The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 21 February 2004

A speedy round-up of the week's news

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Mr Oliver Letwin, the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that the Tories wanted to freeze government spending, except that on health, education and pensions, and would fund increases there from economic growth. On the day he made his remarks, a report by the government’s efficiency review, headed by Sir Peter Gershon, said that perhaps £15 billion could be saved by transforming the way public-sector bodies worked; his prescription envisaged centralisation, economies of scale and regulation by penalties. Vodafone was beaten in its attempt to take over AT&T Wireless by the American group Cingular. Mr Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools, recommended that GCSEs and A-levels should turn into components of a new four-tier diploma. Four track workers were killed by a runaway maintenance trolley at Tebay, Cumbria, which hit their group at 40mph and careered for another mile. The body of a Chinese cockler, the 20th, was recovered from the sands at Morecambe Bay. Police arrested seven people on suspicion of manslaughter. Mr David Eden, a shellfish wholesaler, said that he had reported incidents against Chinese cocklers by rival cockling gangs, but nothing had been done. An appeals tribunal ruled against a Christian who had refused to work on Sundays for the quarry that employed him. Edinburgh University is to ban Christian prayers at graduation ceremonies; ‘There is a risk, although it is thought to be very low,’ the university said, ‘of legal action being taken against the university for breach of the Race Relations Amendment Act.’ The ashes of an expert on antique firearms were added to 275 cartridges, and friends of the dead man bagged 70 partridges, 23 pheasants, seven ducks and a fox with them.

A daylight attack on a police station in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, left 25 dead, including two attackers, and freed 100 from jail. The pessimism of a United Nations mission to Iraq about early elections impelled America (and Britain) to accelerate the planned transition to an elected body after the Coalition gives up rule at the end of June. Iraqi police arrested Mohammed Zimam Abdul Razaq, a former Baath party chairman of the region of Nineveh and Tamim, who was 41st on the American list of most wanted men, represented by the four of spades in the military’s mnemonic pack of cards. A video made by Diana, Princess of Wales, discussing the failure of her marriage, is to be shown on American television. Senator John Kerry, the leader in the competition to become the Democratic presidential candidate, was said by political opponents to have had an affair with a 24-year-old journalist; he denied it and so did she. The Democratic Platform movement held demonstrations and rebels took over Gona