Mehdi's Morning Memo: Withdraw From The EU? 'Mad,' Says PM

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DAVID CAMERON
AP

The ten things you need to know on Sunday 13 January 2013...

1) WITHDRAW FROM THE EU? 'MAD,' SAYS PM

It feels like the early 1990s, with the papers full of Europe stories this morning. The best one is in the Mail on Sunday, where it seems the prime minister's allies have been briefing against his Europhobic backbenchers. That'll go down well, won't it?

The Mail on Sunday's Simon Walters reveals:

"David Cameron thinks it would be 'mad' for Britain to leave the EU and is secretly backing a move by Tory MPs to warn of the perils of cutting all our ties with Brussels.

"The Prime Minister was also 'pleased' at US President Barack Obama sending a clear signal that the White House is opposed to the UK leaving the European Union."

".. [T]hose close to Mr Cameron say he does not believe withdrawal is 'realistic or desirable'."

Meanwhile, as the Huffington Post reports:

"David Cameron could slash Ukip's support by more than a third if he promises an in-out referendum on EU membership, according to a poll.

"Research by ComRes for the Sunday People found 63% of the public want a vote on whether Britain should remain in the union.

"Some 33% said they would cast their ballot in favour of a full withdrawal - including two thirds of Ukip supporters, 27% of Tories, 25% of Labour voters, and 17% of Liberal Democrats.

"However, more people - 42% said they were against leaving the EU."

The poll also shows that Ukip could push the Tories into third place in 2014's European elections - Cameron's Conservatives would fall to 22%, one point below Ukip. Uh-oh.

2) THE KEN AND MANDY SHOW

It's not just the Spice Girls who are getting back together again to perform their greatest hits. From the Observer:

"Tory grandee Ken Clarke is joining forces with Labour peer Lord Mandelson in a historic cross-party bid to turn back the rising tide of Euroscepticism.

"The two political heavyweights will share a platform to call for an abandonment of plans to disengage from the European project. Clarke, who attends cabinet as a minister without portfolio, is determined to fight back against the clamour for Britain to step back from the European Union or withdraw entirely.

"Along with Liberal Democrat Lord Rennard, Clarke and Mandelson will spearhead a new organisation, the Centre for British Influence through Europe (CBIE), which will support a cross-party 'patriotic fightback for British leadership in Europe'. The organisation will hold its launch event at the end of the month."

Hmm. Will it affect public opinion? Tory Eurosceptics, like the Spectator's James Forsyth, don't seem too scared of interventions from the likes of Clarke, Mandelson and - yesterday - Heseltine:

"Eurosceptics need to get organised and start pointing out that the people claiming that renegotiation will lead to the sky falling in are, by and large, the same people who were pushing for Britain to join the single currency. If this message is rammed home to the public, then it should be a lot easier to persuade them to take these warnings with a pinch of salt."

"The Britain in Europe crowd was wrong on the most fundamental public policy issue of our time. They need to be reminded of this fact every time they enter the Europe debate."

Ouch.

3) ON THE FRONT FOOT

Ed Miliband has had a strong and high-profile start to 2013 - and will be buoyed by the latest polls (see Public Opinion Watch, below).

The Independent on Sunday reports on Miliband's

".. plans to protect tenants from 'rogue landlords'.

"In a keynote speech on the future of his party, Labour's leader revived calls for a national register of landlords - and greater powers for councils to bar the worst."

Miliband was on the Andrew Marr programme this morning, where he said "'One Nation' is about the way I want to govern this country...about responsiblity going all the way to top of society".

On Europe, he said he thought it was "incredibly dangerous what David Cameron is doing..sleepwalking us towards the exit door of the European Union".

On the economy and the deficit, he refused to give any pledges on reversing Tory cuts - to child benefit or anything else - but highlighted the importance of tackling tax avoidance and changing the law to prevent multinations from dodging tax in the UK.

He also resisted calls to support "means-testing" on welfare and said "the tax system is a fairer way" of redistributing from rich to poor and pointed out the "best way" to cut the welfare bill is to cut unemployment.

On the leaders' TV debates, the Labour leader didn't seem too keen on having Ukip's Nigel Farage join the 'big three' but said he was "relishing these TV debates...I hope they happen".

On Ed Balls, he said Balls was "doing a great job" as shadow chancellor - Miliband even reminded viewers of Balls' prescient speech on austerity at Bloomberg's HQ in August 2010. Now there's an endorsement!

"There is no vacancy for shadow chancellor," declared Ed.

4) O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?

David Miliband isn't coming back to Labour's front bench anytime soon, says the Sunday Telegraph's Patrick Hennessy:

"Mr Miliband, who lost his party’s leadership election to his younger brother in 2010, was said last week to be giving 'serious thought' to coming back to the political front line - with the post of shadow chancellor claimed to be in his sights.

"However, it can be revealed that Ed Miliband has no plans to replace the current shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, or to hand his brother the job of masterminding Labour’s preparations for the next general election campaign."

The Sunday Telegraph story says the elder Miliband's supporters were briefing journos that David might return because they're 'spooked' by the meteoric rise of the shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna.

5) UKIP MEMBERS: IN THEIR OWN WORDS?

The Sunday Mirror seems to have set out to prove David Cameron right that Ukip is a party of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists', containing "some pretty odd people". The paper reports:

"On the [party's official online] forum, senior Ukip member Dr Julia Gasper branded gay rights a 'lunatic's charter' and claimed some homosexuals prefer sex with animals. She added: 'As for the links between homosexuality and paedophilia, there is so much evidence that even a full-length book could hardly do justice to the ­subject.'

"The former parliamentary candidate and UKIP branch chairman in Oxford now faces the sack over her comments.

"Tackled about her remarks yesterday, she said: 'I'm not going to talk about them. It's none of your business.'

"Lecturer Dr Gasper is just one of many Ukip members who use the forum to vent their controversial views.

".. Another member complained about the impact of immigration on the NHS, writing: 'I am informed by past media that Black Caribbean and not Black African have a higher instance of schizophrenia.

"'I wonder if this is due to inbreeding on these small islands in slave times or is it due to smoking grass.'"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a puppy trying to eat an orange.

6) 'KING OF WHITEHALL'

Fascinating piece on top civil servant Sir Jeremy Heywood by James Forsyth in the Mail on Sunday today:

"Sir Jeremy is regarded by friend and foe alike as the most formidable operator in Whitehall," he writes, adding: "Aides who want to give Cameron advice without Heywood's knowledge have been reduced to trying to surreptitiously slip a note into the Prime Minister's Red Box."

Forsyth writes:

"Steve Hilton, Cameron's senior adviser, once tried to wrest control of the box from Heywood by demanding that all the box notes had to go through him as well. Yet the sheer weight of material put paid to this effort. Hilton has since gone on sabbatical, partly in frustration at the extent of Heywood's influence."

He concludes:

"Heywood knows that he is playing a long game. In conversation, he sometimes pointedly refers to the 'current Government'.

"It is a reminder that he intends to be at the centre of power far longer than any politician."

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reports on how Hilton:

".. has revealed his 'horror' at the powerlessness of Downing Street to control government decisions, admitting the prime minister often finds out about policies from the radio or newspapers — and in many cases opposes them.

"Steve Hilton, who remains one of Cameron’s close confidants, said: 'Very often you’ll wake up in the morning and hear on the radio or the news or see something in the newspapers about something the government is doing. And you think, well, hang on a second — it’s not just that we didn’t know it was happening, but we don’t even agree with it! The government can be doing things ... and we don’t agree with it? How can that be?'

"He described how No 10 is frequently left out of the loop as important policy changes are pushed through by 'papershuffling' mandarins."

7) NORTHERN IRISH GLOOM

It ain't getting any better. The Sun reports:

"A total of 29 cops were hurt in riots over flying the Union flag in Northern Ireland yesterday.

"Police used water cannon and baton rounds after being bombarded with bricks and fireworks as they tried to separate loyalists and republicans.

".. Chief Constable Matt Baggott said cops acted with 'exceptional courage'. Politicians from Belfast, Dublin and London will discuss the protests this week."

8) ROUGE ALERT

From the BBC:

"French President Francois Hollande has ordered security stepped up around public buildings and transport because of military operations in Africa.

"He was responding to the risk of Islamist attack after French forces attacked militants in Mali and Somalia.

"France's anti-terrorism alert system known as "Vigipirate" is being reinforced immediately, with security boosted at public buildings and transport networks, particularly rail and air. Public gatherings will also be affected.

"The alert will remain at red, the second-highest level at which emergency counter-attack measures are put in place."

Is it wrong of me to point out that the chaos and instability in Mali is a direct result of, and spillover from, the west's intervention in Libya, which France pushed hardest for?

Meanwhile, the HuffPost UK reports:

"David Cameron has agreed to help transport foreign troops and equipment to Mali amid efforts to halt an advance by Islamist rebels in a conflict that has already claimed 120 lives."

9) 'GOTCHA' - THE SEQUEL

From the Sunday Telegraph:

"Defence chiefs have drawn up new contingency plans designed to prevent hostile action by Argentina towards the Falkland Islands.

"A series of military options are being actively considered as the war of words over the islands intensifies.

"It is understood that additional troops, another warship and extra RAF Typhoon combat aircraft could be dispatched to the region ahead of the March referendum on the Falkland Islands' future."

The paper adds, however, that

".. the British government believes that Buenos Aries currently lacks both the political will and military capability to recapture the islands."

Phew. That's alright then.

10) KENNEDY JOINS.. KENNEDY CONSPIRACY THEORISTS

Conspiracy theorists of the world: you have a new and important ally!

From the Mail on Sunday:

"Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is convinced that a lone gunman wasn't solely responsible for the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, and said his father believed the Warren Commission report was a 'shoddy piece of craftsmanship.'

".. He said that he, too, questioned the report.

"'The evidence at this point I think is very, very convincing that it was not a lone gunman,' he said, but he didn't say what he believed may have happened."

Oliver Stone will be delighted.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 44
Conservatives 31
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 8

That would give Labour a majority of 124.

From the Observer/Opinium poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 31
Ukip 12
Lib Dems 7

That would give Labour a majority of 116.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@PeterHain @Ed_Miliband commanding on Marr programme ludicrous to expect detailed Labour tax and spend now: no idea scale of mess we will inherit 2015

@paulwaugh Memories of 'tax bombshell' Saatchi campaign runs deep in Lab psyche. EdM's remarks about 92 prove it. #marr #kinnockyears

@Mike_Fabricant When Hezza attacks David Cameron about Europe, and Norman Tebbit attacks DC about morality, I know we are getting it about right.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "David Cameron should take tips from John Major about Europe."

Janet Daley, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "A system intended to promote social solidarity has had the opposite effect."

John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, focuses on Sir Jeremy Heywood: "A civil servant too effective for his own good."

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