Newspaper headlines: Election kicks off and Fergie defence

The start of campaigning for May's general election is marked in Tuesday's newspapers.

Daily Telegraph sketchwriter Michael Deacon's sentiments appear to be clear as he surveys the events under the headline "Just when you thought the pantomime season was over..."

Meanwhile, the Sun's political editor Tom Newton Dunn believes the election is already shaping up to to be the "longest and dirtiest ever".

The Times reports that the day was occupied by the parties trading blows over the economy and NHS. And it does not believe there will be "much variation in the score" between now and polling day.

The Daily Mail says in its leader column: "As the election campaign begins in earnest, is there a heart in the country that doesn't sink at the thought that we still have 121 days of this to come?

"Indeed, if yesterday's yah-boo opening shots are a foretaste of what's ahead, the 2015 battle won't just be the longest ever. It will also be one of the most unilluminating and dishonest."

The Independent appears to be adopting a more upbeat view.

"Dull, negative and predictable as it may be, the one heartening thing about the start of this long campaign is that all the politicians are arguing about what people feel are the most vital issues in their lives, and displaying compassion for those at the bottom of the heap," it says.

NHS arguments

An election policy announcement from Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy is the focus of the front page story in both the Times and Daily Telegraph. Mr Murphy pledged Labour would fund 1,000 new nurses north of the border from the national party's proposed mansion tax on homes worth more than £2m.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Jim Murphy's pledge on NHS nurses attracts scrutiny

Mr Murphy claimed not to have consulted party leader Ed Miliband before staking his rights to the cash, says the Times. It suggests the move will worsen internal party tensions over the levy,

The Daily Telegraph notes the arrangement would see "wealthy English" homeowners funding the devolved Scottish health service. It says Tory MPs have condemned the pledge as an "outrageous bribe" to voters in an attempt to save the Labour party from electoral oblivion in Scotland.

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls's attempt to counter what he described as the Tories' "smear analysis" about Labour's economic credibility is reported in the Guardian.

And the Guardian's leader column says Mr Miliband's speech in Salford "made a start... in assembling the planks of his argument" when it comes to the dealing with public "anxiety about the future of the NHS".

"Labour is still struggling to get people to listen. But the NHS could give Mr Miliband his voice," says the paper.

The Daily Mirror too believes Mr Miliband is "right to make the NHS a key election issue because the Tories are proving once again they can't be trusted with the health service".

However, the Daily Mail says Mr Miliband's warning on the NHS represents "despicably cynical scaremongering" from a party which had an "appalling record" when it was running the health service.

The Daily Express wants to keep the focus on Labour's economic message, saying the "recovery has not been perfect under this government" but it would be "very dangerous to change course" by putting Mr Miliband into power.

Andrew allegations

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Claims made in US court papers that an American woman was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew when she was under the age of consent show no sign of moving out of the headlines.

The Sun, Daily Mirror, Daily Express, and Metro all focus on Sarah Ferguson's "defence" of her former husband.

Speaking in Switzerland, where she had been on a skiing trip with Prince Andrew and their youngest daughter Prince Eugenie until the weekend, she told reporters he was a "great man, the best man in the world".

"Loyal Fergie defends Andy" is how the Express headline sums up her words. The Mirror describes it as a "passionate defence of the beleaguered royal".

The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph look at claims of an alleged cover-up by Prince Andrew's former friend, Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender said to have trafficked women. According to court documents filed in Florida, the FBI and victims' lawyers were frustrated in their attempts to investigate the financier.

Buckingham Palace has said the claims against Prince Andrew are "categorically untrue".

In its story, the Guardian reports that a lawyer for Epstein has also dismissed the case against Prince Andrew, describing it as an attempt to "repackage and spice up" old allegations.

Unsustainable year?

The fall in the price of oil and the weakening of the euro spark much speculation.

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Millions of motorists and holidaymakers can look forward to cheaper petrol and cut-priced breaks as a consequence, says the Times.

The Financial Times reports that the drop in US crude oil to below $50 a barrel for the first time in five years sparked a "broader sell-off" on Wall Street amid fears of a global economic slowdown.

It says the "nervous start" to the year reflected growing fears that the world was facing the twin threat of slower growth and deflation, combined with worries about the result of the impending Greek elections which could end up with Athens leaving the eurozone.

The FT says in its leader column that the stakes for Greece remain "dangerously high".

The Guardian agrees the election in Greece will be a test for the debt crisis facing the single currency but "only the first of several 2015 crunch points at which the unsustainable may cease to be sustained".

'Nazi' cows

A herd of cows descended from cattle bred by Nazi scientists between the world wars have turned out to be so aggressive that a Devon farmer has reportedly been forced to turn more than half of them into sausages.

The Independent reports that Derek Gow, who imported 13 Heck super cows to his farm in 2009, has slaughtered seven after they repeatedly tried to kill his staff.

"They are by far and away the most aggressive animals I have ever worked with," the farmer tells the paper, adding that the others in the herd were "calm and quiet".

The Daily Mail notes the cows in question are a consequence of Adolf Hitler's support for a scheme to revive the aurochs, a beast which featured heavily in Teutonic folklore.

Mr Gow's observation that the sausages were "very tasty" and a bit like venison is carried in the Daily Telegraph.

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