Mehdi's Morning Memo: Give Us Back Your Benefits (Please)

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 18: Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, arrives to attend the Government's weekly Cabinet meeting at Number 10 Downing Street on December 18, 2012 in London, England. Queen Elizabeth II attended the weekly Cabinet meeting as an observer, the first time a monarch has done so since Queen Victoria attended a cabinet meeting of her government over a century ago. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 18: Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, arrives to attend the Government's weekly Cabinet meeting at Number 10 Downing Street on December 18, 2012 in London, England. Queen Elizabeth II attended the weekly Cabinet meeting as an observer, the first time a monarch has done so since Queen Victoria attended a cabinet meeting of her government over a century ago. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
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The ten things you need to know on Sunday 28 April 2013 (aka 'Ed Balls Day', see below]...


"Iain Duncan Smith says he 'would encourage' elderly people who can well afford to pay for their own heating bills, bus passes and television licences to return the money to the state.

"His intervention comes after David Cameron, the Prime Minister, vetoed efforts by some ministers - including Mr Duncan Smith - to stop paying the benefits to all pensioners, no matter how wealthy, while the rest of the welfare budget is being squeezed.

"Mr Duncan Smith previously called the £2 billion-a-year universal payments regime an "anomaly". However, in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph today, he says there are 'no plans to change it'. Instead, he urges the better off simply to repay the money to the Treasury."

I've an idea. Why not collect all the unpaid taxes owed to the Treasury by individuals and corporations? Wouldn't that raise tens of billions of pounds, rather than a measly £2bn?


That, it seems, is the verdict of the Tories' new election guru. The Mail on Sunday reports:

"David Cameron's election guru believes that Tory chairman Grant Shapps and Chancellor George Osborne are ‘liabilities’ who will cost the party votes in this week’s crucial town hall polls, it was claimed last night.

"Tough-talking Lynton Crosby has had a series of clashes with fellow campaign chiefs Shapps and Osborne, according to insiders. They say that Australian-born Mr Crosby, recruited by Mr Cameron to revive flagging Tory ratings, regards Mr Shapps as ‘ineffective’.

"And he reportedly believes Mr Osborne’s abysmal personal popularity means he is driving voters away in large numbers."

Crosby, of course, has denied the reports. But I'm suspecting the next time that the Tories' three campaign chiefs have a joint meeting, it'll be pretty awkward...


Remember how David Cameron dismissed Ukip as a bunch of "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists"? Remember how outraged and offended Nigel Farage was?

Well, the Sunday Times reports:

"A UKIP local election candidate was suspended yesterday after The Sunday Times exposed his support for the far-right English Defence League (EDL). Chris Scotton, 24, faces expulsion from the party after repeatedly endorsing the EDL on Facebook and indicating that he has been an activist for the movement, which has gained notoriety for violent protests against Islam.

"Scotton, who was due to stand in Leicestershire in Thursday's council elections, also appears to trivialise racism on Facebook and "likes" a site called: "I hate [it] when I lose my black friend in the dark."

"His suspension will come as an embarrassment to Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, who admits his party does not have the resources to vet its 1,700-plus candidates properly."

The paper adds:

"Yesterday a UKIP candidate in Suffolk was forced to resign after admitting to being a former member of the British National party (BNP). It also emerged that a candidate in Kent, who previously acted as an election agent to Farage, was once a National Front (NF) activist."

Last week, my HuffPost colleague Tom Mosley reported on the Ukip council candidate in Crowborough, East Sussex, was suspended after she appeared to blame Jews for both the Second World War and the Holocaust.

Cameron's 2006 description of Ukip is looking more and more accurate. Meanwhile, the Observer reveals a "series of leaked emails between key figures in Ukip reveals growing chaos at the heart of the party":

"In one email, a senior party figure claims that leading the anti-EU party is like 'herding cats'. Ukip leader Nigel Farage is warned that his party is facing a decade without credible policies, as crippling internal rows rage, and it is suggested that the party should consider buying off-the-shelf strategy from right-leaning thinktanks.

"Senior members must 'get off their hobby-horses' if the party is to develop policies, Farage is told in the bombshell emails from Stuart Wheeler, the party's treasurer, and Godfrey Bloom, a leading Ukip MEP."


That's the rather startling claim from the prime minister in the Sunday Times:

"Asked during an interview with The Sunday Times whether Johnson could combine the role of mayor of London with being an MP, the prime minister replied: 'Boris can do anything, that’s the moral of the story of Boris.'

"Speaking before last week’s appointment of Johnson’s youngest brother, Jo, as head of the Downing Street policy unit, Cameron insisted he did not feel threatened by the mayor’s popularity nor apparent ambition. 'Boris is one of the greatest assets the Conservative party has . . . I love Boris.'

"Asked whether Johnson could become prime minister, he replied: 'I’d never want to put a limit on what Boris can achieve.'"

Er, ok. We believe you Dave.

Meanwhile, writing in the Mail on Sunday, Stanley Johnson, father of Boris and newly-appointed Downing Street policy chief Jo, says:

"Over the last few days, some more fanciful commentators have been speculating about a possible Bo-jo v Jo-jo contest. Is that going to happen in some distant future? Frankly, I haven't the faintest idea. But if it did, I am sure that – from a spectator point of view at least – it would be tremendous fun. We Johnsons, as I keep on reading nowadays, are 'famously competitive'."


From the Sunday Times:

"Britain's most senior military officer has warned David Cameron that intervening in Syria would risk sucking UK forces into an all-out war. General Sir David Richards, chief of the defence staff, believes any military response to the use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad's regime would have to be on a huge scale to succeed. Cameron condemned an apparent nerve gas attack on civilians in Aleppo as a 'war crime', intensifying pressure for an international response.

"The option of imposing a no-fly zone over Syria has not been ruled out, officials say. However, Richards is said to have urged the government to consider whether what appears to have been a small-scale use of chemicals should be a tipping point. 'Even to set up a humanitarian safe area would be a major military operation without the co-operation of the Syrians,' he told senior defence figures."


Watch this video of Barack Obama joking about being a 'Muslim socialist' at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.


Alex Salmond the SNP seem to be struggling to win over Scots to their vision of an independent Scotland - from the Sunday Times:

"The survey, commissioned by Better Together, the prounion campaign group and conducted last week by market research body YouGov, shows that 62% of respondents found the SNP's case for independence "not very convincing" or "not convincing at all".

"... More than a fifth of respondents who said they were not convinced of the case for independence were people who claimed to have voted for the nationalists in the Scottish and UK parliamentary elections — 24% and 22% respectively."


From the Sun on Sunday:

"The PM stands to lose a THIRD of his women MPs at the general election. At least 15 A-list females are in vulnerable marginals, including ministers Anna Soubry, Esther McVey and Chloe Smith.

"Mr Cameron’s 148 newcomers all feel in the firing line.

"In a snapshot survey, Tory pollster Lord Ashcroft found Labour would take 93 of 109 marginals the Tories must win to stay in power — giving Ed Miliband an 84-seat majority.

"In the local elections the Tories are braced to lose control of 11 councils.

"Lord Ashcroft said a 'grim night' would underline the scale of the task in 2015."


From the Sunday TImes:

"Some of Britain’s best known charities are being used by offshore trusts to shelter hundreds of millions of pounds from the tax authorities.

"A cache of 2.5m leaked documents from one of the world’s biggest tax havens reveals that rich investors are naming charities as the main beneficiaries of offshore trusts that in reality have been created to benefit themselves.

"By naming charities as the purported beneficiaries of a trust, the real owners can avoid scrutiny by the tax authorities.

"Cancer Research UK, the NSPCC, the National Trust, Greenpeace and Amnesty International are among organisations whose names have been used by trusts in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), a British overseas territory, and the Cook Islands in the Pacific.

"The charities say they were never told of the existence of these trusts and have not received any money."

Puts those free bus passes in perspective, doesn't it?


Italy's new coalition government - an unprecedented 'grand coalition' between Enrico Letta's Democratic Party (PD) and the People of Freedom party (PDL) of former PM Silvio Berlusconi - has been sworn in this morning in Rome, ending two months of political deadlock since the country's general election in February.

The BBC reports:

"Mr Letta will become the new prime minister.

"Mr Berlusconi had said he would not be a minister, but had pushed for leading figures from his party to be given top posts.

... Former European Commissioner Emma Bonino will become Italy's first female foreign minister."

Former comedian and rising star Beppe Grillo refused to join the 'grand coalition'. He might have made a wise move - the new government has to tackle the toxic trio of rising unemployment, no growth and savage austerity measures.


From the Observer:

"Two years ago today Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, committed a Twitter faux pas... He was seeking to find out how his recent criticism of George Osborne had gone down on the social media site and typed his name into what he thought was the search box. In fact, it wasn't the search box, and he accidentally tweeted his name. And didn't delete it. In the past two years the 'Ed Balls' message has been retweeted nearly 11,000 times, photoshopped on to the film poster for Being John Malkovich, above, and inserted into film clips. Today, that tweet has its very own day. Sunday 28 April 2013 is Ed Balls day. And at 4.30pm thousands are expected to retweet Ed Balls all over again in memory of that initial slip."


"Lynton cannot see the point of Shapps. He doesn’t think he has much to offer by way of campaign skills or as an effective frontman for the party." - anonymous Tory official quoted in today's Mail on Sunday.


From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 40

Conservatives 31

Lib Dems 11

Ukip 11

That would give Labour a majority of 96.


‏@davidosler Why doesn't IDS ask wealthy to 'voluntarily' pay the tax they're legally obliged to pay anyway? Then all the elderly could retain benefits.

@WillardFoxton My guess about the ability of Tories to find UKIP weirdos: It's easy because most of them had already failed Tory candidate selection.

@johnprescott Ed Balls


Nick Cohen, writing in the Observer, says: "Iain Duncan Smith's universal credit poses a serious threat to women's independence."

Bruce Anderson, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, on the brothers Johnson, says: "Two very different brothers with an eye on the big prize."

Dominic Lawson, writing in the Sunday Times, says: "Forget sarin — Assad crossed the red line with his first murder."

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