POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Nick Is Safe. Dave Isn't.

01/03/2013 08:03 GMT | Updated 01/03/2013 08:06 GMT

The five things you need to know on Friday 1 March 2013...

1) NICK IS SAFE. DAVE ISN'T.

What does it take to beat the Lib Dems in Eastleigh? As my colleague Ned Simons (who stayed up till 2am while I went to bed) notes:

"The incumbent resigned and faces jail, the party's national poll rating is in the gutter and the week leading up to Thursday's vote was dominated by an alleged cover-up of a sex-scandal, but Nick Clegg's has still managed to swing a win in Eastleigh.

"Mike Thornton, a local Lib Dem councillor, was elected with 13,342 votes to replace Chris Huhne in parliament, a majority of 1,771. But the story of the night was who came second. Ukip candidate Diane James secured 11,571 votes, beating Tory Maria Hutchings into third place on 10,559, the result of David Cameron’s nightmares."

So what's the top line out of the much-awaited Eastleigh by-election? Nick is safe, Dave isn't. Ned points out that a "surge in support for Ukip, charted by the party’s leader Nigel Farage in a series of blog posts on The Huffington Post UK during the last days of the campaign, will lead many Tory MPs to question Cameron’s ability to deliver a majority in 2015".

"Eastleigh by-election leaves the Tories at a crossroads," says the headline in the Telegraph. The paper's Robert Winnett writes:

"When David Cameron pledged to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership earlier this year, the strategy was simple. He wanted to head off the growing threat from Ukip and shore up the restless Conservative backbenchers.

"Last night came the first signal that the strategy may have failed. Far from being neutered – the Ukip surge accelerated."

Remember what Cameron's former rival for the Tory leadership, rightwinger David Davis MP, told the BBC on Wednesday? "I think if we came third it would be a crisis." Uh-oh. Crisis it is, then. Good luck Dave.

Labour's John O'Farrell, meanwhile, put just 0.2% on the party's 2010 vote share but I doubt the party's high command will be too bothered. The Ukip factor means all eyes are on Cameron, not Miliband, and, to be fair to the opposition, Eastleigh is 258th on Labour's target seat list for 2015. Still, 'One Nation' Labour has much work to do in the south of the country.

Here's a question: is Nigel Farage celebrating or kicking himself this morning? Would Ukip have won its first seat in parliament had the party's populist, media-friendly leader stood in Eastleigh, rather than the unknown Diane James? Either way, however, it's Ukip's best ever result in a Westminster election. Despite the party's odd and offensive views on a number of issues, it isn't going anywhere, anytime soon...

Note: Due to a technical issue, today's Memo has five, not ten, things you need to know. Normal service will resume on Sunday morning.

2) THE POLICE TELL THE LIB DEMS TO GO JUMP

Eastleigh's over but Rennardgate isn't. From the Times:

"Scotland Yard has told the Liberal Democrats that it will not be drawn into the party’s internal management and misconduct problems over claims of sexual harassment against Lord Rennard.

"The police decision came as David Cameron added to the pressure on Nick Clegg when he declined to confirm his confidence in the way his Deputy Prime Minister was handling the allegations.

"A handful of women have contacted a telephone number set up by the Metropolitan Police for anyone with information about the allegations surrounding Lord Rennard, the former Lib Dem chief executive."

The damage, however, has been done. Even Paddy Ashdown agrees. Kinda. From the Guardian:

"The former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown has admitted his party is suffering the 'excruciating' pain of being found wanting in its support for women's rights.

"... Writing in the Guardian, Ashdown said the party has suffered a perfect storm in which the rightwing press has held all the thunderbolts, but he urged Lib Dems not to panic under fire.

"'Even if we had achieved presentational perfection in the face of the most ravenous media feeding frenzy I have ever experienced as a Lib Dem in 40 years of politics, it would have made no more than the merest scrap of difference to the outcome,' Ashdown writes. Rennard was director of Lib Dem campaigns under Ashdown and later the party's chief executive."

3) DON'T MENTION THE WAR!

The foreign secretary, it seems, has been doing his best impression of Basil Fawlty:

"William Hague has provoked a bitter row within the coalition by privately writing to other members of the cabinet urging them not to discuss the case for or legality of the Iraq war in the runup to the 10th anniversary of the invasion later this month, the Guardian can reveal.

"In a confidential letter, the foreign secretary told senior members of the government they should not be drawn on the controversial issues that drew the UK into a politically divisive conflict that led to the death of almost 200 British troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

"But the instruction from Hague last week has infuriated Liberal Democrat ministers within the government, who intend to defy the edict.

"... Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, is expected to make a speech about Iraq before the anniversary on 19 March.

Forget the Lib Dems, though, don't Tories know they can't gag the (antiwar) Ken Clarke?

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a 'Pug Snow Sledding Video'.

4) 'DOCTORS DON'T TRUST THEIR OWN HOSPITALS'

That's the splash headline on the front of the Telegraph:

"Up to two-thirds of doctors and nurses at some hospitals would not recommend that their family and friends are treated where they work, internal NHS figures disclose on Friday.

"Staff at North Cumbria University Hospitals and United Lincolnshire Hospitals are the least likely to recommend treatment, according to figures that are being scrutinised closely by ministers.

"Less than 40 per cent of those employed at the trusts, both of which have relatively high death rates, would recommend the treatment available, compared with more than 90 per cent of staff at the top-rated hospitals.

"Nationally, almost 40 per cent of NHS staff would not recommend the treatment available at their hospitals to their friends and family."

The Times splashes on the same story: "Doctors and nurses shun their own hospitals."

5) IPSA OR SOAB?

There are plenty of backbenchers on all sides of the House who cannot stand the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority but Tory MP Karl McCarthney (Lincoln) may have taken things a little too far - from the Telegraph:

"A Conservative MP has been rebuked by the Commons expenses watchdog for writing “abusive and offensive” messages to its staff.

"Backbencher Karl McCartney was accused of adding notes to claims, telling one official they were 'talking s****', and condemning another as a 'pedantic SOAB', which is used by some as internet slang for 'son of a b****'.

"The criticism came after Mr McCartney claimed he was the victim of “bullying tactics” by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa)."

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"I wanted the American public to know that not everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan was a target that needed to be engaged and neutralised." - US whistleblower Bradley Manning, as reported on the front of today's Independent.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42

Conservatives 29

Lib Dems 12

Ukip 11

That would give Labour a majority of 118.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@DAlexanderMP "@BBCNormanS: Team Cameron flag up that no Govt party has won by election since Mrs T in Falklands in 82 #Eastleigh" < er..I won in Nov '97.

@MichaelLCrick Conservative Maria hutchings left #Eastleigh amid media scrum and said not one word

@DanHannanMEP Look on the bright side. The #Eastleigh result has probably sentenced the Lib Dems to two more years of Nick Clegg as leader.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, says: "With this student visa policy, Cameron is throttling our cultural exports."

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "Eastleigh’s lesson is that no party can win on its own. But the coalition could see off Labour’s deficit deniers."

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Britain is stuck, so the Chancellor should take a lesson in tax reform from a Nordic hero."

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