The electorate was bombarded with contrary claims by parties beginning campaigns for the election in May. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said that only electing the Conservative party could ‘save Britain’s economic recovery’. His party issued a dossier with figures compiled by Treasury civil servants, which sought to show that Labour’s spending plans did not account for where £21 billion was to come from. Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said that a vote for the Conservatives would mean that after five years ‘the NHS as we know it just won’t be there’. Labour unveiled a poster that said: ‘The Tories want to cut spending on public services back to the levels of the 1930s, when there was no NHS.’ The Conservatives publicised a poster showing a rural road leading to nowhere; the Daily Mail said it was based on a picture taken by a German photographer, Alexander Burzik, in Weimar. Angela Merkel visited David Cameron at Downing Street, but did not meet Ed Miliband. Unable to handle them, a Devon farmer slaughtered seven Heck cows, which had been called ‘Nazi cows’ because their breed was developed in 1930s Germany to resemble ancient aurochs.
In the last quarter of 2014, 93 per cent of patients at accident and emergency departments were seen in four hours, against a target of 95 per cent, the worst performance since 2004. A dozen hospitals declared a ‘major incident’ because of pressure of demand. The condition of Pauline Cafferkey, the British nurse who developed Ebola after returning from Sierra Leone, became critical. The number of first-time house-buyers rose last year to 326,500, according to an estimate by the Halifax, the most for seven years. Bank, a chain of 84 clothes shops with 1,555 employees, went into administration. Steven Gerrard, who has played football for Liverpool since 1998, negotiated a contract with Los Angeles Galaxy after he leaves at the end of the season. The Metropolitan police estimated that it had cost £9 million for them to guard the Ecuadorian embassy since Julian Assange took asylum there in 2012.
The cargo ship Cemfjord carrying 2,000 tons of cement sank in the Pentland Firth with the loss of the eight men on board. The 51,000-ton Hoegh Osaka, with 1,400 new cars aboard, was saved by being grounded on Bramble Bank off the Isle of Wight after it began listing on leaving Southampton and was grounded. A woman in the United States suing the government over a plea-bargain with Jeffrey Epstein, a rich man convicted in 2008 of a sexual offence with a minor, claimed that the Duke of York had sexual intercourse with her between 1999 and 2002, when she was below the age of consent, which in Florida is 18; the Duke denied it. Stephen Fry, aged 57, said he was to marry a man aged 27.
Gunmen killed 12 people at the offices in Paris of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine which in 2011 published an issue claiming to be guest-edited by the Prophet Mohammed. The price of US crude oil dipped below $50 a barrel and the euro fell to a nine-year low. Prices in the eurozone fell slightly in December with the German annual inflation rate falling to 0.1 per cent. In Germany weekly protests against Islam continued under the banner of Pegida (Patriotic Europeans against the Islamisation of the West). Islamist insurgents attacked the Malian town of Nampala near the Mauritanian border. Boko Haram seized Baga, the last town in northern Borno state in government control. A suicide attack by four armed men killed three Saudi Arabian guards on the Iraq border. Turkey withdrew the last airline flights to Libya. A woman suicide bomber blew herself up in a police station in Istanbul, killing a policeman. Turkey approved the first church to be built since 1923, in Istanbul, for Syriac Christians.
Frank Van Den Bleeken, serving a life sentence for rape and murder since 1982, will not be allowed to have doctors end his life as he asked, the Belgian justice minister said. Spanish police investigating smuggling and money-laundering arrested Leonard Hardy, 54, and his wife Donna Maguire, 57, both former IRA members. Chinese manufacturers were reported to have stopped using ‘made in China’ labels on clothes sold in Japan.
President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil, beginning her second term, cut widows’ pensions by 50 per cent. Researchers at Harvard found that a bowl of porridge a day reduced the risk of premature death by 5 per cent. Researchers at Yale found that keeping the nose warm with a scarf helped ward off colds. CSH
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