Mehdi's Morning Memo: Don't Mess With Miriam

Miriam Gonzales Durantez watches her husband, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg deliver his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrat Annual Conference in Brighton.
Miriam Gonzales Durantez watches her husband, Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg deliver his keynote speech to the Liberal Democrat Annual Conference in Brighton.
Lewis Whyld/PA Archive

Here are the five things you need to know on Wednesday 22 January 2014...


Is the Deputy Prime Minister's wife behind his strong, public stance against controversial Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard? That's what the Telegraph reports on its front page this morning:

"Miriam Clegg helped to shape her husband's decision to take on Lord Rennard after being left 'furious' by the Liberal Democrat peer's failure to apologise to his alleged victims, sources said last night. Nick Clegg was supported by his wife, a City lawyer, in his decision to call for the peer to be barred from rejoining the House of Lords following allegations that he sexually harassed female activists. Mrs Clegg is understood to have raised concerns with her husband that the party had 'let down' female activists by failing to take their concerns seriously."

The row over Rennard's behaviour - and his failure to apologise for it - threatens to tear the Lib Dems apart from top to bottom. The word "bloodbath" is being thrown around, according to the Independent:

"The Liberal Democrats' civil war over Lord Rennard's fate has escalated as a former leader defied Nick Clegg and called for the peer to be allowed back into the party. Lord Steel of Aikwood's intervention came as party leaders braced themselves for a damaging court battle with their former chief executive who has faced allegations of sexual harassing several women. One source warned of a possible 'blood bath, the like of which the party has not seen before'."

Liberal Democrat peers will meet for the first time today since Rennard was suspended from the party. The latter, meanwhile, has consulted with lawyers over taking legal action the Lib Dems. There has aso been talk of involving outside negotiators to try and resolve the row - a proposal backed, in principle, by one of the the peer's alleged victims, Alison Smith, speaking on the Today programme this morning.


The Syrian civil war is on the verge of entering its fourth bloody year. Can we spot any light at the end of a very dark tunnel? Today, for the first time, the two sides will meet face to face. From the BBC:

"A major conference aimed at finding a solution to the three-year conflict in Syria which has left 100,000 dead is starting in Switzerland. The Syrian government and the main opposition are attending the Geneva II summit along with international allies. The key issue, on which neither side appears willing to budge, is the future of President Bashar al-Assad."

Iran, of course, was disinvited from the peace talks after failing to sign up to the plan for a transitional Syrian governing body agreed at a UN-backed meeting in Geneva in 2012. Meanwhile, rebels are turning on rebels - with US support. The Telegraph reports:

"The United States and Gulf countries have been secretly backing efforts by some of the opposition to destroy al–Qaeda's most extreme wing in Syria, diplomats and rebels involved in the plan have told The Daily Telegraph. As Western diplomats publicly push the Syrian regime and the opposition to the Geneva peace conference that begins tomorrow, Washington has also been quietly supporting moves by Saudi Arabia and Qatar to give weapons and cash to rebel groups to fight al–Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq and al–Shams (ISIS). One source said the US was itself handing out millions of dollars to rebel groups best equipped to take on the extremists while another confirmed America was providing non–lethal aid."


From the Times splash:

"Theresa May is in a stand-off with Downing Street over stop-and-search powers used by police. The Home Secretary wanted to announce sweeping curbs of the controversial tactic before Christmas but has been blocked by No 10, senior officials have told The Times. The clash threatens to become a battle between David Cameron and Mrs May, tipped as a potential Conservative Party leader. Despite her reputation as a hardliner on law and order, Mrs May is said to be convinced that stop and search, which gives officers wide-ranging powers to stop people they suspect of criminal intent, causes too much resentment of the police."

So why is No 10 opposed to a curb stop-and-search? According to the Times report, Cameron and co are "concerned that it could expose the Government to accusations from UKIP that it is going soft on law and order". Oh dear.


Watch this bizarre video of controversial Toronto mayor Rob Ford that appears to show him attempting to speak in Jamaican dialect.


Remember Tory MP Aidan Burley? From the Guardian:

"Cameron faced calls last night to remove the Tory whip from the backbench MP Aidan Burley after a report commissioned by the party concluded that Burley acted in a "stupid and offensive way" when he bought a Nazi uniform for a stag party. Ian Austin, the former Labour minister, criticised the prime minister for standing by Burley, who the report said was naïve for remaining at the stag do during a 'Nazi-themed toast'. But Burley won support from the Tory leadership after the report's author, the Conservative peer Lord Gold, concluded that the MP was not a racist or antisemitic."


Oh, this'll be good - from Canada's Global New site:

"Two major players on opposite ends of the state surveillance spectrum are set to debate the heavily contested topic in Toronto this spring. Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, a former director of the National Security Agency in the U.S. will go head to head with Glenn Greenwald, the American journalist who reported on NSA leaks. Greenwald received documents from former NSA analyst Edward Snowden and reported about them last year for the newspaper The Guardian. The topic of the debate – set for May 2 – is 'Be it resolved: State surveillance is a legitimate defence of our freedoms.'"

The organisers, the Munk Debates, are the same folks who organised the Tony Blair vs Christopher Hitchens debate on faith in Toronto in 2010.

Meanwhile, the Guardian - often attacked by NSA defenders for picking on the United States - has splashed on "China's offshore secrets", using - yes, you guessed it - leaked documents:

"More than a dozen relatives of China's top political and military leaders are making use of offshore companies based in the British Virgin Islands, leaked financial documents reveal. The brother-in-law of China's current president, Xi Jinping, as well as the son and son-in-law of the former premier Wen Jiabao are among the political relations using the law to take advantage of the offshore havens, financial records show. The documents also disclose the central role of western banks and accountancy firms, including Pricewaterhouse-Coopers, Credit Suisse and UBS , acting as middlemen in the establishing of companies."

Good ol' communists, eh?


My HuffPost UK colleague Asa Bennett debunks the myth that that immigration causes unemployment.


"There's a corrosive influence taking place and Russell Brand is part of that." - former home secretary David Blunkett slams Brand and others for telling young people not to vote.


From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 38

Conservatives 34

Ukip 13

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 44.


@WilliamJHague Arrived in Montreux. Opposition has been tested and has come. Now regime must be tested on willingness to seek a political solution #Syria

@BBCr4today "What's at stake here for me is the principle of what is acceptable in the workplace." - Alison Smith #Rennard #r4today

@charliewhelan Told Red Lion closed & turning into trendy wine bar. Yuk. The pub is where Blair found out we were not joining Euro - from me! Ha ha


Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "Dave and Nick, time to prepare your divorce papers."

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, says: "The truth is we are all living on Benefits Street."

Sarah Vine, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "Why didn't the Lib Dem ladies just give the old goat a slap?"

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