The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 27 February 2013...
1) 'SHALL WE LEAVE IT AT THAT?'
The Rennard affair rumbles on - with more and more seemingly contradictory statements being issued by the various Lib Dem players. Consider this story on the front of the Telegraph:
"Nick Clegg was personally warned by one of his MPs that a senior figure in the Liberal Democrats might be sexually molesting female members of staff, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
"Sandra Gidley, a former MP and party spokesman, said she told Mr Clegg about the allegations surrounding Lord Rennard, the party's former chief executive, after he was elected as Lib Dem leader in 2007.
"... Asked by The Daily Telegraph whether she told Mr Clegg 'face–to–face' about the allegations concerning Lord Rennard, she said: 'Yes, that is true but at this point I don't want to go any further. I am hoping his memory might be jogged. Shall we leave it at that?'"
Well, um, er, no. Especially since Clegg and Danny Alexander have both claimed that the latter once confronted Rennard over those 'general' allegations while Rennard himself issued a statement yesterday, via a spokesperson, saying "in 27 years of working for the Liberal Democrats he received no complaint or allegation about his behaviour".
As my colleague Ned Simons notes, they can't both be right, can they?
(On a side note, Ned also tried tracking down the seven female Lib Dem MPs to ask them why they've been so conspicuously silent on the Rennard allegations... check out what he discovered here.)
2) GOING NEGATIVE
Who says policy-makers are running out of ideas to prompt a much-needed economic recovery? From the Express:
"Interest rates could be slashed to below zero to kick–start Britain's economy, the Bank of England's Deputy Governor has suggested.
"Paul Tucker admitted his idea was 'extraordinary' but said radical steps were needed to encourage banks to lend more.
"If rates went below zero, in effect becoming negative, the main financial institutions would have to pay the Bank of England a fee for holding their money.
"It is thought this would force banks to lend more cash to small businesses, a move which many believe holds the key to getting the economy moving again."
3) WINDFALL TAX?
Given the size of the budget deficit, and the shortfall in tax revenues, how about a 1997-style windfall tax on the utilities?
This morning, the BBC reports:
"British Gas has said its profits have risen because a colder 2012 meant people used more gas.
"It reported profits from residential energy supply of £606m for 2012, up 11% from the previous year.
"... Centrica, which owns British Gas, reported an adjusted operating profit of £2.7bn for 2012, up 14% from 2011."
4) WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, PART 99
"Barclays to reveal that it employs more than 600 millionaires," says the headline in the Independent.
Bonus tax, anyone? The paper reports:
"Next week, the bank will - for the first time - put an exact figure on the number of staff who enjoy seven-figure salaries made up of basic pay, an annual bonus and shares issued through long-term incentive plans. It is understood that this number will be "around" 600 with most of them believed to work for Barclays Investment Bank, which is currently run by the flamboyant racehorse owner Rich Ricci, who will be among their number."
If I was a banker, I wouldn't want to be named Rich Ricci...
5) EYE ON EASTLEIGH
The Eastleigh by-election campaign enters its final day (woo-hoo!), with all four parties in the race making one last, concerted push for votes.
But the Guardian's John Harris, reporting from Eastleigh, concludes:
"For everybody's sake, it is perhaps time that all this was over. Back in the town centre, I seek peace and quiet in the obligatory branch of Costa Coffee. One of the baristas has spent the last three weeks serving endless politicians, aides and activists. 'Hundreds of them,' she says. 'And I'm sick of it.' Like other locals, she mentions cold calls, piles of leaflets and in-person visits. 'I don't bother answering the door any more,' she says, as another canvassing team trudges in for coffee. 'I can't be arsed.'"
Meanwhile, his Guardian colleague Steve Morris reports that, during a walkabout in Eastleigh yesterday, former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown "was heckled by one former Lib Dem voter, library worker Jayne Perkins, who shouted at the Lib Dem entourage: 'Thank you so much for lying to the people of Eastleigh.'"
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this mash-up video - 'Argo' meets 'Home Alone'. Hilarious...
6) 'ILL INFORMED'
From the BBC:
"Ofsted's chief inspector says he wants some school governors in England to be paid and to provide more professional leadership.
"Sir Michael Wilshaw is to launch an online at-a-glance report card for each school, which he wants governors to use to hold head teachers to account.
"He is also set to attack governors who are 'ill-informed' and 'not able to make good decisions'."
7) HELP! THE ROMANIANS ARE COMING!!
Anti-immigration campaigners will be delighted by this report in the Telegraph:
"Up to one in three Romanian migrants has been arrested, according to figures which show the country is ranked second for foreigners held over serious offences.
"Some 27,725 Romanians were arrested for offences in London in five years, Scotland Yard said, including 10 for murder and more than 140 for rape. The figures, published under the Freedom of Information Act, will add to fears of a crime wave when restrictions on workers from Romania and Bulgaria are lifted next January.
"Romanians were second only to Poles, who accounted for 34,905 arrests."
From the Telegraph:
"Several Cabinet ministers privately believe that Sir David Nicholson should stand aside as the head of the NHS because of the Mid Staffordshire scandal, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
"One Cabinet minister said Sir David’s position was 'completely unacceptable' and symbolised how the Civil Service did not penalise failure.
"Several ministers are understood to have raised 'very serious concerns' about Sir David but the Prime Minister has been advised by the head of the Civil Service that the NHS would be destabilised by his removal."
9) HE'S GAY. OH WAIT. HE ISN'T.
From the Daily Mail:
"John Bercow was left squirming with embarrassment after mistakenly describing former England rugby star Ben Cohen as 'openly gay'.
"The Commons Speaker made the slip-up as he introduced Cohen to a room full of guests at ParliOut, Parliament's gay staff network.
"Cohen, 34, is happily married to Abigail and they have five-year-old twin daughters."
10) TWO POPES?
The Vatican seems to be taking a leaf out of the US political playbook - in the United States, former presidents, governors and senators get to keep their titles for life (hence 'Mr President' in reference to Bill Clinton and George W Bush, even now...).
And now, as the Telegraph reports:
"Pope Benedict XVI will continue to wear a white cassock and will be known as 'Pope Emeritus', adding further confusion to his status after he steps down tomorrow. The 85–year–old German Pontiff will continue to be addressed as 'His Holiness' after he goes into retirement within the Vatican, the same honorific the new pope will enjoy."
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 12
That would give Labour a majority of 112.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@BBCJLandale Tory MP to me: "Only the Liberals could have a sex scandal that doesn't involve sex and turn it into a leadership crisis."
@simonblackwell If Nick Clegg's not careful he might begin to be seen as in some way untrustworthy.
@ChrisBryantMP Argo is great despite the lie about British refusal to accept six US diplomats.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Danny Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "The Lib Dems are not a serious national party."
Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "If Nick Clegg’s story won’t stand up, the Lord Rennard scandal could finish him."
Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "George Osborne hasn't just failed – this is an economic disaster."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (email@example.com) or Ned Simons (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol