James Murdoch discussed BSkyB bid with David Cameron over dinner

The two men went for a meal at the Cotswolds home of Rebekah Brooks, the then chief executive of News International, just two days after Mr Cameron had been forced to replace the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, as the minister scrutinising the bid.

Until now, Mr Cameron has always refused to issue an outright denial that he spoke about BSkyB during the meeting with Mr Murdoch on Dec 23, 2010.

But the Prime Minister is likely to face renewed calls for a Cabinet Office inquiry into his meetings with the Murdochs after James Murdoch said he sought assurances at the Christmas get-together that Jeremy Hunt, who took over the brief, would be more “objective” than Mr Cable, who had told undercover Daily Telegraph reporters he had “declared war on Mr Murdoch”.

He also complained to the Chancellor, George Osborne, about the “slow” progress of the regulatory process holding up the takeover.

In his witness statement to the Leveson Inquiry he states: “I recall speaking briefly to the Prime Minister on one occasion about the proposal.

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Dear Mens’ Helpline

I really need your advice on a serious problem.

I have suspected for some time now that my wife has been cheating on me.

The usual signs – if the phone rings and I answer, the caller hangs up, and she goes out with the girls a lot.

I try to stay awake to look out for her when she comes home but I usually fall asleep.

Anyway, last night about midnight, I hid in the shed behind the boat.

When she came home, she got out of someone’s car, buttoning her blouse; then she took her panties out of her purse and slipped them on.

It was at that moment, crouched behind the boat, that I noticed a hairline
crack in the outboard engine mounting bracket.

Is that something I can weld – or do I need to replace the whole bracket?

(Signed)
Retired Engineer

Bahrain is bewildered by the world’s hostility

So, the Grand Prix in Bahrain is over. The teams have packed up and the circus has moved on. They have a left a small nation feeling bewildered. Bewildered at the level of ignorance about what is really happening here, at the level of animosity and bile, at the media bias. And bewildered that so many in the UK, a long-standing friend and ally for two centuries, could so readily swallow everything opposition groups and activists were saying.

The abiding image I have of the Grand Prix last weekend was of thousands of people enjoying themselves at the post‑event parties. Yet the media reports in Britain told a different story. Headlines suggested that the country was in flames and that there was a serious safety risk to the Formula One teams.

I do not mean to trivialise the situation in Bahrain. There remain difficulties, all of which require political solutions. But this is not Syria, to paraphrase David Cameron, not by a long way. There are regular peaceful demonstrations in Bahrain, and more peaceful demonstrations take place than violent ones. But these are seldom reported.

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If we must reform the Lords, here’s how…

The most important question to ask about the proposed reform of the House of Lords is this: will it make our system of governance better or worse? The democratic legitimacy of the Upper House or the past promises of political parties should be secondary considerations. This is not to say that the Lords works perfectly or cannot be improved. Its composition can be changed, as happened when the majority of hereditary peers were expelled by the Labour government. Its numbers can – and should – be reduced.

But any reform must, crucially, ensure that the chamber continues to carry out its essential functions, which are to act as a check on the Commons and to provide sage and, if possible, impartial scrutiny of legislation. The one guaranteed way of wrecking that purpose is Nick Clegg’s proposal for a 300-seat senate, mostly or wholly elected by proportional representation for 15-year terms. The idea that the administration of this country would be enhanced by the creation of another chamber of career politicians, beholden to party machines and government whips and locked in a constant “who rules?” fight with the lower house, is not so much fanciful as away with the fairies.

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France’s centre-Left is on the march, but so are darker forces from the far-Right National Front

The job of French president is grim, but someone has to do it. Such was the view of Charles de Gaulle. “My mission seemed clear and terrible,” he once said. “At this moment, the worst in her history, it was for me to assume the burden of France.” François Hollande, the first-round victor in the race for the presidency, is more upbeat.

The Socialist leader, nicknamed “Monsieur Flanby”, after a milk pudding, senses triumph against Nicolas Sarkozy. Adieu, Mr Bling; enter the human blancmange. “Change is afoot,” Mr Hollande tweeted. “Nothing will stop it now.” We shall see. Mr Sarkozy, who will fight to the end to prove him wrong, may yet prevail.

If, however, France elects its first Socialist president since 1988, Mr Hollande will shoulder not only internal problems but also the dreams of those leaders, Ed Miliband included, who hope the centre-Right’s grip on Europe is weakening. Angela Merkel, who has campaigned for Mr Sarkozy, faces possible ejection in the forthcoming German elections.

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What next for the euro if France rejects austerity?

At a time when the UK Government is imposing another £16bn of spending cuts, is abolishing pensioner tax reliefs, and is apparently so financially stretched that it needs to tax warm pasties, it has somehow managed to find an additional £10bn to bail out the eurozone. This from a prime minister who declares himself a “eurosceptic”. Is it any wonder that the Tories are trailing in the polls?

I’ve found myself genuinely torn by the debate around new loans to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). On the one hand, I’m a supporter of multilateral solutions, and find the spectacle of so many countries, some of them quite poor, coming together to create a bigger and more credible financial safety net both noble and inspiring.

Britain was one of the founding fathers of the IMF, and whatever the rights and wrongs of the euro, our future is vitally dependent on a stable and prosperous Europe. It would have seemed isolationist and almost gratuitously self-destructive to have stayed out while so many others were participating.

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Nadine Dorries: David Cameron and George Osborne are just ‘arrogant posh boys’

The Conservative backbencher said the two friends, who both studied at the University of Oxford, had no desire to understand the lives of ordinary voters.

In an escalation of previous criticism of the pair for being out of touch with the hardships facing the country, Ms Dorries hit out at a “narrow clique” at the top of Government.

She told BBC1’s Daily Politics show she believed that it was not sufficient to only suggest David Cameron and George Osborne were “posh”, but that they were arrogant too.

The MP for Mid Bedfordshire said: “There is a very tight, narrow clique of a certain group of people and what they do is act as a barrier and prevent Cameron and Osborne and others from actually really understanding or knowing what is happening in the rest of the country.

“I think that not only are Cameron and Osborne two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk, but they are two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others – and that is their real crime.”

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Dave’s Fightback Fails

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)

If yesterday was supposed to draw a line under the omnishambles and put the Government on the front foot, it didn’t work. David Cameron’s media splurge and his day out with Nick Robinson exposed him to plenty of awkward questions but produced no sign that he has punched through the complaints.

Nadine Dorries’ intemperate outburst – MP stuffed in boundary review is cross shock – has provided good copy, but Dave’s problem goes far wider if he’s having to defend himself against charges that he’s a slacker, as he was forced to on the Today Programme yesterday.

The Telegraph’s Michael Deacon records the exchange: “Mr Humphrys took a bizarrely censorious view of what Mr Cameron likes to do in his spare moments (“Your computer games and box sets and ‘date nights’ with Samantha”). But then, Mr Humphrys has a unique genius for fault-finding.”

The Guardianhas splashed on its ICM poll that shows the Conservatives down six points in a month from 39 to 33 per cent. The move has given Labour its best poll lead for five years (see Poll Watch).

The FT (£) meanwhile reports that backbenchers want No 10 to find a “heavy-hitting” minister capable of closing down awkward stories and to take fire on behalf of No 10. Dave himself admitted that he needs to do better in terms of communications – but it’s telling that he had to face the airwaves himself.

The problems seem to arise from the fact that Michael Fallon, the deputy Conservative chairman, is doing all the heavy-hitting, putting in 18-hour shifts defending the Government with no back up. Sayeeda Warsi, the chairman, traditionally responsible for dealing with negative press, has failed to become “the human fire-blanket” the Party requires, according to the FT.

THE NO STRATEGY STRATEGY

To make matters worse the Public Administration Select Committee has published a damning report on the government’s strategy, concluding nobody is in charge of setting the government’s strategic objectives, and this is damaging its ability to achieve its aims.

Bernard Jenkin, who is the chairman of the committee, popped up on the Today Programme earlier to explain what he means when he says the Government has no strategy: he reckons it should publish an annual document explaining its aims and means of achieving them. It’s an idea.

IN A SHAPPS

Housing minister Grant Shapps has just been on the Today Programme. His plan had been to announce his new housing scheme to defend the “boxed-in generation” (young people with families who can’t move out of their city flats). Instead he ended up discussing the BBC’s story on Newham Council trying to move its housing benefit claimants to Stoke – 165 miles north.

Shapps said that this is not necessary: “rents are actually falling, they’ve been lower than inflation for some time”. He said that the system is “still very generous” and accused Newham’s mayor of “playing politics” by threatening to send its most inconvenient citizens north.

“It’s not true… that there are no affordable homes being built in London” , he said, and he argued that London boroughs should be able to house people claiming housing benefit, within the welfare cap, without sending them outside of London. “Within a 5 mile radius of Newham, there are 5000 homes”.

“It’s election time, the local elections are on, this is a Labour council that’s writing… I’ve been absolutely clear that they must take into account the welfare of tenants into account. Which includes, for example, not packing them up and sending them off to Stoke.”

MAYDAY (AGAIN)

It’s not Theresa May’s week. Today she will find herself in front of the Home Office Select Committee answering questions on the two-hour immigration queues experienced at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 this month.

The FT (£) has a full report on the chaos and a leader column condemning Mrs May’s insistence that every passenger go through full immigration checks. The long queues, it says, “torpedo the coalition’s claim that Britain is ‘open for business’.”

She will no doubt also face questions on the Abu Qatada shambles. We report that Dave’s attempt to stick up for her on yesterday’s Today Programme has landed him in a tricky spot. Labour is accusing him of lying when he said that the ECHR repeatedly “told” the Home Office that the deadline for an appeal was last Monday night.

KEEPING HIS BO-JO?

But Dave isn’t the only one losing out – the FT (£) reports the government’s hammering in the polls is hurting Boris too. With 10 days until polling day, Ken has started to close the gap between them – slicing the six point Boris had last week to just two. Boris leads by just 51 per cent to 49 per cent. See yesterday’s Evening Standard for more details.

It’s not all bad news for Boris though: today’s Sun carries a photo of a man with a large tattoo of the Mayor’s face on his thigh.

HOUSE OF HORRORS 2

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that the Lords reform debate rumbles on – this morning, the Government is contemplating three more defeats in the upper chamber on its Legal Aid Bill, having overturned 11 last week.

Today the focus is on the cost of replacing and running a reformed upper house. The FT (£) reports that a group of 12 has broken away from the Joint Committee on Lords Reform and written a document referred to as “the minority report”. It argues that the public will not stomach the “dramatically higher” cost of reforming the chamber.

A row then broke out on the estimated costs of a reformed House of Lords with Lord Lipsey arguing that the cost would rise from the £385 million spent at present to £433 million over a five-year period.

Mark Harper, the Tory minister for constitutional reform, has stepped in, describing the figure as “entirely speculative,” saying that the government would not publish costings without more detail on how the new second chamber would work.

In the Telegraph, Philip Johnson says the plans are “daft” and that the Lord’s “wisdom and expertise must be kept.” In the Guardian, Polly Toynbee calls for the chamber to be scrapped, while Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£) says “House of Lords reform is a political luxury that, at a time of austerity, the coalition simply cannot afford.”

EUROZONE DOOM

Still, at least we’re not the Dutch – their government collapsed yesterday, as Mark Rutte, the prime minister, dramatically resigned, meaning that there will now be elections in June. Add that to the uncertainty about France – and specifically, what Francois Hollande could do to the French public finances – and you have a whole bunch of fear. Our business section splash is on the chaos this has set off. As we report:

“More than £122.3bn was wiped off the value of Europe’s biggest companies on Monday amid fears that the eurozone’s commitment to austerity was being swept away by political rebellion – just as its debts hit record levels.”

George Osborne had a torrid time in the Commons yesterday explaining why he’s committed another £10 billion to the IMF. As the Daily Mail puts it , he was “savaged” by “a string of Conservative MPs”, while Ed Balls accused the Chancellor of “capitulation” to Europe.

Alistair Darling spoke up for the Chancellor, which underlines Ed Balls’s opportunism, but won’t exactly help Mr Osborne. This matters, as an underlying element of the Government’s political crisis is a sharp loss of confidence in the Chancellor, whose political skills or lack of them are being questioned – some would say exposed.

POLL WATCH

Labour lead on 13. Latest YouGov/The Sun results: Conservatives 32%, Labour 45%, Liberal Democrats 8%, Ukip 7%

Government net approval rating: -40

TWEETS AND TWITS

George Galloway has finally found himself an office (not a stunt at all, that set up in PCH): “Just took delivery of a fine parliamentary office in the Norman Shaw Building. Honour satisfied and thank you to the Labour Whips…”

TOP COMMENT

In The Telegraph

Mary Riddell: France’s centre-Left is on the march, but so are darker forces from the far-Right National Front

Philip Johnston: If we must reform the Lords, here’s how…

Leader: A lost opportunity to rethink the state

Leader: Laws without bite

Best of the rest

Polly Toynbee in the Guardian: Lords buffoonery has to end. So why not abolish them?

Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£): Kick this shambolic reform into the jungle

Steve Richards in the Independent: The Lords is undemocratic and increasingly silly

Philip Stephens in the Financial Times (£): What do you want to do with all that power, Mr Cameron?

THE AGENDA

Today: EU foreign ministers, including William Hague, meet in Luxembourg

Today: Peter Hain appears before Belfast High Court

Today: David Cameron chairs the weekly coalition Cabinet meeting

Today: Damages action by Chris Huhne’s partner Carina Trimingham over a “cataclysmic interference” with her private life continues in the High Court.

Today: William Hague begins a trip to South East Asia

9.30am: Michael Gove appears in front of the Education Select Committee, Committee Room 15, Palace of Westminster

10.00am: James Murdoch appears before the Leveson Inquiry into the ethics of the press

11.30am: Russell Brand appears in front of the Home Office Select Committee to discuss how he overcame addiction to drugs, Grimond Room, Portcullis House, Westminster

12.30pm: Theresa May appears in front of the Home Office Select Committee, Grimond Room, Portcullis House, Westminster

12.30pm: Jeremy Browne speech on competitiveness and emerging powers. National Liberal Club, Whitehall Place

2.30pm: George Osborne and his team take Treasury questions in the House of Commons
3pm: Andrew Lansley speaks at the NHS Clinical Commissioning Coalition at the Cavendish Conference Centre, London

4.30pm: Pensions Minister Steve Webb gives a speech at the National Association of Pension Funds conference. 138 Cheapside

10.35pm: Mayor of London candidates appear in a televised debate on ITV1