The British economy went back into recession, shrinking by 0.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2012, following a contraction of 0.3 per cent in the last quarter of 2011. Government debt rose by £117 million over last year’s figure, to £1,022.5 billion, equivalent to 66 per cent of GDP. George Osborne, the Chancellor, lent the International Monetary Fund another $15 billion to help it bail out countries in the eurozone. In the Commons, Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition, had earlier characterised Mr Osborne’s Budget as an ‘omnishambles’. Nadine Dorries, a backbench Conservative MP, called David Cameron and Mr Osborne ‘two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk, but they are two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others — and that is their real crime’. The Commons Public Administration Committee said that ‘the government’s inability to express coherent and relevant strategic aims’ was leading to mistakes and muddle.
An email released to the Leveson inquiry, sent by Frederic Michel, the head of public affairs at News International, to James Murdoch, on the eve of an announcement by Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, to Parliament on the proposed takeover by News International of BSkyB, said: ‘Managed to get some infos [sic] on the plans for tomorrow (although absolutely illegal!)’. The details proved accurate. At the inquiry, James Murdoch said Mr Cameron and he had discussed News Corporation’s bid to buy out BSkyB at a Christmas dinner. Michael Brown, jailed in his absence for seven years for stealing £36 million from clients after posing as a bond dealer, was sent back to Britain after being arrested in the Dominican Republic; before going on the run, he had managed to donate £2.4 million to the Liberal Democrats, which they have kept. Passengers arriving at Heathrow Terminal 5 found queues more than two hours long at the passport desks.
Lord Ashley of Stoke, who as Jack Ashley lost his hearing in 1967, two years after becoming a Labour MP, but continued in his career and championed disabled people, died, aged 89. Bert Weedon, the guitarist whose version of ‘Guitar Boogie Shuffle’ became a hit in 1959, died, aged 91. An attempt by the village of Dull, Perthshire, to forge ties with the town of Boring, Oregon, met with little interest.
In the first round of the elections for the French presidency, François Hollande, the Socialist, gained 28.6 per cent of the votes, with President Nicolas Sarkozy of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire polling 27.2 per cent. Marine Le Pen, for the Front National, came third with 17.9 per cent. The Dutch government fell, amid wrangles about austerity measures, but Holland managed to sell two billion euros of bonds at no great disadvantage. Spain returned to recession. Balloons were being considered as a means to raise the wreck of the Costa Concordia, which lies off the Italian island of Giglio.
As more UN monitors arrived in Syria, 70 people were killed in one day, mostly at Hama, where the government resumed shelling after monitors had left. The Bahrain Formula 1 grand prix went ahead despite demonstrations by thousands against the rule by a Sunni monarchy over a Shia majority. The Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company scrapped an agreement to supply Israel with 40 per cent of the gas it needs. Sudan and South Sudan fought over oilfields in the border region around Heglig. A report to the Nigerian parliament said that US$6 billion had been fraudulently extracted from government fuel subsidies. President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, aged 70, married his fourth concurrent wife, bringing the running total to six.
Accusations of torture were aired against Bo Xilai, the Chinese Communist party official toppled from power. The Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, stepped down from his office while fraud and sexual harassment allegations against him are investigated. A study by the Pew Hispanic Centre, Washington, found that between 2005 and 2010, 1.37 million Mexicans arrived in the United States but 1.39 million moved in the opposite direction. Rich Ross resigned as head of Disney’s film studio a month after the release of John Carter, which is expected to lose $200 million. A light-bulb made by Philips and said to last 20 years, making use of light-emitting diodes, went on sale in the United States for $60. CSH