Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'Permission To Obfuscate'

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BORIS JOHNSON
PA

The five things you need to know on Sunday 24 March 2013...

1) 'PERMISSION TO OBSFUSCATE'

Those Tories who are desperate for Boris Johnson to replace David Cameron as Conservative Party leader will be squirming today. Their blonde-mopped idol was roasted on the BBC's Andrew Marr programme this morning. Turned inside out. Left a jibbering wreck.

Not by Marr himself - who is still recovering from a stroke - but by stand-in Eddie Mair, the BBC's best-interviewer-by-a-country mile. "Soft-spoken but deadly," as Labour frontbencher Diane Abbott put it on Twitter.

Using Michael Cockerell forthcoming documentary on the mayor as a peg, Mair decided to ask Johnson all the tough, personal questions that interviewers have tended to avoid in the past (and, in particular, in the run-up to the last mayoral election). Why did he make up a quote while at the Times? Why did he lie to Michael Howard's face about his adultery? Why did he once discuss beating up a journalist with his old friend Darius Guppy? As Johnson blustered, mumbled, rolled his eyes, looked off camera (at his press officer?) and tried desperately to change the subject, Mair hit him with: "You're a nasty piece of work, aren't you?" (I would normally, at this point, write the word 'ouch'. But ouch is an understatement.)

"Oh dear," tweeted ConHome's Tim Montgomerie, a long-standing Boris ally. "That was car crash TV for Boris Johnson."

Asked by Mair if he could offer a straight answer to the question of his leadership ambitions, without obfuscating, Johnson laughed nervously, and replied: "Permission to obfuscate..."

As the Guardian's Nick Watt put it, on Twitter: "Eddie Mair shows why Boris Johnson will struggle if he ever stands for PM. 'Permission to obfuscate' after awkward questions."

Indeed. The FT's Jim Pickard agreed, saying that this interview "will give Tories pause to think whether he could ever be 'candid' enough be prime minister. Ruthless grilling."

You have to wonder what went on in the BBC green room after the interview.

2) NOT ENOUGH SOCIAL HOUSING? BLAME JOHNNY FOREIGNER

Clegg's done one. Miliband's done one. Tomorrow it's David Cameron's turn. Yep, time for a populist, dog-whistling, UKIP-tackling speech on the subject that supposedly no one talks about: immigration. The heart sinks...

"Britons to get homes first," screams the headline in the Sunday Express. The paper reports:

"The Government will call time on Labour’s 'something for nothing' culture with regulations which put ­residents ahead of new arrivals.

"All councils and housing associations will be forced to introduce a residency test. This would mean someone would have to live in an area for two to five years before they could go on a council house waiting list. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, will use a speech tomorrow to signal a major escalation in what has become an immigration policy arms race between the parties."

Yet, as the Equality and Human Rights Commission revealed not long ago, "only 1.8 per cent of social tenants had moved to the UK within the past five years.

"Some 87.8 per cent were UK-born and 10 per cent foreigners who had been living in Britain for more than five years."

So it's the perfect day for the the Bishop of Dudley, the Right Reverend David Walker, to tell the Observer that politicians' responses to immigration are "wholly disproportionate".

"Public fears around immigration are like fears around crime. They bear little relationship to the actual reality," he said.

My piece for HuffPost UK, 'Sorry, But There's No Reason to Listen to Public Opinion on Immigration', can be read here.

3) PLEBGATE, PART 444

Good scoop in the Sunday Times; bad news for the cops:

"At least 10 police officers are now suspected of involvement in an alleged plot to discredit the former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell, who was accused of calling Downing Street armed guards "plebs".

"The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has expanded its role in the criminal investigation into the socalled Plebgate affair after receiving new information.

"... The 10 officers allegedly involved are from four police forces. Several are accused of fabricating allegations about what Mitchell said during the incident or making false statements to the media afterwards. Others are accused of leaking details of the case to the media."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a squirrel taking down a deer...quite spectacular.

4) 'RAGE AGAINST THE CASH MACHINE'

That's the headline in the Sunday Times, which reports:

"As he left the parliament last night, one Cypriot MP said: 'It's 10 minutes to midnight and there's a gun to the head of Cyprus and a gun to the head of the euro. What do we do next? Live together? Or die together?'"

The Observer reports:

"Fears are growing of Russian reprisals against European businesses as EU authorities desperately seek a deal to save the Cypriot economy by imposing a 25% levy on bank deposits of more than €100,000.

"As the island scrambled to put together a rescue programme, its finance minister, Michalis Sarris, said 'significant progress' had been made on the latest levy plan in talks with officials from the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

"The government in Nicosia faces a deadline of Monday to reach an agreement or the European Central Bank says it will cut off emergency cash to the island, spelling the likely financial collapse of its banking system and a potential exit from the European single currency."

5) THE 'MYSTERY' OF THE DEAD RUSSIAN OLIGARCH

Speaking of Russians, the "depressed" British-based Russian billionaire, Boris Berezovsky, was found dead at his home yesterday.

The Sunday papers don't hold back on where they think the blame lies.

"He took on Putin and lost everything," says the Sunday Times headline.

"Suicide mystery as oligarch who took on Putin dies in England," says the Mail on Sunday's headline.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the YouGov/Sunday Times poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 30
Ukip 12
Lib Dems 12

From the Opinium/Observer poll:

Labour 38
Conservatives 28
Ukip 16
Lib Dems 9

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@oflynnexpress Eddie Mair is roasting Boris. Asking him all the tough questions that no broadcaster ever has done before #marr

@vincentmoss Expect encomiums in the papers for Eddie Mair (new Paxo etc) after his brilliant interview with Boris Johnson on #Marr

@OwenJones84 Tories and New Labour didn't build council housing. So who does Cameron want us to blame for a lack of it? Immigrants

900 WORDS OR MORE

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "George Osborne's Plan C: invest all your hopes in a Canadian."

Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "Cunning George Osborne pulled a fast one on the Lib Dems in the Budget."

John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "The Conservatives are now 10 points behind Labour. They need to be four ahead."

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