European affairs dominate the papers this morning as the situation in Ukraine deteriorates further and the Eurozone nations struggle to find a way of preventing a Greek default.
"Thousands die' as truce in Ukraine collapses" is the Times' splash. The ceasefire between pro-Putin forces and the Ukranian government looks to have collapsed completely. It's the UK and the EU's complicity in letting the situation develop - which will be condemned by the Lords committe on foreign affairs in a report published later today - that is in the Guardian's sights: "Catastrophic' errors by UK in Ukraine crisis" is their splash.
It raises the prospect of war between Nato and Russia over the fate of the Baltic states - "Moscow and Nato on collision course" is the Indy's splash - while the i focusses on the Russian bombers that have been sighted near the Cornish coast - "RAF and Russia clash in skies off Britain" is their take. The Mail, meanwhile, goes for the warnings from military chiefs that defence cuts mean that Britain is unable to defend itself against the Russian threat: "Britain At The Mercy of Putin's Planes" is their splash.
But it's Britain's thorny relationship with the UK that still dominates political calculation as far as the campaign is concerned. Ed Miliband has written to the PM asking for more clarity on what, exactly, his aims for renegotiation are, while the latest clutch of Ashcroft polls finds Ukip hot on the Conservatives' heels in three out of the four seats polled: four points behind in Boston & Skegness, two points behind in Castle Point, and six points behind in South Basildon & East Thurrock.Ukip, far from falling away in the last days of the campaign, will likely receive a boost due to their "major party" status providing increased coverage. That, as Emily Ashton reveals, Nigel Farage will re-enter the national fray in the final phase of the campaign will also prove a shot in the arm for that party's ratings.
In addition, in each of the contests polled, there is a substantial Labour vote to be squeezed by Ukip, which means that Ed Miliband's awkward encounter with a disgruntled voter, could be exploited by Ukip to harm the Tories.
Nigel Farage's prediction that David Cameron will lead the largest part after the next election looks, to my eyes, to be a canny way of steadying the nerves of any Ukip voters thinking about returning to the Tory fold rather than a serious call about what will happen in May, while also reminding the Labour voters he is targeting that Mr Miliband isn't like them.
But bluntly even if Mr Farage falls short in Thanet South and his party do collapse completely between now and the election, his mark has already been made on British politics in that Mr Miliband - elected to take British politics to the Left, remember - now nods when told that there are "too many" immigrants in Britain and that increasingly all of the parties are offering promises on unskilled immigration that can only be met through the European exit door.
CROSSBREAKS, OR GTFO
The Liberal Democrats are spending £350,000 on constituency polling, Patrick Wintour reveals in the Guardian. They say that it shows that the party is doing better some seats that the polls suggest. It's good news for Simon Hughes, Norman Lamb and Julian Huppert, among others.
But that the party is saying nothing about some of the high-profile defeats that the public polls suggest it is on course for in the published polls, and that the full data - helpfully laid on for the Lib Dems by Survation - remains unpublished suggests that the picture in Inverness, Sheffield Hallam and Hornsey remains as bleak as the public polls show. Elsewhere, Harry Lambert at May2015 says that private polling shows the Liberal Democrats will hold onto 30 seats.
Visa applicants will have to prove that they respect "British values" under Conservative proposals to tackle extremism, Helen Warrell reveals in the FT.
MUST YOU GO?
Rosa Prince's series of interviews with retiring MPs continue with Frank Doran who describes himself as "old and decrepit" and says "I don't want to be wandering around here as a skeleton". Mr Doran, whose first marriage broke up after he became an MP, advises new parliamentarians to put their families first. Andrew Miller, another sixtysomething Labour MP, says that by "leaving at 66 I can go off and do other things", tells new MPs they should "Make sure you take your time and hire the best possible staff".
ADONIS BOWS OUT
Labour peer Andrew Adonis has announced that he will not be running for Mayor and has thrown his weight behind Tessa Jowell's campaign for the Labour nomination. "What we need in London is the Olympic spirit applied to solving the housing crisis," Lord Adonis says.
WHITER THAN WH-OH.
The latest Electoral Commission report reveals that PriceWaterhouseCoopers is the largest private donor to the Labour party, Sam Coates and Laura Pitel report in the Times. The firm has been accused of assisting with tax avoidance "on an industrial scale" by Margeret Hodge. The only way that you'll get clean money in politics is you increase public funding and cap donations, Katie Ghose of the ERS argues at Shifting Grounds.
Peter Mandelson will warn that any cut in tuition fees must not reduce the amount of money going into the higher education sector in a speech later today, Patrick Wintour reports in the Guardian.
THE STUD OF STOKE NEWINGTON
Thanks very much to the Commons clerk who tipped me off to the existence of the Mumsnet thread in which the site's users discuss which politicians would make the best lovers. Chuka Umunna - "hot hot hot and hawt" - does well, Nick Clegg - "eager to please, but it would be over very quickly" - gets a mixed response, but the runaway favourite is Ed Balls. "He looks capable. And meaty." says one user. "I totally would" says another. One of his neighbours reveals that she and her friends have "a pretty major crush" on the Shadow Chancellor. The full conversation is here.
THIS IS THE LAST TIME I'M TELLING YOU THIS
The Briefing will be back on Monday, but it's "Goodbye" from me, I'm afraid, as I'm off to pastures new.
The best thing about putting together the Briefing has been reading your emails - thanks so much for writing. Thanks also to Jim Nicholson, Craig Millar and the team at Caci for technical support and to Christian Adams and Bob Moran who for their fantastic cartoons.
And thanks, lastly, to the many journalists, at the Telegraph and elsewhere, who have been endlessly supportive and helpful during my stint on the Briefing, particularly to Ben Brogan.
POLL OF POLLS
Labour 33% Conservatives 32% Ukip 15% Liberal Democrat 7% Greens 6% (Ashcroft-IpsosMori-Opinium-Populus-YouGov)
LATEST POLLS:YouGov: Labour 33% Conservatives 32% Ukip 15% Liberal Democrat 9% Green 6%
TOO MANY TWEETS...
@hopisen: At Christmas, Santa draws up 2 lists: people who only RT good polls for their side, and people who remember interesting polls usually wrong
From the Telegraph
James Kirkup - See? The world doesn't end when a politician tells the truth
Philip Collins - The Liberal Democrats will survive (Times)
John Gray - Ed Miliband wants to govern a country that doesn't exist (NS)AGENDA
0945 BEDFORDSHIRE: David Cameron launches new Marriage Tax Allowance.
1000 LONDON: Tower Hamlets mayor to give evidence at the election petition trial at the High Court.TODAY IN PARLIAMENT
In recess until 23rd February.
Samizdata quote of the day
5 hours ago