Mehdi's Morning Memo: Did He Really Say That?

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The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 29 January 2013...

1) DID HE REALLY SAY THAT?

Uh-oh. Yesterday, a Tory MP made a link between women wearing short skirts and then getting raped. Today, the papers go after a Tory cabinet minister for allegedly comparing gay marriage to incest - from the Guardian:

"Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, became embroiled in a row over equal marriage yesterday amid claims that he likened it to incest. The minister, who opposes David Cameron's plans to grant gay couples the right to marry, denied equating equal marriage with incest after Pink News reported that he had linked the two issues.

"Hammond released a statement after Pink News said he had made the comments to two students at Royal Holloway, University of London, on Friday. The website reported that Hammond 'told students in Surrey that allowing gay couples to marry would be like sanctioning "incest" ... when the students asked why the MP [opposed] same-sex marriages he responded by likening the current ban on equal marriage to 'incest', where it is illegal for two siblings to enter into wedlock.'

"A spokesman for the defence secretary said: 'It's untrue. He didn't equate equal marriage to incest.'"

2) BOUNDARY WARS

Today the Lib Dems will vote against the Tories in the Commons for the first time since the coalition was formed. My colleague Ned Simons reports:

"Furious Tory MPs will attempt use a Commons vote on Tuesday to overturn a Lib-Lab alliance that could cost David Cameron the next election.

"Earlier this month Lib Dem peers sided against their coalition colleagues and joined with Labour in order to delay a planned redrawing of the electoral map until after 2015.

"... Nick Clegg initially supported the plan. But after Tory MPs killed off proposals to reform the House of Lords he instructed his MPs and ministers to vote against it.

Cameron needs SNP and DUP votes in order to overturn a Lib-Lab alliance on this - but some of his own MPs may vote against him. There's a hilarious quote from Philip Davies in the piece:

"Shipley MP Philip Davies has confirmed he plans to vote with Labour and the Lib Dems in the interests of self-preservation.

"Davies, who is no fan of the coalition, told HuffPost UK that while Clegg’s decision to oppose the changes helped him personally, he was less than impressed.

"'How he has behaved is abysmal, It’s like a primary school child. It suits me on this issue but I don’t endorse his tactics,' he said."

Ahh....

3) HEY BMES, WE LOVE YOU

The Tories seem to have finally woken up to the fact that they probably need a few more BME voters on side if they're going to win a majority at the next general election - from the Times splash:

"Big companies would be urged to publish the ethnic breakdown of their workforce under Conservative plans to help to repair the party’s image with Black and Asian voters.

"David Cameron has told the Cabinet to come up with policies to appeal to ethnic communities amid fears that without them the party will struggle to win an outright majority. One idea would encourage Stock Exchange-listed companies to state how many ethnic minority employees they have and how many they have recruited over the past year."

Er, call me cynical, but I suspect BME communities will want a bit more than that, in order to wipe out the Tories' dodgy legacy on race issues - from Enoch Powell to the primary purpose rule.

4) CHILD MINDER? IT'S HARDER TO BE AN ANIMAL MINDER

It's long been claimed that the political party which can come up with a method for cutting soaring childcare costs will be able to vacuum up votes from 'hard-working families' in the 'squeezed middle' - from the Independent:

"Nursery staff and childminders will be better paid, require more qualifications and look after more children under a government drive to improve a childcare system lagging well behind its European counterparts.

"... After criticism that students need more qualifications to look after animals than children in England, childcare professionals will be required to have a GCSE grade C or above in English and Maths... Staff to child ratios will be relaxed to bring England more into line with the continent, but only when nurseries hire qualified people. Nursery staff will be able to look after four babies up to a year old instead of three as at present..."

Labour, and some childcare experts, say the plans could jeopardise child safety and won't cut costs in the long-run. According to the Indy, the opposition also "released figures showing that more than 400 Sure Start children's centres closed during the Coalition's first two years after £430m earmarked for them was cut from council budgets, with more than half of those that are still open no longer providing any onsite childcare".

5) MISSION TO MALI

Ever heard of the phrase 'mission creep', Dave? On Mali, our prime minister is getting more and more stuck in.

From the Guardian's splash:

"Britain is prepared to take the risk of sending a 'sizeable amount' of troops, to Mali and neighbouring West African countries as David Cameron offers strong support to France in its operation to drive Islamist militants from its former colony.

"As news emerged that insurgents retreating from Timbuktu had set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts, Downing Street said the prime minister told François Hollande on Sunday night Britain was 'keen' to provide further military assistance to France.

"... Downing Street is adamant that British troops will play no part in combat."

Hmm. Let's see how long that line holds...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this weird video of 'classic movies' from the perspective of Google Street View.

6) 'NOT GUILTY'

We have a date. From the Sun:

"Former Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne will stand trial next Monday over claims he got his ex-wife to take a threepoint drive fine for him. The Lib Dem MP, 58, denied perverting the course of justice in court yesterday. He spoke only to confirm his name and enter a 'not guilty' plea."

7) MY FRIEND RUPERT

Who says King Rupert's power has waned since Leveson? Top Tories who have their eye on their party's leadership still seem keen to get the media mogul's backing - despite everything.

From the Guardian:

"George Osborne has become the latest person revealed to have attended a private dinner last week with Rupert Murdoch at the media mogul's apartment in Mayfair.

"... Murdoch regularly assembles some of London's elite for dinners, and last Tuesday's event was no different. Described by insiders at News International as a collection of 'very interesting people', the dinner was also attended by Boris Johnson and several NI executives and editors and given a sprinkling of Hollywood stardust with the attendance of the London mayor's fellow Old Etonian, Damian Lewis, star of Homeland - a Fox21 production."

8) LUCKY GEORGE

Perhaps Osborne, in between dining out with foreign billionaires, should keep on eye on his own backyard. From the Mail:

"Chancellor George Osborne is facing a personal backlash over the HS2 route, which carves through the countryside in his Cheshire constituency of Tatton.

"Tory councillors questioned the value of the project, with one calling it an 'enormous waste of money'.

"Mr Osborne insisted it was essential for the economy, describing it as an 'engine for growth'."

My favourite bit of the piece:

"Mr Osborne will not be financially affected by the new line as he sold his £900,000 constituency home in January last year. Documents released yesterday revealed that officials at one point considered a route for the line that would have gone much closer to his old house than the final route."

Meanwhile, the Telegraph adds:

"The Government faced claims of hypocrisy after it emerged that the northern section of the HS2 network, the route of which was unveiled yesterday, would include a £600million 'detour' around parts of the Chancellor's seat of Tatton in Cheshire.

"... A spokesman for Mr Osborne insisted that he played no part in choosing the route. A Department for Transport spokesman said Mr Osborne's constituents had not been given special treatment."

Hmm...

9) 'TOTALLY BANKRUPT'

Meet the French Liam Byrne (via the Daily Mail):

"Socialist France is 'totally bankrupt', a senior government minister admitted yesterday. Michel Sapin, President Francois Hollande's jobs minister, appeared to be saying that his government's tax-and-spend policies were not working.

Mr Sapin said: 'There is a state but it is a totally bankrupt state. That is why we had to put a deficit reduction plan in place, and nothing should make us turn away from that objective.'

"... Pierre Moscovici, the finance minister, insisted: 'France is a really solvent country. France is starting to recover.'"

Poor Pierre. Silly Sapin.

10) QUEEN GIVES UP HER THRONE TO SON

"Easy, Charles," the Mirror explains, "it's Queen Beatrix of Netherlands."

Oh.

The paper adds:

"Her decision will undoubtedly open up the debate about Britain's ageing monarchy as the Queen, 86, and Prince Philip, 91, prepare for another busy year of royal engagements.

"But while it is common in the Netherlands for monarchs to "retire" - Beatrix's mother and grandmother both abdicated - Britain's Queen has made it clear she sees her role as a "job for life".

"So as Willem-Alexander becomes the first Dutch king since 1890 on April 30, at the age of 46, Britain's Prince Charles, 65 this November, remains no closer to taking over as monarch."

Poor ol' Charles.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 35
Lib Dems 10
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 78.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@Mike_Fabricant Irony: Labour has now adopted Conservatives' pre 2010 route for HS2, while the Conservatives have accepted Labour's route (Birm to London).

@TomHarrisMP Why oh why can't we have more televised debates about "independence"? It's like the Scottish media are just trying to avoid the subject...

@Queen_UK Don't get any ideas, Charles. A party hat is the closest you'll be getting to a crown any time soon. #abdication #beatrix

900 WORDS OR MORE

David Owen, writing in the Guardian, says: "My plan to save the NHS - in the nick of time."

Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "Why the 'ethnicity effect' terrifies Tories."

Benedict Brogan, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says: "A big play from Osborne could stop Labour hijacking his legacy."

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