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.