Mehdi's Morning Memo: Has Kerry's Gaffe Saved Syria From Air Strikes?

US Secretary of State John Kerry addresses a press conference with Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague at the Foreign Office in central London, on September 9, 2013. John Kerry said Monday that the solution to the Syrian conflict must be political not military but that air strikes were essential to stop the Assad regime from killing its own people with chemical weapons. AFP PHOTO / ALASTAIR GRANT/POOL (Photo credit should read ALASTAIR GRANT/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry addresses a press conference with Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague at the Foreign Office in central London, on September 9, 2013. John Kerry said Monday that the solution to the Syrian conflict must be political not military but that air strikes were essential to stop the Assad regime from killing its own people with chemical weapons. AFP PHOTO / ALASTAIR GRANT/POOL (Photo credit should read ALASTAIR GRANT/AFP/Getty Images)

The five things you need to know on Tuesday 10 September 2013...


From the Times:

"Russia wrongfooted the West by turning an offhand comment by John Kerry, the Secretary of State, into a full-fledged peace initiative.

Huh? The Guardian explains:

"Speaking in London, Kerry suggested that the only way for Syria to avoid the threat of a US attack would be for it to hand over all its chemical weapons within a week... [T]he comments were immediately seized on by the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, who raised the prospect of international observers supervising such a handover... 'We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons,' Lavrov said after a meeting with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem."

Will Bashar al Assad comply? Will he even admit he possesses chemical weapons?

Obama, nevertheless, has since welcomed the Russian proposal as possible breakthrough" and a "potentially positive development". Asked by an ABC News interview if he would put plans for an attack on hold should Assad yield control of his chemical weapons to the UN, the US president replied: "Absolutely, if in fact that happened."

The Guardian report adds:

"The president will address the American people in a direct televised broadcast on Tuesday evening. By that time, the White House will have had the opportunity to assess the viability of the Russian proposal. But already on Monday night there was a clear sense of relief on Capitol Hill, where support for military action had been patchy."

Meanwhile, the Telegraph says the proposal out of Moscow "threatens a new diplomatic headache" for the Obama administration.

You've got to hand it to the Russians, they like their chess - or in the case of the country's president, their judo. Obama and Kerry seem to have been stalemated/flipped over/pick-your-analogy by Putin and Lavrov...


It might not be 'the biggest speech of his life' but Ed Miliband will be giving a pretty important speech, nevertheless, at the TUC today. The Guardian reports:

"An unapologetic Ed Miliband faces a tough public political test on Tuesday when he prepares to tell trade unions they must have the courage to risk rebuilding the relationship between the party and its union affiliates.

"In a speech to the Trades Union Congress conference in Bournemouth, he will accept that the move, which will reduce the influence of the unions within the party, is a risk but will claim that 'the bigger risk is in just saying 'Let's do it as we have always done it'.

"He is due to tell them: 'I respect those who worry about change. I understand, but I disagree. It is the right thing to do. Change can happen. Change must happen. And I am absolutely determined that this change will happen.'

According to the paper, he will claim that it's possible to "build a Labour party based not on the current 200,000 members but instead 500,000 if a sufficent number of individual trade unionists can be persuaded to join the party."

However, a new YouGov poll of 2,500 people that belong to the 14 unions affiliated to the party suggests only 45% of them would vote Labour if there were an election tomorrow.

Some union leaders aren't hiding their unhappiness at the proposed changes. Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said last night that Miliband's reforms were "a side issue that is sucking the life out of the campaign, and it will lead us down a cul de sac. It means we will not be elected, and it means we will face a Tory government next time that will be far, far more right-wing than the one we have now. The stakes are massive.."

One of the big questions is: will Miliband get booed by his TUC audience?


Immigrants - who needs 'em, eh? Well, er, actually, we do. As my colleague Asa Bennett reports:

"Coalition plans to curb EU immigration could cost the UK economy £60 billion and send national debt soaring, according to a major new report.

"... The research found that migrant workers are more likely to be in work (63.3%) than UK-born citizens (56.2%), as well as more economically active (at 69.8%) than UK-born citizens (63%). Tighter immigration controls would result in an estimated loss of 2% from GDP by 2050, equivalent to £60bn, as business suffers from the lack of talent and a booming old-age population takes its toll on the public finances.

"The CEBR's analysis comes weeks after the Office for National Statistics predicted that the UK would need seven million more migrants over the next 50 years in order to keep debt down."

Once again, there's a clear clash between the the coalition's twin aims of balancing the budget and cutting immigration.

Meanwhile, the economic arguments in favour of higher immigration tend not to convince everyone - a UKIP spokesman told the Huffington Post UK: "According to the logic of this report we as a country would do far better by getting rid of our own population and replacing them, wholesale, with EU migrants."


Watch this video of a golden retriever failing to catch Cheerios. You know you want to.


The FT splashes on: "Osborne declares victory in economy battle with Labour."

The paper reports:

A bullish George Osborne declared victory yesterday in his battle with Labour over austerity, proclaiming that recovery was under way and that recent "early signs" of growth were vindication of his economic policies.

Seizing on a summer of positive economic data, the chancellor dismissed Labour's argument that deficit reduction was hurting the economy excessively, saying that the opposition could not explain why the economy was "turning a corner" when the government was still practising austerity.

It continues: n a bid to exploit the recent run of stronger-than-expected growth forecasts, Mr Osborne said "the last few months have decisively ended" the idea - expounded by Mr Balls - that the coalition's fiscal tightening would strangle a recovery. "Those in favour of Plan B have lost the argument," he said.

But writing in today's Times, Ed Balls hits back hard:

"Three years on, it is clear to almost everyone that on every test the Chancellor set himself, he has failed. Yesterday's rather desperate speech cannot airbrush out the past.

"Mr Osborne expected growth to accelerate and our economy to have grown by 6.9 per cent by now. But the recovery was choked off and over that period our economy has grown by just 1.8 per cent... Slow growth means deficit reduction has stalled and the triple-A credit rating has been lost. The Chancellor was expecting the deficit to have fallen by now to £60 billion. It is stuck instead at £120 billion. And the national debt is now forecast to keep on rising until 2017."

But will the shadow chancellor's message be heard, or drowned out by the deficit hawks who dominate the comment pages of Britain's newspapers? Over in the United States, the Washington Post reports:

"Òscar Jordà of the San Francisco Fed and Alan Taylor of the University of California-Davis have a doozy of a working paper out on the macroeconomic effects of austerity. The chart above has the money stat: According to their numbers, the U.K.’s experiment with austerity starting in 2010 led to a 3 percent reduction in growth. If true, that’s a big, big indictment of the Cameron government’s policies."

Indeed it is. And we still don't know what'll happen between now and 2015. Remember how many times before both the PM and chancellor have made complacent and inaccurate claims about growth ('out of the danger zone', 'open for business'). Might Osborne's speech yesterday turn into his George Bush 'Mission Accomplished' moment?


That's the headline on the front of the Guardian, which reports:

"Britain has become a 'live and let live' society over the last 30 years, with a striking desire for less interference in people's personal choices and sweeping changes in how the country views homosexuality, religion and almost every institution in the land, the annual British social attitudes survey shows today.

"The study, by NatCen Social Research, which surveys a representative sample of more than 3,000 people annually, found that the nation has changed beyond recognition in the three decades since it first began examining society, with people now much less bound by class, gender and sexuality. Researchers also noted a recent shift towards a 'more sympathetic stance on welfare benefits and recipients'. Some 51% of people now take the view that benefits for unemployed people are "too high and discourage work", down from 62% in 2011."

So not all bad news on the economy front, then. However, the Guardian report continues:

"The standing of Westminster, meanwhile, has never been lower. Only 20% trust government to put the nation's needs above those of a political party, down from 38% in 1986.

"This figure comes at a time when Nat-Cen's survey reveals a long-term upward trend in people's belief that they both understand politics and can influence government. The proportion of voters who feel they have no say in what government does fell from 71% in 1986 to 59% in 2012."


From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 38

Conservatives 33

Ukip 14

Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 58.


‏@DanHannanMEP Saudi, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar etc have been receiving colossal military aid from the US. Why don't they lead the intervention they favour?

@jreedmp If I was Ed Miliband, I'd make space in my speech today to point out that the abuses at the BBC is symbolic of so much going wrong in the UK

@jimmuphymp Unusually the man in the beard on Newsnight is allowing Chris Huhne to answer. Makes it a more revealing interview. Should try more often.


Donald Macintyre, writing in the Independent, says: "The unions should realise - this isn't an attack."

George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, says: "Obama's rogue state tramples over every law it demands others uphold."

David Blanchflower, writing in the Mirror, says: "George Osborne crashed our car [and] now wants thanks for towing wreck home."

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