Monday, 2 February 2015

Education and war..

David Cameron will launch what he calls "an all-out war on mediocrity" later today as the Conservatives pledge to "turbo-charge" education policy - and hopefully put the rocketboosters on the Tory campaign, too. 

All primary and secondary schools rated as "requiring improvement" (that's "satisfactory" in old money) or "inadequate" by Ofsted could be given new leadership and converted to academies, the PM will say, in a speech that will cover his own education - and the first-class education he wants for his children and all children in the state sector. "Cameron: We'll take control of mediocre schools" is our splash.

It's re-ignited the old row over the merits of the academies agenda, free schools and the overall legacy of that man Michael Gove. The Liberal Democrats have released a 13-page dossier called "The Gove Files" detailing all the plans for education that they have put the brakes on, and it's queered the pitch somewhat for the expected Conservative promise to ringfence education (the Liberals say that they fought off attempts to cut the education budget earlier in the parliament).

The bigger problem is that the numbers around this latest pledge already appear to be coming unstuck. There aren't, at present, anywhere near enough academy chains to convert all of the state schools with a requiring improvement or inadequate rating from Ofsted to academy status. The announcement could yet turn a running sore akin to Labour's ongoing struggle to find the money for its tuition fee cut. 


Speaking of which...20 University Vice-Chancellors have written a letter to the Times warning Labour against reducing tuition fees from £9k to £6k a year. Sir Christopher Snowden, the University of Surrey's VC, tells Greg Hurst: "I really feel that Labour has missed the point here. If you talk to sutdents and to many mums and dads, the £9,000 is no longer the key topic." They say that Labour should instead focus on increasing maintenance payments to existing students, not a tax cut for well-paid graduates. The policy is a cause of ongoing internal strife. Ed Miliband, I'm told, "has religion" on the subject and wants to move to a graduate tax. The Shadow Treasury team won't sign it off unless they can find £2.5 billion to pay for it, while the Shadow BIS team are open-minded on it but don't want it to come out of the existing BIS budget. "University chiefs scorn Miliband's fees policy" is the Times' splash. 


Labour have hit back at Boots chief exec Stefano Pessina after he told the Sunday Telegraph that Ed Miliband's plans for power are "not helpful for business, not helpful for the country and in the end it probably won't be helpful for them". The British people will "draw their own conclusions when those who don't live here, don't pay tax in this country and lead firms that reportedly avoid making a fair contribution in what they pay purport to know what is in Britain's best interests," Chuka Umunna said"Labour's War On Boots The Chemist" is the Mail's splash. "The only tangible thing he said was his fear of Britain leaving the European Union," said Ed Balls on the Today programme, "That's what I hear from business all the time." He accused the Conservatives of "gambling" with Britain's future. 


Theresa May's plans to ban extremists from campuses treats "unversities like schools", Lord Butler, a former head of the civil service who served as Master of University College Oxford from 1998 to 2008, told the Murnaghan programme. Schools "have a duty to teach right from wrong", Lord Butler explained, but part of university life is having the freedom to "hear different opinions". Rosa Prince has the story.


Local authorities are on the verge of issuing bonds in order to raise revenues and make up for further cuts to their government grant. The £2.6 billion reduction in 2015 will add up to a 40% reduction since 2010. The "munibonds" will be issued by a new municipal debt agency, and are backed by 48 local councils and the LGA. Scotland will also acquired the powers to issue its own debt in what have been dubbed "kilt-edged bonds". Patrick Jenkins and Jim Pickard have the story in the FT


When Ed Miliband has a problem in Scotland, he sends for Gordon Brown. His predecessor will hit the campaign trail with Jim Murphy later today and will unveil further pledges to give Holyrood new powers to create its own additional benefits. "Brown's desperate election gamble" is our Scottish splash. It comes as concern grows at the top of the Labour Party that their Scottish problem cannot be fixed in time to save the party's hopes of a parliamentary majority, Andy Grice reports in the Indy. "On the door steps, many people don't want to know," one Labour official says.   "Labour facing crisis in Scotland" is the i's frontpage. 


The delay to the Chilcot report is "a barrier to public trust" and has hamstrung British foreign policy, Douglas Alexander will say at Chatham House later today. Mr Alexander will describe the Iraq war has having "greater and deeper consequences than the invasion of Suez", and has left the bar for further intervention "permanently raised". The Shadow Foreign Secretary will also outline the broad principles that will guide a Labour government on the world stage. Patrick Wintour has the story


More than 100,000 people have signed up to the Greens, Ukip and the SNP over the last few months, Jim Pickard and Kiran Stacey report in the FT.  It marks a reverse of a 60 year decline in party membership, at least temporarily.


Douglas Alexander has ruled out any deal on Trident in order to strike a deal with the SNP, although he stopped short of ruling out any pact with the Nationalists at Westminster after May. "The responsibility of defending this country is not something that is the subject of simply trading away interests one way or the other," Mr Alexander told the Marr programme. On the subject of Labour-SNP co-operation, Eric Joyce highlights the threat such a coalition could pose to Scottish Labour on his blog


Graham Allen, the Labour chairman of the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee has called for the rules around caretaker administrations to be clairified in order to avoid a dangerous vacumn while coalition negotiations are going on. "It would be much better to have clarity, and to have the rules of the game clearly set out in the Cabinet Manual," Mr Allen says. Andy Grice has the story


Labour and the Liberals will have 339 seats between them, with Labour winning 291 seats to the Conservatives' 281, while the Liberal Democrats will hold onto 48 of their 57 seats, a new electoral forecast by Professor Paul Whiteley has said. The forecast accurately called the results of the 2005 and 2010 elections, although the low scores for the SNP and high resilience of the Liberal parliamentary party may make the model less accurate this time out. Patrick Wintour has the story.


Nathan Garbutt, the Ukip candidate in Yvette Cooper's Pontefract seat, has been dragged into a "race row", Jack Blanchard reports in the Mirror after likening a rapper to a chocolate bar. Mr Garbutt posted an image of a man fleeing a hippo online, a reference to I'm A Celebrity jungle-mates Gemma Collins and the rapper Tinchy Stryder. "Hopefully Gemma won't think Tinchy is a Freddo when she gets hungry," Mr Garbutt chuckled. But Mr Garbutt says the remark was riff on Mr Styrder's 5ft fin height. "It was aimed at Gemma being hungry," he explained. 


I'll be on Sky News this morning (see Agenda) as Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Natalie Bennett are grilled by young people at Facebook's UK headquarters. 

I'm available by pressing reply or on Twitter - our cartoon is the work of Christian Adams- a gallery of his work is available here.


Conservatives 33% Labour 33% Liberal Democrat 7% Ukip 15% Greens 7% (Ashcroft-ComRes-Opinium-Populus-Survation-YouGov 


Opinium: Labour 33% Conservatives 32% Ukip 18% Green 6% Liberal Democrat 5%

Populus: Labour 35% Conservatives 34% Ukip 14% Liberal Democrat 10% Green 4%

YouGov:  Labour 35% Conservatives 32%  Ukip 15% Liberal Democrat 7% Green 6% 


@JamesAsser: I think if I have to see a dozen tweets everyday revealing it's now X days left to the election I might go mad before we get to May.


From the Telegraph

James Kirkup - Ed Miliband is flunking Labour's history test

Boris Johnson - Prisoners are victims of a throwaway culture. Let's try to change that

From elsewhere

Robert Webb - I don't mind if politicians went to posh schools. I mind if they don't listen to anyone hwo didn't (NS)

Slavoj Zizek - Capitalism has broken free of democracy's shackles (FT)


0900 LONDON: Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, on a tour of Crossrail. 

0930 ABERDEEN: Oil summit. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael and Malcolm Webb of Oil and Gas UK will be at the event, which is taking place in a bid to tackle the impact of falling oil prices.

1000 BIRMINGHAM: Ex-Ukip MEP Nikki Sinclaire in court accused of money laundering and misconduct in public office. The former Ukip MEP, who lost her seat in the European Parliament, is accused of money laundering in relation to travel expenses and misconduct in a public office. Sinclaire, 45, has not entered pleas.

1000 LONDON: Sky News Ask The Leaders event, with party leaders answering questions from young people. Q&A sessions with each leader will be shown live on Sky News for 30 minutes, followed by a further 15 minutes on Facebook. 1000 Natalie Bennett 1200 Nick Clegg 1400 Ed Miliband. 

1000 LONDON: Tower Hamlets election petition trial starts. The petition, which seeks a re-run of last May's mayoral contest in the borough, has been brought by four residents against Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman and returning officer John Williams. 

1330 EDINBURGH: Jim Murphy and Gordon Brown speeches. The Scottish Labour leader and former prime minister will give speeches on powers for the Scottish Parliament. 

1515 LONDON: Health chiefs give evidence on Hinchingbrooke at the Public Accounts Committee.

1800 LONDON: Douglas Alexander speech to Chatham House.

1800 LONDON: Speech by Chief Executive of the Civil Service John Manzoni to Institute for Government.


Commons - 1430: 

Communities and Local Government Questions. 

Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill (HL) - Second reading. 

Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Bill - Consideration of Lords amendments. 

A motion to approve the Draft Scotland Act 1998 (Modification of schedules 4 and 5 and transfer of functions to the Scottish Ministers etc) Order 2015. 

A short debate on Birmingham Airport - flight path changes. 

Lords - 1430: 


Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill - Report stage. 

A short debate on mental health services for deaf people using British sign language.