The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 17 March 2016

Portrait of the week | 17 March 2016
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In the Budget, George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, kept talking of the ‘next generation’. He outlined cuts of £3.5 billion in public spending by 2020, to be ‘on course’ to balance the books. Personal allowances edged up for lower taxpayers, with the higher-rate threshold rising to £45,000. A ‘lifetime Isa’ for under-40s would be introduced. Corporation tax would go down to 17 per cent by 2020. Small-business rate relief was raised: a ‘hairdresser in Leeds’ would pay none. Fuel, beer, cider and whisky duty would be frozen. To turn all state schools into academies (removing local authorities from education), he earmarked £1.5 billion. He gave the go-ahead for Crossrail 2, north to south under London, and rail links in the North. A sugar levy on soft drinks companies would go to school sport.

Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, and Gisela Stuart, the German-born Labour MP, were named as joint heads of the Vote Leave campaign for the referendum on the EU. An opinion poll by ORB for the Daily Telegraph found that 49 per cent of people would vote to leave the EU and 47 per cent to remain, but of those who said they would definitely vote, 52 per cent favoured leaving and 45 per cent remaining. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby, said of people who feared mass immigration: ‘There is a tendency to say “Those people are racist,” which is just outrageous, absolutely outrageous.’ Unemployment fell to 1.68 million in January, 28,000 less than in the previous quarter. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies the composer, died, aged 81. Keith Emerson, co-founder of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, died, aged 71. Anita Brookner, the author of Hotel du Lac and 23 other novels, died, aged 87.

A fire that police called ‘suspicious’ destroyed the roof and badly damaged the 16th-century timber-framed Wythenshawe Hall in Manchester. A prison officer from Maghaberry prison wounded in a republican bomb attack in Northern Ireland on 4 March died. Clayton Williams, 19, accused of deliberately running over and killing a police officer, had been a cannabis user since the age of six, Manchester Crown Court heard. The Liberal Democrats adopted the legalisation of cannabis as a policy at their spring conference.


President Vladimir Putin said he was ordering the withdrawal of the ‘main part’ of Russian forces in Syria. But Russia would continue airstrikes and retain air defence systems, an airbase and a naval base. The International Association of Athletics Federations said that there was ‘significant work to be done’ before Russia could be admitted to the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro this summer. Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians marched to call for the resignation of President Dilma Rousseff. Marco Rubio dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination after losing in his home state of Florida to Donald Trump; for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton increased her lead. A wild puma broke into Los Angeles zoo and ate a koala.

A bomb attack in Ankara killed 37 people. The Turkish prime minister blamed the PKK Kurdish separatist group. Turkey launched airstrikes against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq.  President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus rejected the terms of an EU offer to Turkey to resume membership talks in return for a scheme to stop migrants entering Europe. Turkish coastguards were filmed hitting an inflatable craft full of migrants with boathooks. Argentina sank a Chinese vessel fishing illegally in its waters. The world’s biggest cruise ship, Harmony of the Seas, built to carry 6,400 passengers and 2,100 crew, underwent sea trials off Saint-Nazaire.

The anti-migrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party drew many votes from the ruling Christian Democrats, led by Angela Merkel, in elections in three German states, with the AfD gaining 24 per cent in Saxony-Anhalt against the CDU’s 30 per cent. About 2,000 migrants marched out of the Idomeni camp in Greece and found a way into Macedonia by fording a river, in which three drowned. Macedonia caught about 1,500 and drove them back to Greece in lorries. About 14,000 migrants were camped on the border. Shots were fired at police, wounding four, during a counter-terrorism raid in Brussels in which a suspect was shot dead. Gunmen opened fire on a beach at Grand Bassam in Ivory Coast, killing at least 18 people, an attack that al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb said it carried out. Burma’s parliament elected Htin Kyaw, an ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, as the country’s next president, the first civilian in more than 50 years.   CSH