Mehdi's Morning Memo: Was Putin Behind The 'Act Of Terror'?

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while leaving the BRICS-UNASUR Summit at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil on July 16, 2014. The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa held talks in the Brazilian capital with counterparts from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and other Latin American nations. AFP PHOTO/EVARISTO SA (Photo credit should read EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures while leaving the BRICS-UNASUR Summit at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil on July 16, 2014. The leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa held talks in the Brazilian capital with counterparts from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and other Latin American nations. AFP PHOTO/EVARISTO SA (Photo credit should read EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images)
EVARISTO SA via Getty Images

The five things you need to know on Friday 18 July 2014...


Yesterday, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine. 298 people are dead, including nine British passengers. The Ukrainian government is calling it an '"act of terror".

So, was it shot down by pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country? And if so, is Russian president Vladimir Putin to blame?

The Sun splashes on 'Putin's missile', and its lead editorial points out:

"This is the moment the world runs out of patience with Vladimir Putin... pro-Russian separatist fighters are in the frame, already standing accused of downing two Ukrainian military planes in recent days. If they are responsible, then the trail leads straight back to Putin."

The Mail reports:

"As shocking pictures of bodies and debris emerged, the tragedy sparked a full-blown international crisis last night, increasing tension between Moscow and Washington. While Ukraine and Russia blamed each other, US senator John McCain vowed there would be 'hell to pay' if it was confirmed that the surfaceto-air missile had been fired by the rebels or their Russian backers. Ukraine claimed to have intercepted a phone call between separatists and Russian intelligence boasting of downing the jet, while one rebel commander tweeted: 'We warned you - do not fly in "our sky'."

Putin of course is denying any Russian involvement and has said the Ukrainian government should be held responsible for a downing of a civilian airliner in Ukrainian airspace.

Meanwhile, according to the BBC, "PM David Cameron is to chair a meeting of the government's Cobra emergency committee to discuss the situation".

Ukraine, having been ignored by the international community and much of the media for the past few months, is very much now back on the global agenda and it has taken an awful tragedy to put it back on there there...


Today is a ten-hour debate in the Lords on Lord Falconer's controversial Assisted Dying Bill. The Times reports:

" The bill proposes allowing doctors to prescribe a lethal dose to patients judged to have less than six months to live. Traditionally the Lords does not oppose such bills at their second reading debates, but the strength of feeling may mean that this bill is blocked. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, is against, and Lord Carey of Clifton, a predecessor, is in favour; David Cameron and Nick Clegg are opposed. Ed Miliband is understood to sympathise with Lord Falconer’s efforts.. Sources in the Commons suggested that it was unlikely to be debated by MPs before the next election."

Lord Falconer makes the case for his bill here; former Paralympian Baroness Grey-Thompson makes the case against here.


Western leaders have been pretty silent about Israel's bombardment of Gaza in recent days, and the killing of more than 200 Palestinian civilians. Well, not Nick Clegg. From the Huffington Post UK:

"Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip in retaliation for militant rocket attacks on its territory amounts to a 'deliberately disproportionate form of collective punishment', Nick Clegg has said. The deputy prime minister's comments are among the most critical of Israel from a Western leader since the current crisis began... saying: 'I have to say now that the Israeli response appears to be deliberately disproportionate. It is amounting now to a disproportionate form of collective punishment. It is leading to a humanitarian crisis in Gaza which is just unacceptable'... He added: 'I would really now call on the Israeli government to stop. They have made their point.'"

But the Israeli government isn't stopping. Last night, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) launched a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, the first such operation for five years. The Independent reports:

"Israeli media reported the loud rumblings of Israeli tanks and D9 bulldozers revving up their engines to cross the border. Emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told the AFP news agency that Israeli tank fire had killed a five-month-old baby and another person in Rafah, southern Gaza, in the early hours of Friday local time."

Everyone knows that there is no military solution to this conflict. This latest Israeli assault on Gaza, the third such assault in five years, will only create more death, more violence and more terror.


Watch this video of a BBC weather presenter, reporting on the heatwave from a beach, being upstaged by a pee-ing dog in the background.


From the FT:

"The Conservatives are to go ahead with a manifesto proposal to impose a 50 per cent turnout threshold for any strike ballot to be lawful, prompting union anger. Ministers say the plan would protect families and businesses from 'unnecessary and disruptive strikes', but union leaders say it would amount to a back-door ban on the right to strike."

The paper adds:

"Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said a ballot threshold would 'amount to an attempt to ban strikes by the back door'. Ed Miliband, Labour leader, has said he 'does not see the case for change', while Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat business secretary, has described the idea as 'simply potty'."

It's worth remembering that Tories like Boris Johnson, the London mayor, were elected in elections where the turnout was well below 50%. Double standards, anyone?


Surprise, surprise: former counterterrorism cop Peter Clarke's report into alleged extremism in Birmingham schools - remember, 'Operation Trojan Horse'? - has leaked out. The Guardian has seen the contents and the paper's Patrick Wintour reports:

"A damning report into extremist infiltration of Birmingham schools has uncovered evidence of 'coordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in the city'. The conclusion emerges from a leaked draft of a report, commissioned by the former education secretary Michael Gove and written by Peter Clarke, the former head of the Metropolitan police's counterterrorism command, which is due to be published in the next 24 hours. Clarke said there was a 'sustained and coordinated agenda to impose upon children in a number of Birmingham schools the segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strain of Sunni Islam'."

Where does reactionary religion end and violent extremism begin? The Guardian report also points out:

"Last week Mark Rogers, the chief executive of Birmingham city council, said: 'We've had to deal with a national political agenda that has deliberately conflated religious conservatism with an extremist agenda that is all to do with radicalisation and violent extremism'... Clarke said that he neither sought nor found evidence of terrorism, but there was 'very clear evidence that young people are being encouraged to accept unquestionably a particular hardline strand of Sunni Islam that raises concerns about their vulnerability to radicalisation in the future'."

We await a response now from Michael Gove's replacement, the new education secretary Nicky Morgan. Will she use explosive, Gove-esque phrases such as 'draining the swamp'?


You can watch my semi-serious, 60-second round-up of the week's big political stories, including David Cameron's 'high five' with Jean Claude Juncker and Michael Gove getting locked in a loo, here.


From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 39

Conservatives 32

Ukip 13

Lib Dems 8

That would give Labour a majority of 86.


Philip Collins, writing in the Times, says: "Sack your most dynamic minister? Pathetic."

Fraser Nelson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "What’s the secret behind our jobs miracle? Welfare reform."

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian, says: "Blanket digital surveillance is a start. But how about a camera in every bathroom?"

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com) or Asa Bennett (asa.bennett@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons, @asabenn and @huffpostukpol@huffpostukpol