The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 7 May 2013...
1) LET'S GET OUT OF EUROPE
Poor Dave. Last week, the Tories were trying to fend off the UK Independence Party surge in the county council elections and work out how to win back disaffected Europhobic voters from Ukip. This week, a former Conservative chancellor of the exchequer and one of the party's biggest of big beasts, Nigel Lawson, endorses the central plank and number one goal of the Ukip manifesto: withdrawal from the European Union.
Writing in today's Times, Lord Lawson does his best impression of Nigel Farage, describing the EU as “a bureaucratic monstrosity” and arguing that the economic gains from a British exit “would substantially outweigh the costs”. He concludes: “The case for exit is clear", adding: "That is why, while I voted 'in' in 1975, I shall be voting 'out' in 2017".
Times political editor Roland Watson is right to say that Lawson's intervention "will electrify a Tory party reeling from last week's surge from the Eurosceptic UKIP and is likely to change the dynamic of the party's inner wranglings over the EU".
It is also an undisguised attack on the prime minister's 'renegotiation' strategy - Thatcher's former chancellor says any new terms agreed by Cameron in 2017 (or, for that matter, Prime Minister Miliband) would be "inconsequential", adding that Harold Wilson's negotiated changes, ahead of the 1975 Common Market referendum, were "so trivial" that no one now remembers them.
So, if you were of the view that the Tory Party's civil war over Europe had ended with the election of David Cameron in 2005, think again. The splits are real, open and substantive. Cameron, if he is re-elected in 2015, will go into a 2017 EU referendum campaigning for the UK to stay in on 'renegotiated terms' - but up against not just Nigel Farage, Bill Cash and the swivel-eyed tendency but Lord Lawson, among others, too.
2) POLICE TO QUIZ McLOUGHLIN
From the Telegraph:
"A senior Conservative minister is prepared to speak to police after being told four years ago about an allegation of 'inappropriate sexual behaviour' involving Nigel Evans, the Deputy Speaker. Mr Evans was accused of making an unwanted advance on a man he had been drinking with in 2009. The incident is being investigated by Lancashire Police as an alleged sexual assault alongside a second allegation of rape.
"Mr Evans was interviewed by Patrick McLoughlin, the opposition chief whip at the time who is now Transport Secretary. However, the matter was not reported to police by either the Conservative Party or the complainant.
"... A spokesman for Mr McLoughlin yesterday said that he would 'cooperate in full' with any police inquiries."
Meanwhile, according to the Guardian, Evans has said he is "determined not to let these allegations destroy" him or his career. The paper reports:
"Speaking in Bolton-by-Bowland, near Clitheroe, where he lives, Evans said on Monday he was trying to keep his spirits up. 'What doesn't destroy you makes you stronger. I'm trying to make sure in my own mind that I'm on that side,' he said."
"... The MP also explained a mysterious mark on his forehead that was visible when he gave a statement on Sunday. The 'painful' bruise appeared on Thursday as he came to the end of a reiki massage in Chinatown, London."
3) CAMERON'S CHINA ASBO
I've been critical of the prime minister in the past for fawning over foreign dictators in an attempt to sell them weapons and other stuff, so I have to congratulate him for this report in the Telegraph:
"David Cameron has effectively been barred from visiting China because Beijing is so angry at the Prime Minister for meeting the Dalai Lama last year."
Good for Dave. Then again, it's not all good news:
"There are now fears that the frosty diplomatic relations could put at risk Chinese investment in Britain, which was worth £8billion last year.
"Chinese sources have made a veiled threat that for investment in the UK 'there needs to be a strong relationship'."
It's a difficult balancing act for western leaders - how do you stand up for human rights against a regime in control of one of the biggest, fastest-growing economies in the world?
4) DAVE VS NAD, ROUND 2
Nadine Dorries has the "whiphand" in her "battle of wills" with David Cameron and George Osborne, according to the Times. The rebellious backbencher, who lost the Conservative whip in November over her appearance on 'I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here', is being wooed by Ukip and could jump ship prior to the general election. However, the Times reports:
"Ms Dorries... is due to meet Sir George Young, the Tory Chief Whip, to hear if the party high command is ready to bring her back into the fold.
"However, she is expected to refuse any demands to bind her into uncritical silence concerning the Government. This is buoyed in part by the existence of a little-known party rule that means the Prime Minister does not have the final say as to whether she can stand for the Tories in 2015... The rule gives MPs the right to trigger an appeals tribunal if they are without the whip within six months of a general election."
Bad luck, Dave...
5) UKIP'S 25% GLASS CEILING
Some of us have been arguing that Ukip's strong showing in the local elections last week won't result in the party winning any Commons seats come 2015. But what if we're wrong? From the Telegraph:
One in four voters have to back United Kingdom Independence Party at the 2015 general election to see just one MP elected, new research says.
The study from respected forecasters Electoral Calculus sets out the scale of the challenge facing Nigel Farage to cement the gains made by his party at last week’s local elections.
It said: “We see that UKIP only gets its first few MPs at 24 per cent. Even when it is the most popular single party, it can still win fewer seats than Labour.”
The odds of Ukip winning one in four of all votes cast in the next general election, however, are less than tiny. Lest we forget, Ukip won 17% of the vote in the June 2009 Euro elections only to win just 3% of the vote in the May 2010 general election, less than a year later.
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of pit bull who really wants this stick.
6) PEACE IN OUR TIME?
Has Kim Jong-un seen sense? From the Times website:
"North Korea has stood down its military forces and moved from their launch positions two medium range missiles, marking the end of six weeks of sustained tension with South Korea and the United States."
7) NOT-SO-UNIVERSAL CREDIT
Another blow for IDS. From the i newspaper:
"The vast majority of families will gain nothing from the introduction of the Universal Credit, the Government's flagship welfare reform scheme, a report claims today.
"A trial of the payment, which replaces six benefits and tax credits, began this month ahead of its introduction nationwide.
"In a joint report, the TUC and Child Poverty Action Group said nine out of 10 families will gain nothing from the new system, with any gains wiped out by benefits cuts. They claimed that disabled claimants in low-paid jobs could lose as much as £2,800 a year."
8) WEAPONS OF MASS DECEPTION
So, have chemical weapons been used in Syria? And if so, have they been used by Bashar al Assad or by the rebels? Or, perhaps, by both sides? The Sun sums it up:
'War crime investigators have failed to decide if chemical weapons have been used in Syria.
"The UN team has so far found no evidence damning either side in the conflict.
"Its admission yesterday came just a day after investigator Carla Del Ponte suggested rebels had used nerve gas sarin.
"Both rebels and President Bashar al-Assad's government accuse each other of chemical attacks."
As I noted on Twitter yesterday, Del Ponte's claims re the rebels and sarin were met with curious (hypocritical?) radio silence from western capitals. I guess it's kind of hard for the likes of William Hague and John Kerry to advocate arming the rebels if those rebels have, um, er, already armed themselves with WMDs...
9) REMEMBER SOMALIA?
It isn't just in Syria that the west's arms embargo is under pressure - from the Telegraph:
"The United Nations should lift its arms embargo on Somalia, and Britain should mobilise funds for a new national army that can defeat al–Qaeda, the country's defence minister said yesterday.
"On the eve of a conference in London designed to build support for Somalia's official government, Abdulhakim Haji Faqi told The Daily Telegraph that an arms embargo first imposed in 1992 should now be abandoned.
"'To live peacefully within ourselves, we need our military to be equipped properly – and that is why we need completely to lift the arms embargo,' he said."
10) STRIKE, STRIKE, STRIKE
Waiting for a letter? You may have to wait a bit longer. From the Telegraph:
"Homes and businesses are to be hit with delays to parcels and letters following the long weekend as Post Office workers go on strike today in a row over jobs, pay and branch closures.
Members of the Communication Workers Union at hundreds of Crown offices will walk out for the day, the fourth round of industrial action in recent weeks.
The union is opposed to plans to franchise 70 branches and close others, saying jobs will be affected. The CWU also said its members have not received a wage rise for more than two years."
This isn't just a protest by unreconstructed trade union lefties. The Times notes that "opposition to the closure and transfer of business of a fifth of the largest so-called Crown offices of the Post Office is gathering momentum. MPs such as Amber Rudd, George Osborne's personal private secretary, and the Labour veteran Peter Hain are among those running local campaigns against the Post Office plans, while 4,000 counter staff are to embark on a fourth day of strikes today."
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@SJacksonMP Lord Lawson's argument in favour of leaving the EU is a huge moment in the march of Tory Euroscepticism
@sandsstandard Can't write off Lord Lawson as a little Englander. Lives half time in France. But by intellectual temperament a sceptic, climate, Europe.
@ianbirrell Blimey! Guantanamo costs $1m per prisoner per year (as well as being grotesquely unjust)
900 WORDS OR MORE
Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "Governments manage change. UKIP fears it."
Benedict Brogan, writing in the Telegraph, says: "David Cameron has two years left to summon up the spirit of 1992."
George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, says: "Why the politics of envy are keenest among the very rich."
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