Mehdi's Morning Memo: Did Clegg And Cable Know?


The ten things you need to know on Friday 8 March 2013...


They may like to think they occupy the moral high ground but those Lib Dems know how to do a scandal, don't they? Former cabinet minister Chris Huhne has already pleaded guilty to perverting the course of justice over his speeding points and, yesterday, Chris Huhne's ex-wife Vicky Pryce was found guilty too. ("The Price of Vengeance," splashes the Mail; "The Pryce of Revenge," splashes the Telegraph).

But here's the key bit: as the Daily Mail reports, "senior Liberal Democrats were dragged into the Chris Huhne scandal last night amid sensational claims that... Pryce confided in them two years ago".

'Did Clegg and Cable know?' is the headline in the Daily Express, which reports:

"Detectives uncovered explosive evidence suggesting that senior Lib Dems including Mr Clegg's wife Miriam and Business Secretary Vince Cable could have been in on the secret.

"They found emails from Huhne's ex-wife Vicky Pryce, saying she admitted the deception to Mr Cable, Mrs Clegg and others.

"... One, written in April 2011, claims she confided in Mr Cable and his wife saying she had 'told Vince and Rachel about points'.

"... Referring to the Deputy Prime Minister, his wife, the Business Secretary and Lib Dem elder statesman Lord Oakeshott, she says: 'Yes, I have told VC, Miriam C, MOak and a few other Lords and others working close to NC.'"

Both the Cleggs and the Cables have released statements denying they had any prior knowledge of the speeding-points story.

Nonetheless, the term "explosive" is also used by the Mirror in its lead editorial: "The guilty verdict on Vicky Pryce is a family tragedy and, for the Lib Dems, a second potentially explosive scandal over who knew what."

And the Sun declares: "The Lib Dems just cannot rid themselves of the stink of scandal."

First Rennard, now Pryce. Victory in Eastleigh suddenly seems so long ago. In fact, in comments made ahead of the Eastleigh by-election but published in House magazine last night, the party president Tim Farron referred (in a positive way!) to Lib Dems as "nutters" and "cockroaches" but warned his colleagues that "the party is in a critical state... We shouldn’t assume our survival is guaranteed".

By the way, did I mention that Liberal Democrats are gathering in Brighton today for their spring conference? You can't beat that for (bad) timing, eh?


Good news for the leader of the Conservative Party - from the Telegraph:

"Conservative Cabinet ministers will not dare to move against David Cameron because they know they would plunge the party back into the turmoil of the 1990s, the Prime Minister's allies have said.

"... Allies of the Prime Minister said they believed that ministers such as Mrs May would run if a vacancy ever arose.

"But they insisted that neither she nor any other senior Cabinet minister would actively try to bring down the Prime Minister, fearing that to do so would repeat the Tory infighting that scarred Sir John Major's government.

"A minister close to Mr Cameron said: 'No one from that generation would move against him, because they know exactly what would happen to the party if they did. They remember the 1990s and all the damage we did to ourselves then.'

"Instead, the minister said, any attempt to oust Mr Cameron would come from younger Tories, including those first elected in 2010."

Bring on Adam Afriyie, eh?


Ukip leader Nigel Farage has a new admirer - from the Huffington Post UK:

"Nigel Farage told Rupert Murdoch at a private London dinner he would form an electoral pact with the Conservative Party if David Cameron quit as prime minister, it has been reported.

"According to the Daily Telegraph, the Ukip leader met the News International chairman for a 'secret' meal on Tuesday, the pair's first meeting, in the wake of the Eastleigh by-election which saw Farage's eurosceptic party push the Tories into third place.

"The newspaper reports that Farage told Murdoch he would work with the Tories to defeat Labour in 2015, as long as the prime minister was no longer the party's leader."


Hey Ed Miliband, how's that new 'progressive' approach to immigration working out for you? And have you mentioned it to your shadow home secretary?

"We won't pay dole to EU migrants for three months, vows Labour," was the headline in last night's Evening Standard; the paper was reporting on Yvette Cooper's dog-whistling speech on immigration yesterday. 'Benefit tourism' is a myth: official figures show that those born abroad are significantly less likely to claim benefits than UK nationals - but Cooper is intent on sounding 'tough'.

"Yvette Cooper may well have promised not to 'enter into an arms race of rhetoric' with the Tories over immigration but Labour's new approach appears designed to ensure that nobody can put a cigarette paper between them."

He adds:

"Cooper also seems to have taken the lesson from Tony Blair's law and order strategy of matching every 'tough' initiative put forward by the Conservatives and, if possible, out-flanking them by proposing a few more practical solutions of your own."

How depressing. Is there no one in public life willing to make the case for immigration?


According to the Times, in a speech today the health secretary Jeremy Hunt will tell "hospital bosses that too many of them are complacent about being 'not bad' and warns them that 'coasting can kill'... Mr Hunt compares NHS hospitals to the failing British Olympic team of years past, when they did not aim to win but were content not to come last."

The paper also reports on how "Harry Cayton, head of the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care, believes that a return of old-fashioned moral concepts is needed in order to guide the NHS out of a malaise and rebuild public confidence after the Mid Staffs scandal."


Watch this 3-minute video of an adorable baby elephant playing in the ocean. Go on. You know you want to.


Bizarre. From the Daily Mail:

"The Tories’ biggest donor of the last decade has held an extraordinary private meeting with Labour to discuss its election strategy.

"Lord Ashcroft, a hate figure for most Labour MPs, held talks with Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander, one of the architects of the party’s 2015 campaign.

"It emerged last month that the peer, a former deputy chairman of the Conservatives who gave the party £10million in funding but stopped donating several years ago, had decided not to give any more after becoming disillusioned with David Cameron’s leadership."


From the Independent:

"The Government's programme of public spending cuts has been marred by short-term thinking, turf wars between departments and perverse decision-making, a committee of MPs said today.

"The Public Accounts Committee said some of the £200bn of cuts made by George Osborne undermined his attempts to boost growth. It lambasts 'silo thinking' by departments who gave no heed to how spending decisions that they made might affect other parts of the Government."

Meanwhile, the Sun reports on the prime minister's 'major speech' on the economy in Keighley yesterday - and the latter's response to his freelancing business secretary:

"Angry David Cameron has slapped down Vince Cable over his 'Plan B' suggestion for more borrowing in a bid to boost puny growth... in a withering put-down for Labour's alternative strategy too, Mr Cameron said: 'There are some people who think we don't have to take all these tough decisions to deal with our debts.

"'And what we need to do is to spend more and borrow more. It's as if they think there's some magic money tree. Well let me tell you a plain truth: there isn't.

"'Changing course would plunge the UK 'back into the abyss', the PM also warned."

Given the coalition is borrowing £212bn more than it had planned to, Dave may have his own 'magic money tree' hidden away somewhere...


Tory ministers have been to invoke the German government's support for a tougher approach to migrants from Bulgaria and Romania - but my colleague Felicity Morse draws our attention to some of the more unsavoury views expressed by that country's interior minister:

"The British government has been accused of 'hiding' behind Germany and a minister with a 'dubious and suspicious record' in a bid to bolster support for blocks on Eastern European immigration."

Hans Peter Friedrich, writes Felicity, "has a controversial history with minorities in Germany, causing outrage a year ago after telling journalists in: 'Islam in Germany is not something supported by history at any point.'"

A spokesperson for Hope Not Hate told her: "Hans Peter Frederich allegedly has a dubious and suspicious record and Britain is hiding behind that. Government scaremongering on Romanians and Bulgarians is deflecting attention from what's going on at home with welfare and the NHS and the economy."


Uh-oh. From the BBC:

"North Korea says it is scrapping all non-aggression pacts with South Korea, closing its hotline with Seoul and shutting their shared border point.

"The announcement follows a fresh round of UN sanctions punishing Pyongyang for its nuclear test last month.

"Earlier, Pyongyang said it reserved the right to a pre-emptive nuclear strike against its 'aggressors'."

Hopefully it's the usual bit of bluster from the crazies in charge of the North Korean dictatorship and not something more serious or significant...


Tories rejoice! The Telegraph reports:

"The birthplace of Baroness Thatcher is finally to have a permanent statue erected in her honour, housed in a museum dedicated to the former prime minister...

"After years of wrangling over the issue, a £200,000 fund-raising project is to begin, half of which will pay for the statue and half for the renovation of the Grantham Museum in Lincolnshire.

"... By taking the decision out of the hands of local politicians, who have spent decades arguing over whether to have a statue, the museum staff hope to unite the town’s residents behind the project."


Tonight I'm interviewing leading climate change sceptic, Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT, at the Oxford Union for a pre-recorded Al Jazeera show. It kicks off at 7.30pm and other contributors include Oxford professor Myles Allen, author and activist Mark Lynas and the Mail on Sunday's David Rose. If you'd like to come along and ask a question from the audience, please email debates@aljazeera.net.


From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 41

Conservatives 32

Lib Dems 11

Ukip 11

That would give Labour a majority of 96.


@DavidWooding That post Eastleigh smirk of satisfaction seems to have vanished from many Lib Dem faces this morning.

@DavidLammy Feel like I've waited all my life for football like this from Spurs."Please Gareth Bale don't stand against me at the next election!" #COYS

@davidwearing Shall we pre-empt the "men's rights" self-pity by pointing out that *every day* is International Men's Day? #IWD


Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "It’s a myth that lazy foreigners are sponging off our welfare state. Our leaders ought to be straight with us."

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, says: "More spending? The coalition may as well build a bridge to the moon."

Jonathan Aitken, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "The mad hubris of us politicians: I know because it brought me down too."

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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