POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Leveson Deal 'Done'

18/03/2013 08:32 GMT

The ten things you need to know on Monday 18 March 2013...

1) BREAKING: LEVESON DEAL 'DONE'

A cross-party deal to reform the press in the UK has been done, according to the Labour Party. Harriet Harman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that an agreement between Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron on a royal charter had been reached, after negotiations carried on until the early hours. "We have to publish the charter this morning, we have to this afternoon put it before the House of Commons.

"In the House of Lords I hope they are going to agree to a bit of law that says this charter can't be tampered with by ministers. I hope there won't be a vote in the House of Lords because I hope it will be agreed."

"There's an amendment going forward into the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which says that where a charter says in that charter it can't be dissolved or amended without a two-thirds majority in both Houses then that should have the force of law."

Speaking to Today later on this morning, culture secretary Maria Miller appeared to suggest the talks had not completely wrapped up. "We are very close to a deal," she said. Miller, who may have been mildly irritated that Harman had beaten her onto the air, said the Conservatives had "stopped Labour's extreme version of a press law."

It comes after the prime minister began last-ditch efforts to find an accord on Sunday as he faced a likely Commons defeat on the issue with around 20 of his MPs set to back a rival package put together by an alliance of his Liberal Democrat coalition partners and the Opposition.

The deal done in the early hours of course also rendered today's newspaper reports on the talks out of date before most people were out of bed. And at the speed things are moving this morning the state of play may change between the time this Memo is sent and it arrives in your inbox.

Today's Memo is edited by Ned Simons as Mehdi Hasan is frantically trying to withdraw cash from his bank account in Cyrpus.

2) LOOK BEHIND YOU

The other big political even this week is the small matter of George Osborne’s 2013 Budget. Much of the advice the chancellor has received has been from within his own party, many Tory MPs have been urging him to cut public spending further to tackle the deficit and offer tax cuts to stimulate growth.

One of the more radical suggestions is from Douglas Carswell, who warns that the only way to really cut departmental spending would be to allow Commons select committees to go through each one line by line and axe bits they don’t like. He told HuffPost UK: “Until these changes happen we are going to be perennially disappointed by tax and spending chancellors.” Osborne once told the Clacton MP he was “attracted” to the idea. Although it’s doubtful Carswell is holding his breath..

3) ‘BANK ROBBERY’

Politicians in Cyprus will vote today on a bank account levy which could affect the savings of thousands of British expats. As part of a £9 billion bailout,

In what the Daily Mail dubs the ‘Great EU Bank Robbery’, European officials said people with less than 100,000 euros (£87,000) in Cyprus-based accounts would have to pay a one-off tax of 6.75% and those with more will lose 9.9%.

Around 3,000 British military personnel and 250 civil servants will be protected should their savings be subject to the levy, the Treasury said. David Cameron is likely to be quizzed on the crisis when he updates MPs on the latest European Council meeting this afternoon.

4) FRESH PRINCE OF STREATHAM

Later this morning on HuffPost UK read Mehdi Hasan’s pre-Budget interview with shadow business secretry Chuka Umunna in which he:

* criticises business secretary Vince Cable for “tinkering” with piecemeal measures that don’t constitute “the kind of ‘Big Bang’ treatment the economy needs”;

* says he "would trust Ed [Miliband] with my life";

* defends Ed Balls, claiming the shadow chancellor is "100% onboard with the industrial strategy I have been advocating”;

* dismisses chatter about his own leadership ambitions as "unhelpful";

* and describes David Miliband as "hugely talented…it’s a bit like having a striker on the subs bench and that’s why I would like to see him come back".

5) ‘SWEETNERS’ FROM OSBORNE

The Times reports this morning that Osborne will use his Budget to announce that workers will not have to pay any tax on the first £10,000 they earn from as early as next year. As the paper notes the move would be a victory for the Lib Dems, who had pledged to raise the income tax threshold to £10,000 by the next general election. A source told the paper it was one of “a few sweeteners in the middle of a pretty tough message”.

BECAUSE YOU READ THIS FAR: Huge guinea pig looks after puppies.

6) IRAQ HAD 'VIRTUALLY' NO WMD

BBC Panorama will claim this evening that MI6 and the CIA were told by Saddam Hussain’s foreign minister and head of intelligence that Iraq had "virtually nothing" in terms of WMD in the months leading up the 2003 war. The Guardian reports that Lord Butler, the former cabinet secretary who led an inquiry into the use of intelligence in the runup to the invasion of Iraq, was not told about the meetings, and that he should have been. Panorama says it asked for an interview with Blair but he said he was "too busy".

7) ALREADY AMERICA?

Incase you missed it over the weekend, conservative Americans held their annual meeting, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), where the auditions for 2016 began. The auditions have begun.

Just two months into President Barack Obama's second term, Republican leaders are lining up to diagnose the GOP's ills while courting party activists – all with an eye on greater political ambitions. A straw poll gave Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul a narrow victory over Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in their unscientific presidential preference poll. Paul had 25 percent of the vote and Rubio 23 percent. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was third with 8 percent.

Also present was Sarah Palin. Did she make a joke about Obama not being born in the United States? You betcha she did. "More background checks?" Palin asked, in a reference to calls for gun control laws. "Dandy idea, Mr. President -- should've started with yours."

8) THE ROMNEY ‘AUTOPSY’

Reeling from back-to-back presidential losses and struggling to cope with the country's changing racial and ethnic makeup, the Republican National Committee plans to spend $10 million this year to send hundreds of party workers into Hispanic, black and Asian communities to promote its brand among voters who overwhelmingly supported Democrats in 2012.

HuffPost reports that vommittee chairman Reince Priebus on also proposed shortening the presidential nominating calendar in 2016 and limiting the number of primary-season debates to avoid the self-inflicted damage from inside-party squabbling on the eventual nominee. Priebus' top-to-bottom changes include picking the moderators for the debates and then crowning the nominee as early as June so he or she could begin a general election campaign as quickly as possible.

9) HEZZA'S REGIONS

A plan to devolve greater decision-making and spending controls to the country's regions in a bid to boost jobs has received government backing. Nearly all of the changes recommended by Tory peer Lord Heseltine in his report No Stone Unturned, published last year, are to be taken up, the government announced today.

Lord Heseltine had called for the government to slash red tape and hand back decision-making powers to Britain's major cities giving them greater say over matters including transport, housing, and vocational training. He said for too long Whitehall departments and civil servants had "stifled" growth outside London. The government is accepting 81 of Lord Heseltine's 89 recommendations in part or in full.

10) DON'T CALL US, MAYBE

Plans to close 281 tax inquiry centres risk worsening an already "disgraceful" phone help service, a spending watchdog warned. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has been condemned for costing callers £136 million a year through delays in answering calls, with a quarter of 79 million calls unanswered.

That was despite spending £900 million on customer service.The Commons public accounts committee welcomed planned improvements, including a call-back system and a move away from expensive 0845 numbers.

But it condemned a "woefully inadequate and unambitious" new target to answer 80% of calls within five minutes which is said was way below industry standards. And it said there was a "real risk" of things actually getting worse with new tax and benefit systems likely to add to the volume of calls while staff numbers were being cut.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@jameschappers Tory source insists Harman has not been authorised to announce detail of deal: @Maria_MillerMP to do so at 0810 on Today #leveson

@iainmartin1 On Leveson stitch-up No.10 showing its usual skill at communications. Labour storming the airwaves.

‏@michaelsavage And politicians' latest gift to the press - to make every newspaper story about a #Leveson deal out of date at 8am...

900 WORDS OR MORE

Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph: "Only a gutter press can keep clean the gutters of public life."

In The Guardian Michael Burke writes: "Savers across Europe will look on in horror at the Troika's raid on Cyprus."

In The Sun, Tony Blair writes: "We paid a heavy price in Iraq ... but think what would have happened if we’d backed away."

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