04/03/2013 03:04 GMT

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Revolt Of The 'National Union Of Ministers'

The ten things you need to know on Monday 4 March 2013...


From the Times splash:

"David Cameron faced a deepening Cabinet revolt on spending last night after both Vince Cable and Philip Hammond joined the battle against further cuts to departmental budgets.

"As the Prime Minister tried to put the setback of the Eastleigh by-election behind him, it appeared that a greater threat was a growing split within Cabinet before the spending review in June. After an outspoken intervention by the Defence Secretary, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary became the latest to be identified as part of the 'National Union of Ministers' — a Cabinet faction determined to protect their spending against the Treasury’s demand for an extra £10 billion in cuts in 2015-16.

"Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, are among those known to be furious at new demands from George Osborne."

It's worth bearing in mind that none of these ministers have any ideological objections to austerity - they just don't want any cuts to their own departmental budgets. It's a rather shameless form of political and fiscal nimbyism.

The Times adds:

"Dr Cable said that he and other ministers were determined to 'defend our turf'. He even admitted that he was being talked up as the shop steward of the 'NUM'."

Cable-as-Scargill, eh? It's worth mentioning that the Tory members of the 'NUM' want greater cuts to the welfare budget instead - yet, as today's Guardian reports:

"Nearly a quarter of those due to be affected by the so-called 'spare bedroom tax' will be single parents, according to new research.

"Government figures show that 150,000 of the 660,000 people expected to have their benefits reduced because they have at least one unused room are lone parents under 60, Labour claim."

Who inside government is 'revolting' on their behalf?


Meanwhile, the Telegraph splashes on the news that Tory backbenchers want... wait for it... tax cuts!

"A group of Conservative MPs will on Monday publicly warn that a radical change of economic strategy is needed to kick-start the economy with major steps to help businesses and consumers.

"... The Free Enterprise group of Tory MPs will on Monday appear at an event with the Institute of Economic Affairs to set out plans for cuts in business taxes.

"In an article for The Daily Telegraph, Priti Patel, a supporter of the group and member of the Conservative 1922 Committee, calls on the Chancellor to 'wake up' to the harm high taxes are causing."

Isn't it amusing how the backbench Tory answer to almost every major policy question of our time is either 'cut taxes' or 'withdraw from the EU'?


From the BBC website:

"Government plans to clamp down on 'benefit tourism' could see both Britons and immigrants affected by changes to the rules on entitlement.

"Ministers are looking to limit access to benefits, health care and housing when freedom of movement controls on Romanians and Bulgarians end.

"But they believe that to comply with EU laws, any changes may need to apply to both immigrants and some Britons.

"Council housing priority could be given to those with local connections."

From the Tory briefings to the press, you'd never believe, would you, that less than 5% of council house lettings go to foreign nationals and under 1% to east Europeans?

Remember also that official figures show migrants are, in fact, much less likely to claim benefits than the already resident UK population. But don't let facts get in the way of a good, 'populist' policy proposal...


From the Independent's splash:

"Government attacks on human rights legislation were condemned last night as an 'unhinged' betrayal of British values, destined to destroy the country's reputation on the world stage. As the Home Secretary and Justice Secretary separately threatened to draw back from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the party was accused of being in disarray and caving in to the right after its humiliating defeat in the Eastleigh by-election.

"Leading lawyers and human rights advocates said ministers risked making the UK a pariah state alongside Belarus - the only European country that has not signed the European Convention on Human Rights. On a day when David Cameron claimed there would be no 'lurch to the right' in the wake of the Eastleigh result, both Chris Grayling and Theresa May were accused of pandering to the far right of their party.

"In conflicting statements, Mr Grayling indicated the Tories would abolish the Human Rights Act in the UK while it was reported that Ms May wanted a pledge in the next Conservative manifesto to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights altogether."

Interestingly, if Cameron wants to go with the 'Grayling option', he'll have to win over not just the pro-ECHR Lib Dems but also pro-ECHR Tory ministers such as Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve. But at least he'll have the Belarusian ambassador to call on for support...


More bad news for civil libertarians, but good news for the coalition - from the Times:

"A former Lord Chief Justice is backing plans for 'secret trials' after changes by ministers to give control to judges over when closed hearings can be held.

"In a letter to The Times today, Lord Woolf says that the changes to the Justice and Security Bill will ensure that the Government as well as claimants seeking damages will have the 'greatest opportunity to put their case'.

"The Bill goes before MPs tonight for its final stages in the Commons."

The Guardian reports:

"Parliament's joint committee on human rights... denounced the secret courts proposals last Thursday, only to find a new raft of amendments had been introduced by the Cabinet Office since it had agreed its report.

"The committee chair, Hywel Francis, said: 'The bill as drafted does not put in place sufficiently robust safeguards to oversee the exercise of what are very wide-ranging powers.'"


On Friday, the United States celebrated National Peanut Butter Day - watch this video of a bunch of Dalmatians unable to get enough of the stuff...


Oh look, a U-turn - from the Daily Mail:

"The disgrace of Britain’s most senior Roman Catholic was complete last night as Cardinal Keith O’Brien admitted to sexual misconduct.

"... Until a week ago Cardinal O’Brien, 74, had been preparing to help choose the next Pope. But last night he admitted his ‘sexual conduct’ had ‘fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal’."

Er, what about as a human being, Keith? Interestingly, the cardinal claimed, in his statement last night, that "in recent days certain allegations which have been made against me have become public. Initially, their anonymous and non-specific nature led me to contest them."

"Non-specific" allegations, eh? Cardinal Keith O'Brien, meet Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.


Former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell is selling his 'Plebgate' bike to raise money for charity. He doesn't need the money himself - he's a multimillionaire plus, according to the Sun, he's in line for a new, pretty well-remunerated position:

"Andrew Mitchell is in talks with David Cameron over a plum £250,000 job as Britain’s next EU Commissioner.

"The PM invited the former Chief Whip to lunch at his country pad Chequers to clear the air after the Plebgate row.

"And he told Mr Mitchell — who quit after swearing in Downing Street — he was considering him for a top job in Brussels next year.

"The MP yesterday confirmed he had met with Mr Cameron and refused to rule out the move."

If appointed, it'd be a bit of move up in the world from chief whip. Perhaps, in retrospect, Mitchell should thank those Downing Street police officers for getting him so worked up...


Hey Gideon, even the Swiss want a bigger crackdown on executive pay - from the FT's splash:

"European executive pay has come under attack for the second time in less than a week after Swiss voters overwhelmingly backed curbs on corporate wages that snatch the power away from company boards. The move follows Europe-wide steps on Thursday to address top level pay, a lightning rod for global public anger since the financial crisis. EU proposals to cap bankers' bonuses at twice their salary have stunned the City of London, with senior bankers warning that the limit will drive top staff to Asia or New York and eventually prompt a shift in operations from the UK."


The Guardian's splash reminds us that, despite the Human Rights Act and our adherence to the ECHR, we may have already become a 'pariah' state through our alleged complicity in rendition and torture.

The paper reports:

"A Libyan politician who is suing the former foreign secretary Jack Straw and the British government for damages after being kidnapped and taken to one of Gaddafi's jails has offered to settle the case for just £3, providing he also receives an unreserved apology.

"In a challenge to British government claims that a new generation of secret courts is needed to prevent large payouts to claimants in national security cases, Abdel Hakim Belhaj says he will settle the action – through which one other dissident received a £2.2m pay-out – for a pound each from the government, Straw, and Sir Mark Allen, former head of counter-terrorism at MI6."


That's the splash headline on the front of today's Daily Mail:

"Stoicism is what she is known for – and even as the Queen was taken to hospital for the first time in a decade last night, she insisted that there must be ‘no fuss’.

"Despite suffering from debilitating sickness, the 86-year-old refused to allow an ambulance to collect her."

The Mirror points out that "her devotion to duty means we sometimes forget the Queen is 86".

The Mail, the Mirror, the Sun and the Star, as well as the Telegraph, all splash on the Queen's hospital stay - and the BBC reports:

"The Queen is spending a second day in hospital where she is being assessed for symptoms of gastroenteritis.

"She was taken to London's King Edward VII Hospital from Windsor Castle, where she had been resting, on Sunday. It is her first hospital stay in 10 years.

"Buckingham Palace said the Queen, 86, had been admitted as a precaution and was otherwise in 'good health'."

The Mail adds:

"The Queen can also take heart that Britain's tallest policeman is standing guard outside the hospital. At 7ft 2in, Anthony Wallyn, 26, of the Westminster Police Borough Support Unit, was among the officers manning the door.

"PC Wallyn, who has his uniform custom made and imports his size 17 shoes from America, said he was used to the attention his height attracted."


"Churchill must be spinning in his grave as modern Tory Cabinet ministers trash his post-war legacy. They can't even seem to agree on whether it's the Human Rights Act or European Convention they want to scrap." - Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, quoted in the Independent.


From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 42

Conservatives 31

Ukip 11

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 112.


@BenChu_ Do critics of bonus cap not grasp how silly they sound? Claim bankers will get round it, while also warning bankers will be forced to leave

@DanHannanMEP "To tax the larger incomes at a higher percentage than the smaller is to lay a tax on industry and economy." John Stuart Mill

@TomHarrisMP Having a Twitter argument with right wingers who think everyone who rents their home is "homeless". How's that detoxification going, Dave?


Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "The Prime Minister’s neglect of his traditional supporters opened the door for UKIP. Now he has to woo them back."

Boris Johnson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "This cap on bankers’ bonuses is like a dead cat – pure distraction."

John Harris, writing in the Guardian, says: "In Eastleigh and beyond, millions of voters who loathe the establishment tendency to piety are without a voice."

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