Lloyds Banking Group could be forced to sell hundreds of extra branches under initial recommendations put forward by the UK’s Independent Commission on Banking as part of its efforts to make banks safer and inject more competition into the retail market. Read more

News International, the publisher of the News of the World, has admitted liability in eight cases relating to the phone hacking scandal and offered an “unreserved apology”. Read more

Chancellor’s red boxThe FT’s Westminster blog is running live commentary on the Budget. Join us here from 12.30pm, London time. This post will update every few minutes, although it will take longer on mobile devices.  Read more

The Westminster blog is briefly interrupting its holiday break so readers can listen to the Vince Cable audio clip, courtesy of the BBC website.

Read our story: Cable says he ‘declared war’ on Murdoch  Read more

JP = Jim Pickard  KS = Kiran Stacey GP = George Parker

11.53 KS – There’s still a little more mileage yet to come from the book, so we’ll continue live-blogging until lunchtime. But we’ll be moving onto a new post now, so please stay with us.

11.40 JP – Blair reveals details of the “arctic meeting” with Brown over pensions reform, which ended up with his chancellor allegedly resorting to political threats to try to get his way.

Brown opposed Adair Turner’s proposals for pension reforms; Blair supported them. So Brown made a proposal: if Blair abandoned his support for the pension reforms, Brown would agree not to call for an Labour party inquiry into the “cash for honours” affair which threatened to overwhelm the Blair premiership.

“The temperature, already well below freezing point, went arctic,” Blair recalls, adding that some things said at this “ugly” meeting are better not put into print.

In the event, Blair decided to push ahead with the reforms and two hours later Jack Dromey, Labour’s treasurer, put out a statement calling for an inquiry. “I don’t know for a fact that Gordon put Jack up to it,” says Blair. But it’s clear where his suspicions lie.

11.30 JP – Sometimes working in Westminster it is extremely hard to work out where a rumour has come from, whether it is genuine and so on. The same seems to be true even for those at the top.

Blair recalls the “bizarre” time that Andrew Smith resigned as work and pensions secretary in 2004 to escape being sacked. Except Blair had no plan to fire him. “So wound up was he that he obviously didn’t believe it and said, no, he really preferred to go rather than suffer the indignity of being sacked.” Read more

Check out these video interviews with FT experts on key areas of the Budget. Read more

Treasury chief David Laws ‘should stand aside’ – The Telegraph
David Laws: I hope he Survives – Iain Dale
David Laws’ full statement via the BBC
Julian Glover: I fear he won’t survive – The Guardian
Andrew Grice: Suddenly the coalition’s star is not in control of his destiny – The Independent
David Laws on ’the most difficult day of my life’ – The Times

From the FT’s Brussels blog:

As you’d expect, European Union leaders were quick to congratulate David Cameron on his appointment as British prime minister.  But for all the warm words, they will be watching his first moves on the European stage like hawks. Read more

From Alex and Jim, our eyes and ears in Westminster.

Alex says:

Just emerging from Lib Dem world. There are many interpretations of Clegg’s remarks. But, as Robert has written, it’s safe to say that he’s telling Gordon Brown to pack his bags.

There is some wriggle room in the statement on electoral reform. But Labour should not hold their breath. Most Clegg allies realise that the electoral maths make a deal with Labour — at least within the next six months or so – virtually impossible. Cameron will be given the first crack at governing — it is just a matter of sorting out the details.

How close will co-operation be? Will it be anything more than support on a bill by bill, issue by issue basis? What needs to be done to calm the markets … etc

Clegg’s hand on pushing for electoral reform is significantly weakened by his poor election showing. So while they won’t rule out a deal with Labour, it will mainly be to strengthen their position with the Tories. An AV referendum is probably out of the question. But the Tories could offer up some other concessions: cutting the number of (Labour) MPs, recall elections, and even fixed term parliaments. Read more

From the FT:
Clegg gives Cameron shot at premiership
Cameron ponders a hesitant vote for change – Philip Stephens
UK set to become part of Europe’s coalition landscape
Has anyone heard what the people said? - Matthew Engel
Deficit to dominate new team’s agenda - Chris Giles
Hung parliament casts shadow over markets

FT Videos:
Impact of hung parliament – Chris Giles, economics editor
Cameron as PM likely outcome – Robert Shrimsley, Armchair election writer
UK market turns to US after indecisive poll – David Oakley
Result scares markets – Michael Saunders, senior economist at Citi
Gilts vulnerable - Mark Schofiled, global head of interest rate strategy at Citi Read more

From an email doing the rounds in the City of London on Thursday morning:

Westminster will never be the same again – Philip Stephens
Don’t let Downing Street call the shots, ma’am – Eamonn Butler for the FT
Battles on the path to power – The FT
The Final Projection: Tories 19 seats short of a majority – Politics Home
Could the Conservatives steal this election? – Martin Kettle for the Guardian
Big increase in postal voting could mean delayed result – The Guardian
Treasury starts work on £6 billion Conservative cutbacks – The Times
Unsure how to vote? My contortions may help - David Aaronovitch for the Times
A reminder of the price we pay for political freedom – Benedict Brogan for the Telegraph
As Britain goes to polls, economic clouds hover – New York Times

Follow every twist and turn on our live election special, running through the night and into Friday. The Westminster Blog team will track key marginal results and the latest news from FT correspondents at election counts around the country as the nation heads to the polls.