Then ten things you need to know on Tuesday 21 May 2013...
1) DAVE'S LOVE LETTER TO THE LOONS
Under fire from his activists and backbenchers, under pressure from Ukip, the prime minister is - finally! - in full damage limitation mode. The Daily Mail reports:
"David Cameron issued a love letter to Tory activists last night as UKIP closed to within two points in the opinion polls.
"The peace offering followed revelations that a senior ally of the Prime Minister had branded the party faithful 'swivel-eyed loons'. MPs warn that his leadership is in peril amid discontent on Europe and gay marriage.
"... In his email to party members, Mr Cameron said: 'We have been together through good times and bad. This is more than a working relationship; it is a deep and lasting friendship.' Referring to reports that Tory co-chairman Lord Feldman - a tennis partner of Mr Cameron - had insulted them, he added: ' I am proud to lead this party. I am proud of what you do. And I would never have around me those who sneered or thought otherwise."
The paper also reports that "the Conservative Party board discussed the Lord Feldman issue for 35 minutes yesterday and rejected calls from Tory MP and board member Brian Binley to hold a full investigation.
"Lord Feldman repeated his denial that he said the words attributed to him. That section of the meeting was chaired by co-chairman Grant Shapps with Lord Feldman still in the room.
"Both faced criticism over the 'disconnect' between the leadership and the grassroots, over the way the affair was handled and over No 10's decision to attack the media for its reporting. Mr Shapps admitted Tory high command must do more to connect with party members, stressing party chiefs would 'redouble its efforts'."
They better hurry. The Guardian quotes a 'senior figure' in the party as saying: "This is worse than John Major. There was quite a lot of sympathy for him because of the Maastricht rebels. He also listened, though he probably listened too much. With Cameron it feels like this could be terminal – and will be so before the election."
2) THE RISE AND RISE OF UKIP, PART 74
Look behind you, Dave! From the Independent:
"Ukip has surged to just two points behind the Conservatives, according to a poll released last night.
"The data by Survation, a member of the British Polling Council, puts Ukip on 22 per cent, its highest poll rating ever. Labour is on 35 per cent, 11 points ahead of the Tories, while the Lib Dems are in fourth place on 11 per cent."
Meanwhile, in the Independent, the Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey warns that "there is a danger, with Ukip peddling an anti-climate-change message, that the right of the Conservative Party might also be dragged that way".
3) ED RESCUES GAY MARRIAGE BILL
As a prime minister, you know you're in trouble when you need the leader of the opposition to save you from your own backbenchers.
"Gay marriage revolt drives Cameron into Labour's arms," is the splash headline on the front of the Times.
The paper reports that Dave "stoked Tory anger last night after he struck an eleventh-hour deal with Labour to save his divisive gay marriage plans.
"Even with Labour support, the Government suffered a series of bruising defeats as two Cabinet members and nine junior ministers led dozens of Tories to vote against the leadership.
"Their efforts to secure opt-outs for teachers and marriage registrars opposed to gay marriage were defeated with the aid of Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs. But the sheer scale of Conservative opposition to the Prime Minister, on a free vote, was a sign of how mutinous the party has become.
"More than 100 Tory MPs, led by Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, and Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, repeatedly lined up against Mr Cameron.
"As the scale of the rebellion became clear, the Prime Minister was forced to plead with Ed Miliband to rescue him on a vote to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. Without the support of Labour, the whole Bill would have been at risk, and Mr Miliband stepped in."
It's not over yet. Today, as the Times notes, "the Commons will debate further amendments before voting on whether to approve the Bill's third reading, sending it over to the House of Lords. It is expected to pass the Commons vote thanks to the support of Labour and Liberal Democrats".
4) 'AGGRESSIVE HOMOSEXUALS'
Several Tory MPs were keen to take the mantle of 'swivel-eyed loon' in last night's debate on same-sex marriage. My colleague Ned Simons reports:
"Former Tory defence minister Sir Gerald Howarth suggested gay rights had gone too far. He criticised the 'aggressive homosexual community' who he said saw gay marriage as 'a stepping stone to something even further'.
"And Conservative Edward Leigh said the gay marriage bill was an example of the 'outlandish views of the loony left' having taken over the government."
Howarth, interestingly, didn't reveal what that further step would be.
Sketchwriter Simon Hoggart, writing in the Guardian, says the Tory Party appears to be "disintegrating into endless factions... Loonies versus sort-of sane. Swivel-eyed against glass eyed. Herding cats? By comparison, a sackful of kittens would be as easy to marshal as the Brigade of Guards. If they were football fans, hordes of police would be needed to keep Tory MPs at opposite ends of the stadium."
5) HOLDING BACK THE SCOTS?
From the BBC:
"Scotland has been held back by past and present UK governments, Holyrood's SNP administration has claimed.
"In a paper, to be published later, it cites six areas where Westminster has pursued policies said not to have been in the best interests of Scotland.
"The arguments are being outlined the day after Treasury analysis suggested independence would cost savers and borrowers north of the border."
The SNP's deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon "highlighted six areas including;
* The decision of the last two Westminster governments to cut capital spending which would have supported an additional 19,000 jobs in Scotland
* The UK government's failure to establish an oil fund for future generations, similar to the Norwegian fund now worth an estimated £450bn
* The decision by the UK government to engage in a boom in credit and debt expansion
* Allowing income inequality to grow dramatically in the UK
* The decision to concentrate economic activity in London
* And the decision to pursue austerity rather than focus on growing the economy."
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of a rabbit doing a forward roll. You know you want to.
6) POLICE RAID PARLIAMENT
From the Express:
"Police investigating the rape allegations against Commons Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans have raided his Parliamentary office, the Daily Express can reveal today.
"It was searched on Sunday by Lancashire police.
"Speaker John Bercow told MPs that a search warrant had been issued by Preston Crown Court, although neither he nor police named Conservative Mr Evans as the occupant of the room.
"The swoop, just the second of its kind in recent years, 'related to the investigation of a serious arrestable offence', said Mr Bercow."
7) THE WORK PROGRAMME THAT DOESN'T WORK
From the Times:
"Private companies running the Government's flagship Work Programme are still failing to reach the most disadvantaged unemployed people, MPs will claim today... In a critical report, the Work and Pensions Committee says that the programme — to get people off benefit and into work — potentially can help mainstream jobseekers, but the most vulnerable groups are being 'parked' and getting no support.
"The companies contracted to run the payment by results schemes are choosing instead those most likely to get a job anyway. Of the 9,500 former incapacity benefit claimants, only 20 people had been placed in a job that lasted three months."
The BBC notes that "last year the government faced calls to scrap the scheme after just 3.5% found a job for six months or more - missing the coalition's 5.5% target.
"Dame Anne Begg, chairman of the committee behind the report, said the programme's performance in its first 14 months was poor but there were signs of improvement for mainstream jobseekers."
8) OFSTED FOR GPS
From the Guardian:
"England's 34,000 family doctors will face Ofsted-style inspections overseen by a new chief inspector of general practice to secure 'safe and responsive care', the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is to announce.
"... In a set of plans designed to underline the health secretary's pro-pensioner credentials, the health secretary will also say on Tuesday that every vulnerable elderly person will have a 'named' NHS worker responsible for organising their heath and care needs... The health secretary's intervention comes as a leading thinktank calls for a fresh debate over whether wealthy pensioners should receive universal benefits at a time when public funding for essential social care is drying up. The King's Fund warns that the government's attempts to cap social care costs for the elderly 'won't solve the social care funding challenge'."
9) WHAT DID THE PRESIDENT KNOW AND WHEN DID HE KNOW IT?
Across the pond, the IRS scandal gets bigger and bigger - from the BBC:
"Senior White House aides were informed last month of an inquiry into the US tax agency's targeting of conservative political groups, an official has said.
"President Barack Obama himself was not informed, spokesman Jay Carney said.
"Officials at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) have apologised for mistakes ahead of the 2012 election but say there was no political motivation.
"Republicans have sought to use the matter to discredit the president just months into his second term in office... The FBI has launched a criminal inquiry. Congress has already held one hearing into the matter and more are planned."
10) LUCKY DAVE
The Mail's Ephraim Hardcastle column reveals:
"Wtih the Commons rising today for the 13-day Whitsun Recess, David Cameron is spared a potentially embarrassing session of Prime Minister’s Questions tomorrow. Either by luck or design he hasn’t taken one PMQs since April 24. Six weeks will have passed by the time he next takes one on June 5. My source says: ‘Interestingly, the Lords’ Whitsun Recess does not begin until May 22. So whoever arranges the Commons timetable must be a Cameron supporter.’"
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Survation poll:
Lib Dems 11
That would give Labour a majority of 100.
From the Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 10
That would give Labour a majority of 92.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@Ed_Miliband David Cameron’s inability to control his party must not be allowed to wreck the Equal Marriage Bill. Labour’s commitment unwavering.
@DrEvanHarris Gerald Howarth MP's "aggressive homosexuals" makes it into 10pm news & the history books. He'll regret that. Aggressively.
@LoonyPartyNews As 'swivel-eyed loons' We take umbrage at being likened to the Conservatives!
900 WORDS OR MORE
Iain Martin, writing in the Telegraph, says: "It feels like the Right has split irrevocably."
Donald Macintyre, writing in the Independent, says: "The 'loons' debacle helped to make last night’s vote on the Gay Marriage bill even more radioactive than it would otherwise have been."
Aditya Chakrabortty, writing in the Guardian, says: "The Great Gatsby's world is every bit as unequal as Britain under the coalition."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ned Simons (email@example.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol