Mehdi's Morning Memo: The London Speech

The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 23rd January 2013...


Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope, it's David Cameron's long-awaited, much-anticipated, repeatedly-delayed, 'tantric' speech on Britain's relationship with the European Union. You only need to know two words to understand the main message: "in" and "out".

From the Times splash:

"Voters will have the chance to leave the European Union before the end of 2017, David Cameron will pledge today as he sets Britain on course for a momentous referendum.

"The Prime Minister will commit himself to winning an 'in-out' vote even if the campaign puts him at odds with much of his party or even if the EU remains largely unreformed. But he will seek to give the referendum unstoppable momentum by publishing a draft Bill before 2015 and setting a deadline of November 2017 before which it must be held.

"'It is time for the British people to have their say,' he will declare."

The prime minister is on his feet right now at Bloomberg's HQ in the City of London telling his audience why they shouldn't vote Ukip. Well, not quite.

But to pretend this speech is anything other than an attempt to head off Nigel Farage's gang, and see off the internal threat to his leadership from his eurosceptic backbenchers, is either naive or disingenuous. Remember: Cameron never wanted - or planned - to give this speech and, thanks to a combination of Al Qaeda and Angela Merkel, had to keep putting it off.

To be fair, though, as the Guardian's Patrick Wintour acknowledges: "The prime minister's call for an in-out referendum is a moment of truth for a pragmatic man assumed to be instinctively opposed to political risk."

The morning papers almost all lead on the PM's 'London speech' (why didn't he just go to Bruges and be done with it? Bloomberg? Ed Balls beat him to it in 2010):

"You will get an in or out vote on Europe" (Daily Mail)

"Cameron to pledge an 'in-out' vote on Europe" (Financial Times)

"Cameron: I'll hold an in-out vote on Europe" (Telegraph)

"Cameron pledges in-out referendum on Europe" (Times)

"In or out? PM pledges EU exit vote by 2017" (Independent)

You can read full coverage and analysis of Cameron's EU address at www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/politics


From the BBC:

"Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to form 'as broad a government as possible' after his alliance won a narrow election victory.

"His right-wing Likud-Beitenu bloc will have 31 seats in parliament - a sharp drop from 42, exit polls suggest.

"In a major surprise, the centrist Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party came second with a predicted 18-19 seats, with Labour next on 17.

"Analysts now predict weeks of political horse-trading to form a new cabinet."

Here are my own two predictions: 1) Bibi will continue to pay no attention to the so-called 'peace process' with the Palestinians, who were barely mentioned in this Israeli election campaign. 2) Bibi will continue to fear-monger about Iran in order try and divert attention away from Israel's ongoing (and illegal) settlement programme in the occupied West Bank.


From the Financial Times:

"A-level grades could be awarded solely on marks for examinations taken and coursework submitted at the end of two years of study, as they once were, under proposals to be unveiled today by the government.

"In a letter to Ofqual, the qualifications regulator, Michael Gove, the education secretary, has said the 'primary purpose of A-levels is to prepare students for degree-level study' and that he wanted to 'restore' the reputation of the A-level with changes to its structure.

"... Stephen Twigg, shadow education secretary, said the government 'is all about turning the clock back. This plan would narrow the options for young people.'"

Meanwhile, the Mirror reports that nearly 100 groups, including the National Theatre, say the Tory-led Coalition is "pushing through [its GCSE] reforms too fast".


Watch out, Mark Carney! From the Guardian:

"Sir Mervyn King last night launched a thinly disguised attack on his successor as Bank of England governor, deriding proposals to ditch the central bank's inflation target in favour of a growth target based as 'wishful thinking'.

"King warned that policies designed to meet a growth target - a strategy backed by the incoming governor, Mark Carney - was unrealistic and for 'dreamers', signalling a rift with the man due to take over in Threadneedle Street in the summer after being lured by George Osborne from his post as Canada's central bank chief.

"... King told an audience in Belfast: 'To drop the objective of low inflation would be to forget a lesson from our postwar history... So a long-run target of 2% inflation should be an essential part of our macroeconomic framework.'"

Is Merv perhaps miffed because the 2% inflation target is something that he came up with, as chief economist at the bank, in the 1990s?


From the Guardian:

"A coalition of 100 UK development charities and faith groups will today launch a campaign to lobby David Cameron to use Britain's presidency of the G8 to leverage action on ending global hunger. The If campaign is the largest coalition of its kind since Make Poverty History in 2005, the last time Britain held the G8 presidency. This time, organisers are seeking more radical change. Although pegged around hunger and malnutrition, the campaign focuses more on the underlying causes of hunger, such as 'land grabs', tax avoidance and a lack of transparency over investments in poor countries."

Tax avoidance and land grabs? Progressives will be pleased.


Watch this video of Hollywood actor James Franco's unintentionally hilarious poem on Obama inauguration.


The war between ministers and civil servants moves onto a new front. From the Independent:

"Ministers are to be given the power to 'fast-track' nominations for knighthoods and other awards as part of plans to radically shake up Britain's ancient honours system.

"Under proposals, discussed by the Cabinet, ministers would be able to circumvent Civil Service vetting procedures and recommend candidates for awards directly to the independent Honours Committee.

"... The move is facing resistance from some senior officials, who fear it will politicise the honours system and insist that ministers must follow the same procedures as charities and members of the public who want to nominate individuals for awards."


From the Times:

"Trade union officials helped to blacklist their own members from working on some of the most prestigious construction projects of the past 20 years, The Times has learnt.

"The names and personal details of workers deemed 'perennial troublemakers' by unions including Ucatt, the construction union, and Amicus, now part of Unite, were fed to a database run by a secretive vetting company set up and financed by several of Britain's biggest builders.

"In a Commons debate this afternoon, Labour is expected to call for an investigation into allegations that publicly funded construction projects, including the Olympics and Crossrail, consulted the... blacklist."


The demonisation of welfare claimants continues apace. From the Metro:

"A lie detector test will be used by a council to see if benefits claimants are telling the truth, it emerged yesterday.

"The method called 'voice risk analysis' has been introduced to check details that people have provided about their claims.

"... But numerous academic studies have cast doubt on the accuracy of lie detectors with some claiming they are little better than chance."

The Guardian reports that a Conservative councillor, Fiona Ferguson, has quit the council after claiming that using voice risk analysis wouldn't help the council pursue fraud and would be "extremely damaging to our reputation". Let's hope so...


From the Independent:

"A Treasury minister has warned the Conservative Party not to divide the British people into "shirkers and strivers" as it defends the squeeze on the welfare budget.

"Greg Clark, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, appeared to distance himself from the more hardline approach of George Osborne...

"Writing on the ConservativeHome website, he said there is nothing wrong with being a "striver", but argued that not everyone wants to be one... 'Not being a striver doesn't make you a shirker - it's simply a matter of working to live, not living to work.'"


"Oh, say could you see Beyoncé was just miming," reads the headline on the front of today's Times, which broke the story yesterday of how the first pop star in US inauguration history to be invited to sing the national anthem was, believe it or not, lip-syncing:

"It was the most celebrated rendition of America’s national anthem in a generation, but Beyoncé had left nothing to chance... Unbeknownst to millions of viewers, however, The Times has learned that the perfect note had been struck in advance: in a recording studio on the eve of Inauguration Day."

Uh oh. Then again, as my US colleagues over at HuffPost Hill tweeted last night: "Can't believe someone lip synched... AT THE FAKE INAUGURATION."

(On a side note, Kelly Clarkson's representative was quick to point out that her client "sang live as always". Oooohh...)


"The fact is that ours is not just an island story – it is also a continental story." David Cameron's throws a bone to the dwindling band of British europhiles during his eurosceptic speech at Bloomberg this morning.


From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 41

Conservatives 31

Lib Dems 12

Ukip 10

That would give Labour a majority of 110.


@chrisshipitv Farage on #EUspeech: the genie is out of the bottle. Once the "out" word is out there - it's going to be difficult to put it back in

@rafaelbehr So, the big speech, eh. Looks like Cam buying security for himself now in exchange for certain Tory split c.2017

@AliAbunimah Did you hear the scandal about how Beyoncé ordered the extrajudicial murders of Americans and others? Oh wait, sorry, that was Obama.


Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Fear of the grey vote has turned politicians into cowards."

Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "Obama is far better at hope than at audacity."

Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "French intervention in Mali will fuel terrorism, but the west's buildup in Africa is also driven by the struggle for resources."

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