The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 12 June 2014

Portrait of the week | 12 June 2014
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After an Ofsted inspection of 21 schools in Birmingham (none of them faith schools), against the background of allegations of attempts of a Muslim takeover in a so-called Operation Trojan Horse, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, joined Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, in seizing upon an observation by Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, that ‘all maintained schools and academies, including faith and non-faith schools, must promote the values of wider British society’. Five of the schools were put under ‘special measures’. In his advice note, Sir Michael said that ‘some head teachers reported that there has been an organised campaign to target certain schools in Birmingham in order to alter their character’ and that ‘a culture of fear and intimidation has developed’. Birmingham City Council had failed to support schools in their efforts to ‘keep pupils safe’ from ‘risks of radicalisation and extremism’. Public funding, he said, ‘was used in one school to hire private investigators to interrogate the emails of senior staff’; in one school, ‘some members of staff actively discourage girls from speaking to boys’; ‘in another, music has been removed from the curriculum’. A tombola had been banned from a school fête, being considered ‘un-Islamic’ in promoting gambling.

Before the publication of the report, political commentators took delight in the war between Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and Mr Gove. Mrs May’s Civil Service special adviser Fiona Cunningham had to resign after the publication of a letter from Mrs May to Mr Gove questioning his department’s handling of the Birmingham question. This came after publication of unattributed criticism, from the Department for Education, of the Home Office adviser Charles Farr, to whom Mr Gove apologised. Rik Mayall, the comedian, died, aged 56. Twenty babies fell ill after being fed intravenously at nine hospitals, and one died. An eight-year-old boy died after being overcome by slurry fumes at a farm in County Antrim.

The Liberal Democrats achieved an historic low point in the by-election at Newark, coming sixth with 1,004 votes, 2.59 per cent of the total; the Conservatives won, with 17,431 votes, beating Ukip with 10,028 and Labour with 6,842. J.K. Rowling, the writer, gave £1 million to Better Together, the group campaigning against Scottish independence. Unemployment fell by 161,000 to 2.16 million in the three months to April. Ofgem said that the big six gas and electricity companies should explain why falling wholesale prices have not been passed on. After smoke was seen coming from the Shard, the 1,000ft building in Southwark, 55 fireman rushed to the scene while 900 people had to go down the stairs.


In Iraq, the al-Qa’eda affiliate ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) took over Mosul, the country’s mainly Sunni second city, with a population of 1.8 million. Half a million people were said to be fleeing. In Pakistan, at least 38 died, including the attackers, when the Taleban attacked Karachi airport. In Afghanistan, the Americans accidentally killed five of their own men, an Afghan soldier and an interpreter. Five of the six commercial sponsors of the 2022 World Cup expressed concern about allegations that bribes were paid before it was awarded to Qatar.

The G7 group of industrialised nations, meeting in Brussels without a representative of Russia, said they were prepared to impose further sanctions on Russia if it does not help restore stability to eastern Ukraine. Plamen Oresharski, the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, said that, following criticism from the EU and US, he had ‘ordered all work to be stopped’ on the South Stream gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine, which had been backed by Russia.

The Queen paid a state visit to France to coincide with the D-Day commemorations. Asked about the Scottish referendum on independence, President Barack Obama of the United States said: ‘The United Kingdom has been an extraordinary partner to us. From the outside at least, it looks like things have worked pretty well.’ He also said it was hard for him to imagine the project of the European Union ‘going well in the absence of Britain’. The European Central Bank cut its interest rate to 0.15 per cent from 0.25 per cent, and turned its zero deposit rate for banks into a rate of minus 0.1 per cent. Eric Cantor, the majority leader in the US House of Representatives, lost a Virginia Republican party primary to David Brat from the Tea Party.            CSH