Friday News Review

AV campaign heats up

The 5 May referendum will ask voters whether they want to keep the first-past-the-post system for electing MPs or to replace it with the alternative vote (AV), under which candidates are ranked in order of preference. The president of the “no” campaign was named last night as Margaret Beckett, the former Foreign Secretary. She will be joined by four other Labour veterans – Lord Prescott, Lord Reid, Lord Falconer, and David Blunkett. Three Tory Cabinet ministers will be campaign patrons – William Hague, Kenneth Clarke, and Baroness Warsi. The heavyweight line-up – described by No to AV as “titans of the British political system” – is evidence the campaign to retain the status quo will be highly-organised. Supporters of a yes vote intend to portray themselves as the “people against the political establishment”. – The Independent

The depth of division within Labour over voting reform was exposed tonight when it was announced that Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, is to lead a group of the party’s big beasts in a campaign to reject the reform in a referendum on 5 May. Beckett will chair the campaign against the alternative vote system, with the help of figures including two former Labour home secretaries, David Blunkett and Lord Reid, former lord chancellor Lord Falconer, and the former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott. Labour’s manifesto committed the party to the referendum, and several shadow cabinet members, including Alan Johnson, John Denham and Peter Hain, will campaign for a yes vote. – The Guardian

The No to AV campaign has unveiled its list of patrons, and a fascinating picture emerges of cross-party co-operation between some of the biggest hitters (Prescott’s on the list) from the Labour and Tory sides. It starts to look like a pincer movement by the establishments of the two big parties, designed to squeeze a Lib Dem orientated Yes campaign in the middle. And, yes, yes, I know there are Labour people in the pro-AV team but unless they can pull a rabbit out of the hat soon then they risk the widespread perception being that their campaign is broadly Clegg’s creature. Considering recent developments, such as the emergence of considerable opposition to the Lib Dems on student fees, having Nick Clegg out front isn’t likely to be a campaigning advantage. – Wall Street Journal

Ed sets out his stall

Thirteen years in government led to many lasting achievements, but also to a party remote from many people’s hopes and aspirations. In government we lost the humility to listen and learn. In opposition we must find it again. We must understand why, despite all that was achieved over the last decade, so many people who work hard and want to get on came to feel squeezed. Why did too many families feel that the gap between their lives and their dreams became larger and harder to bridge? It is a gap that I fear this Coalition will widen dramatically. The prospects for millions of families under Mr Cameron’s government look bleak. Slashing funding for universities and tripling student fees risks making the burden of personal debt far worse. The slogan “we are all in it together” is being used as rhetorical cover to push millions of families outside of the basic social deal, that if you work hard and do the right things, you will be helped to get on. It’s not just Child Benefit. Scaling back support for child care through tax credits and support for young people in education will hit the aspirations of millions. – Ed Miliband, The Telegraph

Cameron under pressure after 2nd Tory peer gaffe

David Cameron was under pressure tonight to evict a new Tory peer from the party after he suggested that welfare changes would encourage “breeding” among the less well-off. Labour and the Liberal Democrats denounced the “shameful” remarks by Howard Flight, who was rewarded with a peerage by the prime minister last week after helping to raise millions for the Conservative party in the runup to the election. Downing Street was forced to distance itself from a second Tory peer in a week after Flight warned that plans to remove child benefit from higher-rate taxpayers would deter the middle classes from having children. His remarks followed the claim last week by a former Thatcherite cabinet minister that most people were better off in the recession. Lord Young of Graffham was forced to resign as Cameron’s enterprise adviser after suggesting that most voters had never had it so good as during the “so-called recession”. – The Guardian

A new Tory peer has sparked fury by claiming welfare changes will encourage the poor to breed.Tycoon banker Howard Flight, 62, last night apologised for the astonishing remark – just days after he was nominated to sit in the Lords by David Cameron. Talking about child benefit cuts, the former MP caused uproar by saying: “We’re going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it’s jolly expensive, but for those on benefit there is every incentive. Well that’s not very sensible.” – The Mirror

New Conservative peer Howard Flight has issued an “unreserved” apology for saying child benefit changes would encourage the poor to “breed”. In a statement issued by the party, Mr Flight said he would like to withdraw the remark, made to a newspaper. His comments came after David Cameron urged him to apologise but rejected calls to block his peerage. Labour branded Mr Flight’s comments “shameful” and said they showed the Tories were out of touch with people. Mr Flight, a former Conservative deputy chairman, was named last week by Mr Cameron as one of more than 20 new Tory peers. – The BBC

PM asked to apologise

The Prime Minister was urged to apologise last night after making a joke about the height of the Speaker of the House of Commons and comparing him to a dwarf. David Cameron was addressing journalists at a Parliamentary lunch when he made a series of jokes at the expense of John Bercow, the 5ft 6in Speaker. One of the jibes made light of Mr Bercow’s height and it prompted John Connerty, of a charity set up to help people with dwarfism, to demand an immediate apology. “It is totally irresponsible,” said Mr Connerty, of the Walking With Giants Foundation. “It’s insulting and stereotypical. He should apologise strongly. Refering to someone as a dwarf because of their lack of height is a distasteful thing to say.” – The Independent

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