‘Unless we take difficult, painful decisions,’ David Cameron, the Prime Minister, told the Conservative party conference, ‘Britain may not be in the future what it has been in the past.’ He said that it was ‘an hour of reckoning for countries like ours. Sink or swim, do or decline.’ Earlier he had said that a referendum on the terms of EU membership is the ‘cleanest, neatest and simplest’ solution, though a general election would count as an alternative. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, was feted at the conference, and said in a speech that if he was a mop, Mr Cameron was a ‘broom that is clearing up the mess left by the Labour government’, with ‘George Osborne the dustpan, Michael Gove the J-cloth, William Hague the sponge.’ George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said the government was determined to press ahead with a further £10 billion of cuts from the benefits budget. The International Monetary Fund predicted that the British economy would shrink by 0.4 per cent this year, compared with the 0.2 per cent growth it predicted in July. The proposed takeover of BAE by EADS floundered. Four days after flying to Britain, Fazal Ahmad, 38, an Afghan, died of the viral Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever at a London hospital.
The gravestone of the late Sir Jimmy Savile was removed during the night at the request of his family, as the Metropolitan Police, beginning enquiries into allegations against him, said that he was ‘a predatory sex offender’. Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, said that he would change the law to allow householders to use ‘disproportionate’ force against burglars, as long as it was not ‘grossly disproportionate’. Five terrorism suspects were extradited to the United States: Abu Hamza on 11 counts, Babar Ahmad on four, Syed Talha Ahsan on three, Adel Abdul Bary on 284 and Khaled al-Fawwaz on four. Abu Hamza, who has no hands, appeared in a New York court without his prosthetic hook. Hammersmith and Fulham Council asked Abu Hamza’s wife whether she would like to move into somewhere smaller than the five-bedroom council house where she lives with two of their eight children. Jeremy Hunt, the new Health Secretary, said he thought the maximum age for abortion should be lowered to 12 weeks; Maria Miller, the new women’s minister, favoured 20 weeks; as did Theresa May, the Home Secretary. David Cameron said the government had no plans to change the law. A man was arrested after words had been scrawled in black paint on a Rothko painting, ‘Black on Maroon’, at Tate Modern.
Police and volunteers spent a week looking for April Jones, aged five, who disappeared while playing near her home in Machynlleth, Powys; a man was charged with her abduction and murder. Sir John Gurdon, aged 79, the former Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, shared the Nobel prize for medicine with Shinya Yamanaka from Japan, for work he did on adult stem cells in 1962. A drug known as Annihilation, sold as a ‘herbal incense’, grew very popular in Glasgow, and police said nine users had been taken to hospital in the past three months.
Turkey took to returning fire each day into Syria after a Syrian shell killed five Turkish civilians in the border town of Akcakale. Crates from a Ukrainian arms manufacturer addressed to the Saudi Arabian minister of defence were found at a rebel base in Aleppo. The al-Nusra Front, affiliated to al-Qa’eda, set off a suicide bomb at the Air Force Intelligence complex in Damascus. Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate for the US presidency, cheered by his success in a television debate with President Obama, called for the arming of Syrian rebels.
Thousands of Greeks protested against a visit to Athens by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. A Greek tanker carrying 32,000 tons of gasoline went missing in the Gulf of Guinea, thought to be taken by pirates. A motorcade thousands strong, led by Imran Khan, to protest against US drone strikes in Pakistan, was prevented by the authorities from entering Waziristan. Paolo Gabriele, the Pope’s butler, was sentenced by a Vatican City court to 18 months in jail for stealing confidential papers.
Hugo Chavez won a fourth term as president of Venezuela with 55 per cent of the vote. Mustafa Abu Shagur abandoned his attempt to form a government as prime minister of Libya after the General National Congress voted against his cabinet proposals. Edward Archbold, 32, died after winning a cockroach-eating competition at Deerfield Beach, Florida.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 13 October 2012