The five things you need to know on Thursday 24 October 2013...
** BREAKING NEWS **
Nick Clegg has been just been speaking on the Today programme and was asked about David Cameron's surprise announcement ("panicked" announcement, to quote the Mirror) at yesterday's PMQs. "We should also look at rolling back the cost of some of these [green] taxes, tariffs, charges that have been put in place," said the PM.
The Deputy PM responded this morning: "It's not something I was fully expecting.. It's not something I fully agree with." Clegg said the majority of the increases in fuel bills has come "from whole sale prices", not green levies, and denied reports in the papers that he was only told of the announcement 30 minutes before yesterday's PMQs sessions. Rolling back green levies which help people on low incomes, said the DPM, would be "an own goal".
1) DID YOU BUG MY PHONE, BARACK?
Wouldn't you have loved to be sat at the NSA listening in to the phone call yesterday between the Chancellor of Germany and the President of the United States? From the Guardian's splash:
"The furore over the scale of American mass surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden shifted to an incendiary new level on Wednesday evening when Angela Merkel of Germany called Barack Obama to demand explanations over reports that the US National Security Agency was monitoring her mobile phone.
"Merkel was said by informed sources in Germany to be 'livid' over the reports and convinced, on the basis of a German intelligence investigation, that the reports were utterly substantiated."
The Guardian report adds:
"The White House responded that Merkel's mobile is not being tapped. 'The president assured the chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of the chancellor,' said a statement from Jay Carney, the White House spokesman.
"But Berlin promptly signalled that the rebuttal referred to the present and the future and did not deny that Merkel's communications had been monitored in the past.
"Asked by the Guardian if the US had monitored the German chancellor's phone in the past, a top White House official declined to deny that it had."
2) CAMERON'S PMQS 'PASTING'
"Dave has a Major bad moment," is the headline to Anne Treneman's sketch column in the Times. Yesterday's PMQs was a disaster for the PM. Treneman writes:
"Yesterday Ed was all over him like a (red) rash. 'You said anyone who wanted to intervene directly in energy markets was living in 'a Marxist universe',' he taunted David Cameron. 'How do you feel now the red peril has claimed Sir John MaJor?'
"The PM's face froze in a fake smile. Lately Dave seems to be suffering from a sense of humour failure. Where's his light touch?"
He had an "awful" time at the Despatch Box yesterday, notes Treneman, especially when he was told off by Speaker Bercow for using unparliamentary language by repeatedly calling Miliband a "con man" (over the latter's energy price freeze pledge).
The Independent's leader says:
"Few prime ministers enjoy their weekly session of parliamentary questioning, and David Cameron in particular has a pronounced tendency towards red-faced, Flashman-esque rages. Of his many appearances, though, yesterday's pasting over energy prices ranks as one of the worst."
Simon Hoggart, in his Guardian sketch, says:
"It doesn't happen often, but I had Miliband as the winner in yesterday's exchanges."
3) FREE SCHOOLS FREE FROM CHECKS?
The free schools row rumbles on, in the wake of the failings at the "dysfunctional" Al-Madinah school in Derby last week and Nick Clegg's criticisms of unqualified teachers at the weekend. The Guardian reports, on its front page:
"Education ministers personally approved reductions in government checks on proposals for new free schools earlier this year, despite civil servants warning that to do so would heighten the risks around the policy, the Guardian can reveal.
"A leaked Department for Education (DfE) document with policy proposals signed off by Michael Gove, the Conservative education secretary, and David Laws, the Liberal Democrat schools minister, shows the department moving to scale back financial vetting of new free school proposals and of central controls over new free school headteacher appointments as part of budget cuts."
Speaking on the Today programme this morning, Clegg insisted that unqualified teachers "must seek a qualification". In private schools, he said, where unqualified teachers abound, "you pay your fees and take your chances". Hmm...
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video from last night's Newsnight, of Russell "trivial" Brand taking on Jeremy "darling" Paxman.
4) EX-BLAIR GUY TO RUN THE NHS
Hmm, a guy who worked for Tony Blair and now runs a "private US healthcare giant" has been appointed to run... the NHS. The Independent reports:
"A former adviser to Tony Blair who has spent a decade at the top of an American private healthcare giant has been appointed to run the NHS in England.
Simon Stevens, the architect of Labour’s health reforms who left the UK in 2004 to take up a lucrative post at the American company UnitedHealth, was welcomed by the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, as a 'reformer and an innovator'.
But his selection as chief executive of NHS England will raise concerns among critics who claim the NHS is being “softened up for privatisation”... one senior doctor told The Independent that the medical profession may view Mr Stevens with suspicion. “Clinicians will remember him as an architect of New Labour’s marketisation of the health service,” he said. “He was very pro the idea of opening up provision to multiple providers. He was keen on having competition as a lever in the NHS…"
Could they not find anyone within the NHS to take over such an important job?
5) FRACK ME
From the Times splash:
"The National Trust is prepared to consider fracking on its land but has all but ruled out wind farms, according to the head of the conservation charity.
"Dame Helen Ghosh, the trust’s director-general, said that it was keeping an open mind on drilling for natural gas and was waiting to see what evidence emerged about its environmental impact. She added that gas was 'less bad' than coal in terms of carbon dioxide emissions."
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From today's Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 86.
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
@alstewitn Dear GCHQ, May we have a transcript of Merkel -Obama 'natter' by 10pm? Just asking...
@robertshrimsley what does it say about David Cameron that US never felt need to spy on his calls?
@patrickwintour Clegg on Today lays out new coalition policy on energy bills: "something must be done"
900 WORDS OR MORE
Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "Osborne is best when he’s most unpopular."
Rafael Behr, writing in the New Statesman, says: "The next generation of Tory modernisers looks to Osborne, not Cameron, for inspiration."
Seumas Milne, writing in the Guardian, says: "It's the spies, not the leaks, that threaten our security."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (email@example.com) or Ned Simons (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol