Security 1) Cameron hopes to hit NATO defence target without spending any more

DEFENCE cuts‘David Cameron has asked ministers to investigate if the intelligence agencies budget can be counted as “defence spending”, as Downing Street eyes creative accountancy to head off US criticism of military spending. Amid anxiety in Washington that Britain’s defence budget will soon fall below Nato’s target of 2 per cent of gross domestic product, Mr Cameron has asked whether he can boost it without actually spending more money.’ – FT

  • The Prime Minister accuses generals of seeking publicity – The Sun (£)
  • Sweden cancels military deal with Saudi – FT
  • Britain threatens to publish Putin’s financial secrets – The Times (£)
  • Eurosceptics help Russia, claim Labour – The Guardian
  • The foreign aid law is a costly stunt – Ian Birrell, Daily Telegraph


>Yesterday: David Davis MP on Comment: We must fund the Armed Forces Britain needs

Security 2) Hammond: stop giving excuses for extremists

‘Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond today condemned terror apologists who ‘seek to excuse’ ISIS extremists including Jihadi John. He used speech in London to hit out at the likes of campaign group Cage, which claimed that it was MI5’s attempts to recruit Mohammed Emwazi that led to him becoming radicalised and emerge as Jihadi John. Mr Hammond condemned critics who try to ‘excuse’ the terrorists by pointing the finger of blame at the security services.’ – Daily Mail

Osborne’s pension reforms could spark a house price boom

Osborne-Headshot3‘New pension freedoms could spark a property boom this year as the over-55s cash in their retirement savings and invest in the housing market. From April 6, anyone aged over 55 will be allowed to withdraw all or part of their pension and spend it as they wish – rather than being forced to buy an annuity. Experts believe this will lead to a rise in ‘silver landlords’, as people use their pensions to invest in buy-to-let properties.’ – Daily Mail


Helping troubled families has saved £1 billion

‘The Government has saved £1billion by turning around the lives of over 105,000 of England’s worst behaved families, Eric Pickles has declared. Unveiling the huge milestone, the Communities Minister praised the “life changing” efforts of the programme – which proved “tough love” worked. And he vowed to invest a further £200million in widening the scheme to help 400,000 more families between now and 2020.’ – The Sun (£)

  • Turning around people’s lives? Priceless – The Sun Says (£)

Morgan plans life lessons for digital children

MORGAN Nicky headshot‘In a speech to a Conservative think-tank, the Education secretary said sexualised images on the internet, bullying and incidents of “revenge porn” are creating “unimaginable” pressures for young children. Schools must start doing more to help pupils help youngsters to “manage their lives” and “stay safe”, Mrs Morgan said.’ – Daily Telegraph

Eighty-five Conservative MPs may rebel on plain packaging

‘Scores of Tory MPs are set to vote against “unConservative” plans to force tobacco manufacturers to sell cigarettes in plain packets in the House of Commons on Wednesday. However they will be unable to stop the ban on advertising on cigarette packets coming into law without a debate by MPs in the Commons.’ – Daily Telegraph

Duncan accuses Hodge of ‘bullying’ PAC witnesses

Sir Alan Duncan‘A senior Tory has accused Margaret Hodge, the Labour chair of the public accounts committee, of bringing parliament into disrepute by being “abusive and bullying” towards senior HSBC executives when they appeared before her panel. Sir Alan Duncan, a former international development minister, called on Hodge to apologise after she demanded that Rona Fairhead quit or be sacked as chair of the BBC Trust over her role as an independent director at HSBC.’ – The Guardian

Bercow compares McVey to a washing machine

‘House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has been accused of sexism after likening a female minister to a kitchen appliance…Miss McVey was answering a question on mental health, Mr Bercow interjected to ask her to hurry up. He said: ‘I am reminded of the feeling when one thinks the washing machine will stop — but it does not!” – Daily Mail

TPA spending plan calls for DECC, BIS and DCMS to be abolished

tpalogo‘Three Whitehall departments should be abolished during the next parliament so the government can balance the books, a report recommends. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, along with most of their agencies should be scrapped, says the TaxPayers’ Alliance. The think-tank and pressure group, which campaigns for a low tax society, published its spending plan for 2015-20 yesterday.’ – The Times (£)

  • The report urges reform of the Barnett Formula – WalesOnline
  • Darling calls for non-dom status to be scrapped for the super-rich – The Times (£)

>Today: Ryan Bourne’s column: The second urgent election issue on which the parties are silent. Where will they make most of their cuts?

Lord Grade attacks broadcasters for ‘playing politics’ with debates

‘Their behaviour over the election debates leads me to believe they suddenly have grossly inflated and misguided ideas of their own importance. The duty of impartiality is enshrined in broadcasting legislation and the BBC’s Royal Charter. But now, in the run up to the general election, broadcasters are, for the first time, unequivocally playing politics.’ – Lord Grade, The Times (£)

Half of voters are still undecided

Opinion Poll graphic‘Nearly half of the people certain to vote on May 7 still have not made up their minds who to support, according to polling firms, underlining the acute uncertainty surrounding the tightest general election for decades. Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos Mori, said that 50 per cent of all adults in the country were still in effect floating voters, according to surveys by his company.’ – FT

  • A third of young people think social media will influence their decision – The Guardian

>Today: ToryDiary: Is this the moment when the polls turned for Cameron – and put him on course to beat Miliband?

>Yesterday: To The Point: This Government can’t get no satisfaction

Justine Thornton fears ‘really vicious’ personal attacks on Miliband

‘Justine Thornton, Ed Miliband’s wife, has revealed that she fears the campaign against her husband will get “really vicious” in the run-up to polling day. Asked how she dealt with personal attacks on her husband, she told the BBC: “I think it’s going to get worse. I think over the next couple of months it’s going to get really vicious, really personal, but I’m totally up for this fight.”’ – The Times (£)

Scottish MPs threaten to resign if Labour signs a deal with the SNP

LABOUR dead rose‘Scottish Labour MPs are defying Ed Miliband by telling voters on the doorstep they would not support a post-election deal with the SNP. In an indication of a growing split in the party over its election strategy, several MPs are indicating that they would not be prepared to back any arrangement with Scottish Nationalists after May. Some are even said to be threatening to quit the party.’ – Daily Mail


Clegg wore a live microphone into a Budget meeting

‘Bungling Nick Clegg almost gave away the Budget by wearing a TV microphone into a top secret meeting, The Sun can reveal. The Deputy PM forgot to take off the still-live clip-on device during a key pow wow with David Cameron, George Osborne and Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander last week.’ – The Sun (£)

>Today: Ian Walker on Comment: Why Sheffield Hallam is a three-horse race – and how I can beat Clegg and take the seat

UKIP sacks gaffe-prone Winston Mackenzie

UKIP logo‘He became one of the most high profile figures in Ukip after organising the party’s disastrous ‘carnival of colour’ and comparing Nigel Farage to Jesus. But Winston McKenzie has finally been sacked him from his job as Ukip’s Commonwealth spokesman after a series of gaffes that included calling Croydon a ‘dump’ while being the candidate there…He told the Mail: ‘…I’ve had a very good run and thought I was doing pretty well with it.’ – Daily Mail

New drive to keep elderly patients out of A&E

‘Elderly and vulnerable patients will be offered longer GP appointments – including at weekends – in an attempt to reduce the chances of them ending up in hospital. They will have 30-minute in-depth appointments with a family doctor in the hope that any underlying problems will be picked up before they require emergency admission.’ – Daily Mail

  • Older patients stranded in hospital – Daily Telegraph
  • Health pilots launched – FT
  • GPs lead the way – The Times (£)
  • ‘Worried well’ swamp dementia clinics – The Times (£)

News in brief

  • No Heathrow-HS2 link before 2033 – FT
  • Steamy figures prove a hit with model railway fans – The Sun (£)
  • ‘Blurred Lines’ was copied from Marvin Gaye, court rules – Daily Mail
  • I wasn’t the best man for the job, says Hillsborough commander – Liverpool Echo
  • Former Rotherham council leader hangs onto OBE – The Sun (£)
  • The Chinese economy may be slowing down – FT
  • Should selfies be banned in museums? – The Times Leader (£)
  • French try to block Waterloo anniversary coin – Daily Telegraph
  • Clarkson suspended after ‘fracas’ – Daily Mail
  • 170,000 people sign ‘bring back Clarkson’ petition – Change.Org