Mehdi's Morning Memo: Nuclear North Korea

The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 12 February 2013...


As we approach the tenth anniversary of the war with a country that turned out not to have WMD, North Korea has celebrated by reminding us that they actually do.

Pyongyang has sparked alarm around the world by testing a nuclear bomb. The reclusive communist state has confirmed it has successfully conducted a third underground nuclear test, defying UN orders to stop building atomic weapons.

Foreign Secretary William Hague "strongly condemned" the move, calling it a "violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions".

UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon said the test was "a clear and grave violation" of UN security council resolutions.

Responding to the news, Hague said: "North Korea's development of its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities poses a threat to international and regional security. Its repeated provocations only serve to increase regional tension, and hinder the prospects for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula."


Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is due to meet food industry representatives for the second time in a week to discuss the horsemeat crisis. The European Union has also called a summit to discuss the issue as the scandal spreads across the continent.

Paterson did not appear to impress when he updated MPs on the crisis in the Commons yesterday. Fortunately, or unfortunately, for him, he will have a second chance today after Labour called a debate.

"The barking, staccato, manner of Owen Paterson is irresistibly reminiscent of that of Basil Fawlty," says Donald Macintyre in the Independent. "He was beginning to sound like a failing comedian desperate to get the audience onside," writes Simon Hoggart in the Guardian. "At one point he attempted what I think of as the Any Questions defence, which is to make a ringing yet meaningless declaration."


From the Telegraph:

"In the age of 24-hour news, email and Twitter, few announcements of state are kept a secret before they are made, even fewer have the power to make the world stop in disbelief.

"But Monday morning a declaration in Latin, delivered in a faltering voice to 50 cardinals in Rome, stopped millions of people in their stride as Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff for 600 years to resign."

The Telegraph says that "Cardinal Peter Turkson, of Ghana, could become the first black pope after being named as one of the early front-runners by bookmakers".

Meanwhile, as the tributes to Benedict XVI flood in, it's worth checking out the stinging piece in the Independent by the human-rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC, who says the Pope's resignation is "merely expedient": "It would have been both astonishing and courageous, a few years ago, had it been offered in atonement for the atrocity to which he had for 30 years turned a blind eye - the rape, buggery and molestation of tens of thousands of small boys in priestly care."


Whatever happened to Dave's EU speech poll bounce? From the Guardian:

"Labour has forged a 12-point lead over the Conservatives for the first time in almost a decade, according to a Guardian/ICM poll.

"Ed Miliband's party stands at 41% of the vote, up three points on ICM's January figure, and the Tories are on just 29%, having slipped back four from 33% last month.

"... The Labour lead is the biggest - and the Conservative vote share the smallest - in the polling series since May 2003, during the brief political bounce for Tony Blair which came between the felling of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad and first stirrings of civil war in Iraq and arguments about dodgy dossiers."

But what will concern Cameron most is this bit:

"Underlying the dire numbers for the Conservatives are signs of a gender divide that will concern No 10. Among men Labour enjoys a seven-point lead over the Tories (36%-29%), but among women the gap is 26 points (51%-25%)."


From the Guardian:

"The Queen has topped the first ever power list put together by BBC Radio 4 show Woman's Hour, but there is no room on it for her daughter-in-law the Duchess of Cambridge.

"She was joined in the top five on the list of the country's most powerful women by home secretary Theresa May, Santander boss Ana Botin, supreme court judge Baroness Brenda Hale and businesswoman Elisabeth Murdoch.

"... Other names in the top 20 include the founders of Mumsnet, Justine Roberts and Carrie Longton, the new head of the TUC, Frances O'Grady, and JK Rowling."

I don't know what's more depressing - that the number 1 slot in a list of the most powerful women in the UK in 2013 is considered to be a person who inherited her job from her father or that the biggest talking point in the papers is why her daughter-in-law, an unelected princess, didn't make the list?


Watch this video of a baby monkey playing with a Bernese mountain dog.


Tonight Barack Obama will do what he does best - give a speech.

From the Independent: "An emboldened Barack Obama will serve notice to his foes on Capitol Hill tonight that he means to get his own way in his second term and deliver on promises to spur growth and tackle tricky issues ranging from climate change to guns, immigration and nuclear arms.

"The annual State of the Union Address gives Mr Obama the opportunity to lay down markers for his entire second four-year term. He is certain to emphasise giving the still-sluggish recovery much-needed oomph with new spending initiatives, such as on education, clean energy and infrastructure."

But Republicans in Congress could block it all; the FT's leader notes: "The key difference between State of the Union addresses and the Queen's Speech to the opening of the UK parliament is that the US president's is usually just a wish list."

On a side note, as the Indy notes, "almost more anticipated than Mr Obama's speech tonight is the traditional Republican rebuttal. This time it will come from Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, regarded by some as a future saviour of the Republican Party and possible 2016 presidential candidate."


From the BBC: "Barclays has said it will cut 3,700 jobs following a strategic review. That includes 1,800 jobs at its investment bank and 1,900 in European retail and business banking."

Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Barclays chief executive Anthony Jenkins admitted: "It will take years before people actually change their impression of us." You can say that again...


From the Guardian:

"The court of appeal will on Tuesday judge whether government employment schemes constitute forced labour and if tens of thousands of unemployed people will still be entitled to compensation after being wrongly sanctioned by the Department of Work and Pensions.

In a 50-page ruling last August judge Justice Foskett dismissed claims by two jobseekers that the government's back-to-work schemes amounted to "forced labour". Lawyers acting for the government and two unemployed complainants returned to the courts in December to appeal different aspects of the findings.

Geology graduate Cait Reilly was made to work in Poundland unpaid while Jamieson Wilson, an unemployed lorry driver, was left destitute after the DWP stripped him of all benefits when he refused to work for free for six months under a new trial programme."

The decision is expected at 10am.


David Cameron has failed to give assurances that his proposals for press regulation will be "fully compliant" with Lord Justice Leveson's recommendations, campaign group Hacked Off said yesterday. The prime minister met Hacked Off directors Brian Cathcart and Evan Harris ahead of the publication of the "Royal Charter", which will set out the Conservative party's plans in the wake of the Leveson Report.

Gerry McCann, the father of Madeleine McCann, has warned Cameron that a “permanent stain” would be left on the government if it failed to reform the press.

The plans for a Royal Charter have also been criticised for actually bringing in more state control than the Leveson proposals. Tory peer Lord Fowler told HuffPost UK in January that Cameron would "look absurd" if he argued for a charter over the Leveson report.


Ed Balls has warned Ed Miliband not to be “stupid” and allow Labour to be seen as the “anti-referendum” party on Europe. In an interview with the Yorkshire Post, the shadow chancellor said: "As long as we don’t allow ourselves to be caricatured as an anti-referendum party, which we’re not – we’ve absolutely not ruled out a referendum – I personally think that for now this is quite a comfortable position for us.

“If we allow ourselves either to be the ‘status quo party’ on Europe, or the ‘anti-referendum party’ on Europe, then we’ve got a problem."


From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 42

Conservatives 31

Lib Dems 11

Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

From the new Guardian/ICM poll:

Labour 41

Conservatives 29

Lib Dems 11

Ukip 9

That would give Labour a majority of 112.


@SophyRidgeSky I'll be taking part in the Rehab pancake race this morning - where political journos take on MPs and peers

@benedictbrogan My column from today's @Telegraph: The voters know it’s a hard road, but they won’t want to turn back http://soc.li/AwetlDQ

@steverichards14 Today's column: Horsemeat: Regulation doesn’t taste so bad now, does it?

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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