POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: £37bn And Counting

30/05/2013 08:43 BST | Updated 30/05/2013 08:45 BST
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Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, who lost troops in an IED blast on their warrior vehicle move out to a new Observation Point (OP) South of Yakchal on the second day of operation Now Roz (meaning New Day in in Dari) which sees the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) clear the Taliban from the Gereshk and Lashkar Gar areas of Helmand Province supported and mentored by British Forces, on what is deemed to be the last combined operation to rid what is a Taliban stronghold from insurgence.

The five things you need to know on 30 May 2013...

1) £37BN AND COUNTING

More and more evidence emerges to suggest that our war in Afghanistan is a political, financial and moral disaster. From the Guardian:

"The war in Afghanistan has cost Britain at least £37bn and the figure will rise to a sum equivalent to more than £2,000 for every taxpaying household, according to a devastating critique of the UK's role in the conflict.

"Since 2006, on a conservative estimate, it has cost £15m a day to maintain Britain's military presence in Helmand province. The equivalent of £25,000 will have been spent for every one of Helmand's 1.5 million inhabitants, more than most of them will earn in a lifetime, it says.

"By 2020, the author of a new book says, Britain will have spent at least £40bn on its Afghan campaign, enough to recruit over 5,000 police officers or nurses and pay for them throughout their careers. It could fund free tuition for all students in British higher education for 10 years.

"... In the first full attempted audit of what he calls Britain's "last imperial war", Frank Ledwidge, author of Investment in Blood, published next week by Yale University Press, estimates British troops in Helmand have killed at least 500 non-combatants. About half of these have been officially admitted and Britain has paid compensation to the victims' families."

NOTE: Given you've all signed up to have this Memo from me delivered to your inbox each morning, dare I mention that you can also hear me running my mouth on the big stories of the week tonight, on BBC1's Question Time, at 10:35pm. The other panellists are Alan Johnson (Labour), Anna Soubry (Conservative), Diane James (Ukip) and Julian Fellowes (Tory/Downton Abbey).

2) 'VOTERS RATE MILIBAND AS LESS DECISIVE THAN BROWN'

That's the splash headline on the front of the Times. It's a slightly odd headline. Why? The paper says:

"Ed Miliband is viewed by voters as less trustworthy, decisive or competent than Gordon Brown, according to a new poll.

"The Labour leader scores at consistently poorer levels in the YouGov poll than his predecessor did after the party's 2010 general election defeat."

The paper then adds:

"However, voters also regard Mr Miliband as a better Labour leader than Mr Brown, by 32 per cent to 17 per cent."

Hmm. So it's not all bad, then? Well, it is when you compare the Labour leader not to Brown but to Cameron - as Peter Kellner, president of YouGov, notes elsewhere in the Times:

"'Not as bad' as Mr Brown is not good enough.

"This becomes clear when people are asked who would make the best prime minister. David Cameron, on 32 per cent, outscores Mr Miliband, on 21 per cent. A mere 5 per cent opt for Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister.

"The real winner is 'don't know', on 41 per cent. Mr Miliband has failed to convert mounting disappointment with the Prime Minister into support for him as an alternative tenant of 10 Downing Street."

However, adds Kellner: "Although the Blair and Cameron precedents suggest that Mr Miliband is in trouble, there was one opposition leader who came to power, despite trailing the prime minister month after month. In the late 1970s, Margaret Thatcher lagged by as much as 20 points behind James Callaghan. Only when the Winter of Discontent capsized the Labour Government did she overtake him."

3) 'I'M BACKING DAVID CAMERON'

From the Guardian:

"Boris Johnson has rejected claims by David Cameron's former spin doctor Andy Coulson that he wants the PM to "fail miserably" so that he can replace him."

Of course he has.

"The prime minister's former director of communications also said that Cameron was fully aware of the London mayor's desire to see his leadership crash."

Aren't we all?

"The advice came in a 10-point battle plan for victory drawn up by Coulson, which is to be published in GQ magazine this week."

Yep, GQ, home of UK political strategy memos.

"On Wednesday, when asked if he wanted Cameron to fail miserably, Johnson replied: "Of course not. I'm backing David Cameron all the way."

All the way to where, Boris?

"He went on: 'I'm always grateful to Andy Coulson for his impeccable career advice but I'm backing David Cameron, who I'm increasingly confident is going to win.'"

Oooh.

Meanwhile, the Independent reports on how the mayor's "Teflon-like ability to shrug off political, personal and sexual controversy is underlined by a ComRes poll... By a majority of more than five to one, voters say his fathering of a child as the result of an extramarital affair would not affect whether they would vote for him."

Teflon indeed...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this hilarious video of loopy Minnesota congresswoman and former Republican presidential wannabe Michele Bachmann announce her decision to stand down from Congress. Her non-denial denials (that she's scared of her opponent, that she's worried about the ethics investigation into her 2012 presidential primary campaign, etc) are a sight to behold. The music in the background is just weird. Goodbye (and good riddance) Michele!

4) THE SCANDAL OF THE 'HIDDEN HUNGRY'

A rather depressing and shameful story makes the splash in this morning's Independent:

"More than half a million Britons have resorted to using food banks to stave off hunger and destitution, the Government has been warned.

"Major charities signalled their alarm over a dramatic rise in the nation's 'hidden hungry' – families who are forced to ask for help to feed themselves – because of wage cuts, the squeeze on benefits and the continuing economic downturn. The numbers have trebled in the past year alone and are likely to continue rising rapidly despite Britain's status as one of the world's wealthiest nations, according to a joint report by Oxfam and Church Action on Poverty.

"They say cuts to welfare payments – including below-inflation rises in benefits, new Jobseeker's Allowance sanctions and reassessment of entitlement to invalidity benefits – are the biggest cause of the surge in demand for food banks in all parts of the country."

5) SNOOZE AND YOU LOSE

Could the same-sex marriage bill be defeated in the House of Lords because some peers can't stay up late enough? Really? I mean, really?

My HuffPost colleague Ned Simons reports:

"Gay marriage advocates have warned that the same-sex marriage Bill could be put at risk by a late night vote in the House of Lords, as the peer leading opposition to the legislation says the majority are "affronted" by the plans.

"At last count 80 peers had asked to speak in the debate which begins at 3pm on Monday - meaning it could last well into the early hours of Tuesday morning.

"Labour has warned a 2am vote could be 'very risky' as frail and elderly peers, as well as those who live far away from London, may not be able to turn up to vote in favour of the Bill.

"... Lord Dear, the cross-bench peer who is leading opposition to the Bill, said he expected the vote to be much closer than in the Commons where it received overwhelmingly support. 'I don't think it will be a landslide either way,' he told The Huffington Post UK."

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn’t pass." - one of the less zanier quotes from Michele Bachmann's back catalogue, from 2009.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 37

Conservatives 30

Ukip 14

Lib Dems 11

That would give Labour a majority of 82.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@harrietharman John humphries @BBCr4today insightful i/v of male prof on gender relations and male power.....never happens when he is interviewing a woman

@MattProdger Independent reviewer of terror legislation David Anderson says existing laws are enough.

@KevinBrennanMP Tonight I had the pleasure of introducing Cerys Matthews to Dannie Abse #themagicofhay

900 WORDS OR MORE

John Denham, writing in the Guardian, says: "After Woolwich, we should not 'Prevent' certain views, but engage with them."

Isabel Hardman, writing in the Times, says: "When it comes to their next leader, the Tories MPs who still miss Margaret Thatcher may well choose a woman."

Rafael Behr, writing in the New Statesman, says: "With a bit of chutzpah, Miliband could rip the Tories in half over the EU. Does he dare?"

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