Here are the five things you need to know on Wednesday 26 February 2014...
1) DOES NO ONE AGREE WITH NICK?
There was a time, not so long ago, when the major party leaders fell over one another in the rush to agree with Nick Clegg. Not any more.
Yesterday morning, we were told that David Cameron was planning to rule out a coalition with the Lib Dems after 2015, in the event of another hung parliament. The Tories, it was reported, would go it alone and form a minority government. Last night, speaking on BBC2's Newsnight, the country's most influential union leader urged Labour to do the same - the Telegraph has the details:
"Ed Miliband should rule out a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in the event of a hung parliament at the next general election, the union leader Len McCluskey has urged. The general secretary of Unite said voters were struggling to find differences between the parties and needed politicians with a clear vision. 'Labour, I hope, win the next election outright,' said Mr McCluskey. 'But if they are the biggest party then my view is Ed should have the courage of his convictions and govern on a minority government.'
The Unite chief told Jeremy Paxman that Miliband "shouldn't be sucked into a Lib–Lab pact; he should have the courage of his convictions. If we are the largest party, he should govern. He should challenge those coalition parties to bring him down."
Poor ol' Nick Clegg. No one wants to share power with him any more, it seems. Meanwhile, the Telegraph also reports:
"Mr McCluskey said Labour reforms could give Unite more power. He said the union would actively encourage its members to join Labour, because 'we want to have more influence in the party'.
You can bet that particular quote will be appearing on Conservative Party press releases and posters in the coming days...
2) DAVE'S BFF
Has the German chancellor got some good news for Tory Eurosceptics? From the Guardian:
"Angela Merkel is prepared to grant David Cameron special assurances in a revised EU treaty to ensure that the interests of Britain and other non-euro members are protected in the European single market. In a sign of the lengths the German chancellor is prepared to go to to ensure Britain remains in the EU, authoritative sources in Berlin say Merkel is also prepared to grant 'limited opt-outs' to Britain and to ensure that EU regulations are enforced in a more flexible way. One senior figure in Berlin has raised the prospect of giving the NHS an opt-out from the working time directive – a contentious measure criticised by Eurosceptics – which gives workers a series of rights."
However, as the paper notes, the British government will need the support of the other 27 EU leaders, too, if it is to pull off a favourable renegotiation of the Lisbon treaty. A Foreign Office source tells the Guardian: "There is perhaps too much optimism emanating from No 10. We have to be a very hard-headed about this and bear in mind that the bedrock of the EU is the Franco-German relationship. There is only so far the Germans will go. We should be making a much bigger effort with the French."
On a completely unrelated note, but because it is an astonishing, hilarious picture, check out what Binyamin Netanyahu did to Angela Merkel at a press conference in Jerusalem yesterday:
3) HARRIET VS THE DAILY MAIL
Labour's deputy leader has ramped up her counter-attack on the Daily Mail. From the Independent:
"The bitter feud between Labour and the Daily Mail has intensified after Harriet Harman, the party's deputy leader, attacked the newspaper's website for using pictures of young girls in bikinis. Ms Harman hit back following a series of stories in the Daily Mail highlighting the connection between a paedophile rights group and a civil rights organisation for which Ms Harman worked before entering politics... The Daily Mail retaliated by accusing Ms Harman of failing to do more to disassociate herself from the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE). It repeated its demand for a full apology from her."
But Ed Miliband, who had his own clash with the Mail last year after the paper labelled his late father Ralph as the "man who hated Britain", has given his full support to his deputy. A spokesman is quoted in the Indy as saying: "Ed is completely, 100 per cent, supportive of everything she [Ms Harman] is doing. The key accusation is that the Daily Mail has accused her of being almost an apologist for paedophiles. No one in their right mind would believe that to be true."
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
To mark the 30th anniversary since 'Spitting Image' hit our screens, watch the show's Margaret Thatcher dummy threatening to privatise Paxman - courtesy of last night's Newsnight special tribute.
4) FAKING IT
How's the Tory claim to be the new 'Worker's Party' going? Not so well, it appears. From the Times:
"Conservatives were accused of 'faking' a commitment to social mobility last night after it emerged that a teenager chosen as a party apprentice was the son of a Tory candidate. Sir John Major, the former Prime Minister, gave a speech to launch the apprenticeship scheme in an effort to bolster the party's working-class credentials following criticism from MPs that David Cameron has surrounded himself with too many Old Etonians and is failing to appeal to poorer voters... It later emerged that one of those selected for the scheme, Jacob Double, 19, is the son of a Tory parliamentary candidate who is married to a local councillor. The second apprentice, Ruth Barron, 20, states on her Twitter profile that she works as an intern for an MP."
Meanwhile, the paper reports that a Conservative campaign group is warning how "many parts of Britain it has become 'counter cultural' to vote Tory. David Skelton, founder of Renewal, highlights polling that shows that 46 per cent of voters in the two lowest socioeconomic groups would never vote Conservative. He argues that there is little point in the Conservative Party wasting its energy chasing UKIP supporters, citing polls that show that almost half of them are a lost cause for the party. Instead, he urges the Prime Minister to broaden his appeal and reach out to ethnic minority voters, whose support could help secure a majority in 2015."
But is anyone in CCHQ, or on the Ukip-friendly Tory backbenches, listening?
5) IGNORE THE BULLINGDON BOYS
Ed Balls has received a vote of confidence from.. Peter Mandelson. Huh? Mandy and Ed B were involved in vicious briefings against one another during the Blair/Brown years, but they seem to have kissed and made up. Speaking at a fundraiser on Tuesday night, according to the Guardian, Mandelson said Balls had the "economic brain power, financial discipline and global outlook" to secure the UK's long-term growth. He also claimed the shadow chancellor "is under attack from the Bullingdon boys at the top of the Tory party because he has the strength of intellect to challenge them" and said Balls "is someone who understands how a modern economy really works".
Those Blairites who have been privately calling for Miliband to sack his shadow chancellor will be disappointed by Mandelson's unexpected intervention on Balls' behalf. Mandelson also urged his former rival to keep promoting his 'human' side: "Keep the lasagne flowing, keep up the marathons and the piano recitals" – but to continue to be a tough guy."
"As at January 2014, government funding for flood defences was expected to be lower in both nominal and real terms during the current spending period than during the last spending period." - UK Statistics Authority chief Sir Andrew Dilnot slaps down the PM and the environment secretary for wrongly claiming that spending on flood defences had gone up under the coalition.
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 10
That would give Labour a majority of 78.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@HarrietHarman When it comes to decency and sexualisation of children, would you take lessons from the Daily Mail? pic.twitter.com/MXmWhOILKQ
@RogerHelmerMEP Nick Clegg says the Lib-Dems are "The Party of In" on the EU. But in electoral terms, I'm afraid they're the Party of Out.
@chhcalling My mate's had it up to here with people saying Twitter can't convey hand-signals.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, says: "The Daily Mail's attempt to destroy the deputy Labour leader's reputation is McCarthyite."
Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "Cameron would be mad to rule out coalition."
Hamish McRae, writing in the Independent, says: "Angela Merkel will be welcomed with full honours tomorrow, and for good reason: our two countries need each other."
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