'Jihadi John', fears for Gazza and GCSE 'ghost of Gove' in headlines
- 22 August 2014
Once again, the papers are preoccupied with the identity of the British jihadist who appeared in the video of the execution of reporter James Foley in Syria.
But, as the Guardian points out, the concern of many MPs is that he is just one of a growing number of Britons fighting for fundamentalist group Islamic State. It says MPs from all parties are pressing for a debate on measures that could be taken to prevent radicalisation. The Daily Mail recalls a speech made by PM David Cameron in 2011, pledging to make the UK "a lot less" tolerant of Muslim fanatics, but complains: "Three years later, not a single strategy document appears to have been published by the government outlining what it plans to do."
The Daily Express speculates that many of the jihadists could already be back in Britain. But much of the press focus is on the personal stories behind the home-grown extremists still in the Middle East, with the Express saying they "range from a star medical student to a petty criminal" and include twins from Manchester and three brothers from Brighton. The Daily Telegraph looks at the case of one who told the BBC's Newsnight he would only return to the UK "to plant a bomb" and a mother from Lewisham, south London, who boasts of wanting to be the first woman to behead a Western prisoner.
Duncan Gardham writes in the Times that the reality for many of these Britons is having to "balance their lives between days of extreme boredom and moments in which they come face to face with the reality of the Middle East's most bloody conflict". Despite that, he writes, the impression of "five-star jihad" - given by some footage of fighters who had ransacked villas in the region - has not gone away.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror hears from a British Kurd, from Croydon, south London, who has travelled to Iraq to fight against Islamic State. "I am proud to be British and fighting against terrorists to help defend the UK. Especially when I read 500 people with the terrorists are from Britain. I have to show to the world there is a British citizen fighting against them," he is quoted as saying.
Concern for Gazza
"Help me, I'm in trouble," is the headline on the Daily Mirror's front page, alongside a photograph of "frail and gaunt" former England football star Paul Gascoigne being led to an ambulance by a police officer.
"Paramedics and police were called after he was seen slumped outside his flat clutching a bottle of gin," the paper says, quoting a friend suggesting that he had been drinking for weeks. The Mirror describes him as "homeless, alone and broken", reporting that he faces being evicted from his luxury Dorset flat amid complaints from neighbours about noise.
"Oh no, Gazza," groans the Sun, describing the former Newcastle, Spurs and Lazio midfielder as a "fallen idol". Recounting events before the emergency services were called, it says: "The former England footie hero made for a pitiful sight as he stumbled to a shop near his rented home and bought a four-pack of Stella lager, a bottle of gin and a packet of cigarettes."
The paper notes the incident came "hours after he returned to the media spotlight" when a taxi driver revealed he had persuaded the star to make a comeback with amateur side Abbey Windows in a Bournemouth Sunday League.
'Ghost of Gove'
While the Express notes that the number of A*-C grades awarded at GCSE went up, it points out that the number of English students gaining a "good" pass dropped by its largest ever percentage. And many papers try to interpret what this year's results mean.
The Daily Mail celebrates the "end of the relentless resit culture", as a result of the government ending the practice of schools entering a student for an exam early to "bank" a pass, while allowing others to resit them several times. Only their final grade had counted towards the school's league table ranking.
The consequences are "results you can trust", the paper's editorial column says. It praises former education secretary Michael Gove, who "insisted that final exams outweigh coursework, and removed the 'speaking and listening' element of the [English] course, which was graded by class teachers and open to abuse".
However, not everyone is so happy, reports the Times. It says: "Hundreds of teenagers began posting online abuse aimed at Michael Gove after collecting their GCSE results yesterday as many blamed him for poorer than expected grades." And one teacher tells the Guardian about the effects of the "ghost of Gove", who has since been shuffled to a new post, saying: "Quite often when I'm looking down a set of results for an individual student, it will say A*, A, A*, A and then B for English. It doesn't quite add up."
The Sun has sympathy for those who got lower grades than expected, but it argues: "Exams must be meaningful to serve any useful purpose... The higher standards put in place by ex-education secretary Michael Gove won him few friends. But he was entirely right."
Meanwhile, The Independent reports that headteachers' leaders are to launch an "investigation... into extreme variations" in results, claiming that many teenagers had been "victims" of government reforms. "Volatility," has been the word most bandied about by examiners this year, writes Telegraph education editor Graeme Paton, before adding that new grading systems and a shake-up of legal tables are in the offing: "If things are volatile in 2014, just wait until we hit 2017," he says.
There is not much support for new European Union rules limiting the power of vacuum cleaners to 1,600 watts from 1 September. "Well, that sucks," says the Mirror of the "barmy" ban on more powerful models.
"It is outrageous that the EU has this power to meddle in consumers' ability to choose what they buy. If people want a lower powered vacuum cleaner to save money and energy then that should be up to them," argues the Express. Likewise, the Sun says: "The European Commission insists its new rules, to tackle climate change, won't hamper the machines' effectiveness. Funny, then, that most of [consumer magazine] Which?'s recent "best buy" vacuums would become illegal." It brands the "meddlers of Brussels" as "feeble suckers".
Writing in the Telegraph, British vacuum cleaner entrepreneur James Dyson attacks new energy-efficiency labels being introduced at the same time, saying the low-powered machines will not do the job properly. "As air is drawn into the machine, dust and dirt clogs the lining of the bag and suction falters because not all the air can pass through. As suction drops, energy is wasted, either in repetitive passes on the same stretch of carpet or by simply expending energy that does nothing at all," he complains.
Even worse, says the Mail, is that the maximum wattage will be lowered further to 900 watts by 2017. Its advice: "Buy a powerful vacuum cleaner now... before Brussels banishes them." Handily, perhaps, readers will find a variety of stores advertising discounts on a wide range of vacuum cleaners across the press this Friday.
Cheaper, 'rip-off' UK
Good news for shoppers in the Financial Times, which reports that "food bills tumble in savage price wars" between supermarkets. "Cut-throat pricing has contributed to the first annual drop on record in the amount people are spending in food stores," it reports, citing official data. It's all part of an attempt by the UK's established supermarket giants to fend off competition from discount chains like Aldi and Lidl.
And that's not all. "Petrol's getting cheaper," says the Telegraph. "The price of fuel at British pumps has fallen near to a three-year low with an average price of 129.72p a litre in mid-August," it says, quoting the AA's suggestion that supermarkets could further drive down the price as they try to outdo each other. Still, petrol remains cheaper on the continent, it notes. Add to that the fact that - according to the Star - "Brits are charged more than foreigners to hire a car in the UK" and you have what it calls "Rip-off UK".
With England's top-flight football season just a week old, it's the behaviour of managers and players - rather than their performances - that's grabbing the headlines.
The Daily Star says the career of Malky Mackay - who was expected to take over as Crystal Palace manager - is "in the balance" amid claims he exchanged text messages containing "what appear to be racist, homophobic and sexist comments" with his former head of recruitment at Cardiff City.
Mackay has since expressed regret over the texts but Oliver Kay, writing in the Times, says the League Managers Association's defence of the comments as "friendly text-message banter" has caused damage to the game's image. For the Telegraph's Henry Winter, the LMA's statement is not only "risible, offensive and deeply damaging" but makes the organisation look like a "bunch of bungling dinosaurs".
Noting that the text messages were uncovered as a result of an investigation into Mackay's alleged misconduct by Cardiff City chairman Vincent Tan, who sacked the Scot in February, the Daily Mail says the Malaysian is a man who "always gets what he wants".
Meanwhile, after Liverpool agreed a £16m fee with AC Milan for Italy striker Mario Balotelli, the focus is less on his goalscoring prowess than his conduct. The Sun's Steven Howard reckons Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has gone "out of the frying pan and into the fire", saying that the Italian makes predecessor Luis Suarez - banned once for racist abuse and twice for biting opponents - look like "a model professional".
Alongside a photograph of Balotelli grappling with former Man City manager Roberto Mancini, the Mirror prints a "rap sheet" of the striker's offences, including throwing a dart at a youth team player, appearing to stamp on an opponent's head and triggering a fire at his home by setting off fireworks in his bathroom.
"Liverpool's contract offer to Balotelli is expected to include clauses on conduct and behaviour that exceed standard practice," the Guardian's Andy Hunter points out. And the Telegraph's Chris Bascombe writes: "Liverpool have effectively brought the circus back to town. One hopes for Rodgers's sake it is more like the greatest show on earth than send in the clown."
Making people click
Times: Why Britain breeds jihadists and the US doesn't
Mail: Dancing In The Dark! Lauren Goodger gyrates in her underwear at 3am... after getting flirty with George in the pool
Guardian: Naked Italians spark protests against antics of drunken tourists in Barcelona
Telegraph: Jeremy Clarkson is not 'untouchable' says BBC
Mirror: Manchester United transfers: Van Gaal working from a 'B-list' after failing to land preferred targets