Friday News Review

U-turn to fill MOD black hole

David Cameron is poised for another humiliating U-turn as the crisis in Libya forces him to rethink the Government’s savage defence cuts. Chancellor George Osborne has been shamed into finding an extra £250million to prevent more equipment and troops being scrapped while British forces are in action. Military chiefs are pushing him to go much further and undo some of the brutal austerity measures already inflicted on the armed forces in last autumn’s defence review. One senior commander said the debate is “live” and that the Prime Minister “is very much part of it”. Reversing defence cuts would the latest in a long line of about-turns by Mr Cameron. Ending free school milk, axing books for young children, cutting school sport, scrapping NHS Direct, selling off Britain’s forests and bringing in anonymity for suspected rapists are among the policies that have been dropped. – Daily Mirror

The Prime Minister is “actively engaged” in a reassessment of Britain’s military capabilities and planned reductions in equipment and manpower, sources have disclosed. The rethink has raised hopes that some of the cuts to military aircraft and ships in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) could be postponed or even reversed. Insiders said it was not too late for a change of mind on the decision to cut the number of RAF Tornados and scrap surveillance planes. Some Royal Navy frigates could also be spared, or have their retirement delayed. In the first sign of compromise on defence cuts, Mr Cameron has ordered the Treasury to give the Ministry of Defence a reprieve on its overspent 2011-12 budget. The £800 million climbdown will spare the Armed Forces further cuts this year. Senior government figures admitted that the Libyan conflict has raised questions about the wisdom of cuts that will leave Britain facing a “dip” in its military capabilities for several years. “The debate is live. The Prime Minister is very much part of it. There’s a lot of objective thinking going on,” said a senior defence source. – Daily Telegraph

We really are all in this together

If she was expecting a lavish treat, she was in for a sore surprise. Mindful of how a luxury holiday would appear amid massive public spending cuts, David and Samantha Cameron flew to Spain with budget airline Ryanair to celebrate her 40th birthday. And despite their wealth, they stayed in a ‘mid-market’ hotel. No special treatment: A fellow passenger took this photograph of the couple in the departure lounge ahead of the Ryanair flight from Stansted airport to Malaga, in southern Spain, on Wednesday afternoon A fellow passenger took a photograph of the couple in the departure lounge ahead of the flight from Stansted airport to Malaga, in southern Spain, on Wednesday afternoon. They will fly home today. – Daily Mail

They could have been any other couple waiting to catch their flight. But it was the Prime Minister and his wife who were spotted waiting along with everyone else to fly with low-cost airline Ryanair from Stansted Airport to Granada in Spain. David Cameron whisked his wife away without their three children on a flight for a short break to mark her impending 40th birthday. Mrs Cameron does not reach the milestone age until later this month, but the couple took the start of the Easter recess to spend some time together. It is the first time the couple have been abroad on holiday since Mr Cameron became Prime Minister last May. – the Scotsman

Hollow words over interns

Is it business as usual for Liberal Democrat MPs advertising for interns days after Nick Clegg said he’d stamp out the practice of unpaid work? That could certainly be the charge. The office of John Leech MP told one prospective intern that they wouldn’t get paid because the new rules only apply to Whitehall and the party’s Cowley Street HQ, not MPs, according to the group Intern Aware. Party figures admit that yes, this is technically the case, they can’t tell their MPs what to do as they fall under the remit of Ipsa, the expenses watchdog. Leaders can’t tell their MPs what to do? That may be news to some. Clegg also seemed to think he could on Tuesday, when he said: “I’ve announced that in my capacity as leader of the Liberal Democrats that we now have put an end to that system within the Lib Dem Parliamentary party. From now on, all internships should be properly advertised, they should be subject to a meritocratic process and people should be properly supported and remunerated. Lunch costs, travel costs and so on.” – Sky News

Just days after Nick Clegg made an earnest pledge to improve expenses for the Liberal Democrats’ army of unpaid interns, The Capitalist was amused to see three job ads for internships at the party on the Work for an MP (w4mp) website offering barely a cup of tea. The “short volunteer opportunity” to work in the offices of Greg Mulholland, MP for the Leeds North West, offers no financial reward at all, while the internship at the offices of Bradford East’s MP David Ward says “some expenses” can be met “by agreement”. And a school-leaver helping out on the local campaign trail for the Lewes Liberal Democrats would presumably want a roof over their head at the end of the working day – but lodgings for the lucky candidate are only “possibly” an option “if required”. In a jargon-filled display of passing the buck, the party said it could only directly manage internships at the central Cowley Street HQ. – City AM

Where have all the Lib Dems gone?

The Liberal democrats face a double blow at next month’s council elections, when they will field fewer candidates than usual and could be the main victims of a Labour recovery. More than 9,000 seats are up for grabs, about 5,000 of which are held by the Conservatives, 1,800 the Liberal Democrats, 1,600 by Labour and 800 by other parties and independents. Figures from town halls yesterday showed that the Lib Dems have candidates to put up in only 59 per cent of the seats, down from 64 per cent when they were last fought four years ago. The biggest falls appear to be in the south-east and north-west, both down about 10 per cent. Labour will contest 72 per cent – up from 60 per cent last time. The increase reflects a drive to fight back in the south, where the party did badly at last year’s general election. The Tories will field candidates in 93 per cent of the seats next month, up from 88 per cent in 2007. – the Independent

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