Politics Summary: Wednesday, May 19th

Nick Clegg appears on the front of several papers ahead of his first major speech as Deputy Prime Minister. The Times declares, “Clegg risks rift with Tories over tax and human rights”. In an interview with the paper, the Lib Dem leader said that, “The Conservatives have always been ideologically in favour of a tax reduction and the Liberal Democrats in favour of fairer taxes and the coalition agreement strongly emphasises the latter.” He went on to says that, “Any government would tamper with [the Human Rights Act] at its peril” but said he would be “completely pragmatic” about his party’s ambition for a fully elected House of Lords.

The Guardian reports that decisions over the HRA will be “passed to an independent commission after a disagreement within the new coalition.” Mr Clegg also told the Times, “What I call liberalism David Cameron calls the Big Society.” The Daily Telegraph‘s front page trails Clegg’s speech where he will ask the public which laws they want scrapped. A front page picture story in the Independent compares Nick Clegg to Lord Grey, Prime Minister at the time of the 1832 Great Reform Act. ID cards, limits to peaceful protests, and the ContactPoint children’s database are all for the chop.

The Sun reports that Ed Balls will today “launch his bid to be Labour leader”. The Guardian reports that, “Balls is backed initially by 15 MPs, short of the 34 required to stand.” The leftwing Labour MP John McDonnell revealed yesterday that he would throw his hat into the ring if he can get enough support for a nomination. The paper speculates that Andy Burnham, the former health secretary, is also expected to announce his candidacy in the coming days. As supported by this blog, Harriet Harman announced yesterday that there would be a long race concluding on the eve of Labour’s annual conference on September 25th. But there was “disquiet from MPs that the timetable asks them to nominate their chosen candidate by Thursday next week”. Jon Cruddas told Radio 4’s PM programme that this nine-day schedule was “an absolute nonsense.”

The Guardian‘s front page reports that, “Top civil servants made formal protests over Labour spending”. The Financial Times reports that there were ten “letters of direction” from former cabinet ministers instructing senior officials to authorise spending on projects – despite concerns over value for money – ranging from the car scrappage scheme to compensation for Icelandic trawlermen. Five were issued by Lord Mandelson. By contrast, only five such letters were required between 2005 and 2008 and they were issued at a rate of two a year between 1990 and 2005. The former chancellor Alistair Darling said: “Every new government tries blaming the last one … it’s the oldest trick in the book.”

The Independent reports that poorer students are still struggling to make it to Britain’s top universities. The paper reveals that “Britain’s most selective universities have made no progress in the past 15 years in increasing the number of places given to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.” The report by the Office for Fair Access says that students from the most affluent 20 per cent of the country are now seven times more likely to obtain a place in the top third of selective universities – compared with six times in the mid-1990s. The president-elect of the National Union of Students wrote yesterday for Left Foot Forward about the Lib Dems election pledge to “vote against any increase in fees and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.”

The Independent reports that, “Osborne fails to block European crackdown on City hedge funds”. The paper outlines that the new Chancellor’s first foray to Brussels “ended with defeat” as European Union finance ministers backed a tough crackdown on the City.” The Financial Times‘ is more nuanced and reports that “Mr Osborne decided not to use up political capital in Brussels … Rather than fighting a last-ditch battle over hedge funds, Mr Osborne wants to keep his powder dry for a much bigger debate next month over plans to create an EU-wide regulatory system for financial services.” Adding a little confusion, the Telegraph says that, “George Osborne wins EU hedge fund concession” as a statement after the talks said the EU group “notes the concerns” expressed by the UK and a handful of other countries.

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