Benedict Brogan – The Telegraph

Good morning. The defence of Scotland is the theme of the day. Philip Hammond will use a speech later to set out his argument against independence, focusing in particular on what will happen to Trident. He will say that protracted and costly negotiations will be necessary to remove Trident from its bases at Faslane and Coulport. His argument is previewed by Admiral Sir George Zambellis, the First Sea Lord, who uses an article in the Telegraph to set out his concerns for naval security if Scots vote for separation: his central point is that the two residual navies would be weaker than the current whole. And to reinforce the point a dozen former armed forces chiefs, including Air Chief Marshal Lord Stirrup and Gen Sir Mike Jackson, have written to Alex Salmond to caution that getting rid of Trident would infuriate allies and “cast a dark shadow over Scotland”. It’s all of a piece with the stark warning last week from Lord Robertson, the former Nato chief, who said Scottish independence would have a “cataclysmic” effect on the Atlantic alliance.

It has the feel of a concerted military campaign. But will it work? As is so often the case, the arguments being advanced seem to be based more on a complaint about the trouble Scottish independence would cause to the residual UK than potential harm to Scotland. Scotland may have a proud history of military achievement as a major, and disproportionately potent, part of the UK armed forces, but culturally and politically it has long given every sign of being uninterested in taking part in the geopolitical responsibilities that the British government has pursued. If London’s argument is that Britain will no longer be able to play a major role on the world stage, it may well find that Scotland is indifferent because, well, it doesn’t want to. To complain that rUK will be a lesser entity is hardly a compelling reason for Scots to stick with the current arrangements. Scotland may just choose to be a small, regional player on its own terms, rather than part of a more influential whole. The danger is that London is advancing an argument that sounds perilously as if it is complaining about the loss of a submarine base, aircraft carrier, training ground and source of effective mercenaries. Hardly a vote winner.

I’ve looked at Scotland in my column by the way, and the failings of the two main parties that are encouraging a sense of angst in the No campaign. I am struck by the uncertainty among Tories about what to expect this summer: will David Cameron get stuck in and lead from the front? Or will he leave it to Labour? Gordon Brown is about to publish a book and will step up his involvement. I argue that Mr Cameron should ignore the claims that his presence would be counter-productive, and take the fight to Scotland.


The Times leads with an investigation into Nigel Farage’s expenses. They detail how he has received £15,500 a year from the EU for the costs of his office in Bognor Regis, even though it is provided to him for free. He’s the subject of a complaint to the EU anti-fraud body OLAF from a former Ukip official who has claimed anonymity because of “physical threats” within the party. Mr Farage denies the claims naturally. What’s noteworthy is that the Times’ treatment is evidence of the kind of scrutiny he and the party can expect to see a lot of over the coming months. The question is whether, as with Boris Johnson, a number of complaints about Mr Farage and Ukip are already priced into the market, and will therefore have only negligible effect. “The truth about Ukip is slowly emerging” the Times says in its main leader. “Mr Farage is not an ordinary politician – he’s not that good”. How will he fare under this kind of pressure? Quite well, so far at least. A poll for the Independent meanwhile finds that 51pc of people surveyed say Ukip does not offer a realistic alternative for Britain.


The Guardian leads with a poll that puts Labour five points ahead, and the Tories down three despite the Budget. “Tories stumble in polls despite economy boost” it says. The numbers are: L37 T32 LD12 Ukip11. Today we get the inflation figures, and we expect wages to outpace prices once again. Ed Balls anticipates the criticism by urging us, in a piece in the Guardian, to ignore a “handful of statistics” and instead note that the answer to Ronald Reagan’s “are you better off” question will still be “no” next year, and that will help Labour. The Mail anticipates him too, with a leader that opens “One by one, like snowballs in the spring sunshine, Labour’s economic arguments against the Chancellor are melting away”. That’s as may be, but in this Easter week while everyone is away maybe we should consider this emerging theme: why is Labour still ahead?


The papers cover yesterday’s exchanges between Tony Blair and Nick Clegg over the Chilcot report. The former Prime Minister rejects the suggestion he attributes to the Lib Dem leader that he is blocking publication of the report on the Iraq war. So who is? The other person who keeps being mentioned in the reports as one of the politicians entitled to raise objections is Gordon Brown.


Sarah Wollaston has taken to the Telegraph to defend her self against accusations that she shopped Nigel Evans. In fairness Mr Evans, now cleared of the charges against him, says “I don’t blame her” and offers to meet her for a chat. But Dr Wollaston accuses senior figures of “turning a blind eye” to sexual harassment at Westminster. The Totnes MP says she is “truly shocked” by the “rank hostility” she has experienced from colleagues.


Just when the Foreign Office thought it had got relations with China back on track after the Dalai Lama business and Dave’s visit last year, the Guardian reports that the Chinese have cancelled this week’s bilateral human rights dialogue with Britain, claiming the UK has been making “irresponsible comments” and is interfering in China’s internal affairs. The row seems to stem from a proposed minute’s silence in memory of Cao Shunli, a Chinese activist who died in custody last month.

Nope, sorry, can’t quite manage it. Digging out links and fighting with this software is taking ages. But nothing’s happening, believe me. @TimWig is still on holiday.


Palestinians’ “Anti-Normalization” Movement

The “anti-normalization” activists are already accusing Abbas of being a traitor for meeting with Israelis.

The dancers, invited by the Palestinians from India, a staunch supporter, have received a first-hand lesson in what years of incitement and negative campaigns can do.


Is Iran’s Hanging Tomorrow a Political Cover-up?

The regime apparently told Reyhaneh during her interrogation that “This murder was set up.” Is it possible that the regime needs to kill Reyhaneh to cover up a political murder that it committed?

We are also asking the Iranian judiciary what happened to the CD that had all the collected evidence in Reyhaneh Jabbari’s case and why the Islamic Republic of Iran’s prosecutor, Shamloo, destroyed it?

It would appear that this scheduled execution deserves at least a delay.


US Government Promoting Islam in Czech Republic

Critics say the project’s underlying objective is to convert non-Muslim children to Islam by bringing proselytizing messages into public schools under the guise of promoting multiculturalism and fighting “Islamophobia.”

The group recently ran an advertisement promising to pay 250 Czech korunas ($13 dollars) to any student aged 15 to 18 years who would attend a two hour presentation about Islam.

More recently, Muslims in the Czech Republic have tried to ban a book they say is Islamophobic, and have filed a ten-page criminal complaint against its formerly-Muslim author.


Benedict Brogan – The Telegraph

Good morning. The lavishing of George Osborne with praise continues today. The Chancellor is publishing joint Treasury/HMRC research that shows the economic benefits of tax cuts. Specifically, it details how the freeze in fuel duty has been paid for in part by greater economic growth. The study claims it will be worth an additional 0.5pc on GDP, or about £7.5bn. He’s used “dynamic scoring”, a methodology which factors in growth produced by tax cuts. The FT’s report details the drawbacks, namely that it requires a degree of optimism, and that some academics view the results as unreliable. The Office for Budget Responsibility isn’t keen, for one. But the key is that Mr Osborne is pressing for more of this kind of research as part of a wider programme to make a case for tax cuts.

The Times have taken it as a hint that he is prepared to argue for tax cuts even when borrowing is high. In a leader, the paper endorses the argument the Chancellor set out in his Washington speech last week. “It is vital that the Chancellor wins this debate if Western democracies are to retain confidence in free-market capitalism”. Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun joins in the praise for Mr Osborne, and contrasts his economic success with the Labour’s lack of policy: “After four years in the job Ed Miliband looks more like the leader of a protest party than a potential Prime Minister”. It should be noted that the FT also reports that the Treasury Select Committee will investigate whether Mr Osborne “has gone too far”: in this case though it’s whether he has given HMRC too many powers to investigate individuals for tax evasion and avoidance.

The obvious political construction to put on the research is that it will delight the right because it is an unmistakeable clarion call in favour of the beneficial effects of tax cuts. Cut taxes, get growth is a great Conservative mantra but in recent years it has fallen into neglect. As Jeremy Browne pointed out to me last week, there is something odd about having a Tory leader who believes in higher taxes than Tony Blair. Mr Osborne needs to make the Tory case for tax cuts, but many of his colleagues may reply with the obvious point about talk being cheap. Once again we are confronted with the gap between what Mr Osborne wants, and what he can deliver in Coalition with the Lib Dems. The intellectual work he is doing with his speech last week and his research today is an indicator of his ambitions for a majority Conservative government. And it is there that Mr Osborne is showing his power: his colleagues will note that he is the one advancing the big arguments for what a Conservative government could do.


Graham Brady is a voice the Tory party should listen to. He’s just been on Today making the point that most MPs are decent and treat their staff decently. That’s a useful corrective to the Palace of Sexminster headlines. He also lasers in on proposals from the Tory whips for a new code of conduct, pointing out that many parliamentary staffers may not want to be governed by a party machine, and he also argues that it should not be the function of the Whips’ Office to oversee the employment relationship between MPs and their staff. Meanwhile, there is coverage of the angry interviews Nigel Evans gave yesterday in which he criticised the authorities for his prosecution. His comments appeared alongside accounts in the Mail on Sunday of alleged scandal with the Parliamentary Resources Unit. The papers have followed that up: the most promising headline is in the Times – “No10 keeps its distance from gay orgy claims”. You can read the latest here. The suggestion is that inquiries were not thorough enough. Meanwhile the Mail is serialising the Labour MP Simon Danczuk’s book on Cyril Smith and its graphic accounts of his activities. Tim Loughton, the former children’s minister, says the late Lib Dem MP for Rochdale should have his knighthood removed posthumously.

This is interesting. Andy Grice in the Indy reports that the Lib Dems are cutting up rough about Danny Alexander’s attempts to shift party policy on the mansion tax. There is growing unhappiness, apparently, with what many suspect is a stealth campaign to ditch the mansion tax – a flat levy on the marginal value of homes above £2m – and replace it with a plan to introduce new council tax bands. The latter would have the advantage of being more likely to be accepted by George Osborne, and therefore deliverable in a second coalition. But the Lib Dems like their policy made out in the open, not in cosy stitch ups.


The Prime Minister is chillaxing at a yoga retreat on Lanzarote this week. As is traditional, he and Mrs Cameron submitted cheerfully to a photo opportunity at the start of their break, giving us another chance to assess his struggle with the casual look. Every forty-something man will sympathise. Dave will be grateful that his outfit hasn’t provoked a unanimous view. His choice of beige loafers is judged noteworthy, as are his pasty legs. Our own Charlie Parrish praises him for nailing “mature beach-to-dinner holiday fashion”.


The Indy reports that the Chilcot report into the Iraq war is now unlikely to be publish before next year, in the run-up to the general election. The paper says this will be awkward for Labour. I’m not so sure. History, mists of time, etc.

Tim is off. I can’t find the right button thingy. I’ll try tomorrow.


In the Telegraph

Dan Hodges – We used to put witches in the ducking stool – now it’s MPs

Andrew Gilligan – Gove is right to fail schools for religious bias

Allan Massie – Waving the flag for Britishness
Telegraph view – Putin’s power play

Best of the rest

Peter McKay – Could Kate and George keep Scots on board?

Alan Milburn – The two Eds need a more pro-business tone for a Labour win


Women who have sex before marriage should be hanged, says senior politician in India’s Socialist Party

Abu Azmi, the Socialist Party’s Maharashtra unit chief, says that women who have sex before marriage should be hanged, while the Party’s leader says he will scrap a law giving the death penalty to rapists if he’s elected prime minister


Painkillers linked to higher risk of stroke

Painkillers used by millions of Britons have been linked to higher risk of irregular heartbeat that could trigger a stroke.

The extra chance of developing atrial fibrillation is as high as 84 per cent, Dutch researchers say.

The condition – a leading cause of first-time strokes – means the upper chambers of the heart are out of rhythm and beat much faster than normal, which allows blood to pool and clot.


Iran Plans to Hang Reyhaneh Jabbari Tuesday

Despite the ongoing strong international and domestic pressure, the executioner regime of Iran has set next Tuesday as the date to hang Reyhaneh Jabbari. The campaign to free her from execution in Iran is calling for immediate intervention of the international community to have the criminal regime of Iran stop this barbaric act.


Brandeis Backs Arsonists, Dumps Firefighter

The worst strains of European thinking seem to have infected America. As cultural relativism, spinelessness and an inability to stand up for our own values have become more and more dominant in Europe, some of us have continued to look to the U.S. as a society safeguards its founding principles and remains willing to uphold them in the face of opposition. Apparently not for much longer.