Newspaper review: Gas 'rip-off' and the rise of religious slaughter of animals

As much of Britain struggles with what some papers - inevitably - call "snow hell", the gaze of the press turns to how much money is being made by power companies as the country turns its thermostats up.

The Daily Express says gas bills are a "rip-off" after the big six energy providers were told they were "officially out of excuses after failing to pass on dramatic falls in wholesale energy costs".

The paper quotes Ofgem figures suggesting that the firms will make an extra £114 per household in the coming year, but "experts said bills should be slashed by £136".

The Express continues that although the big six have "boasted of cutting their gas prices" some customers will not benefit until April, "long after the freezing weather is over".

The Daily Mirror's banner headlined front says "energy fatcats" could enjoy profits up by 1,000% due to failing to pass on falling wholesale costs to customers.

With the election looming, the paper adds a political slant, quoting Labour's Caroline Flint as saying: "The reason energy firms are not passing on falling wholesale costs is because the Tories and Lib Dems voted against giving the regulator the power to cut bills.

"They had the chance to stand up for millions of families. They stood up in favour of the energy companies."

Image caption Caroline Flint

The paper adds that energy firm profits are due to be investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority.

The Daily Mail has a graphic showing that wholesale gas prices have dropped 28% in a year, wholesale electricity prices have dropped 15% in the same period, but the average domestic power bill only fell by 4.4%.

Again, highlighting the political aspect of the story, the Mail notes the power firms: "claim Labour is to blame for the fact that they have not cut bills as much as customers would like because the party's pledge to freeze prices until 2017 means they would be tied to big reductions now that they would not be able to afford later.

"Prime Minister David Cameron has seized on these claims to taunt Labour, suggesting its policy is a 'total joke' that has backfired and squeezing living standards further"

The power firms also say their analysis shows Ofgem's statistics on their profitability is "misleading" and "unreliable"


'Constant meddling'

With new examination league tables putting some of Britain's most expensive public schools at the bottom of the pile, the Daily Mirror is not the only paper to headline claims that the situation is "an Eton mess".

The paper explains the ranking is a result of Eton, Harrow and a number of other fee-paying schools taking International GCSE (IGCSE) , which are not counted when compiling the statistics.

Teaching unions and headteachers' organisations have condemned the "continual upheaval" in the way the tables are compiled.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Eton College has gone to the bottom of the class due to "absurd" methodology, public school heads say

One union chief Chris Keates tells the paper: "It's unacceptable that schools, teachers, parents and children are subjected to this negative annual ritual."

The paper's opinion column says: "This fiasco proves that the constant meddling and ideological obsessions of the Conservatives are failing pupils who deserve better."

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan writes an article in the Daily Telegraph in which she says the IGCSEs are "not as challenging" as the domestic equivalents and are therefore discounted when compiling exam league tables.

"By introducing new, higher-quality GCSEs, we have ensured that the qualifications used in league tables are, and remain, rigorous," she says.

The heads of schools who use the IGCSE - including Eton, Harrow, Marlborough and Westminster insist the IGCSE's are, in fact, "more rigorous" than other GCSE exams.

The Telegraph's editorial says the decision to exclude the IGCSEs "makes a mockery" of the league tables.

The Financial Times opinion column argues that it is not the data which is wrong, but the way it is put together and used.

"National performance metrics were created to promote parental choice, and later used to help education departments detect failing schools.

"The idea of using such information to put every school into a single league table is an invention of the media."


'No sound justification'

The Times' lead story is about the growth of food animals being slaughtered in the UK without being stunned.

The paper says a survey by the Food Standards Agency found a 60% increase in such practices, with now more than a third of sheep, quarter of cattle and one-sixth of poultry being slaughtered in accordance with what some Muslims believe is "religious tradition".

Awal Fuseini, of the Halal Food Authority, said the increase in religious slaughter was due to campaigning by Muslims who "wrongly believed" that stunning killed the animals.

Image copyright PA

For meat to be halal, the animal has to be alive when its throat is cut and die from blood loss.

Mr Fuseini tells the Times that tests should be carried out to prove to Muslims that animals can recover from stunning, and such measures are not incompatible with religious slaughter.

The paper notes that the British Veterinary Association is pushing to ban religious slaughter in the UK, saying that cows and chicken can experience more than two minutes of pain if they are killed without first being stunned.

Animals slaughtered in accordance with Jewish religious beliefs are also not stunned, but this for only 1% of all British meat, the paper adds.

The paper's leader column says "religious" slaughtering techniques are "indefensible".

"There is no sound justification for this cruelty.

"It is not a matter of religion, but a question of unnecessary pain and anguish.

"If ministers want to see animals slaughtered humanely, they have the power and public support to make it so."


'Thud and blunder'

The press and its commentators have already had a field day over the failure of the Chilcot Inquiry to be published before the general election.

On Thursday, MPs got their turn and Fleet Street's sketch writers were there to record it.

John Crace, in the Guardian, says this was not a debate so much as a "steady procession of MPs from all parties agreeing with each other that the delay in publication was unacceptably long."

Image copyright PA
Image caption George Galloway had the tone of "an Old Testament prophet" the Times reckons

Crace isn't shy about pointing out the irony of just 30 of the 650 MPs turning up to the Commons, to criticise a public servant for his workrate.

He also raises his eyebrows when he notes Jack Straw "a minister who had been accused of taking the country to war on the basis of a sexed-up dossier" worrying that public pressure may encourage Sir John Chilcot to "sex up" his own report.

"If Straw has a guilty conscience it does not seem to be troubling him," he writes.

Quentin Letts, in the Daily Mail, applauds the "belting speeches" given by polar political opposites, George Galloway and Andrew Mitchell.

The Respect Party leader, Letts writes, "in tight black trousers and with molten sarcasm... danced up and down a small space of floor while preaching without notes".

Mr Galloway had "ridiculed the well-educated parliamentarians who had 'looked into the Bambi eyes of Tony Blair' and had believed his claims about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein".

Conservative Mr Mitchell commended Mr Galloway, Letts continues.

Image caption Cat woman Rula Lenska

Mr Mitchell said the debate was not just about Tony Blair, but "the positive acquiescence of the full panoply of the Government machine."

A "government machine" which Letts says "must be cut down to size" after the next election.

In the Times, Patrick Kidd said Mr Galloway "launched a barrage of blood and thunder against the thud and blunder of the Iraq War."

The Bradford West MP is "no pussycat", Kidd adds.

"Unless, of course, he is wearing a leotard and Rula Lenska is asking him to purr," he concludes, referencing a Celebrity Big Brother moment that the politician would no doubt love to forget.


'Aghast and amused'

It is testing for the BBC to report on a press story based around the use of words that the corporation cannot repeat, but in the case of Andy Murray's fiancee, that is what we must do.

Kim Sears has been accused of using "searing language" while watching Murray's Australian Open semi final victory over Thomas Berdych.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kim Sears: what would Jilly Cooper think?

For a full, unexpurgated four-letter version of what Ms Sears is thought to have said during the thrilling, but charged encounter, readers can turn to the Guardian.

The paper says the "blast of invective" which appeared to be directed at Berdych's supporters' box, where Murray's former coach was seated, has "gone viral on social media".

The Daily Mail consults professional lip-reader John Cassidy who says "from the shape and contortion of the mouth" he can "definitely make out the F word".

The paper says Ms Sears' "sudden foul-mouthed rant left many aghast and amused in equal measure".

Former British number one tennis player Anne Keothavong was among many to share a video of the incident on social media. She called it "[f-word] hilarious".

The Mail notes that Ms Sears, Murray's girlfriend for a decade, has been regarded as "uncontroversial". Her own blog says her favourite things are "tea, lots of chocolate biscuits, Classic FM and copious amounts of Jilly Cooper".

The Daily Express, headlining that Berdych was not a "Czech mate" of the UK couple, says "the tournament Down Under is a gruelling physical challenge owing to the searing heat.

"Let's hope that Andy's muscles and Kim's voice have both recovered in time for Sunday's final."

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