POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Farage V Clegg. It's On!

21/02/2014 09:20 GMT | Updated 21/02/2014 09:59 GMT
John Stillwell/PA Wire
File photo dated 20/09/13 of UK Independence leader Nigel Farage who is calling on the Government to start admitting refugees fleeing the fighting in Syria into Britain.

Here are the five things you need to know on Friday 21 February 2014...

1) FARAGE V CLEGG. IT'S ON!

Forget the Rumble In the Jungle and the Thriller In Manilla. Here comes the Tussle On Telly, the Wipeout in Westminster. Yesterday, Nick Clegg, on his LBC call-in show, challenged Nigel Farage to a public debate on whether or not the UK should remain a member of the EU. Yes, the deputy prime minister of the UK offered the leader of a fringe party with no seats in parliament the opportunity to debate him on an issue of major political significance. Farage seemed hesistant, however, demanding David Cameron and Ed Miliband also be invited to participate.

This morning, on LBC, the Ukip leader repeated his call for the Tory and Labour leaders to show up to any such debate on the EU before announcing he would nevertheless take on the Cleggster in public, with or without Dave and Ed's participation.

"I nearly choked on my bacon roll..." said Farage about Clegg's challenge to a debate. "I have absolutely no choice. I've got to say 'yes'."

Bring it on! Nick vs Nigel. On Europe. The debate of the year. A sketchwriter - and a political pundit's - dream...

2) COULD THE FLOODS HAVE BEEN PREVENTED?

That's the verdict of a bunch of engineers, ecologists and hydrologists from 17 organisations in a letter to the Telegraph:

"Water management techniques could have helped prevent the effect of flooding on villages, towns and over surrounding land seen recently. Emergency measures are in order for the immediate crisis. But in the long term, the management of water requires a clear strategy."

Labour smell blood in the water - writing in the Telegraph as well, the shadow chancellor Ed Balls calls for an end to the "short term salami-slicing" of environmental budgets. Balls pledges that a Labour government would prioritise investment in infrastructure to tackle the impact of climate change.

3) FREE FOOD? DON'T BE SILLY

Ministers keep claiming that the rise in food bank use is driven by the rise in the number of food banks providing free food. Now, a government-commissioned report says the exact opposite - from the Guardian:

"The report directly contradicts the claim from a government minister that the rise in the use of food banks is linked to the fact that there are now more of them... The review, written by a team of food policy experts from the University of Warwick, was passed to ministers in June but has remained under wraps until now, creating speculation that the government 'suppressed' its findings... The researchers found that a combination of rising food prices, shrinking incomes, low pay and increasing personal debt meant an increasing number of families could not afford to buy sufficient food... 'We found no evidence to support the idea that increased food aid provision is driving demand. All available evidence both in the UK and international points in the opposite direction. Put simply, there is more need and informal food aid providers are trying to help.'"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a pizza guy lob his order up through a third-floor window. It's pretty amazing.

4) WANT TO FEEL 'FEMININE'? TRY CHEERLEADING

Helen Grant, the sports minister, has done a scorcher of an interview in the Telegraph - the paper says:

"Miss Grant said she was worried that women were being put off by memories of being forced to play football at school. Instead they should consider taking up 'feminine' sports. Currently 1.8 million fewer women than men take part in regular sport. In an interview with The Telegraph's Wonder–Women website, she said: '[Women] don't have to feel unfeminine. There are some wonderful sports which you can do and perform to a very high level and I think those participating look absolutely radiant and very feminine such as ballet, gymnastics, cheerleading and even roller–skating.'"

Oh dear. "It's really the wrong approach to suggest that the only way for women to get involved in sports is to be girlie and feminine," the Everyday Sexism project's founder, Laura Bates, told the Telegraph. "It's actually discouraging for a minister to say this."

5) 'I KNOW WE ALL LOOK THE SAME'

The Tories' 'women problem' continued on BBC1's Question Time last night - the Times reports:

"The Defence Secretary was rebuked by a Labour frontbencher last night after repeatedly confusing her with a female colleague. Philip Hammond mixed up the shadow health minister, Liz Kendall, with the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves during last night’s edition of BBC Question Time. Ms Kendall, who is the MP for for Leicester West, was forced to correct Mr Hammond, telling him: 'I know we all look the same.'"

Ouch.

MY MINUTE

Watch this sixty-second video of my semi-serious take on the week's big political stories - from Cameron vs the bishops on benefits to Tony Blair's advice to the Murdochs. It also features a cameo from a certain Owen Jones...

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 34

Ukip 12

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 60.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Steve Richards, writing in the Guardian, says: "It's no wonder David Cameron has alienated the church."

Isabel Hardman, writing in the Telegraph, focuses on the "tricky balance between Church and state".

Roger Boyes, writing in the Times, says: "Putin is winning the Ukraine power games."

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