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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Thursday, September 20, 2012
** Er, um...sorry ** Poll Ed-ache for Labour ** Not-so-premium pupils ** Guess who's coming to young Tories' conference? ** Barack the Bolshevik ** USA not invading Canada **


Elton John was wrong. Sorry isn't the hardest word. Not for Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg who has used a new party election broadcast to issue an apology over tuition fees. (Ok, ok, it took him two years to do it but did anyone really notice? Well...yes, actually.)

The Guardian splash says:

"This is not easy but I am sorry: Clegg's apology for tuition fees pledge."

The Indy's front page headline reads:

"Clegg eats humble pie over broken promises"

But what Clegg doesn't do, intriguingly, in the short video of him speaking directly to camera, Gordon-Brown-style, in the front room (?) of his south-west London home, is apologise for his decision to vote for an increase in fees; only for making and breaking an unrealistic pledge:

"I shouldn't have committed to a policy that was so expensive when there was no money around… But I also realise that isn't the point. There's no easy way to say this: we made a pledge, we didn't stick to it – and for that I am sorry."

As my colleague Chris Wimpress pointed out last night: "Clegg is a bit like an adulterer saying sorry for making wedding vows in the first place, rather than sorry for the philandering."

The PEB, conceived and scripted by the deputy prime minister himself while he was on holiday in Spain over the summer, will air on Monday night during the Lib Dems' annual conference. Will it endear him to the voters? A new Ipsos MORI poll shows Clegg's personal ratings at an all-time low: in fact, for the first time, a majority of his own supporters (51%) don't think he's doing a good enough job.

And, as James Kirkuk argues in the Telegraph: "I suspect this move may simply remind [voters] of something that they'd either forgotten or discounted."

Speaking on last night's Newsnight, Vince Cable said he took "his responsibility" for the fees policy but said he'd been "sceptical" at the time. (In fact, in November 2010, the business secretary claimed the Lib Dems "haven't betrayed anybody" and "didn't break a promise".)

In an interview with me for the Huffington Post UK, to be published later this week, the party's deputy leader Simon Hughes, says: "The only thing that I wish we'd had...more time to do...was to pay more attention to tuition fees. We could have got a deal that wouldn't have given us the political problem we had...We could have done it differently." It was, he adds, the biggest "political mistake" of the Lib Dems' two-and-half-years in government.

Meanwhile, writing in today's New Statesman, Clegg's former director of strategy, Richard Reeves, says:

"Once the party caravan packs up on 26 Sept­ember and heads inland after conference, the muttering has to stop. If the party is not to sack Nick Clegg then it must back him."

(On the recent Bigotgate row, Reeves also argues: "Here's the thing: they are bigots...the opponents of same-sex marriages will be seen, in fairly short historical order, in the same light as those who opposed mixed-race marriages.")


That Ipsos MORI poll is pretty bleak for Ed Miliband, too. "David Cameron smarter, tougher and more likeable than Ed Miliband," says the Evening Standard, noting how "Mr Miliband has failed to convince people of his personal qualities" and is seen as less "prime ministerial" than - surprise, surprise - the prime minister.

But it's not all negative for the Labour leader - one of the most under-reported findings is the fact that Miliband leads Cameron in net satisfaction ratings - minus-9 versus minus-24 (i.e. both are unpopular but the former is less unpopular than the latter).


More bad news for the Lib Dems. "Pupil premium has 'no effect'," says the headline in the Mail, one of several papers to report that the schools watchdog, Ofsted, has questioned the effectiveness of the "pupil premium" - the government's scheme to target money specifically at disadvantaged kids in each school.

It's supposed to be one of the pillars of the coalition's education policy - and often brandished by the Lib Dems, in particular, as evidence of the government's commitment to social mobility - but only one in 10 schools surveyed by Ofsted said that the pupil premium cash - worth £1.25 billion nationally - was having a "significant" effect.

The new Lib Dem education minister David Laws popped up on the Today programme this morning to defend the premium.


Uh-oh. The artists formerly known as the Young Conservatives may be on the verge of embarrassing the Tory leadership. Again.

As the HuffPost UK's Ned Simons reports:

"The Australian senator who was sacked as an aide to the country's opposition leader for linking homosexuality to bestiality is due to attend an event for young British Conservatives this weekend.

...Australian media reported today that Senator [Cory] Bernardi boarded a flight to Britain this morning in order to attend the 'European Young Conservative Freedom Summit' in Oxford.

The event put on by Conservative Future, the youth arm of the Conservative Party, runs from Friday until Sunday at St Hugh's College."

Bernardi also has a history of making anti-Islam remarks and is an ally of Geert Wilders. Lovely. Just lovely.


"The Monaco problem," proclaims the Rupert-Murdoch-owned Times on its front page, revealing how just 2,000 British nationals living in the tiny Mediterranean principality are costing the UK Exchequer "£1 billion a year in lost tax revenue".

The paper is to be commended for its ongoing investigation into - yes, legal - tax avoidance because, as Denis Healey once remarked, the only difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion is "the thickness of a prison wall". But there is, of course, the small issue of Murdoch and News International's own, well-documented history of tax avoidance - as long ago as 1995, the Independent reported that over the previous decade, News International had paid "virtually no tax".

On a related note, Ofcom has ruled this morning that BSkyB is "fit and proper" to hold a broadcast license but says James Murdoch, the group's former chaiman, "repeatedly fell short" of the conduct expected of him. And so it goes on...


Watch this video of two gorillas being entertained by a caterpillar at Calgary Zoo.


Oh Mittens, attack isn't always the best form of defence. Stung by the avalanche of criticism to his "off the cuff" remarks on "the 47%", the GOP presidential candidate has come out fighting - on the weirdest of issues. Seizing on an unearthed 1998 recording of President Obama making the SHOCKING, DISGUSTING, COMMUNIST proposal that the government should "facilitate some redistribution" of wealth to improve the lives of the poorest Americans, Romney claimed: "[Obama] really believes in what I'll call a government-centered society. I know there are some who believe that if you simply take from some and give to others then we'll all be better off. It's known as redistribution. It's never been a characteristic of America."

Hmm. 1) Every single president since Woodrow Wilson has backed redistribution in the form of a federal income tax. 2) Forget Obama. Under Republican president Dwight Eisenhower in the fifties, the top rate of tax hit 92%. 3) Romney supports redistribution too, but, judging from his obsession with tax cuts for the top 1%, his preferred form of redistribution is from poor to rich, not rich to poor.

On a side note, former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan has penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which she says:

"It's time to admit the Romney campaign is an incompetent one. It's not big, it's not brave, it's not thoughtfully tackling great issues. It's always been too small for the moment."



From NBC News:

"The U.S. and Mexico are not secretly planning to invade Canada, a State Department spokeswoman confirmed to laughter during a daily press briefing."


It turns out that the Tories' own Mitt Romney, new party chairman Michael Green (aka Grant Shapps), has a new "gaffe" to deal with. Having been criticised for founding an internet company (under an alias) which breached Google's rules and accused of editing his own Wikipedia page to remove the more unflattering aspects of it, Shapps/Green, in his former role as the coalition's housing minister, also "accidentally signed off a regeneration project without realising it would demolish the house in which Ringo Starr was born" - according to a report in the Telegraph.

Fun fact of the day: Shapps's cousin is The Clash guitarist Mick Jones.


From yesterday's Ipsos MORI poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 30
Lib Dems 13

This would give Labour a majority of 110.


@markthomasinfo After Kelvin McKenzie, the Sun, the police, Cameron, Miliband, Boris Johnson and now Nick Clegg the word 'sorry' is now officially broken.

@fieldproducer So let's get this straight: Nick Clegg, who admits breaking a pledge, has pledged never to make a pledge again that he might break.

@lucianaberger The nub of the "pupil premium" issue - the money is being spent on plugging gaps in school budgets. It's NOT extra money.


Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, says he cannot see "how Vince Cable can mount a challenge when he is in the same Cabinet as Clegg, and doubt whether Cable will resign in order to make his insurrectionary moves."

Martin Kettle, writing in the Guardian, says UKIP "is a force to reckon with now".

Paul Goodman, writing in the Telegraph, asks whether UKIP could "take enough votes from the Tories in 2015 to deprive Mr Cameron of a second term as prime minister, and put Ed Miliband in Downing Street instead?"

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (, Chris Wimpress ( or Ned Simons ( You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @chriswimpress, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol
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