** Don't Panic ** Goodbye Nick? ** Goodbye Lib Dems? ** Double Standards ** Dave Vs Dave Part 2 ** From Big Oil To Big Church? ** Sling One's Hook **
Nick Clegg will be doing his best impression of Corporal Jones this afternoon, when he delivers his keynote speech to the Lib Dem conference in Brighton. Don’t panic, keep calm, hold your nerve, stick it out – these are the messages that the Lib Dem leader will try and ram home to his sandal-wearing troops. The headline in the Times sums it up:
"Go back to your constituencies and prepare for vitriol and abuse"
The paper says Clegg "will brace the Liberal Democrats today for two more years of 'vitriol and abuse' and challenge them to grow into an established party of government."
The deputy prime minister will say: “The past is gone and it isn’t coming back. If voters want a party of opposition, a ‘stop the world I want to get off’ party, they’ve got plenty of options, but we are not one of them.”
Amid dire poll ratings, Clegg will try and close his party's annual conference on a semi-high by announcing...wait for it...£50 million for secondary school "catch-up" tutoring. Hmm. Not sure that, on its own, will cut it, Nick.
Could the next general election see the deputy PM bowing out? “I’ve never believed that it is healthy for people to dedicate themselves to politics all their lives,” he hinted to the BBC yesterday.
First they screwed over the students, now, it seems, they want to screw over the elderly. "Pensioners must give up benefits, says Clegg" is the splash on the front of the Telegraph.
Yesterday, the deputy prime minister argued that well-off pensioners give up free television licenses, winter fuel payments and free bus passes - but only after 2015 (as Nick's mate, Dave, promised not to touch 'em during the TV debates back in 2010). Clegg said it wasn't fair for tycoons like Alan Sugar to get such state support - prompting Lord Sugar to tweet: "The twit Nick Clegg moaning about me having a bus pass. Idiot, I haven't got one."
Remember: means-testing universal benefits for the over-65s won't raise much money, as the IFS boss Paul Johnson pointed out on the Today programme this morning. So why take the political pain? Perhaps there won't be any (for the Lib Dems, that is). A "senior Lib Dem MP" told the Mirror yesterday: "Pensioners don’t vote for us anyway.".
(I’m can't help but be reminded of how George Bush Snr’s chief of staff, James Baker, is once infamously alleged to have remarked: “F*** the Jews. They don’t vote for us anyway.”)
Is it any wonder that an internal party document, leaked to the Spectator yesterday, concludes that "Lib Dem support is elusive" and says "we have little valid evidence that our tactics actually work". Sheesh!
"Arab Spring is not over, says Cameron" reads the headline in the Daily Mail. The paper says that the PM, in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly later today, "will express optimism about the changes in Middle Eastern governments despite warnings that Islamic fanatics could take over". A Tory source tells the Mail: "The PM still thinks the Arab Spring is working."
Really? Tell that to the Bahrainis, whose peaceful protests have been crushed by the brutal regime in Manama. Cameron has welcomed the Bahraini king and the crown prince to Number 10; the Tory-led coalition government has sold arms to the regime. But don't let that get in the way of your "optimism", prime minister...
DAVE VS DAVE, PART 2
Yesterday I reported on how David Cameron, following in the footsteps of Boris Johnson, will appear on the David Letterman show tonight, in New York – the first serving British prime minister to do so.
In honour of his decision to appear, the HuffPost UK Comedy team has put up a video showing how previous British guests (including Jamie Oliver) fared on Letterman's show and has also compiled a list of the top 10 things you need to know about his programme.
GATEGATE, PART 22
From the Mail:
"Only 12 hours after launching a foulmouthed rant at officers who would not let him cycle through the main gates, the Tory Chief Whip returned the next morning and demanded to be let through again...This time there was no altercation or unpleasantness."
Ballsy, eh? They don't call him Thrasher for nothing. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson yesterday added to Mitchell's woes by saying he was "very glad" that the police had considered arresting the chief whip. The Sun says Mitchell has a new Jaguar and will have a "flunky" carry his bike around. And so it goes on.
FROM BIG OIL TO BIG CHURCH?
Forget Obama vs Romney. The big "election" of 2012 kicks off today - 16 voting members of the crown nominations commission (CNC) gather to decide who'll succeed Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury. The Guardian says "Old Etonian former oil executive" Justin Welby, the bishop of Durham, has emerged as "the leading candidate".
HOW. THE. MIGHTY. FALL.
From the Indy:
"Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, along with her husband Charlie Brooks, and five former NI employees, will appear at the Old Bailey today. They will be asked whether they plead guilty or not guilty to charges of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice..Six former executives of the now-closed News of the World, including former Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson...will also be in the same courtroom of the Old Bailey in connection with conspiracy charges relating to illegally intercepted phone messages."
Will Cameron, in NYC, take a break from the UN and Letterman in order to get an update from the court in London, I wonder?
AUSTERITY WATCH, PART 44
From the BBC:
"Trade unions in Greece have called the first general strike since the conservative-led coalition government came to power in June. Wednesday's 24-hour walkout is to protest at new planned spending cuts of more than 11.5bn euros ($15bn; £9bn)."
SLING ONE'S HOOK
The Queen goes after Abu Hamza...
"We are coming to get you and you will pay your fair share." - Danny Alexander's message to tax dodgers, in his speech to conference yesterday. In 2010, Alexander was accused by the Daily Telegraph of having "avoided paying capital gains tax when he sold his taxpayer-funded second home at a profit."
IF YOU'RE IN BRIGHTON...
10.35: Debate on housing policy
12.20: Speech by former health minister Paul Burstow
14.45: Speech by deputy prime minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg
You can also follow the HuffPost UK's Lib Dem conference live blog here.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@harryph Danny Alexander says referendum on EU membership would be "a total distraction" - yet it was in Lib Dem manifesto.
@RobDotHutton Hugh Grant has arrived at the bar at #ldconf. The effect is... astonishing. He's mobbed by, like, everyone.
@julianhuppert: “Nick Robinson and Michael Crick just refused to perform at #glee club. Despite being here ... #ldconf”
900 WORDS OR MORE
Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says "Nick Clegg must make a Left turn to save the Lib Dems from disaster".
Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says "it's easy to forget how close the Orange Book faction around Clegg were to the Tories on economic policy to start with."
Donald Macintyre, writing in the Independent, writes about the "speech of heroic dreariness by Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander, in which even the jokes fell flat, including an excruciatingly contrived one whose punchline, if that's the word, was something about "four U-turns and a wedding".
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (email@example.com), Chris Wimpress (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ned Simons (email@example.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @chriswimpress, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol