Mehdi's Morning Memo: the Lib Dem minister, the reshuffle and an attack on Iran

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** The minister, the reshuffle and an attack on Iran ** Top of the Pops: cabinet edition ** Gove levels ** Lib-Lab flirtathon ** Unsqueeed middle? ** Legislating after Leveson **

THE MINISTER, THE RESHUFFLE AND AN ATTACK ON IRAN

Are we going to war with the Iranians? A former Lib Dem defence minister is believed to have claimed that he was sacked from the government to "avoid a damaging coalition split over a pre-emptive strike on Iran".

From the Mail on Sunday:

"Former Armed Forces Minister Sir Nick Harvey told friends that he was fired in the reshuffle to allow Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to sign Britain up to an Israeli-US preventive strike to take out Iran’s nuclear installations.

Friends of Sir Nick – who was handed a knighthood just days later – say that he could have embarrassed the Lib Dem leader by being too critical of Israel’s actions if he had still been in the key Ministry of Defence post."

Intriguing. It's worth noting that the 2010 Lib Dem manifesto explicitly committed the party to opposing military action against Iran. Then again, we all know how cast-iron those Lib Dem manifesto commitments are...

On a related note, the growing possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran is also believed to be the reason that Muslim minister Sayeeda Warsi was denied the "Middle East and North Africa" portfolio when she was appointed 'Senior Minister of State' at the Foreign Office in the reshuffle.

And on an unrelated reshuffle note, the Sunday Times has the story of "the minister who wanted to resign — and couldn’t". It seems Lord Hill, the education minister in the Lords, tried to quit in a meeting with the prime minister but Dave wasn't listening and "praised him for his hard work, told him to carry on and strode out of the room". Who says the PM doesn't pay attention to detail?

TOP OF THE POPS - CABINET EDITION

Dave's "problem with women" continues. The Mail on Sunday's report on the government's official ‘power list’, which ranks the 22 full members of the cabinet, points out that two of the four female cabinet ministers are among the bottom three positions. The highest-ranked woman is the home secretary, Theresa May, at number 6; former transport secretary Justine Greening who was demoted to the international development in the recent reshuffle is 16th.

But cabinet newbies Maria Miller (Culture) and Theresa Villiers (Northern Ireland) are at numbers 20 and 21 respectively, with only the new Welsh secretary David Jones below them both at number 22.

As the Mail on Sunday report argues:

"The list is significant because convention holds that if inter-departmental discussions are being held, the lowest-ranked Ministers must visit the offices of those higher up the list.

It means that, unless they are meeting Mr Jones, the two women will be forced to trudge around Whitehall to hold their meetings."

GOVE LEVELS

Goodbye GCSEs! On Tuesday, according to the Mail on Sunday, Michael Gove and Nick Clegg, having had their row and sorted out their differences, will hold a joint presser to announce the coalition's new, single, tougher, O-level-style replacement for the GCSE - but it won't kick in till after 2015 (which, of course, means a new Labour government could scrap it).

The Mail is delighted: "At last, dumbed down exams are axed."

But Labour's Stephen Twigg was quick to link the reform to the recent debacle over grade deflation:

"It is inappropriate for an overhaul of GCSEs to be leaked while young people taking English GCSEs this year have been treated so unfairly, and are still in limbo."

UNSQUEEZED MIDDLE?

The Sunday Times has been given a preview of a new report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR).

But could its chief finding really be true?

"Households will enjoy a rise in real incomes next year for the first time in three years, but for once it will be the wealthier which will benefit the least."

George "we're all in this together" Osborne will be praying it is.

LIB-LAB FLIRTATHON CONTINUES

First we learned of Vince Cable's text exchanges with Ed Miliband; then Nick Clegg told an audience in Cambridge that, if a coalition between the Lib Dems and Labour was viable come 2015, he "would enter into talks [with Labour] in good faith".

Now party president Tim Farron has got in on the act. From the Sunday Telegraph:

"Here’s something else that will alarm many Tories: Mr Farron seems pretty willing to hop into bed with Labour.

'I don’t see why not – of course we can work with either party,' he says. 'It’s up to the British electorate – whoever is the most popular party has the right to form a government and we won’t hinder that'

It is quite likely that this 42-year-old former academic would be leading the Lib Dems into coalition with Labour. Activists and MPs like his easy nature, his Left-wing credentials and think he may be the man to heal the Lib Dem’s tarnished reputation."

LEGISLATING AFTER LEVESON

Going after the Murdoch media empire, it seems, wasn't enough for Ed Miliband. Now the Labour leader is taking on the newspaper industry as a whole by indicating that he could introduce laws to rein in the press if Lord Justice Leveson decides to recommend statutory regulations.

Last week, Tory MP and culture select committee chair John Whittingdale told Radio 4 that full statutory regulation of the newspaper industry would be “dangerous” but a Labour source has told the Independent on Sunday:

“If Leveson recommends statutory regulation and this is rejected by the coalition, then we will implement it in government.

It would be a bold move. And it'll make Ed even more popular with journalists than he already...ahem...is.

A STATEMENT OF THE BLEEDIN' OBVIOUS

From the Observer:

"The work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has been warned by his own advisers that a vital element of his flagship bill to simplify the benefits system is "unworkable and unfair"...at a time of prolonged recession."

BLACK SUNDAY

Today is the 20th anniversary of Black Wednesday, which marked the beginning of the end of the John Major government - just months after the latter had pulled off a spectacular and unexpected general election victory. Black Wednesday led to a Labour lead in the polls that the party held, almost uninterrupted, for the next 14 years.

David Cameron, of course, as a special adviser to then chancellor Norman Lamont, had a ringside seat and is still trying to help the Tories' recover their reputation for economic competence and paper over the Euro-divisions inside his party. The Sun on Sunday today reveals how a new pro-EU referendum party has been formed by campaigners, including former Apprentice contestant Katie Hopkins, to put pressure on the prime minister.

Meanwhile, Dave's old boss Lamont has pointed out that the Tories' had a higher poll rating in the wake of Black Wednesday than they do now. Ouch.

Sir John Major, incidentally, turned up on the Andrew Marr show this morning to declare that "the darkest moment" of Britain's economic crisis has passed and we are on "the road to a slow economic recovery". Fingers crossed, eh?

I40 CHARACTERS OR LESS

‏@DanHannanMEP Today is the 20th anniversary of White Wednesday: the day Britain's recovery began.

@TimMontgomerie Who doesn't think that ppl like John Major and Alistair Darling wouldn't be better leaders now than 10/20 years ago? #GreyPower! #MarrShow

@andymcsmith The Tories have learnt one thing in 20 yrs, that regicide is not a good idea, says John Major, the man made PM by an act of regicide #Marr

900 WORDS OR MORE

Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "[T]he Lib Dems were an embarrassingly innocent gang when Clegg led them into power: unblooded and unworldly. They did not fully grasp that, by leading them into the crucible of Coalition, he was abolishing the old party – part protest movement, part think tank – and starting from scratch."

James Forsyth, writing in the Mail on Sunday, says: "The state of the Michael Gove/Nick Clegg relationship is one of the best guides to how things truly are inside Government."

Toby Helm, writing in the Observer, says: "At the Lib Dem conference in Brighton, which begins on Saturday, Clegg will have to stand firm against Cameron on Europe, on the environment, on civil liberties, on preventing further cuts in welfare, because if he doesn't his party could well ask whether it is all worth it, and turn against him."

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