Mehdi's Morning Memo: 'No Miracle Cure'

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27: Chancellor George Osborne leaves 11 Downing Street on February 27, 2013 in London, England. The Chancellor has been under increasing pressure this week after news that the UK had lost it's 'AAA' credit rating. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27: Chancellor George Osborne leaves 11 Downing Street on February 27, 2013 in London, England. The Chancellor has been under increasing pressure this week after news that the UK had lost it's 'AAA' credit rating. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
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The ten things you need to know on Sunday 17 March 2013...


"My Budget will be tough but it will help people who work hard," is the headline to the chancellor George Osborne's column today in - where else - the Sun on Sunday.

Last week, David Cameron said there was no "magic money tree" to fund investment and growth; today, Osborne says "if there were easy options and miracle cures then, of course, I would take them. But, sadly, there aren’t."

The problem for Cameron and Osborne is that borrowing to invest in a downturn, with interest rates at record low levels and plenty of spare capacity in the economy, doesn't require 'magic' or 'miracles' - it's "basic GCSE economics," as the shadow chancellor Ed Balls noted on the BBC's Andrew Marr show this morning. I mean, just ask Vince Cable. Or, Nobel prize winners Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz.

Another problem, for DC and GO, is that they are under attack not just from the Keynesian left but the Hayekian right, too. Liam Fox had a go last Monday; today it's David Davis's turn. The headline to his Sunday Times column is: "Overburdened, overtaxed, over to you, George."

There's a pretty useful summary of the "one thing George Osborne should do" in Wednesday's Budget to boost growth, from "seven opinion formers" in the Observer, including deciding on airport expansion right now and loosening the restrictions on immigration.

Meanwhile, former Tory donor and vice-chairman Lord Ashcroft, writing in the Mail on Sunday, opines: "For non-Tories, the biggest problem is that the party doesn’t seem to be on their side. Wednesday’s Budget is one of the last big chances Osborne will have to show that it is."

For once, I'm with Lord Ashcroft.


Are we on the verge of a new financial crisis? And is Cyprus at the heart of it?

The Sunday papers take a bit of a parochial look at what the BBC calls "a controversial bailout deal for the country's banks... [which] would impose a levy on bank deposits of up to 10%".

"Panic as EU raids Britons' savings accounts," screams the headline on the front of the Mail on Sunday.

The paper reports:

"Up to 60,000 British savers are to lose thousands of pounds each after European finance chiefs ordered an unprecedented raid on personal bank accounts.

"Expats and UK troops based in Cyprus will have their savings decimated as part of a painful bid to bail out the bankrupt island."

"British 'robbed' of £170m" says the headline in the Sunday Times, which says "figures from the European Central Bank show that Britons have about €2bn on deposit in Cypriot banks, more than citizens of any other European Union country apart from Greece".

The Washington Post's Neil Irwin, however, gives us a more global perspective: “The best the rest of the world can hope for is that Cyprus’s case is sufficiently unique that it won’t spark panic in Athens and Madrid (or in Lisbon, Dublin and Rome).” His post is headlined “Why today’s Cyprus bailout could be the start of the next financial crisis”.


"Ed Miliband has called on MPs from all parties to stop living in fear of retribution and to do their political duty for the victims of media intrusion by establishing a press regulator enshrined in law on Monday.

"In an interview with the Observer, on the eve of a historic Commons debate and vote on press regulation, the Labour leader says that for too long politicians have been scared of acting against the powerful media magnates who have the capacity to destroy political careers and wreck governments... He says that he believes the country is now '24 hours away from putting in place a system that I believe will work', to ensure that the treatment meted out to the family of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, whose phone was hacked after she disappeared, and the parents of missing Madeleine McCann, can never be repeated.

Intriguingly, Miliband uses the C-word, according to the Obs: "On Saturday night it appeared that Labour with the Liberal Democrats would be able to build a cross-party majority to push through their regulatory regime. Miliband said: 'This is quite an important coalition that has the victims at the heart of it and I think that is incredibly important because this is a test of all of us as politicians.'"

As Matthew D'Ancona notes in his Sunday Telegraph column: "Gone are the days of the AV referendum campaign when Miliband would not share a platform with the Lib Dem leader. On Friday, one of Clegg's staff was in Miliband's offices working against the clock on an amendment for tomorrow. Indeed, the apparent cosiness of the past week has been so great that Ed's allies are dismissing the inevitable prophecies of Lib-Lab pacts to come. They are loath to give the impression that they are fighting for anything less than an outright Commons majority in 2015."

On a side note, actor and Hacked Off campaigner Hugh Grant, writing in the Observer, says: "For David Cameron, staying on good terms with Rupert Murdoch is more important than standing up for the Dowler family, the McCann family, the Hillsborough families and thousands of members of the public who have been trashed in Britain's newspapers."


"Ukip steals a march on Tories," says the splash headline in the Sunday Telegraph; the paper reports:

"An ICM opinion poll for The Sunday Telegraph shows that a key group of Right-of-centre voters are much more attracted to Ukip’s policies on immigration, government spending and same-sex marriage than to the Tories’ stance on the issues.

"This same group — made up of those who have yet to decide which of the two parties to support — also rates Ukip’s Nigel Farage as a better party leader than the Prime Minister. The group make up one in 10 of all voters and their support is crucial to Mr Cameron’s chances of electoral success."

Meanwhile, a ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror shows "Nigel Farage's Ukip have a 17 per cent share of the vote - the highest since ComRes first polled voting intentions in 2004". The Tories are on just 28% (see Public Opinion Watch, below).


It'd be difficult for Boris Johnson to get a Commons seat and challenge David Cameron for the Tory leadership at short notice, right?

Wrong. From the Sunday Telegraph:

"Sir Peter Tapsell became the first Conservative MP to state that he would be prepared to give up his safe Commons seat to let Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, return to Parliament.

"Sir Peter, 83, made the frank admission that he was “keeping his seat warm for Boris” to Mr Cameron personally in remarks overheard by several Tory MPs.

"Last night the MP denied being part of any Boris 'camp' and said his Louth and Horncastle constituency in Lincolnshire, where his majority is nearly 14,000, could be too far from London to suit Mr Johnson. However, he said the Mayor would be an 'excellent' leader of the Opposition and 'perhaps' a good prime minister."

Still, some senior Tories are still publicly standing by the prime minister - even ones who were asked to leave the cabinet by that prime minister. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Andrew Mitchell, the former chief whip, says "tea-room talk of challenging David Cameron for the leadership will lead to a Tory defeat. No poll suggests otherwise. No alternative candidate can change that."



Watch this video of a St Patrick's Day dance-off going horribly wrong.


"George Osborne's plans to use the Budget to unveil childcare tax breaks for hard-pressed families have been blocked by Iain Duncan Smith in a major Cabinet row over funding, it emerged last night.

"Parents struggling with rising childcare costs were to be given allowances of up to £1,000 in one of the coalition's flagship proposals to help the "squeezed middle". Yet the measures, already delayed from January, have been shelved after an 11th-hour intervention from the Work and Pensions Secretary, whose departmental budget would have been used to help fund the scheme. The hold-up is a significant blow to Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, who had made it a personal mission to help low to middle-income parents with the cost of childcare."

Oh dear...


The Scottish Sun has an 'exclusive' interview with MP Eric Joyce, who was arrested on Thursday night:

"The shamed 52-year-old claimed he was NOT drunk before he was dramatically nicked at a House of Commons bar.

"Falkirk MP Joyce insisted cops had TARGETED him because of his boozy reputation — and bragged that he would be CLEARED.

"And the scandal-hit politician even LAUGHED at the pictures of his arrest at the Sports and Social bar.

"Last night Joyce said: 'The police have over-reacted and my reputation has gone before me.

"'I absolutely think that what happened before resulted in the cops heading straight for me.

"... He said: 'I was not drunk.'"

Writing on his blog, Joyce said: "I have spent the past 12 months making a concerted effort to address the causes of that incident. I do not go into bars, nor drink in my office. Nor do I inject alcohol right into my eyeballs while crying."


A protester has been found guilty of insulting the prime minister. In Bahrain? Zimbabwe? Nope, here in Great Britain. The Guardian reported yesterday:

"A woman has described her shock after being found guilty of a public order offence for telling David Cameron he had 'blood on his hands'.

"Bethan Tichborne, 28, said initially she assumed her court summons was a bureaucratic error after she was arrested for protesting against cuts to disability benefits. But she was told by a district judge that her comments must have hugely insulted the prime minister.

"... Judge Pattinson praised Tichborne's previous good character but said her comments that Cameron "had blood on his hands" could "hardly be more insulting to anyone, whether a politician or not".

"The 28-year-old was convicted of using threatening words or behaviour to cause harassment, alarm or distress."



From the Sun on Sunday:

"An MP's 'naive' Twitter stunt left her owing £14,000 to Comic Relief on a record £75million night for the charity.

Fiona Mactaggart, 59, pledged £1 for every retweet from followers.

"But after 35 minutes of messaging mayhem, she begged: 'Ok stop! I owe comic relief £14,268. Phew! Some abuse but worth it.'

"The MP for Slough, who inherited £1.3million from property developer dad Sir Ian, later said she had 'no regrets' despite being 'naive on the power of Twitter'.

"She also denied claims it was a Labour PR stunt — or that she’d get back the cash on expenses."

Good for her...


The Independent on Sunday's Jane Merrick takes the long view:

"Eleanor Shawcross, 30, has been the Chancellor's economic adviser for five years and is among a circle of his young, ambitious aides.

"Friends say that although she has so far resisted suggestions that she should stand as an MP at the next election, her 'share price is rising' and she could one day lead the party.

"One ally said: 'She has got the whole package - she is frighteningly clever, sharp and very charming.'

"Her Tory connections appear impeccable. The daughter of the royal biographer William Shawcross and the writer and life coach Michal Levin, Ms Shawcross was appointed to Mr Osborne's council of economic advisers in 2008, and also worked on Boris Johnson's mayoral campaign. She married the boss of Next and the Tory donor, Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise, 45, last year.

"But sceptics question whether, after the Cameron/ Osborne generation, she is 'too posh' for a party that needs to reach out to its 'blue-collar' grass roots."


From the YouGov/Sunday Times poll:

Labour 41

Conservatives 29

Lib Dems 12

Ukip 12

That would give Labour a majority of 112.

From the Sunday Mirror/Independent on Sunday/ComRes poll:

Labour 37

Conservatives 28

Ukip 17

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 94.


@politicshomeuk Simon Hughes tells #murnaghan there are 20 to 60 Conservatives who agree with the Lib Dem's over #Leveson

@paulwaugh Love it when Osbo and Balls on same sofa. Believe it or not they actually don't mind each other's company. #samecantbesaidforBallsandCam

‏@gabyhinsliff Hugh grant so ubiquitous these days he should probably think about a career in showbusiness.


Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "The Conservatives are plotting and talking themselves to death."

John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "Forget this Budget...a cut in the top rate of income tax was a terrible mistake, and the damage is done."

Janet Daley, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "Forget the issue of who might make a plausible new leader for the Conservative Party - the question is, can the Prime Minister reinvent himself now that the modernisation project is dead."

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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