The main political story in town today is the news that David Cameron has issued an ultimatum to broadcasters over the TV debates, saying he will only take part in one contest featuring at least seven party leaders before March 30, thus ruling out a one-on-one debate with Ed Miliband.
The No 10 director of communications, Craig Oliver, last night accused the BBC, Sky, ITV, and Channel 4 of making "progress impossible" by trying to bounce the Tories into their chosen format and timetable for debates. Mr Oliver, a former BBC editor, is not kind about his former colleagues, effectively accusing them of underhand tactics and basic incompetence.
To many, this looks like an attempt to kill off the debates, and especially a head-to-head with Mr Miliband where the Labour leader could only gain and Mr Cameron could only lose. Meanwhile, if there must be a debate, one with seven candidates would not attract viewers to anywhere near the same extent. As one senior Tory source told the Guardian, it would be a "democratic bore-athon" Other Tories note that the wider debate including the Greens and the SNP would not be comfortable for Mr Miliband, who is leaking vital support to both.s
Is there likely to be much fallout for Cameron? Certainly some people would find it distasteful if the PM was able to kill the debate plan. Others might think him chicken after Miliband called his bluff. But they've done the sums in No 10. They reckon the number of lost votes for chickening out is less than the potential loss from coming off worst to Mr Miliband. Mr Cameron's team still believe that the 2010 debates cost them a majority. They'll live with some name-calling if needs be. And some insults, like Alastair Campbell's charge of "moral cowardice" can practically be worn as a badge of pride.
As our leader points out today, this paper has made no secret of our belief that the leaders of Britain's political parties should engage in a public debate. And while a single debate between seven leaders might be flawed, it is still better than no debate at all.
So if the TV broadcasters cannot agree to make this happen, then The Telegraph, working with the Guardian and YouTube, will. We've developed plans for Britain's first Digital Debate between the party leaders and will go ahead without the broadcasters. Read more about there are no excuses for not debating.
BLOOD AND PORRIDGE
If you thought the news from Scotland could not get worse for Labour, think again. The latest Ashcroft poll is stunning. The projected analysis shows a SNP landslide which would see the Nats have a very good shot at holding the balance of power at Westminster. The seats now held by Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling, Charles Kennedy and Jim Murphy are all predicted to go. Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon's party is projected to take 56 of Scotland's 59 parliamentary seats, thus virtually wiping Labour and the Liberal Democrats out north of the border. In the Spectator, Alex Massie describes how "it will be a bloodbath; a night of the long claymores."
George Osborne is preparing to raid pension savings to fund a pre-election tax cut for workers. Or so Labour says. Ed Balls likes this sort of pre-Budget mind-game, trying to guess and second-guess George Osborne. His current guess is a reduction in tax relief on pension contributions to fund a cut in national insurance. Only two more weeks of bluff and counter-bluff to go, folks.
Children may be encouraged to take illicit substances as an indirect consequence of anti-drug lessons at schools, according to the Government's advisory board. "Anti-drug lessons lead pupils astray" is our splash.
It now appears certain the BBC's governance will be overhauled after the chair of the BBC Trust called for the internal regulator to be abolished. "Time for external regulator to oversee BBC, says trust chair" is the Guardian's splash.
One of Britain's leading Ukipologists has said Ukip already has four seats "in the bag" at the general election, and that they should win at least two more. Matthew Goodwin at Nottingham University claims the kippers will also "indirectly damage" the Tories in 69 seats at the election, and Labour in 59 constituencies. Christopher Hope has the story. The news will come as a relief to the Kippers after Ukip's immigration launch descended into chaos yesterday with contradictions becoming apparent between the party's spokesman and Farage over a 50,000 cap on migrants and banning terminally ill migrants from entering the UK,
Tony Blair has made his largest ever donation to the Labour party. Despite previously suggesting doubts about Red Ed, the former PM has divided £106,000 between 106 of Labour's target seats across the UK. Now, who's going to be first to work out what £106k is as a percentage of Mr Blair's net worth?
The former Labour government's policy on immigration boosted the population by 3.6 million, according to a report released today. The total net number of extra immigrants during New Labour's 13 years in government was enough to fill Birmingham, Leeds, Glasgow, Sheffield and Bradford. Tom Newton Dunn has the story.
TOO MANY TWEETS…
@nick_clegg: @David_Cameron The British public want the debates so let's get on with it. Stop holding them to ransom by trying to dictate the terms.
From The Telegraph
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0900 Nick Clegg's weekly phone-in on LBC
1200 UK interest rate decision from the Bank of England. It's six years since Bank rate was cut to 0.5 per cent.
2245 Glasgow 'Question Time'. On the panel: Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, deputy Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, Scottish International Development Secretary Humza Yousaf, crime writer Val McDermid and journalist Toby Young
Frans Timmermans, European Commission First Vice President, visits the UK
TODAY IN PARLIAMENT
HOUSE OF COMMONS
1130 Oral Questions Wales
1200 Prime Minister's Question Time
Ten Minute Rule Motion
Victims (Bill of Rights) - Mr Elfyn Llwyd
Debate: Proceedings on the Supply and Appropriation (Anticipations and Adjustments) Bill
Legislation: Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill - Report stage
Legislation: Corporation Tax (Northern Ireland) Bill - Third reading
Debate: Opposition Day debate (unallotted half-day) - Future government spending
Adjournment: Competition in the financial services industry - Mr Douglas Carswell
0930am Education: Evidence check: Starting school. Witness(es): Helen Kirrane, Campaigns and Policy Manager, Bliss, Tammy Campbell, Researcher and Analyst, UCL Institute of Education, Michelle Melson, Summer Born Campaign and Dr Claire Crawford, Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Warwick, and Research Fellow of the Institute for Fiscal Studies; Nick Gibb MP, Minister for School Reform, Department for Education. Location: The Wilson Room, Portcullis House
0930 Business, Innovation and Skills: Insolvency. Witness(es): Eve Salomon, Chair of the Regulatory Board, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Graham Stockey, Principal Surveyor, RICS Regulation (Valuation), Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Julian Healey, Incoming Chief Executive Officer, NARA: The Associatin of Property and Fixed Charge Receivers and Daniel Hardy, Chairman, NARA: The Association of Property and Fixed Charge Receivers; Irene Graham, Executive Director of Business Finance, British Bankers Association, Phillip Sykes, Vice-President, R3: Association of Business Recovery Professionals and Bob Pinder, Regional Director, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales; Sarah Albon, Chief Executive, Insolvency Service, Graham Horne, Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Operations, Insolvency Service and Anne Willcocks, Director of External Affairs, Insolvency Service. Location: The Grimond Room, Portcullis House
0930 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill: High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill. Witness(es): Michael and Lesley Washburn, Dr Dan Mitchell, Anthony Charles Sutton, Joanne and David Voas, John and Pamela Porter, Mid Cheshire Against HS2, Christopher Triffitt, Trevor Forrester, Gwen Johnson, George and Elizabeth Burda, Kenneth Rider, Stanley Hulme, Tonge & Breedon HS2 Action Group, Michael Featherstone, Christopher Knight, Deana Hughes, Paul and Heather Kilbourne, David Brandon and Michael and Gillian Hartley. Location: Room 5, Palace of Westminster
0945 Justice: The work of HM Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service. Witness(es): Michael Fuller, HM Chief Inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service. Location: The Thatcher Room, Portcullis House
1020 Justice: The work of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. Witness(es): Nick Hardwick, HM Chief Inspector of Prisons. Location: The Thatcher Room, Portcullis House
1400 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill: High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill. Witness(es): As for morning session, unless already heard. Location: Room 5, Palace of Westminster
1430 Environmental Audit: Local Nature Partnerships. Witness(es): Dr Dominic Hogg, Executive Chair, West of England Nature Partnership, Rupert Clubb, Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport and Liz Newton, Director, Landscape & Geodiversity, Natural England. Location: Room 8, Palace of Westminster
1445 Treasury: Prudential Regulation Authority. Witness(es): Andrew Bailey, Deputy Governor, Prudential Regulation, Bank of England, Sandra Boss, External member, Prudential Regulation Authority Board and Charles Randell, External member, Prudential Regulation Authority Board. Location: The Boothroyd Room, Portcullis House
1500 Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: Work of the Committee 2010-15. Witness(es): James Cross, Chief Executive, Natural England and Guy Thompson, Executive Director for Local Delivery, Natural England. Location: Room 16, Palace of Westminster
1505 Procedure: Evidence from former Leaders of the House. Witness(es): Rt Hon Jack Straw MP and Rt Hon Sir George Young MP. Location: Room 15, Palace of Westminster
1500 Oral Questions
Introduction of further digitalisation and the effectiveness of the scrutiny of legislation
Aerial bombardment in the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states of Sudan
Monitoring regulatory agencies in their scrutiny of economic and public sectors
Head of the US Army's concerns about cuts to Britain's defence budget
Legislation: Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Bill - Committee of the whole House - Lord Best
Legislation: Modern Slavery Bill - Third reading - Lord Bates
Legislation: Deregulation Bill - Third reading - Lord Wallace of Saltaire
Orders and Regulations: Civil Proceedings and Family Proceedings Fees (Amendment) Order 2015 - Regret Motion - /
2100 Estimated Rising Time