General Election

Sky News‘ Joey Jones is travelling the country looking at the issues that matter to voters in some of the marginal constituencies.  One of the seats that could play a deciding role in May’s General Election is Castle Point.

Castle Point was the constituency in which Nigel Farage and his colleagues chose to launch their general election campaign. It is one of those seats where sea air seems to have invigorated the UKIP troops.

A poll published by Lord Ashcroft in February showed the party snapping at the Conservatives’ heels, a single point behind.

Student fees

Several of the media cover Labour leader Ed Miliband’s plan to cut student fees with a raid on middle class pensions.  The Telegraph says:

Students currently at university will see their fees cut under a Labour government, Ed Miliband announced today.

The Labour leader pledged to cut tuition fees from £9,000 a year to £6,000 from September 2016.

It will apply to students mid-way through their courses, meaning a student in their first year of university today will pay less in their third and fourth years.

The programme will be funded by a £2.9 billion raid on middle class pensioners, and by making graduates earning over £42,000 pay a higher rate of interest on their loans.

Leading universities gave a tepid reaction to the plans, warning they could put research and innovation in jeopardy if long-term funding was put under pressure.

Mr Miliband pledged to increase the student maintenance grants by £400 to £3,800 for students with a family income of under £42,000.

The policy will be funded by reducing the rate of pensions tax relief for those with incomes over £150,000 from 45 per cent to 20 per cent.

And Sky News reports:

Ed Miliband has unveiled a Labour election pledge to cut student tuition fees by a third by reducing pension tax relief for higher earners.

Under the party’s plans, the cap on undergraduate fees would be reduced from £9,000 to £6,000 per year from September 2016.

Mr Miliband told an audience of students in Leeds that the current funding system was landing graduates with debts running into tens of thousands of pounds.

He said the coalition Government’s student fees policy was “one of the most expensive broken promises in the history of British politics”.

Labour’s funding cut would be paid for by a reduction in pension tax relief for higher earners, Mr Miliband said.

But the Times claims that Miliband has been told that cutting tuition fees will only help the rich

Ed Miliband has been warned that his pledge to slash university tuition fees by £3,000 will do nothing to help swathes of low-earning graduates.

After weeks of internal wrangling, the Labour leader announced that he would cut annual fees from £9,000 to £6,000 a year should he win the election. He also said the pledge would be a red line in any coalition talks.

The Express reports the plan will hit those saving for a pension.

LABOUR was accused yesterday of threatening hard-working savers with a pension raid to pay for a cut in university tuition fees.

The formula was unveiled by party leader Ed Miliband in a speech in Leeds.

The pledge followed speculation of tensions in Labour over how to meet the £2.7billion-a-year cost of cutting the maximum annual fee from £9,000 to £6,000.

The programme would be largely funded by reducing tax relief on pension contributions for people with incomes of more than £150,000 a year.

The move, affecting about 300,000 people, had previously been guaranteed to assist youth employment. But party aides said that as young people’s unemployment had fallen it could now be shared with tuition fees.

In addition, the lifetime amount people can save in their pension pots and get tax relief for would be cut, from £1.25million to £1million, and annual contributions from £40,000 to £30,000 a year.

Mr Miliband said all those sums were vastly more than the average person saved.

But analysts said it would disproportionately hit final salary scheme members, many in the public sector.

Conference

UKIP’s spring conference, being held in Margate this weekend, is covered by many of the media.

The Telegraph dismisses opposition claims that the party leader is ill.

Nigel Farage has lashed out at “vicious” smears about his health as he rallied Ukip activists for the election battle.

The party leader said rumours had been spread that he was “seriously ill”, when he was really just campaigning in South Thanet. But he insisted Ukip would make a positive pitch to the electorate rather than resorting to “repugnant” personal attacks like the Tories and Labour.

The defiant conference speech at the Winter Gardens in Margatecame after a series of polls suggested the party’s support had slipped from its recent peaks. However, Mr Farage highlighted research by Survation that indicated he is on course to become MP for nearby South Thanet.

The Guardian also reports that the leader dismissed claims he was unwell.

Ukip wants an “amicable divorce” from the EU, wants to “re-embrace the Commonwealth” and “inject a positive note into the immigration debate” by promoting the benefit of a points-system based on skills, he said.

He dismissed rumours he claimed were spread by his political rivals that he was suffering poor health, joking that his demise had been much exaggerated. Far from taking a back seat, Farage said, he wanted to lead Ukip in “all the elections to come”.

Sky News claims Nigel Farage has said the party must concentrate on positive politics…

Nigel Farage has told Sky News that UKIP must rise above negative politics to win at the general election.

He spoke at his party’s spring conference in Margate, just down the road from the South Thanet constituency where he is standing in May.

In what is being described as a rallying call, the UKIP leader focused on strategy and polling, and explained how the party will maximise its vote on 7 May.

Despite addressing a sparsely attended event in the US alongside right-wing Tea Party politicians just 24 hours earlier, the UKIP leader will have been buoyed on his return by a poll which indicates he is on course to secure a Westminster seat.

Research by Survation for party donor Alan Bown put Mr Farage’s support in South Thanet at 39%, ahead of Labour’s WIll Scobie on 28% and Tory Craig Mackinlay on 27%.

A previous poll by Tory Lord Ashcroft in November had suggested the Conservatives could retain the seat, where the sitting MP Laura Sandys is stepping down.

… even positive politics on immigration, says the Guardian.

Nigel Farage urged Ukip to start striking a positive tone about the immigration debate in his spring conference speech on Friday, just hours after some of his party spokesmen linked people coming to Britain to strains on food supply, water and even the sewage system.

The Ukip leader did not have any new policy to unveil for the two-day event in Margate, Kent, as the party failed to get its manifesto ready in time. Instead, Farage used his speech to an audience of candidates and activists to make a plea for a hopeful message and against negative campaigning. “Everything about our campaign is going to be positive because we believe in Britain,” he said.

Immigration

Migrants add to pressure on the sewerage system, according to the Telegraph.

Migrants coming to the UK are putting pressure on its sewerage system, the party’s immigration spokesman has said.

Ukip immigration spokesman Steven Woolfe stressed the party was not anti-immigration or anti-immigrant.

But he argued that the number of incomers had put strain on infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and the sewerage system.

He said the public did not care about “colour of skin or race or creed” because they “believe in this country, they believe in Britain and they believe in its values”.

Mr Woolfe told hundreds of activists at the party’s spring conference in Margate: “What they are concerned about is that our eye has been taken off the ball for nearly a generation.

The Telegraph agrees with UKIP that Britain’s borders are like a sponge.

Immigration has risen once more to the top of the political agenda, not because we’re a bunch of swivel-eyed loons but because a great many of us are starting to feel crowded out.

The major metropolitan areas are adept at absorbing new arrivals, market towns in the Midlands, where it’s hard to find a native English speaker on a weekday afternoon, rather less so. Our borders appear to be as porous as a sponge, letting in foreigners in search of a better life, letting out schoolgirls bound for a worse one. But what to do?

Labour has ‘fessed up to political correctness gone mad, with its preposterous right-on open door policy towards migrants. The Tories have proved unequal to the task of shutting that door, even after 298,000 incomers have bolted. Theoretically our disillusionment should send us scuttling into UKIP’s clammy embrace.

Scotland

The Independent claims UKIP is planning to announce that it would fund English tax cuts by cutting billions from the Scottish budget.

Ukip is preparing a manifesto pledge to slash billions of pounds from Scotland’s budget to help to pay for tax cuts for English voters.

Under the controversial proposal, announced at the party’s final conference before the election, subsidies currently paid from Westminster to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland under the Barnett formula would be abolished, saving up to £8bn a year.

The move is part of plans by the party to tailor its policies carefully to appeal to voters in the dozen or so English seats it is targeting in May. But it is certain to alienate support north of the border and reinforce the impression that Ukip is effectively just an English party that is not representing the whole of the UK. Ukip’s only Scottish MEP David Coburn defended the provocative policy by suggesting that if Scotland “wants to spend more, then it needs to raise more”.

“People have got to understand that they are getting a lot more money than folks in England,” he said. “The present system is unsustainable.”

And the Express reports Farage’s declaration that Tories in the north of England would be eradicated.

NIGEL FARAGE has confidently declared Ukip will emerge as the ONLY opposition to Labour “virtually anywhere from Birmingham to Hadrian’s Wall”.

Speaking at the Ukip Spring Conference, Mr Farage predicted huge success for the anti-EU party in the north of England, which is Labour’s traditional heartland.

The Ukip leader told party members he was “optimistic” they would “exceed all expectations” at May’s General Election.

This is not the first time Mr Farage has spoken out about cannibalising Labour votes. Last year, he said: “We are ripping lumps out of the old Labour vote in north England.”

EU

The Tories have claimed that our contribution to the EU has halved – but that claim is rubbished by Sky News.

George Osborne’s claim that he halved a £1.7bn EU surcharge in negotiations last year is “not supported by the facts”, according to a report.

Labour described the report by the cross-party House of Commons Treasury Committee as “damning”, and called on the Chancellor to apologise.

Chris Leslie, the party’s Treasury spokesman, said the claim was “completely false”.

The EU bill, which related to a recalculation of Britain’s gross national income dating back almost two decades, caused anger when it was issued in October.

David Cameron voiced “downright anger”, and insisted he would not pay by the 1 December deadline set by the European Commission.

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