07/03/2013 03:06 GMT | Updated 07/03/2013 03:08 GMT

Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'I've Changed My Mind'

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


Ed Balls has a new and important ally, as the consensus on cuts continues to crack. From the Sun:

"Vince Cable sparked a major Coalition rift over Government spending plans last night.

"The Business Secretary suggested Britain should borrow MORE to boost the economy — just as the Prime Minister vows to 'stick to the course'.

"The senior Lib Dem openly questioned George Osborne's wobbly growth strategy by calling for increased spending on infrastructure projects. He said the Chancellor's recently announced extra £5billion for roads and building schemes would have 'little effect'.

"... In an article for the leftwing New Statesman magazine, Mr Cable said the £5billion Mr Osborne unveiled in December was not enough.

"He wrote: 'In the short run it has little effect on demand. One obvious question is why capital investment cannot now be greatly expanded.'

He asked 'whether the Government should borrow more at current very low interest rates'.

"No 10 aides said last night Mr Cable was isolated and other Lib Dem ministers including Nick Clegg back the PM's refusal to borrow more."

You can read the full Cable essay, all 3,000+ words of it, here, his "biggest challenge" yet to the PM's authority, in the words of the Independent.

From David Cameron's perspective, the timing of the business secretary's anti-austerity intervention is as bad as its tone and content. The prime minister will give a major speech on the economy in Yorkshire today and the Daily Mail reports:

"David Cameron will today ignore calls from Vince Cable to increase borrowing - and say Britain must stick to its deficit reduction programme or risk being plunged 'back into the abyss'.

"The Prime Minister plans to use a major pre-Budget speech to declare there are increasing signs that the Government's economic policy is 'beginning to work'."

Really? A double dip recession, a collapse of consumer confidence and the loss of our triple-A credit rating is evidence of austerity policies "beginning to work"? If so, I'd hate to think what "not working" looks like...


Theresa May and Philip Hammond may seem to be on leadership manoeuvres, but their fellow right-winger in the cabinet, Chris Grayling, is standing by the PM - from the Times splash:

"A plot to push for an EU referendum before the next election has been discussed by Tory MPs in a move designed to destabilise the coalition.

"The prospects of an early end to the coalition and of a possible challenge to David Cameron's leadership were discussed at a private dinner last week, which included leading figures from the Right of the party. Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary who was a guest, had to intervene to 'calm down' fellow MPs, warning that it would be madness for Mr Cameron's position to be challenged."

The paper adds:

"David Davis, the former shadow home secretary; Liam Fox, the former Defence Secretary; and John Redwood, the former Cabinet minister, attended the dinner in Westminster last week. Bernard Jenkin, the chairman of the Public Administration committee, was also there. It is understood that about a dozen MPs were present."

The Mail, meanwhile, says: "Theresa May is emerging as a ‘Stop Boris’ candidate for the Tory leadership if the party fails to win the next election."

Watch your back, Dave...


Yesterday was Ed Miliband's party political broadcast/mea culpa on immigration - you can read my response, castigating politicians who kowtow to ill-informed 'concerns' over immigrants, here.

Today's Independent reports:

"Ed Miliband's tougher stance on immigration does not mean Labour is shifting to the right and trying to outbid the Conservatives, Yvette Cooper will insist today.

"The Shadow Home Secretary will continue Labour's repositioning on the sensitive issue by saying that the party should have been 'ready to talk about problems' but now knows 'that needs to change'. She will acknowledge that the impact of migration must be properly managed so that it is 'fair for all'.

"In a speech, Ms Cooper will insist: 'We won't enter an arms race of rhetoric on immigration - and we hope the Prime Minister won't either.'"

But it might be too late for that. As the Mail gleefully reports:

"Labour will concede today that it supports a migrant cap introduced by the Government.

"Just months ago, the Opposition claimed that the limit on highly skilled workers was the 'worst of all worlds', doing little to control immigration and hurting scientific research and business. However, today Miss Cooper will admit the cap has not been harmful - and that a Labour government would support 'sensible' Coalition policies."

Hmm. There's nothing 'sensible' about an arbitrary cap on the number of migrants, highly-skilled or otherwise, coming into the country. Nor is there anything 'sensible' about Labour fighting the immigration battle on the Tories' terrain.


It isn't just Yvette Cooper grabbing headlines this morning; so too is another leading light of the 'Labour right'. From the Times:

"A senior Labour frontbencher has attacked the party's 'lazy' attitude and its 'sense of entitlement' towards winning the next election.

"Speaking after his party came fourth in last week's Eastleigh by-election, Jim Murphy, the Shadow Defence Secretary, said that it had deserved the result after failing to put in the hard graft needed on the doorstep. "It's not an Eastleigh problem, it's a wider problem," he said. 'It's lazy Labour.' As Ed Miliband this week admitted that Labour had got it 'wrong' on immigration and signalled a shift in policy, Mr Murphy warned that the leader's One Nation message was not yet showing any sign of translating into votes. Winning seats in the South of England is a key plank of the party's election strategy for 2015, and the Eastleigh result casts doubt over its ability to do so.

"Mr Murphy, a Blairite who managed the leadership campaign of Mr Miliband's brother, David, voiced fears that Labour would become a pariah in the South just as the Conservatives were in Scotland. 'There are youngsters who weren't born when Mrs Thatcher was around who still would never vote Tory because of Thatcher,' he said in an interview with the New Statesman. 'That's not a journey we can afford to take in the South.'"


From the Independent:

"Hundreds of thousands of red-shirted Chavistas filled the streets of Caracas yesterday to honour Venezuela's dead President, Hugo Chavez.

"Against a backdrop of billboards and graffiti honouring Mr Chavez, people massed on roofs, while the crowds below them roared: 'Chavez vive! La lucha sigue!' ('Chavez lives, the struggle continues'). Others wept or prayed for the man known as Corazon del Pueblo, 'the heart of the people'."

The right-wing papers do their best to paint Chavez in the most negative possible light: "He was Caracas!" screams the Sun, which highlights his "odd talk show Alo Presidente... full of ranting".

The Times claims "the Chávez family has amassed a fortune of about $2 billion since he was elected President in 1999 and says the late president had "a number of mistresses".

The Guardian, however, in its leader column, comes to 'El Comandante's' rescue:

"Was Hugo Chávez a great man? Ask the crowds weeping in the streets of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities and towns yesterday, and the answer would be yes... The truth is that there was indeed something of greatness about Chávez. The sweep of his ambitions, the extraordinary way he set his sights on the presidency and then achieved it, the determination to transform Venezuelan society which he showed from the beginning, and his attempt to forge a regional and global network, revealed a man with very big ideas... What even his harshest critics could not dispute was that Chávez genuinely cared about the poor. He had a big heart, and he will leave a big hole in the hearts of millions of poor and ordinary folk not only in Venezuela but elsewhere in Latin America, and beyond."


Watch this video of why you should never try and climb over a fence at a rock concert...


Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, the first since Eastleigh, was a particularly lively and feisty affair yesterday - the Guardian's sketchwriter Simon Hoggart writes:

"Ed Miliband went for the bankers, by the curious but successful means of imitating himself. He had had, he said, a letter from John of east London. This is normally the precursor to a letter from an elderly man who now can't provide a bed for his soldier son when he's home on leave. Or some such. 'John is worried about what is happening to his living standards. His salary is £1m and he is worried that under proposed EU regulations his bonus may be capped at £2m. Will the PM tell us what he is going to do for John?' Cameron said he would take no lessons from 'the croupier who was in the casino when it all went bust!' But the gag had hit home, and Labour MPs, morose after Eastleigh, cheered madly, especially when Miliband pointed out that while the casino was relaxing its controls, the Tories were demanding even fewer regulations."

Cameron's use of the term "croupier" is picked up on by Times sketchwriter Ann Treneman, who writes:

"It is clear that David Cameron and his chums have been burning the midnight oil before PMQs. 'Come on guys,' said Dave, 'I need a new name for the opposition leader. Something insulting.'

"Everyone looked blank. 'How about 'geek'?' someone offered.

"Dave looked disgusted. Honestly, he thought to himself, it's a good thing that I used to be in marketing. His eye alighted on his tuxedo, hanging on the door, for he likes to keep his tails handy as they remind him of Eton and the good old days.

'I've got it!' he shouted, high-fiving himself. 'Croupier!'"

Treneman adds: "I tried to imagine Ed Miliband in tails and could only see a tall, geeky penguin."


That embargo on arms to the Syrian rebels is starting to look a bit sieve-like. From the Huffington Post:

"Britain is to supply armoured vehicles and body armour to Syrian opposition forces as it steps up efforts to end a humanitarian crisis of 'catastrophic proportions', William Hague has said.

"The Foreign Secretary said he had ordered 'more active efforts' after securing a relaxation of an EU arms embargo to allow the provision of non-lethal military equipment to protect civilians."

I suspect this is the only beginning and I can't help but agree with shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander: "Today's statement by the Foreign Secretary raises more questions than it answers about the most effective way to bring the violence in Syria to an end.

"Syria today is replete with arms. The priority for the British Government should be to work to unify the Syrian opposition, not to arm it."


From the Guardian:

"Some of the Britain's most acclaimed authors and playwrights including Stephen Fry, Sir Tom Stoppard, William Boyd, Margaret Drabble, Ian McEwan and Sir Salman Rushdie have called on the main party leaders to honour their pledge and implement a defamation bill aimed at transforming 170-year-old laws they say have silenced scientists and authors as well as journalists and activists.

"In an open letter, the authors tell David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband they are 'deeply concerned' that the bill is going to be killed off after three years going through the legislative process simply because it had become entangled in a political row over the Leveson report on press regulation in the past month.

"... Writer Gillian Slovo, daughter of the anti-apartheid leader Joe Slovo, told the Guardian: 'It would be a terrible thing if the bill was killed, not because it isn't supported by all three parties, because it is, but because it became entangled in Leveson. It would be a great loss.'"


Hats off to 'Tea Party' senator and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, son of Ron, for his principled opposition to US drone strikes - from the Huffington Post:

"Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced on the Senate floor Wednesday he intended to filibuster the nomination of John Brennan as director of the CIA, citing concerns about President Barack Obama's policy on civil liberties.

"'I will speak until I can no longer speak,' Paul said.

"Paul, an outspoken libertarian, pointed to what he called the abuses of executive power and civil liberties under Obama's administration. In particular, he objected to the contents of a letter he received from Attorney General Eric Holder that asserted the U.S. government had the legal authority to kill a U.S. citizen on American soil.

"... Paul started his filibuster speech around 11:45 a.m.... Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took to the floor at about 4:45 p.m. to try to invoke cloture on the Brennan nomination to allow the vote to happen Wednesday night. Sen. Paul (R-Ky.) said he would be happy to vote, but that he hasn't gotten the answer he wanted, and therefore objected to holding the vote."


From the Sun:

"Boris Johnson has agreed to a major BBC film about his life — sparking fresh speculation he is ready to go for the Tory crown.

"The ambitious London mayor has given legendary documentary maker Michael Cockerell rare behind-the-scenes access.

Mop-haired BoJo, 48, talks openly about his rivalry with PM David Cameron.

"He reveals it goes back to their schooldays at posh Eton, when Boris, who is two years older than Mr Cameron, was the senior pupil.

"... A source close to the BBC2 film, which airs on March 25, called it 'revealing' and 'candid'."


"The Home Secretary shakes her head," Ed Miliband declared at PMQ's yesterday, after joking that the Tories were preparing for life out of government after 2015. "I am looking forward to facing you when the Tories are in Opposition!" Now there's an unlikely endorsement for Theresa May...


From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 41

Conservatives 31

Ukip 12

Lib Dems 11

That would give Labour a majority of 110.


@D_Blanchflower DC "signs of progress just beginning of a long hard road to a better Britain" -0.3% GDP & loss AAA not progress LOL

@Mike_Fabricant Surreal moment in the Commons earlier. Backbencher Gordon Brown arguing with minister Andrew Robathan. 2 Lab MPs donuting the 'great man'

@jeremyscahill OK. Don King is on CNN discussing Hugo Chavez. Time to call it a night.


Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, says: "Now the Tories see the reality of public-spending cuts - and they don't like it."

Martin Kettle, writing in the Guardian, says: "Chávez will continue to inspire – but not in Europe."

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Spectator, refers to: "How George Osborne ran out of ideas."

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