Here are the five things you need to know on Tuesday 25 March 2014...
1) ED ACHE
After two polls showing a narrowing of the Labour lead over the Conservatives to just one percentage point at the weekend, Labour high command will be relieved by today's ComRes poll in the Independent (see Public Opinion Watch below) giving the party a 5-point lead. However, that lead is down from 8 points since the last ComRes poll.
Miliband is getting 'advice' (criticism?) from all directions - last night, former cabinet minister Hazel Blears told Newsnight he had to make much faster progress in winning over voters and developing policies. The Guardian reports:
"The head of Miliband's policy review, Jon Cruddas, added his voice to calls from a coalition of Labour thinktanks and senior party figures who have called for a strategic change in direction... [It follows] a letter published by the Guardian from thinktanks and intellectuals across the party calling on the Labour leader not to play it safe and rely on the government's unpopularity... The message has been underlined in a New Statesman article by Cruddas and the shadow consumer affairs minister, Stella Creasy. 'The old model of politics where progress depended upon centralising the capacity to act – whether in the market or by top down state intervention – no longer works,' they claim. Miliband's office insists the Labour leader could have signed the Guardian letter as it is not divergent with his views and they accuse some of the signatories of collectively imagining a betrayal of principles by Miliband that does not exist."
Meanwhile, the Times reports:
"Ed Miliband has been urged to stop dithering over the next Labour manifesto amid growing fears that he may duck radical measures and adopt a safety-first approach to next year’s election. Friction between Douglas Alexander, the Shadow Foreign Secretary and election co-ordinator, and Jon Cruddas, who is running the party’s policy review, emerged over the scale of ambition for the manifesto. The party has yet to fully set out its policies on issues such as social care, childcare, housing and the railways."
Much of the recent hand-wringing by Labour figures was prompted not just the narrowing of the party's poll lead but by Miliband's admittedly awful response to the Budget speech - which, let's be honest, most voters didn't see or hear. The Labour leader himself, speaking on ITV1's The Agenda last night said: "I took this job on three and half years ago and always knew this was going to be a close election. But I think the stakes are incredibly high. And I relish the fight over the future of country over the next 13 months and fundamentally I think that is a fight about what you stand up for."
Talking of fighting, the Times adds: "It emerged yesterday that about 15 Labour MPs, including the former leadership contender Diane Abbott, will vote against the coalition welfare cap endorsed by Mr Miliband. This suggests the Left is still willing to defy the Labour leader over spending cuts, meaning Mr Miliband would have a tricky time leading a government with a small majority."
Harriet Harman is still onboard, though - Labour's deputy leader spoke out in defence of her boss on the Today programme, saying the party was making "steady progress" despite the polls. "Well I don’t think things are going wrong," she said. "I think that Ed Miliband has absolutely identified that people are feeling a real squeeze on their living standards."
2) 'FROZEN OUT'
Vladimir Putin has been sent to the naughty step by the world's richest nations. "Russia frozen out" is the splash headline on the front of the Times, which reports:
"Russia was ejected from the elite club of leading economies last night as world leaders turned their wrath on President Putin for his landgrab in Crimea. The West united to threaten tougher sanctions aimed at throttling the Russian economy if Mr Putin took further military action in Ukraine. Crisis talks between President Obama and the leaders of Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada and Japan ended with Russia being formally frozen out of the G8 club. The countries will boycott this year’s planned G8 summit in Sochi, which Mr Putin was due to chair, and instead meet as a group of seven in Brussels in June."
Will it make a difference to Putin's behaviour and overall belligerence? Unlikely...
3) LET THEM EAT DOG FOOD?
"Foolish old folk could blow their retirement pot and end up penniless as a result of pension reforms, Boris Johnson admitted yesterday. The top Tory joked that some may find themselves 'living in rusting Lamborghinis and eating tins of dog food'. But he added that it was 'their look-out' - and they should be allowed to get on with it. New rules announced in last week's budget mean people can now use their pension fund as an instant piggy bank, rather than having to spread it out over time by buying an annuity... TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: 'People need a reliable pension that pays a steady income - and they certainly don't want a system where people end up eating dog food if they get it wrong.'"
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of an incredible bus stop ad which makes people think meteors and monsters are coming (!)
4) DAVE VS THE 'DEATH TAX'
From the Mail's splash:
"The Tories will revive their £1million inheritance tax pledge at the next election. David Cameron said yesterday the threshold should rise to ensure only the rich pay death duties. Without action, the number of families paying the 40 per cent levy will double to one in ten over the next five years."
The paper quotes Cameron as telling an audience of Saga members in Peacehaven, East Sussex: "The ambition is still there – I would like to go further ... it’s something we’ll have to address in our manifesto." The Mail notes that "Mr Cameron appeared to be unsure of the existing rules – suggesting couples have a joint threshold of about £750,000. In fact the figure is £650,000, twice the £325,000 for a single person".
First, is the PM saying that if you have less than £750,000 you're not rich? Really? Second, how does a support for a higher inheritance tax threshold square with the Tories' supposed support for greater social mobility?
5) KERMIT BACKS THE UNION
Forget David Bowie. Check out the latest celeb to be recruited by the No campaign - from the Huffington Post UK:
"Kermit the Frog is against Scottish independence. When asked if he thought the United Kingdom should stay together, the Muppet and Sesame Street star said: 'Absolutely.' But Kermit also told the latest issue of the The Big Issue that Miss Piggy had her eyes on the Scottish throne. 'I understand that Miss Piggy is willing to serve as Queen of Scotland if there is a split. So you may want to guard your castles,' he said. Asked if David Cameron was pleased to see Kermit lend his support to the Better Together campaign, the prime minister's official spokesman said: 'Are you suggesting someone's been pulling strings?'"
SHAMELESS SELF-PLUG ALERT:
Watch me, Maajid Nawaz and Mo Ansar debate 'who speaks for British Muslims?' on last night's Newsnight here.
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 10
That would give Labour a majority of 18.
From the Independent/ComRes poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 58.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, say: "The coalition must fight fear with progress."
Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, says: "The left has united behind Ed Miliband. Now he has to be bold."
Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, says: "It’s very easy to argue that there should be ‘power to the people’. But what does it actually mean?"
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