Politics Summary: Tuesday, April 20th

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A new volcanic ash cloud from the Eyjafjallajökull has cast a renewed pall over Britain’s airports, which had been expected to return to operation throughout today. London’s airports will remain closed “for the forseeable future” reports the Telegraph, adding some Scottish airports opened at 0700, with airports in the north of England expected to open at 1300 – though this has now been thrown into doubt. In an overnight statement, issued at 0300, the National Air Traffic Service said: “Since our last statement at 9pm yesterday, the volcano eruption in Iceland has strengthened and a new ash cloud is spreading south and east towards the UK. This demonstrates the dynamic and rapidly changing conditions in which we are working. Latest information from the Met Office shows that the situation is variable.”

The Guardian reports plans drawn up by European Union transport ministers for a reduction in the no-fly restrictions over the continent, with airspace divided into three categories comprised of: a no-go area; air corridors “with some contamination” where flying can take place under strict conditions; and open zones with no safety concerns. The report adds: “Eurocontrol, the EU-side air traffic control body, said it expected a return to normal operations by Thursday, but the latest ash cloud could jeopardise that.” The Times explains the danger to aircraft: “If particles are ingested into a jet engine, they clog it with molten glass, causing the engine to shut down.”

The election campaign continues, with The Independent reporting a ComRes/ITV News/Indy poll of Liberal Democrat supporters in which they emphatically say “no deal with Cameron”. The poll found 46 per cent “would be happy if the election resulted in a hung parliament and Mr Brown remained in Downing Street”, while only 31 per cent “would be happy if Mr Cameron became prime minister in these circumstances”. The headline figures are: Conservative 32 (+1), Labour 28 (+1), Lib Dems 28 (-1); if repeated at the general election with a uniform swing, this would result in 279 MPs for Labour, 245 for the Tories and 94 for the Liberals. The Sun’s YouGov daily tracker, meanwhile, has the Tories on 33 per cent (+1), the Lib Dems (-2) on 31 per cent, and Labour on 27 per cent (+1). The Sun helpfully adds: “Analysis proves that a big Lib Dem vote dramatically increases the chances of a hung Parliament.” The Mirror reports David Cameron’s dramatic decision to ditch a £1 million attack ppb last night in favour of a monologue in his back garden; the Mirror says Cameron is “panicking like loser John Major”, “changing course in a panic and bizarrely making pleas to voters from the safety of his garden”.

The Guardian reports payback time for the buisnessmen who signed a letter in support of the Tories’ national insurance plans: two of the signatories are set to be ennobled. Simon Wolfson and Anthony Bamford have been nominated for peerages by David Cameron, and have been accepted by the appointments commission, the Guardian saying “the disclosure is bound to raise questions over the party’s continued interest in appointing prominent donors and supporters as working peers … Wolfson, the chief executive of Next, has donated £238,250 to Conservative central office since January 2006 in seven donations … Sir Anthony Bamford, chairman of construction equipment maker JCB, has given the Tories more than £1m over the past five years either in his own name or through the family-controlled firm”. Lord Oakeshott, Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, told the Guardian: “This is too close for comfort. The ink is hardly dry on the letter riding to the rescue of George Osborne over his national insurance plans. It looks like they may be paid off even before polling day. It confirms the letter about NICs was a Tory front, and we are still living with big money politics.” A CCHQ spokesman, however, insisted any suggestion the new peerages are linked NI campaign is “complete nonsense”.

The Telegraph reports the prime minister will receive key economic figures before the next leaders’ debate on Thursday. The figures will be released in full on Friday, with Gordon Brown being “the only party leader to know if Britain has fallen back into recession before the debate” – a situation described by the chair of the UK Statistics Authority as “unacceptable”. The report says: “The figures will show whether the recovery has been sustained during the first three months of the year.” It adds: “City experts expect the figures to show Britain has not fallen back into recession. As the Prime Minister will know the figures, he will be able to tailor his arguments to the disadvantage of his colleagues even though the subject of the debate is foreign affairs.” The Tories may lodge a complaint, while Vince Cable said “all parties should have the same information at the same time”.

And The Times repors worrying developments from the Middle East, a former US defence official saying “it may be too late” to stop Iran getting a nuclear bomb. The unnamed official told The Times President Obama “had waited too long” to take tough action against Tehran. He said: “Fifteen months into his administration, Iran has faced no significant consequences for continuing with its uranium-enrichment programme … Now it may be too late to stop Iran from becoming nuclear-capable.” The Times adds that the official “outlined one nightmare scenario, in which Iran developed a nuclear weapon and passed it on to Hezbollah, which it sponsors — and which has an artillery and missile inventory larger than many countries in the region”. The Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has called for a ban on all petroleum products to Iran, while Iran’s commerce minister Mehdi Ghazanfari said the price of petrol would be increased to cut consumption and reduce the country’s dependence on imported fuel.

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