Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'Back To The Middle Ages'

Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'Back To The Middle Ages'

The ten things you need to know on Sunday 18th November...


Israel's bombardment of Gaza continues into its fifth day - but the Israeli deputy prime minister, Eli Yishai, a member of the ultra-orthodox Shas party, may have given the game away yesterday when he said: "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for forty years."

Nice. So much for a proportionate response. Meanwhile, according to the BBC, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that hospitals in Gaza are now overwhelmed with casualties and running short of medical supplies.

Overnight, and this morning, there have been repeated Israeli airstirkes on Gaza, as well as shelling from Israeli warships, producing countless explosions in Gaza City and other sites across the strip. Two media buildings were hit, including one that houses journalists from Sky News and ITN.

"Gaza braces for invasion," says the headline on the front of the Observer, noting the Israeli military's "emergency call-up of up to 75,000 reservists".

A ground invasion? Really? 48 Palestianians and three Israelis have been killed since Wednesday. It's worth remembering that during the last Gaza war, 'Operation Cast Lead' which kicked off in December 2008, 1400-odd Palestinians were killed, compared to 13 Israelis. Will Western governments sit back and watch a re-run of Cast Lead?

Last night, the Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi claimed intensive efforts were being made with both Hamas and the Israeli government to secure a ceasefire soon but said there were no guarantees it could be pulled off in time to halt a a potentially catastrophic ground war.


"The radical shift in Labour’s European policy, unveiled by Ed Miliband in today’s Sunday Telegraph, is the most significant act of repositioning he has undertaken since becoming his party’s leader in September 2010," writes Matthew D'Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph.

Hmm. So what did Ed M say in his interview with D'Ancona and Patrick Hennessy?

“Too often people have assumed that we have got to make the rise of euroscepticism about the mythology of bendy bananas and bans on chocolate, not not the fact that the European budget looks like it’s suited to the 1950s and not the 21st century.

What I would say is - never shrink from being open about the problems of the European Union.”

Basically, he's not calling for a withdrawal (!) and he hasn't yet decided to outflank the Tories with a specific referendum pledge, but he does support a new “hard-headed” form of “realism”. Er, ok. Is that really a big, new change in policy/stance?

D'Ancona disagrees: "What is dramatically new is his insistence that those who support our continued membership raise their game and, crucially, show greater respect for the legitimate anxieties that the British feel about the EU. This is real political sinew."

Meanwhile, David Davis has been on the Andrew Marr show this morning setting out his plan for a EU referendum and dumping, of course, on his old rival 'Dave'. Davis claimed to have lots support from the "youngsters" on the backbenchers (i.e. the 2010 intake). "It's a historic opportunity," says the former Tory shadow home secretary. "We should take it."


Meanwhile, the voters want OUT. From the Observer:

"Well over half of British voters now want to leave the European Union, according to an opinion poll that shows anti-EU sentiment is sweeping through all three main political parties.

The Opinium/Observer survey finds that 56% of people would probably or definitely vote for the UK to go it alone if they were offered the choice in a referendum."

The poll shows a majority of Tory voters (68%), a plurality of Labour voters (44%) and a big minority of Lib Dem voters (39%) would vote for withdrawal.

Less than one in three (29%) British voters think the EU is a "good thing". Europhiles like myself have a great deal of work to do - otherwise we are heading for 'Brexit' (Britain exiting the European Union).


It's not a new political illness: ministers have long tended to suddenly acquire a conscience - and a backbone, too - once they leave (or are pushed!) out of office.

Exhibit A: Sarah Teather. The former Lib Dem children's minister tells the Observer that the coalition's £500-a-week benefits cap, due to come into force next April, is "immoral".

From the Observer:

"While accepting that the wider aim of encouraging people off benefits and into work is the right way forward, she says that imposing a cap on people who live in areas such as her own Brent Central constituency in north London, where rents are high, will have a 'horrible' and 'traumatic' impact. She also claims that the primary motive behind the policy, which has strong public support, was a desire to court popularity by unfairly demonising the poor.

"There are all sorts of things you have to do when times are tight that have negative consequences but you do them for good purposes. But to do something for negative purposes that also has negative consequences – that is immoral," says Teather."

So, why didn't she quit the government when the cap was passed into law? And could her latest intervention be related to the fact that she is the member of Parliament for a very marginal, inner-London constituency whose residents will be hard-hit by the cap? Perish the thought...


"Cameron nabs Boris's election guru," says the splash headline on the front of the Sunday Times, referring to news of the appointment of Lynton Crosby, "the architect of Boris Johnson's successful campaign to become London mayor", as the Conservative Party's 2015 general election strategist. He is expected to start work next year.

The paper says:

The prime minister hopes Crosby, known as the "Wizard of Oz" for the election victories he masterminded in Australia, will revive Tory hopes.

...The move will be perceived as a setback to George Osborne, the chancellor, who ran the 2010 election campaign."

The Sunday Times splash, however, conveniently omits to mention that Crosby has done this particular job before and it didn't turn out so well: the Australian was Michael Howard's campaign chief in the 2005 general election, in which the latter, of course, crashed and burned.

Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday splashes on "PM's new fixer in racist rant at Muslims". The paper's Simon Walters writes:

"Mr Crosby’s outburst came earlier this year as Mr Johnson’s aides discussed whether to devote more attention to wooing the ethnic minority vote in his battle with Labour’s Ken Livingstone.

According to a source, Mr Crosby said Mr Johnson should concentrate on traditional Tory voters instead of ‘f****** Muslims’. The source added: ‘He definitely used that phrase’ and said: ‘Lynton’s view was that chasing the Muslim vote and other ethnic groups was a waste of time – and he frequently expressed himself in very strong terms. Some people found it very offensive.’

In a statement last night a spokesman for Mr Crosby said he had ‘absolutely no recollection’ of using the term."

Hmm. Does he, however, remember those 2005 Tory election posters with the words, "It's not racist to impose limits on immigration", under the headline, "Are you thinking what we are thinking?" I know I do...


Is this The Cutest Thing You'll See All Week: a video of two baby chinchillas falling asleep in the same slipper?


From the Mail on Sunday:

"Each vote cast for a police commissioner cost the taxpayer £14, making it the most expensive election in British history.

The poll, which cost £75 million to administer, saw just 5.34 million people – one in six of the electorate – vote.

In contrast, 29.7 million voted in the 2010 General Election, which was organised for £85 million – or £2.86 a vote."


From the Sunday Times:

"The government is drawing up plans for parliament to take the final decision on whether to defy a demand from Europe that prisoners be given the right to vote.

MPs are expected to be asked in a free vote whether they support the status quo, in which no prisoners may take part in elections, or would rather follow a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg that Britain should end its blanket ban.

Supporters of the plan believe it would allow David Cameron and Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, to demonstrate to Strasbourg that they are following the will of parliament rather than simply defying the court. It would also enable Cameron not to break his pledge that 'prisoners are not getting the vote under this government'."

Perhaps, as the Times sketchwriter Ann Treneman noted on the Marr show this morning, we should at least give prisoners the right to vote in police commissioner elections...those need all the help they can get, after all...


The Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable was on the Marr show this morning calling for big multinationals to pay all their taxes. Now, where have I heard that before?


To be fair, the former Conservative Party chairman and current BBC Trust chair, Chris Patten, did warn us last week that the Murdoch papers would be baying for his blood. Well, here's today's Sunday Times report:

Lord Patten has been accused of being reckless by failing to prevent the dismantling of much of the BBC executive board. It meant that George Entwistle, the novice director-general, was left without the support he required to face the double debacle of the Jimmy Savile scandal and Newsnight's false child abuse allegations.

Offers by Mark Thompson, the outgoing director-general, and Caroline Thomson, his second-in-command, to delay their departure for the handover in September were brushed off, informed sources have told The Sunday Times.

... [Patten] is already under fire over his handling of the BBC's twin crises. In a YouGov poll conducted for The Sunday Times, 47% of those questioned said they believed he should resign and only 29% said that he should stay."

Meanwhile, the headline in the Sun? "Patten must go if Beeb wants to survive."


Say it ain't so! The Sunday Mirror says Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman "won't be coming back" once he's done filming his documentary on the First World War.


According to "show sources", says the Mirror, Paxman "is deeply disillusioned following the botched investigation that falsely linked former Tory treasurer Lord McAlpine, 70, to child abuse allegations".


From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 44

Conservatives 33

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 118.

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

Labour 43

Conservatives 31

Lib Dems 10

That would also give Labour a majority of 118.


@EmilyThornberry Israeli Defence Force claims all sites in Gaza selected on basis of good intelligence > hits Gaza TV, Sky & ITV

@ianbirrell The appointment of Lynton Crosby is a regressive step & one more blow against the modernisation of the party. A bad sign...

@thehistoryguy Why does Israel want to 'send Gaza back to the Middle Ages?' Back then the Arabs were the most dynamic military & scientific power on earth


Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "If you can't be bothered to vote, the person most to blame is you."

Toby Young, writing in the Sun on Sunday, says: "While Right is divided, Tories can’t hope to win a majority."

Paul Vallely, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says there is "worse to come in Gaza": "The Arab Spring has shifted alliances in the Middle East, bringing new dangers to this latest Israel-Palestinian conflict."

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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