Newspaper review: Blair's offer, and Prince Charles on extremism

As Prince Charles begins a six-day trip to the Middle East, his views on jihadist radicalisation come under the spotlight of the Sunday papers.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The first leg of the Prince of Wales's visit aims to reinforce Britian's alliance with Jordan, the Independent on Sunday says

In an interview with BBC Radio 2's Sunday Hour, the Prince speaks of his fears for the future of Christians in the region, his horror at Islamist radicalisation of young Britons, and his desire to be the "defender" of all faiths.

The Mail on Sunday's lead story highlights his phrases: "The radicalisation of people in Britain is a great worry, and the extent to which this is happening is alarming, particularly in a country like ours where we hold values dear.

"You would think that the people who have come here, or are born here, and who go to school here, would abide by those values and outlooks.

"But the frightening part is that people can be so radicalised, either through direct contact with somebody, or through the internet. There is an extraordinary amount of crazy stuff on the internet

The paper says the Prince "staunchly" defends Britain's "Christian standpoint".

His words are "a clear response to critics who say he should not meddle in sensitive political matters", it adds.

The Mail also says the Prince will ask the new Saudi king to stop 1,000 lashes being given to blogger Raif Badawi for online comments interpreted to be "an insult to Islam" by judges in the kingdom.

Image caption Saudi blogger Raif Badawi discussed religion with his online readership

The paper's opinion column thinks Saudi Arabia's "highly conservative religious and hierarchical society may pay more attention to a Royal Prince who is an unabashed believer than it will to a secular envoy or minister."

The Independent on Sunday describes the Prince's meeting with Iraqi Christian refugees in Jordan.

The paper says the group told him "they did not feel safe in the region and wanted to move to Europe".

One man comments on the burning alive of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaebeh by IS terrorists,

"You saw what they did to a Muslim. What do you think they will do to us Christians?" he asks.


'Damaging speculation'

The Labour Party has received a very rough fortnight at the hands of much of the British press.

Even liberal and left-leaning papers have speculated about a "Blairite" plot to undermine Ed Miliband, and spoken of alleged efforts last year to persuade former home secretary Alan Johnson to stand against the party leader.

The Observer says the talk of a party rift may quieten after Tony Blair made an offer to assist Mr Miliband in "whatever" way "the party wants" to help in the election.

The paper notes the former PM's stance is reflected by leading New Labour figures Lord Mandelson and Alistair Campbell also "lined up behind" Mr Miliband - and both denied press stories that they had sought to oust him.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Tony Blair

The Observer adds: "Labour sources say Blair would be ideally placed to counter recent bruising attacks on Miliband from some Tory-supporting entrepreneurs, by arguing that the Tories would do far more damage to British business if they opened the way for the UK to leave the EU".

The paper says it understands talks have been going on between Labour's HQ and Mr Blair's office over what role he should play in the election run-up.

It adds that Mr Blair's presence in the campaign will be "controversial" but will be symbolic that "New Labour" is rallying around the party leader.

The paper adds that Mr Blair "will know he cannot be absent from the campaign without fuelling further damaging speculation".

However the perceived "war of words" between the Labour leader and some leading businessmen is still widely reported in the Sundays.

The Daily Telegraph says two former leading donors to the party have "turned on" Mr Miliband.

It says former Northern Foods chairman Lord Haskins has said the stock market would "take fright" if Labour won the election on "an anti-business platform", while Caparo founder Lord Paul said the row between Labour politicians and some business leaders was "very wrong".


'Fair share'

From Labour in difficulties to a potential Tory embarrassment.

The Sunday Times claims that the Solicitor-General Robert Buckland has invested in a film partnership scheme which is being investigated over possible tax avoidance.

Mr Buckland, MP for Swindon South, denies tax avoidance and says he has been "completely open" about his tax affairs with HMRC.

The paper notes that some of the activities of two other film partnership schemes have already been determined by HMRC to be "primarily being used for tax avoidance rather than for business purposes".

Image caption Robert Buckland

It notes dozens of high-profile celebrities could face large tax bills if the "£7bn crackdown" on such schemes proceeds. Two cases are currently subject to a court appeal.

The Times says the involvement of "one of the government's most senior figures in such a scheme will embarrass David Cameron", noting the prime minister has pledged to tackle tax avoidance,.

It adds that Chancellor George Osborne has branded "aggressive" tax avoidance as "morally repugnant".

The Sunday Mirror runs a story condemning the "fatcat lives" of those on the boards of big accountancy firms, who offer advice on minimising tax to wealthy clients.

Last week, the paper notes, Margaret Hodge of the Public Accounts Committee accused one firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), of promoting tax avoidance "on an industrial scale".

She also said that PwC, and three other large consultancies, were making "mega bucks" out of "finding devious ways around stopping global companies paying their fair share to the common pot".

The Mirror claims each PwC board member would have received an average £1.83m pay-out in the last year.

A spokesman for the firm said it disagreed with the committee's conclusion but recognised it should "do more to explain the positive role we play in the tax system and in helping businesses operate successfully".

Those with a less fraught relationship with the taxmen might welcome the story on the front of the Sunday Telegraph.

The paper says the organisation is to abandon the automatic £100 fine people get for filing their self-assessment forms late.

The Telegraph says HMRC now believes the system of penalties is "too rigid" and it will introduce greater leniency for "honest taxpayers" who make a mistake in this, and over VAT and Excise Duty payments.


'Vital bodies'

It's not all gloomy foreign news and politics in the Sunday press, however, there are some nature stories - although it should be pointed out that these are not all good news.

The Sunday Times says that efforts to reverse a 95% decline in Britain's eel population may make the slippery fish "Britain's most expensive wildlife species".

The paper explains that Environment Agency regulations designed to make the UK's network of weirs, sluices, pumping stations and locks "eel friendly" are imposing massive costs on drainage boards and diverting money from flood protection schemes.

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption The European eel is facing difficulties in British waterways

The problem, the paper says, is that manmade barriers have been preventing the migratory fish from re-entering Britain's waterways after they have spawned in the Sargasso Sea off North America.

Defra, the department which ordered the agency to enforce the work, is said to believe that the cost of the eel regulations would be £75m, but experts quoted in the Times believe it may require around £150m of public cash.

"Much of the cost will fall on England and Wales's 114 drainage boards, the obscure but vital bodies that keep the 10% of land lying below sea level free of water" and in doing so protect 900,000 homes, the paper adds.

From saving fish to saving plants, and the Sunday Telegraph keeps up its coverage of the decimation of Britain's ash trees from Chalara, otherwise known as ash dieback.

The infection, first recorded in the UK in 2012, has now spread to 1,000 sites and unless a cure is found ash will effectively be wiped out as an established species, the paper says.

The paper's reporter William Langley visits a Woodlands Trust estate in Kent where ash saplings are being monitored for resistance to the disease in the hope that those who survive it may share identifiable traits that can be bred up and developed.

Langley says the potential disappearance of the ash should not only concern "tree-huggers".

Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption An ash in all it glory

"The cost of removing hundreds of thousands of dead trees from roadsides, railway embankments, public spaces and school playing fields is potentially staggering," he explains.

Not all of Sundays' focus is on disappearing species. The Independent on Sunday has a feature on some reappearing old favourites.

It notes that enthusiasts are resurrecting "heritage" fruit and vegetable seeds, leading to a boom in varieties that were once widespread but fell out of favour with commercial growers.

Strains of veg that had been feared lost, including Boothby's Blonde (a cucumber); Unwin's Yellow Perfection (a tomato) and Mr Perkins' Leamington (a cauliflower) are now making a comeback in Britain's gardens, the paper reports.

The old-fashioned varieties - which are "the ultimate antidote to tasteless, mass-produced fruit and vegetables" - have spread thanks to the establishment of heritage seed specialist firms and work by bodies such as Garden Organic, it adds.

Chef Robin Gill tells the paper why the heritage seeds growth is not just "the fad" he first believed it would be.

"The flavour is phenomenally better."

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