05/10/2012 04:21 BST | Updated 05/10/2012 04:27 BST

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Fighting Fox

** Fighting Fox ** Happy Birthday Dave! ** Get Rich Quick, Get Investigated Faster ** Hecklegate ** ** Taxing Times ** Butch Grayling ** Clarke's Critics ** Obama: The Morning After ** One Nation. One Family ** Goodbye Norm! **


Do Liam Fox, David Davis and Boris Johnson take it in turns to make life difficult for David Cameron?

"Does the Tory party still care about its voters?" asks the provocative headline to a column in the Daily Telegraph from former defence secretary Liam Fox. Dr Fox says the party high command should use the forthcoming conference in Birmingham "to be honest with itself about the party’s disconnection from its core supporters".

In a dig at the trendy Notting-Hill-types currently in charge of the Conservative Party, Fox writes: "Many of [our supporters] believe we are dominated by the political agenda of a metropolitan elite, and this sits uneasily with the social conservatism of much of the rest of the country."

For the former defence secretary and card-carrying right-winger, however, the biggest issue is - surprise, surprise! - "[T]he alienation that is being caused by the issue of Europe", and issues the following challenge to his former boss, the PM: "We need a renegotiated relationship within a defined time and a referendum at the end. Nothing less will do."

Over to you, Dave.


Next Tuesday, 9 October, David Cameron turns 46. But the PM might not want to celebrate too much, says the Sun's political editor, Tom Newton-Dunn:

@tnewtondunn Pity poor old Dave - what's he getting for his birthday next Tuesday morning at Tory conference? A Boris Johnson speech.

Forget Fox, the real challenger to Dave's power and authority is the mayor of London. The FT splashes today on a letter from Boris to the chancellor of the exchequer in which Johnson, it is reported, launches an "audacious bid to acquire new powers as London mayor before the Conservative party conference, calling on George Osborne to hand back to London any stamp duty on property sales in the capital".

Meanwhile, the Sun says "Boris Johnson has turned down FIVE invitations from desperate David Cameron to stay with him at Chequers...The PM has tried for 2½ years to charm the London Mayor with weekend breaks at his country retreat. But Boris spurned the pleas to co-opt his support because, said a pal, 'he doesn't want to play happy families with someone he struggles to respect'."



Oh dear, Grant. The Independent splashes on the decision by the Advertising Standards Authority to investigate Tory chairman Michael Green (sorry, Grant Shapps) over his "get-rich-quick" online business 'empire':

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has begun an investigation into an allegation that the business has misled the public by presenting "Michael Green" as a genuine businessman with a personal fortune of $28m (£17m) who was happy to reveal the secrets of his success and personal wealth – for a fee.

In fact, Mr Shapps – whom David Cameron recently appointed to the Cabinet – used to adopt the identity to front his business interests, which he said was a way to keep them separate from his political life. The watchdog's probe is embarrassing for the Tory chairman as he prepares to open the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham this weekend.

The Wikipedia-altering, name-changing, birthplace-switching Tory chairman seems to have committed more gaffes, and provoked more embarrassment for the party, in his first few weeks in the job than his much-maligned predecessor Baroness Warsi produced in her two years as chair. Come back, Sayeeda, all is forgiven!


The Labour Party managed to get through its annual conference in Manchester without any major gaffes or mistakes EXCEPT...

"Academy girl, 15, heckled by Labour class warrior"

That's the headline in the Daily Mail, above a picture of 15-year-old Joan al-Assam, a Year 11 pupil from Paddington Academy in West London. The Mail says:

"Joan, a star pupil at the academy which opened in 2006, sought asylum in Britain at the age of six from Iraq with just the clothes on her back.

But when she made an emotional speech about how the school has helped her, she faced yobbish abuse from a woman believed to be a member of one of the teaching unions.

The heckler shouted support for comprehensive schools as Joan told the conference how she and her fellow pupils benefited from an arts education."

Education secretary Michael Gove has condemned the "disgraceful" incident and called for the heckler to be ejected from the Labour Party. (His wife - and Times columnist - also joined in on Twitter: @SarahVine Labour: the party that likes to be mean to year 11 girls. Nice one.)

To be fair, it was a single heckler (not a chanting group or a baying mob) and, as the Mail itself acknowledges, plenty of Labour delegates took to Twitter to disown the heckler, including the party's leader:

@Ed_MilibandThe person who shouted during the speech by a year 11 pupil was totally wrong and doesn't speak for Labour.The hundreds who applauded her do

There is a bigger issue, here, however: how reconciled is the Labour Party grassroots to the ongoing academies programme, conceived by Tony Blair and Andrew Adonis - now an adviser to Ed - and given booster rockets by David Cameron and Michael Gove?


Watch this video of Hollywood legend Bill Murray turn on "moron" reporters while playing golf at St Andrews.


The members of UKUncut will be doing cartwheels this morning. If anyone doubted that the tax avoidance issue is now one of the biggest issues in British politics, check out the front pages of the Mail and the Times.

The Mail splashes on "MPs' shock at BBC tax deals", saying:

"The BBC hands out 25,000 contracts a year that can help its workers pay less tax, MPs reveal today.

The off-the-books arrangements create 'suspicions of complicity in tax avoidance', according to Commons spending watchdog Margaret Hodge."

Presenters Fiona Bruce and Jeremy Paxman are alleged to be among the 25,000. Meanwhile, the Times continues its tax avoidance series, splashing on "The Liberty takers":

Anne Robinson, the BBC Watchdog presenter, and three members of the pop band Take That are among 2,000 people who attempted to shelter £1.2 billion through an aggressive tax avoidance scheme, The Times has learnt.

Ms Robinson, 68, is one of the largest investors in the so-called Liberty tax strategy, which enabled investors to escape income tax by paying 7p in the pound in fees. She is understood to have paid £280,000 to use the Jerseybased scheme to avoid tax on about £4 million.

Lest we forget, tax avoidance is legal. But, as Denis Healey famously remarked: "The difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance is the thickness of a prison wall."


David Cameron taunted Ed Miliband for not being "butch" enough; Ed Balls responded in his conference speech earlier this week by calling the PM and his chancellor George Osborne "Butch Cameron and the flat-line kid". In fact, the much-sought-after title of "butch" should go to Chris Grayling, the new justice secretary and darling of the Tory right. He says he wants to be "the tough justice secretary" (*sigh*) and, according to a report in the Guardian:

"[Grayling] has put on hold a key crime and courts bill in order to "put some bite" into his predecessor Ken Clarke's proposals to reform community punishments... He is also expected to indicate that he wants to accelerate the pace of prison and probation privatisation.

...The move comes as Napo, the probation union, launches a campaign against the privatisation of the probation service, saying official proposals outlined in July will involve 60% of its work, including core activities, being put out to tender from this autumn. Decisions on the next wave of prison contracts, involving nine jails, worth £170m a year, are to be announced as soon as MPs return to Westminster later this month, with G4S and Serco among the frontrunners."

Serco and G4BloodyS? Really? I mean, really? Do these people never learn? It's difficult to disagree with Napo's Harry Fletcher: "This tendering exercise is not about quality, but purely about ideology."


Grayling's predecessor Ken Clarke, the newly-demoted minister without portfolio, was the Tory representative on BBC1's Question Time last night. He's never had many fans in his own party (having run for the Conservative leadership, and lost, three times in a row) but wasn't it a bit petty of Tory backbencher David Nuttall to tweet this, after Clarke was introduced by David Dimbleby as a "cabinet minister"?

@DavidNuttallMP Ken Clarke attends Cabinet meetings but is not now a member of the Cabinet

Take that, Dimblebot!


"Could Obama's complacency cost him the election?" asks the Independent on its front page.

The Guardian splashes with: "Game on: Republicans hail Romney after resounding win in TV debate".

Is it all over for Barack? I doubt it. He still has a lead in the states that matter and the debates, contrary to conventional wisdom, don't tend to decide US presidential elections. Plus, there are two more to go - and it wasn't surprising to hear David Axelrod, Obama's chief strategist, say yesterday that the second debate will be the one to watch:

“I know the president is very much looking forward to seeing Governor Romney again. He’s gotten a good look at the Romney routine, and now we’ll have another engagement, and I think it’ll be really interesting.”


The Independent claimed yesterday that David Miliband would be coming back to run Labour's 2015 general election campaign. Baby brother Ed, however, told BBC radio's Martha Kearney yesterday that he didn't think David was coming back to frontline politics anytime soon. Oh...


From the Mirror:

"The families of football fans who died in the Hillsborough disaster last night welcomed the surprise announcement top policeman Sir Norman Bettison is quitting.

The under-fire Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police, 56, confirmed he intends to retire early on March 31 next year.

It comes weeks after Sir Norman denied claims he covered up the truth behind the 1989 tragedy in which 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death at the Sheffield stadium."


"Angry birds used to be David Cameron's favourite computer game. Now it's his pet name for Nadine Dorries and Caroline Spelman." - Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman in her conference-closing speech. Her special adviser Ayesha Hazarika also moonlights as a stand-up comic.


From yesterday's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 45

Conservatives 31

Lib Dems 10

This would give Labour a majority of 130.


@DenisMacShane Fascinated by Today presenters on BBC tax dodgers. May have missed it but when do they interview themselves?

@garyyounge Obama and McCain spent as much on tv ads in Florida in 2008 as was spent on the entire 2010 UK general election

@davidschneider Ed Miliband. Reconcile with brother David by making an hour-long speech with the slogan One Family.


Paul Routledge, writing in the Daily Mirror, says: "I’ve listened to them all – this was my 43rd Labour conference – from Harold Wilson, through Jim Callaghan (easily the worst), to Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and [Miliband’s] up there with the best of them."

Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, says: "Certain Tory strategists expected only one term in this malign economic climate: that's why they dashed for unpopular uprooting of the NHS and education, dismantling the state regardless of unpopularity."

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "A Labour Party that fits its emerging policy plans to a fiscally credible programme has a chance of victory. But the big reason why Mr Miliband should conduct a review is not because he could win if he does (which is true) but that he could win if he doesn’t."

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