POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Nick Vs Nigel

26/03/2014 08:24 GMT | Updated 26/03/2014 08:59 GMT
PA

Here are the five things you need to know on Wednesday 26 March 2014...

1) NICK VS NIGEL

Tonight, 7pm, live, it's Nick Clegg vs Nigel Farage on Europe. LBC is hosting the debate, Sky News is televising it. Both party leaders have taken to the papers to make their case ahead of the debate. Clegg, writing in the Mirror, says:

"Europe isn't perfect. Far from it. But if we pull up the drawbridge, break our ties with our European allies, and turn our back on the continent, we will be putting our country at risk. An exit now, or even threatening an exit, could damage our fragile economic recovery, destabilise our country and threaten jobs."

Farage, meanwhile, writing in the Independent, says:

"For there can be no doubt in the minds of anyone but the most deluded Europhile that there are huge problems in the institutions which have failed to sign off their accounts for two decades and which have seen riots in southern European countries as the effects of the disastrous policy of the Eurozone is felt by everyone but those who dreamed it up... But what does Nick Clegg want? And will he tell the country in these debates what reforms he thinks are needed? Or will we still be left guessing what their policy is aside from a desire to cling to an undemocratic and inefficient mode of government?"

So who will win? I wouldn't be surprised if underdog Nick Clegg surprises us all - he's pretty good at debates (remember 2010?) and Farage isn't so great when subjected to scrutiny or put under pressure on detail.

But what if neither side wins, as the BBC's Nick Robinson suggested on the Today programme? I've put together a list of 19 (!) questions that Clegg could ask Farage tonight. My colleague Chris York has put together a very funny list of 9 lessons that the two leaders should learn from US presidential debates.

2) WAR ON WELFARE, PART 132

From the Guardian:

"Ed Miliband will come under fresh pressure on Wednesday when as many as 20 backbench Labour MPs prepare to reject the leadership's call to vote for a permanent cap on welfare spending. The shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, said that the party would vote for the cap, pointing out Labour had been the first to suggest this form of public spending control last year. Labour also claimed overall spending on social security was set to be £3.5bn higher in 2013-14 than ministers had forecast in the November 2010 autumn statement. Overall, such spending had been £13bn higher than ministers had planned in 2010."

Iain Duncan Smith has been n the Today programme this morning defending his welfare cap while unable to say for sure whether the government would meet its pledge to cut child poverty by 2020.

3) NOT FIT FOR NUMBER 10?

More bad news for the Labour leader. The Times splashes on the findings of a new YouGov poll:

"Fewer than a fifth of voters see Ed Miliband as a prime minister in waiting, according to a new poll for The Times. Only 19 per cent said that they could imagine Mr Miliband in Downing Street, unchanged from September 2012, when YouGov first asked the question. The figures show the Labour leader lagging significantly behind David Cameron when the Conservative leader was in Opposition, and suggest that Mr Miliband’s attacks on the energy companies and banks have failed to persuade voters he is ready to lead the country."

It's worth remembering, however, as Polly Toynbee noted yesterday, that there are plenty of leaders - from Margaret Thatcher to John Major - who didn't look like they were ready to be PM until they were firmly ensconced inside Number 10. In fact, in the run-up to the 1979 general election, Thatcher trailed Labour's Jim Callaghan on who looked more prime ministerial.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a 3-year-old listing all the bad words he knows - the ending is a triumph of comic timing.

4) IS DAVE PRO OR ANTI OLD PEOPLE?

From the front page of the Telegraph:

"Elderly people could be 'unfairly pressurised' into ending their lives if assisted suicide is legalised, David Cameron has warned, as he pledged to oppose a change in the law. In his first public comments on the issue since becoming Prime Minister, Mr Cameron strongly indicated that he will vote against plans to legalise assisted suicide, set out in a Bill by Lord Falconer, the former lord chancellor. The proposals, due to be put to their first parliamentary vote within months, would legalise so–called "assisted dying", allowing doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who request them."

Cameron, champion of the elderly, eh? Not quite. The Guardian reports, on its front page:

"A quarter of a million older people have lost their state-funded help with carrying out everyday activities such as bathing, dressing and eating in the past four years as council budgets have been slashed and services rationed, according to a report released on Wednesday. The NHS and government are now "flying blind" in planning services for vulnerable older people because there is no way of assessing the true impact that social care cuts are having on their lives, the report's authors warn."

Pretty shameful, eh?

5) BAN ON BOOKS

From the Guardian:

"Members of Britain's literary establishment have combined to condemn Chris Grayling's ban on sending books to prisoners. Alan Bennett, Salman Rushdie, Carol Ann Duffy, David Hare and even Jeffrey Archer – novelist, former Tory party chairman and ex-prisoner – declared support for a campaign by the Howard League for Penal Reform urging the justice secretary to drop his ban on family and friends sending books and other essentials to prisoners. 'While we understand that prisons must be able to apply incentives to reward good behaviour by prisoners, we do not believe that education and reading should be part of that policy,' says a letter signed by more than 80 leading authors. 'Books represent a lifeline behind bars, a way of nourishing the mind and filling the many hours that prisoners spend locked in their cells. In an environment with no internet access and only limited library facilities, books become all the more important.'... The letter follows an attempt on Tuesday by Grayling to label opponents of the book ban as 'leftwing' groups which he claimed were unable to deal with the government's rehabilitation agenda."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 38

Conservatives 35

Ukip 10

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 32.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "The deep cuts that Britain still requires should take us, in 2018, to where we were in 1997 – when our problems began."

Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "This Labour love-in has to end – it’s time to make some enemies."

Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, says: "The NHS fraud story would be terrible, if it were true."

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