Debates 1) Downing Street claims victory, Miliband lines up with minnows

Miliband coffee“Downing Street was last night claiming victory in the battle over the Election TV debates after Ed Miliband was forced to line up with the minnow parties on a ‘night of the non-entities’. Labour reacted with fury when the broadcasters announced – after weeks of wrangling – that neither David Cameron nor Nick Clegg would be invited to the second debate on April 16. Only the non-governing parties will feature, meaning Mr Miliband will appear with the leaders of Ukip, the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru” – Mail on Sunday

  • Cameron “blocked Clegg from TV debate” – Observer


Debates 2) Cameron gets man to play Sturgeon

“The wrangling over the debates has finally finished and David Cameron is now preparing for the one, seven-way debate on April 2. On Wednesday afternoon, after the Budget, he had his first full practice session. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, was there to play Nick Clegg again… Perhaps the hardest person to find a Tory match for was the Scottish Nationalist Leader Nicola Sturgeon. She ended up being represented by Andrew Dunlop, Cameron’s point man on Scotland” – James Forsyth, Mail on Sunday

Paterson: Britain is letting America down by defence cuts

PATERSON OWEN NW“A Cabinet minister sacked by David Cameron will lead a new battle to stop further cuts to the Armed Forces this week, amid warnings that Britain will be unable to defend itself if funding falls again. Owen Paterson, who is seen as the standard-bearer for the Tory Right-wing, will use a major speech in America to accuse the government of ‘succumbing to temptation’ to outsource national defence to the European Union and Nato” – Sunday Telegraph


Tories revive Thatcher’s right-to-buy

“David Cameron will reinvent Margaret Thatcher’s right-to-buy housing scheme with a ‘big doorstep offer’ in the Conservative manifesto to working-class voters. Downing Street sources say the prime minister is backing a plan by Iain Duncan Smith to let housing association tenants buy their homes at a discount price — an effort to revive the property-owning democracy that took the Tories to election victory in the 1980s. Since right-to-buy was set up in 1980, more than 2m council houses have been sold, but current rules make it difficult for those in housing associations to buy their homes” – The Sunday Times (£)

Two polls show Labour ahead, one shows the Tories in front

ballot_box“The Survation poll carried out for The Mail on Sunday shows Labour on 34 points, the Tories on 30, Ukip on 17 and the Lib Dems on ten… But when voters are asked to choose between Cameron and Miliband, Cameron wins by 42 per cent to 33… Australian-born Election guru Lynton Crosby has been criticised by Ministers including Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith for ‘lack of vision’. But the poll suggests that his strategy, which relies on a late pro-Tory swing by voters worried that Labour will wreck the recovery, could yet work” – Mail on Sunday

  • Labour has two-point lead – the verdict will only come on May 7 – Sunday Times editorial (£)
  • Tories take three-point lead over Labour in Opinium/Observer poll – Observer
  • How did Osborne the failure become the people’s favourite? – Andrew Rawnsley, Observer
  • Bring on a minority government – it may get some work done – Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times (£)
  • The big budget surprise was happy George walking into Labour’s trap – Damian McBride, Sunday Times (£)
  • Morgan says poor children still face “soft bigotry of low expectations” – Independent on Sunday

Cameron: Labour would make us as bad as France

“Three years ago, Ed Miliband dashed over to Paris and said he wanted…us to follow the same path as the new French government. But where has that path led? Unemployment over the Channel is almost twice what it is in the UK. Our economy is growing seven times faster than France’s. Imagine if Miliband had been free to pursue his French dream: the fallout would be felt in catastrophic job losses” – David Cameron, Sunday Times (£)

Tory candidate suspended after plotting fake EDL demo

Afzal Amin“A key Tory Election candidate was suspended last night after plotting with far-Right extremists to stir up racial hatred in a cynical bid to win votes. Afzal Amin hatched a scheme to persuade the English Defence League to announce an inflammatory march against a new £18million ‘mega-mosque’. But – as he revealed in secretly filmed footage obtained by The Mail on Sunday – the plan was that the demonstration would never actually go ahead. And when the phoney rally was called off, the fiercely ambitious Amin, a Muslim, intended to take credit for defusing the situation – winning over voters, and police, in the marginal seat of Dudley North” – Mail on Sunday

  • Shapps faces legal action from constituent – Observer

Clegg told Lib Dem donor how to remain anonymous

“Nick Clegg has been dragged into a party funding scandal after telling a potential donor, who later gave £10,000, that gifts could be split over two years to ensure he remained anonymous. The Liberal Democrat leader had been told that the businessman did not want to stick his head ‘too far above the parapet’ and was considering involving his family in making party donations. He subsequently gave a potentially illegal donation via a proxy donor” – Sunday Times (£)

SNP membership officially passes 100,000

Nicola Sturgeon“Membership of the SNP has officially passed 100,000, giving the party a massive campaigning advantage as it enters a potentially historic General Election.The vast army of foot soldiers means the SNP heads towards May 7 as the third-largest party in the UK – twice the size of the LibDems, two-thirds the size of the Tories, and half the size of Labour…The latest polls suggest the SNP, which currently has six MPs, could win more than 50 of the 59 Westminster seats in Scotland” – Sunday Herald

Field complains that Green activist tried to photograph him after heart attack

“Labour MP Frank Field has complained angrily to Green Party leader Natalie Bennett over claims a Green protester tried to photograph him after he had a heart attack. There were fears for veteran campaigner Field’s life when he collapsed at a rowdy meeting in his Birkenhead constituency last weekend. Field, 72, recovered after being taken to hospital. But Labour supporters claim Green activist Colin Dow tried to photograph him as he lay on the floor unconscious waiting for an ambulance” – Mail on Sunday

Nine British medical students go to work for Islamic State

ISIS“Nine young British medical students have travelled illegally to Syria and are believed to be working in hospitals in Islamic State-controlled areas, the Observer can reveal. Their families were mounting a desperate effort on Saturday at the Turkish-Syrian border to persuade them to come home. The group of four women and five men crossed the border last week, apparently keeping their plans secret from relatives until just before entering Syria, when one woman sent her sister a brief message and a smiling selfie” – Observer

News in brief

  • Richard III’s bones taken today to Bosworth and Leicester – Mail on Sunday
  • Scottish fishing boat “catches Russian submarine” – Sunday Telegraph
  • Ireland pips England in Six Nations championship – Sunday Times (£)
  • Guardian appoints Katharine Viner as editor-in-chief – Guardian
  • Bamber Gascoigne accidentally inherits country house – Sunday Telegraph