The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 16 April 2005

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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In the Conservative manifesto, six pledges designated as ‘the simple longings of the British people’ appeared in facsimile handwriting: ‘more police, cleaner hospitals, lower taxes, school discipline, controlled immigration and accountability’. Details included an undertaking to match Labour spending on the NHS, schools, transport and foreign aid, while spending 1 per cent less in total each year. Labour gave six ‘pledges’ of its own: an inflation target of 2 per cent and mortgages as low as possible; a million more homeowners by the end of the Parliament; a million more people helped by the New Deal; 300,000 apprenticeships to be created; minimum wage to rise to £5.35 per hour; education spending to rise to £5,500 per pupil a year by 2008. The Labour manifesto, 23,000 words, against the Tories’ 6,600, included an undertaking to do away with hereditary peers, again. Mr Tony Blair said this election would be ‘my last as leader of my party and Prime Minister of our country’; commentators tried to see what leeway that left him. A poll by Mori for the Financial Times found that nine out of ten finance directors thought Labour would increase taxes on business. MG Rover went into administration, shooed on by the government, which then gave the administrator £6.5 million for a week’s wages while a last-ditch appeal was made to Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation. Equitable Life took its auditors Ernst and Young to court, claiming £3.75 billion damages. Tesco reported £2.03 billion profits in a year, with 20 per cent of takings from non-food items. Marks & Spencer reported a 5.1 per cent drop in sales in the past year. The Prince of Wales married Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles in a register office, after which she wished to be called the Duchess of Cornwall. The couple then said prayers at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where the Archbishop of Canterbury blessed them and the Queen was present, later giving a reception for 800 guests. Applicants for passports are to be fingerprinted from next year. The government announced the killing of one in ten cormorants.

The Pope was buried at the spot vacated by the moving of the body of John XXIII from the crypt of St Peter’s. More than two million people had filed past his body lying in state. During his funeral, attended by four kings, five queens and more than 70 heads of state, the Prince of Wales had to shake hands with President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. A week after attempting to use explosives to break into the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, insurgents supported by al-Qa’eda attacked an American base in western Iraq with three car bombs, wounding three marines and three civilians. The new President of Iraq, Mr Jalal Talabani, said he hoped that the new interim Prime Minister, Mr Ibrahim al-Jaafari, would have formed a cabinet within a week. Thousands of Israeli police prevented 300 supporters of the right-wing Revava (‘Multitude’) party from storming the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. President George Bush of the United States, meeting Mr Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, at his ranch at Crawford, Texas, asked him not to expand the West Bank’s largest settlement, Maaleh Adumim, by 3,650 households as planned, cutting off Arab neighbourhoods in Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. The Israeli military attaché presented aerial photos of Iranian nuclear installations during the meeting at Crawford. China was accused in a report by Human Rights Watch and Human Rights in China of trying to ‘smother Islam’ among the Uighur people of Xinjiang province. Andrea Dworkin, the American feminist, died, aged 58. More than 20,000 people were evacuated from the slopes of Mount Talang, a volcano 25 miles east of Padang city on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, when it began to spew out ash.