POLITICS
03/09/2013 04:53 BST | Updated 03/09/2013 04:54 BST

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Syria 'Calamity'

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II receives Mrs Asma Al-Assad and the President of Syria Mr Bashar Al-Assadat Buckingham Palace, London.headshot. royal.
PA
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II receives Mrs Asma Al-Assad and the President of Syria Mr Bashar Al-Assadat Buckingham Palace, London.headshot. royal.

The five things you need to know on Tuesday 3 September 2013...

1) SYRIA

The Syrian people continue to suffer - the number of civilians who have fled the fighting in Syria has now reached 2 million, according to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. That's 5,000 Syrians crossing the border into neighbouring nations every single day, while a further 4 million people have been displaced from their homes within Syria's borders.

"Syria's civil war has driven almost a third of the country's population from their homes, causing the 'humanitarian calamity' of the century, the United Nations says today," reports the Telegraph on its front page.

The paper summarises: "The milestone of two million refugees was reached as Bashar al–Assad, the Syrian president, challenged the West to provide 'the slightest proof' he had used chemical weapons against his people, warning that military intervention could spark a 'regional war'; ŠPhilip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, raised the possibility of the Commons voting again on joining any US strike on the Syrian regime, saying this might happen if 'circumstances change very significantly'; ŠA French intelligence dossier concluded that forces loyal to Assad carried out the 'massive and coordinated' chemical attack on Aug 21, one of 'at least three' this year; ŠAt least 20 rebels were killed in an ambush outside Damascus as Mr Assad's forces continued their advance, killing 90 insurgents in the space of two days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a London–based group."

Meanwhile, a disappointed Times splashes on news that "British military chiefs are being ejected from US meetings about Syria in the first direct consequence of David Cameron's refusal to Join military action. The role of senior British officers based at US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, has been downgraded because they cannot be trusted with high-level intelligence about a conflict with which they are no longer involved, military sources say.. Britain is now 'non-reliable as far as this operation is concerned', according to one former officer.."

2) LOBBYING 'CHILLING EFFECT'

The chairman of the Commons standards committee has warned MPs could face restrictions on campaigning about national issues under the new lobbying Bill.

The Guardian reports charities have already complained the bill could have a "chilling effect" on their campaigning, and Kevin Barron, a senior Labour MP, has now warned that politicians could fall within its ambit. He said it was unclear whether MPs raising awareness about non-constituency business could be caught within the transparency of lobbying, non-party campaigning and trade union administration bill, which has its second reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

And the Commons committee which has been examining the Bill held emergency sessions last week to discuss concerns about what its chairman called "rushed and ridiculous" proposals.

Labour MP Graham Allen, who chairs the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, said the Bill would not open up the £2 billion lobbying industry to effective scrutiny. "Instead of addressing the Prime Minister's promise to 'shine the light of transparency' on lobbying, this flawed legislation will mean we'll all be back in a year facing another scandal. It is a dog's breakfast."

Andrew Lansley defended the government's record on transparency telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We are working on that, we have been improving this, we have been introducing this for the first time.

"We are more up to date now in terms of publishing ministers' diaries so we do it within the quarter following the quarter in which the meeting took place and we are making sure as we do that that it is more accessible in terms of what the subjects were and more accessible online."

3) THE TORIES VS MR MIRAGE

Andy Coulson has taken time out of preparing for trial and penned a piece for GQ, giving some free advice to his former boss, the PM.

The Times has the story:

"David Cameron is failing to address the Conservatives' "vulnerability" to Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party and has not yet done enough to reassure the public on Europe, Andy Coulson says this week.

"The Prime Minister's former director of communications, who is awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy to hack phones and conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office, makes the comments in the latest issue of GQ, which goes on sale this week.

".. The party should submit Mr Farage, whom he calls "Mr Mirage", to serious scrutiny. He wants the Tories to produce a YouTube-friendly package of Mr Farage's "less pleasant and stranger utterances". A £120 billion spending gap from his policies "must be hung around [Mr Farage's] neck" and questions asked about where £77 billion of public spending cuts would fall."

Mr Mirage. Nice. The Downing Street operation has missed Coulson's tabloid touch.

The former News of the World editor, however, also says that Farage may have a "bit of a point" when he argues that a UKIP "win" in the European elections should result in him being allowed to participate in the televised leadership debates 12 months later - and predicts a Twitter campaign to force the three main parties to allow the Ukip leader to take part.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a ferocious kitten launching an attack on an innocent pitbull (!)

4) CHILDREN 'SHOULD BE TAUGHT ABOUT PORN ON THE NET'

That's the splash headline on the front of the Daily Telegraph, picking up on comments made by - yep, you guessed it - Tory backbencher Claire Perry:

"Children should be taught about the 'negative impact of online pornography' in the classroom, one of David Cameron's main advisers has said as leading charities call for an overhaul of sex education.

"Claire Perry, the Conservative MP, said that sex education in secondary schools should be updated to reflect the digital age.

"She made her comments in a blog post for telegraph.co.uk, which has launched a campaign for better sex education, as the NSPCC called on the Government to update its 'woefully inadequate' sex education guidance, which is 13 years old and contains no reference to the internet."

5) 'BLAIR SPEAKS, THAILAND PAYS'

Poor ol' Tony B. First, 39% of voters told a Survation/Mail on Sunday poll that the former PM's hawkish article supporting military action action the Assad regime weakened case for UK intervention, while only 8% said it strengthened it.

Now, 'TB' has been heckled by the good people of Thailand - from the Daily Mail:

"Tony Blair faced angry street protests in Thailand yesterday after jetting in to advise the country on peace and reconciliation.

"The former prime minister was heckled after local news reports claimed he was being paid more than £400,000 to speak at a one day conference in Bangkok. Protesters carried banners saying 'Blair ruined the UK, stay out of Thailand', and 'Blair speaks, Thailand pays'.

"Mr Blair, a Middle East peace envoy, denied receiving a fee for his appearance.

"So did the Thai government who said taxpayers were only covering Mr Blair's travel, accommodation and expenses."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Independent/ComRes poll:

Labour 37

Conservatives 31

Lib Dems 12

Ukip 10

That would give Labour a majority of 72.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@HassanRouhani Iranian women are educated, capable & powerful. In this Gov. we're hoping to ensure equal opportunity #GenderEquality

@Queen_UK Apparently The Liberal Democrats have failed to achieve their asking price of £4.37 for Nick Clegg. #TransferDeadlineDay

@WilliamJHague: UK is 2nd largest bilateral donor to Syrian refugees, helping around 900,000 people, but there is still a huge aid shortfall

900 WORDS OR MORE

Tim Montgomerie in The Times: 'Exposing the UKIP sham will not be enough.'

Polly Toynbee in The Guardian: 'The lobbying bill will save corporate PRs but silence the protesters.'

Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail: Labour's Syria stance: A U-turn only a London cabbie would attempt.

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com) or Asa Bennett (asa.bennett@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons, @asabenn and @huffpostukpol