Mehdi's Morning Memo: A Pre-Election Divorce?


The ten things you need to know on Friday 17 May 2013...


With just two years to go till the general election, and the coalition in turmoil over Europe (see point 2, below) and civil liberties, among other issues, there's a rather tasty splash on the front of today's Times:

"Senior Tories have begun to plan for the early break-up of the coalition amid fears that Nick Clegg will be unable to keep his party in government until 2015.

"Some of David Cameron's senior aides are talking through a range of scenarios, including the Lib Dems quitting up to a year before polling day.

"One such contingency envisages Vince Cable taking over from Mr Clegg and using the opposition benches to reposition the Lib Dems as equidistant between the Tories and Labour.

"Another scenario involves an 'amicable divorce' in which the Lib Dems agree to Mr Cameron leading a minority government and wave through next year's Budget, but put campaigning distance between themselves and the Conservatives."


Yes, the Tories continue to bang on about Europe. From the Sun:

"David Cameron yesterday ordered Tories to support a backbench Bill promising voters an in-out EU referendum by the end of 2017.

"Conservative MP James Wharton announced he will introduce the Bill in the Commons next month.

"And the PM slapped a threeline whip on the move in a bid to unite the party after a week of turmoil.

"... But Mr Wharton, 29 — who became the Tories' youngest MP when he was elected in 2010 — faces an uphill battle to force his Bill through as both Labour and the Lib Dems are opposed to it. Asked last night if Ed Miliband was planning to kill the Bill, a Labour spokesman said: 'Yes — he does not support it, he does not want it to go through.'"

The big question is whether Wharton's constituents in the very marginal seat of Stockton South approve of him using parliamentary time not to push for improvements in their living standards, their public services or other 'everyday' issues but to help his party get through an internal crisis and try and reach a compromise position on the anoraky issue of an EU referendum.

Meanwhile, writing in the Telegraph, Labour 'grandee' and ex-EU commissioner Peter Mandelson says: "[F]or his own sake as well as the country's, the PM cannot allow Ukip's appeal to spread further without pushing back against their isolationist demands... All the party leaders need to make clear that quitting the EU would be a colossal indulgence. It might fill many with a sense of pride in Britain's separateness, but it would also mean greater isolation, less trade, smaller influence and fewer friends."

And writing in the Guardian, CBI boss John Cridland hits back at the eurosceptics; he says: "At a time of great economic challenge, could UK businesses struggling at the margins survive without access to our primary market for an unknown period? Submitting to rules without the power to influence them is not my idea of much-touted greater sovereignty."


"It's a lock in at the pub... for his own safety," says the headline on the front of the Independent. Yep, the leader of the UK Independence Party should give some serious thought to rebranding his outfit as the England Independence Party - Ukip, you see, aren't that popular north of the border.

The Indy's Andy McSmith reports:

"Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, had to be given a police escort through an angry crowd as he tried to take his party's anti-EU message to Scotland yesterday.

"The Ukip leader was holding a press conference in Edinburgh's Canons' Gait pub when protesters started to arrive and heckle him, before police cleared them out. A hostile demonstration then started outside, to shouts of 'racist, Nazi scum' and calls for Mr Farage to 'go back to England'. The demonstrators appear to have been young, leftwing supporters of Scottish independence."

The Ukip leader issued a pretty strong response afterwards, describing the protests as "anti–British and anti–English. They hate the Union Jack... If this is the face of Scottish nationalism, it's a pretty ugly picture."


Yesterday my colleague Tom Moseley wondered whether Michael Gove is on manoeuvres. He's never out of the headlines.

Today is no different - the Telegraph's front page splash headline is: "Nimbys are enemies of social mobility, says Gove".

The paper, reporting on Gove's Sir Keith Joseph Memorial lecture last night, says:

"Campaigners against the Government's planning reforms are opposing social mobility, aspiration and the family, a senior Cabinet minister has suggested.

"Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said the countryside should not be considered sacred when it comes to building new homes and suggested that the Coalition's reforms to the planning system would have been approved by Margaret Thatcher."

Them be fighting words...

The Telegraph piece also reminds us of Nick Clegg's cutting remarks about the education secretary on his LBC radio show yesterday morning: "Michael, who I think is a perfectly nice chap, doesn't know the first thing about the [Lib Dems] ... of course, he knows a thing or two about leadership ambitions, but that's a different matter."

The Guardian reports: "Michael Gove has set out a prime ministerial vision of a compassionate Conservatism that champions aspiration in a speech that will fuel speculation about his leadership ambitions," adding that Gove "touched on no fewer than 11 policy areas".


"Google was branded 'devious, calculating and unethical' yesterday by MPs who accused the internet giant of deliberately subverting its motto, 'don't be evil', in order to pay less tax.

"Infuriated members of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) lashed out at the company as one of its most senior executives insisted it was not 'selling' advertising in the UK - but in low-tax Ireland instead.

"The arrangement allowed Google to pay just £6m in UK corporation tax in 2011 despite generating more than £3bn in advertising revenues in this country.

"'You are a company that says you do no evil,' said Margaret Hodge, the committee's chairman. 'I think that you do do evil. You use smoke and mirrors to avoid paying tax.'"

The paper's leader says: "In the austerity after the banking crisis, the line between reasonable and unreasonable exploitation of the rules is shifting - and Google is on the wrong side of it."


Watch this incredible video of a deer crashing through a bus window.


Defence secretary Philip Hammond has said his boss's gay marriage proposals have angered "vast numbers of people" and used up a great deal of parliamentary and government time.

From the BBC:

"Mr Hammond, who has been open about his opposition to gay marriage, told the BBC's Question Time: "This change does redefine marriage. For millions and millions of people who are married, the meaning of marriage changes.

"There is a real sense of anger among many people who are married that any government thinks it has the ability to change the definition of an institution like marriage."

He was also critical of the amount of government time that had been spent on the issue, saying: " I have just never felt that this is what we should be focusing on."

Meanwhile, my colleague Ned Simons reports:

"Civil partnerships could be expanded to included heterosexual couples under government plans revealed last night, after culture secretary Maria Miller conceded a 'review' into the future of the unions.

"However some MPs fear the amendment tabled at the last minute to the gay marriage bill is actually designed to kick the issue into the long grass.

"... Some pro-gay marriage MPs who also support civil partnerships for heterosexual couples suspect some Tory MPs of wanting to eventually restrict marriage to religious ceremonies while the state just conducts civil partnerships."

Today, incidentally, is International Day Against Homophobia - an issue I tackle in my New Statesman column this week (which will be up online on Monday).


The Guardian's political editor Patrick Wintour profiles and interviews the man behind Labour's all-important 'blank sheet' policy review - Dagenham MP Jon Cruddas. Wintour writes:

"Cruddas is determined the policy review does not fall into a mechanistic set of Whitehall prescriptions that is designed to modernise the country but fails to strike the right note with the electorate. With his 'Blue Labour' roots, Cruddas insists 'it is tackling issues politics have ignored for decades like mental health, fatherhood and the ownership of football clubs or learning lessons from far and wide – even Republican Texans on prison reform'."


The US president is in serious trouble. From the Financial Times:

"Republicans today launch the first of several congressional inquiries into the inappropriate treatment of conservative activists by the Internal Revenue Service as they try to link the White House directly to the scandal.

"Barack Obama forced out the acting head of the US tax collection agency late on Wednesday. The president also released 100 pages of emails about the handling of the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi last September.

"... Under fire for not engaging transparently on either issue, the White House is attempting to get on top of both controversies before they swamp the president's ability to shape issues on Capitol Hill, notably immigration reform."

Isn't it odd that the Republicans would rather attack Obama over these largely trivial and trumped-up issues rather than over, say, the president's declaration that he has the right to kill US citizens with unmanned drones and without trial or arrest, or the president's decision to go to war in Libya in 2011 without congressional approval?

On a side note, the New York Times reports that Obama "has spoken privately of 'going Bulworth,' a reference to the 1998 Warren Beatty movie about a California Senate candidate who becomes unusually honest after having run as a centrist Democrat."


Who says stimulus doesn't work? From the Times:

"Japan’s economy expanded at its fastest pace in a year, providing evidence to support the effect of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s stimulus measures."

"Gross domestic product grew by 0.9 per cent in the three months to March and this translates into an annual growth rate of 3.5 per cent."

"Hideki Matsumura, a senior economist at the Japan Research Institute, pointed to a jump in spending boosted by a rally in Japanese shares and recovering exports after the country's central bank pumped trillions of yen into the money supply chain, pushing down the yen's value... Abenomics is the name given by the markets to Mr Abe's attempts to kickstart Japan's stagnant economy."


From the Guardian:

"One in four MPs thinks that parliament, where the price of alcohol is subsidised, has an unhealthy drinking culture. A cross-party survey of 150 MPs reveals that 39 (26%) believe there is too much drinking in Westminster.

"The charity Alcohol Concern, which commissioned the research, called for changes to the availability of drink in the House of Commons, where 13,000 passholders - including MPs, peers, their staff and journalists - can drink in its many bars and dining rooms."


"My instinct is, [Ed Miliband] going to be cleverer than we think and we'd be very unwise to take him less than seriously." - former Tory frontbencher David Davis MP, speaking on BBC1's Question Time Extra last night.


From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 31

Ukip 15

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 92.


@TimMontgomerie Idea Gove speech is leadership bid is absurd - saying 'i love Blair' and antagonising Telegraph on planning hardly sucks up to Tory voters

@margotjamesmp Recession in Eurozone now 18 months old, even Germany at zero growth, all the more reason for Britain's exporters to get out beyond Europe

@drwollastonmp Qn is do we want to descend to a State which accepts mobs being deployed to intimidate politicians so that they need police protection?


Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, says: "Now we know HS2's a fiasco. But can George Osborne admit it?"

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "The truth is, we can’t afford a shiny new transport system like HS2."

Plus, check out these two blogs on the horrific Oxford child abuse case and the alleged racial/religious implications on the HuffPost UK: British Muslim imam Ajmal Masroor says "I have come across young men from Bangladeshi and Arab backgrounds whose despicable views about white girls sent shivers down my spine" while British Muslim human rights activist Sara Khan asks: "Why unlike Asian abusers, have the religion, race or culture of white abusers' never been a matter of focus?"

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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