14/11/2012 03:25 GMT | Updated 14/11/2012 06:56 GMT

Mehdi's Morning Memo: By-Election Blues

The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 14th November...


The Tory candidate in Thursday's Corby by-election, Christine Emmett, will be delighted (delighted!) to read the splash on the front of today's Guardian:

"The Conservative MP running the party's byelection bid in Corby has been secretly filmed apparently supporting the campaign of a rival candidate.

Chris Heaton-Harris, who is campaign manager for the Tories in Corby, was recorded saying he encouraged an anti-wind farm candidate to join the election race against the Tories, adding: 'Please don't tell anybody ever.'

The footage, covertly recorded by the environmental group Greenpeace, captures the MP saying the independent anti-wind farm candidate, James Delingpole, had announced his candidacy as part of a 'plan' to 'cause some hassle' and drive the wind issue up the political agenda.

He is also filmed claiming he helped Delingpole by providing him with 'a handful of people who will sort him out', including the deputy chairman of his own constituency party, who had stood down and then became the anti-wind candidate's campaign agent.

... The evidence that their own campaign manager covertly supported a rival candidate in order to 'write [the anti-wind agenda] into the DNA of the Tory party' will be intensely embarrassing to the party, already trailing in the seat vacated when Louise Mensch announced she was unable to reconcile the demands of her family life with being an MP."

Heaton-Harris denies helping Delingpole, says the video gives a false impression and admits only to "bragging about things beyond my control". Er, ok.


The political and media outrage over the release of extremist cleric and suspected terrorist Abu Qatada rumbles on. Consider these three front-page headlines today:

"Smirk of the terror preacher we just can't kick out" (Daily Mail)

"Smirking Qatada has made mugs of us all" (Daily Express)

"Going nowhere fast: Britain's least-wanted man" (Independent)

The Telegraph reports that Qatada "will be in Britain for 'years' even if Theresa May, the Home Secretary, successfully appeals against his block on deportation, the terrorism watchdog warned yesterday... David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism laws, admitted it could be a 'few years' before the case is concluded."

The justice secretary Chris Grayling said yesterday that the current fiasco showed why human-rights laws in the UK needed to be urgently overhauled.

Meanwhile, the Guardian's Richard Norton-Taylor sets out to try and answer the most important question of all in a must-read piece: "Why hasn't Abu Qatada been tried in an English court?"


Can you hear the groans from inside Number 10? 15 senior Conservatives, including former ministers, have written a letter to the Daily Telegraph, calling on David Cameron to deliver on the party's manifesto pledge of a tax break for married couples.

The Telegraph - surprise, surprise! - carries the story on its front page:

"The intervention reflects growing concern among Tory ministers over the Coalition's failure to implement the plan, even as the Government pushes ahead with plans to legalise homosexual marriage.

The MPs backing the letter include Tim Loughton and Sir Gerald Howarth, who left the Government in September's reshuffle. Another signatory is Nick de Bois, secretary of the 1922 Committee of back–bench MPs. It is understood the letter has the private backing of several Cabinet ministers.

... The MPs write: 'We are calling on the Prime Minister to ensure that these budget resolutions are put before Parliament as part of the Finance Bill 2013.' Some Tories suspect George Osborne, the Chancellor, is dragging his heels over the policy. Mr Osborne made no mention yesterday of tax breaks for married couples as he outlined the social agenda he said would win the election for the Conservatives."


Forget Corby: it's all kicking off in Rotherham, ahead of the 29 November by-election that was triggered by the resignation of Denis MacShane over his false expenses claims. From the Guardian:

"Labour party members in Rotherham protested against the decision to field an "outside" candidate in the forthcoming byelection by staging a mass walkout from the final selection meeting.

At least 60 card-carrying members stormed out of the meeting on Tuesday night, furious that Labour central command had shunned local hopefuls, including the favourite, popular town councillor Mahroof Hussain.

... One Labour insider said Hussain had been the "red hot favourite" locally but as a Muslim man was deemed too much of a risk to the party in the wake of the child sex grooming scandal involving Pakistani males in the constituency which has prompted far right protests in the constituency. A string of local agencies have been criticised for "turning a blind eye" to years of abuse."

Depressingly, the paper adds:

"The disarray within the Labour party is likely to be exploited by other candidates, including the BNP candidate Marlene Guest, and the journalist Yvonne Ridley, who famously converted to Islam after being kidnapped by the Taliban. She is standing for George Galloway's Respect party which is hoping to repeat its surprise victory in Bradford earlier this year."


From the BBC:

Tory MP Kris Hopkins has sparked a row in the Commons by claiming gangs of Muslim men are raping white 'kids'.

The Keighley MP claimed police had felt they needed "permission" to go after abusers due to 'political correctness'.

He said MPs should not avoid talking about the issue or the BNP and others will hijack it.

But Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi warned about 'playing into the hands' of far right groups with such accusations.

... Mr Hopkins insisted he had been right to raise the issue, telling MPs: "Time and time again it's a white girl being raped by Muslim men and if we deny that fact in this House then the BNP and everybody else climbs on board."

Er, Kris, the BNP will be climbing on board YOUR reckless and inflammatory comments, I can assure you...


Watch this clip from May 1984 of a stony-faced US woman reveal all about... her haunted toaster.


It may not only have been Asian gangs who were sexually abusing and exploiting young children in the town of Rochdale.

"Lib Dem Cyril was 'a paedo'," screams the headline on the front of the Sun, referring to Rochdale's former MP.

The Daily Mail says:

"Former Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith yesterday became the latest public figure to be accused of sexually abusing children.

Sir Cyril, who tipped the scales at up to 29 stone, inflicted humiliating punishments on boys at a hostel in the early 1960s, the House of Commons was told.

The claims were later investigated by police but no case was brought against Sir Cyril, who died two years ago aged 82.

Yesterday, however, as two former residents of the hostel spoke out for the first time about the alleged abuse, his successor as Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk publicly accused him."

Oh dear.


Anti-austerity, anti-unemployment protests are being held across 23 member countries of the European Union today.

The cuts aren't working...


The Times reports on a hitherto undiscussed angle to the humiliating resignation of CIA chief David Petraeus - what the Independent calls a "sizzling...omniscandal", under the front-page headline:

"Syria rebels lose ally in Petraeus"

The paper says the once-celebrated general "was personally responsible for persuading President Obama to take a more robust approach towards intervention in Syria, according to one Washington source."

Meanwhile, the Guardian wants the answer to a single, crucial question:

"[W]ho is the rogue FBI operative dubbed 'Agent Shirtless' and why was he so determined to bring down the director of the CIA?

... Petraeus's leadership of the CIA began to unravel when Broadwell, his ex-lover and writer of his biography, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, shot off six anonymous harassing emails to [Jill] Kelley... [who] was friends with the Petraeus family.

Broadwell appears to have feared there was more to it than that. One message accused her of touching Petraeus under a table in an intimate manner and warned her to stay away from him.

Kelley turned to an old friend in the FBI whose name has yet to be revealed but which will surely come out. It wasn't clear the emails amounted to the kind of threatening behaviour the FBI would investigate but the agent and Kelley had a history. Some months earlier he had taken a picture of himself topless and sent it to Kelley, a married woman."

Personally, I can't wait till they make a movie about all this. Who'll play Petraeus? De Niro?

On a related note, it's worth reading Wired's Spencer Ackerman on the "cult of Petraeus": "[A] lot of the journalism around Petraeus gave him a pass, and I wrote too much of it. Writing critically about a public figure you come to admire is a journalistic challenge."


Happy Birthday Charlie! It's the Prince of Wales' 64th birthday today. To mark the event, says the Daily Mail, the heir to the throne has decided to rebut the "mountain of myths" that has built up around him:

"First up is the spectacularly ill-informed notion that at breakfast, seven eggs, each boiled to a different degree of softness, are lined up in front of him so he may choose the one that is exactly the right consistency.

Clarence House now reveals on the Prince's official website that he does no such thing, and never has.

No one would ever have imagined he (or anyone else, for that matter) would do this had it not been included as a 'fact' in the distinguished broadcaster Jeremy Paxman's book On Monarchy, published in 2006. The information came from 'friends of the prince'. Pointedly, Paxman is the only individual to be explicitly named on the prince's website as being responsible for a canard."

The Mail points out that the prince, via his website, also denies being a critic of modern architecture, denies driving a Bentley and denies supporting "untested and dangerous alternative medical therapies".

Methinks he doth protest too much. Meanwhile, the Independent has a spoof set of FAQs for the rest of the royals:

"THE QUEEN Is it true that the Queen dislikes Dame Helen Mirren for her performance in 'The Queen'? Not at all. Her Majesty considers Dame Helen a wonderful actress. She especially liked her in the new James Bond film.

DUKE OF EDINBURGH Did Prince Philip really tell UK students in China they'd go "slit-eyed"if they stayed too long? Of course he bloody well did. Ridiculous question. What was your name again?"


Nad's on the front of the Daily Telegraph today, in a one-piece swimsuit, preparing to take a 'shower' in the jungle. Why? WHY?

"It was going swimmingly for Nadine... until lunch," reads the headline, in a reference to how the Tory MP was forced to "eat lamb's testicles in her second Bushtucker Trial".


"I am not going to budge." - Barack Obama tells a gathering of progressive and labour leaders about his plans to see tax rates for high-income earners rise to pre-George W. Bush levels.


From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 44

Conservatives 34

Lib Dems 9

This would give Labour a majority of 118.


@GregHands Latest figures show that Gordon Brown hasn't said a word in the Commons since Nov. 2011 and not voted since July 2012.

@toadmeister Quite odd that the Guardian has run a front page story about @JamesDelingpole tomorrow but didn't bother to contact him for a comment

@davidschneider After announcing that new dads can take up to 50 weeks paternity leave, Tories put Clegg under massive pressure to knock up his wife.


Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "Tom Watson has voiced child abuse accusations that must be looked into. But in others he has gone way too far."

Chris Cook, writing in the Guardian, says: "As an oil industry whistleblower, I know the energy sector is even more flawed than this week's exposé of gas prices reveals."

Ian Birrell, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "There is something profoundly wrong with a Britain where only the 'little people' pay taxes."

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