Good morning. It's the one we've all been waiting for. Yep, the Clegg-Farage debate is at 7pm tonight, near Trafalgar Square; it's live on LBC (you can watch it here). At a time when day-to-day political life is exceptionally dull, lets all hope that the debate spices up politics. It's also a mark of the shift away from two-party politics that the clash qualifies as a genuine public event; a decade ago a meeting between the leaders of Ukip and the Liberal Democrats would have been an event marked "for anoraks only".
It has become the conventional wisdom that tonight's affair should qualify as a win-win for Mr Clegg and Mr Farage. If this is true, it's worth reminding ourselves that translates to a lose-lose for the Conservatives, as I pointed out yesterday. For Labour the calculation is less clear as many party strategists quietly welcome Ukip's rise as a device for splintering the Right-wing vote. But it's worth remembering that the main - perhaps even the only - reason why Labour's poll lead is tiny but resilient is that the party has become the adopted home for Left-wingers who plumped for the Lib Dems in 2010. If tonightmarks the start of the long overdue political resurgence of Nick Clegg, that will be bad news for Ed Miliband. Perhaps both the Conservatives and Labour will regret reducing themselves to bystanders in the 2014 version of Edward Heath's "Who Governs Britain?" debate. The official word from Dave is that he's too busy to watch, but that's not fooling anyone. In the Guardian, Patrick Wintour has an excellent primer ahead of the debate. The Times leaderwelcomes the debates (there's another next week) as a potential antidote to apathy and declining voter turnout. It says that "Similar exchanges could usefully be held on subjects such as immigration, the health services and intervention abroad", and warns that it would be "a mistake" not to hold TV debates in 2015.
A BIG ED-ACHE
Although Labour's lead ticks up to three points in the latest Yougov poll, there's plenty of bad news for Ed Miliband this morning. Again. The Times splashes with the headline "Miliband is not fit for No 10, say most voters", which finds that only 19 per cent say that they could imagine Mr Miliband in Downing Street. The figure is unchanged from September 2012; when the same question was asked about Dave in September 2008, 49 per cent said yes. It gets worse, too: only 26 per cent think that Labour is ready for government. But it's not just the numbers that are uncomfortable reading for the Labour leader. David Lammy admits that Labour has yet to "cross that Rubicon to being a government in waiting" and calls on Ed to "spell out he is relevant and can inspire and motivate". Meanwhile John Mills, one of the party's highest donors, says that Mr Miliband is "less sympathetic" towards business than most voters would like but his policies are merely "rhetoric", seemingly casting doubt on whether Labour's proposed reforms to the banking and energy sectors are more than just hot air. The leader will vote for the welfare cap today, but Patrick Wintour reckons that as many as 20 Labour backbenchers will rebel and vote against. And The Sun also makes for unpleasant reading for Labour: 64 of the party's 106 target seats received no donations last year. If this was the Conservative party, we would be writing of a Civil War; as it is, most Labour dissent still simmers beneath the surface.
AUTHORS v GRAYLING
A coterie of writers use the Telegraph letters page to come out against Chris Grayling's instructions to limit books and other items being sent to prisoners from family and friends. The authors, who include Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and one Jeffrey Archer, say that "Books represent a lifeline behind bars, a way of nourishing the mind and filling the many hours that prisoners spend locked in their cells. In an environment with no internet access and only limited library facilities, books become all the more important." Allan Massie also doesn't approve.
BONE IN THE CLEAR
Peter Bone and his wife Jennie will not face charges over allegations of fraud connected with her mother's care home arrangements. The Crown Prosecution Service said that there was insufficient evidence to charge them with any criminal offence.
Fracking: it's time to get on with it, says Dave. The PM says it will be "good for our country" and says, "By the end of this year there should be some unconventional gas wells up and running that we can demonstrate and I think the enthusiasm for it will grow."
NO BOJO SILVER BULLET
Good news for Michael Gove, George Osborne and the Stop Boris campaign. In a new Yougov poll in Prospect, only 35 per cent say that Boris is well suited to being PM; Peter Kellner explains that "the prospect of Johnson leading the Tory Party does little to improve its electability." If the notion of Boris as a "silver bullet" for the Conservatives is undermined, so may much of the appeal he holds to those within the party.
A GAMBLING CHANCELLORIf you need a morning laugh, read Michael Deacon's brilliant sketch on George Osborne's visit to a bingo hall in Cardiff, as a couple of regulars showed him the ropes. In the Mail Stephen Glover reckons one gamble that could pay off is raising the inheritance tax threshold: "audacious tax cuts are popular not only with people who will immediately benefit from them, but also with those who can imagine doing so."
The Morning Briefing is edited by Tim Wigmore. Follow Tim on Twitter
Latest YouGov poll: Con 35%, Lab 38%, Ukip 10%; Lib Dems 10%
TWEETS AND TWITS
The big question:
@JustineGreening: Fab result 3-0 for Rotherham Utd tonight against Brentford. As many 90th minute or extra time goals as any other club this season?
In the Telegraph
Mary Riddell - This Labour love-in has to end – it’s time to make some enemies
Con Coughlin - Ukraine's retreat from Crimea is a wake-up call for Nato
Allan Massie - It is mean and nasty to deprive prisoners of a good book
Telegraph View - If the welfare cap fits
Best of the rest
Daniel Finkelstein - Wipe off that smile. The worst is yet to come
The Times leader - Clegg v Farage
Stephen Glover - An audacious Tory gambit that could win the election - and you can put your house on that
Nigel Farage - My live debate with Nick Clegg is upon us. Does he realise what is about to hit him?
Brussels: President Barack Obama will attend, his first visit to the EU institutions.
National Union of Teachers national strike.
Vince Cable and Maria Miller at event to support increased female presence in boardrooms of UK companies.
1030 Lords Constitution Committee takes evidence from Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. Committee Room 1, House of Lords.
12pm Prime Minister's Questions.
1230 David Cameron oral statement to House of Commons on last week's European Council summit.
1415 Commons Environmental Audit Committee takes evidence on HS2 impact on environment. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House.
1500 MPs to vote on welfare cap and Charter for Budget Responsibility. Debate expected to last around 90 minutes, following PM's statement on European Council summit. House of Commons
1900 Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage hold EU debate. The head-to-head, the first of two in the run-up to the May 22 Euro elections, will be broadcast on LBC. The second will be broadcast on BBC2 on April 2. Both will also be broadcast by Sky News
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