The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 25 June 2013...
1) 'NO BLANKET BAN ON FARAGE'
Want to understand Ed Miliband? Then you need to understand his top adviser, the Labour peer and shadow cabinet minister without portfolio Stewart Wood. He doesn't give many interviews but he has spoken to me.
From the Huffington Post:
"Nigel Farage could be allowed to participate in the televised election debates, one of Ed Miliband's closest advisers has said.
"Speaking exclusively to The Huffington Post UK, Stewart Wood, the peer who masterminded Miliband's leadership campaign, acknowledged Ukip posed a threat to the party and suggested Labour could back an in/out EU referendum.
"Asked about the TV debates, Wood, a key figure in Miliband's inner-circle, said: 'I think that Farage has become a major figure in our politics, whether you like it or not. My personal view is I wouldn’t have a blanket ban, no.'
"Despite referring to Ukip as a 'very right-wing' party, Wood said Labour could not afford to ignore its recent surge in support.
"...'We’re going make a judgement whether to have a [EU] referendum,' he said. Asked if Labour would make such a pledge in its manifesto, Wood said: 'It’s conceivable because we are going to make up our minds before the next election.'"
He also dismissed reports that Ed Balls could be replaced by Alistair Darling ahead of the 2015 election: "They’re wrong. I do believe [Balls] will be the chancellor in the next Labour government."
And he slapped down former Blairite ministers, as well as Tony Blair himself, who have been critical of Miliband's policy positions:
"I think the key thing is not to be afraid of people who were in ministerial jobs in the past from expressing their views. You hear them, you always listen. But you reserve the right to disagree."
You can read the full interview/profile with Lord Wood here.
2) DAVE WOOS ED ON SYRIA
It looks like the prime minister really, really wants Ed Miliband to back the government's stance on Syria. From the Daily Mail:
"Ed Miliband has been invited to a secret security meeting today in an apparent attempt to persuade him to soften his opposition to arming Syrian rebels.
"The Labour leader will be briefed by spy chiefs and military top brass at the Government's National Security Council (NSC), which is chaired by David Cameron. The pair have clashed over the idea of sending weapons to help end the civil war and Mr Miliband is expected to repeat concerns that arms could find their way to extremists, while backing moves for a peace conference."
The paper notes: "Mr Miliband attended an NSC meeting just once before - during the Libyan crisis in 2011."
In my interview with Stewart Wood, the latter notes that Labour is still very "sceptical" about the case for arming the rebels but adds: “At this stage, it would be pretty premature for us to rule out by fiat our support for things in the future.”
Meanwhile, the conflict itself continues to destabilise the region - from the Times:
"In the most serious spasm of violence to spill over from the civil war in neighbouring Syria, Sidon faced a second day of skirmishes yesterday as army special forces, aided by Hezbollah fighters, stormed a mosque and compound belonging to Sheikh Ahmad Assir. The radical Sunni cleric, an outspoken Hezbollah opponent, was holed up there with about 300 well-armed followers.
"... The fighting left at least 20 soldiers and an unknown number of Assir's followers dead, making it the worst conflict in Sidon since the end of Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war. Dozens of gunmen were captured and about 25 were said to have surrendered."
3) 'SNOWHERE TO BE SEEN'
That's the headline in the Sun, which reports:
"Fugitive whistleblower Edward Snowden kept US authorities guessing yesterday after failing to board a plane from Moscow to Cuba — leaving just a pair of empty seats.
"The National Security Agency rebel, 30, had arrived in Russia the night before after fleeing Hong Kong to dodge an attempt by the States to extradite him.
"He was hoping to seek political asylum in Ecuador and was booked on Aeroflot flight SU150 to Havana with companion Sarah Harrison — the assistant to Wiki-Leaks boss Julian Assange, himself a fugitive from US justice."
Meanwhile, the Times reports that Snowden "is probably still in Russia and has almost certainly shared the top secret information he had with foreign powers, the White House said last night. The remarks from Jay Carney, President Obama's spokesman, ended a day when the fugitive, who left Hong Kong for Moscow on Sunday, vanished in almost farcical circumstances.
"Earlier yesterday, the United States lodged an extradition request for Mr Snowden with Russia. Ecuador is expected to be his final destination."
The chaps at the NSA must be chortling - while the world's media obsesses over Edward Snowden's travel itinerary, they continue to get away with the legally-dubious mass surveillance of millions of innocent Americans that the former CIA technical assistant exposed earlier this month.
4) YOUNG VS OLD? NOT QUITE...
From the Independent:
"The majority of pensioners do not want special protection from the impact of public spending cuts, according to a ComRes survey for The Independent.
"... The general public agrees by a margin of 49 per cent to 46 per cent with the statement that pensioners should "be no more immune to the impact of Government spending cuts than other members of society." Surprisingly, 56 per cent of those aged 65 and over agree with this statement, more than any other age group, while 36 per cent disagree.
"In contrast, the strongest support for protecting pensioners was among younger people. Some 42 per cent of 18-24 year-olds agree that pensioners should be no more immune from cuts than others, while 52 per cent disagree."
5) TIED THE KNOT? HAVE A TAX BREAK
I'm sure the Telegraph has broken this story before. Several times. Right? Or do the Tories really mean it, this time?
"Tax breaks worth up to £150 to married couples will be written into law by David Cameron before the next election, a Treasury minister has promised.
"David Gauke gave a 'firm commitment' to help married couples within the next two years, amid growing unrest among Tory MPs about the lack of support for traditional families.
"He moved to reassure colleagues because George Osborne's Spending Review tomorrow is unlikely to contain any giveaways to support married couples or stay–at–home mothers."
Still, you can't please everybody:
"Tim Loughton, a former education minister who is leading the revolt, told The Telegraph there needed to be more urgency on delivering the pledge... Sir Gerald Howarth, a former defence minister, also said he would like to know when the tax break would be introduced."
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this very weird video of Richard Dawkins' "visual and oral extravaganza" presentation at the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Presentation. It is truly psychedelic...
6) 'COMPLETELY UNSATISFACTORY'
From the Sun:
"The dad of murdered Stephen Lawrence blasted Theresa May's "completely unsatisfactory" response yesterday to claims cops tried to smear his family.
"Neville Lawrence called for a full inquiry into allegations by an ex-undercover cop that he was asked to find 'dirt' on the family.
"As David Cameron pledged to expose the truth about the "horrific" allegations, Home Secretary Mrs May said they would be probed by two existing inquiries into the police. But Mr Lawrence said: 'I find this completely unsatisfactory. Nothing short of a judge-led inquiry will suffice.'"
7) LANSLEY VS THE WHISTLEBLOWER
From the Guardian:
"The whistleblower at the health regulator who had raised concerns over care at the Morecambe Bay NHS foundation trust has accused Andrew Lansley, the former health secretary, of giving an inaccurate account of the circumstances in which she spoke out.
"Kay Sheldon, a board member at the troubled Care Quality Commission, disputed Lansley's account of events that he gave in an interview on Sunday, and repeated claims that she had been threatened with being fired.
"'Andrew Lansley only backed down because I threatened legal action,' Sheldon said. 'I heard and read what he has been saying, and it does not accord with the events that happened.'"
8) SHEIKH UP IN QATAR
Gulf Arab rulers usually die on the throne. Not Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, the ruler of Qatar, who announced last night that he would be abdicating and handing power to his son, Crown Prince Tamim.
From the Times:
"The new Emir, 33, will be one of the youngest rulers in the Arab world, and takes over at a time when Qatar, the world's richest country, is playing an increasingly active political role in arming and supporting the Syrian rebels. The formal announcement came after Sheikh Hamad, 61, held a meeting with members of the ruling family and senior advisers last night. It comes after weeks of speculation that he was preparing to cede power to his son.
"... With a vast income from its gas exports, Qatar has played a growing role in regional and Arab politics. It sent aircraft to Join the Nato Allies in the campaign to support the insurgency that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. Qatar has also sent money and weapons to the rebels fighting in Syria, including Jihadists and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Qatari Royal Family is believed to be worth approximately £2.5 billion, and the Qatar Investment Authority, which invests at home and abroad, is worth about £74 billion."
The paper also notes: "Sheikh Hamad came to power in 1995 when he deposed his father and introduced liberalising reforms."
9) SILVIO SENT DOWN
From the Guardian:
"After more than 26 months, 50 court hearings and countless breathless column inches from journalists worldwide, it took just four minutes for the sentence that Silvio Berlusconi had feared to be delivered.
"... At the culmination of a trial that helped strike the final nail in the coffin of the playboy politician's international reputation, the judges found Berlusconi guilty both of paying for sex with the underage prostitute nicknamed Ruby Heartstealer and abusing his office to cover it up. They even went beyond the prosecutors' sentencing requests, ordering him to serve seven – rather than six – years in prison and face a lifetime ban on holding public office.
"Perhaps fittingly for a case that cast a spotlight on the murky nexus of sex and power that prosecutors argued was at the heart of his premiership – in which young women were procured, they said, "for the personal sexual satisfaction" of the billionaire septuagenarian – all three judges were female."
"Berlusconi, who had been predicting the verdict for weeks as the logical result of his lifelong "persecution" by leftwing prosecutors, has always denied the charges and now has the right to lodge not one but two appeals. The sentence will be enforced only if these fail and it is made definitive, a process that could take years. Regardless of whether it is eventually upheld, Berlusconi is highly unlikely ever to go to jail."
10) TOO FAR, TOO FAST?
Is party politics the right thing for teenagers to be involved in? The Independent's Andy McSmith writes:
"In 2011, Labour pulled off a sensational coup by getting an 18-year-old, Jake Morrison, elected to Liverpool Council, making him the youngest in the city's history.
"That success has since turned to disaster.
"Councillor Morrison had a falling out with Luciana Berger, the MP for Liverpool Wavertree, who accused him of not being a team player. He took to social media to publicise the row. He was advised by Liverpool's Mayor, Joe Anderson, to give it a rest, but carried on and was suspended from the party. The latest twist is that he has decided to run for Parliament against Ms Berger, as an independent."
McSmith adds: "Either he will change his mind or he will get a derisory vote and quit politics. The moral of this story is that 18 is too young to cope with the tedium of being a councillor."
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From today's Independent/ComRes poll:
Lib Dems 10
That would give Labour a majority of 74.
From today's Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 86.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@gabyhinsliff If we gave every couple a £ every time govt briefs 'tax breaks for married couples' (but not, uh, this year), they wdnt need a tax break.
@edballsmp At a very chilly school sports day at Finsbury Park track.. Big dilemma - do I run in the parents' race?
@ggreenwald It's telling how people seem too cowardly to ask if @bartongellman & the WashPost "aided & abetted" Snowden and/or should be arrested.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, says: "Osborne's comprehensive spending review puts society in intensive care."
Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "The last thing the health service needs is another big shake-up. Instead it must rediscover its heart."
Donald Macintyre, writing in the Independent, says: "What right-wing lunacy is there inside the Conservative rebels' 'Alternative Queen's Speech'?"
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