Mehdi's Morning Memo: Here Comes The Triple Dip?

The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 13 March 2013...


A week today, the chancellor delivers his budget for 2013. But the economy ain't looking so good for George Osborne, the Conservative Party or, of course, the rest of us.

From the Telegraph:

"Britain is on track for a triple–dip recession, one of the nation's leading forecasters has signalled, as new figures on the UK's manufacturing industry dealt a blow to recovery hopes and sent sterling crashing to a fresh two–and–a–half–year low.

"The economy shrank by 0.1pc in the three months to February, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research estimated, which followed a 0.3pc decline in the final quarter of last year.

"If the economy continues to contract for the three months to the end of March, the UK will officially be in its third recession since the financial crisis of 2008."

The FT's splash is starker:

"Spectre of stagflation returns to haunt UK"

The paper reports: "The prospect of stagflation has returned to the UK, as investors bet on a sharp jump in inflation to its highest level in almost five years... Investor fears that the UK could be hit simultaneously by stagnant growth and high inflation, as experienced in the 1970s, were exacerbated by poor economic data pointing to the probability of another economic contraction in the first quarter of this year."


"Michael Gove challenged Theresa May to stop undermining David Cameron when he spoke out at a meeting on Tuesday of the Conservative political cabinet against prominent Tories who are promoting their leadership credentials.

"In a sign of Downing Street's extreme irritation with the home secretary, who set out her political creed in a wide-ranging speech on Saturday, the education secretary made clear that such interventions played into the hands of opponents.

"... It is understood that Gove did not name May but left the political cabinet in no doubt that he had the home secretary in mind after her high-profile speech at the weekend in which she spoke way beyond her formal brief and set out her thoughts on what she called the three pillars of Conservatism."

The Guardian report adds:

"The rare personal blue-on-blue attack came hours before Tory MPs were given a stern warning by their Australian general election guru, Lynton Crosby, in front of Cameron, to decide whether they want to act as 'commentators' on Twitter or 'participants' in the runup to voting in 2015.

"... Kris Hopkins, the Tory MP for Keighley, was one of the MPs in marginal seats who hit out at the critics.

"James Forsyth, the political editor of the Spectator, said Hopkins criticised MPs who have been highlighting their leadership credentials as 'self indulgent buffoons'."

On a side note, and in honour of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Huffington Post UK has put together an amusing list (and mocked-up photo gallery!) of the Tory leadership 'runners and riders'...


What's this? Yet another government U-turn? Well blow me down...

From the front of the Times:

"David Cameron’s plan to tackle binge drinking by introducing a minimum price for alcohol is to be shelved after a revolt by Conservatives.

"The Prime Minister hoped that forcing retailers to sell beer, wine and spirits for at least 45p per unit would curb antisocial behaviour. But fierce opposition within the Cabinet and on the Tory backbenches has forced ministers to ditch the plan."

"The U-turn is a blow to Mr Cameron who had personally championed the move as a way of tackling problem drinking, insisting that it would not hit family budgets."

Theresa May, Michael Gove, Eric Pickles and former health secretary Andrew Lansley are said to have opposed the proposal.

A Treasury source described the Prime Minister’s plan to the Telegraph as “a remarkably stupid idea”.


"The majority of British children will soon be growing up in families which are struggling 'below the breadline' because of welfare cuts, tax rises and wage freezes, the Government is warned today.

"Within two years, almost 7.1m of the nation’s 13m youngsters will be in homes with incomes judged to be less than the minimum necessary for a decent standard of living, according to a new report."

"... Today’s report said 460,000 children would be pushed below those levels by the increase in VAT and cuts to tax credits, 170,000 by sluggish wage growth and 80,000 by the curbs on public sector pay. Just 20,000 would be raised above the minimum level by the new Universal Credit system, which begins to come into force in October.

"The TUC, which commissioned the research by the economist Howard Reed, said the figures should 'shame' any civilised society and challenged Mr Osborne to cut VAT to ease the pressures on the lowest income families."


My colleague Ned Simons reports:

"Lib Dem MPs have voted against Labour proposals for a mansion tax, a policy long supported by the junior coalition partner, after accusing the Opposition of playing 'cynical games'.

"MPs voted 304 to 241 on Tuesday afternoon against the symbolic Labour motion that urged the government to introduce a new levy on properties worth over £2m, to fund a tax cut for millions of people on middle and low incomes.

"Instead Lib Dem and Tory MPs voted in favour of a government amendment that recognised the division within the coalition on the issue which allowed Nick Clegg's MPs to express their support for the policy."

"... Chris Leslie MP, Labour’s Shadow Treasury Minister... said [Vince] Cable was a 'busted flush' after the vote."


Watch this video of the 'goalkeeper' cat and his amazing catches.


We need to de-escalate the violence in Syria, not add to the miitarisation of the conflict. But the government has other ideas - from the FT:

"The UK could defy the terms of an EU embargo and begin to arm rebels in Syria, David Cameron has said.

"Speaking to MPs yesterday, the prime minister said Britain was keen to loosen the terms of the embargo, which currently bans the provision of lethal equipment to the Syrian opposition forces, when it comes up for renewal in May.

"... 'If we cannot [agree changes] we might have to do things our own way.'"

Perhaps the PM should take a look at the latest Save the Children report - from the BBC:

"Increasing numbers of children in Syria are being recruited by armed groups on both sides of the conflict, Save the Children says in a report.

"Children are being used as porters, guards, informers and fighters and, in some cases, as human shields, the UK charity said in Childhood Under Fire.

"Some two million children are in need of assistance in Syria, Save the Children estimates."


Yet another U-turn from the government? Really? From the Times:

"The coalition Government's housing benefit reforms were in chaos last night as ministers were forced into a series of concessions over plans to deduct cash for those with spare rooms.

"Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, announced that foster carers and parents of serving Armed Forces personnel would be exempt from the so-called 'bedroom tax' if they had spare rooms.

"... However, housing organisations and charities representing the disabled said the changes were minor, were not backed by new cash, and did not address their concerns. David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation said the concessions were 'an admission that the bedroom tax is ill-thought through and incompetent'."

Meanwhile, the BBC reports:

"The High Court is to begin hearing a challenge to government plans to scrap a £320m scheme that helps people with severe disabilities live independently.

"The six disabled people bringing the judicial review will question the legality of the move to close the Independent Living Fund from 2015."

Good luck, Iain!


"Chris Huhne, the disgraced former Energy and Climate Change Secretary, may devote himself to championing green issues when he seeks a career outside politics on his release from prison.

"Friends said yesterday that while Huhne, 58, has not made up his mind on what he will do next, he could be tempted by work in the environment or international development sectors. Other friends think he may start a 'green growth' business.

"... A move into green activism would draw comparisons with Al Gore, the defeated US presidential candidate who bounced back into the public sphere with his environmental campaigning."


Wanna hear what whistleblower Bradley Manning actually sounds like? From the Huffington Post:

"The Freedom of Press Foundation released audio late Monday of Pfc. Bradley Manning's statement before a military court in Fort Meade, Md., in violation of court rules.

"The group released Manning's full statement, clocking in at one hour and eight minutes. The recording is the first the public has heard of Manning's voice since his arrest in May 2010.

"...'I am the type of person who always wants to figure out how things work,' says Manning in the recording, 'and as an analyst this always means I want to figure out the truth.'"


So how boring are those Brussels debates? From the Huffington Post:

"A UKIP MEP has admitted dozing off during a debate.

"Roger Helmer was snapped reclining in the European Parliament's 'hemicycle' debating chamber with his hands clasped around his waist.

"He posted the picture on Twitter, saying he had to 'pause for some Zeds,' adding: 'This is what comes from working too hard!'"


From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 43

Conservatives 29

Ukip 12

Lib Dems 11

That would give Labour a majority of 126.


@drwollastonmp It would be a cheap populist mistake to ditch #minimumpricing & would undermine any public health credibility on reducing avoidable deaths

@jreedmp DWP boycott #Newsnight Quiet man, quiet department. #bedroomtax

@WilliamJHague First joint talks today in London between UK and Russian Foreign and Defence Ministers. #Syria will be main focus


Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, asks: "How do you appease rebels and yet pursue policies they oppose? Appeal to swing voters – and show you are a winner"

Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Labour needs to do more than simply wait for Cameron to fail."

Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "The vote for British rule in the Falklands referendum dodges the point. It's time for a negotiated settlement with Argentina."

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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