Tony Benn tributes and jet on island claims in papers

Tributes to former Labour cabinet minister Tony Benn following his death at the age of 88 feature in the pages of Saturday's newspapers with the Financial Times observing that they came from both "friends and foes".

For the Daily Telegraph, the "outpouring of Conservative tributes... is a testament to his character".

Mr Benn is described in the Daily Mirror as the "champion of the powerless" and a "giant of socialism" while the Independent talks of the "death of a maverick" whose "views did not mellow with age".

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But for the Independent's leader writers, Mr Benn's "actions damaged the very causes he championed".

It believes "respect for the man should not blind us to the folly of the political path he chose... His political philosophy would have done untold damage to the country, had he had the chance to put it into effect".

In its editorial, the Times agrees, saying Mr Benn is a "good example of how a man of good intentions and desires can be led astray by ideological confusion".

The Daily Mail promotes a five-page "tribute" to the man it says in an editorial was "gifted, principled and so very wrong".

Writing in the Mail, historian Dominic Sandbrook acknowledges that while "Britain's Parliamentary traditions never had a more passionate defender", a Benn Britain would have been "like some European version of North Korea".

The Sun too says: "We now live in an era of identikit career politicians of flexible principle... MPs of unwavering conviction will always win our greater admiration". But while it says it "is sorry he is gone" suggests that Mr Benn was "wrong about everything" except opposition to greater European integration.

'Mesmerising and divisive'

The Daily Telegraph is among the newspapers to report on the video message filmed for Mr Benn by Channel 4 that was released after his death.

In it, Mr Benn said he hoped he had not caused offence by speaking his mind, thanked his family, and paid tribute to his wife, Caroline, who "inspired" him for the 50 years of their marriage before she died of cancer 13 years ago.

Recalling the last time she interviewed Mr Benn last year, the Daily Mirror's Alison Phillips says "despite his lifelong dedication to politics, his greatest commitment remained to his family. Their pictures crammed the walls of his flat".

For the Guardian's Michael White, Mr Benn was "the most mesmerising and divisive figures in the mainstream of post-war British politics... almost the last of a disappearing species".

"It was a favourite Benn maxim that 'issues not personalities' matter in politics, though year after year his own vivid personality... undermined the assertion," he writes.

"Like his Puritan heroes, Tony Benn belongs in the great tradition of English revolutionaries," says the Guardian in its editorial, "a passionate radical destined to be loved in popular memory for his defence of democracy and freedom, whose passing leaves the political world a smaller place."

Daily Telegraph political columnist Benedict Brogan reckons Mr Benn's "biggest success, in a career marked by epic political failures, is the modern Conservative Party... he also contaminated the Tories with his ideas of grassroots militancy... now David Cameron must contend with a new breed of right-wing Bennites."

The aspiring middle

There is much speculation ahead of next Wednesday's Budget.

The Financial Times and the Independent both report the chancellor is set to reject calls from senior Tories to give special help to the "squeezed middle".

According to the FT, he will instead shape a package aimed at wooing voters in marginal constituencies.

In its front page story, however, the Times reports that George Osborne is preparing to head off a growing rebellion over the tax burden on middle-earners with a promise to stop more professionals from being dragged into the 40p bracket under a future Conservative government. It says Tory MPs are being told privately the next manifesto will not promise further increases in the personal allowance.

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Image caption The word "dramatic" is used by several papers to describe Lord Windermere's photo-finish Gold Cup victory at Cheltenham

In an editorial, the Daily Telegraph urges Mr Osborne to "think more about the needs of the middle classes - not just those who are already members of that group, but also those who aspire to enter its ranks... to show he is on the side of those who work hard. The price of failure could be the election of another Labour government - which would certainly be no friend to the middle class."

The Telegraph also reports that the chancellor will unveil plans to build the first garden city in the UK for 40 years to help solve the housing crisis. Ministers are said to be still locked in talks about its potential location, with Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire and Oxfordshire believed to be under consideration.

The Sun says the Budget will give small builders a cash flow boost in a bid to help kick-start a new homes "bonanza". It says greater access to finance through a new loan guarantee scheme is being dubbed "help to build" following the "help to buy" scheme to get first-time buyers on to the property ladder.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail is claiming a victory for its campaign for savers with pension pots of under £15,000 and says they will benefit from relaxed rules allowing them to take the funds as cash lump sums.

'Vested interest'

A number of other political stories make the front pages.

According to a Daily Telegraph investigation, non-Europeans can buy EU citizenship entitling them to live and work in Britain for £150,000 under a scheme operating in Bulgaria. The paper says its undercover reporters posing as representatives of an Indian businessman were told a passport could be legally obtained without the need to live or work in Bulgaria following a two-day visit to the country.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Education Secretary Michael Gove describes as "preposterous" and "ridiculous" the number of Old Etonians in David Cameron's inner circle. The FT says the comments will be seized on by Labour to bolster their contention the Tories are "out of touch" despite Mr Gove making the point that the elite nature of the team reflected the failings of past state education policies.

The Daily Mail reports that the authors of a report published this week by a government advisory body that was presented as "independent" and called for GM crops to be "fast-tracked" in the UK were scientists with links to the industry. It says all five authors "have a vested interest in promoting GM crops and food".

The story comes as the Times reports that genetically modified maize could be planted in Britain as early as next spring under a proposal that would allow European countries to decide at a national level whether to permit farmers to grow modified crops. The first commercial GM crops would come after more than a decade of stalemate in Europe, says the paper.

Sherlock's island

A week after the Malaysia airliner with 239 people on board went missing, suggestions that investigators now say they are looking into claims it was hijacked and flown away from its course is the lead story in the Daily Mirror, Daily Express and Daily Star.

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A theory that the flight could have been taken over by "sky pirates" and landed on one of the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean is said to have come after data from satellites and military radar.

For the Guardian's China correspondent Tania Branigan, "in a region often fraught with tensions over territory and shifting power, the sight of 13 countries co-operating for a common goal is rare and welcome. Yet questions over the use and sharing of information... have revealed the continuing suspicions between them."

Simon Calder in the Independent says that while "many uncertainties remain, and theories to explain the disappearance of a routine flight to Beijing have multiplied to fill a vacuum of ignorance" travellers are starting to question practices in international aviation.

The have been "asking how, given 21st-century communication technology, a large passenger jet can simply vanish. Since every iPad and iPhone owner can get an app that allows them to trace their device if lost, it seems absurd that a £160m, 250-ton jet aircraft should be untraceable."

The Daily Mirror focuses on the Andaman islands themselves "in the middle of nowhere" and discovered by Marco Polo in the 13th century and now mostly belonging to India.

It is close to the epicentre of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and where Arthur Conan Doyle set the Sherlock Holmes story the Sign of Four, the paper reports.

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