PORTRAIT OF THE YEAR
`This is not the IRA, John, this is us.'
John Major predicted in June that the recession was beginning to lift. The annual rate of inflation fell from 9 per cent in Jan- uary to 4.3 per cent in November, but the recession tightened its grip further, with high levels of unemployment, bankruptcy and repossession orders on homes, forcing the Conservatives to put off a General Election until 1992. But the Prime Minister managed to quiet Thatcherite anti-federal- ists at the Maastricht summit with an agree- ment that Britain could opt out of a single currency and need not sign a European social charter. A council tax was invented to replace the unpopular poll tax. Margaret Thatcher, Norman Tebbit, Nigel Lawson and Nicholas Ridley decided not to stand again for parliament. The IRA fired a bomb into 10 Downing Street's garden while the Cabinet was meeting. Talks between factions in Northern Ireland were arranged by Peter Brooke, but collapsed, and tit-for-tat murders by Loyalists and the IRA reached a new peak. It was a year of legal chaos: the Birmingham Six were released from prison, the convictions of the Maguire Seven were quashed and so were those of the Tottenham Three for the mur- der of a policeman at Broadwater Farm. A Royal Commission to enquire into the sys- tem of justice was ordered. Claims that children had been forced to take part in witchcraft rituals in Rochdale and the Orkneys were dismissed. The Bank of Eng- land closed the Bank of Credit and Com- merce because of a £9.2 billion fraud. Robert Maxwell went missing from his yacht; he was found nude and dead, but £450 million was then found missing from the Daily Mirror's pension fund. Graham Greene died aged 86. New laws were brought in to restrain dangerous dogs after a wave of canine violence in which the Queen was bitten by one of her own corgis.
PRESIDENT Saddam Hussein of Iraq pre- dicted the mother of all battles, but was rapidly defeated by the allied forces of the West and of Saudi Arabia. Kuwait was returned to its Emir. Allied casualties were light, with 148 US servicemen dead; the Iraqi people bore heavy losses but did not lose Saddam Hussein, who remained in power to kill and torture. Iraqi Kurds who tried to leave stayed when the allies set up `safe havens' whose safety became more doubtful as the year went on. War and Soviet collapse altered the power balance
of the Middle East. Under pressure from the United States, Israel, Syria, and Pales- tinians held talks. All British and American hostages in Beirut were freed. Diehard Soviet communists made a last attempt to retain the Soviet empire by overthrowing President Gorbachev, but the people came onto the streets and the coup collapsed within days. President Yeltsin became the man of power and Gorbachev an impotent side-show as the bankrupt Soviet Union was formally dissolved, to become a loose commonwealth of republics. The West asked anxiously who now controlled the nuclear weapons. Leningrad was renamed St Petersburg. The Baltic republics began the year at the mercy of Soviet troops and ended it as independent states. Civil war raged in Yugoslavia, barely punctuated by 14 peace treaties negotiated by optimistic outside powers, as the controlling commu- nist forces of Serbia crushed attempts by right-wing Croatia to gain independence and set half a million refugees on the move. Rajiv Gandhi, ex-Prime Minister of India, was assassinated. The main laws supporting apartheid in South Africa were ended. The Leaning Tower of Pisa puzzled experts by
straightening by a tenth of an inch. SI3