The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 31 December 2015

Portrait of the week | 31 December 2015
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Thousands of houses were flooded in York, Leeds, Manchester and other parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, after weeks of repeated flooding in Cumberland and Westmorland. On the River Foss in York, a flood barrier was lifted to avoid even more houses being flooded by keeping it in position. Tim Peake, the British astronaut in the International Space Station, tweeted a photograph of northern England as he passed overhead and said that his ‘thoughts are with all those affected by flooding’. After a fund-raising drive, two brothers from Leicestershire, aged 11 and seven, born without toes, were given silicone ten-toed feet to wear like galoshes over their own.

The growth of Britain’s economy in the third quarter of 2015 was revised to 0.4 per cent from an earlier 0.5 per cent estimate by the Office for National Statistics, bringing the growth over the previous year to 2.1 per cent. Mr Speaker Bercow’s salary rose to £150,236, compared with the £149,440 accepted by the Prime Minister. Among the New Year honours leaked early were a knighthood for the Conservatives’ election mastermind Lynton Crosby and a damehood for the actress Barbara Windsor. Lemmy (Ian Kilmister), lead singer of the band Motörhead, died, aged 70.

The Department for Education said in new guidelines that religious education should ‘reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are, in the main, Christian’. The Ministry of Justice disclosed that prisoners have been released by mistake 505 times in the past ten years. One man, charged with murder, was released by mistake in 2014 but returned to custody after waiting at a nearby bus stop for three hours; he was later convicted. The Crown Prosecution Service announced a High Court hearing on 11 January, following the death on 21 December of Greville Janner, who had been unfit, through dementia, to face charges of sexual abuse of children. A trial of the facts had been planned for April. Student agitators called for the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes from the High Street facade of Oriel College, Oxford.


Zahroun Alloush, the leader of Jaysh al-Islam, an Islamist anti-government Syrian rebel group, was killed in an attack by ten rockets, along with other commanders in the group, which had forced the Islamic State out of the area east of Damascus, but is regarded by President Vladimir Putin of Russia as a terrorist organisation. A scheme to evacuate thousands of rebels from the Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus was postponed. The UN Security Council had earlier agreed on a general path towards peace in Syria, even though the future position of President Bashar al-Assad remained controverted. The Iraqi armed forces declared that Ramadi had been captured from the forces of the Islamic State, which had taken it in May. In Afghanistan, the Sangin district of Helmand province was reported to be almost entirely under Taliban control after days of fighting; British forces were sent there ‘in an advisory role’, according to the Ministry of Defence.

At least 11 people in Texas were killed by 200mph tornadoes before blizzards swept into New Mexico. More than 100 houses were destroyed by fire in the state of Victoria, Australia. More than 100 wildfires raged in Cantabria, Asturias and the Basque Country in northern Spain. Spain found it hard to form a government after a general election gave 123 seats to the conservative Partido Popular (out of 350), 90 to the Socialists but 69 to the left-wing Podemos and 40 to the centrist Ciudadanos, both new parties. The king called for recognition of things that unite the country. The minority Socialist government of Portugal survived a vote to bail out the ailing Madeiran Banco Internacional do Funchal, thanks to the abstention of the centre-right opposition. Manuel Valls, the Prime Minister of France, announced that dual citizens born in France and found guilty of terror offences would be stripped of their French nationality; Christiane Taubira, the justice minister, had opposed the measure.

A wave of attacks by woman suicide bombers in north-eastern Nigeria, blamed on Boko Haram, killed more than 50 people. Saudi Arabia’s budget deficit rose to £65.7 billion in 2015 as it persevered in keeping up oil production rather than reduce it in the hope of raising the price of oil. In response to being banned from football for eight years by the Fifa ethics committee, Sepp Blatter said: ‘The president can only be removed by the congress. Even suspended, I am still the president.’ The Swiss chocolate-makers Barry Callebaut put a heat-resistant chocolate on the market, designed not to melt below 38ºC.             CSH