17/10/2013 04:22 BST | Updated 17/10/2013 04:25 BST

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Miliband's 'Wonga Tax'

Leader of the British opposition Labour Party Ed Miliband speaks to demonstrators at a rally in Hyde Park as they take part in a protest march against government austerity measures through central London, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. Tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on the British capital Saturday in a noisy but peaceful protest at a government austerity drive aimed at slashing the nation's debt. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

The five things you need to know on Thursday 17 October 2013...


Boom! First, the energy companies. Now the payday lenders. Who says Labour can't tell the difference between predators and producers?

"Miliband declares tax war on payday lenders" is the splash headline on the front of the Independent, which reports:

"Payday lending companies would be hit by higher taxes under a Labour government, with the money raised used to build up their credit union rivals, party leader Ed Miliband will announce today. Labour would raise about £20m a year from controversial lenders such as Wonga - either from a 1 per cent levy on their balance sheet or a 10 per cent profits tax... Mr Miliband's intervention will put pressure on the Coalition to rein in payday loan firms, amid mounting concern about their sky-high interest rates, sometimes of more than 5,000 per cent APR."

We are witnessing the slow but steady transformation of Ed Miliband from mild-mannered and geeky social democrat into left-wing populist and champion of the 'little guy'.

Add the new 'Wonga tax' to the 20-month freeze on energy prices, the 'use it or lose it' ultimatum to land banks, the 'mansion tax' on £2m houses and, of course, the re-introduction of the bankers' bonus tax and that infamous 'blank sheet of white paper' isn't looking so blank or white any longer, is it?

So, how will the Tories respond to this latest left-populist move from Miliband and Labour? It'll be difficult for Cameron and co to defend the £2.2bn 'legalised loansharking' industry. That doesn't mean they won't try...


Once again, the supposedly suicidal 'Tea Party' Republicans in Congress stared over the edge of the cliff - and then, thankfully, took a step back.

My HuffPost colleagues on Capitol Hill, Sabrina Siddiqui and Mike McAuliff, report:

"The government shutdown is dead. Obamacare is alive.

"The Senate voted 81 to 18 Wednesday night to reopen the federal government and raise the nation's borrowing limit, hours before the Treasury Department faced the possibility of being unable to pay all of America's bills for the first time in modern history.

"The House followed suit, voting 285-144, to end the latest damaging battle of divided government in a polarized Congress.

"President Barack Obama signed the legislation early Thursday. He said he would reopen the government immediately to "lift this cloud of uncertainty and unease" that settled on the nation and start fixing the damage."

16 days of shutdown has ended with a complete and comprehensive defeat for the Republicans on Capitol Hill - and victory for the White House. As Sabrina and Mike report:

"All that Republicans got for the bruising battle was a fig leaf provision on Obamacare and record low approval ratings."



Poor ol' Gideon. The Chancellor took a bit of a pasting on Newsnight yesterday. My HuffPost colleague Paul Vale reports:

"Fresh from introducing the Cookie Monster on Newsnight last week, Emily Maitlis was given a less prestigious role on Wednesday interviewing the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

"Speaking in China, Maitlis tossed a couple of medium pacers about the economy before hitting Gideon with a googly: "I guess there is a certain irony saying a Conservative chancellor who has slatted his opposition for being socialist doing all these deals with communists."

Osborne shot back: "Well they are a lot more market orientated this lot than the British Labour Party are at the moment... Then the Maitlis off break: 'Matthew d’Ancona cites a dinner in your early days in which you said ‘if I’m not the most unpopular chancellor ever in six months, I will have failed at my job’. Were you, did that happen?'"

"'I always knew taking on this task, after the economic calamity,' replied Osborne, 'when we were going to have to take really difficult decisions… to fix the hole in the public finances, I knew it was going to be a tough and not particularly popular job. In the end what is the point of doing this job. It’s to work for the British people.'

"'Maitlis pointed out there had been a 'personal vitriol' against the Chancellor, reminding him that he was 'the only person to be booed at the Olympics', before asking 'does it hurt you?'

"'It’s not a popularity contest,' Osborne countered. 'You’re there to make tough decisions that are going to help the economy turn the corner.'"


Watch this video of a 'tiny ninja dog'. You know you want to.


Guess what? Getting a job isn't the "solution" to poverty that Iain Duncan Smith claims it is. Not in an age of stagnating prices and low wages. The BBC reports:

"For millions of families, work no longer pays enough to provide a route out of poverty, the government's social mobility tsar is expected to warn.

"A report headed up by one-time Labour minister Alan Milburn will highlight stagnating incomes and rising prices.

"He is due to call on employers to do more to support low-paid families earning less than a living wage.

"... In its first report, the government's Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission is also expected to warn that middle-class children face lower living standards than their parents for the first time in more than a century."


From the Mirror:

"The tragic tale of a man who died while waiting to appeal against losing his benefits prompted David Cameron to admit that welfare decision making firm ATOS must improve. The PM pledged to look into the 'desperately sad case' of butcher David Coupe, 57, who was forced to stop work after being diagnosed with cancer.

"Labour's Denis Skinner revealed at Prime Minister's Questions how Mr Coupe, of Calow, Derbyshire, was stripped of his benefits and had waited 11 months for his appeal before he died last Friday.

"Mr Cameron said: 'Everyone who has constituency surgeries and talks to constituents knows that we have to improve the quality of decisionmaking about this issue.'

"Mr Skinner called for Mr Coupe's widow to be compensated, and added: 'Secondly, abolish this cruel, heartless monster called ATOS. It is not fit for purpose.'"

God bless Dennis Skinner, eh?


From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 35

Ukip 12

Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 46.


‏@BarackObama Thanks to the millions of Americans who made their voices heard and helped bring the shutdown to an end. Now let's get back to work.

@SarahPalinUSA When life gives you lemons, at this point make margaritas. Caving on debt could drive one to drink.

@TomHarrisMP Haven't read Guardian letters page in years. First one I saw today: "I am resigning from Labour for the 2nd time..." *looks for shredder*


Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "If the police are allowed to lie and cheat, we are heading for anarchy."

Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "The Lib Dem mud is sticking to the Tories."

Richard Norton-Taylor and Ian Cobain, writing in the Guardian, offer "10 reasons not to trust claims national security is being threatened by leaks."

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