The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 30 November 2002

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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The Fire Brigades Union and employers' representatives agreed to a deal on a 16 per cent pay rise, in the early hours of the morning on which an eight-day strike was to begin. But the office of Mr John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, said nothing could be done till 9 a.m., and in any case, since no details were available on reformed working practices (called 'modernisation' by the government), no commitment to funding the deal could be given. So the strike went ahead and Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, broadcast to the nation, saying, 'This is a strike they can't win. It would not be a defeat for the government, it would be a defeat for the country.' Mr Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his autumn statement, said that he would have to borrow billions of pounds. The Law Lords ruled that 'the Home Secretary should play no part in fixing the tariff of a convicted murderer, even if he does no more than confirm what the judges have recommended'; the government intends to amend the law to conform to the ruling. Ofsted noted in a critical report that only 52 per cent of 11-year-old boys and 68 per cent of girls came up to scratch in writing, whereas government targets were 80 per cent for this year and 85 per cent next year; literacy and numeracy at all primary-school stages also fell short. The Princess Royal was fined £500 for breaching the Dangerous Dogs Act by failing to control her bull terrier, Dotty, which bit two boys in Windsor Great Park last 1 April. David McRae, a naturalist, died from infection with European Bat Lyssavirus, an organism like the rabies virus, after being bitten by a Daubenton's bat in Tayside. The Lesbian and Gay Police Association dropped the word lesbian from its title; 'Lesbian has more sexual connotations,' said its chairman, Inspector Paul Cahill. 'Gay is more a lifestyle word.' Two surfers were taken to hospital after being struck by lightning at Carbis Bay, near St Ives, Cornwall.

More than 200 people were killed in riots in Kaduna, northern Nigeria, after a columnist, Isioma Daniel, in a newspaper called ThisDay enraged Muslims by comments about the competitors for the Miss World contest, due to have been held in Abuja, the federal capital; 'What would Mohammed think?' he asked, 'In all honesty, he would probably have chosen a wife from one of them.' Contestants fled the country and organisers moved the event to London. Before the riots, feminists had called for a boycott of the event, as had opponents of the Sharia sentence of death-by-stoning imposed on Miss Amin Lawal, a woman living in northern Nigeria, for having a child though unmarried. In Israel a suicide bombing killed 11 bus passengers in Jerusalem; the bomber came from Bethlehem, which the Israeli army then occupied. Nablus was also occupied and kept under curfew. Even so, Israel continued to negotiate a peace treaty with moderate Palestinians; it also made known that it was to put to the United Nations a plan seeking international agreement on ways of combating suicide bombings, which have killed 309 Israelis in 26 months. In the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, two Islamist gunmen occupied two adjoining Hindu temples; 13 died by the time troops had ended the siege. French lorry drivers and air-traffic controllers went on strike, and state workers marched in opposition to the government. In the Austrian elections, the Freedom party of Mr J