Politics Summary: Wednesday, March 17th

A poll for the FT shows that the Tories are struggling to establish a lead in the north of England or Scotland among the unskilled working classes or among the under-25s. The paper writes that, “the findings suggest Mr Cameron lacks Tony Blair’s famed ability to bridge traditional class and regional divides.”

The paper says that class remains a powerful predictor of voting intentions with the Conservatives enjoying double-digit leads among the richest half of the population. Meanwhile, the Tories have only 18 northern MPs, compared with 68 when Mrs Thatcher won in 1983. John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde university, said: “It looks perfectly likely that even if Cameron wins, he will have the second lowest vote share of any government in modern history.”

The relationship between the Labour party and the union Unite is covered in today’s papers. The Guardian front page outlines that No 10 has asked for the short list for the seat left vacant by James Purnel to be reopened and widened. Tom Watson, a former minister who sits on the National Executive Committee selection panel has told the Times: “I was not aware that there was an appeals process. But I have been told that Peter Mandelson and James Purnell have demanded that Mr Reynolds be placed on the shortlist. I know of no rule that allows for an appeal once the panel has decided the shortlist.”Watson tweets this morning, ” The journalist on the Times rang about the story. This one [Patrick Wintour] from the Guardian didn’t”. Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove launched an attack yesterday on Labour’s “new Militant tendency” but the claim has been rubbished by the Times which reports that the 108 Labour MPs and 59 prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) who are members of Unite “represent almost every strand of opinion.”

The Telegraph‘s front page covers news that George Osborne has tried to “fire up Tories” as he acknowledged that the party needs to start performing better. Mr Osborne said: “Starting with Conservative leadership we need more fire in the Conservative belly – to absolutely up the energy levels … I absolutely take responsibility for the Conservative election campaign. I’m not ducking that for a second.” The shadow chancellor also hints that he will announce plans to cut National Insurance after next week’s Budget.

The Telegraph splash says, “Student fee cap must go, says Patten”. The Chancellor of Oxford University and former Conservative cabinet minister, Lord Patten, has said that universities should be free to charge as much as they want. The paper reports that many students already graduate owing more than £25,000 after tuition and living expenses and it is feared that a significant rise in fees would lead to decades of debt for many. The Times reports that Lord Patten of Barnes said more generous bursaries could ensure that higher fees did not deter poorer students. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “For the vast majority of hard-working families in the country, higher fees would be a disaster.”

The Financial Times front page covers Gordon Brown’s successful attempt to delay EU hedge fund reforms. The Telegraph reports that “A dramatic eleventh-hour intervention by Gordon Brown saw controversial EU legislation to curb the powers of hedge funds dropped from the agenda of a top finance ministers meeting on Tuesday.” The Independent quotes Chancellor Alistair Darling: “There is no free pass for hedge funds. Tougher regulation is necessary. But nor can there be a deal at any price. Europe must get this right.” The Guardian outlines that Britain is home to four out of five hedge funds in Europe and about a third of all private equity firms. The Mail has a more negative line and writes, “cynics will say [the move] is designed to protect the Treasury’s tax revenues.”

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