Nick Clegg's war of words with coalition partners

David Cameron and Nick Clegg

This coalition game is all still new in modern Britain, but more than a few were taken aback by the ferocity of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's attacks on his Conservative coalition partners this week.

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Boris Johnson

He is there to fulfil a very important ceremonial function as a lapdog-cum-prophylactic protection device for all the difficult things David Cameron has to to do. He is a lapdog who has been skinned and turned into a shield”

End Quote Conservative London mayor Boris Johnson on Nick Clegg

Here's a taster of what he had to say at Monday's press conference about Conservative proposals to make a further £12bn of welfare cuts:

"There is a very interesting debate emerging... driven by two very clear ideological impulses, one is to remorselessly cut back the state and secondly, and I think they're making a monumental mistake in doing so, but they've said that the only section of society who will bear the burden of further fiscal consolidation will be the working age poor, those dependent on welfare."

"I remain perplexed that the Conservatives still refuse to countenance any change in the tax system to ask people occupying very large value properties to make a small additional contribution to this effort - you have to spread the burden as fairly as possible and not only ask the working age poor dependent on welfare to burden the load."

"There is not a serious economist around who believes cuts to welfare alone... lopsided approach... The Conservative Party, it seems to me, is now out on an ideological limb, almost unique in developed economies in saying 'we are not going to ask people of very great wealth, of very high incomes to make any additional contributions to the tax system, we are going to ask people with narrower shoulder to make sacrifices to finish the job'."

"It's worth stressing what an extreme position they are taking saying that all the shortfall should come from welfare cuts."

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Nick Clegg and David Cameron

It started all so well. They seemed the perfect pair. David Cameron and Nick Clegg were likened to a young married couple when they launched the coalition with a press conference in the Downing Street Rose Garden.

But both are now preparing for their split at the next election in 16 months, with Nick Clegg's comments this week marking a step up in the policy of "differentiation" (making clear in voters' minds how Lib Dems differ from Tories).

Having said that, Clegg avoided any personal attacks on his prime ministerial chum, although he did not pull his punches as he attacked Conservatives over a range of issues.

Here's a taster of what Nick Clegg said at the same press conference about general values/principles:

"The Liberal Democrats are the only party that can finish the job (of cutting the deficit) and, unlike the Conservatives, finish it fairly."

"I think it is simply not serious politics for the Conservative Party to say we are so reluctant to ask the wealthiest to make even a smidgeon of an extra contribution we are going to ask all future sacrifices to come from the working age poor who depend on welfare. That is unrealistic, and not only is it unrealistic, I think it is unfair and I think it reveals something about their motives that I don't agree with.

"The only way you can ensure that the Conservatives do not pander to their worse instincts is by having Liberal Democrats around the cabinet table. I think coalition has proved its worth."

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David Cameron

At least on Europe the Liberal Democrats have always been openly at odds with David Cameron's party.

Here's what Nick Clegg said during the preamble to Monday's press conference about what he called a Lib Dem priority:

"If securing a sustainable economic recovery is our priority, the worst way of doing that is to start threatening to pull out of the European Union as UKIP want to, or flirting with exit from the European Union as the Conservatives want to, or failing to even make the case for our membership of the European Union as Labour are doing. It would be madness, an act of economic suicide for us to pull the rug out from under our membership of the European Union."

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George Osborne

Nick Clegg did make clear that he was proud of the coalition's record in tackling its central mission of sorting out the nation's finances. But there's a clear effort under way to get the credit for certain policies (and blaming their partners for others):

For instance, on tax priorities and the rise in the starting level of tax to £10,000:

"The Conservatives are a bit a chameleon party when it comes to tax priorities. At the beginning of this parliament their priority was tax cuts for dead millionaires. Then it was the upper rate of tax for higher earners, then it was marriage tax breaks. Now we hear this weekend sudden enthusiasm for the Liberal Democrat policy of taking people out of income tax - low earners."

"If the Conservatives were prepared to give up spending huge amounts of money on their own tax pet projects whether it's the marriage tax break, what I call the unmarried couples tax penalty, or the tax incentives encouraging people to give up employment rights in return for shares…"

"We had one idea, the mansion tax. We worked it up in government, the Treasury worked it up. We had a very simple way of doing it which is basically introducing new council tax bands. It was stopped by the Conservatives for no reason other than they did not want to offend some of their very high value backers. Now that is not a sufficiently good reason basis on which you decide tax and spending policies, you've got to try and do it as objectively as possible."

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A Home Office go home van

The two parties are also well know to have had differences on immigration.

Nick Clegg was withering about the Home Office's record when asked at Monday's event about the subject.

"On exit checks, I've made it very clear to Theresa May and to the Home Office that I am both impatient and fairly displeased that given the fact I personally insisted that the reinstatement of exit checks was in the coalition agreement that we are now in the last full year of this parliament and they still haven't happened. And so I very much hope that in the latter stages of this parliament - I've asked the Home Office to go away and come up with a credible plan for restoring exit checks - that we can make real progress. Better late than never, but I frankly wish the Home Office had done what I asked them four years ago which was to get on with it."

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David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown in the 2010 debates

The only direct dig at David Cameron came when asked about TV debates:

"The only major party leader who needs to sign on a dotted line is David Cameron and the Conservatives and I hope they won't use their anxieties about UKIP and Nigel Farage as an excuse not to give the British people the right to see the leaders debates take place again next time."

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Nick Clegg

The message Nick Clegg wants to get across was clear from the backdrop to Monday's press conference at which he delivered all the quotes in this article.

The last question he was asked was whether, given that he had questioned the Conservatives' motives, extremism and monumental mistakes, he had been conned by them in 2010?

"I did not give George Osborne's speech, I am not a Conservative. They have taken the decision to say to the British people 16 months before the general election we are only going to ask the working age poor to make sacrifices from here on in. I am reacting to that."

"I think clearly during the course of this coalition we have delivered things…. The Conservatives have now decided to take a completely different stance for the future and they are perfectly entitled to do so. I am equally entitled..."

To be fair to the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg did make references to Labour, saying they couldn't be trusted with the economy, and it wasn't all negative about his coalition partners:

"Any government will have to try and bring debt down as a proportion of GDP otherwise you'll be spending billions of pounds on debt interest rather than on schools and hospitals - so this is an on-going effort and I strongly agree with George Osborne when he says the job is not yet finished."

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Nick Clegg, left, with David Cameron, right

So the question being asked now by many is whether the coalition can really survive until the election in May 2015 when the partners are being so openly rude about each other.

This was the week, let's not forget, when Nick Clegg was likened to a condom by the Conservative mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Here are two commentators' views on the coalition's future:

In the Financial Times, George Parker writes: "Tory frustration with Mr Clegg is mounting... the prospect of the coalition partners involved in vitriolic squabbles poses risks for Mr Clegg who regards the establishment of a stable and effective coalition as a strategic breakthrough for the Lib Dems.

"Some will question whether the government can still transact business - including a Queen's Speech, two more Budgets and an Autumn Statement - while its principal players are publicly at loggerheads.... but civil servants believe an instinct for political survival will force Lib Dems and Tories to see out the coalition in an orderly fashion."

In the Daily Mail Stephen Glover writes: "In recent weeks a new asperity, even nastiness, has crept into Lib Dem criticism of their Tory partners... can government proceed when its two constituent parts are increasingly at war? In a technical sense it probably can. I expect the coalition to survive until the election in May 2015. But never before in modern times has a government been so openly riven with dispute.

"Hitherto the approach of the Tory high command has been to absorb Lib Dem knocks and, other than perhaps a mild joke at Vince Cable's expense, not retaliate... I'm not urging blind retaliation. It's just that when your so-called partners twist what you think and try to foul up your message, it's time to act... the one thing that will not take place is a mass exodus from the coalition by the Lib Dems.

"They like power and its trappings too much and want to stick around until the end of the Parliament in order to claim their share of credit for the economic recovery."

Here is a selection of your views on the future of the coalition:

I couldn't care less about Nick Clegg's attacks on the Conservatives, these are all arguments to be made inside government, not tales to be told to us. As a politician his job is to influence the decisions being made for the better. Once again an example of politicians trying to win votes rather than working for the good of the country.Jo, Bristol

I hope the coalition doesn't last till 2015. Then we can get rid of this pariah who is only interested in stabbing his coalition partners in the back. Both Clegg and Cable should be given their marching orders ASAP. They have showed continuously that they are unfit to serve in government. Clegg is too much of an EU lover to be trusted and Cable? Past sell-by date by a long time. I can't believe I'm saying this but I almost pity Labour if they go in partnership with these parasites.George, Boxgrove

I am perhaps in a minority, but I applaud the coalition for returning British politics to the one-nation middle ground. The Liberals have worked well with moderate Tories and it seems to have benefited the majority. I am deeply disappointed that political posturing before the election is producing such negative rhetoric. My message to the coalition partners is simple: grow up and stop playing to the tabloid gallery.S Thomas, Wrexham

I hope the present government will not go round boasting that it has begun to solve the economic problems that have besieged us. It is worth noting that the problems were not 'ours' - it was a worldwide experience. But it has not been the government that have borne the brunt of this. It is ordinary Joe and his family who have made sacrifices, gone without, cut here and there, had stay-at-home holidays and have had to make the huge sacrifices.Trevor, Peterborough

It will survive, if only because an election before May 2015 would probably lead to a Labour government, Clegg would probably like another term around the Cabinet table unless he knows for sure that he has a top job lined up in Brussels already. Clegg is like the back half the Pantomime horse, it makes a lot of noise but is malodorous, Cameron is at least at the front with his eyes open trying to go in a straight line whilst getting frequent bum steers from the rear.Tony, Keighley

I think the coalition will survive as its in both parties interests that it does, Further, Nick Clegg is right to air his opinions on Tory policy and I hope we will have another coalition after the next general election, ideally with Labour, as I feel the Lib Dems in coalition are the middle ground leveller sorely needed in UK politics as the Tories are influenced far too much by the Neo Cons of the USA Republican Party.James, Bournemouth

It's time for change now and Nick Clegg needs to call it a day with the Tories. How they sleep at night I don't know. Melvyn, Doncaster

The more I read about politics the more I believe the nasty parties are those on the left. If you don't agree with them, you get called names, racist, selfish, uncaring etc. I think the coalition should survive, it was agreed, disagreements happen in all relationships, but the Lib Dems are sniping, the Tories aren't, what does that tell us?Neil, Guildford

I do not believe it should survive, both parties are now posturing and preparing themselves for the next election, it does not bode well for the country, politics is so self serving. I did not ever think it would survive this long and let's be honest the Lib Dems got such a small percentage of the national vote that the people overall did not want them anywhere near where they are now.Anthony, Cleethorpes

The Lib Dems have only been useful on reducing the deficit. In all other areas they have been allowed to punch way above their weight. Their worst example was when they failed to support the Boundary Reviews after having it in their manifesto.Roger, Tunbridge Wells

Hello. I think of the Lib Dems more or less what my father used to say about the [then] Liberal Party when I was growing up (in the '60s). "Same as the Conservatives but with a guilty conscience" is what stuck in my mind.William, Richmond

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    21:32: Morning Star's front page
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    20:48: Slow hand clap BBC Radio 4

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    The MEP clamps down on Ed Davey for using the phrase "zero carbon", saying "zero carbon houses is a middle class obsession"

    There is some booing and he complains that the audience are very Green.

    #BBCAQ 20:39: Hung parliament deals BBC Radio 4

    On the question whether parties would form a coalition in the event of a hung parliament, Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: "We would not in any way at all prop up a Tory government. And we are not looking towards Labour or some other Labour-led grouping." She said she would prefer to support a minority government on a "vote by vote basis". "You don't get the ministerial cars but you get to keep your principles," she adds.

    Lib Dem Ed Davey says his party would speak to whichever is the largest party about forming a coalition and that the only party he would not go in to coalition with was UKIP.

    20:35: Bennett on migration BBC Radio 4

    Leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett speaks through the shouting voices of other panellists to remind the audience that the net migration figures also include international students the "majority of which go home after they have finished their course". She admits on the subject of migration the UK needs a "controlled" system.

    20:26: UKIP on migration BBC Radio 4

    UKIP's David Coburn takes centre stage with his answer to a question about the recent net migration figures. He said it was ridiculous that 624,000 people came to the UK and said it was comparable to the size of Liverpool and Aberdeen. He said that "regardless of ethnic background" the UK needed "quality people coming here" who are going to add something to the country.

    "If we don't control our borders we don't know what's happening," he said.

    20:22: Greens on tuition fees BBC Radio 4

    Also on Any Questions, Leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett drew cheers from the audience when she said: "Education is a public good. It should be paid for from progressive taxation."

    #BBCAQ 20:18: Any Questions

    UKIP's MEP for Scotland David Coburn also chipped in and said that UKIP would scrap tuition fees for students doing particular subjects as long as for five years after they graduate they paid their taxes and contributed to society.

    20:17: Tuition fees

    Shadow Housing Minister Emma Reynolds MP said she did not recognise the analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) which said it would be higher-earning graduates who would benefit from the changes.

    "I don't buy that," she said.

    "I do think we are under-estimating the anxiety of having that debt when you graduate from university. I don't understand why Ed Davey thinks that is a good thing."

    20:13: Any Questions BBC Radio 4

    Energy secretary Ed Davey, a Lib Dem, came out all guns blazing to the first question from the audience about Labour's tuition fee policy announced today. He said the policy was a "nonsense", and would only favour the "future bankers" of this country because the only students who would see any benefit would be those who leave university and get a starting salary of £35,000. He said the average starting salary was £21,000. He described the policy as a "weird betrayal of Labour's values".

    19:53: Any Questions BBC Radio 4

    Tonight on Any Questions Jonathan Dimbleby hosts political debate from Bristol University with the Leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett, UKIP's MEP for Scotland David Coburn, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Ed Davey and Lib Dem MP and the Shadow Housing Minister Emma Reynolds MP. Nuggets from the programme will be coming up here shortly.

    19:47: David Cameron in Wales
    David Cameron David Cameron says the Conservatives are doing more for Wales than any other party

    As well as talking about further devolution for Wales today, David Cameron also addressed a conference of Welsh Conservatives in Cardiff, telling them the Tories were 'the party of Wales'.

    The Prime Minister said the Conservatives were the "driving force" behind road and rail improvements and praised Wales' manufacturing industry, saying it was growing faster than France, Germany and other UK regions.

    19:28: Peston's blog on tuition fees Robert Peston Economics editor

    One way of seeing Labour's tuition fee plan is that it is replacing £3.1bn of university financing via student loans with £3.1bn of financing from taxation - through a tax raid on pensions.

    19:13: Clegg's Lib Dem's on the NHS
    Nick Clegg

    The NHS would receive billions of extra funding if the Liberal Democrats have a hand in the next UK government, Nick Clegg has said. The Lib Dem leader pledged to give an additional £8bn to the health service in England - and an extra £450 million for Wales - by the end of the next parliament. Mr Clegg made the promise during a rally in Cardiff - where earlier, alongside Prime Minister David Cameron, he announced UK government plans to give more power to Wales.

    18:57: 'Challenge misconceptions'
    Mark Reckless

    Although it was Nigel Farage's rallying speech which stole the show during today's UKIP conference. The audience also heard from Tory defector and UKIP MP Mark Reckless. He warned that the party will not grow unless it can shake off the taint of xenophobia and demonstrate it is the "party of the NHS".

    Mr Reckless, who won a by-election in Rochester and Strood after defecting from the Conservatives, said currently voters knew UKIP wanted to leave the EU and cut immigration. Mr Reckless told activists: "There are two things most people know about us - we want to leave the European Union, and we want to cut immigration. We should talk about those things. But if we want to get beyond 20%-30% of the vote to the 40% or so we will need to win constituencies, we will have to explain why we want those things, challenge some of the misconceptions there are around our party, and talk about other things as well."

    18:46: Your views

    We are interested in your views on the political stories of the day. Get in touch by using the "Get Involved" tab at the top of the page.

    Here's what Alison and David Foster had to say on Labour's tuition fee policy.

    When will the real issue over student fees be discussed? The reason the current system massively disadvantages the poor is because they cannot afford to live on the tiny living allowance that can be borrowed under the scheme. The majority of university accommodation fees are more than the cost of living loan (forget eating and travelling!

    Unless you come from a family that can afford several thousand to support their son/daughter's living costs, you'll have to find a job with a lot of hours to keep your head above the waterline. So, great that Labour will reduce your future loan bill, but none of the parties mention that it's only the middle class that can cope with the immediate costs of living as a student.

    18:39: 'The glamour of spying'
    David Davis David Davis claims the committee is not taken seriously by UK spies

    The committee monitoring the security services has been taken in by the "glamour" of spying and is failing to do its job, its founder has said. Conservative MP David Davis said the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) had been "captured by the agencies they are supposed to be overseeing". He also said ex-chairman Sir Malcolm Rifkind acted as a "spokesman" for MI5, MI6 and GCHQ rather than a watchdog. Sir Malcolm said the criticisms were "ludicrous" and had no basis in fact. Get the full story here.

    18:28: Osborne: 'economic chaos'
    George Osborne

    Here's a bit more from the Chancellor George Osborne on Labour's hotly-debated tuition fee policy announced earlier today. The chancellor claimed the Labour's planned pension tax change - which is needed in order to reduce the fees - would hit "people on middle incomes - including nurses, teachers and firefighters".

    He said: "Another Labour policy launch has collapsed into chaos. Far from hitting only the richest as Ed Miliband claimed, his new tax on pensions will hit many people on middle incomes including nurses, teachers and firefighters. So a tuition fees policy that only benefits better-off students is being paid for by hardworking taxpayers on middle incomes. It just shows that all Ed Miliband offers is higher taxes, more debt and the economic chaos those would bring."

    @Peston Robert Peston - BBC economics editor

    Tweets: IFS unimpressed by Labour's tax raid on pensions

    17:57: NUS on tuition fees

    Megan Dutton, the vice president of the National Union of Students, welcomes Labour's plans, saying: "We welcome this policy as a step in the right direction, a step away from the failed experiment of fees and the marketisation of higher education."

    17:45: Afternoon round-up

    A quick re-cap of the main political stories of the day:

    • Labour has set out its plans to cut university fees in England from £9,000 a year to £6,000
    • Ed Miliband says the universities wouldn't lose income and the cut would be paid for by lowering tax relief on pensions for high earners
    • David Cameron says Labour has shown it's incompetent and that its policy would mean those who've gone on to good jobs and high earnings will, in effect, be subsidised by those with less money
    • The Liberal Democrats say the idea is a terrible mistake and that the Treasury will hang on to the pensions money and not pass it on to universities
    • In other news Nigel Farage has told his party's spring conference UKIP will get a "good number of MPs over the line" in the election and emerge as the "main opposition to the Labour Party" in the north of England
    • In Wales, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have been offering a new deal on devolution, including guaranteed minimum funding for the Welsh government, control of fracking and more energy projects.
    17:32: Farage 'upset' people think UKIP is racist

    In an interview with the BBC's chief political correspondent Vicki Young, UKIP's leader Nigel Farage said it "upsets" him that a growing number of people seem to think that UKIP is a racist party. "We are no such thing, we never have been, we never will be, in fact there is a growing number of ethnic minorities standing for us in elections," he said.

    17:24: Betting man?

    Bookmakers William Hill believe Nigel Farage will become an MP at the general election - quoting him at odds of 4/7 to win the South Thanet seat. And UKIP are also fancied to poll more votes than the Lib Dems, with the bookies offering odds of 2/7 for the party to do so, and 5/2 not to.

    "UKIP's ever-growing impact on domestic politics has added a fascinating element to the general election campaign and they have been heavily backed to win five or more seats, which may give them a genuine chance of being involved in a coalition government", says Hill's spokesman Graham Sharpe.

    17:19: Student fees devolution

    It's worth pointing out that Labour's pledge to cut fees relates to England only. Education is a devolved issue in the UK and students from Wales and Northern Ireland pay less than £4,000 a year in fees if they stay there to study, while those from Scotland pay no fees if they study there. If Welsh students want to study in England, the Welsh government covers the additional fees.

    @Peston Robert Peston - BBC economics editor

    Tweets: Will middle middle class be miffed at Labour's raid on their pensions or pleased their student kids' debts to be cut?

    17:03: CBI warn on fees cut

    Back to the tuition fees announcement and John Cridland, director general of the business leaders group the CBI, says it's crucial that funding for higher education is maintained. He also warns that the pension change being lined up to pay for the cut in tuition fees "risks damaging a savings culture that needs nurturing if the state is to cope with the financial burden of retirement benefits in the years to come".

    "Yet more changes to the pensions landscape make it very difficult for people who are trying to save for the long-term, " he said.

    @JamieRoss7 Jamie Ross - Buzzfeed political reporter

    Tweets: Farage tells UKIP's election candidates to "expect abuse like you wouldn't believe" before May. #UKIPSpring


    Tweets: A standing ovation for UKIP Leader @Nigel_Farage at #UKIPSpring

    16:41: 'Not going to be easy' - Farage

    "It's not going to be easy for us," says Farage. He argues that UKIP have the entire political establishment "against us" and not very many "friends in the media". However, he goes on publicly to thank the Daily Express for its support. Concluding, Mr Farage says he is "optimistic, up-beat, and bullish... we are going to exceed lots of expectations."

    He finishes by saying: "We will score a famous victory on 7 May".

    The crowd clap and start chanting "UKIP" "UKIP"...

    16:36: Farage on HS2 and migration

    Farage attacks the Tories over the recently-published net migration figures, which have risen to 298,000 for the year ending in September 2014.

    The crowd whoop and cheer when he says we need to "divorce" from the EU, "take control of our borders" and that UKIP "will campaign for this country to have an Australian-style system to settle who should come to our country".

    He then moves on to transport and says that the costly HS2 project which promises to bring high-speed rail from London to the north of England and Scotland should be scrapped.

    "We simply can't afford it," he exclaims

    16:35: Farage: 'Politics of hope'

    Nigel Farage tells delegates the election campaign began in January and is the longest and most negative in history.

    "People of this country need the politics of hope and of inspiration that says things could be better," he says.

    16:29: 'Turn the other cheek' - Farage

    Farage uses his speech to tell other UKIP candidates that "When we are attacked, we ignore it, turn the other cheek and get on telling the voters what we stand for".

    16:26: Farage speech
    Nigel Farage

    Nigel Farage says "We will win this seat" and the crowd bursts in to applause when he unveils the results of a Survation poll which he says puts him way ahead of his rivals for the South Thanet seat.

    He also dismisses rumours about his ill-health, which he says he has read in the media. "Rumour of my demise have been greatly exaggerated," he exclaims.

    16:21: Farage speech begins

    Nigel Farage speech begins at UKIP's spring conference. He walked on stage to big cheers and the sound of "I'm a Believer" by the Monkees.

    16:18: Clegg on tuition fees
    Nick Clegg

    Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has also been speaking about tuition fees in the wake of Labour's announcement.

    He said: "In chasing a good headline, actually Ed Miliband is at risk of implementing a policy that will have the reverse effect of what he says it will do. It will only benefit the very wealthiest graduates, on the higher incomes in 20 or 30 years time, and will put at risk the hundreds of millions of pounds universities currently have to help disadvantaged youngsters from going to university in the first place. That's why this is an ill thought through and potentially unfair change in policy."

    He added: "... clearly and famously we couldn't implement our own preferred policy, so we did the next best thing. l got the fairest deal I could get and the principal behind the current arrangement is that anyone can go to university regardless of the circumstances of their birth. No one pays anything up front at university which of course is what thousands of students did under the fee system introduced by Ed Miliband's previous Labour government."

    @JamieRoss7 Jamie Ross - Buzzfeed reporter

    Tweets: Everyone here seems quite bored as we await the Farage speech - "This isn't as good as Doncaster last year," lots of people have said.

    16:01: Labour on tuition fees The World at One BBC Radio 4 Presented by Martha Kearney

    In case you missed it, you can hear that full interview with Labour's Chuka Umunna on the party's tuition fee pledge for England - by clicking here. And if you're interested in why Lib Dem's Vince Cable called the policy "fraudulent" just click here.

    15:48: Student view
    Leeds students Scout and George

    Leeds University students Scout and George told BBC News that Labour's plans to cut tuition fees if they came to power were a "step in the right direction," but that more action was needed. George, a student union official, said: "We want the government to recognise that education should be prioritised so it should be free for all."

    15:44: 'Struggle to maintain standards'

    The vice-chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, Professor Edward Peck, has also waded into the debate over tuition fees. In a statement he said: "It is not immediately clear to me that reducing fees from £27k to £18k over three years will have the positive impact on widening participation that Mr Miliband and his colleagues have been arguing.

    "Implicit in Mr Miliband's statement is that the standard income for universities will remain at £9k per undergraduate student per year until 2020, the same as it has been since 2012. This will represent a reduction of actual income of at least 25% over the eight year period; some smaller universities may struggle to maintain standards over the next five years."

    @MichaelLCrick Michael Crick - Political correspondent for Channel 4

    Tweets: New Ukip head of comms Paul "Gobby" Lambert repeatedly refuses to answer my question: "Are you going to resign, Mr Lambert?" Video later

    15:20: Farage arrives Vicki Young Political correspondent, BBC News

    UKIP leader Nigel Farage has arrived in Margate having just flown in from the US. He is due to make a speech later this afternoon. His mood looked cheerful.

    15:20: Good afternoon

    Change of team here on the Politics Live page - please stay with us for the latest events and comments about the general election. There'll be more on Labour's announcement to cut tuition fees if they came to power. In Wales, David Cameron and Nick Clegg have been setting out proposals for further devolution. And still to come this afternoon - a speech by UKIP leader Nigel Farage at the party's spring conference in Margate - plus we'll be tuning in to Any Questions on BBC Radio 4 later this evening.

    15:14: More reaction to tuition fees

    Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), said in a statement: "One big outstanding question is how many university places will be available once the new rules come in. The coalition are letting universities recruit as many students as they want." He said there was a "trade-off between the cost to the taxpayer of higher fees and the number of places that can be funded" and added that it was good that voters now had a clear policy choice before them.

    15:11: In the Lords
    Lord Forsyth

    As usual on a Friday, MPs are debating a number of private members' bills, many of which have little chance of becoming law. However in the Lords, peers are discussing a bill to enshrine in law the UK's commitment to spend 0.7% of its national income on international aid, which could make it on the statute book. The legislation continues to be the source of passionate debate. Conservative peer Lord Forsyth has tabled an amendment to the bill calling for the 0.7% commitment to be dropped if total aid spending ever amounted to more than 35% of equivalent expenditure on defence. However, the amendment was rejected by peers by 124 votes to 41.

    14:54: Tuition fee policy 'fiscally neutral'
    Paul Johnson

    Paul Johnson director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) said that "as far as we can tell [Labour's] package is fiscally neutral". He said universities under this policy would be more dependent on the taxpayer and less dependent on the fees that students are paying. As a result, he said, they would feel "a little bit more worried about future funding than they were before under the £9,000 fee system".

    14:42: Recap on UKIP conference
    UKIP activists at their Spring conference

    Time for a quick update on the goings-on at UKIP's spring conference in Margate. Among other speakers this morning, deputy leader Paul Nuttall said there was a "fight on" for the future of the UK in the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum. He attacked the SNP for saying they would vote on Commons legislation directly affecting England. And immigration spokesman Stephen Woolfe said policymakers had "taken their eye off the ball" for a decade about the impact of migration on infrastructure. "Schools are now full, hospitals are troubled, healthcare - it is very difficult to be seen in many areas of this country," he said.

    14:29: UKIP's media strategy
    Nigel Farage with UKIP director of communications Paul Lambert

    Michael Crick, political correspondent for Channel 4 News, has been reflecting on why Nigel Farage seems to have been on our TV screens a little less than usual since Christmas. He believes it is part of a strategy dreamt up by new UKIP communications director Paul Lambert, a former BBC producer known universally as Gobby (he was the one who used to shout rude questions at politicians on the TV news) to give UKIP's leader a "bit of a rest". Lambert is pictured above conferring with his leader. Mr Farage, suggests Crick, has been given time to focus on "internal policy discussions" while other figures have shouldered more of the media limelight. However, Michael Crick questions Mr Farage's decision to travel to the US on Thursday to attend a gathering of Conservative politicians a day before he is due to give his keynote speech to the party's spring conference, which is underway in Margate.

    13:47: Hung parliament inevitable?
    Houses of Parliament

    The team at the New Statesman's election website looks at five election forecasts and sees that the average conclusion is that a hung parliament is becoming "an inevitability", with Labour and the Conservatives set to fall about 40 seats short of a majority.

    13:43: 'Stable funding'
    Students in lecture theatre

    Universities have welcomed Labour's pledge to increase maintenance support for students from low and middle income households and its pledge that the loss of income from lower tuition fees will be fully covered. "It will go some way to help reassure universities that a future Labour government would continue to provide a stable funding environment in the next parliament," says Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, president of vice-chancellors' group Universities UK.

    @carolewalkercw 13:32: Carole Walker, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Vince Cable tells @BBCWorldatOne he wont apologise for current tuition fee policy saying "It's a good one"

    13:31: 'Personal thing' The World at One BBC Radio 4 Presented by Martha Kearney

    Labour's Chuka Umunna dismisses Vince Cable's criticism of its tuition fee policy, suggesting the Lib Dems have "no credibility" on the issue. He says Ed Miliband's desire to reverse "the assault on young people" that Labour maintains has taken place since 2010 was a "very personal thing". There was, he added, a "very substantial difference" between the parties' policies on higher education and other issues which he believed young people would take notice of before casting their vote on 7 May.

    13:30: Boris on control orders 'mistake'
    Boris Johnson

    Mayor of London Boris Johnson, speaking on the subject of terrorism, said it had been an error to water down control orders that permitted the home secretary to restrict individuals' liberty on grounds of national security: "I do think that was a mistake. We're now back on the right track. The politicians who made that mistake need to think very carefully about why they did it and I think the benefit of the doubt was given too much to those who wish us serious harm. This whole thing needs to be tackled very robustly."

    13:28: The World at One BBC Radio 4 Presented by Martha Kearney

    Vince Cable has labelled Labour's tuition fees policy "fraudulent", claiming there is no guarantee that the money from the pension tax changes will go to universities and instead is likely to be "pocketed by the Treasury" and used to reduce the deficit. Appearing on the World at One, the Lib Dem business secretary also admits that his party has "suffered politically" for its broken pledge not to let fees rise.

    13:18: NUS 'writ large' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two

    On the Daily Politics, Harry Cole of the Guido Fawkes blog says Labour's announcement on fees is "the politics of the National Union of Students on a national scale".

    13:17: No 'generational war' Daily Politics Live on BBC Two
    Chuka Umunna

    Labour's shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna says it is a mistake for people to cast Labour's decision to pay for a cut in tuition fees by curbing some pension relief as some sort of "generational war". He tells Andrew Neil that a lot of older people are as concerned about university funding as are people about to embark on higher education.

    13:16: The World at One BBC Radio 4 Presented by Martha Kearney

    Paul Johnson, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, tells the BBC's World at One that Labour's plan to fund the tuition fee cut "broadly adds up". However, he says that curbing pension tax relief for the highest earners effectively amounts to a £3bn tax increase and could have an impact on people seeking to save for their retirement.

    13:14: 'Party of Wales'
    David Cameron speaking to the Welsh Conservative conference

    A couple of hours ago, David Cameron was speaking in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, with Nick Clegg standing beside him. The prime minister is still in Wales but Mr Clegg is no-where to be seen as Mr Cameron has moved onto the home territory of the Welsh Conservatives' spring conference. He told activists that the Conservatives are "the party of Wales", claiming they have done more to attract investment, create jobs and boost transport infrastructure over the past five years than Labour.

    @Kevin_Maguire 13:03: Kevin Maguire, Daily Mirror associate editor

    tweets: Which bit of Clegg's brain told him posing in Wales with Cameron would be good for Lib Dems? #yellowtories

    13:02: 'Not for turning'

    Ed Miliband finishes his Q&A in Leeds by promising his audience: "We're not going to do a Nick Clegg - we are deadly serious about this."

    12:57: Labour's 'sums don't add up'
    George Osborne

    The Chancellor George Osborne has responded to Labour's announcement on fees by saying: "Under this government, we've made real progress in getting students from poorer background to go to universities - something governments have been trying to do for decades. All of that progress would be at risk from this ill-thought out policy. Ed Miliband's sums don't add up because the universities would get less money and there would be fewer students so it's bad for students, bad for universities, bad for the taxpayer and bad for the British economy."

    12:56: 'Informed decisions'

    More reaction to Labour's plans. Manufacturers' organisation, the EEF, says there is "no evidence" that the current system needs to be overhauled, pointing out that the number of people applying for engineering degrees rose by 8% between 2010 and 2013. Raising fees, it suggests, has helped people make "more informed decisions about their careers and employability". The Association of Colleges, meanwhile, has called for more focus and resources for those not going to university.

    12:43: Fees pledge 'cast-iron'

    Ed Miliband says a reduction in fees is a cast-iron guarantee, and will be a "red line" in potential coalition negotiations after May's election.

    12:42: Fee cut is 'bad policy'
    University graduates

    The free market think tank, the Institute for Economic Affairs, has criticised Labour plans, saying they will make universities "more dependent on the public purse". "This is a bad policy at a time when reductions in government spending are still necessary and will lead to yet more government interference in how universities are run," says its director Mark Littlewood. The IEA is also critical of the current system introduced by the coalition and wants it replaced by a graduate tax.

    12:37: Fee cuts - implementation

    Ed Miliband says the tuition fee cut will apply from September 2016 - and promises that even if a student started a course before then, the £6000 fee will apply for his or her remaining years.

    12:36: 'Investment in young people'
    Ed Miliband

    Ed Miliband is now taking questions from students and the media. Asked about the rhetoric around charging money for higher education, he says: "There is a big disagreement here between those who believe there's a public interest in public investment in young people and our universities, and those who think it's just a matter of consumer choice for our young people". He says it's "absolute nonsense to say this is only about young people", as the whole country has an interest in young people unburdened with debt.

    12:28: Fiscal 'responsibility'

    Ed Balls says the plan is "not only fair to students, fair to young people, and fair to taxpayers", but is "also an example of Labour assuming fiscal responsibility in the national interest". The proposal would strengthen the public finances, he says, as opposed to plans from opposing parties which would weaken the UK's bank balance.

    12:25: Balls: Plans 'fully costed'
    Ed Balls

    Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is now speaking, fleshing out more of the details. He says Labour's plans are "fully costed and fully funded", and that Labour are not making a promise they can't keep. The plans will reduce the UK's debt by £40bn by 2030, he claims.

    12:24: Pension tax relief curbed

    Mr Miliband says he will pay for the cut in tuition fees by reducing the tax relief on pension contributions for the highest-earners. Those earning more than £150,000 a year will get the same relief as basic-rate taxpayers in future, rather than the 45% they enjoy at the moment.

    12:22: Maintenance grant increase

    Ed Miliband says part of Labour's goal is "to make it easier for students of all backgrounds" to attend university - and to that end, students from families with an income of less than £42,000 will receive an extra £400 in their maintenance grant every year.

    12:22: Tuition fee cut
    Labour audience on their feet

    Ed Miliband promises that a Labour government will cut tuition fees by a third, from £9000 to £6000 from September 2016. He says "we will not make the young pay the price of hard times" - and vows to "restore the promise of Britain".

    12:17: 'A burden on our country'

    Ed Miliband says the current tuition fees system is leading to "more debt for students and more debt for the taxpayer", with an estimated £16bn more than predicted to be added to the public debt by 2020. He says that "if left unchanged, the whole system will have added £281bn of debt by 2030". The Labour leader says "the scourge of debt from tuition fees is not only holding back our young people, it is a burden on our country".

    12:14: 'Broken promises'

    Ed Miliband says all young people have heard from the government in the last few years is "blame, denial, and broken promises". He says no-one in his generation - which is also Nick Clegg's and David Cameron's - had to start life after university with more than an average of £44,000 in debt.

    12:10: Miliband's 'Promise for Britain'
    Ed Miliband

    Ed Miliband has taken to the stage in Leeds to talk about his party's policies on tuition fees going into the general election. He was introduced by the recently-elected president of Leicester University Students Union, who says this government has betrayed her generation.

    12:05: More from Carwyn Jones

    The first minister adds: "The move towards a funding floor is an important step forward and we have been pushing for this for some time. But we cannot be confident that funding for Wales has been put on a fair and sustainable footing until the detail is agreed at the next spending review. This is disappointing and should also be seen in the context of an unprecedented £1.5bn cut to the Welsh budget in this term. We will now consider the details of the proposals ahead of a full response to the National Assembly for Wales on Tuesday."

    12:04: Carwyn Jones on Welsh offer
    Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones

    Responding to the the government's announcement today, First Minister Carwyn Jones - a Labour politician - said: "The proposals only go some of the way to matching Labour's devolution offer already set out by Ed Miliband, but they fall short in crucial areas - such as on policing." He claims "Wales is still not being treated with the same respect as that being afforded to Scotland and this continuing imbalanced approach is damaging to the UK".

    @elashton 12:02: Emily Ashton, Buzzfeed senior political correspondent

    tweets: No 10 was asked if Cameron would be sorry to see "a bullet between Emwazi's eyes": "The PM wants to see the murderers brought to justice."

    11:54: A 'full house'
    Mark Reckless

    Mark Reckless tells the BBC's Vicki Young that Nigel Farage will be speaking to a "very full room" at the UKIP spring conference today. Less than 24 hours ago, the UKIP leader was listened to by a rather threadbare audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference in the US state of Maryland.

    11:51: Time for a fruitcake?
    Cake for sale at UKIP conference

    UKIP activists are taking a quick coffee break in Margate - and are being encouraged to visit the stalls in the Winter Gardens venue, where fruitcake is among the items available for purchase.

    11:50: CBI on 'devolution risk'

    The CBI has said a referendum must be held before powers over income tax are devolved to the Welsh Assembly. Reacting to the government's proposals, the business group says any transfer of powers must be done in a "careful, considered and transparent manner". "For the Welsh economy to prosper there has to be a renewed commitment from all politicians to deliver a devolution dividend not a devolution risk premium," said Chris Sutton, chair of CBI Wales.

    11:39: Still friends?
    Nick Clegg and David Cameron

    Do Dave and Nick still like each other nearly five years on from those chummy scenes in the Downing Street rose garden at the birth of the coalition? That was the question to the pair as they staged what might well be their final public appearance together in Cardiff. Well, as our picture below shows, they can still enjoy a laugh together. Mr Cameron said they had had their differences and arguments but had worked together to deliver "bold and brave" policies. Mr Clegg was equally diplomatic, saying they had proved coalitions can work and a "novel way of governing has done exceptional things in exceptional circumstances". They would save the gripes about each other's personalities for the election campaign, joked Mr Cameron.

    David Cameron and Nick Clegg
    11:27: 'Number one priority'

    The prime minister says he will not discuss specific threats to the UK, but insists it is his "number one priority" that "when there are people anywhere in the world who commit appalling and heinous crimes against British citizens, we will do every we can with the police, with the security services, with all we have at our disposal to find these people and put them out of action".

    11:23: Breaking News

    David Cameron has reacted to the naming of the man previously known only as 'Jihadi John' as Mohammed Emwazi, a Kuwaiti-born Briton from west London. He says he thinks it is important for the public to "get behind" the security services, adding that "even in the last few months their dedication and work has saved us from plots on the streets of the United Kingdom that could have done immense damage".

    11:16: Cheeky stunt
    Dancers promoting the musical The Producers in Margate

    A Nazi-themed troupe of dancers and a World War Two tank gate crashed the start of UKIP's spring conference in Margate earlier. The seven-strong group were promoting a production of the Mel Brooks musical The Producers, which opens in Bromley, in South London, next month.

    11:14: Income tax for Wales?

    David Cameron says he is a "double-yes man": he thinks Wales does need a referendum on whether or not it should set its own income tax - and if it happens he will be advising people in Wales to vote in favour of having such powers. Nick Clegg says there is a consensus across government - and the coalition parties - that there are no reasons not to hold such a referendum.

    11:12: 'Devolution with a purpose'

    David Cameron says "both of Wales's governments can do all they can within their powers to make Wales prosper for decades to come", describing the settlement announced today as "devolution with a purpose". Nick Clegg says it is "truly a deal worth celebrating", taking Wales "another step towards home rule for Wales and a stronger, fairer Britain". For the detail on what the government has announced today, have a look at the main BBC News story here.

    11:06: Cameron and Clegg in Wales
    David Cameron and Nick Clegg

    Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg have begun speaking about the new settlement proposed for Wales - fittingly, they're holding the news conference in what Welsh Secretary Stephen Crabb calls the "great Welsh cathedral" that is the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.

    11:00: NHS 'stolen' by establishment parties
    Louise Bours, UKIP's health spokeswoman

    Louise Bours MEP, UKIP's health spokeswoman, is next to speak in Margate. She says the "establishment parties have stolen the NHS". There have been "endless top-down reorganisations that drain it of cash", motivated "not [by] political need but political opportunism". She says patient care has suffered due to "policies of uncontrolled mass immigration".

    @andybell5news 10:56: Andy Bell, 5 News political editor

    tweets: Ed Balls on my train to Leeds for fees announcement "you won't have wasted your journey" he says #GE2015

    @VickiYoung01 10:56: Vicki Young, BBC chief political correspondent

    tweets: Lots of platform audience interaction at #UKIP conf. Risks sounding a bit like a pantomime.

    10:55: Farages in Margate
    Kirsten Farage arrives at the UKIP spring conference

    Nigel Farage's wife, Kirsten, has arrived for the UKIP spring conference in Margate. There has been some doubt as to whether the UKIP leader will be speaking today given that he has just flown back from a gathering of conservative politicians in the United States. But as we speak, he is billed to appear at just after 16:00 GMT.

    10:43: EU 'decaying and deluded'
    UKIP badges on sale at its spring conference

    Turning to Europe, Suzanne Evans says the UK is "more than just a star on someone else's flag" - she says she wants to see the country "freed from the demands of a decaying and deluded EU". She recites a list of prime ministers since Ted Heath, and says: "By one treacherous treaty after treacherous treaty they handed power that should still be vested in parliament, in Westminster, in the people of Britain, over to Brussels." And she adds that Labour and the Conservatives are the true parties of "little Englanders" - UKIP "aren't the ones who want to stay in the shadows jumping at Frau Merkel's every command".

    10:35: Cast-iron guarantees?

    Suzanne Evans, who only took over responsibility for UKIP's manifesto last month, says successive promises by party leaders have been broken, such as Nick Clegg vowing not to raise tuition fees, and David Cameron promising a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. She says: "That's the trouble with cast-iron guarantees - they can be a bit brittle."

    10:32: Manifesto 'quality, not quantity'
    UKIP deputy chairwoman Suzanne Evans

    UKIP's Deputy Chairman Suzanne Evans is next up. She opens her speech with a joke referencing her party's oft-mocked 2010 manifesto, which was 427 pages long. The 2015 version, she insists, won't be calling for taxi drivers to wear uniforms, people to wear formal-dress to the theatre, or for the Circle Line on the London Underground to be actually shaped like a circle again. She says in 2015, the party's manifesto will focus on "quality, not quantity" and potential "bear traps" will be spotted and avoided.

    10:29: UKIP 'party of the NHS'

    Mark Reckless tells the audience at the UKIP spring conference his party is "the party of the NHS": promising to back local health boards, spend £3bn more on the NHS, transform dementia care, and abolish what he calls a "tax on illness" - hospital car parking charges.

    10:29: Going beyond 'UKIP's base'

    Mark Reckless, who was re-elected to Parliament as a UKIP MP in November, is talking about issues which he says can help the party "reach beyond its base" - including planning, the NHS and energy. On the EU, he says UKIP wants to leave "not because we are nationalists but because we are democrats".

    10:29: Reckless speech to UKIP
    Mark Reckless

    UKIP MP Mark Reckless is formally opening its spring conference in Margate. He starts by joking that his appearance is set to be less newsworthy than that at UKIP's autumn conference in September, when his dramatic arrival in Doncaster confirmed that he had defected from the Conservatives.

    10:22: Tuition fees 'politically toxic' Alex Forsyth BBC News Education Correspondent

    The BBC's Alex Forsyth says Labour "will hope after all these years of deliberation, they've come up with a policy that's going to appeal to voters and makes financial sense - but the critics so far aren't convinced". She adds that tuition fees are "politically toxic territory", having burned both the last Labour government and - of course - the Lib Dems under Nick Clegg.

    @robindbrant 10:19: Robin Brant, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Local #UKIP man Tim Scott tells Margate audience "we're on the march...they're scared of us...let's not give them any more ammunition"

    @robindbrant 10:14: Robin Brant, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: .@UKIP chairman 'have we peaked?' Margate audience 'nooooo' #ge2015



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