The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 2 July 2005

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, gave a 30-minute speech to the European Parliament in Brussels, in advance of Britain’s assumption of the six-monthly presidency of the European Union, which began on 1 July. He described himself as a ‘passionate pro-European’ committed to ‘Europe as a political project’. He said, ‘Some have suggested I want to abandon Europe’s social model. But tell me, what type of social model is it that has 20 million unemployed in Europe?’ He called for change. ‘It is time to give ourselves a reality check — to receive the wake-up call. The people are blowing the trumpets around the city walls. Are we listening?’ The Queen reviewed 136 ships from 36 nations in the Solent to mark the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar. A study by 14 professors at the London School of Economics found that introducing identity cards would cost between £10.6 billion and £19.2 billion, against the government estimate of £7 billion; the LSE estimate would be at least £170 instead of £93 per person. The second reading of the enabling Bill for identity cards was carried by 314 to 283, a majority of 31, against the normal government majority of 67; the Bill now passes to the Lords. The Inland Revenue admitted that 30,000 people had wrongly been charged a £100 penalty for sending in tax returns late when they hadn’t. In the High Court more than 48,000 shareholders in Railtrack claimed that Mr Stephen Byers, as the former secretary of state for transport, was guilty of misfeasance for ‘expropriating’ the company in 2001. Transport for London banned advertisements on buses for holidays in North Cyprus. Mr Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, expressed support for a monorail being built above the Thames, on the southern bank. A German company plans a 1,007ft-tall block at 22 Bishopsgate, London.

Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, aged 48, the mayor of Tehran, was elected President of Iran, defeating Mr Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in a second round of voting; though not a cleric, he is a former member of the Revolutionary Guards and espouses populist measures favouring the poor. The international price of oil remained above $60 a barrel. President George Bush of the United States urged European Union leaders to warn Iran against developing nuclear weapons. He made a television broadcast in which he said America had ‘difficult and dangerous work ahead’ in Iraq. Mr Donald Rumsfeld, the United States defence secretary, admitted that America had held talks with insurgents in Iraq. Mr Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Prime Minister of Iraq, visited Washington and London. The eldest member of the Iraq parliament, Sheikh Dhari Ali al-Fayadh, and his son were killed by a suicide bomb. There have been at least 480 car bombs in Iraq in the past year; 1,350 people have been killed since 28 April, when a government was formed. France, and not its rival Japan, is to be the site of a £7 billion international nuclear fusion project, half funded by the EU. In Zimbabwe some 300,000 were made homeless when police on government orders demolished shacks and houses said to have been built unlawfully. Many people returned to rural settlements where drought has intensified a shortage of food; in towns, petrol shortages halted buses used by workers. Mr Simeon Saxe-Coburg, the son of King Boris, lost power as Prime Minister of Bulgaria when the Socialists won the most seats, but no overall majority, in a general election. Mr John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister of Britain, flew to Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in an attempt to win favour for Britain’s attitude to the EU. Estonia imprisons a bigger proportion of its population than any other EU country, with 339 per 100,000, according to new figures from the International Centre for Prison Studies; the United States of America led the world, with 714 per 100,000; Russia 532; England and Wales 142; Saudi Arabia 110; and India 29.