The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 15 May 2014

Portrait of the week | 15 May 2014
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David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said on television that he was ‘bullish’ about negotiating change for Britain in the European Union, but that there would be a referendum on membership by the end of 2017 ‘whether or not I have successfully negotiated’. In a telephone poll by Lord Ashcroft the Conservatives were found to be ahead for the first time since 2012, on 34 per cent, with Labour at 32, Ukip 15 and the Liberal Democrats 9. An ICM poll said much the same. In the first quarter since visa restrictions were lifted, 140,000 Romanians and Bulgarians were employed in Britain, not counting dependants. Unemployment fell by 133,000 to a five-year low of 2.2 million. The FTSE rose to its highest since 1999, at 6,873.08. A good old row was reported between Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, and Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister. The United Kingdom was placed second to Finland in European education rankings by Pearson, the publishers.

Mr Cameron disagreed with Margaret Hodge, the chairman of the Commons public accounts committee, who had suggested that Gary Barlow, the singer, who had put money into a scheme ruled to have been set up for tax avoidance purposes, might ‘show a bit of contrition by giving back his OBE’. The government decided to prorogue Parliament since it did not want MPs to pass any more laws. Professor Colin Pillinger, whose Beagle 2 mission to explore Mars proved an heroic failure, died, aged 70. The official campaign for Scottish independence was found to have been almost entirely financed, perfectly properly, by Chris and Colin Weir, who won £161 million on the lottery in 2011.

Jewish and Muslim spokesmen called for meat to be clearly labelled with the method of its slaughter, after people had complained that chicken at popular food joints was halal. Photographs appeared of two RAF servicemen giving a thumbs-up next to the corpse of a Taleban fighter after an attack on Camp Bastion in 2012. Michael Wheatley, nicknamed the Skullcracker, was back in prison after four days on the run had ended when the Chelsea Building Society in Sunbury-on-Thames reported an armed raid. David Lowe, a radio presenter for 30 years, was sacked after playing on Radio Devon a recording of ‘The Sun Has Got His Hat On’ from 1932, which he did not realise contained the lines, ‘He’s been tannin’ niggers out in Timbuktu/ Now he’s coming back to do the same to you.’


In Ukraine, violence between government forces and pro-Russians in the eastern region led to death and dissension. Incidents included the killing of seven Ukrainian troops and a pro-Russian militant in an ambush, and at least seven in a battle for the police station at Mariupol. President Vladimir Putin of Russia flew to annexed Crimea for Victory Day ceremonies, which the state department of the United States called ‘provocative’. A referendum in eastern Ukraine on autonomy was said to give 89 per cent support. The breakaway leader of the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’, Denis Pushilin, called on Russia to ‘absorb’ the region. The Eurovision Song Contest was won for Austria by a man dressed up as a bearded lady.

Syrian forces moved into the Old City of Homs where rebel forces had been holding out since 2011. Some civilians returned to see if anything was left of their homes. In an evacuation organised by the UN, some 2,000 rebels left for the north. There were soon breaches of a peace treaty signed by the president of South Sudan and the rival leader in the civil war that has displaced 1.5 million people; starvation loomed. China sponsored a railway to be built from Mombasa to Nairobi. The Vietnamese burnt down several Chinese factories. The Libyan navy saved 52 migrants whose boat sank off the coast, but survivors said that 130 had been aboard.

Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group, released a video that it said showed 136 girls kidnapped from a school in Nigeria last month. They were in burkas and the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, said the girls had converted to Islam and would not be released until all imprisoned militants had been freed. The Taleban in Afghanistan began their summer offensive. Yingluck Shinawatra resigned as prime minister of Thailand after a court ruled that she must go; rival demonstrators held rallies. An explosion trapped hundreds of coal miners in Turkey. Saudi Arabia urged people to avoid catching the Mers virus, which has killed 133 people, by wearing masks and gloves when dealing with their camels.   CSH.