The Spectator

Portrait of the Week - 4 December 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Mr Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, juggled his black hole and his Golden Rule in a pre-Budget statement. Mr Oliver Letwin, the shadow Chancellor, said he would ‘expect’ the Tories to make at least ‘one specific tax pledge that we will fulfil in the first Budget’. Mr Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Fein, the political face of the Irish Republican Army, held talks with Mr Hugh Orde, the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland at No. 10 Downing Street. The Revd Ian Paisley, the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, met General John de Chastelain, head of the international decommissioning body, and the next day met Mr Tony Blair, the Prime Minister. The idea was to re-establish the Northern Ireland Assembly, with Sinn Fein and the DUP providing ministers. Sir Alan Budd, the provost of Queen’s College, Oxford, and from 1991 to 1997 the chief economic adviser to the Treasury, was asked to look into accusations that Mr David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, had improperly ‘fast-tracked’ a visa application for Miss Leoncia Casalme, the nanny employed by Mrs Kimberly Quinn, the publisher of The Spectator, with whom he had an affair between 2001 and 2004. Mr Blunkett presented a Bill to force people to buy identity cards. The Healthcare Commission, the quango that inspects the National Health Service, adjusted its hospital ratings: ‘The holy grail is to provide information to judge the quality of care not by whether a place is rated overall as two or three star, but by how my mother-in-law will do if she has her hip replaced,’ said Sir Ian Kennedy, its chairman. Rail fares are to rise by an average of 4 per cent in the New Year, more than the rate of inflation. England toured Zimbabwe, though the cricketers went in fear of having to shake hands with President Robert Mugabe. The Office for National Statistics predicted that in 25 years the population of the north-east will have shrunk by 2 per cent and that of London grown by 15.4 per cent. The Prince of Wales visited a Weetabix factory in Northamptonshire and said: ‘I was virtually brought up on Weetabix — and look at the result.’

Hundreds of thousands of people continued days of protest in the streets of Kiev against the awarding of electoral victory in Ukraine to Mr Viktor Yanukovich instead of the opposition leader Mr Viktor Yushchenko. With Russia supporting Mr Yanukovich, and the European Union and United States rejecting the fairness of the poll, the Ukrainian parliament voted to annul it, and individual allegations of electoral misconduct went to the supreme court. Mr Yanukovich, who leans towards Russia, received support in the east of Ukraine, and the eastern province of Donetsk prepared to hold a referendum on autonomy. Mr Javier Solana, the foreign policy chief of the European Union, said he had had ‘direct contact’ with Hamas, which is listed as a banned terrorist group by the EU; but his office then denied that he had had ‘direct contacts’. Mr Nicolas Sarkozy was elected leader of the Union pour un Mouvement Populaire, the ruling party in France, with 85 per cent of the vote. In his first speech he said he did not think Turkey should join the European Union; President Jacques Chirac thinks it should. Mr Chirac, whom Mr Sarkozy wants to succeed in presidential elections in 2007, appointed the minister of agriculture, Hervé Gaymard, to replace Mr Sarkozy as minister of finance. King Abdullah of Jordan relieved his half-brother and heir apparent Prince Hamzah of the title Crown Prince, to allow him ‘more freedom of movement’. In a Swiss referendum, 66 per cent voted in favour of a law passed to allow embryos left over from in-vitro fertilisation to be used to produce experimental stem cells. The body of St Francis Xavier went on show in the basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa. CSH