The ten things you need to know on Thursday 24th January 2013...
1) WARSI'S WAR ON THE ISLAMOPHOBES
She may have been demoted from the Cabinet but Baroness Warsi still doesn't pull any punches. Tonight, she'll take aim at "certain sections" of Britain's Islamophobia-fuelling media in a speech which will also endorse Lord Justice Leveson's conclusions about anti-Muslim prejudice in the press.
From the Huffington Post:
"In a speech in London this evening, the minister for faith and communities and senior Foreign Office minister will say there is an 'underlying, unfounded mistrust' among many Britons towards Muslims as well as a 'misinformed suspicion of people who follow Islam'.
"Warsi will make the comments at a dinner held by Mama, a new government-backed group dedicated to measuring and monitoring anti-Muslim attacks.
"... 'Sadly, much of this negative narrative is being perpetuated by certain sections of the media,' she will say.
'"Lord Justice Leveson's report event revealed journalists were encouraged to make up stories about Muslims. And concluded that the unbalanced reporting of ethnic minorities was endemic.'
You've got to admire her guts. The former Tory chairman's speech comes almost two years to the day since her now-notorious 'dinner-table test' speech in which she argued that prejudice against Muslims had become socially acceptable in the UK - at the time, she was denounced by right-wing columnists while Downing Street sources distanced themselves from the baroness, claiming she'd not cleared the speech with the PM.
Let's see how Dave responds this time round...
2) TIME FOR PLAN B, GIDEON
Even the chancellor's former bezzy mates think he's got it wrong on austerity. Remember the IMF? Yesterday, they downgraded their growth forecasts for this year and next - ahead of tomorrow's fourth-quarter GDP figures which are expected to be pretty bad.
This morning, their chief economist did his best impression of Ed Balls on the Today programme - from the BBC:
"The IMF chief economist has told the BBC that Chancellor George Osborne should consider toning down austerity in his March budget.
'We think this would be a good time to take stock,' said Olivier Blanchard, speaking to Radio 4's Today programme."
Are you listening, Gideon?
3) THE MORNING AFTER
The prime minister may have won the support of his backbenchers, getting cheered and applauded as he arrives in the Commons chamber for PMQs yesterday after his announcement of an in-out referendum (in, er, 2017...), and he may have even pleased big business (a letter to The Times signed by 56 industry and City leaders says his promise of a negotiation followed by a referendum is "good for business and good for jobs in Britain") but not everyone's pleased with his brazen sop to the eurosceptics. I'm not talking about the French or the Germans - I'm referring here to the Yanks and Dave's BFF, Barry.
As my colleague Ned Simons reports:
"The United States has repeated its warning that the United Kingdom must not leave the European Union, following David Cameron's announcement he wants to hold a referendum.
"President Obama's press secretary Jay Carney said on Wednesday the White House believed the UK was 'stronger' as a member of the EU.
"'We welcome the prime minister's call for Britain to remain in the EU and to retain a leading role in Europe's institutions,' he said.
"'And as the President told the prime minister when they spoke last week, the United States values a strong United Kingdom and a strong European Union.'"
Who does Cameron want to impress more? Barack Obama or Daniel Hannan? His behaviour over the next couple of years will tell us the answer.
On a related note, Europe minister David Lidington told BBC2's Newsnight last night that the next Tory election manifesto will outline exactly how his party would try to renegotiate new and looser ties with the EU.
4) ED'S GAMBLE
In one day Cameron appeared to unite his own party behind him and cause utter confusion in Labour ranks. To the utter delight of Tory backbenchers Ed Milband appeared to rule out holding an in/out referendum during prime minister's questions. Only for other members of his front bench to then walk back the comments later on in the day.
John Denham told the Daily Echo there had been "a bit of over-interpretation" of Miliband's comments. He said: "We do not absolutely rule it out in the future, we do not know what issues will come up in the future. And shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said the party would "never said never" on the issue. Perhaps we can have a referendum on whether Labour should support a referendum.
5) THE DRONE PRESIDENT
Dave's mate Barry's got his own problems to deal with. Like, y'know, accusations of war crimes. Bit awkward when you're a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
From the Guardian:
"A United Nations investigation into targeted killings will examine drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to the British lawyer heading the inquiry.
"Ben Emmerson QC, a UN special rapporteur, will reveal the full scope of his review which will include checks on military use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in UK operations in Afghanistan, US strikes in Pakistan, as well as in the Sahel region of Africa where the conflict in Mali has erupted...
"The inquiry will report to the UN general assembly in New York this autumn... Emmerson has previously suggested some drone attacks - particularly those known as 'double tap' strikes where rescuers going to the aid of a first blast have become victims of a follow-up strike - could possibly constitute a 'war crime'."
Oh, Dubya, come back. All is forgiven. (Not.)
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of what happens when tourists try and mess with the Queen's Guard at Windsor Castle.
6) SNP BLUES
Talking of referendums (or is that referenda?), the Times reports:
"Alex Salmond is facing a devastating defeat in next year’s Scottish independence referendum, according to a new opinion survey.
"The survey of more than 1,200 Scots shows that support for independence north of the Border has plummeted to its lowest level since devolution in 1999 — and the decline has gained pace since Mr Salmond’s Nationalist administration came to power in Holyrood in 2007.
"Backing for Scotland leaving the UK now sits at just 23 per cent, a drop of nine points in a year. The annual Scottish Social Attitudes survey shows that Scots are losing any appetite they had for separation, with less than half now believing independence would give their country a stronger voice in the world."
7) 'NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE'
From the Mirror:
"A backlog of 16,000 immigration cases dating back up to a decade has been uncovered by watchdogs.
"Around 14,000 people are waiting for the UK Border Agency to consider appeals against decisions to kick them out - with the list growing by 700 a month."
8) HATTY, DOLLY AND BRIAN
Brian Leveson's report into media ethics and practises is still dividing and provoking politicians.
From the Guardian:
"Harriet Harman, the deputy Labour leader, has said government proposals to create a royal charter for a new press watchdog are akin to Dolly the sheep, the first animal to be cloned from a cell.
"Speaking at the Oxford Media Convention on Wednesday, Harman also said Labour was not ruling out agreeing with the government's plan to introduce a royal charter for the newspaper regulator in conjunction with a statute to ensure the charter cannot be tweaked by a future government.
"But she said the problem was no one knew how a royal charter would work in relation to the press. 'It's a bit like Dolly the sheep, it might look like a sheep, but we do not know if it will do all the thing that a sheep is supposed to do,' she said."
9) MESSY EXIT
Afghanistan is likely to be "messy" after western troops pull out in 2014, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond admitted yesterday.
Hammond said there was little prospect of the Kabul-based government defeating the Taliban "outright", and the most it could hope for was securing key cities and infrastructure. The frank assessment came as Hammond gave evidence to the Commons Defence Committee.
"The ability to see a long-term sustainable peace in Afghanistan fundamentally rests upon a political compromise and political accommodation being made within that country between the different ethnic groups, the government and the Taliban," he told the MPs. "Such an accommodation will require the active support of the neighbours, particularly Pakistan."
10) CLINTON VS CONGRESS
From the Telegraph:
"Hillary Clinton has given an angry and emotional defence of her handling of last year's attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, while warning of the need for a long–term US effort to address the rise of al–Qaeda in north Africa.
"... Mrs Clinton banged the table in frustration as she denied claims of a coverup. She said the issue was "not just a matter of policy, it's personal" and choked back tears as she described comforting the families of the victims.
"...Mrs Clinton faced attacks from several senior Republicans during the hearing... Mrs Clinton banged the table with impatience at the line of questioning, saying: 'Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again.'"
You can watch the exchanges here on HuffPost.
Was this a preview of 2016? A couple of those Republican senators, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, will probably run for president in four years time- and could find themselves up against the combative Clinton. Good luck to them...
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From today's Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 11
That would give Labour a majority of 116.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@TimMontgomerie A montage of today's referendum-tastic newspaper headlines http://twitpic.com/bxs7ac
@Slate Since When Is France a Global Military Power? http://slate.me/XAEuO0
900 WORDS OR MORE
Timothy Garton-Ash, writing in the Guardian, says: "From outside, it's clear why Britain has to stay in Europe."
Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "David Cameron may have finished off the Tories - but he had no choice."
Steve Richards in the Independent says: "Cameron's speech on Europe makes it less likely he will be Prime Minister after the next election."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ned Simons (email@example.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol