Chris York   |   July 22, 2014   11:19 AM ET

Ed Miliband met Barack Obama on Monday, in a meeting of such gravity the Labour leader tried to eat his own hands.

ed miliband

Maybe it was the pressure. Maybe he couldn't handle the insane glare from that mirror-like table.

Miliband: 'We Oppose The Israeli Incursion Into Gaza'

Or maybe it was the sense of sheer panic as he realised he'd just presented the most powerful man in the world with gifts in a badly crumpled plastic carrier bag (bottom right in the pic - it was three DVD box sets, including the original British version of 'House of Cards' since you ask.)

Despite the meeting looking anything but warm and friendly, Miliband insisted the meeting had been warm and friendly.

He then tweeted this with a very helpful description for those who don't know what an Obama, meeting, or indeed a picture, actually is.

Unfortunately there are no details of what happened next. Did Miliband accept the outstretched hand? Did he punch the US president? He really looks like he's going to punch him.

The highly orchestrated non-orchestrated meeting is officially known as a "brush-by" with the president casually dropping in to a scheduled meeting with security adviser Susan Rice.

Miliband was accompanied by shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander, advisor Lord Wood of Anfield and Tim Livesey, his chief of staff.

All three gentlemen refrained from eating their hands.

Don't forget we've been here before - in 2011 the Miliband and Obama met at Buckingham Palace...

ed miliband

Despite both men holding the same pose, the US president looks chilled and relaxed while Ed looks like he's trying to divide 687 by the square root of Australia.


Mehdi Hasan   |   July 22, 2014    1:20 AM ET

The five things you need to know on Tuesday 22 July 2014...

1) MILIBAND TAKES ON THE ISRAELIS

Ed Miliband hasn't had much to say about Israel's bombardment, and ground invasion, of Gaza and the mounting civilian death toll inside the strip - until, that is, yesterday.

On a trip to Washington DC to try and see Barack Obama, the Labour leader sat down with the HuffPost's Washington DC bureau chief Ryan Grim and told him that Her Majesty's Opposition "oppose the Israeli incursion into Gaza".

Ryan writes:

"Miliband said the incursion into Gaza is likely to help Hamas' recruiting efforts, and undermines Israel in the eyes of the international community. "I don't think it will help win Israel friends," he said. 'I don't think this will make the situation better. I fear it will make it worse... As a party we oppose the further escalation of violence we have seen with Israel's invasion of Gaza,' he said. 'I defend Israel's right to defend itself against rocket attacks. But I cannot explain, justify or defend the horrifying deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, including children and innocent civilians.'"

Strong stuff from the Labour leader - his anti-Zionist mother, Marion Kozak, a Holocaust survivor, must be proud of him.

Whether the Israelis will give a damn is another matter. David Cameron has reiterated his "staunch support" for the Jewish state and has had little to say about the X Palestinian dead - "grave concern" is the phrase I think he belatedly and half-heartedly deployed yesterday. Barack Obama, meanwhile, continues to declaim "Israel's right to defend itself" from rockets - but without Miliband's qualifier about Palestinian dead.

Miliband, incidentally, was in DC to get a "brush by" meeting with the Leader of the World, as craved by every British leader of the opposition and he got a 25-minute sitdown with Obama and his national security adviser Susan Rice. They talked Ukraine, Gaza, Scotland, climate change and the future of the EU, among other issues. Check out the official photo that was released (below) - the Labour spin team won't be too pleased with that rather large table placed between their man and the prez.

miliband obama

The Times reports:

"Mr Miliband also arrived with a House of Commons plastic bag containing his gifts for the president. A Labour spokesman said the bag contained three DVDs — the original versions of House of Cards, State of Play and The State Within. “Given the number of US political dramas on our screen, we thought we would showcase a few British-made examples,” said the spokesman, who stressed that all of the DVDs were in a US compatible format."

The Sun tries to be a party pooper: "Miliband accused of abandoning Britain to stage Obama PR stunt."

2) LIBS AND LABS SITTING IN A TREE...

My HuffPost UK colleague Ned Simons has this rather nice scoop about the possibility of a Lib-Lab coalition post-May 2015 - and it's been picked up by several papers including the Telegraph and the Mail. Ned writes:

"The next general election will produce a Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition government, the Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey has predicted. Davey let slip the forecast while speaking at a conference organised by the left-leaning Lib Dem Social Liberal Forum group in Shoreditch, East London, on Saturday. His comments offer an insight into the strategic thinking of the party leadership as May 2015 draws near... He said: 'If we were negotiating again and I hope we will be, but probably with the Labour Party this time ... that would be my prediction, I think because we are used to coalition politics, we would negotiate even better.'"

3) DAVE GOES ALL GODWIN ON VLAD

"It's time to punish Putin, says PM" is the headline on the front of the Telegraph. The paper reports:

"David Cameron last night lost patience with Vladimir Putin's 'bluster and obfuscation' and called on Europe to impose 'hardhitting sanctions' on Russia after the downing of Flight MH17. In his strongest intervention since the disaster, which killed 298 people, the Prime Minister invoked the spectre of the Second World War and compared Russia's aggression to that of Nazi Germany. He said Russia was facing a 'defining moment' in its history and expressed his frustration with European Union countries, including France and Germany, which have failed to back his calls for the toughest possible sanctions against Moscow."

The real question, as journalist Edward Lucas put it on the Today programme this morning, is: "What happens next?"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of comedian John Oliver take on America's prison problem.

4) WHAT'S 20 MILLION QUID BETWEEN FRIENDS?

Hillary Clinton was recently slammed for claiming she and her multimillionaire ex-president husband Bill were "dead broke" after her failed 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Will former British PM Tony Blair be similarly slammed for claiming, in a speech to Blairite thinktank Progress yesterday, that he's *only* worth £20 million? I doubt it. There's a reason they call him 'Teflon Tony'.

From the Times:

"Tony Blair hit back at claims that he has become a member of Britain’s super-rich yesterday by insisting that he is actually worth less than £20 million. The former prime minister said he was not motivated by money and that suggestions his wealth had reached £100 million were 'greatly exaggerated'. He said the claims had led his wife, Cherie, to ask him where all their money had gone."

The paper adds:

"Mr Blair was quizzed about his “new life” after Downing St during an appearance marking the 20th anniversary of his election as Labour leader. He used the address to tell Labour that its best chance of winning the next election was to reach out beyond its “comfort zone” and fight from the political centre ground."

5) GOODBYE GRIFFIN... AND GOOD RIDDANCE

Is this the end of a (far right) era? From the Guardian:

"Nick Griffin has been replaced as leader of the British National party, the far-right group has announced. The BNP's website said Adam Walker, a former teacher who this year was struck off the teaching register for life, had been appointed acting chairman after Griffin 'stepped aside', two months after he lost the party's only seat at the European parliament in a disastrous set of election results. Griffin, who was declared bankrupt in January, had 'taken up the position of president', it said, adding that the national executive was 'united in their support' for his replacement."

Griffin isn't just bankrupt - he lost his European Parliament seat in May, too. Or as my HuffPost UK colleague Chris York puts it in a rather amusing blogpost: "Irrelevant Party Leader Stops Leading Irrelevant Party."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 38
Conservatives 34
Ukip 11
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 44.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "Pragmatists v romantics: the Tory dilemma."

Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, says: "The intensity of the adulation for Blair ought to concern Labour’s ‘new’ man."

Angus Roxburgh, writing in the Guardian, says: "Let Putin save face."


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@huffpostukpol

  |   July 21, 2014    2:52 PM ET

The Labour leader's off to Washington, in this new comedy caper...

ed miliband washington

(Casting directors: David Schneider, David Beresford, Handface and Andrea Mann)

  |   July 21, 2014   10:49 AM ET

A former London student who previously worked at Heathrow left Britain to fight in the pro-Russian rebel group which is suspected of carrying out the attack which downed flight MH17, killing nearly 300 people.

Beness Aijo studied microbiology at London's Birkbeck University and worked on the reconstruction of Heathrow's Terminal 2, before leaving Britain to fight in the Crimea.

SEE ALSO:

The 29-year-old told the Daily Mail he had ties to the soldiers who are suspected of launching the surface-to-air missile which shot down the Maylasia Airlines flight and killed all 298 passengers and crew on board.

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Beness Aijo posing with a Soviet Union flag

Currently under house arrest in Latvia, his native country, he accused Ukrainian military forces of being behind the attack, which happened over the eastern Ukraine city of Donetsk.

"I think that Ukranian military forces destroyed the plane above Donetsk area in order to blame in this offence on the rebels and make public opinion turn against them.

"I speak with people from Donetsk, they all claim that this plane has been attacked by Ukrainian military forces or Ukrainian National Guard in order to say that this has been done by rebels.

research gate

Aijo's profile on Research Gate, a network dedicated to science and research, which shows he studied at the London university

Aijo told the paper he was not pro-Putin but said he was part of a "self defence force" in Crimea, and had military uniform and a gun.

"But I never shot and have never fought with anybody. I have never killed anybody. I was just standing during the night near military points and my aim was to keep order."

facebook

Aijo is a father-of-one who studied at Birbeck University in London

Aijo lived in London for years but says he is being held in Latvia because the government "fear him" for his political activities overseas.

The father-of-one has numerous pictures of himself posing in camouflage uniform, as well as in front of tanks and Russian flags.

  |   July 21, 2014    9:51 AM ET

Ed Miliband is expected to meet Barack Obama today, as his inner-circle said there was "renewed" cooperation between the Labour Party and the Democrats.

The Labour leader is hoping to have have an informal "brush by" with the Obama in the White House. The talks with Obama would take a similar form to David Cameron's 2007 visit to the White House, when then president George Bush had a "drop in" meeting with the then leader of the Opposition.

But as Gordon Brown's former chief spinner Damian McBride recalls in his Times column today, meetings between British leaders and American presidents do not always go to plan. "Notoriously, Gordon Brown was snubbed five times in his requests for a private meeting with the president in New York, eventually settling for the indignity of a passing chat in the United Nations kitchen," he writes.

Miliband will be hoping his meeting in Washington is not disrupted as the president responds to the crises in Gaza and Ukraine.

The meeting, however brief, is designed to burnish Miliband's credentials as a statesman as the general election draws near. The two leaders share much in the way of political philosophy, however foreign policy could be a sticking point.It was the Labour leader's decision to derail Cameron's push for intervention in Syria that arguably also prevented Obama from taking the action he wanted as well.

SEE ALSO: Will Miliband's White House Meeting Succeed Like Blair's Or Fail Like Kinnock's?

Stewart Wood, one of Miliband's closest advisers who is accompanying him on the trip, has used the planned meeting to emphasise the links between the Labour leader and Obama in a joint blog for The Huffington Post with Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress think-tank. Tanden served in senior roles for both the Obama and Hillary Clinton presidential campaigns.

"In the wake of the global financial crisis, and the anemic economic recovery that has followed, it has yet again fallen to progressives on both sides of the Atlantic to provide fresh solutions to a new set of economic and social challenges. To date, however, there have been important differences in policy," the pair write.

"Ed Miliband’s visit to Washington DC provides a timely reminder of the the new post-Crash challenges faced by both our nations and our progressive movements. But beyond that, it is an opportunity for two leaders who both understand that economic growth comes from not the top down, but the middle out, and who share with common values, to share ideas on how to meet these challenges, and to think strategically about how they can work together in the future to build a fairer and stronger future for their countries."

Wood and Tanden add: "This vision, one of an economy growing from the middle-out, has provided the foundation for a renewed dialogue between Labour and the Democrats."

david cameron obamaAs PM Cameron always gets to meet the president. Miliband is after some of that.

Not everyone, however, is impressed with Miliband's transatlantic trip. Conservatives have criticised the Labour leader for flying to the United States rather than staying in London to respond to David Cameron's Commons statement on the shooting down of Malaysia Flight MH17 over Ukraine.

And McBride suggests the meeting is a "waste of everyone’s time" and that, more than that, is actually damaging. "Every time a British party leader or prime minister goes through this charade, it just reinforces America’s superiority complex and shrinks our junior-partner status ever further," he says.

Transatlantic visits by opposition leaders have also gone wrong when attempted in the other direction. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's 2012 visit to London was dubbed a "Romneyshambles" after he appeared to question Britain's ability to host the Olympic Games.

WOOD AND TANDEN:Miliband's Visit to Washington Provides a Timely Reminder of the Post-Crash Challenges Faced on Both Sides of the Atlantic

Mehdi Hasan   |   July 21, 2014    2:42 AM ET

The five things you need to know on Monday 21 July 2014...

1) DAVE VS VLAD

The shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines passenger plane, MH17, and the growing geopolitical crisis between Russia and the West, continues to dominate most of the front pages.

The Mail splashes on: "PM: We'll freeze Russian billions".

The Telegraph goes with: "MH17 dead held as bargaining chips, families fear".

The Times headline is: "Damning US intelligence puts Russia in the dock".

Cameron is set to make a Commons statement on the issue today. But will EU ministers announce new, tougher action against Putin and his allies at a meeting of EU's Foreign Affairs Council, also today? From the Times:

"David Cameron brokered an agreement in telephone calls with President Hollande of France and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, for stiffer sanctions against Russia... Travel bans, asset freezes and limits on investment are all being examined. Downing Street is pushing for sanctions to be extended to President Putin's 'cronies', an inner circle responsible for 'influencing or supporting the Russian regime'. In a blunt 30-minute call to Mr Putin last night, Mr Cameron said that ten British citizens had died and the bringing down of the plane was 'totally unacceptable'. He told Mr Putin that 'the world was now watching' and that he 'must change course and work to bring stability to eastern Ukraine'."

Putin, meanwhile, continues to disregard European opinion and lay the blame for the tragedy at the door of Ukraine's government. Cameron may have to work harder at his poker face. And think beyond sanctions on top of more sanctions...

2) 'HELL OF A PINPOINT OPERATION'

The Guardian's front page headline refers to Gaza's "bloodiest day"; the Independent's to Gaza's "deadliest day". Both papers' headlines refer to Israel's shelling of Shuja'iya, resulting in the deaths of up to 70 people, including dozens of women and children. The Independent's Kim Sengupta reports:

|A night and day of ferocious violence has resulted in more than 100 deaths in Gaza, with Palestinian accusations that a bloody assault on the town of Shuja'iya by Israeli forces, leaving bodies on the streets and buildings destroyed, was motivated by revenge for the deaths of 13 soldiers. The Israeli losses were one of the largest in one operation suffered in recent times by the Jewish state. Al Quds Force, the military wing of Hamas, had claimed that it had lured troops into a minefield... The killing in Shuja'iya of Palestinians, including a large number of women and children, was condemned by the Palestinian government led by President Mahmoud Abbas as a 'heinous massacre' and a 'war crime'."

With the overall Palestinian death toll now having topped 400 in less than two weeks, Barack Obama finally picked up the phone, according to the Guardian, to raise "'serious concern' about the growing number of Palestinian casualties in a... conversation on Sunday night with Israel's prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu".

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry was caught on an open microphone sarcastically referring to Israel's action in Gaza as "a hell of a pinpoint operation".

Late last night, the UN Security Council Resolution, according to the Mail Online, "expressed 'grave concern' at the high number of civilians killed in Gaza, including children, and called for an immediate cease-fire, 'including the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from the Gaza Strip'".

Will it make the slightest bit of difference to Israel's behaviour?

3) SALMOND'S 'DEAD PARROT'

From the Telegraph:

"Alex Salmond's plan for an independent Scotland to share the pound with the remainder of the UK is a 'dead parrot' and he must urgently set out his plan B, an inquiry by MPs has concluded. The Commons Scottish affairs committee compared the First Minister's reluctance to accept that his plan for a currency union would not happen with the famous Monty Python sketch in which a pet shop owner refuses to admit a Norwegian Blue parrot he sold was dead. The MPs also dismissed Mr Salmond's claim that George Osborne, Ed Balls and Danny Alexander were bluffing by ruling out the proposal. No future Chancellor could perform an about-turn on a currency union after a Yes vote in September's referendum without "destroying both their political and economy credibility", the committee concluded."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a beagle stealing a baby's toy - and then becoming consumed with guilt.

4) VINCE ON MANOEUVRES?

There's a new cabinet split between the Tories and the Lib Dems and guess which minister is behind it? Yep, you guessed right - Vince Cable. The Guardian has the details:

"Vince Cable has announced plans to scrap a proposed sale of student loans, forcing a U-turn on the government's privatisation programme and potentially opening a new rift in the coalition cabinet. Worth an estimated £12bn, the student loans earmarked for sale formed a key part of David Cameron's planned auction of state assets, but Cable called off the sale at a meeting of Liberal Democrat activists at the weekend. 'The government was considering the sale of student loans on the basis that it would reduce government debt. Recent evidence suggests this will no longer be the case,' the business secretary told the Social Liberal Forum. 'Given there is no longer any public benefit, Nick Clegg and I have agreed not to proceed with the sale.'"

Take that, Dave and George!

5) RESHUFFLE, THE WEEK AFTER

A week ago today we were gearing up for Dave's first major reshuffle since 2012. Seven days later, it looks like several ministerial and former ministerial egos took a battering during the process.

Liam Fox, according to the Mail on Sunday, turned down a middle-ranking Foreign Office post last week and reportedly told Cameron: "You must be bloody joking. I assume the ambassadorship to the moon is taken?"

Owen Paterson took to the pages of the Sunday Telegraph to slam the Green Party and Friends of the Earth, say he was "proud" his sacking had been welcomed by environmentalists and claim he "received more death threats in a few months at Defra than I ever did as secretary of state for Northern Ireland".

Then there's Esther McVey who kept her employment minister job but was allowed to attend cabinet. Well, guess what? According to the Sun on Sunday, McVey staged a "sit-in" at Number 10 and told Cameron "she was not leaving the building until he gave her a new role".

From the PM's perspective, I guess it's all in a day's work. But I don't blame him for not liking reshuffles and doing so few of them...

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 37
Conservatives 32
Ukip 13
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 58.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Boris Johnson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "This is Putin's war, and this disaster is his responsibility."

Damian McBride, writing in the Times, says: "Ed is wasting his time at the White House."

Owen Jones, writing in the Guardian, says: "How the occupation of Gaza corrupts the occupier."


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@huffpostukpol

Mehdi Hasan   |   July 19, 2014   10:24 PM ET

The five things you need to know on Sunday 20 July 2014...

1) MADE IN MOSCOW?

The shooting down of flight MH17 dominates the front pages of the Sunday papers.

The Mail Sunday, for example, refers to Vladimir Putin as a "terrorist" in its splash headline.

The Sunday Times splashes on 'Russia in the dock', and also carries a front-page column from the prime minister, in which David Cameron says:

"We must establish the full facts of what happened. But the growing weight of evidence points to a clear conclusion: that flight MH17 was blown out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile fired from a rebel-held area."

The PM adds:

"Some international crises are insoluble. Not this one. If President Vladimir Putin stops the support to the fighters in eastern Ukraine and allows the Ukrainian authorities to restore order, this crisis can be brought to an end. Of course there must be proper protections for Russian-speaking minorities. These issues can be addressed. But the overriding need is for Russia to cease its support for violent separatists. If President Putin does not change his approach to Ukraine, then Europe and the West must fundamentally change our approach to Russia."

The new foreign secretary Philip Hammond - how's this for a baptism of fire? - appeared on the Andrew Marr show this morning to reiterate the prime minister's message, telling viewers that "the unavoidable conclusion that this was a missile fired from rebel-held territory; almost certainly a missile supplied by the Russians".

Hammond said the "the eyes of the world are on Vladimir Putin" who he accused of "obfuscation and obstruction" on this issue so far.

What action could the UK and its allies take against Putin's Russia, asked Marr? A "further tightening up of the sanctions we're applying" was the response from the foreign secretary, who claimed that "now the entire international community is ranged against Russia".

Is it really? Only time will tell.

2) KEN GOES ROGUE

If you thought Ken Clarke was blunt and no-nonsense when he was in government, did you think he'd be any less blunt or no-nonsense on the backbenches? No? Me either. From the Observer:

"Former chancellor Kenneth Clarke has cast serious doubt on the underlying strength of the British economy, saying there is a 'long, long way' to go before it is competitive enough to deliver sustainable growth and compete with emerging powers such as China and Brazil. In an interview with the Observer to mark the end of an illustrious career that has spanned more than 40 years in government, Clarke says Britain has to break out of the 'ludicrous cycle' of house price booms followed by crashes, and must focus on creating a productive manufacturing base in tandem with vibrant financial and other service industries... Clarke stresses that the economy is 'fragile', vulnerable to shocks, and still lacks the strong productive base necessary to compete long-term in global markets."

Clarke calls himself a "great fan" of George Osborne but Osborne won't be pleased to see these comments from his former cabinet colleague - and former Tory chancellor! - on the front page of the Obs. Cameron won't be happy either - Clarke says the Tories have a "mountain to climb" in order to win a Commons majority next year.

3) HEIR TO GOVE

Teachers, don't celebrate too quickly. From the Sunday Times:

"The new education secretary today warns teachers that she will continue to push ahead with Michael Gove’s radical school reforms despite his cabinet demotion to chief whip. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Nicky Morgan dismissed claims that she has been sent by David Cameron to call a halt to reforms, pledging instead to open new free schools and expand grammar schools where parents want them. While Morgan said she would be “nice to teachers” — a move designed to distance her from Gove’s confrontational style — she insisted there would be no backsliding on Gove’s reforms simply to placate the unions. 'There will certainly be no soft-pedalling on reforms,' she said. 'I think Michael has been a fantastic education secretary and the reforms he has put in place, particularly freeing schools from Whitehall interference, have been phenomenally successful.'"

So successful that he got sacked on Tuesday...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a cat poop on a mole's head. Yes, you know you want to.

4) PROPORTIONATE OR NOT?

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators took to the streets yesterday across the globe - from New York to Berlin to Seoul to Johannesburg to Athens to Paris to London. From the Independent on Sunday:

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of central London yesterday to demand an end to Israeli military action in Gaza. The peaceful demonstration marched from Downing Street to the Israeli embassy in Kensington, where a police blockade prevented them from gaining access. More than 340 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict began.

The death toll on the Palestinian side is now 70 times higher than it is on the Israeli side - on the Andrew Marr show this morning, foreign secretary Philip Hammond was repeatedly asked whether the Israeli action in Gaza was "proportionate" but repeatedly dodged the question.

He did however make the rather important point that "we can't deal with Gaza by having a flare-up every two years" and the "underlying causes" had to be tackled.

Well, how about proposing an end to the siege of Gaza by Israel (and, to a lesser extent, by Egypt too)? How about ending the occupation of the Palestinian territories?

5) BLAIR'S BACK. AGAIN.

I do tire of writing the phrase 'Blair's back' as he never seems to leave us. From the Sunday Times:

"Tony Blair will issue a coded warning to Ed Miliband tomorrow that the Labour leader cannot win the next election unless he fights from the centre ground. In a speech to mark the 20th anniversary of Blair becoming Labour leader, the former prime minister will pledge to do what he can to help Miliband to get to No 10. He will tell the Blairite think tank Progress that elections are won from the centre and that the party must woo business as well as workers... Friends of Blair say he will offer to help Miliband in the run-up to next year’s election, although his precise role remains unresolved... 'People think Ed is a leftwinger. Whatever they think of Tony, they don’t think he’s that,' said one MP."

That's true, a lot of them think he's a war criminal.

On a side note, will Blair's speech in London on Monday undermine Ed Miliband's appearance in Washington DC, where he's trying to get a meeting with Barack Obama in the White House?

MEHDI'S MINUTE

You can watch my semi-serious, 60-second round-up of the week's big political stories, including David Cameron's 'high five' with Jean Claude Juncker and Michael Gove getting locked in a loo, here.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 37
Conservatives 32
Ukip 13
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 58.

From the Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror/ComRes poll:

Labour 34
Conservatives 31
Ukip 17
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 24.

From the Observer/Opinium poll:

Labour 34
Conservatives 30
Ukip 17
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 36.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "The reshuffle was a victory for sturdy Tory pragmatism."

Jonathan Eyal, writing in the Observer, says: "Putin's hard line on MH17 will only push Russia into an ever-tighter corner."

Donald Macintyre, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "The suffering [of the Israel-Palestine conflict] continues for lack of a peace broker."


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@huffpostukpol

  |   July 19, 2014   10:56 AM ET

UPDATE: Looters 'Rifle Through Newcastle Fan's Belongings At MH17 Crash Scene'
Newcastle's bitterest rivals, Sunderland, have raised more than £8,000 in just 17 hours for a floral tribute to the two NUFC fans killed on flight MH17 and the total keeps going up.

The aim was to raise £100 for flowers and a message showing how fans can come together in tragedy, with any surplus going to charity.

The emotional fundraiser states:

We may be Sunderland fans, who traditionally have deep rivalry with Newcastle, but there are things far more important than any football games.

The incredibly sad news that has emerged this week about two Newcastle fans who have passed has left us all shocked and deeply saddened.

Donating here will help pay for a floral tribute to those fans and to unity between the two clubs. Any extra money will be donated to a charity that has yet to be decided.

Thank you for your time, effort and donations.

RIP to John Alder and Liam Sweeney, who were both far too young.

DONATE HERE

newcastle mh17

Football fans John Alder and Liam Sweeney, 28, were on their way to watch their beloved team's pre-season tour of New Zealand.

The Boeing 777 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed on Thursday with 298 people on board.

malaysia airlines

Liam Sweeney

READ MORE: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17: First Pictures Of The Tragic Victims Emerge

Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew said yesterday that his players were "deeply shocked and saddened" after the two "dedicated" fans died on board flight MH17.

Mr Alder, who was in his 60s was apparently known to other fans as The Undertaker because of his tradition of wearing a suit to every game and was known for his mullet-style haircut.

He is thought only to have missed a single match since he started attending in 1973, and follows the team around the world for their away games.

His neighbour, Margaret Bambra, 66, said "he was a lovely guy, never bothering anyone."

"He went to every game, he never missed a match. He was Newcastle-mad," she told the BBC.

Fans' website NUFC.com said: "We're desperately sad to report that they were John Alder and Liam Sweeney.

"Both were well known to away followers, particularly John, whose usual matchday attire led to the affectionate nickname of "The Undertaker".

The club said both men were familiar faces at every United away game and attended reserve and academy matches as well as first-team games.

Pardew said: "Myself and all the players are deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible news.

"We all knew how passionately John and Liam supported the team and the club.

"They were with us just earlier this week for our first pre-season friendly against Oldham and their dedication to travel all the way around the world to support us in New Zealand tells you all you need to know about the passion they had for Newcastle United.

"Our hearts go out to their families and friends."

The club said it will dedicate an area surrounding the Sir Bobby Robson statue for fans to pay their respects to both men, and the manager and players will wear black armbands for both their games against Sydney FC and Wellington Phoenix.

Meanwhile, a Premier League footballer has apologised for posting a selfie on Twitter showing him grinning as he flew to New Zealand.

Super fans John Adler, 63, and Liam Sweeney, 28, were killed while making the same journey on doomed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 to see their beloved Newcastle United play in a pre-season tour.

United's Haris Vuckic posted a tweet, which was later deleted, showing him and defender Paul Dummett on board a plane, with the tag: "New Zealand!! Here we come!! @PaulDummett preseason!! SleepTime"

After removing the message, the 21-year-old Slovenian tweeted: "My apologies if anyone was offended by my photo from the plane. No offence was intended. We are thinking of John and Liam. #RIP #NUFCfamily"

Asa Bennett   |   July 18, 2014    5:36 PM ET

In the wake of the MH17 and MH370 disasters, Malaysia Airlines now faces a massive struggle to recover as a business and win back the public's confidence.

This comes as the airlines' share price plummeted by 17.8% Friday morning, as investors rushed to sell their stock in the carrier after it suffered its second deadly incident this year.

"I can't comprehend of anything they can do to save themselves," said Mohshin Aziz, an aviation analyst at Maybank Investment Bank in Kuala Lumpur. "Perception-wise it really hits home, it's very difficult to fight against negative perception."

“In the history of aviation there’s never been an airline that had to go through two huge disasters in the span of four months, so I don’t think there’s any historical evidence that they can get out of this," he told Dow Jones Newswires.

SEE ALSO:

The two tragedies have left Malaysia Airlines reeling, with the business currently worth 75% less than back last year and losing around $1.6 million a day (£0.9 million).

Last year, the business' losses grew to 1.17 billion ringgit (£212 million), nearly three times more than its losses the previous year.

The extent of the airline's damaged image was eerily shown by a Facebook message apparently posted by an MH17 passenger before boarding his doomed flight saying: "If it disappears, this is what it looks like."

The passenger's message obviously referring to the disappearance of MH370 in March, which resulted in one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time.

The MH17 disaster , which resulted in 298 people losing their lives after a jet went down over eastern Ukraine near the Russian border, has sent shock-waves through the markets, sending the price of gold - a marker of market volatility - soaring.

Experts warn that the airline will have a difficult task repairing its image after the latest tragedy. Nick Rines, chief executive of the Institute for Diplomacy and Business, told the Huffington Post UK that the fallout "goes well beyond corporate reputation or flight safety confidence levels".

"The loss of the aircraft over the Ukraine and flight MH370 reflects directly on the host nation. What has happened with these two tragic situations highlights the lack of preparation for crisis management that may involve governments and popular opinion of entire nations.

"The problem is that the Malaysian Government finds it hard to take ownership and manage the situation, and its diplomatic service does not universally have the capability to handle the task required. Hiring in commercial PR services is an option, but it is far from ideal because there is unlikely to be clear direction, and the communications chain would be fragmented. However, this is the best solution for both the government and the airline who should be seen to be working together."

"For situations of this type consumer public relations and public affairs crisis management is not enough. They also need real and experienced diplomatic planning and skills that are linked to public relations crisis planning, whether hosted within government foreign service departments or through third parties."

PR agency boss Miranda Leslau told the HuffPost UK that Malaysia Airlines needs to "explain the facts" to the public.

"They need to present a proactive face, one of utmost sympathy for lives lost and grieving families, to retain credibility and honour, both fundamental to the Asian cultural base," she said.

“An airline will normally make a public announcement via a press conference of their safety track record and that everything is being done to make sure families and loved ones are updated regularly. The last time this happened, the facilities and communication levels were slightly shambolic, but part of that may be linked to cultural expectation."


Paul Vale   |   July 18, 2014    3:41 PM ET

Before the charred wreckage of flight MH17 had even cooled, the usual raft of conspiracy theories regarding the downing of the passenger jet were filling the wantonly suspicious minds of those desperate to believe that history is guided by a nefarious, unseen hand.

One of the most followed theories suggested that the attack was actually aimed at President Putin, based on the fact that the markings of Putin’s jet are similar to that of the Malaysian plane. This notion was given credence by Russia Today, who filed a report suggesting that Putin’s plane flew on the same flight path less than an hour after the attack. Cue frantic speculation that everyone from President Obama to the Rothschild family were the blame for an attempted assassination on the Russian leader that went wrong.

A staple of the suspicious is to claim that everything is a hoax, from the Boston bombings to 9/11 to the shooting at Sandy Hook. Some conspiracy theorists like to link these events together into one grand over-arching theory (that they alone have uncovered... sitting at their computer eating biscuits). Sure enough, the site of unburned passports at the crash site was enough for the internet to cry foul, suggesting that the documentation had been planted, and that the entire tragedy was a false flag event (a clichéd buzzword for the conspiratorial).

This theory was significantly beefed up in an editorial on the website Before It's News: "Adding in the fact that dozens of Malaysian passports were conveniently found at the scene of the crash, we can clearly see an attempted false flag to launch WW3 unfolding. The occult/illuminati connection to this plane crash are laid out in the 2nd video below and are absolutely stunning as the NWO [New World Order] attempts to start WW3 as their grip on power falls apart as the US dollar dies and on the same day TWA Flight 800 was shot down in 1996."

One of the more bonkers theories suggested that the plane that was attacked over Ukraine was actually the missing MH370, the Malaysian aircraft that disappeared over the Indian Ocean earlier this year. How or why is not expanding upon.

The illuminate – yes, the chaps from the Tom Hanks film – also got an airing, with "online truth-finders" suggesting that the number 7 played a role in the crash. It was downed on 17/7, it was a Boeing 777, and it was flight MH17. What does this mean? Everything, from a false flag event (there it is again) to the imminent invasion of aliens.

Yet perhaps the best theory was floated by balding, right–wing mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh, who speculated on his radio show that the crash was in fact a coincidental device to shift media focus away from the crisis on the US-Mexican border. That’s right – 298 people died so that hacks could stop writing about immigration. Limbaugh flowed thus: "I mean, you talk about… I don’t want appear to be callous here, folks, but you talk about an opportunity to abandon the Obama news at the border?"

UPDATE:

This from thew HuffPost UK Facebook page:

Message to all CIA, MI6 and MOSSAD trolls: tough luck boys and girls, but your false flag with that Malaysian aircraft is FALLING TO PIECES. Pretty sloppy work, like that coup d'etat in Kiev. Proof is already surfacing on the Internet that the whole thing was STAGED.Those clowns in Kiev made a video of Russians 'discussing' the shooting down of the Malaysian civilian aircraft ONE DAY before it happened. The jokers didnt know that everything which you post on Youtube has a date and time rercorded. Once they realized their mistake, they withdrew the video.Too late. I direct your attention to website 'whatreallyhappened'
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  |   July 18, 2014   12:59 PM ET

In an almost incomprehensible twist of fate, an Australian woman who lost her brother in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 learned on Friday that her stepdaughter was on the plane shot down over Ukraine.

Kaylene Mann's brother Rod Burrows and sister-in-law Mary Burrows were onboard flight MH370 when it vanished in March.

On Friday, Mann found out that her stepdaughter, Maree Rizk, was killed along with her husband, Albert and Marie Rizk, and 296 others on MH17, which US intelligence authorities believe was shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

malaysia

READ MORE: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17: First Pictures Of The Tragic Victims Emerge
Kaylene Mann, of Brisbane, was too distraught to speak publicly on Friday and requested privacy to deal with her latest loss.

"It's just brought everyone, everything back," said Greg Burrows, Mann's brother. "It's just ... ripped our guts again."

Burrows said his family was struggling to understand how they could be struck by such horrible luck on two separate occasions with the same airline.

"She just lost a brother and now a stepdaughter, so..." he said of his sister, his voice trailing off.

In an even more cruel twist, a spokesman for the Rizk family, Ken Grech, said the couple tried to change their flight to avoid a lengthy stopover in Kuala Lumpur,according to the Herald Sun.

Rizk and her husband Albert, of Melbourne, were returning home from a four-week holiday in Europe, said Phil Lithgow, president of the Sunbury Football Club, with which the family was heavily involved.

Albert, a real estate agent, was a member of the club's committee, Maree was a volunteer in the canteen and their son, James, plays on the club's team.

"They were very lovely people," Lithgow said. "You wouldn't hear a bad word about them - very generous with their time in the community, very community-minded, and just really very entertaining people to be with."

The club members planned to wear black armbands and observe a minute of silence to honor the Rizks at their game on Saturday, Lithgow said.

Despite the twin tragedies, Burrows said he holds nothing against Malaysia Airlines.

"Nobody could predict they were going to get shot down," he said. "That was out of their hands."

SEE ALSO:

Flight MH17 was said by eyewitnesses to have "exploded" after it was reportedly shot down by a ground-to-air missile.

In a statement released this morning, Malaysia Airlines said: "With immediate effect, all European flights operated by Malaysia Airlines will be taking alternative routes avoiding the usual route.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was on a scheduled flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur went down in eastern Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines confirms that the aircraft did not make a distress call.

"The usual flight route was earlier declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. International Air Transportation Association has stated that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions.

  |   July 18, 2014   11:39 AM ET

Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew said today that his players were "deeply shocked and saddened" after two "dedicated" fans died on board flight MH17 which was shot down over Ukraine.

The Boeing 777 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed on Thursday with 298 people on board.

Football fans John Alder and Liam Sweeney, 28, are believed to have been on their way to watch their beloved team's pre-season tour of New Zealand.

malaysia airlines

Liam Sweeney

READ MORE: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17: First Pictures Of The Tragic Victims Emerge

Mr Alder, who was in his 60s was apparently known to other fans as The Undertaker because of his tradition of wearing a suit to every game and was known for his mullet-style haircut.

He is thought only to have missed a single match since he started attending in 1973, and follows the team around the world for their away games.

His neighbour, Margaret Bambra, 66, said "he was a lovely guy, never bothering anyone."

"He went to every game, he never missed a match. He was Newcastle-mad," she told the BBC.

Fans' website NUFC.com said: "We're desperately sad to report that they were John Alder and Liam Sweeney.

"Both were well known to away followers, particularly John, whose usual matchday attire led to the affectionate nickname of "The Undertaker".

The club said both men were familiar faces at every United away game and attended reserve and academy matches as well as first-team games.

Pardew said: "Myself and all the players are deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible news.

"We all knew how passionately John and Liam supported the team and the club.

"They were with us just earlier this week for our first pre-season friendly against Oldham and their dedication to travel all the way around the world to support us in New Zealand tells you all you need to know about the passion they had for Newcastle United.

"Our hearts go out to their families and friends."

The club said it will dedicate an area surrounding the Sir Bobby Robson statue for fans to pay their respects to both men, and the manager and players will wear black armbands for both their games against Sydney FC and Wellington Phoenix.

Flight MH17 came down between Krasni Luch, in Luhansk region, and Shakhtarsk in the neighbouring region of Donetsk - 50km from the Russia-Ukraine border.

The two sides in Ukraine's civil conflict have accused each other of shooting the jet down with a missile.

SEE ALSO:


  |   July 18, 2014   11:12 AM ET

A nun who died in the MH17 flight crash has had a touching tribute paid to her after she spent her life inspiring students at a boarding school in Australia.

Sister Philomene Tiernan was on board the Malaysian Airlines plane when it was reportedly shot down over the Ukraine-Russia border.

The Catholic nun, who worked at an all-girls boarding school in Australia, was one of the 298 victims who perished on the flight. One of her former students who attended the Kincoppal-Rose Bay school in Sydney has paid a touching tribute, explaining just what it was making "Sister Phil" so inspirational.

philomene

Sister Philomene Tiernan

"[She] was one of those all-too-rare people that made everyone she met feel special," Lucy Thackray wrote in the Daily Mail. "This is undoubtedly the hardest thing I've ever had to write, and I think that’s because I just don’t feel my words can do justice to what an amazing woman she really was.

"Sister Phil was cherished by so many people. Today, I am in complete shock and at a loss for a woman that had such a huge impact on thousands of girls who passed through the big school gates."

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Sr Philomene was travelling back from Burgundy in France where she had been visiting Joigny, the place where the order she belonged to, the Society of the Sacred Heart, had been founded.

Hilary Johnston-Croke, the school principal, wrote to parents confirming the loss of her wise and compassionate” colleague, The Australian reported.

"We are devastated by the loss of such a wonderfully kind, wise and compassionate woman who was greatly loved by us all," she wrote.

"This has come as an enormous shock to me and our school community as I am sure it will to all of you."

Johnston-Croke also described Sister Philomene as her mentor: "Phil was a very much loved staff member and friend," she said. "She contributed greatly to our community and she touched the lives of all at KRB in such a positive and meaningful way."

Year 3 to Year 12 students from the school were informed of her death on Friday with a group of the children performing a liturgy for their teacher.

Thackray added: "Sister Phil has lived a meaningful, beautiful life and leaves such a huge mark on the world."

Charlotte Meredith   |   July 18, 2014    9:35 AM ET

Pioneering AIDS doctors, Newcastle United fans, children on their holidays and a Catholic nun. The tragic victims of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 are being increasingly identified as they are mourned by family, friends, and colleagues.

The passenger jet was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur at an altitude of 33,000ft (10,000m) when contact was lost yesterday afternoon and it crashed near the border with Russia in Eastern Ukraine. The 298 people on board are all believed to be dead.

On Friday morning, it emerged that among the 283 passengers and 15 crew on board were nine Britons, 173 Dutch, 44 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos, one Canadian and one New Zealander.

The plane was shot down in an "act of terrorism", Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko has said, while both pro-Russian rebels and the Ukrainian government have denied shooting the aircraft down.

US authorities said intelligence analysis showed the plane had been hit by a surface-to-air missile, killing all crew and passengers, including three Australian children, aged between eight and 12, who were travelling with their grandfather.

nick norris kids

Mo, Evie and Otis Maslin

Amidst the tragic stories emerging, it has been revealed as many as 100 of the world's most eminent AIDS researchers and experts may have been on the downed plane, heading to a United Nations AIDS conference in Melbourne.

One of the British victims was 49-year-old Glenn Thomas, a media officer at the World Health Organisation who previously worked as a journalist for the BBC and was described as a "wonderful person and a great professional".

As tributes were paid to Mr Thomas today, WHO spokesman Fadela Chaib said: "For the time being we would like to give his family time to grieve. We have lost a wonderful person and a great professional. Our hearts are broken. We are all in shock."

Three infants are among the dead, and up to 80 children are feared dead. The nationalities of 20 passengers have yet to be verified.

Newcastle United football fans John Alder and Liam Sweeney are believed to have been on their way to watch their beloved team's pre-season tour of New Zealand.

malaysia airlines

Liam Sweeney

Mr Alder, who was in his 60s was apparently known to other fans as The Undertaker because of his tradition of wearing a suit to every game and was known for his mullet-style haircut.

He is thought only to have missed a single match since he started attending in 1973, and follows the team around the world for their away games.

Distraught friends are mourning a Leeds University student who is also believed to have been on board flight MH17 which was shot down near the Ukraine-Russia border.

Richard Mayne, a British national from Leicestershire, is thought to have been one of the victims who perished on the Boeing 777.

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Friends have paid tribute to Richard Mayne, thought to have been a student at Leeds University

Ben Pocock, a former Wellsway School pupil who was studying at Loughborough University and believed to be in his early 20s, was also on board Flight MH17, Bristol Post is reporting.

According to his Twitter feed, Mr Pocock had just passed his end of year exams and was heading for Australia.

He tweeted on Monday: "Didn't fail my exams. Still going to Australia."

malaysia ben pocock

A Catholic nun from Sydney was also on board the flight. Sister Philomena Tiernan, was a “much loved” teacher at the Catholic school Kincoppal-Rose Bay in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, and was returning from a retreat in France.

Hilary Johnston-Croke, the school principal, wrote to parents confirming the loss of her wise and compassionate” colleague.

“We are devastated by the loss of such a wonderfully kind, wise and compassionate woman who was greatly loved by us all,” she wrote, The Australian reported.

One young Dutch man posted an Instagram image of his plane tickets and wrote about his excitement in heading overseas before boarding the doomed flight.

Instagram user Regis Crolla a picture of his ticket with the phrase "I'm so excited" before boarding the Boeing 777. He also wrote the words "AMS -> Kuala Lumpur -> Bali". The tickets visible in a photo showed he would travel from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and then on to Denpasar on MH17.

In one especially tragic twist, it has been reported that an Australian woman whose brother and sister-in-law died when Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished in March has lost her stepdaughter and stepdaughter’s husband, who were aboard the second Malaysia Airlines flight that crashed in Ukraine.

Kaylene Mann, of Brisbane, was too distraught to speak publicly on Friday and requested privacy to deal with her latest loss. Mrs Mann was the sister of Rod Burrows, who died along with his wife Mary on Flight MH370, which disappeared over the southern Indian Ocean on March 8.

Mrs Mann’s stepdaughter, Marie Rizk and her stepdaughter’s husband, Albert Rizk, a Melbourne real estate agent, were returning from a month-long holiday in Europe, on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

In an even more cruel twist, a spokesman for the Rizk family, Ken Grech, said the couple tried to change their flight to avoid a lengthy stopover in Kuala Lumpur, the Herald Sun reported.

As the magnitude of the horror is clarified, here we remember the victims of those on board:

SEE ALSO:

Flight MH17 was said by eyewitnesses to have "exploded" after it was reportedly shot down by a ground-to-air missile.

In a statement released this morning, Malaysia Airlines said: "With immediate effect, all European flights operated by Malaysia Airlines will be taking alternative routes avoiding the usual route.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was on a scheduled flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur went down in eastern Ukraine. Malaysia Airlines confirms that the aircraft did not make a distress call.

"The usual flight route was earlier declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. International Air Transportation Association has stated that the airspace the aircraft was traversing was not subject to restrictions.