David Cameron got the election campaign off the topic of his retirement and onto tax policy after tripping up Ed Miliband at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday. The Labour leader thought he was on a perfect line of attack after George Osborne struggled to rule out increasing VAT under questioning from MPs on Tuesday, but he fell into a carefully-placed trap as Cameron did exactly that.
The move will somewhat spike Labour's guns as the party launched a big poster campaign, advertising their commitment to not raise VAT, in order to pile pressure on Cameron. Miliband tried to keep up the attack, dismissing his answer on VAT as not convincing enough, akin to George Bush senior's "Read my lips: no new taxes" promise. However, Cameron was able to keep him on the back foot over his apparent refusal to say if a future Labour government would have to increase National Insurance.
Ed Balls later ruled out increasing National Insurance, which is a big move as it counts, along with VAT, for around 1/3 of tax revenue. Labour is also set to rule out increasing the basic or higher rate of income tax, which risks giving Balls much less wriggle room over how he will stick to his plans to reduce the deficit. What taxes would he have to raise? By how much? Would he have to cut more than he lets on? Our view is that Balls has "somewhat boxed Miliband into a corner for the campaign".
The Conservatives' average poll position is holding steady, and threatening to leapfrog Labour, suggesting that Cameron's "no third term pledge" has failed to worry voters. The two party leaders are gearing up for the first televised debate tonight. I hear Miliband has spent much of this week practising, and been helped by Alastair Campbell and Michael Sheehan, who coached Obama and Clinton for the presidential debates and charges as much as £10,000 per day. Cameron, by contrast, hasn't had time to rehearse. If CCHQ is worried, it isn't letting on, with one spinner telling me: "He's running the country."
The party leaders won't be facing off head-to-head, but both men will be keen to use their appearances to give their campaigns some much-needed momentum.
I STILL AGREE WITH NICK
David Cameron has held private discussions about forming another coalition government after the general election, it has been claimed. With polls pointing to another hung Parliament, it has been reported that behind closed doors, the Prime Minister "doesn't bother to maintain the fiction" that he is not planning for a second coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Here are more details.
BYE BYE BERCOW?
MPs will vote on Thursday on whether to re-elect the Speaker of the House of Commons by secret ballot, after the Conservatives and Lib Dems launched a surprise "payback" plot to unseat John Bercow. An emergency motion has been tabled by William Hague, the Leader of the Commons, on the final sitting day of Parliament. Chris Hope has more.
MY DAD'S THE PRIME MINISTER
David Cameron's children were allowed to watch what could be his last Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday for "educational purposes", Chris Hope reports. Nancy and Elwen Cameron were both in the public gallery, with their mother Samantha, to watch the last Parliamentary duel between Mr Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband.
I HATE THESE BLURRED LINES
Nick Clegg has challenged the Tories and Labour to outline their policy red lines for coalition negotiations ahead of the election, Ben Riley-Smith reports. The Deputy Prime Minister said his party would put on the front page of their election manifesto which policies they will fight hardest to implement and challenged rivals to do the same.
EVERYDAY I LOVE EU LESS AND LESS
British people are more anti-Europe now than at any point in the last two decades, Javier Espinoza reports. On Europe, 62 per cent want Britain to leave the European Union or see a significant reduction in Brussels' powers. Nearly half would like to see the EU have less power now, compared to 30 per cent in 1997, the British Social Attitudes Survey of nearly 3,000 people found.
ED, I WIN (TAILS YOU LOSE)
Alex Salmond has said he will be able to hold Labour to ransom and rewrite its budget – even if Ed Miliband does not want to do a deal, Matthew Holehouse reports. The former Scottish First Minister said he would be able to "shut out" David Cameron from government – and force budget amendments on Ed Miliband whether he wanted them or not.
Nicola Sturgeon has been forced to reassert she is the SNP leader after Alex Salmond undermined her demands for propping up a minority Labour government after the general election, Simon Johnson reports. The First Minister insisted that her predecessor is merely a member of her "team" and "I'm leading the SNP campaign" after he said he would install Ed Miliband in Downing Street regardless of whether a power-sharing deal was reached.
JUST A PRETTY FACE?
Miriam González Durantez, wife of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, has revealed that the "one thing" that first attracted her to him was "his looks". She told LBC's Shelagh Fogarty: "When you are 20, you're not impressed by anything else than by the looks to start with." Mrs Gonzalez also denied reports that they first met on the dancefloor. The full interview is here.
THEY'LL BE WATCHING YOU
Police spied on a string of Labour politicians during the 1990s, covertly monitoring them even after they had been elected to the House of Commons, a whistleblower has told the Guardian. Former police officer Peter Francis said that he read secret files on 10 MPs during his 11 years working for the Metropolitan police's special branch, which featured Labour's current deputy leader, Harriet Harman, the former cabinet minister Peter Hain and the former home secretary Jack Straw.
TATLER TORIES II
Women and ethnic minority candidates are being selected for the safest Tory seats, just like the now infamous 'Tatler Tories' of 2008. However, they're keeping quiet and avoiding the photoshoots. Harry Cole has been looking at David Cameron's "secret A-list" in this week's Spectator Life.
The founder and former chair of Ukip's group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people has called the party a "cult" that is "too willing to entertain bigots". In a scathing attack on UKIP and its leadership, Tom Booker told BuzzFeed that Nigel Farage used the existence of the LGBT group as a public relations stunt to cover the homophobic views of some of its politicians.
CASH IN THE SECOND ATTIC
Many MPs leaving office this May will have a valuable memento of their time in office, a second home part-subsidied by taxpayers. City A.M's Emma Haslett and Ashley Kirk have found that they could stand to make more than £9m of gains on these properties.
Average of polls as of Wednesday, March 25: Lab: 33.7%, Conservative: 33.88%, UKIP 13.79%, Lib Dem 7.9%, Green 5.34%. The data is from: YouGov, Populus, Opinium, ComRes, Survation, Ipsos MORI, ICM, TNS-BMRB.
TOO MANY TWEETS…@FaisalIslam: I'm going to enjoy this election campaign even more if the PM persists with this newsworthy "straight answer" strategy. #pmqs
From The Telegraph
Caroline Abrahams - This is why old people heckled you, David Cameron
Iain Martin - Will Alex Salmond ever shut up?
Chris Giles - UK voters face a choice of cuts or more cuts in public spending
0900 Nick Clegg's weekly phone-in on LBC
0930 UK monthly retail sales figures for February to be published by ONS
0945 Supreme Court to hand down a judgment on whether Prince Charles' letters to government departments should be revealed under the Freedom of Information Act
2100 Channel 4 and Sky News to broadcast 'Cameron & Miliband Live: The Battle for Number 10' – Cameron will be interviewed first by Jeremy Paxman, before questions are thrown open to a studio audience in a Q&A moderated by Kay Burley. The same audience will then grill Miliband, before Paxman asks his questions.
2245 'Question Time' from Bolton. On the panel: Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, Ukip immigration spokesman Steven Woolfe and broadcaster Janet Street-Porter
Culture Secretary Sajid Javid in conversation at Legatum Institute on capitalism.
Retiring MPs to give valedictory speeches during a special session in the House of Commons
Richard III to be reburied at Leicester Cathedral
TODAY IN PARLIAMENT
HOUSE OF COMMONS
Oral Questions: Business, Innovation and Skills
10.30 Urgent Questions, Ministerial Statements (if any)
Business of the House (24, 25 and 26 March) (No. 2) (Motion)
Motions relating to procedure of the House (if the Business of the House Motion is agreed to)
Until 1630 Backbench Business: Valedictory debate - A Royal Commission is expected
HOUSE OF LORDS
11:00 Oral questions
Baroness Boothroyd - UNESCO concerns over South Bank development and the impact on the Palace of Westminster
Baroness Henig - Regulation system for private investigators
Baroness Smith of Basildon -Reduction of police numbers and the impact on community safety
Lord Ramsbotham - G4S retraction of an invitation to the Howard League for Penal Reform to visit HMP Birmingham and HMP Oakwood
Lord Ashton of Hyde - Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2015 - motion to approve
Lord Stevenson of Balmacara -Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. 26th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
Lord Lloyd of Berwick - Report of the Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom