The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 14 September 2017

Natural disasters, avoidable shambles, and the biggest fatberg ever

Portrait of the week | 14 September 2017
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The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill was given a second reading by 326 votes to 290, with seven Labour MPs rebelling against the whip. Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister, said it would be quite all right for Britain to stay in the European Union after all, with agreed adjustments to the free movement of people. Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour leader, said that it was ‘open for discussion’ whether Britain remained in the EU single market, though Labour’s policy is for Britain to stay in the single market after March 2019 for a temporary period. Sir Peter Hall, the founder of the Royal Shakespeare Company and a former director of the National Theatre, died aged 86. A 130-ton fatberg 800 feet long, made up of wet wipes, nappies, condoms and congealed oil, was found blocking a sewer in Whitechapel.

Two companies offered to build offshore wind farms for a guaranteed price of £57.50 per megawatt hour for 2022-23, compared with the new Hinkley Point C nuclear plant price of £92.50 per megawatt hour. John Clancy resigned as the leader of Labour-run Birmingham City Council after criticism of his handling of strikes by dustmen that began on 30 June. Pay increases above the public-sector cap of 1 per cent were announced for police and prison officers, based on the recommendations of independent pay-review bodies. The rate of wage increases remained at 2.1 per cent. The annual rate of inflation measured by the Consumer Prices Index rose to 2.9 per cent in August, from 2.6 per cent in July; as measured by the Retail Prices Index, the rise was to 3.9 per cent from 3.6. Unemployment fell to 1.46 million, 4.3 per cent of the workforce.

Crowds watching the Last Night of the Proms in parks in Glasgow and Swansea found that, unlike crowds in Northern Ireland and Hyde Park, London, they were denied that chance to join in with ‘Rule Britannia’ because the live feed was switched off. Nine members of a Lincolnshire traveller family called Rooney and another man were jailed for modern-day slavery offences. A businessman who supplied police at Leigh-on-Sea with footage of £26,000 worth of garden furniture being stolen from his property was told that officers were ‘unable to assist as they are at saturation point with their workload’; following publicity, the assistant chief constable of Essex called for an urgent review. A couple removed their six-year-old son from a Church of England school on the Isle of Wight after he became confused by a boy in his class who was to have a girl’s name and be dressed as a girl. The Dalai Lama visited Londonderry.


Hurricane Irma left six million houses, two-thirds of the total in Florida, without power as it roared up the west coast. A quarter of houses in the Florida Keys were destroyed. The hurricane had caused terrible damage as it moved westward over the Caribbean, leaving the British overseas territory of Barbuda, population 1,600, ‘barely habitable’, and devastating the French and Dutch territories of St Martin, the British territories of Anguilla (population 15,000), the Turks and Caicos (35,000) and both the American (107,000) and the British (30,000) Virgin Islands (where 100 prisoners escaped), as well as much damage in Cuba, where a million were evacuated. At least 90 people died in an 8.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico, its strongest for a century, causing damage in Tabasco, Oaxaca and Chiapas.

More than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims had fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine in Burma since violence erupted there in late August; Burmese military and Buddhist civilians were reported to have burnt Rohingya villages. The Islamic State was reported to have killed 18 policemen near el-Arish in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. The Pope was left with blood on his cassock and a swollen bruise on his cheek after falling as his popemobile moved through crowds welcoming him to Cartagena during his five-day visit to Colombia.

The United Nations imposed import and export sanctions on North Korea after its nuclear weapon test on 3 September. Ukraine and the Baltic states watched nervously as Russia held huge manoeuvres. Turkey, despite being a member of Nato, agreed to buy anti-aircraft missiles from Russia. Dozens of civilians were killed in air raids on camps for displaced people in eastern Syria, which were blamed on Russia. Bolzano in northern Italy banned cricket in its parks.           CSH