This Indian is a cowboy

“Build, build, build!” is Chancellor Sunak’s message to the nation. What Rishi the Builder actually means is “spend, spend, spend!”.

“Giz a chance, gov, and I’ll do you like you never been done before – or I ain’t Rishi the Builder”

These words are key to Mr Sunak’s suicide note. Not his own suicide, I hasten to add, to calm or, depending on your point of view, disappoint you. The infamous last words were delivered on behalf of our economy.

The only sensible parts of his announcement were the public sector wage freeze and a £5 billion cut in foreign aid. Typically, it was this latter plan that forced Foreign Office minister Baroness Sugg to tender her resignation.

In her place, I would have resigned had the Chancellor not cut foreign aid. But then I’d have looked at the rest of his programme and resigned anyway.

Dave Cameron’s law committing Britain to spending 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid was ill-advised to the point of being idiotic. He should have read the work of the late development economist Lord Bauer, who defined foreign aid as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.

I used to advocate cutting out the middleman and depositing money direct into the Swiss bank accounts of assorted tinpot dictators, thereby saving large sums otherwise spent on administering such a vast charity. Yet these days the problem is even worse.

For as a manifestation of our charitable nature, we’re pumping billions into some bigger economies than our own. Grateful recipients include China, which is about to celebrate Mao’s anniversary by landing a man on the moon.

Yet the £5 billion so commendably saved is but a drop in a leaky bucket. For the Chancellor has optimistically allocated £100 billion for the biggest public works programme this side of the one designed in the 1930s by Hjalmar Schacht for you-know-whom.

The plans are indeed optimistic because no large-scale government programme has ever come in on budget. Pigs don’t fly and governments overspend – both statements are equally unassailable.

The HS2 project, designed to shave an hour off the train ride from London to Manchester, is a useful illustration of this law of nature. Originally budgeted at just over £30 billion, its cost is now estimated at £106 billion, which rate of increase is par for the course where government projects are concerned.

Needless to say, our cowboy builder reaffirmed the commitment to that megalomaniac madness. It’s vital, he said, “to deliver essential north-south connectivity”. Like most of his other statements, this one requires a translation.

In the last general election, the Tories managed to carry the north of England, dazzling the voters with shining prospects of prosperity. It’s already clear that Covid, ably assisted by the government’s economic incompetence, has moved those promises into the realm of mythology.

Suddenly a redundancy note for Messrs Johnson, Sunak et al. looms large, growing every day as the 2024 election draws nearer. The HS2 project is a sop – call it a bribe if you wish – for those irate northerners to please, please, please keep this lot in Westminster.

In their understanding of political economy, today’s governments, emphatically including this one, overemphasise the adjective and ignore the noun. They want to pay for their jobs with our money, which is as morally deplorable as it is economically ruinous.

For HS2 is only another drop in the aforementioned leaky bucket. Rishi the Builder wants to build houses too. “’To build housing, we’re introducing a £7.1 billion National Home Building Fund, on top of our £12.2 billion Affordable Homes Programme,” he says. Do remember to multiply every projected sum by at least three to arrive at the actual future cost.

Our broadband, already adequate if far from perfect, will also benefit from Mr Sunak’s largesse. He’ll spend, spend, spend to speed it up, as well as  providing 4G mobile coverage for 95 per cent of the country.

And we haven’t yet even talked about the madcap ‘Green Industrial Revolution’, which will burn untold billions in the bonfire of economic and scientific sanity, nor about the 16.5 billion hike in the defence budget (remember the multiplier of three to be applied) and so on, ad infinitum.

“Our plans deliver the highest sustained level of public investment in more than 40 years,” said Rishi the Builder, pretending this is something to boast about, not to lament. Yet another unsolicited effort in translation is called for.

For it was 40 years ago that Margaret Thatcher first tried, with quite some success, to introduce a note of sanity into the economy of “the sick man of Europe”, as Britain was rightly called at the time. Johnson’s government, in this case fronted by Rishi the Builder, is repudiating her legacy both implicitly and explicitly.

Hjalmar Schacht’s programme, which evidently inspires this ‘Conservative’ government, had one of only two possible long-term outcomes: an economic disaster caused by the war, or an economic disaster caused by the programme itself. In purely economic terms, the latter could have been even more ruinous because no Marshall Plan would have come to Germany’s rescue.

Our activist cowboy builder at Number 11 ought to know that the state can only ever affect the economy positively by not affecting it adversely. Another German, Ludwig Erhard, showed the right way to get out of an economic crisis in the 1950s.

Instead of launching a spend-and-tax spree, the finance minister of a devastated Germany tightened the money supply, cut down public spending and taxation, and told the people to stick it out for a few years. That delivered the economic Miracle on the Rhine (Wirtschaftswunder for short, and don’t you just love the German language).

By doing exactly the opposite, Rishi the Builder is unfailingly steering the economy towards the Debacle on the Thames. And you know what makes the situation really hopeless? The other lot are even worse.

How the death penalty asserts the value of human life

I’ve always regarded liberal arguments as intellectually, and therefore morally, unsound. However, one exception exists: capital punishment.

“I hereby sentence you to counselling”

Though liberals oppose it and I don’t, I recognise the validity of their arguments even as I refute their truth. For one can’t deny that a society weaned on the notion that human life is sacred is bound to regard as emotionally repugnant the spectacle of a state executing people in cold blood.

However, the function of emotions in cognition is to activate reason, not to supersede it. And reason finds that the state does many repugnant things that nonetheless serve an essential purpose. Thus, most people accept that killing five million Germans in 1939-1945 was necessary. That great sin was expiated by the greater good.

Since liberalism appeals mostly to emotions and conservatism mostly to reason, a clash is inevitable on many issues, especially one of judicial killing. However, even many conservatives argue against the death penalty, citing, for example, the corrupting effect it has on the executioner – or else doubting the right of mortal and therefore fallible men to pass irreversible judgement.

The issue is serious and it deserves a serious debate. This, however, is something it no longer gets in Britain, where the death penalty for murder was abolished in 1965, and for any crime in 1998.

That absence of debate is a pity because this issue touches tangentially on many others that, put together, go to the ontological essence of man. As such, the death penalty deserves to be discussed by philosophers, not just politicians and public advocates.

Alas, when it does come up, the debate inevitably inhabits a lower storey in the edifice of reason. Mostly it revolves around the issue of deterrence, which a priori makes said edifice creak on its foundations.

In the years preceding 1965, the Crown executed about four convicted murderers a year. Comparing that number to the number of murders – and even to the number of convictions – one realises that the rate of executions indeed had a derisory deterrent value. A man had a greater chance of being killed by driving his wife than by killing her, and yet such statistics didn’t adversely affect car sales in a pre-1965 Britain.

The fundamental problem about deterrence is that it can’t be proved one way or the other. Looking at the number of pre-1965 murders, we know exactly how many were not deterred by the death penalty. But how do we know that, in its absence, the number wouldn’t have been, say, twice as high? We don’t.

Common sense suggests that a chap contemplating a murder would be more scared of hanging than of imprisonment, but common sense is an unreliable guide in this case. In British jurisprudence, it may work in civil cases, requiring as they do only proof on the balance of probability. Yet criminal cases demand proof beyond reasonable doubt, which requirement goes way beyond common sense.

In general, arguing this issue on purely material considerations always leaves gaping holes in one’s intellectual trousers.

For example, murder calls for a mandatory life sentence in Britain – that is the maximum possible penalty. What’s then to prevent the convict from murdering someone, a warder for example, in prison? He only has one life, and it’s already spoken for.

Then life doesn’t necessarily mean life. Most cases have a tariff applied, meaning that some murderers may be released after a number of years, leaving them free to kill again. One indisputable argument for the death penalty is that it undoubtedly deters the executed criminal.

Yet those arguments are frivolous, for they invoke technicalities, not the principle. An opponent of capital punishment may just say that solitary confinement will put paid to the first argument, and abolishing tariffs to the second – and then flash a smug QED smile that’s never far from a liberal’s face.

My argument is that, rather than denying the value of human life, the death penalty affirms it. By executing a murderer, society proclaims that this value is so high that it can’t be offset by any number of years in prison.

That’s why the death penalty was never regarded as objectionable in the founding moral code of the West, the Scripture. Most saints, and all important ones, from Augustine to Aquinas and everyone in between, saw no conflict between Christian morality and the death penalty.

When society was still guided by Christian ethics, the moral validity of the death penalty was never in doubt. It was understood that murder sent a shock throughout the community, and the amplitude of those destructive waves could be attenuated only by a punishment commensurate with the crime. Without it, the agitated community would run the risk of never recovering its eirenic order.

Today’s society has become anaesthetised to violent death, having lived through history’s first atheist century, the twentieth. Having replaced Christian morality with its secular perversion, mankind then proceeded to kill more people than in the previous thirty centuries of recorded history combined.

Eirenic social order is now a distant memory, and murder no longer shocks the way it did even a few decades ago. Most people still find that crime heinous, but their inner reservoir of outrage has been squandered – there are so many murders reported that each can receive only a soupçon of wrath.

Thus each individual human life has been so devalued that any attempt to reassert its significance by imposing the death penalty on a murderer is resisted out of insouciance and torpor. This can then be post-rationalised into a seemingly valid, but in fact defunct, moral argument.

Having discussed crime and punishment on the BBC a couple of times, I realised the utter futility of arguing the issue seriously. For the liberals’ railing against the death penalty simply camouflages their opposition to punishment as such.

This too springs from post-Christian secularism. Each person used to be regarded as a sovereign moral agent endowed with free will and therefore bearing individual responsibility for his actions.

Since man was fallen and therefore fallible, it was recognised that making moral choices was taxing. An individual moral choice deserved praise; an immoral one, punishment. Like any other freedom, that of the will presupposes bearing the consequences of one’s actions.

The liberal view going back to Rousseau is different. Man is perceived as inherently good and, if one turns out bad, he has been failed by society. Society didn’t open enough paths for his good nature to reach its pre-determined destination of virtue. Hence, by passing a sentence on a criminal, society in effect condemns itself, which is illogical.

A liberal will at a pinch agree that imprisonment may be a necessity, but only if prison is used as a combination of social services and a school. Prison is supposed to improve and educate, rather than punish in the service of justice.

Since the death penalty neither improves nor educates a criminal, it’s so far beyond the pale that it doesn’t even merit discussion. Who are we to inflict the worst possible punishment on Rousseau’s noble savage – even if this particular savage has acted in a rather ignoble way?

This again is a relatively new, and absolutely unsound, way of thinking. It goes to show yet again how thoroughly, and one fears irreversibly, the so-called Age of Reason has destroyed reason.

To a Christian thinker, it was eternal perdition, not physical death, that was the worst punishment. It was therefore possible to love one’s enemy and still kill him, provided one prayed for the salvation of his soul. That’s partly what St Augustine meant when first formulating the concept of just war. War was no longer evil if it prevented greater evil, and killing, as opposed to murder, didn’t contradict Christ’s commandment to love our enemies.

The modern liberal is deaf to such subtleties. He happily campaigns against the death penalty, while giving the benefit of the doubt to mass-murdering left-wing regimes. And of course his secular interpretation of the sanctity of life can never stretch to abortion or, increasingly, euthanasia.

His moral sensibilities can accommodate those with ease. It’s only the death penalty accepted by Christians as just for 2,000 years that awakens his moral sensibility – specifically because it was accepted by Christians as just for 2,000 years.

The Gospel according to Xi

Is the Chinese leader a Jeffersonian or a Tolstoyan? Well, not quite, although there are some similarities.

“In the name of Lenin and Stalin and Mao, amen”

Thomas Jefferson had a selective approach to Scripture: some of it was acceptable to him, some wasn’t. So he clipped the acceptable passages out of the Bible and pasted them into a notebook, thus creating his own Scripture and turning himself into the fifth evangelist.  

Tolstoy did a much more extensive job. He set out to produce the gospel of “Christ the materialist”, as he once described it with appealing frankness. To that end, he merged the four gospels together, expurgating everything transcendent, miraculous and sacramental.

The resulting book, known in its abridged form as The Gospel in Brief, had a massive influence on Ludwig Wittgenstein. As a foot soldier during the First World War, he carried Tolstoy’s gospel in his rucksack, claimed it kept him alive, and drove his comrades to distraction by reading excerpts from it on any pretext.

Hence Tolstoy can be rightfully called the sixth evangelist, although he regarded himself as the only reliable one. Yet Xi has outdone him, Jefferson and any other scriptural critic who has ever found scripture in need of streamlining.

For those chaps merely got rid of the passages that didn’t agree with their view of God and man. Xi goes them one better by wishing to rewrite the Bible chapter and verse in accordance with the tenets laid down in Mao’s Red Book. If the new version says something diametrically opposite to the original, then so much the worse for the original.

The complete new translation hasn’t yet shone its light on the infidel world. So far we’ve been regaled with one passage only, dealing with “a woman taken in adultery” (John 8: 3-11).

If you recall, the scribes and Pharisees, who wanted to stone the woman in accordance with the Law, wondered how Jesus felt about that prospect. That was yet another trap they laid, hoping to catch the impostor in defying scriptural dogmas.

“But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

On hearing that, they “went out one by one”, leaving Jesus alone with the woman. “When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

Such is the traditional text that doesn’t substantially change in any Christian translations, and there are many. The essence remains: though perfectly capable of meting out divine punishment, Jesus treated the sinner with divine mercy.

That doesn’t quite work for Xi, and one can understand why. Showing mercy to sinners, heretics and apostates isn’t the most salient virtue of communists in general and Chinese communists in particular. Their natural inclination, as first worded by Mao’s Red Guards in the 1960s, is to “smash their dog heads” – just as that adulterous woman’s head would have been smashed had the Pharisees had their way.

Hence St John’s version of the event had to be modified ever so slightly, and Xi’s translators are up to the task. They’ve shown their unique understanding of Christ and Christianity by having Jesus say: “I too am a sinner. But if the law could only be executed by men without blemish, the law would be dead.”

To protect the law from that gruesome fate, Jesus then stones the woman with his own hands, presumably using the technique perfected by the Red Guards.

Xi must have looked at the new version and seen it was good. The Gospel of Christ the Communist is off to a flying start, looking to soar higher than Tolstoy’s Gospel of Christ the Materialist ever did.

On second thoughts, perhaps Xi is neither a Jeffersonian nor a Tolstoyan. He’s closer to the second-century Gnostics who produced the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Thomas. That book portrays Jesus as a child, and the portrait isn’t exactly flattering. Little Jesus routinely murders other children for bumping into him, spilling his water or committing similar sacrileges.

If Xi’s translators neglected to include such excerpts into their own gospel, perhaps there’s still time. Somehow one feels that the Gospel of Christ the Communist would be incomplete without showing that Jesus had homicidal tendencies practically from birth.

I hope that the Vatican will endorse the new translation as a possible, if perhaps not yet mandatory, version. After all, it has just renewed its 2018 agreement with China, giving the communists a role in episcopal appointments.

That constitutes flagrant betrayal of the underground, which is to say real, Catholics for the benefit of the obedient house-trained  Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The former are tortured and killed; the latter are magnanimously allowed to celebrate mass glorifying the Communist Party.

This path is well-trodden: having murdered some 40,000 priests and God knows how many parishioners, the Soviets then allowed the Orthodox Church to continue its mission — provided it was willing to act as essentially an extension of the security services (an arrangement that miraculously survived the Soviet Union).

I can’t wait to see the complete translation. After all, unlike some other religions, Christianity wasn’t vouchsafed to us all at once. It’s a living, which is to say evolving, religion, and who’s to say that Xi wasn’t touched with divine revelation? Certainly no one who wishes to stay alive in his bailiwick.

We’re all German now

I hate ethnic stereotyping as much as any progressive man. In that I’m consonant with the zeitgeist, one of whose endearing features is a flat denial of any ethnic peculiarities.

Cambodian policewoman on the beat

Thus I reject out of hand any generalised notions, such as that Americans are obsessed with money, the Dutch with producing and consuming mountains of mediocre cheese, the French with pretending to be Italians while actually being Germans, Italians with pinching girls’ bottoms on public transport, Russians with vodka, Japanese with self-evisceration, Muslims with flying airliners into tall buildings and Australians with vomiting on parked cars.

Yet one stereotype stubbornly refuses to go away: the humourlessness of the Germans. This trait was neatly encapsulated by Mark Twain, who said that “A German joke is no laughing matter.”

I don’t know many Germans and have only been to Germany a couple of times, but flicking through TV channels at my hotel I did notice a certain lavatorial tilt to their comedy programmes. One, for example, featured several men sitting on loo seats and telling jokes about the activity suggested thereby.

That was too small a sample to jump to far-reaching conclusions, but it tallied with the widespread public perception – much as one hates even to entertain the idea that national characteristics exist.

However, if they lamentably do exist, the best way of correcting that iniquity is for other nations to adopt the same traits, thus depriving them of unfashionable particularism. Therefore I’m happy to report that Twain’s witticism can now be legitimately amended to “No joke is a laughing matter”.

Humour is now excommunicated everywhere, including Britain, where people used to crack bomb jokes during the Blitz. Yet even the British are busy issuing redundancy notes to satirists and comedians.

The former are out of a job because they can’t satirise modernity better than it unwittingly satirises itself. The latter are finding out that our unsmiling multitudes judge humour more harshly than even Jesus did. He gave his contemporaries the licence to mock everything including himself – provided they left the Holy Spirit alone.

Modernity no longer believes in either Christ or the Holy Spirit, but it has elevated to a similarly lofty status every intellectual, cultural, social and sexual perversion it extrudes from its bowels. Joking about them is now treated as heresy and punished accordingly.

The latest comedian to find that out is John Cleese, who got the full monty (as it were) for being irreverent about one of the most cherished perversions. Coming out in defence of JK Rowling, vilified for her transphobia, the octogenarian comedian said he identified as a “Cambodian policewoman”.

Monty Python thus met Harry Potter and sparks flew. The outburst of public indignation was as explosive as the one that ensued after Rowling’s outrageous suggestion that one’s sex has something to do with physiology.

A Christian might have been allowed to mock Christ, but a modern man will mock modernity at his peril. A smile has been wiped off the face of the world.

However, I can’t see what the problem is. If our cheerless, sanctimonious modernity insists on taking every joke seriously, why not do so in this case?

Mr Cleese is a skilled comedian, which means he knows that, for a joke to be effective, it must cut close to the bone. Reductio ad absurdum only ever works if there exists something that can be thus reduced.

In this case, we are happy to extend the sacrosanct notion of consumer choice to all races and a full menu of 74 sexes so far discovered and welcomed. Hence we don’t flinch when a man identifies as a woman, a woman as a man, a white man as a black woman or presumably a black woman as a transsexual Japanese geisha.

Fine. The progressive man in me exults. However, the egalitarian man in me refuses to put any limit on the available options. So if Mr Cleese wishes to identify as a Cambodian policewoman in all seriousness, it’s not immediately clear on what grounds anyone could possibly object.

The problem is, and here we re-grasp today’s thematic strand, that his self-righteous critics suspect Mr Cleese doesn’t really wish to adopt the suggested identity in all seriousness. He said that in jest – and that’s where his statement becomes unpardonable.

Today’s wokery hounds are indeed like dogs. They respond not so much to the words as to the tone, inflection, intonation. In that they bring back the unfond memory of my youth, misspent in Moscow.

There I seldom said demonstrably subversive things in public, and yet the reputation of an anti-Soviet vermin followed me everywhere I went – school, university, job. The guardians of fascist probity responded not to the words I uttered but to the odd derisory smile, an irreverent turn of phrase, an eyebrow raised above its normal supercilious level. Eventually, I did start saying demonstrably subversive things in public, on the assumption of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Censure immediately followed, jobs were lost, security services notified… Sorry about this trip down the potholed memory lane. You might say this has no relevance to today’s situation. The Soviet Union was after all a totalitarian country, whereas Britain…

Well, you said it, not me. Heil modernity, and don’t mention the war.

Hitler or Stalin?

One shouldn’t judge a book by its review. Too many works in that genre say more about the book reviewer than the book reviewed.

Hence I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to the book Hitler and Stalin by Laurence Rees and assume it’s not as ignorant as Tony Rennell’s review of it. However, his ignorance is worth pointing out since he refries old chestnuts that still dominate popular diets.

Drawing parallels between Hitler and Stalin is a tricky business, and in today’s Russia such parallel lines converge in prison: finding anything in common between the Soviet Union and the USSR is treated as a capital offence.

Yet those outside the reach of Putin’s jurisprudence agree that both regimes were evil. However, the general tendency is to admit Hitler’s evil with eager alacrity, and Stalin’s with grudging reluctance.

Too many Western intellectuals accepted the underlying virtue of Bolshevism for too long not to have left a festering cultural legacy. Even now one hears university-educated people deploring Lenin’s and Stalin’s crimes, while suggesting that those gentlemen lamentably misread the essence of Marxism.

The embers of old love continue to glow, casting a pink tint on people’s feelings. Hence there’s a tendency to downplay Stalin’s crimes and ignore Lenin’s, while touting Hitler’s from every available rooftop.

As a result, noticeable today isn’t so much the banality of evil as the banality of writing about evil. The review in question is a prime example.

Writing about Germany’s war on Russia, Rennell proceeds from the version of history concocted by Stalin’s propagandists and still peddled not only in Russia but also in the West. Essential to it is the notion of Stalin seeking a lasting peace with Germany and signing the infamous Pact to that end, only to be tricked by a bellicose Hitler.

One old chestnut Rennell tosses on the grill is Stalin’s reaction to an intelligence report of Hitler’s impending attack. The report came from the Soviet agent at Luftwaffe HQ, Harro Schulze-Boysen, and reached Stalin courtesy of his State Security commissar Merkulov:

“Stalin not only refused to believe the information but was furious at the very suggestion that his precious agreement with Hitler would not hold. In reply, he scrawled across the note: ‘Tell your “source” that he can go f*** his mother.’ Five days later, Hitler’s armies crossed the border…”

There’s no harm in quoting this incident, and just about every book on this subject does so. However, many authors, including my today’s subject, use it as vindication of the aforementioned concept of history. This is a fallacy.

Schulze-Boysen’s was one of hundreds of such reports reaching Stalin’s desk every day. Most of them presented conflicting information either about the planned timing of Operation Barbarossa or even about Hitler’s intentions in general. Many others were outright SD deceptions, which Stalin knew (hence, after suggesting the oedipal act, he added: “He’s a disinformer, not a source.”)

Yet Stalin also knew it would be madness for Hitler to attack him. For, rather than craving peace, Stalin had been preparing for war. Since the early 1930s every sinew of his vast country had been stretched to breaking point by feverish militarisation.

Practically the whole Soviet industry was dedicated to that end, with factories working in a wartime three-shift mode (24/7 in today’s idiom) since 1932 – something Germany didn’t start doing until 10 years later, three years into the war. Military equipment was rolling off the assembly lines in volumes exceeding not only Germany’s but the whole world’s.

Rennell is clearly unfamiliar with the non-Stalinist, which is to say real, scholarship on this subject. For Stalin was preparing a massive attack on Germany, and it was only a question of the most propitious moment to push the button.

By 22 June, 1941, the Soviets had completed a secret mobilisation and amassed a vast force at the border. The movement of troops and materiel had been mostly done at night, with large units hiding in forests.

The unprecedented armament programme gave Stalin a huge superiority in both equipment and numerical strength. His air force outnumbered the Luftwaffe at least 3:1, with Soviet planes at least matching their German analogues in quality. Stalin’s tank force outnumbered the Nazis 7:1 (4:1 in the border areas), with the KV and T-34 tanks infinitely superior to anything Germany had until late 1942. Soviet artillery was mostly of 1930s vintage, whereas the Germans relied on WWI models. And so on, so forth.

That impoverished, starving, enslaved country had been forced to deliver such riches for one purpose only: conquest of Europe. The Red juggernaut was ready to roll, and it was only on the planned kick-off date that serious historians disagree. Some think Hitler preempted Stalin’s attack by a couple of months, others favour a couple of weeks – some even a single day.

Stalin’s plan was to wait until the Nazis got bogged down in European trench warfare, similar to the bloodbath of WWI. Thus he was disappointed that France had collapsed so quickly.

Stalin’s next hope was that the Germans would invade Britain, leaving their back bare to a Soviet thrust. However, those hopes were dashed in 1940 by the 800-odd heroic RAF pilots who denied the Germans air superiority essential for a large-scale amphibious landing.

Nevertheless Stalin had to act: the Soviet war machine had gathered full momentum and it could no longer be stopped. Nor did Stalin intend to – he just hoped he could strike at his leisure because no one, not even Hitler, would be so mad as to attack in the face of the overwhelming Soviet superiority in every conceivable category.

Yet in this aspect at least Hitler was perfectly rational. Like every German past age five, he knew the dangers of a two-front war. However, he also knew he had no choice – precisely because neither Stalin’s strength nor his intentions were any longer a secret. So Hitler closed his eyes and swung with all his force.

I’ve taken more space than Rennell did to outline the situation to emphasise the ignorance and vulgarity of those who still insist that Stalin craved peace and relied on his pact with the Nazis to achieve it. The war was a clash of two equally evil aggressive forces, and it was only a matter of days who would strike first.

Yes, Hitler and Stalin were equally evil, but only in the metaphysical sense. A burglar who butchers a sleeping family is as evil as a dictator who murders thousands, and it’s crass to discuss the essence of evil in numerical terms.

However, the essence of evil is a subject for a theologian or a philosopher. To a theologian, the difference between a murderer of 1,000 and a murderer of 1,000,000 is immaterial. To an historian (not to mention the balance of 999,000) it’s important.

That’s where the residual affection for red, as opposed to brown, socialism comes into play, including conspicuously in Rennell’s review. To wit:

“Rees calculates that at least 13 million deaths can be laid at Stalin’s door – those who died from ethnic cleansing or deliberate famine in places such as the Ukraine, or as political prisoners in the gulag, or simply shot in the purges. 

“Rees’s equivalent figure for Hitler’s regime is much higher – 20 million deaths, of which the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust are well known but to which should be added huge swathes of captured Soviet soldiers and overrun civilians who were left to perish.”

If it’s true that these numbers come from Rees, I exculpated him too hastily. For the Soviet death toll of 13 million was reached, probably even exceeded, on Lenin’s watch (d. 1924). By the most reliable calculations I’ve ever seen (notably those presented in Prof. Rummel’s books Lethal Politics and Murder by Government), Stalin ran up that score to 61 million.

Talking about Stalin’s ethnic cleansing, Rennell bizarrely singles out just one group: “… the Kalmyks, an ancient Mongol people from the Russian steppes, the entire population of whom were hunted down in 1943 and deported, in unheated cattle trucks, to the Siberian wastelands. Tens of thousands died.”

What about the hundreds of thousands of ethnic Poles ethnically cleansed in the 1930s-1940s? Similar numbers of ethnic Germans, Chechens, Kabardians, Balkars, Bashkirs, Crimean Tartars? Why just mention the 13,000 Kalmyks? To keep the overall score down?

Also, comparing the numbers of Hitler’s and Stalin’s victims is only valid if the same methodology is applied to both. Otherwise an innocent reader might assume that Hitler’s crimes of “huge swathes of captured Soviet soldiers and overrun civilians who were left to perish” were unmatched by Stalin.

Many Soviet POWs indeed died in Nazi captivity. One reason was logistic: by the time the brutal winter of 1941 came the Nazis had taken over four million Soviet prisoners, many of them emaciated or wounded. Providing food, shelter and medical help for all of them would have been impossible even had the Nazis wished to do so. (My father was one of those who miraculously survived.)

The other reason was, well, Stalin. He refused to sign the Geneva Convention, leaving even the surviving prisoners without any help from the Red Cross or other international organisations. According to Stalin, every Soviet soldier taken prisoner was a traitor who deserved death. In fact, during those first catastrophic months the Red Air Force was known to strafe the camps where Soviet POWs were kept.

Still, whatever the circumstances, the Nazis’ brutality was an ever-present factor. However, the implication seems to be that no German POWs died in Soviet captivity, which is false. In fact, 1,094,250 did so.

As to the “overrun civilians who were left to perish”, Stalin’s score in that rubric was at least equal to Hitler’s and ran into millions. Again, there exists extensive scholarship on this subject, and anyone who broaches this subject without being familiar with it is a charlatan. Neither Rennell nor, possibly, Rees seems to boast such erudition.

But one can’t argue with their overall conclusion: both Stalin and Hitler were indeed nasty individuals. However, if that’s all a book, or even an article, leaves the reader with, then why was it written?  

Has Boris gone mad?

Madness comes in many different forms. Yet most of them involve losing touch with reality to some extent.

Boris Johnson, announcing his economic plans

The distance between reality and the patient’s perception of it determines the severity of the condition. If that’s the case, then our PM is, to use a technical term, bonkers.

Mostly through no fault of his own, he presides over an economy suffering its worst contraction since the early days in the reign of George I. The government is trying to spend and tax its way out of trouble, which ill-advised strategy has already produced the most profligate increase in public spending ever seen in peacetime.

These are the kind of dangerous times that don’t really call for desperate measures. Rather than maniacally throwing good money after bad, we should grit our teeth and tighten our belts for a couple of years. Then, when the economy is back on track, we might be in a position to contemplate ambitious programmes requiring vast investment.

If one is permitted an analogy, when a man has suffered a heart attack he must recuperate slowly. After being bed-ridden for some time, he can start moving around the house, then go out on short walks, gradually increasing their length. Only having recovered much of his strength, may he then ease into more strenuous exercise.

However, Johnson’s plans are tantamount to ordering a coronary victim to get up and run a marathon – which is certain to be a shortcut to the morgue.

Of the two schemes he has announced, one, what he calls the Green Industrial Revolution, would be cloud-cuckoo land under any circumstances. The other, a £16 billion increase in defence spending, mostly to beef up the Royal Navy, is a right idea put forth at a wrong time.

The first one should go by the codename Operation Carrie On, doubtless reflecting as it does the woke passions of Johnson’s masterful mistress. It’s estimated to cost some £12.5 billion, but everyone knows this is only a point of departure – for the Moon.

I’ll spare you the tedium of going over Johnson’s 10-point programme item by item. Enough scientists and engineers have done so already, debunking this nonsense with more authority than I can bring to bear.

What caught my eye is Johnson’s promise to use nuclear energy as a vital supplement to those Quixotic windmills. That, he promises, will create 250,000 new jobs or thereabouts.

Since the parallel plan is to destroy the oil industry, it’s useful to remember that at present it employs 285,000 people in the UK. The nuclear industry, on the other hand, is only served by some 60,000 employees.

The unsavoury pie in the sky being half-baked by Operation Carrie On must have as a key ingredient a massive shift of jobs from oil to nuclear. This, although the government stopped short of committing to the construction of any new nuclear plants, including those that have been mooted for a decade.

I’ve always advocated nuclear energy as being by far the safest of those really able to satisfy most of our needs, and least dependent on natural resources. The world’s reserves of uranium are for all practical purposes unlimited, which is more than one can say for hydrocarbons. And uranium is always there, displaying none of the fickleness of the wind or the sun.

Now, if I know that, European governments and their advisors know it infinitely better. And yet the two great European economies, Germany and France, are shutting down all their nuclear plants.

That’s going to hurt France especially, considering that 85 per cent of her energy comes from nuclear facilities. It’ll also hurt us by ricochet since we get six per cent of our energy from France, not that the French fret too much about this side effect.

So why are they committing this act of economic suicide, or at least self-harm? Simple. Because exactly the same people who use warm weather as a weapon in a sustained attack on the West and its capitalism are programmed to destroy the nuclear industry – specifically because it provides a viable alternative to hydrocarbons.

Any attempt to increase its size on the Continent or in Britain will instantly lead to outbursts of civil unrest expertly whipped up by the CND and other subversive organisations that came to life as Soviet fronts. Strident campaigns ignorantly equating nuclear energy with nuclear weapons will paralyse not only the industry, but also much of the country.

Since most Labour leaders have CND experience on their CVs, they know how to sow mayhem, especially when a Tory government is in power. So Johnson can forget about relying on nuclear energy – the anti-Western ghouls won’t allow it.

As to getting rid of all internal combustion cars in the next 10 years, this promise shows that Johnson’s mental disorder is progressing nicely. He seems to think that covering the country with cadmium, lithium and discarded batteries will improve its ecology, while plugging millions of cars into an already creaking grid will solve our energy problems.

By contrast, his intention to boost the defence is both worthy and long overdue. After all, the issue of the Royal Navy ruling the waves was settled on 21 October, 1805. However, in recent years the French navy has pulled ahead, making Horatio Nelson totter on the top of that column.

That said, embarking on such a programme at this time is crazy, especially considering that the budget of £16 billion will have to be exceeded at least threefold, if the experience of all large-scale government undertakings is anything to go by.

Concerned as I am about Johnson’s well-being, I think he should take some time (like the rest of his life) off the rough-and-tumble of political life and go back to writing his column, this time about the green utopia. From what one hears, The Guardian has a vacancy.

The headline tells the story

As a former advertising copywriter, I like informative headlines. In that capacity I really had no other option: research showed that 80 per cent of even those who look at an ad never read the body copy.

Mrs and Mrs Partridge

Hence an ad’s story, even if it’s only a headline, must stop and inform the reader quickly or not at all. Nobody leafs through a magazine looking for an ad to read and, if an effort is required, nobody will as much as look at it.

Newspapers are different. Since people actually want to read them, they have the luxury of long headlines, sometimes those telling the whole story in several bold lines.

The headline of the lead article in today’s issue of The Daily Mail is one such. But before I run it a disclaimer is in order: The Mail is commonly believed to be our most conservative newspaper.

In popular perception it’s so conservative that it sometimes merits other adjectives as well, such as ‘reactionary’, ‘populist’ or even ‘fascist’. Guardian readers may describe it as being to the right of Attila the Hun’s head of security.

With that in mind, here goes: Mother, 35, with 13 children dies of Covid with her wife paying tribute to ‘backbone of our family’ as relatives of UK’s coronavirus victims accuse Boris Johnson of ‘ignoring’ them and demand public inquiry into his response to crisis.

There it is, the whole story right there. The rest of the long article simply fleshes it out with details, making the point that the government’s response to Covid is both negligent and incompetent. This is the current leitmotif of most of our newspapers, right, left or centre, and to this reader at least the story has lost its novelty appeal and much of its poignancy – even though it’s probably true.

Yet I found something in the headline considerably more eye-catching than Boris Johnson’s incompetence.  

Namely, that a long article in a supposedly conservative paper mentions matter-of-factly and without comment that the deceased Sonia Partridge had a wife and that the bereaved spouse, Kerry Ann, is understandably despondent, having been left without “my life for the last 11 years”. 

The article is illustrated by numerous photographs of the happy couple and their brood, adding up to a football side with two substitutes. The surviving Mrs Partridge says that the deceased Mrs Partridge had “an underlying condition”, and one can guess what that was by looking at the photos.

These show both spouses as being morbidly obese, with a combined weight approaching that of a small family car. What little can be seen of their enormous bodies is densely covered with tattoos, and the deceased also sported a nostril stud.

Each spouse brought pre-existing children into the matrimony: one Mrs Partridge had five, the other three. The remaining five were produced “via a sperm donor”. The article doesn’t specify whether the spermatozoa were administered in vitro or in vivo.

Now, I took the trouble to specify the spouses’ appearance not out of snobbery, but because they didn’t look as if they had the means to feed, clothe and house 13 children, with some discretionary income left over for tattoos and facial metal.

Taking a stab in the dark, I’d guess that the happy family was supported, partly or wholly, by the Exchequer. That means by the taxpayers, including, well, me. Now that, I’d suggest, deserved at least a short paragraph in a long article published by our most conservative newspaper.

After all, homomarriage was only legalised in England and Wales seven years ago, during the tenure of that soi-disant Tory, Cameron. Prior to that, the idea that people of the same sex could marry had been regarded as dystopically barmy during the entire history of Britain.

And yet it took but an historical blink of an eye for the notion to be taken for granted even in the conservative press. One wonders how our ‘liberal’ press would cover the story, and how different their take would be from The Mail’s.

Not very, I’d guess. Perhaps The Guardian would blame the government not only for its handling of Covid, but also for its handling of the Partridges.

If only they had received even greater handouts, Mrs Partridge could have afforded a better diet, thereby avoiding the “underlying condition” and untimely death. Such institutional parsimony might be ascribed to institutional homophobia. Other than that, the coverage would be identical.

I’m not gloating about Mrs Partridge’s demise. If John Donne is to be believed, her death diminishes us all, including me.

However, while I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing either Mrs Partridge, I do know our civilisation. And its accelerating demise diminishes me immeasurably more — with due apologies to Mr Donne.

Well done, Guardian

As a former creative director of an ad agency, I know how difficult it is to foster corporate spirit even in a relatively small group. And when the group involves copywriters (often frustrated novelists), art directors (often frustrated painters) and other creatives, the task becomes exponentially harder.

The feral scowl of transphobia

All kinds of team-building stratagems, most based on heavy drinking, are activated to that end, but typically only with moderate success. People involved in writing and art tend to be cantankerous individuals, who are proud of being both individualistic and cantankerous.

So much more impressive is the achievement of our most liberal newspaper in forging homogeneity among its employees. To wit: 338 of them signed a petition demanding that Suzanne Moore, award-winning columnist who had been with the paper for 10 years, leave or be sacked.

The management went along – one assumes willingly, for Miss Moore’s transgression was egregious by the lofty standards of that august publication. For she’s guilty of transphobia, a crime that rivals racism and homophobia for sheer offensiveness to modern sensibilities.

This isn’t to say that Miss Moore is inordinately scared of transsexuals – and if you insist on the literal use of the Greek term, you too should be sacked from whatever job you have. In today’s parlance, politically charged words are desemanticised. They have a political meaning and no other.

Since old common-or-garden totalitarians typically gained and held power by violence, they were most afraid of violence. Today’s totalitarians are what I call glossocrats, meaning they rise not by the sword but by the word. Hence they are most afraid of words, not swords.

In any totalitarian society, neo-, aspiring or actual, a crime of word is worse than a crime of deed. Glossocrats know that once they’ve gained control of the language, their power will become absolute.

In that spirit, racism doesn’t have to mean fear of other races, and nor does a homophobe duck behind parked cars whenever a camp chap comes round the corner.

Anyone who says that immigration of cultural aliens must be curtailed is a racist. Anyone who finds anything wrong with homomarriage or with homosexual couples adopting children is a homophobe. And Miss Moore is a transphobe.

After all, she dared to introduce a touch of the real world to the schizophrenic virtual reality of Guardian liberalism by writing that sex is a biological classification, “not a feeling”. Hundred of throats opened wide and a thunderous chorus of “You what?!?” shook the Guardian building to its foundation.

But of course sex is just a feeling! Who cares what chromosomes you were born with? You are a free, liberal, tolerant individual (at least as freedom, liberalism and tolerance are defined at The Guardian). That means you have a Guardian-given right to choose any from the menu of the available sexes, currently containing 74 options and growing.

Such is the orthodoxy, and if you defy it you are a heretic. Be jolly thankful if you’re only tossed out on your ear, not into a pyre.

Unfortunately, I’m unfamiliar with Miss Moore’s work and hence can’t judge her overall political inclination. However, since she lasted 10 years at that stronghold of tolerance, it’s safe to assume that she herself is generally liberal.

That makes it even worse. For she isn’t just a heretic, but also an apostate, turncoat, traitor. She’s a worm, a parasite gnawing at the insides of The Guardian’s body, and just getting rid of her offensive presence at the paper is too good for that vermin.

That’s why, in parallel with getting the good news that she was no longer welcome at her job, Miss Moore and her children also received hundreds of death threats. I don’t care how hardy one is – getting such threats is unsettling.

I can testify to that from personal experience, having received hundreds of similar message myself when years ago I wrote a piece in The Mail, in which I described homosexuality as an aberration, specifying that I used the word in its strict dictionary definition only.

Yesterday I asked for help with my English. What prompted that plea was the incessant updating of woke terminology that’s impossible to keep pace with. For example, just as I advocated, somewhat facetiously, the use of the politically acceptable term BAME, it was dumped into what Comrade Trotsky poetically called “the garbage bin of history”.

Now further help is required. Will someone explain to me the meaning of the words liberalism, tolerance and freedom inscribed on The Guardian’s metaphorical banners?

Actually don’t bother; I get it. Liberal means illiberal, tolerant means intolerant, free means enslaved. And put together they mean neo-totalitarian glossocracy.

Help me with my English

It’s hard for a poor boy from downtown Russia to keep pace with the rapidly developing language of his adopted land.

“Why can’t you BAME me up, Scotty?”

I can just about muddle through trying to convey the meaning of what I want to say. But words have more than just meaning. They are also tinged with colour, stylistic, emotional – and, these days above all – political.

Even the meaning of words is changing, largely thanks to our progressively comprehensive education. Some words just disappear, to make life easier for those who have had the benefit of said education.

Look at words like uninterested, apprise and masterly, for example. Why do we need them if, respectively, disinterested, appraise and masterful can do the same job? Of course pedantic spoilsports may argue that the job isn’t the same because these words mean something else.

That just goes to show how little they understand the dynamics of linguistic progress – and they don’t even have the excuse of being poor boys from downtown Russia. For, repeat after me, words mean whatever the formerly downtrodden masses want them to mean.

Since majority vote decides matters in a democracy, and the comprehensively educated masses greatly outnumber the aforementioned retromingent pedants, it’s the masses who pass the verdict on the meaning of words. Or, more precisely, the verdict is passed by those who speak on behalf of the masses.

If semantics is decided by due democratic process, the colouring of words is determined by more dictatorial methods. Those who take it upon themselves to speak on behalf of the masses, dictate what is or isn’t acceptable.

That’s where my problem begins. While in no way disputing the right of those chaps to dictate, I can’t help noticing that their views are fluid. What’s de rigueur today may become questionable tomorrow and criminal the day after. This especially applies to words designating racial, ethnic and sexual minorities – starting with the word minority itself.

How does a former outlander keep track? My only consolation is that I’m not the only one who has this problem.

The other day, for example, I wrote about the – justified and commendable! – sacking of the FA chairman Greg Clarke who proved to be a straggler on the march of progress.

Apart from his semantic lapses, he enraged all progressive people like me by saying that homosexuality is a matter of personal choice. How is it possible for a modern man to be so blatantly unmodern?

Mr Clarke ought to know the current, correct thinking on the subject. A man can choose to be a woman, but he can’t choose to be a homosexual. He is what he is. It’s his sex, not sexuality, that’s a matter of choice.

If you find a logical flaw with this explanation, you belong in a re-educational facility that Britain regrettably doesn’t have yet, but, one hopes, soon will. But Mr Clarke’s real problems were indeed semantic.

He described those for whom apparently no proper designation exists as ‘coloured’ people, ignoring the fine distinction between ‘people of colour’ (acceptable) and ‘coloured’ (sackable).

Writing indignantly about that reprobate, I suggested that the only allowable term is BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic). And what do you know? Turns out I’m just as behind the times as Mr Clarke. Thank God I have no job from which I can be sacked.

The new spokesman, or rather spokeswoman or, even better, spokesperson for the FA has declared that BAME is offensive for being demeaning. The word ‘minority’, she (if one is allowed to be gender-specific) explained, implies inferiority.

Hence it’s as racist as ‘coloured’, if not quite as objectionable as ‘of colour’. The permissible term is ‘those of ethnic diversity’.

Aforementioned pedants might argue that, since ‘minority’ refers only to numerical inferiority and no other, it’s factually, if not politically, correct. After all, persons of ethnic diversity are still shamefully outnumbered in Britain, even if they no longer are in London.

Then again, the progressive person in me may argue that the word ‘diversity’ is problematic too, for it implies that whiteness is a default colour. After all, diversification can logically proceed only from an established norm.

This is yet another proof that perfection is unattainable in this world. In the Kingdom of Man we just aren’t blessed with a vocabulary sufficiently extensive to convey all the nuances of identity politics.

Now, I suspect that the new FA spokesperson leans leftwards in her political inclination. Yet on this vital subject she has found unexpected allies on the right, in the person of the former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and his think tank, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).

The term BAME is “useless”, argues the CSJ, because it lumps together groups of people with entirely different backgrounds, attainments and problems. That’s no doubt true, but it exacerbates the problems this poor boy from downtown Russia has with today’s English.

After all, exactly the same can be said about any term designating a large group of people. For example, I’ve met many women in my life, most of them also characterised by different backgrounds, attainments and problems. Does this invalidate the word ‘women’? I’m just asking here, not asserting anything.

While debunking BAME, the CSJ has so far failed to recommend an alternative that could satisfy all comers from either end of the political spectrum. A couple of years ago, our present Home Secretary Priti ‘Very Priti’ Patel did offer a way out, which to a progressive person like me sounds more like a copout:

“I don’t like the labelling of people,” she said. “I don’t like the term BAME. I’m British first and foremost, because I was born in Britain.” Adopt this attitude and we’ll have to ditch identity politics, which simply won’t do. Where will we be without it?

There are some Priti thorny problems with Miss Patel’s doctrine too. What about those not correctly identifiable persons who weren’t born in Britain but have settled here? There are millions of them, and there will be more if Boris Johnson becomes as flexible in his EU negotiations as John Major demands.

Please don’t read more into this than there is. This piece is a cry for help, not an attempt to pass judgement. Though originally a poor boy from downtown Russia, I too am British first and foremost. So is Miss Patel. So is Sir Iain. So is the FA spokesperson. And none of us has a bloody clue.

Where are the saintly hacks of yesteryear?

Nostalgia for the past is a time-honoured conservative virtue. By putting a check on unbridled, progress-happy optimism about the present and future, it introduces a note of sobriety to our habitually punch-drunk discourse.

Nixon looking at the evidence in the Hiss case

However, hindsight has to bear some relation to known facts, the more the better. Glorifying the past for no good reason, and especially supporting that exercise with ignorant or mendacious statements, turns nostalgia into the sort of thing little boys are told not to do for fear of going blind.

Yesterday’s article by Peter Hitchens serves a useful reminder of this medical fact. Displaying his usual propensity for self-aggrandisement, Hitchens portrays “most journalists of my generation” and especially himself as heroic paladins storming the bastions of the government with selfless abandon.

This stands in sharp contrast to the present situation, when “more and more journalists seem happy to be the mouthpieces of government, or of political parties.”

The contrast would be justified only if it satisfied two conditions: showing a) a political bias on the part of today’s hacks and b) the sterling objectivity of the previous generation.

Trying to prove a) is hardly sporting. There’s no glory in rolling the ball into an empty net from a yard out. Yet the second condition is harder to satisfy, especially from the starting point of ignorance.

Thus Hitchens: “…we all remember the great film All The President’s Men for its depiction of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the reporters who exposed the crimes of Richard Nixon after the Watergate break-in.”

Hence Bob, Carl and other American journalists of their generation had the courage of tossing bricks through the windows of the state, at the risk of winning the Pulitzer Prize and earning millions. Those chaps had no ideological agendas and merely pursued objective truth for its own sake.

If Hitchens actually believes that, rather than indulging in his frequent practice of cutting facts to the stencil of his own prejudices, then he really knows nothing about American journalism of that period.

To support his romantic hindsight, he’d have to show that US journalists, especially those working for such ideological flagships of the liberal establishment as The Washington Post and The New York Times, displayed the same selfless vigilance regardless of who, or which party, was in power.

If, on the other hand, they could be shown to have been Rottweilers only towards conservative politicians and lapdogs toward liberal ones, then they’d be no better than today’s hacks. Hitchens would have to hold on to his rosy spectacles with both hands to make sure they don’t fall off his nose.

Alas, the predominantly liberal US press, including Woodward’s and Bernstein’s Washington Post, didn’t display the same commitment to truthful investigative journalism when the Kennedy brothers ruled the roost.

In fact, the Kennedys routinely committed misdemeanours compared to which Nixon’s were child’s play. Let me emphasise that I’m speaking comparatively here. For Nixon was indeed aware of the Watergate break-in and he did have a hand in covering it up. Thus he deserved everything that came his way courtesy of the Pulitzer laureates-to-be.

That’s the position taken by Victor Lasky in his 1977 book It Didn’t Start With Watergate. However, he also documents countless incidents of the press letting the Kennedys get away with murder (in Teddy’s case, possibly literally).

Wiretapping political opponents, using government agencies such as the IRS to harass them, conspiring with Mafia bosses, running a herd of hookers through the White House, blackmailing and threatening both politicians and journalists, underwriting smear campaigns – I do recommend Lasky’s book, especially since the evidence he presents is so voluminous that this format precludes even enumerating it.

Moreover, Lasky shows how that Cerberus of verity, the liberal press, was aware of most of those transgressions and yet chose not to disclose them. Kennedy was their darling, whereas Nixon was their bogeyman.

That hatred of Nixon specifically, and not just of his perceived conservatism, didn’t start with Watergate either. It goes back to 1948, when Congressman Richard Nixon interrogated the Soviet spy Alger Hiss on behalf of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

Nixon nailed Hiss to the wall, kicking off a campaign to drive communists out of the US government, especially the State Department. That campaign is now known as McCarthyism, even though Tailgunner Joe was a senator, while the H in HUAC stood for the House (incidentally, Robert Kennedy was one of the HUAC investigators, but, unlike Nixon, he went on to redeem himself by establishing impeccable liberal credentials).

The same papers that later hounded Nixon with maniacal persistence were in broad sympathy with the communists, whom they saw as left-of-centre liberals rather than stooges to the Soviet secret services they all were at least potentially. Even now, McCarthy’s name is used in the same breath as Hitler’s, and at the time passions ran much hotter.

Hence, as William F. Buckley wrote presciently in his 1962 book The Committee and Its Critics, from 1948 onwards Nixon was a marked man. Every step he took was scrutinised in the press with the kind of diligence that was never applied to liberal politicians and especially the Kennedys.

It wasn’t just voter fraud but also an unashamedly biased campaign in the media that accounted for Nixon’s defeat in the 1960 election. That contributed to Nixon’s understandable insecurity: knowing he was a hunted man, he came across as visibly awkward before TV cameras, whereas Kennedy acted with the insouciant self-confidence of a teachers’ pet.

Later, in 1964, Barry Goldwater suffered the same treatment. Voters were scared into voting for Johnson by a string of caricatures in those supposedly objective papers, showing Goldwater against the background of mushroom clouds.

The thrust of that hysterical campaign was to play cynically on the fear of a nuclear holocaust to follow immediately after Goldwater’s election – and those knights sans peur et sans reproche did their job admirably, as they continue to do its variants nowadays (notably in this year’s election).

I suppose its hard to expect faithfulness to the facts from a Putin poodle, and I’m sorry for indulging in another canine metaphor.

Yes, today’s media are biased. But no, this isn’t a new or even recent phenomenon. The jokey riddle “What’s black and white and red all over?” didn’t start with Watergate either (ANSWER: a newspaper).