The five things you need to know on Wednesday 18 September 2013...
1) 'WE'RE NO ONE'S LITTLE BROTHER'
It's Nick Clegg's big day: the Lib Dem leader gives his conference speech to MPs, peers and party activists in Glasgow. He's not had a bad week so far.
The Guardian reports:
"He will deliver his fourth conference speech as deputy prime minister after a week in Glasgow in which he saw off challenges from the left on tax policy, Trident, deficit reduction and nuclear power... Clegg will argue he is determined to stake out the middle ground of British politics – and to remain neutral over the Lib Dems' choice of coalition partner – when he depicts the party's role as a restraining influence on the two main parties.
"In a sign that he is keener than ever to stay on in government after the election, he will say: 'The country is finally emerging from the biggest economic crisis in living memory. The absolute worse thing to do would be to give the keys to No 10 to a single-party government – Labour or the Conservatives … Labour would wreck the recovery. The Conservatives would give us the wrong kind of recovery. Only the Liberal Democrats can finish the job and finish it in a way that is fair.' Clegg, who will give a personal account of his privileged background and of his family's role in turbulent twentieth century continental Europe, will declare that the Lib Dems are 'not some subset' of the larger parties and will say: 'We're no one's little brother.'"
Will anyone outside the conference hall believe him, though? It'll take more than speeches and soundbites to turn around the Lib Dems' electoral fortunes. The BBC adds:
"The Lib Dem leader will urge conference delegates in Glasgow later to be proud now it is ' a party of government' and helping to turn Britain around... And he will talk about his 'private school, home counties' upbringing.
"Aides to the deputy prime minister said it would be the first time he had used a set-piece speech to draw so personally on his own background."
2) CLEGG: KIDS EAT FREE
Some good news for parents with kids aged under 8 - on the eve of his conference speech, Clegg announced that all children in the first three years of primary school in England will get free school lunches from next September. It's all part of the coalition's plan to try and tackle the cost of living crisis - and the announcement makes it onto several front pages.
The Telegraph reports:
"The Liberal Democrat leader said the new policy, which will take effect in September next year, will be worth more than £400 a year for each child aged five, six or seven.
"The plan, announced at the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow, is part of a deal with the Conservatives that will also see the Coalition spend more than £500 million a year on a tax break for married couples."
The Guardian reports:
"In his closing speech to the Lib Dem conference, after winning a series of crunch votes, a newly emboldened Clegg will make clear that the £600m-a-year scheme was the price he had demanded to support David Cameron's tax scheme... The deputy prime minister will contrast the values of the Lib Dems – who pressed for the provision of free school meals for an extra 1.5 million children – with those of the Tories.
"Hailing the scheme, which will save parents £437 a year and reintroduce the concept of universal benefits at a time of austerity, Clegg will say: 'The Conservatives have made it clear that their priority is to help some families over others, with a tax break for married couples – a tax break for some, funded through the taxes of others. That tells you everything you need to know about their values. We, however, will help all families in these tough times – not just the kind we like best – by helping their young children get the best possible start in life. And that tells you everything about ours.'"
Two questions are worth asking in response to this school meal plan: 1) Will anyone believe Clegg? After all, the tuition fees pledge sounded good, too, and the party's U-turn cost it massive and much-needed credibility with the voters. 2) As the Mail asks on its front page: "How on earth in austerity Britain can we afford Mr Clegg's £600m giveaway?"
It's a fair point - why is it that the same coalition ministers who always slam Labour for wanting to borrow and spend more, to invest, protect jobs, help the poor, etc, never have a problem spending more - on a universal benefit! - whenever it's convenient for them?
3) DISARMING DAMASCUS 'DOABLE'
From the BBC:
"The chief UN weapons inspector says it will be difficult to find and destroy all of Syria's chemical weapons, but he believes it is achievable.
"Ake Sellstrom told the BBC much depended on whether Damascus and the opposition were willing to negotiate.
"... Mr Sellstrom told the BBC's Newsday programme that dealing with Syria's chemical arsenal was 'doable'. 'But of course, it will be a stressful work,' he added."
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of how NOT to empty a back garden swimming pool.
4) 'TEDIOUS AND TIRED'
Next year, on this day, Scots will vote in the independence referendum. The countdown has begun. The campaign is intensifying.
Writing in the Guardian, one of Alex Salmond's former advisers has attacked the Scottish independence campaign for relying too much on "tedious" ideas and "tired policies":
"Alex Bell, who quit as head of Alex Salmond's policy unit in July after two years working on his independence strategy, said the first minister was failing to present a radical, daring vision for Scotland and so was facing defeat in next year's referendum.
"... Bell said: 'The campaigns to date have been a tedious parade of union jacks versus saltires, of pop identity about caring Scots versus heartless Tories.'
"Bell warned that Salmond's white paper on independence, touted as his prospectus for independence and due to be published in November, fell into the trap of singing 'the old songs' for short-term tactical reasons rather than offering voters bold, radical reforms."
Later this morning, the HuffPost UK will publish my colleague Ned Simons' interview with former chancellor Alistair Darling, who is in charge of the cross-party, pro-union 'Better Together' campaign, and who tells Ned that the unpopularity of the Conservative-led government in Westminster won't harm the anti-Scottish independence cause because the referendum was "far bigger" than the usual to-and-fro of national politics.
Meanwhile, the SNP's Nicola Sturgeon had a fairly rough ride on the Today programme, unable to tell fellow Scot and BBC presenter Jim Naughtie why the SNP backed the Euro, how an independent Scotland would work out its share of UK debt or why her office had refused to allow her to debate Darling live on air.
5) BEWARE THE MILIPANDA!
The Mail and the Telegraph have latched onto Jacqui Smith's column in yesterday's Guardian in which the former Labour home secretary said the party's ongoing policy review
"resembles a pregnant panda – it's been a very long time in the making and no one's quite sure if there's anything in there anyway."
The Mail says "it was a reference to giant panda Tian Tian, who is thought could give birth at Edinburgh Zoo soon but keepers are not certain she is even expecting".
But the prize for the best response to Smith's remark has to go to this Tumblr site, 'Ed Milibanda', which contrasts pix of the Labour leader with actual pandas. It'll make you smile on a grey and rainy Wednesday morning...
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 44.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@OwenJones84 No denying it, Nick Clegg’s announcement of free school meals for infants is great news. Oi, @UKLabour, you going to outflank? For all kids?
@TomHarrisMP To be honest, I started getting bored with the #indyref debate round about 1990.
@hugorifkind Nicola Sturgeon getting something of an ass-kicking on Radio 4 right now.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "If the Lib Dems join Miliband, they’re dead."
Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Nick Clegg’s authority is secure, but his party has been hollowed out."
Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "If this is economic success for Britain, what would failure look like?"
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (email@example.com) or Ned Simons (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol