Tony Blair and Nick Clegg risk damaging British business by seeking to block Brexit

As a businessman and a proud Brexiteer – I was treasurer and board member of the Vote Leave campaign – I am convinced that Britain’s best days lie ahead.

But we need to be ambitious. If we are, and if we seize this Brexit opportunity together, Britain can change for the better.

My online financial trading business, CMC Markets, has been successful because we have embraced technological change underpinned by an entrepreneurial spirit. Free from the shackles of the EU, Britain too can embrace the change necessary to succeed in an increasingly competitive and exciting new world.

Read more: Britain has a moral duty to lead the world on free trade

When we take back control of trade, we can be more globally oriented. Research by Change Britain shows that leaving the EU’s customs union and striking trade deals just with the countries that have already expressed an interest in negotiating a deal with the UK will open up export markets worth over £16.8 trillion. That’s more than double the size of the export markets that the UK currently has access to as a member of the EU.

This will benefit businesses large and small, and help to create jobs and spread prosperity across the country. The success of our offices trading across the Asia Pacific region tells me how big the global opportunity is for my business.

When we take back control of our laws, we can reduce regulatory burdens and ensure that Britain is the best place to do business and becomes the go-to destination for the wealth creators of the future.

Source: for MORE

A coalition divorce? Probably just another tiff

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. The Times (£) report that Dave’s aides are discussing the possibility of the Lib Dems leaving coalition before 2015. The favoured option is an “amicable divorce” whereby the Lib Dems support next year’s budget before returning to opposition for the last six to ten months of the Parliament. There will be curiosity about the sourcing: is it a Lib Dem operation to rattle the Tories? Or are the Tories feeling emboldened and frustrated enough to start muttering threats. It’s worth recalling that the Coalition relies for its existence, above all things, on the personal relationship between David Cameron and Nick Clegg. The evidence remains that they both remain committed to the idea. Certainly, until very recently Tories closest to Dave expected the Coalition to last until the day the election is called, even if political distancing starts well before then.

I reckon the Times story is more mischief than likely, but put it alongside the spending review tensions the FT (£) reports, and there’s every reason to worry that what looks stable now could quickly get messy. The Coalition has suffered a series of shocks which have – until now – been absorbed by the dampeners of Dave and Nick’s equanimity. The Europe row is of a different order altogether. The Lib Dems in the centre, I am told, are fizzing over the way Mr Cameron has allowed a referendum vote this Parliament, when the Coalition deal was that there wouldn’t be one.

Mr Clegg’s complaint is largely political – he hates the idea of being seen by voters opposing giving them a say. But there is also a principled point: when is a deal not a deal? To which his Tory critics might say – boundaries. Or child care. Note though how Mr Cameron is making nice with Nick on child care: it suggests the PM can see the strain cause by the EU issue, and is trying to compensate. Again, it’s how Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg choose to play it that will decide the longevity of the Coalition.


Chance always plays an important role in politics. And so it may prove with yesterday’s Private Members’ Bill ballot. James Wharton, born nine years after the last European referendum, will use his slot to push for a vote on British membership by 2017. As we report, George Osborne says it will have “the full support of the Conservative Party, David Cameron and myself”.

For the Tories it’s not quite clear what sort of luck this amounts to. With the Lib Dems opposed to giving the Bill any government time and Labour also trying to obfuscate to prevent a parliamentary vote, the Conservatives are marked out as the one unambiguously pro-referendum party. Yet, while the public shares its views on Europe, they risk banging on about Europe in an empty room.

As one MP put it: “we’re at risk of not being seen to talk about the things that matter because we’re just talking about Europe”. That was Mr Wharton on Wednesday.

There is also the risk that, even as Vince Cable says that Dave is “in the right place” on Europe, the public see only opportunism. As The Times (£) reports, only 17 pc think he feels strongly about his European strategy; 64 pc think that he is motivated by tactics.

Meanwhile, Peter Mandelson writes for us on the risks for Dave of being seen to follow his backbenchers. “Labour in the Eighties paid the price for indulging its own hard Left for too long before Neil Kinnock, realising that his party’s future was threatened, fought back against them and won. Similarly, the Republicans allowed the Tea Party to grow in influence, with fatal electoral consequences.”


George Osborne is facing a cool £9 billion budget shortfall, with the National Union of Ministers having so far identified only £2.5 billion of the net £11 billion planned budget cuts, according to the FT (£). One said that the “low-hanging fruit” in savings had now all gone, but there are Whitehall murmurs of “black ops” at the Treasury to be deployed against reluctant cutters.Philip Hammond and Owen Paterson, they’re coming for you.


Michael Gove knew his Sir Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture would be scanned for any subtext of blood lust, especially after Nick Clegg’s comments that “he knows a thing or two about leadership ambitions”. But, as we report, it was a speech which marked him out as a government loyalist. Opponents of countryside planning laws were criticised as impediments to social mobility; the city was defended as a source of “wealth and opportunity for our nation”.


As reported in the Mail, Dave is planning to make life easier for stay-at-home parents, addressing his problem of being seen as speaking only for metropolitan mothers, with support for marriage in the tax system mooted. Plans to increase the number of children a childminder can look after could also be diluted following Lib Dem opposition.



Under Tory MP Tim Loughton’s amendment to the gay marriage Bill that we report, all couples could be allowed to choose whether to enter a civil or traditional marriage. But the Guardian reports that the government will reject the amendment, commit to passing the Bill in its current form and instead agree to a review of civil partnerships five years after gay marriage legislation is passed.


With all the talk of Britain leaving the EU, Scotland’s future has been left on the back burner. But Canada’s former PM, Jean Chrétien (who led his country through two independence referenda) yesterday argued that Scottish independence should only be granted if a “clear majority” of the people supported it, as the FT reports. It’s a reminder that not only Europe is a fragile union.


Nigel Farage found himself locked in a pub yesterday – not normally a problem. As we report, after he was barracked as racist by hard-Left Scottish independence campaigners, Farage had to enter an Edinburgh pub for his own safety before a vehicle wisted him away from the scene. And this came as The Times (£) revealed that Ukip has been appealing for donations and admitted “we have got to improve our policy production”. Nige won’t drink to that.


Margot James wants British companies to get out more:

@margotjamesmp: Recession in Eurozone now 18 months old, even Germany at zero growth, all the more reason for Britain’s exporters to get out beyond Europe



In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson – The truth is, we can’t afford a shiny new transport system like HS2


Peter Mandelson – Cameron must not cave in to the Ukip threat


Isabel Hardman – Why are so many MPs making fools of themselves?


Telegraph View – The state should help families, not judge them

Best of the rest

Philip Collins in The Times (£) – History is more than one thing after another


Philip Stephens in the FT (£) – Britain is hurtling to the exit from Europe


Simon Jenkins in The Guardian – Now we know HS2’s a fiasco. But can George Osborne admit it?


John Rentoul in The Independent – Cameron’s position has the support of most voters – but then so did Major’s

Clegg rebuffs Lawson call for Britain to leave the EU

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

BREAKING NEWS: Nick Clegg has told the Today programme that Britain can expect a Queen’s Speech which is “rooted in the centre ground of British politics.” He has also taken Lord Lawson to task on his comments in this morning’s Times, while opposing Dave’s plan for a referendum in the next parliament irrespective of treaty changes:

“If we were to leave the EU we would jeopardise up to three million jobs in this country… We absolutely must have a referendum [but only] the next time the rules of the European Union change. [As for Lord Lawson’s comments, they’re] part of an anguished debate within the Tory party – they’ve had it before, they’ll have it again.”


Good morning. Lord Lawson’s column in the Times (£) will make difficult reading for Dave. The former Chancellor has pledged his referendum vote to the “out” camp, quoting John Maynard Keynes’ maxim that “when the facts change, I change my mind.” Of course, it is easier to have views like these when one is freed of the burdens and constraints of high office. It’s bound to jolt the Tories though, and it will be curious to see whether it triggers a Spartacus moment that reveals who the other closet outers are. It’s worth noting too that Lord Lawson’s comments are a bit equivocal on the benefits of a Brexit, and he glosses over the possible costs. It would be a brave PM who goes with a hunch on something quite so momentous.

What Lord Lawson’s intervention does do is highlight the tactical problem which Dave’s referendum ploy brings. The Prime Minister may have temporarily stifled the baying of his party’s backbenchers by promising a vote on Europe. But he will campaign to stay in. Taking the party with him is going to require a Herculean effort. When Labour figures like Keith Vaz (see Tweets and Twits) suggest that the vote is held before, or contemporaneously with, the next election, they’re trying to do Dave a mischief. The offer of an EU vote after the next election may draw back some Tory defectOrs to Ukip. The spectre of the Conservative leader campaigning on a pro-EU platform certainly won’t.

Europe isn’t the only one of Dave’s problems. A full page advert in today’s Times articulates the wish of many disillusioned voters to have “fewer political soundbites and more real action.” Yesterday’s plea from Conservative Grassroots chairman Robert Woollard for Dave to shelve his gay marriage plans highlighted the devastation of the party base under his leadership – down from 400,000 to 130,000 as the Express reports. With fewer foot soldiers, the Tories need to plunder a larger vote share than in 2010, but with a diminished capacity on the ground. A number of Tory MPs are sold on the idea that internet campaigning is the future – it may be, but success in the present is still a matter of knocking on doors.

But Conservatives shouldn’t get too carried away with all the doom and gloom. Party divisions over Europe, backbench indiscipline, a fragile economic recovery and an under-fire leader who is still more popular than his opponent. Sound familiar? Come 2015, the Tories will hope to party like it’s 1992, as I write in my column:


“For a start, the party has been galvanised by the death of Margaret Thatcher and the fortnight of commemoration and recollection that followed. Her passing reminded the Tories of their past glories and what they could achieve when united around a leader and an idea. More importantly, the hateful reaction from the Left reminded them that the old enemy has not gone away. Tories can now see the danger a Labour or Lib-Lab government would pose…Better still, the Conservatives have what looks increasingly like a clear policy platform that answers Ukip’s challenge. In a few weeks, for example, new figures will show that immigration has fallen again, allowing Mr Cameron to say that he is getting on with addressing the problem.”


Given his role as Britain’s roving arms salesman trade ambassador, Dave will know there’s one important stamp missing from his passport. As we report, the Prime Minister has managed to get himself barred from China thanks to last year’s photo opportunity with the Dalai Lama. A proposed visit last autumn was cancelled by Beijing, while this year’s scheduled visit to Britain by the Chinese premier Li Keqiang has also been called off. Britain’s ambassador has been summoned and told to apologise, a political impossibility, and the Chinese embassy in London has resorted to demanding that the government make a gesture towards restoring a healthy track” noting that no political relationship means no trading one. It’s embarrassing for Dave the diplomat, but it’s worse for his Chancellor with billions of pounds of investment at risk, particularly as Britain’s energy policy is largely based on the now fragile notion that China will be willing to build us a new nuclear plant.


Tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech will seek to address Dave’s women problem. As we report, yesterday’s news that those with no history of National Insurance contributions will lose their pension entitlement has been mitigated by the announcement that those caring for family members will be entitled to additional support from their local council. There will also be an Immigration Bill which limits access to some benefits for foreigners, a clean energy measure and paving legislation for HS2. To compensate for the fact that legislation on an aid target has been quietly shelved, there will be an announcement on HMRC helping African states collect taxes today.

How much will actually be achieved? The Coalition doesn’t score badly in the Guardian‘s marking of its progress on last year’s objectives – it’s only the lords Reform Bill and the Communications Data Bill which have been complete turkeys. That said, there’s a growing air of dissatisfaction about the price of buying the grey vote. The Sun highlights a report by Reform which claims that politicians are “running scared of the elderly”, while Andrew Haldenby, a Reform director, argues in a piece for us that tomorrow’s Pensions Bill will be a “missed opportunity”.


The serialisation of Lord Adonis’ election diary continues in today’s Times (£). Gordon was prepared to go in order to facilitate a rainbow coalition between Lib and Lab, but when it came to the negotiating table, not only were the Tories willing to concede more ground, they had better manners, he reports. The culprits? Ed Miliband and Ed Balls, apparently. Manners maketh the man, they obviously maketh governments, too:

“Another dramatic text arrived from Paddy [Ashdown]: ‘This is not going well. The meeting with you guys was a disaster. The Tories will give us MASSIVELY more than you guys and were respectful where your body language was my guys said truly shocking.'”


Nimbys of Britain, your country needs you. As we report, planning minister Nick Boles has conceded that he won’t defeat “Nimbyism”, and would instead settle for “channel[ing]” the anger of campaigners into “constructive rows”. In other words, campaigners have been invited to ameliorate developments rather than blocking them outright. But that’s only an issue if it’s the character of the development which is in question, rather than the issue of building on greenfield land. At any event, Mr Boles doesn’t appear too optimistic, conceding that “it’s never great to realise that you have not managed to persuade people of your proposal.”


One of Ukip’s greatest problems in 2015 will be the lack of big-name candidates. Fortunately for them, the Tories are doing their best to hand them one. Nadine Dorries will meet Sir George Young this week in order to discuss a return to the Tory fold following a six month suspension. However, as the Times (£) reports, she will refuse to accept any deal which restores the whip in return for a promise not to criticise the leadership. The final decision rests with a three man tribunal of appeal, not with Number 10, but with Ukip waiting in the wings, it’s Mrs Dorries, not Sir George, who holds the whip hand.


Attempts by Francis Maude to introduce business leaders onto the management boards of Whitehall departments as non-executive directors have largely failed, according to the FT (£). Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, points out that the Treasury’s supervisory board only met once in the last financial year, and that both businessmen and ministers were confused about the contribution which was expected of them, given the lack of fiduciary duties.


War has broken out on the south coast over Michael Gove’s plan for a free school in Hove. Plans to concrete over an existing playing field to build the new school have outraged everyone from the usual suspects to the local (Tory) MP. “we’ve already had three offers for people to climb the trees and refuse to be moved,” one campaigner tells the Independent. Sounds like a new mission for @toryeducation.


Going early on the EU really is gaining some momentum, even that noted EU malcontent, er, Keith Vaz thinks we should get it done:

@Keith_VazMP:“An in / out referendum before the next election would clear the air. We could actually hold it on the day of the next general election. # Eu”

TOP COMMENT In the Telegraph

Benedict Brogan – Mr Cameron has two years left to summon up the spirit of 1992

Andrew Haldenby – We can’t afford such generosity to the elderly

Jeevan Vasagar – Will she have to choose between Germany and Europe

Telegraph View – Mass immigration has left an alarming legacy

Best of the rest

Nigel Lawson in The Times (£) – I’ll be voting to quit the EU

Ross Clark in the Daily Express – It is time to pull the plug on the single currency

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – Labour’s lesson after Ukip: put the passion into politics

Janan Ganesh in the FT (£) – It would be political folly for Cameron to ape Ukip


Today: Post Office strike. Workers in hundreds of Crown post offices stage an all-day strike in a row over jobs, pay and branch closures.

09:30 pm: Cabinet. 10 Downing Street. w

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”.


A rough landing for Jo Johnson

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. Jo Johnson and his policy pals have not received a warm welcome in the last 24 hours. Though some are pleased that Dave is – at long last – listening to his backbenchers, Tory MPs have voiced concern, we report, that the new head of the Downing Street Policy Unit is too pro-European and too posh. “Jo thinks that Europe and the single market are the way to go. I do not and nor do a lot of colleagues,” says Bill Cash. Another Tory MP whispers: “Appointing more Etonians doesn’t exactly make it harder for Labour to say we’re all out-of-touch toffs.”

So what is Dave playing at? A senior Tory tells the Guardian that it’s about “divide and rule” – a charge that may well stick.

“The new policy board does look a bit lefty. Some say it is all about divide and rule. There are committees of the 1922 which are meant to be reporting to Oliver Letwin. Who do they report to now? Graham Brady is saying they should carry on with our work.”

Paul Goodman, meanwhile, offers insight this morning into No 10’s current thinking. First, Dave thinks he’s close to Tory MPs. “No Conservative leader,” Paul has been told, “has done more to make himself available to Conservative MPs.” Second, Team Dave believes the Tories can win in 2015: Dave himself is said to be “pumped up” and relishing Ed Miliband’s struggles over welfare. Third, with 2015 in mind, No 10 may start encouraging backbenchers to open up “clear blue water” in the Commons on welfare, immigration, crime and the ECHR. Paul reports: “On an EU referendum bill, there is a range of options from not publishing one at all through simply publishing one, to publishing one – and then introducing it. On tax breaks for marriage, there are signals that the policy will be implemented, perhaps as early as the autumn.”

This is where the new policy board could take the lead. And they have help in the shape of Steve Hilton who, the Mail reports, will be flying back from California “a few times a year” to help push through Conservative ideas. The ’22 will be jumping for joy.


Yesterday’s GDP figures – 0.3pc growth in the first quarter of 2013 – confirmed that the recovery remains “sluggish and unpredictable”, reports the FT (£). But Osborne was pleased that “despite a tough economic backdrop, we are making progress”. For now he’s off the hook, says Larry Elliott in the Guardian.

Politically… the first quarter growth numbers mattered a lot. After a sticky couple of weeks that has included a second credit downgrade, a wigging from the International Monetary Fund and a setback for the labour market, George Osborne could ill afford Britain plunging into its first triple-dip recession.

But Sarah O’Connor warns in the FT (£) that the economy is not rebalancing. She quotes Amit Kara, a UBS economist, who says: “The manufacturing sector has shrunk in three out of the last four quarters whereas the services sector has expanded in three out of the last four quarters.” So much, she says, for the “march of the makers”.

Our leader, meanwhile, highlights an inconvenient truth for Ed Balls. “Government spending was in fact up both year-on-year and quarter-on-quarter.”


It only took four words. But when Nick Clegg said the controversial snoopers’ charter was “not going to happen”, live on his LBC radio phone-in, he effectively ripped up £400 million of Home Office work. “Officials believed they had a commitment from Mr Clegg that the Liberal Democrats would support the legislation being included in the upcoming Queen’s Speech,” reports the Mail. Without it, they are stuffed. The plan to allow police and the security services to monitor the public’s emails and internet use – key to Theresa May’s counter-terrorism strategy – will go no further. Clegg isn’t for turning, either. He writes in the Telegraph: “The Liberal Democrats cannot permit what would be a significant reduction in personal privacy, based on proposals where the workability remains in question.”


A gruesome image on the front page of the Times shows the victim of a nerve gas attack in Aleppo, Syria. According to Anthony Loyd, the man’s family “died twitching, hallucinating and choking on white froth that poured from their noses and mouths”. The Foreign Office, we report, said tests at Porton Down found “limited but persuasive” evidence that sarin had been deployed in Syria. In the US, meanwhile, Senator John McCain urged Barack Obama to intervene.

He said it was “pretty clear that the red line has been crossed”. He warned that the world was watching Mr Obama, whom he urged to “provide weapons to people in the resistance who we trust”.


Are the wheels going to come off Ukip’s election campaign? One of their candidates has been suspended after reportedly posting anti-Semitic comments online. It looks bad for Nigel Farage: as the Guardian reports, he says Ukip does not have the “apparatus” to investigate its 1700 election candidates. “I have no doubt one or two slipped through the net,” he says. Oops. In a Birmingham speech today, the Mirror reports, Liam Fox will kick Farage while he’s down. Margaret Thatcher would be “horrified”, he’ll say, at the thought that Tory voters switching to Ukip could open the door to her “mortal enemy”, the Labour Party.


Richard Benyon, the Tory MP for Newbury, is the richest man in the House, according to the The Times Daily Rich List. He’s the heir to an £110 million real estate fortune – and has spoken of his family’s background in “small business”. Benyon comes behind six peers, of whom Lord Ashcroft – with a net worth of £1.2 billion – is the richest. Ashcroft will be dropping down the list in years to come, however. Next month he will sign up to the Giving Pledge, a promise to give half his wealth to philanthropy.


The FT (£) splashes on the resignation of Jim O’Neil, chief executive of UK Financial Investments. It’s a spanner in the works for George Osborne. The paper reports:

The chances of a speedy reprivatisation of Britain’s bailed-out banks have been thrown further into doubt with the resignation of the banker appointed to oversee the pivotal element of the financial recovery. He had, he told friends, run out of patience to see the job through.

What pushed him over the edge? Well, the FT suggests it may have been political interference. “Critics blame the current government’s sporadic meddling in the running of the banks, particularly over pay and lending policies, which in turn has undermined their share prices.” That’s a damaging verdict for George.


Oh dear. Labour’s Austin Mitchell is one MP who’s not buying into the BBC’s new political drama:

@AVMitchell2010: “Should have got the Danes in to do The Politician’s Wife. Boring, not Borgen, and so unlike the home life of our own dear House.”


In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson: It’s official – spending more doesn’t improve public services

Jeremy Warner: Will Merkel be the Abe Lincoln of her age?

David Blair: The true cost of cheap clothing

Telegraph View: Self-regulation that is tough but independent

Telegraph View: GDP figures are a small step forward

Best of the rest

Philip Collins in the Times (£): Miliband believes age of Ed began in 2008

Alice Thomson in the Times (£): More Old Etonians at No 10? Fine

Philip Stephens in the FT (£): More reform, less austerity for Europe

Simon Jenkins in the Guardian: Europe is in need of a reality check


10.00 Sentencing of Hackney council worker caught with terrorist material, Old Bailey.

11.00 Beekeepers march on Defra, urge Owen Paterson not to block EU pesticides ban. Parliament Square.

Time tbc Liam Fox speaks to Business leaders in Birmingham.

12.00 Funeral of teenage dog-attack victim, Jade Anderson. Manchester.

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.”


Coalition split over Leveson

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. The Coalition is in trouble. The alliance between Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband over Leveson left David Cameron muttering about a “hung parliament” after he pulled the plug on negotiations over press regulation. The Mail has taken it very seriously with a front page headline of “Coalition is torn apart”, arguing in their leader that a “tawdry alliance” of Lib and Lab has given rise to “the pathetic spectacle of Her Majesty’s Opposition cravenly trying to appease a faded film star with a rackety sex life”. Labour and the Lib Dems, parties whose leaders have pledged to “work together” on the issue, now look likely to attempt to attach amendments to both the defamation Bill and a proposed government law cutting red-tape in an attempt to force a vote on a legislative solution. Tory sources argue that Labour is now the political wing of Hacked Off, and such is their hold over the issue that the party will attempt to wreck the Government’s entire legislative programme in order to force the matter to a vote.

While it is open to Dave to drop press legislation entirely, he would apparently prefer to gamble on securing a majority of MPs, as the Guardian‘s Patrick Wintour points out. Can he win a vote? has crunched the numbers and seems to think that with abstentions from some of the minor parties, including possibly the SNP, the Miliband-Clegg axis will have a single figure majority. The Times (£) considers it “all but impossible” that Mr Cameron will prevail, while pro-Leveson Tories like George Eustice have expressed exasperation at the Prime Minister’s decision to break off negotiations by phone shortly before 10am yesterday. Our leader backs Mr Cameron’s stance as the “lesser of two evils”, but the Guardian, Independent, Mirror and FT all declined to do put their names to a statement issued by the Newspaper Society yesterday, suggesting that Fleet Street is now as divided on the issue as the Commons.

Sources say Nick Clegg left Mr Cameron in no doubt about his anger a being ambushed moments before the PM’s press conference. Curtains for the Coalition? No, but it will add to the atmosphere of animosity and distrust between the parties making governing far more difficult, particularly ahead of a spending review which both will approach with competing objectives. The Lib-Lab pact over Leveson indicates that there is a degree of chemistry between the leaders. This feels ominously like a dry-run for late May 2015.


The public agrees with statements about the need for austerity…until they learn they have been made by George Osborne. The Ipsos/MORI pre-Budget poll reported in the Evening Standard found that support for a statement fell when the sample learnt that it was made by George and rose when they found it was by Ed Balls. The Tories led by 11 points when unattributed statements were given. This turned into a 16 point lead for Labour when the speakers were named. What else did we learn? As the Mail notes, 55pc of voters want the overseas aid budget cut, 44pc want a reduction in welfare spending, while only 28pc would like to see a reduction on defence spending. In other words, their austerity priorities are in a reverse order to those of the Coalition. Fraser Nelson writes for us today that it might be time to re-consider some of the pension age benefits the Coalition has pledged to defend to the hilt:

“The Government is wrong to regard pensioners as charity cases, it is also wrong to dispense so much charity that it cannot really afford. The idea of free bus passes, for example, is hard to defend in the age of cuts.”

With the scope for Plan B limited, and Plan A+ ruled out, the Chancellor has no room for fiscal manoeuvring in any case, a point made by the FT (£) but disputed by Bloomberg in an editorial which calls for front-loaded fiscal easing in an editorial this morning. There are some steps being taken to make fiscal policy more effective – the FT (£) reports that an independent infrastructure commission will be established to oversee major projects over a 40 year period – but most of the activism of the next year will be on the monetary side. The Chancellor recently sent Rupert Harrison to Washington to sound out the Americans on the “evolution” of central bank policy, although it is understood a targeted nominal GDP growth rate has now been ruled out. Of course, nothing will be decided until Mark Carney arrives. In the meantime, his predecessor gave an interview to ITV last night in which he said that the economy was on the verge of recovery and that Sterling had now fallen far enough for the British economy to “rebalance”. It must be time to go. When a central banker’s tired of currency depreciation, he’s tired of life.


Kapow! Fear not Cameroons, Boris is here. Taking on the unlikely role of bringer of unity, the Mayor of London tells “ministers” that they should “cool their porridge [and] put a sock in it” in an interview with the Sun. It is, however, fine for Boris himself to criticise the Prime Minister, he explains, as “the last time I checked I wasn’t in the Cabinet.” Bo-Jo being loyal to his old school chum, or just panicked that a leadership campaign has got under-way without him? Surely only a cynic would think the latter. The interview took place in Paris as Boris is visiting the French capital. This morning he gave an interview to France Inter this morning in fluent French where he compared himself and Dave to Wallace and Gromit.


In an interview with The House magazine, Grant Shapps has conceded that the Tories may not win in 2015. As Bloomberg reports, he argued that the party needed to get its message across “not for our sakes. We may or may not win the next election, but my God we need to finish this, the job of stopping this country going bust, fixing the mess that Labour left, or at least as far as we can.”


The head of the Armed Forced Pay Review Board, the independent body which is responsible for military pay, has been sacked after suggesting that servicemen ought to be given a pay rise to compensate for defence cuts. We report that Prof Alasdair Smith had led the body when it concluded that the cuts had meant a “deterioration in the quality of military life”. Following the submission of the report in January, Prof Smith was told that his tenure would not be renewed when it expired this month.


Do not, as Iain Duncan Smith has warned before, underestimate the determination of a quiet man. IDS’s insistence that what Labour keeps calling the “bedroom tax” is a “spare room subsidy” has led him to write to the BBC to accuse it of failing in its “duty to inform the public”, the Sun reports. IDS told the corporation that “it is not the job of the BBC to use misleading terms and promote the views of the Labour party”. So there.


Sir David Nicholson “bears some responsibility” for the tragedy at Mid Staffordshire, the Health Sectretary said yesterday. However, he added that Sir David does not bear “total, or indeed personal, responsibility for what happened”, as the Mail reports. How you can bear some responsibility, but not in a personal sense of the word, was a semantic mystery which Jeremy Hunt did not expand on.


Britain and France are moving closer to directly arming Syrian rebels, the Guardian reports. Following a meeting between Mr Cameron and Francois Hollande at the European summit in Brussels yesterday, a diplomatic effort has been launched to break German resistance to the end of an arms export embargo on Syria’s rebels. The Franco-British argument is that it is “odd” that a policy of protecting civilians was supported by another which ensured an imbalance of weaponry between the sides. The counter-argument, of course, is that you don’t protect civilians by flooding a warzone with guns. Horse for courses.


Philip Hammond continued his strident defence of Trident while speaking in Edinburgh yesterday. The same people now backing the SNP’s threat to remove nuclear weapons stationed north of the border in the event of a vote for independence would be “wagging the finger” if Britain was threatened by a nuclear armed nation in the future, he added.


Eric Joyce was arrested last night in the Sports and Social Club on the parliamentary estate. The independent MP was detained after allegedly wrestling with two police officers, we report. Mr Joyce is understood to have objected to a request not to take a drink outside the bar.


Labour has suspended Lord Ahmed for allegedly blaming a Jewish conspiracy for a jail sentence he received following a fatal motorway crash. As we report, the peer allegedly told Pakistani television that he was opposed by “my Jewish friends who own newspapers and TV channels”. Lord Ahmed has said he has “no recollection” of the interview.


A day out in the Big Smoke goes pear shaped for John Woodcock’s team:

@jwoodcock: Staff from Barrow in London for the day. First act was to break a Tube ticket barrier by ramming an Oyster card into the slot.


In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson – Don’t attack Britain’s oldies – they keep the economy going

Jeremy Warner – Germany’s prudence is Europe’s pain

Stephen Pollard – The anti-Semites mistaken for mere eccentrics

Telegraph View – Parliament must support a free press

Best of the Rest

Philip Collins in the Times (£) – With this mess Labour should be miles ahead

Trevor Kavanagh in The Sun – If MPs seize the presses it is you who will lose out

Samuel Brittan in the FT (£) – The British Budget is not as great as it used to be

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian – March to stop this heartless and pointless bedroom tax


TODAY: David Cameron attends European Council Meeting. Universities and Science Minister David Willetts to announce the launch of the first higher apprenticeships in space engineering.

The crumbling Coalition is being torn apart by the post-Budget Public Spending Review

For some time now, the Conservatives have been Europe’s undisputed leaders in regicide. Once the party’s MPs are fed up with a leader, they can now depose one and enstool another over a wet weekend. A plot normally starts to brew in the bars and urinals of the House of Commons, and a critical number of mutineers is required – 46 this time – to mount a challenge. Rebels believe they are now about half a dozen names away from a coup. “It might happen as early as the summer,” one MP told me this week. “It’s too early, in my opinion. But I’m not sure they can be stopped. They hate David Cameron too much.”


Tory vote collapses in Eastleigh as UKIP surge

MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph).

Good morning. If it hadn’t have been for “the Conservatives splitting the Ukip vote”, Nigel Farage reflected in the early hours, his party might have won. While the Lib Dems held Eastleigh relatively comfortably, it is the third place finish of the Conservatives which will cause real worry in the Tory party. David Davis set the bar low earlier this week – beating Ukip but losing to the Lib Dems would not be a disaster – and the Tory campaign has failed to clear that obstacle. In brief:

  • Result: Lib Dems 13,342 (32pc), Ukip 11,571 (28pc), Conservatives 10,559 (25pc), Labour 4,088 (10pc)
  • Swing: Lib Dem (-14.5pc), Ukip (+24.2pc), Conservative (-14pc), Labour (+0.2pc)
  • Lib Dem majority of 1,771 (4.3pc), down from 3,864 (7.2pc) in 2010.
  • Turnout 52.8pc
  • If the result was projected forward into a general election, parliament would be: Labour 355, Conservatives 208, Lib Dem 41, Ukip 17, Others 29. An overall Labour majority of 60.

As Nigel Farage points out, there’s a long way to go to the general election. He must also acknowledge that the Ukip vote is, in part, shaped by protest, a “plague on all your houses” mood that is gripping voters and benefiting the party. They are the new Lib Dems,the repository of our frustrations with the parties of power. Tory high command is clinging on to that explanation to avoid confronting some painful truths. The issues Conservatives will be considering this morning will include complaints about their organisation – the knives are being sharpened for Sayeeda Warsi by those who want to avoid blaming Grant Shapps. Expect calls for Lynton Crosby to be given greater powers. Tories might also conclude that David Cameron’s Europespeech has made no difference at all, and the policy needs tightening with a referendum sooner than he proposes.

They will want to study too the impact the campaign and the Rennard affair will have on relationships at the top of the Coalition: Nick Clegg will be relieved, but furious with his treatment – actual and imagined – by the Tories,which will make the work of the Coalition harder: what impact will it have on Budget negotiations for example? First and foremost though is the matter of Mr Cameron’s position. The result has moved us a significant step further towards a move against him before 2015.Others are needed too: a bad Budget, a dire result in May, no sign of economic recovery and the party’s place in the polls stuck below 30pc.The threat of Ukip will heighten the desire of MPs in marginal seats to save themselves. If Mr Cameron is seen to be an albatross, anything could happen. But is it him? Or have we learned this morning that voters have had enough of all of them?

It shouldn’t be lost amidst the Tory howls that Labour made no impression at all on the polling. Ed Miliband’s ability to win voters in the south must also be in severe question after his party polled less than a third of the Lib Dem total and mustered only a 0.2pc swing.

Michael Gove has been sent out to do press duties this morning on behalf of the Conservatives. His line on BBC Breakfast was that Ukip’s surge was a result of their status as “the obvious protest vehicle…[voters] wanted to register their hurt”. He added on Today that voters “some people mentioned migration, but more mentioned the economy” on the doorsteps. “There’s a sense that the establishment has let people down [but] there’s also an acceptance that David Cameron’s economic strategy is the right one,” he explained. His line is a variant on Grant Shapps’s thought overnight that “governments in mid-term regardless get a drubbing,” which neatly ignores the fact that the Lib Dems are also in government.

Over on ITV’s Daybreak, Nigel Farage rejected the protest vote categorisation, claiming that “if people who have not voted for 20 or 30 years go out to the ballot box in a by-election and vote, that by definition cannot be a protest vote.” He added that the Tories couldn’t win in working class areas because they were led by “as one of their own MPs said, a bunch of posh boys who don’t know the price of milk.” Catty.

As for the Lib Dems, there’s a sense of relief. Nick Clegg has said the party is now “on track for 2015”, while Tim Farron has hailed a result which “completely change[d] the narrative of this parliament.” The secret to Lib Dem strength in areas where they have sitting MPs has always been organisation on the ground. One of the reason the Tories were so keen on busing in MPs and staff from Westminster is that their local organisation countrywide has been neglected in favour of a belief that Mr Cameron’s relative popularity will carry the day. Perhaps the real lesson of Eastleigh is that the footsoldiers, rather than the generals, can still win the battle.


A British attempt to renegotiate British membership of the EU is unlikely to find a single supporter amongst leaders who “neither particularly like…nor particularly fear” David Cameron’s plans to repatriate powers, according to Herman Van Rompuy. The Guardian reports that Mr Van Rompuy continued cryptically: “how to encourage a friend to change, if your eyes are searching for your coat?” Well, quite. It appears that Britiain is increasingly receptive to Mr Van Rompuy’s measured disdain. A new poll of polls in today’s Independent shows that since Dave’s Europe speech, support for the “in” camp has climbed eight points to an average of 39pc.

Yesterday, Dave was in Riga where he met with other leaders from countries in the Northern Future Forum. He also praised Latvia’s “attractive-sounding” flat rate tax system. A hint for George? Well, Fraser Nelson argues in his column for us, the Chancellor can move mountains if he can combine radical ideas, dull presentation and a willingness to escape the Treasury view:

“Soon after he was elected, Osborne met a fellow (non-European) finance minister and discussed the impending cuts: in total, just under 4pc of state spending. He asked his guest: what to do? Should I make these cuts up-front, or spread them out over years? He was advised to act quickly, and get it over with. ‘But everyone in the Treasury says I should spread them out,’ he replied glumly. His guest left with the impression that Osborne was a prisoner of his officials.”


No mention at PMQs and only a very modest disavowal of Nick Clegg’s handling of the affair yesterday from Dave, it seems that the claims about Lord Rennard have put the whole of Westminster on edge. No wonder, claims whistleblower Alison Smith in the Independent, there will be complaints being made behind the scenes about senior figures in both other main parties.

Whatever the truth of that claim, the Lib Dem handling of the allegations comes under further scrutiny today. We report that former chief whip Paul Burstow was asked 21 times about the action he took when he received a complaint from Ms Smith during an interview on LBC. On 21 occasions he refused to answer. The Times (£) reports that six women have now contacted the police with information about alleged sexual misconduct by Lord Rennard. But what difference is this making on the doorsteps? In Eastleigh it, like so many Westminster stories, failed to excite the electorate at all, according to Michael Deacon.


The FT (£) reports that George Osborne is “scrambling” to water down the EU’s new regulation limiting banking bonuses to a 1:1 ration with salary, rising to 2:1 with the approval of a super-majority of shareholders. One particular concern is that British domiciled banks, like HSBC, will be forced to implement the ratio limit to their global operations. In contrast, competitors headquartered outside the EU, like J.P. Morgan, would only need to apply it to their European operations, giving them a competitive advantage. Boris was also unsettled by the agreement, lamenting that “this is possibly the most deluded measure to come from Europe since Diocletian tried to fix the price of groceries across the Roman Empire.”

Europe isn’t Downing Street’s only banking headache. Despite a headline loss, RBS’s underlying business model looks more robust than it has at any point since the crisis. Stephen Hester suggested yesterday that the Government might sell off its stake within two years. As we report, he was soon told in no uncertain terms that this wouldn’t be the case – there’s no exit plan at the minute.


A new contract system drawn up by a consortium of 20 hospitals in the south-west could be vital to allowing the NHS to achieve its savings target of £20bn by 2015, the FT (£) suggests. Staff conditions will be altered to include lower sick pay, shorter holidays and local pay rates for some consultants. While these are on trial in the court of medical opinion, the court of media opion continues to weigh the case of chief executive Sir David Nicholson. As the Mirror reports, he will continue in his job despite the Mid Staffordshire scandal, having received the backing of the NHS board. However, as we note, public anger is still strong, and he has become something of a lightening conductor for it. There has not exactly been a rush of senior politicians wishing to back him, and the Tories (including a Cabinet minister) who want to see him go may still get their way.


William Hague has written to the Cabinet directing them not to discuss the legality of the Iraq war ahead of its 10th anniversary, the Guardian reports. Mr Hague argues that until Sir John Chilcot’s public inquiry publishes its findings, any judgement would be premature. Predictably, the Lib Dems have no intention of complying. Nick Clegg is expected to make a speech on the war before the 19th of March anniversary date.


Yesterday’s immigration figures were a triumph for Theresa May. Both gross and net immigration fell, as the FT (£) reports, with a fall in net immigration of 34pc, down to 163,000 a year from 247,000. As Thomas Pascoe notes on Telegraph Blogs, for the first time, the Coalition target of a net figure is starting to look achievable. The crackdown on bogus student visa applications has had a dramatic effect of the number of new arrivals. Ukip are planning on making immigration the main plank of their northern campaigning in the year ahead. But on this measure, at least, the Coalition are already delivering.


Having seen the Institute of Licencing be rather rude about his minimum alcohol price plan yesterday, Dave will be grateful to receive the support of a group who believe he should go further today. The Alcohol Health Alliance, consisting of 70 medical colleges and campaign groups, wants to see a floor price of 50p per unit, greater than the 45p Dave is suggesting, we report.


The middle classes can feast easy on their fillet steaks only because the poor are prepared to eat burgers, Mary Creagh has explained in an interview with The House. Without demand for the “cheaper cuts”, the price of fillet steak would soar, she argued. As we report, Ms Creagh dabbled with vegetarianism when she was younger but was forced the abandon the experiment owing to a hatred of carrots, which explains some of the interest in the price of steak.


Chuka Umunna over-shares:

@ChukaUmunna: First time I had to run off a TV set live on air tonight with a stomach bug- dodgy chicken kiev! Returned to complete the job


In the Telegraph

Fraser Nelson – Act radical, sound dull – how Osborne can save the economy

Jeremy Warner – We can’t afforf to make profit a dirty word

Graham Ruddick – Business rates freeze should be the cunning plan to save high street

Telegraph View – An idiotic plan to curb banker bonuses

Best of the rest

Philip Collins in The Times (£) – Together the prudent can beat the profligate

Samuel Brittan in the FT (£) – Revealed: a not-so-secret sterling devaluation plan

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian – On history, Karl Marx would agree with Gove, and so do I

Sean O’Grady in The Independent – Negative rates? All the more reason to save


TODAY: Plaid Cymru Spring Conference. Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru hold their annual conference. Beaumaris Leisure Centre, Beaumaris, Anglesey.

09:30 am: Bank of England releases its lending to individuals study for January.

Eastleigh by-election: Ukip inflicts major setback on David Cameron

Ukip came second in Eastleigh as the Liberal Democrats hung onto the seat despite recent allegations of a sex scandal involving a senior party figure.

Being defeated by both their coalition partners and Ukip will add to the growing doubts that the Conservatives can win the next general election.

Eastleigh is one of the Conservatives’ target seats and the party has flooded the seat with MPs over the last weeks, hoping to seize a constituency won by the Lib Dems in 2010.

But the final results, announced after 2am this morning, showed that the Lib Dems had held on and that Ukip had inflicted a huge symbolic blow to the Conservatives.