What do you call keeping 60 gangsters out of Britain? A good start.

It’s not often that one gets the chance to say something nice about our politicians, but the Conservative MP Dominic Raab has put forth a good bill. Supported by, among others, David Miliband, Jack Straw and Sir Malcom Rifkind, all former Foreign Secretaries, the motion proposes that the 60 Russian officials from the so-called Magnitsky list be denied access to Britain and have their assets frozen.

Allow me to remind you of the facts of the matter. In 1996 the Stanford-educated American financier Bill Browder started Hermitage Fund which in due course became the biggest foreign investor in Russia. That country figured prominently in Mr Browder’s family history: his grandfather Earl was one of the founders of the American Communist Party and a lifelong KGB agent. One suspects, however, that this fact was of less importance to Browder than to the KGB people who run Russia, particularly Putin who is known to be sentimental about his alma mater.

One way or the other, Browder managed to stay on the right side of the Russian authorities long enough to become a very rich man, and one with enough clout to have supported Putin in his rise to power. He did, however, try to introduce Western business practices into the murky world of Russian finance, which is a bit like trying to teach Mike Tyson not to punch people. A conflict was inevitable, especially since gratitude doesn’t figure high on Putin’s list of virtues.

In 2006 Browder was out of the blue denied entry to Russia, but continued to run Hermitage from his offices in London. Such absentee management, though at first successful, couldn’t work indefinitely. Over the next two years, Hermitage’s Moscow offices were raided by the police, with various employees arrested, beaten, maimed and otherwise reprimanded. To Browder’s credit, he tried to get as many of them as he could out of Russia, but one of his lawyers, Sergei Magnitsky, stayed behind.

He was arrested and 11 months later died in remand prison. The official (false) diagnosis was pancreatitis, a disease usually, though not always, caused by excessive drinking. The unofficial (true) reason was abuse, beatings, torture and denial of medical treatment.

Since then Browder has waged a tireless international campaign aimed at punishing those 60 Russian thugs directly involved in the murder. The Raab motion is a reflection of the political support he has managed to whip up, and I do hope it becomes law. However, there are larger issues involved.

There are about 300,000 ‘new Russians’ living in London, and many of them come from the same KGB-mob background as the Magnitsky 60. Having made millions in ways that would be illegal anywhere else in the world, they use their ill-gotten gains to buy up not only the most expensive houses in London but also quite a few venerable Brirish institutions, such as football clubs, bookstore chains and newspapers.

We don’t mind: money doesn’t smell, and anyway it’s not illegal to buy things, is it now? We’re all supporters of private enterprise, aren’t we? So we don’t flinch when the ‘new Russians’ bust up expensive London restaurants and pay for the damage with briefcases full of cash. We don’t wince when observing those gangsters order a £2,000 bottle of wine and then dilute it with Diet Coke. We don’t mind when the likes of Berezovsky and Abramovich make a travesty of British justice by settling their tawdry accounts in our courts. We do object to their use of Polonium 210 in central London, but not too strenuously and not for very long.

Jonathan Sumption, Abramovich’s own barrister, has acknowledged that his client acquired his wealth through ‘an agreement to sell media support to the president of Russia in return for privileged access to state-owned assets.’ That, according to Mr Sumption’s admission, was ‘corrupt’. This isn’t the first adjective that springs to mind, but the question is, how is this any different from the way organised crime normally operates?

Now, I’m neither a lawyer nor a historian of law, but I do find it hard to imagine, say, the Krays being allowed to buy The Times in the 1960s, the Richardsons being welcome to The Telegraph, or even either of them allowed to take over a string of football clubs all over the country. Money didn’t smell in those days either, but its provenance mattered somewhat. So what has changed since then? I’ll let you answer this question yourself, provided you do agree that things are different now. We’ve become champions of free enterprise über alles, but free enterprise shouldn’t be a suicide pact.

So well done to Dominic Raab and those politicians who support his motion, even though one would be within one’s right to question some of their motives. Jack Straw and David Miliband, for example, haven’t repudiated Lord Mandelson, that exemplar of fiscal probity and their party comrade, for his intimate links with Oleg Deripaska, the aluminium king whose kingdom is not of the Western world. So what has awakened their conscience in this instance?

I wonder if Miliband in particular is still smarting from the indignity he suffered during his stint as Foreign Secretary at the hands of Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. When Miliband mentioned in passing Russia’s record on human rights, Mr Lavrov displayed an enviable command of the English idiom by replying, ‘Who the f… are you to lecture me?’ I can’t imagine Viscount Palmerston or, closer to our time, Lord Carrington being talked to that way, but then we have agreed that things have changed.

Still, whatever their motives, they are doing the right thing. I just hope they don’t stop here.


Putin, the sexy beast — a few thoughts before the landslide

To paraphrase Lord Acton ever so slightly, power attracts; and absolute power attracts absolutely.

It has to. For otherwise I struggle to explain why Russia’s once and future president Putin appeals to so many Western intellectuals, including quite a few who write for our main newspapers.

Some of it has to be good, old-fashioned ignorance. The drooling admirers simply may not know that Putin’s regime isn’t just corrupt (we have enough of those in the West) but downright criminal (we haven’t many of those). Putin’s pathway from 2000 to 2012, via Polonium 210, is strewn with political murders, racketeering, extortion, beatings and maimings, vote rigging, money laundering and every other number from the repertoire of felony.

Moreover, he is a proud and unrepentant veteran of the KGB, which beats the SS to the honour of being the most evil organisation in history. Applying the Nuremberg logic, a member of a criminal organisation is himself a criminal; a proud member, doubly so. Putin’s sponsoring organisation, and therefore Putin himself, are covered with the blood of 60 million murdered people — and that’s just in Russia. Those kind of numbers normally suffice to qualify for the appelation ‘criminal’, with room to spare.

But let’s suppose some people don’t know any of this, though such ignorance raises serious questions about the hiring policies of our academe and media. And, stretching the benefit of the doubt to snapping point, neither are they aware that Putin’s KGB camarilla, securely fused with the criminal underworld, has been stealing Russia blind, richly meriting their nickname ‘the party of thieves and crooks’. Outside Moscow, Petersburg and places where raw materials are produced or processed, ordinary Russians starve, while Putin’s cronies launder billions through various Western institutions. And being a Putin crony is a sine qua non of enrichment in Russia — one can no more become wealthy there while at loggerheads with Putin than one can run a Las Vegas casino without being in cahoots with the mafia.

And yet one would think that halfway intelligent people, even if they are ignorant of Russia, must be able to smell a rat. Even if impervious to the substance of the Putin regime, they have to be sensitive to its style. All those naked torsos, bulging muscles, crude and obscene language, cheap populism, mass rallies that thousands are coerced to attend, sabre rattling, support for every terrorist regime under the sun — surely people must be able to see the unmistakeable parallels with the livery of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany? And if they do, how can they find a kind word for Putin in spite of all that?

I asked myself that question, and then realised that the answer is buried within it. Our intellectuals like Putin not in spite of all that but because of it. Like a weedy campus nerd enviously observing a muscular athlete thrust his hand under the skirt of a compliant girl — the same girl with whom the nerd has just discussed Sartre and Marcuse — our culturati must feel the vibes emanating from Putin and his gang.

There’s nothing new about that. The Bolsheviks and the Nazis had the same appeal in the West, and for exactly the same reasons. All those Lloyd Georges and George Bernard Shaws didn’t even discriminate; they liked both the brown and red varieties of the nightmare.

Just like Hilary Clinton gasping girlishly about ‘the alpha dog’ Putin, Western intellectuals from the 1920s and 30s got that funny feeling down there at the sight of all those leather jerkins and silvery skulls with crossed bones underneath. There was something, well, manly about pumping bullets into priests’ heads or gassing Jews. The culturati couldn’t do that themselves of course, they lacked the nerve. Then so much more did they admire those who didn’t: Lenin, who murdered about 10 million in the seven years he was in power; Stalin, who added 50 million or so; Trotsky, who felt the other two were too soft; Hitler, who knew whom he loved and especially whom he hated.

It’s supposed to be de rigeur for a Western intellectual to go through a leftie phase, be it Leninist, Trotskyist or Maoist, when young, only to settle into a more palatable set of ideas later in life. But I question the innocence of such youthful afflictions. God forbid I start waxing Freudian, but there must be a deep psychological need deep down somewhere to worship muscular murderers. And, though people’s minds undoubtedly develop with age, I doubt their psychology can do an about-face. Given a strong enough stimulus, the dormant cravings can wake up with a jolt, driving an ex-leftie Tory or Gaullist into the embrace of today’s Lenins, Trotskys and Maos.

All that’s required is self-vindication and self-absolution: protecting oneself from guilt. This can come from the post-rationalisation of something already felt intuitively, and the tricks are never in short supply. Take your pick: Putin may be rough around the edges, but he’s a true patriot; he’s good for Russia; he’s a man of principle, unlike our own self-serving bunch; he is leading Russia to true democracy, albeit in a roundabout way; there’s no alternative to be found among 150 million Russians; those who dislike Putin secretly hate Russia. But underneath it all bubbles the undercurrent of sensual attraction to brawn.

Nowt as queer as folk, as they say upcountry. Except that these folk have access to public forums, and so can cause untold harm. I hope we don’t let them.





The KGB rules, okay? – P.S.

A few hours ago, the First Channel of Russia’s TV announced that a combined action by Russian and Ukrainian ‘special services’ have thwarted a planned attempt on Putin’s life.

‘Following an international search, members of the gang were apprehended earlier this year,’ said Marina Ostapenko, head of PR for the Ukraine’s secret police (SBU). According to the First Channel, the inspiration behind the planned assassination came from an Adam Osmayev, who had spent a long time in London. The moment Osmayev was arrested, he began to cooperate with the police, all purely voluntarily of course. According to him, the plot involved the use of a suicide bomber, trained for the task somewhere in the UAE.

Within minutes of the announcement, rumours began to circulate in Moscow that the plot is Putin’s equivalent of the Reichstag Fire staged by the Nazis in 1933 to consolidate their hold on power. Those who spread such rumours point out the convenient timing of the announcement, a few days before the election. Why, they ask, if the arrests were made two months ago, the announcement came only this morning?

Why indeed? After all, Putin is reputed to have form in staging explosions for political purposes. It was the explosions in Moscow blocks of flats back in 2000 that set up the Second Chechen War and established Putin as the strong national leader so beloved of the Russians and admired by Peter Hitchens. A few years later Alexander Litvinenko wrote the book Blowing Up Russia, accusing Putin of the crime. In due course, the book attracted a rather extreme and decisive form of literary criticism in the centre of London, which didn’t do much to exonerate the Russian secret police in general and Putin in particular.

As questions are bound to be raised, by me among others, it’s only natural that the First Channel (Putin’s mouthpiece) should nip them in the bud. Asking such questions, explained their press service, ‘is a clear sign of mental illness obviously linked with the election campaign.’

Thanks for the diagnosis, Comrades — oops, sorry, ladies and gentlemen. And there I was, wondering what was wrong with me. No doubt, if I lived in Moscow rather than London, I’d get proper treatment from the psychiatrists working for Col. Putin’s former employer.





The KGB rules, okay?

 Winston Churchill’s famous description of Russia pointed out her enigmatic nature. The great man had a point: Russia is indeed full of mysteries. Some of them, however, are relatively easy to solve, such as why Russian sports shops sold 500,000 baseball bats last year, but only three baseballs and one baseball glove. Even allowing that this great sporting nation may play the game to a different set of rules, the disparity is puzzling – but not very.

 Other mysteries may present more of an intellectual challenge, but the presidential election forthcoming on 4 March isn’t one of them. Col. Putin will win, and one has to compliment him on a ground-breaking electoral strategy aimed at negating some of the bad publicity the good colonel has received over the last 12 years.

 The task wasn’t easy, for some of the publicity was so bad it would scupper even a Mugabe campaign. Just take the dossier published by Marina Salie, who in 1992 headed the Petersburg Council commission investigating  Putin’s business machinations when he was still a lowly deputy mayor. Among other choice bits, the documents showed that Putin had signed deals to export $100 million worth of raw materials in exchange of food. The raw materials dutifully left Russia. No food came back in return – this at a time of rationing in Petersburg.

 Onwards and upwards: Putin’s current 12-year record as national leader is signposted by such milestones as the second (genocidal) Chechen war, the gassing of dozens of hostages together with their kidnappers at a Moscow theatre, 40-odd opposition journalists and politicians ‘whacked’ (to use Putin’s own jargon) in dark alleys, a spot of nuclear terrorism in the centre of London, free press suppressed, terrorist regimes armed, palaces built all over Russia, shady links with dubious ‘exporters’, dozens of cronies elevated to riches, stroppy billionaires sent to concentration camps – just tell me where to stop.

 So what kind of strategy would have steered Putin to his present leadership in the polls (55 percent, with the nearest rival at eight percent, all of them together at 28)? The kind that could stand our own politicians in good stead: ‘Putin is the lesser evil!’ Yes, he might have done all those unpleasant things. Yes, he may be one of the richest men in the world (something claimed by the political scientist Belakovsky in an interview to Die Welt). Yes, his use of a figurehead ‘president’ Medvedev to keep his own chair warm for a few years was cynical. But, if not Putin, WHO THEN?

 Surely not Gennady Zyuganov, the communist leader? Those chaps had their innings for 74 years, and you know what happened. And not ‘Mad Vlad’ Zhirinovsky, the music-hall fascist who wants Russian soldiers to ‘wash their boots in the Indian Ocean’? Mikhail Prokhorov, an ‘oligarch’ envied and therefore loathed for his billions? No, absolutely not. Putin, scream all government-controlled TV channels (which is to say all TV channels), may not be an angel. But at least he is a strong leader, a career KGB officer who won’t take any nonsense from the West. HE IS THE LESSER EVIL.

 It has to be said that even Russians who have lived in the West for decades struggle to counter this eminently realistic strategy. For example, in an article written for a Russian on-line magazine, Vladimir Bukovsky, who used to be tortured in KGB psychiatric wards by Putin’s colleagues, came out in favour of Prokhorov, all six-foot-eight of him. Prokhorov, according to Bukovsky, has two irrefutable assets going for him. First, if elected, he promised to donate 17 of his 18 billion dollars to charity, keeping just a miserly one billion for his day-to-day expenses (Mitt Romney, ring your office). Second, he has never been directly implicated in murder. So fine, he may have been arrested by the dastardly French for running a prostitution ring, but wasn’t he eventually released without charge? What more do you need? If this isn’t the stuff of which landslides are made, I don’t know what is.

 And the real democratic opposition? It doesn’t exist. Oh sure, there are a few websites filled with longings for the kind of politics Russia has never had, and some of the writers have a genuine literary talent. What they don’t have is any clue of how any other system can possibly function in Russia. Russia, they claim on rather feeble evidence, is ready for democracy, no matter what the naysayers are naysaying. Everybody is ready for democracy – just look at Lybia and Iraq. It’s never too late for freedom.

 And how do we define freedom? Here semantics comes in handy. The old Russian word for freedom is volia, which is a cognate of ‘will’. True enough, freedom to a Russian is tantamount to a licence to do as he will – not to have his person and property protected by just laws. That sort of thing is too legalistic for Russians, too unspiritual – too Western for words. Let the Brits have their laws; the Russians have souls instead. Characteristically, Nikolai Lossky’s standard text The History of Russian Philosophy devotes 57 pages to the metaphysical thinker Soloviov and only two to all the Russian philosophers of law combined. And things haven’t changed much since the tsars: in a recent poll 80 percent of Russians stated that a strong leader is much more important than any set of laws.

 Given such a political climate, a winning electoral strategy writes itself. The odd picture of Putin’s muscular naked torso, a few more of him holding a rifle, riding a steed, displaying his prowess at martial arts or sporting a military uniform, and Boris is your uncle. And specific promises? Why, if elected, Col. Putin will invest $750 billion into rebuilding Russia’s military power. So Russia will become as great as it was under Stalin, especially considering the rate at which the West is disarming.

The good colonel can’t lose and he probably won’t even have to cheat. For IF NOT PUTIN, WHO ELSE? No one. And few people will shed a tear for a country in which there’s no alternative to a KGB thug, who’s proud to be one. ‘There’s no such thing as ex-KGB,’ Putin once declared. ‘This is for life.’ Quite.

Weep if you love England

I don’t think it would sound terribly controversial to say that England wasn’t born yesterday. It has been lovingly nurtured over two millennia by sage men expressing their affection for this ‘green and pleasant land’ by building up institutions that don’t just help England thrive — they enable her to survive as England; they are England.

Destroy those institutions one by one, and England becomes less. Continue this attrition, and it won’t take long for England to become something else. To stop being England in other words. Do you wish this to happen? I know I don’t.

Yet that is precisely what’s under way at present, and the demolition is presided over by a government that has the gall to call itself conservative. By way of illustration, I’ll cite just three examples, of many — these are work in progress, so perhaps an outside chance exists that the ‘progress’ will be nipped in the bud. (This is more in the nature of hope than expectation.)

One is the plan to turn the House of Lords into a fully elected chamber, to be called Senate or some such. We already have a Supreme Court, so why not restyle the Queen as Governor, the Commons as legislature and be done with it? Then we can apply for statehood within the USA — provided they agree to pay the EU off.

This displays such a barbaric ignorance of England’s constitution that no such savage ignoramus ought to be allowed to leave school, never mind enter politics. It has been known since Plato and Aristotle that the most just and viable government is one that keeps various political systems in fine balance. Practically the only Western country that has historically achieved such a balance to resounding success is England.

The demos had its interests represented in a democratically elected Commons, an unelected monarch provided the overall authority, and an aristocratic House of Lords made sure that the power of neither the monarch nor the people would become tyrannical. In practice, the dominant power has been vested in the Commons since 1688 — but it was securely checked by the other two branches, none of which was held hostage to political pressures, as elected officials inevitably are.

It was also assumed that the peers, who owned so much land in England for generations, had umbilical links with the country and would therefore do their utmost to protect it against either royal tyranny or mob rule. Hence having an elected upper chamber is a travesty — the house built brick by brick over centuries will collapse, and our assorted spivocrats will lord over the ruins. Which is why they, regardless of their party affiliation, are pushing for this obscenity to become a fact soon. Never mind bono publico. Their own bono is all that matters.

Another institution that lies at the heart of England is the Anglican Church, of which the Queen is Supreme Governor. Yet speaking the other day at Lambeth Palace to leaders of various faiths, Her Majesty saw fit to declare that, ‘[The Church’s] role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.’ Someone forgot to tell that to Richard Hooker.

In all humility, the Queen got it wrong. The role of the Church is precisely ‘to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions’ — as it is the role of the Supreme Governor of the Church to act as Defender of the Faith. The faith, Your Majesty, not any old ‘faith’ — Jack of all faiths, Supreme Governor of none. As Supreme Governor of the Church, it isn’t the monarch’s role, and nor is it the Church’s, to protect the freedom of any kind of worship. This may be her role as head of state, but that’s another hat, or rather crown, that she wears.

May I humbly remind Her Majesty of this exchange that took place on 2 June, 1953.Archbishop. Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them? Queen. All this I promise to do.’

The Coronation Oath didn’t mention any commitment to even-handed multiculturalism. However, as you can see, it did mention other commitments that sound as if they just may be at odds with Her Majesty’s statement the other day. Score another one for our spivocrats in all three major parties.

The third institution that’s currently under attack is marriage, and therefore family. Neither Plato nor Aristotle would have recognised its critical significance. They were champions of agora politics, where men expressed themselves not as individuals but as citizens. Home for them was but a bedroom and a dining room, and they — and their wives — easily floated from marriage to marriage, and, in every possible combination of sexes, from one lover to the next. If a heterosexual dalliance or marriage produced children, then Plato advocated their becoming wards of the state, so that every citizen could assume that someone roughly his own age could be his biological sibling.

Christianity changed all that by privatising the spirit and internalising man. People would now express themselves not by arguing in the public square, but by contemplating and praying at home or church. The Western world that reflected this seismic shift, the most revolutionary one in history, abandoned the overarching polis and began to rely instead on small, tight, familial bodies: guild, parish, village, township. And of course family was by far the most important of all familial institutions — the building block of Western society.

And it’s this building block that’s in the process of being knocked out of the house and smashed to smithereens. All three parties — and many clergymen — are pushing for ‘same-sex’, which is to say homosexual, marriage to gain equal status with what any sane Westerner would recognise as proper marriage. Family is of course the major competitor to the congenital megalomania of the modern state, and so it has to be destroyed for our spivocrats to reign supreme. It has already been largely deprived of any religious significance — now its social value will be discounted to practically zero. Since Abraham, marriage has been understood as a union between a man and a woman, with the propagation of our race being its social function. That’s why all three Abrahamic religions treat marriage as a sacrament and hold it in high esteem.

But of course such arguments don’t work for either our spivocrats or their flock. According to them, the dial is reset in every generation, and each subsequent generation is so much more advanced than any of its predecessors. So those anomic creatures in Westminster feel perfectly justified in destroying institutions that have proved their paramount value over millennia.

Do you love England? So reach for a handkerchief. And, once your eyes are dry, do something about it while England is still there. What’s left of it.







No, not a pig. I want some PICKLE!

I can’t boast of being particularly good at languages. But, what with an inordinate amount of toing and froing over a lifetime, I manage to get by in most countries when it comes to buying things or ordering a meal.

I even make a point of refusing English-language menus, and, if one is thrust upon me, only ever look at it for amusement value. For example, a Petersburg restaurant once had a mystery item on special, called ‘boiled language.’ I like mine nice and blue with lots of salt and pepper, I wanted to say, even though I knew that the Russians have the same word for tongue and language (yazyk, if you’re interested).

Anyway, by accident of birth I’m bilingual in English and Russian, so whenever I find myself in Moscow (which is as seldom as I can help it) I can ask anything I want, such as ‘I like my food hot, my vodka cold, and not vice versa’ or ‘Please don’t hurt me.’

Since I’ve been spending much time in France for many years, I can go so far as to exchange off-colour jokes with the maître d’ at my favourite Paris restaurant, secure in the knowledge that he is duty-bound to laugh at my one-liners (nowadays professional obligation seems to be a precondition for anyone to appreciate what my wife calls my infantile humour).

Having lived in Italy for a while and travelled extensively through Spain, I can order a fairly sophisticated meal in Rome or Madrid, and the waiters don’t even feel tempted to insult or overcharge me.

And English usually gets me through northern Europe, though not without the odd misunderstanding. Once I asked an Amsterdam fishmonger to prepare my bass for me, and he laughed just the way the French maître d’ does, even though on that occasion I wasn’t aware of making a joke. Turned out that to the Dutch gentleman preparing a fish meant cooking it, not cleaning and scaling, which is how the word is understood in the Anglophone world.

The only capital city in which I can’t make myself understood at shops and restaurants is the one where I happen to live: London. And I’d be lying to you if I claimed that my reaction to this linguistic conundrum is invariably good-natured.

This morning I was at a major supermarket where I couldn’t find Polish cucumbers in brine, which normally live in the Foods of the World section. I had to stop several assistants before I found one who could understand the word ‘cucumber’. Not a single one knew what brine was. ‘Vinegar?’ they’d suggest helpfully. ‘No, not vinegar! Brine! Salt and water!’ ‘Vinegar,’ they’d say with decisive finality.

On another occasion I was driven to distraction by a shop assistant who kept pointing me towards the butcher’s counter where I could buy ‘peeg’, rather than the pickle I had trouble finding. And when buying bread at a French bakery, such as Paul, one had better be able to speak French if wishing to communicate the difference between ‘rye bun’ and ‘rum baba’.

Now I don’t mind speaking French, but there’s a big difference between not minding and having to. In fact, I’m bloody-minded enough to refuse to speak any language other than English in my city. If they take my money in my country, they should damn well speak my language — just as I try my best to speak theirs in their country.

If this makes me sound as if I were somehow against immigrants working in London, I want to dispel this impression once and for all. I’m not. In fact, I welcome it — it’s nice to buy real bread from people who know how to make it; I like ordering my pasta from people who don’t pronounce it ‘passter’; I’m ecstatic about ordering a tapa from a waiter who knows the difference between Serrano and Ibérica hams. I just don’t want to have language problems in my own city.

Moreover, I’m a firm supporter of free trade, including the import of labour, though I do draw the line on the import of welfare recipients. I just wonder why I’ve never met a Paris waiter who doesn’t speak proper French, while these days hardly ever meeting a London one who speaks proper English.

Having lived in Texas, which in those days wasn’t known for a cosmopolitan outlook on life, I noticed that the widespread animosity towards Mexican immigrants went from peaks to troughs, depending on the economic situation (which in Houston depended entirely on the price of crude oil). When the economy was booming, nobody minded Mexican bricklayers or, for that matter, waiters very much — they were doing jobs that the good ole boys didn’t want. But when the economy dipped, suddenly the good ole boys wanted those jobs, at which point they’d begin to describe the ‘Messicans’ in terms that would incur the wrath of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

We don’t seem to have a similar problem here: our economy is in the doldrums, 20 percent of British young people are unemployed (and God only knows how many more on the ‘sickie’), and yet catering and retail jobs go to people who don’t understand me even when I speak slowly and loudly. I could suggest why this is happening, and even what needs to be done to change the situation, but I’ll save that for a different article.

For now I’ll just go on saying, ‘Well, you better habla, mate. This is England, you know. Inglaterra! Entiende?’



Can a politician feel shame? Not when he is Balls.

Just when I felt sure that nothing politicians could say would possibly surprise me, Ed Balls proved me wrong. The Shadow Chancellor has proposed a sweeping programme of tax cuts — and criticised the Tories for not having seen the light first.

‘Some people,’ he wrote in the Sunday Times, ‘may be surprised to see Labour prioritising tax cuts.’ Not surprised, Ed. Disgusted, is more like it. What we are indeed surprised to see is that there truly are no limits to the bold-faced effrontery of which politicians are capable.

Ed’s proposals are a bit like Adolph Hitler rising from the dead to point out our deficiencies in interracial relations. Or Rosemary West accusing the government of not doing enough to protect children from abuse. Or Attila the Hun rebuking us for excessive bellicosity.

For it is the Labour government of 1997-2010, which Ed served in various economy-related capacities, such as economic adviser to Brown and Economics Secretary to the Treasury, that pulled off the seemingly impossible feat. Having inherited one of the most competitive economies in the world, it turned it into a basket case.

Actually, this seems to be Labour’s role in life: getting into power only to smash the economy, then stepping aside for a few years to let the Tories paper over some of the cracks, then coming back to swing the sledgehammer again.

I’m not an unequivocal admirer of Lady Thatcher, but her ‘supply-side revolution’ of the 1980s did succeed in reviving Britain’s moribund economy driven to the brink by Labour’s harebrained subversiveness. Using such expedients as deregulation, pinning back the greedy unions’ ears, tax-cutting and privatisation, Mrs Thatcher’s government put ‘the sick man of Europe’, Britain’s economy, back on its feet. It may have been tottering, but it was standing up.

Thirteen years of Labour’s incompetence, tinged with the bright red of ideological commitment to greed and envy, brought the economy to its knees. Their regulations, quite apart from their direct cost of about £178 billion, suffocated enterprise; their extorting more tax from corporations made matters worse; their massive raids on pension funds beggared thousands of pensioners and reduced the competitiveness of our finance industry; their meddling in tax regulations added new layers of bureaucracy; their shifting of resources from the private to the public sector put an unbearable strain on honest people in productive employment.

Above all, Labour’s criminally irresponsible borrowing made it well-nigh impossible for the Tories to restore sanity upon their return to power. Thanks to Margaret Thatcher’s policies, early in the government of John ‘Maastricht’ Major the public debt stood at 24.6 percent of GDP, the lowest proportion in the 20th century. It took Major only a few years to prove that his economic acumen was only equalled by his taste in girlfriends: towards the end of his mercifully brief tenure the debt had risen to 43.8 percent of GDP. At the time that looked like a disaster. Now it loooks like the good old times.

During the 13 disastrous years of Ed’s beloved Labour the public debt was tropistically reaching for 100 percent of GDP and a trillion pounds in absolute terms, which threshold has now been stepped over by the coalition. A debt of this magnitude would bind hand and foot even a government made up of George Cannings and William Pitts advised by Adam Smiths and David Ricardos. For one composed of our own Daves, Georges and Vinces the debt isn’t just a tether but also a millstone around its neck. What they need is something they have not: the courage to tell the nation that the cancerous economy needs not a gentle massage but a drastic surgery combined with chemotherapy. The economy will emerge shaken, weak and possibly nauseated. But it just may live.

What they emphatically don’t need is lessons in economic probity from the likes of Balls. Anyway, what specifically does this newly hatched champion of low taxation propose? A three-percent income-tax cut. Not for ever, he hastens to reassure his socialist rank-and-file craving to punish the ‘rich’. Just for a year, until the economy gets going again. And then we can tax it back into submission, making sure industry and talent don’t pay and continuing to tax the marginal pound at 50 percent or more (which was one of the last thank-you gifts from the outgoing Labour government).

What else, Ed? Oh well, if you insist. Bringing forward the personal allowance rise to £10,000. Higher tax credits. That’s about it. Well, even assuming you mean what you say, Ed, that’s chicken feed. Considering the shambles into which you and your mates turned the economy, that’s like using aspirin as the pain killer during an amputation.

And anyway, how are we going to finance this generosity? Surely not by cutting public spending? Getting rid of the hundreds of thousands of government-paid freeloaders you chaps created during your baker’s dozen years in power? Oh no, God forbid. Ed is suggesting Labour’s proven method: printing more money. Never mind that since 2008 Britain has already printed more cash than in the previous few centuries combined. Ed thinks we should print even more, not just putting the economy into its coffin, but nailing the lid shut.

The nerve of some people. And you know what the most horrible thing about it all is? Labour’s rating may well rise, vindicating Ed’s real — and only — aim. Balls is trying to activate Tony Blair’s New Labour strategy of pretending to be more Tory than the Tories. All he needs is a good name for it, what with New Labour stinking to high heaven. I’m sure he’ll manage — coming up with code words to conceal their innate destructiveness is all our politicians are good at.

And once the vote-winning shibboleth is there and bedded down (‘Labour of Love’? ‘Labouring for Your Success’? ‘Small Labour, Big Economy?’ Possibilities are endless.), the trick may well work again. After all, it did before.





William Hague, the curate’s egg

Our Foreign Secretary’s photograph should appear in dictionaries to illustrate the concept of curate’s egg. Yesterday the good part warned of the dangers inherent in Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. But then the bad part took over and things went downhill all the way.

Mr Hague warned that we’re risking a ‘new cold war’, this time with Iran. Yet nothing can be further from the truth. We’re not risking a new cold war, we’re smack in the middle of it. What we are risking is nuclear war, which is as hot as they come.

Considering that I’m-a-Dinner-Jacket doesn’t even bother to conceal his aggressive intent, the West clearly can’t allow his regime to affix nuclear warheads to the long-range missiles it has already, those that can reach not only Jerusalem but even London. What we need, and have a right to expect, from our leaders at this time is clear thinking, resolve and courage. What we get is platitudes.

Such as Hague’s yesterday’s contributions: ‘We support a twin-track strategy of sanctions and pressure and negotiations on the other hand.’ [We’re no doubt encouraged by the resounding success this strategy has produced so far.] ‘All options must remain on the table’ because a military attack would have ‘enormous downsides’.

What happened to ‘look before you leap’ and ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’? Why didn’t they make it into this glossary of clichés?

We know war is nasty business, Mr Hague; no reminder necessary, thank you very much. We also know, however, that sometimes it takes small wars to prevent big ones. Craven appeasement of tyrants — pardon me, I meant ‘a twin-track strategy’ — has been known to produce nothing but disasters.

Hitler, for example, could have been stopped dead with a minimum of fuss at any time until his westward thrust. Even after the Nazis attacked Poland they were there for the taking, what with not a single tank covering their western border (where the French and the British had about 1,400 tanks safely parked, with handbrakes on). Hague’s predecessor in the job, Anthony Eden as he then was, objected bitterly but was overruled by Neville Chamberlain, whom, at Maastricht time, John Major acknowledged as his role model. And then bombs came down on England, but at least their yield wasn’t measured in megatons, and there was no radioactive fallout.

Considering that Iran’s bombs are likely to be different from Luftwaffe’s blockbusters, the military option is the only one ‘on the table’. All others have been blown off the tabletop — the risk is too high to shilly-shally.

Rather than putting pressure on Israel not to take preemptive action, Hague should be in Washington, working out the diplomatic specifics of a coordinated attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and infrastructure — and then in Saudi Arabia, making sure the consensus in the Arab League doesn’t go against us. Time is running out and, to put it into the kind of idiom Mr Hague seems to be most comfortable with, a stitch in time saves nine.

But at least Hague is aware of the danger. Shashank Joshi, of the defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute, isn’t. ‘If we could live with nuclear weapons in the hands of totalitarian, genocidal states like Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China,’ he said, ‘Iran in contrast… is far more rational’. If that’s the level of strategic thinking coming out of those tanks, they should all be decommissioned and broken up for scrap.

Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China were indeed totalitarian and genocidal regimes, but they didn’t rely on terrorism as their primary tactic in confronting the West. They were suspended in a global (or, in China’s case, regional) standoff with the West, and their aggressive ambitions were held in check by the certainty of nuclear obliteration by an American counterstrike. The American strategy behind this Mexican standoff was called MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), and, say what you will about it, it worked.

Today’s ‘rational’ Iran, on the other hand, isn’t at all like the Soviet Union — it can’t harbour any hopes of matching up to the West in a mano a mano situation. It’s more like an Al Qaeda with national borders, and it’s with Al Qaeda that Iran is reported to be coordinating its forthcoming actions. There wouldn’t be a swarm of bombers and ICBMs darkening the sky over London, Paris or Tel Aviv. But there well may be one nuclear missile hitting home, or one nuclear charge surreptitiously delivered in a suitcase by a foreign student of the LSE.

That’s why Iran’s leaders are indulging in the kind of brinkmanship that’s positively goading the West into an attack. They aren’t really scared of the hell that could be unleashed by the three US carrier groups in the region. They are prepared to take massive casualties in the hope of then inflicting them with plausible justification. The only action they would be afraid of is one that would wipe out their evil regime, but they think the West is likely to stop just short of it. They are prepared to gamble on the West’s cowardice and indecision, and they must feel the odds are good.

‘If they feel their regime is under existential threat, if they feel they face a Libya-like situation, they would have the option of building a bomb,’ explains Mr Joshi. And doing what with it? Putting it up on a pedestal and worshipping it from afar? ‘Building a bomb’ is precisely the option the likes of I’m-a-Dinner-Jacket must be denied. Whatever it takes. Before it’s too late.


Red corner: God. Blue corner: the state. Referee: Trevor Phillips

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, made a silly and subversive pronouncement, but then the chap has to justify his existence somehow.

In the statist gospel according to Trevor, the state shall ride roughshod over religion whenever there is a divergence of opinion between the two. Thus the state is within its right, say, to browbeat a Catholic adoption agency into giving up its opposition to homosexual couples adopting little boys. St Trevor thus believes — nay, dictates — that any state law, no matter how perverse or recent — should take precedence over a position laid down in Leviticus and Romans thousands of years ago. Only in today’s virtual world can such an issue arise, and commenting upon it seriously would be dignifying it with a consideration it doesn’t deserve.

So rather than questioning the validity of Trevor Phillips’s beliefs I’d like to question the validity of Trevor Phillips. Not as a person, you understand, and nor as an erstwhile defender of free speech, but as someone who is the official embodiment of his outfit.

It’s questionable whether the term ‘human rights’ has any value in serious discourse on political matters. Today we are served up any number of rights: to marriage, education, health, development of personality, leisure time, orgasms, warm and loving family or – barring that – warm and loving social services, employment, paternity leave and so forth. These ‘rights’ are manifestly bogus as they fail the test of not presupposing a concomitant obligation on somebody else’s part. When a ‘right’ presupposes such an obligation, it’s not a right but a matter of consensus.

Thus one’s right to employment would mean something tangible only if there were someone out there who consents or is obligated by law to give one a job. One’s right to a developed personality (guaranteed by the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, signed by such authorities on human rights as Stalin’s Russia) presupposes an obligation on somebody else’s part to assist such development. One’s right to a fulfilling sex life… this can get too silly for words. All these rights become tangible only if they are granted by others; and anything given can be taken away, so there go all those pseudo-rights alienated right out of the window.

On the other hand, the right, say, to property is real: my desire to acquire it doesn’t depend on your consent. Typically, it’s precisely this right that the modern state has well-nigh invalidated by assuming, about a century ago, the prerogative to inflate currency and impose extortionist taxes as it sees fit. The state, so worshipped by Phillips, thus became what H.L. Mencken called ‘the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men.’

Phillips would do well to remember that, without the religion he wants the state to squash under its thumb, the very idea of human rights would be as unthinkable to us today as it would have been to Plato. A slave having the same rights as a full-fledged Athenian citizen? Preposterous.

That every person has an intrinsic value regardless of his wealth, race or status is a notion inseparable from every person having been created in the image of God. And it’s at that, and only at that, level that true equality exists. (Equality before law is merely an extension of the same principle into justice.) When appearing in the context of Trevor’s outfit, equality means something else of course: levelling, imposed and enforced by the state as a way of keeping people under control.

This is what I call the great larceny of modernity: shifting Christian ideas into the secular domain, where they are perverted and bent to serve the cause of burgeoning statism. Thus the injunction to give one’s possessions to the poor is warped into the ungainly shape of the welfare state; the sacrament of marriage as a union between a man and a woman essential to the survival of man is perverted into a union between either a man or a woman and any mammal of their choice; equality of all before God is taken to mean no pride of place for Christianity.

Phillips actually had the gall to equate a Catholic charity’s attempt to cling on to Christian values with the Muslims insisting on obeying only the Sharia law. Does he know anything at all about England’s history? Her constitution? The makeup of her realm? Does the term ‘established religion’ mean anything to him? Has he heard our head of state described as ‘defender of the faith’? Has he read the text of the oath Her Majesty took 60 years ago? Or heard her last Christmas speech?

In 2004 Phillips himself called upon various ethnic and religious groups to ‘assert a core of Britishness’ in the face of creeping multiculturalism. He must realise that Christianity is an essential part of this core, and therefore Christian and Muslim laws can’t enjoy equal status in Britain — or, for that matter, in the Islamic world, where, given a conflict, Muslim laws must take precedence.

An unfortunate turn of phrase, Mr Phillips. That’s what happens when a good man associates himself with a bad cause. 


Take it from an actor’s grandson: actors are seldom bright

A friend of the great Russian poet Mandelstam once referred to ‘the profession that’s the opposite of yours’, probably meaning a secret police agent. But Mandelstam naturally assumed his friend was talking about an actor.

Common sense would suggest he was right to make that assumption. Someone who can effortlessly slip into multiple personalities is unlikely to have a strong one of his own; someone who regurgitates the products of other men’s minds has to be able to suppress his own, and powerful intellects wouldn’t stay suppressed for long. Just imagine, say, Immanuel Kant playing Hamlet, putting his soul into the Bard’s immortal line ‘Sein, oder nicht sein…’, and you’ll know what I mean.

Naturally there are exceptions. For example, I hear from my friends who know him that Edward Fox is an intelligent man. I’ll take their word for it, but then there are exceptions to everything. I’ve even met well-spoken footballers who don’t have to pause after every other word to suppress the ‘f’ filler that would normally slot in there. Exceptions are exceptions, and rules are rules.

So much for the theory — now comes empirical validation. I grew up with my grandfather, a highly respected stage actor. Whenever he and his colleagues had a free evening, they’d crowd into our tiny place, drink and amuse themselves in all sorts of boisterous and crude ways. They’d bend over my pram, dripping sweat on my swaddled body, and teach me words that in those days only appeared in large unabridged dictionaries. Thus long before I could walk I knew how to describe a person’s maternal progenitor in terms suggesting intimate familiarity with most sexual variants.

When I grew up I found no forensic evidence to contravene the first pram-acquired impressions. By then the star dust covering famous actors had been blown off by close acquaintance, and I realised that my sainted grandpa and his friends weren’t just eccentric but, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid and vulgar. I’m aware how unfashionable it is to generalise, and I know I’ll burn in PC hell, but various large groups of people do tend to have much in common. So I suspect that many, though far from all, actors share at least one of those characteristics, and possibly both.

Nothing one reads about them in the press goes a long way towards dispelling this shameful preconceived notion. Take Sean Penn’s recent comments on British foreign policy in the South Atlantic, which stirred much indignation not just in the British press but, more important, among residents of the Falklands, which Mr Penn, displaying a fine command of geopolitical nuance, referred to as the Malvinas.

My first reaction wasn’t so much indignation as good-natured indulgence: I simply considered the source, which I knew only too well. Add Sean’s likely deficiency in the upstairs department to his well-documented adulation of Hugo Chavez and to the visceral hatred for Britain which is a trademark of many Hollywood actors of Irish descent, and all one can say is ‘there, there, no need to get excited, there’s a good boy — have another jar, my old son.’ Arguing against Sean and his colleagues would hardly be sporting.

Why actors and other celebs feel entitled not only to their own opinion, but also to an audience, is the really interesting part. In the past, one had to earn the right to speak in the agora; these days people assume that those who are good at something are good at everything.

Now Penn is an excellent actor, but it’s not his talent that puts him on the public platform. It’s his fame. Even those who barely know, or can appreciate, how good an actor he is, know he is a celebrity — and this is all that matters. If he next decides to pass judgment on the conflict between quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity, physicists will cringe, but the public will listen and nod.

Fame is these days divorced from attainment, and the two coincide only fortuitously. Thus we routinely get celebrities like Nancy del’Olio, whose sole claim to renoun is based on her amorous links to Sven-Goran Eriksson and Sir Trevor Nunn. I wonder what Nancy thinks about the Malvinas, wouldn’t you like to know? On second thoughts, never mind that. She probably thinks the word stands for lousy wine.