Newspaper headlines: SNP English votes plan, Wolf Hall reviews and Chilcot anger

Suggestions the Scottish National Party might drop its convention of abstaining from Westminster votes on issues that only apply south of the border causes consternation in the press.

Leader Nicola Sturgeon used the NHS as an example, saying that her MPs would be justified in voting to protect Scotland's share of health spending and to reverse any "privatisation". And they might have some clout if a map printed in the Independent turns out to be accurate. Based on the results of an Ipsos-Mori opinion poll, it shows Scotland almost entirely in the party's bright yellow, with 52% of respondents saying they would vote SNP if an election were held tomorrow.

Image copyright PA

The Guardian questions the move on "English" votes, saying there's always been "enough ambiguity for the party to cast popular votes... against student fees and foundation hospitals south of the border". Pointing out that Holyrood has "sweeping autonomy" over health spending, it calls Ms Sturgeon's comments a "flimsy pretext for signalling the SNP's willingness - eagerness even - to get stuck in to the parliamentary powerplay that will follow the indecisive election that's now widely predicted for May".

This could, as the Times notes, result in the nationalists propping up a minority Labour government. "This raises a serious constitutional question," complains its editorial. "It cannot be right, surely, that legislation could pass with respect to the English NHS, or English schools, because of the votes of a party committed to the break-up of Britain."

In the Daily Telegraph's view, it is "unconscionable" that Scottish MPs of any party can vote on English matters. It urges: "The Tories need to get a move on and table a vote as soon as possible to establish in Commons standing orders that only English MPs should vote on English matters. This can be done quickly, and voters in England can then see where all the parties stand on this crucial matter before it is too late."


Eye-catching headlines

  • "Test reveals fatter side of the thin blue line" - the Times says police are considering an alternative to the "bleep test" to examine the fitness of officers of certain "age groups or weight groups"
  • "The Wolf of Raw Meat" - the Sun's take on the jailing of a butcher who conned investors out of £75,000 by pretending to sell diamonds and gold from the City, when he was really in Folkestone, Kent
  • "Ed's worst track" - the Daily Star rates singer Ed Sheeran's lap around a racing circuit in Top Gear's Star in a Reasonably Priced Car feature, noting that he doesn't know how to drive
  • "Wheelie bin handed parking ticket" - a Carmarthenshire traffic warden is being investigated after being accused of "bizarre behaviour", says the Daily Telegraph

'Hot potato'

Anger continues to pour forth at the delay in publishing the 2003 Iraq War inquiry report, with the Daily Mail focusing on the human aspect - the six-year wait for answers of the grieving families of fallen soldiers. It quotes John Miller, whose son Simon - a corporal - was among six military policeman killed in an ambush, saying: "It's becoming the biggest cover-up of our generation."

Independent cartoonist Dave Brown has the same thought in mind when he pictures inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot selecting from a paint colour chart featuring options like brilliant white, whiter than white, driven snow and foggy haze, while muttering: "I can't possible come to a conclusion before the election."

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Papers report former Prime Minister Tony Blair's denial that he is responsible for the delay. As his former Attorney General Lord Morris writes in the Daily Mirror, David Cameron once complained that the timing of its launch in 2009 had been fixed "to tide the [then Labour] government over until the election". He complains: "That was the 2010 election. We will now miss the boat for the 2015 election."

Disagreement between Whitehall and Washington over the publication of communications between Mr Blair and ex-US President George W Bush, along with the requirement to give those criticised a right of reply, has contributed to delays. But the Telegraph argues: "Whoever is culpable, all the delays and buck-passing smack of the Establishment protecting its own." As the Financial Times puts it: "The longer this exercise takes, the more likely it is that a sceptical public will come to the view that the report was 'sexed down' before it reached the printers."

However, in the analysis of James Cusick, in the Independent, there "may never be an ideal time to serve up this hot potato", as he points out the most likely timescale - October or November - could coincide with a second general election campaign if May's results in an unstable hung parliament. Any further postponement could see publication interfere with US presidential election "primaries", he adds.

In the Guardian's view: "The longer we wait, the worst the effects and the less complete the ultimate catharsis. It is no way to run an inquiry, no way to run a government and no way to run a country."


Back from the dead?

Even as columnists continue to ruminate about the removal of the topless model from page three of the Sun, its News UK stablemate points out the feature's demise has been "greatly exaggerated". Calling it something of a "storm in a D-cup", the Times refers readers to a picture of Nicole, 22, from Bournemouth, in the tabloid.

Image copyright The Sun

"It is unclear, though, if this is just a flash in the pan or a return to old ways," it reports, quoting Sun sources being deliberately vague. The Sun's front-page plug is similarly ambiguous, reading: "We've had a mammary lapse."

The page in question jokes at the expense of the rest of the media, setting a winking Nicole amid a column marked "clarifications and corrections". It reads: "We would like to apologise on behalf of the print and broadcast journalists who have spent the last two days talking and writing about us." It even tilts its page number to a suggestive angle to ram home the point.

Whether a temporary reprieve or not, the Daily Star is undeterred, declaring itself "home of the page 3 girl".


Murky lighting, dazzling cast

Critics turn their attention to more highbrow matters in the form of the BBC's dramatisation of Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies.

James Walton writes in the Telegraph that it's "hard to see how it could have been done better". He says: "With all the advance fuss, the opening episode might have been forgiven for trying too hard in the quest to make a big and obvious splash. In the event, what we got was something far more subtle and unhurried - but that still ended up packing an impressive dramatic punch."

The story follows the ascent of Thomas Cromwell from the backstreets of Putney to the heart of Henry VIII's court and Walton singles out Mark Rylance's performance in the role: "It's often said the test of a good actor is that you can tell what the character is thinking. What makes Rylance's performance so riveting, though, is that you can't."

Considering critics' complaints that the book is impenetrable, the Times's Andrew Billen says: "There is no such difficulty in entering this TV adaptation." Noting that screenwriter Peter Straughan reduced 1,100 pages to six hours of TV, he adds: "What is remarkable is that although the actors and the story are so celebrated, this account, directed by Peter Kominsky, feels as real and visceral as if the wolves of Henry's court were panting down our necks."

Much of the advance publicity had focused on Homeland star Damian Lewis playing Henry and, as the Daily Mail's Christopher Stevens writes: "[He] didn't turn up till the final five minutes, but his scene with Cromwell made the earth tremble - Lewis never raised his voice yet he was fearsome, a man with no doubt about his divine right to rule."

Stevens notes that timeslips in the script could leave viewers floundering if their Tudor knowledge was "shaky", adding: "Wolf Hall expects its audience to be educated." He adds: "The biggest problem for many viewers, though, was the lighting. Like the costumes and settings, it was unflinchingly authentic... so that some candlelit scenes were impossible to see." Still, he gave it five stars.

The Guardian's Sam Wollaston initially wonders if he's "off the hook" when it comes to having to work through the two unread novels "weighing down the bookshelf". But he concludes: "Instead of rendering Mantel's novels redundant, it's done pretty much the opposite. Suddenly they're looking less scary, more approachable, more essential even."


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