George Osborne is gearing up to give the nation, and the Conservative election campaign, a shot in the arm with a big pre-election bonus in Wednesday's Budget, which we have splashed on today: "Osborne plans £6 billion election giveaway"
The Chancellor is expected to announce plans to raise the threshold at which people pay inheritance tax on properties to £1 million. When Osborne proposed to raise the threshold to £1m in 2007, it scared Gordon Brown off from calling an early election, so - now in government - he would have high hopes for how it will play with Middle England. In attempt to spike Labour's guns, he will also try to modify his planned cuts so that the Office for Budget Responsibility, which warned last December that he could cut spending back to 1930s levels, doesn't give another provocative assessment of his plans.
A move on inheritance tax would delight Tory backbenchers and turn the heads of middle-class voters who have drifted away to UKIP. But is CCHQ getting the jitters? The expectation had been that the inheritance tax promise would not come this side of Easter, with Osborne dangling it as a carrot for voters in a preview of what a Tory government could do. With the polls showing Labour marginally still in the lead on average, are the Tories firing their big gun too early?
Osborne has some room to give out pre-election goodies thanks to falling inflation and lower borrowing costs. He is also preparing to give five million pensioners with existing annuities given the right to cash them in from April next year. In an complete coincidence, pensioners vote often, and often vote Conservative.
Generous budgets seem crude, but history shows they work. Nigel Lawson unveiled a £2.6 billion pre-election giveaway Budget in 1987, which boasted a headline-grabbing 2p off income tax. The worst Labour leader Neil Kinnock could call it was a "bribes budget", but it secured Margaret Thatcher her third term in office.
It's not all about the Tories though, as the Lib Dems have already started to fight a rearguard action against Osborne's prospective inheritance tax cut. Danny Alexander, Osborne's Lib Dem deputy at the Treasury, told the Telegraph last week that he would block any "potty" tax cuts for higher earners, and now the Guardian has happened upon Treasury papers suggesting Osborne's big plan would benefit "the wealthiest fifth" most. However, the Lib Dems aren't going to wreck the Budget. Alexander and Nick Clegg have to sign off on the coalition's spending plans as part of the Quad, and they have spent nearly five years working with the Tories, so will want their own achievements to show off.
In an apt metaphor, I hear Osborne came to Nick Clegg's office for a meeting early in the coalition, and as he waited for the deputy prime minister, saw a partially done Rubik's cube on the desk of his chief of staff, Jonny Oates, with one side - on the top - completely orange. As he waited for his new Lib Dem partner, Osborne began to play with it. When Clegg was finally ready, Osborne left behind a Rubik's cube with the orange side now entirely blue. The Lib Dems will now be keen to show they've got the Rubik's cube back to their natural colours, with the Budget presenting the last big exercise in coalition differentiation before the election campaign begins in earnest.
THIS PLAN WILL SELF-DESTRUCT IN...
David Cameron's plan to reform the European Union through treaty change is "mission impossible", the European Council president has said. Donald Tusk said he was willing to help Cameron in his attempts to renegotiate Britain's terms of membership but warned changing EU treaty laws would be like opening "Pandora's Box". Ben Riley-Smith has more.
Ed Miliband is the most disliked of all party leaders amid growing concerns among Labour MPs that he is a liability on the doorstep. An Evening Standard/ Ipsos Mori poll found that nearly two thirds of the public do not like Mr Miliband and that he is significantly less popular of the party he leads. Here are more details.
The Prime Minister has expressed his "full confidence" in Grant Shapps, the Conservative Party Chairman, after it emerged he continued to pursue business interests under the pseudonym "Michael Green" for more than a year after becoming an MP, Steve Swinford reports. This comes amid questions over a law firm used by Shapps to force a critical constituent to say that he had not pursued his business interests after becoming an MP. Read more here.
David Cameron has shown what it's like to live a day in his shoes after agreeing to wear a spy camera for the Sun as he goes about his business. Their footage includes the PM preparing sardines on toast, talking about his relationship with the Queen, and giving chief whip Michael Gove a dressing down for arriving at Cabinet late.
NO PHONES4U, SAY SPOOKS
Britain's spies have told businesses to consider stripping employees of company smart phones and memory sticks to protect themselves from cyber-attacks, Ben Riley-Smith reports. Advice issued by GCHQ, the government's listening post, and other departments warns firms that staff are the "weakest link in the security chain" and protective action must be taken.
I'LL STICK AROUND
David Cameron has said he wants to stay on as an MP and return to the backbenches if he loses the General Election, Matt Holehouse reports. The Prime Minister says he "loves" politics and public service and hopes that his constituents will "stick with me" in the event he loses the election.
MURPHY'S LAW MK2
Labour is teetering on the edge of another battle with Unite, its biggest union funder, after the party stopped a female friend of its leader Len McCluskey from becoming an MP. Karie Murphy, who was at the centre of the Falkirk vote rigging scandal two years ago, had put her name forward for the marginal Labour seat of Halifax. Chris Hope reports.
WHERE THE HEART IS
The head of Britain's spending watchdog has accused Whitehall of failing to grasp the impact of deep public spending cuts, the Financial Times reports. Sir Amyas Morse, who leads the National Audit Office, suggested that officials were carrying out "radical surgery" without knowing "where the heart is".
STILL SAYING YES-NP
Ed Miliband has refused to rule out an informal power-sharing deal with the Scottish National Party after the general election. The Labour leader ruled out a formal coalition, saying there would be "no SNP ministers" in any government he leads. Here are more details. Our view is that Miliband has made a "misleading non-promise is a cynical attempt to look strong while keep his options open".
FE-DUP OF DELAY
The Democratic Unionist Party is urging the five main UK-wide parties to agree to our proposal for a live debate broadcast over the internet next week, even though it can't take part as it only appeals to voters in Northern Ireland. Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader of the DUP who is widely tipped to replace Peter Robinson as leader, has written to the organisers of the "digital debate" saying he supports the idea. Read more here.
Average of polls as of Sunday, March 15: Lab: 34.52%, Conservative: 32.62%, UKIP 14.84%, Lib Dem 7.5%, Green 5.27%. The data includes YouGov, ComRes, MORI, ICM, Angus Reid, Populus.
TOO MANY TWEETS…
@GabyHinsliff: Election starting to sound like one big Lib Dem party conference, where all anyone asks anyone is who they wd/wdnt go into coaition with
From The TelegraphMartin Baxter - Campaign Calculus: The Liberal Democrats are heading for big trouble
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1445 Theresa May to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on national security and people leaving the UK to join Isis
Nigel Farage's book "The Purple Revolution", which has been serialised in the Telegraph, is to be published by Biteback
Electoral Commission to publish monthly statistics on donations and loans to MPs
United Nations Human Rights Council to decide whether to publish the names of alleged war criminals in Syria
Israel to hold parliamentary elections, called two years early by Binyamin Netanyahu following strained relations with his coalition partners
St Patrick's Day
TODAY IN PARLIAMENT
HOUSE OF COMMONS
1130 Justice Questions.
A Ten Minute Rule Motion: Representation of the People (Candidate's Disclosure).
Modern Slavery Bill - Consideration of Lords amendments.
A debate on a motion relating to Committee on Standards reports on the Standards System in the House of Commons and on the Code of Conduct.
A backbench business debate: i) Shaker Aamer.
A short debate on the report on asbestos in schools.
0930: Thames Valley technology sector.
1100: Financial inclusion.
1430: VAT and the tourism industry.
1600: Government support for survivors of child abuse.
1630: Administration of Premier Motor Auctions.
HOUSE OF LORDS
A motion relating to the Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2015.
Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill - Third reading - Baroness Neville-Rolfe
Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill - all stages.
Hollobone Agrees Tory-UKIP Pact
32 minutes ago