Politics Summary: Friday, February 19th

Echoing Labour, more than 60 leading economists have warned that the priority "must be to restore growth" and that a "sharingp shock now would be dangerous".

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More than 60 leading economists back Alistair Darling’s decision to delay spending cuts. In letters to the Financial Times they warn that the priority “must be to restore growth” and that a “sharp shock now would be dangerous”. Led by Lords Skidelsky and Layard, signatories include former MPC member David Blanchflower, Nobel Laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Robert Solow and Lord Peston. The letters reject Tory claim that cuts are needed now to reassure the markets and head off the risk of Britain losing its AAA credit rating, and are a riposte to last weekend’s Sunday Times letter in which 20 economists argued in favour of the Conservative policy that fiscal tightening should start this year. The Guardian describes the letter as a “stinging rebuke” to George Osborne’s claims experts back his policies, with the Telegraph also reporting the economists’ warning over “dangerous” spending cuts. Left Foot Forward has published the letters in full.

The news will come as a timely boost to Gordon Brown as he prepares to lay out Labour’s pitch for the general election this weekend. The prime minister, reports The Independent, will use a high profile speech in Coventry tomorrow to “appeal to middle class voters”, spelling out the four key themes Labour will deploy during the campaign: securing the economic recovery; safeguarding public services; fostering the development of new, green jobs; and “standing up” for the many. Boosted by the letters in today’s FT, he will add, with renewed vigour, that the Tories “cannot be trusted” to nurse the country’s economy back to health. The PM will also give a speech in London today, in which he is expected to say: “All over the world, the new tactic of the right is to present themselves as moderate and mainstream. But when the tough questions are asked of them, the truth is revealed…Instead of helping a recovery, their hatred of government action would risk the recovery. Instead of supporting middle classes, their policies would hurt the middle classes.”

Plans for a high-speed rail link are “under threat” after the Conservatives refused to back Labour’s proposals. They have even refused offers by transport secretary Lord Adonis to see an advanced copy of the white paper on the project, reports the Telegraph. The white paper will detail the location of the tracks – which is expected to pass through Buckinghamshire and parts of the Chilterns – to within five metres in urban areas and within 25 metres in the countryside. Adonis had warned that the multibillion-pound infrastructure project must be “above politics” if it is to succeed, adds The Guardian, who quote Tory shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers as saying: “We are not going to give a political blank cheque to Labour. We would not want to close down debate on a route before the people affected by it have the chance to be heard. It would be very unfair for the people affected if they thought there was a cosy political consensus on the route.”

The Press Complaints Commission needs a “radical shake up” – but should not be abolished, MPs will say. In a longawaited report, reports The Times, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee will call for the PCC to be turned into a body that is “proactive, rigorous and is taken seriously by the public”. The report comes in the wake of the PCC ruling on the offensive Jan Moir article about the death of Stephen Gately, for which the commission came under fire for failing to uphold more than 25,000 complaints from readers who perceived Moir’s Daily Mail column to be homophobic. Other key recommendations in the report include rejecting calls for “prior notification” for victims of media exposés, like Max Mosley, ahead of publication, and that businesses with more than ten employees should lose the right to sue for defamation – following the furore over the Trafigura super-injunction story.

Finally, all today’s papers report Tory MP Nicholas Winterton’s remarks on the abolition of free first class train travel for MPs. The Mirror calls him “Mr Snobby”, claiming the “Tory buffoon” had “exposed the truth about David Cameron’s party”, with The Guardian saying he’s caused “outrage” with his comments, which were: “If I was in standard class I would not do work because people would be looking over your shoulder the entire time, there would be noise, there would be distraction”; and, speaking about standard-class passengers: “They are a totally different type of people. There’s lots of children, there’s noise, there’s activity.”

• US magazine Dissent hosts “Obama – what’s gone wrong?” on March 24 at 6.30pm for a high profile panel debate. Free. To RSVP email [email protected]

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