23/10/2012 08:11 BST

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Romney And Obama Agree. A Lot.

** Romney And Obama Agree. A Lot. ** Poll: Who Won? ** Gaffe Of The Night ** 3 Issues They Forgot To Mention ** George's Big Day ** ** Cameron's Panel Show Debut ** Austerity Hurting The Tories - Not Just The Economy ** Piers In Trouble ** Europe Is Back - But Did It Ever Go Away? ** U-Turn If You Want To...And We Will Too! ** Gove: Sorry For Being A (Clever-)Dick


"The president came to attack. Romney came to agree." The most memorable post-debate line came, as is so often the case, from ex-Clinton strategist James Carville on CNN.

In a 90-minute debate on foreign policy, which rather annoyingly kept veering off into domestic policy ("We're on that huge geoopolitical issue....small businesses," joked Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland on Twitter), the two candidates agreed much more than they disagreed, with Romney taking digs at the president but failing to outline what he'd do differently - on Iran, on Afghanistan, on Iraq, on drones, etc, etc.

Leading conservatives noticed too: New York Times columnist Ross Douthat asked on Twitter: "Who was it who said that Romney's foreign policy is "speak louder, carry the same stick"? That seems to be tonight's message."

And so did liberals, such as Mother Jones' Adam Serwer: "Liberals should probably be more uncomfortable with the fact that Mitt is having a hard time actually disagreeing with Obama." Indeed!

The two candidates both pledged their allegiance to, and love for, the state of Israel and ignored the plight of the occupied Palestinians; both promised to take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; both declared their support for drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere; both extolled the virtues of military spending and the importance of keeping America "strong". Romney did keep adding the words "peace" and "peaceful" to his answers to try and distance himself from the legacy of George W. Bush - despite the fact that the vast majority of his foreign-policy advisers are ex-Bush/Cheney employees.

Meanwhile, it was Obama, and not Romney, who came prepared with a set of 'zingers' this time. Candy Crowley, who moderated the second debate, declared after this third debate: "The president came to rough up Mitt Romney...every single answer from the president had something to do with Mitt Romney."

Romney, on the other hand, argued Crowley, approached the debate like a physician: "First do no harm." (That is, to himself!)

When Romney mentioned that the navy had shrunk in size on Obama's watch, for example, and now had fewer ships than in 1916, the president hit back, sarcastically:

"Well governor we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our militry has changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers...we have ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines..."

Ouch! At another point, in a discussion about the threat from Al Qaeda, Obama joked:

“I'm glad that you recognize that Al Qaeda is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what's the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia, not Al Qaeda. The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”


Overall, however, I suspect this particular presidential debate will change very little - the first debate in Denver allowed Romney back into the race and, despite Obama (narrowly) winning the subsequent two debates, the Republican remains in the race. Now, I happen to believe that Obama will be re-elected next month but the fact is that it won't be as comfortable a victory as it would have been had he not crashed and burned in Denver.


According to the CNN post-debate 'scientific' poll, 48% of debate-watchers said Obama won last night's debate, compared to 40% who said Romney won. 59% said Obama did better than expected, compared to 44% who said Romney did better than expected.


"Syria is Iran's route to the sea." - Mitt Romney does his best impersonation of Sarah Palin.

As the Washington Post notes, "This is a puzzling claim, considering that Syria shares no border with Iran — Iraq and Turkey are in the way — and that Iran has about 1,500 miles of coastline along the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman, leading to the Arabian Sea."

Then again, will many passport-less, geography-challenged Americans notice and/or care?


1) The threat of catastrophic climate change.

2) Obama's failure to halt the building of illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories.

3) US arms sales to, and diplomatic support for, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.


No, not Osborne. Entwhistle. The new BBC director-general (and, incidentally, one-time editor of Newsnight) appears before the Culture Select Committee this morning to talk Savile, child sex abuse and alleged BBC cover-ups. The committee's chair John Whittingdale was doing the rounds of the broadcast studios yesterday and will have plenty of questions for the DG on who knew what when...

It's a baptism of fire for the new BBC boss. The i's front-page splash says: "New BBC boss in fight for his job". It's sister paper, the Independent, asks on its cover: "So, Director-General, who did fix it for the Savile investigation to be dropped. And when will the BBC tell the whole truth about this scandal?"

The Savile/BBC story is also on the front of the Sun and the Times. The Daily Telegraph claims that "a series of emails sent by the BBC reporter Liz MacKean to an unnamed friend were blocked from featuring in a Panorama investigation into the BBC’s treatment of the scandal, which was broadcast last night."

The prime minister has weighed in, too: last night, on ITV1's The Agenda, David Cameron said he didn't "rule out further inquiries" into the Savile controversy.


Hats off to David Cameron for becoming the first prime minister (that I can think of!) to appear on a TV panel-discussion show, without any airs or graces. There he was, late last night, on The Agenda (on ITV1), as Panorama (on BBC1) battled it out with Newsnight (on BBC2) over Savilegate, sitting alongside Downton Abbey creator (and Tory peer) Julian Fellowes, former MI5 boss Stella Rimington and, hilariously, the Thick Of It's Rebecca Front (who plays hapless leader of the opposition Nicola Murray).

The line of the night came from - surprise, surprise- Front/Murray, who told the PM: "It wouldn’t be a bad idea to tell your ministers that The Thick Of It is a comedy show, not a training video." Boom!

Cameron also had to sit and listen as Front, seated directly to his right, told him that the cause of his government's unpopularity was its austerity measures - in particular, the perception that the coalition isn't looking after the vulnerable well enough. Awk-ward!

Next week, the PM appears on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. (Not.)


The Tory poll lead on the economy has fallen 17 points since 2011. From the Guardian:

"The Conservative party's prized trust on managing the economy is beginning to crumble, according to a Guardian/ICM poll, which shows that Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are now within touching distance of David Cameron and George Osborne on the all-important question of financial competence.

When voters are asked to put their party preferences aside and consider which team is better placed to manage the economy properly, 31% prefer Cameron and Osborne, as against 27% for Miliband and Balls. The Conservative team thus holds a four-point edge, though this advantage is the lowest on record on a question which ICM has asked repeatedly during the last year. The Tories' advantage was 21 points last Christmas, and has steadily dwindled since, but during the months since, the gap has never been less than nine."

Tory strategists will be waiting for Thursday's growth figures - which are expected to show the UK emerging from its double-dip recession - with bated breath, hoping it helps turn round their poll ratings on this all-important issue.


Watch this video of Hitler (from the movie 'Downfall') try 'Gangnam Style'. You knew it had to happen...


"Hacking claims launched against Mirror newspapers," says the splash in the FT. The paper says:

"The phone-hacking scandal convulsing the British media spread beyond Rupert Murdoch's empire yesterday after four high-profile individuals issued High Court claims against the publisher of the Daily Mirror and The People tabloid newspapers.

One of the claimants in the case against Mirror Group Newspapers - the former England football manager Sven-Göran Eriksson - has filed a claim alleging phone hacking at the Daily Mirror at a time when Piers Morgan was editor. Mr Morgan has repeatedly denied any involvement in phone hacking."


"Europe has now risen to the top of Mr Cameron's agenda ahead of a summit of EU leaders next month to decide on spending," observes Andrew Grice in the Independent. His report points out:

"The Prime Minister was caught between a rock and a hard place after Tory MPs demanded that he veto the €1 trillion European Union budget for 2014-20, just as he was deserted by key allies, including Germany, in his battle to freeze EU spending."

Eurosceptic backbenchers are warning that they will not back a real-terms increase in the EU budget. Good luck, Dave!

Meanwhile, as Grice notes, in a speech in Berlin today, foreign secretary William Hague "will warn bluntly that the EU could become 'democratically unsustainable' unless countries such as Britain are allowed to regain powers from it rather than cede more control to Brussels."

How will the Germans respond? Good luck, Angela!


From the Guardian:

"The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, will announce on Tuesday that the government is delaying its plan to cull thousands of badgers, probably until next year at the earliest, amid growing concern about the cost and effectiveness of the controversial scheme.

Paterson has been forced to return from an official trip abroad to oversee the U-turn, which represents another setback for the government."


From the Daily Mail:

"Michael Gove has written a belated apology to one of his former teachers for indulging in ‘pathetic showing-off’ and coming up with ‘clever-dick’ questions in class.

The Education Secretary wrote the extraordinary open letter to Danny Montgomery, who taught him French 30 years ago, to publicise this year’s Teaching Awards.

...In his letter in the Radio Times to publicise the awards, which will be on BBC2 on Sunday, Mr Gove wrote: ‘You were, without any pretension or pomposity, attempting to coax a group of hormonal lads to look beyond familiar horizons and venture further.

'And all we could do was compete to think of clever-dick questions to embarrass you and indulge in pathetic showing-off at your expense.'"


"It's the easiest thing in the world if you're prime minister just to fire someone as soon as something goes wrong... But that's not the right way to behave as prime minister." - David Cameron, speaking yesterday after his speech on crime and trying to dismiss media criticism of his handling of the Andrew Mitchell affair.


From the ICM poll in the Guardian:

Labour 41%

Conservatives 33%

Lib Dems 14%

This would give Labour a majority of 92.

From the Populus poll in the Times:

Labour 40%

Conservatives 35%

Lib Dems 9%

This would give Labour a majority of 60.


@campbellclaret I reckon @david_cameron is after Nick Robinson's job - just pops up night after night talking about whatever the lead story is

@suzanne_moore Newsnight leading with Newsnight and Panorama on Newsnight. Bloody hell.

@BorowitzReport Romney: "Not only do I believe in drones, I am one." #debate


Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "Sharp changes in direction on energy and crime will cause more lasting damage than class-war fiascos."

Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, says: "Offending is falling, and prison doesn't work. But Cameron shows he's also addicted to the quick fix of tough talk."

Paul Goodman, writing in the Daily Telegraph, says: "There can be no doubt about it. The Home Secretary is, as Tory MPs would put it, “on manoeuvres” – discreet ones, to be sure, but unmistakable for all that: a recent newspaper interview compared her to Margaret Thatcher."

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