The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 1 May 2014

Portrait of the week | 1 May 2014
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The British economy grew by 0.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2014, disappointing hotheads who’d expected 1 per cent. It was 3.1 per cent bigger than a year earlier, but 0.6 per cent smaller than in 2008. Pfizer, the American pharmaceutical company, said it wanted to take over AstraZeneca, with a £60 billion bid that would make it the biggest ever foreign takeover of a British-based company. The Labour party said it was leaving the Co-op Bank and taking its £1.2 million overdraft elsewhere. UK Financial Investments, which manages the Treasury’s 81 per cent stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland, blocked a plan for 200 per cent bonuses. A film version of Dad’s Army is to be made with Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring and Bill Nighy as Sergeant Wilson.

Ann Maguire, 61, a Spanish teacher, was stabbed to death in front of her pupils at Corpus Christi Catholic College, Leeds; a 15-year-old boy was arrested. Max Clifford, the publicist, aged 71, was convicted of eight indecent assaults on women and girls aged 15 or more, over two decades. Bernie Ecclestone, the chief executive of Formula 1, went on trial in Germany on charges of fraud arising from payments of £26 million to a bank official. The Metropolitan Police attempted to win the trust of Muslim women by telling them that anyone who went to Syria would be arrested on his return, but in the meantime they should dial 101.

Patrick Mercer resigned as an independent MP before he could be suspended from the Commons for six months for asking questions in Parliament in return for money; Nigel Farage, the leader of Ukip, decided not to stand in the consequent by-election. RMT union workers struck on the London Underground, causing suffering for commuters. The High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill was given its second reading by 452 votes to 41, with David Cameron, the Prime Minister, noticeably absent from the vote. Mr Cameron bought a sit-on lawnmower. In a telephone call to party activists he spoke of the EU: ‘I would not be prime minister of a government unless we could carry out our pledge of an in-out referendum.’ A mobile phone app was launched called Phobia Free, which uses systematic desensitisation to alleviate fear of spiders.


The United States countered ‘Russia’s continued illegal intervention in Ukraine’ by imposing sanctions on seven Russian individuals and 17 companies said to be linked to President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle. In Sloviansk, pro-Russian separatists detained seven observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Hennadiy Kernes, the Mayor of Kharkiv, was shot and critically wounded; he had supported the former pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych before backing a united Ukraine. The climbing season on Everest was curtailed amid recriminations after the deaths of 16 Sherpas. Fire destroyed 500 thatched huts in the Vasant Kunj slum area of Delhi.

In Syria at least 37 were killed in explosions in Homs and 14 in Damascus from a mortar attack on the same day. Evidence was found by the Daily Telegraph that chlorine gas was used against civilians. Israel suspended peace talks with Palestinians led by President Mahmoud Abbas after his Fatah party sought political unity with Hamas. A judge in Egypt sentenced 683 people to death, including Mohammed Badie, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood; at the same time the judge commuted 492 death sentences out of 529 passed in March. Sonar mapping equipment was to replace the robotic submarine which had searched an area six miles in radius, 15,000 feet under the ocean, for the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, missing since 8 March with 239 aboard. In Madrid a search began with a kind of radar for the body of Cervantes, under the convent of the Discalced Trinitarians. Ohio decided to adjust the dose for its death penalty drugs after a murderer took 26 minutes to die, and in Oklahoma a murderer died of a heart attack after his execution was halted halfway through.

President Barack Obama of the United States toured the Far East, excluding China. North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea called President Park Geun-hye of South Korea ‘a wicked sycophant and traitor, a dirty comfort woman for the US and despicable prostitute selling off the nation’. In Rome, 800,000 people witnessed the canonisation of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II by Pope Francis. Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister of Pakistan, had his gas cut off at home because the bill was said to be £28,000 in arrears.        CSH