POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Nick Vs Chris

20/01/2014 08:22 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 21:01 GMT
Cathal McNaughton/PA Archive
Liberal Democrat Chief Executive, Lord Rennard pictured outside his party headquarters, London, Monday 9 January 2006. He announced the timetable for the upcoming leadership election. See PA story POLITICS Kennedy. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Photo should read: Cathal McNaughton/PA

Here are the five things you need to know on Monday 20 January 2014...

1) NICK VS CHRIS

To say Nick Clegg is under pressure is an understatement. From the Telegraph:

"Lord Rennard is planning to sit with Liberal Democrat peers on the Government benches in the House of Lords later today in open defiance of Nick Clegg. Senior Lib Dems are now battling to prevent the peer, who has been at the centre of sexual harassment claims, from inflicting what would be one of the most high–profile and public embarrassments of Mr Clegg's leadership. Susan Gaszczak, one of Lord Rennard's alleged victims and a member of a key party committee, said the sight of Lord Rennard on the Lib Dem benches would make her feel 'physically sick'. The party said last night that it was considering fresh disciplinary charges to stop him sitting in the Lords. The peer's legal adviser Lord Carlile said that Lord Rennard could sue the Lib Dems if he was not allowed onto the benches."

Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Clegg said: "No apology, no whip." So what happens to his authority and status as party leader if, as expected, Rennard defies him? Today presenter Justin Webb expressed incredulity upon being told by the deputy PM that the latter had not spoken to Rennard or had a face-to-face meeting since the publication of the QC's independent report last week. Meanwhile, the Guardian, on its front page, reports:

"The dispute within the Liberal Democrats over sexual harassment allegations against Lord Rennard, the party's former chief executive, is now in danger of spinning out of control as his allies released emails that they claim prove there is a political conspiracy to damage him... The peer's supporters have claimed that there is now a conspiracy between the four complainants and some solicitors to damage him. They released an email chain inadvertently sent to them showing the four women taking up a suggestion from Lawrence Davies – the lawyer for one of Rennard's accusers, Bridget Harris – to petition the Queen to have Rennard stripped of his peerage."

2) NO BENEFITS FOR YOU

If you're a new migrant, you better watch out. If you're on benefits, you better watch out, too. If you're a migrant who happens to be claiming benefits, you're screwed. The Daily Mail splashes on:

"Housing benefit ban on jobless migrants"

The paper reports: "Writing in the Mail today, Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa May say Britain’s generous welfare system should no longer be a magnet for citizens of other EU states. The Work and Pensions Secretary and the Home Secretary claim Labour doled out millions of pounds ‘for people to sit on benefits’ while opening the door to mass migration. They pointed to incendiary figures showing the number of Britons in jobs plunged by 413,000 between 2005 and 2010, while the number of working foreigners soared by 736,000."

Correlation, of course, is not causation. Meanwhile, the Independent splashes on Labour's own proposed benefits crackdown:

"The jobless would lose their unemployment benefit under a Labour Government if they failed a 'basic skills test' and refused training. In an interview with The Independent, Rachel Reeves, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, revealed a 'tough love' strategy to stop the unemployed staying on the dole for up to three years before their English, maths and computer skills are assessed. Labour’s test would take place within six weeks of someone claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)."

The paper quotes Reeves as saying: “It has to be right that people who are not trying hard enough and don’t want to make the effort required to get into work, or get the skills they need, forfeit their benefit.”

Yes, what proportion of the jobless fall into such a category? And what about the vast majority of unemployed people who want to find work but can't because there aren't enough jobs to go around? Who speaks for them?

3) BLOWBACK, SYRIA-STYLE

Some of warned this might happen - from the Telegraph's splash:

"British people fighting in Syria are being trained as 'jihadists' and then encouraged to return to the UK to launch attacks on home soil, an al–Qaeda defector and Western security sources have told The Daily Telegraph.

"Recruits who have travelled to the war–torn country with plans of fighting the regime of president Bashar al–Assad are instead being trained as terrorists and directed back to Britain to carry out future atrocities, the former Islamist has revealed.

"He has provided the first confirmation from Syrian rebels that young British men are being indoctrinated in extremist anti–Western ideology."

The paper says up to 500 Britons are estimated to have gone out to fight in Syria. So, how quickly can this bloody, brutal, sectarian conflict, provoked by a loathsome dictator who refuses to relinquish power, be brought to a close? Some good news via the BBC:

"UN chief Ban Ki-moon has invited Iran to take part in preliminary Syrian peace talks this week in Switzerland, an offer Tehran has accepted.

"Mr Ban said he had received assurances that Iran would play a positive role in securing a transitional government.

"But Syria's main opposition group said it would withdraw from the talks unless Mr Ban retracted the offer to Iran."

Okay, well perhaps it isn't good news. Then again, some would say that the rebels have been looking for any excuse to avoid having to attend the Geneva peace talks. Isn't it time John Kerry and William Hague put a bit more pressure on them?

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a fat cat unable to get through a cat flap in the front door.

4) 'THE GENTLE SUCCESSION'

From the Mirror's splash:

"It is being dubbed the 'gentle succession' – as the Queen gradually begins to relinquish some of her traditional duties as monarch. As she approaches her 88th birthday in April after almost 62 years on the throne, she has agreed to hand over part of her workload in a historic 'job-share' arrangement with Prince Charles. In a royal first, he will be taking on more head of state-style responsibilities as the Palace starts to make tentative plans for his eventual succession... The first sign of the partial power transfer will be the merging this week of the Queen and Charles’s press offices. In future any announcements concerning the monarch and her 65-year-old eldest son will now come from the same source."

Do you think Charlies did a little jig when he heard the news? The poor guy has been waiting for so long...

5) MAKE YOUR MIND UP, FRANCOIS

He loves me? He loves me not. From the Times front page:

"President Hollande has told France's first lady that he needs time to decide whether to end their relationship, according to the magazine that is determined to give her side of the story.

"In the latest account of the rift in the Élysée Palace, Paris Match reports that Valérie Trierweiler is a broken woman, fearful about her future as her semiofficial role at the apex of the French State draws to an end.

"According to [Paris Match's Catherine Schwaab], the President met his partner in hospital on Thursday night and refused to make a commitment to either of his lovers. "What are they waiting for? That's the whole problem," Ms Schwaab wrote."

Perhaps Hollande isn't in a hurry because a new poll by French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche shows 22% of voters are satisfied with the president's performance - the same as before and after last week's news conference.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's 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

@paddyashdown Reading and listening to Alex Carlile this morning, I fear he is advising Chris Rennard as a lawyer, but not as a friend.

@ChrisDaviesMEP I have pledged a sum of money towards the costs of any High Court action that Chris Rennard may take against the Lib Dems.

@gabyhinsliff No idea what further steps, mind you. Short of physically standing between him and his seat in the lords.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Chris Huhne, writing in the Guardian, says: "Our housing is in crisis – we need both brownfield and greenfield sites."

Yasmin Alibhai Brown, writing in the Independent, says: "What is it about male politicians that they seem to have such problems dealing with women?"

Tim Stanley, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Racist, imperialist, power-hungry megalomaniac. Why Roosevelt is not the model for Miliband or Labour."

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