Mehdi's Morning Memo: Squeezing the Poor: Local Edition

The ten things you need to know on Thursday 31 January 2013...


Perhaps the most influential thinktank in the UK right now, the Resolution Foundation, has produced another must-read report - from the BBC:

"Millions of the poorest households face council tax rises because most councils in England will pass on a 10% cut in funding from April, research suggests.

"A typical bill will rise between £100 and £250 a year, but some could rise as much as £600, according to think tank the Resolution Foundation.

"Its report coincides with the deadline for local authorities to submit their plans for changing council tax benefit."

Politically, the key para, though, is this one:

"Some campaigners have likened the change to the 'poll tax', in that people are asked for a contribution regardless of their ability to pay."

Well, I suppose Cameron always wanted to be the heir to Maggie...


Oh look - more evidence that spending cuts don't work. From the United States - once home to the fiscal stimulus.

"First US decline in three years," says the FT splash.

"The US economic recovery juddered to a halt in the final months of 2012 as the government slashed defence spending, business orders declined, and Washington fought over the fiscal cliff budget crisis.

"The GDP of the world's biggest economy shrank for the first time in three and a half years during the fourth quarter, dropping at an annual rate of 0.1%, the commerce department said. It was the US's worst economic performance since October 2009, and came as economists had been expecting mild growth of about 1%.

"... Cuts in government spending sent the economy into reverse following a 3.1% annualised increase in GDP in the third quarter."


Given the US growth figures (or lack thereof), and the role played by defence cuts (government spending was dragged down by a 22% cut to the defence budget), it's a perfect time for Dave to make this announcement - in the words of the Telegraph's splash headline:

"No more defence cuts, says Cameron"

The paper reports:

"The Prime Minister has moved to reassure Armed Forces chiefs by pledging that the Treasury will increase defence spending above inflation from 2015, even as it cuts other Whitehall departments' budgets."

Lucky troops eh? Now, how about those other public sector workers?


Times are hard for Britain's top fascists - from the Huffington Post UK:

"British National Party leader Nick Griffin once fed his family with a roadkill rabbit, he told supporters, as he urged them to sell scrap metal to fund the cash-strapped far-right party.

"In a rambling speech at the party's National Conference in Coventry this week, reported by University of Nottingham academic Dr Matthew Goodwin, Griffin vowed his party would overcome Nigel Farage's Ukip, which is a 'stinking mess of corruption and nepotism.'"


The Tory-Lib Dem coalition isn't the only coalition that's in a spot of bother. The 'Coalition for Marriage (C4M)' is under attack from its own supporters - well, perhaps they were never supporters to begin with. My colleague Ned Simons reports:

"A campaign group set up to fight gay marriage has been accused of misleading voters by suggesting MPs support the campaign when they do not.

"Sarah Newton, the Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth, said leaflets distributed by the Coalition for Marriage (C4M) used a photo of her without her permission.

"Newton told The Huffington Post UK that the leaflets, which say gay marriage could lead to legalised polygamy, had offended a considerable number of her constituents and led them to believe she was behind them."


Did Cameron tell the SNP to "f**k off" at PMQs yesterday? Watch the video and decide for yourself.


"In another small victory for the Unionist cause, the Electoral Commission has rejected Alex Salmond's proposed question for the imminent referendum on Scotland's future. Instead of his favoured wording – "Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?", which carries a cynical presumption of consent – the question will be: "Should Scotland be an independent country?" This leaves unstated the fact that the United Kingdom would thereby be ripped apart. But it also avoids weasel words about giving Holyrood permission to open negotiations. When they cast their votes in 2014, Scots will have no doubt about what is at stake."


So, Dave agrees to visit a food bank in his constituency during yesterday's PMQs - after weeks of being taunted on the issue by Labour MPs - and then his aides go and mess it all up.

As the Guardian reports:

"Downing Street has risked causing widespread offence by claiming there should be no need for food banks because benefit payments are high enough to pay for such essentials.

"Speaking after Cameron's announcement at the weekly prime minister's questions session in the House of Commons, a source said food banks were to be welcomed as an example of 'the big society'.

"But she added: 'Benefit levels are set at a level where people can afford to eat. If people have short-term shortages, where they feel they need a bit of extra food, then of course food banks are the right place for that. But benefits are not set at such a low level that people can't eat.'"

Don't you just love it when the millionaires of the coalition, via their well-heeled spads, lecture the working and workless poor? Come back Andy Coulson, all is forgiven...


From the Times sketch:

"We were graced at PMQs with the presence of George Galloway, the gorgeous one, formerly the man in the red catsuit but now the MP for Respect.

"... Mr Galloway began: 'Will the Prime Minister adumbrate ... ' An MP cried: 'You're never here!' Another added: 'Who is this guy?' But George, who has a genius for rhetoric, had all listening in silence as he added: ' ... the key differences between the hand-chopping, throat-cutting jihadists fighting the dictatorship in Mali that we are now to help to kill, and the equally bloodthirsty jihadists that we are giving money, matériel and political and diplomatic support in Syria? Have you read Frankenstein, and did you read it to the end?' You could feel the venom as Dave arose: 'Some things come and go but there is one thing that is certain: wherever there is a brutal Arab dictator in the world, he will have your support!' Chop! The entire Chamber cheered."

Hmm. What's worse - GG's rhetorical support for dictators such as Assad or DC's diplomatic and military support for dictators such as the Saudi and Bahraini kings?


Britain and Algeria could work together to respond to any future hostage crisis, under a deal unveiled by David Cameron. The prime minister said a new security partnership could see greater intelligence-sharing to tackle al Qaida-linked extremism and joint planning for major incidents.

The plans emerged as Cameron became the first UK premier to visit the North African country for 50 years when he arrived on Wednesday.

In a further sign of the increased importance being attached to the relationship, MI6 chief Sir John Sawers and National Security Adviser Sir Kim Darroch have also joined the trip. The plans emerged as Mr Cameron became the first UK premier to visit the North African country for 50 years when he arrived on Wednesday.


From HuffPost's Jason Linkins: "In the real world of actual human life and interaction, there are a lot of things to look forward to in the next four years. There are birthdays and graduations and some Olympics and a World Cup and a new Justin Timberlake album and a third season of Sherlock where we'll finally find out how (SPOILER) the titular character pulled off that staged suicide -- gads, it is just maddening!

"In the world of politics, however, there is only the 2016 election to look forward to and right now, Hillary Clinton is just ruining everything! She's all, "Guys, I think I'm just going to chillax for a while after being secretary of state," but this is so selfish because people are waiting for her to declare her intention to run for the White House and can brook no delay."

"She has "frozen the field" for 2016 -- which is a fancy way of saying that everyone else who is thinking about running for president can't say or do anything about it until she either puts up or shuts up."


From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42

Conservatives 33

Lib Dems 10

Ukip 7

That would give Labour a majority of 96.


@markos Federal spending falls, economic growth stalls. Once again, GOP (and Beltway CW) myth of austerity exposed.

@robindbrant no freebies for whisky drinking chancellor ken after he refers to 'that guy from diageo'. ceo paul walsh, worlds biggest whisky distiller.

‏@BBCNormanS Defence Sec Philip Hammond on UK military intervention in Mali..."I can't tell you it won't grow."


Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, says: "Britain's ability to offer sanctuary is being stifled by a home secretary eager to back up her tough talk on human rights."

From Steve Richards in The Independent: "Why fixed terms parliaments are a nightmare for leaders and a gift for rebel MPs."

Rafael Behr in the New Statesman: "The Tories are blinded by rage against the Lib Dems, while Labour’s cold fury is thawing."

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