Mehdi's Morning Memo: Not-So-Super-Thursday

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Not-So-Super-Thursday

The ten things you need to know on Friday 16th November...


Voters across the country went to the polls yesterday to elect three new MPs in by-elections (in Corby, Manchester Central and Cardiff South and Penarth), Britain's first police and crime commissioners and Bristol's first directly-elected mayor.

Turnout was down - and the Conservative Party was expected to do badly. We should have all the results in by late this afternoon...


"Cameron is braced for a by-election 'bloodbath'," says the headline in the Mail. "The Tories expect to be 'trounced' in Corby, marking the start of a difficult few weeks,"writes George Parker in the FT.

The Corby result is expected at lunchtime - Labour's Andy Sawford will win, but what will the swing be? And will UKIP push the Tory candidate into third place (and the Lib Dems into fourth)?

Meanwhile, my colleague Ned Simons notes: "Former Tory MP Louise Mensch appears to have conceded Labour will win the by-election in Corby and said the defeat was entirely her fault."

"Christine [Emmett] and her team did an incredible job in the most difficult possible circumstances. I know she will one day make a wonderful MP," Mensch tweeted on Thursday evening just after the polls closed at 10pm."

She added: "Though I had to resign to unite our family, there was large & entirely understandable local anger. I wish I had been able to see out my term."

In the other two by-elections, Labour held onto the seats with increased majorities: Ed Miliband's former chief of staff Lucy Powell won Manchester Central, becoming the city's first female MP, and Stephen Doughty triumphed in Cardiff South and Penarth. The turnout in the latter was 25% and in the former just 18% - which is believed to be the lowest turnout in a parliamentary constituency since the Second World War.


Meanwhile, low turnout also continues to dominate the press coverage of the historic police and crime commissioner (PCC) elections.

The Telegraph says "one village hall in Suffolk saw seven people vote in nine hours, and there were reports that a polling booth in Manchester had only three visitors."

The Guardian reports:

"Turnout in the elections for police and crime commissioners was heading for a record low for a national election, possibly as low as 15%, raising questions about the authority and legitimacy of the new breed of politicians responsible for overseeing police chief constables in England and Wales.

The bulk of the election results in the 41 constabulary areas will emerge on Friday afternoon..."

However, we do have one result in: Angus McPherson, the Conservative candidate in Wiltshire, has been elected as Britain's first ever police and crime commissioner, with the aid of second-preference votes and... on a turnout of just 15.8%.

The post-mortem into the turnout issue will begin soon: why didn't the PM sign off on a free mailshot to all households? Why did the coalition hold these historic elections in dark, cold November? Why weren't bigger names persuaded to throw their hats into the ring?

Talking of 'big names', ex-deputy prime minister John Prescott may lose out to UKIP in Humberside, where he is trying to get elected as the PCC...


Israel intensified its aerial bombardment of Gaza overnight, firing at more than 130 targets in the Strip. The IDF says militants fired 11 rockets from Gaza.

"Why did they have to kill my son?" asks the headline in the Daily Mail, over a haunting picture of BBC Arabic picture editor Jihad Masharawi. The paper reports:

"Desperately clutching the body of his baby son to his chest, tears stream down the face of Jihad Masharawi after he is told by doctors that the child is dead.

'What did my son do to die like this?' he demanded. 'What was his mistake? He is 11 months old, what did he do?' Omar was mortally wounded by an Israeli airstrike on Hamas militants in Gaza on Wednesday and becomes the youngest victim of the bitter conflict."

The Independent carries the same picture on its front page, under the headline: "Eye for an eye".

Yesterday, air raid sirens sounded in Tel Aviv for the first time since the Gulf War in 1991. The Telegraph cover story is headlined: "Israeli troops head for Gaza after missiles target Tel Aviv."

The Times says Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak has given the "green light to call up 30,000 reserve troops in a signal that Israel may be considering a ground war. Israeli forces and tanks moved closer to the Gaza border yesterday."

The death toll in the crowded Gaza Strip has climbed to 19, including five children, while three Israelis have been killed.

This morning, however, there is expected to be a 'pause' in the bombardment as Egypt's prime minister has arrived Gaza to offer the country's support to the Palestinians living in the Strip. Egypt's new president Mohammed Morsi is from the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian branch.

On a side note, I've done a post on "the ten things you need to know about Gaza".


From the Telegraph splash

"Lord McAlpine has promised to end 'trial by Twitter' by announcing an unprecedented series of libel actions against people who used the website to link him wrongly to child abuse allegations.

The former Conservative Party treasurer said yesterday that he had been terrified' when he became 'a figure of public hatred' because of people naming him as the subject of a Newsnight report wrongly claiming a senior Tory was a paedophile.

Sally Bercow, the wife of the Speaker of the Commons, and George Monbiot, a columnist for the Guardian are among those who will be pursued by Lord McAlpine for using the microblogging site to tweet his name after the Newsnight programme was broadcast.

Lord McAlpine’s solicitor, Andrew Reid, said the 'nasty' tweets would 'cost people a lot of money', warning the guilty parties: 'We know who you are.'"

What was Bercow's response on Twitter? "Gulp."

Meanwhile, the BBC yesterday agreed to pay out £185,000 in damages to McAlpine: "one of the largest sums ever paid out by the publicly-funded corporation," notes the Guardian. You and me footing the bill, basically.


Growing a 'tache for Movember? Feeling down? Watch this brilliant video of how "your moustache WILL get better".


From the Times splash:

"The war in Afghanistan is lost and not worth the life of one more British soldier, Paddy Ashdown writes in The Times today.

In a stark assessment of the 11-year campaign that has cost 438 British lives, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon urges Britain to pull out its troops as quickly as 'decently' possible.

... 'It is now crystal clear that we have lost in Afghanistan,' Lord Ashdown says. 'We have succeeded in only one thing; albeit the big thing we first said we went to war for — driving out al-Qaeda. In almost all the other tasks we set ourselves, especially the establishment of a sustainable state, we have failed.'"

Ashdown, who was once one of the biggest cheerleaders for the war against the Taliban, is also believed to have been the man who persuaded a reluctant Nick Clegg to throw Lib Dem support behind the ongoing conflict prior to the last general election. So, will the deputy prime minister now heed Paddy's latest piece of advice and push inside government for a quicker withdrawal of British troops from the killing fields of Helmand?


Yesterday, the Telegraph reported on comments from the chief of the defence staff, General Sir David Richards, about how defence cuts have left the Armed Forces unable to carry out all the tasks that ministers demand of them. Today, however, the i reports:

"Britain is moving towards a more interventionist policy on Syria in an attempt to end the spiralling violence in the country.

David Cameron chaired a session of the National Security Council, at which military, diplomatic and political options were discussed by ministers and armed forces and intelligence chiefs. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, who will meet opponents of President Bashar al-Assad today, may announce next week that Britain intends formally to recognise them as the Syrian opposition.

... Officials are also examining the terms of the European Union embargo which prevents the UK supplying the rebels with arms. Other measures under consideration include the creation of a no-fly zone and 'safe zones' within Syria's borders."


David Petraeus speaks! From the Telegraph:

"Describing his wife, Holly, as 'far better than he deserves', Mr Petraeus said in an off-camera conversation with a television journalist that he was guilty of a 'personal failing' and had 'engaged in something dishonourable'.

'He sought to do the honourable thing in response,' recounted Kyra Phillips, a reporter for HLN, 'and that was to come forward. He was very clear that he screwed up terribly.'

Mr Petraeus, who has not been seen in public since his resignation a week ago, is due to testify early Friday morning to congressmen investigating the Sept 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The retired four-star general rejected conspiracy theories that his downfall had been engineered to somehow prevent him from disclosing information on the attack that could be damaging to President Barack Obama."


From the Financial Times:

"David Cameron's immigration policy was under fire last night, as London mayor Boris Johnson and the boss of the CBI employers' organisation warned it was undermining the UK economy.

Mr Johnson said ahead of a visit to India that visa policies were preventing the City and universities from recruiting the brightest talent, and were 'a block to growth'.

John Cridland, CBI directorgeneral, stepped up his criticism of the policy and for the first time called on Mr Cameron to scrap the totemic Tory target of cutting net immigration to the 'tens of thousands' by 2015."


From the Guardian:

"Two leading lights of Britain's cultural life – Danny Boyle, who directed the Olympics opening ceremony, and Nicholas Hytner, chief of the National Theatre – have launched an uncompromising attack on the government's stance on culture.

Speaking after an event that brought together the heads of 23 of England's leading regional theatres, Boyle told the Guardian that the lack of attention to the arts shown by the culture secretary, Maria Miller, was 'outrageous'.

'Not one of those [artistic directors, including Hytner] has been even approached by this woman,' he said. 'That is outrageous. This is cultural life of our country. She is the minister of fucking culture. I mean, come on.'

He added: 'It's a disgrace: it is these artistic directors that are spending the taxpayers' money. And she's not met them. They are the people spending the money – she should be talking to them.'"

Do we know what Aidan Burley MP makes of these remarks?


From the latest Ipsos MORI monthly political monitor:

Labour 46

Conservatives 32

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 130.


@TomHarrisMP Well done the LibDems for insisting the PCC elections took place in November. Really seeing their influence on government.

@BBCMarkEaston Lack of leaflets? November poll? Real flaw was the public were never persuaded they needed elected police commissioners.

@jameschappers Low turnout in police commissioner elections makes argument for minimum threshold in strike ballots much harder


Jonathan Freedland, writing in the Guardian, says: "All the violence in Gaza and Israel will do is sow hatred in the hearts of yet another generation."

Peter Mandelson, writing in the Financial Times, says: "Britain awaits an inevitable referendum."

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Pay attention in class! Michael Gove is teaching the art of politics."

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


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