Magazine article The Spectator

Portrait of the Week

Magazine article The Spectator

Portrait of the Week

Article excerpt

Mr Alistair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, sought in the Budget to give some credibility to the government's plans to tackle the national deficit. Forecasts had improved, he said, government borrowing this year would be £167 billion rather than £178 billion. Thresholds for inheritance tax are to be frozen for four years. This was the extent of the good news. Duty on beer, wine and spirits was increased. Growth forecasts for future years were reduced. Stamp duty on properties above £1 million was raised to 5 per cent, and abolished on properties priced below £250,000 for first-time buyers - for two years only. A 'credit adjudication service' was proposed to challenge denied loans. Mr David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative party, said he had proposed the stamp duty changes for the cheaper properties but had been told by ministers that this 'would not be an effective use of public money'. The Conservatives had earlier promised to 'introduce a new bank levy to pay back taxpayers for the support they gave'. Mrs Samantha Cameron announced that she is expecting a baby in September. A ghost orchid, last seen in 1986 and thought extinct in Britain, was spotted in an oak wood in Herefordshire Three former government ministers, Mr Stephen Byers, Miss Patricia Hewitt and Mr Geoff Hoon, and a Labour backbencher, Miss Margaret Moran, were suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party after being filmed by the Channel 4 Dispatches programme, which presented them with a fictitious American lobbying firm. Mr Byers boasted that he had come to a secret deal with Lord Adonis, the Transport Secretary, over a rail franchise contract. 'I'm a bit like a sort of cab for hire, ' he said. Mr Byers later said he had 'exaggerated', and he referred himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. He and the other MPs in the film denied any wrongdoing. The government expelled an Israeli diplomat in connection with the forging of 12 British passports linked to the murder of a Hamas official in Dubai in January. Three days of strikes by British Airways cabin crews caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled and cost the airline £21 million, it said. Two Afghanistan bomb disposal heroes, Staff Sergeant Kim Hughes and Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid were awarded the George Cross, the latter posthumously; Sgt Schmid's widow is to receive an annual pension of only £6,000. Harry Carpenter, the boxing commentator, died, aged 84. Mr Ian Watmore resigned as chief executive of the Football Association after less than a year. …

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