Mehdi's Morning Memo: Pope Francis, Friend Of Dictators?

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POPE FRANCIS
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The ten things you need to know on Thursday 14 March 2013...

1) POPE FRANCIS, FRIEND OF DICTATORS?

Surprise, surprise, this morning's newspaper front pages are dominated by stories about the new pontiff, Pope Francis.

"Pope Francis The Humble," declares the Telegraph. "A New World Pope," declaims the Times. Both the Mirror and the Sun go with "Hand Of God".

"Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the new Pope Francis, is a first on many levels," reports the Guardian, "first from outside Europe in a millennium, first from Latin America, the first Jesuit, and the first to take the name Francis – a name associated with the simplicity and poverty of St Francis and his Franciscan order." (In fact, Time magazine has "14 facts you need to know" about Pope Francis.)

Plenty of articles tell us about the 266th pope's humility and modesty: back in Argentina, he lives in an apartment, travels by bus and tube and flies economy class. The Guardian praises his "emphasis on social justice". Hurrah!

But it's not all good news. The Mail reports:

"The Pope has been accused of failing to stand up to the brutal military junta that slaughtered tens of thousands of Argentines in its so-called Dirty War."

"Critics say Jorge Mario Bergoglio did little to help those who disappeared when the country was under right-wing military rule – and too much to criticise the left-wing opponents of the generals.

"He has even been accused of turning a blind eye to the rounding up and torturing of his own Jesuit priests, something he strongly denies."

Under the headline "Friend of the poor who was also 'cosy with the dictators'", the Times reports: "In 2005... [Bergoglio] was cited in a criminal complaint in Argentina alleging involvement in the 1976 kidnappings of two fellow Jesuits who were secretly jailed by the military government for their work in poor neighbourhoods."

(It's also worth reading this 2011 Guardian comment piece from Hugh O'Shaughnessy: "The Catholic church was complicit in dreadful crimes in Argentina. Now it has a chance to repent.")

Yesterday, the UK's politicians welcomed the appointment of Pope Francis, with the prime minister calling it a "momentous day" for the world's Catholic community. I wonder if anyone has yet mentioned to David Cameron that the new pope isn't a fan of the British presence on the Falkland Islands, having referred to the Brits as "usurpers" and denounced those who seek to to "de-Malvinise history and reality". The Sun quotes him as saying: "The Malvinas are ours."

2) TURNING ON THERESA

The Tory backlash against the home secretary continues. From the Guardian:

"Amid deep irritation in No 10, after David Cameron endured an uncomfortable session at prime minister's questions when Ed Miliband seized on the Tory plotting, senior figures hit out at May for destabilising the prime minister.

"'Theresa is very grand,' one senior member of the government said. 'She is living the life. But she has over-reached herself.'"

The paper adds:

"In a party political broadcast last night, Cameron said: "'t is so vital that you look to the horizon and not tomorrow's headlines because there is a sort of daily battle out there in politics of this story and that event – it's all rubbish. What matters is: are you taking the right long term decisions for the good of the country?'

"Senior Tories were scathing about May. 'Theresa's not exactly measuring the curtains. But she does seem to be pacing the floor. Her team are a bunch of amateurs. They see The Thick of It as a training video.'"

Ouch.

The Mail reports:

"For the second week running at Prime Minister's Questions, Labour leader Ed Miliband attempted to taunt Mr Cameron over the rumours, saying the Prime Minister had been 'overruled' by the Home Secretary on the issue of a minimum price for alcohol. Mrs May, who is viewed as Britain's answer to Angela Merkel by her allies, responded with what is becoming a trademark 'death stare'.

The paper adds:

"She did not take her usual seat on the front bench for Prime Minister's Questions, instead watching proceedings from a position alongside the Speaker's Chair."

Is it time for the home secretary to row back? The Telegraph reports: "Theresa May is to stick to her Home Office brief to dampen speculation that she is bidding for the Conservative leadership." A wise move - for now.

3) 'VICTORY FOR NHS WHISTLEBLOWERS'

That's the splash headline on the front of the Daily Mail. The paper reports:

"Gagging clauses which have prevented hundreds of NHS whistleblowers speaking out are to be outlawed. Departing staff will instead be given a new legal right to raise issues that could be in the public interest, such as patient safety, death rates and poor care."

The Mail's leader adds:

"Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to be warmly congratulated for imposing an immediate ban on the use of gagging orders to silence NHS whistleblowers... How many who died in squalor and misery might have been saved, if only insiders had been free to alert the Press and public earlier to the horrifying conditions in hospitals such as Stafford?"

Indeed.

4) CONFLICT. OF. INTEREST.

A new study by the British Medical Journal suggests GPs aren't as squeaky clean as we'd been led to believe - from the Guardian:

"One in three GPs who are running new organisations that are about to be given £65bn of the NHS's budget also help run or hold shares in a private healthcare firm, a study shows.

"The disclosure has sparked concern that such widespread conflicts of interest will threaten patients' trust in GPs, who they may see as lining their own pockets out of public funds."

5) KEEPING THEM HONEST

Worried that politicians might compromise over press regulation? Not to worry - the star of 'Nine Months' is here to save From the Guardian:

"David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband are to meet again in an attempt to settle continuing differences over the Leveson report following a day of backstage drama in which... film star Hugh Grant started personally ringing shadow cabinet members urging them not to sell out on the Leveson principles."

"One Labour source said: 'Grant started ringing shadow cabinet members urging them not to give way. He was pretty adamant.'

"Aides to Cameron conceded following 45 minutes of talks between the party leaders on Wednesday lunchtime that significant differences remained, but said efforts would be made to resolve them."

Grant's relentless and passionate campaigning on this issue has upset some of those journalists who are alleged to have been involved in the phone hacking affair - ex-News of the World editor Piers Morgan yesterday told the actor to "go back to your dreadful movies" and called him a "guttersnipe". Er, hello kettle, this is pot. You're black.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a dog who snores like 'Donald Duck'...yep...

6) LET'S BE LIKE THE GERMANS

That white paper is looking less and less 'blank'. From the Guardian:

"Ed Miliband will today make his firmest commitment to a regional-based economic policy by proposing a network of banks around the country responsible for providing capital to businesses in their locality.

"The proposals, due to be unveiled in a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce, mark a further attempt to map out a different industrial policy, some of which has echoes of plans for a revival of city regions set out by the coalition adviser on economic growth, Lord Heseltine.

"... The proposal for a network of regional banks follows a recommendation from Labour's Small Business Taskforce, due to be published on Thursday and led by Bill Thomas. It also follows a series of visits by shadow cabinet members to Germany to study the so-called German Sparkassen, a network of local banks that are restricted to lend within a region and which have a civic duty to promote local growth."

7) 'WOEFULLY UNDERPREPARED'

From the Telegraph:

"Britain is 'woefully underprepared' for a rapidly ageing population which faces a 'series of miserable crises' unless the Government acts urgently, a Lords report warns today.

"Elderly people should already "be concerned" about care in hospitals as the NHS is "not good enough" and the problems will become worse, it says.

"The number of pensioners is forecast to rise by half by 2030, and over–85s to double, resulting in a sharp increase in those with multiple long–term health conditions."

8) TERRORISM, BRITISH MUSLIM EDITION

From the Independent's splash:

"The bloody uprising against Bashar al-Assad is creating a new wave of jihadists in Britain, with Syria now the main destination for militant Muslims wishing to fight abroad, The Independent has learnt.

"... More than 100 British Muslims are believed to have gone to fight in Syria with the numbers continuing to rise. The situation presents a unique problem for Western security and intelligence services. In Syria, unlike Pakistan and Somalia, they have to keep track of jihadists who are being backed by Britain and its allies."

The prime minister may come to regret dismissing George Galloway's question on this very subject at PMQs only a few weeks ago...

9) TERRORISM, BRITISH FAR RIGHT EDITION

Talking of terrorists, they're not all Muslims, y'know. Again, from the Independent:

"Britain faces the threat of a murderous terror attack from a Far Right extremist similar to the mass murderer Anders Breivik who gunned down 77 young Norweigans...

"James Brokenshire [the security minister] accused groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) of inflaming tensions on the streets, claiming that their messages of 'hate-filled prejudice' could 'stoke radicalisation' among unstable loners motivated by race hate.

"He disclosed that one in ten cases referred to a Home Office scheme to stop youngsters being caught up in terrorism related to the Far Right."

10) KICKING HUHNE WHILE HE'S DOWN

Some might say that the 8-month prison sentenced handed down to Chris Huhne was a bit harsh - he had no previous convictions, a long record of public service and posed no threat to the public. Well, some might say that - but not David Burrowes MP. My colleague Ned Simons reports:

"A Tory MP has written to the Attorney General urging him to appeal the "unduly lenient" eight month prison sentence handed down to former Lib Dem energy secretary Chris Huhne.

"On Wednesday David Burrowes, the MP for Enfield-Southgate wrote to Dominic Grieve to complain that Huhne had 'deceived the public' after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice despite having denied the claim for some time.

"'It strikes at the root of the criminal justice system,' Burrowes said. 'This particular case spanning over a 10-year period showed prolonged and persistent misleading conduct.'"

Meanwhile, Huhne had his first vistor yesterday - girlfriend Carina Trimingham who came to see him in Wandsworth prison. "Ironically," reports the Mail, "Miss Trimingham's visit was beset by a motoring offence. After driving from the couple's £1.25million flat in Clerkenwell, central London, she left their ecofriendly Toyota Prius in a residents' parking bay ... and returned later to find a penalty ticket on the windscreen."

The Mirror's advice? "Best just pay the ticket, Carina."

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"In the light of his U-turn on alcohol pricing can the prime minister tell us: is there anything he could organise in a brewery" - Ed Miliband taunts David Cameron at PMQs yesterday

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 40
Conservatives 31
Ukip 12
Lib Dems 11

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@BarackObama Obama on Pope Francis: "I look forward to working with His Holiness to advance peace, security, and dignity for our fellow human beings.

@benedictbrogan Neat that it's the new Pope, and not the new head of the Chinese Communist party, who gets the big headlines this morning #PopeFrancis

@iainmartin1 Labour need much better answer to question Ed Balls being asked on Newsnight: how much more would you borrow? Roughly?

900 WORDS OR MORE

Rafael Behr, writing in the New Statesman, says: "The feeling grows that David Cameron is a leader with nothing left to say."

Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, says: "If we can't afford for people to be disabled, what's the plan?"

Jesse Norman, writing in the Telegraph, says: "The EU’s insidious war on the nation state must be halted."

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