Queen's Speech reforms, Cable's bitter with Clegg and Kirstie Allsopp backlash

The phrase "zombie government" is used by many papers, which say that's exactly the image coalition ministers are trying to shake via the last Queen's Speech before next year's general election.

Most agree with the Daily Telegraph that pension reforms are the centrepiece of legislation. The broadsheet says there's "good news for frackers, parents and pub landlords", in the form of rights to drill for shale gas beneath people's homes without permission, childcare subsidies and the ability to challenge pub companies over rents.

For the Guardian, one unexpected measure involves offering communities rights to a stake in commercial renewable energy projects in their localities, as a way of "defusing objections" to schemes.

However, the Daily Mail champions a 5p levy on supermarket carrier bags which is expected to cut usage by 75%. The paper says: "It has taken six years of relentless campaigning by the Mail to achieve this simple and painless measure, whose phenomenal effectiveness has been proved wherever it has been tried. This is a very good day for the environment."

For the Independent, the pre-speech statements of Conservative PM David Cameron and his Lib Dem deputy Nick Clegg constitute "a broad hint they could work together again if next year's general election results in another hung parliament".

"More likely, though," argues the Telegraph's editorial column, "it marks the beginning of a long goodbye".

Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror believes the speech - penned by ministers - launches a year-long election campaign, saying: "It's not the first time Her Majesty has been politicised and probably won't be the last."

"The motley collection of laws to be announced at the State Opening of Parliament owes more to electoral expediency than to the good government of Britain," it adds.

Bitter taste?

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Meanwhile, Mr Clegg's trip with Business Secretary Vince Cable to the Queen's Head, Piccadilly, to promote the new landlords legislation provokes some mirth. "Last week Cable plotted to knife Clegg. Yesterday, in a toe-curling political stunt, they posed as drinking pals," reckons the Daily Mail, adding: "Pull the other one, Nick."

The deputy PM is renamed "Nick Dregs" by the Daily Star, while the Mirror declares "bar humbug," suggesting the photo opportunity "descended into farce".

One or two papers sent reporters along to join in the fun. But the Telegraph's Michael Deacon was locked out, along with the rest of the press corps. "For some reason... the Lib Dems decided they didn't want everyone asking the two old chums about their close friendship. So journalists were barred."

"We could only imagine what [Mr Clegg] was saying. 'Bitter, Vince?' - 'Of course I am, you still haven't resigned'," Deacon writes.

Ann Treneman, of the Times, says: "It was like a very, very bad movie. Vince looked to be in something close to agony. Actually, I wasn't sure who I felt more sorry for: Vince or the poor publican."

Meanwhile, the reporters were left getting soaked on the pavement. As the Independent's Andy McSmith recalls, there was no back exit to the pub: "So when the event was over the hapless politicians had to fight their way through the maddened horde outside."

In any case, the Telegraph's editorial column reckons such stunts do little to convince the public: "Remember the ice cream Tony Blair bought his friend Gordon Brown in 2005? It even had a Flake in it. Aaaah. Or David Cameron on a bench at Newark station with Boris Johnson, relaxed as Darby and Joan. No, there's no fooling the voters."

'Paper victory'

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Presidential elections have been taking place in war-torn Syria and the Independent leads with a dispatch from Damascus.

Robert Fisk describes how the Syrian people "crushed, humiliated, tortured, imprisoned, slaughtered, forever crying for freedom from terror... were invited to participate, at the height of their agony, in a little lesson in Middle Eastern democracy".

Some 60% of the population were able to vote in the 40% of the country firmly controlled by Bashar al-Assad's government, he says, adding that the incumbent is expected to secure a third seven-year term with a sizeable proportion of the vote: "A paper victory amid bloody war."

The Telegraph's Richard Spencer, meanwhile, reports from the near-ruined northern city Aleppo that while half of Syria had elections, the other endured barrel bombs. "Across one side of the country's divide, Syrians chose or were compelled to go to polling stations to vote for Bashar al-Assad. But in rebel-held Aleppo, Mohammed Assem and Mohammed Abdul Jawwad went to the corner shop and one of Mr Assad's missiles killed them."

The Independent's cartoonist, Dave Brown, pictures the president as Basil Fawlty, impersonating Hitler, while saying: "Don't mention the war." Peter Brookes, in the Times, sketches Mr Assad dropping ballot boxes from a military jet.

People voted on a safety-first basis, reports the Financial Times, which quotes one Damascus teacher saying: "I don't know what would happen if I don't vote for Assad."

As the Guardian sees it: "The one thing the great majority of Syrians would have wanted to vote for, which is peace, was not on the ballot paper."

Degree of controversy

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TV property show presenter Kirstie Allsopp's suggestion that schoolgirls should give up on the idea of university until they've had babies provokes plenty of reaction from women columnists.

"Whatever sort of planet is she on?" wonders Ann Widdecombe in the Express. "Would Ms Allsopp please tell these same young girls exactly how they are supposed to meld being at university with having small children? Second, has this dotty woman forgotten what it is to be young and carefree?"

"Thank heavens she doesn't have daughters," says the Sun's Jane Moore, who points to Allsopp's privileged background. She adds: "Back in the real world, further education - be it a degree or vocational - is still a privilege for the majority, a vital ladder of opportunity for scores of young women (and men) who might otherwise find themselves slaving away in low-skilled, poorly paid jobs."

The Daily Mail's Sarah Vine sees some truth in Allsopp's reference to a "fertility window" but adds: "Where on earth does a girl find a man under the age of 30 willing to settle down and have children these days?"

And the presenter finds support from Zoe Williams, in the Guardian, who writes: "It should be possible to disagree with the particulars of Allsopp's opinion without casting her as a misogynist.

"We have reached a bizarre point at which any one woman's choice is taken as an indictment of any other woman's, a place where one woman's opinion is an all-out attack on every other woman."

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