The ten things you need to know on Thursday 14 February 2013...

1) THE LIVING STANDARDS ELECTION

Ed Miliband is going to do his best impression of Ronald Reagan in a 'major speech' (is there ever a minor speech?) on the economy in Bedford today. It's all about living standards, it seems.

The Labour leader has been speaking to - who else? - the Guardian ahead of his address:

"Ed Miliband promises to make the 2015 general election a 'living standards election' as he claims that the coalition's squeeze on middle-income Britain has deepened the recession and created the "chilling prospect" of a further decade of pressure on most families' living standards.

"... Bidding to set the frame for the next election, and drawing on some of the strategy that helped re-elect Barack Obama, the Labour leader says: 'I am offering a choice between an economic recovery made by the many, not just a few at the top, and a Conservative strategy that consists of trickle-down from the top, a squeeze on the middle and a race to the bottom.'

"He goes on: 'I will be asking the question 'are you better off than you were four years ago?' and I don't think it is in dispute – people are worse off. The Office for Budget Responsibility figures are showing earnings behind inflation, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows the same. It would be a good start if David Cameron could just admit the facts.'"

Miliband will be speaking in Bedford - where the 'One Nation' prime minister Harold Macmillan, of course, declared that "You've never had it so good" in 1957.

Meanwhile, the Labour leader's shrewdest adviser and close ally (Lord) Stewart Wood, in an exclusive piece for the Huffington Post UK, sets out the context and thinking behind Miliband's speech. He writes:

"In 2013, the problem of the Middle has become the central economic challenge facing our country. It is at the heart of our growth crisis as well as our living standards crisis."

Wood adds that "our economy is too dependent on a low-skill, low-wage model of competitiveness. One measure of this is the UK’s historic (and continuing) deficit in skills" and says that the Tory idea "that the key to our economic turnaround is further deregulation of one of the most deregulated economies in the advanced industrial world is somewhere between dubious and ridiculous."

The shadow cabinet minister also claims that Labour has begun to "flesh out" new policies on the economy over the past two years.

I guess we'll have to wait till later this morning to see what policies, if any, Miliband unveils in Bedford. Either way, the Labour leader is right to focus on (falling) living standards. I mean, it worked for the Gipper, right?

2) BREAKING: BLAIRITE REJECTS BLAIRISM

It isn't just Ed Miliband giving a big speech today. Hats off to shadow defence secretary and arch-Blairite Jim Murphy for being willing to make some painful concessions about Blair's failures on foreign and defence policy - from the Independent:

"A new approach to intervening in foreign countries will be set out by Labour today as the shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy, accuses David Cameron of failing to learn the lessons from Tony Blair's mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Ten years after the Iraq War, Labour will attempt to further distance itself from a conflict which alienated many voters by warning against the 'ideological' crusade against al-Qa'ida favoured by Mr Blair and Mr Cameron."

Murphy will also admit that "an almost primitive understanding of the Afghan population, culture and geography prior to Nato intervention severely undermined international attempts to work with proxies and our political strategy was in its conception insufficiently representative. In Iraq there was a serious deficit in Western comprehension of the Sunni-Shia or intra-Shia dynamics."

Hear, hear!

3) BLAST FROM THE PAST

And it isn't just Labour figures who are giving 'big' speeches today, either. Former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major plans to dole out some advice for his party in a speech on Europe at Chatham House later today.

Sir John will welcome his successor but two's promise of an in/out referendum on the EU, saying it's a "gamble" but one that Cameron can't avoid and which could remove "the poison" of Europe from British - and, specifically, Tory - politics.

In a nice phrase, the ex-PM will also warn the current PM to beware of MPs with "with Tory heads and UK independence hearts looking to leave the EU".

He'll also warn eurosceptic Conservative MPs to stop bombarding their leader with demands on the EU and making him look like he's under duress and behaving in the interests of his party, rather than the country.

In an interview with me a few months ago, backbench MP Nadine Dorries said the current political climate reminded her of the early 1990s, with all the instability at the top of government and the attacks on Major over Europe from eurosceptics. I guess we now know that Major himself kinda agrees with her.

4) WHO KNEW WHAT AND WHEN?

Worried about the row over horsemeat? Perhaps you should be - whether you're a member of the public or a member of the government. From the Times splash:

"The Government knew last summer that a sudden ban on cheap British beef and lamb meant it was 'inevitable' that unlawful meat would be imported from Europe.

"MPs will demand today that the food watchdog is given powers to order supermarkets to carry out safety tests after it failed to identify the use of horsemeat in ready meals for up to a year, despite a warning from a government minister last June.

"The Times can also reveal that tests at British abattoirs in the past two weeks have confirmed that eight out of 200 horses slaughtered were contaminated with the veterinary drug phenylbutazone (“bute”), which is banned from food."

5) EYE ON EASTLEIGH

Satirist, comedian and new Labour candidate in Eastleigh, John O'Farrell, comes under some scrutiny in today's papers - from the Daily Telegraph:

"Labour's candidate for the Eastleigh by–election once backed the idea of voting for the Liberal Democrats to keep out the Conservatives in a marginal seat – just like the one he is now contesting.

"... it has emerged that [O'Farrell] once advised his brother to vote Lib Dem in Richmond to keep out the Tories in 1997."

Whoops!

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6) ARE YOU LISTENING, MR PRESIDENT?

Whatever you think of Barack Obama, it is difficult to dispute that the US president has been a disaster for civil liberties. Remember, for instance, how he promised to shut down Gitmo? Well, he'll be reminded of his failure - and the human cost of it - later today. From the Huffington Post UK:

"A 20,000-strong petition will be presented to US President Barack Obama to urge the release of a British detainee at Guantanamo Bay who has been held at the camp for exactly 11 years.

"Shaker Aamer, 44, was taken to the notorious US detention centre on 14 February 2002 under suspicion of recruiting and financing terror group al Qaida.

"Aamer has never been charged or tried with an offence and remains detained despite the US authorities officially approving him for transfer in 2009."

(via Huffington Post UK)

7) DELHI DAVE

From the FT:

"The prime minister will take a delegation of British business leaders to Mumbai and New Delhi to exploit what he called "a special relationship" between the two countries, despite trade links having been strained."

Two points worth mentioning here: 1) Dave will be under pressure to explain to Indian authorities and the country's media why his government seems to be openly discriminating against university students from the subcontinent who want to study in the UK, and 2) it's a rather lopsided special relationship, given it's Cameron's second visit to India since becoming prime minister while his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, has not reciprocated with a visit to London and shows no signs of planning to do so.

8) NEED HELP?

From the Times:

"A mental health clinic is to be set up for MPs at Westminster to help the rising number of politicians who admit that they suffer depression and anxiety.

"Specialist treatment will be offered after officials approved funding of £25,000 a year. On Monday Parliament gave final approval to the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill, scrapping the law that says that MPs lose their seats if they have been sectioned for more than six months, as well as a rule allowing company directors to be removed because of mental illness."

9) UNGAGGED

The BBC's Today programme has this exclusive:

"A health service manager claims he was gagged by the NHS from speaking out about his dismissal and his concerns over patient safety.

"Gary Walker said he had no choice but to sign an agreement linked to a confidentiality clause in April 2011.

"He said it was a case of either signing the so-called 'super gag' agreement or losing his house.

"... It comes a week after Robert Francis QC, who led the public inquiry into the Stafford hospital scandal, demanded that such agreements should be 'banned'."

10) IT'S ALL IN THE MIND

Are all those speeches, debates, arguments, pamphlets, columns and manifestos a waste of time? Scientists now say that brain scans provide a better clue to our political allegiances than the party loyalties of our parents.

From the Daily Telegraph:

"Liberals and conservatives use different parts of their brain when they respond to risk, according to a team of British and American scientists. They were able to predict if people voted Democrat or Republican with 83 per cent accuracy just by studying their brain activity.

"Volunteers from the parties were asked to play a gambling game while their brains were scanned. Republicans and Democrats were no different in terms of the risks they took during the game, but there was a marked contrast in the way their brains dealt with risk–taking. Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, a brain region associated with social and self–awareness. Republicans had a more active right amygdala, a region involved in defensive "fight–or–flight" responses.

According to the study, brain activity in these two regions alone was enough to predict with pretty astonishing accuracy whether the participant was a Democrat or Republican.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42
Conservatives 32
Lib Dems 9
Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 114.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@damiangreenmp How modern media works. Keith Vaz demands to know why I am not in Commons. I get abuse on Twitter. Reason? My wife in hospital. Happy now?

‏@BorisWatch All sympathy to @damiangreenmp but some reflection on where this view that 'if you're not working you're shirking' came from might help?

@ChrisBryantMP Cracking qu by anas sarwar: when the pm's answers are analysed will they be found to be 100% bull?

900 WORDS OR MORE

Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Nick Clegg and his poor Lib Dems are having a nervous breakdown."

John O'Farrell, writing in the Guardian, explains: "Why I'm standing for Labour in the Eastleigh byelection."

Leo McKinstry, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "What's the point of a food safety quango that couldn't save us from eating stallion burgers?"


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