POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Gideon's 'Year Of Hard Truths'

06/01/2014 08:06 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 13:17 GMT
ANDREW COWIE via Getty Images
British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne talks to UK-based scientists to mark a funding announcement on science in Number 11 Downing Street in central London on December 4, 2013. Osborne is set to deliver his autumn statement, his budget update, to parliament on December 5. AFP PHOTO / POOL / ANDREW COWIE (Photo credit should read ANDREW COWIE/AFP/Getty Images)

Here are the five things you need to know on Monday 6 January 2013...

1) GIDEON'S 'YEAR OF HARD TRUTHS'

The chancellor has a big speech later today and it's all about - you guessed it - the need for lots and lots of austerity. For ever and ever and ever. Well, till 2018, at the very minimum. From the Telegraph's splash:

"George Osborne will today set out plans to cut taxes by extending the austerity programme and creating a permanently smaller State. The Chancellor will say in a speech in Birmingham that Britain must face up to 'hard truths' about the need to make more cuts and reforms to get a stable economy... There are 'big underlying problems' in the economy that have not been fixed, he will add. His comments are an attempt to balance optimism about the economic recovery with a reminder about the state of the public finances."

Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Osborne referred to a further £25bn of spending cuts after the next general election, calling these cuts a "means to an end", rather than an end in themselves.

This is, as usual, a deeply political intervention from the chancellor. Osborne's speech will kick off 2014's political year - MPs return to parliament today - by 1) continuing to put pressure on Labour to back Tory spending (or lack of spending) plans well into the next parliament, and 2) taking pressure off the Tory leadership from its restless and right-wing backbenchers. As the Telegraph notes:

"Some Conservative MPs are arguing that as the economy recovers, the Chancellor should consider giving back some money in tax cuts. Mr Osborne has said he will only consider tax cuts that are 'funded' by matching cuts in spending. Expanding on that today, he will say the only way to permanently cut taxes is to permanently cut the spending those taxes pay for."

2) DAVE'S BENEFITS MUDDLE

The other big spending story of the day relates not to the chancellor but to the prime minister. Dave was all over the place over the weekend - as the Daily Mail points out in its splash this morning:

"Downing Street was in disarray last night over the future of benefits for middle-class pensioners.

"On a day of confusion, David Cameron repeatedly refused to say whether a key pledge protecting the winter fuel allowance, free bus passes and TV licences for the over-75s would be kept for the better off after the next election.

"Only hours later, though, No10 moved to stress that the Prime Minister remained personally committed to the policy despite major opposition within his Cabinet.

"‘He is minded to repeat the pledge,’ a Downing Street source said."

Speaking on the Today programme, the chancellor seemed to side with the prime minister; "pensioner benefits are not where I'd look to" for savings, said Osborne. "It saves few tens of billions of pounds," he said, rather dismissively. (Some might say the same about some of the coalition's other welfare 'reforms', which hit the poorest members of our society so hard...)

But Cameron and Osborne will face opposition not just from his Lib Dem coalition partners - who want any future cuts to benefits for the poorest matched by cuts to benefits for wealthy pensioners - but also from Labour, which has pledged to stop winter fuel payments to 600,000 pensioners on higher and top-rate tax.

The PM also pledged yesterday to make the 'triple lock' guarantee on state pension increases the centrepiece of the 2015 Conservative manifesto. So, are all these pensioner perks simply an electoral tactic?

"Mr Cameron denied this was a cynical ploy to encourage those most likely to turn out and vote Tory," reports the Times, before pointing out: "More than seven out of ten over-65s voted in the past two general elections, compared with barely four out of ten 18 to 24-year olds."

3) DID ENOCH POWELL HAVE A POINT?

The leader of the UK Independence Party seems to think so - from the Guardian:

"Nigel Farage has backed the 'basic principle' of Enoch Powell's warning that mass immigration can make people feel like strangers in their own country from the Tory politician's 1968 'rivers of blood' speech.

"The Ukip leader was read several lines of the infamous speech on Sky's Murnaghan show and agreed that it was true for 'a lot of England' – without being told who had spoken the words.

"The extract was about the impact of immigration, saying 'the indigenous population found themselves made strangers in their own country, their wives unable to obtain hospital beds in childbirth, their children unable to obtain school places, their homes and neighbourhoods changed beyond recognition'."

Poor ol' Nigel seems to have fallen for one of the oldest tricks in the political interviewer's book. Then again, when it comes to Powell, he has form. In 2008, as the Guardian report reminds us, the Ukip leader "controversially named Powell as his political hero in an interview with Total Politics magazine" and said he did not believe "Powell was racist in any way at all". Hmm...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a guy re-enacting famous romantic movie scenes... with a dog!

4) HOW TO LOSE A WAR

From the Times splash:

"Hard-fought territory in southern Afghanistan will fall to the Taleban after British forces withdraw this year, British commanders and military experts believe.

"Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub- Hamdon, the former Liberal Democrat leader and ex-Royal Marine, went so far as to describe the 12-year conflict, which has so far cost 447 British lives and tens of billions of pounds, as a 'textbook' example of how to lose a war.

"There is already evidence of Afghan soldiers patrolling with insurgents in parts of Helmand province that are supposed to be under the control of the British-backed Afghan forces."

"Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Williams, a former commander of the Special Air Service, predicted that such collaboration would spread. 'I will be very surprised if the future Governor of Helmand, when he is appointed in July or August, is not very closely connected to those who we call the Taleban,' he said."

Oh dear. Not quite 'mission accomplished', eh?

5) SWORDS BEFORE BABIES

From - where else? - the Daily Mail:

"MPs with newborn babies should be able to bring them into the House of Commons for votes because they would not be a disruption, a minister has claimed. Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat business minister who gave birth to a boy before Christmas, said the ban on bringing infants to the voting lobby was 'bizarre'.

"A parliamentarian who is breastfeeding may bring a baby into their own office but not into the House of Commons or House of Lords chambers, or the division lobbies they pass through to vote.

"Miss Swinson, who is married to fellow Lib Dem MP Duncan Hames, suggested the rules were archaic, saying: 'I hardly think it would be too much of a disruption. You can take a sword through there but you can't a baby.'"

Anyone who has watched PMQs in recent months might say that bringing crying babies into parliament could significantly raise the levels of debate and maturity in the Commons chamber...

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"We've got to make more cuts. That's why 2014 is the year of hard truths." - from George Osborne's speech later today

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Lord Ashcroft mega-poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 30

Ukip 16

Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

From yesterday's Observer/Opinium poll:

Labour 37

Conservatives 30

Ukip 17

Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 84.

From yesterday's Mail on Sunday/Survation poll:

Labour 35

Conservatives 31

Ukip 16

Lib Dems 11

That would give Labour a majority of 36.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

‏@Nigel_Farage David Cameron seems to be trying to sound like me. But the thing is, I believe in what I say.

@georgegalloway Just watched again the epiphany of Susan Boyle singing I have a Dream on Britain's Got Talent on YouTube. Watch it and don't cry, I dare you

@LibDems Mary from #Sherlock should stick with the @LibDems- here are 10 Reasons why http://bzfd.it/1hp6vXG #strongereconomy #fairersociety

900 WORDS OR MORE

John Harris, writing in the Guardian, says: "The left is too silent on the clunking fist of state power."

Nigel Farage, writing in the Independent, says: "British incompetence in World War One has been overestimated. It's politicians, not the military, who deserve censure."

David Aaronovitch, writing in the Times, says: "The First World War seems to have become a party political issue."

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