The ten things you need to know on Thursday 28 February 2013...
1) JUDGMENT DAY
Finally. It's all over. The Eastleigh by-election campaign, that is. Voting has begun in the constituency and the polls close at 10pm tonight, with the result expected in the early hours of Friday morning. My colleague Tom Moseley reports:
"Nick Clegg has predicted a 'great victory' for the Liberal Democrats in the critical Eastleigh by-election.
"Rallying supporters in the Hampshire town, the Deputy Prime Minister admitted the vote was 'one of the most exciting and closely contested by-elections' he could remember.
"...Pollsters said the Lib Dems retained a narrow lead, and said a shock win for UKIP "should not be entirely discounted."
"On Wednesday evening, Labrokes said the Lib Dems were 1/3 favourites, with the Tories at 4/1, UKIP 6/1 and Labour 100/1 outsiders."
If the Lib Dems lose Eastleigh, expect an instant Lib Dem leadership crisis. Then again, talking of potential leadership crises, the Telegraph leads with:
"Tories could finish third in Eastleigh"
And the Guardian reports:
"David Cameron's leadership will be in crisis if the Conservatives come third in the Eastleigh by-election behind the Liberal Democrats and Ukip, the prominent rightwing Tory David Davis has warned.
"... Davis said: 'I think if we came third it would be a crisis, I think that's the case, and if it's a close second with Ukip on our tail it will also be uncomfortable.'
"He insisted neither result would dislodge Cameron. 'He's going to be there till the next election, but the simple truth is that it will make things more uncomfortable in the House of Commons.'"
2) EU WINS, UK LOSES. GOOD.
The UK public doesn't like bankers. The UK public doesn't like the EU. So how will the UK public react to this news, via the BBC?
"European Union officials have struck a provisional deal on new financial rules, including capping bank bonuses.
"Under the agreement, bonuses will be capped at a year's salary, but can rise to two year's pay if there is explicit approval from shareholders.
"The deal was reached late on Wednesday. EU ministers must approve it, although this is considered a formality.
"The UK, which hosts Europe's biggest financial services centre, was opposed to any of caps on bank bonuses."
3) 'A VERY FINE MAN'
"Nick Clegg warned Lord Rennard four years ago to put a stop to his 'inappropriate' behaviour towards women, it emerged yesterday.
"Mr Clegg also conceded that the former Lib Dem chief executive was effectively forced out of his job over concerns about sexual impropriety, and not just ill health as was stated at the time."
However, the paper adds:
"Mr Clegg was dealt a further blow by claims that he was warned about the behaviour of another party member.
"The Spectator claims that a constituent of the Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock complained to the Deputy Prime Minister about him. The woman, named as Annie, claims she was sexually assaulted by Mr Hancock after approaching him over problems about her neighbours.
"Mr Hancock was arrested in 2010 over the allegations, which he vigorously denies, but the case was dropped because the Crown Prosecution Service found that there was no case to answer.
"In an attempt to get her concerns taken seriously, the woman wrote to the Lib Dem leader in March 2011, claiming that the MP 'cannot be trusted as a liability to women, public and your party'. She did not receive a reply."
Meanwhile, it isn't just Lib Dem blokes - like PPC Jasper Gerard or peer Lord Greaves - who are pooh-poohing the allegations against Lord Rennard - the party's former chief executive now has the support of a female 'grandee'. From the Times:
"Baroness Williams of Crosby said that the issue had been hopelessly exaggerated. 'Chris Rennard, in my view, is a very fine man,' she told the BBC.
“'The bad stuff is basically what happened with [Jimmy] Savile. It is abuse of children. It is abuse of young innocent women . . . don’t think anything that has been said about our chap is in the same league at all.'”
WTF? As blogger David Wearing tweeted this morning:
"First the NHS bill, now this. What is wrong with her?"
4) AUSTERITY WATCH, PART 224
What was it Einstein is supposed to have said about the definition of insanity being the act of doing the same thing twice and expecting different results?
From the Guardian:
"David Cameron pledged to go 'further and faster' in reducing the deficit after the UK was stripped of its coveted AAA credit rating.
"The prime minister insisted that the one notch cut to the debt rating was a reason to press ahead with balancing the public finances, despite claims by the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, that the UK now had a 'downgraded government, a downgraded chancellor and a downgraded prime minister'.
"Speaking at prime minister's questions, Cameron said: 'I'm the one saying this credit rating does matter, and it demonstrates that we have to go further and faster on reducing the deficit.'
"The heated exchanges in parliament... came after official figures reaffirmed that the economy had contracted by 0.3% in the final quarter of 2012.
"Some economists pointed to upward revisions of previous quarters that showed that on some measures – excluding the impact of the volatile oil business – the economy escaped a double-dip recession following an uprating to 0% in the first quarter of 2012.
"However, the economy only grew by 0.3% year-on-year, despite the boost from the Olympics."
They key point is this: whether we're in a technical recession or not is irrelevant. The fact is we're not growing, we're stagnating; we're not on the verge of a Japan-style 'lost decade', we're several years into it...
5) 'SECRET WAR ON ENEMY WITHIN'
That's the splash headline on the front of the Independent - in a shocking and exclusive report, the paper reveals:
"The Government has secretly ramped up a controversial programme that strips people of their British citizenship on national security grounds – with two of the men subsequently killed by American drone attacks.
"An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for The Independent has established that since 2010, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has revoked the passports of 16 individuals, many of whom are alleged to have had links to militant or terrorist groups.
"Critics of the programme warn that it allows ministers to 'wash their hands' of British nationals suspected of terrorism who could be subject to torture and illegal detention abroad.
"They add that it also allows those stripped of their citizenship to be killed or 'rendered' without any onus on the British Government to intervene."
Memo to Lib Dems: didn't you say that this coalition government of yours would restore the respect for civil liberties and human rights lost during the New Labour years?
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of a bulldog trying to catch a balloon.
6) SQUEEZING THE MIDDLE, PART 77
From the BBC:
"More than 40% of councils in England are planning to increase council tax this year, according to a survey.
This is despite local authorities being offered money by the government to freeze bills."
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports:
"Local authorities have conceded that up to 84% of people on low incomes will refuse to pay council tax after being caught in the net by benefit changes this April, and admit there is little they can do about it.
"Ministers have cut the support for means-tested council tax benefit by £500m, and told local authorities to decide where the axe should fall. The result is that 326 town halls in England have put forward 'local' council tax schemes - with residents in neighbouring regions facing wildly different penalties.
"... In Harlow, Essex, the local authority expects to collect the new council tax from just 800 of the 5,000 poor households supposed to be paying it for the first time this year... In the Kent borough of Gravesham the council estimates 70% of the proposed tax will not be paid."
Poll Tax II, anyone?
7) 'TWO CLOWNS'
"Italy’s President last night abruptly cancelled a scheduled dinner with the German opposition’s candidate for Chancellor after he described the outcome of Italy’s election as a victory for 'two clowns.'
"The row further inflamed relations between the two Eurozone partners in the wake of Italian voters’ resounding rejection this week of German-backed austerity policies.
"...'I am horrified that two clowns won the election,' Mr Steinbrück, who is trailing Mrs Merkel by 10 points in the polls, said before a rally in Potsdam.
"The former German finance minister described Mr Grillo as a 'professional clown with nothing against being called that' but also ridiculed Mr Berlusconi as 'a clown with a particular testosterone surge'."
8) 'I WAS AN ACCIDENT WAITING TO HAPPEN'
Damien McBride, Gordon Brown's controversial former spin doctor, who had to resign from government over his involvement in a planned smear campaign against top Tories, turned up to testify in front of a panel of MPs yesterday. My colleague Ned Simons reports:
"Giving evidence to the Commons public administration committee on Wednesday morning, McBride admitted: 'It was a bit of accident waiting to happen that I would get myself in that kind of problem.'
"... McBride, who now works as head of media and PR for charity CAFOD and writes a must read blog detailing his time in government, said his life had been 'totally overtaken' by his work for Brown."
"'I was at funerals and I would take phone calls from the press, I would be cooking Christmas lunch and be taking calls from Gordon Brown, it was all consuming,' he said. 'I didn’t have much a life outside of it.'"
9) GIVE IT TO CHARITY
"A new press regulator would be better protected from political interference if it were overseen by a body established by a charitable trust, according to a leading constitutional lawyer.
"Lord Pannick, QC, warned that David Cameron’s plan to underpin the system with a royal charter would 'confer considerable power on ministers' and risked political interference."
10) 'SCRAPING THE BARREL'
It's all very well coming to PMQs with pre-prepared questions, gags ad one-liners but you also have to be able to think on your feet. Yesterday, Ed Miliband showed himself to be utterly unable to do so.
From the Guardian:
"Reading from the article on 20 February by Anthony Seldon, the author of Brown at 10, the prime minister said: "Let's examine the fact that the New Statesman, the in-house magazine of the Labour party, says this: 'His critique of the government strategy will never win back public trust, his proposals for the economy will never convince, his credibility problem will only become magnified as the general election approaches.'"
"He added: 'That's not Conservative Central Office. That is the New Statesman.'"
Simon Hoggart, the paper's sketchwriter, picks up the story:
"Miliband's response was weird. He could have said: 'Blimey, if you think that's bad, you should read what the Spectator has had to say about him! And the Daily Telegraph!' Or he could have pointed out that the article was written by a public school headmaster, Anthony Seldon. Instead he said, 'you are scraping the bottom of the barrel by quoting that!' - to a massive intake of breath reminiscent of a whale burping and giving Cameron the opportunity to point out that the Statesman was the only paper that had endorsed his leadership bid."
I suspect the Labour leader may come to regret that line as I'm guessing that my former colleagues at NS Towers will take some sort of revenge on him in next week's issue. Silly Ed...
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 11
That would give Labour a majority of 114.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@JohnMannMP As Mr Clegg has never investigated sex scandal allegations, how can Shirley Williams claim they are grossly exaggerated?
@iainmartin1 After #PMQs bet Mili E is in his office now writing nice note to New Stateman editor.
@davidschneider Bedroom tax. Why punish an elderly couple living off the state whose kids have moved out so they have spare bedrooms? Leave the Queen alone.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, says: "Everyone's a winner if the Lib Dems win Eastleigh."
Suzanne Moore, writing in the Guardian, says: "Abuse can only happen with the unspoken agreement that it will be covered up."
Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Ed Miliband should sack Ed Balls - and as brutally as possible."
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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