Danny Alexander stood on the steps of the Treasury yesterday and held a yellow box aloft for the cameras to mark the Lib Dems' "alternative Budget". Very few of Alexander's colleagues seemed to care about what their party would do after May if they governed alone, perhaps recognising how unlikely it was to happen, with fewer than 10 Lib Dem MPs turning up to listen, my colleague Rosa Prince reported.
John Bercow swiftly warned Alexander against making any party political statements at the despatch box and Nick Clegg slipped out of the chamber before he had even finished speaking. Our sketch writer Michael Deacon was in the gallery as Alexander took what could be his "last chance to realise a lifelong dream". The Lib Dem Treasury minister also had to borrow the yellow box from an activist, as the party had auctioned it off on Sunday for £1,500.
The coalition Budget was 124 pages long, but the Treasury document sketching out the Lib Dems' "alternative fiscal path" lasted only 14 pages, with four of them completely blank. What about the detail? "It's a totally empty document, which just sets out an intention to offer higher spending, with no insight at all into what that would look like," a former old hand at the Treasury told me. "I assume George told them just to do the minimum to keep Danny happy."
The Lib Dems may feel that a yellow box helps their alternative agenda get attention. But George Osborne already used the coalition Budget to unveil distinctly yellow policies like a boost to the tax-free personal allowance, eclipsing his Lib Dem deputy. Alexander, confusingly, insisted that he was happy with the coalition Budget, which he co-authored and would still vote for, but that his yellow Budget offered "a better way". Is it worth looking like a muppet, and being mercilessly mocked on social media, just to wave around a yellow box?
Labour dismissed the Lib Dem Budget as a "farce", but the Opposition has not been much better. Ed Balls admitted that he would not reverse any of Osborne's new Budget measures, except for the "deeper spending cuts". Isn't this when Labour is meant to set out a compelling alternative, some MPs may wonder, to show voters it is ready for government?
UKIP THE RECEIPT
Nigel Farage has said he is "shocked" and "astonished" by the behaviour of a UK Independence Party MEP who allegedly plotted to make a bogus expense claim, Chris Hope reports. Janice Atkinson, MEP for South East and a candidate for the Folkestone and Hythe constituency, has been sacked by the party after a member of her staff was reportedly filmed discussing claiming back a restaurant bill.
YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE LAST OF US
Nick Clegg will attempt to dispel gloom around the Lib Dems' election prospects in Scotland by insisting they will hold all their seats and "wipe the smile off Alex Salmond's face". Speaking at a rally at the party's Scottish conference in Aberdeen, the Lib Dem leader will tell delegates "we will do so much better than anyone thinks", Simon Johnson reports. Lib Dem commentator Mark Pack has also given a spirited "case for the defence" of his party in an interview for the Polling Matters podcast.
SMOG MAY STOP PLAY
The Lib Dems have been causing a stir in Gravesend filming a promotional video, with Nick Clegg rumoured to be making an appearance. "A dancing troupe and the Lib Dem party leader are expected to be filmed today, as long as the smog does not interfere," the News Shopper reports.
BACK TO BLACK
Household incomes have recovered to pre-recession levels and are likely to be higher than they were when the Coalition came into power, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said. George Osborne's claim in his Budget speech that households will be £900 better off on average than they were in 2010 has triggered a political row, with Labour insisting people are worse off. Steven Swinford has more.
NO REVERSE GEAR
Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, admitted that Labour would not reverse George Osborne's Budget measures, including the flagship measures on savings and Help to Buy. Speaking in response to yesterday's Budget, he said "nothing had changed" because the Chancellor had produced a "quite empty" Budget, meaning Labour "wouldn't need to reverse any of it" if the party was successful at the general election. Here are more details.
FAREWELL TWO BRAINS
David Willetts is the latest retiring MP in Rosa Prince's running series of interviews. He opens up about winning Margaret Thatcher's trust, his first ministerial career in John Major's government, and his return to government under David Cameron. "You were not seduced by the adrenaline rush of that day's news story, he says about his time in the coalition. "When you come back in your 50s it's easier to see things in proportion."
EU CAN'T BE SERIOUS
Jean-Claude Juncker has privately accused David Cameron of confecting a row over business red tape in order to improve his electoral prospects at home, Matthew Holehouse reports from Brussels. The President of the European Commission is understood to have told colleagues that the Prime Minister's call to ease the tax regime for internet start-ups was simply a ploy to boost his credentials among voters wavering with Ukip.
BRASSED OFF NO MORE
Brass bands will be included in new tax relief for orchestras, the Treasury has confirmed after initial proposals to exclude them were attacked for "cultural snobbery". The government had initially suggested that only ensembles with musicians from string, woodwind, brass and percussion sections could get the financial support. Here are more details.
TORY TAX PLANS
The Conservatives will pledge to take nearly a million people out of the 40p higher rate of tax in the months following the general election, George Osborne has indicated. The Chancellor said that his Liberal Democrat colleagues had blocked him from raising the higher rate tax threshold in his pre-election Budget on Wednesday. Peter Dominiczak has more.
George Osborne delivered a series of one-liners aimed at Ed Miliband and the Labour front bench in his Budget speech on Wednesday. But how much did all the funny announcements cost? There were swipes at Miliband's tax affairs, the row over his two kitchens, his leadership battle against his brother David, and the possibility of a deal with the SNP. Ben-Riley Smith got his calculator out.
PUTIN CASH TO USE
Britain will spend £20 million this year to help former communist states come in from the cold and resist the Putin regime. David Cameron last night announced plans to send British officials to help reform the creaking bureaucracies of Georgia, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzogovina, and Serbia. Here are more details.
WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE...
Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former spin chief, has a new book out on 'winners' in politics. Will he include Ed Miliband in a future edition? "It's too early to tell", he admits to HuffPostUK.
Average of polls as of Wednesday, March 18: Lab: 34.21%, Conservative: 32.98%, UKIP 14.73%, Lib Dem 7.75%, Green 5.12%. The data is from: YouGov, Populus, Opinium, ComRes, Survation, Ipsos MORI, ICM, TNS-BMRB.
TOO MANY TWEETS…
@MarkJLittlewood: Why do @LibDems always seem to think that a good photo op shld be the sort of thing that wld look at home on Tiswas?
From The TelegraphAllister Heath - There is no such thing as a giveaway: it's taxpayers' money, not the state's
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Gaby Hinsliff - Britain's obsession with ownership has turned housing into a pyramid scheme
0930 Public Sector Finance statistics, including the latest figures for government borrowing a debt, to be released by ONS
0930 Weekly A&E attendance data for England to be published
2000 'Any Questions' on Radio 4. On the panel: Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Chris Leslie, Lib Dem MP Tessa Munt and IEA chief Mark Littlewood
Ed Miliband to give a speech at the Federation of Small Businesses National Conference
Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander to address the Scottish Lib Dem conference
A report on the 'HS3' rail link between Leeds and Manchester, including details of costs and route options, to be published by the Department for Transport
A partial solar eclipse will be visible from the UK, though cloud is forecast across the country for when it is due to occur. The time of the maximum partial eclipse will be around 9:30am in London, when almost seven eighths of the sun will be obscured.
Vernal equinox – the first day of spring.
TODAY IN PARLIAMENT
HOUSE OF COMMONS
9.30 Continuation of the Budget debate.
2nd reading of Peter Bone's bills: Free Movement of Persons into the United Kingdom (Derogation) Bill, British Bill of Rights and Withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights Bill, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Abolition) Bill - 2nd reading, Hospital Car Parking Charges (Abolition) Bill, BBC Privatisation Bill, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Abolition) Bill, and Business of the House Commission Bill.
2nd reading of Christopher Chope's bills: Working Time Directive (Limitation) Bill, Bat Habitats Regulation Bill, Defence Expenditure (NATO Target) Bill, Convicted Prisoners Voting Bill, Benefit Entitlement (Restriction) Bill, Illegal Immigrants (Criminal Sanctions) Bill, House of Lords (Maximum Membership) Bill, EU Membership (Audit of Costs and Benefits) Bill.
Fixed-Term Parliaments (Repeal) Bill - 2nd reading
Road Fuel Pricing (Equalisation) Bill - 2nd reading
Wild Animals in Circuses Bill - 2nd reading
Adjournment debate: Inward investment in Southend