Politics Summary: Tuesday, March 9th

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The Times examines a report by the Royal Society which has found that a cost-cutting raid on the science and research budget would be a false economy risking “relegation from the scientific premier league”. Competitors such as the US, China, France and Germany are all increasing their support for science and Britain’s future prosperity will deteriorate if this is not matched. The BBC reports that former Labour and Conservative science ministers, Lords Sainsbury and Waldegrave, were both supporting the call. Lord Sainsbury said: “We’ve gone from ‘brain-drain’ to ‘brain-gain’ and if we’re not careful and we start cutting – that will reverse. That would be hugely damaging.” Britain’s public spending on science has doubled in real terms over the past 10 years to more than £6 billion.

A new poll for the Times shows that Labour and the Conservatives are “neck and neck in the marginal seats that will determine the outcome of the general election.” The Populus poll targeted the 100 Labour-held seats where the Tories came second at the last general election and which are 50 to 149 in their list of targets. It puts the two main parties on 38 per cent and would mean the Conservatives taking 97 Labour-held seats but not an overall majority. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports on how the three main parties are finalising their public-facing campaign teams. George Osborne is likely to be sidelined for Ken Clarke on economic issues as he focuses on his role as campaign coordinator.

The Conservative party have announced a u-turn on the research and development tax credit. The Financial Times says, “the Conservatives have decided to spare the research and development tax credit from the chop if they win the general election, reversing indications given in the party’s 2006 tax reform commission.” The move comes after the publication of James Dyson’s ‘Ingenious Britain’ report for the Conservative party. Meanwhile, David Cameron’s head of strategy is said by the Guardian to be losing a battle for a Conservative government to introduce a Whitehall “living wage” of £7.60 per hour. The policy topped Left Foot Forward‘s list of progressive manifesto ideas.

The Guardian‘s front page exclusive carries the headline: “Bush to Tories: don’t derail Ireland deal”. The paper says that “in his most active intervention since leaving the White House”, George W. Bush asked David Cameron to support the Northern Ireland peace process, “amid widespread concern in the US about the Tories’ new electoral pact with the Ulster Unionists.” But the intervention appeared to have failed since, as reported on Left Foot Forward yesterday, Cameron’s allies in the UUP oppose the devolution of policing and justice powers to Belfast.

The Independent again covers the Lord Ashcroft story with news that MPs will investigate how the conditions surrounding the Tory deputy chairman’s peerage were changed. The Public Administration Select Committee want to know how Ashcroft’s promise to become a “permanent” resident in Britain as a condition of securing his peerage in 2000 was changed to “long-term” resident, which allowed him to be “non-domiciled” for tax purposes. A note from the parliamentary Labour party to its candidates claims there is a contradiction between William Hague, who said he found out about Lord Ashcroft’s tax status in recent months, and the former Whitehall mandarin Sir Hayden Phillips, who said at the weekend that the Tories agreed the change of wording in the peer’s undertaking in 2000 when Hague was leader.

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