POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Enter Tony Blair

20/02/2014 08:18 GMT | Updated 20/02/2014 08:59 GMT
Fiona Hanson/PA Archive
British Prime Minister, Tony Blair speaks to Rebekah Wade, Editor of the Sun, during the Newspaper Press Fund 40th anniversary reception in central London.

Here are the five things you need to know on Thursday 20 February 2014...

1) ENTER TONY BLAIR

He's baaaaaaaack. Again. Yesterday, a court heard how Tony Blair offered to advise and counsel Rebekah Brooks, Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch at the heigh of the phone hacking crisis in July 2011, as long as it was kept, he is alleged to have said, "between us".

The FT front page headline is: "Blair offered advice to Brooks and Murdochs over hacking, court told."

The Telegraph goes with: "Blair made secret offer of help to Brooks."

The Guardian, the paper behind Hackgate, splashes on: "Launch a Hutton Style-inquiry. Take sleeping pills. Tough up."

The paper reports:

"Tony Blair secretly advised Rebekah Brooks to launch a 'Hutton-style' inquiry into the News of the World six days before her arrest as a suspect in the phone-hacking scandal, it has been revealed in evidence disclosed at the Old Bailey. According to an email written by Brooks, following an hour-long phone call in July 2011, the former prime minister had also offered to act as an 'unofficial adviser' to her, Rupert and James Murdoch on a 'between us' basis. The note from Brooks – sent to James Murdoch – was read out in the phone-hacking trial. In it, she said that Blair had suggested that News International set up an inquiry which would 'publish a Hutton-style report' that would 'clear you and accept short comings [sic]'... The former prime minister also told News International's then chief executive to 'keep strong' and appeared to suggest she should take sleeping pills to keep a clear head."

The former Labour leader has, without doubt, embarrassed the current Labour leader - especially the timing of this call with Brooks, which Blair hasn't denied. "Unbelievable," a senior party figure tells me. "I am genuinely speechless." These latest Blair revelations, however, have surely also reminded Labour Party members that, contrary to conventional wisdom, they chose the right, not the wrong, Miliband back in September 2010...

2) CAUTIOUS GEORGE

"Recovery is not yet secure," is the splash headline on the Telegraph.

The BBC has the details:

"The UK's economic recovery is 'not yet secure', chancellor George Osborne has warned, ahead of next month's Budget. In a speech to business leaders in Hong Kong, Mr Osborne called for an increase in exports, but insisted the situation remained 'unbalanced' and that cuts to the national debt had to continue. It comes after the Bank of England upgraded its UK growth forecast for 2014 from 2.8% to 3.4%."

Osborne said: "Some in Britain might be tempted to say: job done, let's avoid more hard decisions. That would be a huge mistake. Abandon the plan and we abandon the progress we've made and go back to square one."

3) BISH BASH BOSH

Some of the country's top bishops from various denominations are arguing that there hasn't been enough progress on issues of poverty and equality - from the Mirror splash:

"Britain’s leading bishops denounce David Cameron’s welfare reforms for creating a 'national crisis'. In an unprecedented attack on the Tory-led Coalition, 27 Anglican bishops and 16 other clergy accuse the Tory-led coalition of creating hardship and hunger... This is the most significant political move by the Church of England since its Faith in the City report in the 1980s attacking Margaret Thatcher’s cuts... In a letter to the Daily Mirror, 27 Anglican bishops and 16 other faith leaders say the PM has a 'moral duty' to act on the growing number going hungry. The intervention comes after Britain’s leading Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols said the Government’s benefit cuts were a 'disgrace.'"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a Pizza Hut branch manager caught on camera peeing in the kitchen sink.

4) CLEGG TO SAY 'NON'

The deputy prime minister plans to veto any Eurosceptic candidate that David Cameron proposes to send to Brussels as our new EU commissioner, according to the Daily Mail:

"The demand will enrage many Tory backbenchers who want a tough negotiator to replace Baroness Ashton later this year. But the Deputy Prime Minister wants a commissioner who will approach the job 'constructively'. The appointment - the first by a Tory Prime Minister since 1995 - is seen as vital to Mr Cameron's bid to renegotiate Britain's position in the EU ahead of a referendum in 2017. Tory backbenchers want him to send a tough negotiator who will fight the UK’s corner and are pressing for Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, former Defence Secretary Liam Fox or former Cabinet minister Peter Lilley to be handed the role. But a senior Lib Dem source said: ‘We need someone in Brussels who is not going to shout from the side lines but is going to actively engage and work hard. We don’t think it would be in Britain’s interest to use the job as a bully pulpit to attack Brussels rather than working constructively to protect our interests.'"

The paper adds that Clegg is thought to be okay with former chief whip Andrew Mitchell, who is of course looking for a new political challenge after his battle with the cops over 'Plebgate'.

5) BOWIE BACKS THE UNION

The Sun splashes on the latest - star-studded! - intervention in the debate over Scottish independence: "Stay With Us Scotland."

The paper quotes model Kate Moss, who read out a message from Bowie as she collected his Best British Male award at the Brits last night: "David has asked me to say this. Kate comes from Venus and I from Mars. I'm completely delighted to have a Brit for Best Male. And Scotland — stay with us!"

As the Sun notes: "The Scottish independence referendum vote is in September and Bowie is the highest-profile star to come out in support of a No vote."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 37

Conservatives 33

Ukip 12

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 44.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@tom_watson Tony Blair. Tony. Blair

@David_Cameron It's good to see another fall in unemployment. Our #LongTermEconomicPlan means more people with the security of a wage & a chance in life.

@DJSkelton Has Blair spent so much time in the company of plutocrats that he's lost his great instincts and forgotten political good sense? #Blair

900 WORDS OR MORE

David Aaronovitch, writing in the Times, says: "Even rent-a-gob arguments can beat PMQs."

Martin Kettle, writing in the Guardian, says: "Alex Salmond and co are acting like spoilt children."

Rafael Behr, writing in the New Statesman, says: "Westminster isn’t qualified to debate how wealth and power are stitched up in Britain."

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