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Tuesday, 15 February, 2000, 05:43 GMT
Maples wreaks his revenge

Former Shadow Foreign Secretary John Maples, sacked last month by William Hague, has given his leader fresh food for thought.

In an open letter to that bastion of Conservatism, The Times, Mr Maples bitterly reprimands his former leader for allowing the party to drift to the right.

Mr Maples also questions why Mr Hague had never attempted to have a "serious discussion of foreign policy" with him, "despite several attempts on my part to do so".

He also criticises Mr Hague for naively supporting Lord Archer's candidacy for Mayor of London and for allowing his private office to be run by "kids" who often agitated against experienced members of the shadow cabinet.

Both The Times and The Independent report that Mr Hague has taken charge of staff appointments in a move to crack down on factional in-fighting among aides to the shadow cabinet.

According to The Times, the Tory leader has told friends he wants to stop the development of so called ''armed camps'' in which senior staff line up behind their ideological and personal favourites.

The Independent sees the move as part of a drive to prevent Michael Portillo building up a power base in the party following his promotion to the key post of shadow chancellor.

While the government will be cheered by fresh dissent within the Opposition ranks, it has its own problems.

The Daily Mail claims that internal Labour documents, emphasising the importance of investing in public services, indicates that Gordon Brown plans to pile more "stealth taxes" on the middle classes.

The Daily Telegraph claims Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is urging the Chancellor to tax house building by putting VAT on labour and materials for new properties as part of the government's campaign to protect the countryside.

The move would, apparently, be offset by cutting taxation on the conversion of derelict buildings in order to encourage urban regeneration.

Criticism of the BBC's religious broadcasting is - according to The Guardian - growing in Church of England circles. A forthcoming Synod debate about the BBC's output has received so much backing, it will be called instead of a motion about women bishops.

The Express says the report, to be presented to the Synod, accuses the BBC of dumbing down religious programmes which - it is claimed have been reduced by 30% in three years.

A BBC spokesman told the Telegraph that the Corporation is firmly committed to religious broadcasting and is the biggest producer of religious programmes in Britain.

Still in the pews, the Daily Star reports that an outraged churchgoer berated pop star Easther Bennett, of Eternal, for wearing a low-cut top in church during BBC One's Songs of Praise programme, to be shown this Sunday.

The Independent says a man in Dover, Kent, intends to have his wife's body embalmed and dsiplayed in the living room after the local council refused her dying wish to be buried in the front garden.

Terry Lee told the paper: ''Yes, it does sound rather extreme but it is extreme for the council to refuse me permission to bury her.''

The Mail says the Afghan airliner hostages arrived home from Stansted complaining not about their ordeal, but about English weather and food.

One passenger is quoted as saying: ''The weather was depressing and food was awful."

The Mail claims Britain has been asked to pay 25,000 for the fuel and landing fees to allow the hijacked Ariana plane to fly back to Afghanistan.

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