POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: The Great EU Protest Vote

16/05/2013 08:15 BST
PA
MPs during a Eurosceptic amendment vote expressing regret that the Government had not included an EU referendum Bill in the Queen's Speech, which won the support of 130 MPs tonight, in the House of Commons, London.

The ten things you need to know on Thursday 16 May 2013...

1) THE GREAT EU PROTEST VOTE

So, Dave, how are all those carrots and concessions on Europe working out for you? From the Telegraph splash:

"Half of all Conservative backbenchers have voted to criticise David Cameron's Queen's Speech for failing to propose a law on a European Union referendum.

"In a symbolic expression of anger at the Coalition's European policy, 114 Conservative MPs, including ministerial aides, backed an amendment regretting the omission of a referendum law.

Despite the amendment being defeated by 272 votes to 130, thanks to Labour and Lib Dem opposition to the referendum demand, the paper says the vote "is believed to be the first time since 1946 that members of a governing party have voted against a Queen's Speech. It reflects deep Conservative unhappiness over Mr Cameron's Coalition deal with the Liberal Democrats."

The Guardian reports that the prime minister's aides "insisted the vote was not a blow to his authority, as he had given his backbenchers a free vote, but Cameron loyalists had pleaded with backbenchers to relent and trust the prime minister after he tried to placate them by rushing out a draft Conservative referendum bill."

Today, Tory MPs will anxiously await the results of the ballot for private member's bills, which could allow a backdoor attempt at legislating for a EU referendum in this parliament. As the Guardian notes, "[p]robably only the top seven MPs in the ballot have a chance of their bill being debated and becoming law, but William Hague, the foreign secretary, promised full Conservative support for the bill at a tough meeting of the backbench 22 committee."

Meanwhile Vince Cable, the Lib Dem business secretary, takes some potshots at the Tory eurosceptics in a comment piece for the Guardian, arguing that to quit the EU anytime soon would be a "leap into the dark":

"Leaving the EU thus means leaving behind the single market and the common external tariff, accepting the risk that a Britain might then face an array of tariff and non-tariff restrictions like the other 'outs' – Turkey, say, or Ukraine."

Oooh...

2) HAVING YOUR CAKE, AND EATING IT

She's only been back in the Tory Party a few days and she's already causing trouble. Over what? Over - what else? - Europe.

In an interview with this week's Spectator, rebellious backbencher Nadine Dorries - MP for Mid-Bedfordshire - hints that she could end up standing at the next general election for both the Conservatives AND Ukip.

From the Telegraph:

"[Dorries] told The Spectator magazine that some of her constituents feel a 'huge amount of empathy with Ukip'. Asked whether she might stand on a joint Ukip–Tory ticket, she said: 'I will be having that kind of conversation with my association'.

"She added: 'I feel it would be a travesty if Ukip came in and took the seats off our councillors or indeed me when actually their policies and their beliefs are very much Ukip. Because what we have done, we have thrown clothes off and they have picked them up and put them on."

"Mrs Dorries's local association and the Conservative Party would have to agree to allow her to stand on a joint ticket. A Conservative spokesman insisted: 'This is not party policy, and it's not going to happen.'"

We'll see... we'll see....

3) DOES THE COMPUTER SAY 'YES'?

Nimbies rejoice! "Ministers have got their sums wrong and left the controversial high-speed rail scheme with a £3billion funding gap," reports the Mail. It adds:

"Transport bosses have also exaggerated the benefits that the HS2 project will bring to communities in terms of jobs and growth, the damning analysis of the Government's business case claims. The publication of the report by the National Audit Office has cast serious doubts over the £33billion rail link and provoked a furious row after [Public Accounts Committee chair Margaret Hodge] called the economic justification for it 'ludicrous'.

But the coalition won't be giving up on HS2 without a fight.

"Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin hit back by rejecting the report's 'core conclusion' and said there was a clear case that HS2 would generate hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of pounds worth of economic benefits.

"Borrowing a line from the TV comedy series Little Britain, he insisted: 'We are not building HS2 simply because the computer says "Yes".'"

4) 'RECOVERY IS IN SIGHT'

That's the splash headline in the Times:

"Sir Mervyn King said that the Bank was raising its growth forecast modestly while trimming back its inflation outlook, the first time that it has done this since 2007.

"The Governor hailed the 'welcome change in the economic outlook' as he revealed his final set of forecasts before retiring after ten years at the helm of the Bank."

So, time to break out the bubble? Not quite. As the Times reports elsewhere in the paper:

"The unemployment rate in Britain has risen for the third successive quarter, with 15,000 more people jobless and looking for work in the three months to March. The total rose to 2.75 million, pushing the official unemployment rate up to 7.8 per cent of the workforce.

"There was also fresh evidence of a squeeze on real earnings, with wages growing by only 0.4 per cent, well below the level of consumer prices inflation at 2.8 per cent."

And, as the Indy's economics editor Ben Chu points out:

"The [Bank's] Inflation Report... failed to anticipate the most severe downturn in gross domestic product since the 1930s when the economy plummeted like a stone in 2008. And growth has fallen well short of the Inflation Report forecasts pretty much ever since. Indeed yesterday saw the first (modest) upward revision in an Inflation Report growth outlook since before the financial crisis. All the rest of the revisions have been downward, as the Bank has been forced to respond to weak output data flowing out of the Office for National Statistics."

5) LABOUR'S POLL BLOW

The Mail is rather excited byt he latest Ipsos Mori poll:

"Ed Miliband's leadership of the Labour Party was under renewed scrutiny last night as its lead over the Conservatives fell to just three points.

"Support for the Opposition has slumped to 34%, down four points from a month ago, and its lowest level since the 2010 general election, according to the latest poll from Ipsos Mori."

The Tories were up two points on 31%, despite all the "turmoil over the EU referendum. But, as the Mail concedes:

"However the survey is of those who say they are certain to vote - and Labour supporters are less likely to say they will definitely turn up at the ballot box. But it does underscore how soft Labour's lead is."

The Labour lead is still soft, yes. But the idea that a single poll, or even a handful of polls, means Miliband's leadership should be "under renewed scrutiny" is nonsensical. And don't forget: even a 34% share, and 3% lead, would give Labour a majority of 22 (see 'Public Opinion Watch', below).

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a goat (yes, a goat!) on a slide in a park.

6) 'I'M THE HEIR TO BLAIR'

Move over Dave, there's a new 'heir to Blair' in town. Speaking in front of the Commons education select committee yesterday, reports the Telegraph, the Tory education secretary Michael Gove made this rather audacious claim:

"'If you're saying I'm the heir to Blair or a disciple of David Blunkett (Labour's former education secretary) then I plead guilty to both.'

"He then clarified his remark, saying: 'Tony Blair will decide who his heir is but I am a great fan.'"

The Telegraph reports that "Conservative MPs are said to have been discussing privately whether Mr Gove's intellect, strong opinions and radical policy agenda would make him a better leader than Mr Cameron" while the New Statesman's cover story today suggests a Tory leadership 'dream ticket' of Gove and London mayor Boris Johnson.

Gove, incidentally, had some other, department-related things to say to MPs yesterday, as well. From the Independent's splash:

"Pupils will find it harder to gain a top grade GCSE pass under a radical change to the traditional ABC grading system being planned by Education Secretary Michael Gove today.

"He is planning to scrap the present grading system entirely and replace A* and A grade passes with a one, two, three or four pass.

"...Mr Gove told MPs of the proposal when he addressed members of the Commons select committee on education today, telling: 'We have set the bar too low. We have had a low level of expectations in the past.'"

As is so often the case with the the education secretary, not everyone is happy with his 'reform' plans:

"Mr Gove was accused by Labour MP David Ward of being 'quite insulting to thousands and thousands of teachers in many successful schools' by claiming they had low expectations.

"Graham Stuart, the Conservative chairman of the committee, also argued that Mr Gove could be 'deliberately' paving the way for 'grade deflation' in the exam system through the changes."

7) BIG OIL BETTER WATCH OUT

From the Telegraph's splash:

"Oil company executives should face criminal prosecutions if they are found to have fixed the price of petrol, David Cameron said last night.

"The Prime Minister will look urgently at 'extending criminal offences' to cover market manipulation in the energy sector, after BP and Shell offices were raided by European authorities on suspicion of rigging oil prices, he said."

The Mirror's front page shows a blood seeping out from a petrol pump, under the splash headline: "They're bleeding us dry".

The question is: where's Ed Miliband? Why is he allowing the PM to take the lead on this and channel public anger? Wasn't One Nation Labour all about challenging "vested interests" like the oil and energy companies?

8) PAY YER TAX

Amazon's back in the news for all the wrong reasons this morning. From the Guardian's 'exclusive' front page splash:

"Company filings showed Amazon's main UK company paid just £3.2m in corporation tax on sales of £320m last year. However, the Seattle-based group has told investors its 2012 UK sales were £4.2bn."

9) OBAMA GETS A GRIP

Talking of tax, Obama has got rid of his tax chief. Why? The Times has the details:

"The head of the US tax agency was forced to resign last night as President Obama, embroiled by scandals on three fronts, went into damage-control mode.

"Mr Obama appeared on television to announce the dismissal of the head of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over revelations that the agency had singled out conservative groups for additional scrutiny. At the same time, the White House published 99 pages of e-mails relating to the terrorist attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi in which four Americans died, the circumstances of which the Administration has been accused of covering up."

The president and his team need to get on the front foot soon or risk having Obama's second term - like Bill Clinton's - wrecked by hysterical, Republican-led investigations, inquiries and - yes - impeachments...

10) MILIBAND TAKES ON ZUCKERBERG

From the Independent:

"Ed Miliband may be struggling to convince voters at home that he is the man to lead the country after the next election, but that has not stopped a leading Israeli newspaper from naming the Labour leader as the 20th most influential Jew on the planet.

"Mr Miliband has largely eschewed religion since being elected in 2010, telling the BBC that while he respected those who have faith, 'I don't believe in God personally'.

"His atheism has not stopped the Jerusalem Post from including Mr Miliband in its annual Jewish power list. He was only three places behind New York's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and four behind Mark Zuckerberg, the man who gave the world Facebook. He even beats such luminaries as Sara Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister's wife, and Bar Refaeli, the supermodel."

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"It's finished. Look around. Wake up. Greece is a disaster." - Tory backbencher Richard Drax speaking about the EU in the Commons last night.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Ipsos Mori poll:

Labour 34

Conservatives 31

Ukip 13

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 22.

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 40

Conservatives 30

Ukip 14

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 110.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@DanHannanMEP Conservative MPs vote for their own policy on a free vote. PM intensely relaxed. Cue headlines about defeats, disasters, bloody noses etc.

@johnprescott Allowing your MPs to talk about standing for two parties? Cameron really is Major Minor

‏@DPJHodges Given David Cameron's luck, Nadine Dorries will probably top the ballot for private members bills.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Have MPs learnt a thing since 2009? Their greed suggests not."

Martin Kettle, writing in the Guardian, says: "Britons obsess about immigration, Germans focus on education."

David Aaronovitch, writing in the Times, says: "Parts of Britain – away from the capital – prefer the retro attitudes of the 1950s even if this makes them poorer."

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