Eastleigh poll dangerous for the coalition

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. Voting is underway in Eastleigh. Polls close at 10pm, and we’ll be live blogging from then until the result, expected around 2am tomorrow. The expectation is a narrow Lib Dem victory. But whatever the result, what happens next?

Two scenarios could lead to political turmoil and even the end of the Coalition: I know it’s unlikely, but a Tory victory would plunge the Lib Dems into a leadership crisis that could finish Nick Clegg and put his partnership with David Cameron in doubt (though worth recalling that all Lib Dems voted for the Coalition). On that basis, Conservatives who want to end the Coalition should vote Tory. The other, more likely as we report today, has the Tories not only losing, but coming third behind Ukip. That would plunge Mr Cameron into another round of arguments about his future, and increase the chances of a move against him. David Davis‘ sally last night will be taken as ominous in No10. But even the most favoured outcome – a Lib Dem win with Tories second – brings dangers. Nick Clegg is steaming about the way the Rennard affair has been laid at his door. His friends suspect a Tory dirty tricks operation far worse than the personal attacks of the AV campaign. We have yet to understand the damage this business has done to Mr Clegg’s relations with Dave, and to relations at the top of the Coalition more generally. I suspect it will prove to be considerable, with consequences for the work and durability of the Coalition.


Whatever the result in Eastleigh, Nick Clegg is still under real pressure as allegations of the mishandling of serious sexual harassment claims mount. The Spectator claims that Mr Clegg was also warned about the alleged activities of Mike Hancock after one of his constituents made a written complaint that went unanswered. As far as Lord Rennard go, not only did Mr Clegg know of the claims, he told the peer to “stop it now” as the Times (£) puts it. The paper says that Mr Clegg warned Lord Rennard four years ago over “inappropriate” behaviour. Mr Clegg himself changed tack yesterday and admitted that sexual harassment claims had contributed to Lord Rennard’s resignation, muddying the waters still further, as we report. The ensuing confusion has led to Mr Clegg being dismissed as a “weasel” by the Mail which goes on to ponder at length just what it is with Liberals and sex scandals. Predictably, the headline event on Call Clegg was also scandal related. Cathy Newman AKA Cathy from Dulwich tried to clarify Mr Clegg’s remarks on the reason that Lord Rennard left office. The result, as Michael Deacon puts it, “was sort of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ at the same time. It was ‘yo’ or ‘nes’.” Glad that’s clear.


Some good news on GDP – the economy did grow last year, by all of 0.2pc. The upwards revision in the Q1 and Q3 figures takes the year into minor gain territory when it was previously thought to have been flat. It made little odds at PMQs where the downgrade was the topic of the day. While Ed Miliband largely failed to land a blow, something which ought to alarm the party’s election strategists, Dave did commit himself to “going further and faster” to reduce the deficit. In reality, this means staying the course – the further and faster referred to the acceleration of cuts over the course of the parliament to 2015/16, something already well advertised. All eyes now turn to the Budget. In a muted meeting with about 80 backbenchers, fewer than last year, the Chancellor was told to offer cost of living tax cuts and asked to provide some guidance on a line to take this year, after last year’s effort left MPs flummoxed. Did it register? “He’s notionally in listening mode,” one backbencher told the FT (£), “but in practice I don’t think he will do much.” With Labour’s economic policy in its current state of confusion, perhaps he doesn’t need to. Writing for us, Peter Oborne makes the case that Ed Balls can be an asset to Labour, but not as Shadow Chancellor:

“Mr Balls is now intellectually bankrupt. When he became shadow chancellor in January 2011, he landed in the job demanding massive deficit financing in order to confront the recession…As shadow chancellor, [he] has failed to sustain this interesting case. True, Labour from time to time demands that the pace of deficit reduction should be slower, or targeted in different areas. But Mr Balls has not seriously challenged the basic Coalition strategy. There has been no great collision of ideas. As a result he has nothing interesting to say, which is probably the reason he compensates with bombastic but ultimately meaningless Commons performances.”


The Coalition should learn from the Gordon Brown years and stop “try[ing] to announce your way from a crisis”, Damian McBride told the public administration select committee yesterday. Trying to distract the press with something new risks seeing it “go off half cock”, he added, giving child tax relief as an example. As we report, when asked by Robert Halfon whether Number 10, never knowingly undersold on apparently spur of the moment policy announcements, needed a McBride of their own, he very modestly answered, “it depends”.


Dave can meet, too. The FT (£) reports that he is in Riga today meeting prime ministers from the Nordic and Baltic nations as the Nordic Future Forum gets together. He will have to be at his charming best. The Swedes are very unhappy with his referendum idea, for a start. “Without [the British], we would feel very lonely” a minister laments . “We’ve always looked up to the British but I’m not sure we can any more,” adds an ashen faced Icelander. Poor Dave, he gets enough of that at home. From Ken Clarke, for instance, who yesterday confided to Reuters that a Brexit would be the largest blow to British influence since Suez, a “mistake of historic proportions”. In cheerful vein, the former Chancellor added that “I was surprised we [have] such a firm reputation as a safe haven currency as we still have such an appalling problem with deficit and debt”. He was clearly in a sunny mood.


Coming soon to a sett near you – Badger cull: the return. Following an abortive attempt by Owen Paterson to produce a pilot cull in Gloucestershire last summer – foiled by there being too many badgers, and the fact that many were pregnant – the Environment Secretary announced yesterday that a cull in that county and Somerset will go ahead this summer. To pacify badger fanciers, a “reserve” is also going to be established in Dorset. The cost of the whole scheme has been estimated at £4m, as we report.


Eric Pickles is facing a major revolt over council tax from town halls after a survey of 250 of the 421 councils in England by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountability discovered that 41pc intend to raise council tax this year. Average rises of 0.8pc include those from Conservative authorities such as Canterbury where taxes will rise at 1.99pc, slightly below the 2pc threshold at which a referendum would be triggered.


The bullying claims saga at the DfE drags on. Michael Gove was recalled by the education select committee yesterday to answer questions over internal allegations of bullying made by civil servants against his special advisers. One of the advisers concerned, Dominic Cummings, is also the subject of another set of claims on which Mr Gove can expect to be quizzed, this time made by Tim Loughton who believes he was briefed against, as the Independent notes. In her column for us, Sue Cameron notes that Sir John Major is highly critical of SpAd culture, which he believes carries with it a lack of “real world” nous. His heirs in the present Cabinet clearly take a very different view.


Chris Grayling is moving to prevent convicted murderers having access to publicly funded IVF treatment on the public purse while in jail, we learn in this morning’s Mail. Let’s see what the ECHR have to say about that, shall we? In the meantime, there’s a more pressing problem for the Justice Secretary. Sharon White, director-general for public services at the Treasury, questioned whether Mr Grayling’s pay-per-result approach to outsourcing care of reoffenders would be cost effective, the Times (£) reports. Given that this was the entire rationale behind the move, a lack of Treasury support could be terminal.


Minimum alcohol unit pricing has been challenged by the Institute of Licensing, the body which would be expected to enforce the rules. Pointing to social attitudes, the Institute has written to the Government’s consultation exercise to add that “problem drinkers will source alcohol no matter the price.”


He may be their MP, but the people of Witney can no longer afford to have Dave switch on their Christmas lights. Having the Prime Minister do the honours is “too costly” thanks to the “dangerous” crowd levels, according to the town council, which makes him sound like the Beyonce of the Cotswolds.


Question Time will be live from Eastleigh. The panel will consist of Jeremy Browne, Angela Eagle, Claire Perry, Neil Hamilton and Ken Loach.


An MP’s lot can be a fascinating one:

@BrandonLewis: Had a very interesting meeting today about Historic Counties, as opposed to ceremonial or administrative ones.


In the Telegraph

Peter Oborne – Ed Miliband should sack Ed Balls – and as brutally as possible

Sue Cameron – Sir John Major spies a menace in Whitehall’s midst

Jeremy Warner – Compared with the eurozone, the UK economy is not that bad

Telegraph View – Nick Clegg deserves to be punished in Eastleigh by-election

Best of the rest

Steve Richards in the Independent – Everyone’s a winner if the Lib Dems win Eastleigh

Dominic Sandbrook in the Daily Mail – From Lloyd George to Jeremy Thorpe, there’s something in the Liberal DNA that breeds sex scandals

Chris Giles in the FT (£) – UK’s official statistics cannot be trusted

David Aaronovitch in The Times (£) – Mr Gove and his horrible heptarchical history


TODAY: Eastleigh by-election. Result due c. 2:00 am Friday. David Cameron in Riga.

09.30 am: The ONS publishes its latest immigration statistics.

10.00 am: Gus O’Donnell appears in front of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee’s to answer questions on the effectiveness of ministerial reshuffles.

10:00 pm: Polls close in Eastleigh.

Ed Miliband should sack Ed Balls – and as brutally as possible

The Eastleigh by-election, whatever the result, marks the beginning of the end of the Coalition. A Tory defeat, though difficult for David Cameron, might be just about manageable. But those of us who support the Prime Minister and his Government must hope and pray for a Lib Dem victory, because any other result is potentially fatal.

Bear in mind that no figure, not even the Prime Minister, is as essential to the Coalition’s survival as Nick Clegg. Mr Clegg has been an admirable Deputy Prime Minister. He has been for the most part loyal, decent and trustworthy. Motivated ultimately by a sense of patriotism and service, he has been the glue which has kept this unnatural Lib Dem/Tory alliance together. I believe that his fortitude and perseverance have in general been beyond praise.



Today’s blog is a guest post from Thijs Porck, a lecturer in the Department of English Language and Culture, Universiteit Leiden.

This week Erik’s tweet on cat-paws in a fifteenth-century manuscript went viral across facebook and the twittersphere when it was shared and commented on by thousands. Follow @erik_kwakkel  today for more animal-themed tweets #manuscriptzoo

Everyone who has ever owned a cat will be familiar with their unmannerly feline habit of walking across your keyboard while you are typing. One of the manuscript pictures tweeted by @erik_kwakkel (http://twitter.com/erik_kwakkel/status/303614922103865346/photo/1 ) revealed that this is nothing new.

Although the medieval owner of this manuscript may have been quite annoyed with these paw marks on his otherwise neat manuscript, another fifteenth-century manuscript reveals that he got off lucky.  A Deventer scribe, writing around 1420, found his manuscript ruined by a urine stain left there by a cat the night before…

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Rehabilitate Your Heart

Physical Activity as a Vital Sign

Becoming more physically active may be the most beneficial thing you can do to improve your health.  The least fit get the most benefit from starting an exercise program and building more physical activity into  their lives. This information is adapted from the Preventative Cardiovascular Nurses Association (www.PCNA.Net) and meant to provide guidance, tools and confidence needed to get started with a safe and effective exercise program.

Steps you can take to become more physically active:

Make exercise a vital sign.

Discuss with your healthcare provider your exercise status  at your next  office visit

  • Do you exercise?
  • If so, what type?, how long?, how hard?, and how often?

Many health systems have added this question to their electronic medical record to ensure a place to conveniently record.  Documenting physical activity at every visit allows you to track your progress over time.If  your answer is no you don’t exercise, do you understand…

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British Asian Woman

This week MP Harriet Harmen spoke out against ageism and sexism in broadcast media. She argues that after a certain age female presenters and news broadcasters disappear from our TV screens. She also makes the point that these women are being eliminated at a time in their lives when they have the most to offer:

There is a new generation of active older women who have led very different lives from their mothers. Now in their 50s and 60s, they are the first generation of women to have been ‘doing it all’. They have worked, as well as bringing up children. They’ve got educational qualifications and then when their children leave home, these women regard themselves as being into their stride and in their prime.”

Is there a parallel generation of Asian women that have been ‘doing it all?’ What was your mum doing in the 1970’s and…

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My mother is sitting at my dining room table with a book and a cup of tea.  I remember that she loved to read, and loved tea.  Although, in all honesty, I don’t remember ever seeing her actually sit down with a cup of tea. Or a book, for that matter.  Eight children and mounds of laundry, cooking, and housework were what I remember.  I remember slurping the dregs from her neglected, cold teacups and getting into trouble for “borrowing” her library books as a child.

“Mom, what are you doing here?”

“Reading.  Having tea.”  She set her book aside with a smile.  She didn’t look tired, or sick, or any of the ways I remember her looking.

“I see that, Mom.  But…you’re…” my voice cracked.

“Dead?” she asked softly. “Yes, I am.  Grab a cup, sit down and join me”.

“Mom,” I am truly stymied. “Really, I have to get ready for work.”

“Pfft. …

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PA Pundits - International

caruba_alan20080111By Alan Caruba ~Healthcare

“Despite more than sixty years of government efforts—representing the work of both political parties—we are moving further and further away from what we want. Prices are higher, more people are excluded from needed care, more excess treatments are performed, and more people die from preventable errors. Why?”

Why, indeed! Having had the Affordable Care Act (ACA) forced on us by a Democrat-controlled Congress—some of whom had to be bribed for their vote—Americans are beginning to learn that the cost of healthcare is going to increase, people will be laid off, have their hours reduced, or simply not hired at all as the result of this horrid new law.

A February 25 Rasmussen poll revealed that “Most voters still believe that President Obama’s national health law will cost more than official estimates and expect it to drive up the cost of health care in America.” They’re right!

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Plumbing For The Pipe Dream

Growing up in New York, Manhattan has always held an ineffable mystique to me; propped up by the bourgeois societals, limitless culture and a Hollywood love affair.  Coming into the “city” I would wax poetically about the grandiose air of the people and the pretense of their demeanor. Back then, when the economy was bristling with endless wealth, we romanticized the affluent in hopes that we will someday enjoy the fruits of our own labors.  We chased the reservation of the most highly touted restaurants and accepted the fate of an over judgmental waiter as he scoffed at our attire.  It was all part of the experience; a submission to abuse that made us feel ever more alive.

Times have certainly changed.  The endless luster of the Manhattanite has become pocked and pallid under a reeling economy.  The youth have seceded from the shores of the island for more practical…

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Notes from Camelid Country

If you’ve ever been to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia you know the true meaning of the term ‘salinas grandes’. So enormous is the Salar de Uyuni (the world’s largest salt flat) no one, not even at the Bolivian Tourist Board, feels the need to point out that it is, in fact, really quite large. It can, after all, be seen from the moon.

So it was with some scepticism that we drove over yet another mountain range towards one of Argentina’s largest salt flats, the Salinas Grande. Not withstanding the beautiful and dramatic hairpin bends of the Cuesta de Lipan on the drive to get there, arriving at the Salinas Grandes was still pretty spectacular. Set in a bowl ringed by mountains, the white of the salinas is almost luminous viewed from the 4170m mountain pass above it.

Snaking down the road towards the salinas we passed through…

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