POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Clegg Pledges End To 'Groundhog Day'

03/06/2013 08:25 BST | Updated 03/06/2013 08:29 BST
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LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 22: Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg speaks during a press conference at Admiralty House on May 22, 2013 in London, England. Mr Clegg spoke to members of the media about his Liberal Democrat party and the coalition with the Conservative's going forward to the next election in 2015. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The five things you need to know on 3 June 2013...

1) AN END TO 'GROUNDHOG DAY'?

Three peers - Lords Cunningham, Mackenzie and Laird - and an MP - Patrick Mercer - have been accused of taking cash for parliamentary work.

So, what's to be done? Cometh the hour, cometh the man. From the Daily Telegraph's splash:

"Lobbyists will be regulated and voters will get the power to sack their MPs after the latest sleaze scandal to hit Parliament, Nick Clegg says today.

"Following disclosures by The Telegraph about MPs and peers taking money from undercover reporters posing as lobbyists, the Deputy Prime Minister pledges to bring in laws to create a 'cleaner, better politics'."

Mr Clegg laments the fact that the papers have once again been filled with stories about "the murkier side of British politics", and claims the latest "unsettling but not surprising" allegations are symptomatic of a political system "long crying out for head-to-toe reform".

"It's the political equivalent of Groundhog Day: MPs accused of abusing their position; businesses of getting too close," he writes.

Clegg also points out: "We need to be realistic: there is no single, magical protection against an individual politician determined to behave unethically or inappropriately."

But he adds: "I know that the absence of the [statutory lobbyists'] register from last month's Queen's Speech raised some concerns.

"So let me be clear: it will happen."

Meanwhile, the Times splashes on the news that "peers could be expelled from Parliament under a new drive to clean up Westminster, it emerged yesterday, as the lobbying scandal engulfed the House of Lords.

"The move would end centuries of tradition in which a seat on the red benches of the Upper House has meant a job for life. Downing Street responded to a series of sleaze allegations by saying that it would push two stalled reforms on to the statute book: a register of lobbyists and a new right for voters to force a by-election would receive fresh impetus."

Do you hear that noise? Yep, it's the sound of the barn door being closed. The horse has bolted..

2) UNIVERSAL BENEFITS? NOT ANYMORE

Et to, Ed? From the Guardian:

"A future Labour government will halt winter fuel payments for 600,000 of Britain's richest pensioners, Ed Balls will say today in a speech that represents a significant break with the tone of Labour's previous economic announcements.

"Stung by criticism that Labour has failed to come up with policies to address the government's budget deficit, the shadow chancellor will acknowledge the need for a cap on spending and announce a £100m cut in benefits.

"... In the speech on the UK economy at Thomson Reuters today, Balls will say Labour must begin planning for a 'tough inheritance' if it wins the 2015 election."

"'When our NHS and social care system is under such pressure, can it really remain a priority to pay the winter fuel allowance - a vital support for middle- and low-income pensioners - to the richest 5% of pensioners, those with incomes high enough to pay the higher or top rates of tax?' he will say."

Let's be clear: we're not talking about a big amount of money here. The proposed cut is worth just £100m. A drop in the fiscal ocean. "It's a little bit like a fiver dropped on the floor of the Treasury," as the BBC's Nick Robinson joked on the Today programme this morning.

The bigger issue is this: Labour is signalling that it's willing to break with the crucial social-democratic principle of universalism in the welfare system. So, what else is up for grabs? What else will the two Eds agree to means-test? And how do you prevent what the late, great Professor Richard Titmuss once claimed would happen in an era of means-testing? That "services for the poor" always become "poor services"?

3) GAY MARRIAGE, PART 94

Could the gay marriage end up costing the 26 bishops their safe-but-unelected seats in the House of Lords? The upper chamber is about to kick off a two-day parliamentary debate that will, ultimately, decide the future of the same sex marriage bill and, as the Telegraph reports on its front page,

"Bishops are facing intense pressure from inside the Church of England not to use their votes in the House of Lords to block gay marriage.

"Despite vocal opposition from the Church to the Government's plans to allow same–sex couples to marry in England and Wales, it is understood that senior officials have personally warned bishops to stay away from this week's vote.

"They fear that a large bloc of clerics turning up to vote down the Bill could rebound on the Church, reopening questions over the right of bishops to sit in the Lords, and could even raise the prospect of disestablishment. They have also told bishops privately that they are convinced the Bill, which includes legal "locks" to prevent clergy being forced to carry out same–sex weddings, is the 'best' they could hope to achieve."

However, the paper adds that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, "intends both to speak and vote against the Bill".

Meanwhile, the Independent reports, "in a provocative move Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali has suggested that a move to recognise gay marriage could put the Queen at odds with her Coronation vows. Speaking at a service of thanksgiving outside Buckingham Palace, the Bishop expressed the hope that Her Majesty's Government would not put her in a compromising position with regard to keeping the Coronation Oath to 'maintain the laws of God' and 'the true profession of the Gospel'."

Oooh....

The Times, on a related note, reports that "a group of Conservative stalwarts from the Thatcher and Major eras warn their fellow Tories today that they are standing in the way of history by opposing gay marriage.

"...'It would be wrong to hinder a measure whose time has come,' they say in a letter to The Times.

"The signatories include Lord Fowler, Lord Jenkin of Roding, Lord Hunt of Wirral, Lord Deben (the former John Selwyn Gummer), Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone and Lord Garel-Jones."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a news report from Maine on a missing man - who turns up in the middle of the news report about himself.

4) THE MENACE CALLED TWITTER

From the BBC:

"Turkish protesters have clashed with police in Istanbul overnight, in some of the worst violence since unrest erupted three days ago.

"Protesters in Besiktas district tore up paving stones to build barricades, and police responded with tear gas and water cannon.

"The violence was sparked by plans to build on a city park but have broadened into nationwide anti-government unrest.

"Protesters say the Turkish government is becoming increasingly authoritarian."

Meanwhile, the Times reports:

"As the crowd noise swelled and streets were plastered with graffiti lambasting the Prime Minister, Mr Erdogan took to national television for a defiant interview in which he blamed the protests on social media and branded demonstrators 'vagabonds'. 'There is now a menace which is called Twitter,' Mr Erdogan said. 'The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.'"

Er, okay...

5) AIDING THE ENEMY? DON'T. BE. SILLY.

From the Independent:

"A villainous traitor to the US government and a heroic whistleblower to his legion supporters, Private Bradley Manning finally goes on trial behind the gates of Army Base Fort Meade in Maryland today for spilling national secrets to WikiLeaks and allegedly aiding the enemy in a case that could lead to life imprisonment.

"Three years almost to the day since his capture by US Army investigators, the 5ft 2in Manning who wears wirerimmed glasses and looks younger than his 25 years, will listen as military prosecutors begin laying out their case arguing that by uploading material to WikiLeaks, including hundreds of thousands of documents and some video, he aided the enemy, put friends of the US at risk and embarrassed overseas diplomatic allies.

The paper adds:

"In all, Manning faces 22 charges, the most serious of which include violating the 1917-era US Espionage Act and aiding the enemy. If he is found guilty of the most serious charges he may never regain his liberty. In February he admitted leaking the classified materials and offered to plead guilty to 10 lesser charges, which on their own mean he could spend 20 years behind bars."

I'm with the Guardian's Gary Younge, who says: "It is an outrage that soldiers who killed innocents remain free but the man who exposed them is accused of 'aiding the enemy'."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 30

Ukip 15

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@halfon4harlowMP Thank you Ed Balls:) for announcing Labour to end universal benefits.Now easier for Tories to stop handouts to rich & stop Lab scare stories

@PeterHain Problem with Labour cutting winter fuel for rich is where does attack on universalism stop?

@Paulflynnmp SOS Cameron must stay until the full extent of the INEPTOCRACY he has created is exposed. Would be a waste to oust him for a petty scandal.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Trevor Kavanagh, writing in the Sun, says: "Why Red Ed will never lead Britain."

Frances O'Grady, writing in the Guardian, says: "Instead of obsessing about our relationship with the EU, we should be using our membership to rebuild our economy."

Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell, writing in the Telegraph, say: "[T]he case for recall and primaries is now surely overwhelming. This isn’t just about restoring the authority of Parliament; it’s about restoring honour and purpose to the act of voting."

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