Call Lebedev violent and he’ll punch your lights out

Following the old adage about our enemies’ enemies, anyone who dislikes billionaire Vladimir Putin is supposed to like billionaire Alexander Lebedev. Yet without in any way denigrating folk wisdom, one finds it hard to apply in this instance, though our papers don’t seem to share this problem.

Parallels are being drawn between Lebedev and Pussy Riot, with the altogether correct conclusion that justice in Putin’s Russia falls short of our standards. Fair enough, a quick phone call from the Kremlin can indeed open or close any case, and those that stay open often have the verdict decided in advance. But that makes neither Pussy Riot less hideous nor Mr Lebedev more innocent. 

Lebedev has been charged with hooliganism for beating up a fellow guest on a Moscow TV show. Taking exception to Sergei Polonsky’s perfectly innocent remarks, the oligarch got up and threw a well-rehearsed combination of punches, knocking the unsuspecting man off his chair to the floor.

The Times refers to the incident as a ‘punch-up’, implying bilateral action. It wasn’t. It was a savage, surprise attack that was neither provoked nor reciprocated.

Now Lebedev’s pugilistic exploits may earn him several years in prison, which on the surface of it doesn’t sound like terrible injustice. Nor is the vicious attack a groundless accusation: anyone with access to YouTube can watch it in living colour. Fair cop? Not according to the accused, who doesn’t mind venting his views urbi et orbi. And he can.

Unlike other Russian billionaires Mr Lebedev has easy access to British newspapers. After all, his family owns several of them, The Standard and The Independent being the jewels in their portfolio. About a year ago, the whisper started that Lebedev was also about to acquire The Times, but we’re not going to indulge in rumour-mongering, are we?

His self-defence is as virtuosic as his boxing technique (not every brawler can throw such short, straight punches, especially in combinations). ‘Anyone in my position would have done the same,’ says Lebedev. ‘The only thing I regret is that people might now perceive me as a violent person, which I am absolutely not.’

Perish the thought, whatever would give anybody that idea? Publicly beating up a man who doesn’t share our opinions is a perfectly normal, non-violent thing to do. Especially for a career KGB officer, which Lebedev was.

His son’s comment is breathtaking in its effrontery: ‘My father has spent his life trying to promote freedom of expression and justice in his fight against corruption in Russia.’ Of course he has. Shame on you for thinking KGB officers may devote their lives to anything other than promoting human liberties or, as The Mail described it, ‘quality journalism’.

Lebedev Jr was alluding to Russia’s Novaya Gazeta, which his father owns in partnership with Gorbachev. The paper has indeed taken an anti-Putin stance, and several of its correspondents, including Anna Politkovskaya, have been rather unceremoniously bumped off in assorted dark alleys – though not in ‘the shithouse’, as Putin once identified his preferred killing venue.

But even if, at a moment of weakness, we accept that Lebedev is animated by a noble spirit, rather than political ambitions or a personal squabble with his KGB colleague Putin, we still may find it hard to contain some disbelief. Much as we crave seeing Lebedev in the light shone by his son, facts just won’t let us. (Russophones can get these on

Upon graduation from the Institute for International Relations, the notorious KGB breeding ground, Lebedev joined his alma mater’s sponsoring organisation and in 1987 was posted under diplomatic cover to the Soviet embassy in London. This was a more prestigious posting than Dresden, where Putin served, which may partly explain the colonel’s persistent resentment of Lebedev.

Exactly what assignments Lebedev carried out here isn’t known. Yet at the start of his ‘business’ career he liked to threaten his competitors with KGB ‘torture chambers’, boasting about his experience in their use.

After the 1991 transfer of power from the Party to the KGB, otherwise known as ‘the collapse of the Soviet Union’, the ruling elite felt compelled to portray Russia as a new oasis of freedom, democracy and free enterprise. To that end, state assets were transferred into the tender care of ‘appointed’ oligarchs, mainly drawn from three groups: komsomol (Young Communist League) functionaries, KGB officers and common criminals. In their moral principles and modus operandi the three groups were barely distinguishable, so their fusion into a single entity proceeded apace.

Lebedev was one of those who drew the long straw. He started a finance company that instantly prospered, then in 1995 bought the National Reserve Bank. How he managed in just a couple of years to put together enough money to buy even a struggling bank is a mystery, but then Russia is full of them.

What’s important is that government-owned Gazprom, the world’s biggest gas producer, instantly transferred $300 million into the bank, even though it seemed to be on its last legs. But then, to use the Lebedev mantra, any major energy company, be it BP, Esso or Shell, would jump at the chance of transferring their hard-earned into a moribund bank days after it was acquired by someone with little experience in business. Wouldn’t it?

In due course, Lebedev bought a big share of Aeroflot and never looked back – until now, that is. For eventually a rift appeared between the ‘appointed’ oligarch and Putin.

Such oligarchs don’t really own their money – they keep an eye on it and are allowed to use some. This arrangement is contingent upon their behaviour. If they just enjoy their instantly acquired wealth and jump when Putin tells them to, they are welcome to their toys, such as jets, yachts, English football clubs or, in Lebedev’s case, London newspapers. But, as Mikhail Khodorkovsky will agree, the moment they launch unauthorised forays into politics they’re in trouble.

Lebedev too got ideas above their station. ‘Money for me,’ he once said, ‘is rather an opportunity to… affect public life.’ Now indulging in anti-Putin politics leaves an oligarch only two options: either do a Berezovsky and go west, preferably to London, or do a Khodorkovsky and go east, to a Siberian prison camp. Lebedev has rejected the former, so the latter may await.

Yet only someone who knows nothing about Russia or indeed people in general can portray him as a ‘freedom fighter’ committed to ‘quality journalism’. I don’t always understand the meaning of ‘quality’ as a modifier, but, assuming they mean high quality, one would suggest that perhaps The Independent and The Standard aren’t the brightest-shining examples of journalistic excellence. Under Lebedev’s stewardship the latter has reduced its price to nothing, which is about what it’s worth.

No, Mr Lebedev is committed to something else, and I wouldn’t venture a guess as to what that might be. Neither am I going to deny that, if Putin’s poodle Abramovich had indulged in TV violence, he probably would have got away with it.

But by the standards of any civilised country, what Lebedev did would be classified as assault. That Russia isn’t a civilised country shouldn’t mean that Lebedev’s thuggery wasn’t assault. If he’s thrown into jail, I, for one, won’t shed any tears.

What does vex me is that chaps like him are allowed to buy means of affecting public opinion in England. Free enterprise should be encouraged – but not allowed to become a suicide pact.











What on earth do they teach at Eton and Oxford?

One would have thought that Dave’s experience with talk shows would make him steer clear of David Letterman and his little traps.

In 2006 Dave appeared on Jonathan Ross’s BBC show, only to be asked if, as a young lad, he had ever masturbated to a photo of Margaret Thatcher. Any normal man would have instantly got up and left. Then, if by some stroke of luck, that same man became prime minister a few years later, he’d question exactly how hideous, unfunny vulgarians like Ross contribute to ‘promoting education and learning’ and ‘stimulating creativity and cultural excellence’, both stipulated in the BBC Charter. He’d then threaten to revoke this charter unless the BBC complied with it.

Our Dave of course did none of those things. Walking out would have communicated to the electorate that he’s not a MAN OF THE PEOPLE. That cherished distinction presupposes regarding words like ‘wank’ as ipso facto amusing. So Dave just smiled as if he had heard a dazzling witticism. And, judging by the fact that the BBC continues to churn out trivial, mindless and often offensive entertainment, its compliance with its charter has never been questioned.

Now Dave has got into hot water over another charter, the Great one. Letterman offered him a brief quiz on things British, such as who wrote Rule, Britannia. Not only was Dave blissfully unaware of this piece of trivia, but, by guessing it was Elgar, he was at least a full century out. A couple of decades ago, any primary school pupil unburdened by learning difficulties would have known the name of Thomas Arne and what he was famous for, but we’ll let it pass.

The next test Dave failed involved Magna Carta, and this one wouldn’t inconvenience a moderately bright kindergarten pupil. To Dave’s credit, he knew what Magna Carta was and when it was signed. After some visible mental effort he even identified the place where that momentous event took place. What utterly defeated our old Etonian was the English translation of those two devilishly difficult words.

Now let’s suppose for the sake of argument that Dave has never read history books, many of which refer to this document as The Great Charter. Let’s further suppose that he played truant when Latin was taught at Eton and then spent all of his university years getting pissed at the Bullingdon Club to the exclusion of any academic studies. Such suppositions hurt, for generally one expects that a national leader would have been drawn from the pool of those who did well at school. But I, for one, am ready to be lenient about such gaping holes in Dave’s education.

The next problem is much worse. For any averagely intelligent man, even if he never attended a single Latin lesson, ought to be able to guess what these two words mean. The normal thought process would lead him towards other words sharing the same root. Let me show you how this is done, Dave, and for once in your life pay attention.

You must have ordered magnums of Bolli at the Bullingdon, didn’t you? Fine, fine, it wasn’t Bolli but Krug, but that’s beside the point. It’s the word ‘magnum’ that I want you to concentrate on. You know what it is, don’t you? Excellent. It’s indeed a bottle twice the normal size. A very big bottle, in other words. And how do we say ‘very big’ in one word? No, not ‘huge’. Not ‘bloody humongous’ either, and anyway it’s two words, not one. And not even ‘gigantic’, though we’re getting warmer. What was that? Super. You got it in one, or four rather. It’s ‘great’!

Now where else do we find this root Dave? Yes, that’s right, magnum also means a big cartridge in firearms, but I was thinking of different words. No? All right, I’ll give you a tip. What kind of glass do we hold to objects to make them appear larger? That’s right, good lad. A magnifying glass.

That’ll do us for the first word. Admittedly, one has to make the mental jump from ‘magnum’ and ‘magnify’ to ‘Magna’, but even Dave’s cerebral agility should be up to this task.

Now for the second word. Here we’re on shakier grounds, as connecting ‘Carta’ with ‘charter’ may require an IQ in three digits, or certainly no lower than 90. Words like ‘card’, ‘cartography’, ‘carte blanche’ should lead us to ‘chart’, and then we’re within one hop, skip and jump of ‘charter’.

There we have it Dave. The Great Charter, the bedrock of Englishmen’s liberties, commonly though not exclusively referred to as Magna Carta.

Now please tell me it was all a publicity stunt, another trick designed to position Dave as a MAN OF THE PEOPLE. THE PEOPLE, on average, probably wouldn’t even know what Magna Carta was, never mind what the words mean. Is that what your focus groups say, Dave? Do they also confirm that THE PEOPLE don’t want their elected representatives to be cleverer than they are?

On second thoughts, perhaps it may be better to have a mentally challenged ignoramus for prime minister than a devious, calculating spiv. Then again, it may not.

And Dave? Next time you appear on a talk show, make sure it’s prerecorded. Those live ones can land a chap in a spot of bother, what?







Guess whom I’m interviewing on the EU and win a valuable prize

Why do you think we need an EU?

No nation in Europe can by itself achieve the necessary scale of economic freedom to meet all social demands.

So essentially we are putting collective security above individual sovereignty?

Now at last the time has finally come when the people of Europe, in their understandable striving for economic security, can make the decisive step to co-operation.

That still doesn’t address the issue of national interest in relation to collective security.

The will towards European Community effort… must become the leading concern of the basic, ruling economies… It means a readiness in certain circumstances to subordinate one’s own interests to those of the European Community. That is the highest goal which we require from the European states and we are striving to attain it. In individual cases this will mean sacrifices but the outcome is that all people will benefit.

But surely the tendency in the EU runs towards creating a protectionist bloc, something generally regarded as economically counterproductive?

If one considers the natural potential of our continent, it becomes apparent that Europe, in fact, meets all the requirements of a complete, self-sufficient economic area.

How do you think a unified economy can accommodate the interests of individual countries?

The preconditions for a political order to achieve the co-operation of the peoples of Europe are clearly identified. Its essence: respect for national character, development of own economic resources, long-term economic treaties. Economic interdependence is endorsed by destiny. The economic unity of Europe is manifest.

Aren’t we talking about essentially a statist economy?

The new empowerment of the originative and creative power of the individual is grounded in the community, the creation of a uniform economic understanding and attitude, the allocation of decisive tasks through the political leadership… Apart from this, the economy is free and self-responsible.

Don’t you think that the only major freedom remaining in individual states is that of running suicidal debts?

It has to be said that the debt is generally overstated compared to what it actually is. The arithmetical error runs on because differences in accounting periods, balances and balances in contra are not simultaneously taken into account.

That may be. But surely the monetary union inevitably presupposes the pooling of debt?

This task [of creating a single currency] is only possible if we first bring the European national economies into order…

But one can’t help noticing that the current austerity measures, feeble as they are, are causing unrest among people used to getting something for nothing.

Such a fundamental economic belief demands a social conscience. The people of Europe must and can demand social responsibility and consciousness from their state leadership in the realisation of the new economic order.

You seem to be suggesting that social responsibility may have to come at a cost to prosperity.

The new European economy will have to consider as its first task the fulfilment of its social obligations.

Thank you, Mr…

Well, replacing the ellipsis with the interviewee’s name would be telling, wouldn’t it? You still haven’t had the chance to guess who he was.

In the good, if recent, tradition of British education, I’ll give you a multiple choice. Was it a) José Manuel Barroso, b) Jacques Delors? c) Jacques Santer? d) Romano Prodi?

Got you going there, didn’t I? The interviewee could have been any one of those venerable gentlemen, but wasn’t. The correct answer is e) None of the above.

Every reply to my questions came from a speech delivered in 1942 by Walther Funk, Hitler’s Economy Minister and President of the Reichsbank (published in English by SMP Ltd.). Herr Funk spoke from the heart and with his usual eloquence about the EEC,  Europäische Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft for short.

In pursuit of his high-minded ideals Herr Funk indulged in certain peccadilloes that eventually earned him a life sentence at Nuremberg, with a hangman’s noose a distinct possibility until the last moment. But in a modern context his words speak louder than his deeds.

Each one of them shows an uncanny resemblance to the language of every formative document of the EU and the organisations out of which it came like Eve from Adam’s rib. Such likeness of words must betoken at least partial, if not yet total, similarity of principle and purpose.

Suffice it to say that the glittering prize Herr Funk saw in his mind’s eye, a federal Europe dominated by Germany, is a whisker away from becoming a reality. It’s true that some of the trappings of the Third Reich, those revolving around mass murder, are so far absent from the everyday practices of the EU.

However, much too often, when talking about either Reich, people concentrate on the consequences of the founding principles, rather than the principles themselves. Far be it from me to suggest that these are identical in the EU dominated by today’s Germany and wartime Europe dominated by Nazi Germany.

Yet it takes a blind man, or else one who won’t see, not to realise that they aren’t a million miles apart. And if you don’t believe me, I suggest you talk to the spirit of Walther Funk.

Parent, forgive them; for they know not what they do

Carnivorous socialists, whether national or international, kill people. More herbivorous ones, oxymoronically called ‘democratic’, concentrate on softer targets, such as economy, family – and language.

The first type relies on guns and torture, the second softens resistance with a PC barrage and then the state’s troops move in.

François Hollande’s government is nothing if not socialist. Therefore it’s nothing if not hateful. Like all socialists, he makes pie-in-the-sky promises he has no means, nor indeed intention, of fulfilling. But whenever he promises to destroy something, old François is always as good as his word.

This pattern is observable in all types of socialist. Lenin, for example, promised to eliminate the upper classes and build a paradise on earth. The advent of said paradise has somehow been delayed, but the first promise was kept with unwavering resolve. Not to be outdone, Hitler pledged to deliver a thousand-year Reich and to kill Jews. The Reich lasted 12 years, but six million Jews were honestly killed as promised.

Our own Tony-Gordon-Dave-Nicks follow exactly the same pattern: positive promises are all broken, negative ones are all kept. François wouldn’t be a socialist if he changed this trend and let les Anglo-Saxons do all the running.

Hence his commendable adherence to his campaign pledge to squeeze enough money out of successful people to drive them out of France. Well, this second part actually wasn’t in the pledge, but even François isn’t so stupid as not to have realised that it would naturally follow the first.

Now comes the turn of the family, the bogeyman (bogeyperson?) of all socialists, whether national, international or ‘democratic’. François promised to legalise homomarriage and, voilà, he’s about to do it. But first comes a bit of softening linguistic barrage.

François’s France is about to ban the words ‘father’ and ‘mother’ from all legal documents. These offensive vocabules will be replaced by ‘parent’, while marriage will be redefined as the union ‘of two people, of different or the same gender.’ Actually, as a champion of political correctness of long standing, I find the word ‘two’ unnecessarily restrictive. For example, a judge in Saõ Paolo recently married a threesome, thus blazing the trail for all of us. But let’s stick to François’s innovation.

I welcome the general intent, while bemoaning the singular lack of creativity in the detail. The word ‘parent’ is too cold and impersonal to oust ‘mother’ and ‘father’ from common parlance – even if it replaces them in official documents. Of course, summary imprisonment of anyone who uses such obscenities could help, but that’s best kept for François’s second term.

Instead I propose to follow the thinking behind the blend already universally used in France: messieursdames. The beauty of this plural blend is that in French it would sound exactly the same in the singular. Thus the government official conducting a marriage ceremony could refer to both the bride and his/her blushing groom as monsieurdame, and to their proud parents as pèremère. And if you think this sounds a tad hermaphroditic, you don’t belong in polite society. In fact, if François’s ideological brethren have their way here, you’ll soon belong in prison.

In defence of the forthcoming legalisation of marriage between, or among, two or more messieursdames, François’s Justice Minister monsieurdame Christiane Taubira spoke from the heart: ‘Who is to say that a heterosexual couple will bring a child up better than a homosexual one?’ Who indeed? This is one of those questions that, if asked, can never be answered to the monsieurdame’s satisfaction. How about everybody over the 5,000 years of recorded history? The Bible? Tradition? Empirical evidence? Aesthetic sense? Common decency or indeed common sense? No, none of those works.

Still, as a linguist by training, and champion of political correctness by conviction, I’m more interested in how we can take François’s lead and implement such changes here. It’s not as if we haven’t had a head start.

For example, the third-person singular pronoun ‘his’ has been effectively eliminated from our language. In its place we use ‘their’, not to sully our lips with the egregious gender-specific word, even though ‘her’ still persists. At the same time we’ve replaced a biological category with a grammatical one, by changing ‘sex’ to ‘gender’ (How’s your gender life these days?)

That’s good, but it doesn’t go far enough. One is still occasionally enraged to hear such locutions as ‘in his Fulton speech, Churchill said…’ Wouldn’t it be so much more correct, not to mention mellifluous, to say ‘In their speech…’? Of course it would be, and soon it will be. As a side benefit, this would elevate everybody to royal status by universalising the entitlement to the royal plural.

I’m particularly fond of the contraction Ms, as it communicates in no uncertain terms that an autonomous person of the female gender won’t be defined by her marital status. But the same gripe applies here: we’re still left in no doubt that the addressee is indeed a person of the female gender. This isn’t good enough, is it?

Instead we must contract all those titles, irrespective of gender, to M. In addition to solving the problem at hand, this would also warm up the salutation by the oblique reference to James Bond’s boss, thereby implying that female persons are capable of competing on even – or superior! – terms with anybody.

Now the Bible may prove more recalcitrant, though giant strides towards its neutering have already been made. Thus my title above is already used in some churches, though this does present another problem, that of addressing priests. Call me a reactionary, but I just don’t think ‘Parent Mullen’ will ever stick.

No, we must come up with our own blend, going the French one better. How about ‘Frother’? Or ‘Mather’? We’re getting close, aren’t we? There’s definitely room for thought there.






God bless unprincipled politicians

This title is a mea culpa for my previous posting in which I lampooned the deficit of principles in our politicians. But the LibDem conference has proved beyond any doubt that there’s something much worse than self-serving politicians: those who proceed from honestly held pernicious principles.

For there’s little doubt that the Nick-Vince-Danny gang are inspired not only by self-aggrandisement but also by a genuine urge to destroy our country. In this they converge with the Milibandits, and, if there is such a thing as a coalition made in hell, this would be it.

Allow me to recap briefly the main prongs in the LibDem attack on Britain. First, they insist on penalising anyone who lives in a decent house. Second, they crave extra taxes on the group that pays most of them anyway, those with an annual income exceeding £50,500. Third, they feel in their viscera that, even though British businesses are suffering from investment anorexia, they should pay more corporate tax. Fourth, they’ve come up with a devious system of making sure every last loophole is taken out of the inheritance-tax laws. Fifth, they think parents should use their pension funds to pay, or at least collateralise, their children’s education costs. At the same time, they think it advisable that the tax-free ceiling on pension contributions be lowered.

One almost wishes these chaps could emulate their colleagues in the sunnier European climes by taking a backhander to abandon their subversive notions. But they won’t: their policies are driven by viscerally and selflessly held commitment to envy, hatred and stupidity. When these are in the forefront, reason needn’t apply.

However, if we leave the swamp of putrid ideological emanations and cast a dispassionate look at their proposals, we’ll instantly see what a shattering effect they’ll have on the economy.

First, with asset inflation outstripping the monetary kind at least by a factor of seven over the past couple of generations, someone living in an expensive house may not have much money to pay any extra tax. Many such individuals simply got lucky that their parents bought an average house in a good postcode, which at the time may have been quite ordinary. In fact, a few of my friends live in such houses, even though their income may fall short of the £50,500 seen as obscene wealth to be punished.

Now someone making that amount would be lucky to clear £30,000. This is, in a first-world country at any rate, a subsistence wage for a couple with one child, never mind more. Half of it would probably pay for the mortgage, council tax and maintenance. That is, of course, provided they didn’t inherit the house from their parents who had bought wisely. Should that be the case, the left jab of extra income tax would be followed by the right cross of mansion tax to knock them cold.

At a time when British wealth creators are showing every symptom of economic consumption, corporate tax must be repealed, not increased. Surely this ought to be clear to anyone blessed with an IQ of above room temperature (Celsius)? Businesses must be given every incentive to invest, hire and grow bigger, not to cut back, lay off and grow smaller.

Such a gifted individual would also know that limiting people’s ability to pass their wealth on to their children will cool off their desire to create this wealth. Blowing money on a Spanish villa or, say, an iffy oil-drilling venture would appear more attractive, with disastrous effects for the economy.

And if pension funds stop being just that, which is to say a nest egg for people’s old age, they’ll be debauched even more than they are now. To be fair, congenital, cordial hatred for the very idea that people should be independent of the state isn’t the exclusive property of the LibDems. This is the genetic disorder of all statists. Thus the first act of Blair’s government was to launch a £5-billion raid on pension funds. This is understandable: people more independent of the state will be less likely to vote for any old Tony, Nick or Eddie whose life’s work is to make the state more powerful and the individual less so.

If their proposals are acted upon, moderately dynamic wealth creators will become apathetic, truly enterprising ones will flee, and we’ll all suffer. Tax revenues will go down, but taxation will have served its punitive purpose, and that’s the whole point to this vindictive lot.

To come up with such cretinous, suffocating measures at a time the economy is booming would be ill-advised. To do so now, when our economy is on its last legs, gasping for breath, should be an imprisonable offence, or perhaps a loony-binnable one.

This drives home yet again that neither crises nor bad politicians can succeed in bringing about a catastrophe on their own. A catastrophe befalls only when a crisis happens at a time when bad politicians are at the helm.

We are living at such a time, and we must thank the LibDems for serving a useful reminder that this is the case. Only a conservative party led by intelligent, resolute patriots could save us from this disgusting lot. And if you think we have such a party now, perhaps you’d like to buy Westminster Bridge. I can get you a good deal.












The coalition plot sickens

Coalitions are coalescing all over the place, except for those that are falling apart. Backs are being scratched, horses traded, accusations levelled, apologies made, hints dropped, the other one pulled, categorical denials issued – and only a fully paid up political junkie can keep track.

That’s something I’m emphatically not, so I need your help to negotiate my way through SW1A. Let me see if I got this right:

Nick won’t play unless Dave taxes every rich bastard out of Britain. If he does, Nick will go along with the cuts that really aren’t, provided Dave commits to tax rises that really are. Are you with me so far?

At the same time Vince has been talking to Ed Balls – and texting him, for in spite of his mature age Vince swings with our high-tech times – about kicking the other Ed into touch and forming a Labour-LibDem coalition, while also talking to the other Ed about the future Chancellor’s job, which Ed Balls thinks is his for the asking, but which the other Ed is reluctant to promise him for fear that Balls will then go for the top job and get it.

So Ed M. is ready to strike first and knife Ed B. in the back, provided Vince does the same to Nick first and Dave second, thus really clearing the way to a proper coalition, not the one Nick and Vince are serving so loyally now with the transparent purpose of sending Dave on a fulltime lecture circuit in 2015 if not sooner.

But Dave isn’t quite ready to start lecturing anybody other than his cabinet colleagues, so he’s keen on getting out of the coalition with Nick and Vince. The original deal was that Dave would coalesce with a third party, which the LibDems no longer are, having lost that distinction to UKIP Nigel, who suddenly looks like a better bet as a coalition partner to Dave.

For his part Nigel doesn’t mind forming a coalition with Dave, though he has made it abundantly clear that he’d just as eagerly play with anyone who’d promise him an EU referendum, be that Nick, either Ed, Vince, Putin or, at a pinch, Hugo Chavez. Dave is ahead of the pack because he has experience in making that very pledge, but for some unfathomable reason Nigel isn’t entirely satisfied that Dave would be as eager to keep such a promise as he would be to make it.

The problem isn’t insurmountable, for Nigel would regain faith in Dave’s veracity if Dave opened a vein and signed the contract in blood. Yet Dave is unwilling to do so as he suspects that not many of his loyal friends would be falling over themselves to stop the bleeding. He’ll sign in ink and that’s his top offer, but Nigel won’t wear it.

Meanwhile, Jessye Norman says that Dave’s Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell has ‘retoxified the Tory brand’ by calling a policeman nasty names based on his class origin and mental ability, while also threatening to have his f—ing job for not letting Andrew ride his bike into Downing Street, which is what Boris is planning to do, at this point only figuratively… Sorry, my wife has just looked over my shoulder and informed me that it was the hack Matthew, not the singer Jessye, Norman who diagnosed the poisoning, and I can’t even tell her to sod off because according to Dave’s new law that would be the same as beating her up, and I’d end up in pokey for psychological cruelty.

And, silly me, I didn’t even know that ‘Tory’ was a brand, rather than the nickname of a political party working in our national interest. This changes the game, as far as I’m concerned, and Dave should really shift his emphasis from dumping Nick and coalescing with Nigel or, at a pinch, Hugo Chavez.

Instead he should focus on coming up with a catchy slogan encapsulating his brand proposition in such a way that punters would want to buy it. The time-proven options to consider would be ‘Dave reaches the parts neither Nick nor Ed does’, ‘Dave is it’, ‘Dave whitewashes whiter’ and ‘By George, or for that matter Boris, Dave won’t be undone!’ This last one really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?

Nick meanwhile has apologised for not having enunciated his promise not to raise tuition fees a bit more clearly, thereby leaving room for misinterpretation. The word ‘not’ inadvertently slipped between ‘will’ and ‘go up’, thus changing the meaning of Nick’s pledge that all along was intended to say, ‘Tuition fees will go up.’

Not everyone has accepted the apology, but Dave has, for the time being. He’ll keep Nick in the coalition because, if he doesn’t, Boris will barge into Downing Street on his own bike, and he’s the one Nigel would rather play with because, having once been bitten by Dave’s promises, he’s now twice shy, and Boris hasn’t lied to him yet though he probably will in the future.

You could see me wiping my brow even as we speak. So glad we’ve sorted out the mess. It took a while to understand the high principles animating our leaders, but we’ve got there in the end. Thanks for your help.






Nuclear terrorism in London, and not a Muslim in sight

In 2000, after accusing his KGB employers of trying to kill critics of Putin, Col. Litvinenko fled to Britain, where he became one such critic. By way of counterargument, six years later they killed him.

The murder was weak as far as rhetorical devices go, but it did open up a largely redundant whodunit debate. It’s redundant because the method used by the murderers leaves no reasonable doubt of their identity.

Litvinenko was killed by a diabolical compound polonium-210, appropriately discovered by a communist, Marie SkłodowskaCurie, and named after her native country. Such weapons aren’t to be bought at a pub in South London; only some governments have access to them. And the ancient cui bono principle points at only one government with a vested interest in Col. Litvinenko’s death.

In fact, traces of polonium led investigators to another old KGB hand Andrei Lugovoy, who had had tea with his wayward colleague at a Grosvenor Square hotel shortly before Litvinenko’s horrific illness. Yet Lugovoy was unavailable for comment for he had hastily fled back to Moscow.

Half-hearted extradition requests by HMG were turned down by the KGB… sorry, how silly of me, Russia’s government is what I meant. And in the unlikely event such requests ever became more insistent, Lugovoy was ‘elected’ to the Duma, Russia’s ‘parliament’, thereby becoming eligible for parliamentary immunity. (I had to use quotation commas in the previous sentence, for no true elections are possible in Putin’s Russia, and providing a krysha for criminals is its parliament’s principal function.)

Some diplomatic tension ensued, a few diplomats were recalled, harsh words were exchanged. A couple of weeks later it was back to normal, with the Foreign Office restoring its generally benevolent stance towards Russia. ‘One of those things, old boy, what? A bit rough if you ask me, but let Russians be Russians, I say.’

But Litvinenko’s widow Marina wouldn’t let bygones be bygones. Her tireless efforts to find the truth have finally led to a full-blown inquest into her husband’s death. After all, he was a British subject murdered on British soil, and, for old times’ sake if nothing else, HMG couldn’t easily sweep the whole thing under the carpet.

At the preliminary hearing, Mrs Litvinenko’s representative Ben Emerson, QC, enunciated her belief that the Kremlin was to blame: ‘If that hypothesis were to be eventually substantiated, this would be an act of state-sponsored nuclear terrorism in the streets of London.’

Quite. It was very lawyerly of Mr Emerson to refer to the accusation as merely a hypothesis – people used to be strung up on considerably less evidence. But then his profession has its own language, based on the assumption that the shortest distance between two points is a zigzag.

Frankly, I’m not sure what the point of it all is. After all, the inquest is going to cost the taxpayer a lot of money, and nor do QCs come cheap. What kind of outcome would satisfy Mrs Litivinenko and her friends?

It’s already clear that, come what may, justice won’t be served. Lugovoy is still a member of the Duma, that krysha is still as reliable as ever, extradition will still be impossible.

Even if the inquest confirms formally the obvious fact that Col. Lugovoy laced Col. Litvinenko’s tea with polonium, Col. Putin will deny any complicity or indeed knowledge. Those aware of how things work in Russia will tell you that no such action could have been carried out without Putin’s explicit order, but no prima facie evidence of such an order will ever surface. Col. Putin’s professional training taught him to cover his tracks.

Should the inquest find for the truth, the papers will cover the story with front-page headlines. The next day the headlines will become smaller. The day after that they’ll disappear. The reading public’s indignation will be pari pasu attenuated. In a week few people will remember the story, and fewer still will care. Similarly, a few more second counsellors and third attachés will be recalled by both sides and replaced with their carbon copies. Have I left anything out?

But if the judges, driven by the same professional ethic that obligates Mr Emerson to refer to a fact as a hypothesis, fail to rule in favour of the truth, this will be a feather in Col. Putin’s peaked KGB cap. He’ll doff it and bow sarcastically in the general direction of London.

If he himself were on trial, I bet his criminal record wouldn’t be admissible. But outside the courtroom it’s useful to remember that Putin has rich form in bumping off those who disagree with him. At least 40 journalists have been murdered in Russia during his tenure, with countless others beaten within an inch of their lives.

I won’t bore you with a complete roll call, and neither shall I name the numerous human-rights campaigners, lawyers and political activists murdered or roughed up by Putin’s thugs. If I did, we’d be here all night. In any case, even those who realise anyway that Putin didn’t learn his manners from Debrett’s Etiquette for Young Ladies would shrug their shoulders. So he’s a murderous tyrant. We do business with enough of those, so what else is new?

In spite of all that, I wish Mrs Litvinenko good luck with the inquest. Don’t ask me why, I just do.



How many more PCs have to die before we wise up?

On Tuesday morning PCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes were ambushed and shot dead by a monster out on bail for another murder. This tragic event raises many questions, some of which are never asked and few are properly answered.

Falling in the first category are questions relating to the advisability of women discharging frontline police duties. I understand it’s all modern, progressive and egalitarian, but surely an unarmed 10-stone girl is at a disadvantage when trying to arrest a violent 15-stone thug? It’s not as if we were suffering from a dearth of able-bodied young men – just look at the unemployment figures for the 18 to 25s. I’m neither young nor particularly able-bodied, but even I’d fancy my chances against most WPCs one espies on the beat.

The presumption has to be that such girls will never have to find themselves in a mano a mano situation against men willing to perpetrate violence on them. I’m not going to argue against this assumption: the events of last Tuesday, and many similar outrages, have done the job for me.

This empirical evidence supports at least two propositions: one, policewomen should be confined to desk duty and two, police should be routinely armed.

Now the second proposition, unlike the first, has created a lively debate, in which people who agree with me are greatly outnumbered. This issue conspicuously leaves the realm of reason and enters that of superstition, something that lies out of reach for logical arguments.

Nonetheless I’ll try, if only because unarmed police is a totem attracting even such otherwise right-thinking worshippers as Stephen Glover. ‘An unarmed police is the cornerstone of our freedom,’ he writes, ‘and the key to effective policing.’

This is an astonishing thing to say when the bodies of two murdered WPCs are still warm. They are going neither to protect ‘the cornerstone of our freedom’ nor do any policing, effective or otherwise. They are dead.

Mr Glover’s arguments, and those of other likeminded sentimentalists, follow what seems to be a preset pattern:

1) Ever since Sir Robert Peel formed the Metropolitan police in 1829, ‘the British have been generally well disposed towards their police largely because they are unarmed.’ If they start carrying side arms, they’ll be despised and hated to a point where we’ll be terrified to ask them for directions for fear that they may shoot us.

2) If police carry guns, so will criminals, which will turn our streets into one giant OK Corral.

3) With the general increase in the number of guns, there will be more fatal accidents.

None of these arguments works. And Mr Glover himself unwittingly explains why: ‘Use of firearms by criminals has greatly increased over the past 50 years. Assault on police has become more widespread.’

How so? After all, our police have been properly and sanctimoniously unarmed all along. What has happened to that much-vaunted goodwill towards cops?

One has to come to the lamentable conclusion that today’s mores are as different from Victorian times as Dave Cameron is different from Robert Peel. Affection for police is obviously less fervent in the street than it is in the rarefied atmosphere of an editorial office or a Commons bar. I’m sure there one seldom hears our brave PCs referred to as ‘filth’ or ‘pigs’, which epithets are widely used even in the better postcodes.

In short, Point 1) is a figment of Mr Glover’s imagination. By way of trying to prove otherwise, he acknowledges that Britain is the only major country where police are unarmed. But, according to him, a holster dangling off a cop’s belt makes him ‘feared, or even hated’ in countries like France.

This is simply false. I spend half my time in France and I’ve never noticed any such thing among ‘perfectly ordinary middle-class people’. Also, as a young man I lived in America for 15 years, and I can assure Mr Glover that this demographic group is no more hostile to their police there than here.

Points 2) and 3) are both false because they are based on the belief that there’s a one-to-one correlation between gun crime and the number of legal guns in circulation. Alas, this isn’t the case.

For example, the gun-crime rate in Japan, where gun laws are among the world’s strictest, is very low. But among the large Japanese community in California, where handguns can be legally bought in any shopping mall, it’s lower still. In Switzerland, where every household is armed with automatic rifles and most with pistols as well, they don’t even keep murder statistics (‘once in a blue moon’ doesn’t qualify as such). New Hampshire has more guns per capita than any other state, yet the murder rate there is much lower than in Massachusetts, where guns are outlawed. And in Britain gun crime went up by 50 percent in the first year after handguns were banned.

This shows that propensity to do murder has nothing to do with the availability of guns. Moreover, it’s spurious to separate gun crime into a discrete category. Much more valid would be crime statistics in general: a man killed by a knife suffers as much as one killed by a bullet. As Glover correctly remarked, crime statistics, murder included, have skyrocketed since the Second World War. This points at a major cultural shift which is insensitive to the hardware carried by police.

One could offer extensive explanations, but they would be superfluous here. Let’s just say it’s a matter of empirical fact that police need to be armed now even if such a need didn’t exist in the past. As Americans say, it’s better to have a gun and not need it than to need it and not have it.

I don’t know if the poor girls could have saved themselves had they carried guns. One of them seems to have been able to pull out her Taser, but that’s not a serious counterargument to a semiautomatic pistol. Another semiautomatic pistol might have been, especially if it had been drawn before the girls stepped into the lethal trap. We’ll never know now.

I sympathise with Mr Glover, whom I recognise as a fellow conservative. Hankering after better, more gentlemanly times of yesteryear comes naturally to us. But this noble nostalgia needs to be leavened with hardnosed realism based on empirical data.

These show that frontline police, especially if they are women, are in harm’s way now as they weren’t in any discernible past. A gun on their belt may stand between their life and death, so they must have it. Especially since arguments against this are so weak.





Who does Romney think he is?

All this brouhaha with the presidential bid must have gone to Mitt’s head. Just listen to the unfounded, spurious, mendacious nonsense he’s spreading around.

In a secretly – and justifiably! – filmed video he says, ‘There are 47 percent who are with Barack Obama, who are dependent upon government… These are people who pay no income tax. My job is not to worry about those people.’

Is he trying to suggest that the selfless, altruistic, victimised people who derive their tax-free income from the state may vote for any candidate just because he promises more of it? Preposterous! We all know they’re guaranteed to support the candidate who says he’s going to get them off government payrolls and make them look for real jobs. Bono publico and all that, these chaps swear by it. And it’s those like Mitt whom they swear at.

And if that’s not enough, Romney then went on to spread lies – are you ready for this? – about the moderate, peace-loving, Israel-adoring people of Palestine. ‘I look at the Palestinians not wanting peace anyway, committed to the destruction of Israel…’ His nose is lengthening even as we speak.

All progressive people know for sure that every word there is a malicious falsehood. Palestinians want nothing but peace, prosperity and democracy, preferably of the American kind. The only reason they keep firing thousands of rockets at Israel is that the ghastly Israelis – led by a Likud  prime minister, may one add – want none of those things. They want war, genocide, tyranny and all those other horrible things Jews champion unless they vote for Obama.

And oh yes, every Palestinian leader from Arafat onwards has been misheard stating he wished to drive Israel into the sea. What they meant – what they actually said! – is that they’d like to drive to Israel for a sea holiday. Unplug your ears, Mitt! Now open your mouth and sing along: ‘Yasser, that’s my baby, Nasser, don’t mean maybe, Yasser, that’s my baby now.’ You know the tune.

If you think that was bad, what Mitt then had the gall to say about China really takes the fortune cookie. He implied – hell, he didn’t just imply, he said it out loud! – that Chinese workers toil in less than perfect conditions for less than princely wages. According to Romney’s slander, he was appalled by ‘…the number of hours they worked, the pittance they earned.’ And he was shamefully put off by the barbed wire surrounding the factory he visited.

Pittance, Mr Romney? Perhaps by the standards of your ill-gotten millions that’s what it is. Just shows how out of touch you are. Why, these people earn at least $1 a day – and every day they can buy a whole bowl of rice! Not a quarter of one, not even half! A whole bowl, and they don’t even have to share it with many children because their government cares about them and therefore allows them to have only one. And, as his Chinese hosts kindly and truthfully explained, the barbed wire isn’t there to keep the workers in, but to keep thousands of job applicants out. That’s what real humanism is all about, something this running dog of capitalism needs to get his head around.

It’s no wonder Romney’s fascist, bigoted, reactionary, racist, homophobic (well, strike that, perhaps not racist and homophobic, but definitely all the other things) remarks have caused so much outrage in the progressive community not only in the USA but everywhere.

A Palestinian spokesman said Romney’s remarks were ‘irresponsible and dangerous’. That’s putting it mildly, if you ask me. What can be more irresponsible and dangerous? Certainly nor flying airliners into tall buildings.

And Obama’s campaign manager, a man of utmost selflessness, objectivity and veracity, quite rightly said that ‘… it’s shocking for a candidate… [to suggest] that half the American people view themselves as victims entitled to handouts.’ He didn’t add that what’s even more shocking is that the statement was true, so I have to do that for Mr Messina. Telling the truth, Mitt? Call yourself a politician?

Poor Romney gets it coming and going. Even Bill Kristol, the editor of what The Times describes as ‘the arch-conservative Weekly Standard’, is irate. Let’s remark parenthetically that for publications like The Times, there’s no such thing as simply conservative. The adjective is never complete without intensifiers like ‘arch’, ‘ultra’, ‘rabidly’ or ‘extremely’. But the Weekly Standard is actually none of those things. It’s not conservative at all. It’s neoconservative, meaning mostly socialist, but with a good touch of American supremacism and expansionism.

People of this persuasion make up Romney’s foreign-policy team, and therein lies Kristol’s problem. He described Romney’s remarks as ‘arrogant and stupid’ not because he disagreed with them, God forbid, certainly not with the ones about Palestinians. It’s just that by speaking in such a forthright manner Mitt let the cat out of the bag. People all over the world are up in arms, which means Romney has hurt his chances. What’s worse, he hurt the chances of Kristol and his jolly friends to find themselves at the pinnacle of power.

Any way you look at it, Romney has committed the ultimate faux pas of politics: he said things that MUST NOT BE SAID. So what if they are all true? That makes it much, much worse. Mitt is in the business of politics, not of truth-telling. And if he doesn’t realise that the two never overlap, he’s even more ‘arrogant and stupid’ than Kristol says.

Grow up, Mitt. Tell lies, if that’s what people want to hear. And never, ever tell the truth – even if the people want to hear it. That way you’ll be a real politician. And what’s more, you may be a president, my son.  







The abortion law is an ass (with apologies to donkeys)

Legal used to be married to just, but they seem to be divorced now. Witness the case of Sara Catt, a 35-year-old woman who aborted her child within a week of the delivery date.

Jailing Catt for eight years, Judge Cooke said, ‘The child in the womb was so near to birth, in my judgment all right-thinking people would think this offence more serious than unintentional manslaughter.’

All right-thinking people would indeed think just that. They’d also know that ‘unintentional manslaughter’ is a tautology. Manslaughter is unintentional by definition. If it’s intentional it’s murder.

Therefore, in the judge’s legal opinion Mrs Catt is guilty of something ‘more serious’ than manslaughter, which is to say murder. Now the presence or absence of malice aforethought is one difference between manslaughter and murder. The other is the sentencing guidelines.

The sentence for manslaughter is discretionary: the judge is free to pass any sentence he sees fit. When the defendant is found guilty of murder, however, that freedom is no longer there: the law calls for a mandatory life sentence.

Mrs Catt clearly planned the termination. She had to get a prescription for the abortion drug Misoprostol, go to the chemist’s, buy the drug, take it. Even by much more exacting American standards, this would be construed as premeditation. In the UK it definitely is. Why wasn’t she sentenced to life then?

Obviously, the judge felt he had to go against the ‘judgment of all right-thinking people’, presumably including himself, to find some mitigating circumstances that brought this crime down a notch in the pecking order of unlawful homicide. I’d be curious to know what they might be, though I can guess.

The judge must have followed some guidelines according to which a baby isn’t fully human until it crawls out of the mother’s womb. One minute after this the baby is a human being. One minute before, it is – what exactly? A mineral, vegetable, animal? Well, something less than human. It’s human 395, 281 minutes after conception. After a mere 395, 279 minutes it isn’t quite.

These sums simply don’t add up on any level, medical, philosophical, logical – and we won’t even talk religious, that’s simply too uncool for words. If we define murder as premeditated homicide, then the only possible argument against abortion at any time – and certainly a week before birth – has to centre around an indefensible view of when a human life begins.

In the UK abortion is legal until 24 weeks, roughly six months. The assumption has to be that until then the foetus isn’t an autonomous entity but part of the mother’s body, like an appendix. If that’s the case, then the argument works. A woman must be as free to have her baby aborted as she is have a bothersome appendix removed.

But that assumption is patently wrong. We needn’t go into the graphic details of what a foetus looks like at six months – we’ve all seen the same pictures. We also know that a foetus at that age or even younger can grow to maturity outside the mother’s body. Nor is it a secret that the foetus already has a brisk cerebral activity and is capable of feeling anguish and pain.

True enough, if prematurely removed from the mother’s body, the baby will need constant care and medical attention to survive on its own. But that’s equally true of the retarded, the crippled, the very ill or old – and yet few this side of Dr Mengele would advocate a wholesale cull of such people, though I wouldn’t put it past our euthanasia junkies.

So when does a human life begin? The question isn’t trivial: after all, if we wrongly assume it hasn’t yet begun and terminate it, we may be killing a person, which, for old times’ sake, still isn’t considered a nice thing to do.

Our law presumes that life starts at 24, weeks that is. Now how about 23 weeks, six days, 23 hours and 59 minutes? Are we absolutely certain that life begins in the 60 seconds separating the two moments, and not a second earlier?

Of course we are not. The 24-week cut-off is purely arbitrary – which can be demonstrated by subtracting a minute each time its advocate pushes the allowable limit back. This means that any upper limit for abortion will be arbitrary, for we can never be sure we aren’t killing a human being.

If we aren’t sure one way or the other, basic decency would demand that the legal concept of reasonable doubt be applied. The foetus must be presumed alive until proven otherwise. No rational difference between pre- and post-natal abortion exists.

The only indisputable moment at which human life begins is that of conception. Elementary morality boosted by equally elementary logic must lead to one conclusion only: ergo, abortion constitutes the taking of a human life. As with any such act, there may be redeeming circumstances, and some – such as the mother’s inevitable death unless the pregnancy is terminated – may even be regarded as adequate justification. Fair enough, similar qualifications apply to homicides. But though they apply to some, they don’t exculpate all.

This logic seems hard to refute even at the puny rationalistic level at which our laws operate. But forget about arguments against abortion as such for a second. Let’s instead get back to Sara Catt.

By any reasonable standards, this woman is guilty of murder – as she would be had she committed the same crime a week later. Her derisory eight-year sentence means that reasonable standards no longer operate.