Mehdi's Morning Memo: Who Will Rid Me Of This Turbulent Priest?

The ten things you need to know on Sunday 10 March 2013...


Ministers may have been pleased to see the back of the outspoken, anti-austerity, left-wing Rowan Williams and the appointment of Old Etonian, ex-banker Justin Welby as the new archbishop of Canterbury. Justin, unlike Rowan, would be on side, right? Or at least keep his mouth shut on sensitive political issues?

"In his most significant political intervention since taking office, the Most Rev Justin Welby has warned that 'children and families will pay the price' if plans to change the benefits system go ahead in their current form.

"Mr Welby and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, have backed a letter to The Sunday Telegraph written by 43 bishops who say the benefits cuts will have a 'deeply disproportionate' effect on children.

"The move will come as a blow to Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, who is attempting to steer the reforms through Parliament."

The paper quotes Welby as saying:

“As a civilised society, we have a duty to support those among us who are vulnerable and in need. When times are hard, that duty should be felt more than ever, not disappear or diminish. It is essential that we have a welfare system that responds to need and recognises the rising costs of food, fuel and housing.


“Politicians have a clear choice. By protecting children from the effects of this Bill, they can help fulfil their commitment to end child poverty.”

Over to you, IDS...


It isn't just the new archbishop who doesn't like austerity. Nor does the great British public. With less than a fortnight till the Budget, the Observer's Opinium poll couldn't come at a worse time for the chancellor of the exchequer:

"A majority of people now believe that the government's economic policies are hurting rather than healing the British economy, a new poll reveals, as cabinet divisions over how best to stimulate a return to growth threaten to destabilise the coalition.

"With 10 days until George Osborne delivers his crucial fourth budget, an Opinium/Observer poll shows almost three times as many voters (58%) believe the austerity drive is harming the economy as those who think it is the correct medicine to restore it to health (20%)."

"... Even among Tory voters, only 55% thought the government's economic policies were benefiting the country. Among Lib Dem backers, just 24% thought they were helping to restore the economy."


Dave and Gideon must grimace each time (former) Tory donor Lord Ashcroft produces one of his 'big' polls of marginal seats - from the Sunday Times:

"The latest research by Lord Ashcroft, the Tory grandee, suggests Conservative MPs in marginal seats are in grave peril, with the vast majority likely to be ousted at the next election.

"The research, based on interviews with more than 19,000 voters in 213 constituencies across Britain, suggests Labour is on course to win 93 of the 109 most marginal Tory constituencies, securing an overall majority of 84 seats.

"The findings fuelled the increasingly febrile atmosphere in the parliamentary party, with a number of backbenchers privately warning of a potential challenge this year orchestrated by a rump of MPs implacably opposed to his leadership."

In fact, the Sunday Times lead editorial, on Ashcroft's poll, is headlined: "Cameron's drift towards defeat." That'll make for pleasant reading over the Downing Street breakfast table...


So, who might replace Cameron? It's question that gets lobby correspondents very, very excited.

There is, reports the Sunday TImes, "mounting speculation that Theresa May, the home secretary, has set her sights on becoming party leader. At a conference of the party faithful yesterday, May delivered a rousing and nakedly political speech that went well beyond her home affairs brief.

"She strayed into other cabinet portfolios, floating a series of policies designed to boost industry and proposing radical public service reforms.

"'We can feel sorry for ourselves, or we can dust ourselves down, remember what we're doing is in the national interest and get on with the job,' May for declared. Several of those in attendance said her speech sounded like a leadership platform.

"In an interview with The Sunday Times, Maria Miller, the culture secretary, backed May as a potential future leader, saying she had 'fantastic credentials' for the top job.

"'She's absolutely demonstrated her ability to be able to get a clear grip on some of the biggest problems this country faces,' Miller said."

Dave may want to have a quiet chat with Theresa and Maria before this all gets out of hand...


As we approach the tenth anniversary of our misadventure in Mesopotamia, yet more evidence emerges to suggest that Tony Blair had always planned to join Dubya in attacking Iraq, regardless of dossiers, inspectors, UN resolutions and the rest.

From the Sunday Telegraph splash:

"Stephen Hadley, Mr Bush’s deputy national security adviser, said that at a private meeting between the prime minister and the US president almost a year before the invasion was launched, 'Mr Blair said that if it came to it, then at the end of the day, he would be with us if we had to move militarily against Saddam Hussein'.

"He said that during the meeting at Crawford in April 2002, the position spelt out by Mr Blair was, 'I am with you to see this through to the end.'

The paper also quotes our former ambassador to Washington DC, red-socked Sir Christopher Meyer, describing TB as having a view of the world “more evangelical than the American Christian Right”.


As it's Mother's Day, have a watch this video: "Why Being A Mum Is The Best Job In The World... Maybe."


From the BBC:

"The Lib Dems are no longer a party of protest but are instead a party of government, leader Nick Clegg is set to tell their spring conference.

"Victory in Eastleigh debunks 'the myth' that being in coalition has undermined the party's identity and ability to fight the Tories, Mr Clegg will say.

"And he will hit out at critics who wrote 'political obituaries'."

Perhaps the deputy PM should have a look at the Opinium poll in the Observer (below), which puts his party on 8%, behind Ukip on more than double that (17%).

On a side note, the Sun on Sunday reports:

"Nick Clegg praised shamed Chris Huhne yesterday — hours before he faces jail.

"The Deputy PM hailed the ex-energy secretary as an 'outstanding' MP.

"And the Lib Dem leader even called him a 'very effective' minister at a rally ahead of the party’s spring conference in Brighton."


Not all Lib Dems are proud of the party's record in government. From the Observer:

"One of the country's leading human rights barristers is to resign her membership of the Liberal Democrats to express her outrage over the coalition government's backing for secret courts.

"Dinah Rose QC successfully represented the British-resident Guantánamo detainee, Binyam Mohamed, in his battle to establish that British intelligence services were complicit in his 'cruel and inhuman' treatment by the United States.

"Citing her experience of secret hearings, she described Nick Clegg's support for the government's justice and security bill as a betrayal of the party's guiding principles.

"Rose said her decision to resign had not been 'taken lightly or without great sadness'. She told the Observer: 'The very first sentence of the Liberal Democrats' constitution states that they exist to build a 'fair, free, and open society'. The vote in favour of secret courts is an attack on the heart and soul of the party.'"


He has the backing of the prime minister, the sitting Tory health secretary and four former Labour health secretaries but can NHS boss Sir David Nicholson survive the blizzard of never-ending, negative headlines?

"Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of the National Health Service, is likely to face fresh calls to resign over new allegations of a cover-up at a hospital trust where up to 16 babies and two mothers may have died because of poor care.

"Parents of babies who died at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust (UHMBT) claim the tragedies are a mirror image of the Mid Staffordshire scandal in which 1,200 patients died.

"... Police are investigating the deaths. Health ministers have also ordered an independent inquiry, to be held in public, into the deaths and the attempts to cover them up."

Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday reports:

"A former Labour Cabinet Minister broke ranks last night and disowned Tony Blair’s government for the ‘reckless’ NHS shake-up blamed for the Mid-Staffordshire hospitals scandal."

"Frank Dobson, Health Secretary from 1997-99, said he warned Mr Blair that a ‘mad rush’ to bring in more competition and targets in hospitals could harm patients. But Mr Blair ignored him and gave his Cabinet job to a crony who agreed to force through the changes."


Last week I wrote about how politicians need to show leadership on immigration and, rather than blindly following public opinion, should try to educate and enlighten the misinformed members of the UK electorate.

I guess Ed Miliband disagrees. "We will listen to YOUR fears on migrants," is the headline to the Labour leader's piece on immigration in - where else? - the Murdoch-owned, anti-immigration Sun on Sunday.

"It is not wrong or prejudiced to worry about immigration," writes Miliband. "It is understandable. I want to say something very clearly to Sun readers — the Labour Party I lead will listen to people’s worries and we will talk about immigration."

Let me remind you of the Joey Lucas quote from West Wing that I ended my own piece with:

"You say that these numbers mean dial it down. I say they mean dial it up. You haven't gotten through. There are people you haven't persuaded yet. These numbers mean dial it up. Otherwise you're like the French radical, watching the crowd run by and saying, 'There go my people. I must find out where they're going so I can lead them.'"


From the Mail on Sunday:

"Actor Ray Winstone says he may quit the UK because it has been ‘raped’ by high taxes.

"The former boxer, 56, said: ‘I can see myself leaving. I love this country but I’ve had enough.'

"The actor added: 'I don’t see what we are being given back. I just see the country being raped.’"

Dear Ray, drop me a line if you need directions to the airport...


From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 41

Conservatives 31

Lib Dems 12

Ukip 11

That would give Labour a majority of 110.

From the Observer/Opinium poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 27

Ukip 17

Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 114.


@MattChorley Paddy Ashdown damns Tim Farron with faint praise: 'He is a jolly guy.' Sas he would not have described LibDems as 'cockroachs' #Marr

@politicshomeuk Yvette Cooper says new mothers are set to lose benefits and defends labelling it a tax. "That sounds like a tax to me." #Marr

@Scroobiuspipyo Happy Mothers Day! Enjoy traditional breakfast in bed in honour of when Dad was pulling such moves to get you in this mess in the 1st place.


Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "It’s no mutiny, but the ties of loyalty are unravelling in David Cameron's Cabinet."

William Keegan, writing in the Observer, says: "Ask Macmillan: we need new houses and a new chancellor."

John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "Theresa May in No 10? It's not totally daft."

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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