Mehdi's Morning Memo: Osborne Ain't Gonna Budge On Austerity

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GEORGE OSBORNE
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The ten things you need to know on Sunday 2nd December 2012...

1) WHEN THE FACTS CHANGE, I DON'T CHANGE MY MIND

The chancellor George Osborne has penned a column for the Sun on Sunday ahead of this week's Downturn Update (sorry, 'Autumn Statement'). At first, he sounds pretty candid on the deficit and the failure of his own his economic plans:

"Of course, the scale of the challenge has been greater than anyone thought."

Yep. Good to hear him say so.

"As a result it is taking longer than we hoped to put things right."

Indeed it is. So, slow down the cuts? Try a fiscal stimulus? Accept the limits of austerity economics?

"But the last thing we should do now is change course."

Oh. Typical. As Keynes almost said: "When the facts change, I don't change my mind."

2) START DIGGING

"When you're in a hole, stop digging," said shadow chancellor Ed Balls on the Andrew Marr show this morning. Nice line, though some might argue - Balls included! - that it's time the coalition started digging: by building more houses and roads, funding new infrastructure projects, getting capital spending levels up, not down.

The economy needs a boost - but will we get one this week, on Wednesday, in the Autumn Statement?

The papers have some different takes.

The Observer reveals that George Osborne will not include plans to remove housing benefit for under-25s in his Autumn Statement due to opposition on the "unjust" move from the Liberal Democrats. (Hurrah!)

The Mail on Sunday reports that the chancellor has also clashed with the Lib Dems over his plans to freeze benefit payments, and is fighting a "rearguard action", with Nick Clegg and Vince Cable pushing for a rise of around 1%.

And the Sunday Times splashes on Osborne's plans to "launch a raid on the pension benefits of high earners in his autumn statement as part of a deal with the Liberal Democrats to squeeze the rich".

3) LEVESON WINS... WITH THE PUBLIC

If you had any doubts as to where the great British public stand on Lord Justice Leveson and his proposals for regulating the press, the YouGov poll in today's Sunday Times should remove them.

Polling guru Mike Smithson offers this summary of its key findings:

"As we’ve consistently seen, there is majority support for the principle of tougher regulation of the press – 68% of people think there needs to be tougher regulation, 21% do not. There is majority support amongst supports of all parties.

"On the main dividing line that has emerged from Leveson, 58% of people think that there should be laws backing up the new regulatory system, compared to 26% of people who are opposed. Again, a majority of supporters of all parties back a new law. However, later questions in the survey suggest some reservations – 52% of people agree that MPs should have no role in the design of the system of regulation, and 47% of people think there is a risk of future governments using the laws to control the media."

Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday goes big on Shami Chakrabarti's intervention in this debate:

"One of Lord Justice Leveson’s key advisers last night delivered the bombshell verdict that his demand for compulsory press regulation would be illegal.

"In an exclusive interview with The Mail on Sunday, Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty, said any such clampdown would breach the Human Rights Act and be open to legal challenge."

Uh-oh.

4) ED'S CHRISTMAS GIFT

It's ultimatum time. Cameron has till Christmas to implement the Leveson proposals, says Ed Miliband. From the Observer's interview with the Labour leader:

"Amid all his high-minded talk he too has a clear political plan up his sleeve. He flatters Nick Clegg for being "courageous and right" in also opposing Cameron and praises Tories who have defied their leader. He will give the cross-party talks some time but not more than three weeks. Then he will throw his weight behind attempts to build a cross-party alliance that he hopes will inflict a devastating Commons defeat on the prime minister."

Miliband strikes a defiant note:

"[D]oes he not worry now, as he broadens his battle and takes on the likes of Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, who opposes statutory guarantees, about the consequences for his and his party's media coverage? "Come on!" he shouts back. "You have got to do the right thing! What do people think about politicians? They think they are short-termist, opportunistic, unprincipled. For me to back away would have been absolutely miserable and pathetic. You have got to do the right thing. That is my position."

Perhaps, however, the Labour leader should have a word with his aides. The Sunday Times reports:

"Ed Miliband is ready to back down over his demand that the Leveson report be implemented in its “entirety” and has indicated his willingness to compromise on some recommendations with David Cameron and Nick Clegg."

Oh.

5) MRS CLEGG KEEPS HER HEAD DOWN. NOT.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, the wife of the deputy prime minister, made it clear from the moment her husband took his party into coalition with the Conservatives that she wanted to keep her head down and stay out of the limelight.

But what's this, on the front page of today's Mail on Sunday?

"Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg personally intervened to help a charity linked to his wife Miriam obtain £12million of taxpayers' money.

"Labour and Tories joined forces to call for an investigation last night after leaked emails showed one of the Lib Dem leader's key aides lobbied for Booktrust to be given the grant, instead of competing with other charities.

"The organisation announced last week that it had secured £6 million for each of the next two years, while other charities will have to wait until next year - and some will get nothing.

"The charity has previously received Department for Education funding - but the new award secures that until 2015.

"According to sources in Mr Clegg's Cabinet Office, his aide Matt Sanders sent an email to education officials referring to the fact that Mrs Clegg - a prominent supporter of the charity - hosted a function for them just weeks earlier.

"It is understood that other emails show that senior civil servants expressed concern at the way the bidding process had apparently been manipulated to benefit Booktrust.

"A Whitehall insider said: 'There was unease at the way that it appeared Mr Clegg wanted special treatment for Booktrust, and the fact that Miriam's name came up.'"

The DPM's office has said there has been "no wrongdoing". But guess which MP is making lots of noise on this issue? Yep, Clegg's Tory nemesis, the backbench MP Peter Bone, who told the Mail on Sunday:

"If there was undue influence over the award of this money, Mr Clegg will have very serious questions to answer.

"No one is questioning the good work of this charity but I would be very concerned if communications from his office have been used to influence the award of public money. There should be a Cabinet Office inquiry and I will be writing to the Cabinet Secretary about this."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this clip (via West Midlands Police!) of a cocky kid in a hoodie walk into a lamppost.

6) TAXING TIMES

Big corporations beware! Tax avoidance, nowadays, seems to be the controversy that just doesn't go away. The Independent on Sunday splashes on an investigation into "football's tax shame":

"Premier League clubs made more than £150m profit yet paid less than £3m in corporation tax, according to analysis of their most recent accounts. This is an effective tax rate of 2 per cent. Equally startling is that a profit of £150m made by eight clubs is all that the Premier League has to show for a turnover of about £2.2bn a year.

"Five clubs, including Manchester United, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur, paid no tax at all..."

But some good news on tax avoidance, via the Sunday Times front page:

"Starbucks is preparing to cave in to growing pressure over its tax affairs, with a pledge to boost payments to the UK’s cash-strapped taxman.

"In an attempt to ward off a consumer boycott, the coffee chain will promise this week to increase the amount of British corporation tax it pays.

"The climbdown comes as parliament’s public accounts committee prepares to publish a damning report on the elaborate tricks used by big corporations to sidestep the taxman."

7) HEY MINORITIES: WE LOVE YOU TOO!

Uber-modernizer and pollster Andrew Cooper may be rumoured to be on his way out of Downing Street, and Australian right-winger Lynton Crosby may be on his way in, but the Cameroons haven't given up on trying to win over the BME (black minority ethnic) vote) just yet.

Writing on the New Statesman's website, the Indian-born Tory MP for Reading West and the party's vice-chairman with responsibility for "BME engagement", strikes a Harriet-Harmanesque note:

"Whilst gender balance is one measure of workforce diversity, ethnicity is another. Championing workforce diversity should be about improving both.

"The regulations [on gender diversity in the workplace] should be extended so listed companies also have to set out the number of employees from both white and black and ethnic minority (BME) backgrounds within their workforce as a whole, as well as at senior and board level."

Ooh. Controversial. I like it - and I await the backlash from his colleagues on the unreconstructed Tory right.

8) UKIP ON THE UP?

The Independent on Sunday has a double-page spread on the "rise and rise of Ukip - the new party of the protest voter". The Sindy's Brian Brady writes:

"After almost two decades of ridicule, in-fighting and shouting from the sidelines, Ukip is finally within touching distance of mainstream British politics."

Hmm. Haven't we all read such feature pieces before? Y'know, after every single by-election in which a fringe party does a bit better than the rest? Bear in mind that, unlike Respect in Bradford West earlier this year, Ukip didn't actually win in Rotherham. Nor do they currently have any MPs. And the Greens, lest we forget, have far more local councillors than Ukip and a member of parliament. Let's not get carried away with mid-term Ukipmania just yet, eh?

9) "ABRASIVE AND IRKSOME"

The Observer splashes on former poet laureate and new Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) chair Andrew Motion's scathing attack on the "incredibly irresponsible" Nick Boles, the Tory planning minister who earlier this week called for building on England's green fields:

"The former poet laureate describes feeling emotions "somewhere between horror and enormous anger" as Tory minister Nick Boles set out his plans to build on 2m acres of unspoiled land.

"In an unusually personal attack on the credibility of a new minister, Motion further castigates Boles for bringing an inappropriately "abrasive and irksome" attitude to the job on being promoted in the prime minister's last reshuffle.

"The outspoken intervention comes in response to the minister's claims that land under development in the UK may have to increase by a third to tackle the housing shortage.

"...But, in an interview with the Observer, Motion condemns the minister's comments, describing him as wrong "on just about every level".

"Motion, who succeeded writer Bill Bryson as head of the CPRE this year, says the minister's short-term fix will condemn greenfield sites to being lost for ever, degrading the 'national masterpiece' that is this country's countryside. He further claims that the minister is simply mistaken in his figures."

Ouch.

10) WATCH OUT, FFION!

Does the foreign secretary's wife know who he's campaigning alongside these days, on the issue of rape and sexual violence overseas? From the Sunday Mirror:

"Angelina Jolie is ready to quit acting and be a stay-at-home mother.

"... Speaking on Channel 4 news and sitting next to Foreign Secretary William Hague, Angelina spoke passionately about her commitments outside the acting world.

"She said: 'I work a lot with refugees. They want to know what's happening to their future and they want to put on record what is happening in their country.'"

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 44
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 126.

From the Observer/Opinium poll:

Labour 38
Conservatives 29
Ukip 13
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 94.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@iainmartin1 Love when BBC renoses bulletin with what was on same show 2 mins before. "George Osborne has told this programme". I know, just saw it

@ShippersUnbound Favourite Leveson fact: the whole furore yesterday was read by fewer BBC website visitors than 'Germany Moves to Ban Bestiality'.

@BorowitzReport If the War on Christmas is anything like the War on Drugs, Santa has nothing to worry about.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "The Leveson report could spark a new Labour-Lib Dem alliance."

John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "The Prime Minister's antipathy to press regulation sets him at odds with the other party leaders, but gives him an unusually decisive air."

Will Hutton, writing in the Observer, says: "The chancellor's vision of capitalism has failed. We need a new model to relieve consumers and business of fear and debt."

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