POLITICS
13/01/2014 03:21 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 16:01 GMT

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Is Dave 'Absolute Bonkers'?

ALAIN JOCARD via Getty Images
British Prime Minister David Cameron gives a press conference after an EU summit focused on the common security, Defence policy and Economic and Monetary union, in Brussels on December 20, 2013. European leaders have put the economic crisis behind them by agreeing a landmark bank deal, but stumbled on deeper economic reforms and defence policy, highlighting the tough road to greater EU integration. AFP PHOTO / ALAIN JOCARD (Photo credit should read ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images)

Here are the five things you need to know on Monday 13 January 2013...

1) IS DAVE 'ABSOLUTE BONKERS'?

That's the question being asked by leading eurosceptic Tories - the Mail, on its front page, has the story:

"David Cameron was branded ‘absolutely out of touch’ with the Tory party last night after he dismissed calls to give Parliament a veto over EU law... The Prime Minister was told he risked causing disastrous divisions in the party, including a Cabinet split, after a letter from 95 backbenchers demanding the right to say No to European legislation was branded unrealistic... The letter was signed by almost two thirds of the 158 backbenchers not given jobs by Mr Cameron. The rebels say at least six Cabinet members also back them... One signatory said: ‘If Downing Street digs in over this they are absolutely bonkers. They will create a Cabinet split. This is a wake-up call. If the governing elite of our party are so absolutely out of touch it’s going to be absolutely disastrous.’"

I don't often agree with the foreign secretary but, speaking on Sky News yesterday, William Hague made the rather obvious point to the rebels that "if national parliaments were unilaterally just able to choose which bits of EU law they would apply and which bits they wouldn’t, the European single market wouldn’t work. We have to be realistic."

The PM is used to being attacked by eurosceptics - but not by europhiles. There aren't many of those left in the current Conservative Party. But there's always Kenneth Clarke - the FT, on its front page, reports on a typically blunt intervention from the veteran minister without portfolio:

"Amid rising tensions between Britain and some eastern European countries, Ken Clarke said migrants made 'a positive contribution to our economy' and had contributed to a 'far more exciting and healthier' society.

"The intervention by the veteran minister, now Mr Cameron's trade envoy, will be unwelcome in Downing Street. 'I just don't think it's true that the European Union is responsible for unacceptable waves of migration,' he told the FT."

Yes, Ken, you're right - but who in your party is actually listening to you? And are they listening to Mario Monti, the former Italian premier, who told the Today programme this morning that the UK would it find "pretty, pretty cold" outside the EU?

2) FRACK YEAH

Has the government found a novel way to persuade local communities to accept fracking and drop their public protests against the controversial technique? Dave, after all, says he is "going all out for shale". From the Telegraph:

"Oil and gas fracking in the UK will receive a major boost today when Prime Minister David Cameron says that local communities will be allowed to keep millions of pounds of tax generated by the industry... Under the plans, local councils will now be allowed to keep all of the business rates shale operators pay. Downing Street said that could be worth up to £1.7m a year for a typical site. Energy firms could also make direct cash payments to local residents, and set up trust funds to be managed by local communities."

So, basically, a bribe. And, in an age of austerity, especially at a local level, it could work. The Telegraph reminds us, though, that the arguments for and against fracking are intense and, as yet, unresolved:

"Supporters of fracking say the technique – which involves extracting gas trapped in shale by pumping in pressurised water and chemicals – can produce cheap energy, pointing to the US, where fuel prices have fallen sharply.

"Critics fear the process will pollute water tables in rural areas."

3) ARM THE SYRIAN REBELS? HUH?

Dave seems to be getting lots of letters from MPs - in addition to the missive he received from 95 Tory Eurosceptics, he's now also has to read an open letter in the Times from a cross-party group of MPs, including Labour's Meg Munn and former Lib Dem leader Sir Ming Campbell. The Times, on its front page, reports:

"David Cameron has come under fresh pressure to consider arming Syrian rebels after demands from a crossparty group of MPs to 'redress the military disadvantage' in the conflict. In a letter in The Times today, signed by politicians from all three main parties, MPs call on the 'Geneva II' Syrian peace conference next week to "chart the transition to a Syria free of Assad's rule".

What on earth is wrong with these parliamentarians? The single worst thing that western politicians could do right now, in the run-up to the much-awaited Geneva conference, is send any signals to the rebels that provoke the latter not to come to the negotiating table, or encourage them to think that they can hold out for some form of external military intervention. The Times report continues:

"The intervention comes with rebels fighting not only President Assad's forces, but also extremists connected to al-Qaeda. Civilians have been starved to death by the regime in recent weeks — some observers put the conflict's death toll at more than 130,000. The letter stops just short of explicitly calling for Britain to support the arming of rebels, but many of the MPs behind it want the issue back on the table."

Madness. Meanwhile, on a related note, the BBC reports:

"An interim agreement to freeze Iran's nuclear programme will enter into force on 20 January, it has been announced.

"The deal, agreed in talks with world powers in November, envisages easing of some international sanctions on Tehran.

"US President Barack Obama welcomed the news but said more work was needed to strike a long-term deal. He threatened new sanctions if there was a breach."

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a pig on a treadmill. You know you want to.

4) RACHEL LOOKS RIGHT

It isn't just top Tories who are buying into, and promulgating, the myth of 'benefit tourism' and pretending there is a big issue with EU migrants - who tend to be in work - claiming social security payments. Labour politicians, it seems, are doing it too. From the Guardian:

"A growing consensus among Britain's main political parties over the need to impose further curbs on benefits for EU migrants was emerging on Sunday after Labour said it might be prepared to countenance more restrictions.

"Rachel Reeves, the shadow work and pensions secretary, said Labour would support proposals upholding the principle that 'you have to pay something in before you get something out'.

"The vocal support from Reeves for the contributory principle – the cornerstone of benefit systems in many parts of Europe – will be noted in Labour circles because her predecessor, Liam Byrne, fell foul of Ed Miliband when he made a similar call."

First Chuka Umunna last week on Question Time, now Rachel Reeves on Sky News yesterday. Labour's rising stars are going all Eurosceptic...

5) GOODBYE 'FIRST GIRLFRIEND'?

An image of French president Francois Hollande's partner, Valérie Trierweiler, appears on the front of today's Telegraph. Why? The paper reports that "France's First Lady was being treated in hospital after learning of the president's alleged love affair and a report linked the apartment he used for his romantic rendezvous to Corsican mobsters.

"Valérie Trierweiler was admitted to a Paris clinic on Friday suffering from stress shortly after learning of allegations that Mr Hollande had spent nights in a flat near the Elysée Palace with an actress."

The Telegraph story points out: "The focus will now shift to the president's traditional start of the year press conference tomorrow to hear what he might have to say about the alleged affair and what it means for his relationship with his unmarried partner.

"If he announces it is over, the 'First Girlfriend' would have to leave the Elysée, where she has an office and a staff of five. If he does not she would still be in the embarrassing position of putting on a brave face as France snickers about Mr Hollande's alleged antics."

Awk-ward...

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"The idea that you can have some fundamental debate that somehow stops all these foreigners coming here is rather typical rightwing, nationalist escapism, I think." - Ken Clarke, speaking to the FT.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 40

Conservatives 31

Ukip 14

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@David_Cameron Allowing councils to keep 100% of business rates from fracking is part of our #LongTermEconomicPlan, creating tens of thousands of jobs.

@ChukaUmunna Big big congrats to Steve McQueen and the whole #12YearsASlave team for their Golden Globe. Doing our thriving British film industry proud!

‏@Mike_Fabricant So what's my January joke? Greece has taken over the Presidency of the European Union for the next 6 months.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Chris Huhne, writing in the Guardian, says: "The Lib Dem leader's challenge in the runup to the coming elections is differentiating the party clearly from his Tory partners."

Boris Johnson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Trust the people to decide on Europe? Whatever next!"

David Davis, writing in the Times, says: "State snooping will hit Britain in the pocket."

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