The five things you need to know on Sunday 15 September 2013..
1) 'COMPLETELY CRAZY'
The Lib Dem conference has kicked off in Glasgow and former party leader and Nick Clegg ally Paddy Ashdown has been speaking to my HuffPost UK colleague Ned Simons:
"Lord Ashdown has warned Liberal Democrats they would be 'completely crazy' to pull out of the coalition before the general election, praised Nick Clegg as an 'outstanding' political figure who deserves to be prime minister and said the outcome of the next election is 'delicious' in its unpredictability.
".. Some Lib Dems, including former Treasury spokesman and serial Clegg critic Lord Oakeshott, have urged the party to ditch the alliance with the Tories 'sixth months to a year' before going to the polls.
"However Ashdown said that was a 'completely crazy idea'. He added: 'I don’t know any Lib Dems whom I have respect for who are proposing such a thing. First of all you are at the wheel of a ship that is passing through the storm. You can’t say 'excuse me, I want to hop off' - it's the craziest idea I have heard in my life. We will we be judged on how well we governed. We will carry this through right through to polling day. I am pretty confident it will be judged in our favour.'"
In comments that will raise eyebrows in some sections of Westminster, as well as across the country at large, Ashdown claimed that Clegg would make "a better prime minister than either Mr Miliband or Mr Cameron".
Meanwhile, Clegg himself has been speaking to the BBC's Andrew Marr programme - from the Beeb website:
"[Clegg] also told the BBC's Andrew Marr show he was willing to do a deal with Labour as well as the Tories in the event of a hung parliament.
"Making the case for coalition government, he said his 'only' preoccupation was to make sure the Liberal Democrats were in government again in 2015."
Yet as the Spectator's James Forsyth points out, during his 'conference rally' opening speech yesterday, "Clegg seemed much happier when he moved on to attacking the Labour party. He accused them of having ‘prayed for an endless recession’ and demanded that they apologise for their mistakes in government."
Clegg's fellow Lib Dems, of course, prefer attacking the Tories and would choose a coalition with the Labour over the Conservatives, according to a survey in the Independent on Sunday. Therein lies the strategic dilemma for the Lib Dems as we approach 2015..
2) MORE THAN MARGINALLY AHEAD
More polling from Tory peer Lord Ashcroft; more good news for.. the Labour Party. The former Conservative Party deputy chairman and ex-donor writes on his website about a survey of marginal seats that he's conducted:
"I have polled nearly 13,000 voters in the 40 Conservative seats with the smallest majorities: 32 of which the party is defending against Labour, and 8 where the Liberal Democrats came second in 2010.. Labour’s lead in these seats has grown from 9 to 14 points over the last two years, largely because of the defection of Tory voters to UKIP. Labour’s share is 43%, down a point since 2011, but the Conservatives have fallen to 29%.. This represents an 8.5% swing from the Conservatives to Labour in these seats – enough for Labour to win all 32 of them, plus a further 66 if it were repeated in Conservative-Labour contests elsewhere."
As I pointed out in a recent column, the numbers don't lie and, despite the carping from the Miliband media critics, "the simple fact is that Cameron's Conservatives have an electoral mountain to climb. Miliband's Labour Party doesn't."
3) IT'S A DEAL
Jaw jaw, as Winston Churchill famously remarked, is better than war war. From the Mail on Sunday:
"The United States and Russia yesterday agreed a deal to destroy Syria's chemical weapons and promised UN sanctions if President Bashar al-Assad fails to comply.
"Syria must hand over a complete list of its estimated 1,000 tons of chemical weapons within a week, leading to their complete destruction in the first half of 2014 in the deal agreed by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Assad will be told to give full access to international weapons inspectors as they search for stockpiles of deadly substances such as sarin - which experts believe caused more than 1,400 deaths in an attack on Damascus last month.
"Speaking in Geneva, Mr Kerry said: 'There can be no games, no room for avoidance, or anything less than full compliance.' Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the agreement and called on Russia to ensure its success. He said: 'The international community, including Russia, must hold the regime to account."
However, the threat of US military action may have receded but is far from being 'off the table' - in a statement yesterday, Barack Obama warned: "If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act,
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR..
Watch this video of a cat desperate for attention from its newspaper-reading owner.
4) BENEFIT TOURISM? WHAT BENEFIT TOURISM?
Uh-oh, have Dave and IDS been telling porkie pies on welfare and immigration again? From the Observer:
"David Cameron's plan to stop EU 'benefit tourism' by restricting migrants' legal right to freedom of movement is running into serious difficulties after a parliamentary committee and the European Commission both accused ministers of failing to provide substantial evidence of widespread abuse.
"At the same time, a joint report by the Centre for Economic and Business Research and global recruitment consultancy Harvey Nash has concluded that any measures to restrict freedom of movement to the UK from other parts of the EU would have a devastating effect on the British economy, because EU citizens are more likely to be in work and are more productive than British-born workers. The report says that curbing immigration from other parts of the EU could cost the UK £60bn in lost GDP (2% in real terms) by 2050."
The paper adds: "[A] House of Lords committee whose job is to scrutinise the government's EU policy, has written to the immigration minister, Mark Harper, saying that despite several requests the government has failed to offer anything more than anecdotal claims to back its assertion that 'social benefit tourism' is a real problem."
5) JEZZA VS ED??
From the Independent's website:
"Jeremy Clarkson, the outspoken presenter of BBC's Top Gear, has suggested on Twitter that he could run for Parliament - standing in Labour leader Ed Miliband's seat.
"The presenter, who is thought to be a friend of the Prime Minister, told his followers on the micro-blogging site that he was thinking of standing as an independent at the next general election.
"'I'm thinking I might stand in the next election as an independent for Doncaster North, which is where I'm from. Thoughts?' he wrote.
"It is currently unclear how seriously - if at all - Mr Clarkson is considering the idea."
Oh, I do hope he's serious. I'd love to see how many (few?) votes he gets...
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 58.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@paddyashdown If you're reading the Observer this morning please note. This is the worst misrepresentation of an interview given by me i have ever known
@oliver_wright Green leader Natalie Bennett says "we don't need to make sacrifices" for the environment. That's interesting #Murnaghan
@KathViner Oh no I've just realised I missing UK political party conference season! What a shame!
900 WORDS OR MORE
Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "The Lib Dems know their future lies in power-sharing."
Andrew Adonis, writing in the Observer, says: "Nick Clegg's poor choices made him irrelevant, and we are all paying."
John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "Vince Cable and Tim Farron fight it out to be Ed Miliband’s best friend ahead of Lib-Lab coalition."
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