The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 20 March 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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In the eighth budget of his career, Mr Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, proposed to narrow his deficit by cutting 40,000 public-sector jobs and selling off assets, including land worth £5 billion. The Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise would merge, making 14,000 people redundant. There was much tinkering. Duty on beer up 1p a pint, wine up 4p a bottle; spirits, champagne and cider stayed the same. Duty on cigarettes went up by 8p a packet; petrol duty up by 1.9p a litre. In consideration of the burden of council tax, people over 70 would get an extra £100 from the government. Stamp duty on house sales stayed still, and the threshold on inheritance tax went up to £263,000, below the margin of house-price inflation. Any assessment of euro-zone membership would wait till next year. ‘Britain is enjoying its longest period of sustained economic growth for more than 200 years’, he said. ‘No one should get the idea that somehow if you were a country which was opposed to the military action in Iraq, you are less of a target for al-Qa’eda,’ Mr Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said. Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor, said in the House of Lords that the government would be dropping provisions in the Asylum and Immigration Bill to deny failed asylum-seekers the right of appeal to higher courts. Steve Harmison, the England pace bowler, took seven wickets for 12 runs when the West Indies were all out for 47 in their second innings of the first Test in Kingston, Jamaica. Daniel Tammet, aged 25, from Herne Bay, spent more than five hours reciting the value of pi to more than 22,514 places; he won the European record, but the world record is held by a Japanese man who has remembered the value to 42,195 places. Sydney Carter, the poet who wrote the hymn ‘Lord of the Dance’, died, aged 88. The British Trust for Ornithology said that 33 million birds a year die by flying into windows.

Spain announced the withdrawal of its 1,300 men in Iraq. This was the first act of the new Socialist government headed by Mr José Luis Rodr