Mehdi's Morning Memo: Poor Savers Saved; Rich Russians Screwed

The ten things you need to know on Monday 25 March 2013...


What is it with politicians and late-Sunday-night deals? The other week it was Leveson; now Cyprus. From the Guardian:

"European leaders reached an agreement with Cyprus early on Monday morning that closes down the island's second-biggest bank and inflicts huge losses on wealthy savers.

"Russians would lose billions of euros under draconian terms that are aimed at preventing the Mediterranean tax haven becoming the first country forced out of the single currency.

"... A meeting of eurozone finance ministers that started six hours late reached an agreement in the early hours of Monday morning to finalise the fine print of the deal. Savers with deposits of less than €100,000 (£85,000) would be spared but it was thought there would be heavy losses inflicted on the deposits of the wealthy."

So, is Cyprus a one-off special case or a dangerous precedent for other debt-ridden Club Med countries? Send your answers on a postcard to the European Commission HQ, 200 Rue de la Loi, Brussels, Belgium.


As I pointed out in yesterday's Memo, giving tough-sounding immigration speeches seems to be the way-out-of-choice for party leaders threatened by the rise and rise of Ukip. Miliband's done one, Clegg's done one - today, it's Cameron's turn.

"Migrants told: find work in six months or no benefits," screams the splash headline on the front of the Daily Mail.

"Cameron to deny aid for immigrants," says the Times splash. The paper's political editor Roland Watson reports:

"A crackdown on jobless Europeans and fresh curbs on foreigners using the NHS will form the heart of a new drive to deter immigrants to be unveiled by David Cameron today.

"The Prime Minister wants to re-write welfare rules to stop Britain being a 'soft touch' without deterring the 'brightest and the best' from overseas."

The problem, however, is that Britain isn't a 'soft touch' - our benefit levels are significantly lower than those of our EU neighbours, such as Germany and France - and the coalition's cap has already deterred the 'brightest and the best' from places such as India and Brazil.

Once again we see our leading politicians indulging the claims of the far-right, rather than challenging them. It was left to economist Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research, to tell the Today programme this morning that migrants from Eastern Europe are less likely to be on welfare and more likely to be in work than native Brits. The former also contribute more to the Treasury in taxes than they take out in benefits. But you're not likely to any hear this from the prime minister today...


Talking of immigration failures, the chief executive of HMRC and former boss of the UK Border Agency has taken a verbal beating at the hands of Keith Vaz and his chums - from the Guardian:

"The Commons home affairs select committee said Lin Homer repeatedly misled them for years when she was chief executive of the UK Border Agency over the size of the backlogs in asylum and immigration, which now top more than 310,000 cases. Describing the system as 'chaotic', the MPs said the backlog would take 24 years to clear at the current rate of progress.

"In one of the most severe attacks by a Commons committee on a named Whitehall senior civil servant, the MPs said they were 'astounded' when they learned that Homer had been promoted to become the £180,000-a-year chief executive and permanent secretary at HMRC.

"A report by the committee published on Monday demands that parliament should in future be given a veto over leading civil service appointments to ensure there is no repeat of the Homer case."


The Guardian and the Independent both have photos of a dejected, dishevelled-looking Boris Johnson on the set of the BBC's Andrew Marr programme yesterday. As I noted in yesterday's Morning Memo, the mayor of London was, unexpectedly, roasted by stand-in interviewer Eddie Mair as, in the words of today's Times, his "past came back to haunt him". Specifically, over his alleged making-up of quotes while at the Times; his dishonesty over an extra-marital affair; and his discussion with a friend about having another journalist beaten up.

"It must have seemed a good idea at the time. A 15-minute light grilling on the morning BBC sofa with whichever stand-in presenter the corporation had dredged up to fill the void left by Andrew Marr, still recovering from a stroke. Nothing that an old hand like Boris Johnson need fear.

"Tousle the hair a little, some self-deprecation and a bit of a plug for the BBC TV documentary on Monday to remind the Tory backbenchers that if the ball ever popped out of the scrum, he would be on hand to take it, almost accidentally, over the line... But after the 15 minutes of chilling inquisition by the softly spoken Eddie Mair, Johnson's reputation had taken a severe pounding. Indeed, it was probably the worst interview the mayor has ever conducted.

"It was inevitably described as a car crash, but in the case of Johnson, it was more of a bicycle crash: spokes all over the road, wheels mangled and a reputation badly dented... By the interview's close, 'You're a nasty piece of work, aren't you?' was one of Mair's more generous reflections on Johnson's integrity."

The FT's Jim Pickard reports:

"An ally of the mayor insisted last night that he was unbowed by the grilling, saying it 'went with the territory' for Conservative politicians being interviewed by the BBC. 'Is Boris sitting at home worried that the world is about to end? Absolutely not.'"

But the Mail concludes that "Boris Johnson's dream of becoming Prime Minister suffered a setback on live TV yesterday as he struggled to answer a series of brutal questions about his personal integrity."

Tonight, Michael Cockerell's much-anticipated documentary, 'Boris Johnson: The Irresistible Rise', goes out on BBC2 at 9pm.


What is it with David Cameron and the elderly Tory peers who advise him on the economy? Remember how Lord Young had to resign as an enterprise adviser to Downing Street after saying most Britons "had never had it so good" despite the "so-called recession"? Now, Lord Heseltine has told the Independent that us Brits may be so wealthy that they lack the “national will” needed to secure an economic recovery, Lord Heseltine has suggested.

The former deputy prime minister, who's been advising Cameron and Osborne on regional growth, said that Britain's growth was slow compared with India and China because – unlike the UK – those countries had "real problems".

Here's the money quote:

"There is no God-given rule saying you've got to have a well-performing economy. It could be an indifferent economy. It's a question of whether the national will is there; whether we want it. And the richer you get the less imperative there is."


Watch this video of a cat leading a dog home with its leash.


From the Independent:

"An amputee who cannot walk, struggles to talk and is brain damaged has been passed “fit for work” and had his benefits cut under government reforms.

"Mark Evans, from Daubhill in Bolton, said his incapacity benefits were cut by £440 a month and has been left with just £220 to pay his monthly rent, bills and food.

"... The Labour MP for Bolton South-East, Yasmin Qureshi, said she would look to have Mr Evans’ case re-assessed. She said Atos, a private company that carries out the assessments, should face questions."


The education secretary is just so, so popular with the teaching unions - from the Guardian:

"The education secretary, Michael Gove, is accused of the 'shameful neglect' of pupils as the teachers' union conference season in England gets under way.

"Mary Bousted, the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, will tell the ATL conference in Liverpool that the Conservative reforms are 'undermining and harming our pupils' education'.

"... Claiming that the academy conversion programme was designed to 'pave the way for the wholesale transfer of our schools to the private sector if the Conservatives are in office after the next election', Bousted compared it to the privatisations of the Thatcher era: 'If Gove was honest, he would auction them. Mrs Thatcher sold off the family silver – at least she didn't give it away.'"


As Scotland starts gearing up for its independence referendum next September, the Telegraph reports:

"English MPs should get a bigger say on laws that only affect English voters, an official report has found.

"An inquiry by Sir William McKay found English people are 'unhappy' about the influence of MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on issues that only affect England.

"He said decisions that only affect England should 'normally be taken only with the consent of a majority MPs sitting for consitiuencies in England'.

"However, the former clerk of the House of Commons rejected the 'flawed and impractical' system of allowing only English MPs to vote on English laws."


Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky was found dead at his home over the weekend - but was it 'foul play'? And if so, was the Kremlin responsible?

The Mail's front page headline, under a photo of the late billionaire, is: "Radiation riddle at dead oligarch's mansion."

The Guardian, however, leads with the party-pooping headline: "No evidence that Berezovsky was killed, say police."


Now here's an odd couple - from the ITV News website:

"Foreign secretary William Hague will travel with Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie to Africa this week to raise awareness of warzone rape.

"Hague and Jolie will visit survivors of rape and sexual violence on a tour of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, said the Foreign Office.

"... Angelina Jolie has worked with Hague before, launching the UK's Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative in London last year.

Her 2011 film In The Land Of Blood And Honey depicted the experiences of women in the rape camps set up during ethnic cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and was a catalyst for the new initiative, the Foreign Office said."

Jolie said she welcomed "the United Kingdom's efforts to galvanise the international action that is so desperately needed."


From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 41

Conservatives 30

Lib Dems 12

Ukip 12

That would give Labour a majority of 110.


@ParmjitDhanda Nothing wrong with debating immigration. But lets not omit the fact that immigrants put 6% more in to UK GDP than they take out

@Mike_Fabricant Never been in same room as @Nigel_Farage but will be on 23rd April for Press Gallery Lunch. I'll have to be poker faced when he gives speech

@cathynewman Mid-air storm has scuppered Congo schedule with @WilliamJHague and Angelina Jolie. Stressed diplomats now reconfiguring


Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "Charisma won’t win Cameron the election."

Trevor Kavanagh, writing in the Sun, says the PM is "a political dwarf: sleepy, dopey, grumpy".

Owen Jones, writing in the Independent, says: "How the People's Assembly can challenge our suffocating political consensus - and why it's vital that we do."

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