17/03/2014 04:09 GMT | Updated 17/03/2014 04:59 GMT

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Shock! Horror! Crimea Votes To Join Russia

VIKTOR DRACHEV via Getty Images
Pro-Russian Crimeans celebrate in Sevastopol on March 16, 2014 after partial showed that about 95.5 percent of voters in Ukraine's Crimea region supported union with Russia. Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to join former political master Russia as tensions soared in the east of the splintered ex-Soviet nation amid the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War. AFP PHOTO/ VIKTOR DRACHEV (Photo credit should read VIKTOR DRACHEV/AFP/Getty Images)

Here are the five things you need to know on Monday 17 March 2014...


Yesterday, election officials in Crimea, where pro-Russian forces took control last month, confirmed that 97% of voters had backed seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia - just 2 per cent less than the proportion of North Korean voters who backed Kim Jong Un as their leader earlier this week. I guess there are advantages to having armed men on the streets as voters head for the ballot box, eh? As well as offering voters only a choice on independence or joining Russia - rather than maintaining the status quo. Alex Salmond should try both methods out in September, maybe...

The Telegraph reports on its front page:

"In a poll denounced as 'illegal and illegitimate' by the West, [Crimea's] voters said they would prefer to be ruled from Moscow, according to preliminary results. But before the voting booths had even closed, Britain and America had condemned the vote as a gun–enforced sham designed to legitimise the Kremlin's annexing of the region. In a phone call last night, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, told Barack Obama the referendum was legal. The White House said the vote was held under "threats of violence" from Russian forces. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said: 'Nothing in the way that the referendum has been conducted should convince anyone that it is a legitimate exercise.' Both Washington and the European Union will now impose sanctions against Russia, including visa bans and asset freezes. Mr Putin, showed no sign of backing down yesterday. He insisted that Moscow would respect the result."

The Times leader urges the west to get tough on Vlad: "Diplomatically, the West must move beyond the UN Security Council vote that isolated Russia at the weekend, and formally suspend its membership of the G8. Germany, Britain and France have hesitated to confront Russia over Ukraine because of trade, finance and defence interests respectively. Yet no vested interest warrants turning a blind eye to Mr Putin at his most reckless. In Moscow, 50,000 Russians demonstrated against his adventurism at the weekend, far more than turned out to support him. To appease him is to betray them. Europe's leaders must look beyond the short term and unite against the bully in the Kremlin."


Did the chancellor really say people enjoy being in the top rate tax band? The Daily Mail splashes on his denial:

"Yesterday the Chancellor faced extraordinary claims that he told a private meeting of Tory MPs there were ‘advantages’ for the party that more people were being pulled into paying the higher rate. ‘It means they feel they are a success and joining the aspirational classes,’ he was said to have told them... A Treasury source insisted: ‘George did not say people enjoy paying 40p. He was explaining that even though more people are paying a marginal tax rate of 40 per cent, the important thing is that they are paying less tax overall.’ But two MPs from the Conservatives’ 1922 backbench committee who were present at the meeting in Downing Street last month said the account of the meeting was accurate. One said: ‘He did say it made people feel they were a success. There was a sense of dumbfounded shock around the table.’

The number of people paying the higher rate tax is 4.4m, up from 3m when the coalition came to power in 2010. Senior Tory figures - from former chancellor Nigel Lawson to London mayor Boris Johnson - have urged Osborne to help the middle classes by raising the 40p tax threshold.

However, former Lib Dem cabinet minister Chris Huhne, writing in the Guardian, hits back: "It is absurd to describe anyone in that top group – barely one in seven of the tax-paying population – as part of middle Britain. What about the 85% of income earners who are not paying the 40% rate?"

Meanwhile, some bad news for Tory backbenchers in the FT, which says on its front page that "Wednesday's Budget announce the largest annual upgrade to economic growth since the millennium, but forecasts for a slowing economy from 2015 leave the chancellor little room for largesse in the run-up to next year's general election. Options for vote-winning tax cuts aimed at the middle class have been limited by the Office for Budget Responsibility's expectation that the current rapid pace of economic growth will not last."


Will Ed Miliband winning in 2015 mean an end to Nigel Farage's political career (and perpetual presence on our TV screens)? From the Guardian:

"Nigel Farage has reaffirmed his pledge to stand down as Ukip leader if his party fails to win any seats in the 2015 general election. He told the BBC's Sunday Politics that, if Labour won the election on a non-referendum manifesto and Ukip failed to get any MPs into parliament, he would resign within 12 hours. 'I would have failed,' he said. "I would have spent years trying to achieve this goal. I got into politics not because I wanted a career in politics, far from it, I did it because I genuinely don't think that this European entanglement is right for our country.'"


Watch this video of a water-obsessed cat.


Shadow chancellor Ed Balls again expressed doubts about the future of high-speed rail on the Andrew Marr show yesterday, but today's Independent splashes on the news that "plans to create a high-speed rail link across England should be dramatically accelerated and increased in ambition", according to its new chairman. The paper reports:

"In his long-awaited report on the progress of the rail link, Sir David Higgins will tell ministers that their only chance of keeping the costs under control is to be more bold and to get the job done as quickly as possible. Opponents of HS2 have complained that the initial phase, which will run from London to Birmingham, would bring no benefits to the north of the country. Sir David’s answer is to make phase one stretch another 43 miles to the old railway town of Crewe, which would become a major transport hub, six years earlier than currently planned. Speeding up the project will help keep costs under control because it will reduce uncertainty and limit the impact of inflation, he believes."


The HuffPost UK's Jessica Elgot reports:

"The UK's five richest families have more cash between them than the poorest 20% of the entire population, 12.6 million Britons, with new research showing the chasm between rich and poor is growing wider... In the last 20 years, the wealthiest 0.1 percent have seen their income grow nearly four times faster than the least well off 90 percent of the population. The five richest families in Britain have a combined wealth of £28.2 billion, according to Forbes, and the poorest 20% of the UK population, 12.6 million people,have a combined wealth of £28.1 billion."

Those five families/individuals are:

Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor & family (£13bn)

David & Simon Reuben (£11.5bn)

The Hinduja Brothers (£10bn)

Charles Cadogan & family (£6.9bn)

Michael Ashley (£5.5bn)

The Guardian splashes on the story under the headline 'Divided Britain'. The Oxfam report is entitled 'A Tale of Two Britains'.


From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 40

Conservatives 33

Ukip 12

Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 86.


Madeleine Bunting, writing in the Guardian, says: "If you don't think multiculturalism is working, look at your street corner."

David Aaronovitch, writing in the Times, says: "Tony Benn showed me I wasn’t on the far left."

Roger Bootle, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Let’s have some forward guidance on personal tax giveaways, Mr Osborne."

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