Here are the five things you need to know on Thursday 23 January 2014...
1) GIDDY GIDEON
Over the past three-and-a-half years, George Osborne has failed to meet his debt, deficit, jobs and growth targets, presided over the slowest economic recovery for 100 years and lost the UK's triple-A credit rating in the process. Yesterday in Davos, however, he had a spring in his step, as a record rise in employment followed the IMF's upgrade of its UK growth forecast for 2014. Our plan is working, claimed a jubilant prime minister and a gaggle of Tory MPs at PMQs. Growth is back. So are jobs. According to the ONS, the number of people in work reached a record 30.15 million in the latest quarter, up a record 280,000.
"Hooray! Britain booms again," declares the headline on the front of the Daily Express. "Britain is working its way back to health," is the headline in the Daily Mail, which notes: "More sensitive still is how much longer a rise in interest rates can be delayed."
The FT reports that "the chancellor is preparing to change his message and claim an increase [in interest rates] would be 'a sign of success', yet, as the paper notes, "Osborne has previously hailed rock-bottom rates as evidence that his Plan A deficit-reduction programme was working". Talk about having your cake and eating it...
The Mirror, unsurprisingly, takes a different line on the jobs figures: "Unemployment has dropped by 167,000 to 2.32 million - the lowest level for almost five years - but seven million workers now live on the breadline. Labour leader Ed Miliband welcomed the latest employment figures yesterday but attacked PM David Cameron because more than half of the 13 million living in poverty have jobs."
The Tories see this as sour grapes, as proof that Labour and the left can't acknowledge the reality of the recovery and, by extension, the vindication of their economic plan. My own view is best expressed by economist Chris Dillow:
"A belated return to growth is entirely consistent with the orthodox Keynesian theory that austerity depresses output. To give Osborne credit for the recovery is like praising a taxi-driver for getting us home when he has taken us on a two-hour detour. Instead, what we should be doing is blaming him for the detour."
2) FORGET CHRIS RENNARD, MEET MIKE HANCOCK
Poor ol' Lib Dems. "New sex storm shames Lib Dems," is the splash headline in the Daily Mail, which reports:
"Nick Clegg was last night struggling to contain another sex scandal after his party tried to suppress ‘credible’ allegations of misconduct by an MP. The Liberal Democrats finally suspended Mike Hancock yesterday, more than three years after a vulnerable constituent first complained about him. Incredibly, Mr Clegg acted only after an independent report by a QC, who found prima facie evidence that the 67-year-old MP was guilty of ‘serious and unwelcome sexual behaviour’, was leaked online."
The Mail explains:
"The allegations against Mr Hancock, MP for Portsmouth South, are even more serious than those against Lord Rennard.
The alleged victim accused the father of two – who was more than 30 years her senior – of exposing himself in front of her, ‘forcibly’ kissing her until she had red marks on her arms, and begging her to perform sex acts upon him."
Rennard, Hancock, Laws, Huhne, Oaten.. as the New Statesman's George Eaton has pointed out, for a small party, the Liberal Democrats sure do produce a lot of scandal-prone figures...
3) DON'T BE SHOCKED BY 'BENEFITS STREET'
Iain Duncan Smith is giving a big speech on benefits today - from the Guardian:
"Middle-class Britain has been shocked by the hidden reality of welfare ghettos revealed by TV programmes such as Benefits Street, Iain Duncan Smith is expected to say as he welcomes a Bank of England report claiming that his welfare-to-work reforms are bearing fruit. In a speech on Thursday marking the 10th anniversary of the formation of the Centre for Social Justice thinktank, the work and pensions secretary is due to say: "With income inequality under Labour the worst for a generation, whilst the middle-class majority were aware of the problems in poor communities, they remained largely unaware of the true nature of life on some of our estates. "We let these problems be ghettoised as though they were a different country. Even now, for the most part they remain out of sight – meaning people are shocked when they are confronted with a TV programme such as Benefits Street."
IDS will also say: "Our real success has been to reframe the argument – challenging a narrative beloved of the left..." Given the polls showing a majority of Labour supporters support Tory welfare 'reforms' such as the benefit cap, it's difficult to disagree with the work and pensions secretary.
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of former California governor and Hollywood A-lister Arnold Schwarznegger go undercover, in disguise, as a fitness trainer at a gym in California. For charity.
4) SETTING AN EXAMPLE ON SYRIA
My HuffPost colleague Ned Simons reports:
"The Labour Party intends to force a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday in an attempt to pressure the government into accepting a few hundred of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees. Labour sources said the party was hoping to get "widespread support" across party lines given the "desperate" situation was both "urgent and very important"... The decision to hold a Commons vote was announced after Ed Miliband pressed David Cameron on the issue during prime minister's questions on Wednesday afternoon. He said the UK should "set an example" for the rest of the world to follow."
5) UKIP MEETS 'THE APPRENTICE'
From the Times:
"UKIP is subjecting candidates to tough examinations, including tests on media handling and policy, and promoting more women to try to widen its voter base. The party wants to appeal to bluecollar workers not attracted to the Tories. Its spring conference will see the launch of policies aimed at positioning it to the left of David Cameron, in a move that could threaten Labour's dominance in areas such as the North of England. The party's autumn gathering was overshadowed by controversy stirred by Godfrey Bloom's joking description of activists as "sluts"... Those behind the modernisation plan to define 'New UKIP' against Mr Bloom's version of the party, which they describe as the 'blazer division of the libertarian Right'... Aspiring candidates must now attend a day-long test where an "A grade" is required in media skills, public speaking, understanding policy and a general interview. Louise Bours, one of the party's MEP candidates for the North West, said: 'It's UKIP's version of The Apprentice.'"
So I guess UKIP candidates will now become masters of bragging and bullsh*t then...
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 8
That would give Labour a majority of 92.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Tim Montgomerie, writing in the Times, says: "Goodbye bongo-bongo land, hello NewKIP"
Martin Kettle, writing in the Guardian, says: "Ed Miliband's ultimate election battle will be about trust"
Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph says: "The Tories must rescue Nick Clegg in order to save their own skins."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ned Simons (email@example.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol