Mehdi's Morning Memo: Does The Work Programme, Er, Work?

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IAIN DUNCAN SMITH
PA

The ten things you need to know on Friday 22 February 2013...

1) DOES THE WORK PROGRAMME, ER, WORK?

The Public Accounts Committee strikes again! As my colleague Ned Simons reports:

"More unemployed people would have found jobs since 2010 if the government's high-profile, multi-billion pound Work Programme had never been invented, according to an influential committee of MPs.

"... Labour MP Margaret Hodge, the chair of the committee, told The Huffington Post UK that the Department for Work and Pensions had failed to meet any of its targets and that the £400m spent in the programme's first 14 months had been wasted.

"If they [had] completely ditched the whole programme more people would have got into work," she said. "If there were no programme, you would expect better outcomes."

"... The programme was introduced in June 2011, at an estimated cost of between £3bn and £5bn over five years, but the PAC said the performance in the first year or so fell 'well short' of expectations."

So, after a workfare programme that isn't quite legal, a work programme that doesn't, er, work. Another victory for the cool and calm Iain Duncan Smith, eh?

NOTE: Today's Memo is back in the hands of me, Mehdi Hasan, with Ned Simons, having done a sterling job while I was away, now back in bed having his daily lie-in.

2) DID LIB DEMS COVER UP SEXUAL HARASSMENT?

More bad news for the Lib Dems. From the Daily Mail:

"The Liberal Democrats have been accused of covering up complaints of sexual harassment involving one of the party's most powerful former officials.

"Women activists claimed that Lord Rennard, the party's ex-chief executive and election mastermind, propositioned them and touched them inappropriately.

"Senior figures in the party had been warned about the complaints but the women involved said they did not act. Lord Rennard has denied he behaved inappropriately towards the women."

The allegations were revealed by Channel 4 News last night. In an official statement, the Lib Dems said: 'In view of the serious allegations put to us by Channel 4 and the concerns raised about how such issues have been handled in the past, Nick Clegg has asked Tim Farron, the party president, to establish an immediate review into all our procedures for dealing with these issues, including a thorough examination of how allegations made in the past have been handled."

The Independent reports that one of the women at the centre of the allegations, Alison Smith, "went to Jo Swinson, the party's spokesperson for women and equality, who is now Minister for Women... But Ms Swinson told Ms Smith the problem with taking it forward was that nobody wanted to make a formal complaint."

The minister for women may now have some pretty serious questions to answer...

3) UP THE AUNTIE

The Tories - from the prime minister downwards - aren't happy with the Beeb. From the Huffington Post UK:

"David Cameron has attacked the BBC for behaving 'badly and stupidly' after it suggested Tory by-election candidate Maria Hutchings had dodged a 5 Live radio debate."

Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports, on its front page, that "Lord McAlpine, the former Conservative party treasurer, has accused the BBC of behaving like the 'secret service' by censoring criticism of senior executives over the Jimmy Savile scandal.

"More than 3,000 pages of witness statements will be published today after an inquiry chaired by Nick Pollard, the former head of Sky News, into why a Newsnight investigation into Savile's paedophile past was shelved.

"However, the BBC has redacted over 90 pages of evidence in which staff, including Jeremy Paxman, the Newsnight presenter, are highly critical of senior executives."

Then there's the Tory at the top of the Beeb -the Independent splashes on "Lord Patten under fire as 'dysfunctional' BBC faces Savile report".

4) SQUEEZING THE MIDDLE, PART 45

From the Times splash:

"Motorists face unprecedented financial pain as petrol prices are driven to their highest-ever levels by market speculation and the sliding pound. The cost of filling a family car has already gone up £3.12 this year and petrol is expected to rise by at least another 3p per litre before Easter when higher wholesale prices work through to the pump. The increase has raised the pressure on George Osborne as campaigners urge him to use the Budget on March 20 to cancel a duty increase planned for September 1 and to begin cutting the Treasury’s tax take."

5) 'INFLAMMATORY RHETORIC

Pity the poor Romanian ambassador. He's had to state the obvious.

From the Telegraph:

"The risk of racist attacks on eastern Europeans in Britain is rising because of 'inflammatory rhetoric' from politicians, Romania’s ambassador to London warns today.

"Writing on The Daily Telegraph’s website, Mr Jinga criticised 'emotional approaches to this issue' which he said were 'counter-productive'.

"... Mr Jinga cited a recent case in Brighton, when two men in their 20s were attacked after they were overheard speaking Romanian while they were waiting for a bus.

"The pair were questioned about their nationality, and then called '******* East Europeans' before they were punched, chased and then kicked. Sussex police has said the attack was racially aggravated."

Careless talk, as they say, costs lives. It's something Fleet Street's finest never seem to comprehend when writing on race and immigration issues...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video, via BuzzFeed, of an epic battle between a cat and a DVD player. There can only be one winner.

6) AUSTERITY WATCH, PART 336

More bad news for the chancellor. Oh, and for the rest of us. From the Guardian's front page:

"George Osborne will be forced into an embarrassing climbdown over next month's budget by having to admit that borrowing this year will go up, not down, according to his own independent tax and spending watchdog.

"Less than three months after the chancellor insisted in his autumn statement that the government's austerity programme would ensure the budget deficit fell every year, the Office for Budget Responsibility signalled that lower tax receipts and higher spending meant it was unlikely that the borrowing forecasts would be met."

The words 'hoist' and 'petard' come to mind...

7) TERROR AND TRUST

How depressing. The mugshots of three, bearded, British-Pakistani men appear on the front page of the Mirror. The splash headline? "We'll kill more than 7/7 bombers."

The paper reports: "Three British-born terrorists face life behind bars for plotting a UK bomb blitz deadlier than 7/7. Fanatical Irfan Naseer, 31, Irfan Khalid, 27, and Ashik Ali, 27, all from Birmingham, were foiled by MI5 as they planned the nation's worst atrocity - involving up to eight rucksack nail bombs."

What a depraved bunch of individuals...

Perhaps more worryingly, the Times reports, on its front page:

"Activities of Irfan Naseer and his co-conspirators were widely known in the Sparkhill area of Birmingham but no one contacted police or other agencies. Instead the Muslim community dealt with the problem itself — threatening Naseer and ordering him to recall four young men he had sent for suicide bomber training in Pakistan.

"The failure to call police occurred despite the Home Office spending hundreds of millions of pounds on the Prevent strategy, which tries to combat the al-Qaeda ideology by engaging with Muslim communities."

Hearts and minds, it seems, remain un-won in some sections of the British Muslim community.

8) 'HIDE UNDER THICK TREES'

It's not quite a Men's Health magazine-style '6 tips for flat abs' but it's an, ahem, interesting 'list', nonetheless - from the Telegraph:

"An Al Qaeda list of 22 tips for dodging drone attacks – including at least one believed to have originated from Osama bin Laden – has been found in a document abandoned by fleeing Islamists in Timbuktu.

"The list includes advice such as 'hide under thick trees', and instructions for setting up a 'fake gathering' using dolls to 'mislead the enemy'. It is believed to have been left behind as extremists fled from the French military intervention in Mali last month.

"Some of the tips are far–fetched, but overall they suggest the Islamists in Mali are responding to the threat of drones with common–sense precautions."

9) TAXING TIMES

From the Mail's splash:

"Revenue chiefs are naming and shaming tax dodging small firms while multinationals avoid paying billions.

"Nine ordinary business people, including a hairdresser and a coach operator, were listed by HMRC as part of a scheme to highlight deliberate defaulters.

"... But MPs and tax experts last night criticised the plan for targeting ordinary individuals while doing nothing to uncover tax avoidance among big companies such as Starbucks, Amazon and Google."

10) SHOOT RIOTERS - WITH PAINT BALLS!

Some words of wisdom from the Tory PPC in Eastleigh - from HuffPost UK:

"Tory by-election candidate Maria Hutchings has stood by her comments that people who riot should be shot with paintball guns.

"During the London riots in 2011, Hutchings said police should be issued with weapons allowing them to mark looters with paint.

"According to the Daily Echo a press aide for Hutchings tried to shut down a conversation with one of its reporters when they asked the candidate about the comments. But Hutchings was eager to stand by her suggestion.

"She told the paper: 'Look, I’m a straight talker. For people who go out and riot why isn’t a common sense approach to be able to target them by firing paint or whatever? Not into their eyes, but you know, they were the people doing it.'"

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 45
Conservatives 31
Ukip 11
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 130.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@janemerrick23 Am shocked at Lord Rennard allegations. Another LibDem tarnished by own (alleged) behaviour. Party needs more women, desperately

@MarkReckons I hope what I'm reading about how Paul Burstow and Jo Swinson handled the Rennard complaints is wrong.

@lisanandy Interviewed by young people in Wigan who just asked "what sort of transport was there when you were young?" Er, horse and cart? #feelinold

900 WORDS OR MORE

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, says: "The soap opera that is the Vicky Pryce trial shows the archaic rituals of our courts to be little more than legal parlour games."

David Lipsey, writing in the Times, says: "While there’s work, we’ll put up with low growth."

Paul Goodman, writing in the Telegraph, says: "The Eastleigh by-election is a horrible warning for the Tories."

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