Newspaper review: 'Cameron's TV show', and extremist laws

Pre-election debates still make lots of headlines - and with the issue still up in the air, plenty of newspapers proffer their opinions.

The Independent on Sunday's lead story claims that threats that David Cameron could be "empty chaired" in the debates if he refuses to participate in them, are unlikely to happen.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Roy Hattersley (pictured with Buster, his dog) was famously "empty chaired" on Have I Got News For You

The prime minister has said he would participate in a televised debate with six other party leaders before the formal election campaign begins, but has ruled out the national broadcasters' plans for three debates to be shown in April.

The paper says, "Sources at the BBC expressed caution at anything that might look as if the corporation were humiliating the Prime Minister. And, to comply with election and Ofcom rules about impartiality, if it hosts a debate without Mr Cameron, it would feel compelled to let him have his own programme."

There would be, the Indy's source tells it, no "tub of lard moment" - a reference to the prop used in place of Roy Hattersley on Have I Got News For You, after the Labour MPs no-show.

The Mail on Sunday claims that ITV is considering breaking ranks with other broadcasters - the debates' strategy was drawn up by it together with Channel 4, the BBC, and Sky News - and screen the multi-party debate which the PM has agreed to.

The paper says a source at another broadcaster tells it, "it would be disgraceful for ITV to stab us in the back."

The Observer says that if he is elected prime minister, Ed Miliband would legally enshrine the principle of live pre-election television debates.

The paper quotes the Labour leader condemning the " unedifying and tawdry spectacle of a prime minister seeking to duck out of the TV debates he once claimed to support with great enthusiasm.

"It is time to ensure, once and for all, that these debates belong to the people not the prime minister of the day."

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption A premonition?

Party sources tell the paper that legislation could be passed by 2017, ensuring that the 2020 election would have a pre-set live debate timetable.

The Labour endorsing Sunday People conducts a poll of readers revealing that 46% would strongly back an "empty podium" option, should Mr Cameron continue to refuse to attend all debates. Only 9% would strongly oppose the idea.

The majority of People readers asked compared the PM to either a chicken, a turkey "looking an idiot" or a rabbit caught in the headlights, but 26% thought he was more of a cunning fox "for thinking through the implications".

It is unlikely that Tory MP turned Sun columnist Louise Mensch voted in the People's poll, but she would agree with the "fox" voters.

She says Mr Cameron shows good sense in sidestepping the American-style debates "in which one slip makes the difference between five years of economic chaos or recovery".

Cartoonist Jolley in the Mail on Sunday shows a couple in front of a TV screen reading "Cameron v Miliband debate".

"Let's empty chair them both," the man exclaims, "and go down the pub instead."

Get tough strategy

The Sunday Telegraph leads on plans for a "crackdown" on Islamic extremism in Britain.

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Image caption The Home Office strategy says it intends to encourage moderate voices from within Islam

The paper says it has seen a draft of the Home Office's new anti-extremism strategy and plans include reviewing the use of Sharia courts; banning radicals from working with young people; and tightening citizenship laws to ensure migrants "embrace British values".

The Telegraph adds that job centre staff would be required to identify claimants "vulnerable" to radicalisation, while people who refused to learn English and integrate would be penalised in the benefit system.

"The crackdown is part of a new "get tough" strategy to deal with the perceived growing threat to the UK from Islamist extremists," it adds.

The paper says the document strengthens Theresa May's Home Office in its grip on counter-extremism strategy, over Eric Pickles' Department of Communities and Local Government which had hitherto been responsible.

Mr Pickles' department "has attracted criticism within government for being too sympathetic to Islamist groups", the Telegraph says.

Quoting the document, the paper says, the new approach means an end to the government sending out an "an ambivalent and dangerous message - that it doesn't really matter if you don't believe in democracy.

"We need to stand up and be more assertive in promoting our values and challenging the extremists who fundamentally oppose them."

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Image caption Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum are thought to have headed for Syria

The paper's opinion column says the changes are "along the right lines", but it adds "the public needs to see some detail".

And it concludes, "given that there will be significant parliamentary opposition and that these laws touch on sensitive areas of human rights law, the proposals need to be absolutely watertight."

The Sunday Express highlights expected legislation in another area - the stopping of child "jihadi brides".

It says new rules will compel airlines flying routes close to conflict zones to reveal their passenger lists to the authorities.

The paper says the move aims to halt cases like that of the three east London schoolgirls who flew to Turkey and are believed to have made their way to Syria to join Islamic State terrorists.

In a related story, the paper says laws similar to those introduced in the US after the 9/11 attacks are to be introduced in Britain, making airlines reveal the passenger lists of those on planes heading to the UK.

'Insurance policy'

Cuts and proposed cuts are in the news, with the Mail on Sunday claiming that the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence are "at war" over plans to cut another £1bn from the military's budget.

The paper says Chancellor George Osborne has refused to exempt the MoD from further cuts after the next election, as part of his plan to reduce Britain's debt.

But the prime minister is said to be worried more cuts will damage Britain's relationship with America, which wants all Nato members to spend 2% of GDP on defence. Expenditure on the military is forecast to be 1.7% of GDP - before any new cuts are made.

Image caption The scrapping of the RAF's Nimrod jets has left the UK without marine surveillance aircraft, the Mail on Sunday says

The Mail also says up to 30 Conservative MPs are liable to rebel against a further bout of defence cuts.

Basildon and Billericay MP John Baron has put himself at the forefront of those warning against further spending reductions in defence.

Writing in the Mail, he says: "Maintaining a capable military can do much to prevent conflict, as Nato proved throughout the Cold War."

He lists various reductions in the Army, Navy and in marine patrol aircraft.

"No wonder the Russians feel they have free rein to fly their bombers and position their submarines around our coasts. The first duty of Government is the defence of the realm. We ignore history at our peril," he concludes.

Writing in the Sunday Express, former defence secretary Dr Liam Fox says the fact that there may be "no votes in defence spending" should not mean the MoD has to lose out.

After arguing that the world is increasingly dangerous, he says "it would be a pity if we joined the group that wanted the insurance policy but expects others to pay the premiums."

Prospective cuts to the police service also feature in Sunday's papers.

The Sunday Mirror says it has obtained Treasury figures suggesting that 29,900 police officer jobs could go along with 6,700 PCSO roles.

The paper says 17,000 jobs have already been lost in the service, and further cuts - if implemented by 2020 - will reduce police manpower by a third.

"The figures, from ­independent Commons library experts, assume the ­reduction in police budgets will lead to cuts to police numbers in the same proportions as during this Parliament," the paper explains.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Sir Hugh Orde

In its opinion column, the paper says David Cameron's pre-2010 pledge to put more police on the street was "simply not true", and further manpower reductions could mean "the day of the bobby on the beat will be over for ever".

The Observer runs the Commons library figures past Sir Hugh Orde of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

He tells the paper that plans to further reduce police budgets will increase the risk to the public "exponentially".

Sir Hugh tells the paper: "The police force is shrinking and the population is growing. And the diversity and the complexity of the population is growing at the same time.

"The notion that you can take money out of policing and numbers out of policing without increasing the risk exponentially is flawed. The question is, where is the tipping point? My sense is that it is getting very close."

'Something going on'

Cuts elsewhere may have concerned the papers, but cuts in the canteen have got MPs excited, according to the Mail on Sunday.

The paper says MPs are "furious" over plans to sell off the House of Commons silver-plated cutlery to tourists, and replace it with stainless steel eating implements made in Vietnam.

The Mail says leading those sticking the knife into the cutlery cull is Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg who says, "Selling off Westminster's family silver to save a paltry £10,000 a year is taking cheeseparing to ridiculous lengths."

Image caption North Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg says visiting dignitaries would expect parliament to provide silver cutlery

But parliamentary officials hit back, telling the paper that it costs a "staggering" £72,400 over five years to maintain the silver cutlery, including £8,300 to sharpen knives; £22,600 to straighten forks "after MPs attack their food too aggressively", and £11,800 on "par stock levelling" - which the Mail says is a polite way of saying replacing stolen items.

If Vietnamese spoons equals austerity, then the Sunday Times shows us another measure which we can use to measure the UK's economic recovery.

The paper says a trend for shorter hair on women reveals a more affluent Britain.

The Times explains that the more frequent trips to the hairdresser to maintain a shorter style is symptomatic of the UK's women having more money in their purses.

Although Fiona Minors, programme director of fashion image at the London College of Fashion seems less sure in the quote she gives the paper.

"When people make drastic cuts it's about new times in their life, new periods involving either austerity or being more affluent. There is definitely something going on."

The paper's editorial lists some other indicators of economic wellbeing: sales of champagne - and popcorn; rubbish skips on streets; cranes on the skyline; and people looking for extramarital affairs.

The Times does not explain the linkage in the last indicator - but it is all "according to experts", of course.

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