Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Scotland votes, Queen speaks and Israel-Palestine crisis escalates

15 May 2021

9:00 AM

15 May 2021

9:00 AM


A new complexion of British politics was revealed by the capture of Hartlepool by Jill Mortimer for the Conservatives in a by-election, with 15,529 to the Labour candidate’s 8,589. Since its formation in 1974, the constituency had been Labour. Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said his party had ‘lost the trust of working people, particularly in places like Hartlepool’. The Conservative Ben Houchen was re-elected as mayor of the Tees Valley with 72.8 per cent of the vote. Of 143 English council seats, the Conservatives now control 63, 13 more than before, with 2,345 councillors; Labour lost control of eight councils to end up with 44, and 1,345 councillors. Sir Keir then made a botch of a shadow cabinet shuffle. He sacked Angela Rayner as party chairman, but could not remove her as deputy leader, since she had been elected by the party. He asked her to shadow Michael Gove at the Cabinet Office in place of Rachel Reeves, who became shadow chancellor in place of Anneliese Dodds, who became party chairman in place of Angela Rayner.

The Scottish National party won 64 seats in the Scottish parliament, one more than before but one short of a majority; the Conservatives won 31, as before, and Labour 22, two fewer. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister and SNP leader, said that ‘it is the will of the country’ to hold a referendum on independence. Alex Salmond failed to win a seat and his new party Alba polled 1.7 per cent of the vote. In Wales, Labour increased its seats in the Senedd by one to 30 out of the total of 60. Ten people shot dead in west Belfast over three days in August 1971 were ‘entirely innocent’, a coroner ruled; the British Army was found responsible for nine of the deaths.

The Queen, not wearing a mask, opened parliament and read her speech to 34 people and the crown on a cushion in the Lords Chamber. It contained no provisions for social care, but mentioned 30 bills to variously scrap the fixed five-year period between general elections, make voters prove their identity, reduce tax for companies in free ports, build a high-speed railway from Crewe to Manchester, restrict prosecutions of British soldiers and put the Armed Forces Covenant into law, require tech companies to deal with harmful online content, promote free speech at universities, microchip cats and oblige people to be kind to snakes. By the beginning of the week, 33 per cent of the adult population had received both doses of coronavirus vaccination; 67 per cent the first dose. In the seven days up to the beginning of the week, 74 people had died, bringing the total of deaths (within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus) to 127,605. The government kept on encouraging hugging from 17 May.


The total in the world recorded to have died with coronavirus reached 3,296,330 by the beginning of the week. The World Health Organisation classified the Indian coronavirus variant B.1.617 as a ‘variant of global concern’. The US Food and Drug Administration authorised the Pfizer vaccine for use in those aged 12 to 15. China said it was setting up a ‘line of separation’ at the summit of Mount Everest to stop climbers from its side mingling with those from Nepal and spreading Covid.

Hundreds of rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza; Israel hit targetsin Gaza. The violence followed police action against Palestinians on the Temple Mount and the attempted eviction of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Seven children and two adults were killed in a shooting at a school in Kazan in the republic of Tatarstan in Russia. In France, the magazineValeurs Actuelles published a letter it claimed had 130,000 supporters, criticising government concessions to Islamism and saying that ‘If a civil war breaks out, the army will maintain order’; a similar letter last month had attracted the signatures of officers in the reserve.

International fears of inflation and interest rate rises sent the FTSE 100 sinking below 7,000 and the US Nasdaq falling by 2 per cent in a day. A cyber-criminal gang called DarkSide made a ransom demand after interfering with the functioning of the Colonial Pipeline, which carried 45 per cent of the American East Coast’s supply of oil; the gang said it was apolitical: ‘Our goal is to make money.’ The ship Ever Given, which blocked the Suez Canal in March, still loaded with thousands of containers, continued to be held by Egypt, which sought $600 million compensation. CSH

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