The ten things you need to know on Thursday 17 January 2013...
1) CABLE VS CAMERON
First there was an American diplomat. Then a German politician. Then a former British ambassador. And then, of course, a group of eurosceptic Tory backbenchers. Everyone seems to have something to say on Britain's relationship with Europe ahead of David Cameron's 'tantric' speech on the subject in the Netherlands tomorrow.
Tonight, just a few hours ahead of the PM's address, it's Vince Cable's turn. As Ned Simons and I report:
"In a speech to business leaders on Thursday, the Lib Dem business secretary will say it is a 'terrible time' to have the 'diversion and uncertainty' which build up to a referendum would entail.
“'Uncertainty is the enemy of investment. At a time of extreme fragility in business confidence such uncertainty would add to the sense of unresolved crisis and weaken Britain’s ability to deliver more reform inside the EU,' he will say.
"... Taking aim at eurosceptic Tory backbenchers, Cable will use his speech on Thursday evening to say that it will be “next to impossible” to safeguard the UK national interest in the Single Market if London tries to disengage from its existing commitments.
“'The eurosceptic calculation is that British permission is necessary for closer integration- via treaty change- and that this permission can be traded for the negotiating objectives. That seems to me a dangerous gamble to make,' he will say."
There aren't many Tories who like Vince Cable and there'll be even fewer after he delivers tonight's speech in Oxfordshire. A senior Lib Dem official tells us that the the party wants "to give the Tories enough rope to hang themselves with".
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports:
"In the runup to the [Cameron] speech, a group of prominent City figures have written to the Telegraph in support of an in-out referendum, and a group of 30 pro-European Tory MPs, including Ken Clarke and Sir Malcolm Rifkind, have written a letter charging the prime minister with jeopardising Margaret Thatcher's foremost European legacy, the single market. The MPs warn: 'We fear that a renegotiation which seems to favour the UK alone would force other capitals to ask why they cannot simply dispense with those parts of the single market that don't suit them, potentially endangering Margaret Thatcher's defining European legacy.'"
2) 'THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF'
The Tories' seem pretty divided on Europe - something Ed Miliband was keen to highlight during prime minister's questions yesterday. But what's Labour's position? We may found out today when shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander gives his own speech on Europe (yep, everyone's at it!) in which he will say:
“The gap between the minimum the Tories will demand and the maximum our European partners can accept remains unbridgeable."
Meanwhile, his boss, the Labour leader Ed Miliband, has told the Financial Times that David Cameron was about to take Britain "to the edge of an economic cliff" with a promise of an EU referendum, which he believes will also reawaken "collective" hysteria" in the Conservative Party.
Miliband told the FT that he is "not in favour now of committing to an in-out referendum - it wouldn't be the right thing for our country. The priority for this country is to focus on our economic difficulties and getting out of those difficulties and you don't do that by putting a big 'closed for business' sign around Britain."
Cameron "should be listening to the CBI and not Nigel Farage", the Labour leader added.
3) COLLECTIVE (IR)RESPONSIBILITY
Europhobes in the cabinet (IDS? Owen Paterson? Chris Grayling?) will be delighted - from the Guardian:
"The prime minister has refused to confirm or deny claims that he has given cabinet colleagues freedom to campaign for Britain to exit the European Union in a future referendum."
It could be 1975 all over again...
4) 'ROM THEIR WAY'
That's the headline in the Sun this morning, which reports:
"Up to 350,000 Romanians and Bulgarians could flock to Britain when restrictions are lifted at the end of this year, a report warns today.
"The influx would equal a city the size of Leicester.
"A new analysis estimates 50,000 Romanians and Bulgarians could arrive each year — or 250,000 over the next five years. But that figure could hit 70,000 annually — or 350,000 over five years, according to..."
Hmm. According to who? Yep, you guessed it:
"...campaign group Migration Watch."
But earlier this week, the prime minister said that the detail for such calculations "wasn't there yet" and as the BBC reports:
"Sarah Mulley, of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) think tank said that although it was 'very difficult to predict migration flows with any degree of confidence in these circumstances' the estimates put forward by Migration Watch 'look high'.
"She said: 'The UK is opening access to its labour markets along with the rest of Europe and the process of opening up to Bulgaria and Romania has been a gradual one, in contrast with 2004 when the UK was the only large EU country to open its labour market and when borders and labour market access were opened at the same time.
"'So it would be very surprising if net migration from Bulgaria and Romania was on the scale predicted by Migration Watch.'"
Watch this space.
5) BARACK OBAMA VS THE NRA
Second-term Obama seems to have found his cojones - from my HuffPost colleagues in the US:
"In a bold and potentially historic attempt to stem the increase in mass gun violence, President Barack Obama unveiled on Wednesday the most sweeping effort at gun control policy reform in a generation.
"'This is our first task as a society: keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged,' Obama said. 'We can’t put this off any longer.'
"... [T]he president recommended requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales; reinstating the assault weapons ban; restoring a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines; eliminating armor-piercing bullets; providing mental health services in schools; allocating funds to hire more police officers; and instituting a federal gun trafficking statute, among other policies. The cost of the package, senior officials estimated, would be roughly $500 million, some of which could come from already budgeted funds."
The NRA isn't happy. Prior to the president's announcement, America's largest gun lobby released a TV ad in which
"... a narrator argued that the Secret Service protection provided to Obama's two daughters, Sasha and Malia, is evidence that the president is an 'elitist hypocrite,' who wants armed guards for his own daughters, but not for other people's children. The ad was widely panned as soon as it was released, and White House spokesman Jay Carney called it 'repugnant and cowardly.'"
"Has the NRA lost it entirely?" asks Salon's Joan Walsh.
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of two dogs Skypeing each other.
6) AFGHAN REDUX?
From the Times splash:
"British special forces were on standby last night to mount a rescue mission after al-Qaeda militants in Algeria took scores of foreign workers hostage, including up to five Britons.
"One British citizen was killed in the bloody siege at a BP gas plant in the East of the country — the worst terrorist crisis of David Cameron's premiership and one of the largest foreign kidnappings of recent times. The militants, from neighbouring Mali, claimed that they were responding to a decision by France, supported by Britain, to attack al-Qaeda Islamists in their country."
The paper adds:
"In a move that could increase tensions further, MPs approved plans yesterday to send a small number of British military personnel to help to train Mali's demoralised army as it battles to reclaim the sprawling north of the country from jihadists.
"Britain has contributed two transport aircraft to help the French mission, but was expected to send a small number of soldiers to Bamako, the Malian capital, as early as next month under proposals drawn up by the European Union."
But the Daily Mail's leader argues that "it would surely be disastrous for Britain to commit more of our overstretched men and equipment to a cause not obviously our own". It says:
"Indeed, in the rapidly escalating conflict in Mali, where France will triple its troop deployment 'within days', aren't there chilling echoes of Afghanistan? There, too - where the bloodshed continues after more than a decade - Britain took arms against a tribal enemy as a gesture of solidarity with an ally.
"In Mali, as in Afghanistan, the insurgents are proving a more formidable foe than expected, armed as they are with heavy machine guns, Kalashnikovs and rocketpropelled grenades.
"... As France calls for more international support, is it too much to hope that David Cameron will remember the British lives lost and the sobering lessons of our oh-so-recent history - and just say No?"
7) LABOUR'S IRON MAN?
The cover story of the Guardian's G2 supplement has a rather startling headline this morning: "Could Ed be Labour's Thatcher?"
Author Andy Beckett, a long-time Miliband-watcher, draws a fascinating comparison between the Labour leader and the Tories' most famous, successful and right-wing leader. He writes:
"Members of Miliband's unusually small inner circle are also open about their preoccupation with – and even sometimes admiration for – what Thatcher subsequently achieved in her 15 years as opposition leader and prime minister."
The whole thing is worth a read - and not just because Beckett plugs my biog of the Labour leader in the opening paragraph.
8) AUSTERITY WATCH, PART 129
From the Times:
"More than 100,000 disabled people will lose basic home support under government reforms of social care, leading disability groups are warning.
"Five charities including Scope, Mencap and Leonard Cheshire argue that the care system is already underfunded by at least £1.2 billion and “is on the verge of breakdown”.
"... In a report published today the charities say that 40 per cent of disabled people are already failing to get the basic care they need, such as help with washing, dressing, cooking and eating."
9) FORMER ISRAELI PM ACCUSES CURRENT ISRAELI PM
From the Daily Beast:
"Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says the government of Benjamin Netanyahu spent almost $3 billion in the past two years preparing for a war against Iran's nuclear program that it probably never intended to wage.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Olmert said the sum was above and beyond the billions allocated to the defense budget and helped raise Israel’s fiscal deficit to heights it hadn’t reached in years. As a result, he said, Netanyahu would be forced to make broad spending cuts, if reelected next week..."
Now that's what I call a deficit debate...
10) 'MY MATHS ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH'
From the HuffPost UK:
"Wonga's head of regulatory and public affairs has told a committee of MPs that he could not work out the interest on a loan from his own company because 'my maths isn't good enough.'
"Henry Raine, head of regulatory and public affairs at the payday loans company, defended his business to the House of Commons Public Accounts committee, where he was grilled by chair and Labour MP Margaret Hodge on the effectiveness of consumer credit regulation."
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the latest Ipsos-MORI poll:
Lib Dems 8
That would give Labour a majority of 124.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@DanHannanMEP The lobby is covering the PM's coming speech in terms of party management. They're missing the epochal significance of an In/Out referendum.
@edballsmp When David Cameron gets so desperate he has to claim Labour wants Britain to join the single currency, you know he's really losing it..
@TheOnion On Tonight's ONNCast: NRA Fights Legislation That Would Ban Gun Sales To Those Currently On Killing Sprees
900 WORDS OR MORE
James Forsyth, writing in this week's Spectator, says: "Cameron’s European moment has come – a year late."
Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Tony Blair’s record in the Middle East is a sorry one – it’s time he quit."
Slavoj Zizek, writing in the Guardian, says: "The west's crisis is one of democracy as much as finance."
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