POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Talking To Tehran

17/06/2014 08:27 BST | Updated 17/06/2014 08:59 BST
PA/PA Wire
Foreign Secretary William Hague gives a statement in the House of Commons about the crisis in Iraq.

Here are the five things you need to know on Tuesday 17 June 2014...

1) TALKING TO TEHRAN

The rise of al Qaeda offshoot Isis in Iraq has turned Middle East politics, and the West's approach to the region, on its head. The US and the UK are now cosying up to the Iranian government to try and persuade the latter to help take on the Islamist militants in Iraq - who, according to the latest reports, continue their advance from the north and are just an hour's drive away from Baghdad.

From the Guardian:

"US and Iranian officials held talks over the advance of Islamist insurgents in Iraq on Monday, the first time the two nations have collaborated over a common security interest in more than a decade. The discussions in Vienna took place on the sidelines of separate negotiations about Iran’s nuclear programme, as Barack Obama told Congress that the he was deploying up to 275 military personnel to Iraq... 'We are open to engaging the Iranians,' said a senior State Department official, who characterised the discussions as brief."

Open to engaging the Iranians? After three decades of mutual loathing, fear and suspicion? Astonishing but not, as the Guardian notes, unprecedented: "Iran and the US previously collaborated over military intelligence in the post 9/11 fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan 13 years ago." It was followed by George Bush including Iran in the 'axis of evil' and it all went downhill from there...

Meanwhile, the UK is making its own rapprochement with Iran - the foreign secretary, William Hague, will announce this morning that Britain will be seeking to re-open its embassy in Tehran. The FT reports:

"The foreign secretary told MPs yesterday he was ready to announce the next stage in the long process of normalising relations between the two states after they were cut off following a 2011 attack on the British embassy in Tehran. 'We do have, over many decades including now, important common interests with Iran. That includes stability in Iraq and in Afghanistan.'"

Indeed it does. So how big a deal is this? "It's a potentially very significant moment," the former British ambassador to Iran Sir William Patey told the Today programme this morning, before adding: "The potential for falling out with Tehran is always very high."

2) IGNORE IMMIGRATION CONCERNS 'AT YOUR PERIL'

Yet more depressing confirmation of growing anti-immigration attitudes among the public at large - from the Telegraph splash:

"Politicians have contributed to a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment because of a widening 'disconnect' between the 'liberal political class' and public opinion, the UK’s most authoritative barometer of public opinion suggests. Almost half the population now believes that a decade of mass migration has not only harmed the economy but undermined 'British culture', the annual British Social Attitudes survey shows. The 'persistent public anxiety' over immigrant numbers is something the main political parties 'ignore at their peril', the Government-funded study warns."

Speaking English is key to Britishness, say the public:

"When asked what made people 'truly British' the survey’s participants singled out distinct characteristics. While the importance of speaking English has long been strong, support has now reached a level of near unanimity. The number of people citing it as a key ingredient in Britishness rose from 85 per cent to 95 per cent between 2003 and 2013. The number citing being born in Britain as an important or very important element, edged up from 70 per cent to 74 per cent, reversing a downward trend in the previous decade."

So, do you tackle this negative sentiment by indulging it or challenging it, by educating voters or continuing to misinform them? I know where I stand...

3) SCREW HUMAN RIGHTS

If you thought the coalition's approach to foreign policy was based chiefly on trade and business, rather than the promotion of human rights or universal values, well, you're right. From the Times:

"Human rights should not 'get in the way' of expanding trade ties with China, a minister said yesterday before a threeday visit to Britain by its premier. Li Keqiang visits the Queen at Windsor Castle before talks with David Cameron in Downing Street today in the latest stage of an attempt to repair diplomatic relations and boost trade. Chinese diplomats have sought to dismiss reports that they threatened to cancel the trip unless Mr Li was granted an audience with the Queen. The meeting is not normal protocol, however, and underlines China's growing financial and political muscle... Michael Fallon, the Tory business minister, said that concerns about human rights should not obstruct efforts to increase British exports. 'These things get raised but we should not allow them to get in the way of a very important trade relationship,' he said."

Brutal. Cynical. And, I guess, honest.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a spectator running onto the Leicester racecourse and running alongside the horses.

4) A LITTLE LOCAL PROBLEM

Dave's got issues with his members. Again. From the Times:

"Membership in Tory marginal seats continues to plummet with local parties complaining of 'hard work with no political reward', according to figures from the Electoral Commission. Marginal constituencies lost an average of 8.6 per cent of their membership and 21 per cent of their income between the end of 2012 and the end of 2013. This tallies with a bleak national picture. Last year the Tory party revealed it now had 134,000 constituency members, down from the 253,600 who voted in the leadership poll that David Cameron won."

5) WIKI-SACKED

From the Telegraph:

"A civil servant in Liverpool has been fired for using government computers to post abuse about the Hillsborough disaster on the Wikipedia website following an investigation by The Telegraph. The Whitehall official used the government intranet to mock the 1989 tragedy in which 96 Liverpool fans died at Sheffield Wednesday’s football ground. An inquest into the deaths is being held. The man, an administrative officer, edited the phrase 'You’ll never walk alone', the anthem of Liverpool FC, to read: 'You’ll never walk again.'"

The paper adds:

"Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, is expected to tell Parliament today that evidence unearthed by The Telegraph succesfully identified the author of the comments. In a ministerial statement, he will inform MPs that a 'junior civil servant' has been dismissed for gross misconduct after he used a Whitehall-linked computer to post the abuse."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 36

Conservatives 32

Ukip 14

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 42.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, says: "Of course Blair won’t say Iraq was a mistake."

Hugo Rifkind, writing in the Times, says: "Blair’s war poisoned everything, not just Iraq."

Gaby Hinsliff, writing in the Guardian, says: "Don't like politicians? Get a load of the kamikaze crew."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com) or Asa Bennett (asa.bennett@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons, @asabenn and @huffpostukpol