Expense probe 'pressure' on Maria Miller, Sir Bruce Forsyth bows out and Dawlish line reopening
- 5 April 2014
The release of correspondence between Culture Secretary Maria Miller and the inquiry looking into her expense claims is portrayed in many newspapers as evidence of an attempt to "bully" or "threaten" Parliament's standards commissioner.
The Daily Telegraph says Mrs Miller, who was ordered to apologise in the Commons for failing to co-operate with the probe and repay £5,800 for overclaiming mortgage expenses in error as interest rates fell, had been attempting to block what she saw as an "irrational and perverse" investigation.
But the Telegraph, which has released a recording of a conversation one of its reporters had with Mrs Miller's advisers in 2012, says she is facing growing pressure. It suggests the issue of potential press regulation was raised in an attempt to suppress the story. While such a claim is denied by ministers, the Telegraph asserts in an editorial that David Cameron "cannot ignore that a great many voters will still be troubled by how difficult it has been to get straight answers".
In its editorial, the Times says "despite the recent reforms of the allowance system, it is still not working well". It suggests the letters "laid bare" Mrs Miller's campaign to "browbeat the watchdog" as the prime minister attempted to fend off further questions about the row by calling on critics of her behaviour to "leave it there".
The Financial Times says the furore has dealt a blow to David Cameron's pledge to "clean up Westminster" when he walked into Downing Street in 2010. And according to the Independent, the culture secretary and her staff have brought the "government into disrepute" and the events smell of "double standards".
The Daily Mirror is among the papers to report that Mr Cameron has come under attack from some Labour MPs for backing Mrs Miller, and the paper's political editor Kevin Maguire writes that "one rule for us and another for a cabinet minister will further dent confidence in Westminster... once again he puts a fellow Tory before country, or indeed, principle".
The Daily Mail wonders whether the events could been seen as a "classic case" of what UKIP leader Nigel Farage highlighted this week in his debate with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg when he said the country was being ruled by an "elite accountable only to itself".
Brucie did well
Sir Bruce Forsyth's decision to step down as the regular host of the Strictly Come Dancing attracts tributes to the 86-year-old showbusiness veteran - and speculation about his successor on the BBC show.
His retirement leaves a gaping hole in the ballroom, writes Michael Hogan in the Daily Telegraph. "His sheer showbiz stature and cross-generational appeal should not be underestimated. Strictly will miss his reassuringly familiar presence, in the process losing both gravitas and razzamatazz".
The Sun reports the decision came amid fears that Sir Bruce's declining health might one day see him collapse live on air. But it says Sir Bruce insists he took the decision himself and was "certainly not retiring" from TV. It has chat show host Graham Norton down as the favourite to replace Sir Bruce as presenter, followed by Claudia Winkleman or Zoe Ball, who have both hosted Strictly's spin-off show.
Citing bookmakers Ladbrokes, the Daily Express reports that Norton is favourite for the role but also throws Sir Bruce's co-presenter Tess Daly and her gameshow host husband Vernon Kay into the mix.
The Guardian, which says that bookmaker Paddy Power has installed Strictly dancer Anton Du Beke as the favourite to take over as host, reminds its readers that landing the presenting job in 2004 actually "marked something of a late career comeback" for Sir Bruce.
The Daily Mirror's TV critic Ian Hyland agrees that Sir Bruce was one of the main reasons Strictly took off in such a big way but says the exhausting role of hosting a two-hour live TV show did appeared to be showing, "with autocue fluffs and the deafening silences that sometimes greeted his jokes". But he says "good on Brucie for finally admitting defeat and bowing out with his reputation... still pretty much intact".
The Guardian leads on a warning from the president of the Royal College of Physicians, Sir Richard Thompson, about the pressures on hospital medics. He says the care of patients is under threat because overworked frontline doctors are looking after so many sick people that they are missing vital signs of illness that could affect chances of survival. A Department of Health spokesman tells the paper that patient safety is a priority and the numbers of qualified clinical staff are at a high.
Concern from scientists at a potential "disaster" facing the world's banana crop is carried in the Independent. The paper says the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation is warning a crucial part of the diet of more than 400 million people could be affected by a virulent fungus, known as Panama disease tropical race 4, that is immune to pesticides or other forms of control. TR4 is said to have jumped from South-east Asia to Mozambique and Jordan in recent weeks.
Closer to home the Daily Mail highlights what it describes as a "huge property grab" by Chinese investors that is pricing UK homebuyers out of the market. Developers are increasingly selling direct to buyers in China at inflated prices, cutting out domestic purchasers altogether, it says, with the trend not restricted to places in London. But a UK property consultant quoted by the Mail suggests international investment means "there is more housing for British people, not less".
Meanwhile, the Daily Express sees a change in EU rules to cap fees retailers pay banks every time they take a credit or debit card payment as a "threat to free banking in the UK". Customers will face charges for using cash machines and current accounts as banks try to recoup an expected £2.4bn loss each year, it predicts.
Back on track
Newspaper reports on the railways often focus on delays and disruption so the reopening of the main line along the coast in the picturesque town of Dawlish in Devon is hailed as a triumph.
Although the work was completed on time - some 58 days after part of the track was destroyed during winter storms - the Times reckons it was "considerably earlier than many people had expected".
The Daily Mail describes Network Rail's £35m "rescue mission" as a remarkable feat of emergency engineering. David Cameron and the south-west of England "gave a collective cheer", it says.
The Independent's Simon Calder travelled on the 05:43 from Exeter St David's and describes the "joyful" response of the other passengers on the journey when the train pulled in to Dawlish.
But he adds: "The closure of the line connecting much of Devon and most of Cornwall with the rest of the country exposed the lack of resilience in the rail network."
"It is rare for the British people to find themselves appreciating the efforts of railway operators - we are more likely to be grumbling.... - but completing this feat of engineering ahead of schedule really is an impressive achievement," says the Daily Express in its editorial.
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