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The Independent has an exclusive interview with Nick Clegg, which dominates their front page. Mr Clegg will this weekend announce the four “tests” he would set for Labour and the Conservatives in return for the support of the Liberal Democrats if neither main party wins an overall majority at the general election. He pledged that his party’s priority would be to ensure “stable government” and to be a “guarantor of fiscal responsibility” in the event of a hung parliament. A separate interview in the Spectator suggests that Mr Clegg might be the “heir to Thatcher” with a proposal to bring down the structural deficit entirely through spending cuts. When the time comes, Labour wants tax rises to make up a third of the budget gap while the Tories propose 20 per cent tax rises.
The papers have a primarily partisan approach in covering the announcement by Health secretary, Andy Burnham, that he is considering three choices to pay for a new “national care service”. The Guardian covers the options: deferred retirement to 68, instalments paid in the run-up to retiring at 65, and a progressive estate tax of around 10 per cent. The latter option is jumped on by the Daily Mail, “Millions face 10% death tax”, and Daily Express: “New death tax for all shock”. The Times headline reads, “Labour refuses to rule out ‘death tax’ to fund care for elderly” while the Telegraph is more balanced outlining that “Pensioners to choose how to pay for care in old age”. Conservative shadow health minister, Andrew Lansley, has ruled out a cross-party commission on the issue, favoured by Labour and the Lib Dems, and told the Guardian there was now a clear dividing line between the parties in the election.
General Lord Guthrie, a former defence chief, has said the UK needs to prioritise its procurement of defence equipment, report the Financial Times and Guardian. He suggests considering cutting “nice-to-have” but “non-essential” programmes such as the £20 billion upgrade to Trident, two new aircraft carriers and fast jets. According to Lord Guthrie, although the UK needs to maintain its nuclear deterrent, extending the life of the Trident system “would be good housekeeping” and save the £20bn cost of the upgrading “without losing the value of deterrence against aggressive small states … A cheaper nuclear weapon system can be as effective as a state-of-the-art weapon in creating the right ‘strategic’ effect.”
The Financial Times front page covers a transatlantic rift over financial regulation. US Treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, has sent a letter to Michel Barnier, Europe’s internal market commissioner, outlining EU plans to regulate the hedge fund and private equity industries would discriminate against US groups. Paul Myners, UK financial services minister, told a meeting of private equity executives on Wednesday that he would fight “line by line and minute by minute” to defend the free movement of capital. But he also warned that “nobody in this room is going to get the directive they want”. Compromise is expected today in Brussels on some of the trickier issues.
The Independent report that one of David Cameron’s closest allies, Ed Vaizey, has, once again, embarrassed his friend and leader. Vaizey told Vanity Fair that: “[Cameron] is much more conservative by nature than he acts, or than he is forced to be by political exigency.” The Spectator’s Coffee House blog first broke the story on Tuesday while Next Left also covers “several sardonically mocking comments on Cameron” by Boris Johnson in the Vanity Fair profile.
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