Mehdi's Morning Memo: Barack Obama Vs Nigel Farage

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The ten things you need to know on Thursday 10th January 2013...

1) BARACK OBAMA VS NIGEL FARAGE

Yesterday, it was Richard Branson and a bunch of big business bosses; today, it's the Obama administration. The Guardian and the FT both splash on how the US has warned the UK not to leave the EU.

From the Guardian's front-page story:

"The Obama administration issued a direct challenge to David Cameron over Europe, on Wednesday when it warned of the dangers of holding a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.

"... With just weeks to go until Cameron delivers a landmark speech in which he is expected to promise to hold a referendum on a 'new settlement' for Britain in the EU, the US assistant secretary for European affairs warned that 'referendums have often turned countries inwards'.

"'We welcome an outward-looking European Union with Britain in it. We benefit when the EU is unified, speaking with a single voice, and focused on our shared interests around the world and in Europe,' Philip Gordon said during a visit to London, adding: 'We want to see a strong British voice in that European Union. That is in the American interest.'"

Take that, Nigel Farage.

The FT has this quote from Jacob Kirkegaard, of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington: "This is essentially [the US] saying to the UK - 'you guys are on your own'. There is an element of pre-emption here and must be clearly intended to create waves."

Oh, it'll definitely "create waves". The Europhobic Sun isn't happy, in its leader: "Thanks for the advice, Mr Prez. But when we need your opinion, we'll ask for it."

Take that, Barack.

2) 'COMPLETELY MISLEADING'

The government finally published its "full and frank", 122-page, 36,000-word audit of its successes and failures yesterday afternoon - after a heated exchange between Ed Miliband and David Cameron at PMQs over why the PM had withheld its publication.

The Guardian reports:

"Labour said the government was guilty of an 'astonishing' omission after failing to mention George Osborne's pledge in his emergency budget of 2010 to ensure debt is falling as a share of GDP by 2015-16.

"The lengthy audit – described by David Cameron as full, frank and 'completely unvarnished' – was panned by Peter Riddell, the director of the non-party Institute for Government, who called the section on university tuition fees 'completely misleading'.

"In an interview with Channel 4 News, Riddell said the audit had not mentioned that university tuition fees had been trebled to £9,000."

Shock! Horror! Ministers turn out not to be "full and frank".

3) TO PROFIT OR NOT TO PROFIT?

From the Independent's front page splash:

"Private companies would be able to run state schools for profit under a plan to be published by Conservative modernisers which could be introduced if the party wins the next general election.

"Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has told friends he has no objections to 'for profit' firms setting up the free schools independent of local authority control he has pioneered since 2010.

"... Bright Blue, a modernising pressure group regarded as David Cameron's natural ally, will propose the move in a book to be published next week calling for the Coalition's public service reforms to be extended through an injection of market forces."

I wonder what Nick Clegg makes of the Indy splash. In a speech in 2011, the deputy PM was pretty explicit in his pledge: "Let me reassure you: yes to greater diversity; yes to more choice for parents. But no to profit-seeking within our state-funded education sector."

Meanwhile, Labour's Blairite shadow education secretary has come out against Gove and profit-making schools: "Labour is clear that schools should not be run for profit. Our schools are there to provide a good education - not make money.

"The international evidence from countries such as Sweden shows that allowing companies to profit from schools threatens standards."

Over to you, Mr Gove.

4) ACADEMIES: THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH

There's another good (bad?) 'schools' story on the front of the Guardian, which is worth a read and which seems to confirm something I've always suspected:

"Some academy schools are today accused of manipulating admissions to improve results and using covert selection methods, according to a major report into the programme, which also warns that the government's push to boost the number of academies is not leading to a consistent rise in standards.

"A number of academy chains are seemingly more focused on expanding their empires than improving their existing schools, the report concludes.

"The study, led by Ofsted's former chief inspector Christine Gilbert, also notes an overall lack of transparency and openness, particularly over the way academy sponsors are chosen, and warns that too many school governors are not up to the more significant role they play in academies."

5) 'I'VE NEVER BROKEN THE LAW'

The Indy's Andy McSmith takes issue with David Cameron's rather definitive denial of law-breaking in the Commons (he was responding to a question from Labour MP John Spellar, who accused Mr Cameron of wanting to repeal the ban on fox hunting):

“'I’ve never broken the law,' David Cameron claimed at Prime Minister’s Questions. Not 'I’ve never broken the law in this regard…' as he said on 19 December, in relation to fox hunting. Never at all, he implies, forgetting the undenied story that he was fined and gated during his time at Eton College for smoking cannabis. That may be a minor offence, but is undoubtedly against the law – a law David Cameron is opposed to changing. He has also in the past evaded questions about what he may have got up to at Oxford."

The Guardian's Michael White asks: "Has David Cameron ever broken the law? I hope so. He'd be a very odd sort of driver, let alone citizen, if he hadn't."

Meanwhile, Labour MP Chris Bryant used Twitter to post this picture of the PM running a red light on his bike...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch Conan O'Brien's brilliant spoof video version of gun nut Alex Jones's crazy rant on Piers Morgan's CNN show.

6) 'COWARDLY' CAMERON?

From the Huffington Post UK:

"Voters think David Cameron would show himself to be a 'coward' if he dodged televised leaders debates at the next election, a poll published today has found.

"A ComRes survey for the Daily Express found 67% of those asked agreed the prime minister 'would look like a coward if he declined to take part in leader debates in 2015', and just 12% disagree."

So, bad news for Cameron. But good news for Nigel Farage:

"In a boost for Ukip the ComRes poll also found 54% of people believe Nigel Farage 'should be offered the opportunity to take part alongside the other main party leaders' and only one in five – 20% - disagree."

I can see it now - come May 2015, the country is overtaken by Faragemania. Or perhaps not.

7) 'CYNICAL AND SLEAZY'

Should we pay a salary to our local councillors to encourage more people - from different backgrounds - to stand in local elections? And, if so, would it help the Labour Party?

From the Telegraph:

"The Conservative Party chairman has accused Labour of a 'cynical and sleazy' attempt to use a Commons report to benefit its own party funds.

"A recommendation to raise local councillors' allowances has been approved by the cross–party communities and local government select committee.

"Grant Shapps claimed Labour had used its majority on the committee, chaired by Clive Betts MP, to back reforms that would leave it 'quids in'. The committee report states that allowing independent bodies to set an 'appropriate level of compensation' for councillors would encourage a more diverse range of candidates."

8) SEEING RED...TAPE

From the Times splash:

"Millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent seeking public opinion on subjects ranging from ice-cream van chimes to scallops and the electronic monitoring of pigs.

"An investigation by The Times has revealed that ministers commissioned nearly 1,000 consultations or policy reviews during the past two years, prompting accusations that they are putting off difficult decisions.

"... A survey of the 15 biggest Whitehall departments showed that nearly a third of the consultations set up since 2010 were still awaiting a government response.

9) GIMME YOUR GUNS

For once, it looks like the Obama administration might actually be gearing up for a proper fight with the extreme US right. From the Independent:

"[Vice President Joe] Biden, who is due to meet with representatives of the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby group, told reporters that regardless of what Congress is able to agree on, there would be additional steps the President could take by executive order.

"'We're reaching out to all parties on whatever side of this debate you fall,' Mr Biden noted. 'But the President is going to act. There are executive orders, executive action that can be taken.' New laws that Congress might pass could include the resurrection of a ban on all assault weapons, tighter background checks for purchasers of guns and much tighter restrictions on access to guns for the mentally ill."

On a side note, guess what's happening in the United States on 21sh January, the day before Obama's inauguration? The gun lobby's national "Gun Appreciation Day". I wonder what parents in Newton, Connecticut, make of that...

10) CALL CLEGG. GO ON, CALL HIM

The deputy PM's 'Call Clegg' radio shaw on LBC kicks off at 9am. Will it just be a load of abusive callers or will there be some decent questions to - and answers from - the Lib Dem leader?

Brian Reade, writing in the Mirror, asks:

"Will his theme tune be UB40's Promises and Lies?

"And when the Lib-Dems hand him his UB40 in the next year will he reprise Danny Baker's speech, aiming it at his Tory chums in Cabinet: 'We dwell amid pinheaded weasels who know only timid, the generic and the abacus. I hope they choke on the beads.'"

Ex-BBC radio host Robin Lustig warns Clegg to "watch out" for his trouble-making co-host, LBC presenter (and Tory sympathizer) Nick Ferrari.

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"I managed to get through Christmas without spending any time with either of them...I am closer to all Conservatives than I am to anyone from any other party" - David Cameron's answer to backbencher Philip Davies MP at PMQs yesterday. Davies had asked the Tory leader if he was closer to Norman Tebbit or Nick Clegg.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 43
Conservatives 33
Lib Dems 10
Ukip 10

That would give Labour a majority of 120.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@ChrisBryantMP Simple PMQ next week. The PM said last week that he has never broken the law. Is that true?

@Mike_Fabricant Deficit has been cut by 25% in just 2 yrs, but until it is zero, Labour's debt mountain will rise because of the interest etc.

@jameschappers Who is more surprised at 'unexpected' ONS decision not to amend RPI measure, 'experts' or Today prog editors whose lead story has collapsed

900 WORDS OR MORE

Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, highlights the dangers of a "privatised NHS": "Without basic financial transparency from public service contractors we can say goodbye to democratic accountability."

Sue Cameron, writing in the Telegraph, reveals how Mark Carney was appointed Bank of England governor: "The Treasury’s cloak-and-dagger interviews are hardly an advert for open government."

Rafael Behr, writing in today's New Statesman, says: "Ed Miliband is about to have the burden of defending the EU foisted on him. Is he ready?"

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