Politics Summary: Monday, March 8th

Lord Ashcroft, the Tories' economic plans, elderly care and an analysis of the three main party leaders' handwriting.

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David Cameron has been accused of “extraordinary weakness” over his handling of the Aschroft affair, and of being “too afraid” to confront him over his tax status. The charges are laid by Lord Mandelson in an interview with the The Guardian this morning, in which the business secretary also says that Ashcroft “has David Cameron by the balls”. He added: “Mr Cameron has zig-zagged his way through his leadership of the Tory party. He speaks the rhetoric of change but on every hard issue – whether Ashcroft, Europe, grammar schools, dealing with the deficit – Cameron is too weak to pick a fight with his own party. That’s why the Tories remain fundamentally unchanged … Mr Cameron is bold in talking about change when the camera is on, but weak when acting on it when the camera is off. Ashcroft must be laughing all the way to the bank.” For the Tories, chairman Eric Pickles accused Labour of “rank hypocrisy and political opportunism” for taking money themselves from non-doms, reports today’s Standard.

The Standard also reports another attack on David Cameron – this time from Nick Clegg, who will today accuse the Tory leader of “a crude form of blackmail” by stoking up fears of “economic meltdown” if the Conservatives fail to win the election. In a speech to Lib Dem workers, Clegg will say: “David Cameron and George Osborne are stoking up fears in the markets, actively trying to destabilise the pound and reduce the Government’s ability to borrow. It’s like a protection racket: vote for us or our friends in the City will lay waste to your economy, your savings and your job … There is nothing positive in the Conservatives’ election strategy,” Mr Clegg will say. “It’s built entirely on the hatred of Gordon Brown, stoking up fears of a broken society and now threatening economic meltdown. It’s a strategy that is completely negative and without hope, and it’s becoming increasingly obvious that people aren’t going to fall for it.” His remarks follow Ken Clarke’s warning that voters shouldn’t “elect themselves into a financial crisis” and that a Labour victory would send the pound “on a downward spiral”.

The Independent reports further trouble for the Tories’ deficit reduction plans, with one of their own economists warning that, if elected, the party could “plunge Britain back into recession” if the it brings in “big public spending cuts” immediately after the election. In tonight’s Dispatches programme on Channel 4, Sir Alan Budd, who would head a new independent Office of Budget Responsibility under the Tories, will say: “If you go too quickly then there is a risk that the recovery will be snuffed out and we will go back into a recession. I mean what the Americans say, ‘Remember 1937’.” George Osborne, however, insisted their was no rift, and even went as far as to claim business was backing the Tory plans on the economy: “The voices of British business are now saying what we Conservatives have been saying: earlier action on the deficit is a key to securing the recovery.”

The Times reports progress in the attempt to secure cross-party consensus on funding for elderly care, following “months of political stalemate and squabbling”. A blueprint for reform, “based on a mix of state payment and individual contributions”, has been signed by all three parties, with all three health spokesmen – Andy Burnham, Andrew Lansley and Norman Lamb – meeting on Wednesday for further discussions. The blueprint, reports The Times, “focuses on ten principles for reform of the care system to ensure that there is enough money to cover the rising care costs faced by the country’s growing elderly population. It proposes a funding model based on contributions from the state and individuals, with the heavy financial burden of future costs shared out through general taxation or an insurance plan.” It builds on the Social Care Green Paper drawn up last year, but discounts the Green Paper’s option of a comprehensive payment model, “where everyone would pay a flat sum towards their care either at retirement or as a levy at death … though such payments could be involved for contributing to an insurance scheme,” adds the report.

And the Telegraph reports an analysis of the three main party leaders’ handwriting, which found that Gordon Brown “won’t be told what to do”, David Cameron is “skilled at talking his way in and out of things”, and Nick Clegg “gets what he wants without aggression”. According to graphologist Elaine Quigley, adds the report, the prime minister “doesn’t trust people who are careless about details”, with the Tory leader described as “independent, intelligent, with integrity” and the Liberal Democrat leader “larger than life”.

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