POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'A Shabby And Panicked Response'

04/06/2013 08:14 BST | Updated 04/06/2013 08:17 BST
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LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 20: Leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband addresses TUC members in Hyde Park at the end of a march in protest against the government's austerity measures on October 20, 2012 in London, England. Thousands of people are taking part in the Trades Union Congress (TUC) organised anti-cuts march that ends with a rally in Hyde Park, where Labour leader Ed Miliband is scheduled to address the demonstrators. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/WPA-Pool/Getty Images)

The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 4 June 2013...

1) 'A SHABBY AND PANICKED RESPONSE'

You've got to the hand it to the Tories. Even in the midst of a (self-inflicted) political crisis, they're able to score points against their opponents; they're willing to manoeuvre, plot and position. I mean, does it make sense to propose new legislation to curb trade unions, which had nothing to do with the recent lobbying scandals, while depriving voters of the power to sack and recall sleazy MPs?

From the Guardian's splash:

"Downing Street was accused of conducting 'shabby' politics by Labour after David Cameron and Nick Clegg took a new anti-sleaze bill, announced in response to the lobbying scandal, and inserted last-minute plans to clamp down on union funding of election campaigns.

"The surprise move was designed to reduce the impact of union support for Labour in the run-up to an election, and came as Clegg said he would introduce a bill to create a statutory register of lobbyists in time for this summer's parliamentary recess.

"Cameron and Clegg agreed to incorporate the union funding measures at a bilateral meeting in the morning. Number 10 then announced them in the afternoon, in moves that even seemed to catch some junior members of the government off guard."

The paper adds:

"The new anti-sleaze bill will include measures to control in the year prior to an election any spending of third-party organisations affiliated to parties and any organisation contributing £100,000 or more. In practice, this only applies to the trade union funding of Labour and will exclude figures such as the former Conservative deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft, who has funded individual Conservative associations."

A Labour spokesman described the move as "a shabby and panicked response by Cameron to divert attention from a set of damaging headlines hitting the Conservative party".

Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, said: "The government is cynically trying to exploit a political sleaze scandal to crack down on unions – which are democratic and accountable organisations. We already have some of the most restrictive union laws in all of Europe and this move smacks of naked opportunism."

The Mirror calls the proposal "Cameron's sleazy attack on unions".

2) ARM THE REBELS? NO THANKS.

From the Financial Times:

"David Cameron came under strong pressure from Conservative and Labour MPs yesterday to promise there will be a formal vote in the Commons before any decision to transfer arms to moderate rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria.

"Amid signs that the government's Syria policy is set to become a contentious political issue, the prime minister faced hostile questioning from MPs across the political divide who fear arming rebels will inflame the civil war.

"... Two Conservative MPs - John Baron and Julian Lewis - asked Mr Cameron to guarantee that the Commons would be allowed a vote before a decision is made. Following a state-ment that focused on Syria policy, Mr Cameron would go no further than saying MPs were often allowed to vote on a wide variety of important political matters. However, he did not state categorically that this would be the case in the event of arms transfers to Syria.

"Almost all the MPs who raised Syria in the Commons yesterday criticised the idea of arming the rebels."

3) 'GAY'? YOU STOLE THAT WORD FROM US

Yesterday, the same-sex marriage debate arrived in the House of Lords. Among those peers speaking against the coalition's bill was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and a crossbench, hereditary peer named Lord Hylton who, as my colleague Ned Simons reports, "has a problem with gay marriage":

"Not too surprising. So do a lot of his colleagues. But he also has a deeper bone to pick with gay people - they stole the word 'gay'.

"He said: 'I regret very much that the fine old English and French word 'gay' has, in my lifetime, been appropriated by a small but vocal minority of the population.'

"Speaking during the debate on the same-sex marriage Bill on Monday evening, Lord Hylton told the House of Lords: 'The result is that it can no longer be used in its original and rather delightful meaning.'

"He added: 'Now, under the pretext of securing equality, Her Majesty’s Government are proposing to change the meaning of marriage.'"

The debate continues.

4) 'I QUIT'

On Friday, the Tories lost Patrick Mercer. Last night, the Lib Dems lost Mike Hancock.

From the Times:

"Mike Hancock, the Liberal Democrat MP, last night resigned the party whip in order to focus on defending himself against allegations of sexual misconduct.

"Mr Hancock, 67, who has represented Portsmouth South since 1997, is being sued in the High Court by a 'vulnerable' constituent who has accused him of 'inappropriate behaviour' after she contacted him for help.

"Yesterday he said that he would continue to contest the allegations vigorously, but had decided to 'temporarily withdraw' from the parliamentary whip until the case had concluded."

5) DO WE WANT 'IRON DISCIPLINE'?

On Sunday, a YouGov poll for the Sunday Times showed the public would prefer growth-even-if-it-means-a-higher-deficit to a lower-deficit-if-it-means-slower-growth by a margin of 41 to 32.

Yet yesterday, Labour's Ed Balls, once the hammer of the austerians, used a speech at Thomson Reuters to, in the words of the FT, "dust off Labour's 1997 election strategy yesterday, vowing to run public finances with 'iron discipline' and match the departmental spending plans of a Conservative chancellor.

"The shadow chancellor's faith in that strategy is hardly surprising: as Gordon Brown's economic adviser in the 1990s, he helped write it. The phrase 'iron discipline' was even used by Mr Brown in his 1996 pre-election party conference speech."

To be fair, Balls also argued that Labour still wants to increase capital spending in order to get growth going - but expect David Cameron to throw 'iron discipline' back at the other Ed - Miliband - at the next PMQs. The Tories will be delighted to see the two Eds joining battle against them on their own (austerity-obsessed) terrain, on which, of course, the Tories have so spectacularly failed.

Cameron and co will also be delighted to see Balls announce that a future Labour government would abolish the winter fuel allowance for the wealthiest 5% of pensioners - a move described by former Labour cabinet minister and Ed Miliband ally, Peter Hain, in a blog for the Huffington Post, as "peanuts" and the beginning of a "slippery slope" towards US-style services for the poor only.

As the Tory-supporting commentator James Forsyth observed on his Spectator blog yesterday, Labour - wittingly or unwittingly - has conceded "crucial ground on universality" and provided "an opening for the Tories to offer a scaled back version of the welfare state that is more of a safety net than a universal system".

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of cats and dogs versus household appliances. You know you want to.

6) DAVE'S DODGY 'CONVEYOR BELT'

The Prime Minister has gone from making rather sensible statements on Woolwich and terror, in the immediate aftermath of the killing, to making rather foolish statements - in the Commons yesterday. From the front page of the Telegraph:

"In his first Commons statement since the murder in Woolwich, south–east London, last month of Drummer Lee Rigby, Mr Cameron said: 'It is not simply enough to target and go after violent extremists after they've become violent. We have to drain the swamp which they inhabit." This meant stopping young Muslims becoming radicalised on university campuses and preventing extremists from taking over Islamic centres.

"He said: 'It means going through all of these elements of the conveyor belt to radicalisation and making sure we deal with them.'"

There is precious little evidence for such a simplistic view of the so-called radicalisation process. As I wrote in the Guardian back in June 2011:

"In July 2010, a leaked memo prepared by officials for coalition ministers on the cabinet's home affairs subcommittee concluded that it was wrong 'to regard radicalisation in this country as a linear 'conveyor belt' moving from grievance, through radicalisation, to violence … This thesis seems to both misread the radicalisation process and to give undue weight to ideological factors'.

"... Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and former CIA case officer, agrees that the 'conveyor belt' theory is flawed. In his 2008 book Leaderless Jihad, based on an analysis of more than 500 terrorist biographies, he argues that radicalisation shows no such linear progression, and that 'one cannot simply draw a line, put markers on it, and gauge where people are along this path to see whether they are close to committing atrocities'."

7) OBAMA VS ERDOGAN?

Thousands of Turkish protesters are still out on the streets of the country's major cities; hundreds have been arrested; the Guardian reports that "an Istanbul professor and one of his students both lost eyes when police hit them in the face with tear gas canisters". The paper notes the significance of yesterday's intervention from the Americans - Obama, after all, is a close ally and admirer of the Turkish government:

"The US last night called for an investigation into the political violence in Turkey and urged restraint on all sides following the fifth day of escalating nationwide protests against the rule of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

"In remarks that are likely to provoke Erdogan, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, said: 'We are concerned by the reports of excessive use of force by police. We obviously hope that there will be a full investigation of those incidents and full restraint from the police force.'

"Earlier yesterday, Erdogan warned protesters against taking the country's political disputes on to the streets, signalling he could mobilise his mass popular support to crush the demonstrations."

8) JUST OR UNJUST?

From the BBC:

"Barristers have attacked plans to cut £220m from the annual criminal case legal aid budget in England and Wales.

"The Bar Council, representing barristers, said putting legal aid contracts out to tender promoted the 'lowest possible quality of service'.

"Retired judge Sir Anthony Hooper said the right of a defendant to chose a legal aid solicitor would be lost.

"The government said the right to a fair trial would not be affected and lawyers would have to meet quality standards.

"The Bar Council's comments came in its 150-page response to a Ministry of Justice consultation on the issue, which ends later.

"It said the plans threatened to destroy a 'world-renowned' justice system."

9) ARISE, THE 'I LEVEL'!

What's this? Another new proposal from Michael Gove? Really? Where does he find the time?

From the Times splash:

"GCSEs are to be replaced by "I levels" with a grading system between 1 and 8 in the most sweeping reform to exams for a generation.

"Coursework will disappear in all core exams except science, in which teachers will allocate 10 per cent of marks for practical experiments.

"Opportunities to re-sit the new qualifications will be curtailed, with all endof-course examinations being taken in the summer, other than English and maths exams in November."

10) 'ASTONISHING WARNING FROM NANNYING MPs'

That's the splash headline on the front of the Daily Mail. The paper reports:

"Families should stop eating meat on a daily basis, MPs warn today.

"Pork, lamb and beef should be 'occasional' indulgences rather than dinner-table staples.

"They said the global surge in meat and cheese consumption was unsustainable, with the UK 'never more than a few days from a significant food shortage'.

"The Commons international development committee said farmers should rear more animals on grass because livestock is land and energy intensive and grain should be saved for humans."

Guess who isn't happy?

"The report was branded 'naive, dangerous and bitterly disappointing' by farming unions. 'Livestock farming is an essential part of the fabric of the British countryside,' said Charles Sercombe of the NFU."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 38

Conservatives 31

Ukip 16

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 84.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

‏@DouglasCarswell Can anyone tell me if it was concerns about trade union activity that prompted demands to deal with lobbying? Did I miss something?

@HackneyAbbott Clare Gerada: You are more likely to see an immigrant helping you as an NHS worker than in the queue for A&E @clarercgp @BBCr4today

‏@oflynnexpress Lawyer wants more money spent on lawyers...leads the news.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Peter Kellner, writing in the Telegraph, says: "On immigration, welfare and crime, cynical Britain just does not believe politicians anymore."

Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "The Shadow Chancellor has acknowledged the deficit. Even so, economic credibility is still a long way off for Labour."

Nigel Farage, writing in the Guardian, says: "Here's how Ukip would clean up Westminster's act on lobbying."

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