Newspaper headlines: HSBC tax row, 'dodgy' PM jibe and Fifty Shades of Grey

A rumbustious Prime Minister's Questions provides plenty for political correspondents to sink their teeth into.

As the Guardian reports on its front page, the prime minister was asked four times about whether he had discussed tax avoidance at HSBC with its former boss Stephen Green before he appointed him a trade minister in 2011. "Four times he evaded the answer," it says. It leads the Daily Mirror to claim: "It suggests Dodgy Dave has something to hide."

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The Financial Times describes Labour's Ed Miliband trying to "enmesh" his opponents in the tax avoidance claims, calling David Cameron "a dodgy prime minister surrounded by dodgy donors". It's a reference to the fact the Conservatives raised £5m from clients of the Swiss banking arm of HSBC that has come under scrutiny. Sketchwriters capture the rowdy atmosphere, with the Independent's Donald MacIntyre writing that "Ed Miliband ratcheted up the insults, but was if anything overburdened by material".

Quentin Letts, of the Daily Mail, agrees. "How could Mr Miliband fail to make the PM look a chump after that tawdry Tory fundraising ball on Monday night?" he asks, saying the Labour leader had less success with a "mixture of finicky HSBC detail and pub-fight abuse". The Guardian describes Mr Cameron producing a "masterclass in avoidance", its writer John Crace noting that the PM ended the session with "a look that said: 'I can't quite believe I got away with that...'"

Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson finds it an unedifying spectacle, summing up the dispatch box debate as: "You stink of poo... You stink of poo worse... you stinked of poo first... most..."


'Weakest Link'

As the Daily Telegraph reports, the row over party donors' links to HSBC continued outside Parliament. Former Conservative co-treasurer Lord Fink, whom Mr Miliband had accused of "tax avoidance", challenged the Labour leader to repeat his allegations away from the Commons, where MPs' statements are protected from legal action. If Mr Miliband takes the bait, the Tory peer - who argues he opened an HSBC account in Switzerland to run his day-to-day finances when working there - says he'll sue.

Things weren't much more cordial elsewhere in Parliament, where the Public Accounts Committee grilled HM Revenue and Customs head Lin Homer in what the Independent describes as an "ill-tempered affair". MPs attacked her over figures showing the UK had failed to recoup as much unpaid tax from a leaked list of people with Swiss HSBC accounts as either France or Spain, it reports.

Ms Homer's reply that customs officials were "speedy... on the case... really effective in using the data to get the money" was, as the Financial Times puts it, "shouted down" by the politicians. Chairman Margaret Hodge told Ms Homer she wanted to "put a bomb under you guys".

It led Telegraph sketchwriter Michael Deacon to compare the MP for Barking to TV presenter Anne Robinson in her Weakest Link days: "Her imperious mock-amusement, her eye-rolling disdain, her squawking incredulity... she made not the smallest effort to hide her contempt for her victims' mumbled answers."


Eye-catching headlines

  • "Smoke gets in your IQ" - how the Daily Mirror interprets a study suggesting that regularly lighting up "thins a crucial area of the brain which controls thinking"
  • "Day a UFO landed in Chaz uncle's garden" - Prince Charles subscribed to a UFO magazine after reports a spaceship landed in Lord Mountbatten's estate, according to claims aired in the Daily Star
  • "Piggybacks and playing ball: why crocodiles just wanna have fun too" - the Independent's take on research suggesting the predators form playful friendships
  • "Feed the birds and risk getting evicted" - an elderly couple were threatened with eviction from their home of 42 years after neighbours complained about birds fouling parked cars, the Daily Express reports

Grey day

Excitement that's been simmering all week over the release of "mummy porn" film Fifty Shades of Grey boils over in the form of a four-page pullout in the Daily Star, as the movie gets its world premiere.

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The paper offers the "sexiest moments", 50 facts readers didn't know and 10 "saucy gift" recommendations - including aphrodisiac-scented laundry liquid and a themed baby-changing mat - for those whose passions are suitably aroused by the adaptation of EL James's bestseller.

Such is the fervour over the "buttockarama", as the Mail puts it, that some sub-editors can't resist punning on the title with unrelated stories:

  • "50 shades of grey hair" - the Mail's description of a Somerset Women's Institute that included a "decidedly raunchy" short story in a charity book it published
  • "Fishy shades of grey" - a naked Helena Bonham Carter's intimate pose with an enormous tuna, snapped to raise awareness of overfishing, as described by the Mirror

Is the film any good? Not according to the Guardian, which clears space on its front page for Peter Bradshaw's biting one-star review in which he describes the performances as "strictly daytime soap". The Mail's Jan Moir is a little more generous, offering the film a second star, but still declares it a "spanking great bore". She highlights some "ever so tasteful, slow-motion peacock-feather-tickling that will remind many women not of their libido, but the fact that their mantelpiece could do with a dust" as an example.

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"Trite and shallow" it may be for the Independent's Kaleen Aftab but, he says, "at least the sex scenes are good". Kate Muir, in the Times, agrees that "the bonking is copious, cleverly shot and features beautiful bodies". However, they each award only two-out-of-five. The film has one fan, at least, in the Telegraph's Tim Robey. He reckons "literary junk" has been "expertly whipped into shape for the big screen" by director Sam Taylor-Johnson, and gives it four stars.

The Sun sends three generations of one family to watch it, with "the gran" being most impressed. She gave it 25/50 despite saying: "I couldn't wait to get out of the cinema." While her granddaughter "cringed" alongside her elders, the mum - who'd "loved the book" - was even less impressed, declaring it a 17/50 "big let-down".

Perhaps inspired by the movie's bondage scenes, the Mirror sets up a four-strong "sex-pert panel" to offer tips for spicing up the sex lives of readers whose "bedroom antics have become 50 Shades of Dull". The Daily Express, however, sounds one note of caution: "Firefighters in London are prepared for a rise in call-outs over people trapped in objects like handcuffs as they recreate steamy scenes."


Making people click

Mirror: Bobbi Kristina is "opening her eyes" as aunt insists that she's "doing well" and showing signs of improvement

Telegraph: Greece's last minute offer to Brussels changes absolutely nothing

Guardian: Pope Francis - not having children is selfish

Times: Democracy in the pink (or is it magenta?)

Mail: The saddest goodbye - Cradled in their parents' arms, the dying babies whose brief but love-filled lives are preserved forever in these poignant photographs