Mehdi's Morning Memo: In Pole Position

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The ten things you need to know on Friday 1 February 2013...

1) IN POLE POSITION

The German foreign minister took to the comment pages of yesterday's Times to warn our prime minister that renegotiating Britain's membership of the EU might not be as easy as David Cameron suggested in his Bloomberg speech last month.

The Poles, however, seem to want to give the PM a bit of a boost - my colleague Ned Simons has been speaking to the Polish ambassador:

"Poland is willing to let the UK renegotiate its relationship with the EU in an attempt to stop David Cameron leading Britain out of the union, the Polish ambassador has said.

"In an interview with The HuffingtonPost UK, ambassador Witold Sobkow said Warsaw was willing to 'accommodate' some British demands.

"Asked if Poland would be willing to allow Cameron to substantially change Britain’s relationship with Brussels ahead of a in/out referendum, he said: 'Yes. We see a lot of room for manoeuvre.'

"'We all want a better functioning EU, respecting subsidiarity, and reducing its bureaucratic burden.'

"'...There is no appetite for such far reaching changes now, but, who knows, in 2-3 years,' he said. 'The EU is changing, as we can see, for example, in the case of new banking supervision arrangements.'"

Dave will be delighted. Good ol' Poles, eh?

2) WATCH YER BACKS, DAVE AND GIDEON...

The Guardian and the Daily Mail both have some pretty worrying news for the PM and his chancellor. The Guardian splashes on news that:

"Downing Street has been warned that David Cameron risks facing a confidence vote over his leadership in the summer of 2014 if his poll ratings fail to improve and the party performs poorly in the local elections.

"A diehard group of party rebels, who would like to remove the prime minister immediately, will significantly grow in numbers over the next 17 months if the Tories fail to achieve a breakthrough, according to MPs inside and outside the government."

The Mail says that Osborne is the real target of the rebels' ire:

"The Tories were facing fresh turmoil last night as plotters prepared to demand the sacking of Chancellor George Osborne after failing to oust David Cameron.

"Rebel MPs intend to whip up support for a letter to the Prime Minister, calling on him to move Mr Osborne from the Treasury if the UK plunges into a triple dip recession.

"... The possibility of a job swap between the Chancellor and Foreign Secretary William Hague has been floated privately before by senior Tories."

Oh dear. Plots, plots and more plots - the Tory party reverts to type...

3) THE WAR ON WELFARE, PART 66

"Ministers: spare our budgets for more welfare cuts," screams the splash headline in the i.

It's sister paper, the Independent, reports:

"Conservative Cabinet ministers are pressing for another round of cuts in the welfare budget in an attempt to protect their own departments from the Treasury’s demand for a further £10bn of savings.

"Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, Education Secretary, Michael Gove, and Home Secretary, Theresa May, are among senior Tories arguing for another squeeze on welfare."

To 'squeeze' another £10bn out of the welfare budget in the midst of the slowest economic recovery in living memory, and after slashing the top rate of income tax on millionaires, is, frankly, immoral and callous.

The truth about this government is that it isn't in favour of austerity per se, just austerity for the 'undeserving' poor. Forget taxing bank bonuses - CUT BENEFITS!

4) DEFENSIVE DAVE

The Telegraph continues its (front page) crusade against defence cuts while Cameron (and Osborne) wish Coulson was back in Downing Street running 'the grid':

"Amid accusations that defence policy is now a shambles, Downing Street attempted to 'clarify' an apparent promise by David Cameron that overall spending on the military would rise in 2015-16.

"On Wednesday Mr Cameron said that he would stand by a pledge he made in 2010 to provide “year-on-year real-terms growth in the defence budget in the years beyond 2015.”

"However, the Government’s position descended into confusion on Thursday as No  10 attempted to argue that Mr Cameron’s commitment to increase spending 'beyond 2015' does not apply to the 2015-16 financial year."

Dave's defence secretary isn't onboard either:

"Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, on Thursday confirmed that he would fight the Treasury for increases in defence spending in the coming spending review."

5) 'HALF OF OUR WOMEN LOOK LIKE KATE. THE OTHER HALF, LIKE HER SISTER'

That's the slogan on a new Romanian ad, featuring Kate and Pippa Middleton, plugging the attractions of Romania - to Brits! The Independent explains:

"Romania has hit back at British fears of a sudden influx of immigrants, launching its own tongue-in-cheek advertising campaign to persuade disillusioned Britons to travel east and swap Bognor for Bucharest.

"'You have bad weather, no jobs, no houses? That sounds bad. Why don’t you come live here instead?' reads one poster on the Romanian news website Gandul, which is behind the humorous campaign, entitled 'Why don’t you come over? - We may not like Britain, but you’ll love Romania.'"

I never knew the Romanians had such a great sense of humour. Can't wait to meet them when they all arrive here en masse...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a ginger kitten attacking a large potato. Go on...

6) BRITS OUT, BRITISH PM IN

Just a week ago, British citizens in Benghazi were told to get out of the country; yesterday, the British PM flew into Libya on a 'surprise' visit. The Times reports:

"The Prime Minister went ahead with the visit despite the detection of a 'potential threat' to Britain's embassy in Tripoli only days ago... During his one-day trip, Mr Cameron said that securing the country would be even more important than toppling the regime of Colonel Gaddafi. In a concerted diplomatic drive, Britain will increase the assistance it is giving to police and to military training, with new advisers being dispatched to Tripoli."

Dave announced he'd done with Libyan authorities, which will allow British police to continue their investigation into the Lockerbie bombing:

"A team from Dumfries and Galloway Police has been cleared to go out to Tripoli as they attempt to hunt down those behind the bombing of Pan Am flight 103, which killed 270 people... They will be able to talk to officials there next month about the questions that remain about the bombing."

7) 'WOEFULLY UNDEREQUIPPED AND HAMSTRUNG'

From the i:

"The existing system to root out police wrongdoing is being undermined by poor-quality investigations and lacks the powers and resources to get to the bottom of serious cases of corruption and misconduct, according to a damning report published today.

"IPCC inquiries into alleged police wrongdoing start too late and take too long, according to the Home Affairs Select Committee. It is 'woefully underequipped and hamstrung' in achieving its objectives, with less funding than the professional standards department of the Metropolitan Police."

8) BASHING BARCLAYS

I still chuckle when I remember how City apologists used to jump to Barclays' defence in 2008/2009: 'They didn't take any taxpayers' cash,' they'd whine.

Today's FT front-page story is worth a look:

"UK authorities are probing an allegation that Barclays loaned Qatar money to invest in the bank as part of its cash call at the height of the financial crisis in 2008, which enabled the bank to avoid a UK government bailout.

"... If confirmed, such an arrangement could contravene market regulations if it was not properly disclosed at the time, legal and industry experts warned. 'The concept of lending money to any investor to purchase your own shares raises a series of immediate questions about disclosure and other regulatory issues,' said Peter Hahn, a former banker at Citi now at Cass Business School.

"The revelation is yet another blow for attempts by Antony Jenkins, Barclays’ chief executive, to clean up the bank’s image that has been tarnished by high-profile scandals ranging from Libor manipulation to the mis-selling of payment protection insurance."

You can that again.

9) NO THANKS, WILLIAM

Yet another diplomatic spat over the Falklands, reports the Times:

"Buenos Aires Argentina's Foreign Minister has rejected an invitation from William Hague to meet members of the Falkland Islands government on his visit to London next week. Hector Timerman said the islands were not a matter for a 'third party'."

10) 'THE FABULOUS EMANUEL BROTHERS'

That's the headline to a fascinating feature in the Independent about a trio of high-achieving US brothers from the worlds of medicine, politics and entertainment:

"Dr Ezekiel "Zeke" Emanuel... [is] a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he heads the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy; a fellow at non-profit research institute The Hastings Center; an oncologist; a bioethicist; and an expert in end-of-life care, who writes frequently for the New York Times.

"And yet, remarkably, Ezekiel, 55, has a lower profile than his two younger brothers. That's because they are the Mayor of Chicago, 53-year-old Rahm Emanuel; and Ari Emanuel, 51, the co-CEO of William Morris Endeavor, Hollywood's biggest talent agency.

"... There are celebrated families of doctors, politicians and entertainment professionals, but it's almost unheard-of for siblings to rise to such prominence in three such varied fields."

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"I have been involved in Conservative politics for 20 years. The Conservative party is never not plotting," says an unnamed minister, speaking to the Guardian's Nick Watt.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 44
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 10
Ukip 8

That would give Labour a majority of 120.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@tnewtondunn RT @Sun_Politics Sun/YouGov poll tonight: CON 32, LAB 44, LDEM 10, UKIP 8. Lab's 12 point lead back. Cam's EU bounce dead after just a week?

@TimMontgomerie Lord Ashcroft on @ConHome: We need to change perceptions of the Tory Party and the Europe speech hasn't done that

@TomHarrisMP The SNP are bitching about HS2 not reaching Scotland. So they expect Scotland to be "independent" by then, but for UK Govt to finance it?

900 WORDS OR MORE

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "If the Prime Minister truly wants to confront the threat from Islamists in Africa, he must find the money to increase the defence budget."

Jonathan Steele, writing in the Guardian, says: "Israel's attack on Syria shows how volatile this conflict is. A political solution is now urgent."

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "For Cameron aid is not a badge. It’s a mission."

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