Thursday News Review

Command and control

The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, and the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, have ordered the party’s frontbenchers to clear all policy statements with them before making an announcement. The order – which covers speeches, newspaper articles, press releases, contributions to parliamentary debates and endorsements for campaigns – applies to every shadow minister. Statements with financial implications must be cleared with the shadow Treasury team as well as the leader’s office, while those that do not involve spending go to Miliband alone. The move will be seen as an attempt byMiliband to impose tight discipline on his party in the hope of fending off Conservative claims that Labour are “deficit deniers” who would allow public spending to creep back up. But it also appears to consolidate Balls’s position by giving him a joint role as arbiter on Labour spending plans. –  the Guardian

Cameron U-turn on forest sell off

The highly contentious plans for a £250m sale of England’s forests will be abandoned because of the furious backlash that has hit the Government. David Cameron humiliated his Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman in the House yesterday, and shocked MPs, when he disowned the policy. The Prime Minister signalled the retreat when he admitted he was unhappy with the proposals under which woodlands owned and run by the Forestry Commission would be sold off over the next decade. – the Independent

David Cameron has ordered ministers to carry out the government’s biggest U-turn since the general election by abandoning plans to change the ownership of 258,000 hectares of state-owned woodland. Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, will announce on Friday that a consultation on the sale of forests will be ended after a furious backlash that united Tory supporters with environmentalists and the Socialist Workers party. “The consultation is going to be terminated,” a government source has said. A No 10 insider added: “It’s a cock-up. We just did not think.” The prime minister, who told MPs that he was not happy with the government’s handling of the issue, has ordered Spelman to end the consultation on plans. – the Guardian

Lords pass AV legislation

A referendum on changing Westminster’s voting system will take place on 5 May after MPs finally managed to get their bill through Parliament. Legislation authorising a referendum received royal assent late on Wednesday night after a stand-off over the issue. Peers had proposed only making the referendum binding if 40% of the public took part, but the government managed to defeat that measure by 68 votes. It had to be approved by Thursday for the referendum to happen in May. The House of Lords eventually backed down shortly after 2300 GMT when a Labour amendment urging MPs to think again on the issue was defeated by 221 to 153 votes. – BBC

The big news from Westminster overnight was that the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill received the royal assent at 11.45 pm after the government won the final vote in the upper house overturning previous defeats. This means that the AV referendum will take place as planned on May 5th 2011 and there there will be NO turnout threshold – the last major point of contention. This followed an intensive couple of days in which the commons kept overturning a series of amendments from the Lords who promptly insisted on reinstating them. At the end of the day it was the group of Labour peers who blinked first and in the final crucial division, on the turnout threshold, only 134 of them voted compared with 182 earlier. Joining them were just seven Tory rebels compared with the 27 who had voted against the government earlier in the day. – Political Betting

Ed: I’ll be voting Yes

My belief in a better politics is the reason why I support the alternative vote and will back the yes campaign in this coming referendum. The easy and politically expedient route would be to find an excuse to abandon my support now. But I won’t. I respect the views of my Labour colleagues who are for retaining first past the post. But I disagree with them. Why? Fundamentally, because AV offers an opportunity for political reform, ensuring the voice of the public is heard louder than it has been in the past. And given the standing of politics that is an opportunity we should take. It is a system that combines the direct representation of first-past-the-post with one that will make the votes of more people count. We should be in no doubt. If Britain votes yes in May’s referendum it will be a vote to challenge the status quo. – Ed Miliband, the Guardian

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