Newspaper headlines: Bishops' letter and low inflation

A pastoral letter by Church of England bishops urging congregations to vote in the general election provokes much comment.

According to the Independent, the bishops carefully steered clear of endorsing any party and accused all political leaders of resorting to aiming "sterile arguments" at swing voters instead of addressing the big questions facing the country.

But covering topics including the concept of a living wage and Britain's relationship with the European Union, it also, suggests the Times, contained "tacit criticism" of the government's welfare reforms, leaving the prime minister "incensed".

The Times leading article says it was a "political letter" which is "unsolicited, disingenuous and in at least half a dozen respects nakedly partisan".

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Image caption The bishops hope their message can help counter comedian Russell Brand's "no vote" call

It says it has "nothing to say about globalisation's success in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty" and fails to acknowledge the coalition government's "vital work" in reforming a dysfunctional welfare system.

The Sun believes the Church of England has "revealed its hand as the religious wing of the Labour Party", saying it really takes issue with the bishops over their apparent opposition to the government's austerity measures.

In the Daily Mail, Stephen Glover views the letter as "narrow-minded and insular" and says its "near total absence of religious feeling" is "particularly depressing".

The paper adds: "If the bishops wish to enter the political fray, they should throw away their mitres and stand for election. Otherwise, they should stick to their day job."

The Daily Telegraph suggests the intentions of the bishops - that voters should be informed by a compassionate conscience - were good but their language was "so vague as to be confusing".

"Although the letter is at pains to appear even-handed, the objections of some Tory MPs are understandable... the letter contains a whiff of the conceit that left-wing ideas are more moral than right-wing ones," it adds.

Some approval of the bishops' intervention comes in the Guardian, which features the story on its front page.

"While it is true that the letter gets the Church into some politically sensitive issues... it does so judiciously, while the larger vision in the document recognises that there is an unassuaged public hunger and need for better politics," says the Guardian's leader.

Inflation impact

Data showing UK Consumer Prices Index inflation fell to 0.3% in January - its lowest level since records began - leads the papers to speculate on the potential impact for the general election.

The Financial Times suggests the drop in inflation was a "stroke of luck" for Chancellor George Osborne after years in which most households had little to show for the economic recovery. But it notes that Labour will stick to its message, arguing that living standards are at their lowest levels in 10 years.

In the Daily Mail's opinion, David Cameron is a "very lucky general". It says the government can "claim little or no credit" for the dramatic fall in oil prices that has helped bring inflation down, but the fall has "shattered the central plank" in Ed Miliband's election platform.

The Daily Express acknowledges that criticism of the government's handling of the economy has focused on the claim that the recovery has not filtered through to everyone. It says there are "still huge tasks ahead" but says putting Labour back in charge risks all of the good work that has been done.

But the Daily Mirror's business editor Graham Hiscott warns readers not to be "hoodwinked" by Tory claims ahead of May.

"Petrol, food and energy are all cheaper because of global factors. The cost-of-living crisis may be easing but it is no thanks to a government intent on hammering the weakest in society," he writes.

The Guardian also carries a more cautious interpretation of the situation, quoting TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady, and shadow Treasury minister Cathy Jamieson, who warned "deep-seated problems" remained in the economy.

Eye-catching headlines

'Calm and clarity'

Tuesday's headlines were full of dire warnings about Greece's future in the eurozone following the breakdown of talks in Brussels over its bailout. Now, as reports suggest Athens is seeking to extend a loan agreement to give it more time to solve its debt crisis, there appears to be an element of optimism.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Clouds gathered over the Parliament building in Athens as a rally took place in support of the government's negotiations in Brussels

The Guardian sees the "makings of a compromise".

"This would avert a catastrophe but do nothing to solve the fundamental problems. But at least it would give time for the serious reflection and considered action those problems demand," it says.

The Times urges the two sides to "resolve this stand-off and reach agreement".

But it says "Greece needs debt relief in return for a recognition by its rulers of economic reality and an inviolable commitment to structural reforms".

The Financial Times also believes a long-term deal can be reached. The breakdown of talks should not detract from the underlying fact that a deal is attainable, it says.

"The negotiations now need an injection of calm and clarity," adds the paper.

In the Independent, Hamish McRae suggests the negotiations are "really about Europe - what it wants to be, or rather what its people want it to be, and how it might reform to meet those aspirations".

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