Ed forced to defend leadership at PLP meeting

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. A meeting of backbenchers, a message of defiance from an embattled leader and a desperate appeal for unity. And for a change it wasn’t David Cameron. Tories will allow themselves a brief moment to relish overnight reports that Ed Miliband had to give his troops a pep talk at the PLP last night. The troubles besetting the Labour leader are growing. The reverberations from Mr Tony’s intervention in the New Statesman last week are still being felt. He reinforced his message in a speech in the US, reported in the Guardian, namely on the perils facing parties and leaders that lose touch with the centre.

Mr Miliband must be resenting the drip-drip of ‘helpful’ advice from those associated with Mr Blair, who plainly feel that with David Miliband gone, there is nothing left to be loyal for. Dan Hodges has another of his perceptive pieces of analysis in the Telegraph today, in which he details Labour’s 35pc strategy for sneaking over the finish line, which, as Rachel Sylvester explains in the Times (£), amounts to 29pc core vote plus 6pc grumpy Lib Dems. If true, it’s unambitious. Tories believe the skids are under Mr Miliband, both on policy and party management. They should look to their own troubles. But when a leader has to issue an appeal for unity, things are not going well. Are Labour wars about to become the theme of this late spring?

Well, there’s still the possibility of peace in our time. The Mail reports that Ed Miliband has invited Mr Tony to “truce talks” with a view to keeping him quiet in the run-up to 2015. As Polly Toynbee writes in the Guardian, there’s fat chance of that. Mr Blair is, she writes, careering around “like a loose horse at the Grand National” and threatening to cast a shadow over the current leadership in the same way that Baroness Thatcher did with generations of Conservatives.

Of course, unlike Lady Thatcher, Tony’s message is all about consensus. But the catch-all model also flies in the face of the 35pc strategy. AsDan Hodges writes, it isn’t just Mr Blair who finds Ed’s plan wanting:

“Of course, Blair’s political judgement isn’t infallible… But his comments aren’t the act of a back-seat driver, either. They’re the act of a passenger who’s tapped the driver on the shoulder and told him ‘It’s OK, I’ll walk the rest of the way.’ He’s not grabbing for the wheel. He’s getting out before the car ends up in the ditch. And there are several members of Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet starting to wish they could get out with him.”

NO THATCHER BOUNCE FOR TORIES

If Margaret Thatcher was leading the Tory party today, it would be 8pts better off in the polls, a Guardian / ICM survey has found. She isn’t though, and Dave’s troops have not profited from the wall-to-wall coverage of her passing. They register 32pc, up only 1pt, in the latest survey, with Labour slipping back a point to 38pc and Ukip’s vote share still stubbornly high on 9pc.

Lady Thatcher will lie overnight in the chapel of St Mary Undercroft, allowing MPs and peers to pay their respects. The Speaker announced yesterday that Big Ben will fall silent for the funeral, the first time the chimes have been halted since Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965, as we report. Dave has defended the £10m cost of the proceedings, helpfully converted into teachers and nurses by the Guardian (not online).

Still, if the Conservatives were intending to launch again from the Right (as many have intimated since Lynton Crosby’s arrival), surely Lady Thatcher’s funeral provides an ideal opportunity? Not at all, argues the FT (£). Dave will fight the next election from the centre ground, they argue, with Andrew Cooper re-hired as an adviser once he does leave Downing Street late this year or in 2014. While Tory MPs have returned from their recess with familiar grumbles about gay marriage and the party base, Number 10 has been buoyed by what it believes is a change in the economic weather (today’s sharp rise in business confidence is a case in point). As I write in my column, Number 10 has reasons to be cheerful:

“A year ago we were settling into the disastrous aftermath of the “omnishambles” Budget. Incompetence had taken hold. The Treasury was in retreat and it seemed as if nothing could go right for Mr Cameron. Set against that, his present circumstances look better. His message that Britain is locked in a ‘global race’ that requires relentless economic reform based upon a keen understanding of the aspirational hopes of the British people is being relentlessly stuck to…the new campaign chief, Lynton Crosby, is bringing much needed rigour to the operation.

BRITAIN SENDS MILITARY AID TO SYRIAN REBELS

Britain’s involvement in the Syrian civil war has escalated further with William Hague announcing that 34 armoured vehicles and 20 sets of body armour will be supplied to the rebels. The Mail reports that the Foreign Secretary will also seek to tear up the EU’s arms embargo, allowing Britain to supply weaponry as well as transport and defence equipment.

NAO TO PROBE 4G AUCTION

The failure of February’s 4G auction to raise the £3.5bn forecast in December’s Autumn statement will be subject to a National Audit Office investigation, the Guardian reports. The sale fell short by £1.2bn, prompting Labour claims that the auction process had not been run in a way which maximised value for money. Taking the highest bids across the board, the auction would have raised some £5.2bn, but thanks to a system of adjustments which saw the highest bidder pay little more than the second placed offer, the total take was significantly lower. That isn’t just problematic for the Coalition – if you are taking the Labour line that the auction’s timing was a cynical exercise in massaging the deficit statistics, you would have thought that the bidding process would have sought to maximise revenue too.

BORIS OF ARABIA

Well, the UAE actually. The Mayor of London is in the desert kingdom as part of a trade mission to the Gulf. Confronted by a camel meat platter, the Mail reports that he made lighter work of it than the Prince of Wales earlier this month. On the home front, Bo-Jo has given an in-depth interview to CNBC as part of a 30 minute long show airing on Wednesday. Insisting that he already has “the best job in British politics”, he goes on to deliver a paean to his political style:

“Self-deprecation is a very cunning device. Self-deprecation is all about understanding that basically people regard politicians as a bunch of shysters so you’ve got to be understood and then you try to get to the point of what people are saying, that’s what it’s all about I suppose.”

ANDREW MITCHELL: REPUTATIONAL ADVISER

One frequent criticism of politicians who take consultancy jobs is that they lack direct experience in the sector where they have been hired. That’s not a criticism that can be levied at Montrose Associates’ newest hire. Andrew Mitchell has been taken on at £3,000 a day by the firm which specialises in “reputational threats”, according to the Times (£). Clearly an astute move – Thrasher has done an excellent job of rehabilitating himself following the Plebgate smears – but does this mean he has closed the door to an EU role in the coming months?

VINCE TAKES THE WRONG DIRECTION

Presumably working on the principal that the Prime Minister’s friends are his enemies, Vince Cable launched an attack on the “immoral” size of the earnings of the band One Direction. As the Times (£) reports, the Business Secretary later recanted on the grounds that he had misheard the question and thought he was criticising chief executives and not popstars. “Apparently [they are] very popular and very succeSsful, so I have nothing against them,” he added.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Toby Perkins thoughts on last night’s events in Boston echo those of his colleagues:

@tobyperkinsmp: The appalling+heinous criminals who detonated bombs killing ppl running to raise money for good causes are as sickening as police are brave.”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan – A last piece of advice for the PM in the pew at St Paul’s

Philip Johnston – When does peaceful protest cross the line?

Dan Hodges – Blairite barbs expose the frailty of Labour unity

Telegraph View – Welfare reform remains a moral imperative

Best of the Rest

Rachel Sylvester in The Times (£) – Ed Miliband should be pitching a bigger tent

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – Tony Blair is like a loose horse at the Grand National

Ian Birrell in The Independent – We subsidise firms that keep workers in poverty

Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) – Conservatives should be pro-market, not pro-business

THE AGENDA

Today: Lord De Mauley to publish the Draft Wild Animals in Circuses Bill clauses.

09:30 am: Ex-No 10 Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell at Public Administration Select Committee on Civil Service reform. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.

09:30 am: Inflation figures for March are published by the Office for National Statistics.

09:30 am: Office for National Statistics (ONS) releases its house price study for February.

10:00 am: Energy and Climate Change Committee to take evidence from energy company executives on energy prices, profits and poverty. Portcullis House.

10:00 am: Money announced for railway station makeovers in Edinburgh. Transport Minister Keith Brown gives details of stations to receive money for refurbishments for next year’s Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games. Carlton Hotel, North Bridge, Edinburgh.

10:30 am Hearing in action brought by Lord McAlpine against Sally Bercow. The Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand.

11:00 am Results of random tests for horse meat and bute by the EU to be announced today. Bussels.

11:15 am: Culture Secretary Maria Miller, Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin and Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman give evidence to the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee on press regulation. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.

04:00 pm: The body of Baroness Thatcher to rest overnight in the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft on the eve of her funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral. After the service, the Chapel will be open (from 1700 until 2100) in order that members of both Houses and parliamentary staff holding permanent passes may pay their respects. Chapel of St Mary Undercroft, Westminster.

06:00 pm: Government’s health tsar Dr Don Berwick to address The King’s Fund. The King’s Fund, 11-13 Cavendish Square.

07:00 pm: William Hague speaks to Lord Mayor’s Easter Banquet. The speakers at the dinner will be William Hague MP, Alderman Roger Gifford and The Ambassador of the State of Kuwait – His Excellency Mr Khaled AAS Al Duwaisan GCVO. Mansion House, Walbrook.

Subdued Westminster continues to mourn Thatcher

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. British politics is in abeyance in the run-up to Lady Thatcher’s funeral. Despite the intervention of the Bishop of Grantham and the Guardian‘s report that Scotland Yard has approved an organised protest at the funeral, the respective party leaderships have largely set aside ventures into tribal territory to play the statesmen. As Nicholas Watt writes, the Prime Minister has done well to unite his party, a process which included meeting with a group of “sane Thatcherites” consisting of John Wittingdale, Sir Gerald Howarth, Conor Burns and John Redwood, and offering his condolences that “their leader” had passed away. The suggestion that a museum dedicated to Lady Thatcher might be housed in the former Lib Dem HQ on Cowley Street has delighted some on the Tory benches, as the Times (£) reports, but as mischief making goes, it’s fairly restrained.

Not everybody labours under the restraints of office, however. Nigel Farage tells the Times (£) that Ukip would have been unnecessary had Lady Thatcher survived the leadership contest of 1990, a pointed attempt to paint Dave as firmly in the tradition of the Tory wets. This sounds optimistic, and ignores Mrs Thatcher’s capacity for compromising at home and abroad. Boris, meanwhile, is in rumbustious form in his column for us:

“Ding dong, the Soviet Union is dead! Ding dong, communism is dead! And so is the British disease. They are all dead as doornails…Ding dong! Old Labour’s dead! The Labour Party has given up its ridiculous belief in the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange – the slogan that used to be printed on the back of every party membership card. Ding dong, Clause Four is dead as a dodo.”

Our report on Dame Mary Archer’s relationship with Lady Thatcher is also notable for the comments from Sir Bob Kerslake and Sir Jeremy Heywood on the former Prime Minister’s relationship with Whitehall. She would be remembered as “kindly and unswervingly loyal to her team…the best kind of boss” they said. Surely not a very discreet dig at Francis Maude?

ED ATTACKED

It never rains but it pours. Under bombardment from friendly fire, confronted by blanket coverage of Lady Thatcher’s death which must seem at times like a Tory greatest hits parade, Ed Miliband also had a broken wrist to contend with which was operated on over the weekend. The Mirror gamely pays tribute to Ed the “iron man” who delivered his Lady Thatcher tribute despite his fracture, but you can’t help but feel that there’s something about fracturing a wrist while on a walking holiday in Devon that fits Ed’s Mr Milibean image perfectly.

Of more significant strategic concern is the leader’s increasing isolation from the big beasts of the Blair years. Mr Tony, of course, started the ball rolling last week. As we report, John Reid has echoed his former boss, arguing on the Sunday Politics that Labour needed to “move from being a vote of protest to offering solutions” and adding that Ed had yet to “set out the direction of a future Labour government.” In yesterday’s Observer, David Blunkett also got in on the act, writing that Labour needs to move beyond “politics built on grievance”. All of which raises the question – if the old guard are like this with a near double digit poll lead, what will they be like when the gap narrows near polling day? It’s not just the Conservatives who need worry about internal divisions come 2015.

REVOLUTION BLUES

Despite the good behaviour, two reports of Tory revolts in this morning’s papers are a sure sign that normal service is ready to resume soon at Westminster . As we report, MPs from both halves of the Coalition are likely to oppose the relaxation of planning laws in a vote on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill on Thursday. Zac Goldsmith is leading the Tory dissenters, backed by Anne Main and Bob Blackman. On the Lib Dem side, Paul Burstow is also planning to either abstain or join Labour in opposing the measures.

Britain’s stay at home mothers are the beneficiary of the second Tory revolt. The Mail reports that dozens of Conservatives will vote for an amendment to the Finance Bill being pushed by Tim Loughton which would introduce a tax break for married couples. This, of course, is Tory policy in any case, but it would seem a shame to waste it so far out from an election year.

COOPER CONFUSION

The Mail reports that Dave’s back office team, gently hemorrhaging modernisers midway through parliament, has lost Andrew Cooper, the brains behind the party’s gay marriage stance. Following a power struggle with Lynton Crosby, the paper reports that Mr Cooper will return to his old job at Populus, the polling firm he co-founded, doing a little part time work on the side for CCHQ.

I’m doubtful. As the Independent reports, Downing Street says the story is nonsense, while Mr Cooper and Mr Crosby get on fine behind the scenes. Although Mr Cooper was always planning to go at some point in this parliament, talk is of the date not being for another nine months.

TWIN TRACK DIPLOMACY

Tired with the Foreign Office’s lack of ambition, Dave has set the Fresh Start group of Tory MPs the task of conducting parallel negotiations on EU reform, Bloomberg reports. Angela Leadsom will visit Berlin later this month, with other delegations heading to Poland, the Czech Republic and Spain. Hardly a vote of confidence in the Civil Service, but rest assured, there’s no risk of confusion. As Chris Heaton-Harris explains “we’re not negotiating. We’re putting ideas forward and listening to the reaction to them.” Quite different.

LET THE BOOM TIMES ROLL

The Ernst & Young ITEM Club report out this morning predicts a swift recovery in 2014 fuelled by improving real incomes and a stimulated housing market. Growth of 0.6pc this year will be followed by 1.9pc in 2014 and 2.5pc in 2015, the report predicts. Added to the positive BCC report earlier this month, there may be a chink of light at the end of the tunnel for the Treasury.

OLD WARS REVISITED #213

Any future coalition negotiations between the Tories and the Lib Dems will be contingent on the former accepting Lords reform, Simon Hughes tells the FT (£). Given the state of relations between the parties, the prospect of another union won’t thrill Tory backbenchers no matter what form it takes, but given the common belief in the parliamentary party that a semi-elected second chamber would threaten a constitutional crisis, the Lib Dem leadership would be asking Dave to write a cheque his party might not honour.

60, THE NEW 20

Pensioners of Britain, your country needs you! We report Steve Webb’s remarks that, with a projected 13.5m job vacancies in the coming 10 years and only 7m young people coming into the workplace, those close to retirement are going to have to keep going for longer. The “untapped resource” of a generation of older workers will “tackle ageist attitudes” as employers come to rely on them, the pensions minister added. Unfortunately for Mr Webb, David Willetts already has plans to send the 60+ generation back to university. Perhaps they’ll have time for both, provided, that is, they survive Fresher’s Week…

ON THE WRONG TRACKS

The new and responsible attitude to expenses and the public purse found Jim McGovern in court last month challenging IPSA’s decision not to reimburse a £23.90 rail fare between Dundee and Glasgow, which he claimed was the first leg of a journey between his constituency and Westminster, and which the independent claims body found was for a Labour Party meeting unrelated to his work as an MP. As the Sunday Herald reported, IPSA won the day, but with each side meeting their own legal costs, the taxpayer is responsible for the £27,000 in costs run up defending the decision. Mr McGovern’s costs were met by the GMB.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Cutting, from Douglas Carswell:

@DouglasCarswell: Just read John Prescott comments re funeral of former Prime Minister. For such a large man, he is really very small.”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Boris Johnson – Thatcherism is no museum piece – it’s alive and kicking

Roger Bootle – Thatcher set the ball rolling, it is up to others to ensure legacy is not wasted

Mary Archer with Peter Stanford – My unique chemistry with the Iron Lady

Telegraph View – Secret arrests would be an affront to justice

Best of the Rest

Tim Montgomerie in The Times (£) – The Right won on economics. Now for Act II

Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun – Unions that Maggie crushed are on the rise

Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail – Has Cameron at last leant Blair’s lesson that the British are NOT naturally Left-wing?

John Harris in The Guardian – Spare a thought for the late unlamented one-nation Tory

THE AGENDA

09:30 am: Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) releases its lending breakdown figures for February.

11:30 am: Foreign Secretary William Hague launches the annual Foreign Office human rights report.

Tony Blair is right, but Ed Miliband won’t listen

Tony Blair has written a stinging critique of Ed Miliband’s leadership for the New Statesman. The former prime minister argues, astutely, that Labour under Mr Miliband risks becoming a party of protest rather than a serious government-in-waiting. Mr Blair says that Labour must be “the seekers after answers, not the repository for people’s anger”. Instead, it drifts towards being “fellow-travellers in sympathy; we are not leaders. And in these times, above all people want leadership.”

More….

Labour split puts Ed Miliband on back foot over benefits

A number of Labour MPs admitted that the party had been “behind the curve” on tackling the spiralling benefits problem and its leadership had “ducked” the issue too many times.

They urged party members to back plans to reform the welfare state, with one urging people to remember that Labour had been set up for working people, “not as a charity or a social work organisation”.

Labour is facing deep and growing divisions, as the Coalition’s controversial welfare reforms come into force this month.

Mr Miliband has opposed many spending cuts, including the £26,000 a year cap on welfare per family, cuts to housing benefit for families with a spare bedroom and a below-inflation increase in most hand-outs.

More….

Timing is everything, Boris Johnson, as David Miliband will testify

“It is the most shattering experience of a young man’s life when one morning he awakes, and, quite reasonably, says to himself: ‘I will never play the Dane.’” Uncle Monty’s words in Withnail & I are delivered with unforgettable pathos and wit by Richard Griffiths, who died on Thursday. They refer to the disappointment etched into the destiny of almost every actor. But they ring no less true in the ranks of the political class.

When Boris Johnson finally admitted to Michael Cockerell in last Monday’s BBC documentary, that “if the ball came loose from the back of the scrum” he’d quite like to be prime minister, he was simply being candid about the political psyche. There is a part of every new MP that believes he will one day occupy No 10: Hamlet in the lethal Elsinore that is Westminster.

It has taken David Miliband more than two years to accept fully the “shattering experience” of which Uncle Monty speaks. As president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, he will be based in New York, the capital city of the world, putting to good use his talents and experience in response to the planet’s worst humanitarian crises. But he is also serving notice that he knows he is never going to be pri

More….

Do the Tories actually want to win in 2015?

On Tuesday Ben Brogan observed in this paper how “an aura of end of days” is starting to envelope David Cameron. It provided a fascinating insight into the current state of mind of the Conservative party, noting: “His [Cameron’s] party operates as if he is already a lame duck. A verdict on the Cameron years is setting like concrete around his feet. His premiership is marked by disappointments, changes of direction, a falling out with his MPs and his party, and an overarching sense of promise unfulfilled.”

Not exactly a barrel of laughs being a member of the parliamentary Tory party at the moment. But amid all the gloom and resignation, a passage leapt out: “A few weeks ago it was fashionable to predict a Conservative defeat in 2015. Now Tory MPs and commentators have gone one worse: they admit, grudgingly, that Labour’s inadequacies and the calculated political blandishments of last week’s Budget might just get Mr Cameron over the line and back into No 10; but – and this is truly embarrassing – they say it will hardly be worth it because the Prime Minister makes so little difference.”

More….

David Miliband a colossus? He’s a greedy failure in a cosmic sulk – Telegraph

Convulsions of grief were still being felt across north London last night in the wake of David Miliband’s resignation. The BBC, which has long felt special reverence for the great man, reported the event in hushed tones. The Guardian hosted feverish and wistful discussions about whether Mr Miliband might condescend to return one day to public life.

Tony Blair regretted “a massive loss to UK politics”. A near tearful Tessa Jowell said “it’s very sad”. Lord Adonis mourned an “inspirational leader”. A tremulous Yvette Cooper praised a “powerful speaker” and a “great minister”.

More….

David Miliband’s departure – a ‘cosmic sulk’ or the end of New labour?

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. He couldn’t resist one parting shot. David Miliband’s resignation interview contained the nugget that he still considered his brother to be “a long climb” away from Number 10. Having clearly decided, in the light of generally positive media coverage, that he should resign more often, Mili D also refused to rule out a comeback insisting that he would not seek American citizenship. As Michael Deacon writes, North London took the news badly – “outside his Georgian terraced house in London’s Primrose Hill, a day-long vigil for the People’s Miliband was held by hundreds of distraught fans, each clutching a tear-stained banana” – but has British public life lost an intellectual colossus or a “greedy failure in a cosmic sulk”? Peter Oborne has no doubts:

“During his short, undistinguished career, Mr Miliband has done grave damage to British politics. He is part of the new governing elite which is sucking the heart out of our representative democracy while enriching itself in the process. He may be mourned in the BBC and in north London, but the rest of us are entitled to form a more realistic view. David Miliband has belittled our politics and he will not be missed.”

There is some speculation that Mr Miliband’s jump stateside could lead to a role in a Hilary Clinton run White House, given the regard with which he is held in her circle. “What price David Miliband in a senior role in the White House and Ed Miliband in No 10?” asks the Mail. “Stranger things have happened in politics. But none that come quickly to mind.” In Britain, however, life goes on. The Guardian reports that the Labour association in South Shields is keen on a local candidate next time, although a donkey in a red rosette ought to be able to defend his 11,109 (30.4pc) strong majority. With that in mind, the real question come polling day might be whether Ukip can continue to make headway in the north, as well as in lapsed Tory heartland seats.

And what for Labour? Reading the runes, a number of commentators including the Sun‘s Trevor Kavanagh call the end of the New Labour project, arguing that under Ed, “it has been left to pro-Blair outriders such as [Telegraph] blogger Dan Hodges to argue for a coherent Labour policy on spending and borrowing”. But as Philip Collins in the Times (£) notes, this resignation was not a gesture of political despair so much as it was about fratricide and the frustration of watching Ed having a “good scandal” over phone hacking and cementing his leadership. It may be a personal tragedy, but Mili D’s departure is hardly an ideological earthquake for the Labour paty.

HOUSEKEEPING

The Morning Briefing is taking the weekend off. Back Tuesday. Happy Easter to all subscribers.
TREASURY CALLS FOR POST-2015 SPENDING BLITZ
If you’re starting to lose track of the belt-tightening due post-2015, I don’t blame you. A private letter to ministers from Danny Alexander last night suggests that for the Treasury to achieve its Budget savings target of £11.5bn in 2015/16, a chop of up to 10pc for every non-ringfenced department will be required, we report. While the exact distribution of the cuts will not be settled until June, they will fall on departmental resource budgets, not on the welfare system. The Independent reports that the 10pc reduction will apply to every non-protected department other than defence, which will only need to cut 5pc.
Sounds like a case for the National Union of Ministers? Steady. As the Guardian explains, the 10pc figure is there simply to give the Government “options”, and a cut of that size in every targeted budget would save £3bn more than is planned. What stays and what goes will not be known until the publication of the spending review for 2015/16, and as Vince Cable has made known, that is very much a temporary document holding place until the next government is decided. As the Chancellor kept insisting in the Budget, Britain may be open to business, but with an outlook this cloudy, who would want to invest?

BUDDY, CAN YOU SPARE ME A DUCK HOUSE?

An MP’s lot has not been a happy one since the expenses scandal, certainly according to Karl McCartney. As we report, the MP for Lincoln told World at One that he had been forced to max out his credit cards, drain his loan facility at the bank and borrow money from his parents because of the intransigence of the Commons expenses body Ipsa. Mr McCartney claimed that he was owed £25,000 by August 2010 after being returned in May. He claims to have been told that this is because when the “senior management team at Ipsa…go to the pub on a Friday night and meet with their friends, their friends tell them that they should screw MPs into the ground.” All sounds very bitter to me.

OVER EXPENSIVE, OVER PROTECTED AND OVER HERE

Theresa May’s recent rise to prominence as an action woman received a setback yesterday. The decision of the High Court to back the November decision of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission to prevent his deportation came despite the acknowledgement that the UK regarded him as “a danger to national security”. A rigid interpretation of human rights rulings in favour of Qatada is bound to re-0pen the Tory debate on scrapping the measures. But at the moment, it’s difficult to see how Mrs May can win given judicial intransigence. As the Mail puts it, “it is Qatada holding all the aces in a game Mrs May – and this country – really cannot afford to lose.”

RESIDENTS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Worried about the forthcoming spare-room subsidy ending / bedroom tax beginning? Well Frank Field has a cunning plan: knock down the walls and brick up the windows, as the landlords did in the Nine Years’ War to avoid the Window Tax. His rallying cry in the Independent comes with stern criticism of the “grossly unfair” reduction in housing benefit for under-occupancy. A glance at history might tell the protesters anticipated at demonstrations tomorrow not to be too hopeful – the universally despised window tax lasted a mere 156 years before its repeal.

THE BIG THAW

No, not the weather, but council tax bills. As we report, households are having to pay the largest increase in council tax for three years after 39pc of local authorities rejected Eric Pickles’ offer to provide funding for a rate freeze. The average bill in England will increase by 0.8pc this year, and London council tax will fall by 0.2pc. Pity the residents of Breckland in Norfolk, though. Their council tax is up 7.6pc.

EU’RE GETTING GREEDY

How’s that European austerity thing going, then? According to the BBC, the Government is battling EU demands for a further £9.5bn in member state contributions to cover its expenses this year. The UK’s share would amount to slightly over £1bn. Mind you, Eurocrats argue that they are not being unreasonable – if Britain’s domestic overspend was only £9.5bn a year, we’d think we’d done very well.

BANKING ON IT TURNING OUT RIGHT

The Bank of England’s demand yesterday that British lenders stockpile an additional £25bn in reserves did not spook the market – the figure had been expected to be larger. It won’t help get lending going again, however, and as such it conflicts directly with the Chancellor’s courageous attempt to provide liquidity to sub-prime borrowers in his recent Budget. As the Mail reports, it has certainly made Vince Cable very grumpy. “The idea that banks should be forced to raise new capital during a period of recession is an erroneous one,” he said, adding that ‘the FPC exercise will prolong the time it takes for the British economy to recover by further depressing already weak lending [to small and medium-sized businesses]. “

SAM CAM IN SYRIA

The Prime Minister’s wife has visited Syrian refugees in Lebanon on a trip with the charity Save the Children aiming to boost awareness of the plight of those in the camps. “It’s so shocking, it’s difficult to take it in. You just can’t imagine why that would happen,” she added. The tales she will have heard will stay with her for a very long time, as I wrote when I returned from a similar trip earlier this month.

TWEETS AND TWITS

Two different takes on recess. First from Kerry McCarthy:

@KerryMP: Just leaving Commons office after a triple-birthday lunch with current & former researchers then 6 hour blitz on emails. #recessnotholiday”

Then from Tom Harris:

@TomHarrisMP: “Ah, that sweet, lethal (and oddly sexy) combination of @carolynharris, Rioja and karaoke. Easter recess has begun!”

TOP COMMENT

In the Telegraph

Peter Oborne – David Miliband a colossus? He’s a greedy failure in a cosmic sulk

Sue Cameron – A high price for getting ministers out of a hole

Laura Perrins – Stay-at-home mothers deserve some respect

Telegraph view – Ministers shouldn’t play happy families

Best of the Rest

Philip Collins in The Times (£) – Don’t bury New Labour along with Miliband

Steve Richards in The Independent – David Miliband’s dignified exit does everyone a favour – including him

Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun – New Labour bunch have split for good

Chris Giles in the FT (£) – How to ‘plog’ the hole in our awful public finances

THE AGENDA

Today: Energy Secretary Ed Davey, Business Secretary Vince Cable and Scotland Secretary Michael Moore to publish the oil and gas sector strategy.

09:00 am: Nick Clegg call-in on LBC 97.3.

12:00 pm: BBC strike. Journalists and technicians at the BBC stage a 12-hour strike in disputes over job cuts and workload.

David Miliband confirms his shock resignation as an MP

Mr Miliband said he had accepted the position of president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee in New York.

In a letter to his constituency party chairman in South Shields, he said it was “very difficult” for him to be leaving UK politics.

His move comes more than two years after he was narrowly beaten to the party leadership by his brother.

The election caused a major rift between the two and he refused to serve in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet.

More….

Ed Balls: Cameron blames me for everything. It makes him look obsessed

Ed Balls is about to take his grade two piano exam. Having narrowly failed to get a merit in his grade one, he plans no such lapse this time.

“The examiner said I played the pieces too slowly, so I have bought a metronome that I’m practising with,” he reports. “The noise is driving my family mad.”

In politics, as in music, the repetitive beat of Metronome Man can set some nerves on edge. Thus, when Ed Miliband mocked David Cameron for his U-turn on alcohol pricing at this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, the PM focused his anger on the shadow chancellor.

Mr Balls welcomes his status as irritant-in-chief. “Well, I think that is fabulous. On his own side, they’re starting to think he’s completely lost it. [According to Mr Cameron] I caused the global financial crisis personally. It makes him look obsessed and slightly deranged.”

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