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The Week So Far

1. North America

Rick Perry, governor of Texas and Republican presidential candidate, proposed a new spending plan for the US on 25 October, featuring the option for individuals of a flat income-tax rate of 20 per cent. Perry's "cut, balance and grow" reform would slash corporate tax from 35 per cent to 20 per cent.

2. Africa

The prime minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai, made a U-turn on homosexuality - illegal in the country - in an interview with the BBC on 24 October. The leader of the Movement for Democratic Change said that freedom of sexual orientation was a "human right" that he would defend
if he replaced Robert Mugabe as president next year.

3. Central America

The European Union will send an observation mission to Nicaragua, following an invitation by the country's authorities to monitor the presidential and parliamentary elections, scheduled to take place on 6 November. A team of 80, led by the Spanish MEP Luis Yáñez-Barnuevo García, will observe the voting process, counting of ballots and tabulation of results.

4. Caribbean

Andrew Holness, 39, was sworn in as the ninth and youngest ever prime minister of Jamaica on 23 October. The leader of the centre-right Jamaica Labour Party is the first prime minister born after the island nation gained independence from UK colonial rule in 1962.

5. Middle East

The Israeli cabinet has agreed to another high-profile prisoner swap, following the release of Gilad Shalit on 18 October. Ilan Grapel, 27, has been held in Egypt since June under suspicion of espionage. In return for his freedom, Israel will release 25 Egyptian prisoners.

6. Economy

Eleven Swiss banks are reportedly preparing to pay billions of dollars to the US government and reveal the names of clients suspected of hiding money from the internal revenue service. Earlier this year, Switzerland reimbursed the UK and Germany for untaxed assets.

7. Education

Total public spending on education will fall by 13 per cent in real terms by 2014-2015, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The cuts to schools and universities are the deepest in over 50 years.

8. Culture

Miss World contestants arrived in London on 27 October to take part in fundraising events in the run-up to the beauty pageant's 61st ceremony at Earls Court, which will be held on 6 November. The event was founded in London in 1951. Forty one years ago, feminists threw flour bombs during the contest at the Royal Albert Hall in protest against sexism.

9. Technology

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner made its first passenger flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong on 26 October. The 787 - the first mid-sized plane capable of flying long-range routes - has 20 per cent greater fuel efficiency and 30 per cent larger windows than comparably sized jets, plus higher cabin pressure levels.

10. Health

Taking the contraceptive pill for ten years reduces the risk of ovarian cancer by 45 per cent, according to a new report by Cancer Research. Any length of time spent on the pill lowers the risk by 15 per cent.

This article first appeared in the 31 October 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Young, angry...and right?

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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State