Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'Coalition Act Two'

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The ten things you need to know on Monday 17th December 2012...

1) COALITION ACT TWO

Remember 'differentiation'? The fancy word coined by Lib Dem strategists to basically try and show that the LDs aren't Tories in disguise? Well, it's back. Nick Clegg's former director of strategy Richard Reeves has penned a column for the Guardian, in which he argues:

"Next year is the year the Lib Dem strategy – deliver, then differentiate – will be tested."

2013 will mark a big break, he says. It could even herald the end of the coalition:

"Coalition act two is not about trying to reassert a Lib-Dem identity c 2010. It is about establishing a new identity, and winning people to the party's side for new reasons.

"... A more assertive stance in act two of coalition should mean greater support and more votes. If not, the curtain will probably fall on the coalition before 2015."

Strong stuff, from a one-time member of Clegg's inner circle. Reeves's article, in fact, comes on the day that his former boss tries to 'differentiate' his party from the Conservatives and Labour in a major speech. From the FT:

"In a speech to mark his fifth anniversary as Lib Dem leader, the deputy prime minister will accuse both the other parties of living in 'fantasy worlds', characterising the Tory right as out of touch and the opposition as irresponsible big spenders.

"Welfare reforms - including universal credit -- may have been 'painful and controversial', he will say, but they struck the right balance.

"More 'draconian' cuts, which could have happened under a majority Conservative government, have been avoided."

2) HATE SHIRKERS? VOTE TORY

You might argue that the Tories, as they tack to the right, are giving Clegg and co a hand with their 'We're not Tories in disguise' campaign. From the New Statesman's Staggers blog:

"The Tories' new ad campaign is the party's most shameless attempt yet to turn 'the strivers' against 'the scroungers'. The online ad will run in the 60 Conservative marginals where, as Labour has highlighted, the number of families receiving working tax credits is greater than the MP's majority.

"... The Conservatives' response is the demagogic ad above, which asks, 'Who do you think this government should be giving more support to? Hard-working families or people who won't work?', and includes an image of a 'scrounger' with his feet up at home. The 'support' mentioned by the ad is a reference to the planned increase in the personal allowance, which will rise by £1,335 to £9,440 from next April, benefiting basic rate taxpayers by up to £267."

The NS's George Eaton writes, however, that the ad may backfire for two reasons:

"... The first is that, as the IFS has confirmed, the average family will lose more from the cuts to tax credits and other benefits than it gains from the increase in the personal allowance. The second is that not all voters will accept the caricature of the unemployed presented by the ad... polls show that fewer voters than expected support Osborne's benefit cuts."

As my colleague Ned Simons reports:

"Labour’s vice-chairman Michael Dugher said the adverts were 'dishonest' and designed to 'deliberately mislead people' because the majority of people who will see their benefits cut as a result of George Osborne’s Autumn Statement are in work. 'This is a tax on strivers, whilst at same time they are giving a tax cut for millionaires,' he said."

3) PLEBGATE: IT'S BACK!

From the Times:

"A Metropolitan Police officer has been arrested over the leak of information to newspapers about Andrew Mitchell's altercation with police who refused to let him through the security gate on Downing Street.

"The constable, part of the Diplomatic Protection Group, was arrested by the force's Directorate of Professional Standards on Saturday on suspicion of misconduct in a public office. He was bailed to appear next month and suspended from duty."

The Sun, to paper to which the 'Plebgate' story was originally leaked, isn't happy:

"Police leaders reacted with fury last night after the arrest of a cop over the leak of the Plebgate row.

"... Mr Mitchell has never been arrested, despite admitting he did use abusive language towards male and female cops who refused to let him cycle through Downing Street's main gates. The Sun revealed the scandal. We made it clear that no payment was ever asked for — or made — in exchange for the leaked details.

"As news of the arrest broke late last night, Met Police Federation chairman John Tully said he found the development 'staggering'. He added: 'It's disappointing to say the least to see the Met have taken this action.

"'We will have to wait for the outcome. In the meantime, the Federation will support the officer in the usual way.'"

4) GAY MARRIAGE: THE REBELS STRIKE BACK

35 Tory MPs have joined a group of cross-party parliamentarians urging the PM to drop his support for gay marriage in - where else? - a letter to the Daily Telegraph. The letter says:

“At the last election, none of the three main parties stood on a platform to redefine marriage.

“It was not contained in any of their manifestos, nor did it feature in the Coalition’s Programme for Government.

“... We believe that the Government does not have a mandate to redefine marriage.”

The Telegraph says "the group includes former ministers such as Sir Gerald Howarth, Tim Loughton and David Davis as well as rising stars of the party such as Rehman Chishti... The campaign is being orchestrated by David Burrowes, the Tory MP for Enfield in north London, who once received death threats because of his stance on same-sex marriage."

5) THE PRESIDENT VS THE NRA

Can the president of the United States use his second term to force America's gun lobby to back down and accept new, tougher controls on automatic weapons? Barack Obama didn't do much on guns in his first term but the latest US school massacre, in Newtown, Connecticut, may signal an opportunity to enact much-needed gun-control legislation.

Barack Obama was in solemn but fighting form yesterday, as he spoke at an inter-faith service the town.

"We can't accept events like this as routine," he declared. "Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage?"

The problem is that too many Americans do accept such events as "routine" and are prepared to admit defeat and powerlessness in the face of the almighty NRA and its craven supporters in Congress.

As the Guardian leader observes: "Modern America still seems to lack the will to make even modest regulatory changes, let alone to confront a real and growing danger to the health and survival of significant numbers of its young people."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a cat wrestling a kid to the floor.

6) BO-JO VS DAVE

From the Huffington Post:

"Leaving the European Union would not be 'the end of the world' for Britain, London mayor Boris Johnson said on Sunday.

"Mr Johnson - seen as a potential future rival to David Cameron for the Tory leadership - warned that the Government could not put off indefinitely a referendum on Britain's future in the EU.

"In an interview with BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show, he said that he would like to see the public given the chance to vote on the issue before the next general election in 2015 although he did not expect it to happen."

7) BO-JO VS THERESA MAY

From the Guardian:

"Boris Johnson has criticised the home secretary, Theresa May, for blaming an influx of immigrants for pushing up property prices and adding to Britain's housing crisis.

"... Mr Johnson said: "I don't think it is sensible to say to keep down property values we should keep people out, or investors out, in order to allow property values to decline. That would lead to a fall in the equity of everyone and, for the life of me, I cannot see the logic."

In his Telegraph column today, the mayor writes:

"We need to stop moaning about the damburst. It’s happened. There is nothing we can now do except make the process of absorption as eupeptic as possible. What matters is not the colour of your skin or the religion of your great-grandfather. It’s whether you speak English; whether you have a loyalty – a love – for the country that has adopted you."

Traditionalist Tories who see Bo-Jo as a white knight, a perfect replacement for liberal Dave, seem to always ignore his softer, more positive line on immigration. Convenient, eh?

8) THE JUDGES VS THE JUSTICE SECRETARY

From the Guardian:

"The government is facing a clash with some of the country's most senior judges who will this week attempt to force ministers to relinquish control of the running of the supreme court.

"The constitutional dispute between the judiciary and the executive focuses on who should have the power to appoint the chief executive of the UK's highest court – ministers or the judges who sit on it."

9) WANTED: HOT AIR

The Fuel Poverty Advisory Group's annual report is out today - and it doesn't make for pleasant reading. From the Guardian:

"Rising energy prices may have pushed 300,000 more households into fuel poverty by Christmas, according to reports published today which warn that a scheme to improve the energy efficiency of homes could take 30 years to succeed. The reports are being published as the energy secretary, Ed Davey, attends a summit with electricity and gas company bosses, regulators and consumer groups to discuss rising energy prices. Spiralling energy prices have added about 7% to average annual fuel bills recently."

10) THE CLEANER WHO KICKSTARTED A REVOLUTION

From the Times:

"A cleaner who kick-started a wage revolution in Whitehall has described how she feared for her livelihood after leaving a letter on the desk of Iain Duncan Smith.

"The cleaner, who wishes to remain anonymous, described how she was given a letter drafted by a campaign organisation and fellow workers. She and a colleague hovered near Mr Duncan Smith’s office, pretending to be busy, before making their move.

"'As soon as it was clear, I placed the letter right where he sits,' she said. 'My adrenalin was so high. My heart was beating. I couldn’t believe we’d done it.'

"... The cleaner’s actions led to a meeting between Mr Duncan Smith and those who clean his offices. At least ten other duplicate letters from cleaners to ministers then followed.

"This month the Department for Work and Pensions agreed to pay cleaners and caterers the Living Wage, and another government department now appears to be bowing to the pressure of the 'letter dropping' campaign."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 45
Conservatives 33
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 120.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@chrisshipitv Tory Eleanor Laing tells #westminsterhour party members threatening to leave in their droves over #gaymarriage. Had "tough" weekend over it

@ShippersUnbound Delighted for Wiggo but what happened to poor Mo Farah?

@nickshaxson BBC Panorama will confront the "notoriously touchy" Barclay brothers with tax revelations

900 WORDS OR MORE

Owen Jones, writing in the Independent, says: "Like many political figures, in private Ukip leader Nigel Farage is charming, playful and witty - but his views are political poison."

Antonio Horta-Osorio, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says: "Banks must return to their core values and focus on customers."

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says "mass immigration" is "an issue of fairness, not xenophobia. And until the major parties address it, UKIP will continue to benefit."

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