The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 20th November 2012...
1) CAMERON'S CHEAP ENERGY BILLS
Remember when David Cameron threw everyone off guard -including the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) - by telling MPs at PMQs last month that the coalition would "be legislating so that energy companies have to give the lowest tariff to their customers"? Critics claimed it couldn't be done. But it looks like the PM is going to make good on his surprise promise.
From the Guardian splash on the PM's "cheap energy plan":
"[Energy secretary Ed Davey] is expected to announce that all energy companies must slash the confusing thicket of competing tariffs and reduce them to four. He will also require that the companies put consumers on the lowest tariff available to them. The scheme could be in force by 2014 but its small print will be studied by Labour to see if it matches Cameron's original boast.
Davey is due to make the announcement at a meeting of the energy select committee this afternoon and, if necessary, fresh laws will be included in energy legislation due to be published in the next fortnight. Booming energy prices are seen in Downing Street as one of the most politically dangerous issues facing the government."
Indeed. Gas and electricity bills have soared in recent months. However, Ann Robinson, director of consumer policy at uSwitch, tells the Guardian that "the unintended consequences [of the move] would be to kill competition... Consumers will be left with Hobson's choice - there will be no spur, no choice, no innovation and no reason for consumers to engage any more."
And the Mail quotes Labour's shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint as saying: "The cheapest deal in an uncompetitive market will still not be a good deal."
The devil, as is so often the case, will be in the detail...
2) ISRAEL'S "BLITZ"?
Have we woken up this morning to the first bit of good news out of the Middle East in a week? The Israeli and Egyptian media are reporting that the Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has postponed a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip and is waiting to see whether Egyptian president Mohammed al-Morsi can broker a diplomatic solution to the ongoing violence.
But let's not get carried away. The violence is, as I said, ongoing. Air strikes continue: overnight, Israeli jets killed a Palestinian man and his two young sons in Gaza while Palestinian militant groups inside the Strip launched a handful of rockets into southern Israel.
At least 111 Palestinians and three Israelis have died since the conflict kicked off last week - a ratio of more than 30 Palestinians dead for each Israeli.
Nonetheless, in an exclusive blogpost for the Huffington Post UK, Daniel Taub, Israel's ambassador to Britain, compares the suffering of Israeli civialians under rocket attack in the south of the country to British citizens living in London during the Blitz. Taub says that just as Hitler wanted to "terrorise and cow" the people of Britain with bombing raids on their cities, "over one million Israelis have been forced to live under similar conditions, seeking refuge in bomb shelters as a result of thousands of Hamas rocket and mortar attacks".
However, the former Middle East minister and Labour MP Ben Bradshaw told the Huffington Post that "Israel’s continued blockade has strangled Gaza’s economy and only served to encourage the militants". He added: "If [Barack] Obama doesn’t want to go down in history as the American President who missed the last chance for a two state solution he must not only act now to stop the bloodshed but devote serious American engagement to getting peace talks going again."
Foreign Secretary William Hague is expected to update MPs on the fighting in a statement to the House of Commons later this afternoon.
3) "MENTOR LAGS"
That's the headline in the Sun, which reports:
"Ex-gang members and reformed lags are to be offered roles helping young criminals go straight, when they leave prison.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling will today unveil plans to slash re-offending and stop offenders returning to crime when they are released from jail.
He wants ex-jailbirds to help persuade youngsters to turn their back on crime. Mr Grayling will say in a speech: 'Often it will be the former offender gone straight who is best placed to steer the young prisoner back on to the straight and narrow — the former gang member best placed to prevent younger members from rushing straight back to rejoin the gang.'"
Who says the self-styled 'tough justice secretary' doesn't care about re-offending, eh?
However, the Guardian notes that Grayling's first major policy speech, at the Centre for Social Justice thinktank, will also outline how the government plans to expand the use of "private and voluntary sector organisations to supervise short-sentence prisoners when they leave jail, on a 'payment by results' basis".
4) NOT-SO-SECRET WAR?
Finally! From the Times splash:
"MPs are to open an inquiry into Britain’s use of drones to kill militants in a move that could prompt the United States to reveal more about its 'secret war'.
Members of the Commons Defence Select Committee are to investigate the deployment of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in Afghanistan as part of a two-year inquiry into the military’s use of lethal force, The Times has learnt."
5) THE RISE AND RISE OF UKIP
From the Guardian:
"Ukip is emerging as the chief beneficiary of a mood of disillusionment with all the main parties, according to a new Guardian/ICM poll.
Support for all three main parties fell back a point compared with the previous month, leaving Labour on 40%, the Conservatives on 32% and the Liberal Democrats on 13%. Ukip picked up many of those votes, with a two percentage point surge to 7%.
The poll was conducted at the end of last week in the wake of the police commissioner ballots which saw record lows in turnout and Ukip outpolling the Liberal Democrats. The Eurosceptic party also outpolled the Lib Dems in the Corby byelection."
Blogger Mike Smithson notes: "The UKIP score of 7% is lower than we’ve seen in many online polls, but is actually the highest that ICM have ever had them in their polls for the Guardian."
Expect more wailing and gnashing of teeth from right-wing Tory backbenchers...
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
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6) "WE NEED EU"
From the Independent:
"David Cameron has come under increasing pressure to rein in Eurosceptic members of his party after it emerged that frustrated European Union officials have begun drawing up a plan to pass a crucial seven-year budget without the UK.
The Prime Minister will travel to Brussels on Thursday for crucial talks on the budget. Mr Cameron has faced calls from Tory rebels, and from the Labour Party, to secure a freeze in spending in the talks. A spokesman said he had been in contact with Angela Merkel and François Hollande over the weekend to try to reach a deal but EU diplomats have expressed doubts that British demands can be accommodated, and have reportedly begun studying the possibility of passing the budget without the UK's agreement.
Europhiles want the Prime Minister to rein in cabinet ministers, including Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith, who have suggested that Britain could enjoy a bright economic future outside the EU."
The Mirror's editorial ("We Need EU") echoes Ed Miliband's speech to the CBI yesterday:
"[W]e mustn't sleepwalk or stagger openly to the EU exit door just because politicians falsely blame other countries for their own failings here in Britain, and destroy jobs and trade in the process.
The EU isn't perfect. After all, which person, company or international organisation is? Our future, however, is in Europe - and those asserting otherwise are dangerously wrong."
7) MPs' EXPENSES, PART 556
The Telegraph - who else? - reports:
"The official expenses regulator published details of MPs’ landlords on Monday night, exposing how several politicians are renting properties from one another or from other acquaintances.
But 51 successfully argued that information regarding their claims should be redacted so that the public cannot establish the identities of those they rent from.
MPs whose details will remain secret are known to include several who are renting properties from one another and a Labour shadow minister who rents a London home from an offshore trust."
The Sun reports on how Tory MP and ex-minister Peter Luff "is claiming up to £1,600 a month expenses from taxpayers' cash to rent a luxury London flat from millionaire footballer Frank Lampard".
Meanwhile, the Independent reveals:
"MPs could be banned from claiming expenses for renting a home while renting out another property they bought with the help of their parliamentary allowances.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), which runs the MPs' expenses system, is considering the rule change.
After it emerged that more than 30 MPs were "renting and letting", Sir Christopher Kelly, head of the antisleaze watchdog, called for the loophole to be closed. He told The Independent: 'There is no rule saying they can't do it. But people should not be fixated by rules. What we really want is people taking responsibility for making judgments about what is right and not right.'"
8) HERE COME THE GIRLS
From the Independent:
"Supporters of female bishops expressed growing confidence last night that the final glass ceiling within the Church of England will be shattered today, two decades after women were first allowed to become priests.
In a landmark decision, members of the Church's legislative body, the General Synod, will decide this afternoon whether to approve legislation allowing women to take the most senior roles within the Church. The vote is the culmination of years of bitter wrangling. A significant majority of church leaders, clergy and laity are in favour of women bishops and have voted overwhelmingly in favour each time the legislation has come before synod, but a vocal minority of traditionalists, conservative evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics have vowed to sink the legislation."
9) PRESIDENT CASTRO OF THE UNITED STATES?
My colleague Ned Simons interviews the man who could be America's first ever Latino president:
“'I wouldn’t put myself in the same league as President Obama, he is a person of unique talents and abilities, I am content being the mayor of San Antonio right now,' Julián Castro insists.
But it is the 'right now' that turns heads. The 38-year-old Hispanic mayor of Texas’ second largest city, the seventh largest in the United States, became the latest ‘next Obama’ after he was handed the coveted keynote speaker slot at this year’s Democratic Convention – the president’s 2004 launchpad to the White House."
You can read the full interview here.
10) GAZA, EGYPT AND... ME?
According to the New York Times, the Egyptian president's senior aides "invited foreign correspondents in Cairo to a background briefing" on the violence in the Gaza Strip. The US paper reveals:
"In a sign of the Egyptian government’s inexperience at such public-relations campaigns, the official sought to reinforce his points by distributing a handout printed from the Internet, where it had circulated widely without clear authorship. It was titled '10 things you need to know about Gaza,' with headings like 'Prison Camp' and '(Un) fair fight.'"
Hmm. I wonder where I've seen that before?
"My Russia is a beggar. My Russia cannot help her elderly and orphans. From it, bleeding, like from a sinking ship, engineers, doctors, teachers are fleeing, because they have nothing to live on. My Russia – it is an endless Caucasian war." - Russia's entry to the Miss Earth 2012 beauty pageant, Natalia Pereverzeva, answering the question 'What makes you proud of your country?'
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 114.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@TomHarrisMP Lots of Tories are overestimating how strongly people feel about EU. It's not popular but not sure many will shift their vote because of it.
@SJacksonMP If Ian BIrrell & the Guardian are crying into their organic muesli this morning, then Lynton Crosby's appointment must be a good thing
@ShippersUnbound Calm down everyone. It's all going to be OK in Gaza. The FCO has just announced that Alistair Burt is heading to the region. #peacebreaksout
900 WORDS OR MORE
Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, says: "For Iain Duncan Smith, poverty is caused by failure and dysfunction. The reality is different, and Labour must say so."
Hugo Rifkind, writing in the Times, says: "Israel good? Tick. Israel bad? Tick. It’s tricky."
Janan Ganesh, writing in the FT, offers his endorsement of Lynton Crosby: "Cameron is right to turn to the fixer."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ned Simons (email@example.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol