Nigerian schoolgirls hope, Gary Barlow's OBE and England's World Cup squad
- 13 May 2014
Images of dozens of schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria appear on several front pages, with the Independent making striking use of stills from the video release by their kidnappers.
Its narrative headline quotes writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown saying: "Their demeanour struck me. They are quiet, docile, passive. All in grey, dark grey, black, the colours of the clouds that block out the sun."
Sam Jones, in the Guardian, describes the young women reciting the first chapter of the Koran for the recording and notes how - despite their Islamist Boko Haram captors describing them as having been "liberated" - few "seem to be relishing their four weeks of freedom".
Colin Freeman, in the Daily Telegraph, focuses on the man who delivered the video address, Abubakar Shekau, saying: "[His] cackling laughter and rambling manner give him more of the air of a psychopath than a militant. And as Nigeria has learned the hard way in the past five years, his terrifying on-screen persona is no act."
The writer hears one source describe the man - who the paper says is believed to have murdered up to 5,000 people in the past five years - as "the craziest of all the commanders".
However, Roger Boyes, writing in the Times, suggests Boko Haram's leaders are "not very bright". They have "gone beyond the pale even for al-Qaeda", which he describes as the group's paymaster, having jeopardised local support.
Payback for good?
There are no shortage of opinions about Gary Barlow's financial arrangements, after it emerged he had put money into a scheme ruled to be set up for tax avoidance purposes. While Barlow didn't break the law, the Daily Mirror quotes a plumber who did - and who was jailed for a year for tax evasion - calling for the Take That singer to face the same punishment.
Most don't go that far but Max Hastings in the Daily Mail points out that: "Every time the legion of stars and bankers dodges a tax bill, the rest of the country must take up the slack and pay their rightful share."
The Sun sets two of its writers against each other, with Rod Liddle saying Barlow should pay back up to £30m because it makes him no better than benefits cheats, while Katie Hopkins says: "Aggressive tax avoidance remains good business practice." The Telegraph's Bryony Gordon reckons there's an upside: if Take That have to pay back millions, "they will almost certainly have to go back on tour", declaring: "Hurrah!"
Many papers focus on calls for the former X Factor judge to hand back his OBE, with the Mirror saying he should "do the decent thing" but the Sun arguing the singer has "raised enough for charity to cling on" to the honour. "Whether he keeps it or not he has probably lost the respect of the nation for ever," believes the Daily Star.
Noting that Prime Minister David Cameron, who received Barlow's support ahead of the last general election, has said Barlow should keep the OBE, Independent cartoonist Dave Brown imagines the songwriter - pockets stuffed with cash - and holding "the Order of Big Dave's Ear".
The Independent's editorial column says: "If the heat he is feeling causes others to reconsider their dubious tax arrangement, then so much the better." According to the Times, that's already happening. It quotes tax advisers saying that many celebrities are avoiding even tax products backed by the government for fear of a public backlash.
Meanwhile, the Guardian spares a thought for Jason Orange - so often "consigned to the role of dancer" - who didn't take part in the scheme used by his bandmates. "A Barlow song once advised: 'Never forget where you're coming from.' Orange, it seems, did not."
However Grace Dent, in the Independent, points out that "we pillory individuals like Gary while throwing our money at the likes of Starbucks". We all do what we can to minimise our taxes, she adds.
No clear leader?
The latest Guardian opinion poll makes grim reading for Ed Miliband, with the paper reporting the first Conservative lead in more than two years. It says Labour's 31% share of the vote - two points behind the Tories - is its lowest for four years.
There's slightly better news for the Labour leader in the Sun. Its YouGov poll puts Labour one point ahead. However, the paper says the Guardian figure is the lowest pre-election opposition rating since 1986. Polls over the last month had suggested a Labour lead of between three and six percentage points.
"These numbers suggests a page may be turning," says the Guardian, adding: "The figures confirm that UKIP in 2013 is an enduringly potent force. And they underline that the Liberal Democrats are not making any recovery at all."
Despite that, support for the EU has been "bolstered" by the UK's improved economic prospects, according to an American poll quoted in the Times which says 52% of Britons have a positive view of Brussels compared with 43% last year.
And there is some good news for Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, with the Independent reporting he picked up two awards at the "radio industry Oscars", for his Call Clegg show on LBC.
Meanwhile, a spat over a sarcastic tweet from a Green party member criticising UKIP policies - which resulted in police responding to a complaint from a councillor - inspires a colourful headline in the Guardian: "Boys in blue see Green after UKIP sees red."
Sports writers cast their eyes over England's 23-man squad for next month's World Cup and most take note of its relative youth. The Telegraph's Paul Hayward says: "This is England's Germany moment. The boldness of [manager] Roy Hodgson's decision to load the plane to Brazil with young Premier League talent finds an echo in [German counterpart] Joachim Low's Nationalmannschaft at the 2010 World Cup."
Daily Mirror chief sports writer Oliver Holt says the inclusion of the likes of teenagers Raheem Sterling and Luke Shaw, and 20-year-old Ross Barkley, shows that Hodgson - previously thought of as conservative - "had listened to the siren song of youth and promise and had been seduced".
"These boys can damage teams, so let's play them," argues ex-England international Jamie Redknapp, in the Daily Mail.
However, the Times's Oliver Kay looks at the wider spread of youngsters and says: "The question is whether this represents an emergence of another very good generation... or whether some of those players are there because of an absence of alternatives."
Many papers eye the omission of veteran Ashley Cole, with the Sun translating Hodgson's comments that the Chelsea defender - rather than Shaw - would be the obvious replacement if preferred left back Leighton Baines was injured early in the tournament as: "I may have cocked up."
And the Guardian's Barney Ronay points out that the World Cup is a tournament were "seniors tend to prosper", adding: "This is England, land of compromise, where even a squad as youthful as this can be presented not as a statement of intent but instead like a rowdy stag weekend... but which, all things considered, might just end up being okay."
Much might depend on the fitness of Wayne Rooney, who's not played since 26 April, and the Independent is among the papers reporting that the Manchester United striker is taking a personal trainer on holiday with him in a bid to arrive at the squad's training camp in full fitness.
Whoever lines up against Italy on June 14, the Daily Star reckons they "have nothing to lose" and that fans can "actually enjoy the experience of watching the World Cup". And the Sun urges the team to "do us proud", saying: "We don't mind getting beaten if we go down fighting."
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