05/09/2013 04:31 BST

Mehdi's Morning Memo: G20 Syria Showdown

US President Barack Obama (R) listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin after their bilateral meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico on June 18, 2012 on the sidelines of the G20 summit. Obama and President Vladimir Putin met Monday, for the first time since the Russian leader's return to the presidency, for talks overshadowed by a row over Syria. The closely watched meeting opened half-an-hour late on the sidelines of the G20 summit of developed and developing nations, as the US leader sought to preserv

The five things you need to know on Thursday 5th September 2013...


Last night the US Senate foreign relations committee passed a resolution to bomb Syria in retaliation for President Bashar Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons. The 10 to 7 vote moves congress toward letting president Barack Obama mount a bombing campaign aimed at the Syrian regime for up to 90 days. Among those to vote in favour was John McCain, who took a break from playing online Jenga to back the plan. As The Huffington Post reports, the Senate resolution that passed the committee calls for the White House to present a plan within 30 days of the resolution's enactment. It gives Obama 60 days to act, with the option of extending the action for another 30 days. Congress can disapprove of the extension.

The Guardian notes that the move comes as Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin face an "international showdown" in St Petersburg at the G20. Formally the agenda is dominated by addressing the problems i the global economy, but the crisis in Syria has pushed that to one side. According to Sky News the seating plan at the summit has even been changed to "put physical distance between the two leaders".

Yesterday it was reported that House Speaker John Boehner denied a request from Russian diplomats to meet with them to discuss influencing Congress to undercut Obama's plans for a military strike.

And the Daily Telegraph reports Obama will not hold a one-to-one meeting with David Cameron - perhaps a deliberate snub for the prime minister failing to convince parliament to commit British forces to a strike against Syria. Obama will however meet French president François Hollande.


The centrepiece of the government's welfare reforms has been branded a "titanic-sized IT disaster" after it was revealed that £34 million had already been written off. The Universal Credit, which aims to combine different benefits into a single payment, is Iain Duncan Smith's flagship policy, aiming to ensure everyone is better off in a job.

But a devastating report from the public spending watchdog has said it has been beset by "weak management, ineffective control and poor governance". Labour accused Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, of "cover-up after cover-up" to try to hide the shambles. But IDS insisted on BBC Radio 4's Today programme earlier this morning that "this is not an IT disaster" - which is never a good phrase for a cabinet minister to have to say.


The government will scrap plans to award legal aid contracts to the lowest bidders following criticisms it would reduce justice to a "factory mentality", it has been reported. Justice Secretary Chris Grayling ditched the proposals after drawing up the government's latest legal aid reforms with the support of the Law Society, The Times reported.

Grayling told the paper: "Not everyone will be happy because changes is never welcome, when it is a tough change like this and with a big financial element. But I hope the public will see (the package) as providing a sensible balance between saying 'no' to legal aid to people they really would not want to get it; and ensuring that anyone who is arrested and in a prison or police cell has access to a lawyer to defend them."



The government's "seriously flawed" lobbying reforms should be withdrawn for up to six months so a special committee can produce improved proposals, a cross-party report has concluded.

The political and constitutional reform committee's scathing report found that the legislation had been "unnecessarily rushed" and failed to cover large parts of the lobbying industry. Charities, other organisations and almost everybody else have warned that the Bill's tougher rules on political spending could hit their ability to campaign and the committee criticised the "confusing" proposals.


Ed Miliband is determined to press ahead with reforming the Labour party's funding despite the decision by the GMB to slash its affiliation funds by more than £1m. The Guardian reports this morning: "The Labour leader is prepared to tell Paul Kenny that the unilateral action by the GMB to cut its annual funding by 88% has inadvertently made the case for reform of the historic link between the party and the unions."

Yesterday the union cut its affiliation funds to Labour from £1.2 million to £150,000 in the wake of the row over party reforms. The union has affiliated 420,000 of its members to Labour, at £3 per member per year, but that figure will be cut to 50,000 from January.


@TomChivers: "Next on Radio 4: Fifty Shades of Grey, the film, and Iain Duncan Smith" - don't juxtapose those images, please, Today.

@charlielindlar: Tremendous quote from some US woman on #R4Today Syria report: "I just think about the price of gas... Will it go up?"


David Aaronovitch in The Times: Ed Miliband is no leader. He is a vulture

Zoe Williams in The Guardian: The early years educational underclass is a handy moralisers' myth

Rafael Behr in the New Statesman: Rhetorical gales howled through Westminster over the Syria vote, but the landscape is unaltered

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