The ten things you need to know on Wednesday 27 March 2013...
1) MILIBAND QUITS (NO, NOT THAT ONE)
Yes David Miliband is finally doing the deed - he's resigning his seat in parliament to start a new career outside of British party politics. Or as one wag put it on Twitter, he's quitting to spend less time with his family...
The Mirror broke the story late last night, and noted:
"His departure will be seen as a major blow to the right of the Labour Party.
"But it is a big boost to his brother who will no longer have to look over his shoulder at a leader-in-waiting."
It'll also be a boost to Ed Balls - his critics in the party kept suggesting the elder Miliband could replace him as shadow chancellor in the run-up to the next election.
But David's now going to live in New York, with his American wife Louise and his two adopted children (both born in the United States); he's becoming head of the major humanitarian charity, the International Rescue Committee.
In a letter to his constituency chairman published on his website this morning, the former foreign secretary says his decision to stay on the backbenches since narrowly losing out to brother Ed in September 2010 gave:
"... Ed the space and at the same time the support he needed to lead the party without distraction. He has done so with real success, leading a united team that has taken the fight to the Tories. I am very pleased and proud that our shared goal of making this a one-term government is achievable."
His decision to quit makes sense; as James Macintyre and I reported in our biography of Ed Miliband, David never really recovered from his defeat in 2010. There had to come a point when he 'moved on'. He was in a weird limbo - neither on the frontbench fighting for a Labour government, nor outside Westminster doing 'other things'. Being a backbencher wasn't a long-term career option for the former foreign secretary.
The Mail says David's decision to depart is a "humiliation for Ed" but I'm not sure I agree. My reading is that David finally accepted what some of us have been saying for a while: Ed isn't going anywhere and has better-than-even-odds of winning the next general election and becoming prime minister. There is going to be no vacancy at the top of the Labour Party anytime soon.
And I agree with his friend and fellow Blairite Tessa Jowell who told Today that Miliband-D "leaves optimistic" about the future of the Labour Party (only 18 months ago, as James and I revealed in our book, he told a friend that Ed "would crash and burn". How times change.)
This is, though, a big deal for internal party politics - as the BBC's Nick Robinson pointed out on the Today programme: "He was not just the other brother, he was the New Labour brother."
And, as one senior figure on the left of the Labour Party told me late last night: "It's important for the left to avoid triumphalism but it obviously marks the date when New Labour finally accepted that the crisis requires us to turn the page... Now there can be no excuse for timidity [from Ed Miliband] because the Blairites are decisively weakened."
2) FOOD STAMP BRITAIN
It had to happen. From the Guardian's splash:
"'Food stamps' arrive in Britain next month, when tens of thousands of vulnerable people will be issued with food vouchers in lieu of money to tide them over short-term financial crises.
"Rather than, as now, offering a cash loan, most councils will from April offer new applicants who qualify for emergency assistance a one-off voucher redeemable for goods such as food and nappies.
"Many of the 150 local authorities in England running welfare schemes have confirmed that they will issue the vouchers in the form of payment cards, which will be blocked or monitored to prevent the holder using them for alcohol, cigarettes or gambling."
Say it with me: 'We're all in this together...'
3) 'TAXMAN HITS STAY-AT-HOME MOTHERS'
That's the headline on the front of the Telegraph; the paper reports:
"The average family with one worker and two children loses 27. 9 per cent of their wages in tax, compared with 26.2 per cent before the Coalition was elected, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found.
"The study comes amid claims that the Government is punishing stay-at-home mothers with its policies, and a week after a former barrister confronted Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, on the issue during a live radio phone-in.
"The OECD said the British tax take from traditional families with only one earner was now significantly above the international average."
4) ANOTHER LIB DEM SEX SCANDAL?
There may be a by-election in Portsmout South, as well as South Shields - from the Daily Mail:
"Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock is being investigated over claims of sexual misconduct, fuelling speculation that he could step down from Parliament.
"Portsmouth City Council - where he also holds a seat - has ordered an investigation into whether he has broken its code of conduct. Westminster is bracing itself for a possible by-election as Mr Hancock has also suffered from ill health.
"A 38-year-old mother who has mental health problems complained about receiving intimate texts from married Mr Hancock, 66, who is also alleged to have bought her clothes and perfumes. She had sought his help over problems with her neighbours. It is alleged that he sent her texts saying: 'Thinking as always of u and missing u. big kiss xxx.' Another allegedly states: 'I miss you sexy. xxx.'"
Hancock denies the allegations.
5) 'CLOSED, DEFENSIVE AND SECRETIVE'
The Independent splashes on home secretary Theresa May's decision to scrap the UK Border Agency and separate it into two parts - both of which will report directly to ministers.
The paper reports:
"The Home Secretary was scathing about the failures of the arms-length agency, which she condemned as 'closed, defensive and secretive'.
"Her surprise intervention was welcomed by MPs of all parties and will further fuel speculation over her ambitions to succeed David Cameron. But it also represents a high-risk move as she and her ministers will have to take responsibility for any failures or blunders in Britain's immigration system."
Will things change at UKBA? Well, in a leaked internal memo the Home Office permanent secretary Mark Sedwill reassured staff: "Most of us will still be doing the same job in the same place with the same colleagues for the same boss and with the same mission to keep Britain's streets safe and our borders secure."
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of an overweight Welshman who is amazing at keepy-uppy.
6) BLOWING BUBBLES
Is George Osborne creating another housing bubble? Yesterday, the Treasury Select Committee wanted to find out - from the Telegraph:
"In a wide–ranging cross–examination by MPs, the Chancellor was also forced on to the back foot over Britain's lack of growth and the ongoing problems of the banks, which Mr Osborne revealed was the issue on which he spent most time.
"But he was caused most discomfort by the impact of his new Help to Buy initiative after the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the fiscal watchdog, told MPs earlier that it would offer limited benefits to the economy.
"Steve Nickell, a senior OBR official, told the Treasury Select Committee (TSC): 'The key issue is, is it just going to drive up house prices? By and large, in the short run the answer to that is yes.'"
7) DOWNGRADING THE DOWNGRADERS
From the FT splash:
"The global pool of government bonds with triple A status from the three main rating agencies, the bedrock of the financial system, has shrunk more than 60 per cent since the financial crisis triggered a wave of downgrades across the advanced economies.
"The expulsion of the US, the UK and France from the "nine-As" club has led to the contraction in the stock of government bonds deemed the safest by Fitch, Moody's and Standard & Poor's, from almost $11tn at the start of 2007 to just $4tn now, according to Financial Times analysis."
You know what? Who cares? Credit rating agencies have been given far too much power and influence, despite helping to fuel the financial crisis with their triple-A rating of junk products, their numerous conflicts of interest and the lack of impact of their downgrades on the bond yields of countries such as the US, Japan and, of course, the UK.
As I wrote in the Guardian in 2011, it is time to start "downgrading the downgraders. The rule of the rating agencies must end."
8) 'A CULTURE OF ZERO HARM'
Can you legislate for compassion? The coalition seems to think so. From the Guardian:
"Failing hospitals will be named and shamed and NHS managers responsible for failures will be barred from working in the health service under government plans to ensure a Mid Staffs-style care scandal never happens again.
"NHS staff's pay will be linked to how well they care for patients and health professionals will be obliged to own up when they harm or kill patients, the health secretary announced.
"Jeremy Hunt unveiled the building blocks for what he called 'a culture of zero harm and compassionate care' and a remedy for the 'unacceptable and, in some cases, inhumane treatment' displayed in the scandal at Stafford hospital..."
9) TERROR AT HOME AND ABROAD
From the Huffington Post UK:
"More than 500 would-be terrorists have received support through a £3 million-a-year Government scheme designed to protect people at risk from radicalisation, a report has revealed.
"The multi-agency programme - known as Channel - identifies people at risk of being drawn into terrorism and develops a support plan for the vulnerable individuals concerned."
So anti-radicalisation programmes are working, right? Wrong. According to the Times splash:
"Up to 100 British jihadis are fighting for Syria’s most militant al-Qaeda faction as fears grow that some will be ordered home to carry out terror attacks."
"Senior security officials put the number of British fighters enlisted with Jabhat al-Nusra at between 70 and 100.
"They come from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and include young Asians, converts to Islam and men from north African backgrounds."
10) BORIS JOHNSON SINGS BOB MARLEY
Listen to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, perform the song he'd like played at his funeral: Three Little Birds by Bob Marley.
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 13
That would give Labour a majority of 94.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@DMiliband After a great deal of thought I’ve decided to accept the position of President and CEO of @theIRC
@Queen_UK David Miliband is resigning as an MP. Very surprised. Had no idea that he was still an MP in the first place.
@davidwearing David Miliband, joint most overrated man in British politics, takes world's biggest sulk onto the international stage
900 WORDS OR MORE
Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "Europe's flesheaters now threaten to devour us all."
Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "It’s pro-immigrant to control our borders."
Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Our NHS is in intensive care, and Labour’s treatment has to be bold."
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