Mehdi's Morning Memo: Crisis? What Crisis?

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TOM WATSON LABOUR
Labour MP Tom Watson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. | PA

The five things you need to know on Friday 5th July 2013...

1) CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?

Personally, I find it hard to get worked up about events in Falkirk and the row over Labour's relationship with the trade unions. Sorry, but do people outside of the Westminster village really care? Did Cameron's repeated references to Len McCluskey and Unite at PMQs give the Tories any kind of boost in the polls? This isn't the 1970s and the unions aren't nearly as unpopular now as they were then, nor are the British people stupid enough to believe that the likes of McCluskey or PCS's Mark Serwotka have done more damage to the country than the banks.

My journalistic colleagues in the the parliamentary lobby are pretty excited, however, by the latest twists and turns in this story. The Times - which has been leading the media's offensive on Unite in recent days - reports:

"Ed Miliband was forced to pick a fight with Labour’s biggest paymaster yesterday in an attempt to prove that he controls his party after his election chief resigned."

The Guardian's Patrick Wintour goes further:

"Ed Miliband is facing the biggest crisis of his three-year Labour leadership after the party's largest union backer, Len McCluskey, accused the party's leadership of a 'stitch-up' and a 'scandalous' attempt to smear his Unite union over the bitterly contested selection for the Falkirk parliamentary seat."

To be fair, there has now been a 'scalp' - from the Guardian:

"The growing row also claimed its first high-profile victim when Labour's election co-ordinator, Tom Watson, resigned from his post and the shadow cabinet, saying he wanted to preserve party unity and claiming he no longer wanted to be on the political merry-go-round.

"Hours after his resignation, Watson's office manager, Karie Murphy, was suspended from all offices in the party, along with the Falkirk party chairman, Stephen Deans. Murphy, a close ally of McCluskey, had been trying to win the Labour nomination in Falkirk."

The bigger issue for Miliband this morning is how to deal with/react to McCluskey's angry response on his own terms, rather than terms set for him by the Tories and their outriders in the right-wing press. From the Independent:

"[McCluskey] said he had lost faith in the Labour leadership and demanded an independent investigation into the affair. The head of Britain's biggest union, which has donated £8.4m to the party since Mr Miliband became leader in 2010, said: 'The mishandling of this investigation has been a disgrace. I, however, am obliged to uphold the integrity of Unite, and I can no longer do so on the basis of going along with the activities of a Labour Party administration in which I can place no trust.'

"He claimed there had been an attempt to 'smear' Unite, which was the victim of 'a stitch-up'. Although there was no explicit threat to withdraw or cut Unite's financial backing to the party, that could follow if the union is denied a second inquiry."

On a side note, it's worth reading Watson's fascinating resignation letter in full. The former frontbencher says he isn't disillusioned in, or disappointed with, Miliband's leadership of the party:

"Having resigned a couple of times before, I know how puckish lobby hacks might choose to misconstrue the departure. So to make it harder for them let me say this: I'm proud of your Buddha-like qualities of patience, deep thought, compassion and resolve. I remain your loyal servant. I'll always be on hand to help you if you need me. I just don't think you need me in the shadow cabinet any more."

2) IN, OUT, SHAKE IT ALL ABOUT...

Tory Eurosceptics rejoice! Today is YOUR day. From the Telegraph:

"William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, will today challenge Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs to support the Conservative backbench Bill promising a European Union referendum.

"In a show of front–bench support for the Bill, Mr Hague will tell the Commons: 'Every member of this House who is a true democrat can and should unite behind this Bill.'

"He will make the challenge amid more signs of a Labour split over Europe, as a member of Ed Miliband's front bench broke with party policy and backed an in/out referendum. Mr Hague will speak from the Government benches to back the private member's Bill brought by James Wharton, despite a ruling from John Bercow, the Speaker, that ministers cannot formally endorse it.

"Mr Wharton's European Union (Referendum) Bill will get its second reading in the Commons today, the first formal stage of its progress through Parliament.

"The legislation would oblige the government of the day to hold another Commons vote on an in/out EU referendum by 2017."

The paper adds:

"Labour has so far opposed the plan, describing the Tories' efforts as a distraction from more important issues.

However, a growing number of Labour MPs believe that the party must endorse some form of referendum to deflect Tory attacks on the issue. Ian Austin, a shadow employment minister, has joined the calls for a referendum, suggesting that a vote could be held in this parliament.

"Writing in his local newspaper, the MP for Dudley said: 'I know this isn't Labour Party policy but my view is that we should have a referendum next year.'"

3) HAPPY BIRTHDAY, NHS!

The National Health Service is 65 years old today. Some Tories want to 'retire' the NHS; others say it is 'safe in their hands'. The public, however, disagrees.

From the Mirror:

"[A]n exclusive Daily Mirror/Daybreak poll reveals the vast 82% majority of you believe David Cameron has done nothing to help the NHS since he became Prime Minister.

"He made protecting the service a key election pledge, but a massive 41% of those questioned believe the service has got worse since he walked in to No 10 in 2010, and another 41% believe it has simply stagnated.

"Just 11% think the NHS is in a better state now than it was three years ago.

"And our survey, carried out by independent polling firm Survation to mark the 65th anniversary, found less than one in five trust the Tories to preserve the NHS for future generations."

Meanwhile, despite all the hostile media coverage of the recent NHS scandals, and the failures of the CQC regulator, the popularity of the NHS is pretty much undiminished. The poll shows that only 7% are unhappy with the care that they receive - compared to 85% who are happy.

Meanwhile, polling by ICM for the thinktank British Future, to coincide with the NHS birthday, has found that 52% of voters agree that our health service "would not survive without migrant doctors and nurses".

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Jeremy 'immigrants are a burden on the NHS' Hunt!

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Who Said It: Ed Miliband Or Buddha? (QUIZ)

4) THE DAY AFTER THE COUP

Will Friday prayers be used and abused by supporters and opponents of deposed Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi? Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood went to ground on Wednesday night after the military coup and its leaders continue to be targeted by the army high command.

From the Independent:

"Fresh from toppling the country's first democratically elected leader, Egypt's military risked further outrage from the Muslim Brotherhood yesterday by arresting the group's Supreme Guide as he was staying in a resort on the Mediterranean coast.

"Mohammed Badie, the Brotherhood's spiritual leader, was arrested at an acquaintance's villa in Mersa Matruh in north-west Egypt. He was then flown to Cairo on a military helicopter, according to security officials.

"This is even worse than it was for us under Hosni Mubarak," said Amr Darrag, a leading Brotherhood official.

"... Mr Badie's arrest was part of a wider crackdown against the Brotherhood that saw the authorities issue a wanted list for 200 of its members.

"At least a dozen Brotherhood officials have now been detained, according to one NGO director, although another human rights worker said the number of Islamists arrested could be nearly three times that figure."

Can the west sit silently by as Mubarak-style, the new Egyptian government, backed by the military, rounds up Muslim Brotherhood members and shuts down pro-Muslim Brotherhood channels?

"We never support in countries the intervention by the military. What now needs to happen in Egypt is for democracy to flourish and for a genuine democratic transition to take place and all parties need to be involved in that. That is what Britain and our allies will be saying very clearly to the Egyptians," David Cameron told reporters yesterday.

Meanwhile, Adly Mansour, the head of the country's Supreme Constitutional Court, was yesterday sworn in as interim president, while Morsi remains in custody with other senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Street parties and celebrations continued across Egypt and, especially, in the capital Cairo.

However, the protesters in Tahrir Square, as the Guardian's Jonathan Steele puts it, seem to be guilty of either "political naivety" and/or "shortsightedness". What's their end game? How do they plan to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in the medium to long term? Is there a strategy behind all these street protests and regime changes? Remember: Hosni Mubarak spent thirty years banning the members of the Brotherhood, arresting them, locking them up and torturing them. It didn't work. This latest marginalisation of the Brothers will only empower and embolden the more radical fringes of the group and increase the risk of a violent backlash across the country.

The coup on Wednesday night may have been the easy part; the hard part is working how to build an inclusive political system in Egypt which allows different parties, factions and movements from across the political/ideological spectrum to share power and work together in the interests of the common good.

5) BURGERS FOR BACKBENCHERS

From the Daily Mail:

"His backbenchers have really been giving him a grilling over Europe in recent months.

"But David Cameron decided to do some grilling of his own by staging a barbecue for the Tory faithful in the Downing Street garden.

"Aide Sam Gyimah tweeted a picture of the Prime Minister 'breaking a sweat as he flips burgers at No 10' last night.

"Mr Cameron hunches over a grill, tongue between his teeth, as he chats to Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch."

The point of the barbecue was to (a) try and impress his disgruntled backbenchers, and (b) keep them in London, rather than their constituencies, so that they can vote today for Wharton's EU referendum bill.

But not all of them were impressed - one unnamed Tory MP told the Mail: "In 2011 I was threatened with death for voting for an EU referendum, now I'm whipped and invited to a ****ing BBQ."

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"Be that great Labour leader that you can be, but try to have a real life too. And if you want to see an awesome band, I recommend Drenge" - from Labour MP Tom Watson's resignation letter to Ed Miliband yesterday.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 39
Conservatives 31
Ukip 12
Lib Dems 11

That would give Labour a majority of 92.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@SJacksonMP Delighted to hear that @NadineDorriesMP has been readopted as Conservative candidate for the 2015 general election tonight

@piersmorgan Morsi was useless, but the point of democracies is that you wait until the next election and vote out useless leaders. #egypt

@drphilhammond Happy 65th Birthday NHS. Please don't retire yet. The people must reclaim you, look after you & protect you from the idiocy of politicians.

900 WORDS OR MORE

John Harris, writing in the Guardian, says: "Tom Watson's resignation says more than the Labour leadership ever does."

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "Miliband must defeat Labour’s union barons."

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "It is capitalism, not democracy, that the Arab world needs most."

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