Breaking News: David Cameron has been speaking on the Today programme. He described current immigration levels as "still too high" and said that he wanted it reduced "back to responsible levels".
Mr Cameron also said that he wanted "longer transition periods" for countries in the European Union. On Bulgarian and Romanian migration, the Prime Minister said: "We've done the extent of what we can do" and explained that part of the #longtermplan was "dealing with immigration and welfare and Europe". Mr Cameron added: "We'll be the first government in modern history to finish a parliament with less regulation in place than we started with", and will tell the Federation of Small Business later today that 800 rules and regulations affecting them have been abolished or amended.
When challenged about the IFS's prediction that people will be worse off in 2015 than 2010, Mr Cameron said: "I’ll leave the statisticians to argue these things out."
CAN LABOUR WIN ON BASHING THE RICH?
Good morning. Now what? Labour has allowed Ed Balls to put politics before economics, and must face the consequences. Promising to put the top rate of tax back up to 50p has gone down badly with business. Labour figures will wince seeing the FT splash: 'Businesses blast 50p tax plans by Labour'. The Telegraph's 'Bosses blitz Labour's 50p tax rate' will hurt too, as it comes with a letter from 24 senior business figures detailing why it would threaten the recovery. The Mail talks about'Labour civil war', and its leader talks about the politics of envy. We'll get more today, with senior figures from the City queuing up to be rude about the decision, about Mr Balls and about Labour's economic credibility. The fact that those doing the criticising - and, let's admit it, those editing the papers - are for the most part top rate taxpayers is worth noting. It doesn't detract, however, from the central objection, namely that there is no economic case for it. The shadow chancellor is trying to claim that it might raise billions - he said on Marr yesterday that it had raised £10bn over three years - but the IFS and most others say it will bring in negligible sums: Mr Balls's claim that it will help eliminate the deficit is patent nonsense. Indeed, as Andrew Marr put it, even if the income-raising value of his changes are accepted at face value, where is he going to get the other 90pc he needs to achieve his objective of balancing the books next Parliament?
Perhaps if he dropped this talk of fairness he might find it easier: the task ahead can be described in all manner of ways, but if it's done properly then one thing it won't be is fair, whoever is in power. Already there are signs that some in Labour are unhappy about moving away from the Blair/Brown model of keeping the City happy - a model incidentally Mr Balls played a central role in. At this rate, Labour's Treasury team will struggle to find anyone willing to share a prawn cocktail with them. Mr Balls is many things but not stupid. He may have decided that what the City thinks no longer matters, and that he prefers to bash the rich in pursuit of cheap votes. Keep an eye therefore on the the polls in the next few days - will he get a lift of any sort from this populist lunge? Watch too the argument over what he meant: is reverting to 50p a permanent proposition or, as Alistair Darling intended it, a temporary one. He'll have to clarify, and presumably he'll say it will last only as long as the deficit. But that's a side show: Labour believes there are votes in bashing the rich, and the Tories can no longer be certain there aren't.
IMMIGRATION BATTLES ON TWO FRONTS
Dave faces an immigration showdown on two fronts. Around 50 backbench MPs are backing a proposal to extend transitional controls for Romanians and Bulgarians until 2019, despite warnings that it could contravene European law. Meanwhile, 100 Conservatives are supportingan amendment that would end the right of foreign criminals to claim the right to a "family life" in the UK. It sounds like Tory rebelliousness has reached new heights - but several minister are backing the amendments to the Immigration Bill and one MP describes them as effectively "government amendments". But will backbenchers be demanding even more concessions after the European elections - and will Dave be able to give them any?
GOVE v WILSHAW
Michael Gove is defending his aides of alleged "dirty tricks" against Ofsted head Sir Michael Wilshaw. Civitas and Policy Exchange, two think-tanks with links to Mr Gove and his team, have both criticised Ofsted's ability to regulate academies and free schools and the consistency with which it was upholding standards, and Sir Michael told the Sunday Times that he was "spitting blood" and believed that the attacks on inspectors were "informed by people at the department of education".
THE DAILY MAIL PRAISES A LIB DEM - WHATEVER NEXT?
Steve Webb's new pensions announcement gets a good airing today - it makes the front pages of both the Mail ("Boost your pension by £25 a week") and The Times ("Payouts to rise by 30% in pensions revolution"). As part of legislation expected in the Queen's speech, pensioners will be allowed to make top-up payments to increase their retirement income. It's being briefed as particularly welcome to women, who tend to live longer, though it's hardly going to be enough to end Dave's notorious "women problem". The flipside of the plans is that, unlike existing occupational schemes, there is not a guaranteed income for life, and pensioners will see their income throughout retirement vary depending on the performance of investments. Labour backtracked on proposals to introduce collective schemes in 2009. The Government will be happy with the Mail's leader, which expresses its shock at praising a Lib Dem minister and says that "The deal, significantly better than any available privately and particularly attractive to longer-lived women, should help put right an injustice to those who will reach retirement before the new £155 flat-rate pension is introduced on April 6, 2016."
DAVE BACKING YEO
The Prime Minister has written a letter to Tim Yeo, publicly backing his reselection bid in South Suffolk. Dave writes: "I very much hope that you will be selected to stand as the Conservative represenatative in this seat again, so that you can fight to continue representing your constituents in the next Parliament as you always have done in the past, with tenacity and commitment."
BALLS STILL AN HS2 SCEPTIC
Ed Balls has returned to an old favourite: flirting with abandoning HS2. Mr Balls said: "I don’t think that’s an argument which has yet been won by the supporters." The risk is that the fence will become uncomfortable, and voters will see indecision of the sort that businesses don't approve of. On that note, Chuka Umunna will today say that Labour would creare a Small Business Administration, modelled on that in the United States, to help small businesses and entrepreneurs get better heard in policymaking. But while Mr Miliband is so happy playing anti-business tunes, will Mr Umunna's voice be heard?
Dave is launching an attack on "crazy and over-zealous" red tape that impedes housing development, and will tell the Federation of Small Business today that over a hundred rules applied to new homes will be pared back to fewer than ten. Rules on minimum window sizes, the dimensions of rooms and arrangements for toilets will be among those put onto the bonfire and are predicted to save developers £60 million a year - £500 for every new property built. But has the Government waited too long to act on housing?
PICKLES DEFENDS APOSTROPHES
Lynton Crosby's "attitude is that only the top five issues matter", as one Tory MP puts it. Apostrophe use is, presumably, not one of them, but Eric Pickles used a letter in Saturday's Telegraph to attack "disingenuous and unnecessary" plans by Cambridge city council to abolish apostrophes on street signs.
0815 LONDON: Nick Clegg to light candle of remembrance on Holocaust Memorial Day. Deputy prime minister to help launch Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK, at King's Cross station
0830 LONDON: Speech by International Development Secretary Justine Greening. She will set out how she is refocusing the UK's aid budget to build jobs, generate economic growth and reduce dependency on aid across the developing world. London Stock Exchange 10 Paternoster Square
1200 LONDON: Mayor to launch Year of the Bus. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, will formally launch the Year of the Bus from the rear platform of a specially painted silver New Routemaster bus. Adjacent to City Hall, The Queen's Walk
1515 LONDON: Public Accounts Committee. The committee will examine (i) Severance payments (ii) Interpreter services (iii) Rural broadband. Witnesses include Una O'Brien, permanent secretary at the Department of Health, Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of NHS England and Mark Sedwill, Home Office permanent secretary, Ann Beasley, director-general of finance at the Ministry of Justice and Peter Handcock, Chief Executive of the Court and Tribunal Service; Sue Owen, permanent secretary at the Department for Culture. Room 15, House of Commons
Good morning. The confrontation between Tory backbenchers and David Cameron over immigration is coming to a head. Andrew Lansley announced yesterday that the Immigration Bill will be put through its final Commons stages next Thursday in an attempt to get it through before it runs out of Parliamentary time. Ministers want to avoid a vote on the poison pill amendment sponsored by Nigel Mills and backed by around 70 MPs, which would extend the bar on Romanian and Bulgarian migrants to 2019. The Government believes the amendment is illegal because it would place the UK in breach of its binding EU treaty obligations; its backers say it's not illegal if Parliament says it's legal. The Bill has been repeatedly postponed while Ministers try to work out what to do. The plan is to bring forward amendments that would be tough enough to appease enough rebels to dilute the rebellion and ensure - assuming Lib Dem support, never certain - that the Bill gets through. Theresa May has offered a couple which commit her to producing reports on any sign of 'excessive' future migration, while the backbencher Stephen Phillips has tabled one which would require the Migration Advisory Committee to assess the impact of Romanian and Bulgarian migration. Meanwhile the Whips are leaning heavily on the 70 signatories of the Mills amendment to try to peel away as many as possible.
The Home Office launched a briefing operation yesterday on its strategy which hasn't gone down well in No10. There are a number of issues in play here. The obvious one is the tortured question of Parliamentary sovereignty. The rebels say this is the moment to reassert the primacy of the Commons in making British law. The Government and its lawyers say, in terms, thst it's too late, it was given away years ago when successive governments signed the UK up to the European project. We are a nation of laws and, however galling some may find it, we cannot conceivably knowingly break it. The rebels say Bulgaria ignored its accession obkigation by extending a ban on foreign ownership of land, to which ministers reply that just because the continentals play fast and loose doesn't mean we should. This one has no easy resolution.
Then there is the state of Dave's 'tens of thousands' pledge. At the moment net migration is running at around 180,000 a year. If Mrs May's amendments are accepted then the moment they come into effect she will be asked daily by her colleagues if the current level is excessive and will she report on it? If she says it isn't, it will be the final admission that Dave's promise has failed. Rebels say this will cause mayhem for Tories on the doorstep in 2015 (I'm not so sure - voters to whom this matters can't get any crosser). If she says it is, she will then have to explain what she proposes to do about it. MPs are increasingly blaming her for the policy's failure.
Finally, there's the state of relations between the PM and his backbenchers. Mr Mills is assiduous but no one believes he is running this by himself. Some suspect that the 30 or so irreconcilables who want to damage Dave at any cost are at work. Based on the conversations I had in Portcullis House yesterday, the rebels will only push the Mills amendment to a vote if they can be sure of having enough support to make a splash - 40? 50 votes? Which is why the Whips are working hard, and will quietly steer MPs towards the Phillips amendment as an acceptable compromise. They have one other weapon: the Bill does a number of useful things, not least restricting the right of judicial review in immigration appeals. Will the rebels really want to see it fall? The mood among backbenchers seems more positive, helped by improving economic prospects. The Bernard Jenkin '95' stunt angered many. But No10 - and Mrs May - still have work to do.
DAVE LAUNCHES WAGES OFFENSIVE
David Cameron thinks he has the answer to the cost of living crisis: Downing Street has released data showing that, from April 2012 to 2013, gross pay rose by higher than CPI inflation for all but the top 10 per cent of earners. This is proof that, as Dave says, there's a "recovery for all"though, as ever, there's a complication - changes to benefits. But the Tories should be heartened that, as IFS Director Paul Johnson told Today: "If the recovery continues as expected, people will start to see their incomes rising by 2015." The Sun says "Happy pays are here again".In our leader we say that "It is the Tories who should gain most from this week of encouraging numbers. Education, the economy and welfare are areas where Conservative policy has largely dominated the Coalition, with notable instances of Lib Dem resistance to change."
WHAT'S GOING ON WITH INTEREST RATES?
Six months into his new job, and Mark Carney has announced his first U-turn. Mr Carney has signalled an end to forward-guidance - the policy of linking interest rates to the unemployment rate - because the British economy is now "in a different place", as the FT reports. That means that interest rates will not rise "immediately", as the Governor of the Bank of England will explain in a speech today. In an interview with Newsnight (watch it here), Mr Carney also said that the decision about interest rates was "really about overall conditions in the whole labour market", and he did not want to focus on just one indicator.
GANGING UP ON ED
Ed Miliband must feel rather ganged up on this morning: the Labour leader is being attacked for all angles, with the underlying charge that he is a populist happy to endanger British industries if it helps him get elected. That's a common strand running through the criticism by the CBI, who accuse him of demonising business in the Mail; and, perhaps more damagingly, his own adviser Sir John Armitt warns Mr Miliband that interfering in markets could make the economy a "darn site worse". Similarly, the Guardian reports on Treasury sources briefing that Margaret Hodge's antics in the public accounts committee are deterring foreign companies from coming to Britain: "Companies looking at Britain are being put off the idea of moving their headquarters here because they fear the level of public exposure for behaving perfectly legally," the source said.
George Osborne spies an opportunity to make a virtue of his more constructive attitude to business: he told a CBI breakfast that business should "stop apologising" and win back public trust. The challenge for the Tories is painting Mr Miliband as anti-business without the public thinking that they slavishly represent the interests of business.
Esther McVey is being touted as the next Conservative Party chairman,according to Ephraim Hardcastle. "She ticks all Dave’s boxes – she’s an attractive woman with a regional accent, she’s able and popular", a party source telles Ephraim. "But here’s the best bit: appointing Esther chairman would put the nose of Theresa May out of joint." Grant Shapps won't be thrilled to learn his position is under threat, with Lynton Crosby said to be unimpressed by him.
NO MINISTER WE CAN'T LEAVE THE EU
Is the Establishment working to prevent Britain leaving the EU? The Indy's story that senior civil servants are preparing to play a "critical role" setting out the economic risks of Britain voting to leave rather suggests so. The Indy reports that "A senior government source said on Thursday that the view of the Treasury’s Permanent Secretary, Sir Nicholas Macpherson, was that any vote to leave the EU would have unwelcome economic consequences for the UK and this would be reflected in any official assessment." Tory Eurosceptics will be fuming.
FARAGE DOESN'T KNOW UKIP'S MANIFESTO
Nigel Farage popped up yesterday to disown his party's entire 2010 manifesto, and say that all Ukip's policies are under review. Challenged on the Daily Politics over a manifesto pledge proposing a compulsory dress code for taxi drivers, Mr Farage said: "Do we? News to me." Mr Farage resigned as party leader in 2009 and there are whispers that he could once again step down after this year's European elections, and focus on winning a seat in Westminster.
INDEPENDENT SCOTS TO STAY BRITISH
An interesting nugget in the independence debate from the Herald Scotland: the UK Government has conceded that Scots will be able to remain British citizens if they vote for independence. Their children would also be Scots, but the subsequent generation would not: British citizens outside the UK cannot pass on their citizenship more than one generation.
The Tories have selected their candidate for the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election. Reverend Daniel Critchlow, a 26-year-old who is married and has a two-month-old daughter, does not have an easy job. The Conservatives won 25.6 per cent in the seat in 2010; anything over 15 per cent would be a relative triumph.
Good morning (and a particularly fraternal one to Guido Paul). How do the Tories earn credit for the recovery? Yesterday's remarkable employment figures have left Conservatives scratching their heads over a dilemma that grows with every new piece of economic good news: where is the growth dividend? To the extent that one can discern anything useful, the polls tell us that the gap between the two main parties has narrowed slightly. They also suggest that it is Labour that has seen its support dissipate as Ed Miliband's cost of living attack collides with the reality of slowly improving circumstances. The Tories though are stuck. Senior figures speak of the doldrums. The party's projected vote share for the general election is nowhere near what it needs it to be. To adapt the old saw, oppositions don't lose elections, governments have to win them. At PMQs yesterday David Cameron laid into Ed Miliband and his economic record with his customary vigour. His line about the arsonist complaining that the fire brigade isn't doing enough is familiar and resonates. But so does Mr Miliband's familiar lament about Bullingdon toffs being out of touch with the rest of the country.
The Times suggests that senior figures in the City are increasingly worried about Mr Miliband's 'irrational and unpredictable policies' and worry that Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna are unable to rein him in. One FTSE chief exec told the Times: 'Ed Miliband doesn't give a toss about business.' That may be because many voters don't either, of course, and as a good populist the Labour leader knows his audience.
But the Tories can't rely on a growing chorus of complaints about Mr Miliband from whatever quarter. Earlier this week I suggested that the Tories had become adept at whacking Labour wherever it tried to gain an advantage. But so far there is little evidence that the Tories have put together a - sorry to use the word - narrative. I get the impression that this hole in the operation is obvious to many in Downing Street and that thought is being given to how better to promote Mr Cameron and to 'humanise' the Tory message. At the moment it's considered as too dry and dominated by economics, when - it is felt - it should be about people and what the Coalition's work so far has done for them. It's about time you might say. The Tories are enjoying beating up Mr Miliband, and relish seeing the Lib Dems sunk in a mess of sex claims. But they also know that they must urgently come up with a formula that turns Britain's economic recovery into a story of success for Mr Cameron and his party, a story good enough to persuade the voters not only not to go back to Labour, but to give the Tories another go, with or without the Lib Dems.
IT GETS EVEN WORSE FOR CLEGG
Nick Clegg might have thought his party had hit rock bottom. If he did, he was wrong. With the Rennard scandal rumbling unceremoniously on -Alistair Carmichael hasn't helped by warning the party against "washing its dirty linen in public" and calling for immediate mediation to end the dispute - the Lib Dems have a new sex scandal to contend with. Mike Hancock, the MP for Portsmouth South, has been suspended by the partyafter being accused of making "unwelcome sexual approaches" to a vulnerable constituent. The Lib Dems risk gaining a perception as a women-free zone - only seven of their 57 MPS are women. Mr Clegg's wife, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, was out in force yesterday, and gave an interview to The Times in which she said that many leading private schools turn out "unimpressive" young men who can't speak any foreign languages.
Peter Oborne says that the Conservatives need the Lib Dem vote to hold up to have a good chance of remaining in government: "Tory strategists have already started to ponder ways of rescuing Mr Clegg from a mire that is partly of his own creation – such as handing the increasingly beleaguered Lib Dem leader some ostentatious Cabinet victories. For Mr Cameron, the alternative is dire: that the next general election turns into a hand-to-hand battle between Labour and the Tories over Nick Clegg’s corpse, with Ukip the grinning joker in the wings." Mr Clegg could be forgiven for needing cheering up, and The Times diary does its best: at a conference yesterday, Stephen Dorrell and Alan Milburn were asked who they thought would be in power after the next election. As one, they blurted out: "The Lib Dems."
IDS: MAKING BRITAIN GREAT AGAIN?
Iain Duncan Smith has never been lacking in criticism but he will see the buoyant new jobs figures as further evidence that his benefit reforms are changing. This is the crucial line from the Monetary Policy Committee's minutes: "tightening in the eligibility requirements for some state benefits might have led to an intensification of job search". In a speech at the Centre for Social Justice today, Mr Duncan Smith will say that his welfare reforms will "make Britain great again" but will also warn of the hidden "ghettos" of long-term unemployment that still exist and will pledge to transform lives by "lifting people up". We say that "Mr Duncan Smith’s ambition is to return to the original spirit of the Beveridge Report." Meanwhile, Steve Webb will confirm today that the Government will delay plans to introduce a cap on pensions charges by a year, which won't leave savers feeling very pleased.
THE VERY NICE MR MILIBAND
Whatever criticism can be thrown at Ed Miliband, being rude is not one of them. And he's been lavishing more attention on Tory backbenchers than Dave, according to a Times report. "Ultimately, Ed is just a much nicer guy than Dave", according to one Tory MP. After the death of Margaret Thatcher last year, Ed sent a handwritten letter of condolence to Conor Burns, who was close to her.
Is there a secret Tory dining club for devotees of Beethoven? Was the London Phil running an "Intro to Classical" night for Tory MPs? The stalls at the Royal Festival Hall were packed with Conservative members to hear a terrific LPO programme of Bach, Hartmann and Beethoven. I spotted Owen Paterson (no doubt improving his Europeanness, just in case), Graham Brady, John Hayes, Tim Loughton, Anne McIntosh, Desmond Swayne and others. The clue may be in the title of the programme: Champions of Freedom.
BUYING ACCESS TO THE PM
The Mail has a report on cash for access to Dave. It says that the Leader's Group of major donors to the Conservative Party, which provides direct access to David Cameron in return for donations of at least £50,000 a year, has given over £43 million to the party since 2001. 72 members of the group have dined privately with Mr Cameron and other senior ministers in the past 18 months. Tamasin Cave, of the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency, described it as "straight up cash for access of the type that we’ve got very used to in this country. A seat at these dinner parties provides these businessmen with a private space in which to discuss their concerns, whether its taxes, regulation or policy. They’re not just social occasions."
MORE ARMY CUTS
The Tory Right won't be impressed: it's been confirmed that a further 1,400 jobs are to be cut from the Armed Forces, including about 350 Gurkhas, the Guardian reports: it will be the fourth round of army redundancies. Robert Gates's warning that cutting defence spending would reduce Britain's international influence has obviously fallen on deaf ears.
HUNT WANTS CULTURE CHANGE
Jeremy Hunt will use a speech today to call for a "culture change" in the NHS. Mr Hunt will say that patients should be treated "like people", not body parts, and will say that "whole-stay doctors" should take charge of a patient’s entire period in hospital – rather than pass them from one consultant to another. It's a further example of Mr Hunt's determination to be seen to take on vested interests, and side with the interests of consumers over producers; James Forsyth's column on the subject is worth a read. The Health Secretary's admiration for what Michael Gove has done is well known.
PAYMENT BY RESULTS
A new report by the Institute for Government suggests that payment by results may be harming the social sector’s ability to help most vulnerable. It finds that social sector organisations can deliver high quality outcomes for users of complex services, like drug and alcohol rehabilitation, but their size makes them more vulnerable to financial risk compared to larger providers.
Good morning. The absence of other political news means that there is plenty of time to go over the gory details of the Lord Rennard affair, and work out what it says about the Liberal Democrats. The underlying lesson boils down to this: the decentralised and democratic structures that were so appealing to Lib Dems when they were an eccentric fringe party suddenly don't seem so clever. And Nick Clegg is coming out of it all very badly indeed. Note the last line of Cathy Newman's compelling account in The Times of how the silence was broken: "Nearly a year after we broadcast her allegations, we’re still waiting for Nick Clegg to appear on our programme about the Rennard affair, to tell us what he knows is right." In the Telegraph, Dan Hodges reckons that the significance of the Rennard affair is to prove that the Lib Dems could not make the transition from a party of protest to a party of government. Once again, Mr Clegg comes out badly, with Dan saying that he "has clearly learnt nothing about the basics of leadership and issue management at a national level. His statement 'I don’t think it is my job as leader of the party to try to micromanage this' wasn’t so much an abdication of responsibility as the political equivalent of removing his uniform, donning a dress and making a dash for the lifeboats."
It gets worse: Lord Rennard seems adamant that his political career should not end. His allies now warn Nick Clegg that he faces a "bloodbath" that will "rip the Liberal Democrats apart" unless he blocks an inquiry into Lord Rennard's conduct. Lord Rennard is also preparing to take legal action over his suspension from the Lib Dems, which is initially for 14 weeks, while the party investigates whether he had brought it into disrepute by refusing to apologise. A Times/YouGov poll shows the voters don't think very much of this all: 41 per cent think that he should leave the party, compared with 33 per cent who think that he should stay, and 41 per cent now think of the Lib Dems as sleazy. Can Mr Clegg stop the rot? Indeed, with the Lib Dems' structures being what they are, does he even have the power to?
TIME FOR A MORE POSITIVE CONSERVATISM?
This is an intervention Conservatives will feel they could have done without. With shades of Theresa May's "nasty party" comment, Treasury minister Nicky Morgan has popped up to tell the Tories they need to stop being haters: "If we talk about what we hate all the time, we're not talking about we like and what we want to do to help people who want to do well." It's hard to say who Miss Morgan is attacking - some will see the intervention as a counter to the Lynton Crosby school of doing politics, others as a way of imploring the Chancellor to sound just a little more jolly. In the Guardian, Melissa Kite gives the party five ways to start sounding a bit more upbeat.
IS OWEN PATERSON GOING TO BRUSSELS?
As I detail in my blog, Owen Paterson's name is being advanced by the Right as a possible candidate to be Britain's next European Commissioner. Mr Paterson ticks a number of boxes: the Right wants to send someone into negotiations who will be unashamedly in favour of renegotiation, if not in favour of leaving, and he's also a polyglot. When Baroness Ashton steps down in the Summer, the Tory Right will press Mr Cameron to show he means what he says by sending one of their own into the lion's den.
MAY v CAMERON
This could be an explosive fight between the modernisers and the Right of the Conservative Party - but many will be surpised to see who is playing which part. The Times reports that Theresa May wants to curb use of stop-and-search powers - but Dave, worried about being soft on law and order, doesn't agree. The real significance is liberalising stop-and-search laws are seen as crucial to expanding Tory appeal with BME voters, only 16 per cent of whom supported the Conservatives in 2010.
THE ALTERNATIVE TO LEANER GOVERNMENT
Ahead of today's PMQs, Ed Balls could have done without this: the BBC using a photo of his girth (from 2008) as an example of men trying to lose weight. The alternative to "permanently leaner government", the Conservatives might say.
LABOUR'S PLAN TO KILL THE EU REFERENDUM BILL
Will the EU Referendum Bill be approved by both houses before its deadline at the end of February? Not if Labour has anything to do with it. Peers have tabled over 50 amendments for the committee stage of the EU Referendum Bill, including holding a petition of a million voters, posing the questions in Gaelic, Doric and Cornish and giving prisoners the vote. No wonder that Lord Dobbs says that "Labour intend to filibuster this Bill."
UKIP GEAR UP FOR BY-ELECTION
Ukip has chosen its candidate for the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election next month - and it's a former Labour supporter. John Bickley, a self-made businessman and son of a Labour trade unionist who grew up in the constituency, will be officially launched as Ukip's candidate tomorrow morning.
THE RISE OF GREEN C**P
Who was it who wanted to get rid of "green c***p" again? The Times reportsthat green taxes on energy bills will more than double by 2020, and tariffs to fund wind turbines and solar panels will lift average gas and electricity bills to £1,500 a year. Tim Yeo yesterday took to attacking the energy bosses in the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, telling them: "Your attitude is typical of a monopoly, particularly whose charges are not visible to the customers who are paying for them."
BILL GATES BATS FOR DAVE
Dave has received an endorsement from an unlikely source: Bill Gates. In an interview with The Sun, Mr Gates predicted that, "by 2035, there will be almost no poor countries left in the world." He also praised the Coalition's decision to ring-fence the international aid budget, to 0.7 per cent of GDP, saying that "The UK's generosity is something people should feel good about" and the money wasn't being wasted: "Your ministry is smarter about doing measurement systems now, we work in partnership with them."
Foreign Secretary William Hague to attend Geneva II peace talks on Syria.
9.30am HM Chief Inspector of Education, Sir Michael Wilshaw, gives evidence to the Commons Education Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
9.30am Unemployment figures. Latest unemployment figures published by ONS.
9.45am Latest ruling on legal challenges brought against the Government's HS2 high-speed rail scheme.
10.45am Business Secretary Vince Cable gives evidence to the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. Wilson Room, Portcullis House.
12pm Prime Minister's Questions.
12.30pm Culture Secretary Maria Miller gives keynote speech. Ms Miller will discuss The Value of Culture in front of figures from the arts, culture and heritage worlds. British Library Conference Centre, British Library.
2.15pm Commons Public Accounts Committee takes evidence on the impact of infrastructure investment on consumer bills.
3pm Environment Minister Dan Rogerson gives evidence to the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on the winter floods. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
4.15pm Communities Secretary Eric Pickles gives evidence to the Commons Communities and Local Government Committee. Grimond Room, Portcullis House.
Good morning. How does Nick Clegg get out of this one? The headlines are terrible, in particular those on the front of the Mail and the Times, which have gone for the Lib Dem leader. 'Sex pest storm: Clegg in crisis' says the Mail; 'Clegg engulfed in crisis over Rennard sex case', says the Times. The coverage is hardly better elsewhere. 'Sex claims peer tries to smear his victims' says the Telegraph. There is little politics around this morning, so the story dominates. The Lib Dems are evidently in chaos, hampered by their own internal democratic processes. Mr Clegg has aligned himself with the women accusing Lord Rennard and those sections of the grassroots which want the party to address bad behaviour at Westminster. Against him is an array of party fixers and power-brokers who have rallied to the former chief executive. At least one of his alleged victims is threatening legal action against him. In turn he has released his 2000 word defence in which he claims to be a victim himself who contemplated self-harm. The detail, though, which has grabbed attention is his claim that he has done research into his accusers and has uncovered what Lord Carlile has told him is 'devastating' evidence about one of them. We've spoken to one of them who has told us she fears he may be threatening to release private information about her. She says she is contemplating going public about it to 'spike his guns'. Can it get any nastier?
The consequences for the Lib Dems are ominous. There is no obvious way out. In the public imagination, to the extent that it notices, what it hears is Lib Dems, peers, sex. The polls suggest the party is now stuck in fourth place behind Ukip, and is struggling to stay out of single figures. Mr Clegg has tried to be noted by launching periodic attacks on David Cameron on the Tories. His strategy seems to be an intensified attempt at differentiation, as a way of reminding voters that he and the Lib Dems exist and are making a difference by tempering the excesses of the Tories in Coalition. The voters appear not to be noticing though. Certainly they aren't giving Mr Clegg any political credit for his work in government. As I set out in my column today, Team Dave has concluded that the Lib Dems are finished. They want to be able to ignore them between now and the election, and focus their efforts on an onslaught against Labour. 'The Lib Dems are nowhere, they are insignificant, finished. We can just ignore them,' one senior figure told me. This year marks the 20th anniversary of George Osborne joining CCO as the junior officer on the Lib Dem attack desk. As he contemplates the papers this morning, and the polls, he may be tempted to conclude that his life's work is complete. As ever, it's hard to argue with Matt:
CAN UKIP GIVE LABOUR A SWEAT IN THE NORTH?
Nigel Farage has popped up again with another comment that will keep Ukip in the headlines. Mr Farage told an audience in the City that women who have children are "worth less" to employers in the financial sector than men and that "In many, many cases, women make different choices in life to the ones that men make simply for biological reasons." While this may create a bit of a storm, all eyes now will gravitate towards the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election, which is scheduled for February 13. It is a safe Labour seat - Paul Goggins won with 18,000 votes and a majority of 7,500 at the last election - but the question being asked is: how well can Ukip do? Despite winning only 3.4 per cent of the vote in 2010, they can be backed at odds as short as 4-1 to win, and Labour MPs including John Healey have warned that the threat is a serious one.
Tim Wigmore reports from Doncaster, where Labour's three MPs - including Ed Miliband - lost 40,000 votes between 1992 and 2010, to explain why Ukip is such a threat to Labour in the North; even in his own back yard, they think Mr Miliband went to Eton and, with the Coalition parties very unpopular in the urban North, Ukip could be poised to pounce. In case you missed it, Nigel Farage recently told me how he was targeting the North, arguing that "There are some Labour-held marginals in this country where only Ukip has a chance of beating them, not the Tories."
The failure of these Labour policies to gain traction is partly a result of the booming economy - just today comes the news that the IMF is expected to upgrade Britain's growth forecast to 2.4 per cent this year. Yet it's also a result, as I argue in my column, of the Conservatives' success in closing down areas where Labour may have an electoral advantage. As I write, "Mr Osborne wants to fight Labour on the economy, welfare and education – not energy prices, the minimum wage or pensioner entitlements. To him, the short-term pain and embarrassment that come from changing tack or backing down are worth it, if they deny Labour an advantage."
WHY ARE TORY WOMEN DESERTING DAVE?
Bad news for Dave: they'll be talking about his "women problem" again. Jessica Lee, a Commons aide to Dominic Grieve, is stepping down as an MP- becoming the fourth female Tory from the 2010 intake to leave Parliament. Ms Lee cited her "personal circumstances and responsibilities". Here's the nub. Her seat, Erewash, has a majority of 2,500 - so without the incumbency factor, the Conservatives should now be regarded as odds-against to hold onto the seat, which is one of Labour's main targets. Does the number of premature retirements points to failures in party management from the PM?
BLAIR ARRESTED - FOR A MOMENT
This would not have been on Mr Tony's agenda when he went out for a dinner at Tramshed in east London. A barman, Twiggy Garcia, tried to put the former PM under citizen's arrest, putting his hand on Mr Tony's shoulder and saying "Mr Blair, this is a citizen's arrest for a crime against peace, namely your decision to launch an unprovoked war against Iraq." A debate between the two followed, though Mr Tony tried to change the subject, before one of his sons went to get security. Mr Garcia then left the restaurant.
9.30am Commons Public Administration Committee takes evidence on crime statistics. Witnesses include the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Andrew Dilnot, and Home Office Minister Norman Baker. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
9.30am Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) releases its gross mortgage lending figures for November.
9.30am Power company bosses give evidence to Commons Energy Committee on power cuts during recent bad weather.
10am Commons Treasury Committee takes evidence on Project Verde - the planned sale of more than 600 Lloyds bank branches. Witnesses include Lord Levene of Portsoken, the former chairman of NBNK Investments. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
2.30pm NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh gives evidence to the Commons Health Committee on emergency care. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
6pm Douglas Alexander speech on British Foreign Policy in the 21st Century. Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, 10 St James's Square London