Housing boom 'spreads', Prince George's 'first engagement' and Maria Miller 'farce'

Houses with for sale boards outside Image copyright PA

A Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) report suggesting that house prices will rise by an average of 6% every year for five years make front-page headlines.

One Rics economist is quoted by the Daily Telegraph as saying: "Buyers seem to be looking to test the market right across the country, not just in the usual hotspots of the South East."

However, the Daily Mail foresees some problems: "Even middle-income families will effectively be frozen out of a frenzied property market that is increasingly the preserve of the rich," it says.

The paper prints the Rics forecast for the 2020 average prices, ranging from £131,947 in northern England to £567,051 in London.

The Times, meanwhile, takes the angle that house sales have hit a six-year high amid rising confidence among buyers. It quotes Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, saying that booming prices in the capital could result in thousands more households paying a mansion tax proposed by both his Liberal Democrats and Labour, if either party is in power after the next election.

Kneeling before a king

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Pictures of an eight-month-old baby at play take up many column inches in Thursday's papers, with the Daily Mail finding room for another eight-page supplement - this time featuring close-up shots of Prince George at a New Zealand playgroup.

The Telegraph's George Rayner describes it as his "first major public engagement" during which the prince showed he "already knows how to work a room". The writer continues: "Toys were pinched, hair was chewed, and faces were (accidentally) biffed as Prince George owned the place."

However, says Valentine Low of the Times: "Before he gets a reputation for himself - and is this the moment to remind people that when he was little his father was known as "Basher" Wills? - it has to be said that the little girl whose encounter with George prompted her to burst into tears was, possibly, being a touch on the sensitive side."

It's the infant prince's dungarees that get the Daily Express's attention. It reports the £75 outfit with "sailboat smocked design on the front panel" have been "flying off the shelves" of a London luxury children's retailer.

Tabloid sub-editors enjoy adding speech bubbles to the images, with the Mirror imagining him telling a baby girl: "Here's the deal, kid... Lend us that teething ring and there's a good chance of you becoming a princess some day." The Daily Star's take is: "Oi princess, your palace or mine?"

"Prince George is a Windsor alright," opines the Sun's editorial. "He looks like he owns the place - like his great-gran, who pretty much does."

Driven to distraction

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Maria Miller's resignation as culture secretary, after a week of negative headlines, provokes little sympathy in the press.

The Times's Ann Treneman watched prime minister David Cameron recognising "raw" public anger in the Commons but notes: "Dave did not linger on the rawness of it all because, actually, Dave wasn't angry at all about Maria Miller.

"He didn't think she should 'write out cheques', despite the fact that parliament's standards commissioner had originally demanded that she should repay £45,000. Dave didn't even notice this, it seems."

Michael Deacon, in the Telegraph, focuses on Mrs Miller's resignation letter, which confessed to what she'd done: "Not ripping off the taxpayer, obviously, or breaching the parliamentary code of conduct, or delivering the most contemptuous non-apology in recent Commons history. None of those got a mention... The crime she had committed, she explained, was that of becoming 'a distraction'."

Meanwhile, the Mail's Quentin Letts describes Labour leader Ed Miliband's attack on Mr Cameron for being "the last person in the country" to think Mrs Miller should be sacked as "puerile". "Miliband himself, on Tuesday, thought that," he writes.

There is criticism of politicians of all colours from Matthew Engel from the Financial Times. "MPs don't get it. People were outraged," he says, by the 32-second apology delivered by the Basingstoke MP last week. That's demonstrated by a YouGov survey for the Sun, which shows 63% of those asked felt she should have been sacked and that 69% have no confidence in the new parliamentary expenses system.

The prime minister has defended parliament as full of "good and honest" MPs and pointed out that Mrs Miller has both been cleared of the main charge against her and apologised for her behaviour.

However, the Guardian says the saga has left Mr Cameron "weakened", an impression captured by the Independent's Dave Brown with a cartoon showing the PM shooting Mrs Miller's head through his own foot. The Times's Peter Brookes reimagines the poster for the play West Side Story, rebranding it "Westminster Story" and showing Mr Cameron singing: "Maria! I've just dumped a girl named Maria!" with Mrs Miller plunging downward from a fire escape.

Bob, in the Telegraph, pictures Mr Cameron wishing "good luck" to her successor as culture secretary - an apprehensive-looking Sajid Javid - at the door to his office, where his name has been hastily added underneath the crossed-out nameplates of his two predecessors.

Minister's movie-star looks

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Several papers profile Mr Javid (above, right) with the Mail's Quentin Letts describing him as a "Yul Brynner lookalike", a reference to the bald actor of the 50s, 60s and 70s (above, left). His Mail colleague Andrew Pierce writes: "The son of a Pakistani who came to Britain in 1961 with just £1 in his pocket, Mr Javid could not be further removed from the privileged lifestyles of David Cameron's inner circle."

When Mr Javid was four, his family moved from Rochdale to Bristol where, the writer says: "They lived in Stapleton Road, recently describes as 'Britain's worst street, a lawless hellhole where murder, rape, shootings, drug-pushing, prostitution, knifings and violent robbery are commonplace'."

However, the Daily Mirror says he "made his fortune as a banker before the crash", adding: "He and his family live in a £4m London home." The Times says the "bus driver's son" is the Conservatives' first male [British] Asian cabinet minister, a close ally of Chancellor George Osborne and "has been tipped as a future party leader".

While some have questioned the appointment of a former banker to take charge of the arts, Independent arts editor David Lister argues: "The culture secretary doesn't have to be a former artist any more than the environment secretary must be an ex-farmer of the defence secretary a retired soldier." The new secretary of state should simply focus on emulating the first man to hold his post - David Mellor - by showing "passion for the portfolio", he adds.

Meanwhile, as the Financial Times notes, the handing of the women's portfolio to new City Minister Nicky Morgan has effectively downgraded the role from its former cabinet position. "David Cameron's judgement was called into question by Conservative MPs last night as his 'problem with women' was highlighted by a chaotic reshuffle," reckons the Independent.

It notes there is no mother in the cabinet for the first time since 1992, while the number of women cabinet ministers has dropped to three - its lowest level since 1992. The Guardian produces a table showing the UK towards the bottom of a table of 12 European countries, based on the percentage of cabinet members who are women, with only Greece and Ireland lower down.

Happy Easter?

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Folk hoping to get away this Easter can look forward to a "traffic meltdown" amid "10 days of travel chaos" according to the Daily Star, which reports that 16 million motorists are expected to "clog roads in the great escape". It quotes motoring organisation the AA as saying that 55% of British drivers will take to the roads for an Easter outing, starting tomorrow when many schools break up for holidays.

Still, at least holidaymakers will be able to enjoy fine weather, if the Daily Express headline proves correct. "The sun has got his bonnet on for Easter," it says, quoting forecasters saying "the mercury will remain in the 60s Fahrenheit (above 15C) across most of the country".

However, the paper's own weather charts show clouds and rain during much of the weekend, while the Sun predicts: "Snow and showers to hit UK at Easter." It says forecasters are predicting an "Arctic plunge" for next week, quoting one - from the Met Office - saying: "Because it's Easter, everyone's going to be feeling a bit annoyed."

The precipitation shouldn't bother the owners of Britain's only tea plantation, though. The Express reports that it's enjoying "a record-breaking crop - thanks to the recent flooding, gales and driving rain". It says staff predict a bumper crop to smash the previous record of 10 tonnes, quoted the garden director saying: "The tea thinks of the heavy rainfall as humidity. It loves the wetness."

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