Newspaper review: Cuts forecast, and 'murder at Crufts'

As the general election stopwatch ticks ever closer to polling day, the newspapers become ever more full of politics. And this is certainly true in Monday's press.

Stories of post election cuts - their size, scope and desirability - have surfaced throughout the weekend, and many papers still feature them prominently.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption George III was on the throne the last time the British army had fewer than 50,000 men

The Daily Telegraph leads with more details on defence cuts.

It says a report from the Royal United Services Institute says the military may face a 10% budget cut in the next parliament, which will ultimately reduce the Army's size to 50,000 soldiers.

The paper notes this would be the lowest level since the 1770s - the decade when Britain lost its grip on its American colonies.

The report's author Prof Malcolm Chalmers is quoted as saying: "The prospects for the defence budget remains closely tied to wider economic growth.

"The government is not yet convinced that strategic security risks are high enough to justify an exemption for defence from austerity."

The paper's editorial says, "Research has shown that spending on international development, which is protected from cuts, will on current projections, be greater than the defence budget within 15 years.

"This suggests not only a very bizarre sense of priorities, it is also potentially dangerous given the tensions in eastern Europe and the Middle East."

The Financial Times leads on cuts expected to fall on the Department for Work and Pensions.

The paper says officials have suggested the department could lose 30,000 of its 83,000 workforce if the Conservatives are re-elected. If a Labour government is formed, up to 20,000 staff could be made redundant, the same civil servants reckon.

The impact of such cuts would be largely felt outside London, the paper adds, with north-west England, Scotland and Yorkshire being the main department bases.

A government spokesman tells the paper that details of post-election budgets have yet to be worked out and any discussion on job losses is "complete speculation".


'Up in the air'

The weekend papers were full of speculation about next Wednesday's budget, and potential pre-election "giveaways".

The Guardian reports that Chancellor George Osborne's plans will include "morale-boosting tax cuts" with "fiscal rectitude".

It notes that government sources "have failed to quash" rumours that the tax cuts will include an increase in income tax allowance - effectively handing a cash boost to 27 million Britons.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption With the Budget due on 18 March, speculation is fervent as to what will be in the chancellor's briefcase

The paper says the reported rise in the personal allowance by £200 more than the £600 it was already scheduled to increase by in April, will cost the Treasury £1.3bn.

Extra crackdowns on tax avoiders - in addition to the much-heralded "Google tax" on corporations exporting profits to tax havens - is likely to feature, the Guardian thinks.

However the paper suggests nothing has yet been set in stone and a Tory Party source tells it, "all kinds of stuff is still up in the air".

The Guardian's economics editor Heather Stewart says rising tax returns, lower than expected payments on inflation-linked government bonds, and departments hitting spending plans, have allowed the chancellor some "wriggle room" for a "grand flourish".

"Inheritance tax, council tax, business rates — all are ripe for a radical re-think, and all could win the coalition new friends, just when it needs them most," she reckons.

The Daily Telegraph carries an interview with the Lib Dem's Danny Alexander where he says his party will block any "utterly irresponsible" plans to give tax cuts to higher earners.

The paper says Mr Alexander's party is furious at Mr Osborne's likely attempt to "take credit" for raising personal income tax allowances, a long-standing Liberal Democrat policy.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury tells the Telegraph: "I think it's important for both parties in Government to send a signal that we're carrying on - steady as she goes.

Image caption Danny Alexander

"That we're turning this economy around and we're not going to have big lurches away from the approach we've taken. And of course that means that we can't have any giveaways.

"The idea that we'd go for a fiscal loosening at the end of the parliament, having been so firm on getting the deficit down for year - that would be completely potty."

Writing in the Times, former Labour policy advisor Damian McBride says the failure of Mr Osborne's deficit reduction plan will leave the chancellor little chance of emulating the "bribe budgets" of some of his Conservative predecessors.

"That is not to say Mr Osborne won't try and pull it off, but in doing so, he will invite damning reviews from the Institute of Fiscal Studies and his own Office for Budget Responsibility.

"As he found after his Autumn Statement, that can quickly swamp any positive coverage."


'Faithful satrap'

The charging of two men with the murder of opposition activist Boris Nemtsov in Russia is widely covered.

The quote marks around the word "gunmen" in the Independent's coverage of the arrests tells you of the scepticism over the story in the British press.

The Independent says that the two men charged are both ethnic Chechens, one of whom had served with pro-Russian forces in the strife-hit Caucasus region, and the other worked for a security company in Moscow.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Guardian suggests Mr Kadyrov enjoys almost unchecked power in Chechnya, in return for his loyalty to Moscow

Three other men have been held in connection with the shooting of Mr Nemtsov, who told friends he feared Vladimir Putin would kill him. A sixth man reportedly killed himself with a grenade when confronted by police.

The Times says one of the charged men had links to "President Putin's most loyal henchman", Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Mr Kadyrov has said he believed the man, Zaur Dadayev, was a devout Muslim angered by Mr Nemtsov's support for the cartoonists at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

But the paper notes, "if it turns out that the Kadyrovtsi (those loyal to Mr Kadyrov) were behind the killing, Mr Putin will be put in an extremely awkward position, torn between not alienating the man who has been his faithful satrap in the volatile Caucasus region and pursuing and being seen to be pursuing justice."

It adds: "Russia has a poor record of solving political murders and minor figures are often made scapegoats."

The Guardian notes that the Charlie Hebdo issue was not one which Mr Nemtsov was particularly outspoken or known for.

It quotes Mr Dadayev's sister Tamara, who says her brother has served the Russian "motherland" for 11 years in the army "always on the front lines".

"Let them find the real killers who did this," she tells the paper.


'Staggering'

It is another killing which fascinates Monday's press however.

Photos of three-year-old Irish setter Thendara Satisfaction, known to his owners as Jagger, adorn many front pages.

The pedigree dog - which the Daily Mail says was worth £50,000 - died after apparently being fed poisoned chunks of meat while competing at Crufts.

Jagger won second prize for his breed - which is also known as red setter - but collapsed on returning to the Belgian home of his co-owner and died in the arms of her nine-year-old son.

Image copyright Aleksandra Lauwers
Image caption Thendara Satisfaction AKA Jagger: the Irish setter had been a Luxembourg junior champion

"He has clearly been poisoned on purpose. Jagger loved people and he loved food. He would have trusted whoever gave it to him," Aleksandra Lauwers, is quoted in the Daily Mirror as saying.

The dog's English breeder Dee Milligan-Bott says that the incident has left her considering quitting pedigree shows.

"It's turning into such a nasty sport," she says.

Jagger, who the Mirror notes was son of 2010 best of breed champion Mr Jingles, was left alone only once in his trip to Britain, on the benching area in Crufts.

The Sun says staff at Birmingham's NEC, where the premier show event took place, are scouring CCTV to look for clues. Belgian police are leading the investigation.

It notes that "outrage and sympathy" have been pouring in for Jagger's owners on Facebook and Twitter.

Dog lovers may not be so fond of the pun-adoring Sun's suggestions that "police are following all leads" and calls to put "Sherlock Bones and Dogtor Watson" on the case.

The Mail goes into classic murder mystery mode, suggesting that the best in class winner Thendara Pot Noodle may have been the intended target.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption CCTV of the area in which the dogs wait before being shown is being examined

Pot Noodle, as the champion is called, is also owned by Mrs Milligan-Bott and the Lauwens family. the paper says the near identical dog had swapped places in the show line-up with Jagger just before they were exhibited.

The paper turns detective to offer four theories as to who was behind the poisoning: a jealous rival owner; a dog hater; an animal rights activist; or an anti-foreign owner.

The paper says that although dogs are sometimes "nobbled" by having gum placed in their fur, or their coat snipped, by rivals, to deliberately kill a competitor at a dog show would be "staggering".

Mrs Milligan-Bott thinks the "murder at Crufts" could be the work of a "random psychopath".

What is clear is this is a story which, like a working red setter, will run and run.

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