Mehdi's Morning Memo: Cracks In The Coalition


The ten things you need to know on Friday 10 May 2013...


48 hours after the Queen's Speech, how coalitious is the coalition? Not very, is the answer, according to a story on the front of today's Guardian:

"[T]he coalition has come to blows over key policies with No 10 accusing Nick Clegg of shamelessly reneging on agreed childcare reforms, and the Liberal Democrats countering that Tory MPs were being given licence by David Cameron to vote against government policy on Europe.

"... Faced by massive opposition from preschool lobby groups, Clegg said he was now opposed to previously agreed plans to relax staff-to-child ratios in nurseries.

"...hours later Cameron, dogged by the issue of a European referendum for the fourth day in a row, also shifted ground when he found himself outmanoeuvred by his Eurosceptic rebels. In a rare move, heavyweight Tory backbenchers tabled an amendment to acceptance of the Queen's speech, regretting the lack of a bill in the speech paving the way for an EU referendum. The amendment will be voted on next Tuesday."

Not only has Downing Street suggested that Tory minister will be given a free vote next week but the Sun reports that Cameron "is ready to vote against his OWN Queen’s Speech over the issue of an EU referendum.

"Downing Street figures last night revealed the PM will join Tory Euro rebels in a planned protest vote next week."

A Number 10 source tells the paper: “The PM is determined to make as many people as possible aware how keen he is to hold this referendum."

Meanwhile, Dave's rival Boris has been on the Today programme and, after backing Dave ("the prime minister is clearly right... we need a renegtiation") he added: "We should be prepared to pull out...you can't go into a rengation like that without being wllling to walk away... The econmic benefits an disbeneits are much more balanced."

And finally, Dave's old boss, the ex-Tory chancellor Norman Lamont, also suggested yesterday that the UK would be better off out of the EU, saying the economic advantages of membership were "vastly over-stated".

And so it goes on...


Naughty, naughty - from the Huffington Post:

"Iain Duncan Smith has been rebuked for falsely claiming the coalition's controversial benefits cap had already caused 8,000 people to move into jobs.

"The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) has written to the work and pensions secretary to tell him the claim was 'unsupported by the official statistics'.

"... It is not the first time a senior government minister has been rebuked for mis-representing statistics. In February David Cameron was reprimanded by Dilnot for falsely claiming Britain was 'paying down Britain's debts'."

So, the big question is: do coalition ministers have a problem with maths or with the truth?


The prime minister is due to meet the Russian president Vladimir Putin at his residence in Sochi today, before heading to meet Barack Obama in Washington DC on Monday. Can Dave get Vlad to withdraw Russian support for the blood-stained Bashar al Assad regime in Syria? The road to peace in Damascus runs through Moscow.

As the Telegraph's Con Coughlin reports:

"Mr Cameron is rightly concerned that, unless Moscow can be persuaded to back the West's plans to arrange a ceasefire, the conflict risks spiralling out of control."

SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT: I'll be interviewing legendary New York Times columnist and Pulitzer-prize-winning author Tom Friedman at the Oxford Union tonight for my forthcoming Al Jazeera English interview series, 'Head To Head'. We'll be debating whether US foreign policy is a force for good and if you'd like to join the audience and/or ask a question, email debates@aljazeera.net. The recording of the show kicks off at 8pm.


Watch out millionaires and billionaires: tax avoidance is now a big issue on sections of the right, not just the left. The Mail splashes this morning with the headline: "Net closes on tax dodgers". The paper reports:

"Hundreds of ultra-wealthy Britons are being investigated for tax evasion following exposure of their secret offshore accounts.

"International spy agencies are thought to have helped obtain a 'goldmine' of data that names high-profile multi-millionaires and their financial advisers.

"The files show how the rich have hidden billions in Singapore, the British Virgin Islands and the Caymans. More than 100 individuals have been identified so far - and have already been sent warning letters by HM Revenue & Customs.

"'You're talking about super-rich people,' said one source, who added that many of the names on the list were well known."

The paper adds:

"Last night George Osborne warned: 'The message is simple: if you evade tax we're coming after you. This data is another weapon in HMRC's arsenal.' The Chancellor said he was shocked by the extent to which the wealthy were exploiting tax loopholes."

Given Gideon and his fellow cabinet ministers have themselves been accused of engaging in tax avoidance, I'm not sure why the chancellor is so "shocked"...


From the Times front page:

"There is a Mr Nosey, Mr Tickle and Mr Bump; there is even a Mr Fussy, although he might now wish to reconsider his moustache.

"Never has it been suggested that a Mr Master Race should join the happy pages of the Mr Men, but Michael Gove claimed yesterday that history teachers are being encouraged to use Roger Hargreaves's best-known creation to help pupils to study Hitler. Rigorous history lessons are being squeezed out by a play-based approach to learning in many schools, the Education Secretary said.

"He mocked teaching materials that suggested teenagers watch episodes of the colourful children's favourites to frame a discussion about key personalities of the Third Reich. Other lesson plans for primary school teachers suggested comparing King John with characters from Disney films such as Robin Hood and Finding Nemo, he said."

My colleague Lucy Sheriff reports that Gove also "incurred the wrath of an army of angry Twilight fans after rubbishing Stephenie Meyer's hit series, saying he'd rather his children read Middlemarch.

"In a speech at Brighton College on Thursday, the education secretary told his audience: 'Too many children are only too happy to lose themselves in Stephenie Meyer.'

"'There is a Great Tradition of English Literature, a Canon of transcendent works, & Breaking Dawn is not part of it,' he continued."

The former journalist knows how to get headlines...


Watch this comical video of an epic bagpipe malfunction at - where else? - a Scottish wedding.


Oh dear. From the Guardian:

"Lady Shirley Williams said fellow Liberal Democrat peer Lord Rennard, who is currently being investigated for allegations of sexual harassment, is 'absolutely selfless' and at worst guilty of 'misbehaving'.

"In an interview with parliamentary magazine The House, the Liberal Democrat grandee also said women would expect 'people to take advantage of you' when she entered politics in the 1960s.

"The allegations concerning Lord Rennard, one-time chief executive of the party, came to light in a Channel 4 news report earlier this year. He denies any wrongdoing."


From the Guardian:

"MPs have urged the government to press ahead with a third runway at Heathrow and said a fourth should be considered, dismissing calls for a new airport east of London.

"The transport select committee said expansion at Britain's largest airport was 'long overdue' and vital if the UK was to maintain its status as a major international aviation hub."


Yet another proposal for House of Lords reform - this time from Frank Field MP. The Independent reports on its front page:

"Most of the 25 bishops who sit in the House of Lords should lose their seats because they play 'gesture politics' but do not bother to vote, a senior MP proposes today.

"Writing in The Independent, the former Welfare Reform minister Frank Field says the bishops are wasting their second chamber places, which should be handed to people representing groups such as trade unions, employers, the arts, the law, women and children.

"He appealed to Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to bring in a Bill to implement the change."

9) £400m? SORRY, WHAT £400m?

From the Independent:

"The launch of a new plan to address the crisis in accident and emergency units was marred yesterday as leaked emails revealed panic among health officials about how much money could be made available to help struggling hospitals.

"'Urgent care boards' are to be established across England with a remit to devise 'local recovery and improvement plans' for each A&E department in their area, in response to growing concern about lengthening waiting times. However, internal NHS England messages suggest that the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, had wanted to announce a £300m-£400m rescue fund to "solve" problems in A&E, but had to be dissuaded owing to confusion about finances. The plan announced yesterday made no mention of a £400m pot, and last night the Department of Health denied that the Health Secretary ever intended to announce such funding."


My colleague Ned Simons reports:

"A survey conducted by YouGov to mark the release of the latest [Star Trek] instalment, Into Darkness, has found that Lib Dem voters are HUGE Trekkies.

"When asked if they preferred the escapades of captain Kirk and commander Spock or Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, 64% opted for Star Trek and 36% chose Star Wars."

"Tory voters also preferred Star Trek (53%) more than Star Wars (47%). Presumably this includes John Redwood, infamously described as 'half human, half Vulcan, brother of the brilliant, cold-blooded Spock'.

"With two years to go until the general election Labour voters are hoping the force is strong with Ed Miliband. As they are more into Death Stars and lightsabers than the USS Enterprise and phasers, preferring Star Wars (57%) to Star Trek (43%).

"Ukip supporters were evenly split in preference for either sci-fi universe - although it seems likely the eurosceptics would not be huge fans of Earth being part of Star Trek's European Union-style United Federation of Planets."


From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 30

Ukip 14

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 96.


@DouglasCarswell Are there any ex Chancellors out there who still believe we should remain a member of the European Union? Other than Gordon Brown, that is?

@iainmartin1 Were the members of transport select committee denied access to a map in their deliberations? *Four* new runways at Heathrow? Nuts

‏@sturdyAlex The more you beat it, the more rotten lies fall out of the rancid piñata that is Iain Duncan Smith's welfare policy.


Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, says: "Labour must stand firm: no to a referendum on Europe."

Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "Despite the cynics, don’t give up on politics."

Jesse Norman, writing in the Times, says: "Edmund Burke – the great conservative who foresaw the discontents of our era."

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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