The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 20 July 2017

Also in Portrait of the Week: Theresa May and Philip Hammond warn Cabinet to stop leaking; five London acid attacks in one night

Portrait of the week | 20 July 2017
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Theresa May, the Prime Minister, told MPs before the summer recess: ‘No backbiting, no carping. The choice is me or Jeremy Corbyn. Nobody wants that.’ Her remarks followed a spate of leaks and negative briefings from cabinet ministers. It was said that Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had called public-sector workers ‘overpaid’. He responded by warning cabinet colleagues against leaking, but maintained a 10 per cent pay disparity was a ‘simple fact’. In a presumed response to a poster on the wall of the European Council’s Brexit taskforce meeting room, headed ‘Tintin and the Brexit Plan’ and showing Captain Haddock lighting a fire in a lifeboat, Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, went jogging in a T-shirt bearing Haddock expletives in French such as ‘Mille sabords’ (‘Blistering barnacles!’ in the English versions).

The annual rate of inflation unexpectedly fell to 2.6 per cent from 2.9, as measured by the Consumer Prices Index (from 3.7 to 3.5 per cent as measured by the Retail Prices Index).The government outlined a sinister ‘tobacco control plan’ to prevent people from smoking. Sir Michael Marmot, the director of the Institute of Health Equity at University College London, said that it was ‘entirely possible’ that austerity had played a role in slowing down the increase in life expectancy since 2010. Flash floods damaged dozens of houses in Coverack, Cornwall. The design was unveiled of a slippery plastic £10 note bearing a likeness of Jane Austen.

Five acid attacks in London in one night provoked a frisson of horror and some generalised tough words from Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary. The government set a new minimum funding limit in secondary schools of £4,800 per pupil, partly using money, it said, that had been in the budget for free schools and a ‘healthy pupils’ project. The Electoral Commission said: ‘It is troubling that some voters appear to have admitted voting more than once in the general election, which is an offence.’ The BBC revealed whom it paid more than £150,000. Jodie Whittaker, the 13th actor to play the lead in Doctor Who, said: ‘Doctor Who represents everything that’s exciting about change.’ Roger Federer won his eighth Wimbledon, and Garbiñe Muguruza beat Venus Williams for the ladies’ title.


David Davis, the British Brexit Secretary, visited Brussels for formal negotiations with Michel Barnier, the chief EU negotiator, who​se position was that before trade talks began, substantial progress had to be made on a financial settlement, the status of EU citizens in Britain and the problem of the Irish border. Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel peace prize in 2010, died aged 61, seven years into an 11-year sentence for advocating free speech and democratic elections in China. Online images of Winnie the Pooh were blocked in China because they had been used to make fun of Xi Jinping, the country’s portly ruler. Patilias Gamato, the electoral commissioner of Papua New Guinea, obtained a court order prohibiting a blogger from calling him ‘Tomato’. Larissa Waters, a Green party senator famous for breastfeeding her daughter in Australia’s parliament, resigned her seat after it was found she held dual nationality with Canada, which the law does not allow for those in federal office. The bodies of a man and wife lost since they went to feed the cows in 1942 were found at the edge of the Tsanfleuron glacier in Switzerland.

In America, Republicans failed in their attempt to ​pass​ a Bill to replace President Obama’s healthcare system. The United States set about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, which President Donald Trump had called a ‘disaster’. During his visit to Paris, Mr Trump said in public of Brigitte Macron, the French president’s 64-year-old wife: ‘You know, you’re in such good shape.’ ​General Pierre de Villiers resigned as commander of the French army over budget cuts. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge toured Germany and Poland. A patrolling security robot in Washington DC tumbled down some steps and toppled into a fountain.

Liberia closed down 50 companies selling bottled water unfit for human consumption. Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia were ordered to disband by the country’s supreme court. A Canadian judge issued a warrant for the arrest of Sheikh Muhammad ibn Musa Al Nasr for promoting hate in a sermon in Montreal in December when he is said to have declared that Jews should be slaughtered. The Pope put up a little sign on the door of his office: Vietato lamentarsi (No whining).