Mehdi's Morning Memo: Don't Blame Me

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith speaks to delegates during the second day of the annual Conservative Party Conference at the ICC in Birmingham, central England on October 8, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW YATES. (Photo credit should read ANDREW YATES/AFP/GettyImages)
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith speaks to delegates during the second day of the annual Conservative Party Conference at the ICC in Birmingham, central England on October 8, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW YATES. (Photo credit should read ANDREW YATES/AFP/GettyImages)

The five things you need to know on Thursday 7 November 2013...


Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith is in trouble with his welfare 'reforms'.


The Telegraph reports:

"Universal Credit welfare reform has suffered 'extraordinarily poor' management, with secretaries authorising tens of millions in spending without proper supervision.

"The Commons public accounts committee suggests that the Coalition should consider delaying welfare reform, the work of Iain Duncan Smith, beyond its 2017 deadline because the project has been so badly run... The Department for Work and Pensions 'only reported good news and denied the problems that had emerged'.

Surprise, surprise!

"Financial management of the reform was so lax that a personal assistant to a senior official approved spending of £8.7 million without oversight. Another PA approved two purchase orders worth more than £23 million."

Wow. So what does IDS do? Point the finger in another direction, of course. The Times has the story on its front page:

"Iain Duncan Smith tried to shift the blame for a £140 million waste of taxpayers' money on to his senior civil servant by attempting to influence an MPs' report, The Times understands... Mr Duncan Smith and members of his parliamentary team are understood to have approached at least three Tory MPs on the cross-party committee to ask them to ensure that Robert Devereux, Permanent Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, was singled out for censure."

Stay classy, Iain...


Remember watching 'M', played by Judi Dench, appearing before a parliamentary committee in the last Bond movie, Skyfall? That couldn't happen in real life, right? Wrong. The FT reports:

"The heads of the UK's highly secretive security services almost never make a public appearance. But at 2pm today, history will be made when they appear live on television before parliament's intelligence and security committee.

"It was only in 1992 that the name of the head of MI5 was made public. It was only two years later that the UK government officially acknowledged that MI6 existed. Since then, the service chiefs have regularly given evidence to parliament - but strictly in private.

"Today, however, the three heads - Sir John Sawers, the chief of MI6, Sir Iain Lobban, the head of GCHQ, and Andrew Parker of MI5 - will appear before the committee in a 90-minute open session."

Given the recent Edward Snowden revelations about the scope of GCHQ spying, it is the little-known Sir Iain who will be most under pressure this afternoon, rather than his MI5 or MI6 counterparts.

There won't be any state secrets spilled in public though - there'll be a two-minute delay on the live broadcast. Plus, as the FT report acknowledges, the intelligence and security committee (ISC) itself will be under the spotlight, too:

"Some commentators believe the hearing will test the ISC as well as the intelligence chiefs. This is because some believe it is unable to hold the services to account, despite its new powers.

"Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian newspaper, which has published many of the Snowden leaks, said in a recent article [ISC chairman Sir Malcolm] Rifkind is not 'to put it mildly, a child of the digital age'."


On a related note, the Guardian has an interview with the founder of the world wide web:

"Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the computer scientist who created the world wide web, has called for a 'full and frank public debate' over internet surveillance by the National Security Agency and its British counterpart, GCHQ, warning that the system of checks and balances to oversee the agencies has failed."

Are you listening, Sir Malcolm?


When David Cameron announced, with little warning, that he'd like to roll back green levies on energy bills at a recent PMQs session, his deputy sitting behind him looked a little uncomfortable, to say the least. Today, the Lib Dem leader articulates that displeasure in a major speech, distancing himself from the Tory leader and urging the coalition to "stay the course" on environmental issues. The Independent reports:

"Nick Clegg will today accuse David Cameron of abandoning the green agenda he once championed as he claims the Liberal Democrats are now the only mainstream party that gives priority to the environment.

"In a speech to the Green Alliance, the Deputy Prime Minister will accuse both the Conservatives and Labour of cooling on green issues in the age of austerity. He will say: 'Tony Blair entered Downing Street on a promise to put it right at the heart of government. The Conservatives asked us to vote blue in order to go green. And yet these days, across much of the Westminster village at least, the environment is being written off by campaign chiefs on both left and right...'"

Clegg will be bolstered by a new report from the Committee on Climate Change. As the Guardian reports:

"The deputy prime minister's criticism of his coalition partners comes as the Committee on Climate Change, the statutory body that advises ministers on the level of carbon cuts, says it has concluded there should be no change to carbon budgets.

"The report will put pressure on the chancellor, George Osborne, who wants to row back on the UK's green commitments, saying the government should go no further or faster than other countries on cutting carbon."


Watch this video of US comedian Michael Moore speak about the LAX shooting - at LAX: "Guns don't kill people. Americans kill people."


That's the headline over a picture of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on the front of the new-look Independent. The paper reports:

"Suspicions that the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned will be strengthened by the discovery by Swiss scientists of 18 times the normal level of radioactive polonium in his remains.

"Mr Arafat, who had long symbolised the Palestinians fight for their own state, died on 11 November 2004 from an illness that was never fully diagnosed by his doctors.

"Swiss scientists have been carrying out tests on tissue taken from Mr Arafat’s body and personal items with which he was brought into close contact.

"They say they are confident up to an 83 per cent level that the Palestinian leader was poisoned and suspect that the cause may be polonium.

"The results of the investigation by Swiss scientists is contained in an 108-page report by the University Centre for Legal Medicine in Lausanne which was obtained exclusively by Al Jazeera television channel which had previously carried out its own enquiry."

The BBC reports:

"Speaking in Paris, Arafat's widow, Suha, said the Swiss results revealed 'a real crime, a political assassination'. 'This has confirmed all our doubts. It is scientifically proved that he didn't die a natural death and we have scientific proof that this man was killed.'"

The Israelis have denied all involvement. Obviously.


From the Telegraph:

"A Conservative MP said that politicians were "totally corrupt" and admitted they "scrounge" during a parliamentary trip to Malta.

"Brian Binley, the MP for Northampton South, told a businessman who had sponsored a private party that parliamentarians 'scrounge you all the time' and are 'political hangers–on'.

"Later, when he and the businessman spotted a local politician nearby, he said, jokingly: 'You see, we are totally corrupt.'

"Mr Binley was at a concert sponsored by a Maltese bank."


From the latest Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 40

Conservatives 33

Ukip 12

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 86.


@Mike_Fabricant Yesterday I jokingly said to an armed PC in @HouseofCommons "Can I play with your Glock" (hand-gun). He glared. I think he misheard.

@CarolineLucas Sadly lost vote on ensuring better transparency in Parliament. Obviously an idea ahead of its time. Maybe another 200 years or so...

@ITVLauraK Morning - what is this tweet worth? Twitter sell off today - can it really be worth 18 billion?!


Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, says: "MPs may live to regret this rash bid to neuter charities."

Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Cameron’s great lobbying purge fails the 'Mandelson test’."

Rafael Behr, writing in the New Statesman, says: "Miliband waits in hope that the Tories’ counterfeit consensus on Europe will unravel."

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