Saturday News Review

AV campaign heats up

David Cameron has stepped up his attack on the alternative vote backed by Nick Clegg, describing the system as crazy and reminding voters that his deputy once regarded the reform as a “miserable little compromise”. He did so as the yes campaign prepared today for a celebrity-backed launch and a poster campaign beginning on Monday designed to argue the voting changes will make MPs work harder by needing to win 50% of their constituency’s support. The comedian and Labour supporter Eddie Izzard and European and world championship gold medal winner Kriss Akabusi today launch the yes campaign, with the referendum five weeks away.Other celebrities to come out in favour of the yes campaign include broadcaster Jonathan Ross, actors Nick Hoult and David Schneider, and comedian Chris Addison. – the Guardian

David Cameron last night condemned plans to scrap Britain’s historic first-past-the-post voting system as “crazy”. In his most passionate intervention yet in the electoral reform debate, Prime Minister David Cameron rubbished the proposed Alternative Vote system backed by Labour and the Lib Dems as “undemocratic” and a recipe for a “politicians’ fix”. And he risked worsening tensions within the coalition Government by mocking Nick Clegg’s switch to supporting AV. The Deputy PM had called it a “miserable little compromise” before the last election.Daily Express

‘Miserable excuse’ of an EMA replacement

Listening to Education Secretary Michael Gove on his cut-price replacement for the education maintenance allowance, I nearly burst a blood vessel. It wasn’t so much his plans, which mean thousands of students aged 16-19 being deprived of  state support, but the fact he said: “We’ve got to fix our broken education system.” What an insult to the army of teachers and students whose work and dedication over the past 13 years have seen more schools than ever labelled “outstanding”, more pupils passing five GCSEs at grades A*-C and more students going on to higher education. You haven’t done your homework Mr Gove. Go and stand in the corner. – Daily Mirror

The Government announcement this week of a £180 million bursary scheme to replace the scrapped Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) demonstrates that it is beginning to realise its mistake in cutting support for the most disadvantaged students (“Rethink in cash help for students”, Mercury, March 29). However, what the Government has offered is totally inadequate. For example, 75 per cent of students at Gateway College, in Hamilton, were eligible to receive EMA. Under the new system, they estimate that only 40 per cent will be able to receive any financial assistance. With nearly two million young people in the UK not in employment, education or training it is vital that the young people of Leicesterare given every opportunity to improve their social mobility. – Leicester Mercury

Boris Johnson has been in talks with the education secretary, Michael Gove, after calling on his Tory colleague to review the government’s policy on financial support for poor 16-19 year old students. The mayor said he fears young Londoners from low-income backgrounds could drop out of education altogether and see their life chances “radically diminished” as a result of a cut in funding. Johnson became the most senior Conservative figure to speak out against ministers’ decision to replace the £560m education maintenance allowance (EMA) budget with £180m for the new 16-19 bursaries, when he appeared on Question Time on Thursday night. – the Guardian

David ‘Keys’, sorry Willetts whips up a gender storm

Feminism has set back the cause of social mobility by decades, a senior minister has claimed. Universities Minister David Willetts said feminist policies had inadvertently halted the improvement in the life chances of working-class men and  widened the gap between rich and poor. He said feminism was the ‘single biggest factor’ in the decline in social mobility since the 1960s,  adding: ‘Feminism has trumped egalitarianism.’ – Daily Mail

The countries with the highest levels of social mobility are those with the highest levels of gender equality. David Willetts’s claim that feminism is to blame for the decline in social mobility has caused no shortage of outrage this morning. His thesis is that middle class women, who otherwise would have been housewives, snapped up university places and well-paid jobs that could have gone to working class men. But to my eyes, there’s a basic empirical problem with his claim. All of the available data on the subject shows that the countries with the highest levels of social mobility are those with the highest levels of gender equality. The 2010Global Gender Gap Report, which ranks countries according to how well they “divide resources and opportunities amongst male and female populations”, puts Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden at the top, with Britain lagging behind in 15th place (a fact that suggests, pace Willetts, that the “feminist revolution” has some way to go). – New Statesman

Anger as NHS reforms steps up

The constituency offices of Health Secretary Andrew Lansley have been daubed with graffiti by anti-NHS reform activists. Cambridgeshire Police are investigating the incident at Hardwick last night when red paint was thrown at the building and “Hands off our NHS Tory scum” written on a wall. Protesters left a letter demanding to be treated as “patients, not consumers” and said: “We are taking action to fight this attack on the welfare state.” The incident happened as unions today stepped up protests against the Health and Social Care Bill which they say will lead to the NHS being privatised. – Daily Mirror

He still hasn’t got on that bike

Lord Tebbit insists on adding a tie to his outfit. “I can’t have a go at David Cameron and the bloody tieless and gormless lot and then not wear one in the photo.” He turned 80 on Tuesday, but he will not let his standards slip. Did the Prime Minister send him a card? “No he didn’t,” he says with an impish smile. “But then I didn’t send him one either.” He says he is more of a Conservative than David Cameron. The Big Society is just a “buzzword. It’s a logo looking for a product”. He wants to turn the party back to being nationalist and jokes that he would like it to go into coalition with the UK Independence Party. Chuckle. Lord Tebbit has written to the Prime Minister several times about issues, and while he always gets a reply, “sometimes I have had to give him a reminder to”. By contrast, when he wrote to Nick Clegg before the election — to tell him he how much he agreed with the necessity to raise the threshold of income tax — “I had a nice letter back”. As a joke I ask if he has more admiration for Mr Clegg than Mr Cameron, and am astonished when he says, “Yes, in a way, because I think he has pushed his agenda quite hard. I think Clegg is probably more politically motivated than Cameron.” Damning for them both. – Daily Telegraph

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