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Nigel Farage commends Putin’s ‘mature’ response to US diplomatic expulsions

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for his decision not to...

‘Historic & impressive’: Britain’s ambassador to US breaks silence on Trump election

Britain’s ambassador to the US has broken his silence on US President-elect Donald Trump’s election...

‘Brexit – we’re making a mess of it!’ Mash-up artist ridicules British politicians (VIDEO)

Mash-up duo Cassette Boy has mocked the UK government in a new satirical video where...

Scottish activist planning to sue Trump golf course for ‘filming her urinating’

An Edinburgh court will decide on Thursday whether an environmental activist can sue Donald Trump’s...

Ministers ‘ignore’ PM’s Farage ban to build links with Donald Trump

Tory ministers are finding ways to circumvent UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s reported ban on talking to UKIP’s Nigel Farage, so they can build...

Russia launched ‘cyberwar & propaganda campaign’ against UK – media

The UK is facing a cyberwarfare and a propaganda campaign from Russia, British newspaper The...

Farage undermines PM Theresa May again with 3rd Donald Trump meeting

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has visited Trump Tower in New York for the third...

Disunited Europe: EU Parliament angry it has no say in Brexit negotiations

Divisions over how to handle the Brexit are emerging within the EU, with MEPs threatening...

Nigel Farage goes to fancy dress party with Donald Trump, lobbies for new US...

Nigel Farage and Donald Trump partied together at a ‘heroes and villains’ fancy dress party...

Labour warned of impending ‘electoral disaster’ after Sleaford by-election slump

A Tory by-election win that saw Labour’s share of the vote slashed has raised concern...

Owner of ‘Really British’ shop shocked at critics claiming he’s racist

The owner of a shop that specializes in British-themed products has rejected accusations of prejudice, accusing his detractors of “reverse racism.” Small businessman Chris Ostwald...

Time magazine person of the year goes to… Nigel Farage?

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has been shortlisted for Time magazine’s person of the year,...

Britain must head fight against world’s ‘strongmen’ leaders – Boris Johnson

Britain must play a leading role in the right against the cult of ‘strongmen’ like...

Farage will ask American people to forgive Brits for criticizing Trump

On his visit to the US this week, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage plans to...

Trump will get on plane & talk to Putin – Farage to RT (VIDEO)

Donald Trump will make the world a safer place by flying to Russia and speaking...

Farage to meet Trump camp again as he plans ‘permanent move’ to US

UKIP’s Nigel Farage is reportedly planning to travel to the US next month to meet with Donald Trump’s transition team, having already been the...

Nigel Farage savages Downing Street in blog for alt-right site Breitbart

UKIP’s Nigel Farage has again accused Downing Street of putting its dislike for him ahead of the national interest after the government dismissed a...

The kids aren’t alt-right! Breitbart editor’s UK school talk banned by ‘counter-extremism’ unit

Milo Yiannopoulos, darling of the alternative right, has had a talk at his old UK...

EU Army to be ratified… saddling Britain with £420mn annual bill despite Brexit vote

The European Union hopes to ratify plans for a combined, continent-wide army on Tuesday night,...

Tony Blair’s return to politics would re-energize Brexit movement, say Euroskeptics

Iraq War-era Prime Minister Tony Blair has denied planning a shock return to frontline politics to actively oppose Brexit after branding Labour leader Jeremy...

Report urges UK to ‘map,’ ‘challenge,’ and expose politicians with Russia links

An influential right-wing think-tank has proposed a radical clampdown on politicians sympathetic to Russia by...

Poor Darlings! First Brexit, Than Trump

Hailing 2016 the year of ‘two big political revolutions’ Nigel Farage said Angela Merkel and Barack Obama are ‘in denial’ over the public’s rejection of...

Nigel Farage backtracks on promise to leave politics, claims he could run for MP...

Nigel Farage has backtracked on his promise to quit frontline politics, instead claiming he would...

UK govt arranging meeting of Trump & Queen at Windsor as ‘secret weapon’ to...

An invitation to Donald Trump to stay at Windsor Castle and meet with the Queen...

‘Untie ourselves from EU shackles’: Leading Tories call on Theresa May to pull out...

Sixty hardline Brexiteers have demanded that Theresa May take a stronger stance on withdrawing from...

Theresa May wrong to dismiss Trump-Farage friendship, say rebellious Tories

British Prime Minister Theresa May has reportedly sparked Tory infighting over her refusal to deal with UKIP’s Nigel Farage as he offers himself as...

‘Relaxed & full of good ideas’: Farage first UK politician to meet US President-elect...

British UKIP leader Niger Farage fully endorsed the choice of Americans in electing Donald Trump. He was the first UK politician to meet with...

Nigel Farage ‘irrelevant’ to UK-Trump relationship, says defensive Downing Street

A clearly annoyed Downing Street has dismissed claims Nigel Farage will be used as a...

Is Trump victory good for Brexit?

Brexiteers are celebrating Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the US presidential election, arguing that his...

Don’t grope Theresa May: Farage offers Trump lesson in diplomacy

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has warned US President-elect Donald Trump not to grope Theresa May should they meet in person. In an interview on Talksport...

#RIPAmerica: Brits say ‘sorry American friends’ on Twitter in lament at Trump win

Published time: 9 Nov, 2016 11:34Edited time: 9 Nov, 2016 11:44 Brits have taken to social...

Nigel Farage plans to head 100,000-strong march on Supreme Court to protest Brexit ruling

Acting UKIP leader Nigel Farage is planning to lead a 100,000-strong march to the Supreme Court on the day Prime Minister Theresa May’s government...

Tory rebellion? MP resigns over Theresa May’s handling of Brexit

A general election could be on the horizon as a Tory rebellion kicks off with...

Nigel Farage says he will ‘join Donald Trump’s team in the White House’

UKIP’s interim leader, Nigel Farage, has quelled rumors that he plans to star in the reality TV show ‘I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out...

Theresa May must consult Parliament before triggering Article 50 to leave EU – High...

In a major blow for Prime Minister Theresa May, the British government has lost its case for making the sole call on triggering Article...

Zac Goldsmith MP to resign over Heathrow expansion, triggering by-election

Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has confirmed he will resign from Parliament in protest over the...

Voters to choose successor to murdered MP Jo Cox as far-right exploits tragedy

Voters in the constituency of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox are going to the polls...

Polish woman booed on BBC for complaining Brexit made her feel unwelcome in Britain

A Polish woman sitting in the audience of the BBC show ‘Question Time’ was booed...

The Evil New UK PM

2016 has been a tumultuous year indeed in British party politics. The completely unexpected decision by the British public to vote to leave the...

False EU referendum claims ‘not important,’ didn’t influence outcome – Brexit secretary

Although mistruths were claimed by both sides of Britain’s EU referendum, such “hyperbole” was unimportant and did not influence the outcome, the UK’s Brexit...

Racism experts blast tabloids, Cameron for anti-immigrant hate speech in UK

Parts of the British media and some Conservative politicians have been blamed for a rise...

Nigel Farage will reportedly be Donald Trump’s guest at next presidential debate

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is expected to attend next Sunday’s US presidential debate at...

Warnings of post-Brexit riots if immigration isn’t cut… but Corbyn won’t make ‘false promises’

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn will tell conference delegates on Wednesday he will not limit...

Nigel Farage in running for ‘alternative Nobel prize for European freedom’

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is set to speak at an ‘alternative Nobel Prize’ ceremony...

Nigel Farage attacks PM Theresa May for scorning points-based immigration system

Former UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage has berated Prime Minister Theresa May for...

Posh politicians ‘repel’ working class voters, study finds

Wealthy Labour Party candidates “particularly repel” working class voters who don’t believe these would-be representatives...

Farage, Le Pen ‘forces of racism’ must not hijack Brexit – Lib Dem leader

The “racist” and “intolerant” politics of former UKIP leader Nigel Farage and France’s Front National...

Blair tells French media Brits are confused by Brexit, could end up staying in...

Despite Prime Minister Theresa May’s insistence that “Brexit means Brexit,” Europhile ex-PM Tony Blair told...

Burqa ban supported by majority of Brits, poll finds

A majority of Britons support a ban on burqas being worn in public, while almost...

Poor & marginalized voters were key to Brexit victory, study finds

Low earners, voters living in “low-skilled” areas and those who feel they have been “pushed...

‘No Brexit till Parliament gets a vote!’ Pro-EU campaign threatens govt with legal action

Supporters of the UK remaining in the EU have launched a crowdfunding effort to legally...

Clinton’s Crazy Conspiracy Theory

Hillary Clinton’s recent “alt right” speech marks a new and dangerous low in what has become race to the bottom...

Can BBC win back Scotland’s trust 2yrs after ‘anti-independence bias’?

BBC News is working hard to restore its reputation in Scotland amid lingering distrust of...

UN blames ‘anti-immigrant rhetoric’ of Brexit campaign for spike in hate crime

British politicians’ “anti-immigrant” rhetoric during the EU referendum campaign caused a significant spike in recorded...

‘Don’t tell women what to wear!’ London’s Muslim mayor condemns France’s burkini ban

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has condemned France’s “burkini ban,” saying women should not be told...

Meeting of minds? Nigel Farage to share platform with Donald Trump

Two giants of transatlantic populism, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, will share a platform on...

Nigel Farage aide held in US on money laundering, extortion & fraud charges

An aide to Nigel Farage is facing money laundering and blackmail charges in the US...

Nigel Farage debuts new mustache on RT, internet loses it

The normally clean-shaven former UKIP leader Nigel Farage appears to have spent his post-Brexit spare...

Jesus is coming… and he wants you to elect him as MP for Burnley

A retired bus driver who believes he is the second coming of Jesus Christ says...

Stylists, spin doctors & donors: Cameron honors list rewards ‘old boy network,’ May won’t...

Labour has accused former Prime Minister David Cameron of cronyism after his resignation honors list...

Farage turns down £250k reality TV offer

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage says there is “no way” he would be taking up an offer to feature on this year’s ‘I’m A...

Farage shows up at US Republican National Convention, denies Trump invited him

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has denied being invited by Donald Trump to attend the...

Farage plans European tour to stoke up EU independence movements

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is planning a tour of European countries in an attempt...

‘Prosecute lying politicians… including Boris!’ Crowdfunders raise £27K for Brexit legal challenge

Brexiteers beware. A crowdfunding page determined to prosecute those who supposedly engineered the “Leave” vote...

Still Second-Class Citizens

When I heard about the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I thought back to another name etched into American history: Dred...

Theresa May won’t call general election… despite telling Gordon Brown he should have in...

Calls from opposition parties to hold a general election in the wake of Andrea Leadsom’s...

UK cars get Brexit treatment as drivers cover EU symbols

In a post-Brexit UK, some drivers have taken to covering the European Union symbol on...

Gove Over: ‘Boris backstabber’ eliminated from Tory leadership race

Brexiteer Justice Secretary Michael Gove was eliminated in the second round of voting in the...

Brexit ‘retro-nationalists’ are ‘leaving the ship,’ says Jean-Claude Juncker

High profile withdrawals and resignations among Brexiteers in the wake of the EU referendum vote...

‘They’re Making Racism and Xenophobia Into a Legitimate Voice’

Janine Jackson interviewed Joe Macaré about the Brexit vote for the July 1, 2016, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript. Joe Macare:...

Nigel Farage has earned his place in history as the man who led Britain...

Nigel Farage has persuaded Britain to vote to leave the European Union. Mission accomplished for the Ukip chief, so it's little surprise...

Farage’s ‘annual’ resignation met with social media frenzy

Reactions on social media to Brexiteer Nigel Farage’s resignation announcement from the UKIP leadership ranged...

Brexit supporter Nigel Farage resigns as UK Independence Party leader

Brexit campaigner and MEP Nigel Farage has announced he is stepping down as leader of...

Will Brexit ever actually happen? There are plenty of signs it won’t

Since outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron’s gamble backfired last Thursday and the British public voted to leave the EU, many are desperately asking if...

Anti-Brexit protesters hit streets of UK capital London

More than 40,000 people were estimated to march through London Saturday in hope of pressuring...

Beware the Blair: Former PM hints at role in ‘extraordinarily complex’ EU Brexit talks

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair says it would not be “sensible” to put a...

Brexit: What’s Next?

Anti-austerity protest in Dublin in 2012 (William Murphy via Flickr) The recent UK referendum was a vote of no confidence to the entire system. The...
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Video: ‘No deal better than rotten deal we’ve got now & seriously bad for...

RT interviews UKIP leader Nigel Farage as he is in Brussels attending the EU Parliament session. RT LIVE http://rt.com/on-air Subscribe to RT! Via Youtube

‘Shocked and disgusted’: Hate crime reports jump 500% since Brexit vote – UK police...

A week after Brexit referendum, UK police have registered a staggering fivefold increase in hate...

BNP disown leaflet blaming Jo Cox for her own murder… for helping ‘terrorists’

The British National Party (BNP) denies distributing leaflets in a West Yorkshire town near the constituency of slain Labour MP Jo Cox that link...

EU chiefs in Brussels blamed for causing Brexit themselves

Prime Minister David Cameron and UKIP’s Nigel Farage have both blamed Brussels for tipping British...

The Ashcroft Poll – Is This Why Jeremy Corbyn Must Go?

By Rachel Bridgeland – Jeremy Corbyn is right to urge us to see through the media’s attempts to divide us. The media has encouraged...

‘You’ve never done a proper job in your lives!’ Farage booed as he mocks...

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has mercilessly trolled the European Parliament before warning them the UK will not be the last country to leave the...

‘No trade deal with EU still better than what UK has now’ – Farage...

The UK will never agree to freedom of movement as part of a trade deal with the EU as cutting commerce with Europe would...
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Video: ‘You are not laughing now, are you?’ Nigel Farage at European Parliament (FULL...

UKIP MEP Nigel Farage slammed the European Parliament in the first session since 'Brexit' in Brussels, Tuesday. RT LIVE http://rt.com/on-air Subscribe to RT! Via Youtube

Brexit: A Glorious Victory

As the results of the British referendum on remaining in the European Union rolled in, and the victory of “Brexit” became apparent,...

Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)

In the end, the Brexit—the vote on whether the United Kingdom should remain in the European Union (EU) or be the first in the...

Brexit: So What Happens Next?

by Stuart Littlewood / June 24th, 2016 I had a bad feeling about it. And although we got the desired result against all expectations, the...

Brexit referendum: Farage declares victory for 'ordinary & decent' people

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has declared a victory for Brexit. The pound meanwhile has been...

Brexit Wins: Why That’s Great News for Europe, Too

British voters have elected to leave the European Union in a national referendum. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel ...

Farage sorry for Brexit ‘bullet’ speech a week after Jo Cox murder (VIDEOS)

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has apologized for his choice of words in a Brexit victory...

EU Referendum Remain victory predicted by bookmakers and finance experts

See the SkyNews Live Coverage here: [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y60wDzZt8yg] Leading Leave campaigner Nigel Farage has already conceded that Remain will win the bitterly...
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Video: ‘EU is failing, EU is dying’: Nigel Farage speech following Brexit vote

The leader of the Independence Party (UKIP), Nigel Farage, has called for June 23 to go down in history as 'Independence Day', adding that...

Brexit Vote: A Very British Affair

A deal David Cameron (pictured in a happier time) cut with his party came back to bite him – and the entire UK. (Photo:...

Historic! Brexit is happening! Britain votes to leave European Union

'It was all about immigration'Here is the proof for that. Look at how Rotherham voted: Rotherham Votes 67.9% - 32.1% for Leave! ...

How did it come to this? Milestones on the road to Brexit

The British dream of leaving the European Union has been rooted in the minds of...

‘Black Friday’: Pound plummets to 1985 low as 'Leave' declares victory

A presumptive victory for Brexit has led to a sharp decline in the pound, hitting...

Refugees will not disappear whatever the Brexit vote outcome – charity

With the EU referendum falling smack in the middle of international Refugee Week, RT examines...

Defeat the Establishment

NIGEL FARAGE today urged Britons to “go out and vote for your country” tomorrow as the country nears its historic vote on EU membership. By...

Does the Brexit Vote Mark the End of Internationalism?

(Photo: portal gda / Flickr) This week might represent the beginning of the end for international cooperation. All the treaties, alliances, and unions that have...

Follow the cash: bookies and big money back ‘Remain’, Soros warns of Brexit disaster

While some polls are showing the vote to leave the EU has a narrow lead,...

Our Daily Brexit: Don’t worry if the economy collapses, Boris will say sorry!

Brexiteer Boris Johnson has promised to apologize to the nation if the UK slides into...

Third of ‘Leave’ voters think MI5 spies working with govt to stop Brexit –...

Up to one third of Leave voters think the UK’s intelligence agency MI5 is conspiring with the government to stop Britain leaving the European...

Obama’s ‘misguided’ EU referendum intervention threatens UK sovereignty, say US lawmakers

Republican lawmakers have warned US President Barack Obama his controversial intervention into the British EU referendum debate threatens to harm the “special relationship.” Some 11...

Our daily Brexit: Gambling MEP challenges Farage to €1mn Brexit bet, plus some cute...

Lithuanian MEP and former poker player Antanas Guoga has challenged UKIP leader Nigel Farage to...

Baroness Warsi subjected to Islamophobic abuse after defection from Leave camp

Tory peer Baroness Warsi has been subjected to online Islamophobic abuse since she switched her...

This Bloody EU Referendum

The question whether to remain in the EU or leave has been distorted beyond recognition by political pimps and spivs on both sides of...

Brexit battle of the sexes: EU debate dominated by men, but how will women...

Considering they make up a slim majority of the British population, women have been notably...
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Video: Brexit vs. Bremain battle of the Thames: M. Shafiq vs. R. Wellings

Supporters of the Brexit campaign led by UKIP Leader Nigel Farage sailed up the river Thames in support of Britain leaving the block. The...

Our Daily Brexit: Boat Leave! Farage fights off Bob Geldof in Battle of the...

UKIP leader Nigel Farage clashed with rock star and activist Bob Geldof on the River...

Downing Street vetoes ‘Boris Johnson in Nigel Farage’s pocket’ anti-Brexit poster

Pro-EU campaign “Britain Stronger in Europe” had reportedly planned to release a poster showing Brexiteer...

‘No basis in fact!’ Europol boss orders Farage to stop using false ISIS claims...

Europol chief Rob Wainwright has scolded Brexiteer Nigel Farage for misquoting him for a second...

The day in Brexit: Anti-EU feeling spreading across Europe, study finds

Brexit fever is spreading fast across Europe with anti-EU sentiment among some populations surpassing even...

Women face "mass sex attacks" by migrants if no Brexit – Farage

UKIP leader Nigel Farage said women could be at risk of “mass sex attacks” by...

‘I sent you a love letter’: British PM Major & Bush Sr shared affectionate...

“Love” letters between former UK Prime Minister John Major and US President George HW Bush...

Aussie-style points system for EU migrants could derail UK economy – Cameron

Pursuing a points-based immigration system for EU migrants could derail Britain’s economy, Prime Minister David...

David Cameron calls Sadiq Khan a ‘proud Muslim’ just weeks after linking him to...

Prime Minister David Cameron said Sadiq Khan was “a proud Muslim and a proud Brit”...

Brexit Marketed as Racist to Get Black Voters

An advertising campaign sparked fury last night amid claims it portrays a Brexit supporter as an aggressive White skinhead. A poster designed...

Leave EU or face greater terror threat, Brexiteers warn

Unless Britain votes to leave the EU it will face a greater risk of terror...

Same question, different answers: What’s going on with the Brexit polls?

Depending on which poll you read this week, the UK is either baulking at the...

Trump calls London Mayor Khan ‘ignorant’ & predicts poor relations with Cameron

White House hopeful Donald Trump says he is unlikely to have a good relationship with...

‘Women’s Equality Party’ Admits It Has No Position on Sharia

The UK feminist Women’s Equality Party has admitted it has no position on Sharia courts and laws. In a brief email exchange,...

‘No difference to me’: Trump says UK Brexit will not affect relations with US

US Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said if the United Kingdom votes to leave the European...

Boris Johnson likens EU drive for ‘superstate’ to Hitler’s, prompts shower of anger

A frantic backlash has followed a remark by London’s ex-mayor, Boris Johnson, who said modern...

Brexiteers slammed over ‘xenophobic’ video comparing refugees to snakes… voiced by Donald Trump

Leave.EU, a group campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, has been labeled “xenophobic” after...

Blue on blue: Tory infighting intensifies 6 weeks before Brexit vote

Tory infighting has escalated this week with increasingly bitter ‘blue on blue’ attacks in the...

Sadiq Khan and the End of Islamophobia

Sadiq Khan proved the limits of Islamophobia, at least in multicultural London. But we’ll know that the era of Islamophobia has passed when the...

British tea & toast under threat from impending EU kettle, toaster ban

The EU looks set to ban certain high-powered kettles and toasters shortly after June’s referendum...

Trump backs Brexit, brands migration crisis a ‘horrible thing for Europe’

Donald Trump feels the UK would be “better off without” the European Union, blaming the...

Labour makes 4 point election gain… but did anyone tell MSM?

Mainstream media outlets, including the BBC, are more or less ignoring Labour’s predicted overall four...

Uncertain future for Britain’s 2mn EU expats in face of Brexit

A vote to leave the EU would result in years of “complex and daunting” negotiations...

EU referendum: Farage warns on mass immigration, Major suggests Brexiteers go to N. Korea

Brexiteers obsessing over sovereignty should consider moving to North Korea, according to Tory ex-PM John...

The day in Brexit: Unusual alliances form as Farage enjoys popularity spike

Despite being accused of having a “poncey” name by David Cameron, UKIP leader and Brexiter-in-chief...

Farage shoots down Brexit support from French far-right chief Le Pen

Brexit campaigners, including UKIP’s Nigel Farage, have shunned support from the French Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, ahead of her controversial visit to...

Brexiteers not ‘bombed into submission’ quite yet – Boris Johnson

Anti-EU campaigners have not given up the ghost quite yet, despite US President Barack Obama’s...

US-UK trade deal could take 10 years if Brexit goes ahead, Obama warns

A US trade deal with Britain could take up to 10 years if it were...

‘Back of free trade queue’: Brits slam Obama for ‘threats’ over Brexit

The British public has been vocal in venting its anger over visiting US President Barack...

‘Part-Kenyan’ Obama dislikes Britain for its colonial past, say ‘dog whistle racist’ Boris &...

London Mayor Boris Johnson and UKIP leader Nigel Farage have been branded “racist” after alleging...

Obama’s UK visit: The hostile reception for US president over Brexit vote ‘meddling’

US President Barack Obama arrives in the UK on Thursday to urge the British public...

Brexit to Frexit? Front National leader Marine Le Pen could back ‘leave’ camp on...

Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s hard-right Front National party, is considering coming to the...

‘Obama shelters IRA sympathizers’: Tory MP blasts US president in Brexit row

US President Barack Obama has been attacked by Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg over his support...

Project Fantasy or Project Fear? EU Referendum campaign officially begins

Britain’s EU referendum campaign officially kicked off on Friday, with both sides warning of the...

Did George Osborne lie in saying he didn’t benefit from own tax cuts?

Chancellor George Osborne’s newly-released tax returns suggest he may have lied in 2012 when he...

Something to hide? Politicians rattled by tax transparency post-Panama

Prominent establishment figures including former foreign secretary William Hague, UKIP leader Nigel Farage and Tory...

UK prime minister defends super-rich in statement on Panama Papers revelations

Via WSWS. This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission or license. Julie Hyland Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, used his statement to parliament...

#PanamaLeaks: British banker linked to North Korea’s nuclear research

A British banker has been linked to North Korea’s efforts to create nuclear weapons, the...

Netherlands referendum: What does the Dutch vote mean for Britain’s EU debate?

Dutch citizens are taking part in a referendum on an EU-Ukraine treaty, but pundits say...

Roll call of top Tory tycoons exposed in #PanamaLeaks

Tory donors, former MPs and Conservative Lords have been implicated in the Panama Papers, which...

Cologne-style rape gangs, vulnerable borders, migrant hoards… another day in the Brexit debate

EU rules make UK borders vulnerable and risk bringing Cologne-style rape gangs to British cities,...

Remain or Brexit: The UK’s Referendum on the European Union

The only reason the UK is having a referendum on whether the UK should stay in (Remain) or leave (Brexit) the EU, is because...

Twitter outrage as pro-Brexiteers use Brussels attacks for political point-scoring

Politicians, commentators and journalists who seized upon Tuesday’s terror attacks in Brussels to make a...

Brexiteers tell Obama to let Britain decide its own fate

Pro-Brexit campaigners have urged Barak Obama to stay out of the EU debate after rumors...

Turkey’s bid for EU membership bolsters case for Brexit – Farage

(RT) - UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage says Britain’s upcoming referendum on EU...

Pegida-UK – Smoke, Mirrors and Zionism: The Zionist Takeover of PEGIDA-UK

I was expelled from UKIP, the United Kingdom Independence Party, during my candidacy as a prospective Member of Parliament for West Lancashire for my...

Campaign for UK exit from the EU dominated by nationalism and big business interests

Via WSWS. This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission or license. Robert Stevens The Leave campaign in Britain’s June 23 referendum on continued...

For an active boycott of the Brexit referendum!

Via WSWS. This piece was reprinted by RINF Alternative News with permission or license. For an active boycott of the Brexit referendum! Statement of the Socialist...

Enough to halt Brexit? Donald Tusk to unveil draft plan on British EU membership

European Council President Donald Tusk will table proposals for a “new settlement” for the UK’s membership of the European Union on Tuesday, following a...

Corbyn challenges Cameron to annual TV debates

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has challenged Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to take part in annual televised debates, events usually reserved for election...

BBC defends £2mn EU handout, says it won’t prejudice Brexit referendum coverage

Critics of the British Broadcasting Corporation have said that financial contributions from the EU could unbalance its reporting of next year’s expected referendum on...

Sour grapes? Nigel Farage accuses Labour of by-election fraud after Corbyn-boosting victory

UKIP leader Nigel Farage has accused Labour of election fraud in the Oldham West and Royton by-election, describing the overwhelming result for Jeremy Corbyn’s...

Corbyn faces first leadership test at ballot box in Oldham by-election

Jeremy Corbyn will soon fight his first by-election battle in the Oldham constituency as Labour leader, a contest triggered by the death of left-wing...

How Likely Is Brexit?

The Brexit referendum could be called by David Cameron as early as March next year, just six months away. Six weeks before the actual...

TTIP Negotiations Fall Apart As EU Big Hitters Abandons US

Graham Vanbergen truepublica.org.uk Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron is accusing those who oppose the expansive trade deal with the United States of making up horror stories...

‘Humanity Washes Ashore’ Goes Viral as Photos Capture Horror of War, Plight of Refugees

Jon Queally A series of heartbreaking photos showing a young boy–believed to be a refugee from Syria–washed up on the beach in Turkey after a...
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Video: Full Show – Global Stock Market Enters Free Fall – 07/08/2015

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrSaNe27GQw&w=580&h=385] On the Wednesday, July 8 broadcast of the Alex Jones Show, US stocks slide as China faces major economic troubles, Greece receives support...

Poll that suggests majority of UK voters back austerity rubbished by economists

Economists have dismissed the findings of a poll that suggests a majority of British voters continue to back austerity as ideologically framed tripe. They...

​British ex-MEP jailed for 5 years over expenses fraud

A former UKIP MEP has been jailed for five years at South London’s Southwark Crown Court for unlawfully claiming almost £500,000 worth of expenses...

‘Tory government playing English card’

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has accused the Conservative-led government of pushing the country towards collapse by playing "the English card". Brown warns the...

‘Anti-austerity protests tip of iceberg’

Reports coming out of the UK suggest that more anti-austerity protests are expected to be held in the country following the surprise victory of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg, I think yesterday’s demonstration is the first but it won’t be the last and it won’t be the biggest demonstration against the Tories," John Rees, the Spokesperson for The People’s Assembly Against Austerity told Press TV on Sunday.

He said thousands of people have already announced that they would take part in the rallies scheduled to be held next month.

“The People’s Assembly is planning on 20th of June a demonstration which has over 30,000 people saying they are coming to it on Facebook and that’s a month before it takes place,” John Rees added.   

On Saturday, British police clash with anti-austerity protesters in central London as thousands turn out to express anger at Tories rise to majority rule with only 37 percent of the vote.

Meanwhile, media published on social networks indicated a heavy-handed response to the rally.

Many protesters called for proportional representation, insisting that their voices are not being attended to under the current voting arrangement. 

London-based political commentator Rodney Shakespeare described the protest rally as a sign of public anger about British government’s policies as well as the result of the recent parliamentary elections.

“Out on the streets you have got anger about the British foreign policy not being discussed, you have got anger about poverty and the cuts which are coming and that wasn’t really being discussed... you have got anger about the no recognition of the overall economic system, you have got particular anger over the results of the election which meant that all the small parties… except the SNP… were not having a fair deal,” Professor Shakespeare told Press TV.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party won an overall majority required to form a new government.

The Tories grabbed 331 seats in the House of Commons, 24 more than in 2010. Labour won 232, the Lib Dems 8, the SNP 56, UKIP 1, and other parties secured 22 seats.

SP/HA

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UK gun laws need changing

*cross posted from Assoluta Tranquillita*

No, that is not just me mouthing off!  From Press TV:


UKIP leader calls for UK gun laws to be relaxed

The leader of Britain’s Eurosceptic right-wing political party, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), says the UK government should lift a ban on handguns that has been in place for almost two decades, calling the current ban on handguns “ludicrous.”
“I think proper gun licensing is something we've done in this country responsibly and well for a long time, and I think the kneejerk legislation that Blair brought in that meant that the British Olympic pistol team have to go to France to even practice was just crackers,” Nigel Farage said during a radio interview on Friday.

He added, "If you criminalize handguns then only the criminals carry the guns. It's really interesting that since Blair brought that piece of law in, gun crime doubled in the next five years in this country."

"I think that we need a proper gun licensing system, which to a large extent I think we already have, and I think the ban on handguns is ludicrous," Farage commented....


Yes, there is more, including from detractors, HERE.

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Published time: March 25, 2013 13:59
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron.(AFP Photo / Andrew Cowie)

Jobless immigrants will have UK government support payments ripped from their hands after six months. Further measures are to come into force preventing foreign entrants from even being put on a waiting list for social housing for two to five years.

Immigrants from EU states residing in Britain will lose their jobseekers’ allowance – a weekly government support payment- and other benefits, if they cannot prove that they’ve actively been looking for employment, David Cameron said in a speech on Monday.

He said that concerns that immigrants “take advantage of our generosity” were not just legitimate, "but right," adding that in the past, the UK had been a soft-touch.

Non-nationals will have to devise a way of proving that they have a ‘genuine chance’ of finding work. However, exactly how this would be done in practice is unclear. The ‘habitual residence’ test, sat by migrants who want financial support from the government, will also be made increasingly difficult.

Extra tests will have to be taken by people applying for social housing. Once the measures come into force it could take anything up to five years for residents of an area to even be put on a waiting list for a home.

However, Cameron said that he was “putting the welfare of the child at the heart of the...process”

There will be a clampdown on access to healthcare, as well as in housing and benefits payment. Immigrants entering the country from outside the EU will be forced to demonstrate evidence of medical insurance, and the NHS – a traditionally free institution - will impose charges for doctor visits. Potential immigrants entering to gain access to healthcare have had the label ‘health tourists’ slapped on them.

Earlier this month, it was announced that immigrants entering Britain may be forced to pay a deposit fee upon entering the country, which would only be reimbursed when they leave the UK, and only if they haven’t used its health service.

Even harsher measures are to be imposed on illegal immigrants. Steps are being taken to prevent illegal immigrants from getting credit cards or driving licenses, and their employers and landlords could be fined. Cameron said they were "doubling the fines levied against employers who employ illegal workers."

“Once we’ve found them we’re going to make it easier to remove them,” Cameron said. He added that he would ensure faster deportation, saying that “wherever possible” people would be deported first, and could appeal the decision second.

The new policies will come into force in 2014. The coalition's reforms would give Britain the toughest controls in the world, according to Conservative Minister of State for Immigration Mark Harper, who spoke to Sky News on Sunday.  

Cameron said that immigration got ‘badly out of control’ under Labour.

“Immigration has to be properly controlled,” he argued. “Under the last government this simply wasn’t the case. Immigration was far too high.”

However, net migration into Britain has fallen by a third in recent years, from 247,000 in June 2011 to 163,000 in 2012, according the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Additionally, their valuable contribution to the UK economy has been pointed out.

“Nothing wrong with debating immigration. But lets [sic] not omit the fact that immigrants put 6% more in to UK GDP than they take out,” said Parmjit Dhanda , former Labour MP, on Twitter. 

Cameron said that he wanted to train young British people to fill the skills gap, while saying that he was "rolling out the red carpet" to bright foreign students and entrepreneurs.

Last week, Business Secretary Vince Cable warned that restricting immigration would damage the UK economy.

The increasingly hard stance is shared by the country’s main three political parties. In light of the Eastleigh by-election results in February in which UKIP –a party renowned for its hard stance on immigration – won. All three major UK political parties are now cracking down on social support from the government; Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg voiced support for the entry fee on Friday, suggesting it could be as much as 1,000 pounds.

“We need stronger action against illegal immigration and a more effective system for the migration we need,” tweeted Labour Press Team’s Chris Bryant. “The immigration system just isn't working- fewer illegal immigrants are being stopped or sent back,” he said, going on to add that the test of the PM’s speech was whether he could stop the government’s expanding list of practical failings on immigration

“As we have said for some time, Britain does not need an arms race on immigration rhetoric, it needs practical measures to make sure the system works and immigration is properly managed and controlled,”
said Yvette Cooper MP Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary on Monday.

Cameron’s spokesman spent around 50 minutes prior to the speech fielding considerably skeptical questions from the press regarding whether Cameron's measures will have any impact whatsoever, according to the Guardian.

The UKIP is claiming credit for the outcry.

“Cameron will only create a whole pile of bureaucracy that will affect everyone in the UK, cost the taxpayer millions and will still be riddled with loopholes and therefore totally ineffective,” said UKIP’s Nigel Farage in a statement on Monday.

He went on to declare that the only way to prevent wide-scale immigration is for Britain to leave the EU.

David Cameron Accused Of Peddling Immigration Benefits ‘Myths’

David Cameron has been accused of peddling "myths" about the number of immigrants who claim benefits in Britain, after he said he wanted to stop the UK being a "soft touch".

In a major speech on Monday, the prime minister announced that from next year, arrivals from the European Union will be stripped of jobseekers benefits after six months unless they can prove they have been actively looking for a job and stand a "genuine chance" of finding one.

The government is pledging to beef up the "range and depth" of questions in the habitual residence test, which checks that people meet residence requirements for housing and income-related benefits.

However Cameron has been accused of offering empty anti-immigration rhetoric amid fears that Ukip poses a significant electoral threat in 2015.

His speech follows similar interventions on immigration by Labour leader Ed Miliband and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.

Sarah Mulley from the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) think-tank said that the UK was "not a soft touch" and that EU migrants are half as likely to claim out of work benefits as British nationals are.

"Migrants in general and European migrants pay more in to the system than they take out, that's largely because they are young people who are working," she told HuffPost UK.

Mulley said that while in theory the British welfare system and NHS was more open to EU migrants than other European systems were, this did not mean it was happening in practise. "The fact is it doesn't happen, at least not in any significant scale," she explained.

Official statistics show that migrants represent about 13% of all workers, but only 7% percent of out-of-work claimants and that migrants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) represent about 9-10% of all workers, but about 5% of out-of-work claimants.

Gillian Guy, chief executive at national charity Citizens Advice, said while it was important that the welfare system is fair, politicians "must be careful not to encourage myths or misconceptions about who benefits most from the welfare system".

"EU migrants are more likely to be in work and less likely to claim benefits than British residents. Overall, they are net contributors to the economy, putting in much more than they take out. These plain facts must not be obscured by political rhetoric," she said.

And Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, also said immigrants were "significantly less likely" to claim benefits than people born in the UK - and that those coming from EU countries put more into the economy than they took out.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that arrivals were mostly younger people whereas the bulk of spending went on healthcare and pensions for older people.

"All the evidence suggests that people who come here from within the European Union make a substantial net contribution to the public finances - they pay in far more than they take out," he said.

He also played down the impact of health tourism as a "minuscule" part of a wider funding issue.

"The problem with people coming from outside the UK in order to sponge off our health service - that may be a problem and we should certainly deal with abuse - but the figures tell us that they impose rather small costs on the health service and certainly, compared to the scale of the problem, it is minuscule," he said.

Cameron said the government had already taken "concrete steps" to bring down immigration and wanted to put in place more restrictions.

"Right now the message through the benefit system is all wrong. It says if you can’t find a job or drop out of work early, the British taxpayer owes you a living for as long as you like no matter how little you have contributed to social security since you arrived," he said.

"My view is simple. Ending the something for nothing culture needs to apply to immigration as well as welfare."

According to the fact-checking website FullFact.org the overall relative generosity of the UK's benefits system in comparison to other EU states can be measured in a number of different ways.

British welfare payments are no more generous than most of Europe when both public and private spending (including private pensions and healthcare) is taken into account.

However UK is at the top of Europe's league table for benefits spending when counting the portion of spending administered by central government.

Related on HuffPost:

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Immigration: Lib Dems Call For Security Bonds

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is to call for a bail-like system of security bonds to tackle visa abuse.

The bonds would be paid as a cash guarantee from visa applicants coming from high-risk countries and would be repaid once the visitor leaves Britain.

In his first speech on immigration as deputy prime minister, Mr Clegg will unveil the radical proposal at the liberal think-tank, the Centre Forum.

He will pledge to "lay the foundations for an immigration system that embodies this nation's instincts and its values" as he attacks the previous Labour government for "grossly" mismanaging the issue.

Earlier this month, Labour leader Ed Miliband  admitted his party failed on immigration.

Mr Miliband again said his party was wrong to relax controls - a move that allowed hundreds of thousands of foreigners to move to the UK.

Mr Clegg will say: "We are grappling with the difficult challenges in our immigration system.

"Brick by brick, we are rebuilding it. Day by day we are making sure, quite simply, that it works.

"All the British people ask is for a system they can have confidence in. We hear that, and we are delivering it.

"I'm determined we lay the foundations for an immigration system that embodies this nation's instincts and its values - our openness and tolerance on one hand, our sense of fair play, on the other."

The Deputy Prime Minister will say that visa "overstayers" are one of the biggest challenges faced by the immigration system and the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

"The challenge isn't just stopping people coming into Britain illegally, it's about dealing with individuals who come over legitimately, but then become illegal once they're already here," he will say.

To tackle this issue, Mr Clegg has asked the Home Office to run a pilot of so-called security bonds, which echoes an Australian system applied to family visas.

It is understood the cost of the bonds would vary but are likely to be in the region of four figures.

Mr Clegg will be seeking views on the proposal, including from the Home Affairs Select Committee .

"The bonds would need to be well targeted - so that they don't unfairly discriminate against particular groups," he says.

"The amounts would need to be proportionate - we mustn't penalise legitimate visa applicants who will struggle to get hold of the money."

But UKIP, which came second to the Lib Dems in the recent Eastleigh by-election after focusing its campaign on tightening immigration controls, ridiculed Mr Clegg's plans.

Party leader Nigel Farage said: "Nick Clegg now joins the cavalcade of party politicians who have suddenly noticed a simple fact, that they are not trusted with our country's borders.

"Since the Eastleigh by-election they have thrown initiative after initiative at the headlines, but to no serious effect. The bottom line is, there is nothing that he, or they, can do about mass migration into this country while our borders are controlled by the European Union."

Mr Clegg will also reveal plans to increase cash penalties for "unscrupulous" employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants because they are cheaper.

The maximum fine is £10,000 per illegal worker - Mr Clegg will call for the penalty to "double" and has asked the Home Secretary to "look into the right amount".

But the deputy prime minister will also seek to reassure British businesses that the Coalition continues to prioritise "growth and building a stronger economy" with immigration a "key part of that".

He says: "The majority of people who come here work hard and make a contribution. Many have served - and still serve - in our armed forces.

"And if every member of an immigrant community suddenly downed tools, countless businesses and services would suffer.

"The NHS would fall over."

And Mr Clegg will hit out at the Labour party for leaving the immigration system in "disarray".

"The problem is that the system has not been well managed. It has been grossly mismanaged. I cannot stress enough just how chaotic it was."

The speech comes as the Government toughens its stance on immigration with a range of new measures aimed at bringing down net migration to the tens of thousands.

UKBA officials will conduct interviews with more than 100,000 student visa applicants from "high-risk" countries outside the EU to crack down on bogus students.

And a "genuine entrepreneur" test has been introduced to tackle the rising number of foreign nationals attempting to enter Britain by fudging their bank accounts.

But in the wake of criticism from politicians and the higher education sector, some immigration rules were recently loosened in a bid to give additional flexibility to businesses and allow top international students to pursue careers in Britain.

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Mansion Mischief

The ten thing you need to know on Tuesday 12 March 2013...

1) MANSION MISCHIEF

“Playing parliamentary silly buggers” is how one Lib Dem MP described the Labour motion on the mansion tax to us, as Nick Clegg and David Cameron agreed a government amendment that both coalition parties could sign up to. The deal, which makes it clear the Lib Dems support a new levy on homes over £2m while the Tories do not, saves the PM and DPM the awkwardness of a coalition split over the issue.

Labour had mischievously tabled today’s debate in an attempt to either divide the coalition, or force Lib Dem MPs to vote against their own policy. Both of which would be a good laugh for Ed Miliband and Ed Balls. Expect Opposition MPs to have a lot of fun at the Lib Dems expense during this afternoon’s Commons debate. Or rather, more so than usual.

Today's Memo is edited by Ned Simons as Mehdi Hasan is in Rome helping to choose the new Pope.

2) THE (OTHER SORT OF) BIG HOUSE

Chris Huhne meanwhile is swapping his mansion for the other sort of big house today, after being sentenced to eight months in jail. “Well, I certainly lied and lied again,” the former energy secretary told Channel 4 News. "I think my political career is very clearly over but I think that I have other things to offer, doing other things, and I will.”

It’s not all bad for Huhne, his former colleague on the Lib Dem benches, Lembit Opik, has offered to visit him in prison – perhaps seeking a captive audience for his stand-up routine. Surely Huhne has suffered enough?

3) WHO ARE THE 0.2%?

A total of 1,513 votes were cast in the Falklands referendum, with 98.8% of the islanders declaring themselves in favour of remaining British. Just three votes, or 0.2% of the ballot, voted against. There will no doubt be a witch-hunt to find out who the hell those three people were.

William Hague welcomed the utterly unsurprising vote, saying: “We have always been clear that we believe in the rights of the Falklands people to determine their own futures and to decide on the path they wish to take. It is only right that, in the twenty-first century, these rights are respected.

“All countries should accept the results of this referendum and support the Falkland Islanders as they continue to develop their home and their economy. I wish them every success in doing so.”

This morning David Cameron said Argentina should "should take careful note of this result". No word on which way all the penguins voted.

4) THE RYAN PLAN

WASHINGTON - Under the splash headline ‘Austerity Now’ (that pun is so 2010 guys, we’ve used it at least five times, keep up) our American colleagues report that former Republican vice-presidential candidate and chairman of the House Budget Committee Chairman, Paul Ryan, said on Monday he can balance the US federal budget in 10 years without raising taxes any further by achieving $4.6 trillion in additional government spending cuts.

5) CAMERON ‘QUIZZED’

David Cameron will be at the liaison committee at 4pm this afternoon for 90 (it will seem longer) minutes. The format of the sessions, where the chairman of the different Commons select committees each get to question the prime minister means they are about as forensic as yesterday’s PM Direct event where Cameron had to resort to asking himself questions as none were forthcoming from the audience.

Pity the poor aides and journalists who get stuck in camera shot behind the prime minister and have to avoid nodding off live on Sky News (for as long as the broadcasters can bare to cover it that is).

6) POLL ‘BOOSTS’ TORY RIGHT

A Guardian/ICM poll has found that public “overwhelmingly believes a hard line on Europe, immigration and traditional families would make the party more appealing”.

According to the paper by a majority of 67%-25%, voters say, "the Conservatives would be more appealing if they took a tougher line with Europe". Some 75%-21% believe the same about the party taking a "a tougher line on immigration. And voters judge by 69%-24% that the Tories' appeal could be boosted by keeping "themselves on the side of traditional families" – in what will be read as a rejection of gay marriage.

The findings will be seized upon by Tory MPs who believe the key to electoral success in 2015 is to abandon Cameron’s modernising agenda and move to the right to take-on Ukip.

7) TAXI!

The Evening Standard reports that Lutfur Rahman, the mayor of Tower Hamlets in East London, has charged a series of mysteriously expensive taxi journeys to the public. One trip is said to have cost £71 despite the cab only travelling a distance of 400 metres. Another cost £121 when the same journey taken on the capital’s Docklands Light Railway would have cost just £2.10.

8) IRISH ASK UK TO STAY

Irish premier Enda Kenny has become the latest European leader to urge Britain to remain within the European Union. The Taoiseach, in London for a series of engagements including talks with Cameron, insisted Britain has much to gain from its membership.

"We see the British relationship with the EU as being a two-way relationship - Britain benefits from its membership of the EU, and the EU is better off with Britain as a leading member making a valued contribution," Kenny said.

9) NEW POPE TIME

From the BBC: "Cardinals gathered in Rome to elect a new pope will begin voting later on Tuesday, with no clear frontrunner in sight. The 115 cardinal-electors will attend a special Mass in the morning before processing into the Sistine Chapel to begin their deliberations in the afternoon. They will vote four times daily until two-thirds can agree on a candidate."

10) DRONE WARS

WASHINGTON - A new medal that would honor drone pilots and cyber warriors and outrank battlefield combat medals such as the Purple Heart and Bronze Star is facing backlash from veterans organizations and members of Congress, with a bipartisan group of 22 senators pressing the Pentagon to change the designation. As HuffPost reports, the backlash to the medal centers around the fact that it will take precedence over traditional several combat awards, which require that the recipient risk his or her life in order to receive them.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@Queen_UK Queen of the Falklands. By popular consent. #YourQueenLovesYou #DontCryForOneArgentina

@Mike_Fabricant At the request of a Minister in charge of the legislation last night, I have changed my photo back to the pony.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Steve Richards in The Independent: "Labour and the Tories both think they'll lose 2015 and they can't both be right."

Benedict Brogan in the Daily Telegraph:"If Cameron wants his troops to rally, he must act like a general."

Mehdi Hasan in The Huffington Post UK: "Get Rid Of Dave? How Exactly Would That Help the Tories?"

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Tories Ran ‘Rotten’ Eastleigh Campaign, Says Tory MP

A Tory minister has warned the party must not swing to the right after last week's by-election drubbing amid claims most Conservative members believe David Cameron will lose in 2015. Nick Boles indicated the party failed to offer voters any hope in Ea...

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 debates@aljazeera.net.

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 (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Rupert Murdoch And Nigel Farage Dine In ‘Secret’

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 Inter...

Fee to enter? Britain’s immigration crackdown continues

Published time: March 07, 2013 16:11

A Bulgarian shows his UK visa in front of the British embassy in Sofia (AFP Photo / Valentina Petrova)

Immigrants entering Britain may be forced to pay a fee, which would only be reimbursed when they leave UK soil, and if they haven’t used health services. The UK is taking an increasingly hardline stance, despite a recent sharp decline in immigration.

The UK is seeking to impose financial bonds “as a further deterrent to reduce non-compliance by high-risk nationalities,” a source close to Theresa May, the Home Secretary, told the Daily Mail. Additionally, migrant family members already residing in the country would be made to pay a sum of thousands of pounds. It would be returned upon leaving the country.

If the reform goes through, immigrants entering the country for living and work purposes would have to put down the money to guarantee they wouldn’t ‘drain’ the country’s financial resources. Such resources would include things like non-emergency care from the health service. However, if British welfare was used by migrants entering the country, they would risk losing their money.

The entry fee would additionally be used to make sure immigrants didn’t outstay their visa  (and fining them if they do), consolidating an existing act. The Immigration and Asylum Act (1999), already gives the government the right to make immigrants front some money upon entering the country, which can be retained by the government should they remain in the UK after the expiration of their visa.

Individuals from two or three countries were tagged as “high risk”, and it is at them that the scheme is targeted. The UK will not be allowed to impose the charge on immigrants from EU countries who comprise the EU’s Schengen passport-free zone.

Bulgaria and Romania had hoped to gain the same freedom to enter the UK as other EU nations, and were expected to apply to join the zone in a meeting on Thursday. However, their entrance needed to be granted through a unanimous vote, and Germany announced their plan to veto the move on Monday.

“There will be no vote, and no decision,” a source in the EU's current Irish presidency told AFP on Wednesday. “Several nations have reserves or concerns.” As a result, residents of the two countries could be among those impacted.

Net migration into Britain has fallen by a third, from 247,000 thousand migrants in June 2011 to 163,000 in 2012, according the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Conservatives said they would clamp down on migrants, saying they were taking advantage of Britain's “soft touch,” which he was determined to quash.

On Wednesday, the Labour party leader Ed Miliband promised to take a heavy hand with immigration. He stated that the party had got it wrong in the past, saying “millions of people are concerned.”

“Low-skill migration has been too high and we need to bring it down,” he said.

The Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper called for the closure of student visa loopholes on Thursday, saying that many overstay or abuse (e.g. working instead of studying), despite the party denying accusations that they are moving to the right on migration.  

The British Conservative party was shunted into third place in the Eastleigh by-election in February. The UKIP candidate, who beat the Conservatives, is a member of a party described by the Tory government as packed with “loonies and closet racists.”  

It has been suggested that parties are adopting a stronger stance because of UKIP’s reputation for being heavy-handed on immigration.

Labour MP Diane Abbot, issued a recent warning to her party not to “spiral downwards” by veering to the right on immigration as a result of the by-election results.

John O’Farrell’s Had Quite Enough Of The Daily Mail

Eastleigh by-election The Liberal Democrat candidate Mike Thornton celebrates (left) after the declaration at Fleming Park in Eastleigh, Hampshire where he won the by-election. Left to right: Mike Thornton, Lib Dem, John O'Farrell, Labour, Danny Stupp...

‘We Should Not Learn The Wrong Lessons From Eastleigh,’ Says Tory Peer

Eastleigh by-election The Liberal Democrat candidate Mike Thornton celebrates (left) after the declaration at Fleming Park in Eastleigh, Hampshire where he won the by-election. Left to right: Mike Thornton, Lib Dem, John O'Farrell, Labour, Danny Stupp...

Bilderberg Accused of Creating Pro-EU Front Group

An MEP has accused a new group, the Centre for British Influence in Europe, of merely being a front for the Bilderberg group in order to remove public opposition against the EU.

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 (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: The Return Of ‘Calamity Clegg’?

The ten things you need to know on Monday 25 February 2013...

1) THE RETURN OF 'CALAMITY CLEGG'?

Oh dear. So there we were, minding our own business on a Sunday evening, when out comes the deputy prime minister with a pretty startling admission - "indirect and non-specific concerns about Chris Rennard’s conduct reached my office in 2008" - that seem to contradict his earlier denials of having had any knowledge of claims of sexual misconduct against the senior Lib Dem peer. Clegg flew back to the UK from a half-term holiday in Spain with his family to proclaim that he would "not stand by and allow my party to be subject to a show trial of innuendo, half-truths and slurs".

But the Lib Dem leader has turned a controversy over sexual harassment into, basically, a Lib Dem leadership crisis - perhaps the worst of his political career. Speaking on Radio Solent this morning, Clegg said he "feels for" the women who have come forward but said "until last week... no very specific allegations were put to me...now that those general concerns have evolved into specific concerns we can act and we will".

This morning's front pages have gone for Clegg's jugular:

"Revealed: The Damning New Claim Against Nick Clegg" (Telegraph)

"Clegg Says He Knew Of Sex Claims About Peer" (Times)

"Clegg: I Did Know About Sex Claims" (Independent)

"Clegg Admits He Knew About Sex Claims" (Guardian)

"Clegg: I Did Know About Lord Grope" (Daily Mirror)

As is so often the case when it comes to the Lib Dems, the most damning splash is on the front of the Daily Mail:

"Weasel words: Clegg insisted he didn't know about sex allegations against peer. Now he admits he ordered probe FIVE YEARS ago into 'non specific' claims of assaults Now Lib Dems face a police probe."

The paper notes how the Lib Dem leader dumped the current chief secretary to the Treasury right in it: "In a stunning about-face, Mr Clegg said he asked his chief of staff, Danny Alexander, to probe ‘concerns about Chris Rennard’s conduct’ in 2008."

The Telegraph reports:

"Mr Clegg’s predecessors as party leader, Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell, could also be asked whether any concerns about Lord Rennard had been raised with them.

"... However party insiders have told The Telegraph that 'at least a dozen women' could have been the subject of the peer's attention."

It ain't looking good for the coalition's junior partner - and this story is going to run and run. "The Lib Dems' attempt last week to insulate Clegg and set up an internal inquiry smacked of a bid to sweep the controversy back under a carpet," writes Kevin Maguire in today's Mirror. "It's been blindingly obvious since the US Watergate scandal that any hint of a cover-up can be more dangerous than the original crime."

Meanwhile, senior Lib Dems are queueing up to plead ignorance. "I knew of no reports that suggested Chris Rennard resigned for anything other than health reasons," the party's deputy leader Simon Hughes said on BBC Breakfast this morning. Pressed on whether he was aware of complaints against Rennard, Vince Cable told the Marr programme yesterday: "Absolutely not."

And it has to be pointed out, of course, that Lord Rennard has strenuously denied all of the allegations made against him.

2) LET'S TRY AGAIN

If you think the Rennard affair is the only scandal harming the Lib Dems right now, think again.

From the Telegraph:

"The retrial begins today of Vicky Pryce, 60, after the jury was discharged for failing to reach a verdict in her trial for perverting the course of justice by taking speeding points for ex–husband Chris Huhne."

3) EYE ON EASTLEIGH

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems remain bullish about their prospects for victory in Eastleigh - the Times quotes a senior pary figure, speaking off the record:

“'If Chris Huhne lying isn’t going to derail us then a peer that very few people have heard of is not going to harm us,' he said.

"Although Mike Thornton, the Lib Dem candidate, remains the favourite to win the election, bookmakers have cut the odds of victory for the Conservatives after a new poll. The poll, conducted by Survation and published yesterday, showed the Tories with a four-point lead. Ladbrokes has slashed the odds of Maria Hutchings, the Conservative candidate, winning the seat from 5-1 to 5-2."

As the Independent's lead editorial notes, "It is difficult to overstate the significance of Thursday's by-election. The contest is still a hard-fought scrap between the Coalition partners with far-reaching implications for Britain's political landscape, up to the 2015 election and beyond." The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh agrees: "Thursday’s battle will seal the fate of either David Cameron or Nick Clegg and even perhaps the Coalition they lead. It could even hasten the General Election, officially fixed for May 2015, with devastating consequences for the Conservatives."

4) 'A DOWNGRADED CHANCELLOR'

The Rennard affair couldn't have come along at a better time for George Osborne. All eyes are on the Lib Dems, rather than the hapless chancellor of the exchequer who lost our economy's triple-A credit rating on Friday night.

Well, not all eyes. The FT splashes on "Osborne feels the heat over rating blow", noting how:

"George Osborne is under pressure from both sides of the coalition to change the government's economic plan after the UK's loss of its triple A credit rating prompted colleagues of the chancellor to question his economic credibility.

"... Tory MPs are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the chancellor's performance, with the 100-strong "No Turning Back" group of Thatcherite backbenchers spearheading a push for greater austerity to fund tax cuts.

"David Ruffley, a leading member of the group, said: 'Some of us would like him to cut public spending even more in order to fund tax cuts to inject a fiscal stimulus into the UK economy at the budget.'"

Cut spending even more? Really? Insanity, as Einstein is said to have once remarked, is doing the same thing twice and expecting different results.

"George Osborne is a bankrupt Chancellor of the Exchequer," says an irate editorial in the Mirror. "His failure to adopt a Plan B to make the economy grow is the political equivalent of banging his head against a brick wall... As it stands, he is a downgraded Chancellor."

In its lead editorial, however, the Times - home to key Osborne ally, Danny Finkelstein - says "the problem is not that the strategy laid out by the coalition in 2010 was wrong. It is that the Government has failed to implement that strategy with sufficient vigour and political courage".

If. You. Say. So.

5) GAY MARRIAGE REVOLT, PART 68

First we discovered that Dave was having difficulties persuading his mother to back his same-sex marriage bill; now we learn that he's lost the support of the chair of his own local party association. From the Telegraph:

"The chairman of David Cameron’s local Conservative association has resigned in protest at his support for gay marriage.

"Cicely Maunder, 64, has abandoned her party membership and a number of the executive committee in Chipping Norton are said to have joined her.

"The decision by Mrs Maunder will be embarrassing for the Prime Minister who has a home in his Witney Constituency not far from the town in Oxfordshire."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a kitten inside a... glass. Yes, a glass.

6) 'LISTENING TRIP'

Welcome to Britain, John! From the Times:

"John Kerry, the new US Secretary of State, is expected to focus on the Middle East on his inaugural world tour, which kicked off in London last night.

"Syria will be on the menu at a breakfast meeting with David Cameron this morning, but talks with the Prime Minister and later with William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, are also expected to touch on the Falklands.

Mr Kerry's ten-day tour is billed as a "listening trip" but already it is becoming clear that the new Secretary of State will run up against problems: the reluctance of the Syrian opposition to trust a White House that has vetoed arms deliveries, the limits of diplomacy in persuading Iran to drop its pursuit of a nuclear bomb, and European reluctance to spend more on defence. It will also take up the British call for faster progress on reaching a Middle East peace settlement, with an eye to President Obama's trip to Israel in March.

The paper notes that "Mr Kerry has an edge over his European counterparts because, unlike many of them, he has met President Assad on several occasions".

7) THE LOST WAR

More good news from the 'good war' in Afghanistan - via tonight's BBC Panorama:

"Shocking revelations of murder, sexual abuse of young boys, unarmed civilians being shot at, police officers high on drugs, and routine kidnaps and extortion are exposing the true state of Afghanistan's security forces in Helmand province.

"An investigation has revealed how Afghan forces running bases that British soldiers fought to secure are barely able to function – let alone pose a challenge to the Taliban."

Meanwhile, the Times reports:

"President Karzai yesterday ordered all US Special Forces out of a province bordering Kabul amid allegations that Afghans working with them are involved in murder and torture."

"In a test of his power over the Nato-led mission, the President issued his directive after several months of complaints about US-sponsored militias roaming unchecked in Wardak. They are alleged to have cut a student’s throat and made nine people disappear."

Are you 'listening', Mr Kerry?

8) 'HOW NOT TO RUN AN ELECTION'

That's the title of a new and damning study from the Electoral Reform Society on last November's police and crime commissioner elections - described as a multimillionpound "debacle"

The Guardian reports:

"Nearly 90% of voters in England and Wales have no idea who their police and crime commissioner is despite November's first direct elections, which cost £75m. A study by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) shows the elections, which recorded the lowest turnout in peacetime history, were poorly delivered and had failed candidates and voters. Voters were left in the dark about who they could vote for, while candidates were kept away by huge deposits, unclear eligibility rules, vast electoral districts and high campaign costs."

9) MOVE TO WALES, SAVE MONEY

Desperate times call for desperate measures. From the Independent's front page:

"Taxpayers could be given a discount for living and working in Wales, as part of attempts to boost the country's underdeveloped economy.

"The British Government spends £18bn more on Wales every year than it gets back in tax - or £6,008 per head of the Welsh population. At present just one in 16 people earn more than £34,000 - the rate at which the higher 40 per cent tax band kicks in.

"Now, The Independent understands, the Treasury is proposing to allow the Welsh Assembly taxation powers that would allow it to vary the rates of tax that apply to people who live and work in Wales."

10) AN OSCAR FOR LINCOLN

Woo-hoo! Daniel Day-Lewis's superb portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln, in the Steven Spielberg biopic of the same name, ensured the British-born star become the first person to win the best actor Oscar for the third time at last night's Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles.

The HuffPost UK's full report on last night's Oscars, and full list of winners and runners-up, is here.

My recent New Statesman column on what Obama can learn from Lincoln is here.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 43
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 114.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@iainmartin1 Chris Huhne down and out, Nick Clegg auditioning for part of Richard Nixon. Vince Cable... pondering...

@toryjim So Nick Clegg might have known something but didn't know what that something that he might have known but didn't know was.

@davidschneider Keen to get to truth of Rennard affair, Clegg launches full inquiry supervised by the Vatican.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Gaby Hinsliff, writing in the Guardian, says: "The Lib Dems' handling of harassment claims has so far been shameful. Their inquiries had best follow their brief – and dig."

Stephen Glover, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "Pity the voters who trusted the REAL 'nasty party'".

Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta, writing in the Times, says: "Our people have an improving economy at home. They don’t need to come to Britain."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Could The Tories Pull Off Surprise Eastleigh Victory?

The Tories could be on track for a surprise victory in the Eastleigh by-election, according to a poll on Saturday night. Research by Survation for the Mail on Sunday put the Conservatives' Maria Hutchings on 33% - four points ahead of the Liberal Demo...

LOOK: The Week In Funny Pictures

From London Fashion Week to the Eastleigh by-election, from the Brit Awards to a Brit abroad (that's you, Mr Cameron) - check out this week's round-up of silly snaps...

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  • Hugh Grant categorically denies fathering a third child... to its face.

  • The only thing funnier than David Cameron barefoot and in a turban...

  • ...is David Cameron barefoot and in a turban, cooking chapatis.

  • Adrian Chiles goes to desperate lengths to work with Christine Bleakley again.

  • Carphone Warehouse employee Justin Timberlake takes time out from his Brits entrance to show a fan how her mobile phone works.

  • And suddenly, Robbie Williams was no longer the cockiest bloke in the room.

  • To be fair, Moonie wedding ceremonies ARE awfully long.

  • The scariest snail you will ever encounter. If you're a tiny toy figure.

  • Eek. Ed Miliband's wife will <a href="http://redirect.viglink.com?key=11fe087258b6fc0532a5ccfc924805c0&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.huffingtonpost.co.uk%2F2013%2F02%2F18%2Fed-miliband-happy-to-meet_n_2709986.html">give him Helle</a> over this photo.

  • Silvio Berlusconi shows us not his own sex face, but the sex face of every woman he's been with.

  • Adele, astonished that her Brits speech isn't being cut short.

  • Prince Charles gets down with The Kids. Literally.

  • Still, at least his efforts are better than David Cameron's.

  • Michelle Obama isn't convinced by Barack's special 'sexy Valentine' costume.

  • "And this is the gap between how we were polling at the last election and where we are now..."

  • "And here's the Tories... and there's UKIP."

  • Colin Farrell on a horse. A horse WHICH HAS HAIR LIKE COLIN FARRELL. WHAT'S NOT TO LOVE, PEOPLE?!

  • Easily the strangest bridal outfit on show at London Fashion Week.

  • Because nothing says "I love you" like a giant billboard poster.

  • "And what do YOU do?"

  • Strangely, not everyone's impressed by meeting Barack Obama.

  • Still, he always manages to win them over.

  • Ed Miliband. Never not funny when drinking tea.

  • Cara Delevingne shows us why she's repeatedly hailed as The World's Most Beautiful Woman.

  • "Mine... mine... mine". The penguins from Madagascar check in their luggage at Heathrow.

  • Cameron gives the Indians a run for their (highly desirable, please-invest-it-in-the-UK) money.

  • Boris Johnson meets yet another receptive voter in Eastleigh.

  • In which Simon Pegg draws the short straw and has to present a Brit Award with Bérénice Marlohe.

  • Angela Merkel. You wouldn't like her when she's angry.

  • Spot the odd one out. That's right - it's the one holding up her phone.

  • Barack Obama - the only man to get angry when given a Valentine's card.

  • And finally: a picture that was just dying to be Photoshopped. <a href="http://redirect.viglink.com?key=11fe087258b6fc0532a5ccfc924805c0&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.huffingtonpost.co.uk%2F2013%2F02%2F22%2Fdavid-cameron-eastleigh-funny-picture_n_2741294.html%3F1361547465">So it was. </a>

(All images PA unless otherwise credited)

Lib Dems Favourites To Win Eastleigh By-Election

The Lib Dems are odds-on favourites to win the hotly anticipated Eastleigh by-election with the Tories falling further behind, according to the latest odds. Nick Clegg's party are now 4/7 odds-on favourites with the Conservatives drifting in the betti...

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 (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Mili’s Mansion Gamble

The five things you need to know on Friday 15 February 2013...

1) MILI'S MANSION GAMBLE

If you're Ed Miliband, trailing on the economy in the polls and attacked for being a policy-free zone, what do you do? How do manage, as the Labour leader did yesterday, to unite the Telegraph's Dan Hodges, the Independent's Owen Jones and ConHome's Tim Montgomerie behind you? Why, you give a major speech on the economy in which you, in the words of the Guardian, "undo one of Gordon Brown's greatest mistakes by announcing that Labour intends to reintroduce a 10p tax band funded by a new mansion tax on properties valued at more than £2m".

The paper's political editor Patrick Wintour writes:

"Brown abolished the 10p rate in 2007, prompting a revolt of Labour MPs and the low-paid. On Thursday Miliband described it as a mistake and the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, said the abolition meant 'people understandably thought Labour was no longer on the side of the hard-working people we have always sought to help'."

And the paper's leader argues:

"Mr Miliband has begun to write something specific on what for too long has been Labour's fiscal blank page. For that alone, he deserves credit for a good day's work."

Lefty Lib Dems, such as the business secretary Vince Cable who first pitched the idea of a mansion tax in opposition, wil look with envy at Mili's mansion tax proposal.

Not everyone's happy - the Times calls the move a "sleight of hand". The Institute for Fiscal Studies calls it "a remarkable failure to learn from history".

Writing for the Huffington Post UK, Tory backbencher Robert Halfon MP, who has led the campaign for the restoration of the 10p tax rate, dismissed Miliband's proposal as "a PR wheeze written on the back of an envelope".

The Sun agrees with Halfon:

"[W]hy won't [Miliband] wholeheartedly commit his party to it — rather than describing it as an 'ambition?' Perhaps because it's a cynical stunt hurriedly thrown together to woo wavering voters at next week's Eastleigh by-election."

"Nevertheless," the paper adds, "The Sun welcomes Ed's idea of a 10p rate."

And, ultimately, you might say, from Labour's perspective, that's all that matters...

Note: For various technical reasons, today's Memo contains only five, not ten, things you need to know. Apologies.

2) DON'T YOU DARE COME HERE

'Compassionate' Cameron seems like a distant memory; now we have a populist PM who sounds like a Daily Mail leader writer.

From the Times splash:

"David Cameron was challenged by Brussels last night over his increasing efforts to impose tougher curbs on immigrants.

"The Prime Minister thrust the issue to the forefront of the Eastleigh byelection yesterday, saying that Britain must do more to deter immigrants by cutting their access to benefits and services.

"There's a lot more to do to make sure that we are not a soft touch," Mr Cameron told voters on his first campaign visit to the constituency in Hampshire.

"It was too easy for migrants from overseas 'to come here and take advantage of us', he added."

But the paper quotes EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding as saying: "There are one million British citizens living in other member states. Do you think those member states can discriminate against them because they are British citizens? You treat them the same as you treat national citizens."

Hear, hear!

3) DAVE VS THE SUPERMARKETS

It isn't just EU migrants who are in the PM's crosshairs - from the Telegraph splash:

"As Asda withdrew four beef products following the discovery of horse DNA in bolognese sauce, David Cameron was said to be increasingly angered at the way consumers had been 'misled' about what they were buying.

"The Prime Minister believes that senior executives of major stores should have given media interviews to explain why horse meat had got on to British plates and what checks were made with suppliers."

"A senior No 10 source said on Thursday: 'It is not acceptable for retailers to remain silent while their customers have been misled. The supermarkets need to justify their action and reassure the public.'

"The comments came as the food industry prepared to reveal the results of 1,000 tests carried out on products stocked by 13 retailers. They are expected to show that the horse meat scandal is more widespread than previously thought."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a ginger cat attacking a large potato.

4) AUSTERITY WATCH, PART 413

From the Times:

"More than a fifth of local authorities are set to defy the Government’s policy to freeze council tax from April. George Osborne had hoped that town halls would accept subsidies to stave off any council tax rises for a third year. But at least 81 councils in England and Wales — nearly three times as many as last year — have announced that they intend to put up taxes from April."

Meanwhile, the BBC reports:

"Government attempts to stimulate the economy have been criticised as 'expensive experiments' by an influential group of MPs.

"The Public Accounts Committee said the Treasury could not say what the effect of the Bank of England's quantitative easing programme had been.

"A flagship lending scheme had also 'failed' the MPs said."

5) 'MOVING THE GOALPOSTS'

Shock! Horror! A lack of money is a central factor in child poverty, say a group of experts. Are you listening, IDS?

From the Guardian:

"The government's desire to alter the official definition of child poverty risks deliberately downplaying the importance of money just as a series of government policies will reduce the incomes of poor families, a group of senior academics warn in a letter to the Guardian today... The letter, signed by some of the country's leading academics in this field, agrees [with the government] that in addition to the current measures used to count the number of children living in poverty, it would be 'helpful to track what is happening to the factors that lead to poverty and the barriers to children's life chances'.

"But they warn: 'It does not make sense to combine all of these into a single measure. To do so would open up the government to the accusation that it aims to dilute the importance of income in monitoring the extent of 'poverty' at precisely the time that many of its policies will be reducing the real incomes of poor families.'

"Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, the lead consultant on the UK's contribution to Unicef's Child Well-Being report, said he believed that the government was 'trying to move the goalposts' at a time when child poverty was increasing rapidly."

** "WAS IT WORTH IT? IRAQ, TEN YEARS ON"

Today's the tenth anniversary of the march against the Iraq war - for all the Huffington Post UK's special coverage of the march and the conflict, click here. For my latest column, 'On Iraq, the Hawks Were Wrong About Everything', click here.

The Guardian, meanwhile, has a poll showing:

"A majority of voters, 55%, agree with suggestions that 'the London marchers were right', because 'a war sold on a false prospectus delivered little but bloodshed'. That is almost twice the 28% who believe the marchers were wrong, on the basis that the war's achievement in 'toppling the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein' eventually made the world a better place."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 10

That would give Labour a majority of 114.

From yesterday's Evening Standard/Ipsos MORI poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 30
Ukip 9
Lib Dems 7

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@steverichards14 Ed M has signalled distance from Brown era while using a Brown ploy- a popular tax rise and tax cut to symbolise fairness. Clever politics.

@schofieldkevinWhen Gordon Brown scrapped the 10p tax rate in 2008, @Ed_Miliband said: "Overall these changes make the tax system fairer."

@mrjohnofarrell: Fear I have already turned into political robot. Valentines card to wife just said 'Vote Labour in #Eastleigh for a One Nation alternative'.'

900 WORDS OR MORE

Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, says: "Ed Miliband is a man with the makings of a brave and visionary leader."

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Slavery, not horse meat, is the real scandal on our doorstep."

Liz Truss, writing in the Independent, says: "The curriculum we are introducing captures British history in all it's multi-layered, omni-racial glory."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

John Major Tells Tory EU ‘Rebels’ To Be Quiet, Warns Against UK Exit

John Major has warned eurosceptic Tory MPs to keep quiet, arguing they are damaging David Cameron's negotiating position in Brussels as he tries to repatriate powers ahead of a 2017 referendum.

The former prime minister, whose time as leader of the Conservative Party was characterised by deep splits over Europe, said the in/out ballot promised by Cameron was a necessary "gamble" for both the country and the party.

"The relationship with Europe has poisoned British politics for too long, distracted parliament from other issues, and come close to destroying the Conservative Party. It is time to resolve the matter," he said.

"I favour this referendum because I simply don't believe we can go on on as we are, year after year, prime minister after prime minster going to Europe being pushed by people to negotiate a victory equivalent to Waterloo," he said.

In a strongly pro-EU speech given at the Chatham House foreign policy think-tank in central London on Thursday afternoon, Sir John said that while the EU was far from perfect, to leave would be to "jump into a void".

But the former prime minister, who negotiated Britain's opt out from the single currency during the Maastricht negotiations in 1991, warned the "aggressive" stance taken towards the EU by some Conservative MPs was damaging and should be ignored by Cameron.

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"Rebellion is addictive, and some members may be getting a taste for it," he said. "I learned twenty years ago that the parliamentary party includes irreconcilables who are prepared to bring down any government or any prime minister in support of their opposition to the EU.

"Members with Conservative heads and Ukip hearts cannot be placated. Whatever is offered to them will be insufficient. They will demand more. They will only be satisfied by withdrawal. It is, therefore, essential for the prime minister to rally the persuadable majority of the parliamentary party."

Sir John said that if other EU leaders believe Cameron has been forced to the negotiation table by anti-EU MPs he would be seen to be "acting under political duress, rather than principle and conviction" – and his hand will be weakened. He added: "The truly well-meaning will give him advice in private."

His intervention can be seen as a rebuke to many backbench Tory MPs who believe their decision to rebel against the prime minister in a Commons vote in which they demanded Cameron seek a cut in the EU budget actually strengthened the UK's negotiating position.

Sir John also rejected calls for a deal to be done with Ukip in advance of the 2015 general election. "I don't think we can or should do a deal with Ukip," he said. "The leadership of Ukip have a policy which is against the UK national interest, they want us to leave the European Union ... we can not make common cause with Ukip."

Sir John said he did not have a "shred of doubt" that he British interest in the short and long term was better served by being inside the EU.

He said: "Being inside the EU can often be frustrating; but outside, we would be at a serious competitive disadvantage. The tens of thousands of UK companies who trade with the European Union should think long and hard about the consequences of exit. So should their employees, numbered in millions. To leave, would be a jump into a void.

Sir John also said Cameron should overrule Nick Clegg and appoint appoint a "lead negotiator" within cabinet to be his "personal emissary" to European capitals as he tries to renegotiate Britain's membership of the the EU. He said it was vital the appointee be personally close to the prime minister, but shied away from suggesting a name.

Related on HuffPost:

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 (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Labour Select Satirist As Eastleigh By-Election Candidate

Labour has selected author and satirist John O'Farrell as its candidate to fight the Eastleigh by-election. Announced on Wednesday night, O'Farrell is the last of the main party candidates to be picked for the contest on February 28, which was trigger...

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: .@CNBC 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 (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Nuclear North Korea

The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 12 February 2013...

1) NORTH KOREAN NUKES

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the war with a country that turned out not to have WMD, North Korea has celebrated by reminding us that they actually do.

Pyongyang has sparked alarm around the world by testing a nuclear bomb. The reclusive communist state has confirmed it has successfully conducted a third underground nuclear test, defying UN orders to stop building atomic weapons.

Foreign Secretary William Hague "strongly condemned" the move, calling it a "violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions".

UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon said the test was "a clear and grave violation" of UN security council resolutions.

Responding to the news, Hague said: "North Korea's development of its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities poses a threat to international and regional security. Its repeated provocations only serve to increase regional tension, and hinder the prospects for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula."

2) WHAT ISN'T MADE OF HORSE?

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is due to meet food industry representatives for the second time in a week to discuss the horsemeat crisis. The European Union has also called a summit to discuss the issue as the scandal spreads across the continent.

Paterson did not appear to impress when he updated MPs on the crisis in the Commons yesterday. Fortunately, or unfortunately, for him, he will have a second chance today after Labour called a debate.

"The barking, staccato, manner of Owen Paterson is irresistibly reminiscent of that of Basil Fawlty," says Donald Macintyre in the Independent. "He was beginning to sound like a failing comedian desperate to get the audience onside," writes Simon Hoggart in the Guardian. "At one point he attempted what I think of as the Any Questions defence, which is to make a ringing yet meaningless declaration."

3) PAPA WON'T PREACH

From the Telegraph:

"In the age of 24-hour news, email and Twitter, few announcements of state are kept a secret before they are made, even fewer have the power to make the world stop in disbelief.

"But Monday morning a declaration in Latin, delivered in a faltering voice to 50 cardinals in Rome, stopped millions of people in their stride as Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff for 600 years to resign."

The Telegraph says that "Cardinal Peter Turkson, of Ghana, could become the first black pope after being named as one of the early front-runners by bookmakers".

Meanwhile, as the tributes to Benedict XVI flood in, it's worth checking out the stinging piece in the Independent by the human-rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, who says the Pope's resignation is "merely expedient": "It would have been both astonishing and courageous, a few years ago, had it been offered in atonement for the atrocity to which he had for 30 years turned a blind eye - the rape, buggery and molestation of tens of thousands of small boys in priestly care."

4) PARTY LIKE IT'S 2003

Whatever happened to Dave's EU speech poll bounce? From the Guardian:

"Labour has forged a 12-point lead over the Conservatives for the first time in almost a decade, according to a Guardian/ICM poll.

"Ed Miliband's party stands at 41% of the vote, up three points on ICM's January figure, and the Tories are on just 29%, having slipped back four from 33% last month.

"... The Labour lead is the biggest - and the Conservative vote share the smallest - in the polling series since May 2003, during the brief political bounce for Tony Blair which came between the felling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad and first stirrings of civil war in Iraq and arguments about dodgy dossiers."

But what will concern Cameron most is this bit:

"Underlying the dire numbers for the Conservatives are signs of a gender divide that will concern No 10. Among men Labour enjoys a seven-point lead over the Tories (36%-29%), but among women the gap is 26 points (51%-25%)."

5) GIRL POWER, 21st-CENTURY EDITION

From the Guardian:

"The Queen has topped the first ever power list put together by BBC Radio 4 show Woman's Hour, but there is no room on it for her daughter-in-law the Duchess of Cambridge.

"She was joined in the top five on the list of the country's most powerful women by home secretary Theresa May, Santander boss Ana Botin, supreme court judge Baroness Brenda Hale and businesswoman Elisabeth Murdoch.

"... Other names in the top 20 include the founders of Mumsnet, Justine Roberts and Carrie Longton, the new head of the TUC, Frances O'Grady, and JK Rowling."

I don't know what's more depressing - that the number 1 slot in a list of the most powerful women in the UK in 2013 is considered to be a person who inherited her job from her father or that the biggest talking point in the papers is why her daughter-in-law, an unelected princess, didn't make the list?

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a baby monkey playing with a Bernese mountain dog.

6) HOW'S THE STATE OF THE UNION, MR PRESIDENT?

Tonight Barack Obama will do what he does best - give a speech.

From the Independent: "An emboldened Barack Obama will serve notice to his foes on Capitol Hill tonight that he means to get his own way in his second term and deliver on promises to spur growth and tackle tricky issues ranging from climate change to guns, immigration and nuclear arms.

"The annual State of the Union Address gives Mr Obama the opportunity to lay down markers for his entire second four-year term. He is certain to emphasise giving the still-sluggish recovery much-needed oomph with new spending initiatives, such as on education, clean energy and infrastructure."

But Republicans in Congress could block it all; the FT's leader notes: "The key difference between State of the Union addresses and the Queen's Speech to the opening of the UK parliament is that the US president's is usually just a wish list."

On a side note, as the Indy notes, "almost more anticipated than Mr Obama's speech tonight is the traditional Republican rebuttal. This time it will come from Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, regarded by some as a future saviour of the Republican Party and possible 2016 presidential candidate."

7) YOU'RE FIRED

From the BBC: "Barclays has said it will cut 3,700 jobs following a strategic review. That includes 1,800 jobs at its investment bank and 1,900 in European retail and business banking."

Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Barclays chief executive Anthony Jenkins admitted: "It will take years before people actually change their impression of us." You can say that again...

8) WORK EXPERIENCE OR FORCED LABOUR?

From the Guardian:

"The court of appeal will on Tuesday judge whether government employment schemes constitute forced labour and if tens of thousands of unemployed people will still be entitled to compensation after being wrongly sanctioned by the Department of Work and Pensions.

In a 50-page ruling last August judge Justice Foskett dismissed claims by two jobseekers that the government's back-to-work schemes amounted to "forced labour". Lawyers acting for the government and two unemployed complainants returned to the courts in December to appeal different aspects of the findings.

Geology graduate Cait Reilly was made to work in Poundland unpaid while Jamieson Wilson, an unemployed lorry driver, was left destitute after the DWP stripped him of all benefits when he refused to work for free for six months under a new trial programme."

The decision is expected at 10am.

9) 'PERMANENT STAIN'

David Cameron has failed to give assurances that his proposals for press regulation will be "fully compliant" with Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations, campaign group Hacked Off said yesterday. The prime minister met Hacked Off directors Brian Cathcart and Evan Harris ahead of the publication of the "Royal Charter", which will set out the Conservative party's plans in the wake of the Leveson Report.

Gerry McCann, the father of Madeleine McCann, has warned Cameron that a “permanent stain” would be left on the government if it failed to reform the press.

The plans for a Royal Charter have also been criticised for actually bringing in more state control than the Leveson proposals. Tory peer Lord Fowler told HuffPost UK in January that Cameron would "look absurd" if he argued for a charter over the Leveson report.

10) 'DON'T BE STUPID'

Ed Balls has warned Ed Miliband not to be “stupid” and allow Labour to be seen as the “anti-referendum” party on Europe. In an interview with the Yorkshire Post, the shadow chancellor said: "As long as we don’t allow ourselves to be caricatured as an anti-referendum party, which we’re not – we’ve absolutely not ruled out a referendum – I personally think that for now this is quite a comfortable position for us.

“If we allow ourselves either to be the ‘status quo party’ on Europe, or the ‘anti-referendum party’ on Europe, then we’ve got a problem."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

From the new Guardian/ICM poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 29
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@SophyRidgeSky I'll be taking part in the Rehab pancake race this morning - where political journos take on MPs and peers

@benedictbrogan My column from today's @Telegraph: The voters know it’s a hard road, but they won’t want to turn back http://soc.li/AwetlDQ

@steverichards14 Today's column: Horsemeat: Regulation doesn’t taste so bad now, does it?

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Nuclear North Korea

The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 12 February 2013...

1) NORTH KOREAN NUKES

As we approach the tenth anniversary of the war with a country that turned out not to have WMD, North Korea has celebrated by reminding us that they actually do.

Pyongyang has sparked alarm around the world by testing a nuclear bomb. The reclusive communist state has confirmed it has successfully conducted a third underground nuclear test, defying UN orders to stop building atomic weapons.

Foreign Secretary William Hague "strongly condemned" the move, calling it a "violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions".

UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon said the test was "a clear and grave violation" of UN security council resolutions.

Responding to the news, Hague said: "North Korea's development of its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities poses a threat to international and regional security. Its repeated provocations only serve to increase regional tension, and hinder the prospects for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula."

2) WHAT ISN'T MADE OF HORSE?

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is due to meet food industry representatives for the second time in a week to discuss the horsemeat crisis. The European Union has also called a summit to discuss the issue as the scandal spreads across the continent.

Paterson did not appear to impress when he updated MPs on the crisis in the Commons yesterday. Fortunately, or unfortunately, for him, he will have a second chance today after Labour called a debate.

"The barking, staccato, manner of Owen Paterson is irresistibly reminiscent of that of Basil Fawlty," says Donald Macintyre in the Independent. "He was beginning to sound like a failing comedian desperate to get the audience onside," writes Simon Hoggart in the Guardian. "At one point he attempted what I think of as the Any Questions defence, which is to make a ringing yet meaningless declaration."

3) PAPA WON'T PREACH

From the Telegraph:

"In the age of 24-hour news, email and Twitter, few announcements of state are kept a secret before they are made, even fewer have the power to make the world stop in disbelief.

"But Monday morning a declaration in Latin, delivered in a faltering voice to 50 cardinals in Rome, stopped millions of people in their stride as Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff for 600 years to resign."

The Telegraph says that "Cardinal Peter Turkson, of Ghana, could become the first black pope after being named as one of the early front-runners by bookmakers".

Meanwhile, as the tributes to Benedict XVI flood in, it's worth checking out the stinging piece in the Independent by the human-rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, who says the Pope's resignation is "merely expedient": "It would have been both astonishing and courageous, a few years ago, had it been offered in atonement for the atrocity to which he had for 30 years turned a blind eye - the rape, buggery and molestation of tens of thousands of small boys in priestly care."

4) PARTY LIKE IT'S 2003

Whatever happened to Dave's EU speech poll bounce? From the Guardian:

"Labour has forged a 12-point lead over the Conservatives for the first time in almost a decade, according to a Guardian/ICM poll.

"Ed Miliband's party stands at 41% of the vote, up three points on ICM's January figure, and the Tories are on just 29%, having slipped back four from 33% last month.

"... The Labour lead is the biggest - and the Conservative vote share the smallest - in the polling series since May 2003, during the brief political bounce for Tony Blair which came between the felling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad and first stirrings of civil war in Iraq and arguments about dodgy dossiers."

But what will concern Cameron most is this bit:

"Underlying the dire numbers for the Conservatives are signs of a gender divide that will concern No 10. Among men Labour enjoys a seven-point lead over the Tories (36%-29%), but among women the gap is 26 points (51%-25%)."

5) GIRL POWER, 21st-CENTURY EDITION

From the Guardian:

"The Queen has topped the first ever power list put together by BBC Radio 4 show Woman's Hour, but there is no room on it for her daughter-in-law the Duchess of Cambridge.

"She was joined in the top five on the list of the country's most powerful women by home secretary Theresa May, Santander boss Ana Botin, supreme court judge Baroness Brenda Hale and businesswoman Elisabeth Murdoch.

"... Other names in the top 20 include the founders of Mumsnet, Justine Roberts and Carrie Longton, the new head of the TUC, Frances O'Grady, and JK Rowling."

I don't know what's more depressing - that the number 1 slot in a list of the most powerful women in the UK in 2013 is considered to be a person who inherited her job from her father or that the biggest talking point in the papers is why her daughter-in-law, an unelected princess, didn't make the list?

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a baby monkey playing with a Bernese mountain dog.

6) HOW'S THE STATE OF THE UNION, MR PRESIDENT?

Tonight Barack Obama will do what he does best - give a speech.

From the Independent: "An emboldened Barack Obama will serve notice to his foes on Capitol Hill tonight that he means to get his own way in his second term and deliver on promises to spur growth and tackle tricky issues ranging from climate change to guns, immigration and nuclear arms.

"The annual State of the Union Address gives Mr Obama the opportunity to lay down markers for his entire second four-year term. He is certain to emphasise giving the still-sluggish recovery much-needed oomph with new spending initiatives, such as on education, clean energy and infrastructure."

But Republicans in Congress could block it all; the FT's leader notes: "The key difference between State of the Union addresses and the Queen's Speech to the opening of the UK parliament is that the US president's is usually just a wish list."

On a side note, as the Indy notes, "almost more anticipated than Mr Obama's speech tonight is the traditional Republican rebuttal. This time it will come from Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, regarded by some as a future saviour of the Republican Party and possible 2016 presidential candidate."

7) YOU'RE FIRED

From the BBC: "Barclays has said it will cut 3,700 jobs following a strategic review. That includes 1,800 jobs at its investment bank and 1,900 in European retail and business banking."

Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Barclays chief executive Anthony Jenkins admitted: "It will take years before people actually change their impression of us." You can say that again...

8) WORK EXPERIENCE OR FORCED LABOUR?

From the Guardian:

"The court of appeal will on Tuesday judge whether government employment schemes constitute forced labour and if tens of thousands of unemployed people will still be entitled to compensation after being wrongly sanctioned by the Department of Work and Pensions.

In a 50-page ruling last August judge Justice Foskett dismissed claims by two jobseekers that the government's back-to-work schemes amounted to "forced labour". Lawyers acting for the government and two unemployed complainants returned to the courts in December to appeal different aspects of the findings.

Geology graduate Cait Reilly was made to work in Poundland unpaid while Jamieson Wilson, an unemployed lorry driver, was left destitute after the DWP stripped him of all benefits when he refused to work for free for six months under a new trial programme."

The decision is expected at 10am.

9) 'PERMANENT STAIN'

David Cameron has failed to give assurances that his proposals for press regulation will be "fully compliant" with Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations, campaign group Hacked Off said yesterday. The prime minister met Hacked Off directors Brian Cathcart and Evan Harris ahead of the publication of the "Royal Charter", which will set out the Conservative party's plans in the wake of the Leveson Report.

Gerry McCann, the father of Madeleine McCann, has warned Cameron that a “permanent stain” would be left on the government if it failed to reform the press.

The plans for a Royal Charter have also been criticised for actually bringing in more state control than the Leveson proposals. Tory peer Lord Fowler told HuffPost UK in January that Cameron would "look absurd" if he argued for a charter over the Leveson report.

10) 'DON'T BE STUPID'

Ed Balls has warned Ed Miliband not to be “stupid” and allow Labour to be seen as the “anti-referendum” party on Europe. In an interview with the Yorkshire Post, the shadow chancellor said: "As long as we don’t allow ourselves to be caricatured as an anti-referendum party, which we’re not – we’ve absolutely not ruled out a referendum – I personally think that for now this is quite a comfortable position for us.

“If we allow ourselves either to be the ‘status quo party’ on Europe, or the ‘anti-referendum party’ on Europe, then we’ve got a problem."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

From the new Guardian/ICM poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 29
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@SophyRidgeSky I'll be taking part in the Rehab pancake race this morning - where political journos take on MPs and peers

@benedictbrogan My column from today's @Telegraph: The voters know it’s a hard road, but they won’t want to turn back http://soc.li/AwetlDQ

@steverichards14 Today's column: Horsemeat: Regulation doesn’t taste so bad now, does it?

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: ‘International Criminal Conspiracy’

The ten things you need to know on Monday 11 February 2013...

1) 'INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY'

Could the scandal over horsemeat in our food end up being as big as the BSE controversy? From the Sun:

"Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said intensive tests are urgently being carried out on horsemeat found in supermarket ready meals.

"He warned: 'We may find out as the week progresses, and the tests begin to come in, there is a substance which is injurious to human health.'

"But Mr Paterson, who will make a Commons statement today, admitted EU rules mean Britain CANNOT ban meat from other European countries — unless there is clear proof of a health risk.

"Mr Paterson said the scandal was the result of 'an international criminal conspiracy'."

2) SOCIAL CARE

The social care funding story is the splash in the Times ("Families to 'foot bill for cost of care for elderly'") and the Telegraph ("Cameron abandons inheritance tax pledge").

The Telegraph reports:

"George Osborne, the Chancellor, will announce that the level at which inheritance tax becomes payable will be frozen at £325,000 until at least 2019 to fund reform of the social care system.

"The decision will mean that the owners of an average home across much of southern Britain and large areas elsewhere will be liable for inheritance tax. Critics said it was effectively a 'double tax' as it was a levy on assets already raided by the taxman and accused the Treasury of 'picking people’s pockets'."

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on a warning from the opposition:

"The average person in social care will not benefit from raising the cap on care home costs to £75,000, Labour has warned.

"As the government pledged to end the 'scandal', in which people have to sell their home to pay for social care, the shadow social care minister, Liz Kendall, said most people would die before they could benefit from the new cap.

"Jeremy Hunt will announce on Monday that the government will introduce a £75,000 cap on the costs of social care – excluding the costs of accommodation and food – in April 2017. The health secretary will also raise the threshold on assets below which patients are eligible for state help, from £23,000 to £123,000. The cap is to be funded by freezing the threshold for inheritance tax."

3) VOTE YES, SIGN 14,000 TREATIES

Some bad news for Alex Salmond and co - from the Independent:

"A breakaway Scotland would be a 'new state' under international law and have to renegotiate membership of the European Union and the United Nations, according to legal advice obtained by the Government.

"The monumental challenges facing a newly independent Scotland are disclosed in a 57-page dossier published today that represents London's opening shot against separation.

"The paper claims that Scottish ministers would need to wade through 14,000 separate treaties that have been signed by the United Kingdom, and apply afresh to join international bodies.

"... The new legal advice was drawn up by Professor James Crawford, of Cambridge University, and Professor Alan Boyle, of Edinburgh University, who are experts on international law.

"'If Scotland became independent, only the remainder of the UK would automatically continue to exercise the same rights, obligations and powers under international law as the UK currently does,' they say."

The SNP's response? "This is an act of breath-taking arrogance by this Tory-led UK Government, which completely shatters their claim that Scotland is an equal partner within the existing UK – it will only serve to boost support for an independent Scotland," said Scotland's Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Bring on the referendum campaign, eh?

4) SLEEPY MIKE VS TORIES' SARAH PALIN

The Eastleigh by-election campaign is heating up - from the Daily Mail:

"Within hours of Liberal Democrat Mike Thornton being chosen to fight disgraced ex-Cabinet minister Chris Huhne's Eastleigh constituency, a photograph emerged of him apparently asleep on the job.

"The picture which seems to show Mr Thornton nodding off, was taken at a council meeting in 2011. As that photograph was gleefully circulated by opponents, the local Lib Dems moved quickly to delete from their website pictures they deemed far more damaging - showing the councillor with Mr Huhne, who quit Parliament after admitting he lied to police to escape a driving ban."

The paper adds:

"Mr Thornton, married with a 19-year-old daughter, faces a challenge from a Tory described as her party's 'answer to Sarah Palin'.

"Maria Hutchings has been likened to the controversial US Republican politician because of her robust views on issues such as gay marriage and immigration, which potentially put her at odds with Conservative leadership."

Deputy prime minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg will be visiting Eastleigh today and has conceded that, due to a diary clash, he could, at some stage soon, end up campaigning in the constituency on the same day as the prime minister.

5) 'APPALLING WASTE OF PRECIOUS MONEY'

Yet another report from the Public Accounts Committee - where do its members find the time? From the Sun:

"Millions of pounds in foreign aid is being squandered on fat cat consultants and wasteful bodies, a report by MPs warns.

The Department for International Development is blasted for shelling out £37million to advisory firm Adam Smith International.

"The company paid a £1MILLION dividend to managing director William Morrison — along with pay and perks of more than £250,000.

"Commons Public Accounts Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: 'That feels like an absolutely outrageous and appalling waste of this very precious money.'"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a disabled 4lb piglet who, because he has no use of his back legs, now gets around on a dog style wheelchair. Bizarre.

6) MIGRANT WARS

The Times (under the headline: "Influx of Romanian migrants 'threatens to cause social unrest'") says:

"As Britain prepares for an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians next year, schools in poorer parts of Germany are already struggling to cope with arrivals from the two states.

"Germans warn that 'social peace' is being endangered and British ministers are looking at ways to deter migrants heading to the UK."

Meanwhile, the Independent (under the headline: "Not coming here. Not stealing our jobs") reports:

"Right-wing politicians and media are stoking fears that Romanian Gypsies plan to flock to Britain. But the reality is very different..."

7) GIVE ME YOUR RICH, YOUR WEALTHY, YOUR CHINESE MASSES...

Forget Romanians and Bulgarians. It's the Chinese that we really want to come over here. Why do you think that is?

From the Telegraph front page:

"Britain can and must do more to attract educated and wealthy immigrants, and 'inflexible' visa rules are threatening to undermine the economy, the Business Secretary warned today.

"In an article for The Daily Telegraph, Vince Cable said 'Britain simply can’t afford to miss out' on wealthy Chinese immigrants and tourists deterred by red tape.

"His intervention makes public an increasingly acrimonious Cabinet row over the immigration system – particularly as it is applied to Chinese applicants."

8) LIB-LAB FOOTSIE UNDER THE TABLE

Cable is going all out to impress his Tory colleagues, it seems. From the Sun:

"Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have admitted they have a 'sensible businesslike relationship' with Ed Miliband and his Shadow Cabinet.

"In a move that will anger Tory MPs, Mr Cable said senior Lib Dems had discussed long-term policies, including pensions and industrial strategy, with their Labour counterparts. Asked if Mr Clegg and he spoke to Labour's hierarchy, Mr Cable said: 'Well, I think both of us do. I think the public would find this very narrow, tribal way of looking at politics very unhelpful — of course you've got to talk to opposition people.'"

9) 'GOOGLE FOR SPIES'

That's the headline to a rather disturbing story on the Guardian front page:

"A multinational security firm has secretly developed software capable of tracking people's movements and predicting future behaviour by mining data from social networking websites.

"A video obtained by the Guardian reveals how an "extreme-scale analytics" system created by Raytheon, the world's fifth largest defence contractor, can gather vast amounts of information about people from websites including Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.

"Raytheon says it has not sold the software - named Riot, or Rapid Information Overlay Technology - to any clients. But the Massachusetts-based company has acknowledged the technology was shared with US government and industry as part of a joint research and development effort, in 2010, to help build a national security system capable of analysing "trillions of entities" from cyberspace."

10) DAVE'S INSPIRATION?

Remember when David Cameron announced, at the October 2011 Conservative Party conference: "I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative"?

Writing in the Daily Mail, Andrew Pierce says:

"The words bear an uncanny resemblance to the writings of Peter Tatchell... In his blog at the beginning of October 2011, Tatchell wrote: 'If marriage is a Conservative value, then same-sex marriage is consistent with this value. Far from undermining marriage, gay marriage strengthens it. Conservatives believe in marriage. They should therefore support same-sex marriage precisely because they are Conservatives.' The Prime Minister spoke only days later. Tatchell is convinced he is the source. 'That line about "I believe in gay marriage because I'm a Conservative" came directly from what I wrote,' he says.

"Downing Street will deny it, of course. But who would have thought that Peter Tatchell, who left the Labour Party because it was not Left-wing enough, and is now a member of the Greens, could be the muse for a Conservative Prime Minister?"

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@oflynnexpress Today prog should arrange radio debate between London mayor who wants a fox cull and Telegraph columnist who says don't blame foxes...

@NicolaSturgeon UK gov legal expert says on Radio 4 that Scot Gov's timescale for independence is realistic and that treaty accession wouldn't be problem.

@iankatz1000 Former food boss Lord Haskins says on @BBCr4today Findus was under pressure to cut costs because of private equity ownership

900 WORDS OR MORE

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "Tories must keep talking about family values."

Gary Younge, writing in the Guardian, says: "Barack Obama is pushing gun control at home, but he's a killer abroad."

Daniel Trilling, writing in the Mirror, says: "The rebranding of fascism: We need to be vigilant against the far right racists."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Liam Fox Calls For Further Cuts To Welfare Budget

Chancellor George Osborne should announce further cuts to the welfare budget and the civil service, former Cabinet minister Liam Fox said as he indicated he would like to return to frontline politics.

Dr Fox, a standard-bearer for the Tory right, called for deeper reductions in public spending and tax cuts for businesses as he identified economic growth as the key factor if the Tories are to win the next election.

"We need to get a firmer grip on spending. One of the biggest rises in our budget is the interest we are paying on our debt. That has risen from just over £40 billion, it will rise to almost £60 billion by the next general election," he told Sky News' Murnaghan programme

"That means that we are paying more in debt interest than we are spending on defence and overseas aid and the foreign office all combined."

liam fox

Liam Fox called for tax cuts to boost businesses

He said Mr Osborne should target the welfare budget and the size of Whitehall as areas for spending cuts.But he also called for a package of tax cuts to boost business.

"Cutting taxes on business I think is key to get more people into work, I personally would like to see capital gains tax taken down to get more activity into the economy. We need to be creative: if we are creative we get growth, if we get growth we get re-election.

Fox acknowledged there had been "muttering" about David Cameron's leadership but insisted the Prime Minister had silenced his critics over Europe.

He praised Mr Cameron's announcement that a Tory government would offer an in/out referendum on membership of the European Union, which he claimed had blunted the threat to the Tories posed by the UK Independence Party (Ukip).

"What would be the point in a general election of voting for a party like Ukip ... when the Conservatives will promise and deliver a referendum if we are elected, and voting for a party like Ukip can only increase the chance of Labour being re-elected and they will deny the voters a choice," he said.

Asked if he would take a post in the government if Mr Cameron offered it, Dr Fox said anyone offered the chance to serve their country "ought to say yes".

Questions about Mr Cameron's leadership have been asked in recent weeks after reports that backbencher Adam Afriyie was being touted as a potential successor.

Asked on Sky News' Murnaghan programme if Mr Afriyie was a "stalking horse" acting as cover for his own leadership challenge, the former Cabinet minister said: "I've been in Parliament for nearly 21 years and I can never remember a time in all 21 years when there wasn't muttering going on about whoever was the party leader at the time or prime minister at the time.

"Party leaders have to get over that and go ahead and do what they believe to be correct. The Prime Minister got a great victory for the UK at the EU summit this week, which of course all those defeatists said would not be possible.

"He went in, negotiated hard, showed considerable diplomatic skill and got a great outcome for the United Kingdom."

Dr Fox quit the government over his controversial relationship with self-styled adviser Adam Werritty but indicated he would accept an offer of a return to the ministerial ranks from Mr Cameron.

"That's not a question for me, that's a question for the Prime Minister and I'm sure he will have his view on that.

"If anyone was asked by a prime minister if you are willing to serve your country I think they ought to say yes."

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 (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). 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...

Fourteen Fantastic Facial Expressions Of Farage

"The years of mockery and derision for Ukip are over" rallied Nigel Farage as he kicked off the party’s campaign for Huhne’s Hampshire seat, pledging to turn the by-election into a four way marginal.

Now hang on a second Nige.

nigel farage

Preposterous Disbelief: a popular expression wielded by the Farage.

Ukip might have crept out of the political wilderness, but over at Huff Post UK, we think any election is boring without a little bit of mockery and derision. This holds especially true if it involves Mr Farage, whose buoyant burblings and eccentric outfits make him a genuine joy to report on.

angry cappucino

'You mocha me, and you will pay'

Indeed its not just political posturing that Farage is good at, but with effusive elasticity of face, Ukips’s leader has a gurn, grimace and guffaw for every possible occasion.

Take a flick through fourteen of the fantastic Mr Farage’s facial expressions.

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.

We’ll Keep It Clean, Vows Tory Eastleigh Challenger

Chris Huhne's disgrace is "in the past", the Tory battling to snatch his former seat declared as she promised a "clean campaign". But critics speculated a 'nudge-wink' at the Huhne scandal in Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings' campaign material, ...

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:

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: ‘Misery And Hardship’

The five things you need to know on Friday 8 February 2013...

1) 'MISERY AND HARDSHIP'

So the real villain of the row over disability and incapacity benefits isn't Atos, it's the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). That's the verdict of the Public Accounts Committee (nowadays, incidentally,the source of at least one big political story a week).

From the BBC:

"The government is to blame for "misery and hardship" imposed upon claimants being re-assessed for benefits eligibility, the Commons public accounts committee says.

"Chairwoman Margaret Hodge accused the Department for Work and Pensions of being 'unduly complacent' and 'getting far too many decisions wrong'.

She said the medical assessments were hitting 'vulnerable claimants hardest'.

"... Although private firm Atos Healthcare has faced criticism for its role in the assessments process, 'most of the problems lie firmly within the Department for Work and Pensions', she said."

The government's response to this damning PAC report? Well, DWP minister Mark Hoban accused the committee of "scaremongering". The problem, of course, for Hoban and his pals is that the PAC report shows that 40% of appeals against Atos' decisions were successful, even though, as the BBC report notes, "no new evidence had been presented in one-third of these cases".

Over to you, Mark...

NOTE: Apologies for the much shorter memo this morning - five things you need to know, rather than ten - because I am still shattered after last night's Huffington Post UK debate, 'Was It Worth It? Iraq, Ten Years On', featuring, among others, Clare Short, Bernard Jenkin MP, David Aaronovitch and, er, me. It was a packed house at Goldsmiths, with more than 500 people in attendance, and if you want to know who won, what was said, etc, check out the HuffPost report and live blog on the event.

2) EU BUDGET

His backbenchers may hate him over gay marriage, but, these days, they love him over Europe - and they may love him even more today if David Cameron returns from Brussels with... wait for it... an historic EU budget cut. From the Guardian:

"European leaders were inching towards a deal in the early hours of Friday morning that would see the first cut in the EU's budget in its 56-year history.

"David Cameron, who had demanded a freeze in real terms in the near-€1tn budget, was planning to claim victory after the European council president proposed a €34.4bn cut over the next seven years.

"Herman Van Rompuy finally tabled his budget proposals in Brussels at 6am after a night of haggling at the EU summit that was described by one official as like a 'bazaar'."

But the BBC's Nick Robinson is reporting on the Today programme that while the overall budget may be cut in real-terms, the British contribution may actually go up - as a result of changes to our rebate agreed by David Cameron's predecessor-but-one, Tony Blair.

The devil, as is so often the case on all matters related to the EU, may be in the detail.

But Eurosceptics won't care for now - the Mail Online has splashed on: "Victory For David Cameron..."

After a tough start to the week, Downing Street will be very pleased this morning.

3) 'HUHNE FORCED ME TO ABORT MY BABY'

The newspapers are all over the Vicky Pryce trial this morning; the ex-wife of disgraced ex-energy secretary Chris Huhne is on the front of the Indy, the Guardian, the Times, the Mirror, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail - from the Mail's splash:

"Vicky Pryce broke down as she told yesterday how Chris Huhne forced her to have an abortion for the sake of his career.

"The high-flying economist, 60, told a jury that her fiercely ambitious husband warned her that a baby would be 'bad timing' for his political future.

"Pryce, who went on to have another child, wept as she said she had 'regretted it ever since'. Her revelation came as she launched an attack on the shamed former Cabinet minister during her trial for perverting the course of justice."

Pryce has pleaded not guilty to perverting the course of justice by taking Huhne's penalty points after a speeding offence in 2003 and, as the Guardian notes, "her defence is one of marital coercion".

Meanwhile the paper also reports on how the Lib Dems "look to have a tough job on their hands to retain Chris Huhne's seat in the Eastleigh byelection after a starting-pistol poll put them three points down on the Conservatives, largely due to the defection of some of their supporters to Labour.

"The survey, conducted on 4-5 February by the former Conservative deputy chairman, Lord Michael Ashcroft... shows the Conservatives on 34%, the Lib Dems on 31% and Labour on 19%. The UK Independence party (Ukip) is fourth with 13%. The figures reveal a 16-point fall in the Lib Dem vote since the 2010 general election, and nine-point rises for Labour and Ukip."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a gopher performing in a ballet dress. Yep, this is what the internet was invented for...

4) 'FACEBOOK HITLIST'

It's not looking good for the Arab Spring, with Tunisia plunged into political crisis - and violence. The Times reports:

"A leading secular politician accused Muslim extremists yesterday of trying to establish a religious dictatorship in Tunisia after the assassination of a prominent critic of the country's main Islamist party.

"Ahmed Nejib Chebbi, of the centrist Republican Party, said that he had been under police protection for months during rising tension between Islamists and secular parties."

"... The Kapitalis news site posted a hitlist of prominent secular politicians and journalists that it said had been circulating on Islamist Facebook pages. The list, last updated on Monday, featured Chokri Belaid, a politician and human rights lawyer who was shot dead outside his home in Tunis two days later. He had recently warned of growing violence by Islamist enforcers close to the ruling Ennahda party.

"Mr Belaid's murder has pushed Tunisia farther into danger, two years after the start of the Arab Spring. The political deadlock gripping the country has tightened and the ruling party has blocked an attempt by Hamadi Jebali, its Prime Minister, to form a unity government."

5) DOWN WITH DRONES?

Finally, America is having a debate (of sorts!) about the Obama administration's drone war - from the FT:

"John Brennan, the Obama administration's nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, gave a vigorous defence of the policy of killing suspected terrorists with drone strikes but suggested yesterday that the agency might conduct fewer such operations.

"Mr Brennan insisted that the US government had 'rigorous standards' for considering targeted killings and that its military operations against al-Qaeda were welcomed in many of the countries in which they have taken place.

"Mr Brennan, who was a career CIA official for more than two decades, said the agency needed to be able to conduct covert operations but he hinted that it might scale back its use of drone strikes. Some of the CIA's activities since the September 11 attacks had been 'a bit of an aberration', he said, adding that the agency "should not be doing traditional military activities and operations".

If you want to read evidence of why Brennan is wrong about "rigorous standards" and drones supposedly "saving lives", check out my drone-myth-debunking blog post from last October: 5 Things They Don't Tell You About Drone Strikes.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 33
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 92.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@TomHarrisMP I know he's a liar, a hypocrite and a LibDem to boot, and he deserves everything he gets, but I feel sorry for Chris Huhne. #bbctw

@jameschappers Cameron is going to have a lethal new line against Miliband: even the *EU* has agreed to big spending cuts #eubudget

@benedictbrogan See @marycreagh_mp is making running against Defra by saying she wouldn't eat Findus horsemeat lasagne. Will Owen Paterson tuck into one?

900 WORDS OR MORE

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Michael Gove may have lost a skirmish over the EBacc, but he’s winning the war."

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "It’s not heresy to demand that hospitals treat people like customers. More listening would have meant fewer deaths."

Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, says: "Mid Staffs will be used to justify further reforms – and of the very kind that contributed to that horror in the first place."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

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 (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

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.

Chris Huhne Resigns As Eastleigh MP

Former energy secretary Chris Huhne is facing a possible prison sentence after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice. Speaking outside the court, the man who had been widely tipped to succeed Nick Clegg as Lib Dem leader, resigned as MP ...

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 (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). 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 (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: In Pole Position

The ten things you need to know on Friday 1 February 2013...

1) IN POLE POSITION

The German foreign minister took to the comment pages of yesterday's Times to warn our prime minister that renegotiating Britain's membership of the EU might not be as easy as David Cameron suggested in his Bloomberg speech last month.

The Poles, however, seem to want to give the PM a bit of a boost - my colleague Ned Simons has been speaking to the Polish ambassador:

"Poland is willing to let the UK renegotiate its relationship with the EU in an attempt to stop David Cameron leading Britain out of the union, the Polish ambassador has said.

"In an interview with The HuffingtonPost UK, ambassador Witold Sobkow said Warsaw was willing to 'accommodate' some British demands.

"Asked if Poland would be willing to allow Cameron to substantially change Britain’s relationship with Brussels ahead of a in/out referendum, he said: 'Yes. We see a lot of room for manoeuvre.'

"'We all want a better functioning EU, respecting subsidiarity, and reducing its bureaucratic burden.'

"'...There is no appetite for such far reaching changes now, but, who knows, in 2-3 years,' he said. 'The EU is changing, as we can see, for example, in the case of new banking supervision arrangements.'"

Dave will be delighted. Good ol' Poles, eh?

2) WATCH YER BACKS, DAVE AND GIDEON...

The Guardian and the Daily Mail both have some pretty worrying news for the PM and his chancellor. The Guardian splashes on news that:

"Downing Street has been warned that David Cameron risks facing a confidence vote over his leadership in the summer of 2014 if his poll ratings fail to improve and the party performs poorly in the local elections.

"A diehard group of party rebels, who would like to remove the prime minister immediately, will significantly grow in numbers over the next 17 months if the Tories fail to achieve a breakthrough, according to MPs inside and outside the government."

The Mail says that Osborne is the real target of the rebels' ire:

"The Tories were facing fresh turmoil last night as plotters prepared to demand the sacking of Chancellor George Osborne after failing to oust David Cameron.

"Rebel MPs intend to whip up support for a letter to the Prime Minister, calling on him to move Mr Osborne from the Treasury if the UK plunges into a triple dip recession.

"... The possibility of a job swap between the Chancellor and Foreign Secretary William Hague has been floated privately before by senior Tories."

Oh dear. Plots, plots and more plots - the Tory party reverts to type...

3) THE WAR ON WELFARE, PART 66

"Ministers: spare our budgets for more welfare cuts," screams the splash headline in the i.

It's sister paper, the Independent, reports:

"Conservative Cabinet ministers are pressing for another round of cuts in the welfare budget in an attempt to protect their own departments from the Treasury’s demand for a further £10bn of savings.

"Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, Education Secretary, Michael Gove, and Home Secretary, Theresa May, are among senior Tories arguing for another squeeze on welfare."

To 'squeeze' another £10bn out of the welfare budget in the midst of the slowest economic recovery in living memory, and after slashing the top rate of income tax on millionaires, is, frankly, immoral and callous.

The truth about this government is that it isn't in favour of austerity per se, just austerity for the 'undeserving' poor. Forget taxing bank bonuses - CUT BENEFITS!

4) DEFENSIVE DAVE

The Telegraph continues its (front page) crusade against defence cuts while Cameron (and Osborne) wish Coulson was back in Downing Street running 'the grid':

"Amid accusations that defence policy is now a shambles, Downing Street attempted to 'clarify' an apparent promise by David Cameron that overall spending on the military would rise in 2015-16.

"On Wednesday Mr Cameron said that he would stand by a pledge he made in 2010 to provide “year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015.”

"However, the Government’s position descended into confusion on Thursday as No  10 attempted to argue that Mr Cameron’s commitment to increase spending 'beyond 2015' does not apply to the 2015-16 financial year."

Dave's defence secretary isn't onboard either:

"Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, on Thursday confirmed that he would fight the Treasury for increases in defence spending in the coming spending review."

5) 'HALF OF OUR WOMEN LOOK LIKE KATE. THE OTHER HALF, LIKE HER SISTER'

That's the slogan on a new Romanian ad, featuring Kate and Pippa Middleton, plugging the attractions of Romania - to Brits! The Independent explains:

"Romania has hit back at British fears of a sudden influx of immigrants, launching its own tongue-in-cheek advertising campaign to persuade disillusioned Britons to travel east and swap Bognor for Bucharest.

"'You have bad weather, no jobs, no houses? That sounds bad. Why don’t you come live here instead?' reads one poster on the Romanian news website Gandul, which is behind the humorous campaign, entitled 'Why don’t you come over? - We may not like Britain, but you’ll love Romania.'"

I never knew the Romanians had such a great sense of humour. Can't wait to meet them when they all arrive here en masse...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a ginger kitten attacking a large potato. Go on...

6) BRITS OUT, BRITISH PM IN

Just a week ago, British citizens in Benghazi were told to get out of the country; yesterday, the British PM flew into Libya on a 'surprise' visit. The Times reports:

"The Prime Minister went ahead with the visit despite the detection of a 'potential threat' to Britain's embassy in Tripoli only days ago... During his one-day trip, Mr Cameron said that securing the country would be even more important than toppling the regime of Colonel Gaddafi. In a concerted diplomatic drive, Britain will increase the assistance it is giving to police and to military training, with new advisers being dispatched to Tripoli."

Dave announced he'd done with Libyan authorities, which will allow British police to continue their investigation into the Lockerbie bombing:

"A team from Dumfries and Galloway Police has been cleared to go out to Tripoli as they attempt to hunt down those behind the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people... They will be able to talk to officials there next month about the questions that remain about the bombing."

7) 'WOEFULLY UNDEREQUIPPED AND HAMSTRUNG'

From the i:

"The existing system to root out police wrongdoing is being undermined by poor-quality investigations and lacks the powers and resources to get to the bottom of serious cases of corruption and misconduct, according to a damning report published today.

"IPCC inquiries into alleged police wrongdoing start too late and take too long, according to the Home Affairs Select Committee. It is 'woefully underequipped and hamstrung' in achieving its objectives, with less funding than the professional standards department of the Metropolitan Police."

8) BASHING BARCLAYS

I still chuckle when I remember how City apologists used to jump to Barclays' defence in 2008/2009: 'They didn't take any taxpayers' cash,' they'd whine.

Today's FT front-page story is worth a look:

"UK authorities are probing an allegation that Barclays loaned Qatar money to invest in the bank as part of its cash call at the height of the financial crisis in 2008, which enabled the bank to avoid a UK government bailout.

"... If confirmed, such an arrangement could contravene market regulations if it was not properly disclosed at the time, legal and industry experts warned. 'The concept of lending money to any investor to purchase your own shares raises a series of immediate questions about disclosure and other regulatory issues,' said Peter Hahn, a former banker at Citi now at Cass Business School.

"The revelation is yet another blow for attempts by Antony Jenkins, Barclays’ chief executive, to clean up the bank’s image that has been tarnished by high-profile scandals ranging from Libor manipulation to the mis-selling of payment protection insurance."

You can that again.

9) NO THANKS, WILLIAM

Yet another diplomatic spat over the Falklands, reports the Times:

"Buenos Aires Argentina's Foreign Minister has rejected an invitation from William Hague to meet members of the Falkland Islands government on his visit to London next week. Hector Timerman said the islands were not a matter for a 'third party'."

10) 'THE FABULOUS EMANUEL BROTHERS'

That's the headline to a fascinating feature in the Independent about a trio of high-achieving US brothers from the worlds of medicine, politics and entertainment:

"Dr Ezekiel "Zeke" Emanuel... [is] a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he heads the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy; a fellow at non-profit research institute The Hastings Center; an oncologist; a bioethicist; and an expert in end-of-life care, who writes frequently for the New York Times.

"And yet, remarkably, Ezekiel, 55, has a lower profile than his two younger brothers. That's because they are the Mayor of Chicago, 53-year-old Rahm Emanuel; and Ari Emanuel, 51, the co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor, Hollywood's biggest talent agency.

"... There are celebrated families of doctors, politicians and entertainment professionals, but it's almost unheard-of for siblings to rise to such prominence in three such varied fields."

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"I have been involved in Conservative politics for 20 years. The Conservative party is never not plotting," says an unnamed minister, speaking to the Guardian's Nick Watt.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 44
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 10
Ukip 8

That would give Labour a majority of 120.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@tnewtondunn RT @Sun_Politics Sun/YouGov poll tonight: CON 32, LAB 44, LDEM 10, UKIP 8. Lab's 12 point lead back. Cam's EU bounce dead after just a week?

@TimMontgomerie Lord Ashcroft on @ConHome: We need to change perceptions of the Tory Party and the Europe speech hasn't done that

@TomHarrisMP The SNP are bitching about HS2 not reaching Scotland. So they expect Scotland to be "independent" by then, but for UK Govt to finance it?

900 WORDS OR MORE

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "If the Prime Minister truly wants to confront the threat from Islamists in Africa, he must find the money to increase the defence budget."

Jonathan Steele, writing in the Guardian, says: "Israel's attack on Syria shows how volatile this conflict is. A political solution is now urgent."

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "For Cameron aid is not a badge. It’s a mission."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Not So Fast Dave

The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 30th January 2013...

1) NOT SO FAST DAVE

Hurrah! From the Huffington Post:

"David Cameron’s hopes of limiting the impact of the 2015 TV debates by staging them before the election campaign gets underway appear dead in the water, after the head of Sky News torpedoed the idea.

"... [S]peaking to The Huffington Post UK, John Ryley, the head of Sky News, flatly rejected the idea.

"'Well, we believe the debates need to take place during the election campaign to be relevant to the voters," he said. "It would be bizarre to hold the debates while Parliament is sitting.'

"Ryley reminded Cameron of his threat to 'empty chair' Gordon Brown in 2010 if he refused to take part and said it would 'bad for democracy, bad for politics, and bad form' if Cameron tried to duck the debates."

Bad luck, Dave. Ryley - a former boss of mine - is a tough, no-nonsense character. It looks like those debates are going to happen - with or without the PM...

Meanwhile, if you read the full HuffPost UK feature on the 2015 TV debates - by Ned Simons and me - you'll learn, among other things, that senior Labour sources are suggesting Nick Clegg's time be cut and redistributed to Ed Miliband. Read our full piece here.

2) GAMBLING ON GAY MARRIAGE

From the Times splash:

"David Cameron is under mounting pressure to push through tax breaks for married couples as a way of averting a Tory rupture over gay marriage.

"Ministers are pressing Downing Street to make a Budget announcement in March implementing the party's promise to reward married couples in the tax system. Cabinet sources told The Times that George Osborne should act 'sooner rather than later' and that the Budget would be 'a good time to placate an awful lot of people'.

"MPs plan to use the coming weeks to warn a reluctant Chancellor that he will increase the risk of losing lifelong Tories from the party unless he acts."

It's a bizarre proposal - but Dave is desperate. Next week, MPs vote on the coalition's bill to introduce same-sex marriage and it's expected that almost half of the party's 303 MPs will vote against, on a free vote.

3) NASTY NICK

Was yesterday the day the Tory dream of a 2015 Commons majority finally came to an end? And were 'Nasty Nick' and his rebellious Lib Dems to blame? My colleague Ned Simons reports:

"Nick Clegg took his revenge on David Cameron today by successfully killing Tory hopes of redrawing the electoral map in a way that would aid the prime minister's reelection, prompting a serious rift between the coalition parties.

"Lib Dem and Labour MPs cheered as they narrowly defeated by 334 votes to 292 an attempt by the Conservative Party to change the number and size of constituencies before 2015.

"In an unprecedented move reflecting the split between coalition parties on the issue, Cameron agreed to suspend the requirement for government ministers to exercise collective responsibility for the vote."

Remember ConHome editor Tim Montgomerie's reaction to the boundary review failure last August? He called it the "worst single electoral setback [for the Tories] since Black Wednesday". Indeed it is...

4) DAVE THE WARRIOR

Today, as a story on the front of the Guardian reports, David Cameron will become

"... the first western leader to visit Algeria since the recent terrorist assault on the country's gas installations that left 35 foreign energy workers dead and saw 36 militants killed by Algerian security forces. Cameron's show of solidarity at the meeting in Algiers comes amid Tory fears that the prime minister is being slowly sucked into a long-term military conflict in the region, symbolised by his decision to send 330 British military personnel to the region to train African troops and support the French intervention in Mali."

Meanwhile, the FT reports that Cameron and George Osborne are "under pressure from Tory MPs to shield the armed forces from further defence cuts in this year's spending review, as the military is dispatched to a new war zone in Mali". And the Telegraph splashes on the threat to the SAS from "new defence cuts".

5) 'MALI WAR COULD BE BRITAIN'S VIETNAM'

That's the headline in the Mirror, which reports on Dave's decision to send another 200 British troops to train an African intervention force (taking the total UK deployment to 330) and quotes former cabinet minister Frank Dobson's comments in the Commons yesterday:

"The American catastrophe in Vietnam started with American troops in a training capacity."

Indeed it did - JFK hid behind the phrase 'military advisers'. Dobson's remarks were echoed by, of all people, Sir Mike Jackson, former chief of the armed forces, who supports the Mali deployment but also warns that a highly successful "conventional" conflict could give way to "a protracted guerrilla warfare away from the conurbations".

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a kid who's won over the internet with his dance moves during a break in the recent Houston Rockets vs Indiana Pacers basketball game.

6) TORTURE INC

The Guardian's award-winning Ian Cobain reports:

"Allegations that British troops in Iraq were responsible for the widespread and systemic abuse of detainees through "terrifying acts of brutality, abuse and intimidation" were raised in the high court yesterday as lawyers representing former prisoners demanded a public inquiry.

"More than a thousand former prisoners complain that they were severely mistreated after being detained by the British military during the five-year occupation of the south-east of the country, while others - including women and children - say they were abused when their male relatives were being detained.

"... The hearing is the latest skirmish in a three-year legal battle between lawyers for the former detainees and the Ministry of Defence (MoD)."

On a related note, HuffPost UK will be hosting a public debate on Iraq - 'Was It Worth It? Iraq, Ten Years On' - on 7 February at 7pm at Goldsmiths, University of London. Speakers include former cabinet minister Clare Short, Times columnist David Aaronovitch, the Independent's Owen Jones and yours truly. Get your free tickets here.

7) 'BROTHERLY SHOVE'

This is my favourite headline from the morning papers - from the Sun, which reveals:

"Ed Miliband was talked out of matching the Tories' EU referendum pledge — by his brother David.

"The under-fire Labour leader's refusal to offer a nationwide vote on Britain's membership has infuriated some senior party figures.

"One claimed Ed vetoed the idea after his older sibling sneered it was 'too populist'."

Meanwhile, the BBC reminds us that "MPs will have their first chance later to discuss the UK's future in Europe since David Cameron promised to hold a referendum on UK membership if he wins the next general election... The Commons debate will take place after Prime Minister's Questions."

Perhaps, just perhaps, we'll get some clarity on what Labour's referendum position actually is, and what the Tories will do if the Europeans don't agree to a 'renegotiation'. But I wouldn't hold your breath.

8) BANKERS NOT SO BASHED

More good news from the world of finance. From the Independent:

"Royal Bank of Scotland is facing criminal charges in the US over allegations its traders tried to fix Libor interest rates, it emerged yesterday.

"... It came as Britain's financial watchdog admitted that top bankers had escaped sanction for misdeeds during the financial crisis because it was 'easier to get the little guys' under Britain's regulatory system."

RBS, says the report, is likely to pay around £500m in fines - but still wants to pay out £250m in bonuses to its investment bankers. You could not make this stuff up.

9) PUSHED INTO POVERTY

From the Guardian:

"Thousands of children and their families who have sought refuge in the UK have been pushed into severe poverty by the low levels of asylum support, a parliamentary inquiry has revealed, concluding that the support system for asylum seekers is in urgent need of reform.

"The inquiry found evidence of children being left destitute and homeless, without state support, and forced to rely on food parcels."

The chair of this cross-party inquiry? Er, the former children's minister Sarah Teather MP.

10) STREWTH!

They're going to the polls down under. Well, not quite yet. From the BBC:

"Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called a general election for 14 September... She said the announcement, eight months in advance, was "not to start the nation's longest election campaign" but to give 'shape and order' to the year."

"... Opinion polls suggest that the opposition, led by Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott, would win an election if the polls were held now."

Oh dear. For a laugh, though, (re)watch this classic video of Gillard tearing strips out of the "sexist" Abbott in the Australian House of Representatives.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 33
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 8

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@ShippersUnbound Tory MPs selling shares in Jesse Norman after Lords rebellion sinks boundary changes. One texts to say: 'Jesse Norman: t***.'

@jameschappers What issue will Tory MPs pick for revenge on LibDems for last night's boundaries vote? (Labour are calling it 'Twit for Twat politics')

@heavencrawley "Clear examples from the past show no correlation between levels of support and numbers of asylum seekers in the UK". Finally, some sense.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Guido Westerwelle, Germany's foreign minister, writing in the Times, says: "Berlin shares Mr Cameron’s desire for reform in Brussels but not his vision for Europe."

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, says: "UK intervention in Mali treads a familiar – and doomed – path."

Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Britain badly needs an Abraham Lincoln who will think big and act big."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Did He Really Say That?

The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 29 January 2013...

1) DID HE REALLY SAY THAT?

Uh-oh. Yesterday, a Tory MP made a link between women wearing short skirts and then getting raped. Today, the papers go after a Tory cabinet minister for allegedly comparing gay marriage to incest - from the Guardian:

"Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, became embroiled in a row over equal marriage yesterday amid claims that he likened it to incest. The minister, who opposes David Cameron's plans to grant gay couples the right to marry, denied equating equal marriage with incest after Pink News reported that he had linked the two issues.

"Hammond released a statement after Pink News said he had made the comments to two students at Royal Holloway, University of London, on Friday. The website reported that Hammond 'told students in Surrey that allowing gay couples to marry would be like sanctioning "incest" ... when the students asked why the MP [opposed] same-sex marriages he responded by likening the current ban on equal marriage to 'incest', where it is illegal for two siblings to enter into wedlock.'

"A spokesman for the defence secretary said: 'It's untrue. He didn't equate equal marriage to incest.'"

2) BOUNDARY WARS

Today the Lib Dems will vote against the Tories in the Commons for the first time since the coalition was formed. My colleague Ned Simons reports:

"Furious Tory MPs will attempt use a Commons vote on Tuesday to overturn a Lib-Lab alliance that could cost David Cameron the next election.

"Earlier this month Lib Dem peers sided against their coalition colleagues and joined with Labour in order to delay a planned redrawing of the electoral map until after 2015.

"... Nick Clegg initially supported the plan. But after Tory MPs killed off proposals to reform the House of Lords he instructed his MPs and ministers to vote against it.

Cameron needs SNP and DUP votes in order to overturn a Lib-Lab alliance on this - but some of his own MPs may vote against him. There's a hilarious quote from Philip Davies in the piece:

"Shipley MP Philip Davies has confirmed he plans to vote with Labour and the Lib Dems in the interests of self-preservation.

"Davies, who is no fan of the coalition, told HuffPost UK that while Clegg’s decision to oppose the changes helped him personally, he was less than impressed.

"'How he has behaved is abysmal, It’s like a primary school child. It suits me on this issue but I don’t endorse his tactics,' he said."

Ahh....

3) HEY BMES, WE LOVE YOU

The Tories seem to have finally woken up to the fact that they probably need a few more BME voters on side if they're going to win a majority at the next general election - from the Times splash:

"Big companies would be urged to publish the ethnic breakdown of their workforce under Conservative plans to help to repair the party’s image with Black and Asian voters.

"David Cameron has told the Cabinet to come up with policies to appeal to ethnic communities amid fears that without them the party will struggle to win an outright majority. One idea would encourage Stock Exchange-listed companies to state how many ethnic minority employees they have and how many they have recruited over the past year."

Er, call me cynical, but I suspect BME communities will want a bit more than that, in order to wipe out the Tories' dodgy legacy on race issues - from Enoch Powell to the primary purpose rule.

4) CHILD MINDER? IT'S HARDER TO BE AN ANIMAL MINDER

It's long been claimed that the political party which can come up with a method for cutting soaring childcare costs will be able to vacuum up votes from 'hard-working families' in the 'squeezed middle' - from the Independent:

"Nursery staff and childminders will be better paid, require more qualifications and look after more children under a government drive to improve a childcare system lagging well behind its European counterparts.

"... After criticism that students need more qualifications to look after animals than children in England, childcare professionals will be required to have a GCSE grade C or above in English and Maths... Staff to child ratios will be relaxed to bring England more into line with the continent, but only when nurseries hire qualified people. Nursery staff will be able to look after four babies up to a year old instead of three as at present..."

Labour, and some childcare experts, say the plans could jeopardise child safety and won't cut costs in the long-run. According to the Indy, the opposition also "released figures showing that more than 400 Sure Start children's centres closed during the Coalition's first two years after £430m earmarked for them was cut from council budgets, with more than half of those that are still open no longer providing any onsite childcare".

5) MISSION TO MALI

Ever heard of the phrase 'mission creep', Dave? On Mali, our prime minister is getting more and more stuck in.

From the Guardian's splash:

"Britain is prepared to take the risk of sending a 'sizeable amount' of troops, to Mali and neighbouring West African countries as David Cameron offers strong support to France in its operation to drive Islamist militants from its former colony.

"As news emerged that insurgents retreating from Timbuktu had set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts, Downing Street said the prime minister told François Hollande on Sunday night Britain was 'keen' to provide further military assistance to France.

"... Downing Street is adamant that British troops will play no part in combat."

Hmm. Let's see how long that line holds...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this weird video of 'classic movies' from the perspective of Google Street View.

6) 'NOT GUILTY'

We have a date. From the Sun:

"Former Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne will stand trial next Monday over claims he got his ex-wife to take a threepoint drive fine for him. The Lib Dem MP, 58, denied perverting the course of justice in court yesterday. He spoke only to confirm his name and enter a 'not guilty' plea."

7) MY FRIEND RUPERT

Who says King Rupert's power has waned since Leveson? Top Tories who have their eye on their party's leadership still seem keen to get the media mogul's backing - despite everything.

From the Guardian:

"George Osborne has become the latest person revealed to have attended a private dinner last week with Rupert Murdoch at the media mogul's apartment in Mayfair.

"... Murdoch regularly assembles some of London's elite for dinners, and last Tuesday's event was no different. Described by insiders at News International as a collection of 'very interesting people', the dinner was also attended by Boris Johnson and several NI executives and editors and given a sprinkling of Hollywood stardust with the attendance of the London mayor's fellow Old Etonian, Damian Lewis, star of Homeland - a Fox21 production."

8) LUCKY GEORGE

Perhaps Osborne, in between dining out with foreign billionaires, should keep on eye on his own backyard. From the Mail:

"Chancellor George Osborne is facing a personal backlash over the HS2 route, which carves through the countryside in his Cheshire constituency of Tatton.

"Tory councillors questioned the value of the project, with one calling it an 'enormous waste of money'.

"Mr Osborne insisted it was essential for the economy, describing it as an 'engine for growth'."

My favourite bit of the piece:

"Mr Osborne will not be financially affected by the new line as he sold his £900,000 constituency home in January last year. Documents released yesterday revealed that officials at one point considered a route for the line that would have gone much closer to his old house than the final route."

Meanwhile, the Telegraph adds:

"The Government faced claims of hypocrisy after it emerged that the northern section of the HS2 network, the route of which was unveiled yesterday, would include a £600million 'detour' around parts of the Chancellor's seat of Tatton in Cheshire.

"... A spokesman for Mr Osborne insisted that he played no part in choosing the route. A Department for Transport spokesman said Mr Osborne's constituents had not been given special treatment."

Hmm...

9) 'TOTALLY BANKRUPT'

Meet the French Liam Byrne (via the Daily Mail):

"Socialist France is 'totally bankrupt', a senior government minister admitted yesterday. Michel Sapin, President Francois Hollande's jobs minister, appeared to be saying that his government's tax-and-spend policies were not working.

Mr Sapin said: 'There is a state but it is a totally bankrupt state. That is why we had to put a deficit reduction plan in place, and nothing should make us turn away from that objective.'

"... Pierre Moscovici, the finance minister, insisted: 'France is a really solvent country. France is starting to recover.'"

Poor Pierre. Silly Sapin.

10) QUEEN GIVES UP HER THRONE TO SON

"Easy, Charles," the Mirror explains, "it's Queen Beatrix of Netherlands."

Oh.

The paper adds:

"Her decision will undoubtedly open up the debate about Britain's ageing monarchy as the Queen, 86, and Prince Philip, 91, prepare for another busy year of royal engagements.

"But while it is common in the Netherlands for monarchs to "retire" - Beatrix's mother and grandmother both abdicated - Britain's Queen has made it clear she sees her role as a "job for life".

"So as Willem-Alexander becomes the first Dutch king since 1890 on April 30, at the age of 46, Britain's Prince Charles, 65 this November, remains no closer to taking over as monarch."

Poor ol' Charles.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 35
Lib Dems 10
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 78.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@Mike_Fabricant Irony: Labour has now adopted Conservatives' pre 2010 route for HS2, while the Conservatives have accepted Labour's route (Birm to London).

@TomHarrisMP Why oh why can't we have more televised debates about "independence"? It's like the Scottish media are just trying to avoid the subject...

@Queen_UK Don't get any ideas, Charles. A party hat is the closest you'll be getting to a crown any time soon. #abdication #beatrix

900 WORDS OR MORE

David Owen, writing in the Guardian, says: "My plan to save the NHS - in the nick of time."

Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "Why the 'ethnicity effect' terrifies Tories."

Benedict Brogan, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says: "A big play from Osborne could stop Labour hijacking his legacy."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

‘Please Don’t Come To Britain’

An advertising campaign highlighting the pitfalls of life in the UK (such as the rain) could be used by the government to put off would-be immigrants, it has been suggested.

The measure is among ideas being considered by officials seeking ways to curb arrivals from Romania and Bulgaria. The temporary restrictions on immigrants from, the two newest EU member states expire in December.

miserable

London: a miserable place

A Downing Street source told the Guardian: "It is true that options are being looked at but we are not commenting on the specific things mentioned ... as obviously it is an ongoing process and we will bring forward any proposals in due course."

It's not clear what other aspects of life in Britain the government intends to advertise in order to put off potential immigrants, but no doubt there's a wide range of things to choose from, as Britain looks at the prospect of a triple-dip recession, record levels of youth unemployment and public cuts hitting health services and welfare.

david cameron

Medical care on the NHS has come under criticism

It would certainly be ironic if the government was to capitalise on their perceived failures and advertise them abroad.

britain drinking

Britain and binge drinking: Who'd want to live in a country like this?

Of course any adverts focussing on denigrating Britain on would also have to counteract the £500,000 spent on convincing people to come to Britain ahead of the Olympics.

great britain

The Great Britain campaign encouraged people to visit to our shores


The irony of the campaign was not lost at the time, with Church Action on Poverty bringing out their own version of the ad.

inequality

Anti-British adverts have appeared abroad before, though never pioneered by our own sceptred isle. In the wake of the BP oil spill, both New Orleans tourist board and Chrylser attempted to cash in on anti-British feeling.

Loading Slideshow...

  • The Cabinet's Dr Evil, aka George Osborne

  • The Great British Summer

    The weather here is pants. Don't bother coming.

  • NHS Waiting Times

    We love our doctors and nurses, but honestly, parts of the health service is a shambles.

  • The Daily Express

  • Our transport system is in the dark ages

    We all have to go to work on steam trains. Which are either delayed or cancelled. And we have to pay hundreds of pounds for the privilege.

  • The food here is bad

    Deep-fried mars bars, jellied eels and tripe are among Great British delicacies. You might think you're safe with a burger, but then it turns out to be HORSE. Stay at home. Honestly.

  • Queuing

    A skill it's important to perfect before entering Britain.

  • The Adult Onesie

    Currently a 'trend' in Britain. Even our deputy PM owns one of these adult baby-gros.

  • This man is now taken seriously as a political campaigner

  • Too many dogs

    There are 8 million dogs in the UK, approximately one for every seven people. Britain is a nation of dog lovers, with pet pooches overtaking cats for the first time ever in 2011. There's handbag dogs, crufts and even dog salons (for mongrel massages). So if you don't like dogs, the UK probably isn't for you.

Other tongue-in-cheek portrayals of British culture abroad has included Eurostar's adverts in Belgium for trips to London showing a skinhead urinating into a teacup.

come to london

Come to London, where we have very few public toilets and even fewer shirts


The government is also looking at the potential to deport anyone who failed to find work within three months of arriving or to show they could support themselves for six months.

No official estimate has been put on the anticipated number of arrivals - with ministers wary of the situation when Poland joined the Union and much larger numbers than predicted came to the UK.


UKIP

"Open-door immigration from Romania and Bulgaria after December 31 will affect ordinary working families more than anybody else."

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has admitted the influx would "cause problems" with services such as housing, with the highest numbers likely to pick London boroughs which already have significant populations from the countries.

However, he insisted it was not "reasonable" to assume that 300,000 would move to the UK - the figure suggested by some Tories based on migration levels after Poland, the Czech Republic, Latvia and Lithuania acceded.

The government has confirmed it will not seek to extend temporary curbs on 29 million Romanian and Bulgarian nationals' right to live and work in Britain, which are due to expire in December.

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 (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Gunpowder, Treason And Plot?

The latest member of the UK Independence Party is hoping to explode onto the Westminster scene and you can bet there will be fireworks (possibly). Retired headteacher Philip Fawkes is the "10 times great grandson" of the leader of the 1605 Gunpowder P...

The EU Effect

David Cameron's pledge of an in/out referendum on EU membership if the Tories win the next general election appears to have secured the party a significant boost in the polls. A survey conducted in the wake of the Prime Minister's long-awaited speech ...

Majority of Brits support EU exit plan

Poll shows more Britons support leaving the EU, but PM Cameron looks still undecided and concerned about what he has floated.

An estimated 40 percent of British people want to leave the European Union, according to a recently released survey, local media reported.

In the wake of Prime Minister David Cameron’s high profile speech on giving voters a say on severing ties with Brussels, research showed 40 percent of people now back an exit while 37 percent want to stay in, British media reported.

The survey of 2,000 people, conducted by YouGov on last Sunday and Monday, reconfirmed a long-established trend of the British preference to leave the EU, after an earlier poll had seemed to indicate a shift.

Another YouGov poll conducted on January 17-18 found that 40 per cent of 2,000 people asked wanted Britain to remain in the EU, beating the number who would rather leave - 34 per cent - for the first time in at least two years.

Cameron has insisted he wants Britain to remain within the EU but only after negotiating a fresh settlement, clawing back powers from Brussels.

The Conservatives are to start drawing up legislation now to hold a referendum, which would be staged after the next election but before 2017.

According to the Populus/Times poll, Cameron’s long-awaited speech has done little to help his prospects of securing a Conservative majority at the 2015 election.

Three quarters of supporters of the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party said they were unmoved by the speech, and 17 percent said they were less likely to back the Tories in future. Just 8 percent of UKIP supporters said they were no more minded to back Cameron.

MOL/HE

Tories Handed EU Referendum Polls Boost

David Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum on EU membership if the Conservatives win the next General Election appears to have given the party a boost in the polls. A survey conducted in the wake of the Prime Minister's speech on Wednesday showed the...

Tories Handed EU Referendum Polls Boost

David Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum on EU membership if the Conservatives win the next General Election appears to have given the party a boost in the polls. A survey conducted in the wake of the Prime Minister's speech on Wednesday showed the...

Poll: Voters Unmoved By Cameron EU Message

David Cameron has a mountain to climb if he is to persuade voters to stay in the EU, according to the first opinion poll since his landmark speech on Europe.

A poll in The Times shows the UK would vote by 53% to 47% to leave the European Union if a referendum was held now and not in 2017, as the Prime Minister is proposing.

But in a blow to the Prime Minister and senior Tories, the Populus poll suggests UKIP voters are unimpressed by Mr Cameron’s referendum and negotiate ploy.

Only 8% of UKIP supporters said the PM’s referendum pledge made them more likely to vote Tory.

More than twice that number of UKIP voters, 17%, said they were now less likely to vote Conservative and 75% said they were unmoved.

The poll will be a major disappointment to Mr Cameron and his inner circle, who would have been hoping for a substantial referendum bounce in the first poll since his speech on Wednesday.

The survey also reveals that many voters have already made up their minds about the EU, regardless of the new deal Mr Cameron seeks to negotiate for Britain.

Half of those who want Britain to remain in the UK and two-fifths of those who want to quit say their vote in 2017 will have little or nothing to do with the details of UK opt-outs or repatriated powers.

Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, put a question mark over whether he would support continued EU membership in a future referendum, telling an interviewer at the World Economic Forum in Davos:  "I can’t say now."

The poll also shows that the Prime Minister’s speech did little to improve his chances of winning an outright Tory victory at the next General Election.

A quarter of Liberal Democrat voters (23%) and Labour voters (26%) said Mr Cameron’s "renegotiate and referendum" strategy made it less likely they would vote Tory in 2015.

Clegg warning on ‘vague’ EU pledge

The battlelines over Europe for the next general election are becoming clear after Prime Minister David Cameron promised an in/out referendum by 2017 and Labour leader Ed Miliband set his face against it. The Conservative leader cheered eurosceptics i...

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Warsi’s War On The Islamophobes

The ten things you need to know on Thursday 24th January 2013...

1) WARSI'S WAR ON THE ISLAMOPHOBES

She may have been demoted from the Cabinet but Baroness Warsi still doesn't pull any punches. Tonight, she'll take aim at "certain sections" of Britain's Islamophobia-fuelling media in a speech which will also endorse Lord Justice Leveson's conclusions about anti-Muslim prejudice in the press.

From the Huffington Post:

"In a speech in London this evening, the minister for faith and communities and senior Foreign Office minister will say there is an 'underlying, unfounded mistrust' among many Britons towards Muslims as well as a 'misinformed suspicion of people who follow Islam'.

"Warsi will make the comments at a dinner held by Mama, a new government-backed group dedicated to measuring and monitoring anti-Muslim attacks.

"... 'Sadly, much of this negative narrative is being perpetuated by certain sections of the media,' she will say.

'"Lord Justice Leveson's report event revealed journalists were encouraged to make up stories about Muslims. And concluded that the unbalanced reporting of ethnic minorities was endemic.'

You've got to admire her guts. The former Tory chairman's speech comes almost two years to the day since her now-notorious 'dinner-table test' speech in which she argued that prejudice against Muslims had become socially acceptable in the UK - at the time, she was denounced by right-wing columnists while Downing Street sources distanced themselves from the baroness, claiming she'd not cleared the speech with the PM.

Let's see how Dave responds this time round...

2) TIME FOR PLAN B, GIDEON

Even the chancellor's former bezzy mates think he's got it wrong on austerity. Remember the IMF? Yesterday, they downgraded their growth forecasts for this year and next - ahead of tomorrow's fourth-quarter GDP figures which are expected to be pretty bad.

This morning, their chief economist did his best impression of Ed Balls on the Today programme - from the BBC:

"The IMF chief economist has told the BBC that Chancellor George Osborne should consider toning down austerity in his March budget.

'We think this would be a good time to take stock,' said Olivier Blanchard, speaking to Radio 4's Today programme."

Are you listening, Gideon?

3) THE MORNING AFTER

The prime minister may have won the support of his backbenchers, getting cheered and applauded as he arrives in the Commons chamber for PMQs yesterday after his announcement of an in-out referendum (in, er, 2017...), and he may have even pleased big business (a letter to The Times signed by 56 industry and City leaders says his promise of a negotiation followed by a referendum is "good for business and good for jobs in Britain") but not everyone's pleased with his brazen sop to the eurosceptics. I'm not talking about the French or the Germans - I'm referring here to the Yanks and Dave's BFF, Barry.

As my colleague Ned Simons reports:

"The United States has repeated its warning that the United Kingdom must not leave the European Union, following David Cameron's announcement he wants to hold a referendum.

"President Obama's press secretary Jay Carney said on Wednesday the White House believed the UK was 'stronger' as a member of the EU.

"'We welcome the prime minister's call for Britain to remain in the EU and to retain a leading role in Europe's institutions,' he said.

"'And as the President told the prime minister when they spoke last week, the United States values a strong United Kingdom and a strong European Union.'"

Who does Cameron want to impress more? Barack Obama or Daniel Hannan? His behaviour over the next couple of years will tell us the answer.

On a related note, Europe minister David Lidington told BBC2's Newsnight last night that the next Tory election manifesto will outline exactly how his party would try to renegotiate new and looser ties with the EU.

4) ED'S GAMBLE

In one day Cameron appeared to unite his own party behind him and cause utter confusion in Labour ranks. To the utter delight of Tory backbenchers Ed Milband appeared to rule out holding an in/out referendum during prime minister's questions. Only for other members of his front bench to then walk back the comments later on in the day.

John Denham told the Daily Echo there had been "a bit of over-interpretation" of Miliband's comments. He said: "We do not absolutely rule it out in the future, we do not know what issues will come up in the future. And shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said the party would "never said never" on the issue. Perhaps we can have a referendum on whether Labour should support a referendum.

5) THE DRONE PRESIDENT

Dave's mate Barry's got his own problems to deal with. Like, y'know, accusations of war crimes. Bit awkward when you're a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

From the Guardian:

"A United Nations investigation into targeted killings will examine drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to the British lawyer heading the inquiry.

"Ben Emmerson QC, a UN special rapporteur, will reveal the full scope of his review which will include checks on military use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in UK operations in Afghanistan, US strikes in Pakistan, as well as in the Sahel region of Africa where the conflict in Mali has erupted...

"The inquiry will report to the UN general assembly in New York this autumn... Emmerson has previously suggested some drone attacks - particularly those known as 'double tap' strikes where rescuers going to the aid of a first blast have become victims of a follow-up strike - could possibly constitute a 'war crime'."

Oh, Dubya, come back. All is forgiven. (Not.)

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of what happens when tourists try and mess with the Queen's Guard at Windsor Castle.

6) SNP BLUES

Talking of referendums (or is that referenda?), the Times reports:

"Alex Salmond is facing a devastating defeat in next year’s Scottish independence referendum, according to a new opinion survey.

"The survey of more than 1,200 Scots shows that support for independence north of the Border has plummeted to its lowest level since devolution in 1999 — and the decline has gained pace since Mr Salmond’s Nationalist administration came to power in Holyrood in 2007.

"Backing for Scotland leaving the UK now sits at just 23 per cent, a drop of nine points in a year. The annual Scottish Social Attitudes survey shows that Scots are losing any appetite they had for separation, with less than half now believing independence would give their country a stronger voice in the world."

7) 'NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE'

From the Mirror:

"A backlog of 16,000 immigration cases dating back up to a decade has been uncovered by watchdogs.

"Around 14,000 people are waiting for the UK Border Agency to consider appeals against decisions to kick them out - with the list growing by 700 a month."

8) HATTY, DOLLY AND BRIAN

Brian Leveson's report into media ethics and practises is still dividing and provoking politicians.

From the Guardian:

"Harriet Harman, the deputy Labour leader, has said government proposals to create a royal charter for a new press watchdog are akin to Dolly the sheep, the first animal to be cloned from a cell.

"Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention on Wednesday, Harman also said Labour was not ruling out agreeing with the government's plan to introduce a royal charter for the newspaper regulator in conjunction with a statute to ensure the charter cannot be tweaked by a future government.

"But she said the problem was no one knew how a royal charter would work in relation to the press. 'It's a bit like Dolly the sheep, it might look like a sheep, but we do not know if it will do all the thing that a sheep is supposed to do,' she said."

9) MESSY EXIT

Afghanistan is likely to be "messy" after western troops pull out in 2014, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond admitted yesterday.

Hammond said there was little prospect of the Kabul-based government defeating the Taliban "outright", and the most it could hope for was securing key cities and infrastructure. The frank assessment came as Hammond gave evidence to the Commons Defence Committee.

"The ability to see a long-term sustainable peace in Afghanistan fundamentally rests upon a political compromise and political accommodation being made within that country between the different ethnic groups, the government and the Taliban," he told the MPs. "Such an accommodation will require the active support of the neighbours, particularly Pakistan."

10) CLINTON VS CONGRESS

From the Telegraph:

"Hillary Clinton has given an angry and emotional defence of her handling of last year's attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, while warning of the need for a long–term US effort to address the rise of al–Qaeda in north Africa.

"... Mrs Clinton banged the table in frustration as she denied claims of a coverup. She said the issue was "not just a matter of policy, it's personal" and choked back tears as she described comforting the families of the victims.

"...Mrs Clinton faced attacks from several senior Republicans during the hearing... Mrs Clinton banged the table with impatience at the line of questioning, saying: 'Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again.'"

You can watch the exchanges here on HuffPost.

Was this a preview of 2016? A couple of those Republican senators, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, will probably run for president in four years time- and could find themselves up against the combative Clinton. Good luck to them...

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 43
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 10

That would give Labour a majority of 116.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@TimMontgomerie A montage of today's referendum-tastic newspaper headlines http://twitpic.com/bxs7ac

@Slate Since When Is France a Global Military Power? http://slate.me/XAEuO0

900 WORDS OR MORE

Timothy Garton-Ash, writing in the Guardian, says: "From outside, it's clear why Britain has to stay in Europe."

Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "David Cameron may have finished off the Tories - but he had no choice."

Steve Richards in the Independent says: "Cameron's speech on Europe makes it less likely he will be Prime Minister after the next election."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Tony Blair: Cameron ‘Holding A Gun To His Own Head’ With EU Referendum

Tony Blair has suggested that Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum on Europe was like holding a gun to his own head. The former premier said there was a "huge stab of anxiety" that the prospect of a British exit from the EU would...

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: The London Speech

The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 23rd January 2013...

1) THE LONDON SPEECH

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope, it's David Cameron's long-awaited, much-anticipated, repeatedly-delayed, 'tantric' speech on Britain's relationship with the European Union. You only need to know two words to understand the main message: "in" and "out".

From the Times splash:

"Voters will have the chance to leave the European Union before the end of 2017, David Cameron will pledge today as he sets Britain on course for a momentous referendum.

"The Prime Minister will commit himself to winning an 'in-out' vote even if the campaign puts him at odds with much of his party or even if the EU remains largely unreformed. But he will seek to give the referendum unstoppable momentum by publishing a draft Bill before 2015 and setting a deadline of November 2017 before which it must be held.

"'It is time for the British people to have their say,' he will declare."

The prime minister is on his feet right now at Bloomberg's HQ in the City of London telling his audience why they shouldn't vote Ukip. Well, not quite.

But to pretend this speech is anything other than an attempt to head off Nigel Farage's gang, and see off the internal threat to his leadership from his eurosceptic backbenchers, is either naive or disingenuous. Remember: Cameron never wanted - or planned - to give this speech and, thanks to a combination of Al Qaeda and Angela Merkel, had to keep putting it off.

To be fair, though, as the Guardian's Patrick Wintour acknowledges: "The prime minister's call for an in-out referendum is a moment of truth for a pragmatic man assumed to be instinctively opposed to political risk."

The morning papers almost all lead on the PM's 'London speech' (why didn't he just go to Bruges and be done with it? Bloomberg? Ed Balls beat him to it in 2010):

"You will get an in or out vote on Europe" (Daily Mail)

"Cameron to pledge an 'in-out' vote on Europe" (Financial Times)

"Cameron: I'll hold an in-out vote on Europe" (Telegraph)

"Cameron pledges in-out referendum on Europe" (Times)

"In or out? PM pledges EU exit vote by 2017" (Independent)

You can read full coverage and analysis of Cameron's EU address at www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/politics

2) BIBI'S BACK

From the BBC:

"Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to form 'as broad a government as possible' after his alliance won a narrow election victory.

"His right-wing Likud-Beitenu bloc will have 31 seats in parliament - a sharp drop from 42, exit polls suggest.

"In a major surprise, the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party came second with a predicted 18-19 seats, with Labour next on 17.

"Analysts now predict weeks of political horse-trading to form a new cabinet."

Here are my own two predictions: 1) Bibi will continue to pay no attention to the so-called 'peace process' with the Palestinians, who were barely mentioned in this Israeli election campaign. 2) Bibi will continue to fear-monger about Iran in order try and divert attention away from Israel's ongoing (and illegal) settlement programme in the occupied West Bank.

3) BACK TO THE FUTURE

From the Financial Times:

"A-level grades could be awarded solely on marks for examinations taken and coursework submitted at the end of two years of study, as they once were, under proposals to be unveiled today by the government.

"In a letter to Ofqual, the qualifications regulator, Michael Gove, the education secretary, has said the 'primary purpose of A-levels is to prepare students for degree-level study' and that he wanted to 'restore' the reputation of the A-level with changes to its structure.

"... Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary, said the government 'is all about turning the clock back. This plan would narrow the options for young people.'"

Meanwhile, the Mirror reports that nearly 100 groups, including the National Theatre, say the Tory-led Coalition is "pushing through [its GCSE] reforms too fast".

4) THE KING'S SPEECH

Watch out, Mark Carney! From the Guardian:

"Sir Mervyn King last night launched a thinly disguised attack on his successor as Bank of England governor, deriding proposals to ditch the central bank's inflation target in favour of a growth target based as 'wishful thinking'.

"King warned that policies designed to meet a growth target - a strategy backed by the incoming governor, Mark Carney - was unrealistic and for 'dreamers', signalling a rift with the man due to take over in Threadneedle Street in the summer after being lured by George Osborne from his post as Canada's central bank chief.

"... King told an audience in Belfast: 'To drop the objective of low inflation would be to forget a lesson from our postwar history... So a long-run target of 2% inflation should be an essential part of our macroeconomic framework.'"

Is Merv perhaps miffed because the 2% inflation target is something that he came up with, as chief economist at the bank, in the 1990s?

5) CAMPAIGNING LIKE IT'S 2005

From the Guardian:

"A coalition of 100 UK development charities and faith groups will today launch a campaign to lobby David Cameron to use Britain's presidency of the G8 to leverage action on ending global hunger. The If campaign is the largest coalition of its kind since Make Poverty History in 2005, the last time Britain held the G8 presidency. This time, organisers are seeking more radical change. Although pegged around hunger and malnutrition, the campaign focuses more on the underlying causes of hunger, such as 'land grabs', tax avoidance and a lack of transparency over investments in poor countries."

Tax avoidance and land grabs? Progressives will be pleased.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of Hollywood actor James Franco's unintentionally hilarious poem on Obama inauguration.

6) GOING, GOING, GONG

The war between ministers and civil servants moves onto a new front. From the Independent:

"Ministers are to be given the power to 'fast-track' nominations for knighthoods and other awards as part of plans to radically shake up Britain's ancient honours system.

"Under proposals, discussed by the Cabinet, ministers would be able to circumvent Civil Service vetting procedures and recommend candidates for awards directly to the independent Honours Committee.

"... The move is facing resistance from some senior officials, who fear it will politicise the honours system and insist that ministers must follow the same procedures as charities and members of the public who want to nominate individuals for awards."

7) BLACKLISTED?

From the Times:

"Trade union officials helped to blacklist their own members from working on some of the most prestigious construction projects of the past 20 years, The Times has learnt.

"The names and personal details of workers deemed 'perennial troublemakers' by unions including Ucatt, the construction union, and Amicus, now part of Unite, were fed to a database run by a secretive vetting company set up and financed by several of Britain's biggest builders.

"In a Commons debate this afternoon, Labour is expected to call for an investigation into allegations that publicly funded construction projects, including the Olympics and Crossrail, consulted the... blacklist."

8) LIAR, LIAR, BENEFITS ON FIRE

The demonisation of welfare claimants continues apace. From the Metro:

"A lie detector test will be used by a council to see if benefits claimants are telling the truth, it emerged yesterday.

"The method called 'voice risk analysis' has been introduced to check details that people have provided about their claims.

"... But numerous academic studies have cast doubt on the accuracy of lie detectors with some claiming they are little better than chance."

The Guardian reports that a Conservative councillor, Fiona Ferguson, has quit the council after claiming that using voice risk analysis wouldn't help the council pursue fraud and would be "extremely damaging to our reputation". Let's hope so...

9) STRIVERS VS SHIRKERS, PART 44

From the Independent:

"A Treasury minister has warned the Conservative Party not to divide the British people into "shirkers and strivers" as it defends the squeeze on the welfare budget.

"Greg Clark, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, appeared to distance himself from the more hardline approach of George Osborne...

"Writing on the ConservativeHome website, he said there is nothing wrong with being a "striver", but argued that not everyone wants to be one... 'Not being a striver doesn't make you a shirker - it's simply a matter of working to live, not living to work.'"

10) BEYONCE'S BLUFF

"Oh, say could you see Beyoncé was just miming," reads the headline on the front of today's Times, which broke the story yesterday of how the first pop star in US inauguration history to be invited to sing the national anthem was, believe it or not, lip-syncing:

"It was the most celebrated rendition of America’s national anthem in a generation, but Beyoncé had left nothing to chance... Unbeknownst to millions of viewers, however, The Times has learned that the perfect note had been struck in advance: in a recording studio on the eve of Inauguration Day."

Uh oh. Then again, as my US colleagues over at HuffPost Hill tweeted last night: "Can't believe someone lip synched... AT THE FAKE INAUGURATION."

(On a side note, Kelly Clarkson's representative was quick to point out that her client "sang live as always". Oooohh...)

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"The fact is that ours is not just an island story – it is also a continental story." David Cameron's throws a bone to the dwindling band of British europhiles during his eurosceptic speech at Bloomberg this morning.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 12
Ukip 10

That would give Labour a majority of 110.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@chrisshipitv Farage on #EUspeech: the genie is out of the bottle. Once the "out" word is out there - it's going to be difficult to put it back in

@rafaelbehr So, the big speech, eh. Looks like Cam buying security for himself now in exchange for certain Tory split c.2017

@AliAbunimah Did you hear the scandal about how Beyoncé ordered the extrajudicial murders of Americans and others? Oh wait, sorry, that was Obama.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Fear of the grey vote has turned politicians into cowards."

Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "Obama is far better at hope than at audacity."

Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "French intervention in Mali will fuel terrorism, but the west's buildup in Africa is also driven by the struggle for resources."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

David Cameron Promises In Or Out EU Referendum If Tories Win 2015 Election

David Cameron will promise an in or out referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union if the Conservatives win the next election.

After months of tantric teasing, the prime minister will use a speech in central London early on Wednesday morning to set out his vision to claw back powers from Brussels to Westminster and then put the new relationship to a public vote by October 2017.

In what could be one of the defining speeches of his time in Downing Street, the prime minister is expected to say: "It is time for the British people to have their say".

"I say to the British people: this will be your decision. And when that choice comes, you will have an important choice to make about our country's destiny," he will add.

The offer of an in or out referendum will be seen as a crucial concession to backbench Tory MPs, many of whom would have been happy with nothing less.

Amid concerns in Tory circles that Cameron faces a uphill battle to remain in office, let alone win an outright majority in 2015, the speech will also be used to campaign against Nigel Farage's Ukip.

Tory MP George Eustice, who used to be Cameron's press secretary, told BBC Newsnight: "If you do want a new settlement with Europe and you do want a referendum, you have to get behind the Conservative Party."

A referendum is not guaranteed as both Labour and the Lib Dems are opposed. It is unclear if Nick Clegg would agree to let Cameron hold a referendum if the prime minister fails to win a majority and has to form a second coalition.

Despite offering a referendum, Cameron will say he intends to campaign strongly for Britain to remain part of the bloc.

“I believe something very deeply. That Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union. And that such a European Union is best with Britain in it," he will say.

"We can deliver a more flexible, adaptable and open European Union in which the interests and ambitions of all its members can be met.

"Over the coming weeks, months and years, I will not rest until this debate is won. For the future of my country. For the success of the European Union. And for the prosperity of our peoples for generations to come."

SEE ALSO: Peter Kellner: EU Vote: Stay in 40%, Leave 34%

The prime minister had originally planned to deliver the speech in Amsterdam on Friday but cancelled the trip in the wake of the terror attack on an Algerian gas field.

However extracts from the speech had already been briefed to journalists before it was delayed, meaning some of the key lines were still reported.

Cameron had intended to say that while he was in favour Britain being part of the EU, there was a danger the British people will “drift towards the exit” if it is not reformed.

"I do not want that to happen. I want the European Union to be a success and I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it,” he would have said.

"People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent," he was intending to argue.

The prime minister’s position has exposed a deep rift within the coalition, with the Lib Dems rejecting the case for holding a referendum.

In a high profile speech on Thursday, business secretary said a referendum at this time would cause “uncertainty” and severely damage the UK’s fragile economic recovery.

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Cameron has also come under pressure from foreign leaders including President Obama not to take Britain out of the EU.

A White House spokesman said: "The president underscored our close alliance with the United Kingdom and said that the United States values a strong UK in a strong European Union, which makes critical contributions to peace, prosperity, and security in Europe and around the world."

European politicians have also encouraged Cameron to ignore his Eurosceptic MPs. Writing on The Huffington Post UK, the president of the European Parliament said Cameron’s stance could lead to the “disintegration and potentially the break-up of the EU”.

And former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt told HuffPost UK that Cameron was a “madman, threatening to blow himself up unless he gets his own way”.

On Tuesday evening Ed Miliband savaged Cameron’s speech, saying it would “define him as a weak prime minister, being driven by his party, not by the national economic interest”.

"In October 2011, he opposed committing to an in/out referendum because of the uncertainty it would create for the country. The only thing that has changed since then is he has lost control of his party and is too weak to do what is right for the country,” he said.

Related on HuffPost:

EU Officials ‘Should Oversee Press’, Committee Urges

A "high level" committee set up by the European Commission to produce proposals for EU-wide regulation of the press has attacked David Cameron for rejecting the Leveson Report.

The High Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism, established in October 2011 and chaired by the former president of Latvia, Professor Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, reported back on Monday.

Among the recommendations likely to outrage eurosceptic Tory MPs is that press regulation bodies in individual countries should ultimately answer to Brussels.

"Media councils should have real enforcement powers, such as the imposition of fines, orders for printed or broadcast apologies, or removal of journalistic status," the report suggests.

"The national media councils should follow a set of European-wide standards and be monitored by the Commission to ensure that they comply with European values."

The report is also heavily critical of the prime minister's decision to oppose Lord Justice Leveson's call for the statutory underpinning of independent press regulation in Britain.

"The gross abuses revealed in the Leveson inquiry have led its author to propose much more stringent institutional supervision, where the media would be much more closely monitored, become far more accountable to the public and be subject to heavy fines in the case of infractions," it says.

"That judge Leveson’s recommendations should have been rejected out of hand by some politicians in high office, is not very reassuring. If nothing else, this resistance by itself underscores the urgent need for supervisory bodies that can and do act, instead of being supervisory in name only."

Tory MP Douglas Carswell told the Daily Telegraph the report showed the EU was "incompatibile with the notion of a free society".

“Having EU officials overseeing our free press - and monitoring newspapers to ensure they comply with "European values" - would be quite simply intolerable,” he said.

“This is the sort of mind-set that I would expect to find in Iran, not the West. This kooky idea tells us little about the future of press regulation."

A DCMS spokesperson said: "We have no intention of allowing Europe to regulate the British press. We have been clear that, as set out in the Leveson report, we expect the British press industry to implement tough, independent, self-regulation, in adherence with the Leveson principles.”

European Publishers Council executive director Angela Mills Wade said: “The free and independent press faces deeply challenging times in spite of soaring audiences online but where profits are elusive. In the consultation that now follows we must work together to nurture a truly independent press that promotes democracy and cultural diversity throughout the world."

“We are quite taken aback by some of the report’s recommendations. The EU does not have legal competence under the treaties to harmonise substantive media laws such as defamation. Any notion of harmonised rules of the game, monitored by the EU, is anathema to press freedom – the very thing the group was tasked to protect.”

Ukip leader Nigel Farage said the European plan was "a flagrant attack on press freedom by the European Commission".

"To think that unelected bureacrats in Brussels want the power to ultimately fine and suspend journalists is just outrageous," he said.

"National governments and the EU should stay out of media control. Regulation is something the media can well do themselves. With this new grab for EU regulation of the national media supervisors, it really is becoming like Orwell's 1984. Commisioner Neelie Kroes wants to send out the the thought police. Well, don't let her succeed. Politicians always want to control the media but it is something which should always be resisted."

Related on HuffPost:

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”