The Spectator

Portrait of the week | 9 January 2014

Portrait of the week | 9 January 2014
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George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, made it clear in a speech that he intended to cut £25 billion after the next election, with about half of the savings coming from cuts in welfare payments. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, said that the means proposed were ‘unrealistic and unfair’ and showed that the Conservatives wanted to ‘remorselessly pare back the state for ideological reasons’. Nick Clegg told the Commons that official estimates suggest that more than 1,500 Syrians had entered Britain last year through the asylum system. Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said that Mr Clegg had ‘a very important ceremonial function as David Cameron’s lapdog-cum-prophylactic protection device’.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said that for the next parliament he would preserve the ‘triple lock’ that ensures state pensions go up by whichever is higher — inflation, wages or 2.5 per cent. It was quite right for Britain to pay child allowance to children in Poland belonging to parents in Britain, according to the Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, better known in Britain by the diminutive of his Christian name, Radek. ‘If Britain gets our taxpayers, shouldn’t it also pay their benefits?’ he said, developing his argument on Twitter. A man from South Shields and a woman from Newcastle pleaded guilty to sending menacing tweets to Caroline Criado-Perez, who campaigned for the image of Jane Austen to appear on banknotes.

Hundreds of flood warnings and alerts were issued as high seas broke over coastal areas and inland rivers burst their banks. All buildings along the promenade at Aberystwyth were evacuated. The sea breached Chesil Bank in Dorset. The Pom Pom rock stack was toppled at Portland, and a natural rock arch at Porthcothan Bay, Cornwall, was destroyed. Many trains were cancelled. The Electoral Commission said it had begun work to examine the ‘vulnerability of some South Asian communities, specifically those with roots in parts of Pakistan or Bangladesh, to electoral fraud’. NHS Property Services, a company set up by the government in April to manage £3 billion of assets, was found to have had to ask the Department of Health for a £100 million loan four months later. The British bought 2.26 million vehicles last year, 10.5 per cent more than in 2012. The Highways Agency threatened to reduce a 30-mile stretch of the M1 to a 60mph limit to meet European Union rules on air quality. An American military helicopter crashed near Cley next the Sea, Norfolk, killing the four on board. Edinburgh airport was closed for three hours by unfounded fears about a piece of hand luggage. Simon Hoggart, the parliamentary sketch writer and Spectator wine columnist, died, aged 67. Jeremy Paxman shaved off his beard.


In Iraq, the city of Fallujah fell to Islamists supporting al-Qa’eda, notably the group called Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis). In the city of Raqqa, Syria, which is in the hands of opposition forces, fighting raged between Isis on the one side and less extreme Islamists and secularists on the other. The first consignment of Syrian chemical weapons materials left Latakia in a Danish ship. Majid al-Majid, al-Qa’eda’s commander in Lebanon, died in custody in a Beirut hospital. The Pope is to visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem in May. More than 300lb of cocaine were delivered to a branch of Aldi in Berlin by mistake, hidden in boxes of bananas.

In South Sudan perhaps 200,000 had fled fighting that left hundreds dead. A consortium widening the Panama Canal to double its capacity said it would stop work if Panama did not pay $1.6 billion it was said to owe. Cold and snow swept over the eastern and midwestern United States. Polar bears at Chicago zoo were brought indoors. Michelle Obama flew to Hawaii to prepare for her birthday on 17 January.

Turkey dismissed 350 police in Ankara amid an investigation of corruption. China for the first time destroyed confiscated illegal tusks and carved ivory, weighing about six tons. Run Run Shaw, the Hong Kong film producer, died, aged 107. Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, broke her pelvis cross-country skiing. The Infanta Cristina of Spain, youngest daughter of the Spanish King, was summoned to court on fraud charges. Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, the footballer born in Mozambique who played for Portugal, died, aged 71. The price of marijuana in Colorado rose to $64.25 for an eighth of an ounce, including tax, after it was legalised. In Amsterdam, alcoholics were paid in beer to clear up litter.       –CSH