Here are the five things you need to know on Friday 7 March 2014...
1) 'NAZI' UKIP HAS DONE US A FAVOUR, SAYS TORY MP
Forget the infamous 'fruitcakes, loonies and racists' attack on Ukip by David Cameron from several years ago; yesterday, Tory backbencher Robert Halfon let rip against Nigel Farage's anti-EU party, comparing some of its members to Nazis in an interview with House magazine. My HuffPost colleague Ned Simons reports:
"Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow, said in many ways he was pleased Nigel Farage's party was doing so well as it had helped draw "sinister" people away from the Conservatives. 'To me there are two kinds of Ukip – the Godfrey Bloom guy who’s like a cross between Sid James and Bernard Manning,' he said. 'And then there's a much more sinister element, like the MEP who said every Muslim has got to sign a declaration of non-violence, which to me is literally akin to the Nazis saying Jews should wear a yellow star. I genuinely find it abhorrent and frightening. I'm amazed that man is still an MEP. How someone could say such a thing and then not apologise for it.' In an interview with The House magazine, Halfon, who is Jewish, said that Nigel Farage's party had actually done the Conservatives a 'huge favour' by 'cleansing people from the Tory party that had these kinds of views'."
Let's be clear: plenty of Tory MPs privately sympathise with Ukip; but plenty of others privately agree with Halfon.
In response, Farage tweeted that Halfon's "hysterical slurs" were due to "Tory terror of Ukip's rising popularity" and said his party planned a national day of action against the Tory backbencher in his Harlow constituency. The Ukip leader didn't however deal with Halfon's specific criticism of Ukip MEP Gerard Batten who did indeed outrageously demand all British Muslims sign a "declaration of non-violence".
2) OBAMA MAKES ANOTHER PLEA
From the BBC:
"US President Barack Obama has urged President Vladimir Putin to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine, in a lengthy telephone call... President Obama stressed to Russia's president that his country's actions in Crimea were a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, the White House said in a statement. He said there was a solution available that suited all parties, involving talks between Kiev and Moscow, international monitors in Ukraine and Russian forces returning to their bases. For his part, President Putin said US-Russian 'relations should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual, albeit extremely significant, international problems,' the Kremlin said. It was the two leaders' second telephone call concerning Ukraine in less than a week."
Unlike David Cameron, Obama wisely decided not to tweet a picture of himself on the phone with Putin. The Guardian reports: 'European leaders went much further than expected in warning Russia that it will face "severe and far reaching consequences' if it fails to change course on Ukraine, David Cameron said at the end of Thursday's emergency EU summit in Brussels. The prime minister, who had feared German nerves about confronting Vladimir Putin would weaken the EU's resolve, returned home satisfied that Europe and the US are sending powerful signals to Moscow."
Meanwhile, the FT reports: "Crimea's parliament accelerated plans to break away from Ukraine and join Russia, bringing forward a planned referendum on the peninsula's future by two weeks and inflaming already heightened tensions between Moscow and the west. Crimean voters will be asked on March 16 whether the region, which is now in effect controlled by Russian troops, should become part of the Russian Federation or remain in Ukraine, though with much greater autonomy."
3) 'ANOTHER NAIL IN THE COFFIN' OF POLICE CREDIBILITY
From the Mirror:
"Doreen Lawrence held back tears in the Lords last night as she welcomed a damning report detailing police corruption in the probe into her son's murder. The report by top lawyer Mark Ellison said there were reasonable grounds for thinking a detective had a 'corrupt connection' with a dad of one of Stephen's killers and that police planted 'a spy in the family camp'. Baroness Lawrence said: 'I believed that there was corruption at the start of Stephen's case. It's taken over a year for that [review] but it's taken nearly 21 years since Stephen's been killed, and the fact we as a family had to go through all this and still there's more to come out.' She earlier said of the Metropolitan police force: 'This is going to put another nail in their coffin, you just can't trust them.'"
Yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May ordered a judge-led public inquiry into the alleged undercover infiltration of political groups by the Met. Speaking to Newsnight last night, however, Neville Lawrence, Stephen's father, said he was "very wary" about the inquiry and said he felt he would "never be able to trust these people".
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Check out how Twitter, including Twitter celebs, took the p*ss of the photo that David Cameron posted of himself on the phone with Barack Obama.
4) GIDEON'S BLACK HOLE
From the FT:
"George Osborne faces a black hole of more than £20bn in the public finances, according to official government economic models, suggesting that Britain might have to endure an extra year of austerity before the books are balanced. The models by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which the Financial Times has replicated, indicate that the government should no longer rely on an economic recovery to eliminate part of the budget deficit. While Britain has staged a remarkable recovery, indicators of the economy's capacity for future growth have deteriorated... The estimates come less than two weeks before Budget day and pose a difficult challenge to whichever party wins the election. If the models are correct, the next government would have to announce new spending cuts or tax rises to eliminate the structural deficit and ultimately to run a surplus."
Meanwhile, the Guardian reveals: "Deep austerity cuts are crippling local councils and have put Britain in breach of its international obligations, the Council of Europe has said. Official rapporteurs found local authorities do 'not have adequate financial resources' and this is likely to 'get worse in years to come', meaning the UK is not compliant with the European charter of local self-government."
5) FOURTH TIME UNLUCKY
From the Huffington Post UK:
"Iain Duncan Smith has been caught up in a new row over his department's dodgy use of official figures, the fourth in a year. The controversy erupted after top Department for Work and Pensions official Neil Couling tried to defend the government's Work Programme during a grilling by members of Parliament's work and pensions committee using unpublished data, which angered MPs as they did not have a chance to properly scrutinize the figures. Labour member Sheila Gilmore complained to Sir Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, who confirmed that 'published official statistics should be referred to in public statements' and that alternative information should be used only in 'exceptional circumstances'. Sir Andrew added: 'It is a matter of regret that DWP’s usual practice, which would have ensured compliance with the National Statistician’s guidance, was not followed.'"
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 96.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Isabel Hardman, writing in the Telegraph, asks: "Will voters swallow Nick Clegg’s sausage strategy?"
Henry Porter, writing in the Independent, says: "What secret Home Office court says about British openness."
Me, writing in the Huffington Post UK: "While the Tories Claim That Growth Is Back, Ed Miliband Will Seize the Inequality Moment."
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