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Summary

  1. Personal attacks are focus of David Cameron and Ed Miliband's Prime Minister's Questions clash
  2. Schools in England and Wales are to be given the power to hand top performing teachers a 2% pay rise
  3. Organisers of a digital election debate say they'll hold it on 26 or 27 March to meet the PM's deadline
  4. MPs approve the introduction of standardised packaging for cigarettes in England
  5. David Cameron says suspended Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson is a "huge talent" and he hopes the situation "can be sorted out"
  6. There are 57 days until the general election

Live Reporting

By Tom Moseley and Vanessa Barford

All times stated are UK

Get involved

Recap: Wednesday round-up

Thanks for joining us tonight, we'll be back from 06:00 GMT on Thursday with more rolling coverage.

@BBCNewsnight

tweets: .@LiamFoxMP on the coalition: "What started up as great romance ended up as doing it for the children and sleeping in separate rooms"

Guardian front page

Guardian front page
Guardian front page

Union's teachers' pay reaction

Responding to news of the

teachers' pay settlement, Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT union, says: "The fact that the review body has recommended breaking the Treasury's pay cap, albeit only for some teachers, demonstrates the review body recognises there is a real issue in terms of the adverse impact the coalition government's public sector pay policy is having on teacher supply."

Daily Mirror front page

Daily Mirror front page
Daily Mirror

Financial Times front page

Financial Times front page
Financial Times

Sun front page

Sun front page
Sun front page

The Sun Politics

@SunPolitics

tweets: YouGov/Sun poll tonight - Labour lead by one: CON 34%, LAB 35%, LD 7%, UKIP 14%, GRN 5%

Minority government

BBC Newsnight

Discussing coalitions, former Conservative chief whip Andrew Mitchell says he thinks a minority government would be "the worst of all worlds at the moment". He also doubts predictions that the Lib Dems will be "decimated" on 7 May will turn out to be accurate. For the Lib Dems, Julia Goldsworthy says her party "went into (coalition) with our eyes open - we knew it would be challenging".

Looking back at coalition

BBC Newsnight

Newsnight has been looking back at how the coalition has worked out in practice. Former Lib Dem Energy Secretary Chris Huhne says it would have been better for Nick Clegg to have been made either foreign or home secretary, as well as deputy prime minister. Former cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell says the alternative vote referendum - pitting the two parties against one another - was about the worst thing to happen in terms of coalition stability. You can watch on the live coverage tab above.

Public sector pay

As well as teachers, government sources have told the BBC pay settlements will be announced tomorrow for the following workforces:

  • The armed forces
  • Independent contractor GPs and dentists
  • The prison service
  • Senior military and judiciary

The government said it had accepted pay review bodies' recommendations for these groups, who would receive an average of a 1% increase.

Independent front page

Independent front page
Independent front page

The World Tonight, BBC Radio 4

@BBCWorldTonight

tweets: The Mirror's @Kevin_Maguire "The old party allegiances have been dying for some time...both Conservative and Labour"

Teachers' pay 'down to strong economy'

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan tells the BBC the flexibility to give schools in England and Wales the power to raise teachers' pay by up to 2% from September is possible because of the "strong economy". It has always been the government's policy to recognise the contribution of the best-performing teachers, she says. "This is particularly important for those who have been in the profession for a few years and are very important to the future of their schools."

Times front page

The Times
The Times

Tomorrow's Daily Mail

The Mail's splash for Thursday is looking ahead to next week's Budget:

Daily Mail front page
Daily Mail

Voting system

Chuka Umunna
PA

Shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna tells LBC Radio the first-past-the-post system will "come under pressure more" and should be scrapped in favour of a more proportional system even if that means permanent coalition government. The comments come days after Ed Miliband dismissed the prospect of pursuing electoral reform if he becomes prime minister, saying he would not put his energies into "a big debate about the electoral system". But Mr Umunna said the need to change Britain's voting system to reflect a new era of multi-party politics cannot be ignored. "We have a first-past-the-post voting system that I don't like. I am an electoral reformer... I believe we need to change the way we do politics and that includes changing our voting system," he said.

Catch-up time

Time for the 22:00 news - here's a reminder of today's top political stories:

Teachers' pay

Amid suggestions of a rift in the coalition over the issue, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the settlement was affordable and the government should be "as generous as it can be", where possible, to public sector workers. The Lib Dem leader

told the Daily Mail online that there was "quite a fierce debate" going on in government about the issue. "The recommendation is that for some teachers, it depends where they are on their pay band, they get a 2% increase," Mr Clegg said. "That's being resisted by George Osborne. I just think it's affordable, it wouldn't cost us the earth, it's recommended and we should get on and do it."

World watches Clarkson

Newspapers and media commentators around the world have been reacting to the BBC's decision to suspend Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson over a "fracas" with a producer.

Here's some of the response.

Jeremy Clarkson in Red Square, Moscow
BBC

The debates debate

Here's a bit more from that David Cameron interview on the BBC's Midlands Today. When asked whether the debate should be held before the manifestos come out, Mr Cameron said: "I think everyone knows what people's policies and programmes are. People can see the difference between Labour, Conservative, Liberal, Green and all the rest of it."

BBC Trending

tweets: Jeremy Clarkson petition passes 500,000 signatures bbc.in/1wYbZ54 How does online petition for him compare to others?

'Effective alternative' coalition?

Stephen Crabb
Getty Images

While the main parties are refusing to countenance questions about possible coalitions, we've found one front-bencher actively promoting one. Conservative Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb says a Tory, Plaid Cymru and Liberal Democrat coalition could provide an "effective alternative" - in the Welsh Assembly. Mr Crabb criticised the "monopolistic hold on the levers of government in Wales by the Labour Party". But Welsh Labour said the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Westminster coalition has been "terrible for Wales". Assembly elections take place in 2016.

Scottish welfare call

Scottish government building
AP

The Scottish Government has called on the UK Government to cancel the extension of new Work Programme contracts and to keep its promises on devolving further welfare powers. Social Justice Secretary Alex Neil and Fair Work Secretary Roseanna Cunningham made the calls at a meeting of the joint ministerial working group on welfare. They met Scotland Office Minister David Mundell and Department for Work and Pensions Minister Mark Harper to discuss progress on implementing the welfare elements of the Smith Agreement.

The SNP effect

There has been much talk about the possible impact the SNP will have on the balance of power after the election. The Election2015 site has produced what it calls

the "complete guide" to the various predictions and projections that have been made.

Final debate

House of Lords

Parliament

It's the final debate of the day in the Lords, which is looking at the government's review of the EU's competences - the power to act in particular areas conferred on it by the EU treaties. The review was part of the coalition agreement between the Conservatives and Lib Dems when they formed a government together in 2010.

@steve_hawkes

tweets: Fascinating that Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, was one of the Tory big hitters to vote against plain packs

DUP demands

The Guardian

Could the Democratic Unionist Party play a part in any hung-Parliament negotiations after 7 May? Nigel Dodds, the party's leader at Westminster,

has written an article for the Guardian setting out "very straightforwardly" what he would look for. Spending 2% of GDP on defence is a "bare minimum", he says, and the so-called "bedroom tax" should be "revisited".

Susan Hulme, BBC Parliamentary correspondent

@Susanh12

tweets: "Weak" "despicable" "useless" - all the nice stuff Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband say to each other on #TodayInParliament @BBCRadio4 1130pm

Debates 'rubbished'

Channel 4

Labour's Baroness Bakewell does not agree with Michael Grade on the TV debates stand-off. David Cameron and his adviser Lynton Crosby may have succeeded if their aim was to "rubbish the debates", she says, "but they have lost in the eyes of the public".

'Crosser and crosser'

Channel 4

Former BBC, ITV and Channel 4 boss Lord Grade says nobody asked him to join the row over election TV debates (he has

criticised the broadcasters and accused them of "playing politics"). "I have been steaming here for the past few weeks getting crosser and crosser", the Conservative peer says.

Clarkson controversy

James May, Richard Hammond an Jeremy Clarkson
PA

Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson is a controversial figure, but has helped propel the programme to monster proportions around the world,

the BBC's Tom Espiner reports.

Not my job

While he hoped the Clarkson situation can be resolved, David Cameron said he would not interfere with the running of the BBC and added: "The prime minister has many responsibilities - sadly securing the future of Top Gear isn't one of them."

PM on 'great talent' Clarkson

David Cameron
BBC

More from David Cameron on Jeremy Clarkson. Here's what he told BBC Midlands Today: "Of course I don't know exactly what happened. He's a constituent of mine, he is a friend of mine, he is a huge talent. I see that he has said he regrets some of what happened. What I would say, because he does amuse and entertain so many people - including my own children, who will be heartbroken if Top Gear is taken off air - I hope this can be sorted out because it's a great programme and he is a great talent."

Cameron on Clarkson

David Cameron has just been asked on BBC Midlands Today about the

suspension of Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear following what the BBC said was "a fracas" with producer Oisin Tymon. He said Clarkson was "a friend of mine" and added: "My children would be heartbroken if Top Gear was taken off air".

'Attack ads'

Greg Dawson

Newsbeat politics reporter

They've always been banned from television and radio in the UK. But online, paid-for political ads are becoming a feature of 2015's election. So-called "attack ads" - many from the UK's main political parties - have emerged across social media in recent months, free from the strict rules that apply to television.

Read the rest of the article here.

Protecting whistleblowers

House of Lords

Parliament

Baroness Neville-Rolfe
BBC

Here's Business Minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe bringing a splash of colour to the Lords, where peers are debating the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, including measures to protect whistleblowers.

SNP deal

Laura Kuenssberg

Chief correspondent, Newsnight

Newsnight's Chief Correspondent

Laura Kuenssberg blogs: "Talk of SNP deal will dog Miliband." She goes on: "English MPs suggest voters in marginal constituencies hate the idea of Scottish Nationalist MPs dictating their futures. So as Prime Minister's Questions demonstrated in a noisily grisly session on Wednesday, David Cameron will try to ram in a reference to the supposed 'deal' between Labour and the SNP at every possible opportunity."

2% for teachers?

More on the news that the government is expected to allow schools to raise teachers' pay by up to 2% from September. Teachers received a 1% rise last year, after two years of salary freezes, in line with the general 1% pay cap across the public sector, which is due to be extended to next year. But the BBC understands it has been decided that the upper end of the main pay band will increase by 2% and schools can decide whether to award this based on performance.

The full BBC story is here.