POLITICS
02/07/2013 04:22 BST | Updated 23/07/2015 06:59 BST

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Rescue Me, Russia

The ten things you need to know on Tuesday 2 July 2013...

1) RESCUE ME, RUSSIA

From the Mirror:

"CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden yesterday applied to Moscow for political asylum — raising fears that diplomatic tensions between Russia and the US could worsen.

"The 30-year-old fugitive, who leaked highly classified details of secret US spy software, handed Kremlin officials an appeal to 15 countries for political asylum.

"In a bizarre twist, his application for refuge came 50 years to the day after top British intelligence officer Kim Philby defected to the then-Soviet Union."

Plenty of snarky UK critics of Snowden have been quick to condemn him for seeking asylum in autocratic Russia, where civil liberties and internet freedoms of course aren't held in very high regard, while turning a blind eye to the fact that our own PM David Cameron has been out in neighbouring Kazakhstan doing business deals with its dictatorial leader Nursultan Nazarbayev. It's also worth noting that Russia clearly isn't his first choice - it's been revealed that the former CIA technical assistant has applied to 21 different countries for asylum, including Ireland, Germany, France and India.

Meanwhile, on the subject of spying, the Guardian reports on its front page:

"Barack Obama has sought to limit the damage from the growing transatlantic espionage row after Germany and France denounced the major snooping activities of US agencies and warned of a possible delay in the launch next week of ambitious free-trade talks between Europe and the US.

"The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and French president, François Hollande, demanded quick explanations from Washington about disclosures by the Guardian and Der Spiegel that US agencies bugged European embassies and offices. Berlin stressed there had to be mutual trust if trade talks were to go ahead in Washington on Monday."

To say that Snowden has embarrassed the Obama administration and undermined America's international standing is an understatement of epic proportions...

2) WE'RE (NOT) ALL GOING ON ON A SUMMER HOLIDAY

Oh look, the quiet, publicity-shy education secretary has another headline-grabbing proposal in the papers - from the Guardian:

"The tyranny of the summer school break – an unbroken six weeks of freedom for pupils and inflated holiday costs for their parents – could soon be over, after the Department for Education announces that all schools are to get the power to set their own term dates.

"The change is included in the government's deregulation bill, which removes the role of local authorities in fixing the dates of school terms and leaves the decision to school leaders and governors.

"However, some school leaders warn that too much variation could lead to chaos for families with children at different schools."

Hmm. I think the words "shit", "no" and "Sherlock" come to mind. I mean, what will parents with kids in different schools with different holiday dates do?

The Independent, meanwhile, has this Gove-related exclusive:

"Academies and free schools should become profit-making businesses using hedge funds and venture capitalists to raise money, according to private plans being drawn up by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

Education department insiders, it seems, "are worried that the new setup will divert cash from classrooms, limit the availability of 'expensive' subjects such as music and science and end the public service vocation of teachers. They want to see an end to the secrecy over the proposed reforms, which have not been publicly announced."

3) THE CAIRO COUNTDOWN

"Listen to the people or else," is the headline on the front of the Guardian, which reports:

"Egypt was thrown into fresh turmoil on Monday when President Mohamed Morsi's aides indicated he would not give in to the threat of a military coup just hours after the army gave him two days to placate the millions who have taken to the streets calling for his departure.

"The head of Egypt's armed forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, threatened direct military involvement in the political process 'if the demands of the people are not met', in a statement implying that Morsi should either step down or at least call early elections.

"The presidency indicated that it viewed the statement as a coup d'etat. "Obviously we feel this is a military coup," a presidential aide said. 'But the conviction within the presidency is that [the coup] won't be able to move forward without American approval.'

"... On Monday, the US president, Barack Obama, indicated that Morsi had not yet lost his backing. 'We don't make those decisions just by counting the number of heads in a protest march but we do make decisions based on whether or not a government is listening to the opposition, maintaining a free press, maintaining freedom of assembly, not using violence or intimidation, conducting fair and free elections,' he said."

For once, I'm with Obama - whatever Morsi's sins and flaws (and he has plenty!), he is the democratically-elected president of a post-Mubarak Egypt. This isn't as black and white as some members of Egypt's secular/liberal opposition are making out...

4) U TURN IF YOU WANT TO... AND SO WILL I!

Yet another coalition volte-face - this time from the justice secretary. The Guardian reports:

"Chris Grayling has performed a U-turn over controversial plans to deprive defendants of the opportunity to choose a solicitor.

"In the face of overwhelming opposition from the legal profession, the justice secretary has abandoned one of the most controversial aspects of proposals to cut £220m a year from the legal aid budget.

"The announcement will not affect the scale of the cuts being imposed on the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), but will preserve a traditional element of criminal trials.

"Barristers and solicitors have united in opposition to the MoJ's plans, arguing that a defendant's ability to choose a solicitor is the best way to ensure high-quality representation is maintained. Lawyers have descended on the streets of London and Manchester for mass protests... [Grayling] declared: 'Removing the choice of solicitor for clients receiving criminal legal aid was only proposed in order to guarantee lawyers had enough business to make contracts viable. It is clear the profession regards client choice as important and so I expect to make changes that allow a choice of solicitor in the future.'"

You can read shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan's open letter to Grayling, for the Huffington Post, here.

5) PAY UP, JOHNNY FOREIGNER

Despite the fact that so-called 'health tourism' costs the NHS less than 0.1% of its overall budget, the health secretary Jeremy Hunt continues his crusade to crack down on it and, in the process, win brownie points from the right-wing, anti-immigrant press.

From the Sun:

"All foreigners arriving in Britain will face a fee of up to thousands of pounds to pay for their healthcare.

"The levy will be mandatory for everyone except tourists for any stay longer than six months in a new Government plan.

"It will be paid upfront, before migrants know whether they will need any treatment and will be imposed even if they have private health insurance, The Sun can reveal."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a kitten making her first big jump... with predictable but amusing results!

6) NICK VERSUS NIGEL

Ding, ding, ding. Round One! From the Huffington Post:

"Nick Clegg has dismissed Ukip as a party offering 'a better yesterday' and said its supporters don't like the modern world.

"The Deputy Prime Minister laid into Nigel Farage's party, which has regularly outpolled the Lib Dems in surveys of voter preferences over the past few years.

"...'In a sense what Ukip and Nigel Farage are projecting is a promise of going backwards... to a sepia-tinted world where there were none of these challenges. It obviously appeals to some people.'"

Round Two:

"Farage said that Clegg's support for EU membership showed he was 'not just dreaming of the past but living in it'.

"'His ideas, and the ideas of the European political elite that he so well represents, are those of the 1950s and 60s, whereas Britain must be looking for global opportunities to be fit for the next 50 years.'"

Perhaps Clegg and Farage should be given their own separate 'third party' leaders' debate come 2015, in which they throw insults at each other...

7) 'PATRONISING DRIVEL THAT BELONGS TO THE EDWARDIAN AGE'

Clegg also used his new monthly press conference to turn his rhetorical guns on the Conservatives - on the thorny issue of the married couples' tax allowance. From the FT:

"David Cameron will enshrine in law tax breaks for an estimated 4m married couples this year as the prime minister seeks to head off a backbench rebellion over the issue. The payouts will not begin, however, until 2015.

"The Treasury has agreed to start offering tax breaks to about a third of married couples from March 2015, according to one government aide, despite the chancellor's misgivings over the policy.

"The prime minister declared on Sunday that the policy would be introduced "very shortly" but Downing Street refused yesterday to give any further details of how the tax breaks would work or when they would come into effect.

"... Nick Clegg derided the policy yesterday as 'patronising drivel that belongs to the Edwardian age' as he urged Mr Cameron to spend the 'hundreds of millions of pounds' earmarked for married couples' tax breaks on extra childcare support for working families."

However, the deputy PM and his Lib Dem parliamentary colleagues, in line with the coalition agreement, won't vote against it. They'll abstain.

8) STOP OVERDOING STOP AND SEARCH

From the Guardian:

"Police in England and Wales need to scale back their use of stop and search, the home secretary, Theresa May, is expected to tell MPs on Tuesday while announcing an overhaul of the powers.

"May is also expected to tell MPs that the widespread use of the powers has been seen as sharply divisive among Britain's black and minority ethnic communities.

"The launch of an immediate Home Office consultation over the future use of the powers follows a successful pilot scheme in five police forces, including the Metropolitan police and the West Midlands force, which has seen a more 'intelligence-led" approach'."

9) AUSTERITY? OUI, OUI

Could this be the fate of the two Eds come 2015 and the advent of a majority Labour government? From the Times:

"President Hollande, who came to power last year pledging to end austerity in Europe, will reverse course today with plans for the most draconian budget cuts in France in at least 50 years.

"His Socialist-led Government is expected to set the scene for a showdown with state-sector unions as it moves to break with post-war tradition by reducing public spending in real terms. The cuts come with Mr Hollande’s popularity at rock bottom amid claims that he has reneged on his electoral promise to bring back growth through Keynesian economics."

10) THE (£187,500) CHEQUE IS IN THE POST

There are good guys in this world and Roly Keating is one of them. Roly who? Roly Keating.

From the Telegraph:

"A former BBC executive who now runs the British Library sent back his pay-off cheque to the broadcaster after he found out it had not been authorised properly.

"Roly Keating, a former BBC2 controller, received a £376,000 pay-off when he left the broadcaster after a 29 year career last year.

"However, last month he sent back a cheque for £187,500 - the sum he received after tax - to the BBC’s director general Lord Hall of Birkenhead.

"He took the action after he was told by the public spending watchdog the National Audit Office found that the decision to award the money was 'seriously deficient'."

The paper adds:

"The NAO found that BBC pay-offs to senior staff had breached its own guidelines by being over-generous and have 'put public trust at risk'. In all the BBC paid out £60 million in severance payments to its senior managers in the eight years between April 2005 and the end of March this year... A quarter of senior managers received more than they were entitled to, leaving the taxpayer with an unnecessary bill of £1 million."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 38

Conservatives 33

Ukip 12

Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 58.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@Mike_Fabricant Nick Clegg started it yesterday, are we now going to see unseemly race for the hairiest shirt as we did b4 GenElec 2010 re IPSA & MP wages?

@campbellclaret Snowden seeks sanctuary in Russia, which never spies on anyone. Nice Mr Putin will give him a medal and Depardieu can play him in the film

@jayrayner1 There are decent people. And one of them is called Roly Keating

900 WORDS OR MORE

Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, asks: "Does Len McCluskey or Ed Miliband run Labour?"

George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, says: "Farming subsidies: this is the most blatant transfer of cash to the rich."

Benedict Brogan, writing in the Telegraph, says: "The Tories must beware these feelings of irrational exuberance."

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