The Spectator

Portrait of the Week: Sunak’s downpour, national service and the ‘triple lock plus’


Parliament was dissolved, leaving no MPs until the general election on 4 July. With hours to go, Diane Abbott had the Labour whip restored to her, and Lucy Allan MP was suspended from the Conservative party for endorsing the Reform UK candidate for Telford. Among bills that were lost was one prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to anyone born after 31 December 2008. Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, had provided an abiding memory by announcing the election standing in heavy rain in Downing Street and making a speech as though it weren’t raining. The Conservatives suddenly said that everyone should do a form of national service at the age of 18. The Tories proposed adding to the triple lock for state pensions a promise that they would never incur income tax.

Sir Keir Starmer made a speech telling the world that his sisters and his uncle lived for many many years in Worthing but he was raised in Oxted, where it was easy to get pocket money ‘clearing stones for the local farmers’. He proposed ‘a Britain once more in the service of working people. Country first, party second’. He repeatedly used the word ‘change’. Labour confirmed its policy of immediately imposing VAT and business rates on private schools after the election. Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, said: ‘We certainly won’t be increasing income tax or national insurance if we win.’ In a letter to the Times, 121 business people, including Jimmy Wales and Tom Kerridge, endorsed Labour. Greater Manchester Police said it would take no further action over allegations concerning the sale of a council house by Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader. Labour promised that in five years’ time most NHS patients would have to wait less than 18 weeks to be treated.

In two days 515 migrants arrived in England in small boats; the total number for 2024 rose to more than 10,000, a greater rate of arrivals than ever before. Paula Vennells, the chief executive of the Post Office 2012-19, appeared for three days before the public Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, repeatedly weeping and reaching for a box of Kleenex as though it were Robinsons Barley Water at Wimbledon. She often admitted a lapse of memory, ignorance or a lack of understanding. Ofcom investigated Royal Mail’s record of delivering only 74.5 per cent first-class post within one working day. International Distribution Services, Royal Mail’s parent company, agreed to a £3.6 billion offer from the Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky. A Double Gloucester cheese was pursued wildly down steep, grassy Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire.


The International Court of Justice, an organ of the UN, ordered that Israel must ‘immediately halt its military offensive’ in Rafah and any other action that could bring about ‘the physical destruction’ of the Palestinians. Hamas launched from Rafah perhaps eight rockets at the Tel Aviv area. Israel launched an air strike on the Tal al-Sultan area north-west of central Rafah, targeting two named Hamas leaders; but civilian fatalities were put at about 45, which Israel called a ‘tragic mishap’. Israeli tanks advanced into Rafah. The bodies of three more Israeli hostages were recovered from Jabalia, a week after the recovery of another three in Gaza; Israel says about 120 are still being held.

Russia killed at least 12 people when it attacked a DIY store called Epicentr K at Kharkiv with glide bombs. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine visited Spain and Belgium. Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of Nato, said that western powers should consider lifting restrictions on Ukraine striking inside Russia using the weaponry they supply. A Ukrainian drone hit a Russian radar station capable of tracking nuclear missiles at Orsk on the border with Kazakhstan. Russia is to build a small nuclear power station in Uzbekistan. A German military officer was jailed for three-and-a-half years for spying for Russia.

China held military drills in the skies and seas around Taiwan. More than 2,000 people were feared buried by a landslide in Papua New Guinea. A hospital in Delhi, where seven babies died in a fire, was operating without a valid licence, police said, and also lacked fire extinguishers. A fire in a gaming arcade in Rajkot city, Gujarat, killed 27 people. The Pope apologised for saying in a meeting with Italian bishops that homosexual men should not be students at seminaries because c’è già troppa frociaggine – ‘there’s enough poofery already’.            CSH