Politics Summary: Monday, April 26th

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With the weekend polls continuing to predict a hung parliament in the closest election since 1974, Nick Clegg appears to be looking towards both Labour and the Conservatives if no winner emerges. The Guardian reports the Liberal Democrat leader would “speak to the Tories first” about David Cameron forming a minority government, if Labour came third in share of the vote on May 6. Clegg also made it explicit that “electoral reform would be an unavoidable precondition of any coalition government”.

Lord Mandelson, in his latest ‘state of the race‘ memo had earlier that “voters who flirt with Nick Clegg are likely to end up married to David Cameron”, adding Clegg “had made clear his hostility to Labour and his preference to side with the Tories in a coalition if this arises. In other words, vote Nick and get Dave and George – not a nice prospect for people with progressive values”. On a deal with Labour, The Sun reports Clegg’s interview with Andrew Marr yesterday morning in which he said he should be the prime minister in any coalition if Labour comes third, described by the Conservatives as “appalling arrogance”.

The Independent reports Alan Johnson’s remarks that Labour shouldn’t fear a deal with the Liberal Democrats. Speaking on The Politics Show, the home secretary had said: “I think it’s a nonsense to continue to lecture the public about this spectre of a coalition government. I don’t find that as frightening as some of my colleagues do.” Johnson also said Labour could go further than its current proposal for a referendum on the alternative vote, saying he favoured the AV-plus system. The Times reports the increased pressure on Gordon Brown, who launched Labour’s ‘green manifesto’ yesterday, telling a rally in west London that Labour must “fight and fight and fight” again as he stepped the campaign up a gear. The Telegraph says the Conservatives are planning a “smash and grab raid” on Labour, identifying 20 potential new winnables in the wake of the Lib Dem surge. Meanwhile, the Mail have continued their personal attacks on Clegg with paparrazzi-style pictures of his wife coming out of a lingerie shop, a move described by Next Left as “likely to backfire” with the paper’s readers, adding: “At least they were too ashamed to put any poor hack’s byline on tomorrow’s [today’s] story. Who knows. Perhaps “Daily Mail Reporter” is the editor in chief himself playing peeping Tom.”

The Financial Times carries a detailed analysis of the “brutal choices” over Britain’s deficit, concluding that spending choices are “so difficult”, whoever forms the next government “may be forced to resort to additional tax increases”. The FT says the government “will have to cut public sector pay, freeze benefits, slash jobs, abolish a range of welfare entitlements and take the axe to programmes such as school building and road maintenance – or make a set of equally politically perilous choices”, adding “packages of measures such as these are already under consideration in the Treasury and will be needed if further big tax rises are to be avoided as the next chancellor seeks, at a minimum, to halve the deficit by 2014 – a goal to which all the main parties are signed up… FT costings of a range of the choices that the next chancellor will face show that almost the whole population would be hit as the new government makes £30bn-£40bn of cuts in real terms to halve the deficit”. The report predicts all of the following will be necessary: “a 5 per cent cut in public sector pay; freezing benefits for a year; means-testing child benefit; abolishing winter fuel payments and free television licences; reducing prison numbers by a quarter; axing the two planned aircraft carriers; withdrawing free bus passes for pensioners; delaying Crossrail for three years; halving roads maintenance; stopping school building; halving the spend on teaching assistants and NHS dentistry; and cutting funding to Scotland and Wales by 10 per cent.” A poll for the FT, however, found that only half of voters agreed with this approach.

President Obama last night vowed to end taxpayer-funded bailouts “once and for all” as the Senate prepared to debate an overhaul of the financial system, reports the Telegraph. Obama called on Congress to pass the most wide-ranging changes to oversight of the financial markets since the Great Depression, saying changes would help revive the economy and “put an end to the cycles of boom and bust”. In his weekly address, the president said: “In the absence of common-sense rules, Wall Street firms took enormous, irresponsible risks that imperiled our financial system – and hurt just about every sector of our economy… Some people simply forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged, there is family looking to buy a house, pay for an education, open a business, or save for retirement.” Negotiations on the details of a 1,300 page reform bill continued long into the night, with hopes high of cross-party consensus. Chair of the Senate banking committee Chris Dodd, a Democrat, told NBC: “We are going to get this bill, I think in the next few days maybe even by tomorrow, and it’s going to be a major achievement for this country.” Richard Shelby, the Republican who led negotiations with Dodd, added: “We are getting there, I think conceptually we are very, very close. We are trying to improve two or three things in it, but we are closer than we have ever been.”

And the Mirror reports that the Tories are “declaring class war”. The paper reports children’s secretary Ed Balls’s warning that David Cameron “would put 38,000 people out of work later this year in the education service alone”, describing as “immoral” Conservative policies that would “ruin the chances of millions of children by taking money away from education in favour of inheritance tax breaks for the most wealthy”. Balls said: “The only people fighting a class war are the Conservatives – a class war against our teachers and schools on behalf of the estates of millionaires and billionaires. New Labour always was and still is about standing up for the many and not the few. The Tories have always been about standing for the few against the many… We’ve got just 10 days to save our schools from devastating Tory cuts. People shouldn’t just take my word for it. The Institute for Fiscal Studies says Tory plans to cut £6billion this year would see the schools and children’s budget slashed by £1.7billion. That’s the same as the Tories are going to spend on their inheritance tax cut for millionaires. I’’s a twisted sense of priorities and makes Margaret Thatcher look tame – even she never took such a step to reward millionaires. There’s something heartless and immoral about it.” Balls said the Tory cuts “would mean the loss of 14,000 teachers, 12,500 teaching assistants and nearly 11,500 other support staff, such as caretakers”.

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