The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 16 October 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, coined the phrase ‘opportunity society’ to describe his objective in reforming social services and policing; National Health Service spending on independent providers of diagnosis and treatment would rise ‘significantly’, and specialist schools would become ‘near universal’. He also said, ‘We must change the culture that can write people off at 65,’ by which he meant people would have to work after 65 because of poor pension provisions. Mr Alan Johnson, the new Secretary of State for Pensions, said in the Commons, ‘Means testing is a crucial part of our policy.’ Mr Adair Turner’s government-appointed Pensions Commission revealed that the gap between what people needed to save for retirement and what they are saving amounted to £57 billion. It said an unpalatable choice would be to raise taxes, but Mr Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, jumped in two days before the report to say he would not do that. Inflation and unemployment fell a little. Mr Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, said, ‘The combination of low and stable inflation and continuously falling unemployment must come to an end at some point.’ Sainsbury’s warned shareholders that its underlying profits for the past six months would be between £125 million and £135 million, down from £366 million last year. Marks & Spencer food sales fell. Royal & Sun Alliance insurance said it would save £10 million a year by transferring 1,100 call-centre jobs to Bangalore. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service was reported regularly to refer women more than 24 weeks pregnant to a clinic in Barcelona for abortions, although abortion of healthy foetuses of that age is illegal in Spain. The Canadian submarine Chicoutimi, sold by Britain in 1998 and on its maiden voyage after a refit, reached Faslane after a fire that killed an officer and left the craft drifting in the stormy Atlantic. Private Stuart Mackenzie appeared before a court martial after allegations concerning photographs published in the Daily Mirror purporting to show British soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees. A woman’s body was dug up from her grave at Yoxall, Staffordshire, by animal rights activists. Urban foxes from London were found to have been delivered by van to the village of Llwyngwril, near Dolgellau, and set free.

Mr John Howard continued as Prime Minister of Australia, his fourth term, when his conservative Liberal party won an increased majority; it had opposed withdrawal from Iraq and proposed non-statist social service policies. In Sadr City, a poor suburb of Baghdad, Shiite militia followers of Muqtada al-Sadr handed in only a few machine-guns, grenade-launchers and mortars at the beginning of a five-day arms amnesty in return for an American offer not to bomb the district. Videos were posted on the Internet showing the beheading by the Tawhid wal Jihad group, said to be commanded by Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, of Kenneth Bigley, a British man abducted on 16 September in Baghdad, and the next day of a Turkish contractor and a Kurdish translator by a different group. At least 28 abducted foreigners have been killed in Iraq; thousands of Iraqis have been abducted. Mr Donald Rumsfeld, the American secretary of state, visited Baghdad. Saudi Arabia announced that women will be allowed neither to stand nor to vote in next year’s first nationwide elections for municipal posts. In Afghanistan, a commission investigated claims by opponents of President Hamid Karzai that electors could wipe off ink-stamps on thumbs intended to prevent multiple voting. Jacques Derrida, the deconstructionist philosopher, died, aged 74. Christopher Reeve, who played Superman in films and was paralysed in a riding accident, died, aged 52. A ban on Muslim headscarves in schools imposed by the German state of Baden W