The Liberal Democrats are back in the spotlight, after a key member of Nick Clegg's inner circle accepted a potentially illegal donation for the party, and fixed a private meeting for the would-be donor with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. However, the party's new benefactor was one of our undercover reporters, posing as a rich Indian businessman, in a story we have splashed on today: "Danny Alexander and the illicit Lib Dem donation".
The donation was sought by Ibrahim Taguri, the party's former chief fund-raiser, who was standing for MP in Brent Central and boasted that his campaign is the "third best-funded" in the country. He invited our undercover reporter to a fund-raising dinner and private meeting with Danny Alexander, who encouraged the fake businessmen to provide further financial support to the party, but said that he did not want "to intrude on the details" of his donations.
During the five-month investigation - in which donations worth £9,100 were sent by the "businessman" to the Liberal Democrats - our reporter was introduced to top figures including Alexander and Lord Ashdown, invited to a speech given by Vince Cable, taken to Nick Clegg's Commons office and offered a meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister. He was also told by Taguri, who is seen as one of the "rising stars" in the party, that his donation would "open doors" and that the party would be "very helpful".
Taguri has now said he will step down as the party's parliamentary candidate, and denied any wrongdoing. The Lib Dems have rushed to distance themselves from him, with Paddy Ashdown warning that Taguri will lose his party membership if he goes through with his plan to run as an independent candidate. The party denied any impropriety and referred the matter to the Electoral Commission. However, the revelations shed light on the party's desperation to raise funds in the run up to May. Remember 2005? The party funded much of its election campaign then with a £2.4 million donation from Michael Brown, who was later convicted of conning his victims out of tens of millions of pounds. Clearly Nick Clegg's LBC phone-in this morning will be required listening.
The bottom line is the Lib Dems are supposed to be better than this. The party likes to think of itself as cleaner, and more moral than the rest. These revelations are not just a serous blow to the party's image, but to its idea of itself.
STAND BY YOUR MEN
David Cameron "stands by" his 2010 call for defence spending to increase in real terms after the next election, his official spokesman has said. Cameron is under pressure to explain why he was failing to promise not to cut defence if he is re-elected, Ben Riley-Smith reports. Luke Coffey, special adviser to former defence secretary Liam Fox, said Cameron had given a "personal assurance" to defence chiefs that budgets would rise after 2015 and has also written for the Telegraph about the issue.
BORIS HOSED DOWN
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has delayed making a decision on whether to allow water cannon to be used for the first time on the British mainland, David Barrett reports. The controversial equipment needs authorisation from the Home Office before it can be deployed but Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has already bought three second-hand cannon from Germany at a cost of £218,000.
CLEGG SCHOOLS OSBORNE
Nick Clegg has accused the Chancellor of trying to block a recommended 2% pay rise for teachers in a "fierce" coalition row, MailOnline reports. The Tories insisted the increase would go ahead as planned. "It's important that where we can be as generous as we can be," the Lib Dem leader said.
Chris Grayling, the Justice secretary, was one of more than 100 Conservative who voted against plans to force tobacco manufacturers to sell cigarettes in plain packets in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Chris Hope reports. In a major blow to the authority of David Cameron, the Prime Minister, Grayling, Liz Truss, the Environment secretary and four Government members of the Government - Harriet Baldwin, Mark Francois, Therese Coffey and John Hayes - voted against the changes.
YEO MUST BE JOKING
Conservative plans to effectively ban new onshore wind farms will lead to higher energy prices for consumers, Tim Yeo, the senior Tory backbencher has claimed. In a valedictory speech on Thursday, the former minister is expected to launch a scathing attack on "blind unreasoning hostility" to wind turbines from opponents whom he labels "climate change sceptics". Emily Gosden has more details.
John Bercow has apologised after being accused of sexism for likening a female Tory minister to a "washing machine" because he did not know when she would stop talking. The Commons speaker had cut Esther McVey off during an answer by saying: "I am reminded of the feeling when one thinks the washing machine will stop—but it does not." MPs said such a comparison was "seldom a good idea" and "unnecessary rude". Here are more details.
Discriminating employers should be allowed to hire Britons over foreigners, Nigel Farage has said. The leader of the UK Independence Party said employers "should be much freer to make decisions on who he or she employs". Farage also said that he did not think there should be a law against discrimination on the grounds of race or colour. Read more here.
NO MILI-JORITY SAYS MANDY
Ed Miliband will not win a majority at the general election, Lord Mandelson has predicted. Labour's former business secretary appeared to question the chances of Mr Miliband winning enough seats after the May 7 vote, predicting a "stalemate hung Parliament in two months' time." Here are more details.
The three main party leaders are considering an invitation to our proposed five way election debate, which would be broadcast on the internet. Nigel Farage became the first party leader to sign up to the debate on Wednesday. The news came amid growing anger at the way mainstream broadcasters have handled their negotiations over plans for separate debates on the BBC, ITV and Channel Four. We have more here.
TOO MANY TWEETS…
@KatyScholesSKY: Today's high point, me: "could you introduce yourself for the tape?" @PaddyAshdown: "what you really want is a level *recites Jabberwocky*"
From The Telegraph
Martin Baxter - Campaign calculus: Will the Tories benefit from the time-honoured incumbent swing?
Iain Martin - Why do witnesses never bite back at grandstanding MPs?
David Aaronovitch - Boris is winning over even old sceptics like me
Chris Giles - The dark underbelly of Britain's jobs miracle
0900 Nick Clegg's weekly LBC phone-in
1015 Intelligence and Security Committee to publish an update on privacy and the implications of Edward Snowden's spying revelations
2000 Ed Miliband i to appear on BBC Three's 'Free Speech: I'm Ed Miliband, Ask Me Anything' for an hourof unscripted questions from young people
2245 'Question Time' from Leeds. On the panel: former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, defence minister Anna Soubry, shadow cabinet office minister Lucy Powell and Private Eye editor Ian Hislop
House of Commons backbench business debate on defence spending
Resolution Foundation to publish a report on living standards before and after the economic crisis
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens to speak at the Royal College of Physicians' annual conference
TODAY IN PARLIAMENT
HOUSE OF COMMONS
0930 Prayers. Afterwards - Oral Questions: Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
1015 Oral Questions: Church Commissioners and the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission
1030 Urgent Questions (if any), Business Question to the Leader of the House, Ministerial Statements, including on: UK response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa
Until 1700 Backbench Business: Motion on Defence spending and motion on education regulations and faith schools
Presentation of Public Petitions (No debate)
Until 1730 (or for half an hour) Adjournment Debate: Innovations in HIV prevention
1330: Relationship between police and children
Violence against women and girls
HOUSE OF LORDS
1100 Oral questions
1130 Review of select committees
Lords Spiritual (Women) Bill - third reading
House of Commons Commission Bill - second reading
Committee stage debates on the Local Government (Review of Decisions) Bill - and the Control of Horses Bill.
Debate on independent review of the Money Advice Service
Debate on young care-leavers not able to 'stay put' in foster care and the transition to independence
Debate on on the 70th Anniversary of the bombing of Dresden.