POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: I'm Not With Nick

19/01/2014 10:02 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 21:01 GMT
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Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Nick Clegg pauses during a news conference following the High Level Ministerial Event on the Humanitarian situation in Syria meeting at the European Union Delegation offices during the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Here are the five things you need to know on Sunday 19 January 2013...

1) I'M NOT WITH NICK

The Lord Rennard affair has put massive pressure on the deputy prime minister - as the Observer reports:

"The former special adviser to Nick Clegg who said she was one of the victims of Lord Rennard's sexual harassment has resigned from the party in disgust and revealed that Liberal Democrat peers cheered the disgraced politician after being told he was being brought back into the fold.

"Bridget Harris is scathing in her disgust over what she told the Observer was a 'classic Lib Dem fudge' over findings of an investigation into the scandal.

"'Party loyalty has tied everybody together into a devil's pact,' she said, adding that she no longer believed in the deputy prime minister's ability to lead his party after a defiant Rennard ignored his request to apologise to the 11 women who made 'broadly credible' complaints against him."

On Friday, Clegg issued an ultimatum: Rennard, he said, would not be allowed back into the Lib Dem grouping in the Lords unless he apologised Yet, as the Independent on Sunday reports:

"Angry Lib Dem peers are planning to openly defy the Deputy Prime Minister by blocking a demand that Lord Rennard apologise over sexual harassment allegations, in what would be the most damaging blow yet to Mr Clegg’s authority. Supporters of Lord Rennard – who are understood to be numerous in the Upper House – are planning to use the vote as a test of Mr Clegg’s leadership, and indications are that the ballot would deliver a victory for Lord Rennard."

Good luck, Nick!

2) SPEAK ENGLISH FIRST - OR ELSE

The war on so-called 'benefit tourism' - which doesn't really exist, according to the Department for Work and Pensions' own figures! - continues to escalate. From the Mail on Sunday:

"David Cameron plans to strip welfare handouts from immigrants who cannot speak English.

"In a radical bid to slash Britain’s benefits bill, the Prime Minister intends to stop printing welfare paperwork in foreign languages and prevent claimants using taxpayer-funded translators at benefits offices.

"The move – which would also hit British residents who cannot speak English – was due to be announced tomorrow, but has been delayed following a row with Nick Clegg."

As I've said, and demonstrated before, in these Memos, benefit tourism is a fiction; migrants are much, much less likely than natives to claim benefits, with the vast majority coming to the UK to work and pay taxes, rather than 'shirk' or 'sponge' off the state. To quote economist Jonathan Portes, these are a "series of phantom measures to combat a phantom problem".

And what's driving them? The Mail on Sunday makes it clear in a fascinating paragraph buried towards the bottom:

"The latest proposed crackdown reflects the influence of Australian-born Tory election chief Lynton Crosby. Mr Crosby is said to have given orders that the party must produce ‘a new policy to curb immigrants and benefits’ every week."

Ah, pure cynicism and populism...

3) ED 'BIG CHANGE' MILIBAND

The Labour leader has been speaking on BBC1's Andrew Marr show, in the wake of his big speech on banking and economic reform on Friday.

Asked about Channel 4's controversial 'Benefits Street', Miliband said: "There is an issue about a minority of people who could work but aren't doing so." He added: "I don't think we should demonise every person on benefits... Britain is in the midst of.. a massive cost of living crisis."

He was keen to play up his radical credentials again: "I think we need big change in our country... I'm not going to settle for the status quo."

He was also keen to play up his centrist credentials: "The next Labour government will get the deficit down." He said he wanted to see debt falling in the next parliament and, ideally, the elimination of the deficit. Asked how he would do so, and whether he'd bring back the 50p tax rate - as his friend and ally Lord Kinnock has suggested - Miliband dodged the question: "We want a fairer tax system," was his reply. So, basically, he didn't rule it out.

Miliband did, however, rule out replacing Ed Balls with Alistair Darling ahead of the next election, saying that "tough" Balls would be his "shadow chancellor going into the election". He didn't, however, say Balls would be chancellor after the election, in the next Labour government. Why not?

The Labour leader also said he wouldn't be "rushing" to attend the Winter Olympics in Sochi but said he didn't want a boycott of the games, either.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Yesterday, Michelle Obama celebrated her 50th birthday at the White House. In her honour, check out this hilarious video of the First Lady dancing with talk show host Jimmy Fallon: 'The evolution of mom-dancing'.

4) IS THIS DEMOCRACY, MR KERRY?

Remember how US Secretary of State John Kerry praised the Egyptian military for "restoring democracy" last August? In the wake of, yes, a military coup? I wonder America's top diplomat makes of yesterday's one-sided vote on Egypt's new constitution, which grants massive powers to the army and its chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. From the Sunday Times:

"Egypt's election committee yesterday announced that 98.1% of voters had approved the new constitution in last week's referendum but turnout was only 38.6%."

98.1%? Hosni Mubarak would be so proud! A free and fair referendum, eh? The Sunday Times says:

"The path was cleared yesterday for [Sisi] to stand as president after a move to bring a presidential election forward to March ahead of a planned parliamentary poll.

"Sisi is expected to form a political bloc that will dominate Egypt's next parliament, giving him unrestricted power over the shape of a new government."

Restoring democracy, Egypt-style, with a US seal of approval.

5) DAVE ON TELEVISION, TWERKING AND THUMPING

The Prime Minister has done a very personal interview with the Mail on Sunday, in which he vents his frustration with people who tried to tell him that "some good" might come from the tragic death of his young son Ivan. He tells the paper:

"Even though Ivan was very disabled and very ill, it was all just a total shock. We had no idea he was going to suddenly die in the way he did,’ he said.

"But the person who says to you, 'There’s a silver lining to all this,' or 'Some good will come of all this,' you actually want to thump.

"It’s the most annoying thing anybody can possibly say."

Traditional Dave reveals that he bans television for the kids on Saturday and Sunday mornings, rows with wife Samantha for control of the TV remote - which prompts her to leave the room - and has tried to prevent his children from finding out what "twerking" is...

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Independent on Sunday/ComRes poll:

Labour 35

Conservatives 30

Ukip 19

Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 56.

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 33

Ukip 13

Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 78.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@paulflynnmp Deadly blow to the heart of LibDems' self-respect as Clegg's aid nails establishment's 'devil's pact' defending "broadly credible" evidence

@iainmartin1 Miliband talks about need for the "hot breath of competition" in banking. Sounds like Blair, talking about education and health… #Marr

@KarlreMarks I'm telling you all this training on voting in Egypt will come in really handy one day when they have democracy.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "Why Ed Miliband would like to see himself as the heir to Teddy Roosevelt."

Janet Daley, writing in the Sunday Telegraph. says: "Ed Miliband doesn't speak up for the lost middle class - and no one else does either."

Dominic Lawson, writing in the Sunday Times, says: "What’s all this – the chancellor eyeing the squeezed bottom?"

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