Why, do you think London is English?

John Cleese, the quintessential English comedian, created an uproar by observing that “London is not really an English city anymore.”

John Cleese embraces Englishness. Good job someone does.

The amount of metaphorical mud flung at Mr Cleese as a result could have made him look like a metaphorical mud wrestler. His eardrums must have been on the verge of bursting from the thunderous din, but the comedian stood firm:

“I suspect I should apologise for my affection for the Englishness of my upbringing, but in some ways I found it calmer, more polite, more humorous, less tabloid, and less money-oriented than the one that is replacing it.”

And oh, by the way, he added: “I note also that London was the UK city that voted most strongly to remain in the EU.”

Mr Cleese’s observation thus includes both cultural and political components, which in this context don’t necessarily belong together. I know Englishmen as impeccable as Mr Cleese who nonetheless voted Remain, and I also know plenty of foreign-born British subjects who are steadfast Leavers – why, I’m one myself.

Yet his cultural observation is absolutely accurate, which is why our globalists find it infuriating. London mayor Sadiq Khan, who at a guess is less devoted to the preservation of Englishness than Mr Cleese, was positively fuming: 

“Londoners know that our diversity is our greatest strength. We are proudly the English capital, a European city and a global hub.”

The first sentence is ideological twaddle, the second one is true, but none of it contradicts Mr Cleese’s observation. It’s possible for London to be all those things and yet to have lost its indigenous English character, something that justifiably upsets Mr Cleese.

It’s an awful fact in our mayor’s eyes, but a fact nonetheless, that London was founded, developed and over two millennia raised to its global status by predominantly one ethnic group: the white British, especially English.

This group, perhaps more than any other I know, is thoroughly idiosyncratic, and it indeed possesses the traits that have endeared England not only to Mr Cleese, but to most civilised people.

Now this group is in the numeric minority in London, which has ineluctably led to the demise of those idiosyncrasies. White British people make up only 44.9 per cent of London’s population, compared to, say, 93.6 per cent in North East England.

As a result, there exist large tracts of London that don’t even look European, never mind English. But even central London has lost its native character.

My personal observations tally with Mr Cleese’s. Taking the 22 Bus from Parson’s Green to Oxford Circus, one can hardly hear any English spoken at all. Every Romance and Slavic language is there, with a smattering of German, Dutch and Scandinavian.

Hardly a week goes by that I don’t run into service personnel who don’t understand English properly and are unfamiliar with essential British realities. For example, at Paul, the French bakery chain, you’ll have a hard time explaining exactly what you need if you don’t speak French.

Also, both walking and driving have a distinctly un-English character to them these days.

The British instinctively tend to walk on the left side of the pavement. Everybody else is heir to the Napoleonic blockade, part of which legacy is perversely walking on the right. Having lived in London for 31 years, I’ve gone native in this respect (and many others).

This creates a rich potential for collisions: approaching a pedestrian walking towards me on a narrow pavement, I move to my left, he moves to his right, and then it’s a matter of who will apologise first. This may be awkward, but at least it’s not life-threatening.

The profusion of foreign drivers in London streets is. A car of mine was written off a few years ago by a Korean gentleman who misread the traffic signals (and was subsequently banned). When I tried to remonstrate with him in a language I regretted later and Penelope deplored even then, I realised that my invective was falling on uncomprehending ears.

When I first started driving in London, having driven in many other places on two continents, I found London motorists to be by far the best, most courteous and decisive. I’m sure that observation still holds true for native London drivers, but alas there aren’t enough of them to make a difference.

“Variety is the spice of life,” wrote William Cowper, while his contemporary Dr Johnson said: “If you are tired of London, you are tired of life.”

If they were both alive today they’d probably agree that, if London is a dish, it’s way over-spiced, to a point where one can indeed get tired of it. One can see how Mr Cleese got a case of veritable exhaustion, which is why he has moved to Nevis (I suspect the tax-sheltering aspects of the island might have had something to do with his decision as well).

And yet a bit of exotic spice makes a city more interesting. Without some of those additives London would be as bland as the North East of England, and who in his right mind would want to live in Newcastle unless born and bred there?

Some people on the Internet wax nostalgic at the sight of old black-and-white photographs of London tube stations, with all the passengers being white, British and wearing identical clothes.

I, as a passionate Anglophile, would have liked to live in a London like that, but neither would I have minded a bit of livening up. Something like a foreign population of 10 per cent would have added delicious spice in just the right amount.

But 55 per cent is no longer spice and it’s no longer diversity. It’s cultural and social vandalism, the devastation of the breeding ground that alone could have produced Fawlty Towers and Monty Python.

The deracination of London (and of the country in general) didn’t happen haphazardly. It’s a result of a systematic policy designed to dilute Britishness to a point where it could be tossed into a European cauldron as just one insignificant ingredient – while making it possible for the likes of Sadiq Khan to become the mayor of the world’s greatest city.

In God’s eyes, erecting “a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven” with the subsequent disintegration of language was severe punishment: “Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

It would never have occurred to the Old Testament writers that a time would come when inflicting a Babel on the world would be done not by God as a way of unleashing his wrath, but by some men as a way of controlling others.

There, after rebuking Mr Cleese for mixing culture and politics I’ve done just that myself. Must be hard to avoid, that.

P.S. If any music lovers among you happen to be in London on 6 June, do attend the recital of my wife, Penelope Blackie. Take my word for it: nowhere in the world will the piano be played so beautifully on that day. For details: penelopeblackie.com

Post-coital suppression

That the Rev Martin Luther King often ministered to his female flock in ways more Bacchanal than Christian was widely known when he was still alive.

“Martin, I wish you just had your goddamn dream”

Nor was it a great secret that King was short of temper and, when he lost it, sometimes used his wife Coretta for a punching bag.

But both the scale of his transgressions and the sordid details weren’t known, which reduced all those stories to the level of reliable gossip at best. Now the details have been filled in, but no one wants to know.

David Garrow, King’s biographer, has found this the hard way. Having analysed thousands of documents in the FBI archives, he put together a picture that falls rather short of being iconic.

King had affairs with 40 to 45 women and sired an illegitimate child with one of them, which is pretty good going for a man of the cloth. He also drank in prodigious binges and organised drunken orgies in his hotel rooms, involving his friends, female parishioners and prostitutes.

The orgies, recorded by police transmitters, involved a dozen participants or more, and perpetrated there were what FBI assistant director Sullivan described as “acts of degeneracy and depravity”.

“When one of the women shied away from engaging in an unnatural act, King and several of the men discussed how she was to be taught and initiated. King told her that to perform such an act would ‘help your soul’.”

Now what is Christian ministry if not helping people’s souls? It’s good to know that King took his pastoral duties seriously and that his aims were spiritual and not carnal.

FBI surveillance also shows that King treated consent as strictly optional. Once, for example, he attacked a female member of his staff in her flat and tore her clothes off in an apparent rape attempt.

On another occasion, FBI bugs picked up a rape that actually succeeded. King’s friend, Logan Kearse, also a Baptist pastor, invited King and his retainers to meet women, “parishioners of his church”, he had brought to Washington with him.

The female parishioners weren’t invited for strictly evangelical purposes. This is how the FBI summarised the tapes of the ensuing proceedings:

“The group met in his room and discussed which women among the parishioners would be suitable for natural or unnatural sex acts. When one of the women protested, the Baptist minister immediately and forcibly raped her. King looked on, laughed and offered advice.”

There we’re talking about a serious crime, not the common-or-garden frivolity that’s these days considered criminal by the MeToo movement. I wonder why the FBI listeners didn’t intercede. Perhaps they didn’t want to blow the whole operation (no pun intended). Or else they weren’t listening in real time.

One way or another, the secular saint who has a public holiday named after him in the US, turns out to be not quite so saintly. Does this throw a shadow over his cause of fighting racial discrimination?

As a little aside, the word ‘discrimination’ now has only pejorative connotations. Left out is the essential modifier, without which the notion becomes ambiguous: ‘unjust’.

Left to its own devices, the word means something commendable: an ability to distinguish between good and bad, beautiful and ugly, moral and immoral, vice and virtue. Discriminating taste, for example, would enable a person to judge the quality of a musical performance or to know that Damien Hirst is no artist.

However, if a black actress were cast as Hamlet in a West End production (don’t think I’m kidding), one would be within one’s rights to support discrimination on the grounds of both race and sex.

Yet unjust discrimination is downright wrong and inexcusable. I had a black friend my age in Houston back in the ‘70s, who told me he had had to ride in the back of the bus as a child. I was as enraged as he was, even though I don’t think I ever saw a single bus during my 10 years in Houston.

Discriminating against people because their skin is a different colour is unjust, even as viewed in the difficult historical context of the US South. Injustice must be fought, and Dr King’s cause was good.

Nevertheless, I detested him. It’s a little idiosyncrasy of mine: I have a physiological aversion to loudmouth demagogues who choose rabble-rousing as a means to their end.

While Dr King’s cause was more noble than those of the equally gifted demagogues Trotsky and Hitler, aesthetically they were too similar for my comfort. I prefer people who have their dreams in private to those who scream about them to the multitudes (which is why I’m not, nor could ever be, a modern politician).

It was to a great extent because of King’s gushing, thunderous demagoguery that the originally good cause turned into something else. Rather than healing the racial wounds, it made them even worse.

While institutional manifestations of racism were stopped, the militancy of the civil rights movement and the ensuing culture of reverse discrimination (‘affirmative action’ in the American parlance) have created other social and cultural problems that are gnawing at America’s body politic.

Bad means can compromise the end, and a bad man can hurt a good cause. David Garrow’s research shows that King was indeed a bad man, and one would think that editors, supposedly truth seekers one and all, would be falling over themselves to publish his findings.

Yet one would be wrong to think that. For all American ‘liberal’ publications, including The Atlantic and The Washington Post turned Garrow’s essay down.

To them, King, good, bad or indifferent, isn’t a man. He’s a secular saint painted in the Byzantine style on an icon.

Besmirching his reputation, even – especially! – if the besmircher’s every word is true, thus falls into the category of apostasy. That makes the guilty party a heretic whose place is on the metaphorical pyre, not in the pages of reputable publications.

Such secular idolatry is always despicable, regardless of the idol’s human qualities. Upholding it by supressing the truth is even worse, much worse.

Unable to worship real God, people are these days trying to find profane surrogates, hoping that way to fill the spiritual vacuum in their lives. Yet no man, even one less flawed than King, can provide this service, and publications that perpetuate such cults are hitting our civilisation on its way down.

Anyway, if something happens and I’m unable to talk to you before 20 January, happy Martin Luther King Day!

P.S. Speaking of discriminating tastes, if any music lovers among you happen to be in London on 6 June, do attend the recital of my wife, Penelope Blackie. Take my word for it: nowhere in the world will the piano be played so beautifully on that day. For details: penelopeblackie.com

Labour anti-Semitism is par for the course

Now that an official investigation into Labour anti-Semitism has been launched, only one thing surprises me: that so many people are surprised.

It’s not conservatives who hate Jews

Their astonishment has two components. First, anti-Semitism is nasty, whereas socialists are widely believed to be nice, both personally and in their political aspirations.

They stand for equality, fairness, help for the poor, comprehensive education, free medical care, clean air, not too much warm weather and in general every good cause mankind has ever conceived.

This is the message, and it has been sold so successfully for so long that people tend to overlook the obvious facts that, since socialism came into its own, the most satanic atrocities – including genocide of the Jews – have been committed by socialists of either national or international variety.

As to the good causes supposedly championed by socialists, upon close examination they turn out either not to be so good or else championed insincerely and for nefarious reasons.

Democratic egalitarianism, that deformed child of the Enlightenment, begat the worst features of modernity, those that collectively add up to the sabotage of cultural, intellectual and spiritual tradition.

At its base is a quest for uniformity in every sphere of life, not just in politics. This quest became frantic with the Enlightenment, but it started when the democratic idea first appeared. Thus ostracism, as a form of social opprobrium in ancient Greece, was mainly applied to outstanding individuals, and Socrates was one of the earliest victims of democratic egalitarianism.

“Equality is a slogan based on envy,” wrote Tocqueville, adding that nowhere is a citizen as insignificant as in a democratic state.

I can’t think offhand of a single serious political thinker, from Plato onwards, who didn’t express a similar idea, including those who aren’t generally believed to be hostile to democracy. For example, the principal architects of the American republic, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and Adams, detested democracy with unbridled passion – specifically because of what they presciently identified as its egalitarian, which is to say dehumanising, potential.

Democracy is bound to produce egalitarianism, egalitarianism is bound to produce socialism, and socialism is bound to produce a giant central state enforcing uniformity at all levels – such is the simplified chain that binds the individual, especially the outstanding one, hand and foot.

Jews are generally believed to be different, thereby distorting the desirable uniform picture. Thanks to their traditional and doctrinal emphasis on book learning, Jews also tend to resist the democratic tendency towards mass imbecility, or at least not to succumb to it as thoroughly as most other groups.

Also largely because of their commitment to serious education, Jews are widely successful in different walks of life, from corporate boardrooms to scientific laboratories to symphony orchestras. That encourages the egalitarian envy so presciently spotted by Tocqueville.

The more extreme the socialism, and the more logically does it develop the notions of the Enlightenment, the more pronounced this trend – especially since Marx, that charming combination of Jew and anti-Semite, explicitly equated the bourgeois and the Jew.

The syllogism he put forth was attractively simple, and simplicity appeals to small minds. Thesis: capitalists are despicable; antithesis: Jews are capitalists; synthesis: Jews are despicable.

Thus, in addition to the time-honoured garden variety anti-Semitism, socialists intuitively dislike Jews for resisting uniformity; and Marxist socialists also hate them for ideological, scriptural reasons.

Corbyn’s Labour party is virulently Marxist, which is why it absolutely has to be virulently anti-Semitic. But even non-Marxist socialists gravitate to that form of hatred. For example, people who know David Steele, the Liberal politician, tell me he hates Jews so viscerally he can’t even stand being next to one at an official dinner.

The second component of the surprise people feel about Labour anti-Semitism is that that form of bigotry is generally seen as the prerogative of right-wing conservatives.

Now even discounting the lunatic fringe of BNP types, which is more left than right anyway, anti-Semitism is certainly not alien to some conservatives, but it’s usually a different type of anti-Semitism.

(‘Usually’ is the operative word: the instinctive, irrational anti-Semitism of some conservatives, such as Chesterton in Britain or, in our own time, Pat Buchanan in the US, is typologically close to that of non-Marxist socialists.)

By and large, conservative anti-Semitism is more akin to snobbery than to hatred. Since true conservatism includes Christianity as a key constituent, it’s hard for a true conservative to be a fully paid-up anti-Semite.

After all, doctrinally the Old Testament is an essential part of the Christian canon; and historically, Christianity was originated and spread by Jews (the first 15 bishops of Jerusalem, for example, were circumcised Jews) – not to mention that Jesus himself was born to a Jewish woman and raised as a Jew.

If socialists look up to the Jews and hate them for being intellectually and professionally superior, conservatives look down on them for being socially inferior. The difference is vital: socialists kill Jews; conservatives don’t admit them to some clubs.

It stands to reason that the British Union of Fascists was founded by a socialist, Oswald Mosley, while the most conservative British (or for that matter any other) cabinet in living memory, that of Margaret Thatcher, was dominated by Jews, such as Keith Joseph, Leon Brittan, Nigel Lawson, Malcolm Rifkind, Michael Howard and David Young – to say nothing of her principal speechwriter, my late friend Sir Alfred Sherman.

Anti-Semitism has always been with us and always will be – people are fallible and susceptible to the full gamut of biases, both good and bad. But, if one is to generalise, its most virulent forms are more likely to be found in the ranks of socialists.

So what’s the big surprise? Corbyn’s Labour, by far the most extreme socialist incarnation of that party, aren’t bucking a trend. They are proving it.

Theresa May is criminal

An instant disclaimer is in order: incompetent and lachrymose Mrs May isn’t a bog-standard criminal.

The public expressing doubts about the traditional Tory attributes

She hasn’t killed anyone, and I’m sure she has never stolen anything. She did play fast and loose with Brexit, but though despicable, that isn’t a crime in itself. In short, she has committed neither malum in se nor malum prohibitum.

These ancient legal categories describe, respectively, acts criminal in themselves (such as murder) and those criminal only because the law says so (such as snorting cocaine).

Yet I propose another term: malum effectum – an act that’s criminal neither in intent nor mode of execution, but because it produces disastrous effects. And, under some circumstances, incompetence can be malum effectum.

Think of a surgeon killing patients because of his ineptitude, a bad driver losing control and ploughing through a crowd, a cowboy builder whose house buries people under the rubble.

All these individuals would have a case to answer, a moral one definitely, a legal one probably, a criminal one possibly. But what about an incompetent prime minister causing untold damage to the realm?

It’s in that sense that Mrs May is a criminal, but she had plenty of accomplices, both before and during her tenure. It’s because of their collective efforts that the Tories are finished.   

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think the party called Tory is finished. It may even still win the next general election and, considering the only realistic alternative, I hope it will.

It’s just that the party called Tory isn’t Tory. It hasn’t been that for half a century at least, but I only accepted that situation in 1991, when John Major succeeded Mrs Thatcher as party leader (and this is the only way John Major and ‘succeed’ can ever be used in the same sentence).

In his first speech as party leader, Major pledged commitment to ‘classless society’, which was inane on more levels than I can count. For no society can be classless, meaning without a vertical social structure.

People historically stratify themselves into groups, and these arrange themselves not only horizontally but also vertically. Had Major given the matter any thought, he would have discerned the difference between classlessness and social mobility.

He might have also wondered how a monarchy, even a constitutional one, can be classless – the very fact that our head of state is called Her Majesty the Queen precludes that possibility even if it existed otherwise.

But the statement didn’t come from his brain, such as it was. It came from his viscera, which is why he didn’t realise that what he was saying was tantamount to declaring that the Tories were committed to not being Tories.

John Major and the subsequent Tory prime ministers have lived up, or rather down, to that commitment. Nothing they’ve said or done has resembled Conservatism even remotely.

It’s not just because it rhymed that David ‘Dave’ Cameron described himself as ‘heir to Blair’, not, say, to Canning, Wellington or Disraeli (harrowing news: Dave is considering a comeback). At least he was being honest, for once in his life.

When the term was first used, the Tories were the party of aristocracy. They believed in a social order based on traditional hierarchy, Christian values and paternalism towards the lower classes, although not without a potential for social mobility.

The Whigs, aka Liberals, while also respectful of tradition, believed in laissez-faire economics at home and free trade abroad. They were opposed to protectionism, and their success in having the Corn Laws repealed spelled Britain’s economic growth.

At the same time Tory rearguard action was modestly successful in attenuating the shock waves of that growth and keeping the now threadbare social fabric from being torn to tatters too quickly.

Then in barged the twentieth century, heralded by the roar of howitzers. Out went the aristocracy, gassed in Flanders, taxed in Whitehall. And real Toryism went with it.

So what does the word ‘Conservative’ mean these days? Take aristocratic social order and Christian values out of it, and paternalism is all we have left. That, in today’s terms, means a gigantic welfare state, which is to say socialism.

The late Tory Alan Clark unwittingly confirmed this observation. “Almost lost to sight,” he wrote, “remain the… principal functions of the state: to ensure that its citizens are… gainfully employed, and that they are enlightened.

The first of these functions is another word for wholesale nationalisation (the only way for a state to ‘ensure’ total employment), the modern for socialism; the second,  another word for ‘free’ education, wherein the government makes us pay through the nose for the illiterate nonsense pumped into our children’s minds. That, too, is the modern for socialism.

The functions of the state can thus be reduced to one: being socialist.

Those who beg to differ have to acknowledge that the word ‘Conservatism’ is semantically inoperable, and add to it a typographic dimension by describing themselves as conservative with a lower-case ‘c’, thus renouncing knee-jerk loyalty to the upper-case Conservative party.

Most definitions of that small ‘c’ include some aspects of what in Britain is inaccurately called Thatcherism: limited government, laissez-faire economics at home and free trade abroad. In other words, things that circumscribe the traditional domain of Whiggish liberalism or the present one of economic libertarianism.

Indeed, Britain has followed America’s lead in identifying the right side of her political spectrum with libertarianism rather than conservatism. There used to be a seminal philosophical difference between the two political dispensations, but not any longer.

Thus Mrs May didn’t kill Toryism, as many are alleging. At worst, she drove the last nail into its coffin. What she might have killed with her Brexit shilly-shallying is any semblance of political tranquillity.

Brexit has acted as the catalyst of a deadly implosion, but not its cause. The cause is the tragic parting of ways between Britain’s political – I’d even say national – essence and her actual politics.

The British character gravitates towards pragmatism, moderation and distrust of ideologies, which used to be reflected in Tory politics. But, in the able hands of today’s politicians, pragmatism has become opportunism, moderation has turned into an absence of any principles, and distrust of ideologies has developed into a contempt for ideas.

The only thing now going for the Tories, whoever is at the helm, is that Corbyn is even worse. But because that’s the only thing, we’ll probably end up with the calamity of a Marxist government.

If making that likely isn’t a crime, I don’t know what is.

Neville Chamberlain has come back

Much to the chagrin of John Major, whose favourite PM Chamberlain characteristically is, old Neville hasn’t come back in the flesh. Yet the toxic spirit of appeasement associated with him is very much in the air.

President Trump meets President Putin to guarantee peace in our time

On 29 September, 1938, Chamberlain et al. primed a bomb under Europe. Less than a year later, the bomb went off.

Instead of delivering “peace in our time”, which Chamberlain promised the next day, waving a piece of paper in the air, the Munich agreement pushed a button for the most devastating war in history.

That ought to have taught people a useful lesson: though the words ‘peace’ and ‘appeasement’ are cognates in etymology, in real life they are mutually exclusive. Appeasement is a path to devastation, not to peace.

However, the lesson was never heeded, vindicating Paul Valéry’s aphorism: “History teaches precisely nothing.” For further vindication, consider the recent actions by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and Donald Trump.

Both have taken the course of appeasing Putin’s kleptofascist regime, reversing their original opprobrium of Russia’s crimes. These are numerous and richly varied.

As John Kampfner writes in today’s Times, “For the past five years, the Kremlin has masterminded a campaign to undermine western democracy. It has been spectacularly successful, helping to boost the far right and far left (Putin is Catholic with his tastes) from France to Hungary, from Italy to Finland, from Germany to the UK. Fake news, the feeding of conspiracies, the denigration of institutions, the bullying of individuals. All of these are now the political norm.”

(If I knew John, I’d buy him a drink. None for his sub-editors though: it should be ‘in’, not ‘with’, his tastes, and in this context Putin’s tastes are catholic (meaning universal, and not Catholic, meaning beholden to the Vatican.)

And let’s not forget trying to affect elections in Western countries, committing acts of nuclear and biological terrorism, sending soldiers to prop up Maduro’s regime in Venezuela and so on, ad infinitum.

Yet quite apart from the overall criminality of the Putin regime, relevant to the appeasement theme are two items currently in the news.

The first one deals with PACE’s intention to readmit Russia into that august organisation from which she was expelled following the theft of the Crimea in 2014.

Since committing that crime, Putin’s regime has attacked the eastern Ukraine, killing 13,000 Ukrainians in the process; got involved in the Syrian war with murderous consequences; attempted to engineer a coup in Montenegro, complete with the murder of her PM; used a nerve gas on British subjects; interfered with elections in the US, UK and elsewhere; and, most recently, successfully bribed Austria’s vice-chancellor to plunge the country into a political crisis.

(Leaders of the Freedom party there are happy to canoodle not only with Putin but also with frankly odious figures, such as Dugin, the principle ideologist of Russian fascism; Malofeyev, its active practitioner; and Kadyrov, the Chechen chieftain taking care of some of Putin’s ‘wet work’. So much for freedom. A bit of a misnomer, isn’t it?)

Putin has been a busy boy, and he has done many things along those lines. However, one thing he hasn’t done is return the Crimea to its legal owner, the Ukraine.

In other words, he hasn’t eliminated the reason for which Russia lost her PACE vote five years ago. This, however, hasn’t prevented Heiko Maas, German foreign minister, from announcing that Russia is about to be readmitted.

That way, he explained with most refreshing cynicism, “millions of Russians will be able to appeal for protection to the European Court of Human Rights”. If Maas really believes what he said, either he’s monumentally stupid or thinks we are.

The real function of the ECHR isn’t to protect the legal rights of European citizens but to override the legal institutions of the EU members. In that role it’s succeeding famously, while any salvation acts, if they have occurred at all, are few and far in between.

That’s in reasonably free countries, whose legal institutions are more than just a rubber stamp in the leader’s hand. In Russia, an appeal to the ECHR would be as effective as one to Zeus.

What we’re witnessing here is the EU inhaling the spirit of Munich with both nostrils, as the ghost of Neville Chamberlain floats overhead in thin air, whispering “appeasement in our time”.

As to Donald Trump, I’m not going to comment on his possible collusion with Putin, other than saying that so far no corroborative evidence to take to court has surfaced. But this doesn’t mean there’s no evidence, full stop.

The president has had his arm twisted by Congress to introduce sanctions and other punitive measures against Russia. But he has always done his level best to sabotage such measures, taking particular care never to utter a single derogatory word about Putin (America’s NATO allies don’t rate a similar courtesy).

Yet in November 2018, Trump cancelled a meeting with Putin following an act of piracy committed by the Russian navy in the Strait of Kerch, where it seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and imprisoned 24 sailors.

That was the only reason for the cancellation, explained Trump, adding he’d be happy to meet Putin when this little problem has been solved. One could infer that, until it has been solved, no meetings would take place.

Half a year later the situation hasn’t changed. Those sailors and their ships are still in Russian captivity, and yet Trump is now ready to talk to Putin face to face. The ghost of Chamberlain is looking on, whispering “That’s my boy”.

We’ll never die, and neither will vulgarity

You must have heard anti-Semites say “some of my best friends are Jewish?”, hoping to exonerate themselves from a charge of bigotry.

Public house philosophy is still going strong

Well, I use a similar stratagem to claim I’m tolerant of intellectual dissent. Some of my close friends are atheists, some – even worse – are agnostics, others – still worse – are empiricists.

However, none of them is vulgar. If they were, they wouldn’t be my friends because I agree with Oscar Wilde that “all vulgarity is a crime”. Breaking bread with an atheist is one thing, doing so with a vulgarian is another.

This explains why I read papers like The Times, even though their opinion pages hardly ever feature valid opinions. However, though most of their columnists write rubbish, at least they tend not to impersonate a voice speaking out of the burning bush.

And it also explains why I never sully my hands with either The Guardian or The Times Literary Supplement, and it’s not because they are left-wing. It’s just that the former is produced by smug pseuds with ill-founded cultural pretensions, and the latter, by smug pseuds who have turned their ill-founded cultural pretensions into a cult. Both are irredeemably vulgar.

If I all of a sudden began to waver in this assessment, the TLS article The Last Mortals by Regina Rini would instantly get me back on track. The article came to me courtesy of a friend, and I read it as a courtesy to the friend.

Miss Rini is identified in the heading as a philosopher. Not just that, but she actually won the 2018 Marc Sanders Award in Public Philosophy.

Now each time I hear the term ‘public philosophy’, I wonder what it means. Is it distinct from private philosophy? I’m grateful to Miss Rini for elucidating the point, albeit unwittingly.

Judging by her long article, ‘public philosophy’ is short for ‘public house philosophy’. It’s the kind of fanciful twaddle one overhears in a pub where a couple of chaps are on their tenth pints.

Every writer tends to address some target readership. The readers Miss Rini evidently sees in her mind’s eye are intellectually challenged individuals who read mostly science fiction and who are in the thrall of parallel universes, UFOs, green aliens with feelers on their heads, and J. R. R. Tolkien.

She sets her stall by saying that regular advances in medical science are such that in some near future the problem of death will be solved. Life expectancy is steadily growing, and we now live twice as long as the contemporaries of Byron and Shelley.

Give it another few decades, and no one will ever die. Why, a recent study “detected a strong correlation between unusual human longevity and a genotype called FOXO3A. The pieces seem to be there; perhaps it is only a matter of time before we learn how to fit them together.”

And, “if you are currently under the age of forty, then you can plan to meet young people who will live to see 2157,” while by that time the only people who’ll ever die will be those who’ll want to, or else victims of accidents or global warming.

Now if Miss Rini were an expert in biology, rather than philosophy, all this popular science for the masses would be moderately interesting to Tolkien buffs, among whom I proudly don’t count myself.

But being a philosopher, she needs to philosophise, and that’s where the roof caves in. Her piece outlines in broad strokes the plight of the last mortals who will overlap with the immortals, the way Neanderthals overlapped with Cro-Magnons.

Imagine you’re a decrepit 130-year-old knowing you’ll soon peg it. Yet all around you are sprightly 110-year-old youngsters who are immortal beneficiaries of the scientific advances that came just a tad too late for you. Wouldn’t you be upset?

“It’s better never to have a crack at immortality than knowingly to miss it by the tiniest margin,” she writes, establishing the philosophical premise and forging on from there. 

First, from the height of the dizzying progress philosophy has made over centuries, Miss Rini disagrees with Seneca and Diogenes that death is no big deal. Life is wonderful, hence the more of it, the better.

Anyway, the type of immortality she has in mind “is not a magical one where death is strictly impossible. But it is the practical removal of death’s certainty. Biological immortals would no longer expect to die within any relevant time frame.”

Unless, of course they’ll want to die, “what with growing climate catastrophes and rampant overpopulation by the long-lived.” But not to worry: “they could always choose to end their lives when there is nothing new left to them.”

I’m sure that within the time-frame Miss Rini envisages, a visit to Dignitas will no longer be necessary. Your friendly local pharmacy will by then carry pre-loaded DIY syringes guaranteeing a painless passage into oblivion, a development I’d guess she’d welcome.

Indeed: “To have the option of living healthily a very long time, possibly for as long as one could want (but no longer), seems like an unmitigated blessing.”

Being a philosopher, Miss Rini co-opts support from other great thinkers, not just Seneca and Diogenes, but also Epicurus, Freud, Borges, Simone de Beauvoir and Bill Murray who starred in the film Groundhog Day – and these are just those I’ve heard of.

Yet being a young and, more important, modern philosopher, she managed to write several thousand words on immortality without once as much as mentioning Christianity. For a Western philosopher, that takes some doing.

I’m not suggesting, God forbid, that young modern philosophers should all be Christians. That’s like suggesting that British trains should run on time – a sheer impossibility in other words.

But surely any philosopher ought to be at least aware of the critical, life-giving role the Christian concept of immortality played in the founding of our civilisation? No, perhaps that would be too much to expect from modern vulgarians.

Yet everything that happened between the Incarnation, which established an eternal link between God and man, and the Resurrection, which showed that life everlasting is implicit in that link, was the birth cry of Western civilisation, the nourishment without which it would never have been born.

I realise that this sort of thing would take Miss Rini out of her depth – why, it would probably take those who taught her philosophy out of their depth too. Nor, as I’ve mentioned, can anyone expect her to believe something she hasn’t read in a popular science magazine.

This objection would be invalid if she stayed within the boundaries of the sort of stuff such magazines are made of. She could even hold my attention for the minute or two it would take to bore me rigid.

But she’s described as a philosopher, and an award-winning one to boot. I started to tear out what’s left of my hair, but then I remembered she’s really a public house philosopher and calmed down.

I’ll have another one, landlord, and make it a double. Less ice this time please.

Would you rather watch Hegerberg or Messi?

Watch them play football is what I mean, and wipe that lascivious leer off your face. What, you don’t even know what I’m on about?

Lionel Messi

Fair enough. Though most people, even those who don’t follow football, have heard of Lionel Messi, few have heard of Ada Hegerberg.

Yet they have much in common. Both are professional footballers. Both are strikers. Messi is the world’s best player among men, Hegerberg among women.

Then of course there are also some differences. Hegerberg is a Norwegian playing in France, Messi is an Argentine playing in Spain. Messi is my height, which is short, Hegerberg is three inches taller, which is tall for a woman and about average for a Norwegian one. Messi is heavily tattooed, Hegerberg isn’t, at least not where one can see.

And here comes one salient difference: Hegerberg is paid £343,000 a year; Messi, about £112 million all in, roughly half of it in salary.

Miss Hegerberg thinks this disparity is grossly unfair. That’s why she’ll boycott the Women’s World Cup this summer, so rankling is what she calls a “lack of respect” for female players.

We all know that respect means nothing unless a high monetary value is attached to it. Hence, say, Mozart, who could barely make both ends meet, isn’t really worthy of respect as much as, say, Elton John who rakes in tens of millions.

That much is clear. Then again, since  English isn’t Miss Hegerberg’s first language, perhaps she doesn’t really mean respect. Perhaps she simply means that male and female players should be paid the same amounts of money. 

“Football is my biggest passion in life and I’ve worked really hard to get here,” explains Miss Hegerberg. I’m sure this is true. Yet I know many people who are passionate about their jobs and work really hard without earning anywhere near £343,000 a year.

Football, continues Miss Hegerberg, “is so important to me that I can’t sit and watch things not go in the right direction.” The right direction then is towards equal pay for her and Lionel Messi.

“It’s impossible to be in football and not fight for equality,” she explains…The more people give attention to equal pay, the easier it gets”.

She’s both wrong and right. For it’s possible for a footballer not to talk about equality. Thousands of players, male and female, manage to desist successfully.

But it’s true that screaming appeals to the God of Equality do work – just look at women tennis players. All major tournaments now award equal prizes to men and women, even though the latter spend half the time on court (and, by the looks of them, in training), have nothing like the men’s technique and attract nothing like the men’s following.

However, I can see certain problems specific to football. For, unlike tennis players, footballers aren’t paid by tournament organisers. They are under contract to their privately owned clubs, and their salaries are set individually.

The players’ pay reflects their quality and commercial clout, along with the owners’ wealth and ambition.

I’m not aware of any authority, at least in the West, that can dictate to the clubs how much they must pay their players, male or female. Thus huge disparities of income are inevitable both within each sex and between them.

Now leaving the owners’ wealth and ambition aside, how does Miss Hegerberg think her quality and commercial clout compare to Messi’s?

As far as quality is concerned, she’d have to be delusional to believe that she’s as good as a top player in the men’s pub league, never mind a top professional.

Actually, I’d rather watch a good pub league match than the Women’s World Cup. The former wouldn’t be an exemplar of technical mastery, but then neither would it be as excruciatingly dull as the latter.

In fact, the technical and physical gap between men and women in football is even greater than in tennis, where God knows it’s huge.

As to the comparative commercial clout, I can only repeat the rhetorical question in the title. Hundreds of millions of football lovers around the world pay exorbitant ticket prices to watch top male professionals weave their magic on the pitch. And if Hegerberg’s team played on one TV channel and Messi’s on another, which one would draw a higher rating? Quite.

So what’s the basis for Miss Hegerberg’s demand for ‘equality’ (she doesn’t know the difference between ‘equal’ and ‘the same’, but then many native speakers make the same mistake too)? There’s none, other than a voracious political appetite.

She is jumping with both feet on the bandwagon of our care-share-be-aware New Age, where neither reason nor justice can hitch a ride.

Like all New Age activists, she has the ear to catch the distant rattle of the bandwagon. And like Billy Jean King in tennis half a century ago, Hegerberg knows when the time is right to jump on.

For years now, TV companies and newspapers have been trying to shove women’s dull, inept football down our throats. A serious propaganda effort is under way, and every such movement needs its figureheads.

Ada Hegerberg is happy to oblige. I don’t know how she’ll be able to get her way, but something tells me she will. That bandwagon is gathering enough speed to crush any obstacle.

Whose friend, whose foe?

Last summer I was interviewed by the French ‘right-wing’ radio station Radio Courtoisie. The subject was Putin’s Russia, the length was an hour and a half, the language was French.

Another acolyte expressing his admiration of Col. Putin

That last aspect stretched my modest linguistic attainment to breaking point or, as I actually thought, beyond it. However, the interviewer assured me I did just fine.

Yet minutes before the recorded interview was to go on air, the station manager cancelled it because he feared that “the Russian embassy would be offended”.

Why, you might ask, should an independent radio station worry about the delicate sensibilities of a foreign embassy, especially one representing a country openly hostile to France and her allies? After all, I cited no facts one couldn’t read in hundreds of publications, including a small library of books.

There’s only one possible explanation: the station isn’t independent. It has close links with Marine Le Pen’s party, which is financed by Putin’s government. Hence my interview would have left bite marks on the hand that feeds Radio Courtoisie, and that simply couldn’t be allowed.

I remembered that incident when reading about the scandal that has destroyed the governing coalition in Austria, tipping the country into political chaos.

The junior partner in the coalition was the Freedom Party, which is ideologically close to Le Pen’s National Rally, German AfD, Italian League and a raft of similar European groups (including a few in Britain) usually described in the press as ‘populist’ or ‘far-right’.

Both terms are inadequate, suffering as they do the hyperinflation of overuse. First, all parties in universal-franchise democracies are populist – if they weren’t, they would win no elections. They all rise to the top by expert demagoguery designed to swing the largest blocs of voters.

Since most voters aren’t trained to ponder political nuances and complexities, the demagoguery is typically reduced to catchy slogans activating the salivary glands of the electorate. If the slogans are spouted by a charismatic, persuasive leader, his party has a chance of forming the government – especially if the slogans wielded by the previous lot have been proved to be lies.

As to the far-right tag, it’s less universal but equally meaningless. Both Hitler and Margaret Thatcher have been thus described, and it’s hard to think of two politicians further apart.

The left-leaning press often sticks this tag on economic libertarians, and they indeed may be on the right of the political mainstream in most countries. But, say, Le Pen’s lot preach the kind of economics that isn’t a million miles away from our dear Jeremy or, for that matter, France’s own Trotskyist Mélenchon.

Le Pen’s party is both nationalist and socialist, which blend has some history in European politics. Austria’s Freedom Party is as nationalist but less socialist, Italy’s League is even less socialist but equally nationalist, while Germany’s AfD isn’t socialist at all, but even more nationalist, much given to bandying about words like Volk and Vaterland, which have a certain ring to them.

While they all swear by national identity, their opposition to the European Union isn’t always the same as, say, our own Brexit Party’s or Ukip’s. All those continental parties mainly hate one aspect of European federalism, unrestricted immigration, especially of Muslims.

But some of them don’t hate the EU as such. Marine Le Pen, for example, has softened her anti-EU position considerably, and AfD doesn’t mind the EU, provided the Muslims and other undesirables are kept out.

The palette is quite broad, as you can see. But all these parties have one thing in common: they enjoy Putin’s support and (some definitely, others probably) financing. Hence all of them profess admiration for Russia’s kleptofascist regime.

This brings into doubt their own conservative credentials, when these are claimed – and Austria’s Freedom Party does claim them.

If such credentials were real, the leaders of these parties would be hard-pressed to explain their admiration for a regime that murders its opponents at home and abroad, imprisons dissidents, suppresses elementary liberties, blocks opposition websites, runs an economy criminalised from top to bottom, pounces on its neighbours like a rabid dog, attempts to subvert the political process in Western countries, and in general positions itself, both in word and in deed, as an enemy of the West.

One can understand why such parties take Putin’s rouble. Political parties are always starved of funds, and those outside the mainstream especially so. But this neither explains nor certainly excuses their seeking support from avowed enemies of their countries and the West in general, who openly confront the West all over the globe and threaten it with nuclear Armageddon.

We must also remember that some 87 per cent of Russia’s ruling elite led by Col. Putin are KGB/FSB officers trained in recruitment and seduction. Why do you suppose they spend billions to cultivate marginal political groups, both on the right and extreme left, in Europe? Do they do that out of a disinterested charitable instinct?

They don’t. They clearly expect a quid pro their quo.

Some of their ends are purely fiscal – let’s not forget that the Russian KGB government is organically fused with organised crime, and most of its key figures are billionaires who’d like to make even more billions.

But mostly they want to destroy Western politics they hate by sowing as much chaos as their purloined cash can buy. How and by whom the chaos is created doesn’t matter to them, as long as it’s destructive.

They don’t have an ideology as such, although they claim they do. They just use KGB methods to create troubled waters in which they can fish for their billions unimpeded.

Accepting support and especially money from such a regime ipso facto makes the recipients as evil as the donors – they dine with the devil, forgetting that at such a table no spoon is ever long enough.

This is the background to the scandal that has destroyed Austria’s governing coalition. The Freedom Party’s leader and the country’s vice-chancellor-elect Heinz-Christian Strache was filmed trying to strike a deal with the putative niece of a Russian oligarch.

Strache solicited donations from the woman, promising in return to help her invest €250 million of “not entirely legal” money in Austria. This, although it could be confidently expected that such a transaction would then be used as a blackmail weapon to secure political concessions as well.

Strache’s second-in-command Johann Gudenus also met with the woman’s representatives in 2017.

When the story broke, a spate of sackings and resignations followed, and the chaos so beloved of the Russians has materialised. Now the question is, would the Austrians have entered into similar negotiations with other evil regimes, say North Korea?

Perhaps, though somehow I doubt it. It’s just that so many people, including otherwise decent folk like Nigel Farage, have been successfully seduced by Putin’s KGB tradecraft into refusing to believe that his regime is indeed evil.

They have chosen to take at face value the nauseatingly cynical conservative noises emanating from Russia, to pretend to others but above all to themselves that some affinity exists between their parties and Putin’s kleptofascist gang.

All I can say is that I hope this isn’t the case – although in practice the distinction between wicked politicians and duped ones is often blurred.

Drunk, moi? It’s sciatica, stupid

“I’ve said it many times that I do not have a problem with alcohol,” said Jean-Claude Juncker at yesterday’s press conference. “Stupid journalists always ask the same question, even though this question has already been answered.”

“Sorry, mon ami, I thought you were Angela.”

So it was. Less than a year ago. By me.  

It was then that Juncker, or Junk as he likes to be known to his friends among whom I proudly count myself, explained that his numerous public embarrassments were caused not by booze but by attacks of sciatica.

Since irresponsible hacks clearly ignored that explanation, I feel duty-bound to rerun the explanatory piece I wrote then. The Nobel prize for medicine is sewn up, I wrote.

Or if it isn’t, it should be. For only one medical researcher combines penetrating insights with the courage to stage death-defying experiments on himself.

Many doctors, including some Nobel laureates, have gone down in history for exposing themselves to pathogenic substances. Jesse Lazear exposed himself to yellow fever, Max von Pettenkofer to cholera, Daniel Zagury to HIV – the list can go on. But it’ll never be complete without Junk’s name.

Last July Junk came up with a daring hypothesis on the aetiology and symptomatology of sciatica. His courageous self-experimentation at the NATO summit then turned the hypothesis into scientific fact.

Junk’s breakthrough discovery was that sciatica is caused by the toxic substances added to Glenfarclas malt whisky. As with all such additives, the adverse effect is directly proportional to the amount consumed.

To support this theory Junk self-sacrificially, not to say heroically, consumed a full bottle of the dangerous beverage. Sure enough, he immediately developed a bad case of sciatica, featuring a unique clinical picture.

In addition to pain in the lower back, the virulent form of sciatica caused by Glenfarclas is evidently characterised by zigzagging, stumbling, losing one’s balance, trying to topple over backwards, laughing uncontrollably and for no good reason, kissing everything that moves and forcing foreplay on men and women alike.

At the time I started a campaign demanding that Glenfarclas labels carry a government health warning. Predictably the government, preoccupied with such marginal issues as Brexit, ignored my entreaty.

More evidence, they said, was required before such a step could be taken. My friend Junk, they added, should be encouraged to collect more research data. According to them, the corpus of evidence gathered hitherto only qualified as a promising start.

When I conveyed the bad news to Junk, he took it in his stride. “All we can do, Al,” he said, “is keep plugging away. I don’t care if I have to drink Scotland dry to help all those millions of sciatica sufferers.”

Junk was true to his word. He chose the Africa-Europe summit at Vienna’s Hofburg Palace as an appropriate site for his self-experimentation. When I later asked him how much Glenfarclas he had consumed to bring on sciatica symptoms, Junk told me it was none of my bloody business.

“Let’s just say it was well in excess of LD50,” he said, yet again resorting to the arcane technical jargon that comes naturally to him but leaves ignoramuses like me bemused.

“LD50, you nincompoop,” explained Junk, sensing my bewilderment, “is Lethal Dose 50, the amount of an ingested substance that kills 50 per cent of the test sample. Well, I’m in the other 50 per cent.” he added proudly. “Tell that to those Brexiteer énculés.”

Even before that momentous event, Junk had staged a lower-level trial to obtain more evidence of sciatica causing bizarre amorous episodes. He had been filmed ruffling the peroxide hair and kissing the cheek of Pernilla Sjölin, the EU’s deputy head of protocol.

Aware of the episode’s medical significance, Miss Sjölin went along, which encouraged Junk to consume more whisky, thereby exacerbating the sciatica symptoms.

He then expanded his sample base by engaging Mrs May in a foreplay session, involving kissing, petting and murmuring sweet nothings into her ear, such as “You nebulous bitch, why don’t you pull your head out of your cul and tell me what the bloody hell you want.”

Yet it was the Vienna conference that was singled out for the full-scale experiment. This time it took several burly assistants to keep Junk upright, while he was laughing uncontrollably and trying to fall down.

The amorous symptoms of Glenfarclas-induced sciatica also manifested themselves with new clarity, this time transcending the line separating the sexes.

Yet again Junk selected a Croatian politician as his subject. If in July he had tried to feel up Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, the comely president of that country, this time he focused on Croatia’s PM Andrej Plenkovic (“I thought he was Kolinda,” he later told me. “That’s sciatica for you.”)

When sciatica finally made it impossible for Junk to get up from his chair, he remained seated while trying to, in his parlance, ‘score’ with Estonia’s male Prime Minister Juri Ratas. Evidently Junk had upped the dose of the control substance to produce a cleaner experiment.

Here’s a man willing to suffer excruciating pain for the sake of medical science. And not just pain.

Sciatica is known to produce other conditions, such as cirrhosis of the liver, hypertension, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, fibrosis, pancreatitis and imprisonment for affray. Junk is heroically risking all those to advance human knowledge, and I can’t think of a worthier candidate for the Nobel Prize.

I’m also comforted to know that the future of the EU is in such safe, if slightly shaking, hands.

Junk isn’t dedicating his life to this other noble cause in his life for the measly €350,000 a year, plus unspecified expenses. Yet again he’s sacrificing himself for the common good – and how many of us can say the same?

What on earth is centre ground?

The gross inadequacy of our political taxonomy is a recurrent theme in this space, and it’s now made newsworthy again by two grossly inadequate politicians: John Major and Michael Heseltine.

John Major, on a mission to rediscover the sunk Atlantis of the middle ground

These two chaps, who are as responsible as anyone for turning the Conservative party into a cynical misnomer, now lament that, in Major’s phrase, “the middle ground of politics is empty”.

It was that nebulous space, he continues, that “made it possible for me to move from rented rooms in Brixton to a life, which, as a boy, I could have only ever imagined.”

Really? I would have thought it was the skill with which Mr Major, as he then was, stuck a knife in the back of his benefactor Margaret Thatcher. Silly me, now I know it actually was that fertile middle ground.

British politics would be much healthier had Sir John stayed in that Brixton rental or, to be kind, chosen a different path out. Managing a local branch of NatWest in that same neighbourhood, for example, would have been more apposite for his modest talents, and surely such a position would have enabled him to get on the property ladder.

And Lord Heseltine, Knife-Wielder-In-Chief, is so upset with the disappearance of the centre ground that he’ll vote for the Liberal Democrats in the upcoming European elections.

Now until the advent of Jeremy Corbyn, that party was the most left-wing in the country, and even now it’s a close second. Verily I say unto you, the more one seeks the centre ground, the more it looks like a desert mirage.

And yet so many politicians the world over desperately try to stake a claim to that piece of terrain. They must be keen chess players, who realise that a command of the centre of the board gives them a good chance to win the game.

Electoral politics aside, sensible people, especially in England, tend to be wary of political extremes and, truth be told, even of strong opinions. ‘Centre ground’ thus whispers laudable moderation to their ears; it sounds like a nice cup of tea would sound if it could talk.

But what does the term actually mean outside the dog-eat-dog life of electoral politics, or heated debates on any subject? I’d suggest it means so many different things as to mean nothing at all.

It’s like average-income statistics, which offer information without expanding knowledge. For example, Warren Buffet and I may have an average income of 500 million a year, but this datum will tell you little about Buffet’s income and nothing at all about mine.

Champions of the centre ground must see a peculiar picture of politics in their mind’s eye. It looks like a straight line spanning the two extremes, right and left. The right and left sections on the line each cover about 25 per cent of its length, with the remaining 50 per cent constituting the centre ground. Are you fine with this geometry and arithmetic? In theory?

If so, you must agree that, in practice, none of this makes sense. It all depends on the exact placement of the canvas on which the two extremes are drawn.

Shifting it to the far left, one could observe that Lenin occupied the centre ground between Trotsky and Stalin; or Goebbels, between Hitler and Strasser. So let’s just say that the centre ground doesn’t automatically guarantee either virtue or indeed moderation.

Generally speaking, the canvas of the political mainstream throughout the West, emphatically including the Atlantic powers, is steadily shifting leftwards. Yesterday’s loony fringe becomes today’s centre-left; yesterday’s staid conservatives, today’s radical right-wingers.

In Britain, the impeccably moderate conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg now appears to be a right-wing fanatic against the background of the Tory party shaped in the image of Heseltines, Majors and Mays; in the US, the canvas has been shifted so far towards Ocasio-Cortez that Bernie Sanders looks just slightly left of centre, with Joe Biden bang in the middle ground.

What’s true of the political spectrum in general is doubly true of each particular issue. For, though some of them may allow a centre ground to appear, most don’t.

What is the centre ground between, say, legalising homomarriage or not? Abolishing the death penalty or not? Hitting a rogue regime with sanctions or not? Raising taxes on diesel fuel or not?

Many, I’d suggest most, vital questions in politics are binary, demanding a yes or no answer. The wording of the Brexit referendum reflected this sombre realisation: the choice was between in and out, not between those and somewhere halfway.

That was logical because what was at issue was the sovereignty of Her Majesty’s realm. Either it’s sovereign and governed by its own ancient parliament or it is, in fact if not yet in name, a province of a recently concocted contrivance with no historical, moral or constitutional legitimacy.

I don’t see any middle ground there, do you? A country can’t be a little sovereign, almost sovereign or practically sovereign. It either is or isn’t. There are only two possibilities there, each of them extreme.

Yet it’s specifically Brexit that makes Messrs Heseltine and Major lament the absence of a centre ground. Hence it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this Shangri-La of politics is defined as anything coinciding with their opinions, no matter how extreme.

The implicit syllogism is as simple as it’s dishonest. Heseltine and Major see centre ground as good. Trying to remain in the EU against the explicit wishes of the electorate is good. Ergo, this attempt resides in the centre ground.

At the time Major put his signature on the Maastricht Treaty back in 1992, I described that flourish of his pen as de facto treasonous. For what is treason if not sabotage of a country’s constitution?

Prompted by the experts, however, I’ve realised what else de facto treason can be: centre ground. I’ve got Heseltine and Major to thank for this discovery.