by the Unite union withdrawing support from Ed Miliband. It comes just days after a row erupted over Labour MPs rejecting £1,000 donations from the triple election winner.” – Daily Mail

  • Former PM steps back from Middle East role as he ‘lacks credibility’ – Daily Mail

Clegg insists the Lib Dems can win a second term in power…

CLEGG Bird“Nick Clegg insisted yesterday his party was ‘here to stay’ as he predicted the Liberal Democrats would defy the odds to serve a second term in government. Despite consistently dismal poll ratings, the Lib Dem leader claimed it would win more seats than forecast and could still hold office with fewer MPs. Attacking his Conservative coalition partners, he compared David Cameron to ‘Nigel Farage in a white tie’ and declared: ‘Cows moo, dogs bark – and Tories cut. It’s in their DNA.’” – Daily Mail

  • Learn from UK space programme and defy the odds, leader tells party – Daily Telegraph
  • Clegg’s speech delayed by auctioning of Alexander’s yellow budget briefcase – The Independent
  • Thumbs up from leader who may be taking a hike – Ann Treneman’s sketch, The Times (£)

…as leadership bid plunges party into ‘civil war’

“The Lib Dems descended into civil war yesterday as the former party president was savaged for launching a leadership campaign — hours before a Nick Clegg speech. Tim Farron vowed to bring the party “back from the dead” if chosen to replace Mr Clegg as leader after the Election. And the left-winger savaged his boss’s U-turn on tuition fees, adding: “Integrity is important.” The comments came as the Deputy PM prepared to issue a rallying cry to the party faithful at the Lib Dems’ Spring Conference in Liverpool.” – The Sun (£)

Farage claims he will resign if not returned to the Commons…

farageharl“Nigel Farage has said he will stand down as Ukip leader if he fails to win the South Thanet seat from the Conservatives. The 50-year-old politician admitted it would be ‘curtains for me’ – despite only being elected as Ukip leader for a further four-year term in November. Research has indicated he is on course for victory in South Thanet – but the Member of the European Parliament will have to overturn a Conservative majority of nearly 17 per cent.” – Daily Mail

  • It’s curtains for me if I lose South Thanet – Nigel Farage, Daily Telegraph
  • Reckless feared our phones were tapped and visited me in disguise – Nigel Farage, Daily Telegraph

…as he argues that new migrants should pay their way in education

“Nigel Farage has said that the children of migrants who come to Britain should not be able to attend state schools for five years. The Ukip leader said that he wanted the UK to be like “most countries in the world”, whereby newcomers had to pay their own way when it came to education and healthcare. He was asked about a policy on his party’s website that states: “Immigrants must financially support themselves and their dependants for five years. This means private health insurance (except emergency medical care), education and housing.”” – The Times (£)

Aker elusive in UKIP target Thurrock

UKIP glass“The bookmakers have this as Ukip’s third most likely win, behind Clacton and Nigel Farage’s own target seat of Thanet South. Yet there is something odd about Ukip’s campaign here. I had hoped to go canvassing with their candidate, Tim Aker: an innocent and routine request, never refused outright in my experience of nine general elections. There followed a series of weird conversations with an aggressive local press officer, Michael Heaver; unavailing appeals to Ukip headquarters; then offers to Mr Aker of alternative dates and finally to ask for comments, both unanswered.” – Matthew Engel, Financial Times

Where’s Putin? Day 11

“Vladimir Putin has admitted that he was ready to place his nuclear attack forces on alert when he seized Crimea a year ago. The Russian president’s revelation was aired in a pre-recorded TV interview broadcast at the end of last week…Yesterday’s interview came a full ten days after Putin was last seen in public, amid rumours of illness, a coup, or his Olympic gymnast ‘lover’ Alina Kabayeva giving birth to a child in Switzerland. He vanished soon after aides to one of his key allies were blamed for ordering the assassination of one of the Kremlin’s most outspoken critics, Boris Nemtsov.” – Daily Mail

  • Has the President simply caught the flu? – Daily Telegraph
  • Just where in the world is Vladimir Putin? – i100

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