Newspaper headlines: Debates impasse and 'heroic Harrison'

It's the media debate about debates that refuses to go away: David Cameron's refusal to take part in the three pre-election televised discussions planned makes plenty of column inches on Saturday.

Mr Cameron - who has said he only wants to take part in one debate, featuring at least seven party leaders - has "refused to blink" in his negotiations with broadcasters, the Daily Telegraph says.

Image caption David Cameron argued in favour of holding a series of televised debates before the 2010 general election

The position of the BBC, ITV, Sky News and Channel 4 - who still want to stage all three showdowns, and have threatened to "empty chair" the PM - has infuriated Tory MPs, the paper adds,

One, Philip Davies, is quoted as saying: "The TV broadcasters are gleefully showing their political bias. There is no doubt in my mind that if Ed Miliband didn't want to take part in these debates they wouldn't be taking place."

And John Whittingdale, chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee tells the paper: "I think the broadcasters have handled it incredibly badly. For them to believe they have the right to demand leaders just turn up on a given day seems to me wholly unacceptable. It's arrogant."

The paper notes the idea of leaders' debates was first mooted in 1964, but refusal to participate and wrangling over formats meant that only one has actually been aired - in 2010.

Writing in the paper, its former editor Charles Moore says, "Possibly some voters will think Mr Cameron cowardly, or be offended by his obviously bogus interest in being fair to the Greens.

"But more, surely, will see that no general should fight on a bad piece of ground if they can avoid it. Above all, they won't care."

Columnist Janice Turner in the Times thinks otherwise.

"Because he is prime minister, does not give him carte blanche to define all terms; to pretend that the 2010 leaders' debate never happened; that they didn't have a total audience of 22m; to waft an arrogant, dismissive hand and say, blithely, that was me then, this is now, get over it.

Image caption BBC political comedy The Thick Of IT: the Times' Janice Turner sees parallels

"Can he not see his own party squirm at such hypocrisy? Or hear the mocking laughter? 'I'm unblocking the logjam,' he declared, as he caved in to a single seven-party debate, like a The Thick Of It parody prat," she writes.

It is not a view shared by the Times' leader writer.

"Politicians are free to make their own judgements as to whether the risk of a format that generally favours insurgents over incumbents is worth taking," the column suggests.

"Mr Cameron has offered to take part in one debate this month. The broadcasters should accept the offer and get on with it."

Andrew Grice in the Independent says the prime minister's stance is "cynical, ruthless and dishonest", but it may "help him retain the keys to No 10".

"The Prime Minister had everything to lose from having debates, while Ed Miliband had everything to gain," he writes.

"The Tories' nightmare scenario was that Miliband would look much better than the 'weak and weird' image they and their newspaper allies have painted.

"Far better to have a row about dodging debates before the campaign that few voters would notice or care about, and then get back to business as usual, with the Tory-dominated press doing the party's dirty work for it. "

'Political science fiction'

The prospect of more coalition government - and in particular a Labour-SNP coalition - is the other big political story in the papers.

The Times' front page says the SNP has opened the door to an "issue-by-issue" pact with a minority Labour government after the election, even if it renewed the Trident nuclear missile system.

The paper says this "U-turn" removes the "biggest barrier to future co-operation between the two parties".

Image copyright BAE Systems
Image caption The £100bn project to replace Britain's Trident missile carrying submarines - this is an artist's impression of the new craft - is highly contentious

It quotes election expert Prof John Curtice as saying, "At the moment, the polls suggest that no government can be formed without the acquiescence of the SNP."

The Daily Mail says the two parties are "half-way down the aisle".

But it adds: "Labour's Scottish MPs are urging Mr Miliband to rule out a deal with the SNP ahead of the election in an attempt to reverse his party's dire poll ratings north of the border."

The paper says polling suggests the SNP could win 50 of Scotland's 59 seats in May.

The FT Weekend leader column says Labour should specifically rule out any deal with the Scottish nationalists.

It says the "not without risk" strategy could help stop the "haemorrhaging" of the party's traditional Scottish votes.

"Many Scots think a vote for the nationalists is a cost-free exercise on the grounds that they are Labour's likely coalition ally," the paper contends.

"By ruling out a post-election deal Mr Miliband may make voters worry that a vote for the SNP will deliver instability - or the return of David Cameron to Number 10."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption SNP chief Nicola Sturgeon

In the Daily Mirror, a story notes the Labour leader has said a deal with the SNP is "not on the agenda".

"They've said they don't want it, we don't want it. If you want the Tories out, you can't risk voting for anyone other than Labour," Mr Miliband is quoted as saying.

The independent leads with a call from former cabinet minister Lord Baker for Labour to join the Conservatives in a national coalition if there is a hung parliament after 7 May.

Lord Baker, who as Kenneth Baker was education and then environment secretary in Mrs Thatcher's government, said a unity government was the only way for the SNP not to hold the balance of power which could break up the United Kingdom.

The paper's opinion column calls the idea "political science fiction", yet it does find it strange that politicians from the two largest parties can resist working together.

'Played to type'

A film star defying death in a horror light aircraft crash - and a Hollywood "tough guy" actor at that! It is all too much for Saturday's papers.

The Daily Mirror's banner headlines say Harrison Ford is a hero who "saved many lives" by skilfully piloting his failing plane onto a golf course, avoiding hitting houses and a school.

The 72-year-old, who broke his pelvis and ankle in the smash, "used his immense piloting skills to 'do the impossible' - bringing the craft down without injuring others", the paper says.

The drama occurred on Thursday afternoon, when Ford's WWII-vintage two-seater plane suffered a suspected engine failure and plunged 3,000ft, shortly after taking off from Santa Monica Municipal Airport.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Harrison Ford does most of his flying above his ranch in Colorado

Fellow pilots tell the Mirror the star, who first took flying lessons in the 1960s, took the crucial decision not to turn back to the airport, but to steer towards a golf course.

Pilot Ryan Kavanagh says "he had five seconds" to make the decision, and if he had tried to return to the runway "the plane would have stalled, gone nose first and crashed".

The Sun carries exclusive pictures of the crash, and of a bloodied Harrison Ford in its aftermath.

It says the actor - who played ace pilot Han Solo in Star Wars - is thought to have survived the crash because he was flying from the back-seat of the Ryan ST3KR plane.

"I've been to several crashes of single engine small aircraft and normally the outcomes are fatalities," a Los Angeles fire chief tells the paper.

The Sun notes that Ford was fortunate to land on the 8th hole of a course on which at least two medics, one of whom was a spinal injuries surgeon, were playing.

The apparent heroism of Ford's piloting leads columnist Marina Hyde in the Guardian to note that he played "his accident to type".

"I don't just want Harrison Ford to successfully crash-land his malfunctioning plane on a golf-course; I need Harrison Ford to successfully crash-land his malfunctioning plane on a golf course.

"That, as anyone who has watched his movies will tell you, is what Harrison Ford does.

"Stuff is going to go wrong, and it will fall to him to deal with it."

With fans like that, how could he fail?

Making people click

Mail: Schoolboy "excluded" from lessons after dressing as Fifty Shades of Gray character

Guardian: Sierra Leone athlete found living rough in London

Express: Britain set for 17C weekend

Times: "Convicted by police canteen culture"