Here are the five things you need to know on Wednesday 5 March 2014...
1) CAMERON'S COVER-UP?
The Daily Mail, which yesterday broke the story of Downing Street aide Patrick Rock's arrest and subsequent resignation last month, today suggests there may have been a government 'cover-up'. From the Mail's splash:
"Downing Street was last night facing allegations of a cover-up over the child porn arrest of one of David Cameron’s oldest friends. Patrick Rock, 62, deputy director of the No 10 policy unit, resigned and was arrested almost three weeks ago. But Downing Street said nothing, only choosing to confirm his arrest and departure after being questioned on Monday by the Daily Mail... Yesterday, Labour insisted it was extraordinary that a senior figure could resign in such circumstances without any public announcement. No 10 faced also awkward questions about why Mr Rock was confronted with the child pornography allegations and allowed to quietly resign hours before the police were called in. Incredibly, outside Mr Cameron’s close circle, only Home Secretary Theresa May was informed of Mr Rock’s resignation."
The paper quotes David Cameron as saying: "First of all, I have to be careful what I say about this issue because there is a criminal investigation underway. Obviously when I heard these allegations I was profoundly shocked and I remain profoundly shocked. In terms of the release of this information, I do not think it would be right to pre-emptively speak about a criminal investigation and that is why we did not do that."
The Mirror's editorial, however, asks: "Of course Patrick Rock remains an innocent man unless a court of law decides otherwise. But why was he allowed to leave Downing Street so quietly by the back door? Please explain, Prime Minister."
2) WHY ARE WE STILL SELLING ARMS TO PUTIN?
We're so outraged by Putin's belligerence in Ukraine that... er... um... we're still selling him weapons. Yep. Unbelievable. From the Sun's Tom Newton Dunn:
"Britain is still flogging Russia £86million of weapons, ammo and lethal technology DESPITE its invasion of Crimea. Sniper rifles, drones, laser weapon systems and assault rifles all continue to be exported with the full approval of the Government... The Sun can reveal that 271 arms export licences issued by Whitehall for military and intelligence equipment to Russia are still active. The ongoing trade appears to breach government rules which ban export licences for any weapons that might be used to "facilitate internal repression" or "provoke or prolong regional conflicts". The deals include at least £22million-worth of encoding equipment and £3million-worth of ammunition."
Never let an illegal invasion get in the way of our arms trade, eh? Astonishing. Meanwhile, the BBC reports that "US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are due to hold crucial talks to try to ease tensions over the Ukraine crisis... Despite the sharp differences, both sides have hinted they would prefer to start a dialogue."
Putin looked pretty content and confident when he appeared at a live press conference on television yesterday - he had a go at the west for criticising him over Ukraine when the US et al had invaded Iraq and bombed Libya. The Guardian reports that "Putin gave a robust performance during which he portrayed Kiev as being in the grip of 'terror, extremists and nationalists' rampaging on the streets. Putin described what is broadly seen as a Russian land grab in Crimea as 'a humanitarian mission'."
I guess the Russian president gets his PR tips and soundbites from the same guys who advised Tony Blair. On the FT front page, Neil Buckley writes: "Vladimir Putin delivered a classic performance yesterday: clever, tough, sardonic and deeply cynical... In an hour-long televised press conference, Russia's president took at least one step back from confrontation. Possibly, he blinked in the face of threatened western sanctions, or Monday's 11 per cent fall in the Moscow stock market. More likely, after the slickly executed Crimea operation, and the more serious threat to send Russia's army into eastern Ukraine, he felt he had made his point - for now."
3) SSSHHH, DON'T TELL THEM THE GOOD (MIGRATION) NEWS
It isn't just Patrick Rock's arrest that the PM and his team are accused of 'covering up' - from the BBC:
"Downing Street has withheld publication of a cross-governmental report that suggests one potential impact of immigration is smaller than claimed. It suggests 'displacement' - the number of UK workers unemployed as a consequence of immigration - is well below the figure used by ministers of 23 for every 100 additional immigrants. This was considered potentially incendiary, BBC Newsnight has learned."
The new analysis - by civil servants - estimates, according to Newsnight's policy editor Chris Cook, "that the cost to existing British workers of new arrivals is much lower. Officials say the prime minister's team has prevented publication of the report, which has been ready since last year, to avoid igniting controversy."
The government said it did not comment on internal documents. Meanwhile, a defiant Nigel Farage appeared on the Today programme this morning to say that "the report's going to show that there is a displacement of British workers" caused by immigration from eastern Europe.
On a related note, my HuffPost UK colleague Paul Vale reports that Farage is expected to be given a verbal kicking by Nick Clegg, ahead of his forthcoming debate with the deputy prime minister:
"With a live debate about Europe on the forthcoming TV schedules, Nick Clegg is set to ramp up the pressure on his opponent Nigel Farage by accusing the Ukip leader of pocketing his MEP’s salary without bothering to vote. Speaking at Centre for European Reform think-tank on Wednesday, Clegg is expected to lambast Farage for spreading 'myths' about the benefits of an isolationist position on Europe... The Lib Dem leader will also accuse Farage of 'failing to stand up for' important issues for Britons, such as mobile phone roaming regulations, which would have cut costs for holidaymakers abroad."
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of the Daily Show's Jon Stewart taking on Russia's Vladimir Putin. Seriously. Watch it and laugh. Lots.
4) BLAIR TO BROOKS: HOW CAN I HELP?
Ed Miliband's reaction to the news that the News of the World had hacked the mobile phone of murdered school girl Milly Dowler was to call for the then News International boss Rebekah Brooks to quit; Tony Blair's reaction, it seems, was to text Brooks and offer his advice. From the Huffington Post UK:
"Tony Blair told Rebekah Brooks he was thinking of her and offered to help her in the wake of the Milly Dowler phone hacking allegations, the Old Bailey has heard. The former News of the World editor said she was sent a message from the ex-prime minister, saying: "Let me know if there's anything I can help you with. Thinking of you. I've been through things like this." Brooks replied to the message, sent on July 5 2011: 'Thank you, I know what's it's like. GB (Gordon Brown) pals getting their own back. Rupert and James (Murdoch) have been brilliant.'"
Meanwhile, George Eaton in the New Statesman reports that "Blair himself has recently had discussions with Labour figures about making a 'large donation' to the party. Blair, who again praised Miliband's party reforms at the weekend, has appeared at fundraising dinners and has been advising the party on how to maximise Britain's "Olympic legacy".
However, Eaton adds, "my source suggested that the recent Rebekah Brooks revelations may have delayed the move".
5) GOOD JOB, GOVE!
Education secretary Michael Gove gets a lot of stick from the left for his education 'reforms' and his bashing of the teaching unions. But surely even die-hard progressives will welcome the latest news from the Gove household? The Guardian reveals:
"Michael Gove has made history by becoming the first Conservative education secretary to send his offspring to a state secondary school. His daughter Beatrice will take up a place at Grey Coat Hospital school in London later this year. The Gove family is said to be delighted at the news that the academy – a diverse, highly successful school rated as outstanding by Ofsted – had offered her a place, delivered on national offer day alongside hundreds of thousands of similar decisions delivered to parents across England."
The paper points out that the school's "location in Westminster is so close to the Department for Education's headquarters that the school is visible from the DfE building". Good for dad Michael; bad for daughter Beatrice.
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 44.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Malcolm Rifkind, writing in the Guardian, says "the west must not prevaricate over imposing sanctions on Russia".
Mary Riddell, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Lego Labour is several building blocks short of victory."
Nigel Farage, writing in the Independent, says: "Ukip has finally arrived – and all thanks to a ruling from Ofcom."
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