Here are the five things you need to know on Wednesday 29 January 2014...
1) OPENING THE DOOR
Hurrah! From the front page of the Times:
"Some of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees will be allowed to settle in the UK, Nick Clegg said last night. The Deputy Prime Minister invoked Britain’s 'long and proud tradition of providing refuge at times of crisis', saying that the most imperilled girls, women, torture victims and the elderly will be offered refuge. The coalition has refused to commit itself to a quota, but it is understood that several hundred refugees from the conflict in Syria."
Labour will continue to press for the British government to participate in the official UN-sponsored resettlement scheme but shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper did say: "Compassion and common sense have prevailed over government resistance." The head of the Refugee Council told the Today programme this morning that the decision would make a "profound difference" to the lives of the refugees who are able to come here.
Let's hope so, though let's not be pretend that this is anything other than a drop in the ocean. Millions of Syrians remain homeless; thousands continue to be killed each month. The (faltering) peace talks in Geneva between the opposition and the Assad regime are the Syrian people's only hope. A headline in the FT sums up the challenge: "Ending Syrian carnage requires a rapid deal with Iran."
2) MARK HEADS NORTH
From the BBC:
"The Bank of England governor will enter the Scottish independence debate by reflecting on the currency implications of a 'Yes' vote in the referendum. Mark Carney's speech in Edinburgh has come amid continuing speculation over the Scottish government's plan to keep the pound under independence. SNP ministers would also want to retain services of the Bank of England as part of a currency union. The UK government has said such an agreement would be 'unlikely'."
Carney told the BBC last week: "There are issues with respect to currency unions. We've seen them in Europe." Meanwhile, the Telegraph reports:
"Alex Salmond has suggested the Treasury could let Scotland keep the pound if his country votes for independence. The First Minister revealed that former Bank of England Governor Lord King told him the UK Government would adopt an 'entirely different' approach to Scottish issues after a Yes vote."
3) 'GIVE AMERICA A RAISE'
Last night was Barack Obama's State of the Union address. The president arrived at Capitol Hill with his approval ratings at an all-time low and his legislative agenda yet again stalled in the two houses of Congress. The Associated Press reports:
"Seeking to energize his sluggish second term, President Barack Obama vowed Tuesday night in his State of the Union address to sidestep Congress 'whenever and wherever' necessary to narrow economic disparities between rich and poor. He unveiled an array of modest executive actions to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers and make it easier for millions of low-income Americans to save for retirement... Though Obama sought to emphasize his presidential powers, there are stark limits to what he can do on his own. For example, he unilaterally can raise the minimum hourly wage for new federal contractors from $7.25 to $10.10, as he announced, but he'll need Congress in order to extend that increase to all of America's workers...'Give America a raise,' Obama declared."
Guess what, Barack? The Republicans (still) aren't listening to you...
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this tear-jerking video of a guy reuniting his fiancee with her childhood teddy bear.
4) BURT BEATEN
More bad news for the Lib Dems on the female front - Lorely Burt, the female frontrunner in the race to replace Simon Hughes as the party's deputy leader, got beaten last night. The Guardian reports:
"Liberal Democrat MPs have chosen Sir Malcolm Bruce as their new deputy leader even though he will step down next year – and ahead of the female frontrunner. It comes after the party has been criticised for having the lowest proportion of female MPs out of the three main parties and badly handling allegations of harassment made by women activists. Bruce beat competition from Lorely Burt, the favourite, and Gordon Birtwistle, giving him the job of helping Nick Clegg steer the next election campaign."
5) SAME OLD TORIES?
No matter how hard the Conservative Party leadership tries to shed its 'nasty party' image, various Conservative politicians do their best to undermine it. The former minister Edwina Currie has been trolling the left - and the poor. My HuffPost colleague Asa Bennett reports:
"Former Tory health minister Edwina Currie has warned that 'pernicious' food banks can put local shops out of business and make users poorer. Writing for the Spectator's Coffee House blog, Currie argues that food banks end up making people poorer rather than helping them. 'Free food subsidises low wages; it helps support the black economy. It pauperises those it seeks to help. Like giving money to ‘homeless’ beggars on London streets, it encourages more of what it seeks to relieve.'"
As Labour MP Tom Watson tweeted, these are "appalling" comments. Not just appalling - misinformed, too. Contrary to what critics such as Currie claim, people can't access a food bank on a whim, or just walk in off the street. And the fact that hunger is afflicting hundreds of thousands of poor Britons should be a source of shame.
"We should not allow Mr Farage to set out moral compass on this." - former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell makes the case for allowing in Syrian refugees on the Today programme this morning.
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 32.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, says: "One tax rise too far and suddenly . . . crash!"
Ian Birrell, writing in the Guardian, says: "The joke's not on Nigel Farage and Ukip. It's on the rest of us."
Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Austerity Labour is on its way and Ed Balls is leading the charge."
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