Britain’s defence industry has no better friend than David Cameron, at least when it comes to exports.

Given the dramatic turn of events in the Middle East, the prime minister has certainly not opted for the path of least resistance.

We’re still at the beginning of this trip (as I write this I’m sitting in the Kuwaiti parliament). But it is already absolutely clear that he really does believe in commercial diplomacy – and that means promoting defence sales, come rain or shine. Read more

David Cameron actually made three policy concessions this week. At this rate, he may as well install a revolving door at No 10. It’s another Lib Dem victory of sorts, but they’re not really crowing about it.

Buried in the documentation for the Universal Credit is a softening of the plan to cut payments for disabled people in care homes. Read more

This is definitely the most curious policy included in the Universal Credit reforms. Why does IDS want to meddle with the mighty army of stay-at-home mums?

Under his plan, if mothers with working partners want to claim Universal Credit, they will face the same jobseeking regime applying to single-mothers. With a few important caveats, they’ll effectively be regarded as someone claiming Jobseekers Allowance.

This is a big change. It will mean that these mums (or stay-at-home fathers) will in future have to turn up at the Jobcentre to explain how they’re planning to return to work.

Once their children are aged seven, if they don’t turn up for their “work focussed interview”, they could even have their benefit docked.

For, say, the proud wife of a postman who stays at home because it makes economic sense, turning up at the Jobcentre could be quite a unsettling experience.

What is even more peculiar is the fact that IDS will be toughening the rules and threatening sanctions, while at the same time reducing the financial incentive to work.

Around 330,000 second earners will, after these reforms, face a higher marginal deduction rate. That said, these reforms will make it easier to work fewer hours — one of many positive benefits.

But I struggle to see the advantage of extending a conditionality regime on to stay-at-home mothers in working families. This will cost money, use up the scarce time of jobcentre advisors and be unpopular in many households. What is the point? Read more

Iain Duncan Smith declared this morning that “nobody will be worse off” under Universal Credit.

That is quite a claim, particularly given 1.7m households will lose out, at least in terms of their notional entitlement to benefit.

He was referring, of course, to the protection that will be provided so no family loses in cash terms at the point of transition.

This promise is both the midwife to this dramatic reform plan, and one of the most tricky measures to implement. Read more

Here are some of the highlights from the DWP impact assessment:

1) Higher bill: The reforms in total will add £2.6bn to the welfare bill overall. There could be other “dynamic benefits” not included in the model. Read more

A new means test. A savers penalty. A hit in income for 600,000 prudent households. Is this really Tory policy?

Buried in the welfare reform bill, published tomorrow, is a new rule that will achieve just that. You have to wonder whether it will survive in its current form.

Iain Duncan Smith’s ambitious plan to create a new Universal Credit will extend a savings means test — applied to those on out of work benefits — to working families that would currently be eligible for tax credits.

This will mean any working family with savings of more than £16,000 will have no entitlement to universal credit, once the system is in place.

That affects around 400,000 working households, taking in some cases more than £100 a week from their wallets. Read more

David Davis is busy stocking up for Westminster’s underground party of the year.

Here’s the invitation freshly sent out to a select group of likeminded troublemakers: Read more

This is probably not the kind of endorsement Downing Street expected.

Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the French National Front, has saluted David Cameron’s speech rejecting multiculturalismRead more

How transparent is Merlin? George Osborne says it will make London the most transparent financial centre in the world on remuneration.

But that won’t mean the public will be able to gawp at the pay packages of the top earners at Britain’s biggest banks. Watch out for Merlin’s sleight of hand. Read more

Lord Mandelson has never been one to shy away from defending doomed politicians.

But it was still a surprise to see him riding to the support of reformers within the Mubarak regime — not least the president’s son Gamal.

In a fascinating letter to the FT, Mandelson argues that it is too “simplistic” to cast Gamal Mubarak as the “putative beneficiary of a nepotistic transfer of family power, the continuation of ‘tyranny’ with a change of faces at the top”.

He warns that this diverts attention from the hidebound military and intelligence service figures who are really exercising control behind the scenes.

These security forces, he says, have been engaged in a tug of war with Gamal — a man who “has been the leading voice in favour of change within the government and the ruling party”.

An “orderly transition” (did he ever use that phrase about Gordon Brown?) should involve forging an alliance between secular opposition figures and reformers like Gamal in the government, he adds.

The letter is in full below. Well worth a read. I’m not sure how much support it would garner on the streets of Cairo. But it certainly shows that Mandelson still has an appetite for unpopular causes.

 Read more

Now here is a startling statistic uncovered by my colleague Chris Cook.

Free schools will receive almost twice as much state funding for taking a poor pupil rather than a child from a more well-off background. Read more

Military police have been called in to examine allegations of improper conduct during bidding for the £6bn privatisation of the search and rescue helicopter service.

It has brought the deal to the brink of collapse.

We’ve broken the story online because the redoubtable Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News has been chasing the same tale. The main elements are:

– MoD police are investigating the access to information given to bidders and the relationship between a military officer, who has since left the forces, and CHC, a Canadian helicopter operator that is part of the Soteria consortium chosen as preferred bidder.

– Royal Bank of Scotland have pulled out of the Soteria consortium because their concerns over the allegations. It will make it much harder for the deal to be revived, even if the concerns over improper conduct prove to be unfounded.

– Ministers are urgently examining options on how to proceed, including re-tendering the contract and scrapping the private finance initiative model altogether.

This is the deal, remember, that so angered Prince William he raised his concerns with the prime minister.

Read on for more details. Read more

On the day the coalition was formed, Michael Gove entered Downing Street with his consigliere Dominic Cummings. Only one of them left with a job.

It was one of the clearest demonstrations of Andy Coulson’s power. On Coulson’s advice, David Cameron offered Gove the position of education secretary on the condition that he sacked Cummings. Gove did not take it well. Read more

This must be one of the stranger ideas to emerge from Gordon Brown’s Treasury.

Lord Wilson, the former cabinet secretary, has just told the Iraq inquiry of his one-man battle to stop the chancellor from introducing an internal market for intelligence. Read more

Welcome back. The FT’s Westminster team is reporting live on former prime minister Tony Blair’s appearance at the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq warThis post will automatically refresh every three minutes,  although it may take longer on mobile devices.

Read our earlier post here.

1411 Details are emerging from the room. The atmosphere was obviously more fraught than it appeared on telly. The mood changed as soon as Blair started talking tough on Iran. People began to fidget more and sigh. Then when Blair expressed regrets about the loss of life in Iraq, a woman shouted: “Well stop trying to kill them.” Two women stood up and walked out; another audience member turned her back on Blair and faced the wall. As Blair began to leave the room, one audience member shouted “It is too late”, another said “he’ll never look us in the eye”. Then Rose Gentle, who lost her son in Iraq,delivered the final blow. “Your lies killed my son,” she said. “I hope you can live with it.”

1402 That’s it folks. We’re winding up. Chilcot has thanked the audience. A calmer and slightly more contrite performance from Tony Blair, but no less assured than his first appearance before the inquiry. The main difference has been the Chilcot panel’s approach — much more detailed questions, much more forensic and at times incredibly boring. They are clearly close to the end of writing the report and are relatively settled on the conclusions, which will not make pleasant reading for Blair. Read more

A senior Tory predicted to me in opposition that austerity would usher in a new era of decentralisation in government.

New Labour, he said, couldn’t resist micromanaging public services; they had to show results from a spending spree.

By contrast ministers tasked with slashing budgets would be desperate to pass down responsibility for the worst decisions. This is the kind of power politicians are keen to give away.

He was right. The coalition have embraced the agenda of localism with some gusto. Now heartwrenching case of Riven Vincent has come along to test David Cameron’s resolve. Read more

A cloud is hanging over one of the government’s biggest privatisationsRead more

A big announcement is about to be made by the Ministry of Defence.

Bernard Gray — the former Labour adviser and author of a high profile report into defence acquisition — will be taking over as chief of defence materiel. Read more

Jim has reported on the cool response from ministers to Sir Gus O’Donnell’s unsolicited paper on contingency measures if the economy takes a turn for the worse.

But O’Donnell is not the only Whitehall knight taking a hit today from MPs.

Sir Bill Jeffrey, who was until recently Britain’s most senior defence official, has also been ticked off over his handling of the aircraft carrier decision.

The Public Accounts Committee takes the highly unusual step of criticising him by name for failing to request a “letter of instruction” from his minister before signing the “unaffordable” aircraft carrier contract.

They conclude he did not “discharge his responsibility” as accounting officer. In plain language, it means he failed in his duty to protect value for money. Read more

A pearl from Gary Gibbon’s blog:

Deputy Leader Simon Hughes is coming in for particular stick from colleagues. “He’s had more positions than the Kama Sutra on this”, one fellow Lib Dem MP said. “He’s not rubber, he’s putty.”**

Very well put. It’s a reminder that most of the refusniks on the Lib Dem side are far from untainted. They may be sticking to their election campaign pledge, but they are breaking their word to abide by the coalition agreement. As one of the “rebels” told me, “we should have done more earlier, we have blood on our hands too”.

Remember that no MP voted against the coalition agreement and only Charlie Kennedy abstained. The Lib Dem special conference, which included some 2,000 delegates, was almost North Korean in its support. No delegate stood up and questioned whether an abstention was enough to protect Lib Dem honour on tuition fees. And no more than a dozen activists actually voted against the full deal.

These arguments aren’t really washing with the rebel MPs though. The mood on the Lib Dem backbenches is to vote no rather than abstain. As Gibbon notes, they can all do the maths and see that the proposals will almost certainly go through. And who would want to explain to voters the reasons for them sitting on the fence?

One additional problem for Clegg is that the whips have lost some of their best arguments. With all the ministers backing Clegg, they can’t even dangle the prospect of a promotion in front of backbenchers who stay loyal. Read more