POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'A Collection Of Clowns And Angry People'

29/04/2013 08:10 BST | Updated 29/04/2013 08:13 BST
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LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 20: Minister without Portfolio Kenneth Clarke leaves a cabinet meeting in Downing Street ahead of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne presenting his annual budget to Parliament on March 20, 2013 in London, England. The Chancellor, under pressure after the UK lost its AAA credit rating last month and the lack of growth in the economy, is predicted to reveal plans to continue with his austerity strategy to cut the UK's deficit. It is likely that Mr. Osborne will announce further spending cuts to Whitehall departments with the savings put in place to boost large scale infrastructure projects, with both tax breaks on childcare and a rise in fuel duty also high on the agenda. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The ten things you need to know on Monday 29 April 2013...

1) 'A COLLECTION OF CLOWNS AND ANGRY PEOPLE'

Two things have become clear over the past 48 hours. (a) Ukip is starting to implode, as journalists begin to pay more and more attention to its leaders, candidates and policies (or lack thereof). (b) The Tories still can't quite decide how to respond to the threat from the right-wing, Europhobic party.

Writing in today's Telegraph, Boris Johnson says Conservatives shouldn't panic and "bash" the UK Independence Party. Kenneth Clarke, however, thinks the exact opposite.

Was it really a wise move for the Tories to send the veteran Clarke, a blunt, take-no-prisoners Europhile, out into the TV studios yesterday, to talk down the Ukip threat? Perhaps not. But it was certainly amusing. The minister without portfolio, reports the Guardian on its front page,

"... characterised Ukip candidates as waifs and strays, feeding on prejudice about immigration... Clarke said: 'It is very tempting to vote for a collection of clowns or indignant, angry people, who promise that somehow they will allow us to take your revenge on people who caused it.'

"Ukip, he continued is 'against the political class, it is against foreigners, it is against immigrants. But it does not have any very positive policies. They do not know what they are for.'

"Asked whether he agreed with David Cameron's 2006 assessment that Ukip was packed with "fruitcakes and closet racists", Clarke replied: 'I have met people who satisfy both those descriptions in Ukip. Indeed, some of the people who have assured me they are going to vote Ukip I would put in that category.'"

Ouch. Clarke did seem to be, in the words of the Times leader, "off message". Senior Ukip figures aren't helping their own cause, however. As the Times reports:

"Last night UKIP ran into more trouble when its MEP Godfrey Bloom repeated a claim that it was 'madness' for small businesses to employ young women. 'If I wanted a receptionist or I wanted a dental nurse, I would be thinking very carefully about the age of that woman because she has to turn up at 9 o'clock. This isn't rocket science is it? This is perfectly straightforward small business policy.'"

Nice. Meanwhile, the Guardian also reports that "Labour has privately concluded, like the Conservatives, that Ukip must be kept out of the 2015 general election TV leaders' debates... Cameron has already ruled out Ukip appearing in the debates, saying they are a contest between parties that could form a government."

2) PLOUGHSHARES INTO SWORDS?

Is the coalition on the verge of removing the ring fence around the health and education budgets? Really? And that too in order to fund the defence budget? That'll be popular with backbench Tories - but probably not with the average voter.

From the Telegraph's splash:

"Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, is in talks with the Treasury about transferring money earmarked for the Department of Health and the Department for Education and using it to ease the impact of cuts on the Ministry of Defence.

"The Daily Telegraph understands that the plan could see as much as £500million from the two protected departments' budgets reallocated to defence."

3) NOT SO UNIVERSAL CREDIT

From the Telegraph:

"The biggest transformation in the British welfare system for decades begins today – at a single Jobcentre near Manchester.

"The Coalition's universal credit system, which will roll several benefits into one unified payment, will be available today to residents of Ashton–under–Lyne.

"Universal credit, which is intended to ensure that claimants are always better off in work than on benefits, is arguably the most complex publicsector reform the Coalition is attempting. Based on two major new computer systems, it has faced repeated predictions of mismanagement and delay, and scepticism in Whitehall."

The Guardian reports that "the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents staff in jobcentres, said it will stage a protest at Ashton-under-Lyne, adding that the government should rethink universal credit and prioritise creating jobs and supporting people into them instead of 'demonising' those out of work and entitled to benefits."

4) YOUNG AND FEMALE? YOUR FRONTBENCH NEEDS YOU...

From the Telegraph:

"Ed Miliband is on the point of promoting a group of young female MPs in a reshuffle of the Labour front bench, party sources have suggested.

"Rachel Reeves, who is Ed Balls's deputy in the Labour Treasury team, is being tipped for a more prominent shadow cabinet role as the Opposition gears up for the general election.

"Other Labour women likely to be promoted include Emma Reynolds, the shadow Europe minister, Liz Kendall, a spokesman on health, and Gloria de Piero, who speaks on home affairs."

5) A SHIT JOB... BUT I'D HAVE DONE IT

Former home secretary Alan Johnson has done an interview with the Guardian in which he reveals,

"... that he was prepared to lead the Labour party into coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010 – even though it was 'a shit job'. In an interview with the Guardian, the MP for Hull West and Hessle said that when the Lib Dems came to talk to Labour in May 2010, just after the general election resulted in the first hung parliament in 36 years, he believed the two parties would form a coalition. Talks between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems had broken down.

"'The condition they laid was that Gordon [Brown] had to go and we all knew that anyway … I thought, well, if there's a leadership election in these circumstances I'll stand.'

"... Johnson said it would have made sense for him to lead the party because it was a poisoned chalice and they did not want to sacrifice younger talent. 'I was home secretary. David Miliband was foreign secretary. Alistair Darling was chancellor. It would have been one of us that were expected to go forward. It wasn't the right way for David – or Ed Miliband, or whoever else was going to come in – to take over. It was a shit job to be done for a period of time.'"

The question that many will be asking, however, is: why didn't Johnson challenge Brown for the 'shit job' ahead of the 2010 general election? How different would that election result have been for Labour had it been led by the charismatic, working-class, Blairite ex-postie? I guess we'll never know...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Remember the whole Reinhart/Rogoff debt/austerity controversy, and their Excel spreadsheet error? Watch this video of US comic Stephen Colbert ripping 'em apart...

6) THE LIBYAN THREAT

More blowback from our interventions in the Middle East - from the Guardian's splash:

"Diplomats are warning of growing Islamist violence against western targets in Libya as blowback from the war in Mali, following last week's attack on the French embassy in Tripoli.

"The bomb blast that wrecked much of the embassy is seen as a reprisal by Libyan militants for the decision by Paris the day before to extend its military mission against fellow jihadists in Mali.

"The Guardian has learned that jihadist groups ejected from their Timbuktu stronghold have moved north, crossing the Sahara through Algeria and Niger to Libya, fuelling a growing Islamist insurgency."

"... 'If you squeeze a balloon in one part, it bulges out in another,' said Bill Lawrence, of International Crisis Group, a political consultancy. 'There's no question that the French actions in Mali had the effect of squeezing that balloon towards Algeria and Libya.'"

7) 'NOT CREDIBLE'

The government's £310bn National Infrastructure Plan has come under fire from Margaret Hodge and her colleagues today.

From the Times:

"Consumers face higher utility bills and more expensive fares to pay for investment in power generation and transport, a committee of MPs has warned.

"Ministers lack a coherent infrastructure plan to revive the economy and are putting tight family budgets under further pressure, the Public Accounts Committee claimed."

8) IS THIS THE LATEST LOBBYING 'SCANDAL'?

From the Mirror:

"David Cameron is today facing a damaging new lobbying row over the Government's flagship £650million cancer drugs fund.

"The fund was set up with taxpayers' cash to provide patients with medicines that have not been approved by NHS watchdog NICE after a vigorous campaign by the Rarer Cancers Foundation... And more than half of the medicines on the fund's priority list are produced by companies which have bankrolled the RCF, a Mirror investigation found.

"GLAXOSMITHKLINE, Pfizer, Novartis, Roche, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Celgene have all given large sums to the charity and produce 15 of the 27 drugs on the list that might not otherwise go to NHS patients.

"And a lobbyist who was instrumental in organising the Foundation's campaign, Bill Morgan, later became a Tory special adviser in the Department of Health - which he was helping to run when the fund was set up."

9) LEGISLATING FOR LEVESON, PART 97

The Telegraph is pleased to report the following, on its front page:

"The newspaper industry's proposals for a royal charter on press regulation deserve 'equal consideration' alongside plans drawn up by the Government after the Leveson Inquiry, a senior Tory says today.

"Lord Wakeham, a former Conservative Cabinet minister who chaired the Press Complaints Commission, says campaigners seeking to give politicians a role in the regulation of newspapers were wrong to reject the industry's proposals.

"The newspaper industry last week rejected the Government's plans for press regulation and has submitted a rival proposal for a royal charter to create a system of self–regulation.

"... The Hacked Off campaign group, which wants statutory regulation of the press, has said that the industry plan is not acceptable, and accused it of "defying the will of Parliament".

Writing on the Guardian website, media analyst Claire Enders says she is "sceptical that [the industry's] Charter will get any real support in Parliament. It is further away from what Leveson recommended than anything that has gone before."

10) DOWNING STREET WOOS TW*TS

From the Guardian front page:

"Asked in 2009 why he didn't use Twitter, David Cameron famously responded 'too many twits might make a twat'. Four years later, Number 10 is attempting to move more rapidly into the digital future with a Twitter strategy that includes handing out 'Twitter exclusives' to favoured journalists for release before they are officially announced by ministers.

"In a tactic reminiscent of the BBC satire The Thick of It, Twitter is also being used to try to quash negative stories before they gain currency in a news cycle where every second counts.

"'Every minute that passes the poison is spreading into the system to all sorts of roots and you need to find a way to cauterize that very, very quickly,' said a senior No 10 source."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 40

Conservatives 31

Lib Dems 11

Ukip 11

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@Nigel_Farage It's a bit rich of Ken Clarke to call UKIP 'clowns' when he wanted us to join the euro... #economicsuicide

@frankieboyle UKIP seem to have a nostalgia for old fashioned supportive British communities.Those still exist, it's just that they're Muslim & Sikh.

@LordAshcroft Lynton Crosby becoming the story. Dirty linen/public. Whatever the merits not good for the Tories.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Boris Johnson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Far from being bad news, the rise of Ukip is actually a good sign for the Conservative Party."

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "If the Conservatives are to have a chance in the coming elections, the Prime Minister needs a grittier message."

Owen Jones, writing in the Independent, says: "Don't be fooled: Iain Duncan Smith’s attack on pensioners is really an attack on all of us."

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