Here are the five things you need to know on Tuesday 7 May 2014...
1) HERE COMES HELMER
Remember how Nigel Farage said he didn't want to stand in the Newark by-electon because he wanted a new and local Ukip voice to emerge? Well, guess what? That's not happening. From the Telegraph:
"A politician who has said homosexuality is 'abnormal and undesirable' could become the UK Independence Party's first MP. Roger Helmer, 70 who defected from the Tories in 2012, was chosen as Ukip's candidate on Monday evening to fight the Newark by-election. The by-election - which is being held on June 5 - was triggered by the resignation of Conservative MP Patrick Mercer this month... Mr Helmer was selected despite last week comparing being homosexual to choosing between different types of tea. He said: 'You may tell me you don’t like Earl Grey tea. That may be a minority view, but you’re entitled not to like it.'"
Helmer, who has been an MEP for the past 15 years - 13 of them as a Tory MEP - "also came under fire in 2011 - when he was a Tory MEP - for saying that some rape victims 'share a part of the responsibility' for their attack because they had put themselves in that situation."
Good to see Ukip going with a non-fruitcake candidate in Newark, eh?
Meanwhile, more good news for Ukip - the FT reports: "More than half of those voting for the UK Independence party in this month's European election also intend to support the anti-EU party in next year's general election, according to a survey. The poll of 20,000 people by YouGov for the British Election Study suggests that the Ukip vote will prove much more resilient this time than in the last election cycle. It suggests Ukip could win up to 10 per cent at the general election."
10%? If that's right, the Tories are finished, come May 2015...
(On a related note, you can read my latest blogpost on Ukip - "The Great Ukip Racism Debate - Debunking the Six Main Myths" - here.)
2) FROM BOOM BACK TO BUST?
Does Help To Buy need, er, help? From the Mail's splash:
"The controversial scheme to make mortgages cheaper is expected to be reined in within months amid concerns that the housing market is in danger of overheating. Chancellor George Osborne said the Bank of England was vigilant about the rising cost of property in many areas and would intervene if needed. He was responding to an international report that Britain's booming housing market was becoming a threat to economic recovery. With prices rising at up to 10 per cent a year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said there was a danger that people were borrowing more than they could ever pay back. The OECD – a respected international think-tank – also said housebuyers should be required to put down larger deposits."
You don't say? Then again, Help To Buy has never been about sound economics but rather good ol' fashioned politics. As Andrew Rawnsley noted in his Observer column on Sunday:
"Tory MPs indicate the main purpose of this policy when even they joke that it should be called 'Help To Buy Votes'. George Osborne let the tactic out of the bag a few months ago when he told the cabinet that a boom in house prices would do no harm to their re-election prospects."
If Help To Buy is indeed reined in, will Osborne's mini-boom then turn back into bust?
3) 'A TOOL OF DESPOTS NOT DEMOCRATS'
Why are we not more outraged? From the Guardian:
"The home secretary, Theresa May, is to ask the Commons on Wednesday to back her plan to deprive terror suspects of British citizenship, even if it leaves them stateless. The home secretary will ask MPs to overturn a House of Lords amendment to her immigration bill, which would seriously delay her plans by insisting that a joint committee of peers and MPs scrutinise the proposal before it can become law... At the time of the Lords defeat, Pannick said: 'There are regrettably all too many dictators around the world willing to use the creation of statelessness as a weapon. We should do nothing to suggest that it is acceptable.' The director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, said: 'Removing the right to have rights is a new low. Washing our hands of potential terrorists is dangerously short-sighted and statelessness is a tool of despots not democrats. The Lords rightly ripped this plan apart – now it's time our MPs matched their courage.'"
BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...
Watch this video of little ducklings following a guy round. Everywhere he goes. You know you want to.
4) BORIS VS BLAIR
Some Tories, such as George Osborne and Michael Gove, are big fans of Tony 'The Master' Blair. Others, such as Boris Johnson, aren't. Yesterday, as my HuffPost colleague Ned Simons reports, the mayor of London went after the former prime minister live on air:
"Boris Johnson has expressed sympathy with calls for Tony Blair to face criminal prosecution for taking Britain to war in Iraq, but said the former prime minister was too "eel-like" to ever be convicted. The mayor of London told LBC radio on Monday morning that he feels "guilty" for voting in favour of military action in 2003 when he was a Conservative member of parliament... Asked by a caller to the radio show whether Blair should face criminal prosecution if the report found he had misled the country, Boris said 'it depends whats Chilcot says'. 'I think it would be hard to mount criminal charges, you'd have to show some sort of malfeasance in public office which would be very difficult to prove. I happen to think in the case of Tony Blair it would be quite difficult to secure a conviction, he is a very eel-like customer, it would be very unlikely you'd get him.' He said Blair was a 'very adept and agile lawyer' but the caller who wanted the former prime minister prosecuted had his 'heart in the right place'."
5) 'MEET YOUR NEW ENGLISH TEACHER'
That's the headline on the front of the Guardian, over a photo of actor and comedian Russell Brand. Huh?
"A-level students will study Russell Brand's views on drugs and Caitlin Moran's Twitter feed alongside more conventional literature in a new A-level that was immediately denounced as "rubbish" by sources at the Department for Education. The OCR exam board said it had teamed up with an educational charity, the English and Media Centre, to develop the A-level in English language and literature to study unorthodox texts, such as a BBC Newsnight interview with rapper Dizzee Rascal and the work of former Guardian columnist the Secret Footballer... But the education department launched a scathing attack. A senior DfE source said: 'Schools should be aware that if they offer this rubbish in place of a proper A-level, then pupils may not get into good universities... It is immensely patronising to young people to claim that they will only engage with English language and literature through celebrities such as Russell Brand.'"
I guess Michael Gove can forget about all that 'rigour' and 'discipline' he was promising.
Oh, and you can watch my interview with educational guru Brand, from November 2013, here.
PUBLIC OPINION WATCH
From the Sun/YouGov poll:
Lib Dems 9
That would give Labour a majority of 4.
900 WORDS OR MORE
Zoe Williams, writing in the Guardian, says: "Zero-hours jobseekers? Britain's given up on employee rights."
Daniel Finkelstein, writing in the Times, reveals his "contender for the stupid socialist award."
Simon Kelner, writing in the Independent, says: "English nationalism is a force that could yet undermine social harmony."
Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (firstname.lastname@example.org), Ned Simons (email@example.com) or Asa Bennett (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons, @asabenn and @huffpostukpol