The five things you need to know on (Bank Holiday) Monday 27 May 2013...
1) TO CHILLAX OR NOT TO CHILLAX?
The Sun has a pretty striking front page splash this morning: the words "Hell Hol" laid over a split image: on the left, the grieving partner of soldier Lee Rigby weeps as she visits his murder scene in Woolwich; on the right, David Cameron sips coffee at a beachside cafe in Ibiza. The papers aren't happy that the PM has decided to go on holiday in the midst of the current 'terrorism crisis'.
"Is it really wise to be chillaxing in Ibiza, Dave?" asks the Daily Mail. "Is it really time to chillax?" asks the Mirror.
The Sun quotes backbench Labour MP John Mann, who said of the PM: "It's completely inappropriate to jet off so soon. Cameron should be at his desk. You only get one shot at being Prime Minister and I'm surprised that he is not willing to do the job properly."
But a Number 10 spokesman said: "The PM is on holiday for the week. He remains in charge, and has office support with him."
And Dave also won the backing of his backbench nemesis Nadine Dorries, who insisted: "I actually want the Prime Minister to be refreshed."
To be fair to the PM, he's the one who said we should all carry on with business as usual, with normal everyday life, despite last Wednesday's horrific crime, and we all praised him for saying so. Now, it seems, some of us cynically want to have a go at him for practising what he preaches. I'm with Dave - the only way to defeat terrorism is to refuse to be terrorised. Oh, and the only way to get 'normal', 'in touch' people at the top of politics is to allow them to do 'normal' and 'in touch' things like go on holiday. Even if it is, ahem, to Ibiza...
2) ARE THE RULES OF THE GAME CHANGING?
Despite defending the PM's Ibiza break, I do worry that the government he leads is now starting to exploit the current crisis to crack down on civil liberties and hand more powers to the security services.
The Times reports that the home secretary "provoked a fierce row yesterday when she demanded the revival of the 'snooper's charter' after the terrorist attack last Wednesday in Woolwich.
"Theresa May, setting out measures to counter extremism, said it was 'essential' that police and intelligence agencies were allowed to track who speaks to whom on the internet."
There are suggestions - chiefly from former Tory leader and ex-home secretary - that the Conservatives could ally with Labour to overcome Lib Dem objections to the 'charter'. I've yet to hear a minister or shadow minister explain, however, how exactly the powers contained in the communications bill would have prevented the brutal murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail splashes with: "Hate preachers facing a TV ban." The paper reports:
"Under plans to be drawn up by a new task force on extremism, Ofcom is expected to win powers to stop hate preachers appearing on television. At the moment the quango has the power to intervene only after an inappropriate broadcast has been made.
"The move is the most dramatic attempt to gag those who peddle extremist views since the Thatcher government's 1988 ban on IRA spokesmen being heard on television, which led to the words of Gerry Adams being read out by an actor."
I've been campaigning and arguing against extremists such as Anjem Choudary being given airtime for several years now, but I'd rather media organisations like the BBC exercise better editorial judgement than be "banned" by external regulators from having them on. I'm instinctively wary of such (well-intentioned) efforts to "censor" speech - even hate speech.
Remember: it was Tony Blair who announced, in the wake of the 7/7 terror attacks in 2005, that "the rules of the game have changed". I do hope Cameron, self-styled 'heir to Blair', avoids going down the illiberal/authoritarian/self-defeating Blair route...
3) POURING FUEL ON THE SYRIAN FIRE
Is there a solution to the crisis in Syria? And is it a military one? The coalition thinks so - but others, thankfully, don't agree. From the Guardian:
"British efforts to persuade the European Union to lift the arms embargo to Syrian rebels are likely to be rejected on Monday in the face of continued opposition from EU members alarmed that weapons could fall into the wrong hands.
"The foreign secretary, William Hague, is to join with the French to table a call for watering down the embargo at a meeting of other EU foreign ministers. But several countries – notably Austria, the Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden – oppose it for fear that weapons might fall into the hands of Islamic extremist groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra."
But it isn't just governments on the continent that are questioning the UK and French proposal to arm the rebels. Here at home, Majesty's Opposition - perhaps still recovering from its role in the Iraq war catastrophe - seems to have matured a bit.
"Labour has questioned whether lifting the embargo is legal or politically wise.
"'How would the government prevent British-supplied weapons falling into the wrong hands, and how does supplying weapons help to secure a lasting peace?' asked Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary."
That's the $64,000 question that the Syria hawks keep ducking and dodging. The Guardian report continues:
"The UN commission of inquiry in Syria reported in February that the rebels have committed war crimes, saying 'war crimes, including murder, extrajudicial killings and torture, were perpetrated by anti-government armed groups'."
Our hearts may bleed for the poor people of Syria - especially those refugees languishing in camps in Jordan and Turkey - but we should think long and hard before providing lethal weaponry to such tainted groups.
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of a ferret vs a toilet roll. You know you want to.
4) THE RISE AND RISE OF UKIP, PART 74
From the Times:
"UKIP will storm to victory in next year’s European elections with the help of two fifths of Tory voters, according to a new poll.
"David Cameron is predicted to come third behind Labour and Nigel Farage’s anti-EU party, which the Open Europe poll suggests will have 27 per cent of the vote.
"In a rare boost for the Prime Minister, the survey reveals widespread support for his strategy of reforming Britain's relationship with Brussels. But this will not be enough for him to hang on to voters next May, with the Tories expected to poll only 21 per cent, and Labour in second place on 23 per cent."
Before Faragemania gets completely out of control, may I remind you that Ukip came second in the 2009 Euro elections with an impressive 16.5% of the vote and yet, less than a year later in the 2010 general election, the party secured just 3% of the vote and failed to win any seats in parliament?
Nonetheless, Cameron and Miliband are both under pressure from the Ukip surge. The Guardian's Patrick Wintour reports that "a senior Tory has warned that David Cameron's leadership would be at stake if the Conservative party loses next year's European parliamentary elections, something most polls, political betting sites and the Ukip have said was likely to happen.
"[Former whip David] Ruffley told Sky's Murnaghan programme: 'I think next May's Euro elections might put pressure on him to go harder because there is a lot of speculation in and around Downing Street, so I am led to believe, that Ukip might come first. Now if that happens next May there'll be 12 months before the election and some of our colleagues in marginal seats might get a bit windy.'"
"The warning [to Cameron] came as the former deputy prime minister John Prescott became the most senior Labour figure to call on Ed Miliband to back an in-out referendum on Europe now, ahead of Cameron's planned date of 2017.
"... Prescott intervened in the European debate, writing in the Mirror over the weekend: 'Cameron thought he was shooting Ukip's fox by offering a referendum. All they want to do is save their seats in 2015. So Labour should call his bluff. We should continue to put the economy, jobs and the national interest first.'
"'That's why Ed Miliband should call for an in-out referendum on Europe. Not to be held in 2017 but NOW!'"
5) POLITICS BEFORE ECONOMICS?
From the Times:
"George Osborne will add billions to the deficit if he proceeds with a firesale of Royal Bank of Scotland before the election, Ed Balls has declared, in a warning shot at the Government over a possible giveaway of bank shares.
"Labour will vigorously oppose moves to dispose of the government’s 81 per cent shareholding in RBS by offering shares to the public at no upfront cost.
"The Chancellor would be putting 'politics before economics' in a desperate political gamble if he goes down this route, the Shadow Chancellor said, referring to plans being developed by the think-tank Policy Exchange to give the public shares and a slice of the bank's future profits.
"An announcement on the future of RBS and Lloyds will come at Mr Osborne's Mansion House speech next month."
On a side note, the Express reports that Balls "caused a stir at the weekend when he claimed politics was no longer his 'all-consuming passion' and that he was more focused on one day passing his grade eight piano exam than being prime minister."
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 10
That would give Labour a majority of 110.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@rupertmurdoch With UK on terror alert, Cameron off on holiday in Ibiza. Unbelievable.
@JGForsyth Given modern communications, seems a bit unfair to criticise Cameron 4 going on family holiday. Suspect he can be kept fully informed there
@sunny_hundal If @Ed_Miliband works with Tories to pass Snooper's Charter, his civil liberties cred will be in shreds, and push away recent converts.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Terry Eagleton, writing in the Guardian, says: "To deny the Woolwich attackers any shred of rationality is to come perilously close to excusing them."
Yasmin Alibhai Brown, writing in the Independent, says: "Why do Muslims keep having to explain themselves? We hate Islamicist brutes more than any outsiders ever could?"
Gus O’Donnell and Jonathan Portes, writing in the Times, say: "Immigration is like trade. It makes us rich."
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