Newspaper headlines: RBS sell-off and Malaysia mountain 'prank'

In a slender set of Thursday papers, headlines about the forthcoming re-privatisation of the Royal Bank of Scotland proliferate.

The Financial Times reports that George Osborne used a speech at the Mansion House in London to announce the state is to sell off its 81% stake in RBS.

The paper says the chancellor "accepted he would take a political hit for selling the bank at less than the cost of [its] bailout" but he said "decision time had come".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The chancellor made his announcement at the Lord Mayor's Dinner to the Bankers and Merchants of the City of London event

The FT says that figures from investment bank Rothschild - putting "the best gloss" on the sale - suggest that the loss on the transaction to the tax-payer would be £7.2bn at current share prices.

The Times notes that Rothschild's report suggests that the taxpayer would make an overall profit of £14bn from the various bank rescue missions launched in the wake of the 2008 world financial crisis.

The paper says this is a "substantial improvement" on the £20bn to £50bn loss, predicted by then-chancellor Alistair Darling in 2009.

In a business commentary in the paper, Alistair Osborne says the £14bn profit prediction makes "huge assumptions" and ignores "one gigantic figure" - the cost of funding the bail-outs.

He says his namesake George made a "pretty cheap" remark when he said the government may get a lower price for RBS "than Labour paid for it".

"What would he have done? Paid less and seen it wreck the economy?" Osborne asks.

The Guardian's business editor Nils Pratley thinks the chancellor should have held on until shares in the bank had risen by at least 50p before announcing a sale.

Image copyright AFP

The extra money raised would have been worth at least £4.5bn to the public purse, he says, and achieving such a price was a "realistic possibility".

"The unwritten - but very sensible - rule in the past was that the right time to sell RBS would be when dividends were in view," adds Pratley.

The Daily Mirror's furious editorial says the decision to sell off RBS now is "a scandalous triumph of Tory dogma over value for money".

It accuses George Osborne of "ideological fanaticism" in planning the privatisation.

'Culture of impunity'

Another Mansion House speech also makes headlines.

In the words of the Daily Mail, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney "declares war on City cowboys".

The paper explains that Mr Carney vowed "the age of irresponsibility is over" as he unveiled tougher sentences for rogue traders.

Mr Carney also pledged to extend the prospect of jail to those convicted of rigging a range of different financial markets, and said he would stop the practice of errant staff simply moving to other banks - "rolling bad apples", in City parlance.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bank of England Governor Mark Carney chairs the G20's Financial Stability Board

The paper's City editor Alex Brummer says the Bank chief also criticised the performance of his own institution, in the run-up to the 2008 crash.

"It... failed to see the risks to the financial system or to spot the huge gaps in regulation that had opened up.

"His words will not sit easily among the old guard on Threadneedle Street," Brummer writes.

The Mail's editorial addresses itself to the words of former RBS boss Sir George Matthewson who called for a stop to "banker bashing".

"Isn't the real problem the culture of impunity which has seen only one banker jailed since the crisis?" the paper asks.

"The truth is we haven't seen any effective banker bashing yet. Let this be the start of it - not the end."

The Financial Times says Mr Carney's extension of the UK regulatory regime is being watched with interest from abroad.

"For misbehaviour to be stamped out, the UK cannot act unilaterally," the paper says, "Other financial centres around the world have to take similar action."

One international observer says that there is both a degree of risk, but also "huge political and business kudos" in the UK being seen to take the first move in "cleaning up the financial markets".

Eye-catching headlines

  • "Inside Britain's secret wasabi farm" - The Daily Telegraph ventures to Hampshire to visit a hush-hush venture growing "the world's most expensive vegetable".
  • "Real-life Shameless estate becomes property hotspot"- Wythenshawe in Greater Manchester, the inspiration for TV comedy drama Shameless, has the second largest annual increase in property prices in the UK, the Daily Mail reveals.
  • "Humans are going to have sex in space" - An American company is planning on breaking "the final frontier" by making a porn film in outer space, the Independent says.
  • "Doctors remove 42 kidney stones caused by excessive tofu" - The Daily Express reports on the painful operation undergone by a Chinese man who gorged on tofu, which is very high in calcium.

Mountain spirit

Pictures of Eleanor Hawkins, the British tourist held with two Canadians and a Dutchman in Malaysia after allegedly stripping off on the summit of a mountain considered sacred by locals, adorn many papers.

Ms Hawkins, of Derby, was among a group of 10 Western trekkers who "sparked outrage" in the province of Sabah, by removing clothing items while on the summit of Mount Kinabalu.

One local tribal chief in the area - which is in the north of the island of Borneo - has demanded that the foursome are fined "ten buffalos", the Sun reports.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mount Kinabalu's name means "resting place of the dead"

A local politician has said the prank - which was posted on social media - had "displeased the mountain spirit" and led to an earthquake that killed 18 people.

The paper explains that the Kadazan-Dusun tribe in Sabah believe that spirits of their ancestors live on the mountain - and a spirit watches over its peak.

The Times says the foreign prisoners - who are likely to be charged with outraging public decency - are being held separately from locals "because of the level of public outrage" on Sabah.

Their lawyer tells the paper, "There is a lot of stupidity involved and unfortunately politicians have jumped on the bandwagon to condemn them for causing the earthquake, which is ridiculous."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Machu Pichu, Peru: another site where naked tourists have encountered trouble

Ms Hawkins' father tells the paper that his daughter was a "sensible young woman" who would never "deliberately upset people".

He added that he hoped the Malaysian authorities would take a lenient view of the group's antics, and allow them to receive a community service order rather than jailing them.

It adds that a craze for naked "selfies" has already led to two arrests in Cambodia and eight in Peru.

The Guardian reports that the Westerners could face three months in jail if convicted.

It adds that the 13,500ft mountain is a Unesco World Heritage site, and travellers to the peak are frequently urged to respect local beliefs regarding it.

'Chosen patrons'

The Independent is among the many papers that celebrate the crowning of the robin as Britain's "national bird".

The paper explains that the brightly coloured garden favourite romped home with 34% of the vote in a poll of 200,000 people.

Barn owls and blackbirds flew against the face of public opinion, the Indy notes, coming a distant second and third.

The paper says that ornithologist David Lindo - who set up the vote - will now approach the government with a view to the popular wishes expressed being made official - so the robin would gain the same status as the American bald eagle or the French rooster.

Grahame Madge of the RSPB says the robin is an appropriate bird to represent the UK, because of its "plucky nature" and the fact that it is found all over the nation.

Image copyright PA
Image caption No one in Britain "is more than a few feet" away from a robin, the RSPB's Grahame Madge reckons

He also notes the popular cultural references - such as robins on Christmas cards - a custom that began because Victorian postmen delivering such cards wore red tunics and were known as "robins".

The Daily Express carries the story of one robin that was certainly plucky.

It made its nest and laid eggs in the engine mountings of Nottinghamshire doctor Zahida Hama's car.

The BMW was not a hatchback - the pun-loving Express notes.

The Daily Telegraph's editorial remembers the robins many appearances in British culture - including covering lifeless children with leaves in Babes In The Wood.

"As Christmas-card emblems, leafy undertaker or gardener's companion, the quick and colourful bird forces its merits on its chosen patrons.

"It's as if the election of a national bird was not ours but the robin's."

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