The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 21 June 2003

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, tried to abolish the Lord Chancellor overnight by ukase, and to reassign his powers. But Lord Irvine of Lairg disagreed and was sacked. Lord Falconer of Thoroton was made Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, but it was discovered that the Lords could not sit without a Lord Chancellor, so Lord Falconer had to take the Great Seal, dress in gown and wig and sit on the Woolsack. Lord Strathclyde, the leader of the Conservative peers, said, 'If it is true that the Queen was not informed, then this is yet another example of discourtesy.' The hoo-ha overshadowed even the mysterious resignation of Mr Alan Milburn as Secretary of State for Health on the morning of the reshuffle; it was in favour of 'my life with my family', he said. He was replaced by Mr John Reid, who was replaced as Leader of the House by Mr Peter Hain. Mr Hain also remained Welsh Secretary and Mr Alistair Darling became Scottish Secretary (while remaining Transport Secretary); at first, Scotland and Wales were said to come under Lord Falconer's 'umbrella', but after a few days both were allowed to retain offices in Whitehall. Lady Blackstone was replaced as arts minister by Miss Estelle Morris. The Duke of Bedford died, aged 63, after eight months as duke. Footballers and entertainers were honoured on the Queen's birthday. Sixteen bishops of the Church of England in an open letter found fault with the nomination of Dr Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading since he has lived with a man for 20 years, although now sexually abstinent. Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, said the provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill, sponsored by Mr David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, were 'bespattered with requirements as to what a judge "must" do'. Mr John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, announced referendums next year in three northern regions on whether they want elected assemblies. Mrs Eliza Manningham-Buller, the director-general of MI5, said, 'It is only a matter of time before a crude version of a CBRN [chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear] bomb is launched on a Western city.' Mr David Trimble survived as leader of the Ulster Unionists after another challenge led by Mr Jeffrey Donaldson. Professor Sir Bernard Williams, the academic philosopher, died, aged 73. The rate of inflation, excluding mortgage payments, fell from 3 per cent to 2.9 per cent. One in five trains was found to run late, but Mr Darling said that fares will rise above inflation.

European prime ministers were sent M. Valéry Giscard d'Estaing's completed draft of a European constitution. M. Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the Prime Minister of France, wrote to millions of households justifying pension changes that have provoked weeks of strikes. Iran welcomed the arrest by French police of 165 people in the Paris region said to belong to the People's Mujahedin, an armed opposition to the Iranian regime. Iran was asked by the International Atomic Energy Agency to accept stricter inspections after failing to report 'certain nuclear material and activities'. Tehran saw days of demonstrations by students against political control by Islamic religious leaders; Islamic vigilantes took violent action against them, and many students were arrested. President George Bush of the United States said that the demonstrations were 'the beginnings of people expressing themselves towards a free Iran'. United States troops killed perhaps 100 Iraqis in an operation to counter opposition north-west of Baghdad. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the United Nations, is to head British administration in Iraq. Two men from the Saudi Arabian security forces were killed in an operation to arrest suspects from al-Qa'eda in different districts of Mecca; five suspects were killed and several arrested. More than 50 Israelis and Palestinians were killed in a week, including 16 Israeli civilians murdered in a bus by a suicide bomber. Gregory Peck, the film actor, died, aged 87. Greek authorities banned the sale of ice lollies made in the shape of the giant penis on an ancient clay figure from Larissa.