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Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'International Criminal Conspiracy'

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OWEN PATERSON
AP

The ten things you need to know on Monday 11 February 2013...

1) 'INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY'

Could the scandal over horsemeat in our food end up being as big as the BSE controversy? From the Sun:

"Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said intensive tests are urgently being carried out on horsemeat found in supermarket ready meals.

"He warned: 'We may find out as the week progresses, and the tests begin to come in, there is a substance which is injurious to human health.'

"But Mr Paterson, who will make a Commons statement today, admitted EU rules mean Britain CANNOT ban meat from other European countries — unless there is clear proof of a health risk.

"Mr Paterson said the scandal was the result of 'an international criminal conspiracy'."

2) SOCIAL CARE

The social care funding story is the splash in the Times ("Families to 'foot bill for cost of care for elderly'") and the Telegraph ("Cameron abandons inheritance tax pledge").

The Telegraph reports:

"George Osborne, the Chancellor, will announce that the level at which inheritance tax becomes payable will be frozen at £325,000 until at least 2019 to fund reform of the social care system.

"The decision will mean that the owners of an average home across much of southern Britain and large areas elsewhere will be liable for inheritance tax. Critics said it was effectively a 'double tax' as it was a levy on assets already raided by the taxman and accused the Treasury of 'picking people’s pockets'."

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on a warning from the opposition:

"The average person in social care will not benefit from raising the cap on care home costs to £75,000, Labour has warned.

"As the government pledged to end the 'scandal', in which people have to sell their home to pay for social care, the shadow social care minister, Liz Kendall, said most people would die before they could benefit from the new cap.

"Jeremy Hunt will announce on Monday that the government will introduce a £75,000 cap on the costs of social care – excluding the costs of accommodation and food – in April 2017. The health secretary will also raise the threshold on assets below which patients are eligible for state help, from £23,000 to £123,000. The cap is to be funded by freezing the threshold for inheritance tax."

3) VOTE YES, SIGN 14,000 TREATIES

Some bad news for Alex Salmond and co - from the Independent:

"A breakaway Scotland would be a 'new state' under international law and have to renegotiate membership of the European Union and the United Nations, according to legal advice obtained by the Government.

"The monumental challenges facing a newly independent Scotland are disclosed in a 57-page dossier published today that represents London's opening shot against separation.

"The paper claims that Scottish ministers would need to wade through 14,000 separate treaties that have been signed by the United Kingdom, and apply afresh to join international bodies.

"... The new legal advice was drawn up by Professor James Crawford, of Cambridge University, and Professor Alan Boyle, of Edinburgh University, who are experts on international law.

"'If Scotland became independent, only the remainder of the UK would automatically continue to exercise the same rights, obligations and powers under international law as the UK currently does,' they say."

The SNP's response? "This is an act of breath-taking arrogance by this Tory-led UK Government, which completely shatters their claim that Scotland is an equal partner within the existing UK – it will only serve to boost support for an independent Scotland," said Scotland's Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Bring on the referendum campaign, eh?

4) SLEEPY MIKE VS TORIES' SARAH PALIN

The Eastleigh by-election campaign is heating up - from the Daily Mail:

"Within hours of Liberal Democrat Mike Thornton being chosen to fight disgraced ex-Cabinet minister Chris Huhne's Eastleigh constituency, a photograph emerged of him apparently asleep on the job.

"The picture which seems to show Mr Thornton nodding off, was taken at a council meeting in 2011. As that photograph was gleefully circulated by opponents, the local Lib Dems moved quickly to delete from their website pictures they deemed far more damaging - showing the councillor with Mr Huhne, who quit Parliament after admitting he lied to police to escape a driving ban."

The paper adds:

"Mr Thornton, married with a 19-year-old daughter, faces a challenge from a Tory described as her party's 'answer to Sarah Palin'.

"Maria Hutchings has been likened to the controversial US Republican politician because of her robust views on issues such as gay marriage and immigration, which potentially put her at odds with Conservative leadership."

Deputy prime minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg will be visiting Eastleigh today and has conceded that, due to a diary clash, he could, at some stage soon, end up campaigning in the constituency on the same day as the prime minister.

5) 'APPALLING WASTE OF PRECIOUS MONEY'

Yet another report from the Public Accounts Committee - where do its members find the time? From the Sun:

"Millions of pounds in foreign aid is being squandered on fat cat consultants and wasteful bodies, a report by MPs warns.

The Department for International Development is blasted for shelling out £37million to advisory firm Adam Smith International.

"The company paid a £1MILLION dividend to managing director William Morrison — along with pay and perks of more than £250,000.

"Commons Public Accounts Committee chairman Margaret Hodge said: 'That feels like an absolutely outrageous and appalling waste of this very precious money.'"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a disabled 4lb piglet who, because he has no use of his back legs, now gets around on a dog style wheelchair. Bizarre.

6) MIGRANT WARS

The Times (under the headline: "Influx of Romanian migrants 'threatens to cause social unrest'") says:

"As Britain prepares for an influx of Romanians and Bulgarians next year, schools in poorer parts of Germany are already struggling to cope with arrivals from the two states.

"Germans warn that 'social peace' is being endangered and British ministers are looking at ways to deter migrants heading to the UK."

Meanwhile, the Independent (under the headline: "Not coming here. Not stealing our jobs") reports:

"Right-wing politicians and media are stoking fears that Romanian Gypsies plan to flock to Britain. But the reality is very different..."

7) GIVE ME YOUR RICH, YOUR WEALTHY, YOUR CHINESE MASSES...

Forget Romanians and Bulgarians. It's the Chinese that we really want to come over here. Why do you think that is?

From the Telegraph front page:

"Britain can and must do more to attract educated and wealthy immigrants, and 'inflexible' visa rules are threatening to undermine the economy, the Business Secretary warned today.

"In an article for The Daily Telegraph, Vince Cable said 'Britain simply can’t afford to miss out' on wealthy Chinese immigrants and tourists deterred by red tape.

"His intervention makes public an increasingly acrimonious Cabinet row over the immigration system – particularly as it is applied to Chinese applicants."

8) LIB-LAB FOOTSIE UNDER THE TABLE

Cable is going all out to impress his Tory colleagues, it seems. From the Sun:

"Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have admitted they have a 'sensible businesslike relationship' with Ed Miliband and his Shadow Cabinet.

"In a move that will anger Tory MPs, Mr Cable said senior Lib Dems had discussed long-term policies, including pensions and industrial strategy, with their Labour counterparts. Asked if Mr Clegg and he spoke to Labour's hierarchy, Mr Cable said: 'Well, I think both of us do. I think the public would find this very narrow, tribal way of looking at politics very unhelpful — of course you've got to talk to opposition people.'"

9) 'GOOGLE FOR SPIES'

That's the headline to a rather disturbing story on the Guardian front page:

"A multinational security firm has secretly developed software capable of tracking people's movements and predicting future behaviour by mining data from social networking websites.

"A video obtained by the Guardian reveals how an "extreme-scale analytics" system created by Raytheon, the world's fifth largest defence contractor, can gather vast amounts of information about people from websites including Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.

"Raytheon says it has not sold the software - named Riot, or Rapid Information Overlay Technology - to any clients. But the Massachusetts-based company has acknowledged the technology was shared with US government and industry as part of a joint research and development effort, in 2010, to help build a national security system capable of analysing "trillions of entities" from cyberspace."

10) DAVE'S INSPIRATION?

Remember when David Cameron announced, at the October 2011 Conservative Party conference: "I don't support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I'm a Conservative"?

Writing in the Daily Mail, Andrew Pierce says:

"The words bear an uncanny resemblance to the writings of Peter Tatchell... In his blog at the beginning of October 2011, Tatchell wrote: 'If marriage is a Conservative value, then same-sex marriage is consistent with this value. Far from undermining marriage, gay marriage strengthens it. Conservatives believe in marriage. They should therefore support same-sex marriage precisely because they are Conservatives.' The Prime Minister spoke only days later. Tatchell is convinced he is the source. 'That line about "I believe in gay marriage because I'm a Conservative" came directly from what I wrote,' he says.

"Downing Street will deny it, of course. But who would have thought that Peter Tatchell, who left the Labour Party because it was not Left-wing enough, and is now a member of the Greens, could be the muse for a Conservative Prime Minister?"

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 11
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@oflynnexpress Today prog should arrange radio debate between London mayor who wants a fox cull and Telegraph columnist who says don't blame foxes...

@NicolaSturgeon UK gov legal expert says on Radio 4 that Scot Gov's timescale for independence is realistic and that treaty accession wouldn't be problem.

@iankatz1000 Former food boss Lord Haskins says on @BBCr4today Findus was under pressure to cut costs because of private equity ownership

900 WORDS OR MORE

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "Tories must keep talking about family values."

Gary Younge, writing in the Guardian, says: "Barack Obama is pushing gun control at home, but he's a killer abroad."

Daniel Trilling, writing in the Mirror, says: "The rebranding of fascism: We need to be vigilant against the far right racists."

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