04/03/2014 03:12 GMT | Updated 04/03/2014 05:59 GMT

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Who Are The Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys Now?

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street in London, to be driven to the Houses of Parliament for a debate and vote on Syria, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. Britain's opposition Labour Party has indicated it may not support even a watered down version of a government resolution on Syria. Labour leader Ed Miliband said Thursday he is unwilling to give Prime Minister David Cameron a "blank check" for conducting possible future military operations against Syria. (AP Photo/Matt Dun

Here are the five things you need to know on Tuesday 4 March 2014...


Oh dear. On Saturday, Tory Treasury minister Sajid Javid was tweeting that Ed Miliband was to blame for the crisis in Ukraine, for having opposed air strikes on Syria last year and thereby, allegedly, encouraged Vladimir Putin to behave belligerently in Crimea. Yesterday, however, we discovered that the Treasury in which Javid works has no plans to impose financial sanctions or penalties on Putin. In fact, while the US administration wants greater pressure put on the Russian government, the British government, despite the strong rhetoric from Messrs Cameron, Hague and, er, Javid, seems to want to do... well... nothing. From the Daily Mail:

"Britain will not impose sanctions or support military action against Russia, according to a briefing paper that was revealed in error yesterday. The document became public when one of David Cameron's advisers left it on display to press photographers before a Downing Street meeting. The blunder by Hugh Powell, who is deputy national security adviser, also shows that the Government has no plans to freeze Russian investors out of the City of London. Instead, the briefing paper recommends that the UN should take the lead and possibly send monitors to Ukraine. The document says: 'UK should not support for now, trade sanctions ... or close London's financial centre to Russians.' It also says that Britain should 'discourage any discussions (eg at Nato) of emergency military preparations'."

Who are the cheese-eating surrender monkeys now? This "monstrous incompetence" on the part of Powell (who is, incidentally, the son of Charles Powell and an Etonian chum of Cameron), as the Mail's leader rightly points out, "makes abundantly plain, our threats to Mr Putin are almost entirely empty... Merely shouting empty threats from afar will succeed only in emboldening him and exposing our weakness."

Indeed. And don't believe those who say financial measures won't work or have an impact; as Russia expert Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale points out in this New Republic essay, "Soft power can hurt. General restrictions on tourist visas, a few thousand travel bans, and a few dozen frozen accounts might make a real difference."

Meanwhile, the Obama administration in the US has suspended military ties with Russia while the trade department ha suspended meetings with the Putin administration.


Who says the Lib Dems are finished come 2015? From the Independent splash:

"Nick Clegg has told the Liberal Democrats to prepare for another five years in power amid new evidence that voters are warming to the idea of coalition government. A ComRes poll for The Independent found that 34 per cent of people believe that Britain is better off with a coalition government than if the Conservatives or Labour had won the last general election outright – higher than the 29 per cent figure recorded last July. The findings are a boost for the Lib Dems."

Meanwhile, the Guardian reveals:

"Danny Alexander, the Treasury chief secretary, is to lead a Liberal Democrat team preparing for possible negotiations with other parties in the event of a hung parliament after the 2015 general election, the Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, told his MPs late Monday. A politically balanced, five-strong team has been appointed: Alexander; general election manifesto co-ordinator David Laws; Lady Brinton; international development minister Lynne Featherstone; and pensions minister Steve Webb. Featherstone and Webb are regarded as on the left of the party... There is great suspicion that some members of the Lib Dem leadership would prefer to renew their coalition vows with David Cameron, but in practice the party's room for manoeuvre may be limited by the outcome."


From the Times:

"One of David Cameron’s aides and longest serving political friends has quit No 10 after being arrested over allegations involving child abuse images. Patrick Rock, who was the key policy 'fixer' in Downing Street overseeing the Tories’ law and order agenda, quit his job and was arrested on the same day three weeks ago. Mr Rock, 62 and unmarried, also played a key role in the porn filter policy to protect children from child abuse and had been expected to receive a peerage within months."


Check out Ellen DeGeneres' best jokes from the Oscars.


Remember how the PM said that cutting the deficit, not cutting taxes, was the priority? Was unavoidable? Well, with a little over a year to go till the general election, he's reverting to Tory type it seems. From the Telegraph (where else?) front page:

"David Cameron will pledge to return “every penny” that his Government can squeeze from public spending to voters in the form of tax cuts. Speaking two weeks before the Budget, the Prime Minister will promise to do more to give households 'money in our pockets' by reducing the size of the State. Mr Cameron’s speech on Tuesday is the latest sign that the Conservatives will attempt to fight the next election on a tax cutting platform, with cuts for low-paid workers expected in the Budget on March 19."

The Independent reports that Dave "will today insist his commitment to further tax cuts and a continuing squeeze on public spending is motivated not by a right-wing agenda but a principled commitment to helping hard-pressed families. He will hit back at charges by Labour and his Liberal Democrat coalition partners that the Conservatives are driven by Thatcherite ideology in their determination to shrink the state... The Prime Minister will dismiss the suggestion that ministers are just a 'turnaround team of accountants rescuing a failing business'. He will say: 'This isn’t about some ideological commitment to a smaller state. It’s actually about our values.'


What happened to papal infallibility? From the Mail:

"With millions of people hanging on your every word, it was a slip-up Pope Francis would really have preferred not to make. While giving his weekly blessing from the Vatican, the Argentinian mistakenly uttered the word 'f***' in Italian before quickly correcting himself. But within seconds his mistake was posted on dozens of Italian media websites and YouTube and had gained millions of worldwide hits as it went viral. The words the Pope stumbled on were 'caso' (example) and 'cazzo' which means 'f***' in Italian and often trips up those not used to speaking the language."

Don't worry - I'm sure God will forgive him.


From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 41

Conservatives 32

Ukip 12

Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 98.


Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, says: "Britain is responding to the crisis in Ukraine without a coherent foreign policy. And that’s a very good thing."

Justin Webb, writing in the Times, says: "Obama’s best weapon could be economic - using the fracking boom to kill Russia’s energy industry."

Nick Clegg, writing in the Guardian, says: "Edward Snowden's revelations made it clear: security oversight must be fit for the internet age."

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