POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Putting A Smile On Nigel's Face

20/05/2013 07:58 BST | Updated 20/05/2013 08:00 BST
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UKIP leader Nigel Farage arrives in Westminster after a successful night in the local council elections last night.

The ten things you need to know on Monday 20 May 2013...

1) PUTTING A SMILE ON NIGEL'S FACE

The 'loongate' controversy is really starting to hurt David Cameron - and help Nigel Farage. From the Telegraph's splash:

"Conservative activists have begun defecting to the UK Independence Party in protest at the Tory leadership's 'arrogant and insulting' attitude towards grassroots members.

"Local party campaigners, including the chairman of one constituency association, will this week pledge their support for Nigel Farage after one of David Cameron's allies described grassroots Tories as 'mad, swivel–eyed loons'.

"Mr Farage uses an advertisement in The Daily Telegraph today to urge Conservative voters to back Ukip. The 'loons' description, he says, is 'the ultimate insult' from a party leadership that has betrayed the trust of its own supporters.

"He writes in the advertisement: 'Only an administration run by a bunch of college kids, none of whom have ever had a proper job in their lives, could so arrogantly write off their own supporters.'

Meanwhile, the Times reports that "Downing Street is conceding that the UK Independence Party could come first in next year’s European elections. A senior figure at No 10 said privately that it was now a 'reasonable assumption' that Nigel Farage’s party would top the poll in 2014, despite repeated attempts by David Cameron to stop the loss of Tory votes to UKIP."

Can Cameron shut the 'Loongate' story down? The Guardian reports that "Lord Feldman, the Conservative co-chairman, is to be challenged at a meeting of the party board on Monday over allegations that he made disparaging remarks about Tory grassroots activists... Brian Binley, the Conservative MP for Northampton South who has been an officer of the party for 54 years, said: 'This is a very disturbing matter and needs a full and proper review at the party board meeting. From that meeting I will decide how I will act thereafter.'"

"David Cameron is in danger of alienating not only his enemies but also his friends," says the Times leader. "However much he disagrees with his party base, they are worthy of his respect."

Cameron, of course, will say he does respect his "base"; the point is that he has to find a way of turning his words into actions. And he'll have to do it fast.

Writing on the Conservative Home website, former Tory vice-chair and donor Lord Ashcroft issues the following warning: "We need to pull ourselves out of what threatens to become a spiral of irrelevance."

2) GAY MARRIAGE REVOLT, PART 544

The "mad, swivel-eyed loons", meanwhile, could inflict a "new defeat on Cameron", in the words of the Times splash this morning.

The Tory leader, reports the paper, "faces another defeat in the Commons today as his leadership comes under unprecedented strain from angry party members and revolts over gay marriage and Europe.

"The Prime Minister's plan to introduce gay marriage is set to be plunged into chaos if Labour MPs join Tory rebels in a key vote today. It comes amid gloomy predictions within Downing Street that the UK Independence Party will win most seats in next year's European elections.

"Government sources warned that a Tory 'wrecking amendment', designed to hand heterosexual couples the right to have a civil partnership, could cost £4 billion and delay the introduction of same-sex marriages by up to two years."

The Guardian splashes on "Number 10 pleads with Labour to save gay marriage bill." The paper reports that government warnings "were aimed at Ed Miliband, Labour's leader, whose support for the amendment will be decisive. One source said: 'Ed Miliband clearly wants to make political capital here. Perhaps he should think of the consequences.'

"But Labour rejected what it called the 'farcical' warnings, as sources noted that the supposed size of the 'price tag' had grown from £3bn to £4bn in five days. One source said: 'They are wrecking this bill themselves and trying to blame others.'"

Meanwhile, the Guardian story adds that "at least two cabinet ministers – the environment secretary Owen Paterson and the Wales secretary David Jones – are prepared to vote for a series of amendments that would grant exemptions to teachers and registrars."

And my HuffPost colleague Ned Simons reports:

"On Sunday Tory activists attacked David Cameron's support for gay marriage, claiming it had made winning the next general election 'virtually impossible'.

"In a letter to the prime minister, more than 30 present and former local party chairmen warned that Cameron's backing for a change in the law had led to voters switching their support to Ukip.

"However a competing letter, signed by over 125 Senior Conservative Party activists including association chairmen, urges the prime minister not to back down. 'This is an issue of particular importance to younger voters and MPs risk appearing out of touch if they pander to a vocal minority,' they said."

Interestingly, the Telegraph reports (on its front page!) that the death of cabinet office Francis Maude's "gay brother from Aids convinced him to support moves to legalise marriage for same–sex couples".

3) THE EUROSCEPTICS' £92 BILLION POUND GAMBLE

Britain's leading europhiles, led by Sirs Martin Sorrell and Richard Branson, have hit back at their critics this morning - from the Independent's splash:

"Some of Britain’s most successful and eminent business leaders have accused Eurosceptic MPs of putting 'politics before economics' and abandoning the national interest in their calls for Britain to leave the European Union.

"In a letter to The Independent, the group issues a trenchant riposte to politicians who have argued that Britain’s economic interest would be better served outside the EU... The letter, which is signed by senior figures including the current and next presidents of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) as well as the chairmen of BT, Deloitte, Lloyds and Centrica, is the first co-ordinated response from the business community to increasing anti-European political rhetoric.

".... [I]n their letter the businessmen write that on a purely economic basis, exiting the EU would be deeply damaging to Britain. 'The economic case to stay in the EU is overwhelming,' they say. 'To Britain, membership is estimated to be worth between £31bn and £92bn per year in income gains, or between £1,200 to £3,500 for every household.'"

4) PAY PEANUTS, GET MONKEYS?

Sorry, what? Is it April Fool's Day? From the Guardian:

"MPs may receive a pay rise of about £10,000 a year amid reports that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) has decided that their salaries are lagging behind civil service pay.

"John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, is understood to be sympathetic to a pay rise after saying that MPs are paid an 'ordinary' amount of money.

"MPs are paid £65,738 a year, a figure that was frozen in 2011 for 2012-13. The leaders of the main parties have resisted pay increases on the grounds that it would be wrong for MPs' salaries to increase while public sector workers are experiencing a pay freeze."

Bear in mind, however, that the average annual earnings of full-time workers in the UK stood at £26,500 in 2012. How's that for "an 'ordinary' amount of money"?

Meanwhile, the Mail reports:

"A senior MP said he feared they would be accused of having their ‘snouts in the trough’ but argued: ‘Voters may not like it, but if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.’"

5) GO INDEPENDENT... GO BUST!

George Osborne's department continues to make rather strong economic arguments against Scottish independence. From the Express:

"Another banking crisis like the 2008 crash could pose a 'very serious risk' to the taxpayers of an independent Scotland, according to a Treasury report.

"Scotland would be vulnerable to financial shocks and the volatility of banking due to its large banking sector compared to the size of its economy, the paper states.

"... Warning that the value of Scottish banks is 12 times Scotland's GDP, it suggests they could be too big for an independent Scotland to save in the event of another crisis."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of the funniest bloopers from the US version of 'The Office', starring Steve Carell, which aired its last ever episode last week.

6) CUT 5,000 JOBS; HIRE 10,000 MORE

I guess this is what they call a false economy - from the Telegraph:

"The Army has launched a campaign for 10,000 recruits, weeks before thousands of experienced soldiers who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan will lose their jobs.

"The Ministry of Defence will appeal for fresh applicants in a television campaign starting today.

"Next month, about 5,300 troops will go in the single biggest round of Armed Forces redundancies under the Coalition. Critics argue that the Army is losing valuable expertise as it sheds trained soldiers in favour of young recruits, many of whom start on salaries of £275 per week – or just over £14,000 per year."

7) LIES, DAMNED LIES AND... DWP STATISTICS

From the Guardian:

"The Department for Work and Pensions has delayed publication of the first set of official statistics detailing the extra number of jobless claimants losing benefits as a result of a tougher sanctions regime introduced by the coalition in October.

"The DWP said there were "some significant doubts about the quality of the new regime statistics" due to have been published this week, adding it was not possible to give a date when they would be in a form fit to print.

"Ministers have also suspended publication of figures relating to employment and support allowance."

The paper adds: "The DWP has been repeatedly criticised for its use of statistics."

Now there's an understatement.

8) THE NHS, THE PRIVATE COMPANY AND (THE LACK OF) PATIENT CARE

Don't say you weren't warned. From the Independent's front page:

"A private company that took over the running of a GP out-of-hours service in north London has been severely criticised by the NHS regulator for failing to provide enough doctors to keep patients safe.

"The Care Quality Commission’s report on Harmoni, Britain’s biggest provider of out-of-hours care which runs services across the country and earns £100m a year from NHS contracts, is the first evidence from an official body that cost-cutting by private companies may be harming patient care."

Who'd have thought, eh?

9) 'A TARGETED ACT OF TERROR'

Is there a London connection to terror on the streets of Pakistan? Pakistani politician and ex-cricketer Imran Khan thinks so. From the Times:

"Imran Khan has blamed a London-based political rival for the murder of Zahra Shahid Hussain, a leading member of his party in Karachi.

"Mrs Hussain, 59, a close friend of the former cricketer who leads Pakistan's PTI party, was shot in the head outside her home in what Mr Khan called a 'targeted act of terror'. The mother of two had been leading protests against alleged ballot-rigging by Karachi's dominant political party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, (MQM).

"... Mr Khan hit out at his political rival, Altaf Hussain, who has run MQM from his home in North London for more than 20 years... He added that he held the British Government responsible since he had warned them about Mr Hussain's 'open threats to kill PTI workers'.

"The MQM strongly denied Mr Khan's allegation... The Metropolitan Police has confirmed that it was reviewing whether Mr Hussain, a British citizen, broke UK laws as he responded to allegations that his party had rigged ballots in Karachi, its political heartland."

10) TONY'S MILLIONS

From the Mail:

"Tony Blair has agreed to advise the next government of Albania in a deal which could be worth millions of pounds.

"Albania is hoping to join the European Union and is understood to be interested in New Labour-style reforms.

"Mr Blair is being lined up to work as a consultant for the Socialist Party if, as expected, it wins next month’s elections."

The paper reminds us that Blair "was criticised after it emerged earlier this year that he will advise president Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, whose police force shot and killed 15 striking oil workers in December 2011. The deal with Kazakhstan was said to be worth £16million."

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"We all know what's going on inside the Conservative party. The UK isolation party and their fellow travellers in the Conservatives are sort of operating a Soprano-style protection racket inside the Conservative party. They are saying: 'Do what we want, give us what we are demanding, or we are going to burn your home down.'" - Peter Mandelson, speaking on the Andrew Marr show yesterday.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 40

Conservatives 29

Ukip 14

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@leicesterliz Our economy is becoming more global, our society more liberal - Tory party views on Europe & gay marriage show they're stuck in the past

@DanHannanMEP Perhaps the reason that Euro-zealots are rarely called 'swivel-eyed loons' is that Eurosceptics are naturally politer.

@Mike_Fabricant Word to the wise. If you want your email ignored, address it to all MPs simultaneously & start "Honorable & Beloved Member of Parliament"...

900 WORDS OR MORE

Steve Richards, writing in the Guardian, says: "Cameron had the chance to defy the 'swivel-eyed loons' and remake his party. He failed."

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "Here’s the speech Cameron should give now."

Tim Bale, writing in the Telegraph, says: "The latest row between leadership and base shows that the Tories can no longer rely on unquestioning loyalty."

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