The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 26 February 2013...
1) YARD MOVES ON RENNARD
Scotland Yard is investigating "whether or not criminal activity has taken place" following allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards women by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard, as a poll shows the party has plunged to its lowest ever poll rating.
The scandal that dominated yesterday’s front pages shows no signs of dissipating as Lord Rennard continues to deny the claims made against him.
Some senior Lib Dems are playing a messy game of ‘who knew what, when’ in public while others are remaining notably quiet – particularly the seven female Lib Dem MPs.
As well as news of the police investigation, the Daily Telegraph has details of a new twist. According to the paper, Helen Jardine-Brown, a former head of fund-raising, lost her job in the party and was given a pay off in exchange for keeping quiet about allegations that Lord Rennard harassed her.
The paper is also going after Jonny Oates, Clegg’s chief of staff, who it says was given details of five allegations of harassment back in 2010. It says that Oates would not have been able to deny the allegations as he did without first having spoken to Clegg – undermining the Lib Dem leader’s claims to not have heard specific” allegations until last week
Last night deputy leader Simon Hughes distanced himself and the party from parliamentary candidate and Clegg biographer Jasper Gerard who took to the BBC’s World at One programme to defend Rennard and dismiss the seriousness of the allegations. Gerard said: "We are still now going on about whether somebody put his hand or didn't put his hand on somebody's knee. This isn't a Jimmy Savile case revisited.”
Others are taking it more seriously. Lib Dem Baroness Hussein-Ece told HuffPost she believed "quite a few" more women "will come out of the woodwork" to make accusations.
Her party, she said, is too "male dominated" and the "culture has to change". She added: "The [male dominated] culture allows for these things to happen. There are aren’t sufficient checks and balances in place; there isn’t a sufficient number of high-ranking women in place to curb some of this behaviour."
There has also been notable silence from several other senior Lib Dems including former leaders Charles Kennedy and Sir Ming Campbell.
All this with just a few days to go until the must win Eastleigh by-election. This morning the Independent leads on a ComRes poll that puts the Lib Dems in fourth place behind the UK Independence Party nationally. The Liberal Democrats are on just eight per cent, down two points on last month, while Ukip is on nine per cent (down one point).
Today's Memo is edited by Ned Simons as Mehdi Hasan is doing a verbal version of this on the radio.
2) FARAGE ON EASTLEIGH
Speaking of Eastleigh and Ukip. Nigel Farage appears increasingly confident about his party’s chances. Writing on The Huffington Post today the Ukip leader says: “I put £100 on Ukip last Friday, at odds of 25-1, and I am pleased to say we are running well. Maybe Eastleigh will be the by election where Ukip makes history. I really hope so. Ukip are picking up support across the spectrum. Only a third comes from former Tory voters, the rest we are harvesting from Labour, Lib Dems and most promisingly, from people who haven't voted in years.”
The ComRes poll may be tough reading for Nick Clegg. But a new Eastleigh poll from Lord Ashcroft will be a relief. It puts the Lib Dems ahead on 33%, the Tories on 28%, Ukip third on 21% and Labour in fourth on 12%.
3) CARNEY IS COMING
The Bank of England’s incoming Canadian governor has issued a warning to the City in advance of his landing. HuffPost Canada reports on a speech Mark Carney gave in London (not our London, the Canadian one in Ontario) in which he said: "To restore trust in banks and in the broader financial system, global financial institutions need to rediscover their values.
"For companies this responsibility begins with their boards and senior management. They need to define clearly the purpose of their organizations and promote a culture of ethical business throughout them.''
4) ARCHBISHOP BASHES THE BANKS'
No not that Archbishop. The CofE one, not the recently resigned Catholic one, tackled George Osborne at the parliamentary banking standards commission yesterday, accusing him of lacking the political will to break up the big banks.
Justin Welby said the evidence they had received made clear that large, complex banks were not only "too big to fail, they are too big to manage". Osborne insisted such a drastic solution was not possible in a highly inter-connected global economy.
"I don't think it would be possible to create in Britain a world where we just had a lot of small banks. We live in a highly connected global economy," he said.
5) ITALY GRIDLOCK
ROME — Italy faced political paralysis as results in crucial national elections showed no clear winner and raised the possibility of a hung parliament. The uncertainty bodes ill for the nation's efforts to pass the tough reforms it needs to snuff out its economic crisis and prevent a new round of global financial turmoil.
The chaotic election scenes in the eurozone's third-biggest economy quickly snaked around globe – sending the Dow Jones index plunging more than 200 points in its sharpest drop since November and causing Tokyo's red-hot benchmark index to sink nearly 2 percent at open.
A major factor in the murky result was the astonishing vote haul of comic-turned-political leader Beppe Grillo, whose 5 Star Movement has capitalized on a wave of voter disgust with the ruling political class.
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR: Seth MacFarlane's Oscar Jokes: Hilarious, Offensive Or Just Plain Bad?
6) A DOWNGRADED CHANCELLOR?
Moody’s decision to downgrade the UK’s credit rating actually proves George Osborne’s austerity plan is working. At least that is what the chancellor boldly told the Commons yesterday. He insisted that while the credit rating blow wasn’t actually the humiliation he once warned it would be, he couldn’t change course incase it was downgraded again. Which would be bad. But wouldn’t really matter. Or something. Whatever he was saying Matthew Hancock was utterly mesmerised.
Osborne blamed Ed Balls. Ed Balls blamed the “downgraded chancellor”. The ever loyal Claire Perry chipped into remind the House that two other ratings agencies still had the UK as AAA, which wasn’t perhaps has helpful as she first though. No doubt they will immediately downgrade us to DOH!
7) SEND IN THE REDCOATS
John Kerry has said the United States takes "no position" on whether the Falkland Islands belong to Britain or Argentina, ahead of a referendum on the disputed territory. Which is essentially the same thing as him declaring war on the UK. But then he did get lost in London zoo once, so we could always launch a sneak attack on the State Department while he is hiding from the penguins.
8) AUSTERITY OVER THERE
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Monday said looming automatic spending cuts are already affecting the economy, while a top administration official warned that the nation's borders would be less secure if billions of dollars are yanked from the budget Friday.
"The uncertainty is already having an effect," Obama said. "Companies are preparing layoff notices. Families are preparing to cut back on expenses. The longer these cuts are in place, the bigger the impact will become."
Despite the urgent rhetoric, there was no indication the White House and congressional Republicans were actively negotiating a deal to avoid the so-called sequester ahead of the end of the week deadline. The last known conversation between Obama and GOP leaders was last week and there have been no in-person meetings between the parties this year.
9) £50M MISTAKE
Civil servant failures over the West Coast rail contract will cost taxpayers "at least £50 million", a report by MPs said today. There was a lack of leadership at the Department for Transport (DfT) and a failure to "get basic processes right" over the West Coast fiasco, the report from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said.
MPs said they were concerned that these basic mistakes could be repeated in future projects such as the London to Birmingham high-speed HS2 scheme and the London Thameslink project.
10) CAMERON TARGETS MIGRANTS
David Cameron has signalled that the Government is preparing to curb access to legal aid for foreigners in civil cases.
The Prime Minister told the Daily Express that he had asked Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to develop a "residency test" to ensure migrants did not get automatic access to legal aid for cases in the civil courts.
"One of the aspects that we are reaching fairly early conclusion on is that we can no longer grant legal aid to non-UK nationals or for civil cases, people who are facing housing cases or benefit cases," he said. "We need a proper residency test for those cases and we're going to consult on introducing one.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@Mike_Fabricant The Sorry I Haven't a Clue team would probably win an election in Brussels.
@robindbrant lib dems parliamentray party meeting later. officials meeting with met police over rennard allegations. david ward sit down too. busy nick.
@PickardJE Let's face it: it's not the first time the Italians have voted en masse for a comedian
900 WORDS OR MORE
Rafael Behr in the New Statesman: "Coalition was meant to be a journey to political maturity and professionalism. But it's amateur hour yet again."
Steve Richards in the Independent: "The Lord Rennard scandal marks the moment the Lib Dems discovered they are on the big stage."
Polly Toynbee in the Guardian: "While austerity rages on, the town's already disillusioned voters are being offered merely sordid spectacle."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ned Simons (email@example.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol
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