09/12/2012 10:40 GMT | Updated 30/01/2013 21:41 GMT

Mehdi's Morning Memo: The War On The War On Benefits

The ten things you need to know on Sunday 9th December 2012...


The Observer splash reads:

"Ed Miliband to wage war on George Osborne over benefit cuts"

Finally. The paper says:

"In a high-risk move that could come to define his leadership, Miliband appears ready to order his party to oppose real-term reductions in income for millions of the poorest and most vulnerable, announced in Wednesday's autumn statement, when proposals are placed before parliament next month.

"A senior figure close to Miliband said: 'Make no mistake, we would come down very hard on people who milk the system but we will not confuse them with the vast majority of people – most of them in work – who are really striving, trying to pay the bills and put food on the table.'"

Great news. But, wait, what's this?

"Senior Labour figures stopped short of confirming that Labour would vote against the cuts in the Commons in January."


Perhaps the 59 charities and other leading civil-society organisations - including Oxfam, Barnardo's, the Children's Society, the Child Poverty Action Group and Disability Rights UK - that have penned a letter to the Observer, dismissing the chancellor's false division between "strivers" and "skivers" and saying the real-terms cuts to benefits are "punitive, unfair, and must not happen", will help stiffen the Labour leader's spine.

The conventional wisdom suggests the public support a 'crackdown' on benefit claimants; as is so often the case, with a real-term cut in benefits affecting more working households than workless households - according to research from the Resolution Foundation - the conventional wisdom may be wrong. Once again, Miliband might be onto something...


There's plenty of "war" talk around on the front of today's papers. Michael Gove, for instance, seems to think he's the defence secretary, not the education secretary.

From the Sunday Times splash:

"The government is preparing for a full-scale conflict with the teaching unions to break their 'destructive power' and force through pay reforms.

"Michael Gove, the education secretary, who is planning to tie pay rises to performance in the classroom, has put his department on a 'war footing'.

"The reform was announced last week in the autumn statement and is one of the most farreaching overhauls of pay in the public sector.

"Gove sees the change as central to improving state education and beating union opponents of reforms. Faced with strike threats, he has ordered officials to draw up plans to keep schools open.

"Measures under consideration include:

"* New laws to make it more difficult for teaching unions to call and conduct strikes.

"* Challenging strikes in the courts, possibly using the European Convention on Human Rights to guarantee children the right to education.

"* Making it easier for academies — semi-independent state schools — to dismiss substandard staff."

As Charlie Falconer, the Labour peer and former cabinet minister, noted on the Marr show - does talk of 'war' help prevent, or provoke, industrial action by teachers?

And dare I point out that the OECD's research suggests there is no clear link between performance-related pay for teachers and raising standards in schools?


More "war" talk on the front of the Mail on Sunday:

"Britain is losing the war on drugs and should consider the radical option of legalisation, a powerful committee of MPs will argue this week.

"In a controversial move which could lead to yet another Coalition rift, the influential Commons Home Affairs Committee is expected to put pressure on David Cameron to establish a Royal Commission to draw up changes to the law.

"The MPs have concluded that prison sentences – which can be up to life for dealers of heroin and cocaine – are failing to deter drugs barons, and may even be encouraging a crime-riddled black market in the substances."

Here's a question: do we really need yet another commission or inquiry? When will legislators get on with, y'know, legislating?


Is talk of a "triple dip" recession just Labour fear-mongering or a product of newspaper subeditors looking for a good headline? The chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, told the Andrew Marr show this morning that his department's data suggested the UK economy would avoid another recession.

Well, his Lib Dem cabinet colleague, the business secretary, takes a gloomier view. Vince Cable has given an interview to the Observer in which he says the risk of another recession is "real":

"Unlike most politicians, he has few airs and graces and rarely resorts to defensive obfuscation. He sees an interview as an exercise in which the journalists put questions and he answers them. So when asked if Britain's economy might endure a Japanese-style "lost decade", he admits it might. 'There is a real worry about [that], a real risk of that,' he says. He says that the damage done during the crisis to the "productive potential" of the economy is 'very worrying' and he concedes that we might soon plunge into a triple-dip recession. 'Well, there is certainly a risk,' he says without hesitation."

He adds:

"I always try not to get drawn into forecasting arguments [but] there clearly is a risk. The most likely outcome is that we continue bumping along the bottom."

Fantastic, eh? Either we get a "triple dip" recession or we continue "bumping along the bottom". Thanks Vince.


The Cameroons strike back.

From the Sunday Telegraph:

"Senior Conservatives today launch a new group which will campaign strongly for same-sex couples to be allowed to get married in church - in defiance of their party’s traditionalists.

"The group, which unites under the slogan 'Freedom to Marry', contains some of the party’s biggest beasts, including Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, and Michael Gove, the Education Secretary.

"Patrick McLoughlin, the Transport Secretary, who is a Catholic, has also signed up.

"Signatories share David Cameron’s view that churches should be allowed to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies but should not be forced to do so if they do not wish to.

"In a letter to The Sunday Telegraph, announcing the formation of the group, 19 senior Tories declare: 'Marriage should be open to all, regardless of sexuality.'"

Tory traditionalists who want Johnson to replace Cameron will be disappointed to see BoJo's name on the list of signatories.

Meanwhile, the paper adds:

"Coalition sources said minister hoped to introduce a bill to legalise same-sex marriage 'before Easter' next year. The law is expected to come into force about 12 months after that - with the first ceremonies likely be held in sprint 2014."

Expect lots more heat on this issue in the coming weeks and months.


Watch this video of a plucky hamster trying to climb the stairs.


Hooray! From the Observer:

"The Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, scrapped a decree last night that had generated widespread unrest by awarding him near-absolute powers."

I sense a "but" coming...

"But he insisted a referendum on a new constitution would go ahead as planned this week."


"The announcement, which is unlikely to placate Morsi's opponents, came after Egypt's military warned that failure to resolve a crisis over the drafting of the constitution would result in "disastrous consequences" that could drag the country into a 'dark tunnel'."


From James Forsyth's nugget-filled column in the Mail on Sunday:

"[Danny] Alexander is most Conservatives’ favourite Liberal Democrat member of the Cabinet. They regard him as easier to deal with and more persuadable than other senior Lib Dems."

Danny will be delighted to hear this. Or maybe not.


Depressing if unsurprising news, via the Observer:

"A poll commissioned by the Charities Aid Foundation confirms that public spending cutbacks and falling donations are conspiring to devastating effect. The foundation warns that as many as one in six charities believe they may close in the coming year, while nearly half say they are being forced to dip into reserves. One in three say they fear being forced to cut services."

Hey Dave, how's that 'Big Society' doing?


If you thought payday loan firms couldn't get any more unpopular, check out this story in the Sunday Mirror:

"A payday loan firm exposed by the Sunday Mirror for targeting benefits claimants has paid NO corporation tax in five years.

"The controversial Cheque Centre, which offers cash loans with sky-high interest rates, enjoyed sales of a staggering £615.7million over the five years as business flourished in recession-hit Britain.

"Yet the US-owned company did not pay corporation tax because it was able to offset its losses against profits, cancelling out any tax bills.

"The news comes in the week that Starbucks announced it is voluntarily paying £20million in corporation tax."

Stella Creasy, over to you...

10) "LOL"

Talking of tax avoidance, this diary story in the Mail on Sunday amused me:

"All those intimate, cringe-making text messages between David Cameron and Rebekah Brooks have cost more than just extreme embarrassment for the Prime Minister. The Cabinet Office has now confessed that the PM's office racks up a whopping £8,000-a-month mobile phone bill with service provider Vodafone - the very company that had much of its £6billion tax bill generously written off by the Government. 'LOL', as hard-pressed taxpayers are certainly not going to say."


Quote of the week: "Whether the final blow comes from flesh-eating zombies, demonic hell beasts or the total triumph of K-pop ... I will fight for you to the very end." - Australian premier Julia Gillard, takes on the Mayan calendar's 2012 doomsday prediction in a spoof video for a youth radio station


From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 42

Conservatives 33

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 96.


@paulwaugh Balls says his Autumn Statement perf was like a prem footballer missing a penalty.

@abelardinelli Danny Alexander says "some" working people will be hit - but it's much more than that, as 6 in 10 households hit are in work #marrshow

@AdamBienkov #Marr: "all sorts of goodies next week including Boris Johnson." That's set to be another hard-hitting interview then.


Will Hutton, writing in the Observer, says: "George Osborne's savage attack on benefits is an affront to British decency."

Nick Herbert, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "Same-sex marriage is a true Tory principle."

John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "Forecasters are always wrong, it's just a matter of by how much. And this time, if figures turn out better than expected, Labour is in trouble."

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