TV debates

The row between the main parties rumbles on.  Sky News reports that Labour leader Miliband wants to ensure election debates do not fall victim to political wrangling.

Ed Miliband has said a future Labour government would take legal steps to ensure televised leaders’ debates become permanent features in general election campaigns, after he accused David Cameron of “chickening out” of two showdowns.

Mr Miliband wants to put “fair and impartial leaders’ debates” on a statutory footing in an effort to avoid them becoming subject to political wrangling.

He told The Observer: “It is time to ensure, once and for all, that these debates belong to the people, not the prime minister of the day.”

In a speech to the Scottish Labour conference on Saturday, Mr Miliband said the Prime Minister was “running scared” after only agreeing to appear in one of three lives debates in April proposed by Sky, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4.

The proposed new system would work on similar lines to the current rules for planning the number, length and timing of party political broadcasts.

Breitbart quotes a report in the Independent that Prime Minister Cameron has been accused by Miliband of “running scared” as the stand-off over the election debate between broadcasters and Number 10 continues.

The Prime Minister has rejected the idea of a head-to-head debate with the Labour leader, and says he will only take part in on debate with six other party chiefs, the Independent reports.

The spat, which has been played out in the media as Mr. Cameron’s Director of Communications published correspondence from Downing Street to the organisers for each different channel, is the latest in a series of twists and turns the Tories have been making since the talks first started.

Speaking at the Labour Party spring conference, Mr. Miliband told delegates: “This is what David Cameron used to say about TV election debates: That they were essential to our democracy. That every country apart from Mongolia had them. That he wasn’t going to have any feeble excuses to get out of debates.  And now he is doing everything he can to stop them.

“And it is on the issue of leadership debates that David Cameron’s duplicity has caught up with him. He says this election is all about leadership, all about the choice between him and me, and when it comes to a debate between him and me, he’s running scared. He’s running away.”

And in an embarrassing move for Mr. Cameron, Mr. Miliband revealed he had written to broadcasters to say, “with or without David Cameron, I will be at the debates. And every day up to these debates he will be asked: what are you hiding from? When all people will see is an empty chair, his claims of leadership will be exposed as empty.”

But the Independent claims the Prime Minister may be given a slot by himself if he continues to refuse the offers already made.

The BBC will stop short of “empty chairing” David Cameron, even if he refuses to take part in any television debates, and is considering giving him his own election programme to meet strict rules on impartiality during election campaigns, The Independent on Sunday understands.

Sources say there will be “no tub of lard moment” for Mr Cameron – in reference to the time Roy Hattersley failed to turn up for an appearance on Have I Got News for You and replaced by the embarrassing prop – meaning there will be no empty rostrum on the platform if the debates go ahead without the premier. Despite the broadcasters’ robust intention to push ahead with the programmes in Mr Cameron’s absence, the BBC appears to be fighting shy of humiliating the Prime Minister.

The row over the leaders’ debates continued to rage yesterday when Ed Miliband formally accepted invitations to appear in all three of the live screen debates – an ITV programme on 2 April featuring seven party leaders (or six without Mr Cameron), the same format on 16 April hosted by the BBC, and a head-to-head debate on 30 April, exactly one week before the election, broadcast simultaneously by Channel 4 and Sky News. This final clash is the subject of the most controversy, because it is supposed to feature Mr Miliband and Mr Cameron. Yet last week, the Prime Minister, in his “final offer” to broadcasters, refused to take part in any of the programmes during the month-long campaign, and insisted that he will join only a seven-way format in the last week of March.

Immigration

Breitbart also reports an EU official saying that up to a million migrants could leave Libya and head for Europe this year.

Fabrice Leggeri, chief of Frontex, the EU’s border security agency headquartered in Warsaw, Poland, told the Italian news agency ANSA Friday, “We have to be ready to address a more difficult situation than last year. According to the sources, we have been told there are from 500,000 to a million migrants ready to leave from Libya.”

Italy, 130 miles across the Mediterranean Sea, would be their logical embarkation point. The Italian Navy’s “Mare Nostrum” search-and-rescue operation was replaced last year by the Frontex “Triton” program, which operates with less funding than the Italian mission, leading some in Europe, notably in Italy, to worry that a possible Islamic State takeover in Libya will lead to increased immigration.

Seven different rescue operations were conducted Wednesday off the Italian island of Sicily, as nearly, 1,000 migrants arrived at various ports. Italian coast guard officials said 941 migrants, including 30 children, arrived safely and 10 died during their voyage. Two Coast Guard vessels, and one Navy ship working in the Triton program were involved in the rescues.

And the Telegraph reports the numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians registered for work here last year rose by 576 percent.

Seven times as many migrants from the poorest countries in Europe registered to work in Britain after immigration rules were relaxed last year.

Official figures showed 187,370 Romanians and Bulgarians were given National Insurance numbers over the course of 2014, up from 27,700 during the previous year.

This represented a 576 per cent increase in the numbers of migrants from the two most deprived countries in the European Union who registered to work or receive state benefits in the space of just 12 months.

Romanians and Bulgarians now make up a quarter of all new NI numbers allocated to foreigners, the Department for Work and Pensions said.

Experts said the figures suggested that many of these immigrants had been in Britain for months or even years, working illegally “in the shadows”.

Jobs that pay “cash-in-hand”, such as construction or cleaning, will have enabled them to support themselves while not paying full taxes, it was claimed.

The figures prompted warnings that the sudden increase in the number of eastern Europeans registering for work could make it harder for British people to find jobs.

A National Insurance number is a legal requirement for anyone wanting to work as an employee, or to claim state benefits and tax credits.

The dramatic rise followed the lifting of restrictions on the kinds of work Romanians and Bulgarians could do in the UK, a controversial change which took effect on January 1, 2014.

Paedophlia cover up

Sky News claims that letters about Cyril Smith’s knighthood show the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher knew about the sex abuse allegation against him but covered them up.

The Cabinet Office has denied trying to cover up information about Downing Street’s knowledge of Sir Cyril Smith’s abuse of young boys before he was knighted.

Documents show Margaret Thatcher was made aware of the claims about the Liberal MP before he was handed the honour in 1988.

The 19-page dossier of information on the decision to give Smith the knighthood contains several letters, including an undated one from a Political Honours Scrutiny Committee member to the then prime minister.

In the letter, marked secret, Lord Shackleton said police investigated Smith in 1970 for “indecent assault against teenage boys” between 1961 and 1966.

But, the letter noted, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) decided “there was no reasonable prospect of conviction”.

The letter to Mrs Thatcher said the case was reported in the Rochdale Alternative Press and Private Eye, adding: “One may regret this kind of press reporting but it could be revived if an award to Mr Smith were made.”

The Mail has a similar story.

Downing Street cynically tried to prevent the release of damaging files exposing the scale of the cover-up over paedophile MP Cyril Smith.

The Cabinet Office repeatedly blocked The Mail on Sunday’s attempts to see the bombshell documents – and caved in only after being threatened with High Court action.

After the shocking year-long fight, we can reveal the content of the papers, which expose just how much the Establishment knew about the late politician’s sexual and physical abuse of young boys.

Nick Clegg and David Cameron, both Ministers in the Cabinet Office, have been accused of ‘colluding’ in the latest cover-up of evidence that could expose VIP paedophile rings.

The secrecy row will also focus attention on Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, who has become known as ‘Sir Cover-Up’ after blocking the release of dozens of messages exchanged by Tony Blair and George W Bush ahead of the Iraq war.

And the Mirror claims Leon Brittan’s homes have been raided over the allegations, just six weeks after the Tory grandee died.

Detectives swooped on the former Home Secretary’s properties in London and North Yorkshire, the Sunday Mirror and news investigators Exaro can reveal

And in a dramatic development officers from Operation Midland – set up to ­investigate historic claims of child abuse by a group of powerful men – also searched the home of 91-year-old D-Day veteran Lord Bramall, once Britain’s highest-ranking Army officer.

The four raids were carried out at dawn on Wednesday at the same time officers swooped on the home of former Tory MP Harvey Proctor , 68.

Sources say the they were signed off by a “senior figure” in the Operation Midland team.

No arrests were made and there is no indication either Mr Proctor or Baron Bramall will have to give formal statements.

It is unclear why Lord Bramall is of interest to the officers or why his home is connected to the inquiry.

Police have refused to elaborate on the reason behind the search of his property.

Tax bonanza

The Times reports that Chancellor George Osborne will crackdown on internet giants to offer a tax sweetener to 27million voters in the forthcoming budget.

GEORGE OSBORNE will use his budget to offer an income tax giveaway for 27m voters and a “Google tax” crackdown against multinationals that avoid tax in Britain.

The Tories and Liberal Democrats are finalising a deal that would raise the level at which people start paying income tax “towards £11,000” a year from April, in a bid to win over workers on modest incomes.

The move, a centrepiece of the budget on March 18, is designed to put between £160 and £200 in voters’ pockets ahead of the general election, boosting the chances of both coalition parties as the formal campaign kicks off.

The income tax personal allowance is currently supposed to rise from £10,000 to £10,600 in April. But the chancellor is in negotiations to raise this figure by at least £200 taking hundreds of thousands more workers out of tax altogether.

The final figure will be decided later.

General election

The Guardian claims UKIP is on track for a huge breakthrough, showing the party is the main opposition in the country.

Ukip is on course to come second in at least 100 seats at the general election as it displaces the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems as the main opposition across large parts of the country, according to new analysis of the party’s electoral prospects on 7 May.

The extraordinary potential haul of Ukip “silver medals” – in an addition to a likely tally of half-a-dozen or so seats at Westminster – would represent a massive breakthrough for Nigel Farage’s anti-EU party, which failed to achieve even a single second place in 2010.

The analysis, conducted by Robert Ford at the University of Manchester for theObserver, suggests that the biggest threat to the established parties from Ukip will come in future local and national elections after May, once it has put down local roots and established itself in the minds of voters as a real alternative to the incumbent party.

It also means that the future of the UK in the EU – normally not a top issue on the doorsteps – will become far more central to election debates, as Ukip candidates press the case for the country to quit the EU and apply pressure for an in/out referendum.

Examining Ukip’s strength, as well as byelections in this parliament, Ford concludes that Farage’s party will pile up “silver medals” across industrial and urban regions in the north, as well in parts of the Midlands, the south east and East Anglia and the south west.

The party is polling at between 10% and 15% in most polls. In today’s Opinium/Observer poll it is on 14%.

Female candidates

The Mirror reports that attempts by the Conservative and LibDem leaders to find more women candidates have been a failure.

Three in four of David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s election candidates are men, new figures reveal.

The findings are a blow to Tory and Lib Dem efforts to boost their number of women at Westminster.

If Labour wins on May 7, 43 per cent of the party’s MPs are likely to be women, says the study for International Women’s Day.

Shadow Minister for Women Gloria de Piero said: “Only the Labour Party is taking action to change our politics with women in more than half our target seats.”

If Ed Miliband wins the May 7 general election, an estimated 43% of Labour’s MPs are likely to be women.

House of Commons security breach

The media have reported on a man seen on the roof of the House of Commons.  The Mail says:

Westminster is at the centre of a security alert tonight after a man climbed on to the roof of the House of Commons.

Emergency crews descended on the Palace of Westminster at about 9.15pm on Saturday after the man was seen walking between the buttresses of the historic building.

Specialist negotiators were dispatched to the scene last night while fire fighters and medics are also on standby.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman confirmed Met officers and the London Fire Brigade were on the scene to deal with the incident. There have been no arrests so far.

She added: ‘At 9.15pm officers were made aware of a man trespassing on the roof at the Palace of Westminster. London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service are in attendance.’

And the Telegraph has a similar story

A man has made his way onto the roof of the House of Commons and is refusing to surrender to authorities, police have said.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police are on the scene.

A police spokesman said: “There is indeed a man on the roof. At approximately 9.15pm officers were made aware of a man on the roof of the Palace of Westminster. Officers are on the scene and dealing with the situation. He’s still up there.”

The London Fire Brigade are also in attendance, added the spokesman.

No arrests have so far been made. The man has been described by witnesses as young in appearance.

But in a later story, Sky News claims a man came down from the roof and was arrested.

A man has been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage after a trespass incident at the Houses of Parliament.

Police were made aware of a man on the roof of the building at 9.15pm on Saturday.

Police negotiators were called to the scene and London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service also attended.

Just after 5am, however, the man came down and was arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and trespassing.

The 23-year-old was taken to a police station in central London pending further police enquiries.

Extremism

The Telegraph reports ministers are planning a raft of new measures to help stem the tide of Islamic extremism and radicalisation

The Government is planning a series of tough new measures to combat the growing threat from Islamist extremists.

A leaked draft of the Home Office’s new counter-extremism strategy, seen by The Telegraph, targets Sharia courts and calls for a ban on radicals working unsupervised with children over fears the young could be brainwashed.

Other measures include a requirement that staff at job centres identify vulnerable claimants who may become targets for radicalisation, after public outrage at people who hate Britain being able to live off the state.

There will also be an introduction of penalties in the benefits system to make people learn English to improve their integration into British society.

Foreign criminals

The Mail reveals that almost 5,000 convicted foreign criminals are still living here despite government attempts to deport them.

The number of foreign criminals on Britain’s streets has risen by almost 20 per cent, despite repeated Government attempts to kick more of them out.

Official figures show there are now close to 5,000 immigrants at large after being released from jail, a record high.

Dozens are continuing to avoid deportation by claiming they have the human right to a family life in Britain. Recent cases uncovered by The Mail on Sunday include:

– A drunken Lithuanian thug who dragged his ex-girlfriend by her hair and beat her up, and who is now barred from seeing her – but who has been allowed to remain in the country because they have a child;

– A Sri Lankan illegal immigrant who has a string of convictions to his name, including indecent assault, theft and driving offences, who has avoided deportation despite a judge admitting it was a ‘somewhat generous’ decision;

– A Tanzanian fraudster who won his appeal against being sent back to his home country because he does the school run for his children and takes them to their piano lessons

The rise comes despite a series of crackdowns by Home Secretary Theresa May, who has ordered judges to take less notice of human rights sob stories and introduced a ‘deport now, appeal later’ rule.

The figures will be another setback to the Home Secretary after the high-profile failure of her flagship pledge to reduce net migration – the growth of the UK population – to the ‘tens of thousands’.

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