23/10/2013 08:26 BST | Updated 23/10/2013 08:28 BST

Mehdi's Morning Memo: John Major's 23rd Tax Rise

Former prime minister Sir John Major delivers a speech before he formally opened the new 73m North Terminal extension at Gatwick Airport, West Sussex.

The five things you need to know on Wednesday 23rd October 2013...


Remember how New Labour used to accuse John Major of having introduced "22 tax rises" in the run-up to the 1997 election? Well, yesterday, Major returned to the Westminster village to call for a 23rd tax rise - and a damn popular one, to boot.

"I do not see how it can be in any way acceptable that with energy prices rising broadly 4%, in terms of costs, that the price for the consumer should rise by 9 to 10%," he told a group of journalists, urging the Conservative-led coalition to introduce a windfall tax on the profits of the 'Big Six' energy companies and telling the Tory leadership to represent the millions of "silent have-nots locked into lace curtain poverty".

And the current Labour leadership was delighted. "Sir John Major makes Labour’s argument: David Cameron stands up for the energy companies not hard-pressed families," tweeted a jubilant Ed Miliband (conveniently ignoring the bit where Major dismissed Labour's price-freeze plan).

The response from an unprepared and caught-off-guard Downing Street to Major's surprisingly 'disloyal' comments? The coalition has "no plans" to introduce a windfall tax, said a spokesman, according to the Guardian.

Major wants an intervention in the energy market - is he a Marxist, too? The former prime minister "who hated Britain"??

"Hit power firms with a windfall tax, Major urges PM," is the splash on the front of the Mail.

"Hit energy firms with windfall tax, says Major," is the headline on the front of the Telegraph.

Major, who had an awful press for seven years at the top, delighted hacks at a press gallery lunch in Westminster with a steady stream of gags, one-liners and news bombs. Telegraph sketchwriter Michael Deacon writes:

"When John Major was prime minister, satirists depicted him as grey and dull. If only they could have seen him yesterday. He was spiky, frank and very funny. Oh, yes."

For instance, the former PM spotted Gordon Brown's chief whip Nick Brown, the Labour MP, and said: "It's very good to see you here, Nick! I thought you were dead."

He reminisced about his rows with Eurosceptic colleagues in the mid-1990s: "Calling three of my colleagues bastards was absolutely unforgivable," he said. "My only excuse is that it was true." (One of those "bastards", Peter Lilley, told the Today programme this morning that the line was "completely forgivable".)

On a more serious note, as my colleague Ned Simons reports, "Sir John praised Cameron's decision to hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union as the "right" thing to do in order to lance the boil that has 'bedevilled and poisoned British politics for the best part of the last 25 years.. I think it would be folly beyond belief in a world of seven billion people who are binding more closely together for brave little Blighty to decide suddenly it's going to cut the ties with Europe and cut off Europe and decide to go it alone. I think it would be a very bad decision.'"

Yet influential Tory backbencher Mark Pritchard tweeted in response that Major was "wrong, wrong, wrong" and added that "unless Europe changes and puts people first - UK will vote to leave Europe".

Who says the Tory Euro wars are over?


From the BBC:

"The chief constables of West Mercia, Warwickshire and West Midlands are to face MPs over the "plebgate" row.

"The chiefs will be quizzed over allegations three police officers under their command tried to discredit former cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell."

The backlash against the police from once-admiring Tories continues to build. The Times splashes on the latest intervention from David Davis, a former shadow home secretary and ally of Mitchell:

"Police officers should wear cameras and microphones to record all contact with the public amid a 'crisis of ethics' in policing, a senior Conservative politician says today.

"David Davis, the former Shadow Home Secretary, argues in The Times that the 'plebgate' affair is the latest example in decades of "clumsy coverups" by the police, from the Birmingham Six miscarriage of Justice to the Hillsborough tragedy and the death of Jean Charles de Menezes."

Interestingly, however, the BBC reports that a new ComRes poll "suggests 82% of people are still likely to believe what the police say".


Guess what? The government's rather arbitrary benefit cap doesn't actually work - from the Guardian:

"The benefit cap - according to opinion polls the government's most popular welfare policy - is neither forcing unemployed people to take a job nor saving taxpayers' money, according to the first in-depth study of the policy.

"Research in the borough of Haringey in north London found just a handful of the 747 households affected by the cap have secured a job or increased their working hours since it was introduced six months ago, despite intensive and personalised support from councils and local jobcentres.

"Although the policy was shaving £60,000 a week from the benefits bill locally, this amounted to just 1% of the council's total weekly benefit expenditure."


Watch this video of a 4-year-old kid reciting Jack Nicholson's famous courtroom rant from 'A Few Good Men'. It's word perfect. And brilliant.


Miliband is feeling "galvanised" by the public support he received in his row with the Daily Mail, over the paper's attacks on his late father. The FT reports:

"Ed Miliband has put Labour on notice for a 'big fight' with Fleet Street ahead of the general election, telling supporters that the newspapers are 'less powerful now than they were'.

"The Labour leader, speaking at a private dinner for Labour donors, said the days in which newspapers and the news media could attack his party 'without response' were over."

The report continues:

"Recorded at a dinner at the Phoenix Palace, a luxurious Chinese restaurant in Marylebone, the Labour leader said the episode was an emblem of how politics was conducted in Britain.

"'We've got to be willing to call these people out,' he said. 'They are less powerful than people ever thought and they are less powerful now than they were.'"


Who says politicians can't be heroes? From the Times:

"A quick-thinking MP was involved in a dramatic rescue of a woman from the Thames near the Palace of Westminster.

"Stephen Gilbert was at an event on the House of Commons terrace overlooking the river when he saw what he thought was a body floating past.

"But when he saw the body move he reacted quickly to throw a lifebelt into the water, which she was able to grab before being rescued farther downstream."

Gilbert, a Lib Dem MP, is said to have been left shaken by the incident. But, as an unnamed friend of his told the Mirror: "His quick thinking was heroic."

Hear, hear!


"Unless he is very lucky, which he may not be, or a genius, which last time I looked was unproven, he may get some of it wrong" - John Major takes a potshot at his former backbench critic, now Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, over the latter's welfare reforms.


From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 40

Conservatives 32

Ukip 13

Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 92.


@ChrisBryantMP Sir John Major is right to point to the sad fact that in Tory Britain people will be choosing between eating and heating this winter.

@Mike_Fabricant So reassured to hear that the nation of Silicon Valley, the US, is finding its Government website for ObamaCare dysfunctional. #NHS

@MichaelLCrick The most interesting voice at today's Plebgate hearing may be Jerry Reakes-Williams, the inspector who wrote watered down West Mercia report


Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "Whatever Ed says, his big idea won’t work."

Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "The silent majority seeks facts and fairness over immigration."

Tanya Gold, writing in the Guardian, says: "Have Tory MPs learned nothing of the consequences of casual rudeness?"

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