John Prescott

Sky News reports that Labour bruiser John Prescott is to be brought back into a leading role within the party.

John Prescott is to return to frontline politics ahead of the General Election after Ed Miliband appointed him a climate change adviser.

The former deputy prime minister will be working with heads of state and foreign governments to “raise their ambition”, according to the Labour leader.

He wants Lord Prescott to work on an agreement in the run-up to a crucial United Nations summit in Paris at the end of the year.

Mr Miliband said he was inspired to appoint the life peer because of his experience in getting an agreement at the landmark Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

Lord Prescott became known during the premiership of Tony Blair for his pugnacious style and is considered a formidable negotiator.

Writing in The Observer, Mr Miliband said: “His abilities and experience… must be used at this critical time for our future and there is no one better than John at bashing heads together to get a deal.”

The Guardian has the same story.

Ed Miliband is bringing the former deputy prime minister, John Prescott, back into frontline politics only months before May’s general election.

In a controversial move, the Labour leader has appointed Lord Prescott as his personal adviser with specific responsibility for climate change. His remit, according to aides, is to “bash heads together”.

The eye-catching development comes as an Opinium/Observer poll shows that the Conservatives have edged ahead of Labour for the first time in three years, apparently confirming a trend seen in other polls in recent weeks.

Writing in the Observer, Miliband says that he has appointed Prescott to help him as prime minister to force a more ambitious agenda on the world over carbon emissions at the global summit in Paris later this year. Linking climate change to the floods in Britain last year, Miliband writes of a potential deal at the talks: “I do not want to see Britain or any country having to adopt crisis measures to halt the slide into global catastrophe because we missed this critical opportunity now. A strong coalition for a weak deal will fail us all.”

Business rates

The Telegraph reports on a request by business leaders to get Chancellor George Osborne to reduce their rates.

A collection of Britain’s biggest business groups have written to George Osborne amid increasing fears that a promised review of business rates might be kicked into the long grass.

The business groups have warned the Chancellor that there must be a thorough review of business rates to “retain the confidence of business”.

Mr Osborne announced in the Autumn Statement last year that the Treasury would review business rates – which are worth more than £25bn a year to the Exchequer.

However, since then there has been no update on the review and its scope, despite Mr Osborne pledging to deliver its conclusions by the Budget in 2016.

It is understood that business leaders are pushing for the review to be led by a senior independent figure who will recommend changes, rather than run as a consultation, which could lead to the Treasury being overwhelmed with a diverse set of views from different industries.

The letter to Mr Osborne, which comes less than a month before March’s Budget, was signed by the British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Retail Consortium, the British Property Federation, and the Association of Convenience Stores.

Pension raid

The Express reports that if Labour wins the May General Election, it plans a tax raid on pensions to pay for a cut in university fees.

Party leader Ed Miliband is expected to announce next week his plans to slash tuition fees in England from £9,000 to £6,000 a year if Labour gains power at the next General Election.

However, senior Labour figures are said to be at loggerheads over how to fund the £2billion scheme.

It emerged last night that the Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is considering cutting some of the tax breaks handed to those saving for a pension to provide cash for the tuition cuts, according to The Times.

Pension tax breaks have already been cut in the past by Chancellor George Osborne to raise money for the exchequer.

More cash could be saved by lowering the £40,000 savers can put aside for their pensions each year tax-free or by cutting the £1.25million lifetime limit on the amount of pension savings that are spared tax, the Times reported.

Another cash-saving strategy could include changing the rules that allow savers to take 25 per cent of their pension pots tax-free – which could potentially save £2billion.

Greece

The Guardian reports on the deal between Greece and the Eurozone.

With a deal, of sorts, to keep Greece in the eurozone, prime minister Alexis Tsipras marked his first month in office this weekend acknowledging that only now does the hard work begin.

Facing a 48-hour deadline to produce a list of reforms that could make or break his insolvent country’s future, the anti-austerity leader admitted the honeymoon was over for a government that had sent ripples of hope through Europe.

In a sombre address, hours after a dramatic meeting of euro group finance ministers in Brussels, Tsipras said that, while Athens under the stewardship of his radical left Syriza party had for the first time embarked on “real negotiations” with its creditors, a “long and difficult ” struggle lay ahead.

“We have won the battle but not the war,” he said. “We showed that Europe can be an arena of negotiation and mutually acceptable compromise and not an arena for exhaustion, submission and blind punishment … but negotiations did not end yesterday.”

But Sky News claims the agreement is just an ‘old deal in new clothing’.

The clue came right at the start of Yanis Varoufakis’ press conference.

Up until last night’s bailout extension deal, the Greek finance minister spent most of his international media appearances addressing an international audience – speaking fluent, verbose English, taking questions from outlets from around the world.

Last night, in the small Greek briefing room in the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels, he was talking to someone else entirely.

His eyes fixed down the barrel of the cameras, for a quarter of an hour he spoke only in Greek.

“We are now co-authors of our own destiny,” he said.

“Negotiation means compromise. But this deal is a small step in the right direction.

“We are no longer following a script given to us by external agencies,” he added.

Unusually for him, though, he was reading his speech rather than talking off the cuff.

It did not take a political genius to work out what was going on.

Old ad?

The Independent claims the Conservatives have recycled a 10-year-old advertisement to attack Labour leader Ed Miliband.

The Tories have recycled a ten year-old political ‘attack ad’ from Australia to lampoon Ed Miliband in the run-up to the election.

Tory Central Office last month released this ad on its YouTube channel and promoted it through social media and the party’s website.

But eagle eyed politicos quickly realised that something was amiss. Because the video appears to be a complete rip-off of a political attack ad released by the Liberal Party in the 2004 Australian Elections. It is even set to the same jaunty Second World War Gracie Fields song ‘wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’.

Some might say that the creator of the original ad could well have a case for plagiarism against the Tories. But somehow that seems unlikely.

That’s because the Tory campaign is being run by a man called Lynton Crosby. And what was Lynton Crosby doing in 2004? He was helping to run the Australian Liberal Party’s election campaign.

It does however suggest that Mr Crosby may be a little short of ideas on how to help the Tories win this time though.

Beer duty

The Mirror claims the Chancellor has been warned that more pubs will close if he doesn’t slash duty on beer.

Pubs are desperate for a cut in beer duty to ensure survival, a major report warns.

With 29 pubs lost each week, landlords fear a tax hike in next month’s Budget would see more in crisis.

Research shows a pint would now cost 16p more at £3.20 if the Chancellor George Osborne had not scrapped automatic rises two years ago – as well as taking 2p off a pint since 2013.

The Campaign for Real Ale, which ­commissioned the report, says a third cut is vital.

Boss Tim Page said: “Without these measures fewer people would be able to afford a regular pint in their local, and yet more pubs would have closed.

“Reductions in tax have helped keep pubs open and created jobs. We are calling for a third cut so pub-going remains affordable.”

Television licence

The Express claims an exclusive story that the BBC has been told to cut waste or it might lose its licence fee.

THE BBC must account for every penny it spends or face losing the licence fee, MPs helping to determine its future have warned.

Concern over waste at the corporation follows the revelation that it forks out more than £31,000 a day on taxis alone.

Tory MP Conor Burns, a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which is set to publish its long-awaited report on the future of the BBC this week, claims the corporation has “failed in its duty to ensure the licence fee is well spent”.

He has written to Culture Secretary Sajid Javid demanding that the BBC “shows its commitment to greater transparency and value for money”.

The report, to be published on Thursday, will make recommendations on the future of the BBC Charter.

Mr Burns says he believes it “will start a debate about what we expect from public service broadcasting in the years to come”.

Drone attack on nuclear sites?

The Express highlights a potential problem that terrorist groups could attack nuclear sites with unmanned drones.

BRITAIN’S nuclear plants are at risk from a terrorist strike by unmanned drone aircraft, writes Caroline Wheeler.

Such an attack could kill tens of thousands of people, a Government adviser has warned. But authorities are “burying their heads in the sand,” according to John Large.

His call for an urgent security overhaul comes as fi gures showed nuclear power plants suffered 37 security breaches last year – the highest numberalso been breached a dozen times since 2011, including by at least one drone.

Islamic State terrorists have already recruited chemical weapons specialists and counterterrorism experts say they are intent on building a “dirty bomb”.

Last night Mr Large, a nuclear engineer who has carried out work for Britain’s Atomic Energy Authority, demanded a major exercise to test the resilience of the nation’s power stations against acts of terrorism.

War with Russia

In a comment piece in the Mail, James Forsyth speculates that the fall of Mariupol in the Crimea could result in a war with Russia.

For the next few weeks, Mariupol in Ukraine is the most important city in Europe. If pro-Russian separatists take it, senior British government figures tell me, the United States will start to arm the Ukrainian government directly. This will lead to a major escalation in the conflict and prompt the most serious showdown between Washington and Moscow since the end of the Cold War. A proxy war between the US and Russia will be raging on Europe’s Eastern border.

At the top of the British Government, there is mounting alarm this escalation seems more likely than not. They believe Vladimir Putin has no interest in a resolution of the conflict that isn’t on his terms. One senior figure tells me: ‘Putin will do what it takes to stop Nato and the EU expanding any further east.’ And one British source familiar with the US position says Barack Obama is under ‘enormous pressure’ from Congress to act, and if Mariupol does fall, his hand will be forced.

A diplomatic source laments that ‘the Europeans are being naive about Russia’ when they try to broker a ceasefire. Indeed, the Minsk II agreement that Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel helped negotiate earlier this month, and which was breached almost immediately, didn’t even require the border between Russia and Ukraine to be closed. This meant the Kremlin could continue supplying military hardware to its separatist allies.

It is uncertain whether even the US sending weapons to Ukraine would be enough to make Putin pull back. One experienced foreign policy hand says his control of the Russian media means that he is less casualty-averse than Western leaders, so ‘you cannot bleed Putin to change his views’.

What is clear, though, is that the British Government is becoming increasingly concerned about the Russian president’s actions and where he will stop. One source tells me: ‘He’s not intending to honour any set of civilised values or agreements.’

‘Ed Balls the bungler’

The Sunday Times claims the shadow cabinet has labour leader Ed Miliband to dump  shadow chancellor Ed Balls.

ED MILIBAND has been urged to demote Ed Balls after the general election, amid simmering tensions in the Labour leadership over how to pay for a cut in university tuition fees.

A shadow cabinet member said if Miliband becomes prime minister he should move the shadow chancellor and accused Balls of behaving with “contempt” towards colleagues and “undermining the leader’s agenda”.

Frontbenchers attacked Balls last night for committing Labour’s two worst gaffes of the election campaign so far.

They said his reputation as a “safe pair of hands” had been shattered when he failed to name a single Labour business backer and told voters they should get a receipt for work done cash in hand, both of which attracted ridicule.

Care costs

The Express claims pensioners could be forced to go into residential homes as care in their own home soars following the Care Act.

PENSIONERS could be forced into care homes because soaring costs are making support in their own houses unaffordable, a healthcare specialist warns.

The Care Act, which comes into force in April, will set out standards by which local authorities will have to abide.

But experts say this could quadruple the cost of home care, forcing councils to take the cheaper option of putting the vulnerable into residential homes.

Jon Chapman, director of specialist care consultants Pinders, said it would simply no longer be practical to provide high quality home care for a rapidly expanding elderly population.

Home care in many councils has been reduced to “flying visits” of as little as five minutes, which have been criticised as “hopelessly inadequate” by charities.

The Care Act is likely to say that local authorities can limit home care to high-level or “substantial” needs only.

However, this will take more time and cost more money, says Mr Chapman who has advised the Government, care regulators and local authorities on healthcare issues. This will mean that for many individuals it will be cheaper to put them into care homes, he said.

He told delegates at a Nursing Homes and Third Age Housing Conference: “Home care has only been affordable because it is inadequate.”

Despite the closure of 1,500 care homes, bed capacity has increased thanks to growth in the private sector. However, these homes – which offer spacious modern en-suite facilities and such added extras as cafes, cinemas, computer rooms and special dementia gardens – charge up to £1,000 a week.

Meet the UKIPpers on BBC Night

We have received a note of caution from Head Office on this programme:

Re: tonight’s documentary ‘Meet the Ukippers’ on BBC2 at 10pm

They are doing this because they are worried about the success and growth of UKIP.

We would strongly advise you not to take to social media to voice your concerns about it as it will only give more prominence to something that does not deserve the attention. 

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