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‘We’ll legalize cannabis,’ pledge Liberal Democrats

Published time: 12 May, 2017 16:00 Britons over the age of 18 could soon buy...

‘We’ll take 50,000 more Syrian refugees,’ Liberal Democrats pledge

Published time: 11 May, 2017 15:55 Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has pledged to resettle...

Deal with the devil? Tony Blair could work with Liberal Democrats to hinder Brexit

Published time: 19 Apr, 2017 09:22 Controversial former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair could throw his...

Hillary’s Strategy: Snub Liberal Democrats, Move Right to Nab Anti-Trump Republicans

  Joseph Sohm | Shutterstock.com   Hillary Clinton’s strategy for the general election is to try to peal away anti-Trump Republicans. That’s why we are seeing her move to...

‘Decriminalize all drugs’ say Liberal Democrats

Personal possession of all drugs should be decriminalized in the UK, the Liberal Democrats announced in their ‘pre-manifesto’ released on Monday. The party has...

Liberal Democrats Slam New Cannabis Law

Euro-MP Chris Davies has branded the Government’s decision to upgrade cannabis from Class C to Class B status as ludicrous. The Liberal Democrat said the...

Liberal Democrats launch attack on Brown’s ‘surveillance society’

By Colin Brown Liberal Democrat leaders are to mount an attack on Britain's "surveillance society'' that threatens to wreck Gordon Brown's hopes of a cross-party...

Democrats, Liberals Catch McCarthyistic Fever

Exclusive: Democrats and liberals are so angry about President Trump that they are turning to McCarthyistic tactics without regard to basic fairness or the...

Bye-bye, Fake Liberals: The Warren Democrats Are Winning!

The backlash against an inane op-ed...

Democrats, Class and Russia-gate Magic – Consortiumnews

Stunned by the defection of working-class whites, many Democrats respond by calling these Trump voters “stupid” and hoping that Russia-gate...

A Streetcar Named Deus ex Machina: Democrats, Class, and a Gentleman Suitor Named Russiagate

Recently, Democratic Party elites have purged progressives from positions of power within the Party; have been exposed in creating and promulgating, and swallowing whole...

For NYT, Making the Democrats Safe for the Oligarchy Is Literally Job One

by Jim Naureckas Reviewing The Family, a history of the owners of the New York Times, veteran Times reporter John L. Hess (Extra!, 1–2/00) summarized...

Liberals and Ultra-leftists: A Marriage Made in Hell

Lately I’ve been running into liberal Democrats and progressive Bernie supporters who are defending the ultra-left’s tactics of shutting down right-wing speakers and marches...

Brexit Secretary’s ex-aide calls for new ‘Democrats’ party to reverse the EU exit ‘catastrophe'

Published time: 9 Aug, 2017 13:20 Brexit is a “catastrophe” that should be “reversed,” according...

Liberals, Cut Your Cable Cords

They’ve finally done it. For the first time, MSNBC is consistently beating Fox News in total primetime cable news viewership. The number one program...

“A Better Deal”? Dissecting the Democrats’ “Populist” Turn in Rhetoric and Reality

Photo by 7beachbum | CC BY 2.0 In response to their trouncing in the November 2016 presidential and congressional elections, Democrats have unveiled their “A...

The Return of Liberal Class Warfare

In the no-mind of American strategic political thinking the problem with policies that push millions of people out of paying jobs and into poverty...
video

Video: Assange feels threatened by both Republicans & Democrats following Clinton email leaks–Annie Machon

The 'tolerant liberals' of the Democratic Party believe the WikiLeaks founder damaged the electoral chances of Hillary Clinton last year and now are attacking...

As Democratic Voters Shift Left, ‘Liberal Media’ Keep Shifting Right

In the past few years, the Democratic Party’s rank and file has shifted left on major issues. From healthcare to legalization of drugs to...

As Democratic Voters Shift Left, ‘Liberal Media’ Keep Shifting Right

In the past few years, the Democratic Party’s rank and file have shifted left on major issues. From healthcare to legalization of drugs to...
video

Video: CrossTalk: Democrats Keep Losing

While the liberal mainstream media serve up an endless menu of Trump bashing and 'Russiagate', the Democratic Party and the so-called resistance continue ... Via...

Why the Democrats Won't Wake Up

Moments after rightwing Republican Karen Handel won America’s costliest congressional race ever in Georgia’s sixth district, the de rigueur post-election quarrelling erupted: Why did...

Russia-gate Flops as Democrats’ Golden Ticket

Exclusive: The national Democrats saw Russia-gate and the drive to impeach President Trump as their golden ticket back to power,...

Wishful Thinking in Defense of Democrats’ Pro-Business Politics

In the wake of the 2016 election, the Democratic Party is having a debate, and it’s no exaggeration to say that the outcome of...

Progressive vs political outsider: Democrats face off in CA special election for House seat

A state assemblyman campaigning as a true progressive is up against a city official who distinguishes...

The Long Road to Surviving Trump Begins With … Rejecting Neoliberalism

So, no sooner is Trump back from his disastrous G7 meeting than he starts mugging the press. Nothing new here—simply another distract, discredit and...

It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class...

Photo by mathiaswasik | CC BY 2.0 Liberal and other partisan Democrats have spent no small effort trying to evade adult responsibility for Donald Trump’s...

Democrats hope for upset in Georgia special election

A chaotic contest for the House of Representatives seat in Georgia’s 6th congressional district, vacated by...

Dismal in Des Moines: Democrats are Part of What’s the Matter With Iowa

Photo by Phil Roeder | CC BY 2.0 Iowa Nasty In a recent Truthdig report, titled “What’s the Matter with Iowa?,” I reflected on how the...

The Democrats’ Dangerous Diversion

Exclusive: The Democrats won’t admit that they lost to Donald Trump because they ran a deeply flawed, corporate-oriented candidate, so...

’Disaster’ poll shows Democrats less popular than Trump, GOP or media

President Donald Trump may tweet too much, but his approval ratings are higher than those of...

Three Cheers for the Perez-Ellison DNC Team to Move the Democrats in a Progressive...

I was hoping that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) would win the Democratic National Committee chairmanship because of his experience as an organizer, but former...

Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump

“An Arrogant Clod” Harkening the “Downfall of Our Nation” Three weeks ago, two longtime campus-town Democrats published a commentary in the Iowa City Press-Citizen condemning...

Fair Game: The Resistance Puts Pressure on Complicit Democrats

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) takes questions after Democrats held an emergency caucus meeting on investigating former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, on...

Is Rachel Maddow Becoming a Liberal Glenn Beck?

When Rachel Maddow finished a 26-minute monologue that spanned two segments on her MSNBC program last Thursday night, her grave tones indicated that she...

Liberalism as Class Warfare

With apologies in advance for forcing unpleasant thoughts this early in an essay; reflexively, what economic class do the national Democrats’ ‘deplorables’ inhabit? With...

‘Liberal Gun Club’ Sees Rising Membership Under Donald Trump

Liberal Gun Club (LGC) spokesperson Lara Smith says her group has witnessed an increase in inquiries and rising membership since Donald Trump...

NYT’s False Choice for Democrats: Move to the Right or Divide by Race

Joe Biden in the New York Times (12/15/16): “I mean, these are good people, man!” The New York Times piece “Democrats at Crossroads: Win Back...

The Democrats Do Their Job, Again

Old Blue Dogs Don’t Learn New Tricks Did you fall for the narrative that “hey one good silver lining to the 2016 elections is that...

Democrats Caused President Trump; They Caused His Victory

Eric Zuesse, originally posted at strategic-culture.org Here’s a video where Carey Wedler explains in her own thoroughly truthful way in just four minutes, how and...

Why the Democrats Couldn’t Defeat Someone as Loathsome as Trump

Photo by Tyler Merbler | CC BY 2.0 Some preliminary thoughts on the Democrats’ failure to beat someone as loathsome as Donald Trump: 1) Insider Democrats...

Liberal Hate for the Green Party

Liberals have joined Hillary Clinton’s “big nasty tent” in a very big way. They have moved far beyond the usual rationales for sticking with...

Democrats Are Still Divided on Israel, But Clinton Runs Way to the Right

(Speaker Boehner / Flickr) Following Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s exit as chair of the Democratic Party after the release of emails revealing efforts to undermine Bernie Sanders’s...

The Corporate Liberal in America

Joseph Sohm | Shutterstock.com   “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s greatest stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s...

The Hypocrisy of the Democrats' Sit-In Stunt

It's an election year, and the Democrats need a new fundraising peg. So what better way to represent their constituents than to...

Democrats in Dis-Array

Drop of Light | Shutterstock.com   With rumors flying that establishment Democrats might hand Hillary Clinton her hat before the Democratic Convention to replace her with Joe Biden,...

Bill Clinton Brought Democrats Back to Life: A Zombie Idea That Won’t Die

David Shribman, a former New York Times political writer who is now the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s executive editor, had an op-ed about Clintonism in the...

Democrats move to shut down criticism of Clinton’s Wall Street ties

Via WSWS. This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission or license. Tom Eley In the aftermath of last week’s New York primary and...

Is Hillary Clinton the Democrats’ Richard Nixon?

Eric Zuesse Richard Nixon’s similarities to Hillary Clinton are remarkable: 1: Both were highly successful politicians who had exceptionally negative net-approval ratings from the U.S. public,...

Clinton leads Sanders with double digits among New York Democrats – poll

With only a week to go until the New York primary, Hillary Clinton is maintaining her...

Bernie Hysteria & Liberal Hypocrisy

Chris Ernesto (RINF) - The primary purpose of this article isn't to make any of Bernie Sanders' Democratic or Republican competition look comparatively good -...

Republican Candidates Defend Killing Civilians to Fight Terrorism–and So Do Democrats

Hillary Clinton in Afghanistan courtesy of US Embassy Kabul via Flickr There has been a lot of consternation expressed in the media at a series...

A Challenge to Neoliberal Orthodoxy

Conventional thinkers say Jeremy Corbyn’s election to head Britain’s opposition Labour Party and Bernie Sanders’s surge against Hillary Clinton are passing fancies that will fade...

The Democrats Got What They Deserved

Guess I got what I deserve Kept you waiting there, too long my love All that time, without a word Didn't know you'd think, that I'd forget,...

Obama and the Democrats: The Lesser of Two Evils is Still Evil

Donn Marten RINF Alternative News As the old saying goes, “the greatest trick that the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist”. It...

Republicans Rule Out Obama-Impeachment. But Democrats.. We’ll See:

Eric Zuesse  RINF Alternative News President Obama is the most-despised American President in history; he’s dragging his Party down, but will Democrats impeach him, as Republicans...

The Democrats’ New Fake Populism

It would have been hilarious were it not so nauseating. One could only watch the “New Populism” conference with pity-induced discomfort, as stale Democratic politicians did their awkward best to adjust themselves to the fad of “populism.” A boring litany of Democratic politicians — or those closely associated — gave bland speeches that aroused little […]

Democrats in Panic Over New Benghazi Hearings

By Susan DuclosIn the video below from PJ Media they ask some very relevant questions about why Democrats are in a full-fledged panic over the new Benghazi hearings being scheduled. Now that more information has been revealed, questions are compounding...

The Neo-Liberal Deception and the New World Order

Lionel Reynolds  RINF Alternative News The emerging consensus became known as Neo-Liberalism, or Economic Rationalism. It had its intellectual progenitors — Adam Smith, the Austrian and...

MSNBC: Cherry Picking News Issues to Make Toxic Democrats Look Good

Bruce Dixon  RINF Alternative News Why are some stories "news" and not others? Why will New Jersey governor Chris Christie's antics make the top of MSNBC...

Democrats attack the unemployed and the poor

The real content of Obama's “progressive” agenda Patrick Martin  RINF Alternative News Congressional Democrats this week publicly offered to join Republicans in cutting back extended benefits for...

Democrats urge Obama to drop proposal

President Obama is officially scheduled to release his budget next month, but is likely to delay the fiscal blueprint until March or April, as...

Americans Self-Identifying as ‘Liberal’ on the Rise

(AP)The amount of people in the United States who self-identify as "liberal" has climbed to its highest level in two decades, according to a...

In US, Liberals Closing in on Conservative Edge

(AP)The amount of people in the United States who self-identify as "liberal" has climbed to its highest level in two decades, according to a...

The Budget Deal and Neoliberalism: The U.S. and South African Connection

Capitalism has made good use of the world's two most prominent Black men. Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela served as the faces that defused...

The Budget Deal and Neoliberals

It was a fitting historical coincidence that during the same week President Obama was in South Africa to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela, whose...

Liberals and Lefties Who like Guns — But Not the NRA — Emerge in...

Transsexuals, ex-priests and Democrats love guns,...

Senate Democrats Plan Fast-Track Fix to Reinstate Lost Unemployment Benefits

Bill gives three-month extension to more...

Democrats’ Moral-Political Bankruptcy

An end-of-year article in the New York Times, Jonathan Martin and Michael D. Shear's “Minimum Wage Key to Democrats' 2014 Strategy,” (30 Dec.), enables...

Democrats condemn NSA surveillance

The NSA spying programs have sparked controversies across the world.Western Democrats on the ballot in 2014 are strongly condemning the National Security Agency. Montana Lt....

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley Gets Gun for Christmas to Dismay of Liberals

Kurt NimmoInfowars.comDecember 26, 2013 South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley received a handgun from her husband this...

The Democrats Get Desperate

Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, is no stranger to political confrontation. He had some doozies (including two shutdowns of...

Are The Democrats Really “The Peace Party”. A Bi-Partisan Foreign Policy. The War at...

“Our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do what we please….Our power grows through its prudent use;...

The Tanking of Liberalism

Let POTUS henceforth be known by his correct designation, S.A.E., “S” for surveillance, “A” for assassination, “E” for eavesdropping, an indelible legacy, no matter...

When Liberals Red-Bait Conservatives

As a consequence of the shutdown drama, Harry Reid, Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats and liberals such as journalist Jonathan Chait are now describing...

Obama as the “New JFK”: “Pragmatic Liberalism in the Service of Corporate Capitalism”

As the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination approaches, the media will be awash with comparisons between JFK and Barack Obama. The two...

Sarah Palin’s Talk About Federal Debt Slavery Drives Liberals Crazy

Kurt NimmoInfowars.comNovember 11, 2013 Sarah Palin makes sense and liberal Democrats hate it. Palin compares the national debt to slavery. “Our free stuff today is being...

Even Right-Wingers Become Liberals When They Turn Off Fox News

America's center is to the left,...

BETRAYED: Democrats now admit they knew all along that millions would lose their existing...

Mike Adams Natural News October 30, 2013 The degree of betrayal found in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is finally coming to the surface…...

The Coming Grand Bargain: “We’re All Neoliberals Now”

Can you help sustain our work? Click here to support courageous reporting and commentary by making a tax-deductible contribution to Truthout! After the U.S. government...

The Coming Grand Bipartisan Bargain: “We’re All Neoliberals Now”

After the U.S. government shutdown you'd expect Republicans and Democrats to remain at each others' throats, so different was their vision for the country,...

The Coming Grand Bargain: “We’re All Neoliberals Now”

After the U.S. government shutdown you’d expect Republicans and Democrats to remain at each others’ throats, so different was their vision for the country, or so it appeared. In reality, however, only a bit of the political theater was reserved for “Tea Party” Republicans to invest in their political future by denouncing Obamacare, which they […]

9 Reasons Why Many Liberals Absolutely Hate Obamacare

Barack Obama's number one job is not to defeat the Republicans. Rather, his number one job is to run the government well. ...

9 Reasons Why Many Liberals Absolutely Hate Obamacare

Remember - Dissent is Patriotic - Photo by Kevin SmithBarack Obama’s number one job is not to defeat the Republicans.  Rather, his number one job is to run the government well.  And when it comes to Obamacare, he has failed miserably.  The launch of Obamacare has been such a colossal fiasco that words like “disaster” and “catastrophe” simply do not do it justice.  According to recent polls, Americans are against Obamacare by an average margin of about 10 percent, and even many liberals that fought so hard to get Obamacare passed are now abandoning ship.  All over America, health insurance policies are being canceled, health insurance premiums are absolutely skyrocketing, and millions of people that actually wanted to get health insurance through Healthcare.gov find that they are unable to do so.  Yes, the U.S. health care system was already a complete and total mess before Obamacare, but now Obamacare has made things much, much worse and there is little hope that things will improve any time soon.  The following are 9 reasons why most Americans (including a growing number of liberals) absolutely hate Obamacare…

#1 The launch of Obamacare has been such a colossal technical failure that many liberals are now completely ashamed to be associated with it.  At this point, it is nearly impossible to sign up for a health insurance policy on Healthcare.gov.  According to USA Today, the first person to successfully enroll in Obamacare in the state of Delaware had to spend seven hours on the phone and in front of the computer to accomplish that feat…

She needed seven hours of waiting on the phone and sitting in front of her computer, but Janice Baker can claim something few people in the First State can at the moment: She has signed up for health coverage through Delaware’s insurance marketplace.

Officials from the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services declared Baker the first confirmed resident to have enrolled in the marketplace, which opened Oct. 1 as part of the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act also known as Obamacare.

A lot of liberal pundits are not pulling any punches when describing how nightmarish the launch of Obamacare has been.  The following is how Ezra Klein of the Washington Post described the launch of Obamacare…

So far, the Affordable Care Act’s launch has been a failure. Not “troubled.” Not “glitchy.” A failure.

#2 In some areas of the country, people are only able to purchase health insurance from a single company on the Obamacare health insurance exchanges.

#3 Obamacare is causing health insurance premiums to skyrocket, and many liberals are absolutely shocked when this happens to them.  In fact, one liberal blogger was horrified to learn that Obamacare is going to nearly double his monthly health insurance premiums

My wife and I just got our updates from Kaiser telling us what our 2014 rates will be. Her monthly has been $168 this year, mine $150. We have a high deductible. We are generally healthy people who don’t go to the doctor often. I barely ever go. The insurance is in case of a major catastrophe.

Well, now, because of Obamacare, my wife’s rate is gong to $302 per month and mine is jumping to $284.

#4 Obama promised us that if we liked our current health insurance plans that we could keep them.  Unfortunately, that was a lie.  All over the country, existing health insurance plans are being canceled thanks to Obamacare.

#5 Large numbers of employers are no longer offering health insurance to their employees thanks to Obamacare.

#6 Lots of liberals are actually losing their good paying jobs because of Obamacare.  For example, thousands of Connecticut doctors were just fired by UnitedHealthCare

In the midst of major changes in health care, UnitedHealthCare has sent thousands of pink slips to Connecticut doctors.

Termination letters went to physicians caring for Medicare patients. Those letters were sent out to doctors caring for ‘Medicare Advantage’ patients. It’s a plan, marketed to Seniors to provide additional services through UnitedHealthCare.

#7 Many liberals are absolutely mortified by the fact that it cost more than 93 million dollars to build Healthcare.gov.

#8 Many people that believe that they have successfully enrolled in Obamacare are not actually enrolled at all.  There are major problems in transmitting enrollment data from Healthcare.gov to the health insurance companies.  This is how it was explained in the Washington Post

The backroom connection between the insurance companies and the federal government is a disaster. Things are worse behind the curtain than in front of it”

Here is one example from a carrier–and I have received numerous reports from many other carriers with exactly the same problem. One carrier exec told me that yesterday they got 7 transactions for 1 person – 4 enrollments and 3 cancellations.

For some reason the system is enrolling, unenrolling, enrolling again, and so forth the same person. This has been going on for a few days for many of the enrollments being sent to the health plans. It has got on to the point that the health plans worry some of these very few enrollments really don’t exist.

The reconciliation system, that reconciles enrollment between the feds and the health plans, is not working and hasn’t even been tested yet.

#9 Obamacare is extremely complicated.  In fact, according to CNSNews.com, the regulations for Obamacare are now over 11 million words long

Bureaucracies in the Obama Administration have thus far published approximately 11,588,500 words of final Obamacare regulations, while there are only 381,517 words in the Obamacare law itself.

That means unelected federal officials have now written 30 words of regulations for each word in the law.

So is there any hope that Obamacare will go away?

Not at this point.  The Democrats control the White House and the Senate, and they have been absolutely united in their position that there will be absolutely no important changes to Obamacare.

The Republicans could have done a substantial amount of damage to Obamacare by sticking to their guns, but when push came to shove they folded like a 20 dollar suit like they always do.

The cold, hard truth is that Obamacare is the U.S. health care system now.  If you plan to live in the United States, you are going to have to deal with this monstrosity one way or another.  If you don’t like it, you are out of luck, because our politicians in Washington D.C. do not really seem to care about the rest of us.

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Eight Reasons Democrats Should Refuse a Shutdown “Grand Bargain”

(Photo: Alex Berger / Flickr)White House messaging on the shutdown (and debt ceiling threats) has been nearly pitch-perfect. Republicans, on the other hand, have...

Liberal Luminaries in Senate Are Swing Votes on Bombing Syria

Many senators began this week still uncommitted on whether they'll vote for attacking Syria. Among the fence-sitters are enough “progressives” to swing the...

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The New York Times and “Liberal Media” Helped Sell the Iraq War

I support The Real News Network because it is one of the few remaining political voices of the people. - David Pear Log in and tell us why you support TRNN Bio Transcript PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Networ...

Appointing Senators, Be They Republicans or Democrats, Is Wrong

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has rejected former Congressman Barney Frank’s request that he be appointed to fill the vacancy created by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick. (Photo: Rappaport Center via Flickr)Senator John Kerry’s resignation to serve as secretary of state. Despite the fact that progressive groups urged the Frank pick for the temporary slot—arguing that the former congressman could play a critical, perhaps definitional, role in budget fights over cutting Pentagon waste and taxing speculators—the governor instead picked his former chief of staff.

The new senator, William “Mo” Cowan, has long been close to the governor, having formerly served as Patrick’s legal counsel. He’s experienced, capable and politically connected, a well-regarded lawyer who has worked not just with Patrick but also with former Governor Mitt Romney (whom Cowan helped identify judicial picks). He’ll be the state’s second African-American senator, after liberal Republican Ed Brooke, who served in the 1960s and 1970s. As a lawyer, Cowan has been active with the American Constitution Society—joining in the society’s “work  to advance the progressive values and principles of the U.S. Constitution”—which counts for a lot with Americans who seek to challenge right-wing judicial activism.

But, as with his selection of former Democratic National Committee Paul Kirk to fill the interim vacancy created by the death of Senator Edward Kennedy, Patrick has gone with a connected insider rather than someone who is likely to shake things up in the Senate.

Patrick says he’s now got “a valued ally” in the Senate.

And there is no reason to doubt that this is the case.

But, of course, this is the problem with letting governors, be they Republicans or Democrats, appoint US senators. The Massachusetts circumstance is less troublesome than in states such as Hawaii and South Carolina, which will be represented for more than two years by recently appointed senators. A special election in June will replace Cowan with a senator chosen by the voters.

But gubernatorial appointments of senators, be they for a few months, or for a few years, make the United States Senate, never a perfectly representative body, a good deal less representative.

Cowan will join three appointed senators in the chamber during what Barney Frank correctly identified as a particularly critical period in the chamber.

Another new senator, Tim Scott, has been appointed by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, rather than elected by the people of that state. The same goes for Brian Schatz, Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie’s pick to fill the vacancy created by the death of Senator Dan Inouye.

Cowan, Schatz and Scott come from different parties and different ideological backgrounds. There is every reason to believe they will serve honorably, and ably. Progressives are already excited by some of what Schatz has done, while conservatives are enthusiastic about Scott.

But none of these details change the fact that a trio of unelected senators will be powerful, perhaps even definitional, figures in what is supposed to be a representative body. They will play critical roles in deciding whether to approve or reject cabinet nominees and Supreme Court selections, they will vote on tax policies and budget measures and they will decide whether to crack the “debt ceiling”—or send young men and women off to war. But they will do so without democratic legitimacy.

No member of Congress should serve without having been elected by the people of the district or state they represent.

Unfortunately, the new Senate will have at least three members who serve not as representatives but as mandarins—appointees assigned to positions by governors who have assumed dubious authority.

The point here ought not be to do disparage Cowan, Shatz or Scott.

The point is to raise a concern about the fact that more laws will be proposed, more filibusters will be sustained, more critical votes will be tipped in one direction or another by “senators” who never earned a single vote for the positions they are holding.

Why?

Because of a deliberate misreading of the vague 1913 amendment to the US Constitution that replaced the old system of appointing senators with one that said they were all supposed to be directly elected.

The Seventeenth Amendment sought to end the corrupt, and corrupting, process of appointing senators. But a loophole was included to give governors the authority to make temporary appointments. That meant that, while no one has ever been allowed to serve in the US House of Representatives without having first been elected, dozens of men and women have served in the Senate without having been elected. And those appointed senators often serve for two full years, as will South Carolina’s Scott and Hawaii’s Senator Schatz, both of whom will serve until at least 2015. To the end of the 113th Congress, senators chosen by individual governor in South Carolina and Hawaii will have the same authority as a senator elected by 7,748,994 voters (California Democrat Dianne Feinstein).

Former House Judiciacy Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), rightly points out that this is a fundamental voting-rights issue. It is, as well, a question of “basic consistency in how our Representatives in Congress are elected.” Says Conyers: “The Constitution has always required that House vacancies be filled by election. The Senate should not be subject to a different standard. Americans should always have a direct say in who represents them in Congress—in both Houses, all of the time.”

Conyers was a key House backer of former US Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), when the then-chairman of the Senate Judiciacy Committee’s subcommittee on the Constitution tried to amend the Constitution to address the problem.

Feingold’s proposal, which would have required special elections to fill all Senate vacancies, got a little bit of traction when Feingold was still serving in the Senate. In 2009, the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution approved Feingold’s proposed amendment to end gubernatorial appointments to vacant Senate seats.

Recalling a series of appointments following the 2008 election, Feingold said: “I applaud my colleagues on the subcommittee for passing the Senate Vacancies Amendment, which will end an anti-democratic process that denies voters the opportunity to determine who represents them in the US Senate. The nation witnessed four gubernatorial appointments to Senate seats earlier this year, some mired in controversy, and we will soon see another one in Texas. This will leave more than 20 percent of Americans represented by a senator whom they did not elect.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), was not enthusiastic about the amendment. He defended the appointment of senators, saying, “In the state of Nevada the governor appoints. Even though we have a Republican governor now I think that’s the way it should be so I don’t support his legislation.”

No one with a taste for democracy can possibly respect the majority leader’s position on appointed senators.

More thoughtful senators, including the number-two Democrat in the chamber, Illinoisan Dick Durbin, co-sponsored Feingold’s amendment.

Reid got that one wrong. Feingold got it right.

“It is time to finish the job started by the great progressive Bob La Follette of Wisconsin to require the direct election of senators,” the former senator from Wisconsin said in 2009. “No one can represent the American people in the House of Representatives without the approval of the voters. The same should be true for the Senate. I hope the full Senate Judiciary Committee will soon get the chance to consider this important constitutional amendment to entrust the people, not state governors, with the power to select U.S. senators.”

The worst deficit facing America is the democracy deficit.

It can be addressed, at least in part, by making the Senate a representative chamber.

Feingold can’t complete the process he began. But his former colleagues, led by Dick Durbin, should do so. As Durbin said several years ago when he chaired a hearing on the issue: “Over a half century ago, Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said: ‘No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’ The same might be said of special elections to fill vacant U.S. Senate seats—they are the worst way to fill such seats, except for all the others.”

© 2013 The Nation

John Nichols

Nick Clegg Unveils Liberal Party ‘Memorial’

Nick Clegg inadvertently lamented the death of his own party's values on Monday when he unveiled a plaque commemorating the founding of the Liberal Party and refereed to it as a "memorial". As the Liberal Democrat leader reflected on the beginnings of...

An Electoral-Season Note to My Liberal Friends





Well into the silly season, the heat is turned up on the Left to fall in line and support the Democratic Party. On one hand, the independent Left is diminished by not being “in the game.” On the other hand, the Left is still excoriated for having been “in the game” with Nader during the Gore-Bush Presidential race of 2000.

Specious arguments pile on top of specious arguments for why the spurned progressive, liberal, and labor voter should reward those who have disregarded their interests and broken their campaign promises. The arguments come in every size and shape, but always from self-described “friends” and “committed leftists.” Oddly enough, they feel no compunction to explain why their past admonitions or their previous enthusiasms produced no real change in the political landscape when Democrats took power.

They smugly ask if independent-thinking leftists actually believe that there are no differences between the two parties. Only an idiot would respond defensively to this deceptive, distracting tact. Of course there are differences, just as there are differences between Pepsi and Coke. But the relevant question is: Are there any differences that matter, any differences that -- in the dynamics of two-party governing-- will effectively alter the plight of the majority of the US population for the better?

If the Democrats hold the Presidency, there is every reason to believe that they will do no more than they did when they had the rare dominance of all three governing branches. Indeed there is every reason to believe that Obama would relish compromising with the Republican agenda, an approach that he previously embraced even when he had no reason to do so.

On the other hand, should the Republicans gain the Presidency, the Democrats will, as they have in the past, show much more eagerness to demonstrate differences with Republicans and more vigorously attack Republican initiatives. They will offer a more leftward agenda since there is no danger of having to implement progressive policies. And they will embrace the Left insofar as it will mount the sharpest and most coherent attack on Republican policies, while doing so in a loud and demonstrative way.

A Democratic Party out of power is a belligerent, feisty party that will even spread some cash around to support left and progressive causes. Of course, that financial link secures a certain loyalty that perhaps explains the 
enthusiasm shown for the Democrats by many of our progressive brothers and sisters in every election cycle.

For decades, we have been warned of the dangers wrought by Republican victories: an unfriendly supreme court, an attack on welfare, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, war mongering and aggression, etc. Yet despite the handing of power back and forth for nearly forty years, the dangers have continued to deepen—the US has suffered a constant rightward drift since the middle of the Carter administration. Apparently, the “Vote Democratic” argument is only an argument about the pace of that drift.

But the greatest victims of the Democratic Party love-fest are truth and honesty. Take Paul Krugman, for example. His soap box in The New York Times has served to excoriate the Obama administration for doing far too little to bring the US economy back from the grip of crisis. On many occasions, he has warned of the dangers of closing the stimulus program and embracing austerity, policies that he acknowledges Obama has endorsed. Reviewers of his new book note the dominant theme of political inaction and the dangers that ensue.

Yet Krugman holds his nose and delivers a ringing endorsement of Obama’s economic policies in a recent column: “But is the mess really getting cleaned up [by the Administration]? The answer, I would argue, is yes… So, as I said, the odds are that barring major mistakes, the next four years will be much better than the past four years… So Bill Clinton basically had it right: For all the pain America has suffered on his watch, Barack Obama can fairly claim to have helped the country get through a very bad patch, from which it is starting to emerge.”

Following the lead of the old huckster, Bill Clinton, Krugman dutifully salutes the President with approval of the Administration’s economic program contrary to his often-voiced disparagement. Krugman gets kudos for loyalty to the Party, but shame for despoiling honesty. If the next four years “will be much better” under Obama’s stewardship, then why should we take Krugman’s constant dire warnings at all seriously?

Democratic partisans will cry foul. For them, criticizing Krugman’s waffling is another example of left “purity.” But truth and honesty do not allow for shadings or gradations. The people deserve better. And they want better, as opinion polls consistently show.

The corruption of politics in the US is neither an aberration nor an accident. Instead it is the logical evolution of a political system in the era of state-monopoly capitalism operating freely and without the counter force of a strong, independent working class movement. The process of that evolution is revealing.

Looking Back

It is easy to forget that not so long ago there were currents and trends in the Democratic Party that represented more than the authority of markets, the interests of corporations, and the enthusiastic approval of military adventure. That is not to say that the Democratic Party was not a bourgeois party, a party of capitalism. It is and always has been. But there was a time when the party’s course was disputed terrain; a variety of interests wrestled for its direction.

The Democratic Party’s defeat in the 1980 election was presaged by an enormous fund-raising advantage by the Republicans. The Republican Party as a whole raised $130.3 million in the 1979-80 period over the Democrats' meager $23 million. Perhaps more than any other factor in the Reagan victory, this glaring inequity cast the mold for the future Democratic course. In addition, organized labor’s decline and the falling electoral participation of poor and working people spurred new rightist trends in the Party.

Going into the 1984 election, the Democratic Party found itself torn between three ideological currents. While all agreed that an answer to the successful extreme right victory in 1980 was critical, factions differed on how to respond. These differences were fought out in the primaries.

Walter Mondale represented old-school Cold War liberalism. While drifting to the right to accommodate Reaganism, Mondale claimed to uphold New Deal values, though without offering any new social programs. He drew support from the entrenched leadership of the New Deal coalition: labor, minorities and liberals.

A new trend emerged around the candidacy of Gary Hart. Appealing to the well-off middle strata that moved into the Democratic Party in large numbers after the Nixon debacle, Hart proposed a “third way” (prescient of the Blair/Clinton developments to come) between traditional liberalism and the Reagan/Thatcher rightist turn. Hart and his ilk saw themselves as social liberals and fiscal conservatives, combining lifestyle tolerance with corporate friendliness and market-based policies. This third way promised to retain the cultural veneer of liberalism while gutting its Keynesian, welfare-state directed policies that supported and bolstered the well-being of workers and the poor. A not inconsequential bonus was that business-friendly policies would draw greater campaign contributions from corporations and the wealthy.

Some in the Party recognized the rightward drift of the old guard and viewed the launching of the new Reagan-lite model with alarm. Jesse Jackson, in a letter to former progressive flag-bearer, George McGovern, wrote: “Too many Democrats have gone along with Republicans on every Reagan policy.” In response, Jackson launched a national primary campaign to win the Democrats away from the right turn that he correctly anticipated. With a base in the long-neglected African-American community, Jackson reached out to labor and other progressive constituencies.

Despite deeply embedded racism and Democratic Party sabotage, Jackson waged an impressive campaign garnering almost 20% of the vote and winning 5 primaries, all without substantial funding and Party support.

Nonetheless, Mondale won the nomination and went on to lose overwhelmingly to Ronald Reagan.

Ignoring  the strong showing of the progressive Left, the Democratic leadership moved forward with what The Nation magazine previously dubbed “Reaganism with a human face” (6-26-1982).

The new direction for the Democratic Party was sealed with the creation of a wide-ranging policy statement in August of 1986. Entitled “New Choices in a Changing America,” the slick, comprehensive document gave the imprimatur of the Party leadership to the path of economic conservatism, market-based policies, and limited government action. The Democratic leadership had heard the gospel of Reagan and found a way to call it their own. The answer to unemployment, poverty, and declining living standards was partnership with the private sector, rising worker productivity, and clearing the regulatory barriers to growth. While conceding that the working class and the poor had seen their living standards devastated since 1970 (including six years of Reaganism), the Democrats chose to march hand-in-hand with the Reaganauts.

Writing in September of 1986 (People’s Daily World), Si Gerson, the Communist Party’s long respected and experienced electoral expert, wrote:

Certain right-wing factions, supported largely by big money people, are particularly unhappy about the results [progressive wins in Senatorial primaries] and, above all, by the rising popular movement for peace and the increasing militancy of labor and its allies… They want the Democratic Party leadership’s rightward drift to be set in concrete… They have… codified it in a 71-page statement released last week by the Democratic Policy Commission. Entitled “New Choices in a Changing America,” the statement on basic questions simply parrots Reagan—even on points he has begun to mute somewhat… The underlying theory of the document is that the country has gone to the right and if the Democratic Party is to win the Senate in 1986 and the White House in 1988 it too must go to the right.
Gerson was correct to recognize this effort by the Democratic Party leadership to turn their party into a carbon-copy of Reagan’s party. He recalled a previous warning by a venerated figure among Democrats:

Perhaps the clearest answer to this manifesto was delivered months ago by someone who can hardly be called a left-wing Democrat. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the historian who was a fixture in the Roosevelt New Deal, branded as “Reaganite fellow-travelers” those who say “me-too” to Reagan policies. Writing in the New York Times of July 6, Schlesinger said: “Today me-tooism is an infection within the Democratic Party. It finds expression in quasi-Reaganite formations like the Democratic Leadership Council and the Coalition for a Democratic Majority… One can only add that for the Democrats' me-tooism is a recipe for disaster,” 

Unfortunately, ”Me-tooism,” the strategy of shadowing the Republican Party and maintaining a position ever-so-slightly closer to the center, won the day and remains the approach of Democratic Party leaders to this day.

Notably, the Left mounted a noble effort in 1988, again behind the primary candidacy of Jesse Jackson. The campaign charged ahead, winning primaries and caucuses and surprising the old guard. But when the campaign began to draw significant and militant labor support, a stealth campaign of slander and racial fear diminished the outcome. Nonetheless, Jackson and the Left captured nearly seven million votes.

Like the quixotic Progressive Party campaign of 1948, the Jackson campaign was smothered by the effort of a Democratic Party resolute in following a path blazed by the extreme right and scandalizing the opposition with red- and race-baiting. Through fear and intimidation, Democratic leaders denied the emergence of a viable left bloc, a counter force to the domination of monopoly capital.

Lessons?

With the victory of corporate Democrats—fiscally conservative, socially liberal—the problem of fund-raising has been solved. In the 2008 election, corporate Democrats actually raised more than their corporate Republican counterparts. In this election cycle, they may well fall behind the Republicans. But they will never know again the vast inequity of 1980. Their fealty to monopoly capital ensures some measure of campaign-fund parity.

At the same time, the dominance of corporate Democrats and the Democratic Party leadership’s comfort with this relationship, denies any insurgency within the Party, not that rebellion would be countenanced in any case. Those who continue to argue for “inside/outside” strategies will continue to find themselves outside—neither “in the game” nor with a coherent political strategy.

The only viable force capable of changing this regular exercise in futility is the labor movement or some subset of it. Organized labor has the resources and apparatus to launch a new, independent political vehicle that would neither be beholden to corporate power nor restrained by false friends. Necessarily, labor must stop throwing these resources at the feet of the Democratic Party; labor leaders must reject their current vassalage to Democratic Party officials. It’s a tough challenge to work for these changes, but one far more worthy than hustling for political swindlers.

In the mean time, don’t bother asking, I’m enthusiastically voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party. She was arrested recently trying to stop home foreclosures in Philadelphia. And your candidate? 

Zoltan Zigedy


 

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UK Elections: Business As Usual Triumphs

UK Elections: Business as Usual Triumphs

by Stephen Lendman

May 7 general elections approach. Britain is like America. It's all over before polls open. Monied interests win every time.

Ordinary people lose out more than ever in modern memory. It shows in opinion polls. 

Only 16% of voters trust politicians. Why anyone besides well-off Brits do they'll have to explain.  

It doesn't matter who wins on Thursday. Torries and New Labour are even in polls. They're like Republicans and Democrats in America - two sides of the same coin, not a dime's worth of difference between them.

Neither major party is expected to win a majority. Expect coalition government with smaller parties to follow. They largely support the same regressive policies.

All politicians lie. Nothing they say can be believed. New Labour leader Ed Miliband maintained the standard saying Britain's "clear choice on Thursday (is) between a Labour government that will put working people first or a Tory government that will only ever work for the privileged few."

Britain's "clear choice" is none at all. Monied interests run things. Bankers top the pecking order.

Politicians come and go. One major party or the other wins. Things stay the same.

Neoliberal harshness, financialization, weak unions, offshoring manufacturing, privatizing state enterprises, deregulation, and disappearing social justice characterize Britain's economy.

London's Guardian warned of a "hit list of (more) welfare cuts" coming.

Voltaire once explained British society saying its people "are like their own beer; froth on top, dregs at bottom, the middle excellent."

Today's froth never had it better. Poor Brits are enduring their hardest times since post-WW II recovery.

Middle class society is fast disappearing - like in America. Britain's weekly Spectator magazine says it's "shrinking and sinking."

"The lifestyle that the average earner had half a century ago -  reasonably sized house, dependable healthcare, a decent education for the children and a reliable pension - is becoming the preserve of the rich." 

"Middle-class pensioners look on amazed at how their children, now into adulthood, seem to have a far harder time."

Rich elites run things more than ever. They doubled their wealth since 2009. The average worker earns less when adjusted for inflation and wage cuts.

Former Bank of England governor Mervyn King said middle class society is enduring the longest squeeze in living memory. Rich folks never had it better.

London is unaffordable to live in. House prices average over $750,000. The average wage is less than $50,000.

In January, thousands participated in a March for Homes rally. They demanded solutions to unaffordable housing prices - worsening as they escalate.

They carried banners saying "People before profit." Build council homes (reasonably priced ones for working class people)." "Take the wealth of the 1%."

Rents surged an average 13% annually since 2010. So have repossessions and evictions. Britain increasingly is unfit to live in - just like America.

New Labour claiming "Britain can be better" rings hollow for millions enduring increasing hardships.

They're "all the same," growing numbers of voters say about a system increasingly ignoring their needs.

They promise one thing. They do another. Serving monied interests and allying with Washington's war machine matter most.

Respect Party Bradford West MP George Galloway is running for reelection. He calls himself "your traditional, much-loved black cab."

"You don't know what you've got until it's gone. There are not a lot of us black cabs around any more."

His constituency is one of Britain's poorest. It's struggling to reinvent itself. Despite his best  best efforts, he's up against a corrupted, uncaring system.

He's one of 650 House of Commons members. "Recovery, what recovery," he asks?

"We keep hearing that the economic recovery is better in Britain than in any other European country."

"Well it may be in London and the Home Counties, but it certainly isn't here" and most other places in Britain.

Millions are suffering. Food banks are proliferating, Galloway explained. "Can you imagine what the country will look like by 2020 if these barbarians are returned" to power, he stressed.

"We need investment in jobs and infrastructure…But it won't come under the Tories or this miserable local Labour administration." Or New Labour if it bests the Torries nationwide.

Social justice is fast disappearing. Force-fed austerity is official UK policy. 

So is growing wealth inequality. It's risen four times faster since 2008 compared to the seven preceding years.

It bears repeating. Britain is like America - governed of, by and for its privileged elites alone.

It's corrupt, fundamentally unfair and ruthlessly anti-democratic. Young people have no futures.

An entire generation is lost. Social welfare cuts hits Britain's most disadvantaged hardest.

Inequality is booming. Politicians able to make a difference don't care. Increasing amounts of public wealth in private hands is a slippery slope to third world status.

Margaret Thatcher escalated inequality. She oversaw one of the greatest ever transfers of wealth to British society's most well-off.

David Cameron is worse. New Labour's Ed Miliband is no better. Robbing poor Peter to pay rich Paul is official bipartisan policy.

It's endorsed by Liberal Democrats, Britain's third ranked party. It's neither liberal nor democratic. It's hard right like the rest.

On Thursday, voting options are death by hanging or firing squad. Ballot choices exclude government serving everyone equitably.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected] 

His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."

http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.


It airs three times weekly: live on Sundays at 1PM Central time plus two prerecorded archived programs. 

The 2015 British General Election: Capitalism’s One-Horse Race

RINF, Global Research, Countercurrents, Counterpunch

Britain is currently in the grip of a general election campaign. Voting takes place on 7 May and election fever in the media is building as various commentators and politicians engage in empty rhetoric about British values and democratic principles. Due to the nature of the 'first past the post' voting system, the only two parties with a realistic hope of achieving a majority of seats in parliament are Labour and the Conservatives. As in the outgoing parliament, the party most likely to achieve third place, the Liberal Democrats, might hold the balance of power in a hung parliament.

On TV last week there was a ‘leaders’ debate’. The issues debated revolved around the economy, the National Health Service and immigration. Leaders of the three main parties embraced a cosy consensus based on the need to continue with ‘austerity’ but quibbled over the nature or speed of cuts to the public sector and public services. The debate has set the tone for the unfolding campaign.

All three main parties are pro-big business and are aligned with the neoliberal economic agenda set by the financial cartel based in the City of London and on Wall Street and by the major transnational corporations. The likes of Chatham House, Centre for Policy Studies, Foreign Policy Centre, Reform, Institute of Economic Affairs and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (most of which the British public have never heard of) have already determined the pro-corporate and generally pro-Washington policies that the parties will sell to the public. Pressure tactics at the top level of politics, massively funded lobbying groups and the revolving door between private corporations and the machinery of state have also helped shape the policy agenda.

As if to underline this, in 2012 Labour MP Austin Mitchell described the UK’s big four accountancy firms as being "more powerful than government." He said the companies’ financial success allows them privileged access to government policy makers. Of course, similar sentiments concerning 'privileged access' could also be forwarded about many other sectors, not least the arms industry and global agritech companies which armed with their poisons, unsustainable model of industrial agriculture and bogus claims have been working hand in glove with government to force GMO's into the UK despite most people who hold a view on the matter not wanting them.

The impact and power of think tanks, lobbying and cronyism means that the major parties merely provide the illusion of choice and democracy to a public that is easily manipulated courtesy of a toothless and supine corporate media. The knockabout point-scoring of party politics serves as entertainment for a public that is increasingly disillusioned with politics.

The upshot is that the main parties have all accepted economic neoliberalism and the financialisation of the British economy and all that it has entailed: weak or non-existent trade unions, an ideological assault on the public sector, the offshoring of manufacturing, deregulation, privatisation and an economy dominated by financial services.

In Britain, long gone are the relatively well-paid manufacturing jobs that helped build and sustain the economy. In its place, the country has witnessed the imposition of a low taxation regime, low-paid and insecure ‘service sector’ jobs (no-contract work, macjobs, call centre jobs - much of which soon went abroad), a real estate bubble, credit card debt and student debt, which all helped to keep the economy afloat and maintain demand during the so-called boom years under Tony Blair. Levels of public debt spiraled, personal debt became unsustainable and the deregulated financial sector demanded the public must write down its own gambling debts.

The economy is now based on (held to ransom by) a banking and finance-sector cartel that specialises in rigging markets, debt creation, money laundering  and salting away profits in various City of London satellite tax havens and beyond. The banking industry applies huge pressure on governments and has significant influence over policies to ensure things remain this way.

If you follow the election campaign, you will see no talk from the main parties about bringing the railway and energy and water facilities back into public ownership. Instead, privatisation will continue and massive profits will be raked in as the public forks out for private-sector subsidies and the increasingly costly ‘services’ provided.

There will be no talk of nationalising the major banks or even properly regulating or taxing them (and other large multinationals) to gain access to funds that could build decent infrastructure for the public benefit.

Although the economy will be glibly discussed throughout the campaign, little will be mentioned about why or how the top one percent in the UK increased their wealth substantially in 2008 alone when the economic crisis hit. Little will be said about why levels of inequality have sky rocketed over the past three decades.

When manufacturing industry was decimated (along with the union movement) and offshored, people were told that finance was to be the backbone of the ‘new’ economy. And to be sure it has become the backbone. A spineless one based on bubbles, derivatives trading, speculation and all manner of dodgy transactions and practices. Margaret Thatcher in the eighties sold the economy to bankers and transnational corporations and they have never looked back. It was similar in the US.

Now Britain stands shoulder to shoulder with Washington’s militaristic agenda as the US desperately seeks to maintain global hegemony - not by rejecting the financialisation of its economy, rebuilding a manufacturing base with decent jobs and thus boosting consumer demand or ensuring the state takes responsibility for developing infrastructure to improve people's quality of life - but by attacking Russia and China which are doing some of those very things and as a result are rising to challenge the US as the dominant global economic power.

The election campaign instead of focusing on 'austerity', immigrants or welfare recipients, who are depicted by certain politicians and commentators as bleeding the country dry, should concern itself with the tax-evading corporate dole-scrounging super rich, the neoliberal agenda they have forced on people and their pushing for policies that would guarantee further plunder, most notably the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

However, with a rigged media and all major parties representing the interests of an unaccountable financial-corporate-state elite, we can expect Britain to continue to fall in line behind Washington’s militarism and a further hollowing out of what remains of the economy and civil society.

No matter who wins on 7 May, the public is destined for more of the same. The real outcome of the election has already been decided by the interlocking directorate of think tanks, big business and its lobby groups and the higher echelons of the civil service. The election will be akin to rearranging the deckchairs on a sinking ship.

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Press scheme ‘will work and endure’

Newspapers are considering whether to sign up to a new regulator agreed by the main political parties, amid deep divisions over the implications for Britain's centuries-old tradition of press freedom.

Some of the biggest national newspaper publishers warned that there were a number of "deeply contentious issues" surrounding the scheme unveiled in Parliament which had still to be resolved.

There was outright condemnation from the Newspaper Society, representing the UK's 1,100 local newspapers, which warned the plans - including fines of up to £1 million - would place a "crippling burden" on local press. "A free press cannot be free if it is dependent on and accountable to a regulatory body recognised by the state," said Newspaper Society president Adrian Jeakings.

Meanwhile, the 57-nation Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) urged Britain not to abandon a tradition of press self-regulation regarded around the world as best practice.

In the Commons, David Cameron said the deal hammered out in late night talks between the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats, would safeguard investigative journalism and freedom while protecting the victims of press intrusion, in line with the recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson. But there was immediate division between the parties as to the extent to which the new regulator had the "statutory underpinning" demanded by the Hacked Off group campaigning for tighter press regulation.

Under the plan, a royal charter - set to be approved by the Queen at the May meeting of the Privy Council - will establish a "regulation panel" to oversee the new system of press self-regulation. At the same time, bills going through the Lords and Commons were amended to prevent the charter being changed without the support of a two-thirds "super majority" in both Houses and to enable the courts to impose "exemplary" damages on newspapers which do not sign up to the new system.

Mr Cameron insisted they did not "cross the Rubicon" of creating a press law, which could be used by future governments to suppress free speech. But Labour leader Ed Miliband maintained it did have "statutory underpinning", while Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg - who sided with Labour against his Conservative coalition partner - said it was "a royal charter protected by legislation".

A joint statement signed by the Mail and Telegraph groups, News International and Northern and Shell, made clear they had serious concerns about the plan. It stressed that - unlike Hacked Off who had four representatives at the talks in Mr Miliband's Commons office where the deal was clinched - they were not involved in the discussions.

"We have only late this afternoon seen the royal charter that the political parties have agreed between themselves and, more pertinently, the recognition criteria, early drafts of which contained several deeply contentious issues which have not yet been resolved with the industry," the statement said. "In the light of this we are not able to give any response on behalf of the industry to this afternoon's proposals until we have had time to study them."

For the Newspaper Society, Mr Jeakings, the chief executive of the Archant group, said local newspapers were fiercely opposed to any form of statutory involvement or underpinning in the regulation of the press. "The royal charter proposals agreed by the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour - with huge financial penalties for newspapers which choose to be outside the system and an arbitration service which would open the floodgates to compensation claimants - would place a crippling burden on the UK's 1,100 local newspapers, inhibiting freedom of speech and the freedom to publish," he said.

Leveson Talks Break Down, David Cameron To Force Commons Vote On Royal Charter

David Cameron is heading for almost certain defeat in the Commons on Monday after he blew up cross-party talks on implementing the Leveson proposals for press regulation.

Instead the prime minister has scheduled a showdown vote in which MPs will be asked to support his alternative plan for a Royal Charter.

However both the Lib Dem and Labour leadership support the statutory underpinning of regulation as proposed by Leveson and as such Cameron does not have an obvious parliamentary majority on the issue.

Hacked Off called the failure to agree "a shameless betrayal of the victims of press abuse".

It is unclear whether Nick Clegg will tell his MPs to vote with Labour to defeat the Tory proposals, however it would be extremely awkward for the deputy prime minister to abandon his previous strong support for Leveson.

The outcome of the vote is made more uncertain as many Tory MPs are in favour of the Leveson plan, while some Labour MPs are opposed to it.

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In a hastily-arranged press conference in 10 Downing Street, Cameron announced that the cross-party talks had "concluded without agreement" after a conference call between himself, Clegg and Ed Miliband this morning.

He said that the proposals for an independent body, established by Royal Charter, to oversee the system of press self-regulation would provide "the toughest regulation of the press that this country has ever seen".


John Prescott
So Cameron has unwittingly turned Monday's Leveson vote into a confidence vote on his leadership. What could possibly go wrong? #mayday

Newspapers would refuse to sign up to a new system which is underpinned by statute, as recommended by Lord Justice Leveson and advocated by Labour, Lib Dems and the Hacked Off campaign group, he warned.

"The route I have set out is the fastest possible way to deliver the strong self-regulation body that Leveson proposed that can put in place million-pound fines, prominent apologises and get justice for victims in this country," said the prime minister.

"The deal is there to be done, it is the fastest way to get proper justice for victims."

And a senior Lib Dem source said that Cameron had made the decision to pull the plug on cross-party talks "unilaterally" and the Liberal Democrats were now considering their next step.

"We were very surprised and disappointed," said the source. "We thought we were making real progress and inching towards a deal, but the Prime Minister has unilaterally decided to pull the plug on cross-party talks.

"We are still prepared to work with politicians of all parties, including the Conservatives, who want to work with others to implement Leveson."

Asked whether Lib Dems would vote with Labour against the Royal Charter proposals on Monday, the source said: "We are going to have to talk about it and see what we do. Nothing has been agreed in government."

A senior Labour source said: "The prime minister's decision is very disappointing. We still hope for an agreement. We still believe there can be an agreement. We urge the Prime Minister to reflect on his actions."

Index on Censorship chief executive Kirsty Hughes backed the PM's move, and said he was right not to make a "shoddy compromise with Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, which would have meant statutory underpinning of press regulation.

"A tough new independent regulator whether set up by Royal Charter, or preferably by a route with no political involvement at all, is a big step forward compared to the previous system of self-regulation.

"Cameron’s decision to go to a vote has clearly been forced by the threat of wrecking amendments being added into several bills, including one that is already threatening the passage of the Defamation Bill, which Leveson himself said should be kept separate from his work."

Professor Brian Cathcart, Executive Director, Hacked Off said Cameron had “chosen to throw his lot in with powerful national newspaper groups, whose actions were condemned in the Leveson Report.

“He allowed the newspapers to rewrite Leveson so much that they would have been able to pick and choose which complaints their self regulator dealt with and would have given the self regulator little power to tell a paper to give an apology or a correction due prominence.

“Worse than that, the editors would have been able to write their own rules and handpick the people who ran the regulator.

“Cameron is trying to raise a smokescreen to hide his dirty dealings behind closed doors with powerful press barons who don’t want to have to be accountable when their newspapers –to use Lord Justice Leveson’s words – ‘wreak havoc in the lives of innocent people’”.

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Business Secretary Vince Cable - who earlier held open the prospect of a revolt - said a solution had been found to sidestep the opposition's "cynical games".

lib dems

There had been speculation that Vince Cable would vote with the Opposition over the Mansion Tax

The coalition parties will instead vote for an amendment on Tuesday which recognises the deep differences between them on the proposals for a levy on £2 million-plus properties.

"This amendment allows Liberal Democrats in Parliament to back our long-held policy of the mansion tax. We created it and will continue to champion it," Cable said.

"The amendment also makes it clear that although we are in coalition with the Conservatives, we have different views on the desirability of a mansion tax.

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"The Liberal Democrats will not however support a Labour motion designed exclusively to play cynical party political games."

Labour leader Ed Miliband recently adopted the mansion tax - a long-cherished Lib Dem policy - and challenged deputy prime minister Nick Clegg's party to break ranks.

Faced with a damaging Commons split, the coalition parties instead devised a compromise amendment that will allow them to remain together in the voting lobbies.

Vince Cable 'Expected To Support Government' On Mansion Tax, Says Downing Street

It specifically sets out that "the part of the coalition led by the deputy prime minister" advocates a mansion tax while "the party of the coalition led by the prime minister does not".

Shadow Treasury minister Chris Leslie said: "It would be astonishing if the Liberal Democrats failed to back a straightforward motion supporting their long-held policy of a mansion tax on properties over £2 million.

"The Liberal Democrats have a simple choice: either they back the policy they set out in their manifesto and which Nick Clegg made the centerpiece of the Eastleigh by-election campaign or they don't.

"No amount of wriggling or contortion can get them out of that simple choice.

"After supporting a Tory tax cut for millionaires, a failing economic plan, a VAT rise and a trebling of tuition fees, this is yet another example of why we should judge the Lib Dems on what they do, not what they say."

Labour says it would use the proceeds of a mansion tax to fund the reintroduction of a 10p lower income tax rate.

But its motion did not make that link, to make it easier for the Lib Dems - who prefer the raising of thresholds to help low earners - to back it.

Cable had on several occasions declined to rule out voting with Labour if its motion fully reflected the policy he devised and has personally championed.

The Tories are firmly opposed.

"Parties should be judged on what they deliver on fairer taxes, rather than what they say about them," Cable said.

"In government, Labour rubbished the Liberal Democrat policy of a mansion tax. In opposition, they have simply copied it exactly in an attempt to fill in their blank piece of paper where original policies should be."

Holder’s Letter Does not Rule Out Targeting US Citizens Outside of Country (Non-citizens Can...

Context: As yet there are no context links for this item.

Bio

Michael Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. He and CCR brought the first case challenging the Guantanamo detentions and continue in their efforts to close Guantanamo. He taught at Yale Law School, and Columbia Law School, and was President of the National Lawyers Guild. His current books include "Hell No: Your Right to Dissent in the Twenty-First Century America," and “ Who Killed Che? How the CIA Got Away With Murder.” NOTE: Mr. Ratner speaks on his own behalf and not for any organization with which he is affiliated.

Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

On Thursday, the Senate confirmed now CIA director John Brennan. That was after a day of filibustering from Senator Rand Paul. And here to discuss all this is Michael Ratner.Michael is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He's also a board member for The Real News Network.Thank you for joining us, Michael.MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: Good to be with you, Jessica.DESVARIEUX: So, Michael, tell us, what was this filibuster all about?RATNER: No, well, we can go to the filibuster, but first I think the big news for the day is that Brennan was confirmed by a vote of 63 to 34, getting almost every Democratic vote but two, not getting Bernie Sanders' vote. And you first have to say it's just a complete outrage. And if it illustrates anything, it's that the two parties are essentially on the same page when it comes to national security issues, drones, Guantanamo, etc. Yeah, the Republicans, a bunch of them voted, you know, against Brennan, but in the end this was a foregone conclusion. And what's shocking about it, of course, is that Brennan couldn't—not have been CIA director when Obama took office four years ago. Four years ago he was considered to have his hand too deeply in the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques—torture—and he couldn't get the job. Then he took over the drone policy. And now that he's running the drone policy, apparently that's just hunky dory with everybody. Let him shoot drones all over the world and kill people. And now he gets to be confirmed as CIA. But it wasn't without some scrappiness about it, and I think that's what you're referring to, which was the Rand Paul filibuster. Now, Rand Paul did something that I would have liked to see some liberal Democrats do, which is to filibuster and say, give us more information about what you're doing, give us some guarantees. Now, what Rand Paul asked for was really very narrow, and I think way too narrow. He wanted to guarantee that U.S. citizens residing in the United States, doing everything in the United States, would not be killed by drones while they're in the United States, but would be subjected essentially to the criminal law and arrested, etc. Eric Holder wrote a letter a few days ago to Senator Paul saying in what circumstances he would use arrests and when he could possibly use military force. It left open a big question. It did leave open the question of let's say there's an alleged terrorist in the United States who's an American citizen. He's not a current combatant. He's somebody they believe [incompr.] alleged terrorist, much like the people they kill overseas, even American citizens overseas, like Anwar al-Aulaqi, who they killed in Yemen, someone like that in the United States. Could that person be killed by a drone? Or would they have to be arrested and taken to prison and tried, etc.? Holder gave a line in his letter that one could read ambiguously. I mean, it was pretty clear he said, we don't plan to use this, but it seemed to be a question of policy and that they could change their minds. And I think that was going to be a problem. So Rand Paul went on the floor on Tuesday and Wednesday—I guess Wednesday, almost all day, 13 hours, basically filibustered about this issue, what are the circumstances they can kill an American living in America if that person is an alleged terrorist. And finally, today, probably a few hours ago, this letter, which your viewers can get online, is a terse letter from the attorney general that says, dear Senator Paul, it has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question ([incompr.] it was hardly an additional question), but, quote, does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil. Eric Holder answers: the answer to that question is no. And that's interesting. So Paul actually did achieve something, because up until that letter, it would have been the case that an American president felt that he had the authority and Obama felt that he had the authority, and he may—Obama would have felt he had the authority, and he would have never know when he would have exercised it. This Rand Paul filibuster did get the president to say, if there's an alleged—really what he's saying, if there's an alleged terrorist on U.S. soil who's a U.S. citizen, we're not going to kill him with a drone. It doesn't necessarily say what else they're going to do, but it certainly does seem that they're not going to kill him with a drone. So that is an important admission. It is what got the votes for Brennan to get through in the end. But it's also much too narrow for me, as both a human rights lawyer, as someone who believes in the morality of our foreign policy and use of force, because it leaves open what the U.S. is actually doing today, which is with targeted assassinations, one means of which being drones. The U.S. is killing alleged terrorists or people they suspect might be terrorists with drones all over the world as if—as if Bush's global war on terror is continuing, and not just in Afghanistan, not in the edges around Pakistan, but in Somalia, in Yemen, could be in the United Kingdom, could be anywhere in the world. And that's really important, because what this administration, Obama administration has said: we can kill both U.S. citizens and foreigners outside the United States—foreigners they probably think they can murder inside the United States—but outside the United States we can kill American citizens, even if we don't think they're imminently about to attack the United States.And the case we have at the Center for Constitutional Rights is representing the grandfather and the father—the grandfather of Anwar al-Aulaqi, who was killed in Yemen by drone, and al-Aulaqi's son, Abdulrahman al-Aulaqi, who was killed two weeks later by a drone. And we're suing on behalf of his grandfather living in Yemen. They never had any idea that these two people—obviously, the 16-year-old, they had no idea that he was anything. That was either a wrong target or—I don't know what it was. With Anwar al-Aulaqi, they said, well, he's, you know, making propaganda, he's doing this, he's doing that; they said he's alleged to be involved in terror. But there was not the idea that he was pushing a finger on a button, that the guy had to be stopped imminently, that he had a specific threat, a concrete threat. And yet they took out this American citizen and his son, an American citizen.So what is not answered by Eric Holder in this letter to Rand Paul, and it did not seem to be a major concern of Rand Paul's or anybody else, is the killing of American alleged terrorists outside the United States, and certainly the killing of foreigners outside the United States. As of this time, it's something like 4,000 people have been killed by drones. Probably a quarter of those, maybe 800,000 are civilians. And there's actually—it's completely, in my view, illegal. What we've seen here, and I think it's important for viewers to understand, there's two paradigms of law. There's one, what you can do in a war when people are actively combatants, when they're soldiers, when they're involved in a war directly. That's Afghanistan. When you take it outside of a war zone, then you have to use the paradigm of criminal law. You say, that person has to be arrested and extradicted. Or if they're about to push a button, yes, there's a very narrow circumstance. But it's under the criminal law that you can actually try and get rid of it in some way or another. It's very rare. That's the criminal law paradigm.But what Obama has done is take the war paradigm, just like Bush did, and using the, quote, authority of a law passed in 2001, after 9/11, the authorization to use military force to expand like Bush did the global war on terror everywhere in the world.So do I feel safer as an American that Obama says he's not going to drone me sitting in my apartment in New York City? I may. I don't think I was about to be droned. But to the extent that means anything, sure. But should you feel safer if you're an American overseas or if you're a foreigner overseas or if you're living in Yemen or Somalia or Afghanistan or Pakistan or a dozen other countries in the world where we use drones or half a dozen? You should not feel any safer by what's happened. In fact, you should feel less safe, because the very person who's been directing the drones all over this world is now the head of the CIA, and he will continue to be in charge of death, killing, drones.DESVARIEUX: Well, we'll certainly continue to follow this story. And we'll have another weekly update with Michael Ratner next week.Thank you for joining us, Michael.RATNER: Thank you for being with me, Jessica.DESVARIEUX: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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Cable Calls For Investment, Not Cuts, At Lib Dem Conference

Vince Cable renewed his call for billions of pounds more infrastructure investment funded by higher borrowing, saying the Government had to "really get moving", at the Lib Dem Party Conference in Brighton.

The Business Secretary admitted there were dangers in pushing up the Government's debt in an effort to kickstart the economy but he insisted the "balance of risks" seemed to be changing and ministers had to be "open minded".

He also warned that Liberal Democrats would block any effort to cut crucial spending in areas such as science and skills, and said Tory efforts to reduce immigration were harming the economy.

The intervention came at a fringe event at the party's spring conference in Brighton. Kicking off the gathering on Friday, Nick Clegg denied the Lib Dems were in crisis in the wake of sexual harassment allegations and the conviction of ex-Cabinet minister Chris Huhne.

However, the Deputy Prime Minster conceded the party had "let people down" and needed to take a "long, hard look in the mirror".

Both David Cameron and Clegg dismissed the prospect of increasing borrowing to fund more capital investment earlier this week after Cable floated the prospect in a pre-Budget essay in the New Statesman.

nick clegg

Nick Clegg at the Spring Conference in Brighton

However, Cable made light of the reaction last night, saying he noted the markets had not "collapsed" as a result.

"The point I was trying to make is that we need to be open minded and recognise that the balance of these risks may well be changing," he said.

Cable said the decision by the former Labour government to cut capital investment had been a major policy error.

He pointed out that a £15 billion increase in capital spending would restore it to peak levels - although he stressed the figure was "illustrative".

He added: "That's a useful figure, but I am not specifically recommending that."

Cable said he was on the "same page" as the Prime Minister, "but we have different emphasises and we use different language".

While Cameron used phrases like "trees don't produce money", he preferred to say there was "no such thing as a free lunch".

"There are risks in any policy option we care to take," he said.

"But nonetheless the conclusion I have drawn is that we have to look at how we can really get moving with investment in infrastructure and housing."

vince cable

Cable insisted increased capital spending would boost the economy

Cable has been listed with Tories Eric Pickles, Theresa May and Philip Hammond among ministers who are resisting further spending cuts but he insisted he did not "need lectures" about the importance of managing public finances.

But he criticised some on the Tory right for waging "jihad" on state spending and warned it would be "utterly counterproductive" to cut science and skills budgets any further. "Lib Dems in government will not allow that to happen," he added.

The Cabinet minister also attacked the Tory drive to reduce net annual immigration to tens of thousands, complaining that the Lib Dems were having to "live with" it.

"It is politically ineffective and it is causing a great deal of economic damage," he added, indicating that Mr Clegg would be making a speech on the issue.

Cable insisted more of the money needed to fill the deficit should be raised from taxes, rather than spending cuts.

He said the current ratio of spending cuts to tax rises was 80-20 or 85-15, and urged the introduction of measures such as the mansion tax, as well as a crackdown on long-term "non dom" residents.

"I think our view as a party must be that there has got to be a better balance between spending cuts and taxation," he said.

Party president Tim Farron will formally open the conference on Saturday morning, before a speech by former leader Lord Ashdown. Clegg is due to do a question and answer session with activists later.

READ MORE:

It’s A Trap! Labour Hope To Split Coalition With Mansion Tax Vote

The Labour Party has set a trap for the Lib Dems, they know it and may be willing to fall in.

Next week the House of Commons will vote on whether there should be a 'Mansion Tax' - a levy placed on homes worth over £2m designed to bring "fairness" to the tax system. It is a signature Lib Dem policy that the deputy prime minister has thus far been unable to convince George Osborne to include in his Budgets.

Always keen to cause mischief by exposing splits in the coalition, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls decided to borrow the policy and then use an Opposition Day debate in the Commons to put it to a, purely symbolic, vote on Tuesday. The scamps.

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Chris Leslie MP, Labour's shadow financial secretary to the Treasury, said the vote was "a chance for the Liberal Democrats to finally vote for something that was in their manifesto".

The full text of the motion is:

“That this House believes that a mansion tax on properties worth over £2million, to fund a tax cut for millions of people on middle and low incomes, should be part of a fair tax system and calls on the Government to bring forward proposals at the earliest opportunity”.

The vote is win-win for Labour. Should the Lib Dems decide to make a stand and support the motion, which after all was their policy in the first place, Miliband can claim to have split the coalition on a hugely symbolic issue.

But if the junior coalition partner decides to stick with the Tories and vote down the motion, it allows Labour to attack them for abandoning their principles.

It is not a problem lost on the Lib Dem leadership. Tim Farron, the party president, said in an interview with The House magazine on Thursday he had yet to make up his mind. "They’ve [Labour] been opportunistic, they’ve been mischievous. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider it as an opportunity," he said.

Business secretary Vince Cable, who has vocally advocated for a Mansion Tax both inside cabinet and in public, has said he would not rule out voting with Labour.

And ahead of the Eastleigh by-election, Nick Clegg said David Cameron was "stuck in the past" in his opposition to a Mansion Tax.

In preparation for the Tuesday's Commons debate Balls will no doubt have a stack of Lib Dem quotes backing the tax piled high on his desk.

Of couse there is another problem for the Lib Dems. If they vote in favour of a symbolic motion calling for a Mansion Tax but fail to secure its actual introduction in the Budget - which Cameron has ruled out - Labour can easily ask what the point is of the Lib Dems being in government.

Also on HuffPost:

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Did Clegg And Cable Know?

The ten things you need to know on Friday 8 March 2013...

1) DID CLEGG AND CABLE KNOW?

They may like to think they occupy the moral high ground but those Lib Dems know how to do a scandal, don't they? Former cabinet minister Chris Huhne has already pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice over his speeding points and, yesterday, Chris Huhne's ex-wife Vicky Pryce was found guilty too. ("The Price of Vengeance," splashes the Mail; "The Pryce of Revenge," splashes the Telegraph).

But here's the key bit: as the Daily Mail reports, "senior Liberal Democrats were dragged into the Chris Huhne scandal last night amid sensational claims that... Pryce confided in them two years ago".

'Did Clegg and Cable know?' is the headline in the Daily Express, which reports:

"Detectives uncovered explosive evidence suggesting that senior Lib Dems including Mr Clegg's wife Miriam and Business Secretary Vince Cable could have been in on the secret.

"They found emails from Huhne's ex-wife Vicky Pryce, saying she admitted the deception to Mr Cable, Mrs Clegg and others.

"... One, written in April 2011, claims she confided in Mr Cable and his wife saying she had 'told Vince and Rachel about points'.

"... Referring to the Deputy Prime Minister, his wife, the Business Secretary and Lib Dem elder statesman Lord Oakeshott, she says: 'Yes, I have told VC, Miriam C, MOak and a few other Lords and others working close to NC.'"

Both the Cleggs and the Cables have released statements denying they had any prior knowledge of the speeding-points story.

Nonetheless, the term "explosive" is also used by the Mirror in its lead editorial: "The guilty verdict on Vicky Pryce is a family tragedy and, for the Lib Dems, a second potentially explosive scandal over who knew what."

And the Sun declares: "The Lib Dems just cannot rid themselves of the stink of scandal."

First Rennard, now Pryce. Victory in Eastleigh suddenly seems so long ago. In fact, in comments made ahead of the Eastleigh by-election but published in House magazine last night, the party president Tim Farron referred (in a positive way!) to Lib Dems as "nutters" and "cockroaches" but warned his colleagues that "the party is in a critical state... We shouldn’t assume our survival is guaranteed".

By the way, did I mention that Liberal Democrats are gathering in Brighton today for their spring conference? You can't beat that for (bad) timing, eh?

2) GET RID OF DAVE? NAH, TOO CHAOTIC...

Good news for the leader of the Conservative Party - from the Telegraph:

"Conservative Cabinet ministers will not dare to move against David Cameron because they know they would plunge the party back into the turmoil of the 1990s, the Prime Minister's allies have said.

"... Allies of the Prime Minister said they believed that ministers such as Mrs May would run if a vacancy ever arose.

"But they insisted that neither she nor any other senior Cabinet minister would actively try to bring down the Prime Minister, fearing that to do so would repeat the Tory infighting that scarred Sir John Major's government.

"A minister close to Mr Cameron said: 'No one from that generation would move against him, because they know exactly what would happen to the party if they did. They remember the 1990s and all the damage we did to ourselves then.'

"Instead, the minister said, any attempt to oust Mr Cameron would come from younger Tories, including those first elected in 2010."

Bring on Adam Afriyie, eh?

3) WHEN RUPERT MET NIGEL...

Ukip leader Nigel Farage has a new admirer - from the Huffington Post UK:

"Nigel Farage told Rupert Murdoch at a private London dinner he would form an electoral pact with the Conservative Party if David Cameron quit as prime minister, it has been reported.

"According to the Daily Telegraph, the Ukip leader met the News International chairman for a 'secret' meal on Tuesday, the pair's first meeting, in the wake of the Eastleigh by-election which saw Farage's eurosceptic party push the Tories into third place.

"The newspaper reports that Farage told Murdoch he would work with the Tories to defeat Labour in 2015, as long as the prime minister was no longer the party's leader."

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4) LABOUR'S IMMIGRATION DOG WHISTLES

Hey Ed Miliband, how's that new 'progressive' approach to immigration working out for you? And have you mentioned it to your shadow home secretary?

"We won't pay dole to EU migrants for three months, vows Labour," was the headline in last night's Evening Standard; the paper was reporting on Yvette Cooper's dog-whistling speech on immigration yesterday. 'Benefit tourism' is a myth: official figures show that those born abroad are significantly less likely to claim benefits than UK nationals - but Cooper is intent on sounding 'tough'.

As the Guardian's veteran home affairs editor Alan Travis observes:

"Yvette Cooper may well have promised not to 'enter into an arms race of rhetoric' with the Tories over immigration but Labour's new approach appears designed to ensure that nobody can put a cigarette paper between them."

He adds:

"Cooper also seems to have taken the lesson from Tony Blair's law and order strategy of matching every 'tough' initiative put forward by the Conservatives and, if possible, out-flanking them by proposing a few more practical solutions of your own."

How depressing. Is there no one in public life willing to make the case for immigration?

5) 'COASTING CAN KILL'

According to the Times, in a speech today the health secretary Jeremy Hunt will tell "hospital bosses that too many of them are complacent about being 'not bad' and warns them that 'coasting can kill'... Mr Hunt compares NHS hospitals to the failing British Olympic team of years past, when they did not aim to win but were content not to come last."

The paper also reports on how "Harry Cayton, head of the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care, believes that a return of old-fashioned moral concepts is needed in order to guide the NHS out of a malaise and rebuild public confidence after the Mid Staffs scandal."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this 3-minute video of an adorable baby elephant playing in the ocean. Go on. You know you want to.

6) HELL HATH NO FURY LIKE A TORY DONOR SCORNED

Bizarre. From the Daily Mail:

"The Tories’ biggest donor of the last decade has held an extraordinary private meeting with Labour to discuss its election strategy.

"Lord Ashcroft, a hate figure for most Labour MPs, held talks with Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, one of the architects of the party’s 2015 campaign.

"It emerged last month that the peer, a former deputy chairman of the Conservatives who gave the party £10million in funding but stopped donating several years ago, had decided not to give any more after becoming disillusioned with David Cameron’s leadership."

7) AUSTERITY WATCH, PART 121

From the Independent:

"The Government's programme of public spending cuts has been marred by short-term thinking, turf wars between departments and perverse decision-making, a committee of MPs said today.

"The Public Accounts Committee said some of the £200bn of cuts made by George Osborne undermined his attempts to boost growth. It lambasts 'silo thinking' by departments who gave no heed to how spending decisions that they made might affect other parts of the Government."

Meanwhile, the Sun reports on the prime minister's 'major speech' on the economy in Keighley yesterday - and the latter's response to his freelancing business secretary:

"Angry David Cameron has slapped down Vince Cable over his 'Plan B' suggestion for more borrowing in a bid to boost puny growth... in a withering put-down for Labour's alternative strategy too, Mr Cameron said: 'There are some people who think we don't have to take all these tough decisions to deal with our debts.

"'And what we need to do is to spend more and borrow more. It's as if they think there's some magic money tree. Well let me tell you a plain truth: there isn't.

"'Changing course would plunge the UK 'back into the abyss', the PM also warned."

Given the coalition is borrowing £212bn more than it had planned to, Dave may have his own 'magic money tree' hidden away somewhere...

8) HIDING BEHIND ISLAMOPHOBES

Tory ministers have been to invoke the German government's support for a tougher approach to migrants from Bulgaria and Romania - but my colleague Felicity Morse draws our attention to some of the more unsavoury views expressed by that country's interior minister:

"The British government has been accused of 'hiding' behind Germany and a minister with a 'dubious and suspicious record' in a bid to bolster support for blocks on Eastern European immigration."

Hans Peter Friedrich, writes Felicity, "has a controversial history with minorities in Germany, causing outrage a year ago after telling journalists in: 'Islam in Germany is not something supported by history at any point.'"

A spokesperson for Hope Not Hate told her: "Hans Peter Frederich allegedly has a dubious and suspicious record and Britain is hiding behind that. Government scaremongering on Romanians and Bulgarians is deflecting attention from what's going on at home with welfare and the NHS and the economy."

9) YOU WANNA PIECE OF US?

Uh-oh. From the BBC:

"North Korea says it is scrapping all non-aggression pacts with South Korea, closing its hotline with Seoul and shutting their shared border point.

"The announcement follows a fresh round of UN sanctions punishing Pyongyang for its nuclear test last month.

"Earlier, Pyongyang said it reserved the right to a pre-emptive nuclear strike against its 'aggressors'."

Hopefully it's the usual bit of bluster from the crazies in charge of the North Korean dictatorship and not something more serious or significant...

10) WE LOVE YOU MAGGIE. WELL, SOME PEOPLE DO.

Tories rejoice! The Telegraph reports:

"The birthplace of Baroness Thatcher is finally to have a permanent statue erected in her honour, housed in a museum dedicated to the former prime minister...

"After years of wrangling over the issue, a £200,000 fund-raising project is to begin, half of which will pay for the statue and half for the renovation of the Grantham Museum in Lincolnshire.

"... By taking the decision out of the hands of local politicians, who have spent decades arguing over whether to have a statue, the museum staff hope to unite the town’s residents behind the project."

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT

Tonight I'm interviewing leading climate change sceptic, Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT, at the Oxford Union for a pre-recorded Al Jazeera show. It kicks off at 7.30pm and other contributors include Oxford professor Myles Allen, author and activist Mark Lynas and the Mail on Sunday's David Rose. If you'd like to come along and ask a question from the audience, please email [email protected]

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 11

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@DavidWooding That post Eastleigh smirk of satisfaction seems to have vanished from many Lib Dem faces this morning.

@DavidLammy Feel like I've waited all my life for football like this from Spurs."Please Gareth Bale don't stand against me at the next election!" #COYS

@davidwearing Shall we pre-empt the "men's rights" self-pity by pointing out that *every day* is International Men's Day? #IWD

900 WORDS OR MORE

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "It’s a myth that lazy foreigners are sponging off our welfare state. Our leaders ought to be straight with us."

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, says: "More spending? The coalition may as well build a bridge to the moon."

Jonathan Aitken, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "The mad hubris of us politicians: I know because it brought me down too."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Shadow Justice in the UK: Britain’s “Secret Courts”

Civil liberties campaigners vowed to continue fighting Government plans for secret court hearings in sensitive national security cases after MPs rejected stronger safeguards.

Ministers comfortably saw off a bid to reinstate amendments made by the House of Lords despite Labour securing the support of a number of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs.

Several prominent Labour ex-ministers defied their own party’s position to back the Government in last night’s vote on controversial elements of the Justice and Security Bill.

An attempt to make judges balance national security against the public interest of open justice was defeated by 297 votes to 226, majority 71, in what opponents called a “dark night for British justice”.

Minister Kenneth Clarke insisted the measures were essential to enable sensitive intelligence material to be introduced in a small number of civil cases where the state is being sued.

The alternative, he said, was that the Government would be unable defend the action and could be forced to pay out millions in compensation – as happened with a series of former Guantanamo Bay detainees.

The defeated changes, originally passed in the House of Lords only to be reversed by the Government in the Commons committee going through the Bill line-by-line, would have made the legislation impossible to operate, he said.

The vote came after former Lord Chief Justice Lord Woolf said the legislation already ensured the operation of closed material proceedings was under the “complete control” of the judge in any case.

Critics complain though that CMPs undermine the principle of open justice and allow the security services to cover up involvement in abuse and torture.

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan told the Commons that while he accepted the difficulty of “reconciling the issues of justice and security” the legislation was not “proportionate to the scale of the problem”.

Among prominent Tories backing the amendments was Andrew Tyrie who said they were “about whether people can get to hear the case made against them, and whether we can keep legal safeguards we have had for generations”.

Analysis of division lists revealed seven Liberal Democrats rebelled to support the public interest test amendment, including party president Tim Farron, deputy leader Simon Hughes and former minister Sarah Teather.

The issue is set to provide a renewed confrontation this weekend between Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and his party activists – who last year voted overwhelmingly to oppose the legislation – at the Lib Dem spring conference in Brighton.

Labour former foreign secretary Jack Straw backed the legislation, however, telling MPs it was about “how you protect the sources of information on which intelligence depends”.

Party colleague Hazel Blears, a former counter terrorism minister, also gave her support.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said last night: “History teaches that politicians abandon ancient legal principles at their peril. Today’s cover-up is tomorrow’s scandal.

“The opposition to turning British courts into secret commissions continues. Once again, we look to the House of Lords to defeat Secret Courts and defend the Rule of Law.”

Clare Algar, executive director of Reprieve, said: “This has been a dark night for British justice.

“These plans for secret courts were always dangerous and unnecessary, but the failure of even minor attempts to modify the Bill means that it is even worse than when it first reached the House of Commons.

“MPs must now vote against the Bill altogether if they want to defend British justice.

“Should that fail, the House of Lords will be the only thing standing in the way of plans which would mean the end of the right to a fair trial in a vast range of civil cases.”

Speaking after the vote, Mr Khan said: “It’s disappointing that Labour’s attempts to reintroduce checks and balances into the Government’s plans for closed material proceedings have been defeated by the Tories and Lib Dems.

“This had the support of the Government’s own Independent Reviewer of Terrorism and the Joint Committee of Human Rights. We will be looking to our colleagues in the House of Lords to once again bring some balance to the Government’s plans over the coming weeks”

A Conservative Party source said: “By opposing this Bill, Labour are prepared to accept the possibility of millions of pounds going without challenge to individuals who could be terrorists.

“This raises the appalling prospect of taxpayers’ cash funding jihadist groups.”

Pointing to the presence of former Labour home office ministers Paul Goggins and George Howarth among those voting with Mr Straw against the amendments, they said: “This shows that under Ed Miliband the Labour Party is more interested in playing politics than acting as a serious alternative government.”

UK FM Hague instructed cabinet not to mention Iraq War — report

Published time: March 01, 2013 13:35

British Foreign Minister William Hague. (AFP Photo / Leon Neal)

As the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war looms, the UK cabinet has been urged not to discuss the 2003’s invasion or its legality until an inquiry into it is complete. The instruction has been met with distaste from Liberal Democrat MPs.

A confidential letter warned MPs not to mention the war or deeply controversial issues surrounding it.  As March began, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a directive instructing Conservative MPs to make no mention of Iraq or the conflict’s 100,000 deaths, according to a private correspondence leaked to the Guardian.

“The foreign secretary has written to colleagues to remind them that the agreed position of the coalition government is not to comment on the case justification for the war until Chilcot has reported,” a source close to Hague told the newspaper.

The Chilcot Inquiry is the UK public investigation into the country’s role in the Iraq War. Whitehall sources said that Hague wasn’t attempting to enforce a gag on a highly controversial political issue, but was delaying commenting on the war until after the inquiry’s publication.

The results of the Chilcot Inquiry were supposed to have been published in 2012, but were delayed last July. Conclusions are now expected to be made public mid- to late-2013. However, it is unlikely the inquiry will render a formal judgment on the Iraq intervention.

The report has utilized “oral and documentary evidence,” according to a 2012 letter from Chilcot to UK Prime Minister David Cameron, written at the time of the inquiry’s delay.  This includes evidence such as cabinet meeting minutes.

Despite having agreed it is “essential to hold as much of the inquiry as possible in public,” the British Foreign Office prevented the release of telephone conversations between then-UK PM Tony Blair and then-US President George Bush in the days preceding the invasion.  

The evidence is also inconsistent, and gaps in the documentary record and lapses in memory may have hindered the investigation, according to the letter.

Sir John Chilcot, the inquiry’s head, once said the final report would be twice the size of Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ – over 1 million words long.

Anti-war protestors pass Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament on a march opposing a military strike on Iraq on September 29, 2002. (Reuters)

The 2003 invasion resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis, and 179 British deaths. The WikiLeaks Iraq war logs showed that more than 90,000 Iraqi civilians died throughout the course of the conflict, placing the overall number of Iraqi deaths at over 100,000.

The instruction not to mention these events has led to a bitter row within the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition. Liberal Democrat ministers stood strongly opposed to the Iraq invasion at the time, while Conservative Party members stood in staunch support. Many Liberal Democrat MPs intend to defy the directive.

“William Hague is entitled to his views on what should be said about the Iraq war but he can’t force them on the Lib Dems,” a senior Liberal Democrat source told the Guardian. “The idea that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats will be mute on the 10th anniversary of the war in Iraq will get very short shrift indeed.”

The party’s former leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, also spoke out against the attempt to silence MPs on the war’s anniversary, pointing out the high levels of Conservative enthusiasm for the war in 2003, despite their not being the ruling party.

A photo issued 23 March 2003 of a British Royal Marine from 42 Commando squadron firing a Milan wire-guided missile at an Iraqi position on the Fao peninsula 21 March 2003. (AFP Photo / John Mills)

He went on to label UK intervention in Iraq as the country’s biggest foreign policy blunder since Suez, which Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke recently also used as a comparison while speaking to the BBC, calling the Iraq War “the most disastrous foreign policy decision of my lifetime… worse than Suez.”

In 2004, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated that the US-led invasion of Iraq was an illegal act that contravened the UN charter.

Despite the primary motivation for the invasion being Saddam Hussein’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, the failure to locate them both before and after the Iraq War intensified international debate about the decision to go to war. The only such discoveries ended up being badly corroded munitions produced in the 1980s, which could not be used as originally intended.

The UK’s decision to participate in the invasion was met with wide-scale protest at the time, not just in England but across Europe and around the world. In February 2003, an estimated 6 to 10 million people participated in protests that spanned 60 countries.

Millions of people are expected to take to the streets of towns and cities across the globe on Saturday to demonstrate against a looming U.S. led war on Iraq in the biggest protests since the Vietnam war. February 15, 2003. (Reuters / Peter MacDiarmid)

In the UK, an estimated 750,000 to 1-million-plus protesters participated in anti-war demonstrations; the march in London was named the largest political demonstration Britain had ever seen. Later in March, tens of thousands of schoolchildren staged walkouts across the country, and in the day following the actual invasion a wide-scale demonstration took place in front of the Houses of Parliament. In the days afterward, over 100,000 people took to the streets.

The School Security America Doesn’t Need

The School Security America Doesn’t Need

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Posted on Feb 27, 2013
jeff_golden (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Chase Madar, TomDispatch

This piece first appeared at TomDispatch. Read Tom Engelhardt’s introduction here.

Outrage over the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre may or may not spur any meaningful gun control laws, but you can bet your Crayolas that it will lead to more seven-year-olds getting handcuffed and hauled away to local police precincts.

You read that right.  Americans may disagree deeply about how easy it should be for a mentally ill convicted felon to purchase an AR-15, but when it comes to putting more law enforcement officers inside our schools, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and liberal Democrats like Senator Barbara Boxer are as one.  And when police (or “school resource officers” as these sheriff’s deputies are often known) spend time in a school, they often deal with disorder like proper cops—by slapping cuffs on the little perps and dragging them to the precinct.

Just ask the three nine-year-old girls and an eight-year-old boy who got into a fight at their Baltimore elementary school—then got arrested by real police.  Or Salecia Johnson, age six, cuffed and arrested for throwing a tantrum at her elementary school in Milledgeville, Georgia.  Or Wilson Reyes, a seven-year-old at a Bronx,  New York, elementary school who last December 4th was cuffed, hauled away, and interrogated under suspicion of taking $5 from a classmate.  (Another kid later confessed.)

The last of these incidents made the cover of the New York Post,  but the New York City Police Department still doesn’t understand what they did wrong—sure, the first-grader spent about 4 hours handcuffed in a detention room, but that’s “standard for juvenile arrest.”

Which is precisely the problem: standard juvenile misbehavior (a five-year-old pitching a fit, a 12-year-old doodling on a desk, a 13-year-old farting in class, a class clown running around the football field at halftime in a banana suit) is increasingly being treated like serious crime, resulting in handcuffs and arrest.  If you can’t understand why such “consistency” is crazy, please desist from reading the rest of this article.

It seems grotesque that the horrific slaughter of those 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, will result in more children getting traumatized, but that’s exactly where we’re headed—with firm bipartisan support.

In his amazing post-Newtown speech last December, Wayne LaPierre, the CEO and executive vice president of the NRA, called for armed guards in all schools—a demand widely hailed as jaw-droppingly nutty.  A few weeks later, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) proposed $50 million in federal grants to install more metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and National Guard troops in schools, but made her pitch in the caring cadences of a Marin County Democrat.  And when President Obama ordered more police in schools (point 18 in his 23-point Executive Order responding to the Sandy Hook tragedy), it was all over.

So here’s an American reality of 2013: we will soon have more police in our schools, and more seven-year-olds like Joseph Andersons of PS 153 in Maspeth, New York, getting arrested.  (He got handcuffed after a meltdown when his Easter egg dye-job didn’t come out right.)

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

In fairness to the feds, similar kinds of local responses were already underway before the La Pierre-Boxer Axis of Tiny Handcuffs even arose.  Across the country, from Florida and Connecticut to Tennessee, Indiana, and Arizona, despite tough budgetary times, municipal governments are now eagerly scrounging up the extra money for more metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and armed guards in schools.  (The same thing happened after the Columbine shooting 14 years ago.)  No one keeps national statistics, but arrests of the 10-and-under set do seem to be on the rise since Sandy Hook. A typical recent case: in January, a seven-year-old at a Connecticut school was arrested by the police for “threatening” a teacher.  Jitters are understandable after the trauma of Sandy Hook—but arresting a seven-year-old?

Truth be told, we were already well on our way to turning schools into carceral fortresses before the Sandy Hook slaughter even happened.  In fact, the great national infrastructure project of the past 20 years may be the “school-to-prison pipeline.”  After all, we are the nation that arrested Isamar Gonzalez for being in her high school early to meet with a teacher, then arrested her principal, Mark Federman, when he tried to intervene.

The stats speak as loudly as the anecdotes: of the Chicago School District’s 4,600 arrests in 2011, 86% were for misdemeanors. That school system spends $51.4 million on security guards, but only $3.5 million for college and career coaches.  And for every incident that makes the news, there are scores that don’t.  Despite a growing body of damning research by civil libertarians of the left and the right, including Annette Fuentes’s excellent book Lockdown High, political opposition to the school-to-prison pipeline has proven feeble or nonexistent.  Brooklyn State Senator Eric Adams, who represents one of the most liberal districts in the country, has staked out the civil libertarian outer limit by helpfully suggesting that Velcro handcuffs might be more suitable than metal ones for arresting young children.


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Mehdi’s Morning Memo: ‘Shall We Leave It At That?’

The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 27 February 2013...

1) 'SHALL WE LEAVE IT AT THAT?'

The Rennard affair rumbles on - with more and more seemingly contradictory statements being issued by the various Lib Dem players. Consider this story on the front of the Telegraph:

"Nick Clegg was personally warned by one of his MPs that a senior figure in the Liberal Democrats might be sexually molesting female members of staff, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

"Sandra Gidley, a former MP and party spokesman, said she told Mr Clegg about the allegations surrounding Lord Rennard, the party's former chief executive, after he was elected as Lib Dem leader in 2007.

"... Asked by The Daily Telegraph whether she told Mr Clegg 'face–to–face' about the allegations concerning Lord Rennard, she said: 'Yes, that is true but at this point I don't want to go any further. I am hoping his memory might be jogged. Shall we leave it at that?'"

Well, um, er, no. Especially since Clegg and Danny Alexander have both claimed that the latter once confronted Rennard over those 'general' allegations while Rennard himself issued a statement yesterday, via a spokesperson, saying "in 27 years of working for the Liberal Democrats he received no complaint or allegation about his behaviour".

As my colleague Ned Simons notes, they can't both be right, can they?

(On a side note, Ned also tried tracking down the seven female Lib Dem MPs to ask them why they've been so conspicuously silent on the Rennard allegations... check out what he discovered here.)

2) GOING NEGATIVE

Who says policy-makers are running out of ideas to prompt a much-needed economic recovery? From the Express:

"Interest rates could be slashed to below zero to kick–start Britain's economy, the Bank of England's Deputy Governor has suggested.

"Paul Tucker admitted his idea was 'extraordinary' but said radical steps were needed to encourage banks to lend more.

"If rates went below zero, in effect becoming negative, the main financial institutions would have to pay the Bank of England a fee for holding their money.

"It is thought this would force banks to lend more cash to small businesses, a move which many believe holds the key to getting the economy moving again."

3) WINDFALL TAX?

Given the size of the budget deficit, and the shortfall in tax revenues, how about a 1997-style windfall tax on the utilities?

This morning, the BBC reports:

"British Gas has said its profits have risen because a colder 2012 meant people used more gas.

"It reported profits from residential energy supply of £606m for 2012, up 11% from the previous year.

"... Centrica, which owns British Gas, reported an adjusted operating profit of £2.7bn for 2012, up 14% from 2011."

4) WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, PART 99

"Barclays to reveal that it employs more than 600 millionaires," says the headline in the Independent.

Bonus tax, anyone? The paper reports:

"Next week, the bank will - for the first time - put an exact figure on the number of staff who enjoy seven-figure salaries made up of basic pay, an annual bonus and shares issued through long-term incentive plans. It is understood that this number will be "around" 600 with most of them believed to work for Barclays Investment Bank, which is currently run by the flamboyant racehorse owner Rich Ricci, who will be among their number."

If I was a banker, I wouldn't want to be named Rich Ricci...

5) EYE ON EASTLEIGH

The Eastleigh by-election campaign enters its final day (woo-hoo!), with all four parties in the race making one last, concerted push for votes.

But the Guardian's John Harris, reporting from Eastleigh, concludes:

"For everybody's sake, it is perhaps time that all this was over. Back in the town centre, I seek peace and quiet in the obligatory branch of Costa Coffee. One of the baristas has spent the last three weeks serving endless politicians, aides and activists. 'Hundreds of them,' she says. 'And I'm sick of it.' Like other locals, she mentions cold calls, piles of leaflets and in-person visits. 'I don't bother answering the door any more,' she says, as another canvassing team trudges in for coffee. 'I can't be arsed.'"

Meanwhile, his Guardian colleague Steve Morris reports that, during a walkabout in Eastleigh yesterday, former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown "was heckled by one former Lib Dem voter, library worker Jayne Perkins, who shouted at the Lib Dem entourage: 'Thank you so much for lying to the people of Eastleigh.'"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this mash-up video - 'Argo' meets 'Home Alone'. Hilarious...

6) 'ILL INFORMED'

From the BBC:

"Ofsted's chief inspector says he wants some school governors in England to be paid and to provide more professional leadership.

"Sir Michael Wilshaw is to launch an online at-a-glance report card for each school, which he wants governors to use to hold head teachers to account.

"He is also set to attack governors who are 'ill-informed' and 'not able to make good decisions'."

7) HELP! THE ROMANIANS ARE COMING!!

Anti-immigration campaigners will be delighted by this report in the Telegraph:

"Up to one in three Romanian migrants has been arrested, according to figures which show the country is ranked second for foreigners held over serious offences.

"Some 27,725 Romanians were arrested for offences in London in five years, Scotland Yard said, including 10 for murder and more than 140 for rape. The figures, published under the Freedom of Information Act, will add to fears of a crime wave when restrictions on workers from Romania and Bulgaria are lifted next January.

"Romanians were second only to Poles, who accounted for 34,905 arrests."

8) RESIGN!

From the Telegraph:

"Several Cabinet ministers privately believe that Sir David Nicholson should stand aside as the head of the NHS because of the Mid Staffordshire scandal, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

"One Cabinet minister said Sir David’s position was 'completely unacceptable' and symbolised how the Civil Service did not penalise failure.

"Several ministers are understood to have raised 'very serious concerns' about Sir David but the Prime Minister has been advised by the head of the Civil Service that the NHS would be destabilised by his removal."

9) HE'S GAY. OH WAIT. HE ISN'T.

From the Daily Mail:

"John Bercow was left squirming with embarrassment after mistakenly describing former England rugby star Ben Cohen as 'openly gay'.

"The Commons Speaker made the slip-up as he introduced Cohen to a room full of guests at ParliOut, Parliament's gay staff network.

"Cohen, 34, is happily married to Abigail and they have five-year-old twin daughters."

10) TWO POPES?

The Vatican seems to be taking a leaf out of the US political playbook - in the United States, former presidents, governors and senators get to keep their titles for life (hence 'Mr President' in reference to Bill Clinton and George W Bush, even now...).

And now, as the Telegraph reports:

"Pope Benedict XVI will continue to wear a white cassock and will be known as 'Pope Emeritus', adding further confusion to his status after he steps down tomorrow. The 85–year–old German Pontiff will continue to be addressed as 'His Holiness' after he goes into retirement within the Vatican, the same honorific the new pope will enjoy."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 12
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@BBCJLandale Tory MP to me: "Only the Liberals could have a sex scandal that doesn't involve sex and turn it into a leadership crisis."

@simonblackwell If Nick Clegg's not careful he might begin to be seen as in some way untrustworthy.

@ChrisBryantMP Argo is great despite the lie about British refusal to accept six US diplomats.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Danny Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "The Lib Dems are not a serious national party."

Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "If Nick Clegg’s story won’t stand up, the Lord Rennard scandal could finish him."

Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "George Osborne hasn't just failed – this is an economic disaster."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Can Lord Rennard And Danny Alexander Both Be Right?

Lord Rennard has said he received "no complaint or allegation" about his behaviour during his time as Lib Dem chief executive, despite the chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, insisting he put allegations of sexual harassment to him in "strong terms".

The Lib Dem by-election guru has issued a further denial in which he says he "refutes these allegations" made against him.

A key part of the statement, delivered by a spokesperson, is the claim Lord Rennard was never received a complaint.

"He would reiterate that in 27 years of working for the Liberal Democrats he received no complaint or allegation about his behaviour."

However this appears to flatly contradict a statement made by Alexander who said he warned Lord Rennard his behaviour had been "unacceptable".

"As I said yesterday, I did not know about these specific allegations until the Channel 4 broadcast.


"When indirect and anonymous concerns about Chris Rennard’s conduct came to the attention of Nick Clegg’s office, in late 2008, we acted immediately. As Nick’s Chief of Staff, I put these concerns to Chris Rennard in strong terms and warned him that any such behaviour was wholly unacceptable. Chris Rennard categorically denied that he had behaved inappropriately as he continues to do. Chris Rennard subsequently resigned as Chief Executive on health grounds.

"As these concerns were received indirectly and anonymously, as those involved understandably wanted to maintain privacy, there was a limit to how we could take this matter forward following Chris Rennard’s resignation. The party has rightly set up inquiries into these matters and I will participate fully in those processes."

Can Lord Rennard and Danny Alexander both be right? On surface it seems like Lord Rennard's denial is another confusing statement in a long line of confusing statements.

Related on HuffPost:

Senior Lib Dems: Sexual Harassment Allegations Will Be Taken Seriously

Senior Liberal Democrats have pledged to act following what they say are "very serious allegations" against one of the leading figures in the party. Two separate investigations are underway after a Channel 4 News report made allegations of sexual hara...

Labour Tax Plans A ‘Con’, Says Osborne

Chancellor George Osborne dismissed Labour's tax plans as a "con" which would see state inspectors assessing people's homes.

Labour leader Ed Miliband last week announced proposals to bring back the 10p lower rate of income tax which was scrapped by Gordon Brown, funded by a levy on homes worth more than £2 million.

george osborne

George Osborne claimed Labour didn't 'understand aspiration' in the UK

But Osborne said the coalition government's policy of raising the income tax threshold was a fairer way of helping the low paid and claimed Labour's "mansion tax" would end up being extended to more modest properties.

He told ITV's The Agenda: "It's very costly to implement. It means you have to send inspectors round the country valuing all the homes - not just the homes worth over £2m but those worth less."

The chancellor said there were not enough "mansions" to cover the cost of a tax cut for millions of people.

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"So either it's a tax con and the money comes from somewhere else or it's soon a homes tax and they say it's a mansion tax before the election and then very quickly (it) becomes a homes tax on many people who are not living in mansions at all."

Osborne claimed that "the inspectors get their foot in the door" and then "after the election suddenly it's everyone's homes that are potentially a target and Labour will have created a new tax".

The chancellor added: "It's just another thing that proves that I don't think they understand aspiration in this country."

Osborne acknowledged that the rich should be expected to pay more, but fairness in the tax system also meant allowing working people to "get on".

He said: "In a time like this you expect the rich to pay more and actually we are forcing the rich to pay more and indeed cracking down on those who don't pay their taxes but fairness is also about having a system where people who work hard and get on can get on in our society, fairness is about a welfare system that doesn't pay for people to stay at home.

"Fairness is quite a broad concept and people feel the system's unfair but I don't think this kind of tax con is a solution to that."

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats back a mansion tax, also rejected Miliband's proposals as a "pale imitation" of his own party's policies.

Miliband hopes to split the coalition with a Commons vote forcing the Lib Dems to choose between backing a mansion tax or maintaining unity with the Tories.

But in a keynote speech in the City of London Clegg said: "All we've got from Ed Miliband last week is some blatant plagiarism of Liberal Democrat ideas and still no remorse for the biggest economic meltdown in modern times.

"Labour cannot be taken seriously until its leaders apologise for the economic mess they created, apologise for the unfair tax system they left behind, and apologise for letting tax avoidance rip."

Labour vice chair Michael Dugher said: "Nick Clegg is a poster boy for a politician who breaks his promises and fails to deliver. Clegg and the Lib Dems will be judged for what they do, not what they say - and they are complicit in the Tory record of failure.

"The Lib Dems are cutting taxes for millionaires while millions of families are asked to pay more, seeing their living standards decline, wages failing to keep pace with inflation and cuts to their tax credits.

"Labour will vote in Parliament for a mansion tax. In government Labour wants to use this to pay for a reinstated 10p tax rate for low and middle earners.

"Nobody will take a word Nick Clegg says seriously as long as Lib Dems continue back this Tory-led government with all its unfairness and failing economic policies."

Shadow Treasury financial secretary Chris Leslie said: "It's laughable for George Osborne to claim his policies are fair when he's giving a huge tax cut to millionaires while forcing millions on middle and low incomes to pay more.

"Labour wants action now to kick-start our flatlining economy and help people struggling with the rising cost of living.

"George Osborne should back Labour's plan for a new lower 10p rate of tax paid for by a mansion tax on homes worth over £2m. This would be fair, help 25m working people on middle and low incomes and boost spending power in the economy."

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Dog Bites Man, Tory Home Secretary Attacks Judges

The five things you need to know on Sunday 17 February 2013...

1) DOG BITES MAN, TORY HOME SECRETARY ATTACKS JUDGES

Eighteen months after the home secretary, Theresa May, falsely claimed that an illegal immigrant was allowed to stay in the UK because of his pet cat, she's picked up the 'human rights help foreign criminals' baton once again - with a coruscating attack on the judiciary in an article for the Mail on Sunday.

The paper itself reports, on its front page:

"Innocent people will be subjected to rape and violent attacks by foreign thugs because judges have sabotaged a bid by Parliament to deport them, Theresa May warned last night.

"In an unprecedented public attack, the Home Secretary accused judges of tearing up the British constitution by flouting a decision by MPs to stop foreign criminals using the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to avoid being thrown out.

"Using highly emotive language, Mrs May claimed there would be more muggings on Britain’s streets because judges let foreign law-breakers stay here. And she vowed to crush the judges’ revolt by rushing through tough new laws.

"Her onslaught follows a long-running row over foreign criminals and immigration cheats who use the ECHR’s ‘right to a family life’ provision to avoid being booted out."

Speaking on the Andrew Marr show this morning, however, human-rights lawyer and Labour peer Helena Kennedy said it was "absolutely imperative judges are not under the thumb of Home Secretaries." Kennedy dismissed May's article as "a populous bit of politicking", pointing out that the number of contentious cases referred to by the home secretary was "minuscule".

Note: There's only five things, not ten things, you need to know this Sunday morning as I am rushing out of the door to do a debate on the (lack of) big ideas in British politics, on the Sky News Murnaghan show at 11:40am, with 'Red Tory' philosopher Philip Blond and 'Blue Labour' thinker Maurice Glasman.

2) HIDE YOUR RINGS!

There's plenty of tax stories in the Sunday papers this morning, off the back of Ed Miliband's surprise 10p/mansion tax announcement on Thursday.

It looks like the Lib Dems are keen to try and wrestle back the wealth tax agenda from the two Eds - from the Mail on Sunday:

"Families will be forced to pay tax on jewellery and other heirlooms under controversial new plans drawn up by the Liberal Democrats.

"Under the scheme, tax inspectors would get unprecedented new powers to go into homes and value rings, necklaces, paintings, furniture and other family treasures.

"Householders would be forced to pay a new ‘wealth’ levy on the assets – with the threat of fines for those who refused to let snoops value their possessions."

That'll go down well with Tory backbenchers already annoyed by various Lib Dem policy measures and proposals.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times report on the same story reveals that the Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable is "said to be privately delighted that Labour has come up with the tax policy as it will put pressure on the Conservatives to give in to Lib Dem demands to adopt it. George Osborne, the chancellor, is said to have been sympathetic although Cameron vetoed it".

3) 'NARROWLY AND EXCLUSIVELY FOCUSED'

Once again, the Observer lays into Michael Gove on its front page:

"Education secretary Michael Gove has been savaged by learned societies, academics and even one of his own advisers for devising a new national history curriculum that is narrowly and exclusively focused on Britain.

"In a letter in the Observer signed by the presidents of the Royal Historical Society, the Historical Association, the higher education group History UK and senior members of the British Academy, Gove is condemned for drawing up the curriculum without substantive consultation with teachers and academics.

"... Stephen Mastin, head of history at a school in Cambridge, who worked alongside historian Simon Schama as an adviser to Gove, said the curriculum bore 'no resemblance' to the drafts he worked on as late as last month... Mastin, who stood for the Tories at the last general election, said: 'Between January and the publication of this document – which no one involved in the consultation process had seen – someone has typed it up and I have no idea who that is. It would be scary if we become the only nation in the western world to not teach anything beyond our shores.'"

The paper's political editor Toby Helm adds:

"Michael Gove's Department for Education has taken steps to stop the Twitter feed @toryeducation – to which his own advisers have contributed – from issuing any more abuse against political opponents, critics and journalists.

"Senior government sources said the department had acted to ensure those contributing to the feed will now put out information in a neutral way and free of its previously abusive tone."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this funny if slightly terrifying video of goats shouting like human beings.

4) AUSTERITY WATCH, PART 223

There's another schools story on the front of the Independent on Sunday - this time related to George Osborne, not Michael Gove:

"George Osborne is secretly breaking his flagship pledge to protect spending on schools, according to the Government's own analysis, revealed in a document leaked to The Independent on Sunday.

"A confidential paper drawn up by civil servants assessing the Department for Education's finances reveals that the Chancellor's promise in 2010 to increase the front-line schools budget in real terms for four years 'is not, in fact, what is happening'.

"The document says: 'Schools are subject to a real-terms cut in their funding because the rate of inflation is currently higher than forecast at the time of the Spending Review [in November 2010].'"

(On a side note, the chancellor will be pleased, however, with the splash headline on the front of the Observer:
"Osborne in pledge to help world's poor fight tax abuse".)

5) I TOLD YOU SO

It's whistleblower time! The Sunday Times reports:

"Ministers were warned more than 18 months ago that illegal horsemeat was getting into the human food chain.

"John Young, a former manager with the Food Standards Agency (FSA), says he alerted the government to a potential scandal of illicit horsemeat with drug residues in human food but was ignored."

Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph splashes on news that "British consumers face paying the price for the horse meat scandal": "Mark Price, the chief executive of Waitrose, says that in return for families knowing food is safe and genuine, it cannot be seen as a “cheap commodity” any longer."

The paper adds: "A European Union directive in 2006 ordered 'light touch' regulation, which led to the FSA cutting the number of meat inspectors."

Whistleblowers ignored. Light tough regulation. Loss of public trust. The horsemeat crisis is starting to sound a lot like the financial crisis - well, without the global recession and trillion-pound bailout.

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"William is very gifted, which gives us another interesting challenge in finding the right sort of education for him - impossible in the state system." - the Tory candidate in the Eastleigh by-election, Maria Hutchings, provoked, in the words of the Observer, "a storm of protest as political opponents and state-educated celebrities, said she had insulted state schools, including two local ones with glowing Ofsted reports".

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 43
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 12
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 114.

From the Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror/ComRes Observer fortnightly poll:

Labour 36
Conservatives 31
Ukip 14
Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 58.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@paulwaugh Paterson 'completely' refutes claims that he was "asleep at the wheel" re horsemeat. But leaves open possibility Spelman was taking 40 winks

@jameskirkup Owen Paterson tells #murnaghan: "It is absolutely illegal to present a horse for slaughter that has taken drugs." Do horses *take* drugs?

@StewartWood Theresa May declares war on judges to deport foreign criminals, Cameron says we're a "soft touch" for foreigners... Lynton Crosby's arrived.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "Ed Miliband's 10p tax pledge is smart politics but poor policy."

John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "Ed Miliband, the candidate from the planet Zog"

Rafael Behr, writing in the Sunday Times, says: "Gordon Brown is dead. Long live Gordon Brown."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Lib Dem Slump Firms Up Ukip’s Third Place Poll Position

Labour maintained a five-point lead in the latest national opinion poll but the Liberal Democrats slumped to 8% as the UK Independence Party consolidated third place. The Conservatives dropped one point on last month down to 31% in the survey by ComRe...

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: The Living Standards Election

The ten things you need to know on Thursday 14 February 2013...

1) THE LIVING STANDARDS ELECTION

Ed Miliband is going to do his best impression of Ronald Reagan in a 'major speech' (is there ever a minor speech?) on the economy in Bedford today. It's all about living standards, it seems.

The Labour leader has been speaking to - who else? - the Guardian ahead of his address:

"Ed Miliband promises to make the 2015 general election a 'living standards election' as he claims that the coalition's squeeze on middle-income Britain has deepened the recession and created the "chilling prospect" of a further decade of pressure on most families' living standards.

"... Bidding to set the frame for the next election, and drawing on some of the strategy that helped re-elect Barack Obama, the Labour leader says: 'I am offering a choice between an economic recovery made by the many, not just a few at the top, and a Conservative strategy that consists of trickle-down from the top, a squeeze on the middle and a race to the bottom.'

"He goes on: 'I will be asking the question 'are you better off than you were four years ago?' and I don't think it is in dispute – people are worse off. The Office for Budget Responsibility figures are showing earnings behind inflation, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows the same. It would be a good start if David Cameron could just admit the facts.'"

Miliband will be speaking in Bedford - where the 'One Nation' prime minister Harold Macmillan, of course, declared that "You've never had it so good" in 1957.

Meanwhile, the Labour leader's shrewdest adviser and close ally (Lord) Stewart Wood, in an exclusive piece for the Huffington Post UK, sets out the context and thinking behind Miliband's speech. He writes:

"In 2013, the problem of the Middle has become the central economic challenge facing our country. It is at the heart of our growth crisis as well as our living standards crisis."

Wood adds that "our economy is too dependent on a low-skill, low-wage model of competitiveness. One measure of this is the UK’s historic (and continuing) deficit in skills" and says that the Tory idea "that the key to our economic turnaround is further deregulation of one of the most deregulated economies in the advanced industrial world is somewhere between dubious and ridiculous."

The shadow cabinet minister also claims that Labour has begun to "flesh out" new policies on the economy over the past two years.

I guess we'll have to wait till later this morning to see what policies, if any, Miliband unveils in Bedford. Either way, the Labour leader is right to focus on (falling) living standards. I mean, it worked for the Gipper, right?

2) BREAKING: BLAIRITE REJECTS BLAIRISM

It isn't just Ed Miliband giving a big speech today. Hats off to shadow defence secretary and arch-Blairite Jim Murphy for being willing to make some painful concessions about Blair's failures on foreign and defence policy - from the Independent:

"A new approach to intervening in foreign countries will be set out by Labour today as the shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy, accuses David Cameron of failing to learn the lessons from Tony Blair's mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Ten years after the Iraq War, Labour will attempt to further distance itself from a conflict which alienated many voters by warning against the 'ideological' crusade against al-Qa'ida favoured by Mr Blair and Mr Cameron."

Murphy will also admit that "an almost primitive understanding of the Afghan population, culture and geography prior to Nato intervention severely undermined international attempts to work with proxies and our political strategy was in its conception insufficiently representative. In Iraq there was a serious deficit in Western comprehension of the Sunni-Shia or intra-Shia dynamics."

Hear, hear!

3) BLAST FROM THE PAST

And it isn't just Labour figures who are giving 'big' speeches today, either. Former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major plans to dole out some advice for his party in a speech on Europe at Chatham House later today.

Sir John will welcome his successor but two's promise of an in/out referendum on the EU, saying it's a "gamble" but one that Cameron can't avoid and which could remove "the poison" of Europe from British - and, specifically, Tory - politics.

In a nice phrase, the ex-PM will also warn the current PM to beware of MPs with "with Tory heads and UK independence hearts looking to leave the EU".

He'll also warn eurosceptic Conservative MPs to stop bombarding their leader with demands on the EU and making him look like he's under duress and behaving in the interests of his party, rather than the country.

In an interview with me a few months ago, backbench MP Nadine Dorries said the current political climate reminded her of the early 1990s, with all the instability at the top of government and the attacks on Major over Europe from eurosceptics. I guess we now know that Major himself kinda agrees with her.

4) WHO KNEW WHAT AND WHEN?

Worried about the row over horsemeat? Perhaps you should be - whether you're a member of the public or a member of the government. From the Times splash:

"The Government knew last summer that a sudden ban on cheap British beef and lamb meant it was 'inevitable' that unlawful meat would be imported from Europe.

"MPs will demand today that the food watchdog is given powers to order supermarkets to carry out safety tests after it failed to identify the use of horsemeat in ready meals for up to a year, despite a warning from a government minister last June.

"The Times can also reveal that tests at British abattoirs in the past two weeks have confirmed that eight out of 200 horses slaughtered were contaminated with the veterinary drug phenylbutazone (“bute”), which is banned from food."

5) EYE ON EASTLEIGH

Satirist, comedian and new Labour candidate in Eastleigh, John O'Farrell, comes under some scrutiny in today's papers - from the Daily Telegraph:

"Labour's candidate for the Eastleigh by–election once backed the idea of voting for the Liberal Democrats to keep out the Conservatives in a marginal seat – just like the one he is now contesting.

"... it has emerged that [O'Farrell] once advised his brother to vote Lib Dem in Richmond to keep out the Tories in 1997."

Whoops!

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Planning to propose to your beloved on this Valentine's Day? Check out this video of 22 crazy and amusing wedding proposals...

6) ARE YOU LISTENING, MR PRESIDENT?

Whatever you think of Barack Obama, it is difficult to dispute that the US president has been a disaster for civil liberties. Remember, for instance, how he promised to shut down Gitmo? Well, he'll be reminded of his failure - and the human cost of it - later today. From the Huffington Post UK:

"A 20,000-strong petition will be presented to US President Barack Obama to urge the release of a British detainee at Guantanamo Bay who has been held at the camp for exactly 11 years.

"Shaker Aamer, 44, was taken to the notorious US detention centre on 14 February 2002 under suspicion of recruiting and financing terror group al Qaida.

"Aamer has never been charged or tried with an offence and remains detained despite the US authorities officially approving him for transfer in 2009."

(via Huffington Post UK)

7) DELHI DAVE

From the FT:

"The prime minister will take a delegation of British business leaders to Mumbai and New Delhi to exploit what he called "a special relationship" between the two countries, despite trade links having been strained."

Two points worth mentioning here: 1) Dave will be under pressure to explain to Indian authorities and the country's media why his government seems to be openly discriminating against university students from the subcontinent who want to study in the UK, and 2) it's a rather lopsided special relationship, given it's Cameron's second visit to India since becoming prime minister while his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, has not reciprocated with a visit to London and shows no signs of planning to do so.

8) NEED HELP?

From the Times:

"A mental health clinic is to be set up for MPs at Westminster to help the rising number of politicians who admit that they suffer depression and anxiety.

"Specialist treatment will be offered after officials approved funding of £25,000 a year. On Monday Parliament gave final approval to the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill, scrapping the law that says that MPs lose their seats if they have been sectioned for more than six months, as well as a rule allowing company directors to be removed because of mental illness."

9) UNGAGGED

The BBC's Today programme has this exclusive:

"A health service manager claims he was gagged by the NHS from speaking out about his dismissal and his concerns over patient safety.

"Gary Walker said he had no choice but to sign an agreement linked to a confidentiality clause in April 2011.

"He said it was a case of either signing the so-called 'super gag' agreement or losing his house.

"... It comes a week after Robert Francis QC, who led the public inquiry into the Stafford hospital scandal, demanded that such agreements should be 'banned'."

10) IT'S ALL IN THE MIND

Are all those speeches, debates, arguments, pamphlets, columns and manifestos a waste of time? Scientists now say that brain scans provide a better clue to our political allegiances than the party loyalties of our parents.

From the Daily Telegraph:

"Liberals and conservatives use different parts of their brain when they respond to risk, according to a team of British and American scientists. They were able to predict if people voted Democrat or Republican with 83 per cent accuracy just by studying their brain activity.

"Volunteers from the parties were asked to play a gambling game while their brains were scanned. Republicans and Democrats were no different in terms of the risks they took during the game, but there was a marked contrast in the way their brains dealt with risk–taking. Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, a brain region associated with social and self–awareness. Republicans had a more active right amygdala, a region involved in defensive "fight–or–flight" responses.

According to the study, brain activity in these two regions alone was enough to predict with pretty astonishing accuracy whether the participant was a Democrat or Republican.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 9
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 114.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@damiangreenmp How modern media works. Keith Vaz demands to know why I am not in Commons. I get abuse on Twitter. Reason? My wife in hospital. Happy now?

‏@BorisWatch All sympathy to @damiangreenmp but some reflection on where this view that 'if you're not working you're shirking' came from might help?

@ChrisBryantMP Cracking qu by anas sarwar: when the pm's answers are analysed will they be found to be 100% bull?

900 WORDS OR MORE

Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Nick Clegg and his poor Lib Dems are having a nervous breakdown."

John O'Farrell, writing in the Guardian, explains: "Why I'm standing for Labour in the Eastleigh byelection."

Leo McKinstry, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "What's the point of a food safety quango that couldn't save us from eating stallion burgers?"


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: The Horsemeat Summit

The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 13 February...

1) THE HORSEMEAT SUMMIT

"Now it's British horsemeat in burgers," screams the Daily Mail on its front page. The paper says:

"Meat from British horses was discovered in takeaway burgers and kebabs yesterday.

"The shocking find, which implicates the UK for the first time in the food fraud scandal, came during police raids in Yorkshire and West Wales.

"Environment Secretary Owen Paterson described the development as ‘utterly and totally disgraceful’ but pulled out of making an emergency statement to the House of Commons."

His opposite number, Labour's Mary Creagh said she wouldn't be buying mince of any kind for the moment: "Let's just say that I'm not very keen on mince at the moment, I think I know a bit too much now."

And you know you're in the middle of a crisis when our rulers start having 'summits'.

The BBC reports that "Environment Secretary Owen Paterson will travel to Brussels on Wednesday for a meeting of European countries linked to the horsemeat scandal.

"Ministers from the Irish Republic, France, Romania, Luxembourg, Sweden and Poland will attend."

I can't wait for the official picture of the French and Romanian ministers shaking hands...

2) NO POUND OF FLESH

From the Huffington Post:

"University graduate Cait Reilly has won her Court of Appeal claim that requiring her to work for free at a Poundland discount store was unlawful.

"Three judges in London ruled that the regulations under which most of the Government's back-to-work schemes were created are unlawful and quashed them. The Department for Work and Pensions has not been given leave to appeal, but has said that, regardless, it will appeal to the Supreme Court."

The papers are divided on straight left-right grounds - the Telegraph leader says: "Workfare can still do the job for Britain." The Guardian, however, pens an editorial "in praise of... Cait Reilly", noting: "[T]he point is that Whitehall had assumed a free hand in foisting arbitrary, harsh conditions on unemployed people. Cait Reilly has caught it out – for failing to play by the rules."

Writing in today's Sun, 'compassionate Conservative' Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, is defiant: "Let me be very clear — our back to work schemes are successful and are not slave labour." He adds: "I disagree with the part of the ruling that found against our regulations and we will appeal against that, but crucially the court did not find that anyone's humans rights have been breached because we asked them to do a work placement in return for Jobseeker's Allowance."

3) 'OUR GENERATION'S TASK'

The issue of in-work poverty isn't just a big issue in the UK - last night, President Obama decided to tackle the issue head-on during his State of the Union speech:

From the Huffington Post:

"President Barack Obama on Tuesday night laid out a vision for a society in which everyone has a fair shot at a decent education, adequate health care and a job that pays a living wage.

"'It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth -- a rising, thriving middle class,' said the president in the first State of the Union address of his second term. 'It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country -- the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, or who you love.'

"The president's most notable proposal was to raise the minimum wage from its current $7.25 an hour to $9 an hour."

Will George Osborne follow Obama's lead in the Budget next month? Two stats are always worth remembering: 1) the majority of the children living in poverty in Britain live in working, not workless, households, and 2) the UK's minimum wage is now worth less in real terms than it did in 2004.

4) WATERBOTTLEGATE

Obama may have been giving the SOTU speech, but all eyes were on the Republican 'rebuttal' - my US colleague Jon Ward reports on the speech from 41-year-old Florida senator Marco Rubio, who is one of the favourites for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination:

"In his remarks, Rubio hit two things hard: stereotypes of conservatives, and the president. He came out against the former stronger than the latter, devoting an entire passage to rebutting the charge that Republicans want to protect the rich from higher taxes, and another to making clear his devotion to Medicare, in an attempt to stake out a politically viable position on entitlement reform."

Amusingly, Ward adds:

"The media-savvy Republican got favorable reviews, but his night was almost derailed by a bottle of water. When Rubio came to the 10-minute mark in his 14-minute speech, he paused, looked down and to his left, and then looked back at the camera as he bent and reached for a small Poland Spring bottle. For a few brief, excruciating seconds, Rubio took a sip of the water as he looked directly into the camera, and then put it quickly down and resumed speaking.

"Twitter exploded. Video of the moment was quickly posted, Democratic operatives cackled, and journalists complained about the volume of chatter about Rubio's thirst."

5) LEGISLATING FOR LEVESON

David Cameron's plans for a Royal Charter to regulate the press may be nowhere near as tough as the system recommended by Lord Justice Leveson but, according to a story on the front of today's Independent, a 'compromise' deal is close:

"Parts of David Cameron's blueprint to regulate the press could breach European law, the newspaper industry warned yesterday, as his plan to implement the Leveson Report was attacked from all sides.

"But despite criticism from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, some sources suggested the compromise was still possible with all-party talks due to begin tomorrow."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Off the back of Obama's State of the Union last night, why not re-watch this classic video of the US president slow-jamming the news on Jimmy Fallon's late-night show from April 2012?

6) EYE ON EASTLEIGH

From the Guardian:

"As the author of a seminal account of an activist's life during Labour's 'wilderness years', and later as a writer of jokes for Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, John O'Farrell has been cheering up the party's rank-and file for decades as the self-deprecating chronicler of middle class, left-wing angst.

"But after local members in Eastleigh last night selected him to be the party's candidate in the upcoming byelection, the comedy writer was settling down for the challenge of capturing the south-coast seat - although not quite immediately.

"'There is a great deal of hard work ahead. But first I am going to the pub,' he tweeted immediately after news emerged of his official selection over two other Labour members."

O'Farrell won't win in Eastleigh - where the two coalition parties are slugging it out for the top spot - and, thankfully, nor will Ukip's Diane James, who is reported to have said yesterday that all immigration into the UK should be halted in order to prevent Romanians from coming to the country and committing crimes here. Who says Ukip are a bunch of bigots, eh?

7) CLEGG THE CREDIT TAKER

Whatever happens to the Lib Dems in Eastleigh, for now, their leader continues be mauled by the papers - from the Telegraph front page:

Nick Clegg has been ridiculed after he appeared to claim credit for his part in securing a cut in the European Union budget.

Mr Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, last year claimed that Conservatives who wanted a budget cut had 'absolutely no hope'.

"At his weekly Deputy Prime Minister’s Questions session in the Commons yesterday, however, Mr Clegg claimed that he had spent 'months making the case for the tough approach' adopted by David Cameron in Brussels last week.
Tory backbenchers have described Mr Clegg’s comments as 'ludicrous and implausible'.

8) CASH-FOR-ACADEMIES

Ever wondered why so many schools are so keen to become academies? The Independent this morning splashes on news that

"Officials from Michael Gove's department are offering £65,000 'bribes' to convince reluctant headteachers to convert their schools to academies.

"The sweeteners are being offered to schools which drop their opposition to academy status – sparking claims that taxpayers' money is being spent on "buying off" critics of the Education Secretary's pet project."

Follow, as they say, the money...

9) 'GET OFF OUR PLANES'

To those of you who think Islamophobia is a myth, meet New Zealand MP Richard Prosser - from the Huffington Post:

"A New Zealand politician who sparked condemnation for suggesting Muslim men should be banned on Western airlines will not stand down.

"Writing in his column in Investigate Magazine, First Leader Richard Prosser said: 'If you are a young male, aged between say about 19 and about 35, and you're a Muslim, or you look like a Muslim, or you come from a Muslim country, then you are not welcome to travel on any of the West's airlines.'

"Labelling Islam a 'stone age religion', and claiming most terrorists are 'angry young Muslim men who hate the West', Prosser added: 'I will not stand by while my daughters' rights and freedoms, and those of other New Zealanders and Westerners, are denigrated by a sorry pack of misogynist troglodytes from 'Wogistan'.'"

Charming.

10) 'POLITICALLY CORRECT CENSORSHIP'

From the Telegraph:

"The BBC has been criticised as 'Stalinist' and 'politically correct' for allegedly trying to play down Harold Wilson’s pipe smoking in a five hour television special tomorrow night.

"However, Lord Donoughue, a former right hand man to Mr Wilson in Number 10, claimed that producers had been told to downplay Mr Wilson’s pipe smoking.

"Describing it as 'Stalinist', he said: 'Is the licence payers money being paid for these people. It is censorship – politically correct censorship. How many people do they have monitoring politically correct behaviour?'"

Donoughue adds: “He didn’t smoke it much in private. It was not always lit because he had to put it away in his pocket.

“If he was being interviewed or questioned, the moment he was asked a difficult question he would take out his lighter and light the pipe to give him time to think of an answer.”

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"The position is this. One of the most powerful, talented, intelligent and trusted women in the country wishes you to think that when she took some points for her husband in 2003 she had no real choice in doing so. It is the prosecution's function, if they can, to disprove that before she can be convicted." - Andrew Edis QC, who is prosecuting the Vicky Pryce case at Southwark Crown Court, giving his closing speech yesterday.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 43
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 10
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 116.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@LizMair: [email protected] asks what Republicans want to hear in #SOTU. My guess: "I'm resigning and handing this job off to a stealthily preserved Reagan."

@EJDionne Poor Marco Rubio: It was the gulp that roared. TV can be a cruel medium #sotu

@ShippersUnbound Don't understand the fuss over food. I love Haggis and I definitely don't want to know what goes into that...

900 WORDS OR MORE

Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "Michael Gove is not just a bungler, he's a destructive ideologue."

Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Ed Miliband can draw a line under the Labour Party’s war by opposing plans for secret courts."

Martin Wolf, writing in the FT, makes the "case for helicopter money".


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

UK inequality rises sharply in 15 years – report

AFP Photo / Bertrand Guay

AFP Photo / Bertrand Guay

The UK’s super-rich, the top 1% of earners, now pocket 10 pence in every pound, while the bottom half have seen their share of the nation’s wealth drop in the last 15 years. Middle earners have also seen their earning power stagnate.

Inequality in the UK has increased sharply in the last decade and a half, according to a study by the think tank, the Resolution Foundation, ‘Squeezed Britain 2013’, which is to be published next week.

According to Resolution’s analysis the top 1% on earners have seen their share of the nation’s wealth jump from 7% in the mid-1990s to 10% today, meaning that the top 1% of earners now pocket 10p in every pound of income paid in Britain. The bottom 50% have seen their share of the pie drop from 19% to 18%, it was reported in the Observer.

Although there was a slight reduction in top earning between 2009 and 2011, the research concludes this is most likely because the highest paid employees have brought their earnings forward to benefit from reduced income tax rates, which come into force this April. The Chancellor, George Osborne, is lowering the top tax rate for all earnings over £150,000 from 50p to 45p.

Resolution’s analysis shows the polarization of the UK labor market, between the top earners vast salaries and stagnant wages for many at the bottom and in the middle of the pile. However, the study did not take into account the impacts of benefits, like housing benefit, or tax credits, which top up incomes of the very poor.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued a statement last Wednesday warning of the dangers of increasing inequality in its annual health check of the UK economy.

“Labor market conditions are widening the income gap between fulltime employees and an increasing share of the workforce on part-time, insecure and low-wage jobs. This comes in a context where income inequality was already high and rising before the recession,” the statement said.

The gap between rich and poor is becoming a major political issue in Britain. Labour leader, Ed Miliband, wants to introduce a policy of ‘pre-distribution’ to try and narrow the gap between the best and worst paid.

The London Mayor, Boris Johnson, as well as various politicians from across the political spectrum, have praised the idea of the Living Wage, £8.55 an hour in London and £7.45 elsewhere. The Living Wage is not legally enforceable unlike the National Minimum Wage, which is significantly less, at £6.19 an hour. Ed Miliband has said he is in favor of making the Living Wage a legal requirement in his party’s manifesto for the next election.

While, Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, is pushing for a ‘mansion tax’ on all homes worth over £2 million.

‘Squeezed Britain’ focuses on the fortunes of the UK’s hard pressed middle earners, many of whom have seen their incomes stagnate over the past decade as a result of inflation and their reduced bargaining power in the work place, due partly to the shrinking in power of trade unions.

“The growing gap in incomes is pronounced when you look at the top 10th of households, and overwhelming when you consider the position of the top 1%. The rest of society hasn’t kept up. It’s the squeezed majority not just the squeezed middle,” Matthew Whittaker, senior economist at Resolution, told the Observer.

‘It Does Not Need To Be A Dirty Fight’

Business secretary Vince Cable said the Eastleigh by-election is an opportunity for Liberal Democrats to highlight "the many differences" between the coalition partners. Speaking from the Hampshire constituency where he is helping the Lib Dem campaign...

Clegg Appeals To Eastleigh Voters To Look Past Huhne Episode

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he hoped voters in the Eastleigh by-election would be able to look past the criminal behaviour which led to Chris Huhne's resignation and instead focus on the Liberal Democrats' policies and record. Clegg said he ...

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: When’s The Banker Bashing Going To Start?

The ten things you need to know on Sunday 10 February 2013...

1) WHEN'S THE BANKER BASHING GOING TO START?

Supposedly, we've been beastly to bankers for the past five years - that is, since they crashed the global economy through a combination of greed, avarice and rank incompetence. But the banker-bashing hasn't stopped the former 'masters of the universe' dusting themselves off with taxpayers' cash and carrying on with business (and bonuses) as usual.

Check out the splash in today's Sunday Times:

"The boss of Royal Bank of Scotland will be handed a £780,000 bonus just weeks after the bailed-out lender was fined £390m for its role in the global interest rate rigging scandal.

"... The bonanza comes at a sensitive time for the Edinburgh-based lender, which was rescued from collapse in 2008. Last week RBS agreed to pay out £390m, including £87.5m to the British financial watchdog, after admitting staff had manipulated Libor, a key benchmark interest rate. In an apparent attempt to boost their bonuses some 21 RBS traders had been involved in the manipulation."

The paper quotes the ever-quotable Lord Oakeshott, Lib Dem peer and mate of Vince Cable, as saying:

“It is wholly unacceptable that Hester should receive a bonus for 2010 when these scandals were still going on. He had been captain of the ship for two years, but the crew was still robbing the passengers.”

2) STEALTH TAX?

From the front of the Observer:

"Thousands more people will pay inheritance tax to fund a watered-down version of the Dilnot plan for universal state funding for elderly and social care, the government is expected to announce on Monday.

"Pensioners and disabled adults will have to pay up to £75,000 of any care bills they incur before the state steps in under the new arrangement. There will also be an increase in the means-test threshold, so that anyone with assets under £123,000 will automatically receive free care.

The Sunday Times reports, on its front page, under the headline "Stealth tax on inheritance':

"The decision comes just eight weeks after George Osborne, the chancellor, promised to increase the amount in two years’ time.

"Now he has decided it will not go up until at least 2019, leaving thousands of families £95,000 worse off than if the tax free allowance had risen."

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, dodged the question about inheritance tax and funding of social care on the Marr show this morning: "Let's wait until tomorrow's announcement..."

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, deputy PM Nick Clegg says: “We will make sure no-one is forced to sell their home to pay for care in their lifetime, and no-one sees their life savings disappear just because they developed the wrong kind of illness.”

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reports: "The bosses of some of the companies that provide home care for the elderly are receiving millions of pounds in pay, share options and dividends despite 'scandalous' failings in care."

Everyone, say it with me: "We're all in this together."

3) DIVIDED WE STAND

What will the coalition look like in the wake of the Eastleigh by-election? Will it be a re-run of the fallout from the AV referendum? This time, though, it could be the Lib Dems who have the upper hand.

From the Sunday Times:

"The Conservatives have admitted they face a 'big challenge' to win the Eastleigh by-election triggered by Chris Huhne's resignation.

"Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, who visited the Hampshire constituency yesterday as the party launched its campaign, has acknowledged that the Tories will have to 'battle' to wrest the seat from the Liberal Democrats, who held it with a majority of 3,864 in the 2010 general election.

"The Lib Dem candidate is 60-year-old financial adviser Mike Thornton, who sits on the borough council. The announcement of his candidacy last night made no mention of Huhne, claiming the party's campaign would focus on bringing jobs and investment to the area."

Grayling is right to be worried - a new Survation poll in the constituency for the Mail on Sunday has put the Lib Dems three points ahead: Lib Dems, 36%; Tories, 33%; Ukip, 16%; Labour, 13%.

4) TOBY HELM VS MICHAEL GOVE, ROUND 2

Last Sunday, this Memo noted how the Observer's Toby Helm had gone to war with Michael Gove after being smeared as a Labour stooge on Twitter by the @toryeducation account.

This Sunday, Helm's back for more - from the front page of the Observer:

"Michael Gove faces accusations that he may have misled parliament over claims of bullying and intimidation by key advisers at the Department for Education.

"The Observer can reveal that a senior civil servant in the education secretary's department has received a secret payoff of about £25,000 out of public funds, after a lengthy grievance procedure involving members of Gove's team, including his special adviser, Dominic Cummings, and the department's former head of communications, James Frayne.

"... On 23 January, however, Gove – who under the ministerial and special advisers' codes is responsible for the behaviour of his advisers (known as Spads) – denied knowledge of any allegations of misconduct during an appearance before the education select committee."

Uh-oh.

5) 'GOVE'S PLOT'

More Gove news - from the front page of the Independent on Sunday:

"The full extent of Michael Gove's plans to revolutionise education are revealed today in a secret memo showing he is considering outright privatisation of academies and free schools. All academies and free schools in England, which are the Education Secretary's personal obsession, would be free to become profit-making for the first time, and be entirely decoupled from Whitehall control.

"Leaked documents of the minutes of a meeting of top Department for Education officials on the future of funding the academies programme have alarmed teaching unions and the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg last year ruled out any expansion of the private sector in state schools."

So, can Clegg score a hat-trick against Gove, having so far succeeded in stopping the education secretary's plans to create a two-tier exam system and bring in the 'Ebacc'?

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a cat getting its face stuck in a yogurt cup.

6) 'ALL IN THE SAME BOAT'

The PM has been making the case against Scottish independence on the Downing Street website - from the Huffington Post UK:

"The implications of the referendum next Autumn will affect not just Scotland, but England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Conservative leader said.

"He drew on Britain's Olympic glory to evoke an image of a united Britain, saying: 'Those glorious Olympics last summer reminded us just what we were capable of when we pull together: Scottish, English, Welsh, Northern Irish, all in the same boat - sometimes literally.

"'If you told many people watching those Olympics around the world that we were going to erect barriers between our people, they'd probably be baffled. Put simply: Britain works. Britain works well. Why break it?'"

7) ADAM AND TREV VS DAVE

You may have assumed that the multimillionaire Tory backbencher Adam Afriyie, who most people outside of the Westminster village had never heard of a few weeks ago, might want to cool all the Sunday-newspaper talk of leadership bids, plots and coups. You'd be wrong.

According to the Sunday Times, he's been "secretly consulting" with equalities expert, New Labour supporter and Mandelson ally, Trevor Phillips, on how to win the black vote:

"The MP has won the support of the former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who believes he has been wrongly overlooked by the current leadership.

“'I like Adam and he is a friend. I was extremely surprised that he did not get ministerial office,' Phillips said.

"The support of Phillips, a key new Labour figure, is a coup for Afriyie and suggests he is widening his campaign to position himself as a future leadership candidate beyond Westminster."

And so it goes on...

8) AID

From the Observer:

"Justine Greening's decision to end British aid to India was based on placating Tory backbenchers, instead of combating poverty, according to a damning report from the Institute for Public Policy Research thinktank.

"Will Straw, the associate director of the IPPR, said that the coalition's announcement in November that aid to India would be halted in 2015, was 'a tactic for winning votes at home rather than tackling poverty abroad'."

The paper quotes Max Lawson, the head of policy at Oxfam, saying that there was "no development case to be made for stopping aid to India".

"Three hundred thousand women a year die in childbirth," he said. "It's completely inexcusable that the rich in India allow that to happen – but that's just as true in Nigeria or in Angola, and no one says we shouldn't help poor people in those places."

The problem for foreign aid supporters such as myself is that India is one of the world's biggest economies and, as the right-wing press constantly reminds us, even has its own space programme. It's very, very difficult to make the case for giving foreign aid to a country able to afford rocket ships...

9) TAXING TIMES

More tax avoidance stuff in the papers - this time, concerning a UK multinational and allegations of tax dodging abroad - from the Observer's splash:

"One of Britain's biggest multinationals, whose brands include Silver Spoon sugar, Twinings Tea and Kingsmill bread, is avoiding paying millions of pounds of tax in an African state blighted by malnutrition, a year-long investigation revealed on Sunday.

"The Zambian sugar-producing subsidiary of Associated British Foods, a FTSE100 company, contributed virtually no corporation tax to the state's exchequer between 2007 and 2012, and none at all for two of those years."

10) ALASTAIR CAMPBELL DEFECTS?

From James Forsyth's Mail on Sunday column:

"Alastair Campbell is working in the Downing Street press office. This news caused more than one No10 aide to spill his coffee last week. They couldn't believe that Tony Blair's intensely tribal communications supremo was now spinning with the Coalition. Order was restored when it was established that although the name was correct, it wasn't that Alastair Campbell. His namesake is helping out with ethnic minority media, I'm told."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

From the Opinium/Observer fortnightly poll:

Labour 39
Conservatives 29
Ukip 14
Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@jocarr Interesting. Michael Portillo argues Lords would be "out of its constitutional depth" if they reject gay marriage after Commons vote. #bh

‏@ianbirrell India didn't want our aid - but IPPR says we should have forced it on them. The arrogance of aid apostles...

‏@RanaKabbani54 Instead of privatizing government schools, #Gove might like to nationalize private ones. Educational equality not educational apartheid.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Janet Daley, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "The Prime Minister did the impossible on unifying the Conservative Party on Europe, then chucked the gay marriage grenade."

John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, asks: "Is Mr Cameron out of touch, cowardly, lazy...?"

James Forsyth, writing in the Mail on Sunday, asks: "Can Nick Clegg rise from the dead in Chris Huhne's old haunt?"


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Lib Dems Select Candidate For Eastleigh

The Liberal Democrats chose a local councillor on Saturday to fight the Eastleigh by-election in what is set to be a close and bitter struggle with their Conservative coalition partners. Mike Thornton, a parish and borough councillor since 2007, was s...

Nigel Farage Pledges To Make Eastleigh A Four-Way Fight

Ukip leader Nigel Farage has pledged to make the Eastleigh by-election a four-way marginal fight and said his party's number one issue will be immigration.

Kicking off the party's campaign in Hampshire, the seat vacated by Chris Huhne's resignation earlier this week, Mr Farage said: "We have nothing against people from Bulgaria and Romania, we wish them well, but we do not think it's right this country has a total open door policy."

He said the pressure on housing, education and services from immigration "poses a major problem" especially if people from other countries claim benefits.

Citizens from Romania and Bulgaria will have full movement rights across Europe from 2014. Farage said other parties were ignoring the issue of immigration.

He did admit that the Liberal Democrats have the advantage in the constituency but he added that he was "delighted" that the Tory candidate, Maria Hutchings, is Eurosceptic.

"If we can rally our support like we have in the last three by-elections in Rotherham, in Middlesbrough and in Corby then this seat could become a four-way marginal," he said.


Guido Fawkes

Eastleigh polling: Conservatives on 34%, the Lib Dems on 31% and Labour on 19%. The UKIP is fourth with 13%.

Mr Farage also called the EU budget reduction negotiated by Prime Minister David Cameron as "a rotten deal for Britain".

"If you go and knock on 100 doors here in Eastleigh and tell them that they will Pay £50 million a day to Europe for the next seven years they will think that's not a good deal."

He also said that "the years of mockery and derision" for the party were over since he had been Ukip's first ever candidate in another Eastleigh by-election in 1994 - coming second to last and just in front of the Monster Raving Loony Party.

"The whole tenor of the debate in this country has changed since then, it's now an in/out debate on Europe," he said.

He explained that in Eastleigh the party would also be campaigning on how a EU subsidy that Britain had put money into had allowed Ford to close its Transit van factory nearby.

But Mr Farage added he would not be standing in the by-election and denied it was because of Mr Cameron's EU referendum promise.

"Good God no," the MEP said. "I do not think a vague promise of a referendum five years from now is a reason for not standing.

"The reason is simple: I am leading this party into the local elections in England and then the European elections and thirdly, it's quite busy in Brussels and I need to be there."


Matt Chorley

UKIP supporters on Twitter seem very bullish about winning Eastleigh. Shame their leader didn't share their confidence

Mr Farage said that the party now had good candidates and denied it was just a one-man party and that he was that man.
"If we went into Eastleigh and asked people to name four front bench Labour politicians they couldn't," he claimed.

He said the party now had a shortlist of five candidates that the local branch would choose tomorrow with the candidate unveiled in Eastleigh on Tuesday morning.

Labour have also started campaigning in the constituency with Southampton Itchen MP John Denham campaigning in the town with activists but the party has not yet picked a candidate.

The Liberal Democrats, who held the seat in the 2010 General Election with a majority of 3,684, will announce their candidate for the February 28 poll on Saturday night.

Techtivist Report: UK Warned – CIA Will Access All Government Data

We need your help to sustain grassroots, groundbreaking journalism. Make a tax-deductible contribution to Truthout now by clicking here.

Britain’s ambitious plans to store all government data on the so-called G-Cloud have led to warningsfrom the European Union that security will be compromised now that U.S. intelligence agencies have the legal right to survey all data held on U.S. owned Cloud services.

At least four U.S. companies are involved in the U.K. government’s G-Cloud project which Whitehall hopes will slash costs and “deliver fundamental changes in the way the public sector procures and operates.”

Eventually, it is hoped the G-Cloud will hold the bulk of State data in addition to that of schools, charities, the BBC and police, even the Bank of England.

While the recent amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) have received scant attention in the British Press, there are a few Members of Parliament so concerned that they want Britain to think about ending all intelligence cooperation with the U.S.

“The Americans have got to remember who their allies are and who their enemies are,” Conservative MP David Davis told The Independent, warning of “a whole cascade of constitutional and privacy concerns for ordinary British people”.

Cloud storage is increasingly popular in the U.K. where around 35 per cent of businesses and an unknown number of private users employ some form of remote storage from U.S. based companies like Apple, Amazon and Google. The government wants to see even greater use of Cloud storage across all sectors in what it describes as a robust “public cloud first policy.”

The FISA amendments now give the CIA and NSA the right to access all this data not just in Britain or Europe, but anywhere in the world. U.S. citizens are excused this intrusion by the Fourth Amendment, but everybody else is included.

In the case of Britain, by putting all government data online – including health and criminal records – every facet of peoples’ lives will be open to scrutiny by intelligence analysts across the Atlantic.

Many warn that this will also lead to activists, journalists, politicians, Muslims and others being specifically targeted without the need to justify national security.

“In other words, it is lawful in the U.S. to conduct purely political surveillance on foreigners’ data accessible in U.S. Clouds,” warns the report for the European Parliament, Fighting Cyber Crime and Protecting Privacy in the Cloud by the Centre for the Study of Conflicts, Liberty and Security.

While most of the attention has been focused on Cloud storage and the effect FISA will have on Europe, the actual wording of the amendment speaks of “remote computing services” which could literally mean anything stored on a computer other than your own.

As it is, every financial transaction passes through U.S. intelligence channels. With the new extension, no stone need remain unturned. Every time you comment on a book, join a club, or do absolutely anything that passes through a computer owned by a U.S. company, you are open to scrutiny.

The Cloud, however, comes with other concerns. There is debate as to who legally owns what if it is stored or edited in the Cloud, and you can’t even bequest your online music collection to a loved one when you die.

NSA aside, hackers can easier access data en-route to the Cloud than they can on a local area network, and the Cloud administrators might one day be compromised. The companies themselves may go bust or be taken over. They might suffer some catastrophic event or decide to amended their terms and conditions.

The European Union is being urged to add a warning to all U.S. based Cloud services, with clear wording that anything stored in the Cloud will be under direct scrutiny by Federal authorities. The report also wants to see E.U. citizens given the same rights as Americans in U.S. courts.

“A lot of people wouldn’t realize where data is stored, and hence wouldn’t expect to be subject to U.S. law,” cautions another Member of Britain’s Parliament, Julian Huppert of the Liberal Democrats.

He wants to know if the government has received any guarantee from Washington that sensitive data will not be scrutinized as foreign intelligence fodder.

“If the U.S. will not give a clear assurance about government data,” he says. “Then we will have to stop using the Cloud, as we cannot allow that to happen.”

European Union Leaders Agree Historic Budget Cut, But MEPs May Veto Deal

European leaders have agreed a cut in the EU budget after German chancellor Angela Merkel sided with David Cameron's demand that Brussels tighten its belt, however the European Parliament may veto the deal.

When the 27-way summit finally got under way, the opening bid presented to the leaders for agreement amounted to a budget proposal of 913 billion euros (£778 billion) for 2014-2020.

On Friday afternoon, after all night negotiations, leaders finally agreed 908bn euro budget - a cut of five billion euros.

Speaking after an agreement was reached, the prime minister said he had done a "good deal" for Britain and had worked with other European leaders to secure the cut.

"We wanted to cut this credit card," he said. "On any fair way of looking at it, that is exactly what we have done."

"We worked hard with the Dutch, Danes, Swedes and Angela [Merkel] to make sure Europe's taxpayers got a good deal," he said.

It has also been reported that Merkel sided with Cameron against French President Francois Hollande on the budget. "We had some debates and discussions," the prime minister acknowledged.

European Council president Herman Van Rompuy announced the deal had been done with a Tweet.


Herman Van Rompuy
Deal done! #euco has agreed on #MFF for the rest of the decade. Worth waiting for.

The settlement will allow Cameron to claim that his basic demands that Europe at least nods towards the austerity being endured by national treasuries have been met.

In October Labour joined with eurosceptic Tories in a Commons vote to demand the prime minister argue for a real-terms cut in the EU's long-term budget during the negotiations.

Tory Douglas Carswell, one of the more eurosceptic MPs and not a huge fan of the prime minister, welcomed the deal by declaring "three hearty cheers" to Cameron.

"Under pressure from the taxpayer, MPs instructed ministers not to hand over extra amounts of money. And ministers appear to have responded by securing a deal that does precisely that," he said.

And Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless, who led the rebellion in the Commons over the budget, offered his congratulations in a video message posted on You Tube.

"His [Cameron's] diplomats, his permanent representative in Brussels, the Liberal Democrats all said the best we could hope for was a freeze," he said.

"By passing my amendment, Parliament voted to strengthen that negotiating mandate and demand a cut. With Parliament behind him, the Prime Minister has delivered at the EU council today."

However even though the overall budget for the next seven years may come down, the UK's contribution could actually increase.

Ukip leader Nigel Farage dismissed the deal: "Shaving a few pence off our daily contribution is inconsequential; the question now is why are we paying anything at all?"


Nigel Farage

Clearly a huge victory for David Cameron: looks like he's managed to increase the UK contributions!

Even if the terms are endorsed at the summit, the deal must run the gauntlet of the European Parliament, which now looks likely to call a secret ballot.

Parliament President Martin Schulz confirmed last night that he intended deploying the rarely used procedure.

If so, by allowing MEPs to vote anonymously, the move will effectively stop EU leaders galvanising their own members of the Parliament to support the budget deal.

European Parliament officials said it looked certain the bid to call a secret ballot would be backed, as required, by one fifth of MEPs, with a secret vote held within three months.

Jean Lambert MEP: Why Cuts in the EU Budget Are Just Another Austerity Measure That Will Hit the Poorest Hardest

However, Tory MEP Martin Callanan condemned the idea as a "highly cynical and unaccountable act" on one of the Parliament's most important ever votes.

Callanan, leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, said others had to be able to see how their representatives voted on their behalf.

"If MEPs want to reject an agreement made by their own prime ministers then they should have the courage of their convictions and not try to cower behind a procedural technicality.

"The European Parliament must be accountable to its voters which it cannot be if MEPs connive to hide their voting record on an issue that they should be judged on at the ballot box. This is not some small vote; it is one of the most important decisions of the entire legislature."

He added: "This kind of behaviour brings the EU and politicians into disrepute. My group will argue for a roll call vote on any deal reached so that all MEPs can stand on the doorsteps in their constituencies and explain why they cannot support their prime minister."

Related on HuffPost:

Clegg’s Tax Promise Signals Start Of Eastleigh By-Election Race

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will fire the starting gun in the Liberal Democrats' Eastleigh by-election campaign today with a promise to press for higher taxes on the wealthy to ease the burden on "hard-working families".

In the Commons, Lib Dem chief whip Alistair Carmichael will move the writ formally triggering the contest to elect a successor to disgraced former Cabinet minister Chris Huhne.

Polling will take place in just three weeks' time, on February 28, in a battle which will pitch the Lib Dems into a head-to-head fight with their Coalition partners, the Tories, who finished second in the 2010 general election.

Both parties are braced for a bruising contest, with Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps signalling that they intend to focus on Huhne's past after he pleaded guilty in court to dodging punishment for a speeding offence.

"The residents of Eastleigh have for a long time been sold a lie by their Lib Dem MP. That's why they'll welcome the opportunity to express the way they feel about it very soon," he said.

"Conservatives will present the opportunity to start afresh with a hard-working local MP who gets on with looking after her constituents."

Lib Dems insisted their decision, as the sitting party in the constituency, to opt for a short contest reflected the high state of preparedness of the local party, even though they have yet to choose a candidate.

"We are going to throw the kitchen sink at it. I'm pretty sure that the Conservatives will as well," one source said.

"It is going to be a tight contest, and generally in tight contests in two-way marginals you get some pretty robust exchanges."

Clegg is expected to travel to the Hampshire constituency to campaign as soon as he can clear the space in his diary.

Officials would not be drawn on whether he would offer an apology for Huhne's conduct, but acknowledged that he would have to deal with the issue.

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"Clearly the issue of Chris Huhne's resignation as an MP is going to be of relevance to the by-election," the source said.

Officially, the Lib Dems want to make jobs and taxes the key campaign issues - drawing clear battlelines with the Conservatives.

Clegg will use a speech at the Institute for Government in London today to highlight the Lib Dems' commitment to a 1% annual "mansion tax" levied on properties worth more than £2 million - a proposal the Tories have consistently rejected.

Alternatively, he will say, the Lib Dems will press for the introduction of new council tax bands at the top end, again affecting properties worth more than £2 million.

"That we should ask a small number of very wealthy individuals to make a reasonable contribution, in order to provide desperately needed help for millions of ordinary people - nothing could do more to demonstrate a commitment to greater fairness in our tax system," he is expected to say.

"It's an open secret that our Conservative partners do not share our views on this. However, we will continue to make this argument, in this Coalition and beyond.

"Our approach is simple: taxes on mansions, tax cuts for millions. An approach to tax that puts payslips before palaces, if you like."

The Lib Dems will select their candidate at a private hustings on Saturday. Officials insist they are confident of retaining a seat they have held since 1994.

Huhne had a majority of 3,684 at the last general election and the party has not lost a seat in a by-election for more than 50 years.

There is speculation that the Tory candidate will be Maria Hutchings, who fought the seat in 2010. Her chances of achieving the necessary 3.6% swing to win have been boosted by UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage's decision not to stand.

Labour sources are hoping for a strong showing, but privately accept they have little chances of winning.

Shadow chief Treasury secretary Rachel Reeves dismissed Clegg's attempts to distance his party from the Tories.

"The Liberal Democrats will be judged on what they do not what they say, and their record is the Tory record - one of economic failure," she said.

"Nick Clegg failed to deliver a mansion tax, but went along with a £3 billion tax cut for the richest. And his cuts to tax credits will dwarf any gain from the rise in personal allowance for millions of working families."

Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the Lib Dems, said the party will be "all guns blazing" at the next by-election.

Speaking on Daybreak he said: "We don't take anything for granted, we have a very well run council, we run the council, and a fantastic reputation for work.

"So we're going to go in all guns blazing and this weekend pick a candidate, who will be up and running as of Saturday.
"I think people increasingly do know that it's us who've delivered the tax cuts.

"It's the most important thing you can do, to put money back in the hands and the pockets of families who are struggling to pay the bills."

Asked whether Chris Huhne had damaged the image of the party, he said: "Of course it is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, both for him and his family, and for the party. He's resigned as MP, we fight a by-election.

"Chris Huhne paid the penalty, we move on."

Ebacc Scrapped By Gove In ‘Humiliating’ GCSE U-Turn

Education secretary Michael Gove has confirmed he is not pressing ahead with plans to scrap GCSEs, telling the Commons on Thursday his proposals were "a bridge too far".

Gove has been forced to abandon his flagship plan to scrap GCSEs and replace them with a new English Baccalaureate.

The move was said to follow pressure from within the coalition from the Liberal Democrats as well as criticism from MPs across the political spectrum.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, told BBC Radio 5 live that she's "absolutely delighted".

michael gove

Michael Gove is expected to scrap plans for a new GCSE system

"Introducing the Ebacc was entirely the wrong thing to do especially in the timescale that Mr Gove had in mind. We think this is a very good move and we are very pleased."

Last week the cross-party Commons Education Committee said the Government had "not proved its case" that GCSEs should be abolished in key academic subjects.

Labour said that it was a "humiliating climbdown" for one of the most high-profile members of the Cabinet.

Gove told MPs instead of new qualifications, GCSEs will be reformed, with exams taken at the end of the course, rather than in modules, extended questions and less internal assessment.

He also confirmed that he will not be pressing ahead with plans to hand each of the core EBC subjects to a single exam board - a move he had previously argued was essential to prevent boards "dumbing down" standards to attract more schools.

"Last September we outlined plans for changes to GCSE qualifications designed to address the grade inflation, dumbing down and loss of rigour in those examinations," Gove told the Commons on Thursday.

"We have consulted on those proposals and there is now a consensus that the system needs to change. But one of the proposals I put forward was a bridge too far.

"My idea that we end the competition between exam boards to offer GCSEs in core academic qualifications and have just one - wholly new - exam in each subject was just one reform too many at this time.

"The exam regulator Ofqual - which has done such a great job in recent months upholding standards - was clear that there were significant risks in trying to both strengthen qualifications and end competition in a large part of the exams market.

"So, I have decided not to make the best the enemy of the good.

"And I will not proceed with plans to have a single exam board offering a new exam in each academic subject - instead we will concentrate on reforming existing GCSEs along the lines we put forward in September."

He had originally wanted to introduce the new EBacc certificate in England in the five core academic areas of English, maths, science, languages and humanities - history or geography.

Each of the core subjects would have been handed to a single examination board - a move he argued was essential to prevent boards "dumbing down" standards to attract more schools.

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However according to reports in The Independent and The Daily Telegraph, officials warned the plan could fall foul of EU procurement rules.


Philip Hunt

A really wonderful moment. Humiliating climbdown of Michael Gove over bizarre Ebacc plan. Dare we hope he will now be properly scrutinised?


Gaby Hinsliff

feel for parents of kids coming up to GCSEs in next 2-3 years. After Gove Uturn, increasingly unclear what they'll actually be sitting.


Kevin Maguire
Better mark down Michael Gove now he's to re-sit GCSEs #detention

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said Gove should have listened to warnings that the scheme would not work.

"This is a humiliating climbdown from Michael Gove," he said.

"It shows why he should have listened to business leaders, headteachers and experts in the first place and not come up with a plan on the back of an envelope.

"Pupils and parents need certainty now. Michael Gove must now make clear whether he will abandon his narrow, out of date plans altogether or merely try to delay them.

"He needs to go back to the drawing board and develop a curriculum and exam system that meets our future challenges as a country.

"Labour wants to work with the Government to forge a long term consensus on exam and curriculum reform. We would welcome cross party talks."

A Department for Education source said: "We do not comment on leaks. Mr Gove will make a statement to the House."

Toni Pearce, the National Union of Students' vice president for further education added: "Michael Gove’s climb down is a victory for the alliance of students, parents, and teachers which steadfastly opposed his past their sell-by-date proposals.

"These plans would have created a narrow and unbalanced curriculum at just the time we need a flexible and open approach.

“The Education Secretary’s attempt to relegate high quality creative and vocational subjects to a non-essential second tier smacked of his 1950s prejudices rather than the long-term interests of today’s young people."

Voice, the union for education professionals, also welcomed Thursday's news.

General secretary Deborah Lawson said: “This is astonishing but welcome news. On Tuesday evening, Michael Gove was praising and promoting the EBacc in a speech to the Social Market Foundations. On Thursday morning, we learn that he will scrap the idea. This raises serious questions about his judgement and his future as Education Secretary.

“In that address, Mr Gove made headlines for dismissing aspects of the curriculum as ‘vapid happy talk’. Now it seems that the speech itself will remembered for being just that."

SEE ALSO:

Michael Gove In Glasses At Conservative Party Conference (PICTURES)

Michael Gove Takes A Tumble On Way To Number 10 (VIDEO)

The Many (Funny) Faces Of Michael Gove, Education Secretary (PHOTOS)

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Ebacc-Tracked

The ten things you need to know on Thursday 7 February 2013...

1) EBACC-TRACKED

Oh look, yet another dramatic and embarrassing coalition U-turn - this time it's being executed by ministerial golden boy and media darling, Michael Gove. The education secretary will announce today that he's dropping his controversial plan to scrap GCSEs in key subjects in England and replace them with an English Baccalaureate Certificate (or 'Ebacc').

Both the Independent ("Gove forced into humiliating U-turn over exam reform") and the Telegraph ("Gove abandons plan to scrap GCSE amid opposition from Lib Dems") splash on the story.

The Independent reports: "In a surprise statement in the Commons, Mr Gove will reveal that he is abandoning plans to introduce the new qualification in 2015.

"GCSEs will remain, although they will be reformed in an attempt to restore confidence in them as an internationally respected qualification."

Labour says this is a "humiliating climbdown" from Gove - which, let's be clear, it is - but Her Majesty's opposition might not be able to take the credit for it - the Telegraph says the plan was shelved "because of significant opposition from the Liberal Democrats":

"The Lib Dems are believed to have blocked the move because of high-profile criticism that it would marginalise other disciplines such as the arts and sport."

In fact, as the Indy notes, it is "the second time the Liberal Democrats have forced a retreat by Mr Gove... Last year, Mr Clegg blocked Mr Gove's plans to replace GCSEs with a two-tier exam system that was criticised as a return to O-levels and CSEs."

I guess that's Clegg 2, Gove 0.

2) THE GREAT IRAQ DEBATE

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the historic February 2003 demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq, the Huffington Post UK is hosting a public debate tonight at Goldsmiths, University of London, to ask: "Was It Worth It?" Speakers include former cabinet minister Clare Short, Times columnist David Aaronovitch, the Independent's Owen Jones and, er, yours truly. Free tickets here.

HuffPost UK has also commissioned a series of special Iraq features to coincide with the impending anniversary and, of course, tonight's debate:

- "Were You There? Revisiting The Iraq Demonstration, A Decade On," reports HuffPost new boy Tom Moseley
- "We Had No Idea How Massive This Would Be," reports Jessica Elgot
- "How Tony Blair and Iraq Robbed a Generation of Their Faith in Politics," blogs Sam Parker
- "My Uncles Were Executed, My Parents Tortured," Lucy Shepherd speaks to Iraqi student Mohamed Ali al-Badri

By the way, the Twitter hashtag for tonight's debate is #hpiraq10

3) HERE COMES THE 'MANSION TAX'. AGAIN.

Having defeated Gove over GCSEs, an increasingly confident Clegg is now going after the chancellor of the exchequer - from the Telegraph:

"The Liberal Democrats want to introduce either a one per cent levy on properties worth more than £2 million, or new council tax bands on expensive homes, the Deputy Prime Minister will say. He suggests the money raised could be used to cut income tax.

"The policy of higher taxes on property is set to become a key issue in the Eastleigh by-election caused by the resignation of former Cabinet minister Chris Huhne. George Osborne, the Chancellor, has already stated his opposition to new property taxes and Mr Clegg’s decision to go public with his demands suggests that Coalition relations will become acrimonious during the by-election campaign."

Indeed they will! Incidentally, the by-election date has been set for 28 February.

4) BRUSSELS BELT-TIGHTENING?

David Cameron can tick gay marriage off his to-do list but today he'll turn his attention back to that other big 'divisive' Tory issue: Europe. From the BBC:

"European Union leaders are due to begin a two-day summit in Brussels to try to strike a deal on the next seven years of EU spending.

"... They failed to reach a compromise at a similar summit last November.

"... Downing Street said on Wednesday that Prime Minister David Cameron was intent on seeking an agreement to lower EU spending."

If he doesn't secure such an agreement, the gay marriage rebels will probably morph back into EU rebels. Good luck, Dave!

5) CUTS, CUTS, CUTS

Tory austerity policies have failed and Ed Balls has been vindicated but some senior Labour figures still aren't happy.

The Sun reports:

"Ed Miliband's policy chief last night warned Labour must come up with an alternative policy to cut the country's deficit — or face the 'despair' of voters.

"Jon Cruddas said simply opposing the Government's plans 'is no good' and 'fails to offer reasonable hope' to ordinary people.

"The Dagenham MP added: 'The stakes are high because when hope is not reasonable, despair becomes real.'

"Mr Cruddas said Labour faces a 'daunting' task to win back power after their defeat in 2010.

"His speech will be seen as a criticism of Ed Balls' economic strategy."

Oh yes...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch the trailer for the latest Bond movie, 'Skyfall', get the 'Honest' treatment. Very, very amusing...

6) 'ON MANOEUVRES'

The Evening Standard's Joe Murphy had a rather good story last night about how Tory "ministers and backbenchers" remain "on manoeuvres" in the wake of Tuesday night's deeply divisive gay marriage vote:

"One backbencher told the Evening Standard he was approached within minutes of last night's crunch vote by backers of a potential successor to the Prime Minister.

"'There are both ministers and backbenchers on manoeuvres,' said the MP. 'They are not trying to oust Cameron now, but positioning for a vacancy after the next election. But that could change if things go badly wrong for him.'

"Another MP said: 'Cameron is not under immediate threat but there is no leadership and no narrative. Kids are running Downing Street.'"

7) DRONED OUT

Who needs Lord Justice Leveson, eh? From the Telegraph:

"The revelation that the US has been operating a drone base in Saudi Arabia was kept secret by American media organisations for two years.

"... The revelation that the US has been operating a secret drone base in Saudi Arabia for the past two years came after a blackout on reporting agreed by American media and the Obama administration was broken by two US newspapers."

As a result of these reports, says the Guardian, "the pressure on John Brennan, Barack Obama's nominee for CIA director and the architect of the White House strategy on drones, intensified" ahead of his confirmation hearings in the Senate later today.

My view is pretty simple: if you're going to violate basic human rights, and kill your own citizens via remote control, why not use the secret facilities of one of the world's worst violators of human rights, especially when it happens to be a close ally?

8) 'DONE, FOR YOU BIG BOY'

RBS is back in the headlines again - and, again, for all the wrong reasons. It isn't just the £390m fine for Libor rate-rigging - it's the banker banter, too. Can the guys and gals at the Royal Bank of Scotland get nothing right? From the Huffington Post UK:

"Following the news of the Royal Bank of Scotland's £400m fine for its role in the London inter bank offer rate (scandal), much laughter has been heard around the city after the regulator published some of the more amusing exchanges between traders.

"...From 15 September 2007:

"Yen Trader 1: can we lower our fixings today please

"Primary Submitter: make your mind up haha , yes no probs

"Yen Trader 1: im like a whores drawers"

But it wasn't just RBS:

"Barclays, which was also hit with a £290 million fine because of its involvement in the Libor scandal, also had its emails investigated...

"In one request for a change to the Libor, a trader said: "Please feel free to say 'no'. Coffees will be coming your way either way, just to say thank you for your help in the past few weeks".

"To which the Barclays submitter responded: 'Done, for you big boy.'"

And to think: some people were saying not long ago that it was time to stop the banker bashing. Oh puh-lease. It's barely begun...

9) JEMIMA KHAN VS JULIAN ASSANGE

My former New Statesman colleague Jemima Khan has launched what the Times calls a "blistering attack" on WikiLeaks founder (and ex-ally) Julian Assange, in this week's NS.

From the Times:

"Ms Khan, who has defended Mr Assange through his battles with democracies, dictatorships and judges, said that his organisation had gone from speaking truth to power to expecting 'blinkered, cultish devotion'.

"She said that WikiLeaks was now as 'guilty of the same obfuscation and misinformation as it sought to expose'.

"She had, she wrote in the New Statesman, gone on a journey of 'admiration to demoralisation' with Assange."

My favourite part of Jemima's must-read piece is this bit:

"When I told Assange I was part of the We Steal Secrets team, I suggested that he view it not in terms of being pro- or anti-him, but rather as a film that would be fair and would represent the truth... He replied: 'If it’s a fair film, it will be pro-Julian Assange.' Beware the celebrity who refers to himself in the third person."

Hear, hear!

10) THATCHER STATUE

Oh dear. From a story on the front of the Telegraph:

"She is Grantham’s most famous daughter, but when a statue of Baroness Thatcher was offered to the local museum, it was considered by some to be a dubious honour.

"The £150,000 white marble work was famously decapitated by a protester in 2002 but has since been restored.

"Not everyone in her home town is sure they want to honour Britain’s first female prime minister, however, and Grantham Museum is yet to welcome the statue with open arms.

"... One Labour councillor went further, suggesting that displaying a monument to Lady Thatcher in a prominent place could actually be "asking for trouble" and invite further attacks."

Poor Maggie..

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"I say to the Prime Minister that he should not get so het up. After all, he has got nearly half his parliamentary party behind him." - Ed Miliband mocks David Cameron at PMQs yesterday.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 12
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 110.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@sandsstandard Good news that Michael Gove is ditching the E-Bac. London thrives on art, music and design creativity, why cut if off at source?

@rupertmurdoch @CalebRapoport what do I know about hacking? Nothing until about two years ago. One newspaper guilty several years ago. Nothing since.

@afneil Should not the traders at RBS who so clearly fiddled libor not face criminal charges? And the bosses who conspired

900 WORDS OR MORE

Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "David Cameron is trashing his own party, and it’s not a pretty sight."

David Aaronovitch, writing in the Times, says: "Fractious Tories fight their leader and each other, while docile Labour is devoid of a plan. The old politics is dying."

Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, about the Mid Staffordshire NHS scandal, says: "Sometimes money not reform really is the answer."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Libor Fines Should Be Paid By Bankers

Risk-taking bankers should foot a multimillion-pound fine for the Libor rate-fixing scandal and not expect taxpayers to pay the bill, Vince Cable said.

The Business Secretary spoke out as Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) was braced for criminal charges and a £500 million penalty for its role.

The 81% state-owned bank is likely to announce the settlement with the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and American regulators.

But it is under sustained Government pressure to meet the fine from cash from its bonus pot amid reports traders are still set for payouts worth hundreds of millions of pounds for 2012.

"Obviously it doesn't make any sense to pass on the costs of past misbehaviour on to the customers or to the taxpayer," Cable told ITV's Daybreak.

"There's got to be individual responsibility here," he said - renewing a warning to the bank made by Chancellor George Osborne earlier this week.

"It's one thing to fine an institution, but an institution is made up of people who in many cases better themselves by behaving badly and we've got to sort out where ethical misbehaviour leads to sanctions.

"It is bizarre to us people as to why activity that most people would believe is fraud is not pursued."

The lender is one of about 20 banks being investigated over involvement in manipulating the rate, which governs the price of more than 500 trillion US dollars' worth of loans and transactions around the world, including household mortgages.

RBS's fine is set to dwarf the £290 million settlement agreed by Barclays last year over its involvement.

American prosecutors, who have already charged two former employees of Swiss bank UBS over the scandal, are said to be keen to press criminal charges at RBS.

UBS has already agreed a near £1 billion settlement with regulators.

Yesterday it emerged RBS investment banking boss John Hourican is to step down.

He is reported to be in line for a parting gift of a year's salary in lieu of notice, worth around £700,000, but had been asked by the bank's board to forfeit the £4 million he is owed in shares.

Hourican was widely expected to shoulder the blame for RBS's role in the interbank rate-rigging affair, although he is not believed to be directly implicated.

He has headed up RBS's wholesale bank since the group's bailout at the height of the financial crisis and has already overseen a mammoth restructuring, with the division's workforce slashed by around 10,000.

Cable also said there was "no immediate prospect" of RBS being reprivatised, but indicated he was still keen on eventually distributing the bank's shares among the public.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the plan was not Government policy, but added: "Certainly my party has advocated that option and we want to keep that option alive.

"There is no immediate prospect of this happening, but we need to have that debate, and in and around the next general election and afterwards we can look at the various options."

He said the future of RBS had not been settled.

"There is no immediate prospect of it being reprivatised," he said. "The share price doesn't allow that, there would be a massive loss, it isn't going to happen.

"There is a variety of options. It can remain in semi-public ownership for a prolonged period of time, it could be reprivatised when the positions are better, it could be mutualised, shares given to the public, the kind of thing my party, the Liberal Democrats, have been advocating.

"Those options are all open and we haven't foreclosed on any of them."

Could Farage Replace Huhne?

Ukip leader Nigel Farage is "mulling over" whether to run for Chris Huhne's Eastleigh seat, following the former minister's dramatic resignation.

The MEP for the South East of England will make a decision by the end of the week, Ukip spokesman Gawain Towler told the Huffington Post UK.

Mr Towler said: "Nigel is thinking about it. He is in Strasbourg and mulling it over but there will be a formal candidate selection process.

"The nomination must be decided by Monday next week and by that time a Ukip candidate will be selected. A candidate will probably be announced by the end of the week."

nigel farage

Nigel Farage says he is considering whether to run for Chris Huhne's seat


If he does decide to run, Mr Farage will be hoping to improve on the 952 votes he received when he contested the same seat in 1994.

Bookies have installed the Tories as the favourites to snatch the prized Hampshire seat.

But local Liberal Democrats are defiant about their chances of hanging on to a constituency they have controlled for 19 years.


Bobby Dean
Not meaning to heap to much pressure on my own party but we have to win in Eastleigh - no excuses #Huhne

Council leader Keith House told the Huffington Post UK: "The Tories are in total disarray in Eastleigh, they have had such an electoral battering from the Lib Dems in the past few years.

"The big thing about the Lib Dems in Eastleigh is that the team is bigger than the individual - whether that's Chris Huhne, Keith House or anyone."

No decision has been made on choosing the Lib Dem candidate, he added.

The Conservatives trailed the Lib Dems by almost 4,000 votes at the 2010 General Election, with Labour a distant third. Ukip's Ray Finch polled 1,933, a 3.6 per cent share of the vote.

Bookmaker William Hill believes Mr Huhne's resignation has handed the seat to the Tories, making them 1/2 favourites to win the by-election, with the Lib Dems 6/4 to retain it. Ukip are 33/1 shots with Labour made 100/1 outsiders.

"Mr Huhne had a majority of some 3,800 and that could be tricky for the Lib Dem candidate to defend in the current climate" said Hill’s spokesman Graham Sharpe.

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Osborne The Bank Basher

The ten things you need to know on Monday 4 February 2013...

1) OSBORNE THE BANK BASHER

Having cut corporation tax and the top rate of income tax, dropped the bank bonus tax, opposed a financial transactions tax and repeatedly refused to countenance a break-up of the big banks, George Osborne, it seems, is now trying to re-invent himself as a bit of a bank basher - from the FT's splash:

"The chancellor will today warn banks they will be broken up unless they comply fully with rules to make the financial system safer - a threat that will provoke fury among some in the City of London.

"George Osborne has bowed to pressure, agreeing that the proposed ringfence around core retail activities, aimed at protecting the taxpayer from bank collapses, needs to be "electrified" with draconian sanctions. The Labour party claimed Mr Osborne had been forced into 'a partial climbdown', arguing that the chancellor and Vince Cable, business secretary, had not wanted to leave hanging over banks the threat of full separation of investment banking from high-street operations.

"... In a speech on the future of banking today, Mr Osborne will say: 'My message to the banks is clear: if a bank flouts the rules, the regulator and the Treasury will have the power to break it up altogether - full separation, not just a ringfence.'"

For once, I'm with Gideon. Talk, however, is cheap. Let's see what actually happens...

2) NOT-SO-FREE VOTE

There's a fair bit of pressure being applied to anti-gay-marriage Tory MPs by their party's high command ahead of tomorrow's 'free' vote on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

"Tory gay marriage rebels told: you’re out of touch" - that's the splash headline on the front of today's Times. The paper reports:

"The Prime Minister will speak out in favour of equal marriage in an effort to win over at least half his MPs before a landmark vote tomorrow evening. However, his personal intervention risks deepening Tory divisions over an issue that Mr Cameron was warned yesterday could cost him the next election. Last night Tory waverers were under mounting pressure to spare the Prime Minister the embarrassment of being deserted by more than 150 of his parliamentary party.

"Michael Fabricant, a Tory vice-chairman, said he was 'disturbed' to hear of ministerial aides warning backbenchers that their careers would be dented if they failed to support the Government even though Mr Cameron has given his troops a free vote. Another MP said undecided ministers were being pressed to back the Prime Minister."

But there's pressure being applied on those MPs from other directions, too - the Telegraph splashes on news that

"In his first official day as leader of the Church of England, the Rt Rev Justin Welby is expected to say that marriage should remain 'between a man and a woman'."

The PM versus the Archbishop of Canterbury. Who says Old Etonians all think alike?

On a side note, David Burrowes, one of the Tory 'rebels', has written a piece for HuffPost UK which is worth a read; he argues that this is "the first time in living memory that an issue raising such fundamental matters of moral, legal and constitutional significance has been pushed through by a government without an electoral mandate".

3) WRONG WAR, WRONG PLACE

If you had any doubt that the Afghan war and, in particular, Britain's presence in Helmand province, has been a disaster, listen to the latest opinions from 'our ally', Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan.

From the Guardian:

"The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has questioned whether western troops were 'fighting in the wrong place' during their decade-long mission in Afghanistan, saying security was better in southern Helmand province before the arrival of British forces.

"... 'They feel fulfilled with regard to the objective of fighting terrorism and weakening al-Qaida, or they feel that they were fighting in the wrong place in the first place, so they should discontinue doing that and leave,' Karzai said in an interview ahead of trilateral talks with David Cameron and the Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari."

Meanwhile, the Times reports that "David Cameron has set himself the ambitious target of brokering a deal between Afghanistan and Pakistan to facilitate peace talks with the Taleban".

4) 'STITCHED UP'

Another 'Plebgate' scoop from Channel 4's DIspatches - reported by the Financial Times:

"Andrew Mitchell, the former Conservative chief whip who resigned last year after his "plebgate" row with police officers, will talk about his frustration with Downing Street's treatment of the scandal and argue that he was "stitched up", in a television interview due to be broadcast tonight.

"... The row embarrassed the Tories, and Mr Mitchell resigned in the autumn when he felt he had lost the support of party colleagues. 'I could tell I was being stitched up but I didn't know how it was being done or where it was coming from,' he will say in a Dispatches interview tonight."

5) HEY ED, WE'RE STILL HERE

Ed Miliband has repeatedly said that New Labour is the past. Tell that to, er, New Labour. The former home secretary, Alan Johnson, a card-carrying New Labour Blairite who briefly served as shadow chancellor under Ed M, has offered some 'advice' to the Labour leader in an interview with (the Blairite) Progress magazine.

From the Guardian:

"Ed Miliband needs to start setting out policies this year and has little option but to accept the spending levels set out by the coalition for 2015, Labour's Alan Johnson has said.

"... Asked whether Labour should commit to sticking to the government's spending limits for the first two years if elected – as it did in 1997 – Johnson said it was 'difficult to think what else you can do'.

"'We can't get away from the fact that the fiscal deficit has got to come down,' he said.

"'Now is a dangerous time. We can't get away with saying we are thinking about policy. That's perfectly acceptable for the first three years, but now we have got to start unveiling some policy and what Ed's going to need to do is to meet the expectations he himself has created.'"

Yesterday, Tony Blair, speaking on BBC1's Andrew Marr programme, said Labour would "later in this year... start to unveil its policies".

The clock is ticking, Ed...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a puppy dancing, trying to get attention...

6) HUHNE TRIAL KICKS OFF

The Telegraph reports:

"Chris Huhne, the former Energy Secretary, and his ex-wife will go on trial today over claims that she took speeding points for him nearly a decade ago.

"The Liberal Democrat MP and his former wife, Vicky Pryce, are accused of perverting the course of justice over a speeding offence dating from 2003.

"Mr Huhne resigned from the Cabinet last year after the Crown Prosecution Service announced that he had been charged over an allegation that he persuaded Miss Pryce to take his penalty points so he could avoid prosecution."

7) BIASED BOUNDARIES

From the Telegraph:

"Votes in Labour seats will be worth much more than votes in Tory seats because the Liberal Democrats rejected new Commons boundaries, the Conservatives have claimed.

"Labour and Lib Dem MPs last week voted to reject Conservative plans to redraw Commons boundaries and cut the House of Commons by 50 seats.

"Without those changes, votes in some seats will be worth half as much as those in others by the next election, according to research by the Tories. They say that the reforms would have stopped the current Commons map favouring Labour so much because sizes of constituencies would have been standardised."

Oh boo-hoo. Here's a tip for the Tories: if you're so worried about the (undoubted) unfairness and disproportionality of our antiquated voting system, why not campaign for full proportional representation? Where seats in parliament reflect votes in the country?

8) 'STOMPING' ON KIDS' GRAVES

Another PR victory for the Met - from the Guardian:

"Britain's largest police force stole the identities of an estimated 80 dead children and issued fake passports in their names for use by undercover police officers.

"The Metropolitan police secretly authorised the practice for covert officers infiltrating protest groups without consulting or informing the children's parents."

"... Two undercover officers have provided a detailed account of how they and others used the identities of dead children. One, who adopted the fake persona of Pete Black while undercover in anti-racist groups, said he felt he was 'stomping on the grave' of the four-year-old boy whose identity he used.

9) UNPAID NUCLEAR BILLS

Remember how we've run out of money? How the government can't afford to fund SureStart centres or disability benefits? Not quite (via the Mirror):

"The cost of decommissioning Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant has hit £67.5billion and is still rising, MPs have warned.

"The Commons Public Accounts Committee said the authority dealing with our radioactive legacy had not been able to show if it gave value for money.

"Around £1.6billion a year is spent on the site, due to close in 2018."

10) WANNA BE US AMBASSADOR TO LONDON? THAT'LL BE $2.3M PLEASE.

From the Times:

"Today, a former US diplomat to some of the world’s less glamorous berths provides the answer: do not expect to get the Court of St James’s if you raised less than $650,000 for the Obama campaign, and in this competitive year of ten big donors for every top position, it could take $2.3 million.

"Dennis Jett, who started his foreign career in Argentina in 1973, and served in Liberia during the civil war and Mozambique during a refugee crisis, teamed up with an economist to establish the probability of big political donors landing in fine world capitals.

"Their computer model concludes that the greater the campaign donation, the more likely a posting will be in Western Europe rather than those countries seen as 'obscure, dangerous, poor or of low interest to tourists'."

I guess that means Matthew Barzun (the ambassador to Sweden, who raised more than $2m for Obama) has a better chance of getting the London gig than Anna Wintour (he editor of American Vogue, who raised a mere $500,000 for Obama’s campaign).

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 34
Lib Dems 12
Ukip 8

That would give Labour a majority of 86.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

‏@Freeman_George Fitting that this week sees a new Archbishop and new Bank Governor. Never have we needed spiritual, moral and financial leadership so much.

@tobyhelm incredibly @toryeducation still listed as official @Conservatives site despite Gove's lot running it as a propaganda tool in breach of codes

@Mike_Fabricant Why is it when I tweet about Gay Marriage I get loads of replies, but no-one is interested when I tweet about my (4g) Dongle? Boo hooh.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Maria Miller, writing in the Times, says: "The State should not stop two people who love each other, gay or straight, getting married."

David Blanchflower, writing in the Independent, says: "Here’s a way to end our slump: give away money."

Geoffrey Wheatcroft, writing in the Guardian, says: "The Andrew Mitchell affair revealed our prejudices, and showed the police to be untrustworthy."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Gay Marriage – The Vote

The ten things you need to know on Sunday 3 February 2013...

1) GAY MARRIAGE - THE VOTE

The Sunday Telegraph splashes on the impending Tory 'rebellion' over gay marriage - the paper says it has

"... established that around 180 Conservative MPs, most notably including six whips and up to four members of the Cabinet, are ready to defy the Prime Minister’s plan to legalise gay weddings.

"Meanwhile, 25 chairmen or former chairmen of Conservative party associations across the country have signed a letter to Mr Cameron warning that the policy will cause “significant damage” to the Tories’ 2015 general election campaign.

"One chairman, who has quit over the issue, said 'this is a policy dreamt up in Notting Hill', while a serving chairman said it had angered the grassroots more than Europe."

The four cabinet ministers are believed to be Owen Paterson, David Jones, Philip Hammond and Iain Duncan Smith.

The paper says: "The vote on Tuesday is the first parliamentary vote on the gay marriage legislation and a test for the Prime Minister." Now there's the understatement of the day...

(On a related note, the Sunday Times reports that "the Liberal Democrats want heterosexual couples to be able to have civil partnership ceremonies in the same way as gay men and lesbians... The policy, backed by Nick Clegg, would give unmarried couples legal protection if they split up or one of them dies.")

2) 'THE REAGAN SOLUTION'

More talk of Tory plots and coups on the front of the Sunday Times:

"Tory rebels backing Adam Afriyie's attempt to unseat David Cameron as party leader hope that Boris Johnson will emerge as the ultimate victor.

"Some MPs involved in the multimillionaire's campaign plan to line up the London mayor in the growing expectation that he will return to Westminster in 2015.

"Johnson is not playing an active role in the manoeuvring.

"One friend said he was 'taking a close interest'."

I'm sure he is. The Sunday Times refers to a 'Reagan solution'. (A Reagan what?)

"However, many do not entirely trust him and accept that his reputation for bumbling may make it hard for him to perform well as a conventional prime minister. Some are mulling a 'Reagan solution' in which Johnson is the glitzy public personality of a future Tory government but day-to-day work is done by a protective coterie of ministers with management skills. Afriyie could then be rewarded with a government job."

The paper also claims that Theresa May, the home secretary, is being lined up as a 'Stop Boris' candidate. Hmm. Not sure about that...

3) GRAYLING'S SMACKDOWN

You want know how tough the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, is? It isn't just criminals who face his wrath. Watch out kids! From the Mail on Sunday:

"His disciplinarian views are mirrored by the ‘regime’ he and wife Susan adopted towards their two children, now 20 and 16. He says when they misbehaved they knew they could get a smack from dad.

"‘You chastise children when they are bad, as my parents did me. I’m not opposed to smacking. It is to be used occasionally. Sometimes it sends a message – but I don’t hanker for the days when children were severely beaten at school.’"

Grayling's comments came in an interview with the Mail on Sunday's Simon Walters in which, says the paper, he announced an "end to Britain’s ‘holiday camp’ jails, with a ban on Sky TV, fewer televisions, more prison uniforms, less pocket money for inmates and a ban on gay couples sharing cells is planned by the Government."

Tough, tough, tough. But will it work?

4) TORIES FOR ED?

Ed Mili may be a fan of the Fabians, and the Fabians a fan of Ed Mili, but the organisation has produced a report which won't put a smile on the Labour leader's face (via the Obs):

"Ed Miliband is failing to repeat Tony Blair's success in winning over former Tory voters and will have to rely on people returning to Labour as well as ex-Lib Dem converts to win a majority, a new polling analysis suggests.

"Research by the New Fabian Society finds just 400,000 voters have moved from Conservatives to Labour since the last election which, if unchanged on polling day, would mean Labour had made only tiny inroads into Tory heartlands."

The Fabians' general secretary Andrew Harrop tells the paper: "Ed Miliband is not Tony Blair and he'll need to win power in his own way. Blair's success was based on winning over disillusioned ex-Tories who are so far resisting Miliband's appeal," said Harrop.

"Instead Ed has won the backing of people who had given up on voting as well as former Lib Dems. The Fabian research shows that together there are enough of them for Labour to win a majority. The challenge for Labour is to turn this mid-term support into votes in 2015."

As Tony Blair himself noted, on the Marr show this morning, "What Ed's trying to do is tougher than what I had to do." Indeed...

5) FROM TWITTER SPAT TO DEAD TREE PRESS

The Observer's Toby Helm got into a row with CCHQ Twitter account - and, this morning, the Observer hits back with a splash and a double-page spread:

"Education secretary Michael Gove has been plunged into a potentially toxic row over allegations that members of his department have used the social networking site Twitter to launch highly personal attacks on journalists and political opponents and to conduct a Tory propaganda campaign paid for by the taxpayer.

"... An anonymous Twitter account called @toryeducation is regularly used to attack critical stories about both Gove and his department. It is often abreast of imminent Tory policies, suggesting it is coming from close to the centre of government. However, it is also used to rubbish journalists and Labour politicians while promoting Gove's policies and career. Issuing party political material and indulging in personal attacks are both clear breaches of the special advisers' code and the civil service code."

Don't mess with Toby Helm, eh?

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a fox that thinks it's a dog...

6) HE'S BAAAAACK, PART 56

Did Tony Blair ever leave the British political and media scene? As this Memo has noted before, 'TB' never seems to be off our TV screens or comment pages.

Blair was on the Marr show on BBC1 this morning, with Marr stand-in Sian Williams chucking one softball question after another in the former PM's direction. Blair who was in full 'neocon' mode, making repeated references to 'the perversion of Islam', a 'generation'-long struggle against terrorists which he compared to the struggle against "revolutionary communism", and arguing how "David Cameron is essentially right in what he's saying" about a decade or more of conflict against al-Qaeda-inspired violence. There were few, if any, references to the radicalising role of Blair's illegal invasion of Iraq or the failure to secure peace and statehood for the Palestinians in the Middle East (where Tony, lest we forget, is a 'special envoy').

"You've got to shape the events happening in the Middle East," said Blair, as he defended the concept of 'intervention'. Now, I have no problem in 'shaping' things abroad - but Blair's definition of 'shape' normally includes bombing and/or invading.

Meanwhile, the Independent on Sunday's story on the blossing relationship between Blair and and his self-proclaimed (Tory) heir is worth a read - it's headline: "Meet my NBF! David Cameron and Tony Blair become chums."

7) 'STRIVERS' TAX' ANYONE?

Is the coalition starting to lose its PR war on welfare 'scroungers'? From the Independent on Sunday:

"As many as 100,000 children from working families will be forced into poverty as a result of the Government's plans to cut benefits for the poorest, ministers have admitted for the first time.

"Official figures show that a total of 200,000 youngsters from all families will be pushed into child poverty as a result of George Osborne's 1 per cent cap on benefits from April, in effect a real-terms cut in welfare payments. But Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat pensions minister, revealed in a parliamentary written answer last week that 50 per cent of those children come from families where at least one parent is in work."

Good job, Dave...

8) YOU'RE HIRED

Want to know how to be a member of parliament? The Sunday Express reports:

"A Tory MP has taken practical steps to tackle unemployment by setting up his own apprenticeship scheme in the House of Commons.

"Robert Halfon became the first MP to take on a properly accredited apprentice to help him and now, thanks to his Parliamentary Academy, another 20 MPs have also hired young people.

"Mr Halfon, who won his Harlow seat in 2010, is now on his third apprentice. 'It was in 2009 that I was working with these young people who were problem kids and they just couldn't find opportunities,' he said.

"'When I spoke to them they all said that what they wanted was an apprenticeship.'"

9) GET ELECTED, THEN GET DIVORCED

From the Sunday Times:

"A sixth of the 2010 intake of Tory MPs have divorced, formally separated or had long-term relationships break down since the election.

"Charles Walker, the MP for Broxbourne, who is an unofficial counsellor to fellow Tory MPs, said 23 of the 147 newly elected in 2010 had been affected. He estimates this amounts to one in six of those who were in a relationship at the general election.

"Parliamentarians this weekend blamed in part the public vitriol and official scrutiny that followed the expenses scandal for taking a toll on their personal lives."

10) WE'RE SO, SO, SO SORRY

The Sunday Times (instructed by Rupert M?) devotes its second leader to 'an apology' over that cartoon:

"The image we published of Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, which appeared to show him revelling in the blood of Palestinians, crossed a line. The image would have been a mistake on any day but the fact that last Sunday was Holocaust Memorial Day compounded the error.

"We realise that we caused grave offence, however unintended, which detracted from a day that marks one of the greatest evils in human history."

For an alternative view on the Scarfe row and Murdoch's hypocrisy on anti-Semitism, you could do worse than re-read Matthew Norman's Independent column from last week.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 34
Lib Dems 12
Ukip 8

That would give Labour a majority of 86.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@Mike_Fabricant Why r journalists saying the Gay Marriage vote on Tuesday is a "rebellion". This is a free vote and not whipped! Why @edvaizey not say that?

@oliver_wright Would love to know how many Tory MPs who opposed (and voted against) civil partnerships now support them #murnaghan

@paulwaugh Now that's what I call triangulation. Blair says he's as equally available for advice for both 'David' [Cameron] and 'Ed' [Miliband] #marr

900 WORDS OR MORE

Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "Westminster’s Tory tots must do some growing up."

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "The Tory malcontents possess a destructive intensity all their own."

Michael Gove, writing in the Mail on Sunday, says: "Marriage is the greatest joy of my life... Denying it to gay men and women is wrong - and prejudiced."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

French National Assembly approves gay marriage law

The French National Assembly has approved the most important article in a bill to legalize same-sex marriage, despite huge protests earlier in the month that saw hundreds of thousands of people mass in Paris to oppose the measure.

Deputies voted 249-97 in favor of redefining marriage as an agreement between two people, rather than between a man and a woman. The measure was backed by President Françoise Hollande’s socialist party and their left-wing supporters, and was opposed by the UMP – the party of former President Nicholas Sarkozy – and many centrists MPs.

The draft bill is one of the biggest social reforms proposed in France since the abolition of the death penalty in 1982, and also includes provisions on gay adoption. The proposal has created a storm of protest both for and against gay marriage for months, with opinion polls suggesting that about 60 percent of France supports it, though only half support gay adoption.

The debate is expected to last two weeks, as more than 5,000 amendments have been proposed to the reform. Originally, a clause was included on assisted reproduction techniques for lesbians, but it was scrapped for being too controversial, as it threatened to derail the wider issue of marriage reform.

People take part in a demonstration for the legalisation of gay marriage and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) parenting, in Paris on January 27, 2013 (AFP Photo / Thomas Samson)
People take part in a demonstration for the legalisation of gay marriage and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) parenting, in Paris on January 27, 2013 (AFP Photo / Thomas Samson)

'Anarchists of love'

While opponents to the bill may be in the minority, they have been vocal about their feelings on the issue. According to police, some 340,000 people marched through Paris last month in opposition to gay marriage, in what because known as the 'manif pour tous' movement.

Those against the law have run a media-savvy campaign with no formal links to politicians or the church, in an effort not to be seen as homophobic bigots.

Their spokesperson is 50-year old Frigide Barjot, who describes herself as an “anarchist of love,” and argues that her views are not directed against gay people but against the way the proposed law is framed.

She claims that the law proposed by Hollande will “de-structure” society by “destroying the concept in law of a mother and a father.” However, “If what was on offer were a law that further enshrined rights for gay couples, and got rid of the discriminations and injustices that undoubtedly still exist – then I would support it,” she said.

Those against the legislation have also argued that giving gay couples the right to adopt will remove the fundamental right of a child to have a mother and a father.

Another reason for the fierce debate on the issue, and why those in opposition have been able to garner such a broad base of support, is the nature of French institutions. In France, couples who marry must first do so in a civil ceremony; only then may they have a religious wedding. In most other countries, a wedding conducted in church, synagogue or mosque is formally recognized by law.

In Spain and Portugal, which have recently adopted gay marriage legislation, while the state is duty-bound to marry homosexual partners, the church is not obliged to do so, meaning that many people opposed to the idea of gay marriage can still be content that a ‘proper’ marriage in a church protects traditional values.

However, a study by the liberal French think tank the Thomas Moore Foundation, found that in France there is no such separation and a feeling persists that the proposed change in the law will affect everyone, regardless of their views.

But the simple fact remains that gay marriage is supported by the majority of the French.

'The family today is not the same as the family yesterday'

Supporters of gay marriage have staged their own demonstrations, 125,000 took to the Paris streets last weekend.

“When I see the people who protest against gay marriage, I am so disappointed for France. They talk about family first, but they should see that society has changed. The family today is not the same as the family yesterday. We have to rethink the whole concept of family,” one of the demonstrators, who called herself Magali, told the BBC.

Hollande was clear in his election manifesto last May that the legislation would go through, and political pundits have said that he has pushed hard for it as a way of reaffirming his progressive left-wing credentials.

Meanwhile, in the UK, it was reported by the Times that Prime Minster David Cameron is facing a revolt by members of his Conservative party over his plans to allow gay marriages in church in Britain.

British MPs will vote on it on Tuesday in a free, cross-party vote; even in the event of a Tory rebellion, Cameron can rely on getting it through the house with support from the Liberal Democrats and Labor.

A man holds a placard reading "A father and a mother, nothing it′s better for a child !" as he takes part in a rally to protest against same-sex marriage on February 02, 2013 in Paris (AFP Photo / Francois Guillot)
A man holds a placard reading "A father and a mother, nothing it's better for a child !" as he takes part in a rally to protest against same-sex marriage on February 02, 2013 in Paris (AFP Photo / Francois Guillot)

Hagel Hearings Lessons: Iraq “Surge”; Israel’s Primacy

WASHINGTON - February 1 - ROBERT PARRY, [email]
Parry is editor of Consortiumnews.com and his most recent book is America’s Stolen Narrative. He recently wrote the piece “The Iraq War ‘Surge’ Myth Returns,” which states: “At confirmation hearings for Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel, Official Washington will reprise one of its favorite myths, the story of the ‘successful surge’ in Iraq. Politicians and pundits have made clear that the Senate Armed Services Committee should hector Hagel over his opposition to President George W. Bush’s 2007 ‘surge’ of 30,000 troops into that failed war. …

“Any serious analysis of what happened in Iraq in 2007-08 would trace the decline in Iraqi sectarian violence mostly to strategies that predated the ‘surge’ and were implemented by the U.S. commanding generals in 2006, George Casey and John Abizaid, who wanted as small a U.S. ‘footprint’ as possible to tamp down Iraqi nationalism. …

“The hard truth is that this bloody folly was not ‘salvaged’ by the ‘surge’ despite what the likes of Michael O’Hanlon, George F. Will and John McCain claim. The “surge” simply extended the killing for a few more years and bought Bush and Cheney their ‘decent interval.’” Hagel was indeed forcefully questioned about the “surge” by Sen. John McCain.

PHILIP WEISS, [email]
Late Thursday, Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post tweeted: “At Hagel hearing, 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali.”

Weiss is co-editor of MondoWeiss.net, and just wrote the piece “Hagel Offers Himself as Secretary of Israel’s Defense,” which states: “The most urgent questions were about Israel, and many came from liberal Democrats insisting that Hagel is pledged to going to war against Iran if it acquires a nuclear weapon.

“Hagel was suitably craven. ‘I’ve said that I’m a strong supporter of Israel. .. I’ve said that we have a special relationship with Israel. … I’ve never voted against Israel in my career. … I’ve been to Israel many times,’ he told Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

“While Kirsten Gillibrand of New York made no bones about ‘the most urgent issues — Israel and Israel’s security issues. … We are fundamentally tied to [Israel].” Then Gillibrand demanded that if there has to be a continuing resolution in the event of a budget crunch, Hagel’s Pentagon will take pains to keep money going to Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense.

“Does she believe this or is this just now the religion of Washington?

“Hagel repeatedly asserted that he regards Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Revolutionary Guard of Iran as terrorist organizations. He abandoned every bold stand he has taken on Israel. …

“But the most revealing part of the spectacle was watching Hagel stand up to John McCain when McCain said he had been wrong to oppose the Iraq surge in 2007 and the Afghanistan surge in 2009 — and then watching Hagel fold pathetically when Lindsey Graham asked him to condemn Israeli settlements.”

Also yesterday, Reuters reported: “U.N. human rights investigators called on Israel on Thursday to halt settlement expansion and withdraw all half a million Jewish settlers from the occupied West Bank, saying that its practices could be subject to prosecution as possible war crimes.”

Hagel Hearings Lessons: Iraq “Surge”; Israel’s Primacy

WASHINGTON - February 1 - ROBERT PARRY, [email]
Parry is editor of Consortiumnews.com and his most recent book is America’s Stolen Narrative. He recently wrote the piece “The Iraq War ‘Surge’ Myth Returns,” which states: “At confirmation hearings for Defense Secretary-designate Chuck Hagel, Official Washington will reprise one of its favorite myths, the story of the ‘successful surge’ in Iraq. Politicians and pundits have made clear that the Senate Armed Services Committee should hector Hagel over his opposition to President George W. Bush’s 2007 ‘surge’ of 30,000 troops into that failed war. …

“Any serious analysis of what happened in Iraq in 2007-08 would trace the decline in Iraqi sectarian violence mostly to strategies that predated the ‘surge’ and were implemented by the U.S. commanding generals in 2006, George Casey and John Abizaid, who wanted as small a U.S. ‘footprint’ as possible to tamp down Iraqi nationalism. …

“The hard truth is that this bloody folly was not ‘salvaged’ by the ‘surge’ despite what the likes of Michael O’Hanlon, George F. Will and John McCain claim. The “surge” simply extended the killing for a few more years and bought Bush and Cheney their ‘decent interval.’” Hagel was indeed forcefully questioned about the “surge” by Sen. John McCain.

PHILIP WEISS, [email]
Late Thursday, Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post tweeted: “At Hagel hearing, 136 mentions of Israel and 135 of Iran. Only 27 refs to Afghanistan. 2 for Al Qaida. 1 for Mali.”

Weiss is co-editor of MondoWeiss.net, and just wrote the piece “Hagel Offers Himself as Secretary of Israel’s Defense,” which states: “The most urgent questions were about Israel, and many came from liberal Democrats insisting that Hagel is pledged to going to war against Iran if it acquires a nuclear weapon.

“Hagel was suitably craven. ‘I’ve said that I’m a strong supporter of Israel. .. I’ve said that we have a special relationship with Israel. … I’ve never voted against Israel in my career. … I’ve been to Israel many times,’ he told Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

“While Kirsten Gillibrand of New York made no bones about ‘the most urgent issues — Israel and Israel’s security issues. … We are fundamentally tied to [Israel].” Then Gillibrand demanded that if there has to be a continuing resolution in the event of a budget crunch, Hagel’s Pentagon will take pains to keep money going to Israel for its Iron Dome missile defense.

“Does she believe this or is this just now the religion of Washington?

“Hagel repeatedly asserted that he regards Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Revolutionary Guard of Iran as terrorist organizations. He abandoned every bold stand he has taken on Israel. …

“But the most revealing part of the spectacle was watching Hagel stand up to John McCain when McCain said he had been wrong to oppose the Iraq surge in 2007 and the Afghanistan surge in 2009 — and then watching Hagel fold pathetically when Lindsey Graham asked him to condemn Israeli settlements.”

Also yesterday, Reuters reported: “U.N. human rights investigators called on Israel on Thursday to halt settlement expansion and withdraw all half a million Jewish settlers from the occupied West Bank, saying that its practices could be subject to prosecution as possible war crimes.”

Americans see US govt. as threat: Poll

This file photo shows Occupy Wall Street members staging a protest march near Wall Street in New York, October 12, 2011.

Results of a recent survey suggest that more than half of the Americans consider the US government a threat to their personal rights and freedoms.

According to a poll released by Pew Research on Thursday, 53 percent of the respondents cited their sense of threat and nearly three-quarters of Americans said they only sometimes or never trust the federal government to do the right thing.

This is the first time that a majority of respondents have described the US government as a threat against their freedoms since Pew began polling on the question in 1995.


The survey was conducted on 1,502 adults, who also identified their political affiliations in telephone interviews between January 9 and 13, 2013.

Three-quarters of Conservative Republicans said the government was a threat during President Barack Obama's time in office, which shows an increase from 62 percent in 2010.

Democrats did not change their views much compared to the 2010 poll, with 38 percent considering the government a threat.

Gun-owning family members are more likely to see the government as a threat, but the gap between them and those living in non-gun owner households has remained constant over the past three years.

According to Pew, anger and frustration continue to spike among Liberal Democrats and more recently among Conservative Republicans.

A recent Gallup survey also showed that Americans’ satisfaction with how things are going in their country has been low over the past seven years, with levels below the historical average.

TE/HMV

Israeli Attack on Syria: Desperate Bid to Save Failed US-NATO Covert War

israelus

Israel has conducted airstrikes in Syria based on “suspicions” of chemical weapon transfers, in a flagrant violation of the UN Charter, international law, and in direct violation of Syria’s sovereignty. The Guardian in its report titled, “Israel carries out air strike on Syria,” claims:

“Israeli warplanes have attacked a target close to the Syrian-Lebanese border following several days of heightened warnings from government officials over Syria’s stockpiles of weapons.”

It also stated:

“Israel has publicly warned that it would take military action to prevent the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon or “global jihadists” fighting inside Syria. Israeli military intelligence is said to be monitoring the area round the clock via satellite for possible convoys carrying weapons.”

In reality, these “global jihaidists” are in fact armed and funded by the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel since at least as early as 2007. They are also in fact the direct beneficiaries of Israel’s recent aggression. The Israeli “suspicions” of “weapon transfers” of course, remain unconfirmed, because the purpose of the attack was not to prevent the transfer of “chemical weapons” to Hezbollah in Lebanon, but to provoke a wider conflict aimed not at Israel’s defense, but at salvaging the West’s floundering proxy terrorist forces inside Syria attempting to subvert and overthrow the Syrian nation.


The silence from the United Nations is deafening. While Turkey openly harbors foreign terrorists, arming and funding them with Western, Saudi, and Qatari cash as they conduct raids on neighboring Syria, any Syrian attack on Turkish territory would immediately result in the United Nations mobilizing. Conversely, Turkey is allowed, for years, to conduct air strikes and even partial ground invasions of neighboring Iraq to attack Kurdish groups accused of undermining Turkish security. It is clear the same double standard has long applied to Israel.

Israel, along with the US & Saudi Arabia, are Al Qaeda’s chief sponsors.

It must be remembered that as far back as 2007, it was admitted by US, Saudi and Lebanese officials that the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia were intentionally arming, funding, and organizing these “global jihadists” with direct ties to Al Qaeda for the explicit purpose of overthrowing the governments of Syria and Iran.

Reported by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour Hersh in his New Yorker article, “The Redirection,” it was stated (emphasis added):

“To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.”

Of Israel it specifically stated:

“The policy shift has brought Saudi Arabia and Israel into a new strategic embrace, largely because both countries see Iran as an existential threat. They have been involved in direct talks, and the Saudis, who believe that greater stability in Israel and Palestine will give Iran less leverage in the region, have become more involved in Arab-Israeli negotiations.”

Additionally, Saudi Arabian officials mentioned the careful balancing act their nation must play in order to conceal its role in supporting US-Israeli ambitions across the region:

“The Saudi said that, in his country’s view, it was taking a political risk by joining the U.S. in challenging Iran: Bandar is already seen in the Arab world as being too close to the Bush Administration. “We have two nightmares,” the former diplomat told me. “For Iran to acquire the bomb and for the United States to attack Iran. I’d rather the Israelis bomb the Iranians, so we can blame them. If America does it, we will be blamed.””

It may interest readers to know that while France invades and occupies large swaths of Mali in Africa, accusing the Qataris of funding and arming Al Qaeda-linked terrorist groups in the region, France, the US, and Israel are working in tandem with the Qataris to fund and arm these very same groups in Syria.

In fact, the US-based think-tank, the Brookings Institution literally has a “Doha Center” based in Qatar while US-Israeli citizen Haim Saban’s Brookings “Saban Center” conducts meetings and has many of its board of directors based likewise in Doha, Qatar. Doha also served as the venue for the creation of the West’s most recent “Syrian Coalition,” headed by an unabashed supporter of Al Qaeda, Moaz al-Khatib.

These are part of the brick and mortar manifestation of the conspiracy documented by Seymour Hersh in 2007.

The Wall Street Journal, also in 2007, reported on the US Bush Administration’s plans of creating a partnership with Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood, noting the group is the ideological inspiration for linked terror organizations including Al Qaeda itself. In the article titled, “”To Check Syria, U.S. Explores Bond With Muslim Brothers,” it states:

“On a humid afternoon in late May, about 100 supporters of Syria’s largest exile opposition group, the National Salvation Front, gathered outside Damascus’s embassy here to protest Syrian President Bashar Assad’s rule. The participants shouted anti-Assad slogans and raised banners proclaiming: “Change the Regime Now.”

The NSF unites liberal democrats, Kurds, Marxists and former Syrian officials in an effort to transform President Assad’s despotic regime. But the Washington protest also connected a pair of more unlikely players — the U.S. government and the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The article would also report:

“U.S. diplomats and politicians have also met with legislators from parties connected to the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, Egypt and Iraq in recent months to hear their views on democratic reforms in the Middle East, U.S. officials say. Last month, the State Department’s intelligence unit organized a conference of Middle East experts to examine the merits of engagement with the Brotherhood, particularly in Egypt and Syria.”

It describes the ideological and operational links between the Brotherhood and Al Qaeda:

“Today, the Brotherhood’s relationship to Islamist militancy, and al Qaeda in particular, is the source of much debate. Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders cite the works of the Brotherhood’s late intellectual, Sayyid Qutb, as an inspiration for their crusade against the West and Arab dictators. Members of Egyptian and Syrian Brotherhood arms have also gone on to take senior roles in Mr. bin Laden’s movement.”

Yet despite all of this, the US, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, along with Israel and Turkey are openly conspiring with them, and have now for years been arming and funding these very sectarian extremist, terrorist groups across the Arab World, from Libya to Egypt, and now in and around Syria.

Israel’s fears of these terrorists acquiring “chemical weapons” is absurd. They have already acquired them with US, NATO, British, Saudi, Qatari and even Israeli help in Libya in 2011. In fact, these very Libyan terrorists are spearheading the foreign militant groups flooding into Syria through the Turkish-Syrian border.

What Israel’s strike may really mean.

Indeed, Israel’s explanation as to why it struck neighboring Syria is tenuous at best considering its long, documented relationship with actually funding and arming the very “global jihaidists” it fears weapons may fall into the hands of. Its fears of Hezbollah are likewise unfounded – Hezbollah, had it, the Syrians, or the Iranians been interested in placing chemical weapons in Lebanon, would have done so already, and most certainly would do so with means other than conspicuous convoys simply “crossing the border.” Hezbollah has already proven itself capable of defeating Israeli aggression with conventional arms, as demonstrated during the summer of 2006.

In reality, the pressure placed on Syria’s borders by both Israel and its partner, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Turkey in the north, is part of a documented plan to relieve pressure on the Western, Israeli, Saudi-Qatari armed and funded militants operating inside Syria.

The above mentioned, Fortune 500-funded (page 19), US foreign-policy think-tank, Brookings Institution – which has blueprinted designs for regime change in Libya as well as both Syria and Iran – stated this specifically in their report titled, “Assessing Options for Regime Change.”

Image: The Brookings Institution, Middle East Memo #21 “Assessing Options for Regime Change (.pdf),” makes no secret that the humanitarian “responsibility to protect” is but a pretext for long-planned regime change.

….

Brookings describes how Israeli efforts in the south of Syria, combined with Turkey’s aligning of vast amounts of weapons and troops along its border to the north, could help effect violent regime change in Syria:

“In addition, Israel’s intelligence services have a strong knowledge of Syria, as well as assets within the Syrian regime that could be used to subvert the regime’s power base and press for Asad’s removal. Israel could posture forces on or near the Golan Heights and, in so doing, might divert regime forces from suppressing the opposition. This posture may conjure fears in the Asad regime of a multi-front war, particularly if Turkey is willing to do the same on its border and if the Syrian opposition is being fed a steady diet of arms and training. Such a mobilization could perhaps persuade Syria’s military leadership to oust Asad in order to preserve itself. Advocates argue this additional pressure could tip the balance against Asad inside Syria, if other forces were aligned properly.” -page 6, Assessing Options for Regime Change, Brookings Institution.

Of course, airstrikes inside Syria go beyond “posturing,” and indicate perhaps a level of desperation in the West who appear to have elected their chief villain, Israel, to incrementally “intervene” just as they had planned in regards to attacking Iran – also documented by Brookings in a report titled, “Which Path to Persia?

In regards to Iran, in Brookings’ “Which Path to Persia?” report, it states specifically (emphasis added):

“Israel appears to have done extensive planning and practice for such a strike already, and its aircraft are probably already based as close to Iran as possible. as such, Israel might be able to launch the strike in a matter of weeks or even days, depending on what weather and intelligence conditions it felt it needed. Moreover, since Israel would have much less of a need (or even interest) in securing regional support for the operation, Jerusalem probably would feel less motivated to wait for an Iranian provocation before attacking. In short, Israel could move very fast to implement this option if both Israeli and American leaders wanted it to happen.

However, as noted in the previous chapter, the airstrikes themselves are really just the start of this policy. Again, the Iranians would doubtless rebuild their nuclear sites. They would probably retaliate against Israel, and they might retaliate against the United States, too (which might create a pretext for American airstrikes or even an invasion).” -page 91, Which Path to Perisa?, Brookings Institution.

And in this statement we can gather insight behind both Israel’s otherwise irrational belligerent posture throughout its brief history, as well as its most recent act of unprovoked aggression against Syria. Israel’s role is to play the “bad guy.” As a regional beachhead for Western corporate-financier interests, it provides a “foot in the door” to any of the West’s many desired conflicts. By bombing Syria, it hopes to provoke a wider conflict – an intervention the West has desired and planned for since it tipped off Syria’s violent conflict in 2011.

For Syria and its allies – the goal now must be to deter further Israeli aggression and avoid wider conflict at all costs. If NATO’s proxy terrorist forces are as weak as they appear – incapable of tactical or strategic gains, and tapering off into desperate terrorist attacks, it is only a matter of time before NATO’s campaign grinds to a halt. As mentioned before, such a failure on NATO’s part will be the beginning of the end for it, and the Western interests that have been using it as a tool to achieve geopolitical hegemony.

Israel should be expected to commit to increasingly desperate acts to provoke Syria and Iran – as its leadership represent directly corporate-financier interests abroad, not the Israeli people, or their best interests (including peace and even survival). For the people of Israel, they must realize that their leadership indeed does not represent them or their best interests and is able, willing, and even eager to spend their lives and fortunes in the service of foreign, corporate-financier interests and global hegemony.

Scottish Referendum Question Rejected

The elections watchdog has rejected the Scottish Government's preferred question for next year's independence referendum.

First Minister Alex Salmond's proposal for the historic vote is to ask voters: Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

But the Electoral Commission said using the phrase "do you agree" could encourage some people to vote Yes. It said the question should have a more neutral wording, and recommended it be changed to: Should Scotland be an independent country?

scottish independence

The referendum vote will take place in 2014

John McCormick, Electoral Commissioner for Scotland, said: "We have rigorously tested the proposed question, speaking to a wide range of people across Scotland.

"Any referendum question must be, and be seen to be, neutral. People told us that they felt the words 'Do you agree' could lead voters towards voting Yes."

Voters have a "clear understanding that 'independent country' meant being separate from the UK", McCormick said.

The decision comes on the same day David Cameron told the Commons at PMQs that he "we will not pre-negotiate Scotland's exit from the United Kingdom".

McCormick also said voters want more factual information before the referendum so the commission has called on the UK and Scottish governments to clarify the processes that will follow the ballot, regardless of the outcome.

"We're asking the UK and Scottish Government to provide that clarity and we'll then make sure it gets to voters as part of our public awareness campaign," McCormick said.

The commission also suggests higher spending limits for the referendum campaign than the Scottish Government has proposed.

Pro-independence Yes Scotland, and Better Together, which wants Scotland to remain in the UK, should be allowed to spend up to £1.5 million, double the £750,000 suggested by the Scottish National Party administration.

The amount political parties are allowed to spend should be based on their share of the vote from the 2011 Holyrood elections, the commission said.

This would see the SNP, which won a landslide victory, allowed to spend £1,344,000, while the Greens, who back Yes Scotland, could spend up to £150,000.

Labour would be allowed to spend £834,000, the Tories £396,000 and the Liberal Democrats £201,000.

These limits would "allow each of the parties to campaign on a similar scale as they did at the 2011 election in putting across their party messages", the commission said.

"The total cumulative value of the limits for the parties that have expressed support for each outcome at the referendum will be similar."

The Scottish Government proposed that political parties represented in the Scottish Parliament spend a maximum £250,000.

The limits would only apply in the 16-week period before the referendum, due to be held in autumn 2014.

McCormack said: "The campaign spending limits we have recommended are designed to ensure there are no barriers to voters hearing from campaigners in what will be a historic vote for the people of Scotland.

"We have listened carefully to the views of the Scottish Government and to campaigners and have set out proposals based on our principles that spending limits should allow effective campaigning for all outcomes, deter excessive spending and encourage transparency."

Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon suggested that the Scottish Government could accept the commission's findings.
She told MSPs yesterday that ministers would attach "considerable weight" to these.

"There would have to be a very good reason to depart from Electoral Commission recommendations, and any government so doing would have to explain its position to this Parliament," she said.

But the Scottish Parliament has the final say on issues such as the wording of the question when it considers the Referendum Bill.

"The Scottish Government will consider the wording of the question, and indeed other matters relating to the conduct of the referendum, in light of the commission's advice and, of course, the Scottish Parliament will have the final say during its scrutiny of the referendum legislation," she said.

In its report on the wording of the question, the Electoral Commission said that, overall, people found the Scottish Government's preferred question to be "clear, simple, concise and to the point".

People "found it easy to understand and answer".

But the "main issue that arose in the testing related to the perceived neutrality or otherwise of the proposed question and, in particular, the opening wording 'Do you agree'," it said.

Use of the phrase 'Do you agree' was "commonly felt by research participants to be biased towards a Yes outcome and potentially leading people towards a Yes vote", the commission said.

"People said that asking the question in that way implies that Scotland being independent is a good thing because voters are being invited to agree with this view. It can sound like it is seeking agreement by effectively asking 'Do you agree with me?' rather than allowing voters to form and express their own view."

People also felt that the words 'Do you agree' could suggest that "the decision has in fact already been made, or that 'Scotland should be an independent country' represents popular opinion and that the referendum is simply about rubber-stamping that decision".

The commission report said: "People also felt that that 'Do you agree' was biased towards a Yes vote because it is easier to agree with something than to disagree."

Some people "felt that there is an expectation that if you disagree, you need to justify or explain why you have done so".

Some undecided voters felt that the Scottish Government's preferred wording of the question "could give the impression that Yes is the 'correct' answer", the commission said.

"Overall, people's concern was less that this wording would cause errors in how people marked their vote but that it would be more likely to influence those who were undecided, unsure or 'easily led' and were concerned about this."

Fool of remorse: Veteran TV anchor retracts Duma insult after ban threat

TV host Vladimir Pozner (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Astapkovich)

TV host Vladimir Pozner (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Astapkovich)

Television guru Vladimir Pozner has apologized for calling the lower house a “state fool” after MPs threatened to draft a bill that would ban people with foreign citizenship from working for Russian federal TV channels.

The veteran journalist and former president of the Russian Television Academy officially apologized in the Sunday broadcast of his show on Channel One television, about one month he called the State Duma a “state fool” – the expressions sound similar in Russian.

The anchor said that what the parliament considered a deliberate insult was a slip of the tongue and he had already said sorry for it, but was ready to apologize again. However, Pozner emphasized that he was only referring to this one error.

In reply to Pozner’s initial statement, four Russian MPs (representing the United Russia party, Liberal Democrats, Communists and a group of independent MPs who previously associated with the Fair Russia party) told the press that they intended to draft a bill that would forbid those who hold foreign citizenship to work on the state television channels.

They also promised to name the bill after Pozner. In addition, the parliamentary anti-corruption committee officially requested that Channel One report on the salary paid to the anchorman.

Vladimir Pozner is the son of a Russian immigrant and a French mother. He holds citizenships of Russia, France and the United States. He gained notoriety after hosting TV bridges with the United States together with Phil Donahue, and eventually headed the Russian Television Academy – the major NGO acting in the interests of TV producers and broadcasters and also handing out the most prestigious awards.

In 2008, Pozner retired from the post of Academy president, but his influence in the industry is still great.

The proposed ban caused wide resonance in the community, even though the parliamentarians have not produced even a project of the draft within a month since the start of the scandal.

Pozner’s retraction apparently satisfied the authors of the initiative. One of the proponents of the foreigner ban, MP Mikhail Starshinov, told Interfax that the State Duma was ready to accept the contrition, but added that the Pozner Bill had been prepared and would be put on hold in case of possible incidents in the future.

“We understand that the apologies by the anchorman were a forced step caused by persistent and strong measures taken by the State Duma,” Starshinov noted.

Vedomosti daily quoted a source in the presidential administration as saying that the officials in the Kremlin did not like the idea of the Pozner Bill as it was dangerously close to introducing censorship in the mass media. However, the authorities wanted to remind reporters about their responsibility for public statements and therefore supported the bill’s authors.

The source also said that to his awareness all MPs were satisfied with the compromise and will now cease to work on this issue.

President Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said in a press comment that the Kremlin considered the insults to the legislative branch power unacceptable, but also did not find it justifiable to affect the process of hiring anchors on television.

George Osborne Brands Nick Clegg ‘Odd’ For Opposing EU Referendum

George Osborne today said it would be "odd" for Labour and the Liberal Democrats to go into the next general election telling voters that they do not trust them to make a decision on Britain's future in Europe, while the Conservatives do. The chancell...

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: The Great Train Rebellion

The ten things you need to know on Monday 28 January 2013...

THE GREAT TRAIN REBELLION

First, there were the Euro-rebels. Then the gay-marriage rebels. Now, it's the train-spotting rebels. David Cameron, it seems, can't stop picking fights with his backbenchers.

The Times splashes on the Tories' "high speed rebellion":

"David Cameron faces a grassroots Tory rebellion after he unveils plans today to drive the fastest railway in Europe through the party’s heartlands to Manchester and Leeds.

"The Times can reveal that a blueprint for the £33 billion High Speed 2 line, to be published this morning, will" - among other things - "pledge to create 100,00 jobs, including 10,000 during construction". Hmm, they had me at "100,000 jobs".

This could be the moment that former Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan - leader of parliament's Nimby brigade, whose Amersham and Chesham seat is on the route and has described it as "the wrong railway in the wrong place at the wrong time and for such a high cost" - takes revenge on the PM for sacking her from the cabinet last year. Dave may come to regret giving Cheryl the boot while swilling a glass of red wine...

Note: Apologies for the lack of a Morning Memo yesterday. I was out of the country, at a conference. Normal Sunday service will resume next weekend.

2) DAVE VS ADAM

Perhaps Cheryl Gillan will have to get in line. Yesterday, a new challenger appeared on the scene: (backbench) Conservative MP for Windsor, Adam Afriyie. (Adam who?)

The Independent's Andy McSmith reports:

"The debate began after three Tory-supporting Sunday newspapers reported a 'well-organised' campaign to secure the leadership for Mr Afriyie, who was a frontbench spokesman for the Conservatives in opposition but was excluded from the Government.

"... Mr Afriyie said he almost choked on his breakfast cereal when he read the reports. He told Sky News: 'I will never stand against David Cameron. I am 100 per cent supportive of David Cameron... There is no truth to any of it. We are working very hard to keep David Cameron secure, to make sure there is not a vacancy.'

"However, he also said he and his allies had talked about 'the long-term future of the party,' indicating that he sees himself as a candidate in a post-2015 leadership contest if the Tories lose the general election.

"The promise not to stand against Mr Cameron is actually meaningless, because the rules of the Conservative Party, revised after the fall of Margaret Thatcher, do not permit a direct challenge to a Tory Prime Minister, who must be felled by a vote of no confidence before an election can be held to choose a successor."

The Telegraph reveals, on its front page, that "a handful of former ministers who were sacked by Mr Cameron in the reshuffle have been working for weeks, trying to cement support for Mr Afriyie if the Tories lose the likely May 2015 election".

The paper's leader concludes: "The silly season appears to have started early this year."

Indeed.

3) LIB DEMS FOREVER

"England does not love coalitions," Benjamin Disraeli famously remarked. This morning's Independent has this as one of its front-page headlines: "Prepare for an era of coalitions, say Lib Dems."

The paper's Andrew Grice has interviewed the Tories' favourite Lib Dem minister, David Laws, and reports:

"Liberal Democrat leaders want all three main parties to draw up a slimline manifesto for an era of 'coalition politics' as well as an 'age of austerity' at the 2015 general election.

"In an interview with The Independent, David Laws, who heads the Liberal Democrats' manifesto group, said: 'We have to learn the lesson of tuition fees.'"

The Indy also notes how party leader Clegg told the BBC's Andrew Marr programme yesterday that the Lib Dems would be up for joining a coalition with Labour if the latter beat the Conservatives at the next election.

Is the country ready for its own version of Germany's Free Democrats - i.e. a third party that is permanently in government via ever-changing coalitions?

4) DON'T COME TO BRITAIN. IT SUCKS HERE.

This is my favourite story of the day - from the Guardian's front page:

"Please don't come to Britain – it rains and the jobs are scarce and low-paid. Ministers are considering launching a negative advertising campaign in Bulgaria and Romania to persuade potential immigrants to stay away from the UK.

"The plan, which would focus on the downsides of British life, is one of a range of potential measures to stem immigration to Britain next year when curbs imposed on both country's citizens living and working in the UK will expire.

"A report over the weekend quoted one minister saying that such a negative advert would 'correct the impression that the streets here are paved with gold'."

Well, of course, they're not. We're on the verge of a triple-dip recession, with real wages falling and child poverty on the rise. Thanks, in part, to policies backed by that unnamed, anonymous minister.

But, take a step back, what kind of government is so obsessed with 'cracking down' on immigration that it's willing to consider doing down the country's international image in order to keep migrants out? You could not make it up.

To be fair, the FT reports: "Downing Street played down any such campaign yesterday, with one aide dismissing the idea as 'kite flying'."

5) DON'T FORGET MALI

Hats off to the Indy and the Guardian for keeping news the conflict in Mali on their front pages.

The Independent's splash headline reads: "Revealed: how French raid killed 12 Malian villagers."

The paper reports:

"A father last night described the moment a French attack helicopter bombed his town in Mali, killing his wife and at least three children from another family. Amadou Jallo, 57, lost his wife, Aminata, in the attack on Konna, in which 12 civilians died and 15 more were injured."

Meanwhile, the Guardian's Luke Harding reports:

"Just two weeks after intervening in Mali, French troops, together with the Malian army, have wrested back control of most of the north of the country from Islamist rebels.

But, he adds:

"... despite these swift successes, it is uncertain whether France's giddy military advance will deliver any kind of lasting peace. So far the 'war' in Mali has involved little fighting. Instead Islamist rebels have simply melted back into the civilian population, or disappeared."

Hmm. Sounds like Afghanistan circa late 2001.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video: "Six dogs. One Dish. One incredibly cute trick."

6) ERIC PICKLES VS 'CHEATING' COUNCILS

The Telegraph splashes on the "minister at war over 'cheating' councils":

"Councils are treating local residents 'with contempt' and will be cheating taxpayers if they increase local taxes without public backing, the Local Government Secretary warns.

"In an article for The Daily Telegraph, Eric Pickles says he will introduce new laws to stop councils abusing the system by hitting householders with stealth tax rises next year.

"Mr Pickles, who describes some councils as 'cheating their taxpayers', discloses that only about a third have so far signed up for a national council tax freeze, with dozens more threatening to defy government calls for restraint amid the ongoing economic turmoil."

Perhaps, just perhaps, if the coalition hadn't frontloaded their cuts to local government budgets, councils wouldn't need to raise council tax.

7) VOTE TORY, GET NO HOLIDAYS?

From the Guardian:

"David Cameron will use EU reforms to repatriate and weaken workers' rights, Frances O'Grady, the new leader of the Trades Union Congress will warn on Monday.

"Speaking at a conference in Madrid she will say that, if the prime minister gets his way, employees across Europe may no longer receive health and safety protection, equal treatment as part-time workers and women, or paid holidays."

8) NO NEED TO SMELL THE COFFEE

The papers this morning are all ove the so-called 'spat' between the government and Starbucks. The Express reports:

"Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps yesterday denied that the Tories had 'singled out' coffee giant Starbucks over how much tax it paid.

"His comments follow claims that the US firm had threatened to stop investing in Britain after Prime Minister David Cameron urged business last week to 'wake up and smell the coffee' about public anger over tax avoidance.

"It was seen as a dig at Starbucks, which has paid no corporation tax in the last three years and only £8.6million in 14 years in Britain."

9) 'DIVERSITY CRISIS'

The Guardian's splash is a self-professed 'exclusive':

"Police forces should be made to positively discriminate in favour of black and ethnic minority officers in the face of a growing diversity crisis, according to one of the country's leading chief constables.

"The radical proposal – which would mean a change in the law – from Sir Peter Fahy, of Greater Manchester, comes in the face of what he said was an embarrassing paucity of black and minority ethnic officers (BME) at the top of British policing."

I'm all for more diversity, and even - as a last resort - positive discrimination, but Fahy's rather odd comments about more BME officers helping with "undercover surveillance" won't go down that well with BME communities...

10) BARACK AND HILLARY SITTING IN A TREE...

It's not often you see the president of the United States sit down for a joint interview alongside his secretary of state.

From the Guardian:

"Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton coyly batted away questions over any White House succession plan during a mutually appreciative interview on Sunday...

"'You guys in the press are incorrigible. I was literally inaugurated four days ago, and you're talking about the elections four years from now,' offered Obama.

"Clinton likewise gave an answer that could be interpreted any number of ways: 'Obviously the president and I care deeply about what's going to happen for our country in the future. And I don't think, you know, either he or I can make predictions about what's going to happen tomorrow or the next year,' she said."

Obama declared, with Clinton at his side: "I'm going to miss her." Awww - to think it was only five years ago that they were tearing strips out of each other in public as they tried to destroy each other's political careers.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 35
Lib Dems 12
Ukip 7

That would give Labour a majority of 78.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@TomHarrisMP If Cameron fails to win a majority in 2015, then obviously *someone* will take over. That doesn't necessarily mean there's a conspiracy.

@BevanJa Is it possible for newspapers to suggest a black politician may be a future party leader without a crude comparison to Obama?

@DanHannanMEP Does Nick Clegg lack all self-awareness? A referendum on AV was critical, but a referendum on the EU is a distraction?

900 WORDS OR MORE

Boris Johnson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Only a coward would deny the people their voice on Europe."

Gavin Kelly, writing in the Guardian, says: "Could the Tories' plan for re-election in 2015 cost just 10p?"

David Blunkett, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "Coalition's constituency boundary reforms are a complete mess and an insult to voters."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Lib Dem MP ‘Condemned’ By Own Party For Criticising Israel Ahead Of Holocaust Memorial...

A Liberal Democrat MP has been condemned by his own party for his "use of unacceptable language" in criticising Israel's treatment of Palestinians on the same day as pledging his commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day.

In a statement on his website, Bradford East MP David Ward said he had signed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons "honouring those who died during the Holocaust."

david ward facebook

David Ward is Lib Dem MP for Bradford East

In the same statement, which has since been taken down, he commented:

"Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza."

A Lib Dem spokesman told the BBC the remarks, which come ahead of Sunday's Holocaust Memorial Day, were a matter of "deep regret".

He said: "This is a matter we take extremely seriously. The Liberal Democrats deeply regret and condemn the statement issued by David Ward and his use of language which is unacceptable."

Around six million Jews were gassed, starved and shot dead throughout the Holocaust.

While the Jewish Chronicle said Ward had "compared modern Israel to the Nazi regime", blogger Mark Valladares at the Liberal Democrat Voice welcomed "his attempt to demonstrate some respect towards both sides in this seemingly never-ending dispute."

He writes: "As usual, in any matter related to the Israel/ Palestine debate, elements of the pro-Israel lobby, or troublemakers... have chosen to interpret these remarks as being a direct comparison of the holocaust with modern events in Gaza and the West Bank.

"If you're minded to do so, you probably will. On the other hand, if you lean towards a pro-Palestinian position, you might welcome any recognition by a politician that the Israeli government is behaving in an unacceptable manner.

"For me, David’s words act as a reminder that some pretty dreadful wrongs have been committed against both sides, and suggest that past events should influence future behaviour."

Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust told the Jewish Chronicle Ward had "abused the memory" of the victims of the Nazis.

She said: "I am deeply saddened that at this sombre time, when we remember those who were murdered by the Nazis, Mr Ward has deliberately abused the memory of the Holocaust causing deep pain and offence.

"These comments are sickening and unacceptable and have no place in British politics."

The incident is already drawing comparions to Baroness Jenny Tonge, who resigned the Lib Dem whip in the House of Lords in February last year, after refusing to apologise for claiming Israel would not "last forever".

The Liberal Democrat peer, who once said she would consider becoming a suicide bomber if she were Palestinian, was roundly criticised for the remarks.

Speaking at an event at Middlesex University, Baroness Tonge said Israel would one day lose the support of the United States and would then "reap what they have sown".

"Beware Israel," she said. "Israel is not going to be there forever in its present performance. One day the United States of America will get sick of giving £70 billion a year to Israel."

Huffington Post UK has sought comment from Ward's office.

  • An ultra Orthodox Jewish man visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Israel will be marking its annual remembrance day for the six million Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II on Thursday. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

  • An ultra Orthodox Jewish man looks at a pile of books on display at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

  • Two ultra Orthodox Jewish men visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

  • Two ultra Orthodox Jewish men visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

  • A Holocaust survivor lays flowers next to the names of concentration camps during the annual ceremony on Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, Thursday, April 19, 2012. Israel is marking its annual remembrance day for the six million Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

  • Israelis pause during a two-minute siren in memory of victims of the Holocaust in the market in Jerusalem, Thursday, April 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

  • Israelis pause during a two-minute siren in memory of victims of the Holocaust in the market in Jerusalem, Thursday, April 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

  • Israelis attend the opening ceremony of Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

  • Israelis attend the opening ceremony of Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

  • Israeli soldiers stand at attention during the opening ceremony of Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the opening ceremony of the Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening ceremony of Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Obama Introduces Beyonce

The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 22 January 2013...

1) OBAMA: FORWARD TOGETHER

President Obama made a pretty good go of being the warm up act for Beyonce yesterday, as he urged Americans to move “forward together” during his second inaugural address.

Obama stumbled a little as he swore the oath of office. But seeing as the real swearing in actually took place on Sunday he won’t have to do the whole thing all over again like last time.

HuffPost’s White House correspondent Sam Stein: “The president, who has spent the first four years navigating Washington as much as shaping it, used his platform on Monday to announce that his next four years will be marked by a more assertive approach. The speech wasn't devoid of the classic, Obama-esque ideal that the country itself, and the two political parties in particular, must come together for the common good. But the appeal he made wasn’t so much to the good nature of each individual lawmaker as it was to the need to confront the severity of the issues at hand.”

The president put equality at the centre of his speech, calling for equal rights for women and gay people as well as focusing on climate change, gun control and income inequality.

Today's Memo is edited by Ned Simons as Mehdi Hasan is operating a delayed service due to heavy snow.

2) THIS SOUNDS FAMILIER

David Cameron’s warning of a “generational struggle” against terror in the Commons yesterday evoked memories of Tony Blair’s response to September 11 – leaving many observers to wonder the extent of Britain’s future involvement in Mali and North Afrida.

The Times reports this morning that the prime minister has committed the UK to a “fully-fledged battle” against al-Qaeda in the continent as troops begin to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

“Units from the Army, Royal Navy and RAF are on ‘high readiness’ to deploy if requested in support of France, which is attempting to repel Islamist extremists from the north of the country,” the paper says.

Cameron will chair a meeting of the National Security Council to consider what additional surveillance and transport help can be provided to the assault on rebels in the neighbouring country on top of two RAF C17 transport aircraft despatched last week.

3) YOU AND WHOSE ARMY?

However any plans to increase Britain’s military commitment in Africa may not go down too well with defence chiefs, as the MoD announces a third round of redundancies later today.

About 5,000 jobs are expected to go as part of cuts already announced by ministers to reduce Army numbers from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2017.

4) ‘I’VE KILLED’

The papers are full of reports this morning about Prince Harry’s acknowledgement he has killed while serving in Afghanistan.

Now that the 28-year-old is bound for the UK after his second deployment to the war-torn country, it can be reported he took enemy fighters "out of the game" during his 20-week posting.

"Take a life to save a life," he says during a TV interview. "That's what we revolve around, I suppose. If there's people trying to do bad stuff to our guys, then we'll take them out of the game, I suppose."

5) ROYAL EQUALITY

Prince Harry also spokes about looking forward to being an uncle. And today MPs will debate changing the law to ensure if he has a niece she will become queen, even if his brother and sister-in-law subsequently have a son.

Given Obama's call for greater gender equality the reelected president will no doubt be pleased. Although. He probably isn't too keen on the whole monarchy thing - memories of 1776 and all that.

The Daily Telegraph reports Nick Clegg will tell MPs: “The other Commonwealth countries where Her Majesty The Queen is head of state have just given us the green light to change the law, and we are wasting no time.

“At the moment, if the first child of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is a girl, any younger brothers she has will overtake her in line to the throne. We’re modernising these out of date rules so that men and women in line to the throne have equal rights.”

The proposed changes would also end the ban on royals marrying Catholics. “The reasons for this go back 300 years, to the days when Britain was worried about the threat from its Catholics neighbours, such as Louis XIV of France,” Clegg will say. “Times have changed, along with our attitudes towards each other. It is time for us to bring these arcane laws up to date.”

MPs are unlikely to adopt proposals from Labour’s Paul Flynn which would allow the adopted son or daughter of a gay king or queen to take the throne.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR: US Senator Chuck Schumer Photobombs The Oath Of Office (PHOTO)

6) FIVE POINTS DOWN

Labour's lead over the Conservatives has been cut to five points, according to a poll released today.

The ICM poll for The Guardian put Ed Miliband's party on 38% (down two points since a similar poll last month), David Cameron's Tories on 33% (up one), with Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats on 15% (up two) and the UK Independence Party on 6% (down one).

Labour's advantage is the narrowest recorded by ICM since August last year, and follows a period in which the party has consistently racked up double-digit leads over the Conservatives.

It is likely to spark speculation that Mr Cameron's standing has been boosted by his handling of the crises in Algeria and Mali and by reports he is planning to offer an in/out referendum on future British membership of the European Union.

7) THE LONDON SPEECH

David Cameron will deliver his long-awaited speech on the EU on Wednesday morning in a central London location. Suggestions include on the doorstop of Ukip HQ or inside the Dutch embassy. At least if it gets called off again the travelling political press won’t have such a difficult journey back to their offices – depending on how many snowflakes have fallen on the Victoria line of course.

8) BIBI’S BACK

Benjamin Netanyahu seems poised for re-election as Israel's prime minister in Tuesday's voting, the result of the failure of his opponents to unite behind a viable candidate against him – and the fact that most Israelis no longer seem to believe it's possible to reach a peace settlement with the Palestinians.

The widely held assumption of a victory by Netanyahu comes despite his grim record: there is no peace process, there is growing diplomatic isolation and a slowing economy, and his main ally has been forced to step down as foreign minister because of corruption allegations.

Even so, Netanyahu has managed to convince many Israelis that he offers a respectable choice by projecting experience, toughness and great powers of communication in both native Hebrew and flawless American English.

9) BENEFIT OF HINDSIGHT

Labour has failed to block the coalitions plans to cap benefit rises at 1%, as the proposals passed through the Commons.

From the BBC: “The Welfare Benefits Up-rating Bill, which will cap the benefit rises until 2016, passed by 305 votes to 246. Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said spending had to be brought ‘back under control’ or the ‘poorest in society will fare the worst’. Labour's Liam Byrne said ‘compassionate Conservatism’ was no longer believable.”

Labour was forced into a quick, clarification, last night, after Stephen Timms said it was Labour’s policy to increase benefits by the rate of inflation each year. “In our view uprating should be in line with inflation and it should be assessed as it always has been at the end of the proceeding year,” he said.

However the Labour leadership was quick to distance itself, insisting that in hindsight Timms was saying what Labour would do in office now, rather than setting out policy for the future.

10) THE PLANET HAS ITS BLINDS DRAWN

The global jobless total will rise to a record 202m this year, says the UN's jobs watchdog, the International Labour Organisation, The Guardian reports today.

Quoting from the report the newspaper adds: “Entering 2013, the crisis in the Euro area constitutes the single biggest risk to global employment trends for the year ahead. The financial crisis in the Euro area, brought on by a combination of banking sector distress and protracted financial and household deleveraging, coupled with high levels of sovereign debt and unsustainably high government bond yields in some countries, has emerged as a disruptive and destabilizing force not only in the Euro area itself, but also for the global economy as a whole.”

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@BarackObama "I want to look out one more time. I'll never see this again." http://OFA.BO/qWUrWy

@JBeattieMirror I'm guessing the MoD redundancies announced today will not include Capt Wales

900 WORDS OR MORE

Rachel Sylvester in The Times: "Algeria head good – Europe head bad. The EU is an old and damaging distraction for Mr Cameron. He looks stronger dealing with modern issues ."

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian: "These Tory backbenchers will bang on until they hit self-destruct. The Conservative right is pushing David Cameron ever further from the centre ground. Don't they see he's their biggest asset?"

Benedict Brogan in The Daily Telegraph: "Cameron’s message is Tory, but his enemies have drowned it out."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Disabled worse off under UK benefit cap

British Pensions minister says disabled households will be worse off under government's cap on benefit handouts.

Some British households with a disabled person are to lose out under the Tory-led government’s plans to limit annual increases in working-age benefits to 1 percent for the next three year, a Liberal Democrat minister has admitted.

British Pensions minister Steve Webb confirmed that around 3.4 million households in the UK will be £156 a year worse off on average as a result of the new rules, which keep the annual rise in benefits below the cost of living.

He said that one in three British households with a disabled person would be affected, losing out on £3 a week in 2015-16.

The disclosure comes days after British Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith claimed that the coalition government was “protecting disabled people”.

However, Webb said, “The Department [for Work and Pensions] estimates that approximately 34 per cent of households where someone describes themselves [as] disabled are affected by this Bill, with an average change of income of around -£3 a week in 2015-16 compared to uprating by the consumer prices index (CPI).”

A vote for a cap on benefit handouts was passed by majority of 56 in the Commons on January 8, despite a move by some Labour and Liberal Democrats to block it.

According to a Whitehall impact assessment published shortly before the controversial Welfare Uprating Bill debate, Britain's poorest households would suffer the greatest loss of income following benefit changes, which are aimed at saving £3.1bn by 2016.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne also accused British Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne of “cutting support for disabled people” while “giving 8,000 millionaires an average tax cut of over £107,000.”

SSM/HE

Mehdi’s ‘Sunday Lunchtime’ Memo: ‘A Vicious and Cowardly Attack’

The ten things you need to know on Sunday 20 January 2013...

1) 'A VICIOUS AND COWARDLY ATTACK'

From the Press Association:

"David Cameron has confirmed that three British nationals have been killed in Algeria, a further three are believed to be dead and a British resident has also died.

"The remaining 22 British survivors have returned to the UK and been reunited with their loved-ones, the Foreign Secretary has confirmed.

"Mr Cameron said: 'I know the whole country will want to join me in sending our sympathies and condolences to the families who have undergone an absolutely dreadful ordeal and who now face life without these very precious loved ones.'

"Speaking from Chequers, the PM echoed President Barack Obama and blamed the terrorists for the deaths, saying 'of course people will ask questions about the Algerian response to these events, but I would just say that the responsibility for these deaths lies squarely with the terrorists who launched a vicious and cowardly attack.'"

NOTE: For reasons I won't bore you with, this Memo was delayed today, hence it's 'Sunday Lunchtime', rather than 'Morning', title. Normal service will resume tomorrow morning. Fingers crossed.

2) 'RED MEAT'

Forget the horse meat, it's all about red meat when it comes to the PM and Europe.

From the Observer:

"David Cameron will deliver a 'redmeat announcement' on Britain's future in the EU, which he believes will satisfy all but a hard core of Conservative MPs, when he makes his much-delayed keynote speech on Europe in the next few days.

"Amid uncertainty over the exact timing of the jinxed address, senior government sources told the Observer that the prime minister intends to make the speech this week - possibly tomorrow - if a resolution has been found to the Algerian hostage crisis.

"'He wants to go ahead as soon as possible. There will be something in it which will pacify all but the hard core,' said the source. 'But he could deliver the same kind of speech that Margaret Thatcher gave in Bruges in 1988 and around 25 MPs would not be happy. It is not possible to please everyone.'"

Speaking on the Andrew Marr programme, foreign secretary William Hague confirmed that the PM's 'tantric' speech on Europe would take place in the coming week.

Hague told stand-in presenter Jeremy Vine that an announcement on the location and timing of the speech would happen tomorrow, and said the British public "need their say" on the UK's relationship with Brussels - suggesting that was what his boss, the prime minister, would offer. Watch this space.

3) COUP AGAINST CAMERON?

Remember the letters to Graham Brady and the 1922 Committee? The ones from Tory backbenchers that could trigger a vote of no-confidence in Dave's leadership of the Conservative Party? There's now 17 of them, apparently.

From the Sunday Times:

"An increasing number of backbenchers are privately discussing the possibility of attempting to unseat the prime minister before the poll in 2015 if the party continues to trail in the polls.

"While there is no immediate threat to his position, a well-placed source said that up to 17 MPs had now written letters of 'no confidence', and there are rumours that at least one list of MPs willing to back a coup is being gathered.

"For the first time, discussions about ousting Cameron before 2015 appear to be spreading beyond the so-called 'usual suspects' — a hard core of about 20 backbenchers who are hostile to his leadership."

Oh dear.

On a side note, Nigel Farage still isn't happy with the Ukip-abusing Tory leader. This morning, on the Andrew Marr programme, Ukip leader Nigel Farage ruled out a post-2015 "deal" with a Cameron-led Conservative Party:

“I think with David Cameron as leader, that is virtually impossible to even contemplate."

4) PLEBGATE, PART 99

Uh-oh. It's not looking so good for Sir Jeremy Heywood. From the Mail on Sunday:

"Britain’s most powerful mandarin faces public humiliation after MPs claimed his bungled investigation cost ‘plebgate’ ex-Tory Minister Andrew Mitchell his job.

"A report by a powerful Commons committee will tomorrow accuse Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood of failing to give the former Chief Whip a chance to prove he was the victim of a police conspiracy.

"A copy of an explosive report by the Commons Public Administration Select Committee, obtained by The Mail on Sunday, shows that MPs lambast Sir Jeremy’s handling of a Downing Street investigation into Mr Mitchell."

5) TAXING TIMES

Last Sunday, this Memo noted how the two Eds had were keen to position the Labour Party behind an anti-tax-avoidance campaign; this Sunday, it's the turn of the Liberal Democrats.

From the Sunday Telegraph:

"Senior Liberal Democrats are drawing up plans for a new levy on Starbucks, Amazon and other global businesses that pay low levels of tax on their British operations.

"As part of preparation for this year’s Budget negotiations, Lib Dems are looking to introduce a minimum tax charge on multinationals based on their global profits.

"Tim Farron, the party’s president, said the charge would address the 'natural outrage' many British people have felt at how little some multinationals contribute to the public finances."

I guess dealing with the 'national outrage' over tax avoidance helps the Lib Dems deal with some of the 'national outrage' over... the Lib Dems themselves.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

In honour of yesterday's 'National Gun Appreciation Day' in the United States, watch this amusing video of US gun owners making idiots of themselves.

6) 'WAR ON BENEFIT CHEATS' ANNOUNCED. UGH.

Remember how Iain Duncan Smith, saviour of the poor, claimed in a recent Today programme interview that he and his department never demonised people on benefits? Remember that?

Well, check out some of today's headlines and news reports. The Sun on Sunday ("£5bn benefiddle") says:

"Ministers will this week step up the war on benefit cheats after false claims hit a record £5.3billion.

Hit squads will be sent into welfare hot spots to target suspect claimants."

The Sunday Express quotes IDS as saying: “The welfare state has over the years become so complex and confusing that fraudsters basically have been given the green light to pick the pockets of hard working taxpayers.

Green light? Hit squads? 'Benefiddle'? I wonder how many papers IDS/the DWP briefed about illegal tax evasion, which is estimated to cost the exchequer tens of billions of pounds compared to illegal benefit fraud which costs just over £1bn (or around 0.7% of the benefits bill).

7) HERE COMES THE TRIPLE DIP?

From the Observer:

"The Office for National Statistics will publish its first estimate of GDP growth for the final quarter of 2012 on Friday and many experts, including at the Bank, expect it to show that the economy contracted. A second negative quarter, from January to March, would mark the onset of Britain's third recession in five years."

The paper says the "Ernst and Young Item Club forecasting group joins those calling on the government to abandon the 2% inflation target, forcing the Bank of England to take more drastic action to lift the economy out of its slump".

No pressure then on Mark Carney, the new bank governor from Canada who takes over Sir Mervyn King in the summer...

8) LIVING WAGE 'ZONES'

Triple-dip or no triple-dip, wages will continue to stagnate over the next few years - and have been in decline since around 2003. Would a living wage help? Ed Miliband thinks so - from the Observer:

"The first detailed blueprint for boosting the wages of millions of low-paid private and public sector workers, while saving the Treasury billions of pounds a year, is released today by two leading thinktanks as support for the living wage grows at Westminster.

"Labour welcomed the radical ideas from the independent Resolution Foundation and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) as an "extremely valuable contribution" to the living wage debate, amid signs they could be taken up by Ed Miliband's party for inclusion in its next general election manifesto."

9) KENNETH BAKER VS MICHAEL GOVE

My former New Statesman colleague George Eaton has done a rather interesting interview with former Thatcher cabinet minister and Tory grandee Kenneth Baker - 'the most transformative education secretary in recent history' - which Michael Gove won't be too pleased with.

The top lines:

1) He describes Gove's English Baccalaureate (EBacc), which will replace GCSEs from 2015, as "a throwback", comparing it to the School Certificate he sat as a 16-year-old in 1951.
2) He says the "jury's out" on free schools and says he doesn't think "allowing them to be run for profit would necessarily change very much, quite frankly. I really don’t think it would".
3) He says "the jump [in tuition fees] to £9,000 was just too much, quite frankly".

10) OBAMA 2.0

It's time for the second term. From the BBC:

"Barack Obama is due to be officially sworn in for his second term as US president in a small ceremony at the White House.

Although the US Constitution requires the oath of office to be taken by noon on 20 January, as that falls on a Sunday the public inauguration will take place on Monday."

The president wants the Almighty on his side. From the Huffington Post:

"When President Obama rests his hand on two historic Bibles to take his second-term oath of office Monday (Jan. 21), he'll add a phrase not mentioned in the Constitution: 'So help me God.'

"... Although the phrase was used in federal courtrooms since 1789, the first proof it was used in a presidential oath of office came with Chester Arthur's inauguration in September 1881.

"Every president since, including Obama, has followed suit."

The Huffington Post has commissioned a series of special pieces on 'Obama's second-term challenges' which you can read here.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 33
Ukip 11
Lib Dems 7

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

‏@TimMontgomerie Never seen Cameron looking so tired, making his Algeria statement. Doesn't look like he's been to bed. Must have been v challenging few days

@OllyGrender Prob remains if PM does go for "in/out referendum" I know precisely where my party stands on that but his party will be chronically divided

@campbellclaret Success of Borgen (currently trending) and West Wing (which I have not seen) a sign of gap in market for essentially pro politics TV?

900 WORDS OR MORE

Liam Fox, writing in the Mail on Sunday, says: "Lethal force, not rational argument, must be our response to these violent fanatics."

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg's relationship is starting to thaw."

Lord Wolfson, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "I back the single market – but not at any cost."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

UK govt. to put more kids in poverty

UK government is to put 200,000 more children in poverty.

The British government’s squeeze on tax credits and benefits is to put a further 200,000 children in poverty, the government has declared for the first time.

The government’s plan to limit annual increases in working-age benefits to 1 percent for the next three years is expected to raise the number of poor children in Britain by 2020.

The work and pensions minister, Esther McVey, estimated that "the uprating measures … will result in around an extra 200,000 children being deemed by this measure to be in relative income poverty.”

Criticizing the government, the Labour Party said the figures showed children were victims of the Conservatives’ "political games".

"The true character of this Conservative-led government has now been exposed. While they give the richest 2 percent of earners a £3 billion tax cut, 200,000 children will be pushed into poverty and millions of working families made worse off,” shadow chancellor Ed Balls said.

A vote for a cap on benefit handouts was passed by majority of 56 in the Commons on January 8, despite a move by some Labour and Liberal Democrats to block it.

MOS/SSM/HE

One Third Of Tory Voters Would Defect To Ukip In Euro Elections, Poll Finds

Almost one third of people who voted Conservative in 2010 would vote for Ukip in the in European Parliament elections were the ballot to be held tomorrow, according to a poll published on Tuesday.

According to YouGov, 32% of voters who backed David Cameron at the general election would abandon the Tories in favour of Nigel Farage's anti-EU party if given an immediate choice.

Joe Twyman, YouGov’s director of political and social research, said: “With a third of Conservative supporters in 2010 already saying they will vote for UKIP in 2014, the increased focus Europe and therefore UKIP will receive in the run-up to next year’s European Elections means it is possible that the numbers will get worse for the Conservatives as we get closer to polling day. If this trend continues it is likely Ukip will be picking up the most votes at the European Elections.”

The poll also revealed13% of voters who backed the europhile Liberal Democrats in the last general election would also back Ukip.

At present Labour is leading the polls for the European elections due in 2014, with 38% backing Ed Miliband.

The Conservatives are currently in second place on 27% and Ukip are third with 17%. The Lib Dems are fourth with just 12%.

Today's YouGov poll highlights the problem the prime minister has with Ukip ahead of his major speech on Britain's future membership of the EU.

Cameron is hoping that an offer of some form of referendum on the UK's relationship with Brussels will satisfy eurosceptic voters and MPs who are unhappy with the present arrangement.

SEE ALSO: Nick Clegg Warns Referendum Could Have 'Chilling Effect' On Economy

EU vote pressure heaped on Cameron

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are turning up the heat on David Cameron as he struggles to stop his party tearing itself apart over Europe. With just over a week until the Prime Minister's crunch speech on Britain and the EU, Ed Miliband insisted it...

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Withdraw From The EU? ‘Mad,’ Says PM

The ten things you need to know on Sunday 13 January 2013...

1) WITHDRAW FROM THE EU? 'MAD,' SAYS PM

It feels like the early 1990s, with the papers full of Europe stories this morning. The best one is in the Mail on Sunday, where it seems the prime minister's allies have been briefing against his Europhobic backbenchers. That'll go down well, won't it?

The Mail on Sunday's Simon Walters reveals:

"David Cameron thinks it would be 'mad' for Britain to leave the EU and is secretly backing a move by Tory MPs to warn of the perils of cutting all our ties with Brussels.

"The Prime Minister was also 'pleased' at US President Barack Obama sending a clear signal that the White House is opposed to the UK leaving the European Union."

".. [T]hose close to Mr Cameron say he does not believe withdrawal is 'realistic or desirable'."

Meanwhile, as the Huffington Post reports:

"David Cameron could slash Ukip's support by more than a third if he promises an in-out referendum on EU membership, according to a poll.

"Research by ComRes for the Sunday People found 63% of the public want a vote on whether Britain should remain in the union.

"Some 33% said they would cast their ballot in favour of a full withdrawal - including two thirds of Ukip supporters, 27% of Tories, 25% of Labour voters, and 17% of Liberal Democrats.

"However, more people - 42% said they were against leaving the EU."

The poll also shows that Ukip could push the Tories into third place in 2014's European elections - Cameron's Conservatives would fall to 22%, one point below Ukip. Uh-oh.

2) THE KEN AND MANDY SHOW

It's not just the Spice Girls who are getting back together again to perform their greatest hits. From the Observer:

"Tory grandee Ken Clarke is joining forces with Labour peer Lord Mandelson in a historic cross-party bid to turn back the rising tide of Euroscepticism.

"The two political heavyweights will share a platform to call for an abandonment of plans to disengage from the European project. Clarke, who attends cabinet as a minister without portfolio, is determined to fight back against the clamour for Britain to step back from the European Union or withdraw entirely.

"Along with Liberal Democrat Lord Rennard, Clarke and Mandelson will spearhead a new organisation, the Centre for British Influence through Europe (CBIE), which will support a cross-party 'patriotic fightback for British leadership in Europe'. The organisation will hold its launch event at the end of the month."

Hmm. Will it affect public opinion? Tory Eurosceptics, like the Spectator's James Forsyth, don't seem too scared of interventions from the likes of Clarke, Mandelson and - yesterday - Heseltine:

"Eurosceptics need to get organised and start pointing out that the people claiming that renegotiation will lead to the sky falling in are, by and large, the same people who were pushing for Britain to join the single currency. If this message is rammed home to the public, then it should be a lot easier to persuade them to take these warnings with a pinch of salt."

"The Britain in Europe crowd was wrong on the most fundamental public policy issue of our time. They need to be reminded of this fact every time they enter the Europe debate."

Ouch.

3) ON THE FRONT FOOT

Ed Miliband has had a strong and high-profile start to 2013 - and will be buoyed by the latest polls (see Public Opinion Watch, below).

The Independent on Sunday reports on Miliband's

".. plans to protect tenants from 'rogue landlords'.

"In a keynote speech on the future of his party, Labour's leader revived calls for a national register of landlords - and greater powers for councils to bar the worst."

Miliband was on the Andrew Marr programme this morning, where he said "'One Nation' is about the way I want to govern this country...about responsiblity going all the way to top of society".

On Europe, he said he thought it was "incredibly dangerous what David Cameron is doing..sleepwalking us towards the exit door of the European Union".

On the economy and the deficit, he refused to give any pledges on reversing Tory cuts - to child benefit or anything else - but highlighted the importance of tackling tax avoidance and changing the law to prevent multinations from dodging tax in the UK.

He also resisted calls to support "means-testing" on welfare and said "the tax system is a fairer way" of redistributing from rich to poor and pointed out the "best way" to cut the welfare bill is to cut unemployment.

On the leaders' TV debates, the Labour leader didn't seem too keen on having Ukip's Nigel Farage join the 'big three' but said he was "relishing these TV debates...I hope they happen".

On Ed Balls, he said Balls was "doing a great job" as shadow chancellor - Miliband even reminded viewers of Balls' prescient speech on austerity at Bloomberg's HQ in August 2010. Now there's an endorsement!

"There is no vacancy for shadow chancellor," declared Ed.

4) O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?

David Miliband isn't coming back to Labour's front bench anytime soon, says the Sunday Telegraph's Patrick Hennessy:

"Mr Miliband, who lost his party’s leadership election to his younger brother in 2010, was said last week to be giving 'serious thought' to coming back to the political front line - with the post of shadow chancellor claimed to be in his sights.

"However, it can be revealed that Ed Miliband has no plans to replace the current shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, or to hand his brother the job of masterminding Labour’s preparations for the next general election campaign."

The Sunday Telegraph story says the elder Miliband's supporters were briefing journos that David might return because they're 'spooked' by the meteoric rise of the shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna.

5) UKIP MEMBERS: IN THEIR OWN WORDS?

The Sunday Mirror seems to have set out to prove David Cameron right that Ukip is a party of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists', containing "some pretty odd people". The paper reports:

"On the [party's official online] forum, senior Ukip member Dr Julia Gasper branded gay rights a 'lunatic's charter' and claimed some homosexuals prefer sex with animals. She added: 'As for the links between homosexuality and paedophilia, there is so much evidence that even a full-length book could hardly do justice to the ­subject.'

"The former parliamentary candidate and UKIP branch chairman in Oxford now faces the sack over her comments.

"Tackled about her remarks yesterday, she said: 'I'm not going to talk about them. It's none of your business.'

"Lecturer Dr Gasper is just one of many Ukip members who use the forum to vent their controversial views.

".. Another member complained about the impact of immigration on the NHS, writing: 'I am informed by past media that Black Caribbean and not Black African have a higher instance of schizophrenia.

"'I wonder if this is due to inbreeding on these small islands in slave times or is it due to smoking grass.'"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a puppy trying to eat an orange.

6) 'KING OF WHITEHALL'

Fascinating piece on top civil servant Sir Jeremy Heywood by James Forsyth in the Mail on Sunday today:

"Sir Jeremy is regarded by friend and foe alike as the most formidable operator in Whitehall," he writes, adding: "Aides who want to give Cameron advice without Heywood's knowledge have been reduced to trying to surreptitiously slip a note into the Prime Minister's Red Box."

Forsyth writes:

"Steve Hilton, Cameron's senior adviser, once tried to wrest control of the box from Heywood by demanding that all the box notes had to go through him as well. Yet the sheer weight of material put paid to this effort. Hilton has since gone on sabbatical, partly in frustration at the extent of Heywood's influence."

He concludes:

"Heywood knows that he is playing a long game. In conversation, he sometimes pointedly refers to the 'current Government'.

"It is a reminder that he intends to be at the centre of power far longer than any politician."

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reports on how Hilton:

".. has revealed his 'horror' at the powerlessness of Downing Street to control government decisions, admitting the prime minister often finds out about policies from the radio or newspapers — and in many cases opposes them.

"Steve Hilton, who remains one of Cameron’s close confidants, said: 'Very often you’ll wake up in the morning and hear on the radio or the news or see something in the newspapers about something the government is doing. And you think, well, hang on a second — it’s not just that we didn’t know it was happening, but we don’t even agree with it! The government can be doing things ... and we don’t agree with it? How can that be?'

"He described how No 10 is frequently left out of the loop as important policy changes are pushed through by 'papershuffling' mandarins."

7) NORTHERN IRISH GLOOM

It ain't getting any better. The Sun reports:

"A total of 29 cops were hurt in riots over flying the Union flag in Northern Ireland yesterday.

"Police used water cannon and baton rounds after being bombarded with bricks and fireworks as they tried to separate loyalists and republicans.

".. Chief Constable Matt Baggott said cops acted with 'exceptional courage'. Politicians from Belfast, Dublin and London will discuss the protests this week."

8) ROUGE ALERT

From the BBC:

"French President Francois Hollande has ordered security stepped up around public buildings and transport because of military operations in Africa.

"He was responding to the risk of Islamist attack after French forces attacked militants in Mali and Somalia.

"France's anti-terrorism alert system known as "Vigipirate" is being reinforced immediately, with security boosted at public buildings and transport networks, particularly rail and air. Public gatherings will also be affected.

"The alert will remain at red, the second-highest level at which emergency counter-attack measures are put in place."

Is it wrong of me to point out that the chaos and instability in Mali is a direct result of, and spillover from, the west's intervention in Libya, which France pushed hardest for?

Meanwhile, the HuffPost UK reports:

"David Cameron has agreed to help transport foreign troops and equipment to Mali amid efforts to halt an advance by Islamist rebels in a conflict that has already claimed 120 lives."

9) 'GOTCHA' - THE SEQUEL

From the Sunday Telegraph:

"Defence chiefs have drawn up new contingency plans designed to prevent hostile action by Argentina towards the Falkland Islands.

"A series of military options are being actively considered as the war of words over the islands intensifies.

"It is understood that additional troops, another warship and extra RAF Typhoon combat aircraft could be dispatched to the region ahead of the March referendum on the Falkland Islands' future."

The paper adds, however, that

".. the British government believes that Buenos Aries currently lacks both the political will and military capability to recapture the islands."

Phew. That's alright then.

10) KENNEDY JOINS.. KENNEDY CONSPIRACY THEORISTS

Conspiracy theorists of the world: you have a new and important ally!

From the Mail on Sunday:

"Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is convinced that a lone gunman wasn't solely responsible for the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and said his father believed the Warren Commission report was a 'shoddy piece of craftsmanship.'

".. He said that he, too, questioned the report.

"'The evidence at this point I think is very, very convincing that it was not a lone gunman,' he said, but he didn't say what he believed may have happened."

Oliver Stone will be delighted.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 44
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 8

That would give Labour a majority of 124.

From the Observer/Opinium poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 31
Ukip 12
Lib Dems 7

That would give Labour a majority of 116.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@PeterHain @Ed_Miliband commanding on Marr programme ludicrous to expect detailed Labour tax and spend now: no idea scale of mess we will inherit 2015

@paulwaugh Memories of 'tax bombshell' Saatchi campaign runs deep in Lab psyche. EdM's remarks about 92 prove it. #marr #kinnockyears

@Mike_Fabricant When Hezza attacks David Cameron about Europe, and Norman Tebbit attacks DC about morality, I know we are getting it about right.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "David Cameron should take tips from John Major about Europe."

Janet Daley, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "A system intended to promote social solidarity has had the opposite effect."

John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, focuses on Sir Jeremy Heywood: "A civil servant too effective for his own good."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Cameron’s Plan For EU Referendum Would Slash Ukip Support

David Cameron could slash Ukip's support by more than a third if he promises an in-out referendum on EU membership, according to a poll.

Research by ComRes for the Sunday People found 63% of the public want a vote on whether Britain should remain in the union.

Some 33% said they would cast their ballot in favour of a full withdrawal - including two thirds of Ukip supporters, 27% of Tories, 25% of Labour voters, and 17% of Liberal Democrats.

However, more people - 42% said they were against leaving the EU.

There were also signs that opposition to the union has softened, with the proportion who think there should be a referendum dropping from 68% in October 2011.

At that time 37% wanted to exit the EU altogether.

The poll suggested that Ukip is on track to knock the Tories into third place in next year's European parliament elections.

Asked who they would back in the contest, 35% said Labour, 23% Ukip and 22% the Conservatives. The Lib Dems were on just 8%.

But as the Prime Minister prepares to make his crunch speech on Europe later this month, Ukip voters were asked how they would react if he pledges to hold an in-out referendum.

Nearly four in 10 - 37% - said they would probably not support the party any more.

Quick Poll

Should Cameron hold a referendum on Britain's EU membership?

Share your vote on Facebook so your friends can take this poll

ComRes chairman Andrew Hawkins said: "While European and Westminster electoral dynamics are different, the prospect of humiliation in 2014 would fuel disquiet among Mr Cameron's right flank who have still not forgiven him for not winning in 2010 and want to see traditional Tory values asserted more aggressively.

"The challenge for (Ukip leader) Nigel Farage is to appeal now to Labour voters and to maintain his party's support in the event of the promise of a referendum."

Earlier on Saturday, Tory grandee Lord Heseltine turned on David Cameron, warning the PM against taking a “punt” by holding a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the European Union.

The former minister, who served under Margaret Thatcher, made the comments in interviews with The Times and FT ahead of Cameron’s speech on the EU later this month.

Cameron has said he wants the UK to stay in the EU, but wants to renegotiate the terms of the relationship, particularly as those within the EU are pushing for greater integration.

However the PM's desire to fashion a looser relationship with Europe could prove tricky. On Thursday, a delegation of German MPs told the prime minister not to "blackmail" the rest of Europe with threats, while on Wednesday the Obama administration warned Britain not to turn "inwards" with a referendum.

ComRes interviewed 2,059 adults online between December 19 and 21. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults. The Ukip voter sample size was 304.

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: 1% For You, 32% For Us

The ten things you need to know on Friday 11 January 2013...

1% FOR YOU, 32% FOR US

Who says MPs are out of touch, eh? From the Mirror's splash:

"Grasping MPs sparked fury yesterday - by demanding a £20,000 pay rise.

"A poll showed 69% thought their £65,738 salary was not enough.

"Just days after capping benefits and branding hard-up families scroungers, they whined that they should get an average 32% increase."

That would take their salary to £86,250. According to the Guardian, the survey of MPs carried out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) found that Conservatives - the guys and girls behind the below-inflation 1% rise in benefits - were "the most likely to believe they were underpaid, with 47% saying so, while 39% of Labour MPs and 9% of Liberal Democrats held the same view".

Personally, I think there is a case to be made for higher salaries for MPs - but clearly now is not the time to make it. It's difficult to disagree with Unison's Dave Prentis: "At a time when millions of workers are getting zero pay rises, the idea that MPs believe they deserve a 32 per cent increase is living in cloud cuckoo land."

2) HERE COME THE GERMANS

First, Barack, now Angela. From the Times:

"David Cameron's hopes of negotiating looser ties between Britain and Brussels are all but impossible, according to an ally of Angela Merkel.

"Gunther Krichbaum, chairman of the Bundestag's European Affairs Committee, said that the Prime Minister's strategy was unwise and risked opening a Pandora's box that would threaten European stability.

"He also urged Mr Cameron not to "blackmail" the rest of Europe with threats as he tries win opt-outs from EU treaties."

The paper notes how his intervention comes "after President Obama's Assistant Secretary of State for Europe warned that Britain would be diminished in America's eyes if it marginalised itself within the EU.

"The flurry of diplomatic activity underlines the high stakes for Mr Cameron and his Europe policy with Britain's closest allies. The Prime Minister will promise a referendum in the next Parliament on a new relationship with the EU in a speech this month."

However, the Sun reports that

"David Cameron will hit back at President Obama’s attack on his EU referendum plan by unveiling a major European ally — the Dutch.

"The Sun has learned the PM will spell out his vision of a post-crisis Europe on January 22.

"And he will almost certainly make the speech in The Hague. Dutch leader Mark Rutte will back his bid to fight for powers and money to be returned to nation states."

3) GIVE MONEY, GET A JOB

You could not make this up. From the Independent:

"A Conservative Party donor and venture capitalist whose charity funds two academy schools was appointed an education minister today.

"Labour raised questions about a possible conflict of interest after John Nash was named as the successor to Lord Hill of Oareford, who was promoted to Leader of the Lords on Monday following the surprise resignation of Lord Strathclyde.

"Mr Nash, his family and companies have donated about £300,000 to the Conservatives since the mid-1980s. The charity he founded, Future, sponsors the Pimlico Academy and Millbank Primary Academy in London. He is a former chairman of the British Venture Capital Association."

Nash will be made a peer but won't take a salary and won't take any decisions in which his charity is involved.

Well, that's okay then.

4) BLAIR'S BANKING UNION

There was a time, not so long ago, when Tony Blair had to make do with a modest MP's salary.

Nowadays, however, as the Times reports, the ex-premier is able to do things like this:

"Tony Blair is in talks about a commercial alliance with one of the most highly paid bankers in the world.

"The combination would bring together Michael Klein's unrivalled contacts in global finance with the former Prime Minister's relationships in politics and government, particularly in the Middle East.

"The discussions, which could lead to a merger of their companies, highlight Mr Blair's ambitions for his commercial operations, which generate millions of pounds a year from advising governments and companies around the world.

The paper says "Mr Klein was co-head of Citigroup's investment bank, which made billions of dollars of losses on holdings of mortgage securities in the financial crisis".

A shameless alliance? You tell me.

5) 'SOCIAL ENGINEERING'

The former defence secretary and darling of the Tory right, Dr Liam Fox, has written a letter to 60 constituents. So what, I hear you ask?

Let the Daily Mail explain:

"Liam Fox has become the most prominent Conservative yet to announce that he will vote against gay marriage.

"The former defence secretary dismissed David Cameron's 'absurd' plans as a form of 'social engineering' that is 'divisive, ill-thought through and constitutionally wrong'.

"In a letter seen by the Daily Mail, Dr Fox said same-sex unions will alienate Conservative Party members and weaken the Church.

"He warned that pressing ahead with plans to introduce gay marriage is enraging 'sections of the British public who are not normally stirred to political anger', and called for a rethink before 'things get out of hand'."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR..

Watch this video of two cats sharing one bowl of food. Go on, you know you want to..

6) PHONE HACKING, PART 557

The Guardian splashes on "the first hacking conviction":

"Detective Chief Inspector April Casburn, 53, was found guilty of misconduct in public office at Southwark crown court after the jury decided she had tried to sell information from the phone-hacking inquiry, which was set up in 2010, to the News of the World."

Meanwhile, my colleague Ned Simons reports:

"The government will look 'absurd' if it rejects the Leveson Report’s recommendations for the regulation of the press in favour of a Royal Charter, a former chairman of the Conservative Party has said.

"Lord Fowler, also a former chairman of the House of Lords Communications Committee, has urged David Cameron to reverse his opposition to Lord Justice wrLeveson’s suggestion for the statuatory underpinning of the independent self-regulation of the press.

"On Friday peers will debate the Leveson Report, the recommendations of which has split parliament, the coalition and the Tory party down the middle."

7) WERE THE CURTAINS DRAWN, MATTHEW?

From the Daily Mail:

"Skills Minister Matthew Hancock missed his chance to publicise a flagship policy to help unemployed youths become more employable - by oversleeping.

"The red-faced minister was spurned by ITV's Daybreak after he was late for his primetime breakfast slot just before 7am.

"He has admitted that he could not get out of bed on time, despite the broadcaster sending a chauffeur-driven executive car to get him from his West London home."

8) 'THE RAPE OF JUSTICE'

A shocking story on the front of the Independent (with an eye-catching infographic as its image):

"Fewer than one rape victim in 30 can expect to see her or his attacker brought to justice, shocking new statistics reveal.

"Only 1,070 rapists are convicted every year despite up to 95,000 people – the vast majority of them women – suffering the trauma of rape – according to the new research by the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics.

"The figures have reignited controversy over the stubbornly low conviction rates for sex crimes, as well as the difficulties in persuading victims to go to police in the first place."

9) 'BARBARIC SLAUGHTER'

Is Pakistan's Sunni majority engaged in a war on its Shia minority? From the Guardian:

"The vicious double bombing of a snooker club capped one of the bloodiest days in Pakistan for many months yesterday, leaving more than 100 people dead and hundreds injured in three different attacks.

".. Many of the dead and wounded, Murtaza said, were from the Shia sect of Islam, which extremist groups drawn from Pakistan's majority Sunni population regard as heretics.

"Shias, many of whom are members of the Hazara ethnic community in Quetta, have been particularly targeted by sectarian terror groups. Human Rights Watch said the government's failure to protect Shias 'amounts to complicity in the barbaric slaughter of Pakistani citizens.'"

10) 'ONESIE NATION' LIB DEMS

'Call Clegg' on LBC yesterday morning didn't go so well for the deputy prime minister. Even though he had a little 'help' from his friends..

From the Daily Mail:

"After half an hour of tough questioning, Nick Clegg must have been relieved to get a light-hearted question about whether he had worn a onesie.

"But caller 'Harry from Sheffield', was later unmasked as Harry Matthews, 20, a Liberal Democrat student activist and former intern in Mr Clegg's office - who bought the outfit for him.

".. He describes himself online as 'King of the Young Liberals', and gave Mr Clegg the green Incredible Hulk onesie at a party.

"Speaking afterwards, Mr Clegg denied the call was a stunt, saying: 'Of course I had no idea who the guy was.'"

Nick Clegg's 'Incredible Hulk onesie' can be seen here.

The Huffington Post UK's picture desk has done a mock-up of Clegg wearing his green onesie here.

“My core philosophy," the Lib Dem leader joked in front of the parliamentary press gallery lunch yesterday, "is of the Onesie Nation"

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 10

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@DavidJonesMP Huge gap in my zeitgeist awareness. Until today I didn't know what a onesie was and thought it was pronounced "oh-kneesy".

@StewartWood Big paradox for UK Eurosceptics that their view that EU membership holds back our engagement with US & China is not shared by the US & China

@caitlinmoran Nadine Dorries: "The teenagers ask me a lot of questions now." "What about?" Unspoken answer: what it's like eating balls. #bbcqt

900 WORDS OR MORE

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "If David Cameron wants to win in 2015 he must find a big problem to take on. Championing care of the elderly fits the bill."

Menzies Campbell, writing in the Guardian, says: "Britain's future in Europe must be defined by its national interests, not those of the Conservative party."

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "The Tories have a moral mission – and David Cameron should say so."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]npost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

UK Lib Dems slammed for welfare vote

Labour MPs have slammed the Lib-Dems for backing the government's welfare benefits cuts.

British Labour MPs have criticized the Liberal Democrats for ensuring a Commons victory in the coalition government’s benefit changes.

Reacting to the support of the Tories’ coalition partners for the controversial Welfare Uprating Bill, Halton Labour MP Derek Twigg said that the Liberal Democrats should "hang their heads in shame."

Only four of the 57 Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the government’s plans to limit annual increases in working-age benefits to 1 percent for the next three years. Two other Liberal Democrats voted both ways in a form of abstention.

Twigg said Labour MPs would also pursue ministers to find out how many disabled people will be hit by the Bill.

Labour backbenchers spoke passionately about the suffering of poor people in their own constituencies, but the government side ran out of speakers for the debate in the Commons on January 8 an hour before the end.

North Durham MP Kevan Jones interrupted an angry outburst by right-wing Tory Aidan Burley to tell him, "The only worklessness in this chamber today is on the Tory back benches. There has been an average of only 12 Tory backbenchers all afternoon."

This comes as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said about 7 million working households in the UK will have their incomes slashed by the benefits cap introduced by the Chancellor George Osborne.

BGH/SSM/HE

Miliband Accuses Cameron Of Attempting To ‘Divide And Rule’ Over Welfare Bill

Ed Miliband has accused Cameron of attempting to "divide and rule" after the House of Commons voted in favour of legislation to impose real-terms cuts on welfare.

Wednesday's vote exposed tensions between the coalition parties, with four Liberal Democrat MPs - including ex-minister Sarah Teather - rebelling by voting against the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill, while former leader Charles Kennedy abstained.

Mr Kennedy said he wanted to see changes to the legislation, which caps benefit rises at a below-inflation 1% for the next three years, before it becomes law.

miliband

Miliband accused Cameron of attempting to divide and rule

Charities which work with poor families voiced dismay at the outcome of last night's vote, which saw MPs give the Bill a second reading by a majority of 56, clearing the way for more detailed scrutiny in committee.

But Mr Cameron insisted the cap - branded a "strivers' tax" by Labour - was "fair" at a time when wages are increasing only slowly.

In a message on Twitter, the Prime Minister said: "The Commons vote to limit benefit rises to 1% while pay is only rising at 1% is fair. Labour have the wrong priorities."

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith told MPs that benefit levels had grown by 20% since the beginning of the recession, while incomes for those in work have risen by just 10%.

"What we are trying to do over the next few years is get that back to a fair settlement and then eventually it will go back onto inflation," he said.

cameron

Cameron branded it a 'strivers' tax

The cap, announced by Chancellor George Osborne in his Autumn Statement last year, is aimed at slashing £5 billion from the welfare bill over the next five years.

Mr Osborne has previously justified it by asking: "Where is the fairness... for the shift-worker, leaving home in the dark hours of the early morning, who looks up at the closed blinds of their next-door neighbour sleeping off a life on benefits?"

But Mr Miliband said the benefits debate marked "a fork in the road for the country", citing figures showing that almost 70% of those who will lose out from the changes are in employment.

"It's now clear what the government's strategy is: it's a divide and rule strategy," the Labour leader told the Daily Mirror.

"They haven't succeeded in the first two-and-a-half years so they want to point the finger of blame at someone else so it doesn't get pointed at them. And therefore they are trying to divide and rule.

"They are cutting taxes for millionaires while hitting low-paid people, those people whose curtains are open when George Osborne gets up and still open when he goes to bed."

Mr Kennedy, who voted in both the Yes and No lobbies to register his abstention, said he was now "looking now to work with like-minded Lib Dems to amend the bill in its later stages".

Ms Teather, who lost her job as children and families minister in September last year, hit out at Tory ministers' characterisation of the measure as a division between "shirkers and strivers", warning it would have "long-term impacts on public attitudes, on attitudes of one neighbour against another".

She was joined in the No lobby by fellow Liberal Democrats David Ward, John Leech and Julian Huppert. Andrew George also abstained by voting in both lobbies and a further three Lib Dems who had earlier voted against a Labour amendment were absent for the key division.

Labour former foreign secretary David Miliband said the "rancid" bill was motivated by "the politics of dividing lines".

"The enemy within is not the unemployed, the enemy within is unemployment. I don't want to live in a society where we pretend that we can enjoy the good life while our neighbours lose their life chances," he said.

But Mr Duncan Smith accused the last Labour administration of "spending taxpayers' money like drunks on a Friday night" and "buying votes" by increasing handouts.

Labour had tied increasing numbers of households into the benefit system and created a "ridiculous nonsense" which made nine out of 10 families with children eligible for tax credits, he said.

Barnardo's chief executive Anne Marie Carrie warned that MPs risked condemning children in Britain's poorest families to "growing up stuck in the poverty trap, as their parents struggle to cover basic costs of living".

And Oxfam's director of UK poverty, Chris Johnes, said working-age benefits which poor families rely upon were being made to bear the brunt of Government cuts.

"Already, compared to average earnings, benefits are at their lowest levels since the welfare state was founded," said Mr Johnes

"On top of this, inequality will deepen as the proposed changes in the bill are undoubtedly going to hit poor families hardest."

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: The Poor Get Poorer Next Up, Pensioners

The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 9th January 2013...

1) THE POOR GET POORER. NEXT UP, PENSIONERS

Surprise, surprise - from the Huffington Post UK:

"The Government’s controversial plans for a real-terms cut in working-age benefits have cleared their first Commons hurdle by 324 votes to 268, majority 56.

"...The vote followed a tempestuous five-hour debate in parliament in which senior Tory and Labour MPs clashed over the benefits bill.

"Some four Liberal Democrats, including former minister Sarah Teather, rebelled against their leadership to vote against the below-inflation cap, while former leader Charles Kennedy and backbencher Andrew George voted in both lobbies - the traditional way of registering an abstention."

Much was made ahead of yesterday's debate - by Lib Dem rebels such as Sarah Teather and even Tory MPs such as Sarah Wollaston - of the crude and divisive rhetoric of 'strivers vs shirkers', of 'scroungers' and 'skivers'. The morning after the vote, little has changed - consider the splash headline on the front of today's Daily Express:

"Party Is Over For Benefit Skivers"

Charming. The harsh truth, hoever, is that benefits are now at their lowest levels since the founding of the welfare state more than 60 years ago. And as the economist Stewart Lansley has written, the government's Benefit Uprating Bill "marks a new low in the post-war history of welfare in the UK... it is unprecedented since the war. The last deliberate political move to lower the real incomes of the poorest members of society was more than eighty years ago in 1931."

Speaking after the vote, Barnardo's chief executive Anne Marie Carrie said: "By voting to break the link between benefits and inflation today, MPs have risked condemning children in Britain's poorest families to growing up stuck in the poverty trap, as their parents struggle to cover basic costs of living."

But onwards and upwards, eh? Or should that be downwards? The Times and the FT both splash on news that the coalition may be turning its attention to pensioners' benefits next; from the Times:

"David Cameron is being urged by senior Conservatives to scrap benefits paid to richer pensioners as part of an overhaul of the welfare system.

"Ministers are pressing Mr Cameron to ensure that payments such as the £300-a-year winter fuel allowance are withheld from wealthy pensioners."

The FT says:

"Wealthy pensioners will no longer be insulated against the full force of austerity measures after the next election... Tory strategists said it was time to stop shielding better-off pensioners from cuts.

"In a sign of things to come, Iain Duncan Smith is looking at stopping winter fuel payments to pensioners living in Spain, Greece and other warm countries by applying a 'temperature test'."

No mention in any of these reports that means-testing tends not to work, or that Britain has one of the worst rates of pensioner poverty in the European Union.

Still, let's not forget that it was benefit claimants and the elderly who caused the crash with their dastardly credit default swaps and excessive bonuses. Oh wait...

2) '70 MISSED PLEDGES'

From the Telegraph:

"David Cameron and Nick Clegg will on Wednesday publish a candid assessment of the Coalition’s successes and failures that was excluded from its Mid-term Review, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.

"The Deputy Prime Minister declared last month that the Government would provide voters with an audit of which targets it had missed and which it had achieved alongside the official review.

"But the annex, which consists of about 100 pages, was not published on Monday. Its existence emerged only when one of Mr Cameron’s senior advisers was photographed in Downing Street on Tuesday carrying a document that discussed the advantages and disadvantages of releasing it. The audit is understood to concede that the Coalition has missed dozens of pledges covering pensions, road building and criminal justice.

"... However, its existence was unknown to many ministers and advisers.

"It is understood that the Coalition has missed more than 70 pledges."

Oh dear. But to be fair to the coalition, that's 70 out of the 480 measures in the 2010 coalition agreement, i.e. less than 15%. Then again, to be unfair to the coalition, didn't they just mark their own answer papers? How is that credible?

3) LABOUR'S DAVID BOWIE

More news from DavidMilibandWorld. Let's begin with Ann Treneman's Times sketch, which focuses on David Miliband's impressive and impassioned intervention in yesterday's welfare debate in the Commons, in which the former foreign foreign secretary denounced the coalition's benefit uprating bill as "rancid":

"It seems that Bowie is not the only David making a comeback these days. Mr Milibanana, as he will always be to me, has made it clear that he is a man chafing in the confines of the cell that he has made for himself. Yesterday was a David Bowie moment and he was loving every moment of the attention."

"... He sat down, a man in search of applause. David Bowie's new single is called Where Are We Now?. In Mr Milibanana's case, though, the real question is, where is he heading?"

Well, the Mirror's Jason Beattie might have an answer for us. He begins his 'exclusive' interview with the Labour leader today with this paragraph:

"Ed Miliband today paves the way for his brother's political comeback by revealing time has healed their bitter rift. In his first major interview of 2013, the Labour leader fuels speculation David could return to the Shadow Cabinet by also refusing to guarantee that Ed Balls will stay on as Shadow Chancellor until the 2015 general election."

Beattie adds:

"Although they did not spend Christmas Day together, they did have a family get together to exchange presents.

"[Ed] and Justine gave David and Louise some wine 'and other gifts'. David gave his brother a book on the Boston Red Sox baseball team.

"'Look, of course it was a bruising leadership contest and as time goes on that sort of recedes and that's good for our relationship,' says Ed..."

Meanwhile, the Telegraph's James Kirkup notes how the elder Miliband took a bit of a dig at "the political tactics of Gordon Brown":

"Mr Miliband, who quit the Labour front bench in 2010 when his brother Ed beat him to the leadership, said trying to use the [welfare] issue against the Opposition showed ministers were taking a similar approach to the former prime minister.

"'This rancid Bill is not about fairness or affordability,' he said. 'It reeks of politics, the politics of dividing lines that the current Government spent so much time denouncing when they were in opposition in the dog days of the Brown administration. It says a lot that within two years it has fallen into the same trap.'"

Ouch.

4) PRIVATISE, PRIVATISE, PRIVATISE

Oh look: yet more privatisation of bits of the public sector. So much for the coalition staying on 'the centre ground'.

From the Guardian:

"The justice secretary, Chris Grayling, will today outline plans for the wholesale outsourcing of the probation service with private companies and voluntary sector organisations to take over the rehabilitation of the majority of offenders by 2015.

"The public probation service is to be scaled back and 'refocused' to specialise in dealing only with the most dangerous and high-risk offenders and public protection cases. The majority of services will be contracted out on a payment by result basis."

According to Harry Fletcher, of Napo, the probation union: "This move is purely ideological. It is being rushed through without proper thought to the consequences. It will be chaotic and will compromise public protection."

Juliet Lyon of the Prison Reform Trust isn't impressed, either:"Why not build on the success of joint work by probation, police and voluntary organisations, rather than break up the probation service and put the public at risk?"

5) LORDS-A-LEAPING

From the Sun:

"Trade Minister Lord Marland last night became the second Tory peer to quit in two days.

"The blow to David Cameron came just 24 hours after Lord Strathclyde said he was resigning as Leader of the House of Lords.

"Lord Marland told the PM he felt his ministerial responsibilities were making it difficult for him to sell British business around the globe.

"...Friends of the former businessman said he shared Lord Strathclyde's frustrations with being in a Coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats."

Oh dear.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a bird (!) dancing to Dubstep.

6) SO HOW 'LIBERTARIAN' IS UKIP?

The UK Independence Party's critics on the left and the right were rubbing their hands with glee last night.

From blogger Sunny Hundal's Liberal Conspiracy website:

"UKIP is facing a backlash tonight from its own members after the chair of Young Independence (the party’s youth wing), Olly Neville, was abruptly ousted from his role.

"His offence? Stating his opinion in the media that Cameron was right to pursue the legalisation of same sex marriage. So much for the party’s dedication to libertarianism.

"Olly Neville himself published emails on Twitter that recounted his removal as chair."

Former Tory MP Louise Mensch weighed in from New York, via - where else? - Twitter:

"So #UKIP show themselves to be every bit the bunch of loons we thought they were - sacking a youth leader for supporting gay marriage."

Meanwhile, Ukip spokesman Gawain Towler tweeted:

"@OllyNeville removed as YI Interim Chair for misrepresenting UKIP policy (not marriage views)."

Hmm...

7) THE PRO-EU FIGHTBACK BEGINS...

...with - what else? - a letter to the Financial Times:

"British business leaders have warned David Cameron that the UK premier risks damaging his country's economy by taking it out of the EU, if he seeks 'wholesale renegotiation of ... membership'. Mr Cameron will this month set out, in a speech in the Netherlands, his plan to renegotiate Britain's membership and put the outcome to a referendum in the next parliament.

"But leading business figures, including Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group chairman, and Chris Gibson-Smith, chairman of the London Stock Exchange, warned, in a letter to the Financial Times, that Mr Cameron's renegotiation plan could fail.

"'...To call for such a move in these circumstances would be to put our membership of the EU at risk and create damaging uncertainty for British business, which are the last things the prime minister would want to do,' the letter said.

"Other signatories are Roland Rudd, chairman of the Business for New Europe campaign group; Sir Roger Carr, CBI president; Lord Davies of Corsair Capital; Gerry Grimstone of TheCityUK; Jan du Plessis of Rio Tinto; Sir Michael Rake of BT; Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP; and Malcolm Sweeting of Clifford Chance."

8) WATCH OUT! THE CYBER ATTACKERS ARE COMING

From the BBC:

"The UK is at risk of an attack in cyberspace because of government "complacency", MPs have warned.

"The Defence Select Committee said the threat that cyber attackers posed could 'evolve at almost unimaginable speed', and called for rapid action to protect national security.

"The committee also said the British military's reliance on technology could leave it fatally compromised."

9) 'TROLLING', UNIONIST-STYLE

There's been violence on the streets of Belfast for six nights in a row, with 60 police officers injured and the police bill soaring to more than £7 million.

So how best to calm things down? Why not fly the Union Flag to mark Kate Middleton's birthday?

Eh?

From the HuffPost UK:

"[P]olice are gearing up for a tense day as the Union Flag is flown for the first time since the controversy over its use, to mark the Duchess of Cambridge's birthday.

"The occasion of Kate's birthday is one of the United Kingdom's official 'flag days.'"

This won't end well.

10) CONGRESS VS COCKROACHES

You think our elected politicians in Westminster are unpopular? Check out the US Congress's latest approval ratings over in the United States. According to a new report from Public Policy Polling:

"Our newest national poll finds that Congress only has a 9% favorability rating with 85% of voters viewing it in a negative light. We've seen poll after poll after poll over the last year talking about how unpopular Congress is but really, what's the difference between an 11% or a 9% or a 7% favorability rating? So we decided to take a different approach and test Congress' popularity against 26 different things.

"And what we found is that Congress is less popular than cockroaches, traffic jams, and even Nickelback... Now the news isn't all bad for Congress: By relatively close margins it beats out Lindsey Lohan (45/41), playground bullies (43/38), and telemarketers (45/35)."

Hurrah!

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 44
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 120.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@OwenJones84Desperately waiting for coherent, confident opposition to Tories' onslaught on working poor and the unemployed from Stephen Timms #newsnight

@Mike_Fabricant I regret to admit that instead of listening to @owenjones84 on #newsnight , I was mesmerised by a zit on his forehead.....#

@BorowitzReport AIG suing the US government is like a drowning man who's been pulled from the ocean kicking the lifeguard in the balls.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Labour believes George Osborne will be snared by his own welfare benefits trap."

Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says "Cameron holds the aces": "In the struggle between Europhiles, Eurosceptics and Europhobes, the middle ground is stronger than people think."

Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "This economic model isn't delivering jobs or decent wages. The real scroungers are greedy landlords and employers."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

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Cabinet rift? Cracks reported at top of Tory govt as poll lead over Labour...

Cracks are reportedly widening between UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s top team and Chancellor Philip...

Tory MPs escape criminal prosecution for alleged election expenses fraud

Tory MPs accused of expenses fraud in the 2015 general election have escaped criminal charges,...

Why Study History?

As liberal Democrats for the most part, United States historians have no doubt been having a field day with Donald Trump’s recently reported clueless...

Candidates draw straws, ballots cast in cars… 1 night in Britain’s local elections

Published time: 5 May, 2017 11:59 The Conservative Party lost its majority in the northern...

Tories smash Labour in local elections, UKIP obliterated

The prospect of a sweeping Tory general election victory grew on Friday after early local...

Theresa May to ‘send Boris Johnson on foreign trips,’ keeping him away from election...

Published time: 26 Apr, 2017 09:52Edited time: 27 Apr, 2017 08:22 Boris Johnson will play only...

Claims of crooked UK MPs passing secret reports to City traders remain uninvestigated

Published time: 28 Apr, 2017 14:13Edited time: 28 Apr, 2017 15:59 A claim that London City...

Blairites declare UK Labour party unelectable

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Boris Johnson’s sister joins rival party in bid to halt UK government’s Brexit plans...

Published time: 27 Apr, 2017 18:24 The sister of Boris Johnson, the Conservative politician and a...

Labour leads among voters under 40, despite trailing massively overall – Yougov poll

Published time: 26 Apr, 2017 12:42 Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is the most popular party for younger...

Lib Dem leader sacks parliamentary candidate for ‘anti-Semitism’

Published time: 26 Apr, 2017 15:57 Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron says he has sacked a...

Labour trashes Tory ‘hard Brexit’, pledges right to stay for EU residents (VIDEO)

European citizens living in Britain would automatically have the right to remain under a Labour government, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has announced. Starmer...

Communist Party champions Corbyn’s Labour, says it won’t stand election candidates

Published time: 24 Apr, 2017 16:15 The Communist Party of Britain (CP) has confirmed it will...

May forsaken by her spin doctors as second key aide jumps ship ahead of...

Published time: 21 Apr, 2017 15:27 Britain’s prime minister may have sounded confident when she called...

What the pollsters are saying as first shots fired in General Election 2017

A vast Tory majority, Labour’s annihilation, and a Liberal Democrat resurgence – just some of...

Opposition parties come out swinging as snap general election tears open faultlines [VIDEO]

Britain’s political parties launched into combat mode on Wednesday after Parliament backed the prime minister’s...

MPs back Theresa May’s call for snap general election

Published time: 19 Apr, 2017 13:46Edited time: 19 Apr, 2017 13:49 MPs have approved prime minister...

Theresa May asks MPs for snap election to ‘strengthen hand in Brexit negotiations’

Published time: 19 Apr, 2017 09:45 A snap general election is needed to prevent opposition parties...

Theresa May calls for snap UK general election June 8

Prime Minister Theresa May has called for a UK general election to be held on...

Theresa May to use ‘Henry VIII powers’ to convert EU laws without parliamentary scrutiny

A day after invoking Article 50, setting Brexit negotiations in motion, the government has set...

Britons living in EU may ‘retain’ free movement rights post-Brexit

Published time: 29 Mar, 2017 16:20 The European Parliament may grant British people living and working...

Brexit Day: EU divorce met with sadness & celebration on social media

Britons spared no time in making their thoughts heard on social media about the triggering...

Scottish Parliament backs Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for second independence referendum

The Scottish Parliament has voted to back Nicola Sturgeon’s request to seek new powers from London in order to trigger a second independence referendum. The...

Oxford University to spend millions researching cannabis

The University of Oxford is to head a multimillion-pound research program investigating the effects of...

Cash-strapped Royal Navy cancels annual air show to focus on counter-terror ops

Published time: 27 Feb, 2017 17:21 Britain’s Royal Navy is so strapped for cash that it...

What We Learned From Scott Pruitt's Emails to the Fossil Fuel Industry

Attorney General Scott Pruitt of Oklahoma speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on February 28, 2015. (Photo:...

Solitary confinement of teens in British prisons ‘against UN torture rules’

Prisons in the UK are keeping teenage offenders in solitary confinement despite the government denying...

Pro-Brexit voters suspicious of all experts – even weather forecasters, poll finds

People who voted ‘Leave’ in the EU referendum generally tend to be more skeptical of experts than those who voted to ‘Remain,’ a YouGov...

‘Stop Trump’: Celebrities lead campaign to block state visit

British campaigners including musicians, comedians, politicians and trade unionists have joined forces to oppose Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to welcome US President Donald...

The Left Is a Nasty Bunch

One can only imagine the widespread media, political and intellectual condemnation of Republicans and conservatives if, after the inauguration of Barack Obama, they had...

Brexit trigger date confirmed as MPs start 2-day debate on how to leave EU

MPs are beginning two days of debate on the bill to trigger Article 50, which will give Prime Minister Theresa May the go-ahead to...

‘Brexit bill’ expected in parliament ‘within days’ as Supreme Court ruling rocks government

The British government has pledged to introduce a Brexit bill in parliament “within days” in...

Anti-Trump protesters drop banners from London bridges (VIDEO)

London joined cities across the globe in hosting anti-Donald Trump protests ahead of the US...

Obama’s Hidden Role in Worsening Climate Change

It should be a scandal that leftists-liberals paint Trump as a special threat, a war mongerer – not Obama who is the first president...

Conflict of interest? Theresa May urged to come clean on investments

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is facing calls to reveal her financial interests after it emerged she set up a blind trust of shares...

Govt expects to lose Brexit trigger case – report

The British government expects to lose its landmark legal battle to start Brexit without going through Parliament and has drafted versions of a bill...