I wrote a piece today on Labour’s attempts to exploit the Tories’ failure to connect with women voters. The piece highlights the coalition’s failure to help low-paid women cope with childcare as a major issue for the working mother. But during my research, another issue was brought up by Tory women: David Cameron’s marriage tax allowance.

It may be the Tory leader’s totemic ‘family’ policy but it is exactly the sort of scheme that chimes well with his old-style grassroots but does little to endear the party to the plight of the working couples.

Under the scheme as it was outlined before the election, a married couple only benefits if one person stays at home since the policy is based on one member of the couple being able to transfer £750 of their tax-free personal allowance to their partner to reduce the ‘family tax bill’. Eligible couples where the main earner has an annual income of between £7,300 and £42,000 will be £150 better off. Read more

Nestled amongst the yellow revellers at CentreForum’s Lib Dem bash late last night was none other than Greg Clark, the Tory localism and cities minister.

Mr Clark, enjoying a glass of red wine and chatting to adoring Lib Dems, had come up to conference to fly the flag of coalition – and take part in a CentreForum debate with Ed Davey, Lib Dem employment minister on ‘Next steps for localism’.

It was not entirely alien territory for the cities minister: Greg Clark used to be a member of the SDP – he went to the last SDP party conference 23 years ago. Read more

MPs are currently debating whether charities who carry out abortions should also be allowed to offer patients counseling over whether to proceed with a termination.

Tory MP Nadine Dorries, together with Labour backbencher Frank Field, have tabled an amendment to the health bill saying that the likes of Marie Stopes should not be allowed to give advice on the basis that, as providers of abortions, they cannot be neutral.

It is a charge that has infuriated the pro-choice lobby, which is furious that womens’ health charities such as Marie Stopes have been tarnished as abortion peddlars – particularly since a significant proportion of women who do go for counselling in their clinics do not in the end have an abortion. Read more

Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg in July 2011

Conference season is nearly upon us and Nick Clegg is flexing his liberal muscles as he limbers up to engage with party activists. Writing in the Guardian, the Liberal Democrat leader issues a strident defence of human rights laws in the face of growing clamour from David Cameron’s lot to water down legislation that emanates from Europe. Incorporation of the European convention on human rights into British law is a “hugely positive step”. Many Tory backbenchers would be inclined to disagree.

It is all part of Clegg’s attempt to carve out more of a Lib Dem voice within the heart of government following his painful drubbing at the polls in May. And the evidence suggests that such broadsides are beginning to pay off: this month he enjoyed an uptick in approval ratings among the party, after hitting all-time lows at the beginning of the year. Read more

It may be the dead of August, but the worst riots London has seen in over two decades has awoken MPs from their summer lethargy as they prepare to descend on Westminister tomorrow for an emergency debate. Taking a lead from David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, some are even cutting short their holidays to come back.

And one airline is taking its civic duty in this respect very seriously: step forward EasyJet. It may not be known for its customer service — my recent trip to Barcelona via Luton airport was pretty dreadful — but the airline has taken on this particular task with gusto, setting up a helpline dedicated to flying MPs home. The airline tells my colleague Mark Odell that it decided to set up the service after three MPs contacted the company on Tuesday within an hour of Cameron’s historic parliamentary recall — his second in two months. It says so far 60-70 MPs have got in touch.

Sitting through a stream of repetitive questions put to the prime minister on Wednesday, ears pricked when Steve Barclay, new intake high flyer and member of the powerful public accounts committee, asked David Cameron whether the rot spread beyond dodgy coppers (my way of putting it, not his) to other public services. He asked:

Will [the police investigation] consider others who provide stories, such as paramedics, accident and emergency doctors and prison governors and who might also be subject to corruption?

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This Friday was meant to draw to a close Rupert Murdoch’s dogged pursuit of British Sky Broadcasting. The final consultation over, everyone expected the broadcaster to finally fall into the hands of News Corp – on the condition that the media mogul spins off the Sky News service as a separate company.

The phone hacking scandal has thrown News Corp’s pursuit of BSkyB back into the lion pit. Ed Miliband demanded today that the government refer the bid to the Competition Commission to a chorus of approval from MPs in the Commons. Read more

Sajid Javid is putting forward a 10-minute rule bill next month proposing that the government legally caps the UK’s national debt.

Javid, who climbed the ranks at Deutsche Bank before joining in the Tory 2010 intake last May, wants the coalition to set net government borrowing at a certain percentage of GDP. Read more

Lord Strathclyde may be the one who has been charged by David Cameron to deliver House of Lords reform, but the peer is under no illusion about the scale of the task as he grapples with resistance from peers across the political spectrum in the House.

The Tory leader in the Lords, in an interview with the FT published tomorrow (Saturday), reassures his Lib Dem colleagues that he backs an elected house. But his mood music will give reformers little cause for celebration. The junior coalition members may have hoped for a spirited backing for reforms from Lord Strathclyde, instead the peer painted a more nuanced picture — proffering up a number of pitfalls that threaten to derail the project. Read more

FT Westminster has obtained a letter from the CBI lambasting George Osborne for springing an unexpected tax hike on North Sea oil and gas producers in the March Budget. John Cridland, director general of the CBI, sent the letter a month or so ago to little avail. But the repercussions of Osborne’s decision are now beginning to play out: Centrica announced on Wednesday that it was downing tools in one of Britain’s biggest gas fields in response to tax hikes. Industry is adamant that the tax hikes will deter investment and I expect their voice will only get louder given that Roger Carr, the chairman of Centrica, has been newly installed in the CBI’s presidential chair.

An extract from the letter by John Cridland, CBI Director-General to the Chancellor of the Exchequer:

“The surprise nature of the tax increase has created fiscal uncertainty not only in the oil and gas sector, but across the energy infrastructure

 Read more

We have heard a lot on Nick Clegg’s “muscular liberalism” in recent weeks as the Lib Dem leader endeavours to show a bit of fight following his party’s local election drubbing. Now the fall-out of the Tories’ triumph on May 6 is also beginning to be felt. Read more

Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise is loved by middle England because he provides them with nice clothes from his chainstore Next and is also a fierce opponent of the High Speed 2 rail project. The £17bn route, which will cut through the picturesque Chilterns as it makes it way from London to Birmingham, is hated by the home counties who fear it will destroy their countryside. Lord Wolfson, a Tory peer and former economic advisor to the current top team, thinks it is a waste of money.

But the  respected businessman’s vocal opposition has been a thorn in the side of Philip Hammond already struggling to shore up support for the project among recalcitrant Tories. So imagine the transport secretary’s delight this morning when he opened a copy of the Times newspaper to find Lord Wolfson arguing the case for building a huge motorway between Cambridge to Oxford to create a British ‘brain belt’ to rival Silicon valley. Read more

Lord Young is in the news again today and back on form, slamming Nick Clegg’s proposals to extend paternity leave before the deputy prime minister is even out of the blocks.

While the small business lobby will be cheering on their champion, I find myself more fascinated by another story that came out of our interview with the peer (published in today’s FT). It is the fact that Lord Young’s youngest daughter Judith is expecting her first child in a couple of weeks — at the age of 51.

David Cameron’s former business adviser, who has five grandchildren by his elder daughter Karen, is clearly delighted by this minor miracle. And so too I expect is Judith. Read more