Ed Miliband: Labour’s spending was not to blame for Britain’s economic woes

The Labour leader made the claim after he had delivered a speech on welfare in east London in which he confirmed that Labour would remove the winter fuel payment from well-off pensioners, and not reverse the Coalition’s child benefit cut.

Asked he accepted that the “Labour party you were part of until 2010 spent too much”, he replied: “No, I don’t agree with that.

“You can take two views about this – you can either say that what happened was that the deficit caused the financial crash, or you can believe that the financial crash caused the deficit.

“The reason why President Obama is having to deal with the deficit, and President Hollande is having to deal with the deficit, why every country around the world is having to deal with the deficit is because of the financial crash.”

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Ed Miliband is a blancmange in a hurricane

In the past 10 days the Prime Minister has been busy. As well as responding with maturity, proportion and resolution to the jihadist atrocity in Woolwich, he has been advancing on a broad front. He has secured a major negotiating success in the EU – allying with France to lift the arms embargo that hindered Syria’s democrats. He has also secured the opening of 102 new free schools designed to help children in need, ensured gay men and women at last enjoy full equality before the law and won an endorsement for his economic strategy from the IMF and the OECD – as inflation and the deficit both fell.

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Gay marriage passes – now the Tories must move on

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. Cast your eyes along the waterfront this morning after the night before and you might conclude that things are fairly dire for Dave. He’s suffered another major rebellion (I know, I know it was a free vote, but he still failed to persuade his colleagues to follow his lead), there’s lashings of backbiting, and he’s been reduced to sending a pleading ‘Dear Mr Loon, I still love you’ letter to his members, something even American commentators have picked up on as a bad look. Nick Watt, a keen reader of Tory runes, spots a sea-change in attitudes to Dave among MPs and raises the prospect of a move against him in The Guardian, with more letters going in to Graham Brady. As I mention in my column, grown ups inside No10 realise that they are stuck with a number of what they refer to as ‘legacy issues’, from not winning the 2010 election to the gay marriage idea.

But there is no reason why the situation should not improve. Much of what has excited us in recent weeks will have passed the voters by, and after tonight’s vote gay marriage will be on its way to becoming law, and passing out of the current political debate. With the economy slowly improving and Labour wallowing, the Tories surely should be able to claw themselves off the rocks. This will require a fair wind, and a commitment by Mr Cameron and those around him to sharpen up. It also means not surrendering to the bullying disguised as advice from those agitating against Dave, whether it’s David Davis or Lord Ashcroft. The recess starts today, a good opportunity for everyone to calm down and for the PM to have a think about how he organises himself from now on.

That “personal message”, here in all its glory, might not be a bad start. Sure, many will feel it’s more than a little late – there has been a chasm apparent between the leadership and the grassroots since the grammar school row five years ago – but that doesn’t mean it’s too late. The fightback could just start here. Though from a low base if you believe a new Survation poll in The Guardian. It has the Tories down to 24 pc – just two points above Ukip.

Gay marriage served as a stark reminder of just how far removed Dave’s world view often seems from his troops. As The Guardian notes, the inter-generational divisions in the Tory party were particularly stark . Sir Gerald Howarth, the former defence minister last year knighted on the PM’s advice, warned in yesterday’s debate of an “aggressive homosexual community” in the country. Edward Leigh lamented that the “outlandish views of the loony left of the 1980s” had become “embedded in high places”.

Yes, it passed easily. Tim Loughton’s “wrecking” amendment was defeated 375 to 70. But passage of the Bill really owed to the deal passed with Labour, including on an immediate civil partnership review. No wonder the Mail describes it all as a “humiliation”.

It’s not too late for a Tory electoral recovery but, as I highlight in my column, a little more brutal self-assessment certainly wouldn’t go amiss:

At times his operation shows insufficient guile, at others a lack of interest in the mechanics – and in the people on whom his leadership should depend, notably his MPs. It is a fundamental weakness at the heart of Mr Cameron’s leadership, and one which his skills as a statesman and his undoubted sincerity as a public servant struggle to counterbalance.

To Janan Ganesh in the FT (£), all this squabbling only reinforces a truth:

The people who should have been vindicated by the Tories’ failure to win in 2010 were the Cameron modernisers

A RATHER BETTER DAY FOR ED

Meanwhile it was a rather better day for Ed Miliband. It was the perfect opportunity for him to take a cute and clever line on gay marriage, supporting the Loughton wrecking amendment for the sake of a little short-term tactical gain. Instead, as Dan Hodges blogs for us, Ed took a position that seems dangerously close to principled. Rather than win a few cheap political points, he’s got what he wanted: gay marriage.

APPEAL COURT OUTS BORIS

The Appeal Court yesterday said that the public does have a right to know about Boris Johnson’s extra-marital lovechild, who was born in November 2009, as the Daily Mail reports.

PROGRAMMES NOT WORKING

The government’s flagship Work Programme isn’t helping the most difficult cases, the Work and Pensions Select Commons committee has found. As The Independent reports, there is “growing evidence” that disadvantaged jobseekers are being ignored, and that Work Programme advisers had to deal with up to 180 jobseekers at a time. The one perk? In a payment-by-results scheme in which all 18 providers failed to meet their targets in the first year, the Government has spent £248 million less than anticipated. Meanwhile, Jonathan Aitken has attacked the “big yawning gaps” in plans to get former criminals to take on probation work – an idea that uses similar outsourcing methods to the Work Programme, as we note.

HUNT ATTACKS SURGERIES

In a speech to the King’s Fund health think-tank on Thursday, Jeremy Hunt will call for a new chief inspector of GPs to increase their quality. As the Daily Mail reports, Mr Hunt will attack “out-of-hours services where you speak to a doctor who doesn’t know you from Adam and has no access to your medical record” and complain that surgeries have become “mini A & E units” in which doctors cannot cope. Under his plans, there would be one GP per family who the “buck stops” with.

BERLIN PLANS EU TREATY CHANGE

More bad news for Dave comes from Berlin. The FT (£) reports that Angela Merkel is drawing up plans to streamline decision making in the eurozone but not going as far as a wholesale renegotiation. Two recently adopted standalone treaties – one enshrining fiscal discipline in a “fiscal compound”; another creating the €500 billion eurozone rescue fund – would be the models.

DAVE’S GOOGLE GO-SLOW

Dave has also faced criticism after treading very softly around Google during his meeting with Eric Schmidt and other business leaders yesterday at No 10. As The Times (£) reports, Dave did not seek a one-on-one meeting with Mr Schmidt despite making the case for tax transparency to the council.

UKIP BLAMED FOR CLIMATE CHANGE

Ed Davey has warned that the rise of Ukip risks populist “saloon bar” politics extending to climate change scepticism. Davey told The Independent of the dangers of the Conservatives pandering to a party that “don’t want to say that things here have to change”.

SCHOOLS – MORE BUCK BUT NOT MORE BANG

There is “no correlation at all between spending and outcomes”, according to new research from Reform, as we report. Some schools spend twice as much as others to receive the same “value-added” scores. Cue the carping from ministers of non-protected departments to begin again – that’s if it ever stopped. Reform have already argued for an end to the ring-fence in the education budget.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Apparently Diana Abbott doesn’t do subtlety:

@steve_mccabe: One of our lighter moments Diane Abbott caught tweeting about being in same lobby as David Cameron by PM who was reading over her shoulder

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Ben Brogan – Cameron shouldn’t blame our rowdy press for his own failings

Iain Martin – It feels like the Right has split irrevocably

Gillian Guy – Redemption awaits Britain’s battered banks

Telegraph View – A belated olive branch – but will it be enough?

Best of the rest

Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) – Those aren’t loons, they’re just the over-60s

Jenni Russell in The Guardian – Politics needs mavericks, not just the same old chumocracy and groupthink

Dominic Lawson in The Independent – Hide behind the EU and the electorate will flush you out

Janan Gamesh in the FT (£) – Tories misunderstand the last election

THE AGENDA

09:30 am: Latest inflation figures for April released by ONS.

10:00 am London: Lord Deighton at Treasury Select Committee. Commercial Secretary Lord Deighton and Geoffrey Spence, Chief Executive, Infrastructure UK, HM Treasury will give evidence as part of the committee’s review of private finance.

12:00 am London: The London boroughs of Richmond and Hillingdon are announcing the Heathrow referendum results. Boris Johnson the Mayor of London, Lord True the Leader of Richmond Council and Cllr Ray Puddifoot the Leader of Hillingdon Council are due to attend. City Hall.

David Cameron to Tories: ‘I’m not sneering at you’

The Prime Minister tonight sent a “personal message” to thousands of party volunteers, insisting that despite their differences over Europe and gay marriage, the leadership and the party had “a deep and lasting friendship”.

Mr Cameron’s email was his first comment since The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers disclosed on Saturday that a member of his inner circle had described Conservative association members as “mad, swivel-eyed loons”.

The Prime Minister did not refer explicitly to the remark, but insisted that he admired and respected his party’s activists.

“I am proud to lead this party. I am proud of what you do,” he said. “I would never have around me those who sneered or thought otherwise. We are a team, from the parish council to the local association to Parliament, and I never forget it.”

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Ed Miliband asked 13 times whether Labour would borrow more

During a chaotic radio interview, the Labour leader was questioned 13 times over the details of how he would afford policies intended to boost economic growth including building projects and a VAT cut.

Mr Miliband’s aides were also later forced to clarify the party leader’s policy on benefits for pensioners after he suggested that Labour would consider limiting winter fuel allowances and free TV licences to the poorest older people.

The 15 minute set-piece interview was part of a series of features with party leaders running this week on BBC Radio 4’s World at One. Nick Clegg and David Cameron are also due to be questioned.

Mr Miliband clashed repeatedly with the programme’s presenter, Martha Kearney, who at one point resorted to asking him for a “straight answer”.

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A million on benefit capable of work

The Work and Pensions Secretary will release figures showing how many people are long-term claimants of unemployment benefit and other welfare payments.

The statistics are likely to add to a Coalition row over the growing cost of social security payments, which economists say is hampering efforts to reduce the deficit.

It could also add to tensions within Labour over how to deal with the growing benefit budget.

In an annual report on his Social Justice Strategy, Mr Duncan Smith will publish statistics showing “the scale of entrenched social breakdown that has taken hold across Britain over the last decade”.

Even though there are 400,000 fewer people out of work than a year ago, Mr Duncan Smith will say, there are still too many people with a long-term dependency on benefits.

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George must face his dragons

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. It’s St George’s Day and already fire-breathing dragons are circling the Chancellor. Spy Chiefs have played the terror card, reports the Times (£). If George Osborne wants to slash MI5 and MI6 budgets in the drive to save an extra £11.5 billion, they say, then Britain would be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Coming so soon after the Boston bombings and the latest foiled plot on a New York passenger train, it’s a powerful message. Britain faces multiple security threats, and they are not cheap to deal with – the FT reports (£), for instance, that the cost of cyber attacks has tripled in a year: “The cost of security breaches to UK companies amounts to billions of pounds annually.”

But the Spending Review must go ahead – government departments have to submit their opening bids by Monday – and there are few risk-free or painless options on the table. George knows that he will have to live with the consequences of austerity, whatever they may be.

Making his task that bit harder is the Government’s machinery, which is far from well-oiled. As Rachel Sylvester notes in the Times, there has been an “extraordinary hollowing out of the centre” as civil servants and political advisers depart in droves (particularly from No 10). It’s “less omnishambles, more omnirambles as everyone walks out,” she says. There remains a “structural problem” at the Treasury, too.

What George will have to be on guard for, according to a senior figure quoted in the Times, is ministers waving “bleeding stumps”.

“Cabinet ministers will come in and say, ‘Of course I’m happy to make savings, but the only thing I can possibly cut is the children’s cancer unit. Perhaps the Chancellor would like to announce the closure?’ ”

Those are the dragons that must be slayed first.

EU OPT-OUT ROW

There’s a storm brewing. Dave’s plan to opt out of 130 EU justice and police co-operation measures has been denounced by senior peers. The FT (£) has the detail: “A report by the cross-party Lords EU committee echoes concerns by police and security chiefs by warning that opting out of the laws would have ‘significant adverse negative repercussions’ for British security and justice.” It’s a sticky wicket, and not helped one bit by the Lib Dems, who are hardening their stance. Danny Alexander, their chief negotiator on this issue, is quoted in the Guardian: “I am clear that any final package will have to ensure the UK’s continued participation in all the key measures which are important for public safety,” he says, “including the European arrest warrant and Europol.”

ED’S LURCH TO THE LEFT

On the News at 10 last night, Ed Miliband confirmed that if he wins power in 2015, his government would be “very different” to Mr Tony’s. The Mail reports that Labour’s leader “laid out plans to impose more regulation, tax bankers more heavily and build ‘a different banking system’”. But what’s his strategy? There’s one clue in the Indie, which carries an interview with Matthew McGregor, the digital strategist who embarrassed Mitt Romney so much last year. Obama’s online “attack dog” says his work would be about creating a narrative. “Storytelling is a really big part of building a movement so when you say ‘would you like to knock on doors?’ people know what you mean. They know what making calls for Ed Miliband looks like because they’ve read it on a blog post.” In the FT, however, Janan Ganesh argues persuasively that Labour’s boldness and clarity could be its undoing. Ed is “one of the the least tentative among postwar opposition leaders”.

ENGLAND AND ST GEORGE

Eric Pickles has an ingenious thought for St George’s Day: he wants to resurrect county names that were banned by Ted Heath in the Seventies, we report. Cumberland, Huntingdonshire and Westmorland were all scrapped. Eric wants to bring ‘em back. No doubt the Government would also like to bring back the “Knights of the Shire” Tory MPs of yesteryear who, Bruce Anderson explains in a column to mark the 90th anniversary of the 1922 committee, were far more manageable that their present-day heirs.

DURAND ACADEMY: GOVE VS HODGE

Michael Gove could soon face an inquisition from Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, into Durand Academy, a proposed state-run boarding school in Stedham, West Sussex. We report that local “residents objecting to the plan have challenged [the academy's] spending on the boarding project”, which stands at more than £3 million so far. Our own Tom Rowley visited Stedham yesterday: he found that “few residents were in favour of the school”. Anthony Seldon, meanwhile, supports the idea and compares it to the evacuation of children from London during the Second World War.

THIS IS DEPRESSION, SAYS WELBY

Britain is in the grip of a depression. That’s according to Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Mail reports his comments, made last night at a Bible Society Debate: “What we are in at the moment is not a recession, but is essentially some kind of depression… Part of the banking system should be local, not London-based.” Watch this space.

PING-PONG CINEMA FOR THE LORDS

Whips have come up with a novel way to keep members of the House of Lords entertained when they have to stay for late-night votes, reports the Times (£). A programme of films, including Skyfall and The Spirit of ’45, has been arranged to stop peers leaving early. It’s been nicknamed the “Ping-Pong Cinema Club”, after the way in which Bills bounce between both Houses. Will they serve popcorn?

THE ROMANIANS ARE COMING

But how many of them? We report that the BBC has been accused of “heavy spin” after polling 1,000 people in Bulgaria and Romania earlier this year. Newsnight found 1 per cent of Romanians and 4 per cent of Bulgarians said they were looking for work in the UK. Those percentages convert to a worrying total of 350,000. But the Beeb didn’t convert them, instead saying they showed “very small numbers of people” were considering coming.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Labour’s Kevin Brennan with some biting humour on aggressive football players:

@KevinBrennanmp: “A compromise on Suarez could be not to ban him but make him wear a muzzle – they do it in other sports like greyhound racing.”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Bruce Anderson: The PM should be wary of the heirs to the Knights of the Shire

Telegraph View: A new deal would benefit all of Europe

Philip Johnston: The growing cry for England and St George

Tom Rowley: The inner city and the village school

Jonathan Glancey: Bungalows are back in favour

Best of the rest

Rachel Sylvester in the Times (£): Don’t expect decisions from deserted No 10

Janan Ganesh in the FT (£): Labour’s clarity may be its undoing

Gideon Rachman in the FT (£): France should not indulge in daydreams of guillotines

John Cridland in the Times (£): Business is stirring, but ministers must do more

Kathy Gyngell in the Mail: Why can’t government do more for stay-at-home mums?

THE AGENDA

09.00 Osborne and Alexander launch Scotland analysis paper on currency, Glasgow.

09.30 Public sector borrowing figures are released.

09.30 Boris in academy visit to support Teach First campaign, Deptford.

14.30 Michael Fallon speech to Open Europe on EU and regulation, London.

14.30 Jeremy Hunt gives evidence to Health Committee on Mid-Staffs.

15.40 Mark Harper and Romanian/Bulgarian ambassadors at Home Affairs Committee.

 

An emotional week for George

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. Big week for George Osborne. If it goes wrong, he really will have something to cry about. Thursday’s Q1 GDP figure will define the narrative for the weeks ahead. If we go into triple dip, it’s disaster and we can expect the calls for his head to intensify.

Plan A would be up for grabs, not on merit but because the likely panic on the Tory benches would create an overwhelming pressure to do something else. All this talk of a change in fortunes that I and others have been indulging in would be out the window. Thankfully for the Chancellor, all the betting seems to be that he’ll get some growth, despite the wrong kind of cold this winter.

And if he does then the pressure will ease, his “steady as she goes, long road to recovery” account of what’s happening will be intact, and the Coalition will be able to make the case for a change in its fortunes. Growth this week helps the Tories and the Lib Dems next week when they have to account for themselves in the locals. Growth, albeit anaemic growth, won’t be a surprise and so won’t be a story in the way that a triple dip would be. That will make it easier for the Tories to keep pressure on Labour over its plans. Thursday’s number will decide whether the story is indeed switching from the Tories to Labour.

As our Deputy Political Editor James Kirkup reports, the economy is one reason the Tories are starting to look a bit perky.

“Lots of people in the blue team have recently told me they see signs that the UK is about to turn the corner and emerge from the doldrums. This optimism, which is being quietly stoked by HM Treasury, is at odds with some of the economic data.

As we say in our leader, “inevitably there will be calls for the Chancellor to change course, abandon austerity and borrow more money to spend our way out of the slump. This has been the Labour Party’s approach for some time; and last week, even the IMF… began to wobble.” The Times’s leader joins us in saying that George must stick to his guns – and keep Plan A alive: “To veer from the path of deficit reduction when its pockets are so empty would, far from accelerating Britain’s economic recovery, put any recovery in jeopardy.”

Trouble is, as the Times (£) reports, “the four most senior members of the Cabinet all champion different projects and policies” when it comes to growth. That comes via Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, who told a private meeting of bankers that: Dave prioritises exports, free trade, micro and small business; Nick “wants greater concentration on regional growth”; Vince prefers to bash the bankers; and George is focused on infrastructure investment and attracting overseas businesses to Britain. (On that front, he may enjoy Boris’s column: the mayor says we can’t afford to ignore our dynamic friends in the Gulf.)

The banks aren’t being helpful, either. The FT’s splash warns the “banks have put a damper on George Osborne’s hopes that an expansion of the Funding for Lending scheme will spark a rush of credit to small and medium-sized companies”. The scheme is “not a panacea”, says Stephen Pegge of Lloyds.

But how much of this is a sideshow? Roger Bootle explains in our Business section that Thursday’s GDP figures certainly are. “You should rather focus attention on commodity prices and developments in the eurozone. Cyprus could yet provide a shock that shakes the world.” There’s only one bit of good news for George: Ed Miliband’s sheer incompetence. In the Telegraph Jeff Randall writes persuasively that Ed has had “a flow of killer passes into an undefended box with an open goal before him”, yet somehow he “continues to miss the target more often than he hits it”.

LABOUR’S WOBBLES

Ed Miliband’s strike-rate is not the only thing that’s letting him down. We report that David Watts, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, says Ed has “a way to go” before voters see him as a prospective PM. Welfare is a problem area: voters think he’s a softy. As one shadow minister says: “Our welfare position is wrong and needs to be tougher. Otherwise we have no chance of actually winning votes directly from the Conservatives.”

If you missed it, check out Toby Helm’s Observer piece, which quotes a senior Labour figure saying “the lesson for us is you cannot underestimate Cameron and Osborne… After last year’s omnishambles Budget we thought Osborne was finished. We have seen he definitely isn’t.”

The problem for Ed, as I blogged yesterday, is that Labour is suddenly the story – and it hurts.

We are seeing a trend, of stories about Labour divisions, party arguments about policy, complaints about its economic strategy, hostile briefing from insiders, and worries that the polls are going the wrong way. Politics is a fickle business. If Westminster and the media have decided that Labour is now the story, it’s going to hurt.

It seemed to hurt Jim Murphy yesterday, who refused to say whether Labour would increase spending if it won power in 2015. He blamed his party’s narrowing poll lead on Margaret Thatcher’s funeral: “We’ve just had a week… where the country appeared like a one-party state, where it was the Conservative Party and those who were supporting Mrs Thatcher eulogising what they considered to be her achievements.”

BUSINESS FOR BRITAIN

A group of 500 business leaders has called on the Coalition to negotiate a better deal for Britain with Brussels, we report. The new Business for Britain campaign backs Dave’s approach to renegotiation and calls for a cross-party “national drive to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership of the EU”. It’s heartening stuff for No 10. As John Caudwell writes in the Times, “Business for Britain will be at the Prime Minister’s elbow, encouraging him to be bold in his demands for a more competitive EU.”

A LITTLE LOCAL DIFFICULTY

In the Mail, Andrew Pierce reveals the “funeral plot to bury Dave” which centres on the county council elections on May 2. Some of the “biggest beasts in the Tory parliamentary jungle,” he says, “have quietly determined how many losses the PM can sustain before there is a challenge to his leadership.” Says one Thatcherite MP: “If we lose 400 councilllors he’s safe, but if it’s double that, he’s not.” Estimates vary, but Plymouth University research, reported in the Sunday Times, reckons the Tories will lose 310 seats.

TORY RACISM ROW

A 73-year-old Tory councillor has resigned after suggesting inner-city children from a “coloured area” would not be welcome at a proposed new school in the countryside. “Ninety-seven per cent of pupils will be black or Asian. It depends what type of Asian. If they’re Chinese they’ll rise to the top. If they’re Indian they’ll rise to the top. If they’re Pakistani they won’t,” John Cherry told the Mail on Sunday. Michael Gove said those opposed to the plan were “trying to obstruct an inspirational project”.

LIZ ‘TRUNCHBULL’ TRUSS

Too many nurseries allow toddlers to run around “with no sense of purpose”, says Liz Truss. Her comments were leapt on by the lefty Twitterati. But there is nuance: “This isn’t about two-year-olds doing academic work. It’s structured play which teaches children to be polite and considerate through activities which the teacher is clearly leading.”

NEW PRIVATISATION

The FT reports that up to half the 21 companies in which the government has a shareholding could be privatised in the next few years. That’s according to Mark Russell, the newly appointed head of the Shareholder Executive.

TWEETS AND TWITS

First prize for marathon #humblebrag goes to Labour’s speedy Jim Murphy:

@jimmurphymp: “My main achievement at #LondonMarathon2013 was outsprinting the guy dressed as Scooby-Doo in home straight to finish in 3hrs31min45sec.

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson: We can’t afford to ignore our dynamic friends in the East

Jeff Randall: A sitter for Miliband, but he still can’t score

Margot James: Shorter school days only thwart the young

Telegraph View: Osborne must fight to keep Plan A alive

Best of the rest

Tim Montgomerie in the Times (£): To beat the Left, Tories must aim for its heart

Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun: Police become a law unto themselves

John Gieve in the FT (£): Who is supposed to be in charge of the British economy?

THE AGENDA

08.45 Michael Gove makes announcement about the TechBacc; visits Uxbridge College with Skills Minister Matthew Hancock.

10.00 A court hearing will decide how much Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce should pay for their points-swapping prosecution. Southwark Crown Court

12.00 To mark the Queen’s 87th birthday, a 41-gun salute in Hyde park.

14.30 Memorial service today to mark the 20th anniversary of Stephen Lawrence’s murder. St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square.

18.30 Parliamentary ethics and finance panel debate, with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Andrea Leadsom MP and the BBC’s Robert Peston. Attlee Suite, Portcullis House.

Labour cannot go into the next election with the chancellor who lost the last one

Alistair Darling was out and about on the airwaves yesterday, dispensing some of his trademark patrician wisdom. Labour, he said, should keep its economic powder dry: “I don’t think my Labour colleagues need to take a position until we see what the present Government is proposing” he told Sky News. “We don’t actually know what they are doing. It’s very difficult to plan ahead in any sort of sensible way. I think what we are better doing at the moment is concentrating our fire on the Government.”

Just for good measure, he then proceeded to fire off a few well aimed rounds himself: “How long does the present government simply lumber on and hope something will turn up?” he asked. “What you saw last week were more and more people saying (George Osborne’s) policy isn’t working”.

More….

A slippery slope for soapbox Ed

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good Morning. Its leader might be a soapbox politician these days, but Labour’s head-and-shoulders lead over the Tories is being slowly pulled back. A succession of poor polling performances, with the party’s lead cut in both YouGov and ICM polls, was capped by last night’s Evening Standard/Ipsos MORI effort which found that only 24pc believe Ed is up to the job of being prime minister. The result is up from his 17pc rating last year, but it franks the findings of the Guardian’s ICM poll earlier in this week which put Ed’s personal popularity at an all time low. If the Independent‘s report that the two Eds will promise to outspend the Coalition plans should Labour win in 2015 were true, it would hardly help, given that polls consistently show that it debt and deficit are most salient issues for voters. But that’s a big “if” – Ed Balls’ mob call it “total rubbish”, a spin on an upcoming Fabian report and not party policy which won’t be settled until nearer the time as “‘it would be irresponsible to do otherwise, who knows where economy and public finances will be in two months’ let alone two years’ time?”

But without headline policies for the here and now, other than opposition to welfare cuts of all stripes, the party gives the appearance of twisting in the wind. This morning’s papers prove the point. The Mail reports on an interview Ed gave to a Left wing website in which he positioned himself as the heir to Margaret Thatcher’s “utter consistency of ideas” and attacked David Cameron’s “lack of consistency”. However, in a speech at Labour’s Scottish party conference in Inverness today, he will pledge to tear up Lady Thatcher‘s legacy of “deregulation; the dominance of finance over industry; allowing large private sector vested interests to flourish; government getting out of the way in the economy,” as we report. Where’s the consistency with the Ed who was going to “save capitalism from itself” only last September? Besides which, as a Compass report, noted in the Guardian, explains this morning, “there is yet to be [public] intellectual ferment around responsible capitalism or reformed social democracy.” What ails voters is the deficit.

Next week may be more difficult still for the Labour leader. The re-emergence of activist trade unionism is a gift to the Conservatives at a time when the party needs little excuse to indulge one of its periodic transformations into a 1980s tribute band. The Times (£) reports that union backed candidates have secured the “plum [Labour] seats” in the future European Parliament elections. That looming presence, plus the threat of a General Strike being called at next Wednesday’s meeting of the TUC General Council, may yet give the Tories the opportunity to reprise one of their greatest hits. One way or another, we may soon find out just how red Ed is.

OSBORNE THOROUGHLY IMF’D

Under promise, over deliver. That’s clearly Mark Carney‘s strategy prior to taking up the keys to the Bank of England vaults. As we report, the next governor placed the UK in “the pack of crisis economies” being left behind by a resurgent America at a fringe meeting around the IMF and World Bank spring meetings in Washington yesterday. “Can central banks provide sustainable growth? No,” he continued. “They can help with the transition, but they can’t deliver long term growth. That needs to come through true fiscal adjustments and necessary structural reforms… Sustainable growth comes from the private sector.” It’s an endorsement of the Chancellor’s fiscal vision, but it suggests that his hopes for a monetary bounce in the meantime may be overdone.

Before Mr Carney takes his post, there is the small matter of June’s annual visit by IMF officials to be negotiated. Relations between the two would not have been helped by Christine Lagarde’s speech yesterday, which the Guardian reports included her assertion that she “vividly remembered” the Chancellor’s shame at the size of his deficit. The FT (£) believes the Treasury are up for the fight, noting that “George Osborne is to go toe-to-toe” with the IMF if they call for an end to his deficit reduction strategy. As Jeremey Warner writes, the Chancellor feels that Ms Lagarde’s position is on shakier ground than those cheering her on from the opposition benches might suppose:

“Why is the UK being asked to go back to fiscal expansionism when there are no such demands made of Germany? Why, too, is Britain being told to let rip when much harsher fiscal consolidation is being urged on countries in the eurozone with smaller fiscal deficits. It makes no sense, unless explained as traditional French Anglophobia…”

Even allowing for Anglo-French rivalry, the Chancellor’s supporters have a tougher task on their hands now. Polly Toynbee argues in the Guardian that the statistical errors in the model of Harvard economists Professor Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have “blown the austerians case out of the water”. With the academics discredited and the IMF deeply sceptical, one by one, the stilts holding up the house which George built are being gradually kicked away.

END OF THE ROAD FOR THE MOD SQUAD?

Senior ministers have urged Dave to ditch the modernisation project and emulate Margaret Thatcher by giving voters “red meat” on immigration and welfare, we report. That advice isn’t easy to square with Lord Ashcroft’s latest findings. As the Mail reports, he notes that only 16pc of non-white voters supported the Tories the last time around. Only 30pc of Asian voters believe that the Tories share their values, and 16pc of black voters. On the plus side, 51pc have never heard of Enoch Powell or the Rivers of Blood speech. Even so, with this segment of the electorate increasingly influential, the Prime Minister may have cause to think again before throwing any red meat on immigration to the Tory wolves.

SCHOOLS IN FOR SUMMER

It’s no wonder the Tories are opposed to votes at 16. Michael Gove’s speech at the Spectator Education Conference yesterday would have made him decidedly unpopular among the nation’s children. As we report, the Education Secretary called for an end to Britain’s “19th century” education system, a move which means extending the school day and curtailing school holidays.

If that causes long faces in the classroom, the good news is that there’s a sweetener. Britain’s best performing pupils will receive…a letter from David Willetts, the Times (£) reports.

CIVIL SERVICE FLYNN-FLAM

The Telegraph article by Sir Bob Kerslake and Sir Jeremy Heywood paying tribute to Baroness Thatcher which appeared last week has left Labour’s Paul Flynn very cross indeed, as the Times (£) reports. When the pair appeared at the Commons Public Administration Committee yesterday, an “incorrigibly vivid” (in Quentin Letts‘ words) Mr Flynn let rip telling them they had “prostituted” their office with their “entirely sycophantic” words. As Michael Deacon reports, he was most uncivil to the civil servants:

“Such was Mr Flynn’s disgust that he addressed the objects of his ire as ‘Mr Kerslake’ and ‘Mr Heywood’, even though the nameplates on their table clearly read ‘Sir Bob’ and ‘Sir Jeremy’.”

HEALTH TOURISTS CRACKDOWN

NHS numbers entitling non-UK residents to NHS care should be handed out far more sparingly, Jeremy Hunt tells the Mail. Instead, visitors should be issued with only a temporary number which would lead to them being charged for anything other than emergency care, the Health Secretary said. The Sun adds that a consultation is expected in the next couple of months.

ALLEGED PCC WHISTLE-BLOWERS ARRESTED

MPs have called on Theresa May to intervene after the arrest of a third person in Cumbria Police’s investigation into the alleged leak of PCC Richard Rhodes’ expenses to a local newspaper. As we report, Tim Farron and Jamie Reed have both called for protection to be extended to any whistle-blowers involved.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Tracey Crocuch has been making the most of the Commons dining subsidies:

@LiamFoxMP:Nothing says “I ate too much for lunch” than a midriff button pinging off your shirt…#chubbytummy

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson: Will Gove’s schools revolution be just another false start?

Jeremy Warner: This is no time to go wobbly, Christine

Alistair Osborne: Has the world lost its lust for gold?

Telegraph View: Teaching unions put adults first, children last

Best of the Rest

Philip Collins in The Times (£): Small solutions should be Miliband’s big idea

Samuel Brittan in the FT (£): Thatcher was right – there is no such thing as society

Leo McKinstry in the Daily Express: So what would Mrs Thatcher do for Britain now?

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian: Osborne’s case for austerity has just started to wobble

THE AGENDA

08:30 am: Scotland Secretary Michael Moore is to deliver a speech at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry. RBS HQ, Gogarburn, Edinburgh.

09:00 am: Ed Balls on LBC 97.3.

09:00 am: Scottish Labour conference. Speeches from Labour leader Ed Miliband, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, former chancellor Alistair Darling and Scottish Labour deputy leader Anas Sarwar. Eden Court, Inverness.

09:30 am: Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) releases its lending estimate for March.