POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: To Dip Or Not To Dip?

25/04/2013 08:17 BST | Updated 25/04/2013 08:23 BST
AP

The ten things you need to know on Thursday 25 April 2013...

1) TO DIP OR NOT TO DIP?

It's a big day for the Treasury and chancellor George Osborne. From the Guardian:

"George Osborne will discover today whether the UK slid into an unprecedented triple-dip recession in the first quarter of 2013, after the Treasury underlined the severity of the current downturn by extending the emergency Funding for Lending scheme until 2015.

"Official figures will show whether the economy contracted for a second successive quarter at the start of the year - two consecutive quarters of decline is the standard definition of a recession. City economists are, on average, expecting a marginal expansion, of 0.1%.

"'The basic picture is stagnation, and the exact number is guesswork,' said Vicky Redwood, of Capital Economics."

Yes, from an economic perspective, whether the economy grows 0.1% (or even 0.3%) or contracts by 0.1% is irrelevant: the fact is that growth is flat, flat, flat. We are, as former MPC member Sushil Wadhwani told me in the run-up to the Budget, "halfway through a lost decade” of low growth, stagnant wages and high unemployment.

From a political and media perspective, of course, Tories and Lib Dems will hail any figure which isn't negative as a positive sign. 'We dodged a triple dip,' will be the refrain from the government supporters. The bigger question is: why are/were we on the verge of a triple dip recession to begin with? Why is the coalition persisting with its growth-choking, job-killing austerity agenda?

As Labour's Chris Leslie pointed out last night, in an attempt to pre-spin the figures: "Growth of just 0.3 per cent would simply mean the economy is back to where it was six months ago. This isn’t good enough.

“... And with just 0.8 per cent growth since the spending review, compared to the 5.3 per cent that was forecast at the time, we need really strong growth simply to start catching up all the ground we have lost under this Government’s failed economic policies.”

Keep your eyes peeled: the ONS (lack of) growth figures are out at 9:30am.

2) (DIS)UNITE

Ed Miliband isn't happy. He has issued a fierce attack on Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who used a New Statesman interview to argue that Labour would be "defeated" and "cast into the dustbin of history" if its leader was "seduced" by Blairites in his shadow cabinet - "the Jim Murphys and the Douglas Alexanders".

A spokesman for the Labour leader said:

"Len McCluskey does not speak for the Labour Party. This attempt to divide the Labour Party is reprehensible. It is the kind of politics that lost Labour many elections in the 1980s. It won’t work, it is wrong, it is disloyal to the party he claims to represent."

Ouch.

The thing is, Miliband has to be careful given McCluskey's Unite is Labour's biggest donor - it was responsible for 28% of all donations to the party in 2012.

Here's a question, though: have criticisms of his leadership in recent weeks, first from Tony Blair and now from Len McCluskey, allowed Miliband to, in advertently and unwittingly, engage in a bit of New-Labour-style 'triangulation'? By having to come out and publicly slap down down the leading voices of both New and Old Labour, the leader of the opposition has emerged as a bit of a centrist moderate.

3) JOHNSON ENTERS NUMBER 10

No, not that one. From the Times splash:

"David Cameron has parachuted Boris Johnson's brother into the heart of Downing Street as part of a shake-up to strengthen the No 10 machine and reach out to Tory malcontents.

"Jo Johnson, younger brother of the London Mayor and a fellow Old Etonian, is to head the Downing Street policy unit and harden Tory thinking in the run-up to the next election.

"The appointment of the Orpington MP is one of a series of moves designed to build bridges with the Prime Minister's backbench critics and to capitalise on the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. They include:

"- A new Tory advisory board on policy made up of some of the parliamentary party's biggest thinkers, and leading rebels. It includes Peter Lilley, who served in Mrs Thatcher's last Cabinet;

"- Writing to more than 50 Tory MPs over the death of Baroness Thatcher;

"- Preparing for a July reshuffle to promote figures from the Thatcherite Right, such as Michael Fallon, the Business and Energy Minister."

The Policy Unit post is normally held by a civil servant or special adviser, rather than a Member of Parliament who was only elected to the Commons in 2010.

Johnson Jnr should have a word with Ed Miliband and try and get some advice: after all, the younger Miliband brother ended up being torn between loyalty to his prime ministerial boss, Gordon Brown, and loyalty to his ambitious elder brother David, who was bent on replacing Brown as PM back in 2008 and 2009.

Jo could, in the one-day-not-too-distant-future, find himself in a similar situation...

4) 'KABOOM QATADA'

That's the splash headline in the Sun. Referring to the home secretary's new treaty with the Jordanian government and the possibility that the government could temporarily withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the paper reports:

"David Cameron is drawing up explosive plans to ram a new law through Parliament to kick out Abu Qatada.

"But his 'nuclear option' would spark a huge row with Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem MPs — and may even run the risk of bringing down the Coalition."

For once, such talk isn't an exaggeration. How could the Lib Dems stay in a coalition which with withdrew from the ECHR? How could the party of liberals justify going along with such a radical and extreme move?

Then there's Ken Clarke, who used a BBC radio interview yesterday to (once again) slap down home secretary Theresa May: "It's not the policy of this government to withdraw either for a short period or for a lengthy period from the European Convention on Human Rights."

Citing the impact of English common law, Clarke said his "advice" to his Cabinet colleagues is that the ECHR doesn't have "the faintest thing to do with Abu Qatada".

Neither Cameron nor May will be happy. As the Guardian leader notes: "Conservative ministers have increasingly used the Abu Qatada case to mount a broader onslaught against the European human rights convention and court, and against the UK's own Human Rights Act." Withdrawing from the ECHR, it says, "would be a fundamentally wrong step. It would be a deliberate embrace of lawlessness, not just in a European context but in a British and global one too. It would destroy any credibility that this country tried to exert in support of human rights."

Either way, it is difficult to disagree with the Telegraph leader, when it describes the latest attempt to deport Qatada as having "the feel of Groundhog Day about it".

5) WE DON'T TRUST EU

Shock! Horror! From the Guardian's splash:

"Public confidence in the European Union has fallen to historically low levels in the six biggest EU countries, raising fundamental questions about its democratic legitimacy more than three years into the union's worst ever crisis, new data shows.

Figures from Eurobarometer, the EU's polling organisation, analysed by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), a thinktank, show a vertiginous decline in trust in the EU in countries such as Spain, Germany and Italy that are historically very pro-European.

The paper continues:

"In Spain, trust in the EU fell from 65% to 20% over the five-year period while mistrust soared to 72% from 23%... In Britain, where Eurobarometer regularly finds majority Euroscepticism, the mistrust grew from 49% to 69%, the highest level with the exception of the extraordinary turnaround in Spain."

The biggest danger now, suggests the Guardian's Ian Traynor, is that such rampant and growing Euroscepticism "is likely to feed populist anti-EU politics and frustrate European leaders' efforts to arrest the collapse in support for their project".

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video to discover why you probably shouldn't take an iPad with you to watch a live sports game.

6) TAXING TIMES

Hmm. From the Telegraph:

"Advisers to Michael Gove's academies programme are being paid more than £1,000 a day using a technique condemned by the Prime Minister that enables them to minimise income tax.

"Academy brokers, whose role is to convince head teachers to join the academies programme, are employed "off book" by the Department for Education through personal service companies or employment agencies.

"Some have contracts worth up to £1,080 a day – equivalent to almost £250,000 a year – which run for up to 10 years."

7) 'HE'S BEHIND YOU'

Watch your back, Dave. From the Guardian:

"Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party leader, presents the "most serious fourth party incursion" into English electoral politics since the second world war – with the Tories as the main victims, the leading political scientist Professor John Curtice has claimed.

... Curtice, the professor of politics at Strathclyde university, says that around 16% of Tory supporters at the last election say they would now vote Ukip. This compares with 8% for the Liberal Democrats and 4% for Labour."

8) MEASLES, MMR AND THE MEDIA

From the Independent's splash:

"One million children who missed out on the MMR vaccine around a decade ago are to be targeted in a national campaign to raise the level of protection against measles.

"Alarmed by the Swansea outbreak, where almost 900 people have been diagnosed with the disease, Public Health England is appealing today to parents of children who missed one or both of the MMR jabs before the age of five to send them for vaccination.

"Measles was virtually eliminated in the 1990s following the introduction of MMR vaccine... but the disease re-established itself in the mid-2000s following an unfounded scare linking MMR to autism which caused many parents to abandon the vaccine."

The Guardian's Roy Greenslade accuses the Daily Mail and other right-wing newspapers of giving "disproportionate coverage" to the "opinions advanced in 1998 by the now discredited Andrew Wakefield, the doctor whose research led to fears about a link with autism". He adds: "It was abundantly clear that the right-wing press's championing of Wakefield was based on its hostility towards Tony Blair's Labour government."

9) BLOWBACK IN BOSTON?

Islamophobes, neocons and lazy journalists have all queued up to claim that Islam was behind the Tsarnaev brothers' horrific attack on the Boston marathon. But this headline in the Washington Post seems to suggest otherwise:

"Boston bombing suspect cites U.S. wars as motivation, officials say"

The paper reports that "the 19-year-old suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings has told interrogators that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack, according to U.S. officials familiar with the interviews... Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has specifically cited the U.S. war in Iraq, which ended in December 2011 with the removal of the last American forces, and the war in Afghanistan, where President Obama plans to end combat operations by the end of 2014."

10) MUMS TO THE RESCUE

From a front-page Telegraph story:

"Stay-at-home mothers would help to revive Britain's economy by returning to work after having a baby, the Government has suggested.

"David Cameron's official spokesman said it was 'good for the economy' that the Coalition was helping parents to pay high nursery fees so that they could overcome "obstacles" to work.

"The comments, made before new GDP figures are issued, provoked claims that the Government is 'obsessed' with improving the economic measure at the expense of family life. Ministers have been reluctant to link their plans to encourage mothers back to work with economic growth for fear of being seen as prejudiced against stay–at-home parents."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 31

Ukip 11

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 92.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@afneil @bbcthisweek Cameron wants to show he's NOT surrounded by Old Etonian clique. Jo Johnson (Boris Bro) gets new Downing St job. Went to Eton.

@bengoldacre Very impressed that Paxman recognised culpability of media over #MMR, sad that so many still in denial eg Independent #Newsnight

@MattChorley Online comment "Triple dip, double whip, chocolate dip and 99 - chimes are still sounding but ice cream van already fallen off fiscal cliff"

900 WORDS OR MORE

Janan Ganesh, writing in the FT, says, about the chancellor: "Half-truths and outdated certainties abound about the UK’s second most powerful person."

Rafael Behr, writing in the New Statesman, reports on: "The three straws the Tories grasp when they fantasise about a second term."

Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Ukip has thrown British politics into the most marvellous chaos."

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