Morning Briefing – The Telegraph

Good morning.

Labour’s latest offensive on the NHS has been blown off course. Former Health Secretary Alan Milburn isn’t convinced by his party’s plans, telling Wato that the Opposition risks being seen as more able to fund the NHS “but not necessarily put its foot to the floor when it comes to reforming”. It’s a “pale imitation of 1992, and maybe it will have the same outcome, I don’t know,” Mr Milburn warns. Another Blairite former minister, John, now Lord, Hutton, has also chimed in: saying the party “ought to win” the next election but mustn’t avoid the “really difficult, hard choices”. (In today’s FT, the two men strike a more supportive note, calling for Labour to do more to defend the last Labour government’s reputation for fiscal competence.)

Elsewhere that word “weaponise” continues to cast a heavy shadow, with Ed Miliband tellling 5Live that he “can’t remember” whether he used the word in question. The Labour leader has set tongues wagging by refusing to say whether Andy Burnham will be made Health Secretary if Labour form the next government and refusing to confirm whether he’ll keep Andy Burnham in post after the election in an interview with the Health Service Journal.

“Labour election chaos over NHS” is our splash, while “Labour NHS strategy will bring ‘poll catastrophe” is the Times’. “Lightweight” is the Sun’s verdict on page 2, with Ed Miliband’s head photoshopped into a light bulb aka Neil Kinnock in 1992. “The Sun was never a fan of Neil Kinnock,” its leader thunders, “But against today’s Labour leader the Welsh windbag looks like Churchill. Winston – not the nodding dog.”

Is it 1992 all over again? Mr Miliband can take some comfort from the fact that it was bad polling, not a sudden loss of support, that meant Lord Kinnock was unexpectedly defeated at that election and if the electorate in 1992 had looked like the one in 2015, the Conservatives would have been the largest party, but without a majority. But if 99 days from now David Cameron is still head of the largest grouping in the Commons then that will be a fairly thin comfort.


Ukip will bring back smoking in pubs and introduce a 35p rate of tax, Lucy Fisher reports in the Times. But that the pledge is to introduce a 35p rate between £42,285 and £55,000, “taking many public sector workers out of the top rate of tax”, suggests that Ukip is unaware that the top rate kicks in at £150,000. It’s not just Nigel Farage who is het up over smoking; up to 100 Conservative MPs will vote against the Government’s plain packaging plans, Chris Hope reveals.


Britain would be “a better, stronger country” if net migration fell to tens of thousands, David Cameron says. People recognise that immigration is “good for the UK” but feel it has not been “controlled properly”, the PM told Radio 2. Steven Swinford has the story.


The University of Essex will count many senior figures among the leading party in the new Greek government among its alumni, with Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister, the most prominent. Tom Rowley speaks to one of his lecturers, Roy Bailey. “I wouldn’t say he was always scoring top marks,” Mr Bailey tells Tom, “You wouldn’t say this is a stellar individual we should send to Harvard. But he shone when it came to independent thinking.”


In a letter to the Telegraph, 47 academics have warned that the amendment to the Serious Crime Bill to prevent gender-selective abortion would “undermine the professional integrity of those who work in an already overstretched abortion service”, “risks encouraging doctors to enact some form of ethnic profiling” and seeks to erode women’s reproductive rights through construing abortion “as an offense against the unborn child”.


The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war has taken “longer than any of us expected would be necessary”, Sir John Chilcot, who will be grilled by the Foreign Affairs Committee on the progress of the report next week, has said.


Sir Steve Smith, the University of Exeter’s Vice-Chancellor, has appealed to Ed Miliband to stop considering a £3k cut in fees as it subsidises the middle class and could put higher education funding in jeopardy, Greg Hurst reports in the Times. Also unhappy with the planned policy is Briefing alumnus Tim Wigmore, who rounds on the policy over at the New Statesman.


Sinn Féin and the DUP are considering legal action in order to secure a place in the two televised election debates, Henry McDonald reports in the Guardian. Labour have held “secret talks” with Sinn Féin in order to secure that party’s support in a hung parliament, Kevin Schofield reports in the Sun, although Labour spinners deny they are planning for anything other than a majority government.


Douglas Carswell “lacks the backbone” to confront Nigel Farage and “has the charisma of a wet turd”, Ukip founder Dr Alan Sked tells the Huffington Post’s Asa Bennett.


A character in the new Aardman Animations film bears a startling resemblance to Ed Miliband, the Mail reports. I’m told that Labour spinners did consider a party political broadcast with an Aardman-designed Ed Miliband using a freeze ray to keep energy bills under control some time ago, but the idea was mothballed. It may be that the design has been re-used by Aardman. Or it could be a coincidence.

Islamic Tribunal Confirmed in Texas; Attorney Claims ‘It’s Voluntary’

An Islamic Tribunal using Sharia law in Texas has been confirmed by Breitbart Texas. The tribunal is operating as a non-profit organization in Dallas. One of the attorneys for the tribunal said participation and acceptance of the tribunal’s decisions are “voluntary.”

Breitbart Texas spoke with one of the “judges,” Dr. Taher El-badawi. He said the tribunal operates under Sharia law as a form of “non-binding dispute resolution.” El-badawi said their organization is “a tribunal, not arbitration.” A tribunal is defined by Meriam-Webster’s Dictionary as “a court or forum of justice.” The four Islamic attorneys call themselves “judges” not “arbitrators.”

El-badawi said the tribunal follows Sharia law to resolve civil disputes in family and business matters. He said they also resolve workplace disputes.


Erdogan’s Turkish Bazaar

Erdogan is trying to sell a product that only finds buyers in his own country and in a few Middle Eastern capitals: self-delusion around the theme of Sunni Islam’s “perfection.”

“As Muslims, we have never taken part in terrorist massacres.” Then Erdogan, once again, reverted to his “my-tribe-is-perfect-and-only-yours-is-bad” rhetoric.

“[T]he Turkish presence was incredibly awkward. Though the Paris march honored journalists killed in the attack on the monthly satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Turkey currently has more reporters in jail, 40, than any other country, even Iran and China.” — Karl Vick, Time Magazine.


Radical Islam in Europe: No One to Blame But Us

More hearts of Western civilization have been targeted and hit. First, armed gunmen entered the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last week and killed 12 people, to impose their understanding of Sharia on the French. Then, the German newspaper Hamburger Morgenpost, which had the courage to reprint the cartoons, was firebombed on January 10.

Most newspapers in Germany had apparently decided not to risk upsetting Muslim extremists by reprinting anything that might have have distressed them. The Berliner Zeitung, the Hamburger Morgenpost and Der Tagesspiegel were amongst the few exceptions.


Morning Briefing – The Telegraph

Good morning.

100 days to go until Polling Day and Peter Dominiczak has found David Cameron in an ebullient mood. He feels he’s “being opposed by someone who has nothing left to say”, while he has “a real record to stand on”. Cuts all round is the message from the PM: tax cuts for working families and further reductions in the benefits cap, from £26,000 to £23,000. It’s the latter which takes the headlines. “PM: I’ll cut benefits cap to £23,000″ is our splash, while “New Welfare Crackdown On Workshy” is the Mail’s. (Read Peter’s interview in full here.)

The Labour leader is in Manchester today where he’ll warn that the NHS “faces its most perilous moment in a generation”. Andy Burnham was out this morning preparing the ground and banging the drum for his plans to integrate health and social care.

It’s the PM who will find more to be cheerful about in today’s polls The Conservatives are ahead in ComRes’ phone polls for the first time since 2011, on 31% to Labour’s 30%, with YouGov on 34% to 33%, and Survation on 31% to 30%. “Tories take lead with 100 days to go” is the i’s frontpage.

As ever, the usual rules about getting too bothered about a few polls here and there apply, and that the NHS continues to be at the forefront of voters’ minds according to the latest Populus survey should dampen Tory enthusiasm. But it’s Labour who really have reason to be worried. As James Kirkup explains, the final phase of the campaign wears hard on the Opposition: in all but one election, Labour have done worse in the final standings than the polls at this point in the campaign.

The scene is set for a fairly traditional campaign, despite the new entrants snapping at the heels of both parties. Tax cuts and welfare reductions from the Conservatives, lovebombing the NHS from Labour. The thing about a traditional campaign, as the only man to win a working majority for Labour in Ed Miliband’s lifetime recently noted, is it tends to yield “a traditional result”.


The PM was less upbeat on the Today programme. The Eurozone’s worries are the one remaining “warning light” on the dashboard and there needs to be a further £30bn reduction in spending; departmental spending, tax avoidance and welfare will make up the costs. On the debates: “Yes, I would like that to happen,” David Cameron says.


The Sun has laid out their “Sunifesto”; their programme for Britain in 2015. “Whichever party gets nearest to making it a reality will get our backing,” they say. Their To-Do List: Clear the deficit, cut tax, “reward work” demand “a better deal” on immigration, reform the NHS, cut welfare, increase free schools, get fracking going, get fuel prices down, scrap the 0.7% target, cut jail terms for lesser offences, build more houses, strip down the BBC, “let spooks beat IS”, and stand up to Twittermobs.


Minsters have been accused on using taxpayers’ money for electioneering, after it emerged that constituencies held by Coalition MPs received four-fifths of the Coastal Communities Fund, Chris Hope and Ben Riley-Smith report.


The excellent Polling Matters team sat down with John Curtice. He explains further the challenge facing Scottish Labour, and his take on how the general election will play out in Scotland.


The Government has U-turned on fracking after a rebellion of its own MP forced it to accept a Labour amendment; areas of outstanding natural beauty will be protected while 13 new regulations will be applied to any fracking sites. Emily Gosden has the story, while Caroline Flint and Angela Eagle make their case in the Guardian.

Greek coalition braces for debt showdown as Germany rattles sabre

The new Greece of Alexis Tsipras will run out of money by early March. It will then face a series of escalating crunch points that will end in default and a return to the drachma unless it can reach a deal with EU creditors.

Greece must repay €3.4bn to the International Monetary Fund in February and March. Tax revenues have collapsed as Greeks preempt what they hope will be a repeal of austerity taxes. “There is only €1.9bn left in the cash kitty, and the government has spending costs of $2.5bn coming up. Somebody needs to lend the country money soon,” said Megan Greene, from Manulife Asset Management.