Mehdi's Morning Memo: Child Benefit 'Chaos'

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GEORGE OSBORNE
PA

The five things you need to know on Thursday 3rd January 2012...

1) CHILD BENEFIT 'CHAOS'

Remember the chancellor's controversial decision to scrap child benefit for any family in which one parent earns more than £60,000 a year? It comes into force next week and...um..er...there might be a problem with it.

From the Telegraph's splash ("Tax chaos as child benefit cut looms"):

"Almost a third of families affected by George Osborne's raid on child benefit have not been formally warned that they will no longer be eligible for the handout, which will be means-tested from next Monday.

"As a result, more than 300,000 people will have to come forward and begin completing complex tax returns for the year ending this April - or face fines running into hundreds of pounds a year.

"HM Revenue and Customs has informed 784,000 families that they must either stop claiming child benefit by this weekend or pay a new tax to cover the cost of the payments.

"More than 160,000 people have already opted not to receive payouts. However, the Government admits that more than 1.1 million families will be affected by the change, meaning that at least another 316,000 have not yet been contacted by the tax authorities."

This'll make George Osborne even more popular with the Tory traditionalists who are already such big fans of his.

So, too, will the former Lib Dem health minister Paul Burstow's proposal, published in the Guardian, to have most pensioners lose their winter fuel allowance in order to pay for reform of the care funding system on a means-tested basis.

2) THINGS CAN ONLY GET BETTER. MAYBE.

Some good and bad news for Gideon, however, in the Times.

The good?

"Bosses are much more confident about the British economy than they were a year ago. They are also full of praise for the Government's hard-line austerity policies..."

The bad?

"[B]ut [they] are having second thoughts about George Osborne, whose personal rating is plunging."

Oh. The paper reports:

"A survey by the Institute of Directors indicates that most business leaders believe that Britain should avoid a triple-dip recession. The quarterly snapshot of more than 1,300 company directors shows a surge in faith that things can only get better this year."

Good news for the rest of us, eh? Then again, given most business leaders didn't see the double-dip recession coming, I'm not sure they're the seers or prophets that they want us to believe they are.

3) GIVE 'EM BACK

There's a rather interesting open letter to David Cameron published - in the form of an advert! - in various newspapers this morning.

Referring to the dispute over the Falkland Islands, it calls on the UK government to abide by a 1960 United Nations resolution urging member states to "end colonialism in all its forms and manifestations" and says Britain should begin negotiations over the sovereignty of the "Malvinas" which, claims the letter, were "forcibly stripped" from Argentina exactly 180 years ago, on 3 January 1833.

The author of this rather blunt and acerbic letter? Argentina's president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. I'm guessing the British government's decision last month to name a chunk of Antarctica after Her Majesty didn't go down so well in Buenos Aires.

Over to you, Dave.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch the 20 funniest viral videos of 2012.

4) FIDDLING WHILE SYRIA BURNS

60,000. That's the "truly shocking" number of people who have been killed so far in Syria's brutal conflict, according to the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay.

"Collectively, we have fiddled at the edges while Syria burns," said her spokesman Rupert Colville.

The Assad regime continues its bombardment of rebel-held areas of the country - meanwhile, the Times reports that "the leader of the Syrian opposition rejected an invitation from Russia to hold peace talks last night".

So what's the solution? Is there a solution? Last night's BBC World Tonight debate between Anne-Marie Slaughter, ex-adviser to Hillary Clinton, and Edward Luttwak, the conservative historian, on whether or not to intervene in Syria is definitely worth a listen on the iPlayer.

5) HILLARY ON THE MEND

From the Daily Mail:

"Looking fragile and holding tightly on to her daughter Chelsea's hand, Hillary Clinton left hospital last night.

The 65-year-old US Secretary of State was admitted to the New York Presbyterian Hospital on Sunday for treatment to a blood clot behind her right ear."

So, how bad was the clot? As the Times reports:

"Fears that her condition was worse than the terse reports from the US State Department suggested had been fuelled by the sight of her daughter, Chelsea, emerging from the New York Presbyterian Hospital after visiting her mother, looking distraught."

The paper, which points out how the outgoing US secretary of state travelled to 112 countries over the past four years, also notes how "much has been made of Mrs Clinton's robust health and some have wondered if aides at the State Department were reluctant to tarnish that image before she steps down this month, particularly if she intends to run for the White House in 2016".

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"Once you take the basket of fares, include early advance and off-peaks, [UK train fares] are not nearly as expensive as has been presented." - transport minister Norman Baker, speaking on Five Live yesterday. Oops.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the first YouGov/Sun poll of the year:

Labour 43
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 11

That would give Labour a majority of 116.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@iainmartin1 Child benefit farce the defining Osborne balls-up - botched gamble, too clever by half, anti-aspiration, anti-family, politics as a game.

@JananGanesh How specific can the PM's Europe speech be given that Hague's audit of EU powers is not due until 2014?

@BorowitzReport Praising Congress for the fiscal cliff deal is like giving an arsonist an award for putting out his own fire

900 WORDS OR MORE

Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, takes aim at Iain Duncan Smith: "How does the secretary of state's conceit, that in-work benefit claimants are fraudsters, serve the public interest?"

Sean Worth, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Foes of public sector reform are waging war at a local level – they must be roundly beaten."

Camilla Cavendish, writing in the Times, says: "Britain is second only to America for obesity. Relying on education alone has failed - now we must ban trans fats."

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