Mehdi's Morning Memo: Gove Goes To War

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The ten things you need to know on Thursday 13th December 2012 (doesn't have the ring of 12/12/12, does it?)...

1) GOVE GOES TO WAR

From the Guardian:

"Michael Gove has written to all state school heads in England, urging them to take 'robust' action against teachers involved in industrial action, and dock their pay, in a move described by Labour as putting the government on a 'war footing' with the teaching profession.

"In a personal letter, the education secretary issued guidance to schools, asking headteachers to take a hard line on 'irresponsible industrial action'."

2) BANKING ON THE EU

There was a late-night deal in Brussels. From the BBC:

"European finance ministers have reached agreement on a eurozone banking union ahead of an EU summit in Brussels.

"The deal follows months of strained negotiations between member states and it will now be put before European leaders later on Thursday."

One of those leaders, of course, will be our very own David Cameron who says he'll be batting for the City of London. Lucky City...

3) TORY PARTY V TORYGRAPH

The Telegraph's editor Tony Gallagher seems to have declared war on the Conservative Party over both MPs' expenses and the Leveson report - and doesn't seem to mind breaking the 'off the record' convention in order to do so.

From the paper's front-page story:

"David Cameron's communications chief warned The Daily Telegraph that the Culture Secretary Maria Miller was 'looking at Leveson' after this newspaper started to ask questions about her expenses claims.

"Craig Oliver indicated that the article might be poorly timed as 'she [Maria Miller] is looking at Leveson at the moment.'

"... Yesterday, this newspaper's scrutiny of Mrs Miller's expenses claims was at the centre of a government row over the regulation of the press following the Leveson Report.

"...The comments were made less than 24 hours after Joanna Hindley, an adviser to the Culture Secretary, telephoned one of the reporters investigating Mrs Miller's expenseclaims to 'flag up' the minister's role in implementing new press rules."

So far, Number 10 is behind Oliver, whose judgement has come under fire from senior Tory politicians and Tory-supporting commentators in recent months. The Telegraph reports:

"Downing Street yesterday insisted that Mr Oliver and Miss Hindley were raising 'legitimate concerns' about the investigation, despite the references to the Leveson Inquiry.

"Labour said it called into question the 'integrity and professionalism' of Mr Oliver and Ms Hindley. Simon Danczuk, a Labour MP, said: 'If Craig Oliver threatened the Telegraph without David Cameron's authority, that looks like an openand– shut breach of the special advisers' code. And the same applies to Maria Miller and her special adviser Joanna Hindley.'"

Opponents of statutory regulation of the press - including most Tory MPs - will be delighted by Oliver and Hindley's interventions.

4) TO FRACK OR NOT TO FRACK

Campaigners have raised fears that the Government is poised to give the green light to pushing ahead with controversial shale gas exploration in the UK.

The Treasury has already signalled its support for the budding industry, proposing tax relief for shale gas, and unveiling a gas generation strategy that potentially paves the way for a new "dash for gas".

But environmentalists warn that a continued reliance on gas would prevent the UK meeting targets to cut emissions and tackle climate change, and that shale has no place in the move to a low-carbon economy.

5) IT'S NOT TAX AVOIDANCE. IT'S CAPITALISM.

Starbucks may have caved to public pressure and coughed up (some) money, but Google has no plans to pay up.

From the Independent:

"The head of the internet giant Google defied growing anger about his firm's tax-avoidance strategy yesterday, boasting that he was 'proud' of the steps it had taken to cut its tax bill.

"Eric Schmidt, the company's chairman, said minimising tax liability was just 'capitalism', and insisted that he would not contribute more to the UK Exchequer just because he 'felt sorry for those British people'.

"... He also ruled out following Starbucks in voluntarily handing more money to the UK Government.

"'There are lots of benefits to [being in Britain],' he told Bloomberg. 'It's very good for us, but to go back to shareholders and say, 'We looked at 200 countries but felt sorry for those British people so we want to [pay them more]', there is probably some law against doing that.'"

It's easy to boycott Starbucks, but how do you boycott Google??

(On a side note, Schmidt is a close friend of Messrs Cameron and Osborne - will they lambast him in the same way Cameron lambasted comedian Jimmy Car? Forgive me, but I doubt it...)

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Beaver Waves At Little Boy (VIDEO)

6) "A BLIZZARD OF INSULTS"

Yesterday's PMQS reminded us of three things: 1) David Cameron and Ed Miliband really, really don't like or respect one another; 2) The PM cannot control his temper in the Commons; and 3) it's time our political leaders grew up and stopped behaving like children.

From the Telegraph's sketchwriter Michael Deacon:

"PMQs was a blizzard of insults. David Cameron derided Ed Balls ("Like bullies all over the world, he can dish it out but he can't take it!"). Ed Miliband derided Mr Cameron ("I've heard everything when the boy from the Bullingdon lectures people on bullying! Have you wrecked a restaurant recently?"). Mr Cameron derided him back ("He's catching the disease from the shadow chancellor of not being able to keep his mouth shut!")."

7) STRIVERS VS SHIRKERS, PMQS-EDITION

Aside from the insults, putdowns and name-calling, there was (I promise!) an issue of substance debated by Messrs Cameron and Miliband in the Commons yesterday: the coalition's proposed 1% rise in benefits and tax credits, which amounts to real-terms cut in benefits and tax credits.

The Labour leader went in hard, notes the Independent's Donald Macintyre, pointing out

"that whereas Osborne had claimed that benefit cuts would harm the 'shirkers - the people with the curtains drawn' - 60 per cent of those hit by them would in fact be in work, like 'the cleaner who cleans the Chancellor's office while his curtains are still drawn and he is still in bed'.

"Like Balls on Tuesday, Miliband was quoting figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies whose economists say the average one-earner couple with children would be £534 a year worse off as a result of the Autumn Statement. Cameron countered by saying the figures did not include the personal allowance increase put through in this March's Budget or the universal credit changes that come in next year.

"Though Miliband didn't actually say so, this rebuttal appears to have been a mixture of statistical legerdemain (hardly the exclusive property of the Government) and being (no doubt unwittingly) 'economical with the actualité', as the late Alan Clark once put it."

"There is no interesting way of saying this, but the IFS figures do include universal credit. And if you are going to take into account the tax impact of the Budget then it's reasonable to include all the changes since 2010 - which the table shows make such couples much worse off still."

The Tories and their supporters in the press claimed last week that Osborne had "set a trap" for Labour on welfare cuts last week; given how awkward some Tory MPs looked yesterday as their leader tried to dodge answering Miliband's rather simple and straightforward question, that trap may have snapped back on their own toes.

8) JOBS, JOBS, JOBS

Ministers will be delighted by the front page splash in the i:

"Biggest fall in jobless for a decade"

The three sub-headlines will please them, too:

* "2.51 million now unemployed, down 128,00 on a year ago"

* "82,000 quarterly drop is largest since spring 2001"

* "Civil service and local government job losses offset by private sector"

Still, they shouldn't get too complacent. There are still far too many people out of work, far too few job vacancies and the OBR forecasts that unemployment will rise again in 2013. Oh, and growth continues to stall...

9) MIGRANT MYTHS, PART 550

From the Sun:

"Uncontrolled immigration will hit UK jobs, send house prices soaring and fuel social tensions, Home Secretary Theresa May warned yesterday.

"Mrs May issued her assessment as she unveiled plans for a fresh clampdown on bogus students from 'high-risk' countries.

"In a keynote speech, she insisted Britain remains open to the 'brightest and the best'.

"But she said: 'After years of mass immigration, we now face the enormous task of building an integrated, cohesive society.

"'Allowing more and more immigration would make that impossible.

"'Uncontrolled, mass immigration displaces British workers, forces people on to benefits and suppresses wages for the low paid.'"

If you want to read a point-by-point rebuttal of the home secretary's claims on migrants, wages, pay and housing, check out this Guardian piece by Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research.

10) I DON'T REMEMBER BUT I AM SORRY

Do you ever pinch random people's bums in lifts and then forget you did so And then apologise, nonetheless? I guess it happens to us all.

From the Telegraph:

"Boris Johnson's deputy has issued an apology after allegations that he pinched the bottom of a female worker in a lift at City Hall.

"Stephen Greenhalgh, who is head of policing for the Mayor of London, said he could not remember the incident but apologised unreservedly for anything that could be seen as 'inappropriate behaviour'.

... Len Duvall, the Labour group leader on the Greater London Authority and former chairman of the Metropolitan Police Association, said: 'The statement made by Stephen Greenhalgh is absurd. If he didn't do anything wrong why did he apologise? Boris Johnson needs to get to the root of this immediately.'"

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"I've heard everything when the boy from the Bullingdon Club lectures people on bullying. Absolutely extraordinary. Have you wrecked a restaurant recently?" - Ed Miliband attacking David Cameron at PMQs yesterday, after the latter described Ed Balls as a bully.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Ipsos MORI/Evening Standard poll:

Labour 44%
Conservatives 35%
Lib Dems 9%

This would give Labour a majority of 102.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@david_singleton Craig Oliver "threat" to Telegraph re Maria Miller expenses story hot topic at lobby. Hacks ask why he brought up Leveson. Headache for No10

@Mike_Fabricant Everyone complimenting me on my very bright square checked Gant scarf. Ed Miliband says I look like Dr Who. It's warm! That's what counts.

@JoeMurphyLondon Another intruder goes to the great cheese in the sky #winning

900 WORDS OR MORE

David Aaronovitch, writing in the Times, says: "Gay marriage, women bishops, immigration – the country is changing. But that won’t harm our proudest tradition."

Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph says: "The Tories’ shameful reluctance to criticise Tel Aviv is putting any hope of peace at risk."

Zoe Williams in The Guardian: "The church has blown it. England's ticked that box If it still nurses the dream of being the keeper of the nation's conscience, it's going to have to become more like the nation."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com), Chris Wimpress (chris.wimpress@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @chriswimpress, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol