Mehdi's Morning Memo: Clegg's Confession

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NICK CLEGG
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The ten things you need to know on Friday 25 January 2013...

1) CLEGG'S CONFESSION

Another scoop from the folks at The House magazine. In an interview released last night, the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg became the first member of the coalition to admit that austerity has delayed our economic recovery.

The Lib Dem leader confessed:

"If I'm going to be sort of self-critical, there was this reduction in capital spending when we came into the Coalition Government.

"I think we comforted ourselves at the time that it was actually no more than what Alistair Darling spelt out anyway, so in a sense everybody was predicting a significant drop off in capital investment.

"But I think we've all realised that you actually need, in order to foster a recovery, to try and mobilise as much public and private capital into infrastructure as possible.

"Wherever we can we've got to mobilise more capital investment. The economic evidence is overwhelming. It helps create jobs now - people go on to construction sites. It raises the productive capacity of the economy in the longer run."

George Osborne will be delighted, just delighted, I tell you, to hear Clegg's comments. (Though the chancellor isn't budging on austerity: "We do have to carry on with the cuts. We're not about to bring that programme to an end," he said in Davos yesterday.)

Meanwhile, Labour's Rachel Reeves, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury was quick to respond to the Lib Dem leader's interview: "This is the first admission that this Government has made serious mistakes on the economy. But the real question is what Nick Clegg’s Government is going to do about it."

Good question. Build more houses, please!

2) TRIPLE-DIPPING?

Clegg's confession came on the eve of this morning's GDP figures which are expected to once again show how austerity has choked growth - from the Sun:

"Official GDP figures for the last three months of 2012 are expected to show the economy is shrinking again — and by as much as 0.5 per cent, some experts say. A retraction would mean Britain is heading towards an unprecedented TRIPLE DIP recession."

It'll also make those ministers, MPs and Tory commentators who got so excited about the temporary, Olympics-induced bump to growth in the third quarter of last year look rather foolish.

Expect lots of annoying 'I told you so'-type tweets from people like...well... er... me.

3) DAVE VERSUS HIS MUM

He's won over his backbenchers on Europe. Now, onto gay marriage. From the Times:

"David Cameron is facing a struggle to persuade more than half of Conservative MPs into supporting gay marriage in the most divisive vote of his leadership.

"The Government will today start the countdown to a Commons vote in ten days' time when it publishes the Government's Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill this morning."

The Tory leader, meanwhile, isn't just struggling to convince his own backbenchers on this issue. According to the Telegraph's diarist Tim Walker:

"[T]he Prime Minister's mother, Mary Cameron, attended a lunch the other day when she was asked why her son was pressing ahead with the legislation when it was alienating so many of the Conservative Party's natural supporters.

"'I know, but David just won't be told,' she replied."

4) SHOULD WE STAY OR SHOULD WE GO?

Has Cameron's EU referendum gamble worked? The first post-speech poll is out - from the Times:

"Britain would vote to leave the European Union if a referendum were held today, a poll for The Times suggests.

"Forty per cent of voters would leave, 37 per cent would stay and 23 per cent do not know how they would vote, according to the Populus survey. That translates into a 53-47 vote in favour of leaving after taking into account people’s likelihood to vote and stripping the “don’t knows” from the figures.

"... Half those who want Britain to remain in the EU, and two fifths of those who want to quit, say that their vote in 2017 will have little or nothing to do with the details of opt-outs or the repatriation of powers."

Oh dear. Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports that Boris Johnson and "more than 100 Conservative MPs, including several members of the Cabinet, are prepared to vote “out” in a referendum unless Britain’s relationship with the EU is fundamentally changed after the next election".

5) 'THE PRIME MINISTER'S LARYNX'

"Revealed: Former ice cream girl who wrote PM's speech," reads the headline on the front of the Daily Mail, beneath a picture of "raven-haired" Downing Street speechwriter Clare Foges.

The Mail's Andrew Pierce writes:

"Trying to earn a living as a twentysomething, Clare Foges could be found driving an ice cream van around Guildford. Today, a mere six years after selling her last Cornetto, she is modestly ignoring all the plaudits crediting her as the main author of David Cameron’s historic speech on Europe.

"Clare, 31, is said to have been the key No 10 speechwriter behind such memorable phrases as ‘it will be an in-out referendum’ and Mr Cameron’s stirring vow to fight ‘heart and soul’ to keep Britain in the EU."

"... Crucially, she understands Cameron’s instincts and vocabulary — to such an extent that colleagues have described her as ‘the Prime Minister’s larynx’."

On a related note, do have a read this fascinating HuffPost interview with President Obama's chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, on how Barack's second inauguration speech was put together.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this rather hypnotic video of two cats in front of a rice cooker.

6) 'SMELL THE COFFEE'

UKUncut - meet your newest friend and ally.

From the Guardian:

"David Cameron has taken a swipe at Starbucks as he promised that making business pay its fair share would be one of three key aims of Britain's G8 presidency.

"'Companies need to wake up and smell the coffee, because the customers who buy from them have had enough,' the prime minister told business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos."

Charities welcomed the PM's comments but say they want to wait and see the details of any government proposal on tackling "aggressive" tax avoidance.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph splashes on news that "leaders of Britain’s biggest multi-national companies have warned David Cameron to abandon plans which will force them to disclose details of their businesses' tax affairs, warning that it threatens to undermine the economic recovery".

Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?

7) GET OUT OF DODGE

The Independent has an 'exclusive' on Libya:

"The Government urged British nationals to leave Libya's second city, Benghazi, yesterday in response to a 'specific threat to Westerners' from terror groups operating in North Africa.

"Defence sources confirmed the warning is linked to the activities of al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim). An offshoot of Aqim was responsible for last week's hostage crisis at the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria in which 37 Westerners were killed, along with 29 Islamists."

The Libyans aren't too pleased with the FCO's evacuation order, with a Libyan minister calling it "not rational" and demanding an explanation. Well, I guess he should buy a copy of the Indy...

8) GROW UP, GUYS

From the Guardian:

"Politicians should put aside their local and electoral interests and stop fighting hospital closures, according to the medical director of the NHS.

"Sir Bruce Keogh, the former heart surgeon who now leads on standards and performance in the health service, told the Guardian that failing to embrace change, including closures, would inhibit excellence and "perpetuate mediocrity".

"He said: 'I really need the help of our political colleagues at times to step above their local interests and think of the other interests of the NHS.'"

Are you listening Chris Grayling?

9) PLEBGATE, PART 302

From the Times:

"Britain’s most senior police officer has called in an independent force to review Scotland Yard’s investigation into the ‘Plebgate’ controversy.

"Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, has disclosed to The Times that he has asked Greater Manchester Police to review the work of his officers."

10) DON'T MENTION THE WAR!

From the Times:

"Prince Harry, Mr Bean and the Loch Ness Monster are the real reasons why Germans want Britain to stay in the EU, according to the country's biggest-selling newspaper.

"Forget the UK's £12 billion gross annual contribution to the EU budget; what would really be missed are those 'quirky Royals' and the British sense of humour, not to mention the hordes of drunken holidaymakers.

"'Please don't go, you're so wonderfully crazy,' pleaded Bild when reporting David Cameron's pledge of a referendum. 'You taunt us as Krauts and your favourite word is 'Blitz' but, dear Britons, we need you ... we need your contrariness and your obstinacy in the face of a united Europe.'"

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"I'm a low-tax Conservative, not a 'businesses should pay no tax' Conservative." - David Cameron speaking in Davos yesterday.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 43
Conservatives 33
Lib Dems 10
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 116.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@TomHarrisMP Clegg attacks Tories over cuts - LibDem MPs pledge to look a bit grumpy in future as they vote through everything Cameron wants.

@vincentmoss On day GDP figs put UK on path to triple-dip recession, there will be pix of Cameron/Osborne/Boris carousing in exclusive ski resort. Poor

@oflynnexpress Amazing how many charities fork out to send people to Davos. Guess it's where they get their hands on all that taxpayers' money.

900 WORDS OR MORE

John Kampfner, writing in the Independent, says: "A Lib-Lab Coalition could be back on - if only Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband can bear to bury the hatchet."

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, says: "The EU's elder statesmen tried to run before they could walk. We may not like it, but Cameron's call was brave and timely."

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "Orwell endures because his nightmares do too."

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