Nigel Farage re-enters the fray with a columnin the Telegraph and a speech in Essex later today, setting out his plans for what he sees as the election's inevitable result: a hung parliament. No full coalition of any kind with any party, and an immediate In-Out referendum the price of his party's support are the crucial messages, with an opt-out on the European Arrest Warrant, the abolition of the bedroom tax, fee cuts for science subjects, a full-blooded Recall Bill and no mansion tax rounding out the Ukip menu.
There are some committed Outers who believe that they still need time to make the positive case for exit - "You should never leave a job to go nowhere," one MP reflected to me recently, "We need to explain what it is that Out allows Britain to do next." - who will be jittery at the prospect of an early poll. (There's also the question of what exactly a Ukip-supported government would be able to offer Mr Farage's party to keep the show on the road after the referendum.) The flipside of that is that the Out campaign already has its best team on the pitch and quietly doing the ground work, while the forces of In are still disarray - "Better Together without the hope and Yes to AV without the brains" was one despairing comment - and might negate the steady drip of warnings about the consequences of Exit from business and the big banks.
But bluntly, for all Mr Farage is a colourful character, and even on their best showings, will likely get three times as many votes as the SNP, even on the most optimistic showings, Ukip is still likely to have only a handful of seats and little influence even in a hung parliament. It's yesterday's speech by Nicola Sturgeon at UCL that will have bigger consequences on who wields power after the election.
In some ways, it's just Alex Salmond's "dark star" St George's Day lecture on the unbalanced economy, the baleful influence of an overmighty London and how the SNP's programme will be as good for the North and the neglected parts of England as it will for Scotland, but with the word "independence" crossed out and "confidence and supply" scribbled in.
For all any deal with the SNP would cause ructions within Labour - in the Sun, Kevin Schofield reports that some Labour MPs are threatening to quit the party if does a deal with the Nationalists, while any alliance at Westminster with the SNP could potentially knacker Scottish Labour for good - from a policy perspective, you can see how a deal could be struck.
Ed Miliband's agenda of a rebalanced economy and a weakening of the capital's dominance within the British economy, if it bore fruit, would make the SNP's economic case stronger. (That the more people searched for information online the less likely they were to vote for independence according to a new study by the University of Glasgow shows the importance of lancing that particular boil) At their core, both Mr Miliband and Ms Sturgeon are both traditional European social democrats so there's no reason why a coalition or looser arrangement between the two couldn't survive and thrive, if not for a little while.
Yes, they're still no closer to circumnavigating the deal-wrecker that is Trident or the deep-seated animosity between the two parties. The politics still make any deal in May look remote to my eyes. But if the future in British politics is a SNP with a permanent hold on a significant minority at election time and repeated defeats on the central question of independence, you can see how in the long-term the two parties could find a way to work together.
OI! YOU, ME, OUTSIDE!
The ongoing row over tax avoidance and Swiss banks dominated PMQs yesterday. But Ed Miliband's claims that Lord Fink, a former Conservative treasurer, has avoided tax, look likely to have consequences outside of the Chamber. The Tory peer has invited the Labour leader to step outside (no, really) and repeat the remarks "at which point I will sue him for libel". Mr Miliband will repeat the claims later today. "Tory donor: I'll sue over Miliband's 'dodgy' slur" is our splash.
TEACHERS, KEEP ON TEACHING
The row will likely overshadow Ed Miliband's return to his old comp, where he will pledge to restore New Labour's cap on class sizes for 5 to 7 year olds. Since the target was scrapped by the Coalition the number of classes with more than 30 pupils has trebled. The pledge will be funded by banning free schools from opening in areas with surplus places.
"Gove's £110k Limo To Go 400 Yards" is the Mirror's splash. The Chief Whip has been using a chaffeured Jaguar to travel from his home to Parliament and between his office and Downing Street, Russell Myers and Jack Blanchard report. But the Cabinet Office retorts that on each occasion the Chief Whip was carrying "highly classified papers" which had to be transported, regardless of whether Mr Gove was in the car himself.
David Lammy has called for London's Premier League clubs to commit to paying their lowest paid workers a living wage after signing up a new television deal which is expected to see wages skyrocket among the clubs' players. Mr Lammy's mayoral hopes are expected to receive a boost in the coming days when Margaret Hodge, who was in the Department of Education when Mr Lammy was Estelle Morris' PPS, and is politically close to him, throws her weight behind his campaign.THAT'S WHY HE TAKES A HARD HAT WHEREVER HE GOES
A joint appearance by the PM and the Chancellor almost came to a tragic end when the second-class carriage that George Osborne was travelling in was hit by a stray piece of freight, forcing the Chancellor's train to make an unscheduled stop in Leicester.
WORST. ADVENT CALENDAR. EVER!
The Liberal Democrats will reveal the first page of their manifesto when Nick Clegg visits the marginal seat of Oxford West and Abingdon. Education is the big message, along with a further increase in the personal allowance to £12,500. Holly Watt has the story.ON THE BUSES
BuzzFeed's Emily Ashton went on the road with Labour's pink bus. The much-discussed van ran into trouble in the shape of a cantankerous pensioner and an anti-feminist campaigner. Workers at Labour HQ see the lighter side of the row: "Lucky Harriet didn't want a plane, otherwise we'd have had to call it a Suffrage-Jet!"
POLL OF POLLS
Labour 33% Conservatives 33% Ukip 14% Liberal Democrat 7% Ukip 14% Greens 7% (Ashcroft-Opinium-Populus-YouGov)
LATEST POLLS:YouGov: Labour 33% Conservatives 32% Ukip 15% Green 7% Liberal Democrat 7%
TOO MANY TWEETS...
@thatchersrise: Labour MP, Marcus Lipton on Thatcher becoming Tory leader: 'This makes a Labour victory at the next election an absolute certainty.'
From the Telegraph
Mary Riddell - Our crumbling prison system is disgrace to modern democracy
Allister Heath - The Tories are paying the price for their lack of grand vision
Alex Massie - David Cameron is lucky he faces Ed Miliband, not Nicola Sturgeon (Speccie)
1015 LONDON: Nicky Morgan (1015) and Tristram Hunt (1600) speeches to the Early Intervention Foundation National Conference.
1030 LONDON: Grant Shapps speech. The Tory chairman will give a speech on free trade.
1110 LONDON: Meeting of UK and French foreign and defence ministers.
1130 OXFORD: Nick Clegg press conference and visit re Lib Dem manifesto.
1200 LONDON: Prime Minister's Questions.
1400 LONDON: Child abuse inquiry chair Justice Lowell Goddard pre-appointment hearing at Commons Home Affairs Committee.
1400 LONDON: Nicola Sturgeon economy speech. The Scottish First Minister will make an address titled 'Austerity, inequality and the Scottish approach to economic growth'.
1415 LONDON: HMRC chief Lin Homer at Public Accounts Committee hearing on tax.
1900: Call Chuka on LBC.
TODAY IN PARLIAMENT
Commons - 0930:
Business, Innovation and Skills Questions.
A statement on the future business of the House.
Three backbench business debates: i) Pubs and planning legislation ii) Destruction and looting of historic sites in Syria and Iraq iii) Mental health and wellbeing of Londoners.
A short debate on the economic contribution of Scotch whisky industry.
1330: Effect of national infrastructure projects on local redevelopment.
Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill.
A motion on 17 negative instruments relating to care and support, laid before the House between October 24 and 31 2014.
Is there life after Brexit?
4 hours ago