** Have The Tories Been Outflanked On Europe? ** Mitt, Barack...and Sandy? **Poverty Pay ** Public Backs Child Benefit Cut ** Miliband And The Mental Health "Taboo" ** The £1 Million 'Blank Sheet' **
HAVE THE TORIES BEEN OUTFLANKED ON EUROPE?
"Standing still isn't enough. The EU needs cuts." That's the headline to a column in the Times by...well, you tell me. David Davis? John Redwood? Nigel Farage? Nope. The correct answer is shadow chancellor Ed Balls and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander who are calling for "a real-terms cut in the [EU] budget" and thereby outflanking prime minister David Cameron on the Tories' most divisive issue. A brave, if perhaps opportunistic, move. After all, the PM is trying to prevent a 5% rise in the EU's long-term budgets requested by the European Commission - but has accepted that it should rise in line with inflation, or around 2%.
The Times splashes on the piece on its front page this morning, with the headline: "Ambush over Europe: Labour outflanks Cameron with call for cuts".
In their article, Balls and Alexander write:
"Every country across Europe, including Britain, is having to make difficult decisions about spending - trying to do better with less. And the European Union is not - and should not be - exempt from this challenge.
... And that is why Labour will argue against the proposed increase in EU spending and instead support a real-terms cut in the budget. We believe these goals are difficult but achievable with the right leadership and the right approach from the UK."
Pro-Europeans within the Labour movement will be distraught but, in pure political terms, you've got to hand it to the shadow chancellor: Balls has always been an advocate of clear 'dividing lines' between Labour and the Conservatives yet few would have predicted he'd be willing to draw a line between the two parties on Europe and, that too, with Labour on the more Eurosceptic side of the argument. (The shadow chancellor also seems to be continuing with 'Operation Build Bridges' and reaching out to former rivals/opponents - in May, he penned a joint comment piece - again, on Europe - with Peter Mandelson and today he shares the Times byline with Alexander - the latter has long believed that Balls and his outriders briefed against him after 'the election that never was' in the autumn of 2007.)
Meanwhile, Cameron faces pressure from within his party, too. Dr Fox, who the Times rightly says has become "the figurehead of the Tory Right", tells the paper that handing the EU bureaucracy any extra money is unjustifiable:
"In a continent where a generation of young people are unemployed as a result of the ever-closer EU ideology, the idea that you would even increase for inflation the inflated wages of the Eurocrats is obscene."
The former defence secretary will give a speech in Norway later today in which he will call for poorer member nations to be allowed to leave the Union. And on Wednesday, the Commons will debate the government's negotiating position ahead of the next EU summit.
So, Dave, your move. How are you going to respond to Balls and Fox? Methinks heads will be scratched inside Number 10 today.
MITT, BARACK AND...SANDY?
So, I guess we now know what the 2012 election's much-awaited 'October surprise' is. Hurricane Sandy, dubbed 'Frankenstorm', has already forced hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate from New York and is now expected to disrupt the lives of millions of Americans living on the country's east coast. From the Telegraph:
"Subway services in the metropolis were suspended amid fears of flooding while flights and train services were cancelled and schools closed. Even the United Nations headquarters were shut as the city that never sleeps battened down the hatches ahead of the hurricane – although the New York Stock Exchange still planned to open."
Sandy, says a Reuters analysis, could...
"...throw a wrench in the campaigns' efforts to drive voters to the polls in the final days before the election and will require them to ensure that their armies of door-knocking volunteers stay safe.
An extended power outage could sideline millions of dollars worth of television advertising that is set to saturate the airwaves in the final days of the race.
It also scrambles their efforts to schedule rallies in the handful of states that are likely to decide the outcome.
... A severe disruption could hurt Obama more than Romney because his campaign has counted on early voting to lock up the support of those who may be less likely to vote on Election Day..."
Obama will also have to ensure he doesn't look callous, distracted or indifferent a la George W Bush during Hurricane Katrina.
Meanwhile, a Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll published yesterday found Obama leading Romney among likely voters by 49 percent to 46 percent, which means the race is basically tied at a national level. Nonetheless, the president retains a modest lead in most of the swing states that matter - which is why I continue to believe Obama, not Romney, will win next week.
"One in five workers in UK is paid less than living wage," says the Independent splash, reporting on figures that show:
"... 4.8m people working for less than £8.30 an hour in London, and £7.30 outside - income levels that are designed to enable employees to be able to afford a basic standard of living."
The study, carried out on behalf of KPMG, shows bar staff, restaurant workers, catering and retail staff have been the worst affected by fallout from the double-dip recession. Oh, and the 1% third-quarter growth figure hasn't helped either: "[A]ny benefits are evading those earning low incomes in the UK, the report showed, with four in 10 low-paid workers admitting their finances are worse now than they were just a month ago."
Memo to right-wingers: you cannot tackle the benefits bill, until you first tackle the scourge of poverty pay.
PUBLIC BACKS CHILD BENEFIT CUT
With letters from HM Revenue and Customs going out today to around one million households, advising them on how their child benefit payments are going to change from 7 January, the prime minister and the chancellor will take comfort from the results of the Tories' private polling. From the Express:
"An overwhelming majority of voters support Government plans to cut child benefit for high-earning families, according to private polling commissioned by the Conservative Party.
The poll found 82% backing for the move, which will hit the top 15% of earners on £50,000 or more and end the principle of universal entitlement to child benefit. The change was even supported by large majorities of families with children and people on high incomes."
Regardless of its popularity, the big question is: will HMRC be able to pull off such a fiendishly complex change or will it be another omnishambles come January? The Institute of Chartered Accountants, for instance, has warned that there'll be chaos. If I was Osborne, I wouldn't get too comfortable...
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of a Corgi puppy waging war on an innocent bystander's ponytail.
MILIBAND AND THE MENTAL HEALTH "TABOO"
In a speech today at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Labour leader Ed Miliband will take on the mental health "taboo" and, according to the Guardian, attack celebrities "for demeaning people with mental health problems, likening attacks on sufferers to the fight against racism, sexism and homophobia".
Miliband will criticise "lazy caricatures" of people with mental health problems and, in particular, go after Jeremy Clarkson - who isn't just guilty of telling jokes at the expense of the mentally ill but also, of course, happens to be a good friend of David Cameron. Coincidence? Perhaps not.
THE £1 MILLION 'BLANK SHEET'
From the Independent:
"Labour has received almost £1m from the taxpayer to help draw up policies for the next general election - with very limited results so far.
The money has been paid by the Electoral Commission from a fund designed to help parties draft manifestos and explore policy ideas."
Labour point out that the Tories have received a similar amount of money over the same period - but, of course, the Tories haven't trumpeted their "blank sheet" of paper on policy.
FACTOID OF THE DAY
"Research by Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt University and Christopher Achen of Princeton University found that Vice President Al Gore may have lost the election in 2000 because of severe drought and excessive rainfall in seven states." - Reuters' Andy Sullivan, commenting on the potential impact of Hurricane Sandy on Obama's re-election efforts.
"We need a paper that believes capitalism is fundamentally flawed; that wishes fewer people had jobs in financial services; that thinks the euro was and still is a jolly fine idea; that dislikes the ideology of home ownership (except for Guardian journalists, who are allowed to have more than one); that dislikes anything “elitist” (except for the schools attended by the children of Guardian journalists)." - Boris Johnson, writing in his Telegraph column today, takes a jab at the Guardian while calling for the paper not to go 'online-only'.
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 9%
This would give Labour a majority of 88.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@oflynnexpress The real key political question: why would anyone vote again for a party that has made them £2k pa worse off in a single fiscal measure?
@davidschneider Re Hurricane Sandy, Republicans are saying not to worry. If it's a legitimate hurricane, nature has a way of shutting the whole thing down.
@BarackObama If you're on the Eastern seaboard, please make sure to follow the instructions of your state and local officials today. Stay safe. -bo
900 WORDS OR MORE
Jeff Randall, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Ignore the economic doom-mongers, Britain is finally heading back towards prosperity."
Jackie Ashley, writing in the Guardian, says: "Ed Miliband needs a clear economic alternative. His emphasis should not be on regulating business, but on democratising it."
John Harris, also writing in the Guardian, says: "Another omnishambles – and this time it threatens me and my autistic son."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (firstname.lastname@example.org), Chris Wimpress (email@example.com) or Ned Simons (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @chriswimpress, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol