The Spectator

Portrait of the week: Saving Big Dog, scrapping the licence fee and tsunami hits Tonga

Portrait of the week: Saving Big Dog, scrapping the licence fee and tsunami hits Tonga
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Sue Gray, Second Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office, having been asked by Boris Johnson to look into accusations of parties held at 10 Downing Street, in turn formally asked him about them. Newspaper reports about such gatherings continued day after day, and Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former chief adviser, said that he had warned Johnson in advance about one for 40 people in the garden on 20 May 2020, telling him: ‘You’ve got to grip this madhouse.’ ‘Nobody warned me that it was against the rules,’ the PM said. The commentariat at large talked of Operation Save Big Dog, by which officials would take the blame to preserve the Prime Minister.

There was talk too about Operation Red Meat, by which backbenchers would be distracted from the Prime Minister by announcements of policies. Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, tweeted about the BBC: ‘This licence fee announcement will be the last.’ She announced later in the Commons that the fee would be frozen for two years. Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, said the Ministry of Defence had been commissioned as a ‘crucial operational partner to protect our Channel against illegal migration’. On one day, 197 migrants in small craft were intercepted and 95 stopped by the French. A Cumbrian man pleaded guilty to conspiring to facilitate travel of another with a view to exploitation, for his part in making a man work on farms for 40 years with nowhere to live but a dark, cold shed. Together Energy, part-owned by Warrington Borough Council, went bust, the 28th energy supplier to do so as wholesale gas prices rose. Inflation rose to 5.4 per cent. Unemployment fell to 4.1 per cent, and vacancies rose to a record 1.24 million. Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, chairman of Sainsbury’s for 23 years and a great patron of the arts, died, aged 94.

A solicitor and spy for China, Christine Lee, had given at least £420,000 to the Labour MP Barry Gardiner, it emerged, after the Speaker of the House of Commons passed on from MI5 a formal Interference Alert to her activities. Mr Gardiner had employed her son as a diary manager, who had a pass to the Palace of Westminster and was asked to resign only on 13 January, when the Alert became known. In the seven days up to the beginning of this week, 1,842 people had died with coronavirus, bringing the total of deaths (within 28 days of testing positive) to 151,899. (In the previous week, deaths had numbered 1,271.) Of those in hospital who died with Covid about 23 per cent died of something else. Numbers remaining in hospital rose in a week from about 18,600 to about 19,200. But an indication that the outbreak was waning came from a fall in positive test results, from a seven-day average of 157,665 to 96,283 a week later.


Novak Djokovic, due to have been playing in the Australian Open, was deported after judges upheld a decision by Alex Hawke, the immigration minister, to cancel his visa again, on public health grounds; the tennis player had recovered from Covid but had not been vaccinated. The total in the world reported to have died with coronavirus reached 5,554,097 by the beginning of the week. Hong Kong began a cull of 2,000 hamsters after 11 in a pet shop tested positive for Covid.

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, visited Ukraine and Britain supplied the country with short-range anti-tank missiles for defence against Russia, which had 100,000 troops on its border. Malik Faisal Akram, from Blackburn, Lancashire, held four people hostage for ten hours at a synagogue at Colleyville, Texas. They escaped and the man was shot dead by police; he was known to MI5. He had demanded the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist serving an 86-year sentence in nearby Fort Worth. In Nigeria, pyramids constructed from a million sacks of rice were unveiled in Abuja to illustrate a drive for self-sufficiency in food.

Microsoft planned to buy the games company Activision Blizzard, which owns Call of Duty and Candy Crush, for $68.7 billion. AT&T and Verizon postponed introduction of 5G services at US airports because airlines were nervous about signals interfering with aeroplane navigation systems. The eruption of an undersea volcano near Tonga set off a tsunami that caused much damage, particularly on outlying islands, and disrupted communications. In Kenya 108 people were recruited to work in hospitality in the Channel Islands. CSH