POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Nigel V Nick Round Two

02/04/2014 08:30 BST | Updated 02/04/2014 08:59 BST

Here are the five things you need to know on Wednesday 2 April 2014...

1) DING! DING! DING! ROUND TWO

Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg go head-to-head in their second debate on the EU this evening. Despite being seen to win last week's encounter, Farage has been under pressure over his remarks that he admires Vladimir Putin. Clegg is likely to attack that vulnerability hard when the two men step back into the ring. As The Guardian reports, the deputy prime minister is "determined to show a more emotional side" tonight, after "admitting to his staff that he had become bogged down in statistical disputes" last time around. Lib Dem president Tim Farron urged Clegg to be "bolder" in the second debate, so expect him to go on the attack. Arguably the biggest challenge today is for the BBC, who have been worrying how to generate excitement for something that has happened once already.

2) UNION WARNING FOR ED MILIBAND

The leader of Britain's biggest trade union has warned Ed Miliband that unless Labour offers "real alternatives" to David Cameron's austerity programme he will lose the election - and risk losing the financial support of the union. Speaking to journalists at a lunch in Westminster on Tuesday afternoon, the general secretary of the Unite union, Len McCluskey, said a Labour programme that simply offered "variations of austerity" was not good enough. And he warned that many Labour MPs were worried there was no "cohesive vision" coming from the party leadership.

3) EIGHT YEARS AND MORE THAN 400 DEATHS

The UK's military headquarters in Afghanistan has been disbanded in the latest major step in the drawdown of British troops. British-led Task Force Helmand came to an end yesterday after eight years of frontline military operations involving tens of thousands of UK servicemen and women. As The Daily Telegraph reports, more than 400 of the British fatalities in Afghanistan occurred under Task Force Helmand, "a mission which lasted twice as long as the First World War, despite the former defence secretary John Reid’s suggestion in 2006 that UK forces might not fire 'a single shot'."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...: If The Second Nick Clegg Vs Nigel Farage Debate Was A Rap Battle

4) BEDROOM TAX 'DISTRESS' ATTACKED

Disabled people are suffering "severe financial hardship and distress" as a result of the so-called bedroom tax, a cross-party committee of MPs has concluded.

The decision to reduce housing benefit payments from social tenants deemed to have a larger home than they need - officially known as the social sector size criteria (SSSC) but described by ministers as the removal of a "spare room subsidy" - has hit vulnerable people who were not the intended targets of the reform and have little hope of moving to a smaller property, the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee found.

In a speech today, Lib Dem president Tim Farron will also attack the Bedroom Tax. "The onslaught of divisive rhetoric that demonises the poor can never help us create a fairer society," he will say. "We believe in a welfare state that enables, that treats people as individuals rather than problems, that is unafraid of joining up the dots between housing, health and jobs. This is not only right and fair, it often makes economic sense – preventing a descent into chaos rather than just treating the symptoms of poverty. So we have protected housing benefit for under 25s, we have fought off further welfare cuts and going into the next election will continue to fight for a fairer society built on a stronger economy."

5) 'ABOLISH THE MINIMUM WAGE'

A right-of-centre think tank has been attacked for calling for the national minimum wage to be abolished for apprentices and under-18s. The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) said the statutory rate had failed to reduce poverty since it was introduced 15 years ago, and actually hit job opportunities for the young and unskilled. The minimum wage, which is supported by all sides of industry, has led to employers becoming "choosier" in employment, the group claimed.

Brian Strutton, national officer of the GMB union, said: "The axe-grinding Institute for Economic Affairs, as usual, starts with its prejudiced conclusions and argues back, against all the evidence, to criticise the national minimum wage. "If they had their way, poverty pay would be the norm and benefit dependency would be even greater than it is already.

900 WORDS OR MORE (NIGEL SPECIAL)

Daniel Finkelstein in The Times: Rule out any deal with the Tories, Nigel.

Malcolm Rifkind in The Daily Telegraph: Nigel Farage is a buffoon for admiring Vladimir Putin

Nigel Farage in The Independent: In any armed conflict, why do our politicians rush to support the ‘rebels’?

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