The Northern Ireland talks, the inequality gap, the crawl out of recession, the Iraq Inquiry and the Lancaster House conference on Afghanistan.
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Gordon Brown will remain in Northern Ireland for a third day, missing today’s Prime Minister’s Questions in a last-ditch attempt to resurrect the power sharing agreement, enlisting the support of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reports the Guardian. Mr Brown and the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, “presented Northern Ireland’s political parties with a position paper promising devolution of policing and justice powers by 4 May”, adds the report. The Independent says new regulatory powers to deal with loyalist marches have been proposed, with both main Northern Ireland parties, the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, keen to avoid an election, and the Standard reports the Prime Minister’s spokesman saying this morning that they “continue to believe that there is scope for agreement on the elements that need to be in place to enable the completion of devolution in Northern Ireland”.
The gap between rich and poor is at its widest since the Second World War, report the Telegraph, Times, Guardian and Independent. The National Equality Panel, set up by ministers, found that, 13 years after the election of a Labour Government, social class, gender and race remained key factors in determining a child’s success – though the report also revealed that the poorest were 25 per cent better off than they would have been had Conservative policies been implemented in that time. Other findings include: Britain’s income inequality is among the highest in the developed world; women are paid 21 per cent less than the national average; more than half of all private school educated children go to the best universities; Pakistani and Bangladeshi men and Black African men have an income that is 13-21% lower than white males with similar qualifications; and the top 10% of the population are now 100 times better off than the poorest 10%.
Yesterday’s news that Britain has crawled out of recession receives widespread coverage, with many papers expressing real fears that the economy could slide back into a downturn when the next set of figures are published in three months time – on the eve of the General Election, described by The Independent as “Brown’s nightmare scenario”. Following the news of the lower than expected 0.1 per cent growth, The Times quotes KPMG’s chief economist, who warns that: “The first quarter of 2010 could be touch and go as VAT goes back up and consumers look to the coming election and fiscal squeeze. We risk a double-dip recession before the recovery has even got going.” The Financial Times, meanwhile, says the growth is welcome but that Britain remains in trouble, calling the “crawl out of recession” a “very small mercy”.
The Guardian reports that Lord Goldsmith received legal advice at taxpayer’s expense ahead of his appearance before the Iraq Inquiry today. The former Attorney-General appears the day after two Foreign Office lawyers had told Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry that without a UN mandate the war would be a “crime of aggression”. Lord Goldsmith, add the Times and Telegraph, will come under enormous pressure to explain his apparent u-turn on the legality of war, having changed his mind after being ordered by Tony Blair to “reflect further”.
And the Independent and Guardian report the growing doubts about Hamid Karzai, which emerged on the eve of today’s Lancaster House conference on Afghanistan. The Guardian says the Afghan President will be told he must tackle corruption head on if he is to remain credible, with donor nations rejecting his present anti-corruption plans as “half-hearted”, with the Independent publishing the leaked correspondence between the US Ambassador in Kabul and the White House, in which Karzai is described as an “inadequate partner”. Last night Left Foot Forward reported the need for the conference to seriously address the question of whether or not the Karzai Government was up to scratch.
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