POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'Deeply Unsavoury, Dangerous And Extremist'

16/06/2013 10:19 BST | Updated 16/06/2013 10:27 BST
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David Cameron makes a speech at the G8 Open for Growth - Trade, Tax and Transparency conference at Lancaster House in central London. Cameron gave a keynote address on tax and transparency at a pre-G8 conference in central London. AFP PHOTO / POOL / STEVE PARSONS (Photo credit should read Steve Parsons/AFP/Getty Images)

The ten things you need to know on 16 June 2013...

1) 'DEEPLY UNSAVOURY, DANGEROUS AND EXTREMIST'

Speaking on the Murnaghan show on Sky News this morning, David Cameron said he hadn't yet decided whether or not to follow President Obama's lead and provide arms to the Syrian rebels.

He did however concede (for the first time?) that some of the rebels are "deeply unsavoury, dangerous and extremist" with links to al-Qaeda. But, he added, in his own defence: "If we don't work with those elements we can't be surprised if the only elements making progress in Syria are the ones we don't approve of."

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times splashes on news that the PM "has been warned that he faces an embarrassing defeat in the Commons if he tries to win parliamentary agreement for Britain to arm Syrian rebels.

"The prime minister and William Hague, the foreign secretary, are keen to help the forces fighting President Bashar al-Assad, but Conservative whips have told Downing Street there would be little chance of winning a vote for such a move."

He'd also struggle to win over his deputy, Nick Clegg, and the Lib Dems. Clegg told the BBC's Marr programme this morning that he didn't believe arming the rebels "is the right thing to do at the moment".

So why on earth did the British government of which he is deputy PM push so hard for the EU to lift its arms embargo on Syria?

2) DAVE VS BORIS, PART 77

Cameron has his own domestic difficulties to consider, too. Dave's old friend Bozza is back in the headlines, posing a threat to the Tory leader's precarious position. From the Independent on Sunday:

"Boris Johnson’s popularity is outstripping that of the Conservative Party and David Cameron... In a survey which will fuel the rivalry between the Mayor of London and the Prime Minister, Mr Johnson enjoys a favourability rating of 44 per cent, compared with Mr Cameron’s 23 per cent, the ComRes poll shows."

The paper adds: "The [ComRes] poll also puts the Tories on their lowest-ever rating for ComRes, at 26 per cent, down three points from last month. Labour is unchanged on 35 per cent. Ukip remains on 19 and the Lib Dems are up two points at 10. In a general election, this would give Labour a 100-seat majority."

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reports that the mayor "has raised the prospect of Britain leaving the European Union by ordering advisers to draw up a balance sheet of the pros and cons of the effect on the City.

"The mayor of London has given his chief economic adviser the task of sounding out key City figures on the potential impact of withdrawal."

3) COMPLETE HOOEY

It isn't just the Tory Party that is suffering from splits over Europe. Ed Miliband's decision to order his MPs to stay away from the Commons next month, during the vote on Tory backbencher James Wharton's EU referendum bill, which the Labour leader described as a "gimmick", has come under fire from veteran Labour MP and former minister Kate Hoey.

Writing in the Sun on Sunday, the maverick Eurosceptic says:

"Ed is inherently very pro-EU. But he has got members of his shadow cabinet who, without doubt, would like to see us change our position. I think the strength of his leadership will be to show he does realise it is untenable to continue with this position.

"A good start would be to say that he is very happy with Labour MPs going along on July 5 to vote for a referendum."

Hoey says Miliband's decision to boycott the vote is "the wrong approach to take, which is why I will be ignoring party orders and turning up to the debate".

The question is: how many other Labour backbenchers will follow her lead? The Sun says: "Up to 25 of them are set to defy their leader by backing Tory plans to let the electorate decide our future in Europe."

4) YOU'RE FIRED

We're normally used to papers splashing on the latest pronouncement or proposal from the media-friendly education secretary Michael Gove. Today, however, it's his shadow Stephen Twigg's turn to grab the headlines with a provocative pledge. From the Observer's splash:

"More than 5,000 untrained teachers who have been allowed to work in academies and free schools under Michael Gove's education reforms will be sacked if Labour wins the next election, unless they gain a formal qualification within two years.

"The proposal is one of several to be announced tomorrow by the shadow education secretary, Stephen Twigg, as the opposition joins battle with Gove.

"In a speech in which he will say he will work to ensure that every child has a place in a good school, Twigg will also say it is 'unacceptable' for a government that professes to be driven by a desire to raise standards to allow teachers with no training to work in state-funded schools. 'It is shocking that this government is allowing unqualified teachers into the classroom,' Twigg said last night. 'High quality teaching is the most important factor in improving education. We need to drive up the quality of teaching, not undermine it.'"

5) 'SWIMMING WITH SHARKS'

Talking of the Observer front page, there's a big picture of a Tory backbench MP on it. Not something you see every Sunday. Basically, the paper's Toby Helm has done a rather interesting interview/profile of Cameron critic Sarah Wollaston, which is worth a read:

"Wollaston's serene, stately demeanour and calm delivery contrasts with the sharpness of her comments. She appears unworried about how her party will react, content with her mission to speak her mind, however politically inconvenient that might be. When she heard that the government was dropping plans for minimum pricing for alcohol, she asked for a meeting with Cameron at prime minister's questions. But she says his office have ignored her emails and cancelled meetings. 'I have phoned repeatedly and emailed - that is just the way it is. Sometimes they come back, and then it has been cancelled. He is a busy man and it will happen, but I personally think public health is very important.'

"She can hardly believe that she - like someone invited to a party but then snubbed by the host - is being cast as a rebel for doing what she was elected to do. 'I do regret that a lot of my colleagues now view me as being awkward because I am genuinely not trying to be awkward. I try to do things through what are beautifully known here as the 'usual channels' but the reality is that you can go through the 'usual channels' and you do not get any response at all.'"

The former GP also has strong views on the Commons bearpit:

"She feels sorry for the Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert who is jeered at, for no apparent reason, by MPs every time he rises to speak in the Commons. 'The Commons is like swimming with sharks. If there is a drop of blood in the water, off they go. I have seen MPs taunted because of their regional accents. If that happened in any other workplace, you would be sacked.'"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this funny video of Radio 4 summed up in... four minutes.

6) PLEBGATE, PART 456

From the Sunday Telegraph:

"A serving police officer and a 49-year-old woman were arrested in the "Plebgate" inquiry yesterday, prompting claims of a wider 'cover-up' over the confrontation that led to the resignation of Andrew Mitchell, the former Tory chief whip.

"The 48-year-old male constable in Scotland Yard's Diplomatic Protection Group was arrested on suspicion of misconduct in a public office... The latest arrests were prompted by a letter sent to the Independent Police Complaints Commission earlier this month by David Davis, a former shadow home secretary."

The paper adds:

"The development will put further pressure on Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Met Commissioner, who is already facing allegations that he broke his own rules by secretly briefing journalists on the findings of the inquiry."

7) ET TU, NICK?

From the Sunday Times:

"Two of the Liberal Democrats' biggest donors are being lined up for peerages, plunging Nick Clegg into a "cash for honours" controversy.

"Rumi Verjee, a multimillionaire who brought the Domino's pizza chain to Britain, is top of a list of seven names compiled by the Lib Dems who are expected to be awarded honours within weeks. He has given £770,000 to the party since May 2010.

"Sudhir Choudhrie, whose family has donated £650,000 to the party since 2004, has been placed on an internal party list of future peers. Until three years ago Choudhrie, who has personally given £95,000 of that sum, was not domiciled in Britain for tax purposes.

"Clegg, who has campaigned for a crackdown on offshore tax-avoidance schemes, faces embarrassment because businesses operated by both the Verjee and Choudhrie families have links to foreign tax havens."

8) REVOLUTIONARY RESULT IN IRAN?

From the Observer:

"Iran was on the brink of an extraordinary political transformation last night after the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani sensationally secured enough votes to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rouhani's apparent victory delighted many reformers in Iran who have been desperate for a comeback to the forefront of Iranian politics after eight acrimonious years under Ahmadinejad. It will also lift the spirit of a nation suffering from its worst financial crisis for at least two decades due to the unprecedented sanctions imposed by western powers in the dispute over Tehran's nuclear programme.

"... The interior minister, Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar, announced on state television last night that 72% of the 50 million eligible Iranians had turned out to vote, and that Rohani had secured just over the 50% of the vote needed to avoid a run-off. Rouhani, a PhD graduate from Glasgow Caledonian University and former nuclear negotiator, has positioned himself as a moderate, favouring talks with the west. He has pledged to find away out of the current stalemate over Iran's nuclear programme, which is the root cause of the sanctions crushing the economy."

The paper quotes former foreign secretary Jack Straw as saying: "On a personal level I found him warm and engaging. He is a strong Iranian patriot and he was tough but fair to deal with and always on top of his brief."

So, how big a deal is this? Consider the headline in the always-hawkish-on-Iran Sunday Times: "Voters deliver new Iran revolution."

Fingers crossed...

9) HOLLYWOOD HEADS FOR WESTMINSTER

From the Mail on Sunday:

"[D]rama of a different kind could soon be coming to Westminster - after MPs agreed plans to hire out the Houses of Parliament to Hollywood film studios.

"The move, which would allow action blockbusters and period dramas to be filmed inside for the first time, is designed to help pay for repairs to the increasingly rundown 19th Century Palace of Westminster. Any refurbishment, which will include removing asbestos, fixing leaky roofs and replacing the 1930s electrical and heating systems, could cost more than £1billion.

"MPs reckon that film studios would pay at least £10,000 a day to hire the buildings.

"One said last night: 'We'd be mad not to hire the place out to the highest bidder.'"

Will we see the next Fast And The Furious sequel filmed inside Portcullis House?

10) 'EX TORY PM IN LOVE CHILD SHOCK'

That's the teaser line on the front of the Sunday Times. Turn to page 7 and we discover...

"Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria's favourite prime minister, had a love child, whose descendants are living in New Zealand, according to new evidence.

"Catherine Styles, 76, a pianist and actress based in Auckland, has written a memoir in which she claims her grandmother, also called Catherine, was Disraeli's secret daughter. She was born in March 1866, when Disraeli was 61.

"Had such a revelation become public then, it would have destroyed the career of one of the Conservative party's most revered figures, two years before his first term as prime minister. He served a second term from 1874-80."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 30

Ukip 14

Lib Dems 10

From today's Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror/ComRes poll:

Labour 35

Conservatives 26

Ukip 19

Lib Dems 10

From today's Observer/Opinium poll:

Labour 36

Conservatives 27

Ukip 20

Lib Dems 7

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@paulwaugh Cam strongest he has been on AQ in Syria, saying they shd be driven out'. Clear signal to Tory backbenchers' biggest fear #murnaghan

@halfon4harlowMP Shame how those agnst Syria intervention worry 'what might happen', instd of thinking 'what is happening now': 90, 000+dead & Chemical Assad

‏@patrickwintour Clegg on providing lethal equipment to Syrian rebels "we don't believe it is the right thing to do at the moment" so Commons vote academic

900 WORDS OR MORE

Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "A swing of the handbag reveals Mrs May’s ambition."

Adam Boulton, writing in the Sunday Times, says: "At the G8 a problem shared is a problem shelved."

Nick Cohen, writing in the Observer, says: "Plans to reduce legal aid are an unwarranted assault on the very nature of our legal system."

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