Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'Ukip If You Want To'

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The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 18th December 2012...

1) UKIP IF YOU WANT TO

More bad news for the Conservative Party; more good news for Nigel Farage and co.

"Tories lose support as voters turn to Ukip," says the headline on the Times splash.

The paper reports:

"The Tories have lost one sixth of their support in the past two months and UKIP has risen to a record high as voters take a harder line against the European Union, according to a poll for The Times.

"David Cameron’s party has slipped six points to 29 per cent, its lowest level since he became party leader in 2005, while UKIP stands at 10 per cent.

"The Populus poll also shows that fewer than one in five voters, 18 per cent, have a positive view of the EU, down three points on the past six months. And the number who think that Britain is 'better off out' now stands at more than a third, at 34 per cent, up three points."

In a statement to MPs yesterday, on last week's EU summit, the prime minister ruled out "an immediate in/out referendum" but, as the Guardian reports, "broke new ground on Europe when he suggested that... British withdrawal from the EU is 'imaginable', aligning himself with the fiercely Eurosceptic Boris Johnson.

"The prime minister stressed that he supported membership of a reformed EU, though he said Britain was 'in charge of our own destiny'."

Meanwhile, the Independent's Donald Macintyre writes about how the two party leaders yesterday were "reduced to trading Police jokes" in the Commons:

"Miliband started it by referring to the Prime Minister's remark last week that the long delays to his much foreshadowed Europe speech reflected a 'tantric approach to policy-making' and the band's most famous artist's equally unguarded two decade old boast about his sex life. 'Parliament's answer to Sting sits before us, Mr Speaker. They've both fallen out with the police, so there were go.'

"Rising to the occasion Cameron replied: 'He's obviously been running through his old Police albums. Given his policy on Europe, I can recommend 'So Lonely'... and since 'I Can't Stand Losing', he'd better get used to it....'

"Admittedly Cameron has the advantage that "I Cant Stand Losing [You]" came out when he was 13 and Miliband was only 10."

2) PUBLIC BAD, PRIVATE GOOD? REALLY?

"Privatised GP service 'puts patients at risk,'" says the splash headline on the front of the Guardian.

The paper reports:

"The largest private provider of NHS out-of-hours GP services is facing allegations by senior doctors that its service in London is so short-staffed it is regularly unsafe.

"Harmoni, which has contracts covering 8 million patients across large areas of London and southern England, is also alleged to have manipulated its performance data, masking delays in seeing patients and other missed targets.

"... The allegations come as the number of NHS contracts being put out to competitive bidding is rising sharply under the government's controversial Health and Social Care Act. Harmoni has been one of the most successful private sector bidders in the recent tendering."

Meanwhile, the FT reveals:

"G4S, the company at the centre of the Olympics security fiasco, is set to win a role in implementing the government's contentious and complex changes to child benefit and the universal credit.

"The FTSE 100 group is among six companies selected to run call centres that will deal with queries on the most far reaching change to welfare benefits for the low-paid and unemployed in decades."

Really? G4S? I mean, really??

3) QUEEN VISITS COUSIN AT HIS HOME

From the Mirror:

"The Queen will today become the first monarch since Victoria to attend a Cabinet meeting.

"Her Majesty has been invited to sit in on the session as an "observer" to mark her Diamond Jubilee.

"Ministers have been told to be on their best behaviour for the visit, so the Coalition bickering is expected to be kept to a minimum.

"Downing Street refused to release the agenda for the regular weekly meeting beyond revealing the Queen would sit next to the PM.

"She will also be presented with a gift funded by contributions from each Secretary of State."

The Independent quotes leading LSE academic Rodney Barker as saying that the visit is "inappropriate": "It will mean potentially the Queen will know things she is not supposed to know and hear things she is not supposed to hear."

And my colleague Ned Simons reminds us:

"The prime minister should have no trouble welcoming the Queen to his house as he is a fifth cousin of the monarch - Christmas is a time for family after all.

"Cameron is said to have got a helping hand for Her Majesty when he applied for his first job at Conservative Central Office in the late 1980s.

"According to a biography, the man due to interview the young Cameron received a phone call from the Palace telling him: 'I am ringing to tell you that you are about to meet a truly remarkable young man.'"

4) WILL GUN-CRAZY AMERICA NOW AGREE TO GUN CONTROL?

It's the $64,000 question: will the latest US school massacre, in Connecticut, lead to a much-needed change to the country's crazy gun laws? The Times reports:

"As the first Sandy Hook Elementary School funerals took place, the most powerful Democrat in the Senate and an avid supporter of the National Rifle Association, appeared to concede that some gun control was necessary.

"Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said that 'all ideas should be on the table' in addressing the failings that led to the massacre of 20 children and six women in Connecticut.

"Another leading pro-gun Democrat, Mark Warner, summed up the changing perspective on gun control since Friday's mass shooting, saying: 'I've been a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights, but the status quo isn't acceptable.'"

But my US colleague Jennifer Bendery reports:

"A day after President Barack Obama made an impassioned speech to the nation about now being the time to address the epidemic of gun violence, the White House, for now, is ducking specifics on what exactly Obama plans to do.

"During his daily briefing Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney avoided one question after another about the types of legislative proposals the president could support, what kind of timeline he wants to take action within and whether he truly plans to make the issue of gun violence a priority..."

"'I don't have a specific agenda to announce to you today,' Carney said when asked how Obama plans to translate his Sunday speech into action. 'No single piece of legislation, no single action will fully address the problem.'

"Pressed specifically on whether Obama views gun control as key to reducing gun violence, Carney said that is 'part of' the solution, 'but far from all of it.'

As is so often the case, Barack needs to grow a pair. Fast.

Meanwhile, Channel 4's Jon Snow, writing for the Huffington Post UK, speaks for many of us when says:

"I'll admit, my love affair with America has been a tangled business. It is layered with both love and hate. It is laced with romance, myth, endless misbehavior, violence, and tragedy. It affects us all, this complex 'leader of the free world'. Ultimately it is an eternal and unhappy affair, and yet I cannot leave it."

5) THE GREAT HMRC RIP-OFF

Another bad news story for the folks at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) on the front of the Independent and the Daily Mail, which reports:

"Waiting on the phone to talk to the taxman cost us a staggering £30million last year, it was revealed yesterday.

"And the bill for the time we waste hanging on or in fruitless calls was put at a further £100million, said Britain's spending watchdog.

"... The report comes just weeks before HMRC is expected to be deluged with calls about next month's controversial changes to child benefit."

Labour hasn't wasted any time in making political capital out of this - “This report shows the impact and cost to taxpayers of this government’s cuts to HMRC staff which go too far and too fast," said shadow Treasury minister Catherine McKinnell. "Ministers urgently need to get a grip."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a kitten doing a backflip...

6) PLEBGATE, PART 776

From the Guardian:

"A police officer arrested in connection with the 'Plebgate saga' that saw the Tory chief whip, Andrew Mitchell resign, is being investigated for allegedly claiming to have been a witness to the row in Downing Street, it emerged.

"The officer from the Metropolitan police is being investigated over whether his claim to have witnessed the clash between Mitchell and police in September was wrong or valid, the Independent Police Complaints Commission said.

"The officer is also being investigated over whether an account of the incident, he is alleged to have given an MP, was accurate, the IPCC added."

The Sun, however, which broke the original story, says:

"[D]oesn't it look as if the Met are trying to silence the media? Whoever passed on details of Mitchell's four-letter outburst was brave and principled.

"Is that sort of public spirited action now to be a crime in the post-Leveson era?"

7) CHRIS GRAYLING VS THE ECHR

From the front page of the Daily Telegraph:

"Criminals and terrorists should no longer be able to cite 'human rights' as a defence for their behaviour, the Justice Secretary warns today as an official commission prepares to set out plans for a British Bill of Rights.

"Chris Grayling says that an 'absolutely clear balance between rights and responsibilities' now needs to be set out in British law in the wake of controversial European legal judgements.

"In an article for today's Daily Telegraph, the Justice Secretary indicates he may call for Britain to leave the European Court of Human Rights if the Tories win the next election."

The Tories, it seems, continue their inexorable shift to the right...

8) A VERY POLITICAL GOVERNOR?

Some backbench Tory MPs aren't happy about the political leanings of the new man at the Bank of England. The Times reports:

"Mark Carney, the incoming Governor of the Bank of England, is to face questions from MPs over revelations about his political ambitions and his decision to holiday at a cottage belonging to a frontbencher from Canada’s opposition Liberal Party.

... Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the committee, told The Times: 'My colleagues will want to address every such issue at the pre-appointment hearing.'"

9) MICHAEL GOVE VS BRITISH SPORT

Does the cerebral Michael Gove give a damn about sport, I wonder? Do most parents?

From the Guardian front page:

"Sports governing bodies that helped Team GB's athletes to unprecedented success at the London Games have warned that government plans to revamp secondary education risk marginalising school sport, damaging future medal prospects and the hoped-for Olympic legacy.

"The umbrella group for all governing bodies in the UK including the Football Association, British Cycling and the UK Athletics Association has said the new English baccalaureate would downgrade sport in schools and compound a 'worrying' decline in the number of teenagers studying PE at secondary school."

I can't believe the education secretary will be too worried by such attacks...

10) FOX HUNTING

Uh-oh: the Chipping Norton set, and their horses, are back in the headlines again.

From the Independent front page:

"Fox hunting re-entered the political spotlight yesterday when David Cameron's local hunt was successfully prosecuted.

"The Heythrop Hunt was ordered to pay fines and costs after admitting hunting foxes with dogs, which was made illegal in 2004."

It's understood, says the Guardian, that David Cameron rode "with the [Heythrop] hunt six times before the legislation came into force".

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Times/Populus poll:

Labour 40
Conservatives 29
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 10

That would give Labour a majority of 110.

From today's Independent/ComRes poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 10
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@johnprescott No one's thought though the implications of the Queen's attendance at Cabinet. Clegg's going to have to get another coffee #boom

@david_singleton Queen to attend Cabinet tomorrow as an observer. Just like Ken Clarke, Andrew Lansley and Sayeeda Warsi

@DavidAllenGreen In 2012 - the Queen will attend cabinet, and the bishops and 92 hereditary peers still legislate. Less of a polity, more of a theme park.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "Obama already embodies a narrative, but Cameron, Miliband and Clegg must find one to explain their actions."

Chris Grayling, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says: "As a Conservative minister, I believe that it is time to examine how to curtail the involvement of the European Court of Human Rights in UK domestic matters."

George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, says: "Barack Obama's tears for the children of Newtown are in stark contrast to his silence over the children murdered by his drones."

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