The ten things you need to know on Monday 7th January 2013...
1) THE RETURN OF THE DAVE AND NICK SHOW
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope, it's the Dave & Nick Show. Later today, for the first time in more than six months, the Tory PM and his Lib Dem deputy will appear in public together to lay out their coalition government's plans for the second half of this parliament.
From the Huffington Post UK:
"The coalition is 'steadfast and united', David Cameron and Nick Clegg will insist today, as they mark the halfway point in their government.
"The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister will make a rare joint appearance to announce a host of pledges on childcare bills, infrastructure investment and help towards care costs for the elderly.
"In an echo of the now infamous rose garden press conference that launched the power-sharing Government, they will set their new priorities for the next two-and-a-half years."
The papers are full of references to the coalition 'marriage' between DC and NC; The Guardian declares, on its front page: "Cameron and Clegg to renew their vows with 'sense of shared purpose'"
The FT says: "Cameron and Clegg to renew vows"
Although speaking on the Today programme David Laws agreed with John Humphrys that it was "not a day for rice" as the presenter asked if it was still a happy marriage.
The Telegraph reports, on its front page:
"[C]hildcare plans form the centrepiece of new proposals set out in the Coalition’s mid-term review, which is being unveiled today by Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister at a rare joint press conference in Downing Street.
"Other new measures will include new financial support to help first time buyers get on the housing ladder by making mortgages more affordable to young people."
Re the 'mid-term review' published by the coalition today, personally, I'm not quite sure how much we should take seriously a bunch of ministers - from the PM and DPM downwards - grading their own performance in government. (Shouldn't they at least have swapped their answer sheets with kids on another table? Say Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness?)
And, on a side note, what score will Cameron's 'Big Society' get in the mid-term review? Charity leaders aren't impressed, according to the Times splash. The paper reports:
"The heads of Britain's biggest charities have accused David Cameron of abandoning the voluntary sector he once championed as the heart of his Big Society project.
"In a letter to the Prime Minister seen by The Times, charity bosses complain that they have been left out of policy consultations and had their funding slashed by local councils. They say that the vulnerable people for whom they care are having state help eroded and being labelled as benefit scroungers."
2) 'SOME PRETTY ODD PEOPLE'
Back in 2006, in a radio interview with LBC, David Cameron controversially described the UK Independence Party (Ukip) as a bunch of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists".
Yesterday, at the end of his interview on the Andrew Marr show, Dave doubled down on his critique of the anti-EU party's members, saying: "There are some pretty odd people [in Ukip]."
While I can't help but agree with the PM's analysis on this occasion, dare I point out two things? 1) There are some pretty odd people in Cameron's own party - and in pretty much every political party. 2) Does it make sense to insult the members of a party that your own strategists say you need to woo back voters from?
Writing in the Telegraph, former Tory MP and ConservativeHome executive editor Paul Goodman says:
"It is not at all clever to slight members of a party that is scoring up to 16 per cent in the polls – out-rating his Coalition partner in the process – and gaining the support of roughly one in eight voters."
In an interview with The Guardian today, Farage defends his party members. "Do I want a party where we've got some eccentrics and occasionally someone causes us an embarrassment – or do I want a party made up of a bland lot of ghastly people whose names I don't even know?" he says.
And he teased the prime minister on the Today programme this morning by declaring: "Who’s to say that in 2015 UKIP may well be needed in a Coalition?"
3) HEY DAVE, YOU'RE INSANE!
From the Guardian:
"David Cameron has been accused of 'economic insanity' in trying to put a gun to the head of his European partners after he warned on Sunday that he would block treaty changes to make the euro more effective unless he is allowed to repatriate powers to the UK.
"Cameron made his thinly veiled threat on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, when he said he was 'entitled' and 'enabled' to seek a repatriation of powers when other EU countries sought treaty change to make the single currency work more effectively..."
Writing in the Guardian, the former EU commissioner Peter Mandelson has a pretty blunt message for the PM: "Beginning 2013 by placing this large and indefinite question mark over our membership of the EU, and all the trade and investment privileges it brings us, can only be described as economically insane."
As Mandelson rightly argues, Cameron "will be disappointed if he thinks he can put a gun to their heads to begin renegotiating Britain's EU membership and then dictate when it will end, especially when, in their view, he is arguing not in Europe's interests as a whole but for British exceptionalism... their priority will be saving the eurozone."
4) LEVESON'S LAW
Another week, another draft bill to enshrine the Leveson inquiry proposals - but this time it ain't from the politicians.
The Guardian reports:
"The Hacked Off campaign, which represents victims of press intrusion, is to publish a draft bill on Monday that closely follows the recommendations set out in the Leveson report on press regulation last month. The proposed bill is a response to the "closed doors" debate at Westminster on how to implement Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations.
"Writing in the Guardian, Brian Cathcart, director of Hacked Off, says it is "impossible to have confidence" in the process of the back-room negotiations between the parties over the Leveson bill.
"'What is happening is a subversion of Leveson and an insult to the idea of an open society,' he writes. '[The government] can't be trusted, and the more they meddle privately with Leveson's recommendations, the more they are certain to contaminate them. Day by day, they are burning up public trust.'
The paper also notes:
"Peers will also debate press regulation on Friday, while the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has said he will stage a debate and vote in the Commons this month to demonstrate the support for some form of press regulation underpinned by statute."
Watch this space. Leveson isn't going away anytime soon...
5) AUSTERITY WATCH, PART 89
The headline to the i's splash reads:
"Cuts 'causing sharp rise in child neglect'"
The bullet-point standfirst, as so often the case with the i, does a pretty good job in summing up the story, which is based on a report from charity Cafcass:
"Record numbers face removal from family, warns welfare expert
"Parents struggling to cope with effect of benefit cuts
"Thousands of families will 'fall over financial edge in coming months'"
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of a US dog driving a kid's 'Power Wheels' car all by himself. He even honks the horn!
6) THE COMEBACK KID?
Could Miliband, E, bring back Miliband, D, to replace Balls, E? Really?
From the Times:
"David Miliband is beginning to give serious thought to a return to the front line... an emerging scenario would see him return to the Labour front bench next spring. At once, this raises all the questions that the former Foreign Secretary has tried to avoid for two years. What role? Whose job? And how would he get along with the younger brother who stole his future?
"The signs that David is ready to end his mourning, move on from his desire to give his brother space and avoid a soap opera, will focus attention on Ed Balls. For the Labour leader, replacing Mr Balls with his brother is the nuclear option. Even some of David’s friends think it would be suicidal, sparking a war with ex-Brownites that could wreck a Miliband government."
7) THE NEOCONS' NIGHTMARE
It's being reported that President Obama will today announce his intention to nominate former Republican senator Chuck Hagel as his choice to replace Leon Panetta as US defence secretary.
To which I say: woo-hoo! Barack seems to have grown a pair. Why? Because in recent days, after forcing the president to withdraw Susan Rice's name from the list of potential secretary of state candidates, right-wing Republicans - especially of the pro-Likud, neoconservative variety - have had their eyes on Hagel, submitting the former two-term Nebraska senator who twice received the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in Vietnam to a vicious smear campaign in which he was accused of having "anti-Israel, pro-appeasement-of-Iran bona fides" and even labelled as "anti-Semitic".
So what's got John McCain and Bill Kristol's knickers in a twist? Despite his impeccable CV and letters of support from former defence secretaries and US ambassadors to Israel, Hagel has upset the neocons by having denounced the Bush administration's handing of the Iraq war, calling for direct talks with Iran and offering a public, no-holds-barred critique of the power and influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington.
Sounds like the kind of the guy that the Pentagon, and the US 'military-industrial complex', needs at its helm...
8) DODGE TAX, HUG DESPOTS
The lengths that some members of the 1% will go to avoid paying their fair share of tax, eh?
From the HuffPost UK:
"First he starred as the eccentric Russian monk and mystic Rasputin, and now Gerard Depardieu has gone one step further to become an official citizen of Russia, welcomed by President Vladimir Putin as the French actor looks to avoid the new tax for millionaires in his home country.
"The unlikely friends met in the Black Sea town of Sochi, where Putin handed Depardieu his new Russian passport, the Kremlin has confirmed. On Thursday, Putin officially signed a decree conferring citizenship on the French star, who has left many fans furious."
As Tory commentator Tim Montgomerie acknowledged on Twitter yesterday:
"@TimMontgomerie Gerard Depardieu gives tax minimisers a bad name by cosying up to Putin's Russia."
That, in fact, is an understatement. The French premier's description of Depardieu's decision to flee to Putinland, with its 13% flat tax, was spot on: "shabby, unpatriotic, pathetic".
9) DEFIANCE IN DAMASCUS
Talking of brutes and tyrants, remember Putin's bezzy mate, Bashar al Assad? The man with the blood of an estimated 60,000 souls on his hands?
From the Mirror:
"Syria's President Assad yesterday called for a "war to defend the nation".
"He defiantly described rebels fighting him as "terrorists and agents of foreign powers".
"As UK PM David Cameron said it was time for Assad to go, the discredited leader delivered his first public speech since June last year.
"Mr Cameron told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: 'My message to Assad is go. He has the most phenomenal amount of blood on his hands.'"
So what's going to happen in Syria? Regardless of whether Assad is forced out or quits, It doesn't look good for the people of that war-torn country. All the potential options seem to involve a further shedding of blood on one side or another. And, as the Times leader points out:
"Bashar Assad's proposals for national reconciliation are self-serving and contemptible. But the grim fact is that he is still there."
10) NELSON'S NEW YEAR
From the BBC:
"Former South African President Nelson Mandela has recovered from a lung infection and surgery to remove gallstones, the government says.
"'President Mandela has made steady progress and... continues to improve,' President Jacob Zuma's office said."
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 10
That would give Labour a majority of 116.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@BBCNormanS I was thinking of having a mid term review in the Smith household....only on the general DIY front ....
@AmbassadorRice: Assad's speech today was delusional & utterly meaningless. #Syria
900 WORDS OR MORE
Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "Cameron and Clegg should tell us that austerity is a necessary evil. Just look at the French 'alternative.'"
Boris Johnson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "What a relief! The madness of child benefit for all ends today."
Jackie Ashley, writing in the Guardian, says: "I almost feel sorry for David Cameron, relaunching for the umpteenth time. Now is the opposition's chance."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ned Simons (email@example.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol
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