Flood fears, 'Thatcher's secrets' and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's 'madhouse'

The winds and heavy rain battering much of the UK provide cause for concern for several papers, with the Daily Express warning they're likely to "cause chaos" until the end of the month.

By then the country could be experiencing its first snowfall of the year, one forecaster tells the paper.

Under a map showing where Environment Agency flood warnings are in place, the Express reports how MPs believe UK transport infrastructure is ill-prepared for such weather. As the paper puts it, the network is "perilously vulnerable to strong winds and flooding as well as snow and ice".

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph says the Environment Agency may be unable to cope with serious floods in England and Wales next year because 1,500 posts - including 550 dealing with flooding - are due to be cut by October. Areas at risk include flood risk maintenance and work on flood warning systems, it says.

In its editorial, the Independent remembers David Cameron's festive "pledge" to prioritise investments in flood protection and says he must order "a detailed survey of our flood defences".

Hospital case

"Pay&E department," is how the Daily Mirror describes the prospect of hospital patients being forced to hand over a tenner every time they turn up at casualty. It says a survey of GPs found 32% support the idea as a way of cutting the number of non-urgent cases ending up at hospital.

But, reviewing the papers for the BBC News Channel, London Evening Standard defence editor Robert Fox said: "This sounds to me like an idea scribbled on the back of a prescription pad at an idle moment when they were together at the GPs' conference."

Times deputy political editor Sam Coates said the current out-of-hours provision - often involving a call to a non-expert operator and a long wait to speak to a doctor - was part of the problem. "It just makes sense, if you have a child that's sick, to take them to the local hospital," he said.

British Medical Association chairman, Dr Mark Porter, writes in the Mirror that it would simply "deter those hard up from seeking treatment". However, Cathy Corrie - from centre-right think tank Reform - responds that charging is "part of everyday life in most developed countries" and might force patients to be "more responsible", given "almost half of those visiting A&E last year needed no treatment at all".

In its leader column, the Daily Express says the NHS "must continue to be free for British taxpayers" and suggests "family doctors who really want to take the pressure off casualty departments would do better to improve their own out-of-hours service".

New old news

It's one of those rare occasions when decades-old events are deemed newsworthy, as a new batch of government files are released under the 30-year rule.

And the Guardian reports how, as prime minister in 1984, Margaret Thatcher was "secretly preparing to use troops and declare a state of emergency at the height of the miners' strike - out of fear Britain was going to run out of food and grind to a halt".

The paper also notes how MI5 learned that the Soviet Union tried - and failed - to transfer £1.2m to the National Union of Mineworkers' strike fund via a Swiss bank. This gave Mrs Thatcher the excuse to raise the matter at talks in London with future Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev who "feigned ignorance, but it was enough to prevent any further donations", the Guardian writes.

The Times notes that hours before the murder of WPC Yvonne Fletcher outside Libya's London embassy, British officials had been warned by Tripoli that it "would not be responsible for the consequences" if a protest against then Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi was allowed to take place. Police chose to "ignore" the warning, it says.

The Daily Express says the documents reveal that Northern Ireland peace talks had been progressing successfully - with a devolved administration on the cards - until the IRA's attempt to assassinate Mrs Thatcher at the Brighton bombing. The paper says a note written by the PM shortly afterwards reads: "The bomb has slowed things down and may in the end kill any new initiative because I suspect it's the first in a series."

Hair secrets

Not all the revelations are about matters of great concern of the day, however. Under the headline "Maggie Thatch", the Sun notes that the then PM "kept her iconic blonde locks in shape with 118 hairdos in 1984". As Sun's leader column puts it: "She may not have been for turning. But the lady WAS for perming."

Meanwhile, former leader of the House of Commons John Biffen used a press briefing to describe a cabinet meeting as "awful", adding: "There was no lively debate, just unctuous self-satisfaction," the Times reports.

It didn't stop Mr Gorbachev wanting a peek inside the corridors of power. The Daily Telegraph recalls how he "took No 10 by surprise" by turning up unannounced while the PM was on a foreign trip. "Despite the Cold War tensions, the future Soviet leader and his entourage were allowed to walk through the famous black door," the paper says, before pointing out that the party only got as far as the front hall.

Former Welsh Secretary John Redwood, as chief of the PM's policy unit in 1984, translated the "Big Bang" theory that would deregulate the City of London into a fairy tale for fellow advisers, reports the Financial Times. It began: "Once upon a time there lived a noble and chivalrous group of knights in a great big castle called the stock exchange," before suggesting the knights would "lower the drawbridge" to let others enjoy the "feasting and jousting".

David Cameron, the FT suggests, could learn a lesson or two from the documents, saying Mrs Thatcher had the same difficulties getting her ministers to agree to spending cuts.

'Leftie tosh'?

"Drivel!" is the Daily Mail's verdict on the episode of BBC Radio 4's flagship news programme Today guest edited by singer PJ Harvey who, it says, "filled the show with polemics from left-wing activists and bizarre musical interludes".

Labour MP Ian Austin, a former aide to Gordon Brown, said the show was the worst he'd heard in 30 years, it reports.

"Radio Ga Ga?" asks the Daily Mirror, saying the biggest row centred on Harvey's decision to grant airtime to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who's currently in asylum in Ecuador's London embassy as he fights extradition over sex charges. "For balance, we look forward to the BBC handing Norman Tebbit the reins," says the Sun.

The Daily Telegraph's editorial recalls that Today did once invite the former Conservative party chairman to guest-edit and says: "Perhaps it's time to have another strongly right-wing character in the editor's chair".

However, the Guardian speaks to former Today editor Kevin Marsh, who says: "PJ Harvey is a bit off-the-wall but that's the whole point... you're trying to do something that makes people think a little bit".

And the Independent's media editor Ian Burrell found it "radical and refreshing". He writes: "Yes, the programme skewed to the left, but it wasn't tosh."

Into the madhouse?

"I'm in charge," reads the headline on the back page of the Daily Express, referring to new Cardiff City manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's insistence that he has full control of the club. But not many papers viewing his "infinite rolling contract" share his confidence.

"Is it Gunnar end in tears?" asks the Mirror's Martin Lipton, who notes that many in the football world have seen the job as a "poisoned chalice" in light of the sacking of Malky Mackay and perceived boardroom interference in managerial affairs.

Rory Smith, in the Times, says Solskjaer's habit of assiduously taking notes about his experiences in football could come in handy, given he could have "a bestseller on his hands" when he leaves.

The Independent's Kevin Garside says the Norwegian has stepped into the madhouse: "Like many before him Solskjaer thinks it will be different this time. It won't."

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