Party leaders mercilessly launched 100 days of campaigning before the general election on 7 May. David Cameron, the Conservative leader, said he would reduce the annual maximum household receipt of welfare to £23,000 from the current limit of £26,000. Ed Miliband announced a ten-year plan for the National Health Service, but Alan Milburn, a former Labour health secretary, said: ‘You’ve got a pale imitation actually of the 1992 general election campaign and maybe it will have the same outcome.’ Amjad Bashir, a Ukip MEP, switched to the Conservative party, upon which Ukip said he was being investigated over ‘unanswered financial and employment questions’, allegations he denied. Peers dropped an attempt to bring the so-called snoopers’ charter into law before the general election. Dozens of Tory MPs said they would vote against a law to enforce the sale of cigarettes in plain packets.
The British economy grew by 2.6 per cent in 2014, the fastest pace since 2007, though, in the last quarter, growth slowed to 0.5 per cent. Waitrose said it would have 2,000 vacancies at 14 new shops and expanded stores. EDF said it would cut gas prices by 1.3 per cent, less than the other big-six energy companies. More than 1,400 Land Rovers, Minis and Jaguars began to be unloaded from the Hoegh Osaka, grounded in the Solent since 3 January.
Sir Robert Owen, the High Court judge, began the inquiry into the poisoning with polonium of the Russian Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Pauline Cafferkey, the Scottish nurse who in December was found to be suffering from Ebola after returning from Sierra Leone, was discharged from hospital in London, having fully recovered. Leon Brittan, a home secretary under Margaret Thatcher, and later a European commissioner, died, aged 75. Belfast council advised against the eating of 600 mackerel retrieved by a passer-by after being shed from a lorry as it drove through the city.
Alexis Tsipras became prime minister of Greece after an election in which his far-left party Syriza (standing for Synaspismos tis Rizospastikis Aristeras, Coalition of the Radical Left), opposing austerity, won 149 of the 300 seats, forming a majority in coalition with the 13 centre-right Greek Independent MPs. Mr Tsipras did not swear a religious oath nor would he be blessed by a priest. A Greek F-16 fighter jet crashed at the Los Llanos airbase in Albacete in Spain, killing 11 people. Demis Roussos, the bulky Greek singer who sold 60 million albums, died, aged 68. Lotte Hass, the underwater photographer and widow of Hans Hass, died, aged 86. A French court prevented parents from naming their daughter Nutella after the hazelnut spread.
King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia died, aged about 90. President Barack Obama of the United States cut short a visit to India for his funeral, also attended by David Cameron and other national leaders. The new king was his 79-year-old half-brother, Salman, and the new crown prince was named as another half-brother, Muqrin, who is in his late sixties. The president of neighbouring Yemen resigned after Shia rebel Houthi tribesmen took control of Sanaa, while crowds took to the streets demonstrating against their action. Dubai airport said just under 70 million passengers passed through it in 2014, overtaking the 68 million for Heathrow. Australia said it was going to knight the Duke of Edinburgh, who is already a Knight of the Garter, a Knight of the Thistle and a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire.
Heavy shelling resumed in eastern Ukraine, where fighting between government and Russian-backed forces had cost 5,000 lives since last April. Russia’s credit rating was cut to junk status, BB+, by Standard and Poor’s. Russia said North Korea’s leader had accepted an invitation to Moscow in May. The Islamic State posted a video purporting to show a Japanese hostage, Kenji Goto, holding a photograph of a murdered hostage, Haruna Yukawa. Kurdish forces drove Islamic State forces from the Syrian town of Kobane on the Turkish border. Gunmen stormed the Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, Libya, killing at least nine people. New York closed streets to traffic for fear of an approaching blizzard, which produced less snow than expected. Apple declared net profits of $18 billion. Susan Kramer, the British transport minister, gave the mayor of Taipei a watch as a present, not realising it was an omen of death. A Chinese newspaper reported that security officials in Shenzhen ate a rare giant salamander during a banquet. CSH