Who is in More Trouble: Wilders or The Netherlands?

“Freedom of speech is a great thing and we have said nothing that is not allowed.” — Geert Wilders, MP and leader of the Party of Freedom.

Now, the police have apparently decided to become part of the prosecution. They have drafted pre-filled “Wilders forms” to press charges and have offered to come to people’s homes to help them fill out the paperwork.

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Benedict Brogan – The Telegraph

Good morning. Consider the latest batch of economic indicators. If you are Ed Balls (morning Ed!) or any other senior Labour bod contemplating the next 13 months, what do the numbers tell you? Ask not for whom the stats toll, in fact: the accumulation of figures telling the story of a powering economy are laden with doom for the Shadow Chancellor and Labour. The better things get, or are perceived to get, the better Tory chances are in the general election, as sure as eggs is eggs. Sorry to start with a statement of the bleeding obvious, but occasionally we need for remind ourselves of the big themes and the facts of political life. Boris speculation and Ukip follies matter as nothing compared to the state of the economy. Only Scotland could be a game-changer. Inside No10 the expectation is that the economic good news will keep coming, and that Mr Cameron’s fortunes hinge on that inescapable fact.

Mr Balls has a typically robust patter about how the recovery is only benefiting the better off, that the incomes of most people will be nowhere near back to where they were before the crash, and that the cost of living crisis is far from over. Yet his argument is being drowned out by the drumbeat of optimism.”Optimism in industry at 41-year high, says CBI” is the headline on p1 of the Guardian. With coverage like that, you begin to understand why Tony Blair banned the Graun from Chequers. The FT too: “Manufacturers at most optimistic since 1970s”, and inside “Deficit reduction gets back on track – Triple dose of good news for Osborne”: deficit projections being met once again, factories feeling perky about prospects, official growth forecasts being upgraded.

The point of the Cameron/Osborne joint outing earlier this week was to promote the Government’s economic plan and show the administration is active, busy. The windfarm announcement today is part of that. But as I pointed out it was also a recognition that their lead over the two Eds in measures of public trust and confidence on the economy makes it safe for them to be seen in public together. They exude confidence because the economy is doing the political work for them. Cockiness is always a peril at moments like this, in particular for Mr Osborne (keep one eye on the low-level sniping about his weight and hair, for example). But the expectation is that economic success will produce political success next year, whatever the polls might say today. This is the backdrop to all the other politics you see.

GONE WITH THE WIND

The “green crap” seems to be well and truly out of the window. The Conservatives have pledged that, with a parliamentary majority, they would not only end the subsidy for onshore wind farms, but also hand local councils the powers necessary to stop any more being built. The UK now has “enough” onshore windfarms, Michael Fallon said. Predictably, the Liberal Democrats aren’t happy with the energy minister’s words, with Ed Davey, the Energy Secretary, telling the Mail that the Tory plan would lead to higher energy bills.

JUST RUN, ALREADY

Boris must run – that’s the verdict of the Times today. The Mayor of London can reach parts of the electorate that other politicians cannot; alongside the top team of David Cameron and George Osborne, Mr Johnson is the Conservatives’ best asset, which is why his return would be welcomed by Number 10, although it might also be viewed slightly warily in Number 11. The Guardian reports that the Mayor is coming under pressure from his friends – and CCHQ – to declare his intentions before the autumn, to avoid Tory party conference being overshadowed by speculation. But not everyone is so enamoured of London’s Mayor; in a bracing column, Stephen Glover wonders if it is really necessary for Mr. Johnson to return to the Commons in 2015, and warns that the faction-fighting between Team Boris and Team Osborne could yet cost the Conservatives the election.

MESSAGE FROM PLANET ED

This week”s Spectator has a must-read profile of the men – and woman – behind the man Ed Miliband, written by our own Dan Hodges. As improbable as it seemed three years ago, these are the people who – far more that the Shadow Cabinet, Hodges says – are the bookies’ favourites to be deciding the direction of the country in just over a year. With the Labour lead at five points in today’s YouGov poll despite the good economic news for the government, the thought of Prime Minister Ed Miliband no longer feels entirely ridiculous. That’s the scary part, says Fraser Nelson, in a must-read profile of Mr Miliband’s plan for Britain.

IDS ISSUES BENEFIT WARNING

The battle for the Union has been well and truly joined. Iain Duncan Smith is the latest Conservative big beast to enter the fray, warning that Scottish benefit claimants would lose out under independence. A new IT system would have to be designed from scratch, the Welfare and Pensions Secretary has warned, and as his own battles with the new Universal Credit system have shown, that’s easier said that done. The intervention is a welcome respite after a torrid few weeks for Better Together, the pro-union campaign, who will also be cheered by the verdict of Standard & Poor’s, the ratings agency, that Scotland’s banks would be highly vulnerable after independence. “Iceland-style meltdown” is the Guardian spin.

UKIP UNDER PRESSURE

Ukip are in hot water again. Yesterday evening saw the launch of a new party political broadcast, and they’re still within touching distance of overhauling Labour to finish first in the coming European elections, but with big money and big prizes comes increased scrutiny. The party is under fire for featuring party staff in its broadcasts. Lizzy Vaid, Nigel Farage’s personal assistant, features as a voter from ‘Devon’, despite being educated in Sussex and working in London for the Ukip leader, while the party’s small business spokesman features as a member of the public in another party broadcast. It gets worse; Miss Vaid is now at the centre of a “sex scandal” in the Sun.

LABOUR TO QUIT THE CO-OP?
The Today programme reveals that Labour is considering severing its ties with the ailing Co-Operative Bank and instead going over to the union-backed Unity Trust Bank. The move would be good news for both parties; Labour figures have been dismayed by the chaos within the Co-op Group in recent months, while the Co-Op’s new management is believed to favour a more apolitical future.

MIRIAM STEALS THE SHOW

Oh, Nick. The Deputy PM probably hoped his speech at the launch of the Cityfathers campaign would make a splash – but not like this. A lowkey Q&A was overshadowed by a remarkable intervention by his wife, Miriam Durantez, who seized the microphone and told the audience that fathers who help look after their children have “more cojones” than the “dinosaurs” who don’t. Mrs Clegg has made the Guardian, the Telegraph and the Mail: and blown more Mr Clegg off the story. You can watch the video here.

The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter

TWEETS AND TWITS

Probably just you, Glyn:

@GlynDavisMP: Things I’d like to see. Arsene Wenger retire gracefully and replaced by David Moyes – and Arsenal to do the double over Man Utd next season

DAILY POLL

Latest YouGov poll:

Con 32%, Lab 37%, LD 10%, UKIP 15%

BEST COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Peter Oborne – Rebellion is brewing against the elite that has ruined Europe

Sue Cameron – Why is the law of the land in such a mess?

Peter Foster – American unreason: why US politics is full of clever men being wilfully stupid

Telegraph View – More peace and quiet in A&E

Best of the rest

Tim Montgomerie – Man Utd and Britain share a problem – debt

Stephen Glover – Boris, George and selfish scheming that could hand Labour the keys to Downing Street

Fraser Nelson – Old Labour, New Danger?

THE AGENDA

CANBERRA: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge tour New Zealand and Australia. The royal couple will plant a tree at the National Arboretum in Canberra before attending a reception hosted by the prime minister Tony Abbott at Parliament House where William will make a short speech.

0930 LONDON: Quarterly crime statistics to be released. They will be published on the ONS website at 0930.

1045 COLCHESTER: Nick Clegg launches Lib Dem European election campaign.

The Trouble with Gaza

The trouble for Hamas is that it is not alone. With the aid of Iranian funds and training, Islamic Jihad has built up a fighting force of 5,000 guerrillas with over 2,000 rockets. Those numbers are growing.

These groups are, it seems, outraged by what they see as Hamas’s soft policy in Israel, and have pledged soon to resume hostilities against it.

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Who are the Victims and Who Are the Victimizers?

Comment

One year after the bombs went off at the Boston marathon, Brandeis authorities were so intent on avoiding the issues those bombs had raised, that they would rather point the finger at a critic of the radical ideology than do anything to criticize the ideology.

Is not the Palestinian leadership a viable negotiating partner with whom peace is just about to be achieved? How do you protest if the protesters are Muslims? Who are the victims and who are the victimizers? After all, “victims” cannot victimize, can they?

When we see a global bigotry and hatred such as this, we should identify it as such and demand, in the name of all that is decent, that it stop.

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Dominic Brogan – The Telegraph

Good morning. Dave and George’s joint appearance yesterday heralds a new-found confidence in CCHQ. Rather than worrying about being two posh boys, the PM and Chancellor can present themselves as the pair who have salvaged the economy – and leave the public to make the comparisons with the two Eds. Mr Osborne said: “We are an economic team led by a very strong Prime Minister and we set out to the country four years ago the difficult decisions that we had to take as a country together and explain to people what those decisions were.” Nothing particularly surprising in that, perhaps, but the significance is that the Conservatives think they have got Labour on the run over the economy. The Tories think that, after years of their economic strategy being relentlessly attacked, now it’s payback time. Hence the first joint appearance of the PM and Chancellor for four years.

But the Tory concern is whether this is all translating into poll numbers. A new YouGov poll for The Sun shows the Tories trailing Labour by three points: the gap is closing but, not at the pace that the Conservatives would like, especially after you factor in the automatic seven or so points lead that labour gets from its boundary advantage. Comfort comes from the fact that Labour isn’t on the 40-plus it needs to be sure, and the gap is close to the margin of error – the touching distance Lynton Crosby is looking for. In the European elections it’s all rather different: The Sun’s new poll has the Tories in third on 22 per cent, and Ukip on course to pip Labour on May 22. It is in this context that the papers view Dave’s St George’s Day message. The PM said that “St George has been England’s patron saint since 1350. But for too long, his feast day – England’s national day – has been overlooked.” To the Guardian this only means one thing: a “play for Ukip voters”.

At least the Conservatives’ expectation management has been a triumph: no one will be remotely surprised if the party comes third. Labour’s not-so-secret election tactic – watching Tory backbenchers drag the party on a wild goose chase after the Ukip vote – might therefore be avoided. It has become a cliche to expect the Conservatives to turn on self-destruct mode for a few months after the European elections; should they resist the urge, they may find the electoral landscape rather to their liking. Pot shots at the Tories in elections that the public don’t really care for are one thing; the Conservatives will hope that handing the keys back to the guys who crashed the car is quite another.

His party may be yet to enjoy much of a polling boost from the economic good news, but Mr Osborne’s personal fortunes are a rather different matter: his ratings are remarkably high for a suppossed arch axeman. The speed of his political recovery must surely qualify as one of the fastest on record. His team may deny it, but there will be interest in the Boris story in The Mail, and the suggestion that the Mayor of London will return as an MP next year (though he better make up his mind quick – vacant seats are fast running out). Is it a sign that Boris thinks the Tories are going to win, and wants to be a part of it?

BROWN EMERGES FROM THE BUNKER

Gordon Brown’s five months to save the Union began yesterday. The former PM outline five “big positives” that Scotland gets from being part of the UK, and said that the “propaganda value” of the SNP blaming Westminster for everything could only go so far. What’s the verdict? Our leader says that Mr Brown’s “passion” is “something that has sometimes been missing from the pro-Union cause.” The Guardian says that an old PM stepping out of retirement could be just the man to remind the Scots of the questions over their pensions, noting that, North of the border, “the Brown record at the ballot box is not at all bad. In 2010, which is the last time that Scots voted for the parliament whose future they are now debating, rather more of them voted for Mr Brown’s Labour party than had backed that of Tony Blair in 2005.” In a similar vein, Alan Cochrane writes that “the key to the referendum is winning over Labour voters – those very people in West Central Scotland who still reckon that Mr Brown got a raw deal from the British electorate in 2010.” It’s perhaps a mark of the state of the Better Together campaign that even the Mail says that Mr Brown’s speech was a “timely intervention”, though its leader can’t resist saying “What a pity it has taken him until now to realise just how important pensions are.”

FARAGE v THE ESTABLISHMENT, PT 784

Nigel Farage had a rather tricky interview with Nick Robinson yesterday, as Nick reflects in his blog. Mr Farage got himself in rather a tangle talking about his German wife’s role as his secretary: “nobody else could do that job,” he said. The backlash against the Ukip posters has continued; the party’s leader says this is just another example of the Westminster elite at its worst, writing in his Indy column that “Calling Ukip’s posters ‘racist’ is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion”. Is Mr Farage over-reaching himself? Even if the European elections go well for Ukip, does the party have the ability to withstand the scrutiny that will come in the next 12 months?

DIRTY WARS

The Indy leads with Labour’s preparations for a dirty war against the well-oiled Tory spin machine. Lynton Crosby was brought in by CCHQ months ago and is now settled in to the job. Labour have finally picked up the pace. Following the announcement of their American hire – David Axelrod – it’s now reported that Labour are setting up an ‘attack unit’ to hit back at Tory attempts to target Ed Miliband as ‘weak’ or ‘weird’. Whilst bracing themselves for a personalised election campaign with echoes of the attacks on Neil Kinnock in 1992 Labour’s party officials insist this new, hard line strategy, will not ‘match smear with smear’ or wage ‘class war’ on Cameron and Osborne.

SOMETHING ROTTEN IN THE STATE OF DENMARK – BUT ALL’S WELL IN LONDON

Sajid Javid, who some have criticised for lacking a Denis Healey style “hinterland”, made the most of his new role last night with a trip to the theatre, as The Times Diary records. On the eve of William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday the new Culture Secretary took Nadhim Zahawi to see Hamlet at the Globe. Perhaps Mr Javid was seeking some advice from the Dane; if things get tough he will do well to remember that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Tipped for the top, let’s hope “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” don’t cause him too much trouble.

MORE DOING GOD

We are still “doing God”. Following yesterday’s letter from “The Atheists” two ministers have supported Dave’s notion that we are a “Christian country”. Dominic Grieve, Attorney General (and Patron of the Christian Fellowship) weighs in by arguing that “atheism hasn’t made much progress in Britain” because “our state, its ethics and our society are underpinned by Christian values.” IDS agrees, calling those who deny Britain’s latent Christianity “absurd”.

VINCE RETURNS – BUT DOES ANYONE NOTICE?

Vince Cable has popped up on the Guardian’s front page (and page two of the FT) after issuing a “stark warning” to the 100 biggest UK listed companies about the damage big pay deals can have on their image, ahead of Barclays’ annual meeting today. The Business Secretary said that “there is now an opportunity for companies to make peace with the public”. In his letter to Britain’s leading boardrooms Vince urged them to crack down on bonuses in order to restore public trust and avert fresh legislation to limit executive pay which he has called “extraordinarily large”. Mr Cable rounded up: “At a time when every part of the economy is striving to get more from less, I hope you find yourselves animated by the same spirit.” Vince’s ability to take pot shots at the City remains unrivalled. The truth, though, is no one in the Coalition takes much notice anymore.

COALITION ROW OVER GUN LICENCES

A new coalition battle is brewing, this time over taxpayer subsidisation of gun licences. Mr Cameron – a pheasant shooter and deer stalker, as the Guardian likes to remind us – allegedly intervened back in December to stop a rise in the cost of gun licences after Owen Paterson objected to a proposed hike. Licence costs have been frozen at £50 since 2001 despite it costing the police £196 to issue one. Norman Baker, who has responsibility for shotgun certificates, questions why police should “subsidise the issuing of licences for firearms” and describes the current stance as “difficult to justify”.

The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter

TWEETS AND TWITS

Chris Heaton-Harris is at it again:

@chhcalling: A vandal has smeared luggage at Heathrow with Vaseline. Unfortunately the Police let the culprit slip away and have dropped the case.

DAILY POLL

Latest YouGov poll:

Con 34%, Lab 37%, LD 10%, UKIP 12%

BEST COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Alan Cochrane – Panicked Tories are risking the UK’s future

Mary Riddell – Pastor Cameron has played his hand – now it’s over to Dr Miliband

Peter Oborne & Anne Williams – Honest work can’t put a roof over people’s heads

Telegraph View – Non-political voices need to argue to save the Union

Best of the rest

Steve Richards – David Cameron and Ed Miliband don’t matter as much as they think

Nigel Farage – Calling Ukip’s posters ‘racist’ is yet another example of shameful Westminster evasion

Paul Collier – Beware the impact of a Scottish oil grab

THE AGENDA

ADELAIDE: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge tour New Zealand and Australia.

0730 LONDON: St George’s flag flying over 10 Downing Street

1000 LONDON: Andy Coulson evidence to continue at the phone hacking trial. The Old Bailey

Anti-Israel BDS Resolutions Seize Campuses in Ontario, Canada

Hamas — the terrorist group and offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood — has fueled and directed the BDS and Israel Apartheid Week campaigns on campuses across North America.

“Islam is my life… Jihad is my spirit… I will die to establish Islam.” — from the Muslim Student Association pledge of allegiance.

More…

New childhood pictures of Kim Jong-un emerge

Rare new photographs of Kim Jong-un as a young boy have emerged during a concert for the North Korean air force.

Pictures showing the 31-year-old North Korean leader as a chubby toddler, saluting while in uniform, were shown on KCTV, the country’s state broadcaster.

Other photographs showed him first as a young boy, then as a rotund teenager, at the controls of an aeroplane.

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Iran: Brutal Attack on Political Prisoners in Evin Prison

The “unprecedented raid is the most violent action against political prisoners in the past 20 years.” — Kalame News website.

Prisoners held include Mohammad Davari, winner of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2010 International Press Freedom Award; Saeed Matin-Pour; Omid Behroozi; Hosseini Ronaghi Maleki; Siamak Ghadari; Saeed Haeri; Mohammad Sedigh Kaboudvand, Ehamad Bavar and Abdolfatan Soltani.

“We should not pay attention to reports by the anti-revolutionary media.” — Gholemreza Esmaili, head of Iran Prisons Organization.

There has been no statement thus far from Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani.

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UK: School Taken Over by Devout Muslims Had Student “Morality Squads” Bullying Girls Without Veils, and “Confiscated Easter Eggs”

“‘Older boys are going round in these morality squads telling off girls if they do not wear veils. They bully the girls and stop them mingling with boys in the playground.’ And she said gangs have clamped down on Easter celebrations. She said: ‘My daughter tried to bring in an Easter egg for a friend and one boy grabbed it and smashed it against a wall.’”

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Benedict Brogan – The Telegraph

Good morning. Is it now safe for David Cameron and George Osborne to be seen in public together? The two will be making a rare joint appearance – their first in four years it is said – to mark the government’s £36bn infrastructure programme. Other ministers – McLoughlin, Pickles, Fallon – will fan out across the country to make a similar point, which can be distilled as follows: “Long term economic plan… supporting business…hardworking people…jobs and opportunities…vote Conservative.” In the advance notice Mr Cameron is quoted as saying “crucial part of our long term economic plan” and “hardworking people” twice in the space of two paragraphs – got it? The FT leads with the announcement that planning rules will be relaxed in an Infrastructure Bill in the Queen’s Speech to allow energy companies to frack under private land without troubling the owners overmuch. It will also make road-building easier and speed up development.
Parliament is still in recess but with schools returning Westminster will be largely back at work and Downing Street is keen to get the message out about economic activism. Today’s point is about the 200-odd infrastructure projects due to get underway this tax year. Collectively they are worth £36bn, and No10 says will support about 150,000 jobs. About a third of the money comes from the public sector, proving that whatever George Osborne says, there is a little bit of Keynes in everyone. The Chancellor is the subject of a four page treatment in G2, btw, which charts his fall and rise under the headline “George’s gamble: is it paying off?” The answer is ‘sort of’ but with lots of risks both economic and political: “So having his hair restyled and telling voters ‘we’re all in this together’ will not be enough to secure his future or his reputation”.

Let’s return to the Cameron-Osborne appearance in the East Midlands. The choreography and body language will be of mild interest. Fraser Nelson said in the Guardian on Saturday that the Prime Minister is the public face of the Osborne government. Plenty will watch the two for evidence of variations in the power balance between them – think Blair buying Brown an ice cream. Simpler though to note the underlying potency of their partnership. Today may mark their coming out as an economic duo, confirming their dominance over Eds Miliband and Balls. The advantage Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne have built up over their rivals in all the measures of competence and trust on the economy may prove to be their most potent weapon over the next year. Before, they didn’t want to be seen together for fear of reminding people that they are two posh blokes in power; today they can parade themselves as two politicians who have earned the right to be trusted on the economy.

BROWN’S WARNING TO SCOTLAND

It’s just like old times. Gordon Brown is making a speech today on the pensions ‘time bomb’ facing Scots, and he has the leaked DWP documents to back up his argument. Way back when, before 1997, Mr Brown made his name as a formidable Westminster operator by using leaked Government documents to stuff the Tories. Now he’s doing the same in an effort to stuff the SNP and the Yes campaign. The Guardian leads with a preview of the former Prime Minister’s intervention, his first on behalf of Better Together. “Brown warns of pensions ‘time bomb’ facing Scots; Ex-prime minister intervenes as yes campaign gains momentum” is the headline. It also details tensions inside Better Together and between Mr Brown and its leader Alistair Darling as causes for his failure to weigh in with the cross-party group before now.

Mr Brown’s worry is that the debate has been polarised into a choice between Scotland or Britain. He focuses in particular on pensions and the role London plays in underwriting pensions in Scotland, where the number of pensioners is rising faster than in the rest of the UK, and where Scotland pays 8pc of the country’s national insurance benefits but receives 8.8pc of the benefits. He also details the additional costs Scotland would face to set up its own pensions system – more than £1bn.

Yesterday I blogged about Mr Brown’s appearance, and the politics of partisanship implicit in his approach, which makes a virtue of being anti-Tory. The fact remains though that Mr Brown still has a following in Scotland, and may be just the voice to galvanise Labour’s undecided supporters in the west of Scotland who will decide the outcome of the referendum.

CAN NO ONE IN BRITAIN RUN AN ELECTION CAMPAIGN?

While we were away, Labour announced a big new hire: Barack Obama’s campaign guru David Axelrod, who is credited with turning a little-known community organiser into a two-term President. As I say in my column today, Labour’s American hire, alongside the Australian Lynton Crosby and the South African Ryan Coetzee at the helm of David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s election campaigns, is a further expensive salvo in “the foreign advisers arms race”. Surely there must be someone in Britain who can run a general election campaign? It becomes even more ridiculous when you remember that Labour is close to bankruptcy.

POSTER WARS

Ukip’s campaign for the European Parliament got well underway with the unveiling of a series of eye-catching new posters. Funded by a £1.5 million donation from Paul Sykes, who writes for us today, they have already caused an online storm. Mike Gapes, Labour’s veteran MP for Ilford South, called the posters “racist”, but Nigel Farage says they are “a hard-hitting reflection of reality”. Privately, Mr Farage might reckon that anything that upsets the Twitterati is almost certain to play well amongst Ukip’s target voters.

YOU DON’T DO GOD

The “God Row” rumbles on. A letter in yesterday’s Telegraph from a number of atheist worthies warned that the PM was “risking division” by describing Britain as a “Christian country”, while Alastair Campbell, who famously said “We don’t do God”, doesn’t think that Mr Cameron does either. In a now-deleted entry on his blog, the former spin doctor claimed that the PM’s remarks were designed to deflect attention from the Maria Miller row. Charles Moore is more supportive in today’s paper, while support for Mr Cameron has come from an unexpected quarter, with Farooq Murad, of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, telling the Mail that “No-one can deny that Britain remains largely a Christian country.”

ETHNIC MINORITIES GOING TORY?

A lot has been made of the Tories’ troubles with ethnic minorities, so it’s worth noting the new Demos report, trailed in The Times, that is optimistic about the party’s ability to win new ethnic minority middle-class support. It says that second and third generation immigrants are moving to traditionally white middle-class areas – making them more likely to go blue on election day. Trevor Philips, the former head of the equalities watchdog who co-authors the report, argues that Labour targets like Hendon and Wolverhampton South West could be less likely to dump the Conservatives due to the presence of “upwardly mobile, Indian heritage, Tory-voting electors”.

SUN, SEA AND STINGS IN LANZAROTE

The Camerons spent the Easter weekend in an 18th century villa, but while it was all smiles – and a shiatsu massage – for Sam Cameron, there was a sting in the tail for Dave, who fell foul of a jellyfish while he was chillaxing on the beach. Aides confirmed that Mr Cameron had suffered a sting, but that it wasn’t serious enough to merit treatment. A British expat said that the PM had foregone the traditional cure for a jellyfish sting – urinating on the affected area – but told the Daily Mirror “there would have been no shortage of volunteers to administer the treatment”.

SPELMAN: CRIMINALISE BUYING SEX

The Nordic model is often invoked by Labour, but it’s cited as an example by Caroline Spelman, who wants to make it a crime to buy, but not sell, sexual services. The former Environment Secretary tells the Guardian that “the Nordic law is the right direction, but we need cross-party support for it. It’s very important men come out and say what they think as well because it’s very emotive.” But progress along the lines that Mrs Spelman would like seems unlikely: one frontbencher is quoted saying that there is a fear it would open a “can of worms”.

TORIES FALL BEHIND IN MARGINALS

Those worried about the state of the Conservatives’ ground campaign won’t have had their fears eased by this morning’s Independent. Of the Tories’ top fifty targets, sixteen – including Birmingham Edgbaston, where Labour’s Gisela Stuart has a majority of just 1,274 – have yet to select a candidate for next year’s election. Labour’s machine looks to be in much finer fettle, with candidates selected in all but two of its fifty target seats. CCHQ needs to revive its flagging machine – and fast.

LAWSON BACKS BREXIT

Britain’s relationship with the European Union is a sign of a nation lacking vim, vigour and get-up-and-go. That’s the verdict of Nigel Lawson, anyway. Margaret Thatcher’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer made the remarks at a private dinner organised by the Institute for Economic Affairs. “This clutching hold of the EU is a sign of a lack of national self-confidence,” Lord Lawson told guests, “which is not healthy.” In of themselves, Lawson’s words aren’t a surprise; he was a judge of the IEA’s £100,00 Brexit Prize, and earlier pooh-poohed Cameron’s hope of renegotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU. But it’s a symbol of the Tory journey on Europe – remember that Nigel Lawson was an early advocate of the ERM – and a reminder of how widespread their divisions are as the Euro-campaign gets underway.

LET IRELAND JOIN COMMONWEALTH, SAYS FABRICANT

The Republic of Ireland? Join the Commonwealth? It “is not so mad as it might at first seem”, Michael Fabricant writes for the Telegraph website today. When India became a republic, it remained within the Commonwealth, but anything that looks like rule from London will be fiercely resisted by die-hard Republicans. Still, as the member for Lichfield notes, when Martin McGuinness, a former IRA commander, can attend a state banquet at Windsor Castle, who knows what could happen?

The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter

TWEETS AND TWITS

Everyone’s a football pundit today:

@LucyMPowell: I feel sorry for #Moyes It was always going to be v hard to follow Fergie. It’s all abt momentum. Backwards was only way it was going to go.

DAILY POLL

Latest YouGov poll (NB – there hasn’t been one since last Thursday):

Con 33%, Lab 35%, LD 11%, UKIP 15%

BEST COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan – Can no one in Britain be trusted to run an election campaign?
Charles Moore – Our Christian beliefs are under attack from influential and militant atheists
Paul Sykes – No more surrendering to EU bureaucrats
Telegraph View – The countdown begins to next year’s election

Best of the rest
Hugo Rifkind – Salmond is wrong. England is not the enemy
Janan Ganesh – Cost-of-living masks Labour ideas crisis
Francis Elliott – Can Gospel Dave’s values win the election?
Steve Richards – Giving the public a chance to voice their opinion could be the only way to improve the NHS
THE AGENDA

LONDON: House of Commons in recess for Easter.

ULURU: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge tour New Zealand and Australia.

1000 LONDON: Andy Coulson evidence to continue at the phone hacking trial. The Old Bailey

1000 NORWICH: Ukip councillor accused of electoral fraud. Matthew Smith, 26, of High Street, Gorleston, who was elected in May, is accused of six counts of making a false statement in nomination papers and three of making a false instrument with intent.

1300 SHEFFIELD: Nigel Farage kicks off two-week Ukip euro-election tour.

1700 GLASGOW: Gordon Brown independence speech.