Cameron: I’ll prevail in my European Mission Impossible…

CAMERON EU fence“David Cameron today compared himself to action hero Tom Cruise in his mission to overhaul Britain’s relationship with Europe. … The Prime Minister said a Tory victory in the General Election would give him a ‘very powerful mandate’ to win sweeping reforms and insisted it was possible. … It came after Donald Tusk, the Polish president of the European Council which represents EU leaders, said rewriting the EU treaties to curb migration would be ‘close to Mission Impossible’ for Mr Cameron.” – Daily Mail

  • “The toughest sanctions against Russia over its actions in Ukraine moved closer to collapse after European leaders failed to agree on extending them ahead of schedule.” – The Times (£)

…and I’ll protect the NHS

“David Cameron pledged to protect the NHS – as a new Labour election poster accused the Conservatives of planning to cut it ‘to the bone’. … Mr Balls said the spending plans set out in George Osborne’s Budget would mean around £7billion would have to be cut from the health service. … But speaking to The Sun, Mr Cameron rejected the Labour claims. … He said: ‘You know what you get from me, a Prime Minister who cares about the NHS deeply and will never see it cut under my leadership.'” – The Sun (£)

  • “Despite cuts, people seem generally content with public services. Judicious use of taxpayers’ money is better than free spending.” – Times editorial (£)
  • “Both parties need to come clean on cuts.” – Paul Johnson, The Times (£)

How some Tory MPs are planning to save Dave

Television“Supporters of David Cameron are contacting loyalists to ask them to form a ‘praetorian guard’ to take to the airwaves in support of the prime minister immediately after the general election if the Tories fail to secure a decisive lead in parliamentary seats. … Amid fears that at least two members on the 1922 Committee executive are planning to set in motion the unseating of Cameron on the weekend after the election, the loyalists are being told they will need to move quickly to save him.” – The Guardian

But will Dave need saving? Matthew Parris thinks the Tories are set to win well

“I think the Tories are going to win, and win well. … By ‘well’ I mean leaving Labour trailing so badly that the election is seen on all sides as having given only the Conservative party any right to govern. In such a climate the Tories — even if short of a majority — should find that an understanding with the Liberal Democrat or Democratic Unionist parties, or both, is easily within their reach.” – Matthew Parris, The Times (£)

Boris urges his party to spread the Right to Buy

boris-johnson“Boris Johnson has thrown his support behind plans to give council houses to tenants in return for coming off benefits, and warned the Tories not to ‘shrug their shoulders’ at growing inequality. … Millions of workers would be given their houses in return for staying in employment in a massive revival of the ‘right to buy’ policy being championed by Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary. … With David Cameron still thinking about whether to include the radical proposal in the Conservative manifesto, the London mayor urged bravery.” – The Times (£)

  • “A mother of five who was made homeless and had her children taken away because she refused to move to Milton Keynes has won a landmark Supreme Court battle.” – The Independent

> Today: ToryDiary – Warriors for the dispossessed shouldn’t forget the actual dispossessed

May drops new rules around universities and extremist speakers

MAY Home Office big“The home secretary, Theresa May, has been forced to drop new statutory rules under which ministers could order universities and colleges to ban external extremist speakers. … It is also now likely that the publication of a long-awaited official counter-extremism strategy will be shelved until after the general election as a result of what is said to have been the last remaining big row within the coalition. … A report reviewing the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain has also been shelved until after the election.” – The Guardian

  • “An academy trust once lauded by former education secretary Michael Gove has been served with a financial notice warning from the Department for Education in the latest of a number of embarrassing developments.” – The Guardian

A consensus around gender neutral passports?

“Gender neutral passports could soon be a reality after Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said she would consider introducing them if Labour wins the election. … The move is already backed by the Liberal Democrats, who have been working on proposals but have had their efforts blocked by the Conservatives. … But a Tory minister said she would also like to review ‘Gender X’ passports, suggesting there could soon be cross-party backing for the idea.” – Independent on Sunday

The small print for Osborne’s new, simpler tax system…

Tax Take“Taxpayers who file late returns face draconian fines of up to £2,000 in a shake-up buried in government documents. … Officials want to ditch the automatic £100 penalty for missing the deadline in favour of a points system similar to the one used to punish motorists. … The points would be registered on the new digital tax accounts unveiled by George Osborne in his Budget speech on Wednesday.” – Daily Mail

  • “Hundreds of thousands of pension savers affected by pensions reform remain unable to arrange free government guidance on their options just weeks before the changes are due to come into force.” – Financial Times
  • “George Osborne received a treble boost yesterday – as shares hit a record high, government borrowing tumbled, and the Tories saw a modest ‘Budget bounce’ in the polls.” – Daily Mail

And comment:

  • “The FTSE 100’s recovery will help the economy.” – Allister Heath, Daily Telegraph

> Yesterday:

…as the Government prepares to introduce new, simpler driving licences

“The paper section of the two-part UK driving licence is to be scrapped within weeks under Government plans to make life simpler for motorists. … It marks the end of the 17-year-old two-part licensing scheme which requires drivers to carry both a credit-card-sized photo-card, together with an accompanying green paper counterpart which lists any penalty points or endorsements.” – Daily Mail

Janan Ganesh: Osborne’s secret weapon is his monstrously inept adversaries

OSBORNE ConHome“And so Mr Osborne breezes on, now fully 20 points ahead of Ed Balls, his opposite number, on perceived economic competence. A rivalry that was meant to be as compelling and hard-fought as Holmes and Moriarty tussling over the Reichenbach Falls actually fizzled out long ago. … Labour has burnt time and credibility sticking up for the economic reputation of a government that Britons voted out in 2010.” – Janan Ganesh, Financial Times

De Bois tells the police not to turn a blind eye to crime

“Police have been accused of creating a ‘charter for criminals’ with a scheme that allows officers to ignore low-value offences. … The powers mean they can dismiss a crime if the investigation cost outweighs the value of the item stolen or damaged. … Nick De Bois, Tory MP of the Justice Select Committee, said the disposals send ‘a signal that crime is OK and will be tolerated at a certain level’, adding: ‘If we let this take root then we are looking at criminal justice from the wrong end of the telescope.’” – Daily Mail

Clegg: I’m more anti-establishment now than I was five years ago

CLEGG Bird“Nick Clegg has told the Guardian he’s more anti-establishment now than he was five years ago and taken a swipe at ‘populist’ parties such as the Scottish National party and Ukip. … In the latest in a series of Guardian interviews with leaders ahead of the general election, the deputy prime minister said he wouldn’t rule out a coalition with Labour and the SNP but described the prospect as ‘a recipe for insomnia and political instability’.” – The Guardian

  • “Alex Salmond’s new book about the independence referendum is the ‘longest exercise in literary masturbation since politics began’, Paddy Ashdown has said in an outspoken attack on its smug tone.” – Daily Telegraph
  • “Paddy Ashdown has conceded that the Scottish National party has taken a lead over the Liberal Democrats in many of the party’s key seats, forcing the Lib Dems to rely on tactical voting to survive.” – The Guardian

Lib Dem peer resigns over donation allegations

“A Liberal Democrat peer has resigned from the party and the Electoral Commission has begun an investigation into claims that he accepted a potentially illegal donation. … Paul Strasburger said he had been informed that the allegations would be made against him in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme due to be aired on Monday and that he had referred the allegations against himself to the authority.” – The Guardian

Labour’s hedge fund donor

UK notes and coins“One of Labour’s biggest private donors is a wealthy hedge fund boss whose identity the party has repeatedly refused to reveal. … Martin Taylor, who has held at least one private meeting with Ed Miliband, has been unmasked as the mystery benefactor who has given the party almost £600,000 in three years. … The revelation will provoke accusations of hypocrisy against the Labour leader, who has attacked the Tories for being ‘the party of Mayfair hedge funds’.” – The Times (£)

  • “Guy Hands, a tax exile and one of Britain’s top private equity investors, has emerged as the controlling party behind a property business that has evicted dozens of families, many of whom were previously homeless.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “Some Hedge Fund Managers do support the Labour Party.” – Martin Taylor, The Independent

Miliband tries to woo small businesses

MILIBAND Red Ed“Britain’s three leading parties were in Birmingham for the annual Federation of Small Businesses conference on Friday, wooing the votes of small company owners, who employ half of all those people in work in Britain. … [Miliband] promised to cut business rates for small companies as soon as he took office after the general election and freeze rates for the following year. Mr Osborne offered a review of the system, reporting in 2017.” – Financial Times

  • “Ed Miliband complained in person to George Osborne after the chancellor used his budget speech to mock the Labour leader over the two kitchens at his north London home, according to Tory sources.” – The Guardian

Britain has turned leftwards – but can Labour’s leader make the most of it?

“Opinion has swung to the Left since the last election – but Ed Miliband lacks the credentials to take advantage of it, a major report revealed yesterday. … Political attitudes have now returned to the same point as 2005 when Tony Blair secured the last of his three election wins for Labour. … But the party still ‘struggles to attract support’ despite the shift in the public mood, according to detailed analysis of the latest British Social Attitudes Survey.” – Daily Mail

  • “Labour could lose all but five of its 40 Scots MPs, according to a new bombshell opinion poll.” – The Sun (£)

“You have an obligation to your children to get on with it.” Dan Jarvis, interviewed in the Times

Dan Jarvis“Admired by many Conservative MPs, as well as his Labour colleagues, Mr Jarvis would be a difficult opponent to attack. Having spent the time when Labour was last in power fighting for his country, he is untainted by the party’s past. … Mr Jarvis’s decision to go into politics came after his first wife Caroline, died of cancer, in 2010 leaving him to look after two children, then aged five and seven. “As a single parent you do not have the luxury of going off the rails. You have an obligation to your children to get on with it, so I did,” he says.” – The Times (£)

McCluskey: Unions cannot be expected to obey “oppressive” strike laws

“Militant union boss Len McCluskey has warned that his activists will break the law if the Tories curb the right to strike after the election. … In an extraordinary move, which was condemned by ministers, the Unite general-secretary said he was seeking to change the giant union’s constitution to authorise illegal action. … Mr McCluskey, whose union has given Ed Miliband more than £14 million, said union members could not be expected to obey ‘oppressive’ laws that restrict the right to strike.” – Daily Mail

  • “Trade unions would be able to hold online ballots before strikes and to elect their leaders under plans drawn up by Vince Cable, the Business Secretary.” – The Independent

Farage loses three UKIP candidates in 24 hours

UKIP glass“The Ukip leader was left ‘deeply shocked’ after suspending MEP Janice Atkinson over allegations that her staff had concocted bogus expenses claims. … Hours later the party confirmed a second senior figure, the party’s candidate for Scunthorpe Stephen Howd, had been suspended following an ‘alleged incident at his workplace’. … The final blow came when the party’s candidate for Westmorland and Lonsdale, Jonathan Stanley, sensationally quit claiming he was sick of the ‘open racism and bullying’ in the party.” – Daily Mail

  • “Nigel Farage has admitted that the UK Independence party manifesto may not be published until 15 to 18 days before the general election, confessing that he finds Ukip’s lack of policies in certain areas ‘scary’.” – Financial Times
  • “The Ukip leader described ring-fencing the NHS budget as ‘nonsense’, suggesting he would favour making cuts to the beleaguered health service, despite a £2 billion black hole in funding.” – The Independent

Finally, the election debates may have got the go-ahead

“Televised election debates are poised to get the go-ahead after Labour agreed to abandon its demand for a head-to-head confrontation. … Labour sources confirmed that it was likely to sign up to a new format in which David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg would each take part in 30-minute Question Time-style appearances a week before polling day. … The only debate will be a seven-way discussion between the leaders of Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib Dems, Ukip, the Green party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru on April 2.” – The Times (£)

Former MI6 chief lambasts the party leaders for their defence policy

DEFENCE cuts“David Cameron and Ed Miliband’s failure to commit to NATO’s defence spending target is ‘shocking’, a former MI6 chief has said. … Sir Richard [Dearlove] told Prospect Magazine: ‘I am shocked by the apparent reluctance of political leadership in this country not to make an absolutely clear commitment to increase defence spending to a real 2 per cent of GDP, and perhaps to spend above that limit. … That it should be seen as politically toxic is depressing.'” – The Sun (£)

> Today: Mark Fox on Comment – The Royal Navy is Britain’s most effective means of promoting and defending itself

Aid money left languishing in the bank

“Billions of pounds of British aid money is languishing unspent in the bank, MPs warn today. … In a highly critical report, the Commons international development committee says ministers wrote out huge cheques to a series of major aid agencies like the World Bank as they scrambled to meet David Cameron’s controversial target to spend billions more on aid. … But although the money has been promised, and counts towards meeting the UK’s aid target, much of it will not be spent for years.” – Daily Mail

Digi-roads for Britain

Pothole“Britain’s road network is to be brought into the modern age with wifi that can beam traffic information into cars, solar-powered noise barriers and new digital sensors that can monitor congestion. … The plans — included in a Highways Agency strategy document — are part of the biggest investment in Britain’s roads since the 1970s and come amid complaints about poor road quality and the government’s stop-start approach to funding.” – Financial Times

  • “An ambitious scheme to build a £100m-plus cable car system that would zip commuters and visitors around Cardiff is being investigated by the Welsh city’s investment arm.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “A better transport network is good but not enough.” – Guardian editorial

Five teenage girls “interested in going to Syria” banned from leaving the UK

“Five teenage girls who expressed an interest in travelling to Syria have been banned from leaving the country by a high court judge. … The move came after concerns were raised by the local council about the girls, two of whom were aged 15 and three of them 16. … At a hearing in London, Mr Justice Hayden made them wards of court, which prevents them from leaving the jurisdiction of England and Wales.” – The Guardian

  • “Islamic State has released its most detailed instructions for western jihadists and would-be brides on how to slip into Syria without being caught.” – The Times (£)
  • “A teenager who was arrested on a London street carrying a knife and hammer in his bag and said he was en route to behead a soldier has been jailed for 22 years.” – The Guardian

And comment:

  • “Muslims need to face up to the violence of the Koran.” – Gavin Ashenden, The Times (£)

Sun journalists cleared of wrongdoing

150321 The Sun“Four top Sun journalists were cleared of wrongdoing yesterday as a solar eclipse smiled on Britain. … In jubilant scenes, they were found not guilty following a ten-week trial at the Old Bailey — and three years after they were arrested. … MPs from across the political divide last night heaped pressure on prosecutors over the verdict. … And Commons Home Affairs committee boss Keith Vaz insisted the Crown Prosecution Service must learn lessons after the acquittal.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Activists associated with the Occupy protest movement are planning a mock “arrest” of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, they have said.” – The Independent
  • “A Sky News reporter has told an inquest he was ‘devastated’ when he heard that an alleged internet ‘troll’ accused of abusing the parents of Madeleine McCann had killed herself two days after he exposed her on television.” – Daily Telegraph

And comment:

  • “Four decent, honest Sun men were cleared yesterday by a jury of ordinary people who showed the Metropolitan Police what it is to have an ounce of common sense.” – Sun editorial (£)
  • “Justice demands that the police and Crown Prosecution Service – who have spent £36.1million and counting – should now bring this sorry farce to a close.” – Daily Mail editorial
  • “This madness has to end.” – Daily Telegraph editorial
  • “Enough.” – Times editorial (£)

News in brief

  • Photos of yesterday’s solar eclipse – Daily Mail
  • A former chief constable on the “sinister cover-up” of Cyril Smith’s crimes – Daily Mail
  • Katharine Viner appointed Guardian editor – Financial Times
  • Suicide bomb kills 126 in Yemen mosque attack – Financial Times
  • Economic system has “enormous shortcomings”, says Prince Charles – The Guardian
  • Pope Francis accepts Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien’s resignation – The Guardian

And finally 1) Guido and the Stig

Guido Fawkes“A Stig lookalike has delivered a petition to the BBC with almost one million signatures calling for Jeremy Clarkson’s return to Top Gear. … He pulled into the London headquarters armed with the names of 995,045 supporters – standing on a tank with its gun aimed at the corporation. … The petition, organised by Sun columnist and blogger Guido Fawkes, was launched a week ago.” – The Sun (£)

  • “Jeremy Clarkson blasted the “f***ing b*****ds” at the BBC last night before setting up one final lap of the Top Gear track.” – The Sun (£)

And finally 2) Cameron’s kitchen

“Very rarely do I feel sorry for David Cameron, but seeing him sitting alone in his unnervingly perfect kitchen, eating nothing but a sardine sandwich for lunch, made me want to rush home from work, garnish a bird with streaky rashers, stick it in the oven at gas mark 7, and head over to Downing Street with a juicy roast chicken.” – Matthew Norman, The Independent

And finally 3) Girl aloud

Cheryl“Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, the pop star, has disclosed how she may avoid voting Labour for the first time in her life because the proposed mansion tax would ‘f— her over’. … Fernandez-Versini, the X Factor judge who married last year, has joined a host of celebrities protesting against the tax, which would affect people who own houses worth more than two million pounds.” – Daily Telegraph

Read the Telegraph’s interview with Fernandez-Versini in full

And finally 4) Major fashion icon

“The Major suit, and by extension the boring grey suit in politics, had become shorthand for constancy, security and tradition, in a changing world. For the wearer, it was a way of conveying that he had no time for vanity or the fripperies of fashion; his loyalty was to the company, the party, the cause – the people, even.” – Michael Collins, The Independent

  • “Look at almost any photo of David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband together. They’re all wearing the same suit. Or at least, the same colour. Exactly the same colour. It’s eerie.” – Michael Deacon, Daily Telegraph