The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 16 January 2013...
1) 'FIDDLING THE FIGURES'
Coalition ministers - led by George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith - have been keen to highlight "record high" employment figures in the UK, as well as the net creation of around half a million new jobs over the past year, but the Guardian has some rather interesting news for us this morning:
"Government claims to have created an additional 500,000 jobs in the past year have been called into question after it was revealed that one in five of the people involved are on government work schemes, including tens of thousands still claiming unemployment benefits.
".. [F]igures obtained by the Guardian from the Office for National Statistics show that just over 20% of this total (105,000) involves those on largely unpaid government back-to-work schemes, the majority of whom are still claiming jobseeker's allowance.
"They include unpaid workers doing voluntary and mandatory work experience in supermarkets and charity shops.
"Many more tens of thousands with no jobs, training or pay, who simply attend regular job hunt workshops as part of the work programme run by the Department for Work and Pensions, are also being counted as employed."
You couldn't make it up...
2) EUROPE: EVERYONE'S GOT AN OPINION
Less than 72 hours to go till the big Cameron speech on Europe in the Netherlands. Everyone - everyone - seems to want to give the PM some advice on what he should say/do. First, there's Eurosceptic Tory MPs - from the Telegraph:
"The Fresh Start group of Conservative backbenchers will throw down the gauntlet to the Prime Minister... as it sets out proposals to return responsibility for laws to Westminster and cut Britain’s bill for EU membership by billions of pounds a year."
"A copy seen by The Daily Telegraph recommends four “significant revisions” to the EU treaties:
"• The repatriation of all social and employment law, such as the Working Time Directive;
"• An opt-out from all existing policing and criminal justice measures;
"• An “emergency brake” on any new legislation that affects financial services;
"• An end to the European Parliament’s costly monthly move from Brussels to Strasbourg."
Then there's the "veteran Europhile", Ken Clarke, who issues this warning to the PM in the FT:
"Europe is not the primary interest of the British public and all kinds of things can arouse protest," Mr Clarke said in an interview with the Financial Times.
"... Mr Clarke admits that pro-Europeans have abandoned the battlefield and must regroup quickly. 'All referenda are a bit of a gamble. I don't think we can take a Yes vote for granted,' he said. 'I think one of the problems is, because so much of the media is overwhelmingly eurosceptic, no one has really campaigned very vigorously for the case for British leadership in the European Union for probably a decade or more.'"
Then there's Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the UK's former ambassador to Washington DC and Brussels, who tells the Guardian:
"I just cannot see any logical basis for thinking a move to the sidelines, or particularly a move out of Europe, would be anything other than diminishing to UK's capacity, standing, influence, ability to get things done and capacity to build coalitions internationally.
"... In any event other members of the EU would regard any really significant proposals by us to renegotiate as opportunistic, given the main areas they are going to be examining are ones they would say are necessary for the euro to survive and prosper."
Finally, there's the former (Labour) foreign secretary, David Miliband, writing in the Times: "Don’t be the PM who takes us out of Europe."
Lots to digest. Dave - over to you.
3) OUT OF CREDIT?
Perhaps, just perhaps, the PM should focus less on Europe and more on the British economy. He also might want to re-read the Conservative Party's 2010 manifesto, which promised to "safeguard Britain’s credit rating".
Because the Guardian has some bad news for Dave and for Gideon:
"Fitch, the credit ratings agency, has warned the chancellor that Britain could be stripped of its prized AAA status if he fails to boost the country's economic situation in the spring budget
"The agency said the UK remains under "significant pressure" following the autumn statement in December, when George Osborne conceded that growth would be lower over the next two years and for that reason he was likely to miss one of his two debt reduction targets."
Losing the triple-A crown at some point in 2013 could cost the chancellor, in particular, any little credibility that he might have left. He has, as the HuffPost UK documents here, staked his political and economic reputation on 'AAA'.
4) "STALINIST" NHS
The coalition's safest pair of hands, Jeremy Hunt, is back in the headlines again. From the Daily Mail:
"All medical records - including prescriptions and test results - are to be stored on computers and shared between hospitals, GPs, care homes and councils.
"Jeremy Hunt will pledge a 'paperless NHS' by 2018 to help save lives by allowing different parts of the NHS to communicate more effectively.
"... But the records 'free-for-all' raises fears that confidential information could be accessed inappropriately.
"Mr Hunt admitted the system was 'Stalinist' - in being driven from the top - but he said this was vital for patient safety."
5) OBAMA VS THE SECOND AMENDMENT
From the BBC:
"US President Barack Obama is expected on Wednesday to unveil wide-ranging measures aimed at curbing gun violence.
"The proposals could echo measures, considered the toughest in the nation, passed in New York state on Tuesday.
"Mr Obama has said he favours bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as broader background checks."
Good luck, Barack!
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of a drunk guy sing 'Bohemiam Rhapsody' - really loudly - on the New York subway.
6) BANKS WIN, WE LOSE (PART 1)
From the Telegraph:
"Taxpayers are sitting on a loss of £18 billion on government shareholdings in RBS and Lloyds Banking Group, which were acquired during the financial crisis.
"Grant Shapps, the Conservative Party chairman, compared the bank bail-out to Labour’s decision to sell the country’s gold reserves. 'Labour sold gold at a record low price and now it seems they massively overpaid for the taxpayer stakes in the banks,' he said.
"... Michael Cohrs, a member of the Bank of England’s financial policy committee, told MPs on the Treasury committee that the government had 'probably' overpaid for its stakes in the nationalised banks and that taxpayers were unlikely to enjoy the returns that had been seen in America."
Thanks, Gordon and Alistair.
7) BANKS WIN, WE LOSE (PART 2)
From the FT splash:
"In the face of withering criticism, Goldman Sachs has abandoned a plan which would have allowed bankers to benefit from a cut in the top rate of income tax by delaying UK bonus payments until after the start of the new British tax year.
"The Wall Street bank decided at a board meeting not to press ahead with the proposal after the governor of the Bank of England denounced the plan."
So, banks on the run, eh? Not quite. After all, why are banks still paying out massive bonuses to begin with, given the lack of lending and the ongoing economic stagnation? As the Telegraph reported earlier this week:
"Analysts expect the Wall Street bank to have amassed a total compensation pot, which includes bonuses and salaries, of between $13.3bn (8.2bn pounds) and $13.8bn for 2012... [t]hat is up from $12.2bn in 2011."
All in this together? I think not.
8) ROYAL 'VETO' UPDATE
The Guardian follows up on its exclusive from yesterday:
"Government ministers have exploited the royal family's secretive power to veto new laws as a way to quell politically embarrassing backbench rebellions, it was claimed on Tuesday.
"Tam Dalyell, the sponsor of a 1999 parliamentary bill that aimed to give MPs a vote on military action against Saddam Hussein, said he is 'incandescent and angry' that it was blocked by the Queen under apparent influence from Tony Blair's government. It also emerged that Harold Wilson used the Queen's power to kill off politically embarrassing bills about Zimbabwe and peerages."
9) MINISTERS VS LAWYERS
From the Times:
"The Government is facing a backlash from senior legal figures over plans to curb what ministers see as a 'growth industry' in judicial review challenges.
"Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice, and Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney-General, warned that the Government should proceed with “caution” with any changes that could be seen as restricting the right to hold politicians to account.
"... The number of judicial review cases jumped from 160 in 1974 to more than 11,000 in 2011, costing the taxpayer millions in legal fees. But in 2011 only one in six applications was granted and even fewer were successful when they went ahead."
10) THE RETURN OF GORDO
Our ex-premier returned to the Commons yesterday to participate in a debate and give a speech - it's worth reading Ann Treneman's sketch in the Times:
"For the first time in 14 months, Gordo was in the Chamber.
"Dozens of MPs came to watch, peering at him as he appeared, at 6.44pm, at the tail end of a debate on Scotland. His fellow Scots stared at him as if they hardly recognised him. Alistair Darling, his Chancellor, moved as far away as possible. A small doughnut of hardcore Gordo fans formed around him."
"Almost Never Spotted was there for the adjournment debate on why the Government should save the Remploy factory in Fife. It started at 7pm.
"... When the lesser mortals stopped speaking, Gordo arose, his voice booming, his stomach protruding to the extent that his shirt-button deserves to be mentioned in despatches. He had known the factory for 30 years and he had a plan to save it. This involved the Government relaxing its financial restrictions. Gordon Brown asking for money!
"... When it was over, the Almost Never Spotted left, his shirt button relieved to have survived. When, I wondered, would we see him again?"
A very good question.
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 10
That would give Labour a majority of 120.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@David_Cameron Delighted that principle of wearing religious symbols at work has been upheld – ppl shouldn't suffer discrimination due to religious beliefs
@BenPBradshaw Bad ministers blame the #civilservice & if No 10 find out what's happening from the media it's because they don't have a grip @BBCr4today
@ShippersUnbound As we hang earnestly on the wisdom of Sir Nigel Sheinwald remember it was he who thought Barak Obama had no chance of getting elected
900 WORDS OR MORE
Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Ed Miliband needs bolder answers over the European Union and immigration."
Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, says: "Europe: no more talk of in-or-out. Let's think opt-outs."
Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "Public servants have private interests, just like the rest of us. They’ll only change if we make it worth their while."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (email@example.com) or Ned Simons (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol