Thursday, 12 June 2014

A small country..

 "That's it," Tom Newton Dunn tweeted yesterday, "thirty-five whole minutes of PMQs, and not one MP asked about asked about UK's response to the Iraq catastrophe. Instead, they joked about Speedos." 
Militants from the organisation calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) have seized control of the second-largest city in Mosul, and were last night within 60 miles of Baghdad, the capital. ("Iraq slides into the hands of terrorists" is the Telegraph headline - you can keep an eye on live developments here, read up on Isis here, and get a sense of the chronology here
There are still any number of known unknowns, to use a historically fraught phrase. As David Aaronovitch explains, we still don't know whether Isis has the capacity "to run - as opposed to terrorise a city the size of Birmingham". Fifteen thousand fighters, he observes, are a small base to take on a state - that's why this force, which started in Syria, is still out of power in Damascus today. 
This much is known. As Nadhim Zadhawi observed on the Today programme this morning, Isis is closer now than any Islamist extremist organisation has ever been to achieving Osama bin Laden's dream of a modern-day caliphate.  The failure of the West to intervene in Syria and the destruction of moderate opposition continues to have consequences in that country and in the region. Less than two years after President Obama's second inaugural line that "a decade of war is ending", wars are raging in the Middle East that the West seems powerless to stop. As Richard Spencer observes in today's Telegraph, parts of the region now seem to be entirely ungovernable. 
Political views of what we ought to now do in this country, both with the United States and with our Nato allies (remember that Turkey shares a border with Iraq, and that a threat to the territorial integrity of one Nato member is, under treaty, a threat to all) will differ sharply. Surely what we can all agree on is that surely at least one of our parliamentarians ought to have had a view instead of spending thirty-five minutes squabbling over delayed passports and making jokes about Speedos. 

Speaking of the passport row: the Telegraph and the Guardian both have separate exclusives, each of which will be a source of embarrassment.The Telegraph reveals that senior British diplomats warned officials on May 13 that there was the potential for administrative chaos as a result of the decision to shut down overseas passport centres.  The Guardian finds that the Passport Office has ordered its staff to relax checks on applicants in order to clear the backlog, although ministers have now stepped in to prevent a relaxation in security checks. But it will be the Mail's frontpage - "Cameron: What passport crisis?" - that will have them turning the air blue in Downing Street. That said, for all the bad headlines today, my feeling is that, as the story lacks a recording - or better yet, a video - of a distressed holidaymaker or an out-of-pocket businessman confronting a flummoxed minister - a Mrs Duffy moment, if you will - it is unlikely to leave a lasting impression in the public, while the rather more important developments in the Middle East will  surely dominate Westminster in the coming days and weeks.
JK Rowling has become the latest high-profile supporter of the No campaign. Her £1m donation to Better Together is a shot in the arm to the campaign, which has been outspent by Yes Scotland, who are bankrolled by lottery winners Colin and Chris Weir. If you haven't read her statement yet - and it genuinely is a must-read - it's available here. The predictably hostile response to Ms Rowling's from supporters of independence online has further exposed the malign underbelly of the Yes campaign, at a time when Alex Salmond's media adviser, Campbell Gunn, is under pressure to resign for smearing Clare Lally, the mother of a disabled child who hosted the launch of the Unionist campaign. 
Ed Miliband is not heading for a majority or anything like it. That's not my verdict, but the result of analysis by the Fabian Society, revealed into today's Sun - "Ed Hung, Drawn and Slaughtered" is their take. The Fabian Society's analysis shows that, if last month's local election results had been repeated nationwide, Mr Miliband would make 58 gains - ten short of the 68 he needs for a majority of one. Further analysis suggests that, as Labour support is likely to drop in the final few months of the campaign, Mr Miliband will pick up only 30 seats. Marcus Roberts, deputy general secretary of the Society and an early supporter of Mr Miliband, warns that if Labour doesn't change tack on welfare, immigration and housing, it will continue to lose working class voters. 
Unemployment has fallen to a five year low, dropping to just 2.16m, and the monthly increase in employment of 345,000 is the biggest recorded since records began in 1971 (Get the facts from Szu Ping Chan here.). AsJeremy Warner explains, the real good news is that, contrary to fears that the rise was due to a proliferation of zero-hours contracts, part-time work and self employment, full time work is rising much more rapidly than full time, hours worked are increasing, while employee work is also on the rise. Wages are still rising below inflation, though, so the cost-of-living crisis in crisis narrative is now in crisis.  The biggest question, though, is what happens either later this year or early in 2015 when the monetary policy that is fueling the boom begins to be withdrawn.
The Liberal Democrat wait for the benefits of coalition looks set to go on a little longer. YouGov figures in today's Sun show them falling to their lowest share - 6% - of the vote since that polling company was founded in 2001. The Lib Dems are betting that they will go from being a party with a vote share far in excess of their parliamentary representation to one with a roughly equal one - remember that six percent of the seats in Parliament - 39 - would not be that much of a decrease on their current share of 56 seats than the one implied by a crude nationwide swing, which would reduce them to just 10 MPs on current polling. 
Theresa May and Michael Gove will keep their jobs in the reshuffle,James Kirkup reveals.  I, however, will be in sole charge of the MB only until Ben's return on Monday, when I have high hopes of being named as Dave's pick for the European Commission. Tips, press releases, and the rest to
The Morning Briefing is edited - and this week, written - by Stephen Bush. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram
All the best people read the Telegraph:
@spellar: more revelations of impact of Army cuts: 
YouGov latest:
Con 34%, Lab 36%, LD 6%, UKIP 14%
In the Telegraph
Peter Oborne - A powerful and merciless force has emerged on the world stage
Iain Martin - JK Rowling is magic
Sue Cameron - Don't let politics get in the way of a good idea
Best of the Rest
JK Rowling - Why I'm Voting No
John Rentoul - The trolls who insulted JK Rowling over her Better Together support only strengthened the unionist cause
George Eaton - All is not lost for the Lib Dems
David Aaronovitch - Forget the past. Iraqi Kurds need our help now
0900 LONDON: Ballot for Private Members' Bills. The top name will be tweeted by the House of Commons twitter account@HouseofCommons once it has been announced. 
0915 LONDON: Annual conference for the think tank Reform. Theresa May to deliver keynote at 11.05. Speakers included Liz Kendall, David Gauke and Jeremy Browne.
0930 LONDON: Court of Appeal judges give their ruling on whether a major terror trial can be held in secret. 
1030 NOTTINGHAM: Labour leader Ed Miliband to address the GMB conference.
1430 LONDON: Theresa May hosts discussion on modern slavery at the ExCel Centre. 
1830 ST ANDREWS: Gordon Brown and Shirley Williams speak at Better Together event, Buchanan Lecture Theatre.
1900 LONDON: George Osborne and Mark Carney Mansion House speeches at the Lord Mayor's Dinner.