The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 22 January 2005

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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The Conservatives published plans for spending if they were to win the next election. Presuming savings proposed by Sir Peter Gershon’s report for the Treasury, and incorporating new savings devised for them by Mr David James, they said they could reduce government spending by £35 billion, partly by cutting 235,000 Civil Service posts. Of this, £23 billion would be spent on extra services, principally health and education, £8 billion would fill the ‘black hole’ (borrowing) incurred by Mr Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and £4 billion would pay for tax cuts; tax revenues for the current year are expected by the government to be about £450 billion. Just before this announcement Mr Robert Jackson, once a Tory minister, suddenly joined the Labour benches; the Conservatives managed to find a remark made in 2003 by Mr Alan Milburn, at that time and once more a Labour minister, ‘Support from the honourable gentleman is about as welcome as myxomatosis in a rabbit hutch.’ Mr Robert Kilroy-Silk, a Member of the European Parliament who resigned the UK Independence party whip in the autumn, set about forming a new party to be called Veritas. A great fuss was made when a photograph appeared on the front page of the Sun of Prince Harry at a fancy dress party wearing a shirt with a swastika armband, apparently intended to represent, however inaccurately, the uniform of the Afrika Korps; the prince apologised. Mr David Bell, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, criticised some Muslim schools for not encouraging tolerance of other religions and of people with no religious belief; he said on the television programme Newsnight that those schools which did not meet Ofsted requirements would be closed down. Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, said that the government would think of a way by which relations of those Britons killed by the Indian Ocean wave would not have to wait seven years before those whose bodies are lost were declared dead. Tesco was expected to make an annual profit of £2 billion after a better Christmas than its competitors.

Iraq is to close its borders and place restrictions on vehicle movement on 30 January, the day of its planned elections. Archbishop Basile Georges Casmoussa, of the Syrian Catholic Church (which is in communion with Rome), was kidnapped in Mosul, but released within 24 hours. Charles Graner, a military policeman, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being found guilty by a military court in Texas of aggravated assault, indecent acts and other crimes at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Horrible photographs of Iraqi prisoners being mistreated were published during the trial of three British soldiers at a court martial in Germany. Mr Ariel Sharon, the Prime Minister of Israel, suspended contact with Mr Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, after an attack on a Gaza border crossing killed six Israeli civilians; Mr Sharon threatened to raid Gaza to stop rockets being fired from there. Sir Mark Thatcher, Bt, was ordered by a South African court to pay a three million rand (£265,000) fine after pleading guilty to ‘unwittingly’ financing an attempted coup against the government of Equatorial Guinea; he left South Africa for London. Mr Seymour Hersh, a journalist writing for the New Yorker, claimed that President Bush of the United States had signed executive orders authorising secret commando operations against terrorists in ten Middle Eastern and South Asian countries, including Iran, where nuclear sites have been identified. President Alvaro Uribe of Colombia accused Venezuela of ‘harbouring terrorists’ and violating Colombian sovereignty by protecting leaders of the Frente Armada Revolucionaria de Colombia. The new European Airbus A380, which will take 555 passengers, was unveiled in Toulouse. Victoria de los Angeles, the soprano, died, aged 81. Mrs Adriana Iliescu, aged 66, gave birth to a baby girl in Bucharest.