Promise her anything, but give her [blank]

This one of the universal templates for advertising headlines. Fill in the blank with whichever product you’re paid to promote and you’ll have a reasonable ad without having to think about it.

I bet Dave knows this cliché. He certainly lives by it. After all, he still bears every other hallmark of his brief career in PR, such as an inordinate affection for focus groups.

Even as we speak, he must be licking his UKIP-inflicted wounds, trying to squeeze what’s left of his political career into the time-proven template.

The second part must give him no problems whatsoever. The lad has the power of his nonexistent convictions and will defend their absence with an obduracy worthy of a better use. Hence we should be in no doubt as to what he intends to give us: more of the same.

To wit: replacing sound economic policies with the printing press, importing and bribing voters grateful to him personally, staying in the EU at whatever cost, destroying our education and medicine even beyond their already ruinous state, irreversibly changing Britain’s demographic balance, playing lickspittle to Americans whenever they fancy some fisticuffs in the Middle East, getting rid of our defence, appointing advisors who fagged for Dave at Eton and got pissed with him at the Bullingdon – well, you don’t need me to tell you that Dave welcomes the status quo. He doesn’t call himself Conservative for nothing.

It’s the first part of the formula that must take some thought. For it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Tories won’t win many elections that are also contested by UKIP. UKIP may not win them either, but that’s scant consolation.

Losing a few council seats here and there rankles, but it’s not the end of the world, thinks Dave. Neither is the likely outright loss of the European elections. But polling half the number of UKIP votes in a parliamentary by-election points at years in opposition.

More – much more – important is the writing on Dave’s personal wall. And it says ‘out’. True enough, speaking-tour millions beckon, but what’s the fun in money if it isn’t accompanied by power? Dave’s friend Tony is a case in point: he’s raking it in, but all the money in the world won’t fill the void in his power-craving heart. And Dave listens to Tony. Dave meant it when he said he was ‘heir to Blair’.

So what’s Dave going to promise us to stave off the threat posed by all those… clowns! closet racists! proles! fascists! fruitcakes! smoking, ale-swilling, laughing hyenas! – what?!? What’s going to make them go away?

Here Dave must take stock of his full arsenal of empty promises. An EU referendum, maybe in 2015, maybe in 2017, maybe some time in the future, maybe never? No, that’s not it. Dave had already made that pledge chiselled in cotton wool before this week’s elections, and still those UKIP bastards rubbed his nose in it.

Take that ex-pug David Davis’s advice and call a referendum straight away? No, that’s not going to work: neither Ken nor Nick will wear it. And what will Tony say? Calling an in-out plebiscite now, when the EU is going down the tubes, means running a serious risk of losing it, and that simply won’t do. The EU must live so Dave may thrive. So damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Cutting taxes? Yes, that’s not a bad idea – throw a bone to those bitching middle classes. In the long run this might even increase the tax base and hence revenue. But in the long run Dave will be on the lecture circuit, so who cares? Cut taxes straight away and there will be less bribe money in the kitty to mollify all those old Estonians and our home-grown lazybones.

And what will Tony say? Dave knows exactly what that’ll be. Tony will say – nay, he’ll scream off The Guardian’s page – that Dave is a privileged nabob out to please his banker mates at the expense of all those stiffs, working or otherwise, whose mouthpiece Tony still fancies himself to be.

No, cutting taxes is a non-starter. However, promising to do so may just keep those UKIP wolves at bay long enough for Dave to squeak by in the next election, or at least to lose it by a respectable margin, with some of his parliamentary party still in Westminster. Yes, let’s promise that. Or hint at the possibility that we may promise it after the next election. A good idea, that. Tony will approve.

Having dilemmas like that can drive a man to drink. Promises, promises… Dave pours himself a stiff one and puts on his favourite Fleetwood Mac single ‘Tell me lies, tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies.’ Yes, that’s it. Mustn’t life imitate art? Of course it must. Tony says so.



Mrs Medvedev, Russia’s new royalty

The events of the last 20 years or so are supposed to have changed Russia beyond recognition. That may be, though the point is arguable (which is the polite way of saying I think it’s wrong).

What’s undeniable is that Russian leaders are cut from exactly the same cloth, of the kind that used to be fashioned into KGB uniforms. Their behaviour has changed, however, and not for the better. In the past Soviet leaders used to conceal, with variable success, their nouveau riche swinishness behind the Kremlin walls. These days they don’t bother.

Nikita Khrushchev, for example, had a weakness for the national drink, downing a 7-ounce glass of it at every breakfast, and to think that unlike his subjects he could actually get orange juice. Occasionally Nikita appeared publicly in his cups, the likelihood of which indiscretion being inversely proportionate to the importance of the occasion. But one can’t recall a single instance when he was too drunk to turn up at a meeting with a foreign, especially Western, leader.

Yeltsyn, having thrown out the bathwater of proletarian internationalism, threw out the baby of elementary decency along with it. He was drunk permanently and on one occasion couldn’t get out of his presidential plane in Dublin, leaving the welcoming party stunned on the tarmac. He also created the so-called oligarchy by generously tossing billions at his cronies, in the style of Catherine the Great rewarding her lovers’ ardour with estates the size of a large British county.

Since then Russian leaders have been acting in ways that make our millionaire footballers seem like illustrations to Debrett’s Etiquette for Girls. And unlike Soviet wives who used to keep a low profile, this lot, starting with Raisa Gorbachev, try to outdo their hubby-wubbies in conspicuously tasteless consumption.

Our press, traditionally ignorant about things Russian, encourages that sort of thing by extolling the refinement of these august ladies. Those Russians who actually are refined laugh sardonically: the likes of the late Raisa couldn’t open their mouths without displaying the cultural and phonetic attainment of an average collective-farm milkmaid.

This brings us to Svetlana Medvedeva, the wife of Putin’s poodle. This woman is also hailed for her subtle refinement, to which her claim is weak to the point of being nonexistent. As if to prove this she does like to have a free hand with state funds.

Last year, for example, Svetlana spent her holiday in Italy. It was a modest affair, just her and a few close friends. Actually, about 50 of them. To obtain maximum privacy, she hired the entire five-star Grand Hotel La Pace in Tuscany’s Montecatini Terme. The hotel has 140 rooms, each costing from 4,000 to 9,000 euros a night. Lest she might be accused of penny-pinching, Mrs Medvedev paid for them all, even though she only used fewer than a half.

When some imprudent Russian journalist raised the issue, the Kremlin issued a curt statement saying that Svetlana had paid for her holiday out of her own funds. Well, one can only congratulate a woman whose small change stretches to, say, 800,000 euros a day for a fortnight, even though she neither inherited nor earned as much in her whole life. One can’t imagine Samantha Cameron or Michelle Obama getting away with something like that, but Russian journalists know better than to probe too insistently.

Anyway, a friend of mine, a tutor of English in Tel-Aviv, just rang with a funny story. One of his students is a low-level employee at the Russian embassy, and yesterday my friend went to his house to give a lesson. When he entered his student’s modest flat, he thought a pipe must have burst: the floor was one contiguous puddle.

The truth was communicated to him by a muscular, apron-clad Russian woman wielding a swab and a bucket. She was scrubbing the floor clean in the old-fashioned way of Russian peasant women who often had to share their quarters with incontinent livestock.

‘What’s the occasion?’ asked my friend and received a reply delivered through his student’s clenched teeth (the cleaning woman spoke no language other than Russian). Turned out Svetlana Medvedeva, this time in her capacity as emissary of the Russian patriarch, flew in with a retinue roughly the size of Marie-Antoinette’s, 130 or so. This not being strictly a pleasure junket, she had assumed that the embassy would provide quarters commensurate with her recently acquired tastes.

Alas, a characteristic break in communications had occurred and the danger of having to sleep rough began to loom large. However, though the Russians’ organisational skills are of less than sterling quality, their ingenuity can’t be faulted.

No five-star hotel could be hired in its entirety, so Svetlana and her immediate entourage had to contend with merely half of one floor. At the same time the embassy ordered that its staff put up the rest of the party in their own flats. Hence the feverish wielding of swabs and paint brushes: the dignitaries had to be treated royally, as it were.

I wonder how the Russians, about 20 percent of whom still live in stinking communal flats, feel about such little anecdotes. One can just hear them say, ‘If this is democracy, bring back Stalin.’ In fact, polls show that’s exactly what they do say. Dear oh dear oh dear.




The gospel according to Daniel: fear thou conservatives, not Abu Qatada

Reading opinion pieces these days, especially in The Times, makes me want to pinch myself. (For medical reasons I read neither The Guardian nor The Independent, but then hardly anyone else does.)

Am I asleep and having a particularly nasty nightmare? Am I hallucinating? Am I finally off my rocker, as Penelope suggested when I put on my tennis shorts inside out? Reading Daniel Finkelstein’s article, I pinched myself so many times that the inside of my left arm has acquired a macabre bluish tint. But I did have to make sure.

No, I’m not insane yet. Neither, unfortunately, is he. The blighter actually presents a sequential argument encapsulated in a sentence halfway down: ‘But I have started to fear those who want to deport Abu Qatada at any price almost as much as I fear him.’

Mr Finkelstein freely admits to having strong feelings about the matter: ‘I hate Abu Qatada too.’ However, he’s selflessly prepared to override his irrational animosity for the sake of public good: ‘But the law is the law.’

This is almost a verbatim translation of the Roman adage dura lex, sed lex (the law is harsh, but it is the law), so Daniel must be a classical scholar. Alas, a legal scholar he ain’t.

The UK Immigration Law states unequivocally that ‘A foreign national may be made the subject of a deportation order for a number of reasons. These include: The Secretary of State believes that is in the interests of the public good that the foreign national is removed from the UK…’

Therefore, logically there can be only two possible reasons to take issue with the Jordanian’s deportation: 1) it isn’t in public interest or 2) the UK law has no jurisdiction in the UK. Let’s consider them in this order, borrowing freely from Daniel’s gospel.

AQ ‘is a dangerous man who thinks it is a good idea to kill Jews’. Many of his friends ‘ended up in court on a series of terrorist charges… One of the main ideas was to kill Jewish tourists’. ‘And [AQ] was wrapped up in the plotting… He’d handed over the money to buy a computer, messages had been found between him and the gang, and he had, the evidence suggests, proposed targets and congratulated the bombers when the explosives went off.’

In my simplistic way I’d suggest that public interest would be well served by AQ’s removal. However, what upsets Mr Finkelstein’s finely tuned legal sensibility is that the case against AQ relies heavily on the testimony of supposedly coerced witnesses. ‘And although this has always been denied, the denials have never been wholly convincing.’

I don’t know, they sounded convincing to me. But does our evangelist think that those chaps at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, none of whom is held there by due process, led Navy Seals to Osama out of the goodness of their hearts and a sense of public duty?

A moral test: MI5 is aware that nuclear charges have been placed all over London, and they’re due to go off in two hours. The man who has placed the charges has been arrested but refuses to talk. Would you use torture to find out where the charges are? I would. Mr Finkelstein apparently wouldn’t – his flaming conscience and a keen sense of legality would be more important than the lives of millions.

‘Do we seriously want the Home Secretary to ignore the pesky courts and just shove this man on a plane?’ he asks rhetorically. Yes we do, is my answer. Things Mr Finkelstein himself mentioned make this desirable. And the British law I cited means that it’s also legal – not everything has to go through a court, especially when a foreign national is involved.

Here we get to the crux of the matter. For it’s not any British law that keeps AQ in Britain, but one imposed by the European Court of Human Rights. While Mr Finkelstein feigns unease with the foreign provenance of this legislation, he loves the idea of a human rights court (‘I think it is better, and hope that it might be possible, that we have a British Bill of Rights’) and is ‘astonished at how many people, particularly on the right,’ fail to see the light.

We’ve come full circle. Such people, those on the right, frighten Mr Finkelstein more than AQ does – even though he wants to kill Jews, of whom Mr Finkelstein is presumably one (I apologise if this presumption is incorrect, but every Finkelstein I’ve ever met is Jewish), along with everyone else who happens to be in the neighbourhood.

I’m not particularly surprised at this outpouring of the usual ‘liberal’ effluvia, this time leavened with illiterate quasi-legal casuistry. It’s The Times after all. But the extent of ignorance is somewhat surprising in someone who has been to school.

Britain, Mr Finkelstein, has no need for a Bill of Rights – the English Common Law, evolved over a millennium, provides perfectly adequate protection of our freedoms. The country he evidently sees as an ideal needed such constitutional amendments because it was neonatal – having rejected the law governing the metropolis, Americans had to put something on paper quickly.

Yet the top journalist at The Times ought to have observed that the existence of a Bill of Rights didn’t prevent the Americans from setting up Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Neither did it prevent them, during the war, from interning thousands of Americans guilty only of possessing a subversive skin colour.

‘Britain is a liberal democracy built on law,’ Mr Finkelstein kindly informs us. Personally, I’ve always thought Britain is a constitutional monarchy, but let’s not quibble about such trivia.

Whatever we are, we have no law that says we must commit national suicide to please our EU partners, whose own legal rectitude is of rather more recent origin than ours. Neither do we have one that says our Secretary of State can’t throw that foul obscenity out. I suggest Mr Finkelstein take a refresher course in such things – but steer clear of the LSE this time, Daniel. They teach all sorts of nonsense there.