Mehdi's Morning Memo: Ebacc-Tracked

The ten things you need to know on Thursday 7 February 2013...


Oh look, yet another dramatic and embarrassing coalition U-turn - this time it's being executed by ministerial golden boy and media darling, Michael Gove. The education secretary will announce today that he's dropping his controversial plan to scrap GCSEs in key subjects in England and replace them with an English Baccalaureate Certificate (or 'Ebacc').

The Independent reports: "In a surprise statement in the Commons, Mr Gove will reveal that he is abandoning plans to introduce the new qualification in 2015.

"GCSEs will remain, although they will be reformed in an attempt to restore confidence in them as an internationally respected qualification."

Labour says this is a "humiliating climbdown" from Gove - which, let's be clear, it is - but Her Majesty's opposition might not be able to take the credit for it - the Telegraph says the plan was shelved "because of significant opposition from the Liberal Democrats":

"The Lib Dems are believed to have blocked the move because of high-profile criticism that it would marginalise other disciplines such as the arts and sport."

In fact, as the Indy notes, it is "the second time the Liberal Democrats have forced a retreat by Mr Gove... Last year, Mr Clegg blocked Mr Gove's plans to replace GCSEs with a two-tier exam system that was criticised as a return to O-levels and CSEs."

I guess that's Clegg 2, Gove 0.


As we approach the tenth anniversary of the historic February 2003 demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq, the Huffington Post UK is hosting a public debate tonight at Goldsmiths, University of London, to ask: "Was It Worth It?" Speakers include former cabinet minister Clare Short, Times columnist David Aaronovitch, the Independent's Owen Jones and, er, yours truly. Free tickets here.

HuffPost UK has also commissioned a series of special Iraq features to coincide with the impending anniversary and, of course, tonight's debate:

- "My Uncles Were Executed, My Parents Tortured," Lucy Shepherd speaks to Iraqi student Mohamed Ali al-Badri

By the way, the Twitter hashtag for tonight's debate is #hpiraq10


Having defeated Gove over GCSEs, an increasingly confident Clegg is now going after the chancellor of the exchequer - from the Telegraph:

"The Liberal Democrats want to introduce either a one per cent levy on properties worth more than £2 million, or new council tax bands on expensive homes, the Deputy Prime Minister will say. He suggests the money raised could be used to cut income tax.

"The policy of higher taxes on property is set to become a key issue in the Eastleigh by-election caused by the resignation of former Cabinet minister Chris Huhne. George Osborne, the Chancellor, has already stated his opposition to new property taxes and Mr Clegg’s decision to go public with his demands suggests that Coalition relations will become acrimonious during the by-election campaign."

Indeed they will! Incidentally, the by-election date has been set for 28 February.


David Cameron can tick gay marriage off his to-do list but today he'll turn his attention back to that other big 'divisive' Tory issue: Europe. From the BBC:

"European Union leaders are due to begin a two-day summit in Brussels to try to strike a deal on the next seven years of EU spending.

"... They failed to reach a compromise at a similar summit last November.

"... Downing Street said on Wednesday that Prime Minister David Cameron was intent on seeking an agreement to lower EU spending."

If he doesn't secure such an agreement, the gay marriage rebels will probably morph back into EU rebels. Good luck, Dave!


Tory austerity policies have failed and Ed Balls has been vindicated but some senior Labour figures still aren't happy.

The Sun reports:

"Ed Miliband's policy chief last night warned Labour must come up with an alternative policy to cut the country's deficit — or face the 'despair' of voters.

"Jon Cruddas said simply opposing the Government's plans 'is no good' and 'fails to offer reasonable hope' to ordinary people.

"The Dagenham MP added: 'The stakes are high because when hope is not reasonable, despair becomes real.'

"Mr Cruddas said Labour faces a 'daunting' task to win back power after their defeat in 2010.

"His speech will be seen as a criticism of Ed Balls' economic strategy."

Oh yes...


Watch the trailer for the latest Bond movie, 'Skyfall', get the 'Honest' treatment. Very, very amusing...


The Evening Standard's Joe Murphy had a rather good story last night about how Tory "ministers and backbenchers" remain "on manoeuvres" in the wake of Tuesday night's deeply divisive gay marriage vote:

"One backbencher told the Evening Standard he was approached within minutes of last night's crunch vote by backers of a potential successor to the Prime Minister.

"'There are both ministers and backbenchers on manoeuvres,' said the MP. 'They are not trying to oust Cameron now, but positioning for a vacancy after the next election. But that could change if things go badly wrong for him.'

"Another MP said: 'Cameron is not under immediate threat but there is no leadership and no narrative. Kids are running Downing Street.'"


Who needs Lord Justice Leveson, eh? From the Telegraph:

"The revelation that the US has been operating a drone base in Saudi Arabia was kept secret by American media organisations for two years.

"... The revelation that the US has been operating a secret drone base in Saudi Arabia for the past two years came after a blackout on reporting agreed by American media and the Obama administration was broken by two US newspapers."

As a result of these reports, says the Guardian, "the pressure on John Brennan, Barack Obama's nominee for CIA director and the architect of the White House strategy on drones, intensified" ahead of his confirmation hearings in the Senate later today.

My view is pretty simple: if you're going to violate basic human rights, and kill your own citizens via remote control, why not use the secret facilities of one of the world's worst violators of human rights, especially when it happens to be a close ally?


RBS is back in the headlines again - and, again, for all the wrong reasons. It isn't just the £390m fine for Libor rate-rigging - it's the banker banter, too. Can the guys and gals at the Royal Bank of Scotland get nothing right? From the Huffington Post UK:

"Following the news of the Royal Bank of Scotland's £400m fine for its role in the London inter bank offer rate (scandal), much laughter has been heard around the city after the regulator published some of the more amusing exchanges between traders.

"...From 15 September 2007:

"Yen Trader 1: can we lower our fixings today please

"Primary Submitter: make your mind up haha , yes no probs

"Yen Trader 1: im like a whores drawers"

But it wasn't just RBS:

"Barclays, which was also hit with a £290 million fine because of its involvement in the Libor scandal, also had its emails investigated...

"In one request for a change to the Libor, a trader said: "Please feel free to say 'no'. Coffees will be coming your way either way, just to say thank you for your help in the past few weeks".

"To which the Barclays submitter responded: 'Done, for you big boy.'"

And to think: some people were saying not long ago that it was time to stop the banker bashing. Oh puh-lease. It's barely begun...


My former New Statesman colleague Jemima Khan has launched what the Times calls a "blistering attack" on WikiLeaks founder (and ex-ally) Julian Assange, in this week's NS.

From the Times:

"Ms Khan, who has defended Mr Assange through his battles with democracies, dictatorships and judges, said that his organisation had gone from speaking truth to power to expecting 'blinkered, cultish devotion'.

"She said that WikiLeaks was now as 'guilty of the same obfuscation and misinformation as it sought to expose'.

"She had, she wrote in the New Statesman, gone on a journey of 'admiration to demoralisation' with Assange."

My favourite part of Jemima's must-read piece is this bit:

"When I told Assange I was part of the We Steal Secrets team, I suggested that he view it not in terms of being pro- or anti-him, but rather as a film that would be fair and would represent the truth... He replied: 'If it’s a fair film, it will be pro-Julian Assange.' Beware the celebrity who refers to himself in the third person."

Hear, hear!


Oh dear. From a story on the front of the Telegraph:

"She is Grantham’s most famous daughter, but when a statue of Baroness Thatcher was offered to the local museum, it was considered by some to be a dubious honour.

"The £150,000 white marble work was famously decapitated by a protester in 2002 but has since been restored.

"Not everyone in her home town is sure they want to honour Britain’s first female prime minister, however, and Grantham Museum is yet to welcome the statue with open arms.

"... One Labour councillor went further, suggesting that displaying a monument to Lady Thatcher in a prominent place could actually be "asking for trouble" and invite further attacks."

Poor Maggie..


"I say to the Prime Minister that he should not get so het up. After all, he has got nearly half his parliamentary party behind him." - Ed Miliband mocks David Cameron at PMQs yesterday.


From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42

Conservatives 31

Lib Dems 12

Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 110.


@sandsstandard Good news that Michael Gove is ditching the E-Bac. London thrives on art, music and design creativity, why cut if off at source?

@rupertmurdoch @CalebRapoport what do I know about hacking? Nothing until about two years ago. One newspaper guilty several years ago. Nothing since.

@afneil Should not the traders at RBS who so clearly fiddled libor not face criminal charges? And the bosses who conspired


Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "David Cameron is trashing his own party, and it’s not a pretty sight."

David Aaronovitch, writing in the Times, says: "Fractious Tories fight their leader and each other, while docile Labour is devoid of a plan. The old politics is dying."

Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, about the Mid Staffordshire NHS scandal, says: "Sometimes money not reform really is the answer."

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

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