‘Greatest’ Britain as defined how?

First a modest suggestion to our new Home Secretary Priti Patel.

The Rt Hon. Very Priti Patel

She’s good at rallying cries, but one should never underestimate the potential of rallying songs, especially those with catchy tunes.

Fortunately Leonard Bernstein has already written one to fill the bill. All Home Office employees can start every morning by singing: “I feel Priti// Oh, so Priti// I feel Priti and witty and bright!// And I pity// Any girl who isn’t me tonight”.

Miss Patel will need time to ponder the ramifications of such vocal team building. Meanwhile, she has adopted the rallying cry already issued by her boss, Boris Johnson: “We want to unequivocally make Britain the greatest country on Earth.”

Now, since I can split hairs almost as well as Miss Patel can split infinitives, I’m asking the question in the title above.

Her statement goes further than Donald Trump’s “Make America great again” and our own “Putting the ‘Great’ back into Great Britain”, first used for the trivial purpose of promoting Olympic Games.

Now great is no longer enough: nothing but the bombastic “the greatest country on earth” will do. Whenever such terms are bandied about, my first instinct is to head for the hills.

What does ‘great’ mean? What are the objective criteria, if any? And if the criteria are subjective, who’s the subject?

Now, as far as I’m concerned, Britain already is the greatest country on earth. I’ve lived in several, and Britain is the only one where I feel at home.

I don’t like everything about Britain. In fact, I never tire of pointing out things that are wrong with her. But Britain’s problems are existential, not ontological. There’s a reservoir of goodness from which we can still draw, even though successive governments have done their level best to poison the waters.

Few of the things I love about Britain have to do with economics. Such things matter less to me than those I consider truly important.

However, most people will probably rate money and the physical comfort it buys above all. And Britain certainly isn’t the richest country in the world. Her GDP per capita places her at Number 26, behind not only the usual suspects but, at Number 5, even Ireland.

Hence most Britons will perhaps feel that putting the ‘Great’ back into Britain means putting more money into their pockets. Is this what Miss Patel and Mr Johnson mean?

Some countries apply different criteria. Unable to serve Mammon, they try to mollify their disgruntled populations by pretending to serve God. Russia has used that trick since time immemorial, and she continues to claim, on no obvious evidence, to be the most spiritual – and therefore greatest – country on earth.

This is accompanied with a claim to imperial greatness: Russia is eager to force the benefits of her sterling spirituality onto her neighbours, by violence if need be.

Do Miss Patel and Mr Johnson judge greatness on this basis? Do they want our Toms, Dicks and Harrys to outdo everyone else in spiritual attainment and imperial muscle? Somehow one doubts it.

Whenever a nation claims or aspires to be the greatest in the world, it’s usually a sign of provincial cultural insecurity. Yet Britain has never been provincial, and she has nothing to be culturally insecure about.

Her cultural capital is being squandered, but this is the case everywhere. Britain has enough left to remain one of perhaps three or four most cultured countries around. Given the state of the world, this may not be saying much, but it’s still saying something.

Britons still possess enough taste not to make megalomaniac claims about themselves. They retain enough self-confidence not to toot their own horn, perhaps realising that, when a nation does so, the horn produces nothing but goose-stepping marches.

But we aren’t talking about the Britons here. We’re talking about the British government, and that’s a different matter altogether.

British, or any other modern, government isn’t in the business of using words to convey serious meaning. In this case, if probed, our leaders will probably admit that making Britain the world’s richest, strongest or perhaps the most spiritual country falls into the domain of wishful and shallow thinking.

However, Miss Patel and Mr Johnson aren’t putting forth a thought or, God forbid, a policy. They are shouting a slogan.

And whenever British ministers shout a slogan featuring the adjective ‘great’, especially in its superlative form, it usually means only one thing. They’re going to spend more of the money they haven’t got.

I haven’t tried to cost the promises Mr Johnson has made already and is continuing to make. I doubt he has either.

In that he follows the logic of all the recent governments: print and borrow promiscuously. Eventually the fiscal chickens will come to roost, but the next general election will come sooner.

Mr Johnson is already talking about ending austerity, as if it has ever begun. By analogy, a man who incontinently spends 30 per cent more than he earns doesn’t become more austere when that number goes down to 15 per cent. He becomes slightly less irresponsible.

Priti Patel used the promise to make Britain the greatest country on earth as a way of promoting her immigration policy based on the Australian-style points system. Yet this lofty aim can’t quite be achieved merely by asking immigrants what they do for a living.

In fact, this aim can’t be achieved at all because it’s always ephemeral and usually pernicious. Before a country becomes great, it should become good, and the two objectives are at odds as often as not.

Unlike great, good isn’t hard to define. The standards of personal goodness are laid down in Matthew, 5-7, whereas the standards of consistent political goodness have been indelibly written into Britain’s history by her sages and statesmen of the past centuries.

No other country in Europe can make the same claim. France, for example, has had 17 different constitutions since the seventeenth century, while England has had one. A mere 80 years ago Spain was being torn apart by a civil war, and Italy was a fascist dictatorship. And Germany… well, we know about her.

Britain is suffering from existential problems, threatening to enter the nation’s gene pool and become ontological. So instead of shouting empty phrases about greatness, a truly conservative government should try to make the country good again.

It has illustrious partners to co-opt: the sages and statesmen of Britain’s past, those who made her good and therefore, for a while, indeed great. And what do you know: they did so without opening the sluice gates to millions of immigrants, especially cultural aliens.

When foreigners like Holbein, Handel, Freud or for that matter the Duke of Edinburgh wished to settle in Britain, they didn’t have to score a certain number of points to gain entry. They – even Freud – just came and were cordially welcomed.

I doubt this government can make Britain great. However, I do pray it’ll be able to achieve simpler goals: getting out of the EU and defeating Corbyn. That would be good.

P.S. LibDem leader Jo Swinson has promised to fight Brexit tooth and nail even if a second referendum produces the same result. It’s good to see such strong convictions in someone so young, but what strikes me as slightly incongruous is that Miss Swinson’s party is called Liberal Democratic.

There’s never a cop around when you need one

Boris Johnson promises to recruit 20,000 more police officers. Well, good luck with that – he’s going to need it.

Where are the peelers of yesteryear?

Money is usually identified as a key barrier in the way of this ambition: such a massive recruitment drive won’t come cheap.

Funding is indeed a problem, one with which not only governments but also individuals are familiar. It’s like looking at something desirable in a shop window and realising wistfully that we can’t afford it.

Yet that’s only a small part of Mr Johnson’s conundrum. The bigger part is that there isn’t much in the shop window for him to buy.

Today’s young people seek a career in the police without having the slightest idea of what the job entails. And when during their recruitment interviews they’re given an inkling of it, they’re aghast.

The police report says: “Candidates stated they do not like confrontation or were shocked by the need to work different shift patterns and possibilities of cancelled rest days… their mental health or their ability to cope with certain situations is just not evident from day one”.

And the reason isn’t just that those candidates “have been wrapped in cotton wool”, though that’s certainly true. The real problem is that our education is spewing out youngsters who are soft not only generally, but also in the head.

Here we have young people who decide to dedicate their lives to keeping the public safe from criminals. On what basis have they made their decision?

Policing is often a family occupation, so perhaps their fathers or uncles are cops. Alternatively, they must have seen cop shows on TV or played cop games on their PlayStations. That too would have given them some idea of what policemen do for a living.

And even if they have no policemen in the family, and neither have they seen a single police show, they could have figured some basics for themselves.

Cops chase criminals. Criminals resist being chased and especially arrested. Once arrested, they try to keep the truth to themselves, forcing interrogators to catch them in lies.

Hence police work doesn’t merely have a potential for confrontation – confrontation is to cops what putting out fires is to firemen: their stock in trade.

The next link in this logical chain is to realise that criminals don’t keep regular hours. They may break the law at night and on weekends. Therefore those who chase criminals have to work odd hours too, matching their own schedule to the felons’ – such is the job.

Since young recruits are unable to figure out these things for themselves, the conclusion is inevitable: they’re morons. I’m using the word colloquially, rather than clinically, although in some cases the clinical definition may apply as well.

But most cases can’t be medicalised. The explanation is the same as one proffered by many criminals on trial: it’s all society’s fault. Except that here the explanation rings true.

Our schools, with the parents’ robotic acquiescence, are churning out whole generations catastrophically unable to face life’s simplest challenges to mind and character.

Would you like such people to man the line of defence separating evil-doers from you? One would think that lazy cretins shying away from confrontation are less suited to policing than to just about any other career.

However, staff shortages are so severe that police forces are planning to do a Mohammad and the mountain. Rather than trying to find some youngsters who’ve evaded the corrupting effect of our ‘education’, the forces may change their working practices to accommodate their low-grade human material.

Thereby things come full circle, and it’s as vicious as they come. For our successive governments have set out to corrupt every institution protecting our ancient liberties: parliament, the armed forces – and the police.

Our police forces resemble social services more and more, and law enforcement bodies less and less. They’re expected to function according to every pious precept of political correctness, a subversive dogma overturning every moral and intellectual certitude of British polity.

The concept of evil that leads to crime, and crime that leads to punishment, is no more. Reigning supreme is Rousseau’s fallacy of man being both perfect and, tautologically, perfectible.

Hence, when some men manifestly don’t end up perfect, the fault lies not with them, and certainly not with some mythical event that took place in the Garden of Eden, but with society. Somehow those poor souls have fallen through the cracks in the societal floor.

Now, producing potential police recruits unfit for the job may indeed be a collective problem. Yet the choice to commit a crime is always individual, but that understanding is now extinct.

Either society has failed to make criminals wealthy, or it has neglected their psychological problems, or it overlooked their lack of parental love, or whatnot. Now it behoves society to correct its oversights by easing those dears’ return to the straight and narrow.

Counselling, medical help (whether really needed or not), roomier social housing will all work better than punishment. And even if the crime committed is so horrendous that some prison time is inevitable, the purpose of imprisonment isn’t punitive but again social and educational.

Let’s not forget either that certain minorities are disproportionately represented in prisons. The reason can’t be that they commit more crimes – no, it’s society that discriminates against them.

This general ethos produces concrete policies designed to emasculate the police, such as the severe limit on stopping and searching suspects imposed by Theresa May, then Home Secretary.

Also, nonviolent crimes against property routinely go not only unsolved but indeed uninvestigated – the police are tacitly encouraged to treat them as an extension of the government’s own wealth redistribution. The butcher, the baker and the housebreaker all practise valid professions, goes the common belief.

This take on human nature, justice and law enforcement tears to shreds the old picture of a policeman, truncheon in hand, feeling an evil-doer’s collar.

That stark image has been replaced by a pastel-coloured picture of the new policeperson, a slightly sterner version of a social worker, whose principal task is to protect not the public’s safety but the criminal’s rights – and perhaps to satisfy his need for a hug.

A knack for confrontation has been replaced as a job requirement by wholehearted commitment to the ‘share, care, be aware’ ethos. Thus adjusting police operations to the intake of our non-confrontational youngsters makes sense.

The concern for the rights of criminals must extend to the rights of policemen, sorry, policepersons. Why should they work long hours and skip weekends? Isn’t that the violation of their human rights? Of course it is.

An influx of those non-confrontational, work-shy youngsters will simply hasten the inexorable change, including, no doubt, allowing policepersons to strike.

One wonders whether this is what Sir Robert Peel had in mind when he created the Metropolitan Police some 100 years ago. The question is rhetorical; don’t bother to answer.

At last, a real conservative in the cabinet

The new Leader of the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg has reconfirmed his conservative credentials by issuing a short style manual to his staff.

Mr Rees-Mogg wishes to expunge from office communications hackneyed words and phrases, illiterate punctuation, inappropriate forms of address and sloppy writing in general.

The only regrettable thing about this undertaking is that it should be necessary. Clearly, basic literacy is no longer an entry requirement for jobs in the civil service.

Yet any reader of police reports from, say, the ‘50s will find that even beat constables could then express themselves lucidly and grammatically.

In those antediluvian times, civil servants were expected to be able to use language properly, at times even elegantly. That this is no longer the case isn’t so much a problem as a festering symptom of one: pervasive cultural decay.

However, treatment often starts with symptomatic relief, and instilling linguistic discipline just may improve people’s discipline of thought and perhaps even of character. And that in turn may make them better people both intellectually and morally.

Evil rulers are scared of this possibility, which is why language often finds itself among their first victims, especially the language of official communications. Such rulers want the people to be sufficiently literate to be able to read propaganda effluvia, but not so literate as to develop a discipline of mind.

Not all modern states are evil, but they all have totalitarian tendencies. Hence governments see people who use language with style and rigour as not only superfluous but downright dangerous.

They may be sufficiently trained intellectually to discern that modern politicians are capable of uttering every known rhetorical fallacy in a short speech. How then can such overachievers be expected to vote for such politicians?

This may explain our comprehensive non-education, which is widely believed to have failed in teaching basic literacy. Yet, if we define failure as an inability to achieve the desired result, one is tempted to think that our education is succeeding famously: nothing like mass illiteracy to turn people into a pliable herd obediently voting in a succession of nonentities.

Rhetoric and logic are the latter stages of intellectual development, but grammar and style are the basics without which the latter stages will never be reached. Any intelligent conservative understands this – and is willing to act on this understanding.

Mr Rees-Mogg is a conservative par excellence, which etymologically suggests that he wishes to conserve things worth keeping. Enforcing correct English in his office is a good start.

For example, he insists on using correct forms of address in letters. Thus the names of all non-titled men should be followed by Esq., making me Alexander Boot, Esq. (but not Mr Alexander Boot, Esq. – this is an erroneous overkill).

Mr Rees-Mogg also decries American-style full stops after Mr, Miss, Mrs or Ms. [A note to Americans: women have periods; sentences have full stops.] I admire him for this, but my admiration would have become veneration had he banned the ideological usage Ms altogether.

Let’s add parenthetically that teaching TV presenters proper forms of address wouldn’t go amiss either. The other day, for example, a lovely Sky TV girl referred to the Queen as “Her Royal Highness”. It’s Your Majesty, dear.

Organisations, insists Mr Rees-Mogg correctly, are singular. Thus, for example, “the EU is [not are] corrupt through and through”. One could perhaps find a few situations where a plural verb would be preferable, but why bother if one welcomes the general idea?

One rule put forth by Mr Rees-Mogg strikes me as odd: no comma after and. Did he mean before, not after? If not, Mr Rees Mogg must find something wrong with the sentence “The EU is corrupt and, if one were to get to the bottom of it, subversive”, which I don’t.

While we’re on the subject of singular and plural, I’m surprised not to find among his taboos my particular bugbear: the ideologically inspired use of a plural personal pronoun after a singular antecedent, as in “Every EU commissioner is mainly after their personal gain”.

This outrage must have slipped his mind, for otherwise one would have to think the unthinkable, that Mr Rees-Mogg sees nothing wrong with that usage.

Also, if I were him, I’d announce to the staff that using he was sat for he sat or he was seated would be grounds for summary dismissal, but Mr Rees-Mogg must be a kinder man than I am.

His banned words include very, and quite right too: bad writers tend to overdo modifiers in general and intensifiers in particular. That’s showing disrespect for the English language, which boasts the largest vocabulary in the world. It’s almost always possible to find a single word that would obviate the need for intensifiers (for example, ‘distressed’ does the job of ‘very upset’).

Mr Rees-Mogg also dislikes hopefully, but only, one hopes, when it’s misused. Replacing ‘one hopes’ with ‘hopefully’ in the previous sentence would be wrong, but I doubt he’d object to “it’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive”.

Proper style manuals run to hundreds of pages, and producing one wasn’t Mr Rees-Mogg’s aim in this exercise. He just wants the letters sent by his office to reflect the personality of its holder: a cultured conservative who knows that sloppy, ignorant language betokens a sloppy mind proud of its ignorance.

Such conservatism flies in the face of our seemingly permissive, but in fact tyrannical, modernity that puts permissiveness to the service of its tyranny. Leftist gurus of linguistic licence, such as Oliver Kamm, will insist that everything people say is right simply because people say it.

The underlying assumption is that everything people think, feel or do is right too, provided they don’t challenge the power of the leftist gurus. Mr Rees-Mogg sees through such knavish tricks and refuses to go along.

It’s good to have a real conservative in government, for once.

Boris needs to rethink immigration

Our new, optimistic PM has abandoned the previous, and unfulfilled, Tory pledge to bring annual immigration under 100,000.

Britain isn’t quite what she used to be

Instead he favours an Australian-style points system, whereby all residence seekers are vetted for their economic usefulness.

Points are awarded on the basis of such factors as age (no one over 44 is admitted), profession, education, experience, health, knowledge of English, criminal record and so forth.

The underlying assumption is that Australia is a hospitable but selective host. She decides who is and who isn’t a welcome guest, and she proceeds from the assumption that quantity should be determined by quality.

As far as general principles go, this is fine. What I find hard to accept is that the selection seems to be based on purely economic criteria (if I’ve got this wrong, I hope my Australian readers will correct me).

True, immigration plays an important economic role, either positive or negative. A young Indian engineer is a better bet than, say, an old Romanian pickpocket.

Also, someone who can be confidently expected to become a contributor to tax revenue is preferable to someone who’s going to be its recipient. That much is indisputable.

But mass immigration isn’t just an economic phenomenon. Much more important are its cultural and social aspects.

Discounting for the purposes of this argument foreign specialists who come to Britain on a temporary work visa, let’s consider those who intend to settle in the country for life.

Under such circumstances, immigrants’ value isn’t limited to their ability to hold a job and stay off welfare. They must also be capable of fitting into Britain’s cultural landscape, and speaking English is only one of its features.

The greater the number of immigrants, the more vital does this aspect become. Admitting, for the sake of argument, millions of aliens who quite like the benefits of the British economy but refuse to adapt to British culture – or worse still, despise it or, even worse, actively seek to undermine it – is tantamount to national suicide.

Did I say ‘for the sake of argument’? Actually, this situation is a grim reality.

For Britain already boasts 3,000,000 Muslims (those we know about), not many of whom have become culturally British or ever intend to do so. And that number is growing rapidly, threatening to outdo France’s 5,000,000-plus, although the French are doing their level best to stay ahead.

Whole areas of Britain are no longer Britain, and an inquisitive visitor is left in no doubt of that fact when he sees posters announcing that Sharia law is in force there. Children in such places are often even unaware that Britain isn’t a Muslim country, with hatred of everything indigenously British taught in schools and preached in mosques.

This isn’t immigration any longer. It’s colonisation or perhaps even occupation. In fact, Islamic leaders openly regard it as such: their declared goal is to turn Britain into a Caliphate, and demographics work in their favour. Our best weapon, they say, is the womb of every Muslim woman.

No country, and certainly none within the core European civilisation, can afford such a disaster culturally even if she can afford it economically. Britain certainly can’t, and her immigration policy must be based not just on economic considerations, but also on a survival instinct.

Allow me to spell it out the way no politician can: if Islamic immigration continues unabated, indeed continues at all, before long a certain critical mass will be reached. When that happens, Britain will die as Britain.

Islamic immigration turns our democracy into a suicide weapon, for the children of new arrivals vote and experience shows they vote as a bloc for the most subversive candidates on the ballot. An incompetent ideologue like Sadiq Khan would never have become Mayor of London if over a million Muslims didn’t live there.

Obviously, there are exceptions, and one of them now occupies the second most important post in Her Majesty’s government. But neither demography nor sociology deals with exceptions. Their stock in trade is large numbers, and these cry out against admitting swarms of Muslims every year.

So yes, an Australian-style points system has merit – provided it’s accompanied with a ban on Islamic immigration. An exception should be made only when a Muslim arrival is so valuable that no native talent can fill the same slot.

Thus, I’d admit a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry, provided his political record is spotless. (It’s easy to be so magnanimous, considering that, while Trinity College, Cambridge, has produced 33 winners of the Nobel Prize for sciences, the entire Islamic world has managed just three.) But I wouldn’t admit a young Muslim even if he has some marketable skill and speaks decent English.

This is nothing Boris Johnson doesn’t understand. But it’s also nothing he can ever say – our whole ethos has been corrupted too successfully and for too long to allow such thoughts.

So perhaps he should instead ponder the fact that Australia has 30 times Britain’s area and a third of Britain’s population. Such numerical disparity alone must make one wonder to what extent Australian immigration policies are applicable here.

P.S. Boris has triumphantly declared that it’s time to end austerity. However, it’s hard to end something that has never begun. Then of course the Westminster definition of austerity is increasing deficit spending at a slightly slower rate.

Fight is on – but not for Brexit

Boris Johnson seems out to break records, which is one way of gaining a place in history.

“Shut up, Carrie, or I’ll sack you too”

First, by way of saying hello, our new PM sacked 17 ministers, with six more jumping before being pushed, which is the biggest cull ever this side of a busy abattoir.

Then he elevated five non-white MPs to top cabinet positions, which is more than all the previous PMs put together managed to do in our entire political history. The number of women in the cabinet is also close to the all-time highest.

The general impression is that Johnson has replaced Remainers with Leavers, but that’s not quite true. In fact, the balance between the two groups isn’t dramatically different from May’s cabinet, especially if we look beyond the top three jobs.

Moreover, among those Johnson sacked one finds quite a few consistent and principled Leavers, such as Liam Fox and Penny Mordaunt, whose thighs have been known to give me most un-Christian thoughts.

Now Boris Johnson is many things, not all of them commendable, but stupid he isn’t. Realising this ought to mitigate our amazement at the broad sweep of yesterday’s hatchet job.

Most commentators assume that the new cabinet has been put together to fight for Brexit. That may be so some time down the road, but it can’t be the immediate objective.

If it were, the PM would have thought ten times before putting on the back benches two dozen high-powered MPs with raw personal grievances against him. After all, the Tory majority is paper-thin as it is, or rather, if one counts the likely turncoats, non-existent.

Both Labour and LibDems have threatened a vote of no confidence, and I’m not sure the numbers stack up in favour of the new PM. Under such circumstances, creating two dozen new enemies within his own party is stupid, which we’ve agreed Boris Johnson isn’t.

Moreover, barring the possibility of the PM proroguing parliament to achieve a no-deal Brexit, by now it should be reasonably clear that the MPs will block any deal put before them.

Most will do so because they want to stay in the EU; others, because they don’t think any deal is good enough; still others, because they dislike Boris – and we shouldn’t underestimate the role of personal animosity in politics.

Yesterday’s cull beefed up all three groups, which is inexplicable. Or rather it would be inexplicable if going for the immediate Brexit jugular were topmost on Boris’s mind. But it clearly isn’t.

Deal or no deal, this parliament will block Brexit, pure and simple. And proroguing it would create a constitutional crisis of Cromwellian proportions, with no Col. Pride anywhere in evidence.

Yet nothing in politics is pure and little is simple. Johnson knows all this – and yet he has climbed too far out on the limb to backtrack now. Either Britain leaves the EU by 31 October or Boris leaves politics – the situation is unshakably binary.

The solution to his conundrum can be shown with a little orthographic trick: italicising the modifier in ‘this parliament’. True, this parliament will block Brexit, thereby putting an end to Johnson’s political career.

That’s why this Parliament has to be replaced with another, more amenable one. And that’s why this cabinet has been selected to fight a snap general election.

Hence their allegiance to Brexit is secondary to their allegiance to Boris: this cabinet has been chosen mainly on the basis of its personal loyalty and ability to appeal to a broad electorate.

This explains its demographics: giving the second most important government job to a chap who takes the parliamentary oath on the Koran won’t impress the EU, quite the opposite. But the hope is that it may impress a large swathe of voters who traditionally opt for Labour or LibDems.

If Boris manages to get a parliament reflecting the ideological makeup of his cabinet, he’ll acquire a gun to take to a knife fight with the EU. If he doesn’t, and either Labour or LibDems form the next government, that spells the end of Boris, his party and – much as I hate to be a doomsayer – Britain, as we know and love her.

Hence we may well be looking at one of the greatest constitutional gambles in British history, quite on a par with Churchill’s commitment to fight Hitler to the death, if with less sanguinary consequences. And Churchill is Johnson’s idol.

I wish our new PM all the luck in the world because he’s going to need it. Too many things could go wrong for him: he may lose the snap election to either Labour or LibDems or conceivably their coalition or, even if he manages to win with an increased majority, he may still not get a Leaver parliament.

Even more things could go wrong for Britain, starting with the unmitigated and probably irreversible catastrophe of a Corbyn government, but not ending there. For, even if the dice roll Johnson’s way, he may still prove to be the same louche, unprincipled weathervane PM as he has been throughout his political career.

Yet, answering the PM’s call to unbridled optimism, one must hope he’ll grow into the job and prove to be the statesman Downing Street has lacked since 1990. Stranger things have happened, although not many of them.

I knew Boris and Jo belonged together

Occasionally, very occasionally, I re-run my old pieces when I feel they’re particularly relevant to current events.

Jo Swinson became an MP while still wearing her trainer bra. And then she met Boris, right here, in this space

This is one such occasion, for Boris Johnson and Jo Swinson are in the news together, Boris somewhat more prominently. Both of them have just been elected leaders of two major parties: the Tories and the LibDems respectively.

Well, it just so happens that five-and-a-half years ago they already co-starred in the news. Boris was then Mayor of London, while Jo held that vital post of Equalities Minister, without which no valid government can function.

(Activating a simple equation, one can infer that no government in British history had been valid and functional until Tony Blair first created this post.)

Anyway, I sensed then, without at the time realising I had sensed it, that their destinies would be intertwined. So here’s what I wrote on 14 January, 2013.

Can you see sparks flying? Are you deafened by ear-splitting bangs? These are coming from mutually exclusive pieties clashing all over the place.

Having devoted my life to promoting political correctness (well, merely the second half of my life, but only because the term didn’t exist in the first half), I find myself in a quandary. 

Just look at this. Mayor Boris Johnson is to offer London as the site for the 2018 World Gay Games, presumably to be called Homolympics.

Far be it from me to suggest there’s anything wrong with extending a welcoming hand to those whose lifestyle, though different from mine, is just as valid and commendable – morally, socially and above all politically. The PC community to which I proudly belong regards everything and everyone as equal in every respect.

However, it’s precisely our hitherto unshakeable belief in even-handed equality that’s being shattered by the very idea of Gay Games. I, for one, am shocked at the implications. What does it actually mean? Let’s consider the possibilities.

Possibility 1: The Games will involve sports in which only homosexuals can ever participate.

Other than adding a whole new meaning to ‘relay baton’, one hesitates to think what these might be.

Women’s tennis? No, that’s not it – there have been some notable heteros even among Wimbledon winners (springing to mind is Chris Evert and… er, Chris Evert).

Beach volleyball? Admittedly, its homoerotic potential has been popularised by the film Top Gun and, to make sure nobody missed the point, the female lead was played by a self-outed lesbian. But this is too marginal a sport to act as the fulcrum for a worldwide extravaganza. No, this possibility has to be discarded.

Possibility 2: Homosexuals have to compete in a separate event because their physical abilities are fundamentally inferior.

This raises such horrendous subtexts that any member of the PC community should recoil in horror.

Repeat after me: WE! ARE! ALL! EQUAL! This is the principle to live by, and in this case it has ample empirical support.

On the women’s side, the vile discriminatory proposition is refuted by a long and honourable roll of hetero Wimbledon champions, such as Chris Evert and… well, Chris Evert. (I’m not suggesting there have been no other straights among them, only that I can’t think of them offhand.)

On the male side, a few homosexual boxers have held world titles in even the heavier weight classes. And one didn’t see Justin Fashanu pull out of too many tackles. So this possibility bites the dust as well.

Possibility 3: Homosexuals must be segregated, as they can’t be allowed to mix with heterosexuals.

Yes, I know this is outrageous, but I’m running out of possibilities here, so bear with me.

To make such separation even remotely valid, other sporting events would have to exclude homosexuals. Yet no attempt to hold a Heterolympics has ever been made, nor ever will be. Anything like that wouldn’t just fly in the face of equality, but would indeed smash it to a pulp.

This is precisely what vexes such a strong champion of political correctness as me. Surely it’s discriminatory to limit a sporting event to those practising a particular lifestyle (that’s what homosexuality is, isn’t it?)? Isn’t it akin to having whites-only or, for that matter, blacks-only restaurants or swimming pools?

Of course it is. And I can prove this by simply inviting you to imagine the furore that would ensue if Boris Johnson announced that London is bidding for the 2018 World Straight Games. Why, Boris would be tarred and feathered faster than you can say ‘bigoted homophobe’ – and quite right too. Then why doesn’t it work both ways? I’m baffled.

In Boris’s view, “there should be no limit to London’s legacy ambitions”. Whatever that means, obviously one such limit ought to be imposed by our rejection of discrimination in all its forms. Otherwise the PC community, to which I belong so proudly, will be offended, and it offends easily.

Yet Jo Swinson, the equalities minister, went against her mandate by making me even more mystified: “I have always been a passionate supporter of sport being open to everyone and I am wholeheartedly behind the bid…”

But that’s precisely our problem: the Gay Games won’t be ‘open to everyone’; they’ll only be open to homosexuals. Then again, one doesn’t expect a barely post-pubescent girl, and a politician to boot, to think before she talks.

And is she suggesting that regular sporting events, such as Wimbledon, are at present not open to homosexuals? If so, she should by all means produce the supporting evidence, of the kind that would refute tonnes of contradictory evidence available.

A satirist complained the other day that his genre is moribund because no satirist can outdo our self-mocking reality these days. All one can do is come up with serious, rational suggestions, such as amalgamating the World Gay Games and Paralympics. I for one would love to watch the homosexual cripple jump, wouldn’t you?

In this bid London faces competition from Amsterdam, Paris, Rio de Janeiro and Limerick. I’m especially intrigued by the last bidder, for all sorts of poetic slogans suggest themselves (such as, “A gay heavyweight from Khartoum//Took a lesbian champ to his room,// And they argued a lot// About who would do what// And how and with what and to whom”).

So I’m rooting for Limerick, but the others shouldn’t be discouraged. Go for it, chaps, and may the best men lose.

In the end, it was Paris that won the bidding game in 2013. Better luck next time, Boris and Jo. And Boris? If you ever find yourself in conference with Jo, keep your hands to yourself, there’s a good lad.

We don’t need a Navy any longer

You may argue that throughout its history the Royal Navy has been a guarantor of our liberty and protector of our trade – and you’d be right, as far as it goes.

Britannia, rule the raves

However, as a prominent American scholar once explained so persuasively, history ended in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Hence neither our liberty nor our trade required protection any longer – they were thenceforth secure in perpetuity.

One might argue that Iranian flags hoisted on two British tankers in the Strait of Hormuz contradict this observation. That argument has some merit, but not much.

The problem is that, since those Iranian mullahs may be unfamiliar with current scholarship, they are unaware that history is no more. That’s why they refuse to get in touch with their feminine side, indulging instead in machismo posturing.

Hence we don’t need gunboats to retrieve our tankers and discourage any further piracy. All we need is an educational effort, ideally conducted by sensitivity coaches or perhaps group therapists.

Gone are the old days of the British Empire, when the Naval Defence Act of 1889 adopted the ‘two-power’ standard. It called for the Royal Navy to maintain a number of battleships at least equal to the combined strength of the next two largest navies in the world.

If we replace antediluvian battleships with modern aircraft carriers, applying the same principle today would mean we’d have to have 12 carriers, which is how many the top two navies, American and Russian, run between them.

Instead we have, in round numbers, one. Or, for all intents and purposes, none because our solitary carrier has no attack jets to fly off it.

In 1982, when history was still going on, we had four carriers, which enabled Margaret Thatcher to launch the South Atlantic operation. However, now history has ended, the dastardly Argies have abandoned their designs on the Falklands – or should have done had they followed the current scholarship.

In 1982, we also had 13 destroyers to today’s six, of which only two are operational, and their engines conk out in high temperatures. Since, as everyone knows, the climate in the Strait of Hormuz is near-Arctic, our trade has all the protection it needs, in the unlikely event that the programme of sensitivity training fails to do the job by itself.

In 1982, we also had 47 frigates, to today’s 13, of which six are currently in maintenance. The remaining seven are armed with the same missiles that were fired at the Argentines in 1982, which is perfectly understandable: since the end of history there has been no need to upgrade our naval armaments.

Just think of the savings we’ve realised. An aircraft carrier costs some £3 billion, a destroyer £1 billion, and even a cut-price frigate £130 million. The money thus saved can be put to a more productive and socially responsible use.

Ask yourself this question: Would you rather have four more carriers and two more destroyers or foreign aid, on which we spend about £14 billion a year, roughly the cost of those six vessels?

I know I can count you to provide the right, sensitive and socially responsible answer: the latter, and need you ask.

Or look at it this way. Would you rather spend £9 billion on three new carriers or on non-European immigration, which is how much we did spend on it last year?

Again, the question is purely rhetorical, as I hope you realise. And if you don’t, perhaps it’s you and not the Iranian mullahs who require sensitivity training.

Rather than seeking to match other countries in naval strength, we should be proud of our giant strides in sensitivity training and, for that matter, pop music, where we are indisputably among world leaders.

Our rallying cry should be not “Britannia, rule the waves”, but “Britannia, rule the raves”. There, that’s much better.

Nixon killed it, Trump buried it

Bretton Woods Agreement was signed 75 years ago today, and our global financial system is its descendant thrice removed.

Don’t shoot the piano player, he’s doing his best

Today’s papers lament the passage of the Agreement, but they miss some deeper points, as is their wont.

Bretton Woods was the West’s last attempt to retain a semblance of economic sanity by limiting the state’s ability to meddle in the economy. Since meddling is coded into the modern state’s DNA, pegging paper currency to some universal equivalent was the only way to curb the state’s instincts.

That’s why, when the West was still compos mentis, all major Western economies were on the gold standard. Governments then used their power to govern, rather than governing to increase their power. However, when the situation changed, the state had to slip the tethers of fiscal responsibility imposed by the gold standard.

To be fair, the gold standard has its downsides: for example, it limits the government’s ability to increase the money supply as a means of combating recessions, which inevitably occur whenever supply and demand get out of sync.

Yet the gold standard limits not only the state’s flexibility, but also its ability to increase its own power by using inflation the way Robin Hood used his bow for redistributive robbery.

Hence the attraction of the gold standard, at least to those who value freedom above an ability to ride the economic rollercoaster through hair-raising rises and dips.

The difference between people’s assets denominated in gold or in currency is critical. Gold is a factor of its owner’s independence: it’s beyond the state’s reach, more or less. Its value may dip occasionally, but never all the way to the bottom.

Not so banknotes: we’re welcome to stuff suitcases full of paper, but the government has an almost absolute control over its value because it keeps inflationary levers in its hands.

However, until 1971 some tenuous link between paper money and gold still existed, as America still settled her foreign debts in gold. In fact, once Western countries had abandoned the gold standard, the Bretton Woods Agreement established a version of the same system.

The signatories agreed to peg their post-war exchange rates to the dollar, while the US government undertook to keep the price of gold fixed at $35 an ounce, thus linking all the participating currencies to gold at one remove.

This was supposed to free up world trade by eliminating competition among currencies, and the supposition was sound in principle. However, the Agreement suffered from a congenital defect: it went against the grain of an inherently statist modernity.

Richard Nixon drove that point home in 1971 by killing Bretton Woods stone dead. He drove down the value of the dollar by suspending its convertibility into gold and introduced a 10 per cent levy on imports, along with some short-lived wage and price controls.

Nixon claimed that would create more American jobs. What it created instead was a temporary stagflation – and never-ending government promiscuity in finance. Instead of sitting on the rock-solid foundation of the gold standard, the world began to float on an ocean of debt.

State spending financed by borrowing and the printing press could now proceed unabated. And runaway state spending is the prime cause of inflation.

I like to illustrate this point by comparing Britain’s inflation over the last 50 years of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the former case, it was a meagre 10 per cent; in the latter, a soul-destroying 2,000 per cent.

Such public recklessness has to produce a private equivalent. If money keeps losing value, people turn into either spendthrifts or gamblers.

They spend their cash as quickly as they get it and, if their income doesn’t keep up with their desires, borrow with scant regard for tomorrow. Alternatively, they take chances investing their money before it disappears.

That was the nature of the 2008 crisis: in the preceding 20 years household borrowing in the US had exceeded household income by a factor of three, while the banks had been handing out subprime loans like Smarties.

But at least some sort of discipline persevered in international trade, which had been one of the aims of Bretton Woods. Countries competed more or less fairly, restrictions on trade were few, and duties, if any, tended to be low.

That happy situation survived for as long as the West’s economic supremacy went unchallenged. However, the emergence of the EU protectionist bloc and especially of communist China as a major economic power put paid to the legacy of Bretton Woods.

China’s evil regime scorns civilised behaviour in general and economic behaviour specifically. Hence China undercuts global competition by subsidising her supposedly private enterprise, keeping her own currency artificially low, stealing the West’s intellectual properties and punishing imports with extortionist tariffs.

Now, David Ricardo (d. 1823) showed persuasively that import tariffs aimed at foreign competition end up hitting the country’s own consumers. His advice was to desist from introducing tariffs even in retaliation for such practices elsewhere.

That advice is sound on its own terms, but it fails to take into account the possibility of an evil power being able to compete with a residually civilised West.

It also ignores the mentality of modern nations and some of their leaders. Enter Donald Trump, whose understanding of economics was informed by building casinos for domestic gangsters and luxury apartments for international ones.

He operates on simple principles: you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours; you kick my backside, I’ll kick yours. Guided by such down-to-earth philosophy, Trump has driven the last nail into the coffin of Bretton Woods, or rather its legacy.

He has introduced import tariffs and is determined to weaken the dollar in an attempt to make American exports more competitive. A currency war is looming, and this is a war with heavy casualties and ultimately no winners.

One inevitable casualty is free – well, freeish – trade, on which the West’s prosperity has been built. China will suffer much immediate pain as a result, but in the long run we all will: sound economic laws have never been repealed.

This isn’t an attack on Donald Trump: he’s trying to untangle the maddening complexities of today’s world as best he can. It would take a philosopher king of Plato’s fancy to respond adequately to every modern challenge as it arises.

Alas, today’s kings aren’t philosophers and today’s philosophers aren’t kings. The two types have gone their separate ways, and men combining the requisite traits to be both have never been thick on the ground.

Bretton Woods Agreement and its aftermath, RIP.

That’s rich, coming from Merkel

Unlike some other things about her, Angela Merkel’s commitment to her friend Putin is unshakable, for all her occasional attempts to conceal it behind a rhetorical flourish.

“Alles in Ordnung, Vlad.”

I first pointed this out five years ago, and nothing has happened since to make me reconsider what I wrote then:

“I’ve always been fascinated by the platonic intimacy between Angie and Vlad. They speak each other’s language, using Christian names and familiar personal pronouns during their cosy chats.

“I’ve also been known to speculate that this intimacy just may be of long standing. You see, Angie hasn’t always been a great champion of European democracy under Germany’s aegis.

“In her East German youth, she held a nomenklatura position of agitprop chief in a regional committee of Freie Deutsche Jugend, the youth organisation typologically similar to its predecessor that also had jugend in its name.

“Just as Hitlerjugend had close links with the SS, the FDJ was the breeding ground for the Stasi. The two organisations always worked hand in glove, even though the FDJ nominally reported to the party.

“Any holder of a nomenklatura position in the FDJ, such as young Angie, had to work in close contact with the secret police, which in turn was but an extension of the KGB.

“At exactly the same time Vlad ran the KGB station at Dresden, just over 100 miles from where Angie did her thing. It’s pure conjecture, but they could well have known each other professionally then, especially since Angie was responsible for the purely KGB function of agitprop.

“It’s also not beyond the realm of possibility that Vlad has some leverage over Angie, possibly over a few FDJ/Stasi skeletons in her cupboard.”

Now Frau, formerly Kameradin, Merkel has delivered a speech bewailing Putin’s growing influence in the EU. “We have seen that right-wing parties, populist parties, receive very strong support in this form or another from Russia,” she said. “That is cause for concern.”

But evidently not too much concern. Of course, Frau Merkel may fear the growing clout of one Putin client, the AfD party that has begun to win quite a few seats from her ‘Christian’ Democrats.

But party-political worries aside, she has consistently done everything to add punch to Russia’s other, more potent, weapon: energy. While ostensibly trying to counter Russia’s political influence, she has always worked tirelessly to make Russia strong enough economically to be able to exert such influence.

Much as I distrust conspiracy theories, I find it hard to imagine how differently Frau Merkel would act if she were indeed colluding with Putin.

First, it’s important to understand that the export of hydrocarbons, especially natural gas, isn’t just one rubric in Russia’s economy. For all practical purposes, it is Russia’s economy.

Under its sage leadership, the country really has only two things to export: natural resources, mostly hydrocarbons, and weaponry. The latter is less reliable.

Even though Russia remains the world’s second biggest exporter of arms, this market is fickle, too dependent on the vagaries of geopolitics.

For example, Russia’s two biggest clients, India and Venezuela, have decreased their demand, the latter by as much as 96 per cent since 2009. As a result, Russia has recorded a 17 per cent drop in exports (by comparison, France has shown an increase of 43 per cent during the same period).

That leaves hydrocarbons as the sole guarantee of the Russian rulers’ continuing ability to buy 300-foot yachts complete with helipads and swimming pools. In a rare combination of business and pleasure, Russia’s hand on Europe’s gas tap also gives her real, palpable influence on European politics.

Now if one were a Manchurian Candidate type of German chancellor, working for Russia’s interests before one’s own country’s, how would one help Russia along?

Simple. One would do all one could to boost Russian gas exports, while at the same time increasing dependence on Russian gas imports.

In line with the second objective, Frau Merkel has overseen the closure of all German coal mines and committed the country to phasing out nuclear energy by 2022, leaving Putin’s gas as a strategically vital energy source.

At present, two Russian pipelines under the Baltic provide two-thirds of Germany’s gas, which serves the first objective quite well. But quite well isn’t good enough.

That’s why Frau Merkel has been a fanatic campaigner for Nord Stream, a project to build two additional Russian pipelines. In doing Vlad’s bidding, his friend Angie has to ward off frequent attacks from all and sundry, including prominent members of her own party.

For example, Ursula von der Leyen, the president-elect of the European Commission and Merkel’s former defence minister, has just protested that: “There is a danger of an excessively heavy dependence on Russian energy.”

Not just a danger, I dare say. More like a guaranteed energy vassalage, and there are few people naïve enough to believe that Putin would use such feudal powers to serve the interests of European people.

So yes, Frau Merkel is right: Russia’s political influence in Europe is growing. And she’s part of the reason for it.

“This country is always at war…”

Thus commented the Marquis de Custine in his Russia, 1839, one of the most perceptive books ever written on this subject by a foreigner.

It didn’t start, nor will end, with Putin

Custine saw right through the smokescreen laid by the Russian authorities to deceive visitors to their shores. “The profession of misleading foreigners is one known only in Russia…,” he wrote, “everyone disguises what is bad and shows what is good…”

However, Custine missed one salient point: wars against Russia’s neighbours come and go, but one war remains constant: the one between the rulers and the ruled.

Uniquely among leading world powers, Russia kept most of her people in serfdom until the Emancipation of 1861: out of her population of 23 million at the time, 21 million were serfs. (The Emancipator Tsar, Alexander II, was by way of gratitude blown in half by a terrorist bomb.)

Though their legal status was technically different from that of the slaves in the American South, in reality this was a distinction without a difference. Actually there was one difference: the black slaves in America weren’t regarded as Americans, or indeed even as fully human.

But in Russia the slaves were the same Orthodox Christians as their owners, which affected both groups in unique ways, none of them ennobling. The situation continuously dripped fuel into the fire of the millennium-long war, and the fumes were driving Russia crazy.

The slaves, aka serfs, stole their masters blind, burnt their property or even, given the slightest chance, killed them.

That fate befell, for example, Dostoyevsky’s father, a doctor and landowner known (presumably only in the latter capacity) for excessive cruelty. Dostoyevsky-père made the mistake of taking his eyes off the ball, as a result of which laxity one of his serfs stuck an axe into his head, orphaning the future writer at an early age.

Nor was it just isolated acts of violence. When opportunities arose, the peasants would rise not only in rebellions but in full-fledged wars against the government, such as those led by Ivan Bolotnikov (1606-1607), Stepan Razin (1670-1671) and Yemelian Pugachev (1773-1774). In addition, there were at least 200 small-scale peasant rebellions in the nineteenth century alone.

Since most Russians learn the history of the 1812 Napoleonic war from Tolstoy’s fictional and ideologically inspired account in War and Peace, they generally believe that at least, when threatened by invaders, the serfs closed ranks, joined forces with their masters and picked up what Tolstoy called “the cudgel of people’s war”.

So they did, but the cudgel was swung not at the French, but at the Russian landlords. The peasants burned manor houses en masse, killed their owners and hid their grain away from the starving troops – their own, not just the French.

In fact, having suffered horrendous losses at Borodino and abandoned Moscow, the Russian High Command had to dispatch some of their depleted troops on punitive missions against peasant uprisings.  

Now that the Putin regime has chosen the Russian Empire as its propaganda figurehead, the tendency is to describe the post-Emancipation life as going from good to better. The epoch of Nicholas II in particular is singled out as a period of bliss.

It’s true that the Russian economy was growing more rapidly than just about any other at the time, but this datum is misleading because the country started from an extremely low point. By analogy, a chap who has £100 to his name and then earns another £20 shows an economic growth of 20 per cent, while a billionaire who earns £20 shows no growth at all.

One way or the other, Russian peasants, no longer serfs, clearly didn’t feel their lot was blissful. As far as they were concerned, the perennial war was still in full swing.

During 1907-1909, impoverished peasants torched 71 per cent of all gentry estates and 29 per cent of farms belonging to wealthy peasants.

The owners of surviving properties must have heaved a sigh of relief, but it was premature: in 1910-1913, 32 per cent of the remaining estates and 67 per cent of the remaining wealthy households were burned down as well.

What Pushkin once described as a “Russian revolt, senseless and merciless” wasn’t just contained within the countryside. Between 1901 and 1916, some 17,000 state officials were murdered or crippled by terrorists.

None of this even began to compare with the cannibalistic mayhem of the ensuing Bolshevik regime, which over the next 35 years murdered 60 million people and enslaved the rest, effectively reintroducing serfdom.

But the Bolshevik seeds fell on a ground all too ready to receive them: the Russian Empire was rotten to the core.

Its people were corrupted by centuries of despotism and penury. Thus when Stalin declared war on the kulaks (industrious peasants who resisted collective farms), he found no shortage of willing executioners. Nor was Lenin’s war on the Church short of volunteers: 40,000 priests were murdered on his watch by yesterday’s Christians.

And so the situation has remained in all its guises, including the present kleptofascist regime. For all their cloyingly professed Christianity (or, as an interlude, commitment to universal equality), Russian rulers have never grasped the concept of each individual possessing a sovereign value.

People to them are but material, out of which are built the power and wealth of the ruling elite. Hence the proud possessors of huge yachts and Nice estates don’t mind it that most Russians subsist on coolie wages (by various estimates, the average salary there is $300-500 a month, and the gap between the rich and the poor is the widest this side of some African fiefdoms).

They are satisfied that the decades of Bolshevism knocked rebelliousness out of the people, while increasing their receptiveness to nauseating propaganda.

In the distant past, its focus was on Christian submission to tyranny and acceptance of abject poverty in the hope of eternal salvation. The Bolsheviks retained the millenarian nature of the message, but swapped salvation for militarised imperial grandeur ultimately bringing about world communism.

Today’s lot have kept the accent on militarised imperial grandeur, but added the extra dimension of the Russians’ unrivalled spirituality (it’s hard not to notice that most Russians shed their spirituality the moment they arrive in the West and start getting mortgages).

The powers that be have throughout history accompanied their propaganda with whipping up hostility towards the soulless West that’s for ever harbouring aggressive designs on Russia.

Apart from the first 25 years of the Bolshevik regime, the rulers have always been ably assisted in their mission by the hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s entirely consistent that its present head, Patriarch Kirill, is a lifelong KGB/FSB agent – as were the other two aspirants for his job.

I have no doubt that the Putin junta isn’t long for this world – and it won’t take 70 years to self-destruct as the Soviet Union did. But there’s little hope for Russia unless she undergoes changes that cut much deeper than simply a regime change.