Here are the five things you need to know on Tuesday 18 March 2014...
1) DAVES 'ETON MESS'
First there was Michael Gove, the education secretary, attacking the "ridiculous" number of Old Etonians in Downing Street in an interview with the FT on Saturday. Then last night, Tory minister Baroness Warsi joined the fray on ITV1's The Agenda, taking a knock at the the Old Etonian tendency at the top of her party - from the Daily Mail:
"The Communities Minister - who attends Cabinet but is not given the full Cabinet minister status - echoed the Education Secretary’s view that there needed to be more state school pupils like her at the heart of government. Incredibly, she appeared with a mocked up newspaper front page she apparently designed herself bearing the headline ‘Number 10 Takes Eton Mess off the Table’. It featured a picture of David Cameron and the faces of other old Etonians in Number Ten - chief of staff Ed Llewellyn, bumbling Cabinet Office minister Oliver Letwin and policy chief Jo Johnson - in a pudding bowl. Lady Warsi, the former Conservative Party chairman, told ITV’s The Agenda: ‘Michael [Gove] was making an incredibly serious point that it can’t be right that the seven per cent of kids who go to independent school end up at the top tables, not just of politics, but banking and law and every other profession.’"
Warsi, who was demoted from the position of party chair in the 2012 reshuffle, can expect a strong pushback from Number 10 over her gag. Gove has already been 'bollocked' - the Mail adds: "Last night it emerged that Mr Gove - who won a scholarship to private Robert Gordon’s College - was admonished by the Prime Minister over the weekend for his attack on the influence of Eton. A Cabinet source told the Mail: ‘He was b******d ’. The Education Secretary is understood to have accepted that he had blundered. The Spectator magazine quoted another source saying Mr Gove had been ‘torn a new one’."
With Cameron sensitive to the 'out of touch' charge, expect Ed Miliband, in his response to the Budget on Wednesday, to invoke either Gove or Warsi or both.
2) HELP WITH THE KIDDIES
The cost of child care has become a massive political issue in recent years; Labour has so far been making the running on it with various 'wraparound' policies and pledges. But this morning, the coalition attempts to seize back the initiative with a new child care announcement - from the Telegraph front page:
"Working parents will be given up to £2,000 per child under Budget plans to ease the cost of child care, ministers will announce today. David Cameron and Nick Clegg will reveal that the Coalition's financial help for child care will be more generous than expected, part of a joint appeal to working parents as the general election approaches. The rules will be put in place earlier than expected, with all working parents with children under 12 eligible within a year from the scheme's start, due in autumn 2015... A total of 1.9 million families where both parents work will now be eligible for the scheme, the Government said."
Labour said the proposal is "too little, too late". The voters, however, may disagree.
3) PUTIN PUSHES AHEAD
Is there any way of stopping Vlad? From the Guardian:
"The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has approved a draft bill for the annexation of Crimea following a referendum in the peninsula that overwhelmingly supported seceding from Ukraine. The US and the European Union retaliated over the referendum – which the west considers illegal – by targeting sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian officials on Monday, a move widely greeted with scepticism as 'toothless'. The White House imposed sanctions against 11 named individuals: seven senior Russian politicians and officials and four Crimea-based separatist leaders accused of undermining the 'democratic processes and institutions in Ukraine'. But the US pointedly avoided targeting Putin or key figures in his inner circle."
The paper adds that "Putin pressed ahead on Tuesday, informing his government and parliament of the Crimean leadership's proposal to join Russia ahead of an expected address to parliament. He was expected to sign the treaty formalising the annexation with Crimea's leader on Tuesday."
Over to you Dave and Barack...
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of a bunch of basset hounds squeezed into a tiny dog house. It's magic...
4) PROPHECY OF DOOM
Hey deniers and sceptics, check out the splash on the front of the Independent:
"Climate change will displace hundreds of millions of people by the end of this century, increasing the risk of violent conflict and wiping trillions of dollars off the global economy, a forthcoming UN report will warn. The second of three publications by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due to be made public at the end of this month, is the most comprehensive investigation into the impact of climate change ever undertaken. A draft of the final version seen by The Independent says the warming climate will place the world under enormous strain, forcing mass migration, especially in Asia, and increasing the risk of violent conflict. Based on thousands of peer-reviewed studies and put together by hundreds of respected scientists, the report predicts that climate change will reduce median crop yields by 2 per cent per decade for the rest of the century – at a time of rapidly growing demand for food. This will in turn push up malnutrition in children by about a fifth, it predicts."
If the conspiracy theorists who tell us not to worry about climate change don't care about human lives, then at least they should be concerned about the impact on the global economy...
5) KEN CLARKE VS THE ECCENTRICS
While Baroness Warsi attacks the Old Etonians on the frontbench, fellow minister Ken Clarke - who was also demoted from a full Cabinet position, Ken Clarke takes aim at the 'eccentrics' on the Tory backbenches. My HuffPost colleague Ned Simons explains:
"The veteran europhile cabinet minister told a meeting of Tory MPs on Monday afternoon that most Conservative ministers were in favour of Britain staying in the EU... Clarke reassured the MPs: 'It's certainly the case that in the ministerial ranks of the Conservative Party, the pro-EU sentiment is in the majority, Damian [Green] and I may be outliers, but we are not by far the only ones inside and outside the cabinet.' He said the suggestion that the Conservative Party was now dominated by eurosceptics who wanted to quit the EU was false and that the orthodoxy among Tory MPs was to stay in. 'The price of orthodoxy is being less newsworthy than some of my more strident, and dare I say, more occasionally eccentric colleagues, who I've seen become household names for a year or two.'"
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 92.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, says: "The chancellor likes to appear committed to shrinking the deficit with cuts – but it's a fraud, just as his budget will be."
Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "It’s the great Lib Dem-Tory economic love-in."
Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, says: "Politicians have stopped teaching. We can’t be surprised that voters are not enthused."
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