The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 12 June 2013...
1) 'THE LONGEST SLUMP IN A CENTURY'
Forget (our anaemic) growth for a moment - focus on the crisis in pay. From the Guardian:
"Britain's workers have suffered more financial pain since 2008 than in any five-year period of the modern age, according to research by a leading tax thinktank that shows employees have sacrificed pay to keep their jobs.
"Describing this downturn as the longest and deepest slump in a century, the Institute for Fiscal Studies says workers have suffered unprecedented pay cuts of 6% in real terms over the last five years.
"Historically, real wages rise by about 2% a year. This suggests that people are more than 15% worse off than they would have been if the pre-crisis wage trends had continued.
"Analysing downturns going back to the great depression, Paul Johnson, director of the IFS, said: 'This time really does seem to be different … it has been deeper and longer than those of the 1990s, the 1980s and even the 1930s. It has seen household incomes and spending drop more and stay lower longer.'"
What's the point of obsessing over the size of the benefits bill while more and more people are having to live on low wages and even 'poverty pay'?
Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports:
"Baby boomers are a 'fortunate generation' who have enjoyed dramatic improvements in living standards but are now 'absorbing' more than their fair share of taxpayers’ money, one of the Church of England’s most senior clerics has suggested.
"The Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres, who is 65, said there were 'severe questions' about the share of government spending that goes on his own generation."
2) CAMERON 'THE GIRLY SWOT'
Watch out Dave and Jo - Bozza's got you in his sights. From the Daily Mail:
Boris Johnson has dismissed David Cameron as a 'girly swot' because he got a first class degree.
The London Mayor, who got a 2:1 in classics from Oxford, lashed out after he was teased about the Prime Minister's greater academic accomplishment. Asked about Mr Cameron and the Mayor's brother Jo Johnson - head of the Prime Minister's policy board - both of whom got firsts in philosophy, politics and economics, Mr Johnson said he won a scholarship and they had not.
Unveiling a plan for the future of London, he branded them 'girly swots who wasted their time at university'.
The paper adds:
"The Mayor also admitted that he has enjoyed a pint and 'a very amusing time' with UKIP leader Nigel Farage, and defended the MPs caught up in recent lobbying scandals.
"He added: 'I feel sympathy with these poor MPs thinking they are having some jovial lunch in which they are hysterically exaggerating their ability to do things.'"
3) WHAT HAPPENED TO UKIPMANIA?
Is Ukipmania on the decline? From the Guardian:
"Ukip has lost a third of its support since reaching record levels of popularity in the wake of council elections last month, according to the latest Guardian/ICM poll.
"The poll shows Ukip falling by six points, although the party remains a force to be reckoned with on 12% - still three points above its previous highs until the sudden spike last month.
"Labour is ahead on 36% (up two percentage points on the month) with the Conservatives on 29% (up one).
"The latest poll leaves Nigel Farage's party tied with the Liberal Democrats, who inch up a single point from last month's nadir of 11%."
Meanwhile, the paper adds:
"On the all-important question of handling the economic slump, both major parties are losing trust. David Cameron and George Osborne maintain a nine-point lead over Ed Miliband and Ed Balls as the most trusted team for economic management, but only because faith in the Labour duo is waning almost as fast."
4) DID HE MISLEAD PARLIAMENT?
From the Telegraph's splash:
"The head of the NHS will on Wednesday be accused of misleading Parliament and of taking part in a “systemic cover-up”, after figures disclosed that hospitals have spent £2 million on 50 secret gagging orders.
"Sir David Nicholson will face accusations of misleading Parliament and of taking part in a “systemic cover-up”. Photo: PA
By Steven Swinford, Senior Political Correspondent9:38PM BST 11 Jun 2013200 Comments
"Sir David Nicholson, who is retiring next year after criticism over his role in the Mid Staffs scandal, told MPs in March that he had only come across one of the orders, used for gagging whistle-blowers.
"However, figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that at least 52 staff have been silenced using the orders since 2008, some of which cost as much as £500,000. All are thought to contain confidentiality clauses."
5) BULLDOZERS MOVE IN
From the BBC:
"Turkish riot police have used tear gas to disperse thousands of anti-government demonstrators who gathered on Taksim Square in Istanbul, after a day of sporadic clashes.
"Many protesters regrouped in nearby Gezi Park, where unrest continued into Wednesday morning.
"At dawn, bulldozers moved into Taksim Square to clear away debris, barricades and makeshift shelters.
"Protests began 13 days ago over the redevelopment of Gezi Park."
Prime Minister Erdogan is still scheduled to hold talks today with groups linked to the protesters - but not with the protesters themselves. This doesn't look like it's going to end anytime soon...
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this 'superb supercut' remix video of famous and not-so-famous people laughing on television and in movies...
6) POKES, LIKES AND OUR MPS
Sticking with MPs and value for money, how about this report in the Daily Mail, based on a rather clever Freedom of Information request?
"Since they seem to spend more than half the year on holiday and enjoy a four-day week, it is remarkable how much time MPs have to waste online.
"Figures show they and their staff spend thousands of hours a year on Facebook, online games and betting sites.
"Records show computers on the Parliamentary estate access Facebook up to three million times a month - 400 times as often as the BBC News website."
My favourite bit of the report?
"Some MPs appear to visit their own websites repeatedly, with Tory backbencher Christopher Pincher's site getting 23,000 visits in September, fellow Tory Rebecca Harris having almost 8,000 in a month, and Lib Dem MP John Hemming 9,000."
7) WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE
From the Independent:
"It is, one might think, the very last thing that Syria needs right now. As if a bloody sectarian civil war were not enough to be dealing with, the residents of the Syrian capital Damascus woke up yesterday to a rather unexpected international visitor: the BNP leader Nick Griffin. In a bizarre but graphic illustration of the old saying "my enemy's enemy is my friend", the far-right politician arrived in the country from Lebanon at the official invitation of President Bashar al-Assad and the Arab Socialist Baath Party. And he wasted little time pinning his colours to the Assad mast. In a series of tweets he castigated British support for Syrian opposition forces, claimed the rebels were jihadist terrorists and likened security in Damascus to Belfast in the Troubles.
"Mr Griffin's arrival in the Syrian capital coincided with a suicide attack on a police station that killed at least 14 people. But Mr Griffin at first insisted that all was well. 'Occasional explosions in distance but life in capital normal,' he wrote on Twitter. 'Traffic busy, shops full of goods. Families out in sun.'"
As someone who is firmly opposed to the UK government's decision to lift the arms embargo on the rebels, I can't say I'm too pleased to have the odious Griffin on my side of the argument...
8) GREEN SHOOTS? NOT QUITE
From the Times:
"A leading Bank of England official has warned that Britain's recovery is trailing behind that of America and that monetary policy probably will have to be kept loose for longer, as he played down the significance of recent stronger domestic economic data.
"Paul Fisher, head of markets at the Bank of England, said... that it could be a year or two before growth rises above its trend rate.
"'At the moment the macroeconomic outlook here is not as bright as in the US, and therefore we are some way behind them in terms of return to anything like trend growth, and so the question [of exit] will come to us a bit later,' Mr Fisher said.
"His vote in this month's MPC meeting has not yet been published, but in recent months he has been advocating a £25 billion boost to the Bank's quantitative easing programme as part of a minority group including Sir Mervyn King, the Bank's outgoing Governor."
9) BALLS' PIZZA HABIT
Balls has also been targeted by the Tories over his spending as a minister. From the Telegraph:
"Ed Balls's ministerial office spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money on fine dining at smart hotels and restaurants, takeaways from Domino's Pizza and shopping at John Lewis.
"Spending on Mr Balls's office credit card has been released, covering the period when he was schools secretary from June 2007 to May 2010.
"... In all, Mr Balls's office spent about £9,000 during his three years in the role, with most of the cash going on travel."
Here's a bit of irony - Balls can thank his friend and close political ally Tom Watson for - inadvertently - prompting these revelations:
The details of the spending on the government procurement card were released following a Freedom of Information Act request by Tom Watson MP, the Labour Party's deputy chairman.
Mr Watson had asked for the spending for the past two years – covering Michael Gove's time as Education Secretary – but the Coalition decided to release credit card figures going back to April 2006.
Oops! A spokesman for the shadow chancellor told the Telegraph:
"These cards are used by civil servants to pay for travel, accommodation and subsistence when on business and every item has to be signed off by senior civil servants."
Here's a question: why doesn't the Telegraph include the figures for Gove's 'government procurement' credit card', too?
10) CONGRATULATIONS DUBYA!
Who'd have thought it? Time is indeed a great healer. From Politico:
"For the first time since April 2005, Americans view former President George W. Bush more favorably than unfavorably, a new Gallup poll has found. According to the survey released Tuesday, 49 percent of Americans now view Bush as favorable, with 46 percent viewing him unfavorably. This, Gallup says, is the first time in more than five years that the president has held a more positive opinion."
Americans tend to be nicer to ex-presidents, especially with the passage of time - but could the Bush revival also be linked to growing disillusionment with the incumbent commander in chief, across the board and especially in the wake of the NSA spying revelations? Just a thought...
"Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail - Small Breasts, Huge Thighs and a Big Red Box" - from a menu distributed at an opposition Liberal Party fundraiser in Australia. Liberal leader Tony Abbott condemned it as "tacky".
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From today's Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 90.
From the Guardian/ICM poll:
Lib Dems 12
That would give Labour a majority of 78.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@GuardianJessica So today in Australian feminism we had 1. PM compared to chicken breast 2. 'gender card' 2. Socceroos coach saying "women should shut up"
@Jesse_Norman Terrific achievement by @SteveBarclayMP to uncover secret NHS payments (and possible gags on whistleblowers). Details in @Telegraph today.
@RyanLizza If you're a journalist and your first instinct in the Snowden case is to attack him, maybe you should consider a different line of work.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "NSA and GCHQ: mass surveillance is about power as much as privacy."
Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "By accepting Osborne’s spending plans it’s clear that all the main parties will have to make dramatic cuts."
Philip Johnston, writing in the Telegraph, says: "The prisoner voting stand-off goes to the heart of the question: who runs Britain?"
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