In his Autumn Statement, held nearer the winter solstice, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, confronted the need to extend austerity measures for reducing the deficit to 2018. The economy would shrink by 0.1 per cent in 2012. He cut corporation tax to 21 per cent from 2014, cancelled January’s fuel tax rise and promised consultation on tax incentives for shale-gas exploitation. All but four Whitehall departments would be asked to save an extra 1 per cent next year and a further 2 per cent the year after, with the hoped-for £5 billion going to schools and roads. Battersea should get its own Underground connection. Mr Osborne sketched a new system of private finance initiative intended to cost taxpayers less, and he made threatening noises about multinational companies not paying enough tax. Starbucks let it be known that it was changing its ways. Two men from Essex were jailed for a year for stealing a Henry Moore sculpture valued at £500,000, which they sold for £46 for scrap.
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, and Lord Hunt of Wirral, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, held talks with editors of national newspapers to urge them to draft plans urgently for an independent regulatory body to meet the demands of the report by Lord Justice Leveson, without a new law to govern the press, a step that was supported by the Labour opposition and the Liberal Democrat party. Tom Mockridge resigned as chief executive of News International and was expected to be replaced by Robert Thomson, a former editor of the Times. A painter and decorator from Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, received a month’s mobile phone bill of £6,875.
The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting a baby, it was announced. All Commonwealth realms having agreed to an end to male primogeniture, the government said it would soon introduce the Succession to the Crown Bill to allow any firstborn daughter to take precedence. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, applied to the courts for permission to appeal against a decision to block the removal of Abu Qatada, suspected of terrorism offences, to his native Jordan. Hospitals in England are so full that it endangers patients, according to the health analysts Dr Foster. England beat the All Blacks 38-21 at Twickenham. The harvest of Brussels sprouts fell by a quarter.
The United Nations General Assembly voted to raise the status of the Palestinians to that of a ‘non-member observer state’. The next day Israel authorised 3,000 new housing units in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In response Britain and France both summoned the ambassadors of Israel. The UN said it was pulling out ‘all non-essential international staff’ from Syria. The United States said it feared that President Bashar al-Assad of Syria might resort to using chemical weapons against his people. Nato foreign ministers approved deployment of anti-missile batteries to defend Turkey’s border with Syria. President Vladimir Putin of Russia, an ally of the Syrian regime, met Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey, for talks in Istanbul. Damascus spent two days cut off from the internet as fighting continued, with one shell killing 28 pupils and a teacher at a school.
North Korea began assembling a rocket at its Sohae site on the west coast, near China, for a launch later in the month. Egyptians were asked to vote on a draft constitution which makes sharia the main source of legislation, with the Al-Azhar university as interpreter, and religious liberty extended only to Muslims, Jews and Christians. Crowds in Cairo and Alexandria protested against decrees by the Egyptian president overruling judges. Supporters of Tunisia’s Islamist government clashed with trade unionists protesting about rising unemployment. Thousands protested in Amman at rises in fuel prices. Protestors called for the resignation of the elected head of Garut Regency in Indonesia after he divorced his new 17-year-old bride by text message.
President François Hollande of France decided not to nationalise steel plants belonging to ArcelorMittal after all. The growth of the Brazilian economy slowed unexpectedly to 0.6 per cent in the third quarter. Drivers were stuck for more than two days in a 120-mile jam in the snow, near Tver in Russia. The 800 inhabitants of Doyline, Louisiana, were evacuated when about 2,700 tons of explosive artillery propellant was found, stored illegally outdoors. –CSH
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 8 December 2012