Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Petrol panic, Labour’s meltdown and China’s crypto crackdown

2 October 2021

9:00 AM

2 October 2021

9:00 AM


The crisis of the week was a shortage of fuel at garages. ‘There is no need for people to go out and panic buy,’ said Paul Scully, the small-business minister. That set motorists queueing. BP had shut some petrol stations and blamed a shortage of heavy goods vehicle drivers. Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, blamed ‘one of the haulage associations’ for leaking details of a government meeting at which fuel industry people expressed concerns that fuel stocks were at two-thirds of normal levels. But Rod McKenzie, the managing director of policy and public affairs at the Road Haulage Association, said it wasn’t him. The government suddenly said it would grant 5,000 visas for people in the European Union to come as lorry drivers for three months, even though there was a shortage of HGV drivers in the EU. Then the government said that soldiers would help with driving tests for HGV drivers, held up by the fainéant DVLA; next it said that soldiers would drive petrol tankers, after a bit of practice. Turkeys for Christmas were among future shortages predicted.

In the seven days up to the beginning of the week, 963 people had died with coronavirus, bringing the total of deaths (within 28 days of testing positive) to 136,110. (In the previous week deaths had numbered 1,003.) Numbers remaining in hospital fell for a second week, from 7,895 to 6,865. The government took away the train-operating franchise of Southeastern, for failing to declare £25 million of taxpayer funding, and effectively nationalised the concern. Grant Thornton, the auditor of the Patisserie Valerie chain, was fined £2.3 million over its role in the collapse of the company after its accounts had been overstated by about £94 million. At least 669 migrants crossed the Channel in small craft on Sunday, bringing the total so far this year to 17,063, compared with 8,460 in 2020. The 2nd Earl of Gowrie, active in arts organisations, who had a heart transplant in 1999, died aged 81.

In the middle of the Labour party conference at Brighton, someone called Andy McDonald resigned as its frontbench spokesman on employment rights over the reluctance of the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, to advocate increasing the minimum wage to £15 an hour. On The Andrew Marr Show, Sir Keir was asked the riddle: ‘Is it transphobic to say only women have cervixes?’ He answered: ‘It is something that shouldn’t be said. It is not right.’ Angela Rayner, the Labour deputy leader, who is appointed by a vote, not by the leader, attracted attention by saying of Conservatives: ‘We cannot get any worse than a bunch of scum, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, absolute vile… banana republic, vile, nasty, Etonian… piece of scum.’ Police shot dead a rare white deer that was wandering the streets of Bootle.


Dutch police, suspecting a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, held a right-wing politician, Arnoud van Doorn, overnight for questioning. An inconclusive general election in Germany left politicians locked in endless talks to form a coalition while Chancellor Angela Merkel remained in post. Daniel Foote resigned as US special envoy for Haiti over the forced return to Haiti of 1,401 migrants from a makeshift camp of 13,000 on the Texan side of the Rio Grande. A rusty fishing boat landed 700 migrants on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

The total in the world reported to have died with coronavirus reached 4,758,472 by the beginning of the week. China’s central bank announced that all transactions involving cryptocurrencies were illegal. Canada allowed Meng Wanzhou, the elder daughter of Ren Zhengfei, who set up Huawei in 1987, to return to China after three years under house arrest in Canada, resisting extradition to the United States. China released two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, detained since 2018 accused of espionage. China also allowed a brother and sister, Cynthia and Victor Liu, to return home to America after three years.

The director-general of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that it was ‘inexcusable’ that its aid workers tackling the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo had perpetrated sexual abuse of women between 2018 and 2020. The American singer R. Kelly was convicted of sexual abuse of at least nine women and two men. Lava from the Cumbre Vieja on La Palma in the Canary Islands began pouring into the sea, having engulfed 500 houses. CSH

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