Newspaper headlines: PM's TV debate 'ultimatum' and Becky Watts murder charge

More than one headline in Thursday's newspapers portrays David Cameron's agreement to take part in a single televised debate with the other party leaders ahead of the general election as an "ultimatum".

Downing Street says its "final offer" is for a 90-minute discussion between seven party leaders at the end of this month.

The Daily Telegraph suggests the intervention "significantly cuts the chances" of any debates taking place.

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Image caption The televised debates in 2010 attracted an audience of 22 million people

In an editorial, the paper says it is "absurd and bordering on scandalous" that no debate has yet been agreed. But while Mr Cameron's proposal is "far from perfect... a single flawed debate is still better than no debate at all".

The Times says Mr Cameron is "effectively daring Labour and the Liberal Democrats... to veto a format that puts them at a disadvantage". However, it notes that for the Lib Dems the absence of the possibility of a head-to-head Conservative v Labour clash could make the PM's offer "more palatable".

According to the Guardian, the offer came in a "pointed" letter by Downing Street's director of communications Craig Oliver and shows the prime minister is "determined to achieve one of two goals - kill the debates altogether or ensure that they turn into.... a 'democratic boreathon'" which would dilute the impact of UKIP's Nigel Farage.

The Sun says the move saw Mr Cameron throw down the gauntlet.

Its leader column says the bickering over the format of the debates "is overshadowing genuine issues" but Mr Cameron's solution is the right one. "Hold just one, early on, with all the major leaders. Then get on with engaging voters where it really matters... on the doorsteps and in the streets".

In the opinion of the Daily Mirror, the prime minister's "spineless refusal" to commit to a head-to-head debate with Labour leader Ed Miliband smacks of desperation. "Is the chicken PM frightened of his record?" it asks.


Becky at wedding

There is widespread coverage of the announcement by Avon and Somerset Police that the stepbrother of missing 16-year-old Becky Watts has been charged with her murder.

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Metro, the Daily Mirror, the Sun, Daily Star and Guardian all carry the story on their front pages.

Nathan Matthews, 28, is due to appear before Bristol Magistrates' Court in the morning.

Almost every paper carries a photograph of Mr Matthews in a fancy dress prison uniform, alongside his girlfriend Shauna Hoare, 21, who has been charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice.

The Daily Mirror illustrates its report with a photograph of the accused with Becky Watts at the wedding of their respective parents in August 2013. The Guardian, meanwhile, features a picture of a framed photograph of Ms Watts, next to a candle burning in St Ambrose Church in Bristol.


'No simple policy'

The papers have plenty to say on the issue of immigration following a day in which UKIP outlined its policies, and the prime minister was accused by Labour in the Commons of "breaking a solemn election pledge" of cutting "net migration" to tens of thousands a year.

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The Guardian says UKIP leader Nigel Farage's vision was thrown into "confusion" amid questions over whether the party had ditched a 50,000 cap on new arrivals and how it would decide who was allowed to work.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the launch of UKIP's flagship policy descended into chaos - the paper's cartoonist Christian Adams pictures Mr Farage as a flustered conductor of the "immigration symphony", pointing his baton in every direction.

In the Independent, cartoonist Dave Brown turns his attention to David Cameron in Parliament - the PM is squirting an aerosol can of cleaning fluid in his face, failing to deal with both the promise on immigration and the "UKIP infestation".

The Sun, Daily Express, Times and Daily Mail all opt to highlight a study by the pressure group Migrationwatch UK which estimates that immigration during Labour's time in power between 1997 and 2010 saw the population of the UK rise by 3.6 million people.

The Daily Express does not believe Labour can be trusted on the issue of immigration, and in the paper's view UKIP's announcement shows it "recognises and shares the concerns ordinary people have".

A leader in the Sun complains about the "breathtaking hypocrisy of Labour's attack on the Tories' immigration failure" as in the paper's view, the Migrationwatch UK statements show the party's policies "made it happen".

It says "Britain is a welcoming country, and immigration is important to our economy," but the numbers of new arrivals under Labour was beyond what it could cope with.

The Daily Mirror says when it comes to immigration, there is "no simple policy and neither Farage nor Cameron shouldn't have pretended there is".

The Times calls on the party leaders to "stop making up immigration policy as they go along".

It says the UK needs to "create a system that attracts the world's most talented people while protecting poor migrants and unsuspecting communities from needless exploitation".


Eye-catching headlines


Scare tactics

A claim that anti-drugs lessons in schools across Britain may be encouraging pupils to try illicit substances is highlighted by the Daily Telegraph in its front page story.

The paper reports that the government's advisory board on drugs has warned Home Secretary Theresa May and other ministers in her department that giving teenagers too much information could be counter-productive.

According to the Telegraph it is understood there are fears tactics involving police officers going into classrooms to give advice about the grim realities of drug addiction "could inadvertently make drug-taking appear 'sexy' to teenagers and encourage them to experiment".

Meanwhile, the former head of the Civil Service Gus O'Donnell is quoted in the Independent as saying there were still "too many people in politics who just don't get it". He is calling for political parties to create a "more diverse Commons with people who've got more experience of the world".

The Independent's leader column says the parties "do vaguely recognise that they have a problem" and Lord O'Donnell's suggestion of opening up the selection of candidates to every voter in a constituency - so-called open primaries - is the right way forward "unless someone has a better idea".


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