The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 6 March 2013...
1) ADIOS, PRESIDENTE
'El Commandante' is gone. Headline-grabbing, larger-than-life president Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who famously called George W. Bush "the devil", died yesterday at the age of 58 after a two-year struggle with cancer. He served nearly 14 years in office, after winning four presidential elections in a row - and surviving a far-right coup attempt in the process.
He also had his own weekly TV show 'Alo Presidente' in which he sang and danced; his war on poverty made him a hero to the dispossessed of Venezuela. The government last night declared seven days of mourning for Chavez - but Rory Carroll, writing in the Guardian, says "historians and political partisans will spend decades debating... Chávez's legacy. He inspired adoration and revulsion at home and abroad, a polarisation that often blinkered both sides. There was Chávez the dictator who jailed opponents, sponsored terrorists and left his people hungry. And there was Chávez the hero who empowered the poor, deepened democracy and stood up to the US.
"The reality was more complex and fascinating. Chávez was a hybrid, a democrat and autocrat, a progressive and a bully. His 'Bolìvarian revolution', named after the 19th-century revolutionary Simón Bolìvar, embodied these contradictions. He created a personality cult, abolished term limits, curbed private media and put the armed forces, legislature, judiciary and state oil company, PDVSA, under his personal control. He turned a blind eye to Farc guerrilla camps near the Colombian border and hailed the likes of Mugabe, Gaddafi and Assad as brothers."
Carroll, the paper's former Latin America correspondent, points out that "the constitution mandates an election within 30 days, a speedy timetable that will pit Chávez's anointed heir, Maduro, against an opposition coalition that will struggle to organise in time. Its candidate is likely to be Henrique Capriles, a young state governor who waged a vigorous but doomed challenge against Chávez in last October's presidential election."
Jon Lee Anderson's piece on the New Yorker website is worth a read as well:
"What is left... after Chávez? A gaping hole for the millions of Venezuelans and other Latin Americans, mostly poor, who viewed him as a hero and a patron, someone who “cared” for them in a way that no political leader in Latin America in recent memory ever had. For them, now, there will be a despair and an anxiety that there really will be no one else like him to come along, not with as big a heart and as radical a spirit, for the foreseeable future. And they are probably right. But it’s also Chávism that has not yet delivered. Chávez’s anointed successor, Maduro, will undoubtedly try to carry on the revolution, but the country’s untended economic and social ills are mounting, and it seems likely that, in the not so distant future, any Venezuelan despair about their leader’s loss will extend to the unfinished revolution he left behind."
2) MILI, MIGRANTS AND THE MINIMUM WAGE
Oh dear. Time for another migration mea culpa from the Labour Party. My colleague Ned Simons reports:
"Ed Miliband will call for minimum wage rules to be more strictly enforced today as a method of cracking down on low-skilled immigration, after the government ramped up its rhetoric by warning of a Romanian and Bulgarian migrant 'crisis'.
"In a party political video set to be broadcast this evening, Miliband will say Labour 'got things wrong' while in government by failing to restrict immigration from eastern Europe during its time in power.
"'Low-skill migration has been too high and we need to bring it down,' he will say. 'That means the maximum transitional controls for new countries coming in from eastern Europe; it means properly enforcing the minimum wage so people aren’t brought here to undercut workers already here; and it means let’s give proper training to workers already here so that they have a fighting chance of filling the vacancies that exist.'"
The top line from the PPB will appeal to the likes of the Mail and the Express but senior Labour sources I've spoken to over the past 24 hours swear blind that this isn't a shift to the right on immigration - they say they're tackling an immigration 'pull' factor (i.e. low-paid jobs) in a progressive, responsible-capitalist way (i.e. enforcing the minimum wage and providing much-needed training to unemployed native workers).
Either way, Labour continues to fight the immigration battle on the right's terms - crackdowns, controls and costs. Not to mention 'apologies'...
[You can watch Miliband's PPB here.]
3) INQUIRING INTO THE IRAQ INQUIRY
Do you remember that song you used to sing as a kid? 'Why are we waiting...?' It's the tune that always comes to mind whenever I hear a a journalist mention the Iraq (or 'Chilcot') Inquiry - which commenced in July 2009 but isn't expected to report back till late 2013.
The Independent has a Chilcot 'exclusive' on its front page:
"The inquiry into how Tony Blair committed Britain to war in Iraq is set to challenge the official version of events when it reports later this year, The Independent understands. The team led by Sir John Chilcot, which is examining Britain's part in the US-led invasion, will "challenge previous accounts of what happened", according to senior sources in the inquiry.
"The prospect of a report which authoritatively confronts the established narrative from 2002 and 2003... will unnerve many senior figures in Whitehall, and others who no longer operate at the heart of government.
"By this May, the inquiry team expects to begin contacting those individuals who will be directly criticised in the Iraq report, to give them the chance to reply."
Here's a question - Labour and Ed Miliband keep (re)apologising over immigration but when are they going to (re)apologise over Iraq?
4) THE DESERT RATS TOO? REALLY?
Tory activists in the shires will be wailing over their copies of the Daily Telegraph this morning:
"The Desert Rats, the most famous tank unit in the British Army, will be left without any tanks as a result of a shake-up of the Armed Forces brought about by the Coalition’s austerity drive, it emerged on Tuesday.
"... The move ends the armoured role of a tank force that won fame in North Africa under General Bernard Montgomery with victories in battles including El Alamein."
Will defence secretary Philip Hammond, a leading light in the rebellious 'National Union of Ministers', be willing to speak up against this particular austerity measure? Or will he think twice, given the PM's dressing down of the nimbyish 'NUM' yesterday?
5) THANK EU
He went, he saw and, thankfully, he did not conquer. From the Guardian:
"George Osborne suffered a bruising defeat in Europe on Tuesday as the 26 other EU finance ministers imposed curbs on bankers' bonuses in an unprecedented move targeted at the UK financial services sector.
"Osborne had travelled to Brussels in a vain attempt to defeat proposals outlined last week to set a limit of a year's salary on bankers' bonuses, protecting the status of the City and Britain's biggest industry – financial services. 'I cannot support the proposal on the table,' he told the session."
We're all in this together? Not Gideon and the bankers...
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of a husky puppy's first howl.
6) 'HUMILIATING U-TURN'
From the Guardian:
"Ministers have been forced into a humiliating climbdown on plans for more private sector involvement in the NHS just four weeks before they were due to come into effect.
"Labour has labelled the announcement that key regulations on competition in the NHS are to be rewritten a 'humiliating U-turn' for the government, which has for nearly three years insisted that the Health and Social Care Act passed last year does not create privatisation by stealth."
"... Mocking the coalition, Labour MP Gisela Stuart said: 'Just to be clear, the regulations we now have are the regulations inherited from the Labour government?' Lamb denied this was the case..."
7) "BROWNITE CABAL"?
The (right-wing) attacks on Ed Balls continue. The Guardian reports:
"Research by the Tory whip Greg Hands has found that the shadow chancellor maintains quite a grip on the Labour frontbench.
"Hands has trawled through the list which shows how every Labour MP voted in the 2010 leadership contest. This shows Balls has the best record of ensuring that his supporters have been rewarded with – and have since maintained – places on the frontbench.
"Hands calculates that, on the basis of first preference votes, 51% of those who supported Balls sit on the frontbench compared with 45% of Ed Miliband's supporters, 38% of David Miliband's supporters, 13% of Andy Burnham's supporters and 0% of Diane Abbott's supporters.
"Hands says: 'The Brownite cabal at the top of Labour is prospering, and the easing out of David Miliband supporters illustrates Labour's dangerous lurch to the left.'
Er, ok. Perhaps the Tory whip hasn't noticed that the shadow foreign and defence secretaries - Douglas Alexander and Jim Murphy - were joint co-chairs of David Miliband's campaign and the chair of Labour's policy review, Jon Cruddas, was also a Mili-D supporter.
8) LICENCE TO KILL
Come back Dubya, all is forgiven. From the Mother Jones magazine website:
"'Yes, the president does have the authority to use military force against American citizens on US soil—but only in 'an extraordinary circumstance,' Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Tuesday.
"... Holder's answer was more detailed, however, stating that under certain circumstances, the president would have the authority to order lethal attacks on American citizens. The two possible examples of such 'extraordinary' circumstances were the attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 terrorist attacks."
President Obama, or King Obama?
9) THE CURSE OF SHAPPS
My colleague Chris York asks:
"Is the Conservative Party chairman cursed?"
He points out that Shapps, as vice chairman for campaigns, presided over the disastrous Bromley and Ealing by-elections in 2006 and 2007. Put back in charge of campaigning as party chairman in September 2012, he promptly lost Corby to Labour in November and, last week, failed to win Eastleigh from the scandal-plagued Liberal Democrats.
A disgruntled Tory source tells HuffPost UK: "It looks like the best way for our party to win a by-election is to keep Grant Shapps far away from it."
10) IS KIA SOFT ON TERRORISM?
My favourite story of the week - HuffPost UK's Ned Simons writes:
"Is Korean car manufacturer Kia secretly on the side of terrorists? No. Probably not. But MPs have condemned the firm for causing 'deep offence' with the name of its super-mini coupe concept car.
"DUP MPs Gregory Campbell and William McCrea have tabled a parliamentary motion urging Kia to rename it's 'Provo' model as it reminds people of the 'terror and mayhem' caused by the Provisional IRA."
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From today's Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 11
That would give Labour a majority of 120.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@georgegalloway Farewell Comandante Hugo Chavez champion of the poor the oppressed everywhere. Modern day Spartacus. Rest in Peace.
@Forbes What does Chavez's death mean for Venezuela's billionaires?
@DAaronovitch Just seen Ed Miliband’s latest ‘apology’ on letting low-skilled immigrants into Britain. Are they not ‘hard working, tax-paying’ folk too?
900 WORDS OR MORE
Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "A promise to scale back Trident would show Ed Miliband is serious about deficit reduction."
David Wighton, writing in the Times, says: "Britain is losing the battle to save the City."
Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "Women are now to the left of men. It's a historic shift."
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