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Mehdi's Morning Memo: Osborne Vs The Disabled

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The ten things you need to know on Friday 7th December 2012...

1) OSBORNE VS THE DISABLED

Remember how George Osborne claimed on Wednesday that disabled people would be exempt from his benefits crackdown? Well, the Times splash this morning debunks that claim:

"More than half a million disabled people will each lose up to £400 over the course of the next three years as part of the Government's raid on welfare.

"Among those affected are almost 200,000 of the most severely disabled, despite a pledge by George Osborne to protect the vulnerable from cuts.

"Disability charities accused the Chancellor of being utterly misleading as the small print of the Autumn Statement revealed the extent to which disabled people would be hit by changes to the Employment and Support Allowance.

"More than half a million rely on this benefit for their income but it will be increased by only 1 per cent a year in the next three years... The actual numbers of disabled hit by this real-terms cut in income may be much higher because a further half a million are being assessed for their eligibility for the benefit. Many disabled people also face a further squeeze on their living standards because they rely on housing benefit which is also increasing by 1 per cent."

Did Osborne really want to pick a fight with disabled people? I suspect not. Oh well... here we go...

2) NO CREDIT FOR THE CREDIT RATING

Oh look - yet another coalition U-turn on the way. From the Guardian:

"Cabinet colleagues have warned George Osborne not to try to protect Britain's AAA credit rating because its loss is now inevitable and voters should be told it is unlikely to lead to higher borrowing costs."

Well, we've known it won't necessarily lead to higher borrowing costs since the summer of 2011 when the United States lost its triple-A rating and... nothing happened. US borrowing costs are at all-time lows.

Why the change in attitude now?

"In the wake of the autumn statement, the credit rating agency Fitch warned the UK was at greater risk of losing its status."

Ohhhhhhhh.

The Huff Post UK has put together a list of six quotes George Osborne might come to regret if we are indeed downgraded next year, as the bookies suggest. My favourite is his line from July that "the world has confidence" in the UK's economic policies, thanks to our AAA status; so, I guess that means, by his own logic, a downgrade will be evidence that the world has lost confidence in the UK - and the chancellor.

3) A 'MUMMY TAX'? REALLY?

Remember the Budget's pasty tax? And the caravan tax? You'd think the chancellor would have done everything he possibly could to avoid such populist labels this time round. Yet now, it appears, we have the "mummy tax".

From the Daily Mail:

"Labour yesterday accused the Chancellor of slapping a £180 'Mummy Tax' on women.

"In his Autumn Statement, George Osborne revealed plans to limit the annual increase in most benefits to just one per cent per year for the next three years.

"While giving the impression the move would largely affect the jobless, he failed to mention it will also hit statutory maternity pay.

"... Labour produced figures showing the measure would hit 232,000 expectant mothers who get statutory maternity pay."

4) HILLARY TO THE RESCUE?

She may only have a few weeks left on the job but Britain - well, Northern Ireland, at least - seems to need the diplomatic skills of the outgoing US Secretary of State. From the Times:

"Loyalist mobs in Northern Ireland continued their campaign against politicians who voted to remove the Union Jack from public buildings as preparations were made for today's visit by Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State. Offices and homes of members of the non-sectarian Alliance Party have been targeted by loyalists angered at its decision on Monday to vote with Sinn Féin to remove the flag from Belfast's City Hall for the first time in more than a century. Posts on social networking sites suggested Alliance Party members who should be targeted.

"Matt Baggott, the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, said that the 'mob rule' was 'compromising the rule of law'."

Meanwhile, Hillary herself yesterday hinted that husband Bill, the ex-president, could become the next US ambassador to the Republic of Ireland. Now that would be weird...

5) GROUND DOWN

Who says the threat of consumer boycott doesn't work? From the FT splash:

"Starbucks has caved in to public pressure and pledged to pay £10m in UK corporate tax in each of the next two years even if it makes a loss, following calls to boycott the coffee chain over its 'immoral' tax practices."

"The decision sets the Seattlebased chain on a potential collision course with investors as the tax payment will come from its parent group."

"Its plan is yet to be accepted by the UK tax authorities, which were not consulted in advance, and it sends a troubling signal to other companies under attack over their UK taxes, including Amazon and Google."

The paper, incidentally, labels the move a "donation".

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video clip of a singing baby upstaging a busker...

6) EGYPT'S NEW MUBARAK?

From the FT:

"Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's Islamist president, has offered to hold limited talks with his opponents but made no concessions likely to defuse the rising tensions that have gripped the country over the past two weeks. "I call for a full, productive dialogue with all figures and heads of parties, revolutionary youth and senior legal figures to meet this Saturday," Mr Morsi said in a televised speech last night. But he sidestepped opposition demands that he revoke an edict placing his decisions temporarily beyond legal challenge and postpone a referendum on a new draft constitution scheduled for December 15."

Six people were killed in fierce clashes in Cairo yesterday. Expect further violence and bloodshed today. It's all very depressing...

7) FORGET OFCOM. HOW ABOUT THE QUEEN?

Has David Cameron, Tony-Blair-style, found a 'third way' on Leveson and press regulation?

From the Telegraph:

"David Cameron is considering establishing a new independent press watchdog by Royal Charter – – the mechanism used to set up the BBC and the Bank of England.

"The Daily Telegraph can disclose that the Prime Minister could ask the Queen to recognise formally the watchdog to ensure its independent legitimacy.

"A Royal Charter cannot be changed without government approval and newspapers would therefore be unable to alter the terms of the watchdog unilaterally in the future. The BBC is recognised by a Royal Charter that is renewed every 10 years, a mechanism used to ensure independence from MPs.

"A Conservative source said: 'We think this is a sensible halfway solution which avoids the need for statute.'"

Meanwhile, the Her Majesty's Opposition continues to plan its own alternative "draft bill" on Leveson, says the Guardian:

"Labour has been in discussion with Liberal Democrats and leading Tory MPs supporting statutory underpinning, and is confident there has been no backsliding by supporters of this reform."

And, down under, reports the paper, Lord Justice Leveson has said he is watching developments in the UK "with interest" following the publication of his report - but he declined to comment further during a speech at a conference in Sydney.

8) I'M TELLING ON YOU!

Yesterday, this Memo mentioned interviewer Evan Davis' clash with the chancellor George Osborne on the Today programme; Davis cut the chancellor off when the latter offered "non-answers" on why borrowing had fallen this year.

Good to know the government is so opposed to regulating the press, given the reaction to the Osborne-Davis spat.

From the Guardian:

"Craig Oliver, Downing Street's director of communications, texted several BBC news executives on Thursday morning to express his displeasure at Davis's repeated interruptions. The interviewer frequently declined to allow the chancellor to develop answers in a dispute over whether it was fair for the government to say that the deficit was falling.

"It is understood Oliver was called back by an unnamed BBC executive who acknowledged that the interview "could have been better handled". The BBC said that it had responded informally to Oliver, that it had "reviewed the interview", and that there was 'no question of any kind of reprimand' for Davis.

"Davis, responding to a suggestion from Tom Newton Dunn, the Sun's political editor, that he had been 'told off', tweeted that was not the case: 'There is some confusion around just now, but just to clarify: I have not been told off for the way I interviewed the chancellor today.'"

Good to know...

9) HE'S MY BEST FRIEND

Oh look, the new police and crime commissioners have been hit by accusations of "cronyism". That didn't take long.

From the Times:

"Police and crime commissioners were embroiled in "cronyism" rows last night after appointing close friends to lucrative jobs as their deputies.

"Sixteen commissioners have appointed deputies on salaries of up to £65,000 without any formal appointments process.

"The Tory commissioner in Northamptonshire has published plans to hire 17 people, including four assistant commissioners, to help him.

"... Police and crime commissioners are allowed to appoint a deputy without going through the usual employment procedures intended to ensure that jobs are handed out on merit... Bill Longmore, independent commissioner in West Mercia, has been told to review his plan to appoint his campaign manager, Barrie Sheldon, as his deputy."

10) COALITION VS TV CHEFS, ROUND 2

Remember how Jamie Oliver and co attacked the government over the quality and cost of school meals? And over ministers' failure to tackle the obesity epidemic? Well, one of the standard bearers of the Tory right in government has been hitting back.

From the Telegraph:

"Television cooks such as Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson should include chapters in their books about what to make with leftovers to cut down on the amount of food that is thrown away, a Cabinet minister said.

"Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, said that cooks were too obsessed with the 'culture of perfection'."

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"I suspect what happened was some of their donors, very wealthy people, stamped their feet and said 'up with this we will not put', and it didn't happen and I very much regret that." - Vince Cable offers his explanation as to why George Osborne didn't announce a mansion tax.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@DouglasCarswell The pundits are waking up to the fact that Continuity Brown won't fix the economy

@jmbacon Washington Post preparing a pay wall for mid-2013. The era of free access to news may finally be coming to an end.

@Skytwitius When Hamas leader Mashal goes to Gaza today it will be his first time in Palestinian territory since 1967. Expect massive crowds.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, says: "Be bold, Labour, and expose Osborne's skivers v strivers lie."

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "Labour must cut its dependency on welfare."

Mary Ann Sieghart, writing in the Independent, says: "Cut less to achieve more: that's the only course after two years of failure on debt and the deficit."

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