The return of 'Plebgate' and the seemingly irresistible rise of Ukip

There seems to be one thing on the paper's minds this Sunday - a political party that only a few years ago could hardly buy a column inch of publicity.

Now, the rise of UKIP and its charismatic leader Nigel Farage is across every paper and - despite a series of embarrassing incidents for the party - the Independent on Sunday is driven to ask: "Will nothing sink Farage?"

The paper says a week of pressure over "jobs-for-relatives and fakery" has not damaged UKIP's standing with voters preparing to make their choices ahead of the European election. By contrast, it says, the main parties attempts at tackling UKIP have looked like "ill-judged smear tactics"

The Sunday Times comment is "knock 'em down but they keep coming" - reflecting the fear of the Westminster parties at the rise of Mr Farage's party.

It says David Cameron could be the real loser from a UKIP triumph on 22 May. The paper wonders whether he can hold his "no further concessions" line against Tory Eurosceptics.

The Sunday Times' front page shows why Mr Farage is becoming big news - a YouGov poll for the paper puts UKIP in first place in voters intentions for the European elections, with the Conservatives trailing far behind. Other polls are slightly more positive for both Labour and Conservatives, but the UKIP trend is definitely up.

But the brickbats keep flying: The Sunday Express speaks to Michael Holmes, an earlier leader of UKIP who told it: "Farage is good with a joke and a pint, but he doesn't have a plan to secure Britain's future".

The Sunday Mirror carries a story about UKIP local election candidate Ummer Farooq who it says has made a series of "aggressive Twitter rants" including one branding Remembrance Day poppies "occultism". Mr Farooq told the paper his actions were "childish".

The Sun on Sunday brands UKIP "the BNP in blazers" in an article pointing out similarities between posters that UKIP are using at the present and older designs by the far-right party.

'Great distress'

If anyone thought that the "plebgate" story had died a death, they should seek out the Mail on Sunday.

Image caption The 'plebgate' encounter took place at a side entrance to Downing Street in 2012

It carries the news that the police constable who claims former government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell swore and called him a pleb is seeking damages for the aftermath of the incident.

Court documents filed by PC Toby Rowland shows he is seeking up to £200,000 as "aggravated damages for slander" from the politician.

The document says PC Rowland has suffered as a result of Mr Mitchell implying he had lied about the 2012 incident.

His lawyer said: "He has been very seriously injured in his personal and professional reputation and suffered great distress, humiliation and upset."

The Mail points out that Mr Mitchell's version of the altercation has been boosted by news that three Diplomatic Protection Group police officers will face gross misconduct charges as a result of Scotland Yard's internal investigation into the affair.

The hearing is due to be held in private this week.

'Cultural memory'

Matters of faith, are discussed in the Sunday Telegraph, with the paper showcasing a poll it commissioned which suggests just 14% of Britons are practising Christians, and 41% of respondents recording themselves as non-religious.

Image copyright AP

It ties the poll into a long interview inside the paper with Lord Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

Lord Williams - commenting on David Cameron's statement that Britain was a "Christian country" - said he regards the nation as "post-Christian in the sense that the habitual practice for most of the population is not taken for granted".

But the cleric - now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge - says Britain still has a strong Christian "cultural memory".

In a commentary piece in the Independent on Sunday, Archie Bland says the fuss about Mr Cameron's comments has the hallmarks of "cynical electioneering". "No-one is talking about religion. Everyone is talking about how angry they are they aren't allowed to talk about religion," he adds.

Peter Hitchens makes a similar point in the Mail on Sunday, writing that "it is hard to forget that he [David Cameron] is trying to defend his flanks against UKIP, and to win back some of the ex-Tories who defected over same-sex marriage".

Mr Hitchens says Britain is only a "Christian nation" when it's trying to place its offspring in faith schools.

Potemkin villages

Like a relentless train, the HS2 story keeps rattling on in the papers, with the Mail on Sunday reporting that the Institute of Economic Affairs is to publish a paper disputing claims that the proposed rail link would be an "engine for growth" in the Midlands and North.

Image caption Doncaster is said to be the 42nd most deprived borough in England, despite excellent transport links

The think tank said the example of Doncaster - which already enjoys a fast, direct rail link with London - shows that such lines do not always lead to prosperity.

It predicts HS2 "Potemkin villages" will sprout up around the new line's terminals - "fake regeneration, built for political purposes".

The Sunday Express reports that the HS2 project could be "derailed" by MPs from the south-west of England who are apparently demanding improvements to rail links to Cornwall and Devon are prioritised over the £42bn scheme.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that local party activists are urging their MPs to quit their ministerial jobs in the coalition government over the scheme.

The paper says six ministers' constituencies are directly affected by the scheme, which is due to be voted on in the Commons on Monday.

But the Independent on Sunday report that HS2 may win new friends with a plan being floated to create a "wildlife corridor" along the line.

The scheme, mooted by the Wildlife Trust, would spend £130m on 500 sites that would otherwise be blighted by the new line. Labour's transport spokeswoman Mary Creagh told the paper she backed the idea.

'Grim reminder'

The loss of five British lives in a military helicopter crash in Afghanistan leads the Daily Star Sunday and the Sunday Telegraph.

The Star says it has learned that Prince Harry, who flew helicopters for the Army Air Corps in the country, knew the crew of the craft.

The Sunday Telegraph says the loss of life is a "grim reminder" of the risks faced by the 5,000 British personnel still based in Afghanistan.

The Sun on Sunday says the personnel who died were attached to the SAS on what it calls "a Who Dares Wins training mission".

Unhealthy diets

The Observer's lead is on children's health and concern that two million children may be at risk of avoiding government rules supposed to ensure they get healthy school meals.

The paper interviews Professor Terrence Stephenson, head of the professional body of working doctors, who is concerned that academies and free schools are not bound by the same regulations that schools run by local authorities are.

Prof Stephenson told the paper: "It's damaging children's health... to be exposed to unhealthy choices, unhealthy foods and unhealthy diets when there's still huge concern in this country about obesity."

The Department of Health told the Observer that there was "no evidence" that academy and free schools served less healthy choices.

Concerns at schoolchildren's eating habits is also in evidence in the Sunday Mirror, which reports on "fast food mile" - a road in Haringey, north London, with 34 different takeaways, all within walking distance of five schools.

One shop owner in the area told the paper: "We just sell the stuff they like. What do you expect? It's a business."

Still on the subject of schools, the Sunday Telegraph reports on a phenomenon caused in areas where Britain's highest achieving secondary schools are based.

The paper says property prices are 20% higher in such schools' catchment areas than in those of less favoured establishments.

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