The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 11 August 2012

Portrait of the week | 11 August 2012
Text settings


The Olympic Games dominated national life. Eight of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s first 22 gold medals (outdoing its 19 golds in Beijing in 2008) were in cycling. Sir Chris Hoy brought the total of gold medals in his Olympic career to six, outdoing Sir Steve Redgrave’s record. Bradley Wiggins added an Olympic gold in the road time trial to his victory in this year’s Tour de France. There were four golds in rowing, four in athletics (Jessica Ennis winning the heptathlon, Alistair Brownlee the triathlon, Mo Farah the 10,000 metres and Greg Rutherford the long jump), and one in sailing (Ben Ainslie), tennis (Andy Murray beating Roger Federer, who had beaten him in the Wimbledon championship final), team showjumping, team dressage, shooting and canoeing. British athletes will have a victory parade through London on 10 September. Twenty million people in Britain watched Usain Bolt of Jamaica on television winning the 100 metres in an Olympic record time of 9.63 seconds. Michael Phelps, the American swimmer, brought the number of Olympic gold medals he has won in his career to 18. Seven Cameroonian athletes absconded to seek their fortunes.

In the face of opposition from Tory MPs, the coalition government dropped its Bill to turn the House of Lords into an elected body. Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal Democrats, spoke bitterly of the Conservatives ‘not honouring’ the commitment. He declared that when ‘parliament votes on boundary changes for the 2015 election I will be instructing my party to oppose them’. Louise Mensch said she was to relinquish her seat in parliament and move to New York, causing a by-election in her marginal seat of Corby. Rain caused more flooding in England and Wales. Scotland’s population reached a record 5,254,800, according to the Registrar General.

The New York State Department of Financial Services alleged that the British-based Standard Chartered bank laundered $250 billion between 2001 and 2010 by hiding 60,000 transactions for Iranian financial institutions that were subject to US economic sanctions. Standard Chartered denied the allegations but its shares fell 25 per cent in a morning. The Royal Bank of Scotland, 82 per cent of which is owned by the taxpayer, lost  £1.5 billion in the first half of the year, after setting aside £310 million to meet the consequences of mis-selling and computer failure. The Bank of England reduced its forecast for British growth this year to more or less zero. Sir Bernard Lovell, the founder of Jodrell Bank observatory, died aged 98.


In Syria fighting continued, especially in Aleppo and Damascus. The prime minister, Riyad Hijab, a Sunni member of the Baath party appointed in June, defected, leaving the country by night. More than 20,000 people were said to have died in Syria since March 2011. Turkey said 47,500 Syrians had crossed its border. A group of Iranians were abducted by rebels from a bus in Damascus and paraded on video. Iranian envoys visited Syria and Turkey for talks. The US Treasury granted a licence to the privately run Syrian Support Group to raise funds for the Syrian rebels. Sixteen Egyptian soldiers were killed near the Israeli border in an attack blamed on Islamists, and Egypt responded with a missile attack from helicopters that killed at least 20 in the north of the Sinai peninsula. Gunmen thought to belong to the Islamist group Boko Haram shot dead at least 19 in a church at Okene in Kogi state, Nigeria.

Spain hinted that it might take up the European Central Bank’s suggested scheme to buy its short-term debt, but not just at the moment. The German foreign minister said that he was against bond purchases by the European Central Bank. The troika of ECB, European Union and International Monetary Fund officials planned another visit to Greece at the end of August to decide whether it will get more loans. Italy’s economy shrank by 0.7 per cent in the second quarter of the year. Buskers in Dublin were told by the city council that they must have a repertoire of at least 20 songs.

A former US soldier shot dead six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin before being shot dead by police. Robert Hughes, the Australian-born art critic, who lived in New York, died, aged 74. The United States landed a one-ton rover called Curiosity on Mars to undertake two years of exploration beginning with a 18,000ft mountain in Gale crater near the equator. Mitt Romney’s Republican campaign raised $101 million in July against Barack Obama’s Democrats, who raised only $75 million.