Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: power failures, toy shortages and Boris’s Marbella mountain villa

16 October 2021

9:00 AM

16 October 2021

9:00 AM


In an extraordinary wrangle between government departments, the Treasury accused Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, of ‘making things up’ by saying he had held talks with the Treasury about helping companies badly hit by soaring energy prices. With the price of wholesale gas having risen fourfold in a year, businesses expected to close factories. To stir the pot of government discord, some demanded that Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, should ‘knock heads together’, though he was on holiday in the mountains above Marbella at a villa belonging to Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park. There were signs that prime-ministerial favour rested upon Mr Kwarteng. The Queen, aged 95, used a walking stick when she attended Westminster Abbey to mark the centenary of the Royal British Legion.

There were a record 1.2 million job vacancies in September; the number of workers employed, at 29.2 million, exceeded the pre-Covid peak of 29.06 million. Maersk, the world’s biggest shipping line, diverted vessels from Felixstowe, where thousands of undelivered containers were blocking the docks because of the shortage of lorry drivers. At least 1,476 migrants in small boats crossed the Channel during the weekend of 8-10 October, the Home Office said, with 925 prevented by French police; in September 3,879 had crossed, and so far this year more than 18,000. Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, said in a speech in Lisbon: ‘The protocol is not working. It has completely lost consent in one community in Northern Ireland.’ The EU offered a reduction in bureaucracy. Police with batons were forced back by Hungarian fans during a match against England at Wembley. James Brokenshire, the Conservative politician, died aged 53 after a recurrence of lung cancer.

Delaying lockdown in March last year was ‘one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced’, said a joint report by the Commons science and technology committee and the health and social care committee. The delay ‘led to a higher initial death toll than would have resulted from a more emphatic early policy’ the report said, but the approach was ‘a deliberate policy — proposed by official scientific advisers and adopted by the governments of all of the nations of the UK’. It called the vaccine development ‘one of the most effective initiatives in the history of UK science and public administration’. In the seven days up to the beginning of this week, 787 people had died with coronavirus, bringing the total of deaths (within 28 days of testing positive) to 137,697. (In the previous week deaths had numbered 800.) Numbers remaining in hospital rose a little to about 6,861.


The total in the world reported to have died with coronavirus reached 4,860,578 by the beginning of the week. A 107-day lockdown in Sydney was lifted for doubly vaccinated people. Russia reported its highest fatalities in a day, at 968. France, Germany and Russia decided to hold talks about Ukraine; Russia also wanted Germany to accept the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which bypasses Ukraine, depriving it of transit fees. On the Canary island of La Palma, 1,186 buildings had been destroyed in three weeks by lava from the erupting Cumbre Vieja volcano.

China, hit by power cuts, saw the price of coal for power stations reach a new high after floods affected mines. Lebanon’s electricity grid closed down entirely for a day after its two largest power stations were put out of action by a fuel shortage. The United States held direct talks in Qatar with Taliban representatives from Afghanistan on humanitarian aid and the threat of terrorism. The nationalist Saeroun movement of the Shia Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr claimed victory in Iraq’s elections. The Irish novelist Sally Rooney refused to allow her new book to be translated into Hebrew by an Israeli company because she supported a boycott of Israel over its policies towards Palestinians.

A train killed three migrants who were lying on the tracks at Ciboure near the Spanish border at Hendaye. The leader of Spain’s Popular party, Pablo Casado, criticised President Joe Biden for saying in a Columbus Day message that the voyager’s arrival had led to ‘a wave of devastation’. Police in Guatemala rescued 126 migrants abandoned inside a shipping container at the side of the road near Nueva Concepción by a people-smuggler paid to take them to the United States. An elk in Colorado was freed from the car tyre it had been carrying around its neck for two years, but only at the cost of losing its antlers.

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