Wednesday News Review

Hughes set to sell the un-sellable

Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, was yesterday handed the job of selling the Government’s unpopular higher education reforms to prospective students. Downing Street said Mr Hughes – who abstained in the Commons vote on raising tuition fees – agreed to take up the unpaid role as an “access advocate” to persuade parents and children from poor backgrounds they will be able to afford a university education when the new fees come into effect. However, just as important will be Mr Hughes’s role in convincing recalcitrant Liberal Democrat supporters that the party has not sold out to the Tories over the policy and that the new fees structure is genuinely fairer than the previous system. Mr Hughes is a popular figure in the party and his acceptance of the new role is a sign of how seriously the leadership takes the fall-out from the tuition fees vote. – Independent

The unprecedented unpaid appointment was agreed by David Cameron and Nick Clegg before Christmas, and follows the huge controversy that followed the Commons decision to treble tuition fees from 2012. In an admission that he is losing the propaganda war, Cameron, in his letter appointing Hughes, claimed there was a “material risk” poor schoolchildren would be put off by “misinformation” from applying to higher education institutions or staying on to study A-levels. It was also being stressed that Hughes will have the power to make policy recommendations for what should replace the abolished £560m education maintenance allowance aimed at helping poor children into further education. EMA subsidised young people in England who remain in education after the age of 16 by up to £30 a week if they came from poorer families. – Guardian

Mr Hughes, who has positioned himself as a standard bearer for the left of the party, will tour schools and colleges to discuss the policy with the students of the future and report their concerns to Mr Clegg and David Cameron. The move is designed to ease Lib Dem concerns about the policy, which directly contradicts their manifesto pledge to abolish tuition fees. Fewer than half the party’s 57 MPs supported the plan to raise fees to a maximum £9,000 a year earlier this month. But the unpaid role risks opening Mr Hughes to ridicule, coming less than three weeks after he threatened to vote against the policy he will now be promoting.  – Daily Mail

Labour and Tories trade flu jab insults

The health minister, Simon Burns, accused Labour of stooping to a new low of political opportunism today after it claimed the government had cut a routine flu vaccination for under-fives. John Healey, the shadow health secretary, said the cut had been against scientific advice and was driven by the need to make financial savings. He said: “The serious problem lies with the groups that are most at risk, like children. That has come because the government axed the annual advertising campaign and they cancelled the flu jab plan for the under-fives.” But an angry Burns said: “Labour have stooped to a new low of political opportunism today. By calling on the government to reject independent scientific advice, they risk undermining the public confidence in immunisation programmes which is so crucial to their success.” The rate of flu cases in England almost doubled in a week earlier this month, from 34 people in every 100,000 to 87 in every 100,000 – a faster rise than in 1999, the last time England suffered a flu epidemic. Labour had criticised the government over the lack of dedicated protection for young children and the decision to axe the annual flu jab awareness campaign. – Guardian

Last year, all healthy children aged six months to five years were offered the jab. This year, doctors asked for £25 per patient to cover the costs of the jabs for the 38million youngsters. Mr Healey accused ministers of making the ‘wrong judgment’ by cancelling the jabs. Mr Burns yesterday hit back, saying: ‘Labour have stooped to a new low of political opportunism. The Government is legally obliged to implement recommendations made by experts on the joint committee. John Healey is either spectacularly ill-informed or playing politics with people’s health.’ Mr Healey told the Mail on Tuesday: ‘The problem lies with the groups most at risk, like children. That has come because the Government axed the annual advertising campaign and cancelled the flu jab plan for the under-fives.’ – Daily Mail

Is David stateside bound?

South Shields MP David Miliband could be US-bound. The former foreign secretary is being touted for the post of British ambassador to Washington, according to reports in the national press. Mr Miliband forged a good relationship with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton when he was foreign secretary and, as US ambassador, observers believe he would be a voice trusted by the Obama administration. But if he was offered the post it could lead to problems within the Labour Party – with the ambassador appointed by the UK Tory-led government. – The Shields Gazette

It’s official Tories have something wrong in their head

Scientists say Conservative voters really do have something unusual happening in their heads. Researchers found that right-wingers are likely to have a very thick amygdala – a part of the brain associated with emotion. Like many Tory supporters, the amygdala is ancient and primitive. The study was commissioned as a bit of fun by actor Colin Firth as part of his stint guest editing BBC Radio 4’s Today programme – but has developed into a serious effort to discover if people’s political views are encoded. – Mirror

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