Mehdi's Morning Memo: A 'Jinxed' Speech

The ten things you need to know on Monday 21 January 2013...


So, it seems the long-awaited, much-delayed, 'tantric' speech from the prime minister on Britain and Europe will be delivered on... drum roll... Wednesday! Or will it? As the Times points out, the speech seems to be "jinxed':

"It was delayed by the Algerian hostage crisis. It clashed with a celebration of Franco-German friendship. But David Cameron’s speech on the EU will finally be delivered this week — snow permitting.

"William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said yesterday that it would go ahead 'in the coming week', with details released today.

"The most likely day is Wednesday, before the Prime Minister leaves for the World Economic Forum in Davos.

"Downing Street had hoped that the speech, which is expected to propose the repatriation of powers from Brussels followed by a referendum on Britain’s membership, could be made on the Continent. Given the weather, it will probably settle for Britain.

"It can hardly be blamed for such pessimism. “The Speech” seems jinxed."

There is, however, a bit of 'good' news for the Tory leader on the Europe front: arch-Eurosceptic Liam Fox has given the speech his seal of approval. From the Guardian:

"Liam Fox, the former defence secretary and one of the party's most vocal critics of Brussels, said he had been briefed on the contents of the speech and was 'broadly satisfied' with what Cameron was intending to say. 'If that is the speech that is finally delivered, a great many of us will think that it's a speech that we've been waiting a long time for any prime minister to deliver,' Fox said."


If we do enter an unprecedented 'triple-dip' recession later this year, Gideon now has a(nother) ready-made excuse.

From the Financial Times:

"Economists have warned that heavy snowfall sweeping across the country could increase the chances that the UK enters a triple-dip recession, as commuters brace for another week of bad weather.

"High-street spending is expected to be badly affected by the snow, which has caused widespread disruption across the transport system.

"... The warnings come as figures due out on Friday are expected to show that the economy shrunk in the fourth quarter of last year... Peter Spencer, chief economic adviser to the Ernst & Young ITEM club, an economic forecasting group, said the snow increased the probability of a negative number in the first quarter and the prospect of two consecutive quarters of negative growth, a widely used measure of recession."


Both the EU and the state of the economy take a backseat on the front pages of most broadsheets this morning. They're more worried about David Cameron's comments yesterday about the (new) war against al Qaeda, in the wake of the horrific massacre in Algeria:

"New front opens in war against al-Qaeda," proclaims the Times.

"West faces 'decades' of conflict in N Africa," says the FT.

"North Africa terror could last decades - PM," reports the Guardian.

"War against al-Qaeda in Africa could last decades," declares the Telegraph.

The paper reports:

"Britain faces a battle against Islamic extremism in North Africa and the Sahara that could last for decades, David Cameron warned on Sunday.

"The Prime Minister said that countering the rise of al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in the Sahel region will require an 'iron resolve' and greater military, diplomatic and economic engagement with the region.

"He spoke as it was confirmed that six British citizens had died after extremists took scores of hostages at a gas plant in eastern Algeria.

"... Speaking at Chequers on Sunday, Mr Cameron acknowledged that the terrorist threat in North Africa had grown and he predicted a prolonged struggle to meet it.

“'It will require a response that is about years, even decades, rather than months and it requires a response that is patient, that is painstaking, that is tough but also intelligent, but above all has an absolutely iron resolve; and that is what we will deliver over these coming years,' he said.

"William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, signalled that could mean directing more of Britain’s growing aid budget to countries in the region.

"There is 'no all-military solution' to the problem, he said."

Hague is 100% correct. Violence, as they say, begets violence. The past 12 years of the so-called 'war on terror' should have taught us that..

4) 'I DID IT'

From the Guardian:

"Barack Obama was officially sworn in at noon yesterday as president for a second term, in which he has mapped out a programme of economic, social and cultural change that includes new gun control legislation and immigration reform.

"Obama, smiling throughout, delivered the oath in the Blue Room with first lady Michelle holding her family bible and their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, watching.

"Afterwards, he kissed his wife and daughters, telling them: "I did it."

The paper adds:

"The main public events will be held today, with Obama being sworn in again on the steps of Congress, in front of a crowd expected to be between 500,000 to 800,000."

Will we see a more aggressive, more confident president in the second term? A leader less likely to back away from confrontation with irreconcilable Republicans? The Huffington Post in the US is running a series of specially-commissioned articles on 'The Road Forward: Obama's Second-Term Challenges' which you can read here.

I've done a piece on how both Conservative and Labour parties here in the UK are keeping a close eye on the path that Obama is trying to chart between austerity and stimulus, in the hope of proving that their own fiscal policies will be vindicated by the public as the right ones: "To be economically credible in Westminster, it seems, is to be aligned with Barack Obama."


From the Guardian:

"David Cameron and his most senior civil servant, Sir Jeremy Heywood, have been criticised by an all-party committee of MPs over the way they handled the Andrew Mitchell "plebgate" controversy.

"The public administration committee said Heywood, the cabinet secretary, should have challenged the claim in a leaked police log that Mitchell called officers at the gates of No 10 "plebs" after Cameron asked Heywood to investigate what happened.

But, in a report published on Monday, the committee also said Cameron himself should have ordered a much more thorough investigation. Heywood was 'not the appropriate person to investigate allegations of ministerial misconduct', they said, and instead Cameron should have involved Sir Alex Allan, the independent adviser on ministers' interests."

And so it goes on.


Watch this video of a dad making a ponytail for his daughter in five seconds (hint: it involves a vacuum cleaner!).


The FT splashes on a tax evasion story:

"Middle-class professionals are to be targeted in a crackdown on tax evasion promised by the chief prosecutor of England and Wales.

"The Crown Prosecution Service will dramatically ramp up the number of tax evasion cases it takes on - with a view to prosecution - in the next two years, Keir Starmer, director of public prosecutions, has told the Financial Times. The CPS will increase fivefold the number of tax files it handles to 1,500 a year by 2014-15.

"... The CPS's tougher stance matches that of HM Revenue & Customs, which investigates cases before referring criminal files to the CPS. Both organisations are trying to rein in the £14bn a year the UK economy loses from tax evasion. HMRC's prosecution office was merged into the CPS in 2010."


Some pretty dire warnings about the NHS from a couple of pretty influential figures.

From the Independent:

"Hospitals are 'very bad places" to care for frail, elderly patients and new ways must be found to treat them in the community, the new independent head of the NHS has warned. In his first newspaper interview since being appointed head of the NHS Commissioning Board, Sir David Nicholson told The Independent that a revolution was needed in the way the health service cared for Britain's ageing population."

And from the Guardian:

"The kind of neglect that disgraced Stafford hospital, where patients were left in soiled sheets, sitting on commodes for hours at a time and often denied pain relief, exists across the NHS, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has said."


A new angle on bank-bashing - from the front of the Independent:

"Goldman Sachs made more than a quarter of a billion pounds last year by speculating on food staples, reigniting the controversy over banks profiting from the global food crisis.

"Less than a week after the Bank of England Governor, Sir Mervyn King, slapped Goldman Sachs on the wrist for attempting to save its UK employees millions of pounds in tax by delaying bonus payments, the investment bank faces fresh accusations that it is contributing to rising food prices."


From the Times:

"More than 100 energy companies, charities and businesses have joined forces to warn David Cameron that Britain is heading for a fuel poverty crisis owing to a failure of government policy.

"In a letter to the Prime Minister, seen by The Times, they argue that ministers are not doing enough to tackle soaring gas and electricity bills that leave a growing number of people unable to heat their homes.

"An unprecedented alliance, including Npower, the Co-operative, Age UK and Barnardo’s, urges Mr Cameron to use money raised from the “carbon tax” to be levied from April to tackle the 'national disgrace' of cold homes."

So let me get this straight: the same 'profiteering' energy companies that are responsible for much of the fuel poverty in Britain are attacking the government for no tdoing enough to...tackle fuel poverty. Really?


The Daily Mail splashes on a rather interesting 'snooping' story:

"Parents should insist on seeing their children’s texts and internet exchanges, David Cameron’s new adviser on childhood urged last night.

"Claire Perry said that in a world where youngsters are surrounded by online dangers, parents should challenge the ‘bizarre’ idea that their children have the right to keep their messages private.

"... The Tory MP for Devizes added that parents had to take clearer responsibility for internet access on their children’s laptops and mobile phones.

"‘So many people say “I have got children on their laptop at 2am – what do I do?” Well, turn the router off when you go to bed,’ she said."

As the father of two young children myself, I'm with Perry.


From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 42

Conservatives 33

Lib Dems 11

Ukip 7

That would give Labour a majority of 96.


@BarackObama President Obama has been sworn in for a second term as President of the United States.

@samhaqitv PM to chair a final session of COBRA this morning on the Algerian hostage sit. This time, the priority is bringing British nationals home

‏@sturdyAlex I can never hear William Hague's monotone without thinking of a Rotherham auctioneer "going once... anyone? going twice..."


Paul Collier, writing in the Financial Times, says: "The west has let negligence in the Sahel turn into a nightmare."

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "Devastation in Syria, Islamist terror in North Africa — there is a bloody cost to when the US fails to intervene."

David Owen, writing in the Guardian, says: "[EU] Treaty amendment should not wait until 2015 – and Labour should co-operate, in the spirit of one-nation politics."

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