Politics Summary: Monday, November 23rd

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Nick Clegg yesterday gave his strongest hint yet that he would do a deal with the Conservatives in the event of a hung parliament, report the Times, Telegraph, Mail and Independent. The Lib Dem leader’s remarks, in a BBC interview, will have come as a relief to David Cameron following the lastest opinion poll which saw the Tories’ lead slashed to six points – the closest for nearly a year. Mr Clegg had said:

“Whichever party has the strongest mandate from the British people, it seems to me that they have the first right to try and govern, either on their own or with others. I start from a simple principle – we’re not kingmakers. The votes of the British people should determine what happens.”

The Guardian leads on the failings of schools watchdog Ofsted, which is set to be branded “flawed, wasteful and failing” in a series of attacks this week. “The children’s services inspectorate will be criticised today by service heads in every local authority in the country, headteachers’ leaders and in a damning forthcoming report by MPs on the government’s school accountability system,” reveals Education Editor Polly Curtis. Among the reasons for this condemnation, adds the paper, are that Ofsted forces social work departments to prioritise passing inspections rather than focusing on looking after children, and that some of their inspectors are not fit for purpose.

The Prime Minister will today all but commmit the Government to building a multi-billion pound high-speed rail link, reports the Independent. In an address to a CBI conference, he will say:

“We could achieve a European network of train services that takes us quickly not just to Paris and Brussels but quickly to Cologne and to Amsterdam. And one that starts not just in London but in the north of our country. The decision we take in the New Year will be the most important transport policy decision before the next election. With the right plan, the right resources and the right commitment we could have the first part of the north-south high speed line open and carrying passengers within 10 to fifteen years.”

Work on the new tracks, initially between London and Birmingham but eventually stretching all the way up to Glasgow, could start as early as 2017, with a completion date of 2025.

The degree to which Britain’s banks are dependent on state support are laid bare by the Telegraph. “To become true stand-alone institutions, they would have to raise their core capital ratios above 20pc,” explains Economics Editor Ed Conway. The OECD’s acting chief economist, Jørgen Elmeskov, adds: “It is clear that if one was to redesign the world economy, one would not design it with banks of their current size and degree of systemic importance. Whether it is politically practical to split up banks is doubtful.”

And the Times reports on President Obama’s continuing struggle to pass the healthcare reform bill, which now moves to the Senate. In an insight into how the system works, the paper uncovers the lengths to which the Administration may have to go to secure wavering legislators, such as Lousiana Democrat Mary Landrieu. US Editor Tim Reid writes:

“Her vote was secured only after a brazen piece of legislative bribery: she was offered an additional $300 million (£182 million) of federal money for her state. The move, which was immediately dubbed the ‘Louisiana Purchase’, was originally reported to be $100 million — until Mrs Landrieu took to the Senate floor on Saturday afternoon to boast about the financial ‘fix’ that she had secured for her state. ‘I am not going to be defensive,’ she said. ‘And it’s not a $100 million fix – it’s a $300 million fix.’”

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