The five things you need to know on Friday 31 May 2013...
1) BRING IT ON, SAYS ASSAD
Are our actions ratcheting up, our ratcheting down, the conflict in Syria? All the evidence suggests the latter, sadly.
From the Telegraph:
"Syria's Bashar al-Assad yesterday dared his foes to take him on, promising to respond to any Israeli strike on his country, as he appeared to indicate that Russian missiles were already on their way. In an interview aired on both Hizbollah's television channel in Lebanon and Syria's own state media, Mr Assad said Russia had fulfilled some of its weapons contracts recently, but was vague on whether this included advanced S-300 air defence systems.
"... Mr Assad also claimed the balance of the war was tipping in his favour. 'The Syrian army has scored major victories against armed rebels on the ground and the balance of power is with the Syrian army.'"
Whether or not it is "tipping" in the loathsame Assad's favour is questionable. What isn't questionable is that the EU's decision to lift its arms embargo, prompted by the UK government, won't suddenly lead to the rebels toppling the Assad regime, which is backed by Russia, Iran and Hizbollah, not to mention the country's Alawite minority and sections of the secular Christian and Sunni business communities. All it will do is further militarise the conflict and make the Geneva peace conference next month - which Lib Dem MP Sir Menzies Campbell rightly described as 'the only game in town' on the Today programme this morning - a bit of a waste of time.
So what's to be done? Is there a way out of this deadlock and bloodshed?
Writing in the Telegraph, the former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak says:
"[T]he best chance for a successful resolution of the Syrian crisis is a diplomatic initiative led by Russia. The Kremlin has at its disposal the necessary leverage to convince Assad to leave, or at least to stop the fighting... But despite [support for Assad], the Russian leadership, shrewd as ever, well understands that the Assad regime is ultimately doomed, even if the Kremlin prefers not to say so publicly... The Russians, like all of us, are far from perfect. But they are an important world power with special relevance to Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Middle East. Their interests and perspectives have to be seriously taken into account."
For once, I agree with the former Israeli premier...
2) COALITION U-TURN ON STIMULUS? REALLY?
Are the swivel-eyed austerians of the Con-Lib coalition finally starting to see sense? Listening to the advice of the IMF, the OECD, the NIESR, basically every major economic institution and forecaster, on infrastructure spending? Stealing a march on Labour in the process? From the FT:
"The coalition will next month announce £15bn of extra spending for major infrastructure projects, in a move designed to stimulate the economy and challenge Labour to outline its own plans to revive growth.
"While the cabinet argues over one-year cuts to annual departmental budgets for 2015-16 before next month's spending review, the Treasury has been drawing up new capital expenditure plans for 2015-20.
"Danny Alexander, chief secretary to the Treasury, hinted at the additional investment in a speech last night, in which he promised to 'make commitments right through to the end of the decade'."
Will this push Labour's Ed Balls to be even more radical than he has been so far, with his rather tepid but still-better-than-the-coalition's 5-point plan for growth? After all, interest rates are at historic lows; the UK can basically borrow for free right now, in order to invest in infrastructure and put the jobless back to work. The FT says:
"Ed Balls, shadow chancellor, is planning a speech next week on the economy... According to a poll by YouGov, 60 per cent of respondents believe Labour should outline its stimulus plans now, rather than waiting until closer to the general election."
Be bold, Balls!
Meanwhile, Michael Gove has written a column for the Telegraph, headlined "Ed Miliband is a blancmange in a hurricane", in which he launches a scathing attack on not just the Labour leader ("Miliband isn't leading the party anywhere new, interesting or relevant") but the shadow chancellor, too:
"Ed Balls responds to every development in the same way - let's party like it's 1929. He wants to enlist us all in sponsoring a revival of his one-man show, 'Gordon Brown 2 - Return to the Edge of Bankruptcy', the original of which gave Britain a massive structural deficit, spiralling unemployment and declining competitiveness. Miliband's passivity in the face of his shadow chancellor's operating style is of a piece with his wider inertia."
Some might say that the fact Gove felt he had to write this piece suggests the two Eds are doing something right...
3) WE DON'T WANT TO SNOOP
Last night's Question Time, on which I appeared alongside health minister Anna Soubry, former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson and others, opened with a question on the 'snooper's charter' (sorry, the draft communications data bill).
Johnson made a forceful case for giving the security services greater powers to monitor our emails, etc, but according to this morning's Guardian:
"The five biggest internet companies in the world, including Google and Facebook, have privately delivered a thinly veiled warning to the home secretary, Theresa May, that they will not voluntarily co-operate with the "snooper's charter".
"In a leaked letter to the home secretary that is also signed by Twitter, Microsoft and Yahoo!, the web's 'big five' say that May's rewritten proposals to track everybody's email, internet and social media use remain 'expensive to implement and highly contentious'.
"The private letter, which has been passed to the Guardian, is part of a series of continuing confidential discussions between the industry and the Home Office. It says that May's 'core premise' to create a new retention order requiring overseas internet companies to store the personal data of all their British-based users for up to 12 months has 'potentially seriously harmful consequences'."
Indeed it is does - and, as I noted on QT last night, can we really trust a government and civil service, which couldn't keep track of a CD with 25m child benefit records on it, with all of the internet data of 60m people?
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of the dog with the worst howl ever.
4) 'VERY SERIOUS ALLEGATIONS'
From the Guardian:
"Liberal Democrat MP Mike Hancock will face a disciplinary hearing next week to determine whether he should lose the party whip over 'very serious allegations' of sexual assault.
"In what is a potentially very delicate piece of party management, the Lib Dem chief whip Alistair Carmichael was forced to defer a planned meeting with Hancock until Monday after the MP was unavailable. The party's deputy leader, Simon Hughes, is also expected to attend the hearing.
"Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, speaking on LBC's Call Clegg phone-in confirmed the party was considering suspending Hancock from the party over the allegations. He has asked the party's chief whip to convene 'an urgent meeting' with the MP on Monday afternoon after Hancock was served papers as part of a High Court civil action."
Given the Chris Rennard affair is still unresolved, the last thing the Lib Dem high command will want to deal with are these Hancock allegations, too...
5) SAMCAM TO THE RESCUE
According to Andy Coulson, in his much-discussed GQ article, the Tories’ chances of winning the next election are “slim but still quite possible” and depend on Mrs, not Mr, Cameron - from the Sun:
'David Cameron must get wife Sam 'in the trenches' for the next election battle, an ex-No 10 spin chief says.
"Sam Cam can play a 'key role' in winning back women voters, Andy Coulson claimed.
"She is one of the few people around the PM who can offer 'clear, sensible' advice, he added."
Plus, bonus point, Mrs Cameron didn't go to Eton...
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From today's Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 11
That would give Labour a majority of 90.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@claire4devizes I'm genuinely perplexed by tweeps who respond to any debate on illegal child abuse images with a "Mary Whitehouse" riposte ...
@chrisdeerin 1. Truth is that a fair number of Labour MPs will agree privately with much of what Gove says in @Telegraph today
@mattchorley LibDems say the reason they haven't sent out statement on Mike Hancock yet is because people keep phoning and asking where the statement is
900 WORDS OR MORE
Rob Ford, writing in the Guardian, says: "Now Ukip is gunning for Labour, what's Ed Miliband going to do about it?"
Mark Littlewood, writing in the Times, says: "The Lib Dems should try being real liberals."
Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "David Cameron believes in marriage – so why doesn’t he support it?"
Plus, here's my latest column: "Extremists Point to Western Foreign Policy to Explain Their Acts. Why Do We Ignore Them?"
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