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Mehdi's Morning Memo: The Poor Get Poorer Next Up, Pensioners

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IAIN DUNCAN SMITH
PA

The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 9th January 2013...

1) THE POOR GET POORER. NEXT UP, PENSIONERS

Surprise, surprise - from the Huffington Post UK:

"The Government’s controversial plans for a real-terms cut in working-age benefits have cleared their first Commons hurdle by 324 votes to 268, majority 56.

"...The vote followed a tempestuous five-hour debate in parliament in which senior Tory and Labour MPs clashed over the benefits bill.

"Some four Liberal Democrats, including former minister Sarah Teather, rebelled against their leadership to vote against the below-inflation cap, while former leader Charles Kennedy and backbencher Andrew George voted in both lobbies - the traditional way of registering an abstention."

Much was made ahead of yesterday's debate - by Lib Dem rebels such as Sarah Teather and even Tory MPs such as Sarah Wollaston - of the crude and divisive rhetoric of 'strivers vs shirkers', of 'scroungers' and 'skivers'. The morning after the vote, little has changed - consider the splash headline on the front of today's Daily Express:

"Party Is Over For Benefit Skivers"

Charming. The harsh truth, hoever, is that benefits are now at their lowest levels since the founding of the welfare state more than 60 years ago. And as the economist Stewart Lansley has written, the government's Benefit Uprating Bill "marks a new low in the post-war history of welfare in the UK... it is unprecedented since the war. The last deliberate political move to lower the real incomes of the poorest members of society was more than eighty years ago in 1931."

Speaking after the vote, Barnardo's chief executive Anne Marie Carrie said: "By voting to break the link between benefits and inflation today, MPs have risked condemning children in Britain's poorest families to growing up stuck in the poverty trap, as their parents struggle to cover basic costs of living."

But onwards and upwards, eh? Or should that be downwards? The Times and the FT both splash on news that the coalition may be turning its attention to pensioners' benefits next; from the Times:

"David Cameron is being urged by senior Conservatives to scrap benefits paid to richer pensioners as part of an overhaul of the welfare system.

"Ministers are pressing Mr Cameron to ensure that payments such as the £300-a-year winter fuel allowance are withheld from wealthy pensioners."

The FT says:

"Wealthy pensioners will no longer be insulated against the full force of austerity measures after the next election... Tory strategists said it was time to stop shielding better-off pensioners from cuts.

"In a sign of things to come, Iain Duncan Smith is looking at stopping winter fuel payments to pensioners living in Spain, Greece and other warm countries by applying a 'temperature test'."

No mention in any of these reports that means-testing tends not to work, or that Britain has one of the worst rates of pensioner poverty in the European Union.

Still, let's not forget that it was benefit claimants and the elderly who caused the crash with their dastardly credit default swaps and excessive bonuses. Oh wait...

2) '70 MISSED PLEDGES'

From the Telegraph:

"David Cameron and Nick Clegg will on Wednesday publish a candid assessment of the Coalition’s successes and failures that was excluded from its Mid-term Review, The Daily Telegraph has learnt.

"The Deputy Prime Minister declared last month that the Government would provide voters with an audit of which targets it had missed and which it had achieved alongside the official review.

"But the annex, which consists of about 100 pages, was not published on Monday. Its existence emerged only when one of Mr Cameron’s senior advisers was photographed in Downing Street on Tuesday carrying a document that discussed the advantages and disadvantages of releasing it. The audit is understood to concede that the Coalition has missed dozens of pledges covering pensions, road building and criminal justice.

"... However, its existence was unknown to many ministers and advisers.

"It is understood that the Coalition has missed more than 70 pledges."

Oh dear. But to be fair to the coalition, that's 70 out of the 480 measures in the 2010 coalition agreement, i.e. less than 15%. Then again, to be unfair to the coalition, didn't they just mark their own answer papers? How is that credible?

3) LABOUR'S DAVID BOWIE

More news from DavidMilibandWorld. Let's begin with Ann Treneman's Times sketch, which focuses on David Miliband's impressive and impassioned intervention in yesterday's welfare debate in the Commons, in which the former foreign foreign secretary denounced the coalition's benefit uprating bill as "rancid":

"It seems that Bowie is not the only David making a comeback these days. Mr Milibanana, as he will always be to me, has made it clear that he is a man chafing in the confines of the cell that he has made for himself. Yesterday was a David Bowie moment and he was loving every moment of the attention."

"... He sat down, a man in search of applause. David Bowie's new single is called Where Are We Now?. In Mr Milibanana's case, though, the real question is, where is he heading?"

Well, the Mirror's Jason Beattie might have an answer for us. He begins his 'exclusive' interview with the Labour leader today with this paragraph:

"Ed Miliband today paves the way for his brother's political comeback by revealing time has healed their bitter rift. In his first major interview of 2013, the Labour leader fuels speculation David could return to the Shadow Cabinet by also refusing to guarantee that Ed Balls will stay on as Shadow Chancellor until the 2015 general election."

Beattie adds:

"Although they did not spend Christmas Day together, they did have a family get together to exchange presents.

"[Ed] and Justine gave David and Louise some wine 'and other gifts'. David gave his brother a book on the Boston Red Sox baseball team.

"'Look, of course it was a bruising leadership contest and as time goes on that sort of recedes and that's good for our relationship,' says Ed..."

Meanwhile, the Telegraph's James Kirkup notes how the elder Miliband took a bit of a dig at "the political tactics of Gordon Brown":

"Mr Miliband, who quit the Labour front bench in 2010 when his brother Ed beat him to the leadership, said trying to use the [welfare] issue against the Opposition showed ministers were taking a similar approach to the former prime minister.

"'This rancid Bill is not about fairness or affordability,' he said. 'It reeks of politics, the politics of dividing lines that the current Government spent so much time denouncing when they were in opposition in the dog days of the Brown administration. It says a lot that within two years it has fallen into the same trap.'"

Ouch.

4) PRIVATISE, PRIVATISE, PRIVATISE

Oh look: yet more privatisation of bits of the public sector. So much for the coalition staying on 'the centre ground'.

From the Guardian:

"The justice secretary, Chris Grayling, will today outline plans for the wholesale outsourcing of the probation service with private companies and voluntary sector organisations to take over the rehabilitation of the majority of offenders by 2015.

"The public probation service is to be scaled back and 'refocused' to specialise in dealing only with the most dangerous and high-risk offenders and public protection cases. The majority of services will be contracted out on a payment by result basis."

According to Harry Fletcher, of Napo, the probation union: "This move is purely ideological. It is being rushed through without proper thought to the consequences. It will be chaotic and will compromise public protection."

Juliet Lyon of the Prison Reform Trust isn't impressed, either:"Why not build on the success of joint work by probation, police and voluntary organisations, rather than break up the probation service and put the public at risk?"

5) LORDS-A-LEAPING

From the Sun:

"Trade Minister Lord Marland last night became the second Tory peer to quit in two days.

"The blow to David Cameron came just 24 hours after Lord Strathclyde said he was resigning as Leader of the House of Lords.

"Lord Marland told the PM he felt his ministerial responsibilities were making it difficult for him to sell British business around the globe.

"...Friends of the former businessman said he shared Lord Strathclyde's frustrations with being in a Coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats."

Oh dear.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a bird (!) dancing to Dubstep.

6) SO HOW 'LIBERTARIAN' IS UKIP?

The UK Independence Party's critics on the left and the right were rubbing their hands with glee last night.

From blogger Sunny Hundal's Liberal Conspiracy website:

"UKIP is facing a backlash tonight from its own members after the chair of Young Independence (the party’s youth wing), Olly Neville, was abruptly ousted from his role.

"His offence? Stating his opinion in the media that Cameron was right to pursue the legalisation of same sex marriage. So much for the party’s dedication to libertarianism.

"Olly Neville himself published emails on Twitter that recounted his removal as chair."

Former Tory MP Louise Mensch weighed in from New York, via - where else? - Twitter:

"So #UKIP show themselves to be every bit the bunch of loons we thought they were - sacking a youth leader for supporting gay marriage."

Meanwhile, Ukip spokesman Gawain Towler tweeted:

"@OllyNeville removed as YI Interim Chair for misrepresenting UKIP policy (not marriage views)."

Hmm...

7) THE PRO-EU FIGHTBACK BEGINS...

...with - what else? - a letter to the Financial Times:

"British business leaders have warned David Cameron that the UK premier risks damaging his country's economy by taking it out of the EU, if he seeks 'wholesale renegotiation of ... membership'. Mr Cameron will this month set out, in a speech in the Netherlands, his plan to renegotiate Britain's membership and put the outcome to a referendum in the next parliament.

"But leading business figures, including Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group chairman, and Chris Gibson-Smith, chairman of the London Stock Exchange, warned, in a letter to the Financial Times, that Mr Cameron's renegotiation plan could fail.

"'...To call for such a move in these circumstances would be to put our membership of the EU at risk and create damaging uncertainty for British business, which are the last things the prime minister would want to do,' the letter said.

"Other signatories are Roland Rudd, chairman of the Business for New Europe campaign group; Sir Roger Carr, CBI president; Lord Davies of Corsair Capital; Gerry Grimstone of TheCityUK; Jan du Plessis of Rio Tinto; Sir Michael Rake of BT; Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP; and Malcolm Sweeting of Clifford Chance."

8) WATCH OUT! THE CYBER ATTACKERS ARE COMING

From the BBC:

"The UK is at risk of an attack in cyberspace because of government "complacency", MPs have warned.

"The Defence Select Committee said the threat that cyber attackers posed could 'evolve at almost unimaginable speed', and called for rapid action to protect national security.

"The committee also said the British military's reliance on technology could leave it fatally compromised."

9) 'TROLLING', UNIONIST-STYLE

There's been violence on the streets of Belfast for six nights in a row, with 60 police officers injured and the police bill soaring to more than £7 million.

So how best to calm things down? Why not fly the Union Flag to mark Kate Middleton's birthday?

Eh?

From the HuffPost UK:

"[P]olice are gearing up for a tense day as the Union Flag is flown for the first time since the controversy over its use, to mark the Duchess of Cambridge's birthday.

"The occasion of Kate's birthday is one of the United Kingdom's official 'flag days.'"

This won't end well.

10) CONGRESS VS COCKROACHES

You think our elected politicians in Westminster are unpopular? Check out the US Congress's latest approval ratings over in the United States. According to a new report from Public Policy Polling:

"Our newest national poll finds that Congress only has a 9% favorability rating with 85% of voters viewing it in a negative light. We've seen poll after poll after poll over the last year talking about how unpopular Congress is but really, what's the difference between an 11% or a 9% or a 7% favorability rating? So we decided to take a different approach and test Congress' popularity against 26 different things.

"And what we found is that Congress is less popular than cockroaches, traffic jams, and even Nickelback... Now the news isn't all bad for Congress: By relatively close margins it beats out Lindsey Lohan (45/41), playground bullies (43/38), and telemarketers (45/35)."

Hurrah!

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 44
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 120.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@OwenJones84Desperately waiting for coherent, confident opposition to Tories' onslaught on working poor and the unemployed from Stephen Timms #newsnight

@Mike_Fabricant I regret to admit that instead of listening to @owenjones84 on #newsnight , I was mesmerised by a zit on his forehead.....#

@BorowitzReport AIG suing the US government is like a drowning man who's been pulled from the ocean kicking the lifeguard in the balls.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Labour believes George Osborne will be snared by his own welfare benefits trap."

Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says "Cameron holds the aces": "In the struggle between Europhiles, Eurosceptics and Europhobes, the middle ground is stronger than people think."

Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "This economic model isn't delivering jobs or decent wages. The real scroungers are greedy landlords and employers."

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