SAS 'in Iraq', A-level 'scramble' and shrinking average pay

The extent of UK involvement in operations to rescue the thousands of Iraqis who've taken refuge from Islamist militants continues to make headlines.

While the Independent reports PM David Cameron's comments that British military personnel "will play a role" in the operation, it also hears from officials who insist this does not mean "boots on the ground". Despite that, both the Times and Daily Telegraph are reporting that British special forces are already in the country.

The Times suggests they will support American and Kurdish military efforts to take on Islamic State fighters, while the Telegraph speculates that their presence could be important in guarding civilians during any airborne rescue.

The Daily Mail produces a graphic showing how that operation could work, and detailing the likely involvement of RAF Chinook helicopters rescuing refugees with the support of Tornado warplanes, Hercules cargo planes carrying aid and Sentinel spy planes. It also shows where US and British forces are currently positioned, including 1,000 Royal Marines who are said to be taking part in joint military exercises with US forces in Jordan. A map of the latest jihadist attacks and air drops is printed by the Guardian, which also spells out the support pledged by allies including France, Poland, Australia and Hungary.

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However, the cartoonists focus on criticism of Mr Cameron for failing to act sooner, having remained on holiday as the crisis unfolded. Morten Morland, in the Times, pictures the PM in summer attire, pulling a suitcase and saying: "This is a time for leadership! Faced with the crisis in Iraq... And the need for urgent action to halt the genocide... I've decided to come back one day early!" Adams, in the Telegraph, has the PM sitting with his case - marked "Iraq policy" - on a circular luggage belt.

David Aaranovitch, in the Times, urges the political action required to bring about the use of military force. But he complains: "The creation of the convention that any form of military action requires parliamentary approval was based on the premise that governments had to be stopped from doing things. It means that in matters such as these, government during a recess has become like a bad weekend at A&E: the patients still turn up, but the doctors don't. No one has a plan for when the problem is a government that does almost nothing."

In the Daily Mail, Max Hastings says special forces will be needed to protect the humanitarian mission but argues that a major ground-force deployment would be a mistake: "A regional drama has begun that will take years to play out. The West neither can nor should seek to determine its outcome. We have done damage enough in the region since 2000 by destroying its tyrants, while providing no viable alternative."


Student 'scramble'

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On an already tense morning for teenagers expecting their A-level results, the Daily Mail's front page won't do much for the nerves. "Pupils facing A-level shock," warns its headline. A rule change forcing students to take exams in one sitting, as opposed to the previous system which allowed two efforts, is likely to mean a drop in the number of A* and A grades for a third consecutive year, the paper explains.

Despite that, the Guardian's Owen Jones can't help but feel a "sense of envy". He writes: "In hindsight, that A-level results day conjures up the ultimate sense of standing on the cusp... Amid the hugs, sobs and contrived newspaper photos, a whole swath of Britain's youth will be preparing themselves for perhaps their most thrilling phase yet."

In any case, it's not all bad news. "Teenagers receiving A-level results today have the best chance in a generation of winning admission to a leading university, with thousands of places still available," reports the Times. According to the i's front page, it means that up to 1,000 school-leavers who do better than they expected are likely to "trade up" their existing offers of a higher-education place and "opt for one of the UK's most selective universities instead".

"Many of them are likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds, as research shows they are less confident about aiming for elite universities before receiving their results," says the Independent.

As the Telegraph's Allison Pearson puts it, this year will see a "scramble for students, not places" in the clearing system as a result of the government's creation of an extra 30,000 places and the scrapping of the cap on student numbers. "Luring students with cash awards and other goodies has become part of the marketing strategy," she writes.

"At the University of East London, a £1,200 'progress bursary', complete with a Samsung Galaxy tablet computer loaded with textbooks and a further £900 of credit to spend over the duration of their course, is on offer to all undergraduates. Most students starting a typical degree course at Anglia Ruskin University will get £1,200 worth of vouchers to spend on books."


Rights of way

Top Gear host James May might be associated with four-wheeled, engine-powered transport but the Times says he's striking a blow for its Cities fit for Cycling campaign, by calling for an end to "road sectarianism". He says: "Car drivers supposedly hate cyclists, cyclists hate taxi drivers, taxi drivers hate motorcyclists, bus drivers hate lorries. If everybody was a little bit more pragmatic, that would do more for safety." He wants urban planners to spend more time on two wheels to better understand cycle lanes.

If that heralds a softening in attitudes, another Times report suggests life on the waterways is getting more confrontational. Anglers want to "establish conclusively that the law does not give canoeists a general right of navigation". They claim canoeing bodies have misled members into "thinking that they have a right under medieval law to paddle along any navigable sections of the 41,000 miles of rivers in England and Wales". Canoeists say anglers' demands that they negotiate access to each area are not practical, the paper adds.


'Dark wages'

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Statistics showing the UK's jobless rate has fallen to its lowest level since late 2008 are welcomed by the Daily Mail, which says "there was much for the Tories to celebrate... and ministers deserve great credit for sticking to their guns" when Labour argued for a plan B. However, the Mail says there is "much still to do" and for most papers the positive news was tempered by figures showing a drop in average pay when bonuses are included.

"More work for less pay," is how the Daily Star sums it up, while the Sun complains that the UK has gone "back to the dark wages" with the 0.2% fall in average income, representing the first dip since the 2009 recession. Its city editor Simon English points out that with interest rates expected to rise in the coming months, mortgage costs and car loan repayments will also go up, squeezing family finances. "This is exactly what [Chancellor] George Osborne was desperate to avoid in the months before an election. And just what the Bank of England said earlier this year would not happen."

For this reason, the Financial Times speculates that this will prevent the Bank from raising the base rate until 2015. It says: "The puzzle is not unique to the UK. From the US to Germany, one of the repercussions of the global financial crisis seems to have been a stagnation in workers' wages. Yet the contrast between booming employment and dismal wages has been sharper in the UK than anywhere else."

"This really shouldn't be happening, as far as the Bank is concerned," writes the Guardian's Larry Elliott. "At the moment it doesn't really know what's going on but hopes that if it sits tight for long enough, the fog covering the economy will lift."

Meanwhile, Mirror business editor Graham Hiscott brands Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith "deluded" for suggesting that most Britons are better off. He says: "Try telling that to the two million who are still jobless, or the near 750,000 who have been out of work for at least a year. Try telling that to the 1.3 million part-timers who are desperate for full-time work, or the 600,000 temporary staff who want something permanent."

Guardian cartoonist Ben Jennings captures this sentiment by drawing a long queue of people streaming into the job centre, and then straight into a food bank, while the Independent's Dave Brown takes inspiration from the career of Lauren Bacall, who died on Tuesday. Recreating a scene from To Have and Have Not, he imagines PM David Cameron in Bacall's role, tweaking one of her most famous lines to read: "Wage rises? You know you can whistle for them... Don't you?"


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