The five things you need to know on Wednesday February 17, 2016…
1) YOUNG MINDS MATTER
In case you missed it, The Duchess of Cambridge is guest-editing HuffPostUK today, with a specific focus on children’s mental health. One of her key messages is that the subject has been such a taboo that parents are often too afraid to seek help.
In her lead blog, she writes: “Like most parents today, William and I would not hesitate to seek help for our children if they needed it. We hope to encourage George and Charlotte to speak about their feelings, and to give them the tools and sensitivity to be supportive peers to their friends as they get older. We know there is no shame in a young child struggling with their emotions or suffering from a mental illness.”
But the Duchess adds that for families “short of time or money it is not always easy to know where to look for help” and she says schools and communities need to do more. Just as William’s mother Diana was unafraid of tackling sensitive topics, his wife is determined to use her public profile to prove how modern Britain can change. If the future Queen of England says the ‘British stiff upper lip’ has some downsides, maybe the message will reach a wider audience.
We have a wealth of items on mental health today, with testimony from kids themselves, a poll showing parents feel ill-equipped to discuss the subject and stats on the cost to the nation of not dealing with it. Separately today, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has unveiled a new £1.5million fund driven by young people to help them develop support networks and talk about mental health.
We’re using the hashtag #youngmindsmatter all day today.
2) THE BATTLE OF VISEGRAD
Forget Stalingrad, it looks like hand-to-hand combat with the ‘Visegrad 4’ (no, me neither) that’s troubling David Cameron most today. The bloc of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic are upset at David Cameron’s plans for child benefit and other migrant benefit curbs. The Guardian and Indy both lead on the story, and it seems the Eastern Europeans are determined to dig in to prevent the child benefit cuts affecting existing migrants in the UK.
We will later get a clearer idea of just how the Tusk draft EU plan has changed since it was first published (ah, will all those square brackets be filled?). It’s understood that there have been some substantive changes and if ‘new claimants only’ caveat is one of them, Eurosceps will again say the ‘thing gruel’ (copyright, Jacob Rees-Mogg) has been watered down once more. As it happens, the draft was silent on existing versus new claimants so No.10 may say nothing has changed.
It also sounds like the Visegrad 4 (named after a nice Hungarian castle town, dontcha know) have already got their way on clarifying that the child benefit curbs won’t apply to all member states’ incomers. It may apply to just the UK, Sweden and Ireland rather than affect Germany's own welfare for Poles and others.
Is the PM worried or unruffled? An unnamed senior European politician is quoted by the Times saying Cameron is under "great pressure”: "He was very stressed and usually is so very confident and relaxed. He told me that the reaction to the draft had already been very negative and if it is watered down further he will be torn apart by the press and his party." No.10 has squared MEP leaders to back him after the summit, but the brilliant Times Brussels corr Bruno Waterfield had the quote of the day from one source: "The Parliament is unpredictable. It can be monkeys with guns". The Infinite Monkey Rage, it's a new quiz show from Strasbourg.
The Guardian has a nice piece on the ‘sherpas’ who have been doing the heavy diplomatic lifting ahead of tomorrow’s big summit, pointing out the key role of young Tom Scholar, a former Brown aide who is tipped to lead the Treasury. A Sun has a Lord Ashcroft megapoll finding that 60% of the 28,720 people surveyed across the 28 EU member states have "pleaded" with Britain to stay - while just 10% said they'd prefer the UK to leave. Licence for Dave to dig in?
Some in Government are confident this summit will be done and dusted by the early hours of Friday. But there’s a hint of wriggle room for another meeting. One official tells the Times there’s a “40% chance of failure”. “It will look like chaos and disaster, but there is almost a month to go until the last possible date for a deal that would still allow a 23 June referendum”. Ah.
3) THE GREAT BRITISH CAKE-OFF
We at HuffPost couldn’t resist pouncing on Emma Thompson’s claim that Britain was “a tiny little cloud-bolted, rainy corner of sort-of Europe, a cake-filled misery-laden grey old island”. Yes, it was the bit about cake that got us all most excited. I mean, is there ever anything wrong with having cake and eating it?
Thompson got the ‘luvvie’ backlash pretty swiftly from Eurosceptics as she became as much of a caricature of the pro-EU camp as all those Union Jack jacketed little Englanders are a caricature of the the anti-EU camp. The Sun splashes with ‘Shut Yer Cakehole’, its Photoshoppers stuffing a Victoria sponge into her gob.
In a tweet to my colleague Owen Bennett, ex UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom said of Thompson: “May I volunteer to be the first to spank her silly bottom? Something her mother should have done years ago.” No, really.
Prince William was the other celeb in the EU wars yesterday, though the Palace insists his remarks about partnership have been wilfully misinterpreted. The Telegraph splashes the story but that decision is subtly undermined by Matt’s latest cartoon.
BECAUSE YOU’VE READ THIS FAR…
Watch Hillary Clinton bark like a dog. Surreal.
4) ARGY BARGY
Michael Fallon is the first Defence Secretary in 10 years to visit the Falklands (though for half of that decade the Lib-Con Coalition was in power). And as well as announcing some new spending, Fallon has used the opportunity to give the Sun’s defence editor a nice juicy quote about Jeremy Corbyn: “The biggest threat at the moment isn’t Argentina, it’s Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party who want to override the wishes of the islanders.”
This stems from Corbyn’s decision in a Marr interview to talk about ‘dialogue’ with Buenos Aires, and his comms chief Seumas Milne’s subsequent briefing about talks about sovereignty. Corbyn also stressed the Islanders wishes were paramount.
On the BBC, Fallon admitted the Labour leader hadn’t said he wanted to give the Falklands up. And the Chairman of the Falklands Legislative Assembly points out Argentina remains the big threat. But Fallon isn’t afraid of committing a professional foul - as proved by his 2015 election attack on Ed Miliband for being willing to “stab the UK in the back”.
John McDonnell last night used his latest economics lecture at the LSE to float breaking up the Treasury into a ‘finance ministry’ and an ‘economic ministry’. But he also talked about Labour itself: “People don’t vote for a divided party. We’ve got to learn some lessons about how to handle the media”. He added that dissenting MPs were “a small group”. That may be tested at Monday’s PLP.
Meanwhile, many Labour MPs are truly dismayed that someone like Tom O’Carroll, the ex-leader Paedophile Information Exchange could be allowed into the party (a great hit by the Times yesterday). They wonder just what checks took place on others.
5) MAYOR CULPA?
The race for Mayor of London is getting dirtier by the day. Last night on Newsnight, Zac Goldsmith again underlined why he’s not a natural at this politics lark (his backers say his unspun approach is a breath of fresh air, his detractors say it proves he’s an amateur). After questions over his previous ‘non dom’ tax status, the Tory candidate agreed to publish his tax return - as long as other candidates did. I wonder if Matthew Oakeshott, who first raised all this non-dom stuff, will resurface?
I also wonder if this all triggers Jeremy Corbyn to follow John McDonnell’s lead and publish his own tax return? He's weighing it up.
As for Sadiq Khan, he again faces another ‘links to extremists’ story in the Mail (picked up by the Sun) which reports that he took part in a speaking event at which audience members brandished the “black flag of jihad”. His supporters claim this is all part of a harder attack-dog campaign from the Tories. His line that London could have more infrastructure spending like Istanbul was translated into him saying the British capital ‘should be more like Istanbul’. If you play to the gallery of sectional interests, you get burn sometimes, but some in Labour are worried the poll lead could now narrow.
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