Monday News Review

Another day, another dose of staged AV campaigning anger

A Liberal Democrat cabinet minister has widened an increasingly damaging rift inside the coalition by warning that the prime minister and other senior Conservatives could face legal action over the manner in which they have campaigned for a no vote in next week’s referendum on a change to the voting system. Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem energy secretary, admitted for the first time that the campaign against the alternative vote by senior Conservatives will make the coalition government “more difficult” to manage in the aftermath of the 5 May referendum. Huhne said the claims made by David Cameron, George Osborne and other Tories undermined their credibility. He is concerned about two claims made by the Conservatives – that a move to AV will need new counting machines, and so cost as much as £250m, and that it will favour extremist parties. He said: “If they don’t come clean on this, I am sure the law courts will.” – the Guardian

To say senior Liberal Democrats are desperate to secure a Yes vote for AV would be an understatement. With less than two weeks to go to the referendum on electoral reform, they have cranked up their rhetoric to fever pitch. Paddy Ashdown has condemned the campaign of those opposed to the Alternative Vote as ‘stinking’. Energy Secretary Chris Huhne launched a tirade of abuse against Chancellor George Osborne for pointing out that AV would be costly and complicated to implement. And Business Secretary Vince Cable has melodramatically portrayed the referendum battle as a fight between the ‘progressive majority’ and the atavistic forces of Conservatism. Yesterday it was Nick Clegg’s turn to whip up the hysteria, with a rambling diatribe against our traditional first-past-the-post voting system, and anyone with the temerity to believe it works. – the Daily Mail

The Coalition was at breaking point yesterday as a Lib Dem Cabinet minister threatened court action over Tory “lies” on electoral reform. In a heated outburst, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said Tory Cabinet colleagues were risking the future of the alliance by making “shocking” claims about the Alternative Vote. And he refused to rule out resigning if David Cameron and George Osborne did not withdraw the “smears.” His words came as relations between the Coalition partners reached a new low with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg accusing Mr Cameron of fuelling “lies and deceit” over AV. The No campaign hit back, with one supporter branding Clegg a “despicable little twerp”. The Lib Dems went on the attack after senior Tories, including Foreign Secretary William Hague and Chancellor Osborne, claimed switching to AV would require new vote counting machines costing £135million. Mr Clegg said the Yes to AV camp was up against a “headwind of lies, misinformation and deceit”. He added: “This nasty No campaign will prove to be the death rattle of a right-wing elite who want to keep things the way they are. That’s why they are lashing out.” – the Mirror

You can’t educate our kids on the cheap

Schools are providing “education on cheap” by increasingly forcing classroom assistants – who do not hold qualified teacher status – to lead lessons, it is claimed. The NASUWT union said that the use of untrained staff was undermining attempts to boost standards and eroding the status of the teaching profession. The comments – made in a motion to be debated at the union’s annual conference in Glasgow on Monday – follow the publication of data showing that two-thirds of classroom helpers are being expected to “actively teach” in state schools. A survey last year showed the number of assistants being called upon to lead classes has soared in recent years, even though many are only qualified to GCSE level.

Under existing rules, classroom supervisors are only supposed to cover lessons in unforeseen circumstances. – the Telegraph

Teachers are raising concerns that schools are increasingly hiring unqualified staff to take lessons in an attempt to save money. Schools are abusing rules which allow them to appoint staff without qualified teacher status to allow them to provide “education on the cheap”, according to a resolution due to be debated at the NASUWT’s annual conference in Glasgow. It comes as a poll by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) reveals that the vast majority (89%) of people say their first preference would be for their child to be taught by a fully qualified teacher. Teachers at the NASUWT’s conference are expected to hear that using staff without qualified teacher status undermines attempts to boost standards, and increases the workload of those that are qualified. In one case, delegates will be told, a teaching assistant was asked to do a foundation degree that leads to a teaching qualification, but she has now had her own class for three years, despite still not being qualified. – the Mirror

A long hot Summer of strikes?

Hundreds of thousands of teachers could be set to strike this summer in a bid to stop pension reforms which unions claim will force school staff to “work longer, pay more and get less.” Leaders of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) have warned that its industrial action before the end of this term would mark the start of a wave of strikes over planned changes to public sector pensions. The NUT’s annual conference, in Harrogate passed a motion calling for a strike ballot in a bid to protect the Teachers Pension Scheme. Some delegates also called for teachers to lead a 24-hour general strike of public sector workers against the coalition spending cuts. It comes as another major teaching, the NASUWT, passed a resolution saying its members had no confidence in the Government’s school reforms and suggested Education Secretary Michael Gove will be removed from his post. – Yorkshire Post

Labour heavyweights could go in Scottish election catastrophe

Some of the Labour Party’s most high-profile politicians are in line to lose their Holyrood seats, according to a poll commissioned by The Scotsman. The party leader Iain Gray, finance spokesman Andy Kerr and health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie are among those who could be facing defeat on 5 May, with no prospect of a “back door” return to Holyrood on the regional list because none of them are on it. But the party last night insisted there is no leadership vacuum looming and that all three have strong local appeal in their own areas, which will see them hold off the SNP challenge. Mr Gray will today attempt to relaunch the party’s fortunes with a keynote speech attacking Alex Salmond and the SNP over plans for an independence referendum. This marks a shift away from the recent strategy of presenting Labour as the party which will stand up to the Tory-led coalition and its cuts agenda at Westminster. Support has been shifting to the SNP in recent months, culminating in Mr Salmond’s party surging to double-digit leads in two polls over the last week. A YouGov poll for The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday at the weekend put the party’s lead in the constituency vote at 13 per cent and 10 per cent on the regional list. – the Scotsman

Muslim clerics to be part of Lords reforms

David Cameron wants Muslim clerics to sit beside bishops in the House of Lords. Proposals for a spiritual shake-up of the chamber have come from the Conservative Christian Fellowship who say Britain would benefit from a “multi-faith” set-up on the benches. David Cameron is said to have thrown his weight behind the plan, which also involves slashing the number of peers from 792 to 500. A Tory insider said: “Imams in the Lords may provoke outrage in some. But Britain is not just a Christian nation, so it is only logical. – Daily Star

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