Politics Summary: Monday, January 4th

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The election campaign is set to be revved up a gear this morning with the Conservatives unveiling key parts of their manifesto and the Government announcing a new education strategy. The Telegraph reports the Conservative plans for the NHS and the economy, to be revealed by David Cameron in a speech in Westminster later in which he will say:

“The most urgent task is to bring the deficit down.”

However The Times reports Chancellor Alistair Darling’s publication today of a 100-page dossier in which he will accuse the Tories of a £50 billion black hole in their spending plans. These include plans to give hospital patients single rooms – which could cost £9.5 billion over five years rather than £1.5 billion – the scheme to scrap early release from prisons, ending overcrowding and discontinuing home curfews, which would cost £2.4 billion and, crucially, their inheritance tax plans, which would end up costing £3.9 billion over the next three years.

The Times and Mail report Labour’s plans for schools, which include lessons on financial management and parenting, with Ed Balls telling the Guardian he’s in favour of live tv debates on education with his opposite numbers – an idea proposed by Left Foot Forward – while the Independent reports splits in the Conservative party’s senior election strategy team. Deputy Political Editor Nigel Morris reveals:

“Some shadow ministers are known to resent the casual style of Steve Hilton, the Tory leader’s trusted strategy director, who is fond of sending them emails advising them ‘how to think’. Others have protested over colleagues’ disloyalty by forwarding copies of his jargon-rich ‘strategy bulletins’ to newspapers.”

A Financial Times survey of leading economists has concluded that the economy is “likely to stay in the doldrums until at least the end of 2010”, with 37 of the 79 economists polled saying the UK was “threatened by a fiscal crisis that could derail any revival”. The economists were, however, split 50-50 on how best to remedy the situation, adds the paper:

“Half of those polled backed the Conservatives’ view that action to cut spending and increase taxes was needed urgently in 2010. Half warned that such rapid reduction in borrowing would undermine the recovery.”

The Mirror reports that the Auschwitz sign was stolen on the orders of a wealthy British Nazi who “wanted it as a sick trophy”. The unnamed Fascist intended to collect the sign from a cellar in Stockholm, where it was to have been smuggled from Poland. The money, reports the Mirror, would have been used to fund “neo-Nazi hate attacks” in Sweden. Last month Left Foot Forward investigated the ease with which Nazi memorabilia can be purchased over the internet.

And the Independent reports an attack by the head of the Office of Fair Trading on the “puerile” and “almost childish” hidden charges imposed by Ryanair on passengers. OFT Chief Executive John Fingleton tells the paper:

“Ryanair has this funny game where they have found some low frequency payment mechanism and say: ‘Well, because you can pay with that [the charge is optional]’. It’s almost like taunting consumers and pointing out: ‘Oh well, we know this is completely outside the spirit of the law, but we think it’s within the narrow letter of the law’.”

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