POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Westminster For Sale, Week Two?

09/06/2013 10:26 BST | Updated 09/06/2013 10:30 BST
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Tim Yeo MP, chairman of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, after commenting on plans to increase taxes on high emission transport. The Committee said today that the Government should raise taxes on air travel and high-polluting cars in order to reverse the trend of increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

The ten things you need to know on Sunday 9 June 2013...

1) WESTMINSTER FOR SALE, WEEK TWO?

First Patrick Mercer. Now Tim Yeo. From the Sunday Times splash:

"The Tory MP in charge of scrutinising new energy laws has been caught boasting about how he can use his position on a powerful Commons committee to push his private business interests.

"Tim Yeo told undercover reporters — posing as representatives of a firm offering to hire him — that he was close to 'really all the key players in the UK in government' and could introduce them to 'almost everyone you needed to get hold of in this country'.

Derek Draper, eat your heart out. The paper continues:

"He said he could not speak out for them publicly in the Commons because 'people will say he's saying this because of his commercial interest'. But he assured them: 'What I say to people in private is another matter altogether.'

"Yeo, chairman of the energy and climate change committee, was approached by reporters claiming to represent a green energy company.

"He was filmed revealing that he had coached a paying client on how to influence the committee."

Yeo, who has raked in £530,000 from private companies since 2010, denies the allegations against him and has referred himself to the parliamentary standards watchdog.

2) LYTON IN THE LINE OF FIRE

It isn't just Time Yeo who's in the firing line. Top Tory Lynton Crosby is on the front of the Observer over lobbying accusations:

"David Cameron is under pressure to force his chief election strategist, Lynton Crosby, to reveal the identity of his business clients as new details emerge of the way the Australian combines roles as the Tories' top political adviser with that of a commercial lobbyist. Crosby's position as the Conservatives' election guru – at the same time as heading his own communications, polling and lobbying firm, Crosby Textor, whose client list is not made public – is causing growing unease...

"While Cameron insists Crosby does not advise him on policy but only on political strategy, critics have raised questions about the impression of potential conflicts of interest. Crosby Textor has represented tobacco and alcohol firms and was involved with British American Tobacco when the company was opposing new rules on packaging in Australia."

It isn't just lefties going after Lynton:

"Tory MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, who was angered by the dropping of minimum alcohol pricing by the coalition, said: 'I think those lobbyists with roles at the heart of any party should have to reveal their major clients, and that includes Lynton Crosby.'"

Watch this space.

3) I SPY WITH MY LITTLE EYE

Speaking on the Andrew Marr programme this morning, foreign secretary William Hague defended the integrity of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), describing claims that the eavesdropping agency had secretly gathered dat on UK citizens' online activities from the world's largest internet companies, via the US National Security Agency’s controversial and potentially illegal ‘Prism’ scheme, as "nonsense" and "fanciful".

"If you are a law-abiding citizen in this country going about your business and your personal life you have nothing to fear," Hague told the BBC. "Nothing to fear about the British state ot the intelligence agencies listening to the content of your phone calls or anything like that."

Does that put your mind at ease? The classic defence deployed by authoritarians throughout the ages? 'You have nothing to fear if you're not breaking the law.' Er, ok.

Hague confirmed he'd be coming before parliament tomorrow - as demanded by Labour - to address these allegations, which were first revealed in the Guardian.

The Observer reports:

[Home Secretary Theresa] May is scheduled to answer Home Office questions at which the issue will dominate, if no formal statement is to be made. Among questions that MPs want answered as a matter of urgency is whether any of the intelligence supplied by the US about British citizens was handed over to GCHQ in breach of British interception legislation, or whether British intelligence officials attempted to bypass British law by sending requests for intercepts to the US."

Meanwhile, the Independent on Sunday reports:

"Members of the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) will meet General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency (NSA), which stands accused of secretly mining data from nine of the world's top internet companies through its top-secret Prism programme."

Apple, Facebook Michosft and Google have all denied giving government agencies access to their servers.

4) CAMERON IS A PILOT HEADING FOR A CRASH, SAYS MP

Last week I revealed that a key Tory plotter believes the number of backbench MPs who have signed letters of no confidence in Cameron's leadership was "into the 30s". In today's Mail on Sunday, MP Andrew Bridgen rather boldly 'outs' himself as a letter signer:

"[S]ince I have been asked to confirm that I have called for a no confidence vote in the Prime Minister, I think it is wrong to deny it.

"I informed the Tory whips office in advance that I was putting in my letter of no confidence."

He explains:

"I have come to the view that although many of our policies are right, whether on welfare reform or reducing the deficit, there is a credibility problem with the current leader.

"... By pressing ahead with gay marriage and delaying a promise on an EU referendum until he was forced to do so, Mr Cameron has fuelled the rise of UKIP. We have created our own nemesis.

"I believe the Prime Minister has blundered by forcing through the gay marriage vote."

For Bridgen, "the situation is... like being in an aeroplane. The pilot doesn't know how to land it. We can either do something about it before the crash or sit back, watch the in-flight movies and wait for the inevitable."

Ouch.

5) 'THE WORLD HOLDS ITS BREATH'

That's the rather appropriate headline in the Sunday Telegraph, which reports on Nelson Mandela's "serious" condition in hospital:

"[T]he disclosure that [Mandela] has been admitted to hospital for the fourth time in just over six months caused millions of his compatriots to catch their breath yesterday.

"It was 'serious this time', said Mac Maharaj, President Jacob Zuma's spokesman. 'Every day that he gets older, it gets more serious.'

"... The former president turns 95 on July 18, and had been expecting a visit from President Barack Obama, who is due in South Africa at the end of this month.

A friend who saw Mr Mandela this week told The Sunday Telegraph that he had seemed better of late:

"'Sometimes he is too tired to even talk but this week he was talking and seemed pretty fine,' the friend said. 'He has his ups and downs but he really seemed OK.'"

Our prime minister has "added his best wishes", says the paper: "My thoughts are with Nelson Mandela, who is in hospital in South Africa."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a dog playing dead rather overdramatically...

6) GIVE PEOPLE THE FACTS AND THEY CHANGE THEIR MINDS

Shock! Horror! From the Observer:

"Opposition to immigration drops when people are told about the economic benefits of net migration, new research indicates. A YouGov poll found that the proportion of those questioned who viewed immigration negatively dropped from 63% to 54% after they were told that the government's financial watchdog believes that higher immigration will help the economy grow and ease pressure to cut spending.

"The results have prompted fresh demands for the debate on immigration to centre on facts as opposed to fear-mongering and inflammatory rhetoric.

"The Office for Budget Responsibility says that, if net migration were stopped, in five years the public sector's net debt would be £18bn higher than if it continued. Within 50 years, the debt would soar from 74% of GDP to 187% – higher than Greece's 161% debt.

"... YouGov found that, after being told the "full facts", the proportion of respondents holding positive views about net migration grew from 32% to 39%. The numbers wanting an end to all immigration dropped from 16% to 12%, and those advocating a small number of skilled migrants fell from 47% to 42%.

7) HOW TOUGH WILL THE 'TOUGH NEW BANKING RULES' BE?

From the Sunday Telegraph:

"The Banking Commission report on standards in the City is to demand a radical overhaul of the punishment of bankers who have overseen failed institutions and open the door to new rules on multi-million-pound pay deals and competition in the sector.

"The final report by the Commission on Banking Standards could be released as early as this week and will contain a series of recommendations on bank governance as well as changes to the 'approvals regime', which registers senior bank executives.

"The 568-page document is expected to say the regime has failed and needs to be replaced, as well as urging regulators to enforce current laws rather than recommending new criminal legislation for the banking industry."

So why no new criminal legislation? That, I suspect, is what a lot of voters will be wondering...

8) SALMA'S DEATH THREAT

From the BBC:

"A man has been arrested after death threats were allegedly made on Facebook following a TV appearance by a former Birmingham City Councillor.

"Salma Yaqoob, a former Respect councillor, shared the threats with her Twitter followers after she appeared on the BBC's Question Time on Thursday.

"West Midlands Police said a 37-year-old man from Corby has been arrested on suspicion of malicious communications."

9) PM 'SICKENED' BY ONLINE CHILD PORN

From the Sunday Times:

"David Cameron has demanded that internet companies do more to end the scourge of child pornography on the web.

"As Google prepared to unveil plans to throw its might behind the fight against child abuse, the prime minister said he was 'sickened' by the proliferation of illegal images and demanded action.

"'It pollutes the internet, twists minds and is quite simply a danger to children. Internet companies and search engines make their living by trawling and categorising the web. So I call on them to use their extraordinary technical abilities to do more to root out these disgusting images,' he said.

"Cameron's intervention comes ahead of a meeting on June 17 between ministers and the industry, which is under intense pressure to cleanse the web of child pornography.

"Research by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) suggests that more than half of those who view images of child abuse go on to commit abuse themselves."

10) PATRICK JOINS NIGEL

More shock! More horror! The chief political commentator of the Daily Express, Patrick O' Flynn, has joined Ukip and will be standing for the Europhobic party in the 2014 European Parliament elections. Who'd have guessed he was Ukip, eh?

Ukip leader Nigel Farage revealed the news on Twitter yesterday:

‏@Nigel_Farage Delighted to welcome @oflynnexpress to @ukip and he's thrown his hat in the ring to stand as as MEP for the party

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 40

Conservatives 30

Ukip 14

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@DrEvanHarris Hague on #marr "If you're law abiding, you have nothing to fear". Equivalent to way doctors say "Now, this won't hurt" #marrshow #prism

@MarkReckons I suspect Lyndon Crosby will now have to be quietly (or perhaps loudly) sidelined. Any association with lobbying is currently toxic.

@DanHannanMEP When Barack Obama promised that he'd listen to all Americans, I didn't think he meant it literally.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "The two Eds take the first painful steps on a long and hard road."

Adam Boulton, writing in the Sunday Times, says: "Come 2015, austerity will be the last man standing."

Peter Oborne, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "David Cameron's reforming administration is in danger of making too many changes at once."

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