Good morning. The Sun calls it a "Lib-Lab Love-In". Ed Balls has given an interview to the New Statesman in which he declared his undying love for Nick Clegg. Well, not quite. But Mr Balls was markedly more complimentary towards the Lib Dem leader than he has been in the past: "I can disagree with Nick Clegg on some of the things he did but I’ve no reason to doubt his integrity, we’ve never, I don’t think, ever had a cross word." Mr Balls' words will be seen as a further step paving the way for a future Lib-Lab coalition. The Shadow Chancellor has often been viewed as an obstacle to a Lib-Lab deal - Nick Clegg has not been complimentary about "a man named Ed Balls" in the past, saying that he was the only politician he disliked only last month. By trying to improve Lib Dems' opinions of him, Mr Balls is also shoring up his position after the rumours that begun circulating after his disastrous performance in the Autumn Statement - his retention remains probable.
Mr Balls may think he needs the Lib Dems's approval - but Mr Clegg certainly needs Labour's approval. Mr Clegg knows his political future may depend on Labour not doing what he did to Gordon Brown in 2010 - demanding his head as the price of any coalition deal. So his letter to Lib Dem members - accusing the Tories of being "more about tax cuts for the highest earners" than helping the poor - serves a useful function for Mr Clegg, showing him to be more than a Tory lackey. Expect to see plenty more examples of ostentatious "differentiation" in the coming months, and the sense of the Conservatives being ganged up on - even if much of it is just Parliamentary theatre.
ZAHAWI LOBS ANOTHER GRENADE
Nadhim Zahawi is earning a reputation as something of a troublemaker for No 10. First there was his little difficulty with expenses; then it was his calls for child benefit to only be available for two children. Now Mr Zahawi has popped up again on the emotive topic of planning reforms. Mr Zahawi says they're causing "pain" to communities across the country, and warns that "physical harm" to the countryside could become "the defining legacy of this Government". He calls on Nick Bolesto stop "intense attacks" on the countryside by "rapacious developers". Mr Boles wasted no time fighting back, saying: "We are not looking to change the NPPF, because after such a dramatic change in the planning system, stability has an enormous value." What Mr Zahawi has done is draw attention to a development that leaves many members of the grassroots and councillors being betrayed. He has voiced concerns that many leading Tories have kept to themselves. In doing so, he may have let the cat out the bag: this is one row with legs. But it should be noted that Labour also has huge tensions between ambitious house-building targets and a commitment to localism.
MAKING A SPLASH
Penny Mordaunt is making a splash in the papers today (sorry). The Tory MP for Portsmouth North, dubbed the "sexiest" in Parliament by The Sun, has announced that she will appear on ITV's celebrity diving show Splash! a week on Saturday. Unlike Nadine Dorries when she appeared on "I'm A Celebrity", Ms Mordaunt has sought permission from the party's chief whip. She will donate her £7,000 fee towards the community renovation of a lido in Portsmouth.
WHAT ARE THE MOD SPENDING THEIR MONEY ON?
A bad day for the Ministry of Defence. We report that the MOD has doubled its spending on consultants this year - from £25 million in the same period last financial year to £66 million this financial year - even as Armed Forces personnel have been cut by thousands. The Mail has the story with extra salacious detail. Andrew Manley, a £200,000 a year executive in the MOD, is being questioned over whether his blonde chief of staff, 25 years his junior, was "inappropriate" and about expenses claimed for nights he spent at a luxury hotel.
LABOUR GAMBLING AMENDMENT DEFEATED
Labour's amendment calling for local councils to be given the right to limit the number of high-stakes gambling machines was defeated 314-232 last night. At PMQs, David Cameron said that he "absolutely shares the concerns" about fixed odds betting terminals, but that the Government was waiting for a report in the next few months before taking action. Mr Cameron blamed Labour's relaxation of gambling laws in 2001 for the spread of the machines.
BLAME THE FLOODS ON CLIMATE CHANGE
So much for "green cr*p". Dave yesterday told MPs that he "very much suspects" that manmade emissions are behind the freak weather at home and abroad. The Sun says that the PM has "swallowed" a lie.
MAUDE CONTINUES WAR ON IDS
Francis Maude has chipped in with another not-so-subtle attack on IDS. Mr Maude described Universal Credit's launch as "pretty lamentable" and said that that "There was a lot of money wasted in the very poor implementation of the project over its first two years and this is very regrettable."
JAVID BATS FOR HIGHER MINIMUM WAGE
More signs that a rise in the minimum wage could be on the way: No 10 analysts reckon that a 50p hike could save the Government £1 billion, and Sajid Javid yesterday said that there was a "a strong case to look at it". Mr Javid, a close ally of George Osborne, would not have been speaking out of turn.
CHINA'S HS2 OFFER
The recent trips of David Cameron and George Osborne to China weren't in vain. China has offered to invest in HS2, according to the FT, although officials have insisted that the main rail line would be funded entirely by the taxpayer. But the prospect of Chinese companies bidding to run the line after it is built remains open. Many won't approve, but Britain might just be China's best friend in Europe.
PMQS who a noticeably sombre affair yesterday as the Commons marked the death of Paul Goggins. There was evident shock on both sides at the suddenness of his passing and a remarkable cross-party warmth in the tributes led by Ed Miliband and David Cameron; Mr Miliband saluted one of the most "dignified, humane, wise and loyal" parliamentarians. Read our obituary here. Mr Goggins was MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East for 17 years, and won a majority of 7,500 over the Conservatives in 2010. Amid the grief, attention will slowly turn to the by-election. Ukip, who won 3.4 per cent in the seat in 2010, will be eyeing up at a second place finish.
THE VANISHING LIB DEMS
Lib Dem Don Foster has announced that he's standing down in 2015, after 23 years as MP for Bath. Mr Foster has a majority of 12,000 but, because of the importance of incumbency, Tories will now be considering whether to target the seat. Mr Foster standing down is certainly something that the Lib Dems could have done without; other senior MPs Sir Menzies Campbell, Sir Malcolm Bruce and David Heath have already announced that they will not run again in 2015, endangering their seats. The question is whether Nick Clegg is to blame: one Lib Dem MP says that "Clegg was advised badly about personnel, which led to him not giving posts to older figures" and reckons a few senior MPs could have been persuaded to stay on had they been offered ministerial posts.
TWEETS AND TWITS
Some support for Mr Zahawi:
@ZacGoldsmith: Good strong words from @nadhimzahawi on the 'faceless planning inspectorate' & the need for more localised Plannin.
In the Telegraph
Sue Cameron - Why is outsourcing shrouded in secrecy?
Philip Johnston - We have a free press. . . let’s keep it that way
Telegraph View - Voter ID cards will not solve electoral fraud
Best of the rest
Patience Wheatcroft in The Times - Dave must give the Tories back their dreams
Rafael Behr in The New Statesman - Miliband’s enemies don’t know what to make of him – the trouble is, neither do his friends
Theresa May in The Sun - Slavery is an affront to our humanity
Martin Kettle in The Guardian - Modern Britain can survive - if we have the will for it
8.30am Fire station closures. Protest outside Clerkenwell fire station, Rosebery Avenue, ahead of closure of 10 fire stations in London tomorrow, followed by a protest outside City Hall at 11.30am.
9am Call Clegg on LBC 97.3 radio.
12pm Bank of England decision on interest rates and quantitative easing programme.