The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 17 July 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Lord Butler of Brockwell published his report into the intelligence failures that led to the government claiming, in a dossier published in 2002, that Saddam Hussein possessed large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and could deploy them within 45 minutes. Lord Butler described the dossier as ‘seriously flawed’ and criticised some of the language used by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, but declined to blame any individual or call for anyone to resign. The Chancellor, Gordon Brown, unveiled his latest ‘comprehensive spending review’. More than 84,000 Civil Service jobs in London will disappear by 2008 and £30 billion of redundant government property will be sold, hopefully realising ‘efficiency savings’ of £21.5 billion a year. Yet overall public spending will rise by £62 billion a year, an increase of 2.8 per cent in real terms. NHS spending will rise from £69 billion to £92 billion a year, and education spending from £63 billion to £77 billion. There will be a large expansion in free childcare, an extra £3.7 billion for the armed services and an extra £1 billion for scientific research. The Public and Commercial Services Union threatened to strike over the planned Civil Service job losses. It was reported that Tony Blair had to be talked out of resigning as prime minister in June by four Cabinet ministers and his wife Cherie. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, warned Mr Blair that he would have to answer to God for his decision to go to war in Iraq. Nine Afghans who hijacked a plane and flew it to London in 2000 to claim asylum were told by a court of ‘immigration adjudicators’ that they may stay in Britain. The government proposed legislation to jail people for 12 months and fine them up to £20,000 for acts of cruelty on any animal, insects included. Ofsted, the school standards agency, said that pupils should be taught more about the British empire. Stuart Rose, the chief executive of Marks & Spencer, who is fending off a takeover bid from Philip Green, promised that his shops would stock fewer high-legged knickers and more traditional nightgowns. Customs & Excise officers seized a yacht moored 13 miles off Hartlepool which had been being used as an offshore duty-free shop. The National Gallery apologised to a young mother who was ordered to stop breast-feeding in a room full of paintings of bare-breasted Madonnas. The traditional image of Captain Cook as a pacifist who laid down his arms and let natives stab him in the neck was challenged by the discovery of a painting which shows him clubbing the blighters with a musket.

The US Senate published a report heavily criticising the CIA for its incorrect claims that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction before last year’s war in Iraq. The report concluded that the CIA had relied too much on information gleaned from defectors and foreign intelligence agencies, including MI6. The CIA’s director, George Tenet, had already resigned. The European Court of Justice ruled that EU finance ministers were wrong to exonerate France and Germany for running budget deficits that broke the rules of the EU’s growth and stability pact. The International Court of Justice in The Hague demanded that Israel dismantle the security wall being built on the West Bank. Israel denounced the ruling as a ‘flawed, biased and political procedure’. A bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv, killing a soldier and injuring 31 other passengers in the first such attack in four months. A 23-year-old woman shocked France by claiming she had been attacked and daubed with swastikas while travelling with her 13-month-old baby on the Paris Metro; she later admitted she had invented the incident. Paul Klebnikov, the editor of a new Russian edition of Forbes magazine, was shot dead after publishing a list of the 100 richest Russians. A 17-year-old Californian youth who was paralysed when accidently shot at the age of seven raised $175,000 in an attempt to buy the company that manufactured the offending weapon — so that he might cease production of the guns. A surfer was bitten in half by two sharks off Western Australia.

RC