The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 20 March 2013...
1) IT'S HURTING, BUT IS IT WORKING?
George Osborne will present his fourth Budget to parliament today. The growth he predicted in the Emergency Budget of June 2010 hasn't materialised; the triple A credit rating he promised to protect in the May 2010 Tory manifesto has been lost. Real incomes are stagnating and, despite employment being at a record high, unemployment still stands at a whopping 2.5 million.
It's hurting, but it doesn't seem to be working. So what will he do? My colleague Ned Simons notes:
"Last year, so much of George Osborne's Budget had leaked beforehand that by the time he came to announce it to the Commons all that was left were the bad bits, many of which he ended up having to U-turn on...
"This year the leaks and briefings have been less extensive, of course that could just be because the chancellor has less to announce."
Indeed. The Sun's front-page Budget 'exclusive'? "Bitter sweet: 6p joy on beer... not much else to cheer."
The Telegraph's? "Forces to get extra pay rise in Budget."
The Guardian's? "Budget boost on tax rates amid grim forecasts."
The paper reports that "the chancellor is expected to announce that moves towards a tax-free allowance of £10,000 will be brought forward a year to 2014. A planned rise in fuel duty, due to take place in September, may be delayed or even scrapped altogether."
The FT's headline is: "Osborne poised for bleak Budget." The paper reports that "Mr Osborne will also try to shift money from current spending to growth-promoting capital projects. Ministers were taken by surprise yesterday when Mr Osborne ordered them to find a further £2.5bn of savings over the next two years to fund housing and other capital projects."
The Mirror splashes on: "In the last Budget, Osborne made Britain's millionaires £50,000 a year better off..SO,WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF US, GEORGE?"
Even the pro-Osborne Times, in its leader, says: "When he delivers his fourth Budget today, George Osborne will have extremely limited room for manoeuvre. But it is vital for the economy, and for the electoral prospects of the Lib-Con coalition, that he expound a route to recovery rather than explain defensively the brute financial arithmetic that is holding it back."
Meanwhile, the Labour-leaning Guardian, it its leader takes a potshot at the Labour leadership:
"Mr Miliband will be painfully aware of is that Labour has failed to win the argument that it has a better alternative.
"... There is a simple reason for this: the opposition has failed to lay out much of an alternative. It does have Mr Balls' five-point plan: not especially memorable (even to Labour MPs), but not especially offensive, either... they are an outline for the sort of things a government could do now; not a guide to what Labour would do if it formed part or all of an administration come 2015. Would Mr Balls make the cuts that the coalition plans for the first half of the next parliament? If not, what would he do instead?"
2) CYPRIOTS STICK TWO FINGERS UP AT ANGELA MERKEL
From the FT front page:
"Cyprus's finance minister flew to Moscow last night to try to wrest vital economic assistance from the Kremlin as his country's parliament rejected a €10bn EU-led bailout that requires €5.8bn to be seized from Cypriot bank accounts.
"Leaders in Brussels said they were taken aback by the resistance of Cypriot lawmakers to shifting the tax's burden exclusively on to deposits over €100,000 - many of which are held by wealthy Russians.
"... The stand-off between Nicosia and Berlin was heightened by the decision of the 19 lawmakers belonging to the centre-right party of President Nicos Anastasiades to abstain rather than vote in favour of the bailout programme. All the other 36 parliamentary votes were against the plan."
As in Greece, protesters have taken to the streets holding placards of Angela Merkel with a Hitler moustache.
The Guardian's economics editor Larry Elliott writes:
"The notion that the Cypriot parliament would reject the proposal was not factored into the calculations, a fatal flaw in what one City analyst compared to one of the "cunning plans" conjured up by the character Baldrick in the TV comedy series Blackadder. Other commentators were less inclined to see the funny side of what was clearly an escalating crisis last night.
"One said it was the opening of Pandora's Box; another saw events in the eastern Mediterranean country as the equivalent of the assassination of archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo."
(On a side note, the Guardian reports that "an RAF flight carrying €1m in low-denomination notes landed in Cyprus to provide cash for 3,000 British service personnel based on the Mediterranean island".)
3) OBAMA'S POINTLESS 'LISTENING' TOUR
From the Telegraph:
"Barack Obama faces a difficult reception when he arrives in Israel today at the start of a three–day tour to address issues ranging from Syria and Iran to the stalled Middle East peace process.
"Mr Obama lands in Tel Aviv as hopes of reviving peace talks remain increasingly distant following the swearing–in of a new Right–leaning Israeli coalition government on Monday whose dominant partners have no ambition to reopen negotiations with Palestinians.
"As the bunting was hung out for Mr Obama's arrival, Palestinians in Bethlehem hurled shoes at a giant poster of the president and demanded an end to settlement building in the West Bank. The White House has been careful to play down any prospects of a peace breakthrough, with Mr Obama saying earlier this week that his only goal was 'to listen' to Israeli and Palestinian leaders."
So much for a second term giving him the freedom and flexibility to push for peace, eh? The US president really does need to grow a pair...
4) GOVE VS THE 100
How many academics does it take to change an education secretary? From the Independent:
"Michael Gove’s proposed new national curriculum will severely damage education standards by insisting children learn 'endless lists of spellings, facts and rules', experts are warning. In a letter to The Independent, 100 education academics warn that the new curriculum promotes 'rote learning without understanding' and demands 'too much too young'.
"The academics, all of whom are either professors of education or teach in university education departments, write: 'This mountain of data will not develop children’s ability to think – including problem-solving, critical understanding and creativity.'"
5) 'PM'S "SLUR" ON STAY-AT-HOME MOTHERS'
That's the headline on the front of the Telegraph, which reports:
"Campaigners and Tory MPs have rounded on the Government after it announced that working parents earning up to £150,000 each will get up to £1,200 to help with child care because they have a 'greater need' than those who do not work.
"... In a briefing document accidentally released on the Treasury’s website, officials said that families with one stay-at-home parent were less deserving of state help than families where both parents worked.
“'We need to focus our resources,' the document obtained by website Politics Home said. 'Working families who are struggling with their child care costs or families where parents want to go to work but can’t afford to are in greater need of state support for child care.'"
The Mail's splash headline? "An insult to stay at home mothers."
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of a US newsreader being proposed to by her boyfriend live on air, in the middle of the news...
6) YOU NEED US, DAVE
From the Telegraph:
"David Cameron will be 'reliant' on the Liberal Democrats to govern after the next election because his Conservatives cannot win a working Commons majority, a senior Lib Dem minister has said.
"Jeremy Browne, the Home Office minister, said it will be 'extremely difficult if not impossible' for the Conservatives to win an adequate Commons majority at the next election.
"... His comments, in an interview with telegraph.co.uk, are the first in which a senior Lib Dem has publicly raised the prospect of a second power-sharing deal between the two Coalition parties after the election."
7) THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
How's that press regulation deal doing? Surviving? From the Guardian:
"Downing Street and Labour were on Tuesday insisting that an increasingly rebellious newspaper industry will eventually sign up to the new system of press regulation backed by parliament on Monday, hinting that opinion polls and fiscal incentives will force the newspaper industry to realise the dangers of rejecting it.
"But the newspaper groups appeared to be moving to boycott the new system, and with a split emerging between the publishers of the Sun and the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, which could raise the prospect of the remaining newspaper groups, including the Financial Times, the Guardian and the Independent, being the only titles regulated by the new government-backed watchdog.
"The Spectator's Fraser Nelson and Ian Hislop of Private Eye have become the first magazine editors to decline to join the proposed press regulator."
The Sun reports that Labour MP Jim Sheridan has called for some journalists to be BANNED from Parliament for criticising politicians. [He] said he was sick of 'parasitical elements within the Press ... calling people names'."
On a not-unrelated note, the 'humble' Rupert Murdoch has taken to Twitter to give his take on the royal charter:
"UK Royal Charter requires Queen's signature. Unlikely without full all party support. Queen doesn't do politics."
8) GOODBYE DAVE?
No, not that Dave. The other Dave. From the Sun:
"Under-fire NHS boss Sir David Nicholson faced fresh calls to quit last night after he admitted giving wrong information to MPs.
"The health chief confessed he was wrong to repeatedly deny that hospital boss Gary Walker had identified himself as a whistleblower in a letter to him in 2009.
"Mr Nicholson admitted his error to the Public Accounts Committee — a day after giving evidence."
It doesn't look good for the NHS chief executive...
9) CHEMICAL WEAPONS? REALLY?
Could things get any worse in Syria? From the Guardian:
"Rocket attacks in Syria's two main cities early yesterday, which killed scores and injured dozens more, drew a series of contradictory claims from rebel groups and regime officials over whether chemical weapons had caused the casualties. The allegations also led to a prompt international response, with Britain and the US reiterating their earlier warnings that the use of chemical weapons could lead to an intervention in Syria, and Russia backing the claim by Damascus that rebels had been responsible.
"Last night the World Health Organisation said it was sending additional medical supplies to Aleppo but could not confirm if chemical weapons had been used. The UN secretary general Ban-ki Moon said if such weaponry had been used this would constitute 'an outrageous crime'."
You can contribute to the new Syria appeal from the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) here.
10) BACK TO SCHOOL
The Guardian has a massive picture of Malala Yousafzai on its front page:
"Malala Yousafzai, the teenager who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in Pakistan while advocating girls' education, attended her first day of school in the UK, weeks after being released from hospital.
"The 15-year-old, who is among nominees for this year's Nobel peace prize, described her return to school as the most important day of her life, as she joined other students in Birmingham."
A good news story! Hurrah!
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 11
That would give Labour a majority of 110.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@tweetminster 22s Welcoming UK Chancellor @George_Osborne to Twitter.
@George_Osborne Today I'll present a Budget that tackles the economy's problems head on helping those who want to work hard & get on
@FelicityMorse George Osborne is joining Twitter today. I expect to see the kind of creative insults only social media generates.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "The Chancellor cannot afford any bold or tricksy stunts when deficit reduction is the only course to pursue."
Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "This Budget is D-Day for Ed Balls, the man who would be Chancellor."
Nick Pearce, writing in the FT, says: "Labour’s chance to lead fiscal policy: the party should commit to reducing the ratio of public debt to GDP."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ned Simons (email@example.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol