POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Now Child Benefit, Too? Really?

05/06/2013 08:09 BST | Updated 05/06/2013 08:12 BST
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LONDON - NOVEMBER 6: A photo illustration of a child benefit form, November 6, 2012 in London, England. The British Government are thought to be considering proposals to limit child benefit to a family's first two children in an effort to save on the welfare bill. (Photo by Getty Images)

The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 5 June 2013...

1) NOW CHILD BENEFIT, TOO? REALLY?

Remember how Labour frontbenchers condemned the coalition's cuts to child benefit for higher earners? Saying they were out of touch and that the move was unfair and unjust?

Well, it was just cynical, opposition-for-opposition's-sake politics, it seems.

More evidence is emerging that Labour is abandoning universalism as it embraces austerity. First the winter fuel allowance, now universal child benefit.

From the BBC:

"A future Labour government would not reverse cuts to child benefit made by the coalition, the BBC has learned.

"Labour has criticised the cuts, but its leadership believes it could not afford the £2.3bn needed to reverse them.

"On Thursday, party leader Ed Miliband is due to say he supports capping the amount the next government will spend on welfare benefits."

On child benefit specifically, a senior Labour source told the BBC's Nick Robinson, "we have other priorities".

It's starting to look as if shadow chancellor Ed Balls wasn't misspeaking or gaffing when he said in a newspaper interview back in January 2012 that "we are going to have to keep all these cuts".

Meanwhile, the actual chancellor has been pretty busy, according to the Independent's splash:

"George Osborne has warned Cabinet ministers who are refusing to reduce their spending that they will be punished with deeper cuts if they hold out until the last minute in the hope of getting a better deal.

"The Chancellor will announce £11.5bn of cuts for the 2015-16 financial year in three weeks – but so far only £2.5bn have been agreed, as senior members of the Government battle to protect their own departments from further suffering... 'The clock is ticking,” Mr Osborne told the weekly meeting of the Cabinet during a progress report on the government-wide spending review."

2) 'COLOSSAL' CHILD POVERTY BILL

So, while the Labour leadership postures and positions on benefits spending and universalism, and tries desperately to look 'credible' in the eyes of the financial markets and the centre-right press, kids in the UK continue to suffer.

In fact, the country as a whole faces a "colossal bill" for child poverty with a new report putting the cost of increasing rates of child poverty at around £35bn a year by 2020.

From the Guardian:

"Donald Hirsch, an academic at Loughborough University, says that one-in-four children in Britain – 3.4 million – is forecast to be in relative poverty by the end of the decade.

"At those levels about 3% of the country's GDP would be consumed, as well as the longer term losses to the economy that result from lower educational attainment and poorer physical and mental health in later life.

"The result is a bill in 2020 of £35bn – an amount that exceeds the cost of HS2, the proposed high-speed rail network."

3) TAXING TIMES

Who says UKUncut hasn't had a massive impact on the parameters of political debate in the UK?

From the Guardian's splash:

"David Cameron has asked the senior ministers of all Britain's overseas territories – including Bermuda, Jersey and the British Virgin Islands – to London on the eve of this month's G8 summit to urge them to root out the multibillion-pound evasion industry by signing up to agreements to share tax information.

"... The intensity of the pressure that Cameron will place on the 10 crown dependencies and overseas territories to be more co-operative has, however, not yet been determined, amid signs there are some disputes between Downing Street and the Treasury on what to demand, and whether excessive public pressure will lead them to refuse to co-operate."

According to Action Aid. says the Guardian report, "nearly one in every two dollars of large corporate investment in developing countries was routed through a tax haven. It claims 98 of the FTSE 100 multinational groups have companies in tax havens".

4) THE 'WRECKING AMENDMENT' THAT DIDN'T WRECK

From the Sun:

"Peers overwhelmingly backed plans for gay marriage last night.

"They voted 390 to 148 against a "wrecking" amendment tabled by Conservative Lord Dear.

"However, the debate which preceded it once again revealed the deep Tory splits on the issue.

"Former minister Lord Glenarthur said many of the party's supporters felt 'despair' at David Cameron's support for it."

5) 'NEW LEVELS OF BRUTALITY'

From the Times:

"The war in Syria has descended to 'new levels of brutality' involving a dramatic escalation in war crimes including massacre, rape, arbitrary execution and the probable use of chemical weapons, the United Nations said yesterday.

"'War crimes and crimes against humanity have become a daily reality in Syria,' it said in a report, urging foreign powers to cut off the flow of weapons into Syria and support efforts to secure a negotiated settlement.

"... There were 'reasonable grounds to believe that chemical agents have been used as weapons', UN investigators noted in the document, drawn up over four months from 430 interviews by the UN commission of inquiry on Syria.

"Investigators had heard allegations of chemical weapon use by both sides..."

Yes, both sides. The Guardian reports:

"The British and French governments yesterday said that medical samples smuggled out of Syria have tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, and added that they have shown the evidence to a UN investigation.

"... However, [the French] made no claims as to who was responsible for the use of sarin."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a dog grabbing his towel before going swimming.

6) SPEAKER SPEAKS...

...on immigration. Uh-oh. From the Telegraph front page:

"Eastern European immigrants to Britain show more 'aptitude and commitment' to work than British people, the Commons Speaker has said.

"The arrival of thousands of workers from eastern Europe has had 'great advantages' for Britain, John Bercow said.

"In remarks that have raised questions about his political neutrality, the Speaker also attacked British critics of recent trends in immigration for their 'bellicose and strident tone'."

Guess who's really unhappy with the Speaker's remarks?

"Nigel Farage, the UK Independence Party leader who challenged Mr Bercow at the last election, said the Speaker had failed to fulfil his duty to remain above politics.

"He said: 'It is outrageous that Mr Bercow is happy to overthrow the wisdom of ages and think it acceptable to comment on matters that are both highly political and deeply contentious. He is a disgrace to the office of Speaker.'"

7) KICK OUT THE 'CROOKS'

My HuffPost colleague Ned Simons reports:

"Nick Clegg has said he will move to kick 'crooks' out of the House of Lords in the wake of the latest lobbying scandal.

"Under the current rules peers are able to retain their seat even if they are convicted of a crime or never actually bother to turn up.

"Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday morning, the deputy prime minister said proposals to throw lazy or criminal peers out of the Lords could be included in a forthcoming Recall of MPs Bill.

Ned adds:

"The Lib Dem leader had previously been opposed to incremental reforms to the House of Lords as he feared it would kill the momentum for the full democratisation of the House. However in the wake of allegations that three peers accepted cash for questions Clegg appears to have conceded that his must drop this opposition."

8) GOOD BANK, BAD BANK

It's current Tory chancellor versus ex-Tory chancellor over the future of RBS. From the Guardian:

"George Osborne's hopes of a rapid privatisation of Royal Bank of Scotland could be scuppered by the parliamentary commission on banking standards, which is next week expected to discuss whether the bailed-out bank should be nationalised and split into a good and bad bank.

"The future of RBS was not originally within the remit of the commission, chaired by Tory MP Andrew Tyrie and set up after the Libor scandal. It has been thrust onto the agenda by Tory peer Lord Lawson, who has questioned the chancellor on whether RBS should be broken up. Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King also told the commission he believed the 81% taxpayer-owned bank should be split with the state keeping the "bad" bank. The 'good' bank, created to lend to business, could then be privatised."

9) 'ONE MAN CAN MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE'

No, I'm not quoting the end line of 'Knight Rider', the 1980s TV action series. I'm quoting Boris Johnson - on Winston Churchill.

Eh?

From the Times:

"Boris Johnson has ensured that he will spend months being obsessed by the qualities needed to be a great Prime Minister after announcing that he is to write his next book on Sir Winston Churchill.

"In what many in Westminster regard as a mischievous nod towards his own leadership ambitions, the London Mayor said that he wanted to use the new biography to show how "one man can make all the difference".

"His decision to write another book earned him inevitable rebukes for neglecting his duties as London Mayor. He also continues to write a regular newspaper column. But the project will hand Mr Johnson the chance to further increase his popularity within his own party by embracing the memory of the former Prime Minister. The book, provisionally entitled The Churchill Factor, will be published in autumn 2014."

10) HAVE YOU HEARD MY WIFE?

From the Sun:

"David Cameron received a surprise gift from Nicolas Sarkozy on a visit to London — a CD of wife Carla Bruni’s love songs.

"Former French president Mr Sarkozy, 58, presented Bruni’s fourth studio album Little French Songs to the PM on Monday at Downing Street.

"A No 10 aide later said Mr Cameron 'looks forward to listening to it'."

Oooh la la...

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 40

Conservatives 30

Ukip 14

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 110.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@jimmurphymp Today I've been inundated from across the country with emails about badgers. Today I've received not a single email about humans in Syria.

@patrickwintour Who says Balls won't have the strength to cut ? He slashed 1,500 words late on from his still 6,000 word Ironman speech.

@oflynnexpress Lab is not going to lose its reputation for taking money from those who work and giving it to those who won't. Very bad decision.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian: "Ed Balls is as mesmerised by the bankers as George Osborne."

Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "Industrial policy is back in vogue, but will its new incarnation succeed where earlier attempts to stop decline failed?"

Alison Phillips, writing in the Mirror, says: "Stand up for the NHS or it will become a casualty."

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