Justice is sometimes unfair

Dennis McGrory, who 47 years ago raped and murdered a 15-year-old girl, was arrested, charged and tried a few months later. The case was strictly circumstantial, and the jury cleared McGrory on the directions of a judge.

McGrory in 1975

Yet recently swabs from the victim’s body produced a DNA match. McGrory’s original verdict has been overturned. He has been retried, convicted and is now likely to spend the rest of his life in prison. This is the oldest double jeopardy case in England, and there’s jubilation all around.

Top policemen, judges, prosecutors and of course the victim’s family say triumphantly that justice has finally been done. Quite the opposite, I’d suggest.

I think justice has been abused, which in no way implies sympathy with that evil monster. It’s only fair that he should rot in jail, and even the gallows would be called for if that were still an option. But I’d argue that fair and just are two different things.  

Now, if you were to name one defining feature of a civilised Western polity, what would it be?

I’m sure many Britons and more Americans would vote for democracy. But, according to the influential American think tank Freedom House, as recently as in 1900 the world boasted not a single democracy.

Considering that Freedom House’s list of today’s 120-plus democracies includes Columbia and Venezuela, one suspects its criteria, which 19th century Britain and USA fail to satisfy, are purely formal. Still, it’s hard to insist that civilised polity is coextensive with democracy of universal suffrage.

What then? For me the answer is indisputable: the rule of just law. That alone serves as the reliable hallmark of a civilised country, which 19th century Britain and USA were, and today’s Venezuela and Columbia aren’t.

The Anglosphere, which is to say Britain, her former colonies and territories, bases its jurisprudence on the English Common Law. That, as any schoolchild knows, is based on a careful accumulation of precedents over centuries.

The precedents form the flesh of the English Common Law, but no body can live by flesh alone. It requires a skeletal structure holding the flesh together. And that is provided by several ancient principles that until recently were held to be sacrosanct and immutable.

One of them was the defendant’s right to keep silent and refuse to give self-incriminating evidence. Exercising that right wasn’t to be taken as an ipso facto admission of guilt.

Notice that I’m using the past tense here. For Margaret Thatcher’s government stipulated an exception to that principle in cases of terrorist offences.

I argued at the time and still maintain today that this did more harm to society than any terrorist bomb ever could. The skeleton of our justice lost a load-bearing bone, leaving much flesh saggy and unattached.

I’m not suggesting that legal casuistry should act as a suicide pact. On the contrary, when the lives of His Majesty’s subjects are at stake, I wouldn’t be horrified by any extra-judicial protective measures the government might be compelled to take. But subverting due process at trial should be off limits.

If Thatcher’s government broke one bone, Blair’s vandalism took a sledgehammer to the very spine of Britain’s ancient constitution. And one of the most vicious blows struck at the double jeopardy principle going back 800 years.

The Criminal Justice Act of 2003 stated that a defendant convicted of a serious crime could be tried again for the same crime if corroborative evidence of his guilt came to light. This is what put McGrory behind bars to the accompaniment of hosannas from all the expected quarters.

A typical sample came from Acting Detective Superintendent Rebecca Reeves, who said: “This was an extremely brutal attack on a young girl and my thoughts are with her family, with her siblings and the other members of her family who are still alive today. I hope that finally, the outcome at court has brought them some element of comfort.”

A beautiful sentiment, that, but not one I’d like to hear from a top law-enforcement officer. This, however, is a recurrent motif in all such cases: finally, the victim’s family can get justice and ‘closure’.

Much as I sympathise with everybody who has lost a relation to a brutal crime, this isn’t about a family getting closure. That sort of thing is the domain of vendetta, the rough justice of seeking vengeance on a murderer.

Admittedly, should something like that happen to someone close to my heart, taking the law in my own hands would be the first thought to cross my mind. This is a normal human impulse, and one I’m not entirely sure I’d be able to resist.

But that’s not what we are talking about. For, in a country ruled by just law, it’s not just the victim’s family that’s wronged by a murder, but society at large. That’s why indictments are passed down by the Crown in Britain and the People in the US — not by a Mr and Mrs John Doe.

Much as our hearts go to the victim’s family, it’s above all the whole country that has suffered egregious damage. Murder sends destructive seismic waves throughout society, and their amplitude can only be attenuated by justice done.

“Above all” are the operative words in the paragraph above. In criminal cases the collective interests of society take precedence over any individual grievances, no matter how agonising.

And these collective interests are better served by keeping the skeleton of justice intact even at the cost of letting the odd monster off the hook. For, if history teaches anything at all (which it probably doesn’t), it’s that any crack in the edifice of justice will continue to widen ad infinitum.

Give constitutional vandals an inch, and they’ll eventually take a mile. Before we know it, the sage laws organically developed over centuries will no longer be there to protect us.

In fact, it’s hard not to notice that most new laws passed over recent decades protect not so much the individual against the state as the state against the individual. And our state increasingly allies itself with the ethos of lachrymose, touchy-feely sentimentality, that simulacrum of sentiment and replacement for thought.

I just wish those modern vandals left the English Common Law alone. Take that away, and the line separating Britain from, well, Venezuela and Columbia will become so blurred as to be unnoticeable. And the climate is much better there. 

Right full back on the left wing

Gary Neville, former full back turned TV commentator, used the opportunity kindly provided by ITV to address 4.5 million viewers before the World Cup final.

Those football lovers got more than they bargained for. Rather than just being regaled with penetrative insights into overlapping wingbacks and some such, they found themselves on the receiving end of a deranged rant.

Neville is so indignant about the plight of our striking nurses that he compared them to migrant workers brought to Qatar to build the facilities for the World Cup. Those imports from the low-rent parts of Africa and Asia indeed had to labour in appalling conditions, reminiscent of slavery.

Some 6,500 of them died, whereas the others were squeezed dry and sent on their way, as poor as they had been to start with. While one can legitimately believe that our nurses are also overworked and underpaid, equating them with Qatari slaves is typical leftist hysteria.

One can also detect an attempt at overcompensating for Neville’s side activity: controversially accepting a six-figure fee to do commentary on a Qatari-owned network. That drew a great deal of criticism, with some pundits accusing him of hypocrisy.

That’s like accusing a politician of not keeping campaign promises or a prostitute of not being a virgin. Politicians lie, prostitutes have sex for money, Bollinger Bolsheviks mouth leftist platitudes just as they rake in millions from whatever source is willing to oblige.  

Now Neville, nicknamed Red Nev, is known as one of the leftmost left-wingers among footballers, which is saying a lot. For most ball-kicking pros tend to hug the left end of the political spectrum.

That stands to reason. Given the dominant bias of both schoolteachers and TV broadcasters, young people are inundated with a deluge of woke, socialist propaganda. This forms a pervasive ethos, signposted by mindless bien pensant clichés.

Some people are capable of bucking the mandated trend, but what kind of people? It’s impossible to keep mass propaganda at bay without a highly developed capacity for independent thought. That faculty is partly innate but mostly acquired.

Acquiring it takes a sustained effort going by the name of education. And I don’t mean a school graduation certificate or even a university degree. These may or may not help but, when you get right down to it, there’s no education but self-education.

Only a dedicated effort can hone one’s ability to analyse information, filter it though one’s critical mesh, separate true from false, draw conclusions and form ideas impervious to vox populi. That takes much thinking, reading, debating, submitting one’s thoughts to destructive testing, both internal and external.

It would be fair to say that most people don’t take the trouble. They pick up their ideas pre-packaged and untouched by free thought. Some may be lucky to receive those packages from thoughtful parents, unusually good teachers or perhaps – though increasingly seldom – their parish priests.

Such luck evades most people these days, and your typical professional footballers hardly fit the profile of an independent thinker I’ve drawn. Hence they are likely to go with the flow, whose current is moving in one direction only.

Then there’s the money, as there so often is. These lads mostly come from impoverished council estates, often from broken homes. Then, when they are barely out of their teens, if that, they start making millions, sometimes in one month.

Their childhood playmates are still stuck in poverty, often etched with drunkenness, drug addiction and the odd arrest. But ball kickers aren’t trained to believe in individual responsibility for one’s life in any field other than that on which balls are kicked. They know it has taken them years of training to get where they are, but they can’t relate their own success story to their family and childhood friends.

“It’s all society’s fault” is a thought blown into their minds by the zeitgeist. And when it first appears, they become putty in the hands of propagandists. Witness, for example, that not a single England player refused to take part in the obscene pre-whistle genuflection honouring a black criminal accidentally killed while resisting arrest.

Admittedly, not every player becomes a fire-eating agitator like Red Nev, who is a card-carrying member of the Labour Party and a vociferous shill for every plank of its electoral campaign. He is also a natural, passionate hater.

In his days of playing right full back for Manchester United, Red Nev openly admitted to hating Liverpool (his exact words). Now that he often has to share commentating duties with former Liverpool players, he has found a new object for his hatred: the Tory Party, which he calls “cold-hearted”.

Neville’s rant yesterday amounted to a party political broadcast, which I assume wasn’t the mission specified in his ITV contract. Essentially he tricked his way to a vast audience by promising to talk football and instead spewing leftist political spittle.

His party is trying to force the Tories into a snap election, which Labour would win by a wide margin. Communist-run unions are unleashing misery on the whole country to that very end.

They don’t want to wait another two years. God forbid the Tory government will use the time to make things better for everyone. They know and I know and everyone knows that’s unlikely to happen, but forcing a general election now will guarantee victory, rather than almost guaranteeing it.

I wonder if Red Nev would countenance some obvious ways of freeing up NHS cash to pay the nurses more. Such as sacking, effective immediately, 90 per cent of the non-medical personnel and 100 per cent of all those directors of diversity and ‘lived experience’.

Yes? No? Thought so. He and his ilk don’t care about nurses, railway workers or postmen. All they care about is indulging their hatred and half-baked misanthropic ideology. The cant of “share, care, be aware” is a means to that end – as are the parasitic administrators syphoning funds away from doctors, nurses and ultimately patients.

Oh well, it’s a free country – especially for people like Red Nev. If he wishes to campaign for Labour, by all means he should do so. But our TV channels will be in default of their charters if they don’t withdraw their screens from that effort. At least during sports broadcasts.

P.S. Speaking of footie, French papers are pouring scorn on Manny Macron and his unsuccessful attempt to engage in foreplay with the France star Kylian Mbappé.

Manny, who evidently has nothing better to do, graced the World Cup final with his shirt-sleeved presence, only to see France lose. Having gone into jubilant paroxysms each time France scored, he then decided to explore the PR potential of trying to console the distressed players.

Yet Mbappé brought back the bitter memories of my youth, when so many girls wiggled out of my hopeful attempts to embrace them. He did exactly the same to Manny, who then did what I used to do: trying to find, without much more success, more willing marks. Bien joué, Kylian!  

Bet you haven’t heard this

The Lancet, Britain’s leading medical journal, recently published a paper analysing the country’s deaths caused by sub-optimal temperatures between 2000 and 2020.

Real killer

It turns out that extreme cold was responsible for 80 times as many deaths as extreme heat.

Several other papers analysed similar data worldwide. There the difference was smaller but still impressive: cold killed 17 times more people than heat did.

When a friend of mine, who is a regular reader of, and occasional contributor to, The Lancet, told me about this, I was amazed – not so much by the facts themselves as by the complete lack of publicity they’ve received even in the medical press, never mind general interest publications.

Some Lancet readers commenting on the paper doubted the trial methodology involved, which is fair enough: medical researchers have been known to play fast and loose with data subsets. One can still wonder whether the same readers would be as ready to scrutinise the methodology had the results been opposite.

Others mentioned that the findings shouldn’t lead to any far-reaching conclusions. They were in no doubt that, as ‘our planet’ continued to overheat, the situation would reverse.

In other words, what may hypothetically happen in 100 years is more real to them than what is actually and demonstrably happening now.

As to the popular press, its loquacity on the research matched the dinnertime din at a Trappist refectory. Not a word was breathed, which is why the bet offered in the title above is safe.

I shan’t try to offer any conjecture on the likely frontpage headlines should the paper have shown it’s extreme heat that kills 80 times as many Britons. I’ll leave that to your imagination – mine isn’t fecund enough.

What interests me is the subtle ways in which propaganda can work. The tools it employs can vary from ear-splitting noise to pin-drop silence, and sometimes it’s the latter that can have the greater effect.

Ever since the anti-capitalist animus was first channelled into the conduit of the global warming fraud, activists have routinely blown certain data out of proportion while hushing up some others. For example, they’d select a short recent period that showed a steady rise in temperatures, while eschewing the proper method of analysing climate historically.

Thus the general public remains blissfully unaware of long periods in the past when global temperatures were considerably higher than now. The Roman and Medieval Warming Periods are prime examples, and not many people drove diesel-powered SUVs in those days.

The techniques involved are familiar to every adman, a group I happen to know rather well, having been one myself for 30 years. The advertising profession has a code of practice that makes it impossible to lie, which is to cite false information in support of promotional claims.

Yet the same code says nothing about deceiving: failing to disclose information that contradicts the claims made. On the contrary, admen who do so successfully are widely praised for their professional acumen (look up such terms as USP and Preemptive Benefit, both prime examples of such laudable trickery).

Then again, one expects nothing less from chaps trying to flog their wares. Hoping that a salesman will highlight the downside of his product would be presuming too much on human goodness. But in the not so distant past we did expect our mainstream media to present a balanced view of any serious subject.

That expectation has gone the way of all flesh. Nowadays our papers practise all the same tricks that are so profitably used in advertising. But if admen act according to their remit, journalists betray theirs.

Propaganda has replaced much of the reporting and most of the commentary. And people lap it up like thirsty puppies. The more energetic among them read about the imminent death of ‘our planet’ being slowly fried by greedy capitalists and join the ranks of Just Stop Oil and other such saboteurs.

The same friend who told me about the research paper also mentioned that a former editor of The Lancet was among the 30 people arrested for blocking Lambeth Bridge last October.

I wonder what the editors of The Guardian and The Mirror were doing. Slashing car tyres?

Diversity Director will see you now

You are in pain. It’s something internal. Could be your gall bladder. Or liver. Or kidney. Or appendicitis. You don’t know what, you’re not a doctor.

That’s why you must urgently see one, but that’s easier said than done. At least seven million Britons are on the NHS waiting list, and some of them are hurting as badly as you are. Or worse.

They (and you) will have to bear it with characteristic British stoicism. For the NHS is desperately short of frontline medical professionals – and that was the case even before nurses and ambulance paramedics went on strike.

But not to worry – help is on its way, even though almost half (47 per cent, to be exact) of the NHS staff aren’t medics. Yet they have other vital functions to perform, which is reflected in their job descriptions: director of diversity, facilitator of optimisation, optimiser of facilitation – and “director of lived experience”.

It’s this last job that’s currently advertised on the NHS website, with an annual salary of up to £115,000 on offer. That’s enough to pay four newly qualified nurses, but let’s face it: directors of lived experience are much more valuable.

In case you wonder what constitutes “lived experience”, the NHS is happy to clarify. It’s having experienced racism or discrimination, and thereby learned to recognise “white privilege” when you see it.

The ad identifies the job’s priorities as seeking out “seldom heard” minority groups “who may experience health inequalities.” And health inequality is a serious problem, much more so than the pain driving you up the wall.

That’s why the successful candidate must be “interpersonally talented” and a “strategic bridge-builder”. He may not know his appendicitis from his haemorrhoids, but he knows how to create “brave spaces”, presumably helping you to brave your agony with a nonchalant smile.

“The director will broker psychologically safe environments that allow people to co-produce and become equal partners in their care,” says the ad.

You can almost feel your pain go away, can’t you? You may not be able to see a doctor, but you can become an equal partner in your care. Even if you get no care at all.

Please don’t throw your hands up in horror and lament that the NHS is diverting funds and resources from its core business. It isn’t. All those directors of lived experience and diversity (the NHS advertised £700,000 worth of such jobs in October alone) are in charge of the NHS core business: serving its paymaster, the state.

Such is the ineluctable law of all giant socialist concerns: whatever their ostensible remit, they pursue what ultimately is a political – and socialist – objective. And while their remits vary, the objective never does: ensuring the growth and power of the state.

It so happens that inculcating wokery happens to advance the current interests of the state, as it defines them. This makes it the core business of the NHS, to which doctors and nurses are extraneous.

So what if they have to toil round the clock trying to make up for the chronic shortages of clinical professionals? So what if millions of patients continue to writhe in pain, checking their progress through those endless waiting lists?

Their physical agony may be ignored, but at least directors of diversity will make sure it’s ignored equally and without prejudice.

One can only remember wistfully those unsophisticated times in the past, when a hospital was run by the head doctor and the head matron. And the only non-medical employee was the accountant keeping the books.

Nor is it just the NHS. It’s another ineluctable law that the dominant institution, in this case the state acting as the conduit of the zeitgeist, corrupts all other institutions, shaping them in its image. Including institutions not under its immediate aegis.

It used to be that bridge-building companies were run by people who knew how to build bridges, car-making companies by people who made cars and, well, hospitals by doctors and nurses. No longer – and so much for the line that separates the public and private sectors.

Sooner or later, parasites had to move in and take over, just as they have done in the NHS. At first, production people were ousted by those in sales and marketing. That wasn’t so bad, because such chaps usually had some production experience. They knew exactly what they were selling and marketing.

Then they too had to give way to another breed: accountants and financial managers. Those professionals came from a totally different background, and they knew nothing about their company’s output. They knew how to count beans, and they didn’t care whether the beans were fava, lima or haricot.

Yet even that group didn’t hold sway for long. Taking over instead were professional managers with MBA certificates on their wall – and in their minds.

This sounds downright sinister to anyone who had the misfortune of observing the Soviet nomenklatura in action. That was the managerial, bureaucratic class offering membership for life. Its members could be shifted up, down or sideways, but they never lost their privileges.

A nomenklatura chap could run a factory today, a department store tomorrow, a symphony orchestra the day after – it didn’t matter. As long as he knew how to run things for the benefit of the state, he stayed in.

In a spooky parallel, the MBA class is similar. Its members spend years learning recondite mumbo-jumbo that’s supposed to equip them for whatever task life throws their way. They too can manage anything – often into the ground.

The core of MBAs comes surrounded with other parasites, not dissimilar to all those directors of diversity in the NHS. The bigger the company, the larger, proportionally, is its parasitic class – and the greater the damage it does to the core business, if only by diverting its resources into unproductive areas.

One can only marvel at James Burnham’s prophetic powers. In his 1941 book The Managerial Revolution, he foresaw the arrival of a new class that managed and controlled the capital it didn’t own and in which it therefore had no vested interest.

One good thing about modernity is that it reliably makes dystopic prophesies come true. That’s a constant source of headache for me, and it’s getting worse. Perhaps I should call for an appointment with a director of diversity.  

Mummy would be proud

From what little I’ve read of Dan Wootton’s work, he is an upstanding young man with his heart in the right, which is to say conservative, place.

Hence there is no doubt which side he supports in the war of the princes. Time after time, Wootton tears Harry and Meghan to shreds, saying all the right, which is to say conservative, things.

Yet I’d still like to take exception to the last sentence in his latest article: “No matter how much he [Harry] deludes himself that he’s Princess Diana’s representative on earth, his mother would be ashamed of how Harry has thrown his own brother under the bus for commercial gain and revenge.”

Wootton is spot on (couldn’t resist the half-rhyme) on Harry, but I think he gives Diana much too much credit. Assuming he isn’t simply proceeding from the old principle of nil nisi bonum, he misreads the late princess badly.

Harry is precisely that, Diana’s representative on earth, and he has picked up the baton in the relay race to the greatest damage to be inflicted on our monarchy. I’m sure Mummy is smiling with pride from wherever she is.

The moment Diana realised that Buck House wasn’t the best setting for a young woman with romantic ideas about ‘lurv’ and solipsistic ideas about her own personal, as opposed to institutional, worth, she declared war on the royals.

Diana was acting in character, for she was modernity’s envoy to an inherently traditional institution. The House of Windsor exists to serve its realm by linking the past with the present and the present with the future. It’s the axis on which Britain’s constitution revolves – and little else.

That doesn’t mean the royals aren’t entitled to normal feelings. But they are supposed to subjugate them to their mission, which is serving the nation. And by and large this is what they’ve always done.

The job isn’t easy, which is why it requires some innate understanding and extensive training. That’s partly why royals have always tended to choose their consorts from a class similar to their own.

The first modern example of a British prince marrying a commoner provided a useful illustration to, and an awful exception from, that principle. In 1937 Edward VIII defied his government and, in a spooky harbinger of today’s scandal, married Wallis Simpson, a twice divorced American of, putting it kindly, a rather adventurous amorous past.

Not only that, but Wallis had dubious political affiliations as well and, by recent accounts, encouraged the king’s own pro-Nazi leanings. However, British governments of the time were made of sterner stuff than today’s lot.

Baldwin’s cabinet told the king in no uncertain terms to choose between the throne and Wallis. The king chose “the woman I love” and became the Duke of Windsor. The loving couple were then exiled from the country and never came back again, except for the odd flying visit.

Things went smoothly then, until Princes Charles and Andrew married, respectively, Diana and Fergie. The latter came from a gentry family, but that didn’t matter very much for Andrew was too far down the pecking order of succession.

Diana’s family, on the other hand, while not royalty, was high aristocracy. They were a decent match dynastically, but Diana was a terrible mismatch personally. When her “I want to be me” entreaty predictably went unheeded, she started taking lovers from all walks of life, but mainly choosing her swains for their offensiveness to the royals.

Since Charles was heir to the throne, those actions constituted high treason. Anne Boleyn was beheaded for less, and some dyed-in-the-wool reactionaries (well, I) advocated at the time that Diana should suffer the same fate.

One scandal followed another, though the royals desperately tried to keep a lid on Diana’s shenanigans. That’s why she decided to bare all (alas, only figuratively) in that notorious BBC interview.

Diana was flapping her eyelashes in an histrionic attempt to curry sympathy. Of all her affairs she admitted only the one with Captain Hewitt (“I loved him, I was besotted with him…”), a man described by those who knew him as a “walking penis”, to use the more decorous noun.

That way she forced through her divorce and went to town with no holds barred, and I use the word ‘holds’ advisedly. Her last affair, with the son of an avowed enemy of the royal family, ended badly – as did her life.

Had Diana lived longer, I’m sure we would have been regaled with a few more TV projects and possibly a few books of memoirs. Her ghost writers would have milked her ‘tragedy’ for all it was worth.

There she was, a thoroughly modern young woman whose husband didn’t love her, and whose ebullient personality was frozen out by that cold-blooded family bent on service and protocol. Who wouldn’t have sympathised with her plight?

Very few, judging by how the public responded to Diana’s war on the royal family – and especially to her death. For all her high birth, she came across as one of them, endowed with all the same instincts.

By then, the people had been brainwashed with egalitarian bilge. They wanted the royals to be just like them fundamentally if not in every detail. The royals could be more glamorous, richer, better-dressed – all that was forgiven as long as the mob detected essential kinship underneath.

When the Queen expressed her condolences in her characteristically restrained and dignified manner, the mob bayed “Show us you care!!!”, and Her Majesty was forced to do her best.

At the same time that revolting Tony Blair described Diana as “the people’s princess”, which was meaningless on any reasonable level but resonant subliminally. That’s what the mob wanted to hear, and it put on the requisite mask of inconsolable grief (with variable success).

Harry was severely traumatised by his mother’s death, as any normal son would be. We all have our share of tragedies, and a child losing his mother ranks right up there.

Yet we all learn to cope sooner or later, and I’d suggest that the 30 years elapsing since his Mummy’s death ought to have been enough time for a 38-year-old boy to come to terms with the tragedy.

Instead Harry obviously inherited his mother’s grudge against his family, and today’s answer to Wallis Simpson has shown him how to turn rancour into pecuniary gain. And today’s mob, weaned on psychobabble, is lapping up the vengeful, mendacious rubbish vomited up by the Sussexes.

However, some signs of a backlash are appearing. Mrs Simpson Mark II is nowhere near as popular as Diana was, and, for all her thespian training, she doesn’t hide her manipulativeness as well as her late mother-in-law did.

More and more people are demanding that the couple be stripped of all their titles, and I happily add my vote to that campaign. But that’s not enough.

I think every room in Harry’s house should be equipped with a wall-size plasma screen, continuously showing a looped video of Meghan’s sex scenes in Suits. Should more candid films be found (as they usually are with B actresses), they could be mixed in for Harry’s viewing pleasure.  

Russia (and England?) taken down a peg

Speaking at an Abu Dhabi conference modestly called “For a Reasonably Open World”, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew fired a salvo at the Russian Orthodox Church.

But did he also hit the Anglican Church by ricochet? For Bartholomew castigated the Russian Church from the standpoint of Gospel universality.

The Patriarch condemned the very idea of a church circumscribed by ethnic culture and language. While his verbal shells exploded in Moscow, the fragments reached London too, or so it seemed to me. But let’s take things in turn.

His All-Holiness Bartholomew I is the spiritual leader of Eastern Christianity that, unlike the Catholic Church, has no single institutional head.

It’s structured as a number of independent (autocephalous) patriarchates, of which the senior ones are those of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. The Constantinople patriarch, currently Bartholomew, is known as primus inter pares (first among equals), whose spiritual authority is recognised universally.

Or almost so: the Moscow Patriarchate severed its ties with Constantinople after Bartholomew granted autocephaly to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in 2018.

However, the relations between Constantinople and Moscow haven’t been especially cordial since 1453, when Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. Since then the Moscow Patriarchate has been claiming leadership of Orthodox Christianity with ever-increasing clamour and persistence.

A century later Moscow began to describe itself as ‘the Third Rome’, political heir to the Byzantine Empire and spiritual heir to Constantinople. Officially the claim was based on a dynastic link: Tsar (or rather Grand Duke) Ivan III was married to the last Byzantine princess Sophia Paleologue. But in reality Moscow’s claim to ecclesiastical supremacy was increasingly linked to its imperial ambitions.

That came to the fore in the early 18th century, when, under Peter I, Russia indeed became an empire. At that point, the state hugged the Church close to its chest, but there was a kiss of death implicit in that embrace.

Step by step, the Church, its hierarchy at any rate, became an extension of the state, practically its Department for Religion. As such, it was turned into an instrument and promulgator of state policy, with imperialist expansion at its core.

Russia used her Third Rome rhetoric to appoint herself as the leader of the Slavic world, its Orthodox part for starters. Orthodox doctrine was fused with the ideology of pan-Slavism, and the former played second fiddle to the latter.

In 1872 the Constantinople Patriarch denounced that travesty as a heresy, that of ethnophyletism, a form of ecclesial racism. Yesterday Bartholomew reiterated the message: “It is in flagrant contradiction with the universalism of the Gospel message, as well as the principle of territorial governance which defines the organisation of our church.”

The Russian Church, its clergy and parishioners, suffered unimaginable persecution during the first 25 years of Soviet rule. It was only during the Second World War that Stalin sought to reverse the initially catastrophic setbacks suffered by the Red Army by drumming up support for traditional patriotism.

To that end, the Church was taken out of its collective concentration camp and co-opted to serve the cause of Stalin’s victory. Alas, though it agreed to sup with the devil, the requisite long spoon stayed in the drawer.

From then on, the Church hierarchy fell under the aegis of the KGB, whichever moniker it went by. For example, the current Moscow Patriarch, Kirill, is a career operative, known in the KGB archives by his codename ‘Agent Mikhailov’. When he stood for the post in 2009, his two rivals were also his colleagues in the secret services.

Given that affiliation, the Russian Church naturally has issued a blanket blessing to every aggressive foray of the Putin regime, including its current genocidal raid on the Ukraine. And yesterday Bartholomew didn’t pull punches when condemning the splinter patriarchate playing lickspittle to an evil regime:

“It actively participates in the promotion of the ideology of Rousskii Mir, the Russian world, according to which language and religion make it possible to define a coherent whole encompassing Russia, Ukraine, Belarus as well as the other territories of the former Soviet Union and the diaspora.

“Moscow (both political power and religious power) would constitute the centre of this world, whose mission would be to combat the decadent values of the West. This ideology constitutes an instrument of legitimisation of Russian expansionism and the basis of its Eurasian strategy.

“The link between the past of ethnophyletism and the present of the Russian world is obvious. Faith thus becomes the backbone of the ideology of Putin’s regime.”

Just so. The shell of patriarchal wrath was aimed at Moscow, and it exploded with a bang reverberating throughout the world. But what about the ricochet?

Far be it from me to draw a direct parallel between the Russian Orthodox and Anglican Churches, and Bartholomew certainly didn’t mention any such similarity. The ROC has become an instrument of evil, while the Church of England is still, despite everything, a force for good.

Yet isn’t it too guilty of parochial ethnophyletism? The argument that Anglicanism is practised all over the world has always struck me as somewhat disingenuous.

Its spread is so wide because Britain used to be “an empire on which the sun never set”, so called in the wake of the colonial expansion following Britain’s victory in the Seven Years’ War. Anglicanism is now practised almost exclusively in the Anglophone world, the fragments of the Empire that may or may not belong to the Commonwealth.

And of course in Britain herself the C of E is the state religion, of which the monarch is the Supreme Governor, secular head. That, to me, constitutes a problem – similar to the one the Constantinople Patriarch had with the Russian Church in the 19th century, when he condemned it as heretical.

How can any denomination be a state church? In John 18:36, Jesus says: “My kingdom is not of this world.” And the synoptic gospels quote Jesus as saying: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

These were unequivocal statements of separation between the sacred and profane realms. And the sacred realm, as Paul explained to the Galatians, was universal, transcending all secular incidentals: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This was what Bartholomew had in mind yesterday, when he yet again condemned the ROC for the heresy of ethnophyletism, as expressed through an evil secular regime. Can’t we, with equal justification, apply the same thinking…

I’d better stop here, for fear of losing all my English friends. So let’s keep it strictly personal, without drawing broad theological conclusions: this is one of the reasons I left the Church of England.

As to the ROC – well-done, Your All-Holiness! Now let’s do something about your environmentalism, which clearly needs work.


The sense of a woman

Published by the Cambridge University Press, the Cambridge Dictionary is designed for learners of English.

I’m sure learners opening that dictionary can feel, with trepidation, the patina accumulated by that venerable institution rubbing off on them. After all, the University was founded in 1209, which makes it one of the world’s oldest.

Its most illustrious alumni include Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, John Milton and too many others to mention. An example of its grandeur I often cite is that Cambridge’s Trinity College alone has produced 33 Nobel winners for science – as opposed to four for the whole Islamic world.

Such a sustained history of cultural and intellectual achievement has to be reflected in the University’s contribution to lexicography as well. Since in my impetuous youth I studied such things academically, I was eager to find out how the dictionary’s new edition defined woman (another subject of more than passing interest to me).

So here is its entry: “an adult who lives and identifies as female though they may have been said to have a different sex at birth”.

One feels humbled by so much scholarship going into what would appear to be a simple definition. But then one can always rely on academics to correct one’s woeful misconceptions. In this case, mine are glaring:

Scientifically, a woman is a specimen of Homo sapiens whose DNA features XX chromosomes. Poetically, a woman can be compared to a summer’s day preceded by the darling buds of May. Empirically, a woman is a person who looks like Penelope.

Or so I thought. Actually, so I’ll continue to think, what with all such fundamental notions so deeply implanted in my mind that they aren’t subject to change. Nor do I believe I’m a target reader the compilers saw in their mind’s eye.

Though I do regard myself as a lifelong student of English, I don’t think I’m the learner they envisaged. A good job too, for such learners will be getting a lesson in so much more than just the meaning of English words.

They’ll learn that Cambridge University Press has turned its pages into a cultural and political battlefield. For its entry doesn’t define woman scientifically, poetically or empirically. Its definition is strictly political – and insidiously political too.

An example cited by way of illustration leaves one in no doubt on that score: “Mary is a woman who was assigned male at birth”.

In other words, Mary is a male freak who was born with XY chromosomes but was deranged enough to submit to castration in the delusionary hope of becoming something he could never be: a woman.

Even the grammar of the entry pulls in the same direction. Following the singular antecedent “an adult” with the plural pronoun “their” is also a political statement issued by the most radical wing of cultural saboteurs.

The spokesman for the Cambridge Dictionary explained the situation: “Our dictionaries are written for learners of English and are designed to help users understand English as it is used. We regularly update our dictionary to reflect changes in how English is used.”

That’s bollocks (n. vulgar slang, British: nonsense, rubbish). The only people who use English that way are crazed ideologues getting high on their wokery and febrile commitment to destroying our culture.

Lest you may think it’s just British universities leading the onslaught on sanity, the American dictionary, Merriam-Webster, isn’t far behind. However, one must admit mournfully that the parent organisation of its publisher is British, Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Merriam-Webster defines a woman as “having a gender identity that is the opposite of male”. This at least has scholarly connotations to it. In rhetoric, defining something by what it isn’t is called ‘antiphrasis’. A theology that defines God by something that definitely can’t be said about Him is called ‘apophatic’.

So there I was, getting the warm feelings I usually have for kindred spirits inhabiting the same rhetorical universe. However, it dissipated almost instantly.

A woman isn’t a “gender identity”. She is a female human being, born as such and remaining that way for life – whatever psychiatric disorder she may suffer from as she goes through life. She may, for example, think she is a nightingale, but that won’t make her sing beautifully.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes itself as ‘synchronic’. Using its own taxonomic method, that means something that’s not diachronic. In plain language, Merriam-Webster purports to record English as it’s used currently, not the way it has been used historically – or indeed correctly.

The dictionary withdraws or, to be more precise, repudiates judgement. There are no correct or incorrect usages – just current or obsolete ones. Fine, if that’s what the compilers want to preach, it’s their privilege.

As it is my privilege to describe such anodyne permissiveness as cultural vandalism. All that ‘gender identity’ business doesn’t belong in a mainstream dictionary.

Its natural domain is Trans Unite rants and similar effluvia. Should some lexicographers wish to record perverse usages in dictionary form, then by all means they should do so – in an addendum to the dictionary designed to help people learn English. Putting it into the main body of the dictionary doesn’t help anyone, while hurting many.

By the same token, a dictionary of slang may include a reference to the song You Ain’t Nuthin’ But a Hound Dog. But it would be misplaced in a textbook on English grammar.

P.S. Speaking of cultural vandalism, even peers of the realm aren’t above indulging in it. Thus Daniel Finkelstein delivered himself of a view on Kayne West in The Times: “I find the rapper’s antisemitic assertions repugnant, but unlike his tweets his pioneering art should not be censored.”

I’ve vaguely heard Mr West’s name, mainly in the context of his ex-wife’s gluteus maximus and indeed of his “antisemitic assertions”. But his “pioneering art” has passed me by. Still, since Lord Finkelstein is a cultural force to be reckoned with, I felt duty-bound to fill that gap.

So here, for example, is a verse from Mr West’s pioneering song Get Em High (Merriam-Webster would approve of this usage):

“N-now, th-th-throw your motherfuckin’ hands/ (Get ‘em high)/ All the girls pass the weed to yo’ motherfuckin’ man/ (Get ‘em high)/ Now I ain’t never tell you to put down your hands/ (Keep ‘em high)/ And if you’re losin’ your high then smoke again/ (Keep ‘em high).”

Verily I say unto you, His Lordship must be following the cultural pioneer’s recommendation. As, come to think of it, are the compilers of our dictionaries.

One strike and you are out

This is my, admittedly radical, solution to the labour mutiny [sic] that has combined with the heavy snowfall to bring Britain to a standstill.

Note the colour of the flags

Trade unions in general are an anachronism, a throwback to the days of the Industrial Revolution. Actually, when they were first legalised, some 200 years ago, they did have a useful role to play.

Most of the economy was either industrial already or heading that way. And industry in those days relied heavily on unskilled – and therefore interchangeable – labour.

Under those conditions, the balance of power was slanted too heavily towards owners and management, creating a perfect environment for exploitation. Hence it was logical for workers to pool their interests and present a united front in any kind of dispute.

Collective bargaining sprang from a realistic assessment of the social and economic dynamics. What with little difference in individual skills and qualifications, workers should all have received the same pay and benefits.

They were all on the same career path and were therefore entitled to act as a monolith group. And indeed, the unions were useful in improving not only the workers’ pay but also their working conditions, things like reasonable hours, paid holidays, workplace safety, sick days, pensions and so on.

The unions were lifeboats of socialism in a raging sea of industrial expansion, and they provided refuge for the workers, keeping them afloat. But things have changed since then.

Skipping many intermediate phases, today’s economy doesn’t resemble even remotely the days of the Industrial Revolution. Industrialisation that came to Britain in the late 18th century has since left.

Most of the labour in every walk of life is highly skilled, and skills of any kind are never spread evenly across a wide swathe of humanity. It stands to reason that those with greater skills should be paid more, which presupposes individual contracts.

And individual contracts would obviate the need for labour unions. However, that’s where a paradox came into play. Just as the legitimate need for the unions diminished, their importance grew.

As with any other socialist Leviathan, their leadership acquired inordinate power. Union bosses pretended to look after workers’ interests, while pursuing in fact their own ideological agenda that gradually became out-and-out Marxist.

The Marxists’ professed mission, that of standing up for workers’ interests, is only a mendacious slogan, or else camouflage designed to mask the destructive animus lurking underneath. Marxists really care only about Marxism, which is concentrating power in their hands and then using it to enslave society.

Today’s unions use strikes the way terrorists use hostages: to blackmail society into surrender. And, following Lenin’s strategy of combining strong-arm tactics with legitimate political action, the unions have turned the Labour Party into their own bailiwick.

This year, for example, 58 per cent of the party’s financing has come from the unions, which effectively turns every Labour MP into a poodle to the Trade Union Congress, including its more toxic constituents.

This enables the unions to hold the country to ransom, which is exactly what they are doing now. Some 1.1 million working days have been lost to strikes this year, the greatest number for a generation.

Like all blackmailers, the unions look for the moments when their marks are at their most vulnerable. As the country is now, what with Covid, a general slowdown, a dire energy situation and soaring inflation rates. The unions saw their opening and they’ve effectively written a note to society: “If you ever want to see your economy again…” and so on, ending with, “and no cops, or the economy gets it.”

The most disgusting part of this terrorist offensive is the strike of the public services: ambulances, fire brigades, postal services, transport and so forth. Banning such strikes would be the first thing I’d do, reminding the employees that the word ‘services’ actually means something.

Public services are there to serve the public, and those employed there have no moral right to withdraw their labour, putting the public at risk. Each ambulance driver, paramedic or postman should be on an individual, annually renegotiable, contract stipulating his pay, benefits and the corporate charter by which he must abide.

Any Briton paid by the Exchequer (and I do mean paid, not supported) exchanges prospects of great enrichment for security: his is a job for life, barring some unspeakable misdeeds on his part. His pension is also guaranteed, which is more than can be said for pensions in the private sector.

The health of society demands that all labour engaged in public services be deunionised. That will remove at a stroke most power from the TUC and its more pernicious members, such as Unite.

That ought to be the first step, but not the last one. Strikes in general ought to be outlawed, as a recognition of what the economy is, rather than what the Marxists think it ought to be. The range of skills necessary for competing in today’s economy is wider than ever, which puts a stress on individual excellence, not collective security.

Take teachers, for example, who are unionised in Britain. But unionised means homogenised – it’s as if we can assume that all teachers are equally good. But they aren’t, are they?

Anyone who has ever received any formal education at any level, will recall some of his teachers with warm gratitude, some others with revulsion, and still others he wouldn’t recall at all.

For example, at my university I had several professors of English grammar, but only one (Tatiana Vasilyevna Frolova, if you must know the name, a kindly old woman with her hair in a bun) made me not just learn but understand the structure of the English language. That has stood me in good stead ever since.

Yet in that communist country Prof. Frolova was paid exactly the same as her inept colleagues with the same seniority. One would expect Britain to eschew communist practices, in the economy and everywhere else.

Any employees going on strike should be summarily sacked, as they would be in a City firm, an IT company or an ad agency. One strike and you are out – this principle should be universally applied.

That would defang the Marxist cabal going by the name of the TUC – which is why it’ll never be done. The people have been brainwashed into sacralising unionism, the way they sacralise all things socialist, such as the NHS.

One can only wish that Margaret Thatcher rise from the dead to visit her wrath on those Marxist saboteurs. Alas, that’s as unlikely as our present ‘leaders’ being able to act in the same just and decisive fashion. She was the last statesman at 10 Downing Street – and I do mean last, not just the latest.

Let’s hear it for corruption

A hasty disclaimer is in order: corrupt politicians are tawdry, and I in no way condone things like bribery, pilfering or cheating on expense accounts.

An honest and sincere politician

However, we ought to acknowledge that boys will be boys (or, these days, possibly girls). For the sake of argument, if you were offered a million pounds to advocate publicly something you know is wrong, would you do it? No, of course not. But you can probably understand those who would.

Another personal question, if I may. Would you prefer an honest but dim politician driven by ideological fervour or an outstanding statesman who takes the odd backhander? To name one juxtaposition, Robespierre was nicknamed ‘Incorruptible’, whereas Talleyrand was notoriously venal. Yet I know which one I’d rather have running France today.

Here we are getting to the crux of the matter. Deplorable though fiscal corruption is, it’s extraneous to a politician’s day job (always provided he isn’t so crooked that corruption actually is his day job).

Moreover, our standards of fiscal corruption in politics are highly transient. The sort of things that make us gasp with horror these days used to be considered par for the course in the past – and, critically, vice versa.

Take two seminal figures of British political history, Edmund Burke and Benjamin Disraeli. Burke (d. 1797) is justifiably regarded as a founding philosopher of modern political conservatism. Disraeli (d. 1881) is equally justifiably regarded as a founder of the modern Tory Party.

Yet they were corrupt by our exacting standards of today.

Both Burke and Disraeli coincidentally owned large estates in Buckinghamshire. Burke’s 600-acre property was in Beaconsfield, Disraeli’s 1,500 acres in High Wycombe, some eight miles down the road. Confusingly, it was Disraeli and not Burke whose title was the Earl of Beaconsfield, but that’s a different matter.

Since Burke was a man of modest means, he had to take out a huge mortgage he could ill-afford and never managed to repay in full. All his life, most of which was spent in Parliament as a leader of the Whigs’ conservative faction, he had to scramble to make ends meet.

Remember that MPs were unpaid at the time, and so they remained until 1911. So Burke had to scratch out a living wherever he could find it.

As a major source of his income he was routinely paid – bribed, in today’s parlance – to pose specific questions in Parliament. There were also suspicions of his involvement in the dubious business schemes run by his close relations, including his brother.

None of this prevented Burke from becoming one of the greatest parliamentarians of his time and one of the greatest political thinkers of all time. And anyway, compared to Disraeli, Burke was pristine.

When Disraeli became known as the most talented man in the Tory Party, the powers that be wanted to make him its leader. Yet, as one of the grandees pointed out, theirs was a party of gentlemen, which Disraeli wasn’t.

“So let’s make him one,” suggested another benefactor. And Disraeli was given his estate, worth tens of millions today, with the title – but no strings – attached.

Now imagine that sort of thing happening today: a party leader being bought lock, stock and barrel by pressure groups and contributors. Why, if that became public knowledge, the papers wouldn’t run out of front-page headlines for weeks.

Before long the shamed politician would be hounded out of public life and made to give the estate back. Even if he had the philosophical genius of Burke combined with the political genius of Disraeli, he’d be reduced to making a killing on the speaking circuit and introducing assorted sheiks to his former colleagues.

By contrast, the three most evil politicians in European history, Lenin, Stalin and Hitler, were never touched by any fiscal scandal, not a personal one at any rate.

Before the revolution Lenin encouraged what he called ‘expropriations’, ‘exes’ for short, and what you’d call bank robberies. And Stalin, ever the hands-on man, masterminded and led such raids personally.

But they didn’t use the money to buy gaudy palaces or yachts the size of a football pitch. The ‘exes’ and other criminal activities were used to finance the Bolsheviks’ way to power, something they needed to put their ideology into practice.

Having won their victory, the two honest men combined to murder some 60 million people and enslave hundreds of millions around the world. Yet even in office neither Lenin nor Stalin was besmirched by any whiff of personal fiscal impropriety.

Their typological German equivalent, Hitler, wasn’t motivated by money either. But don’t you wish he had been?

For example, Zionist organisations saved thousands of Hungarian Jews by trading 10,000 trucks for their lives. What if that practice had been more widespread, reaching all the way up to Hitler himself?

A villa on the Mediterranean for 1,000 lives, a yacht for another 1,000, a million or two in cold cash for a few thousand more and so on. And, the crowning achievement, twenty big ones for repealing the Nuremberg Laws and tearing up the Wannsee Protocol.

Another, more up-to-date, typological equivalent runs today’s Russia, in ways that seem to undermine the theory of beneficial corruption. After all, both beastly Putin and his ruling gang are as corrupt as they come.

Putin is reliably rumoured to be the world’s richest man, and his whole coterie would dominate the Forbes 100 list if all their assets and income streams were publicly known. And yet under their tutelage Russia remains an evil, aggressive country pouncing on her neighbours and threatening the whole world.

What comes to mind here is my favourite anecdote of the writer Nancy Mitford asking her friend Evelyn Waugh why he was so nasty in spite of being a pious Catholic. “But, my dear,” replied Waugh, “you don’t know how nasty I’d be if I weren’t a Catholic.”

I maintain that it’s the corruption of the Russian regime that’s holding it back (if murdering thousands can be so described). If the criminals in the Kremlin were driven by febrile ideology alone, nuclear mushrooms would already be growing in Europe and elsewhere.

As it is, their fear of losing everything they stole in the sweat of their brow puts dampeners on their bloodlust, applying some method to their madness. And it’s their corruption that shines a ray of hope through the darkness descending on Europe. One way or another, with Putin out of the way sooner or later, this lot can be bought – not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but eventually.

I don’t know if I’ve made an airtight argument to justify the title above – but I’ve made some. The public damage done by personal venality, if any, is so infinitesimal compared to the damage done by ideology or stupidity that it can be dismissed as an irrelevance.

Our problem isn’t that some of our politicians are corrupt fiscally but that almost all of them are corrupt fundamentally, as individuals trusted to work tirelessly for the common good – and, critically, to know what it is and how it can be served.

Fiscal honesty is a virtue, but it only matters in public life if allied to other virtues, those germane to a politician’s remit. In the absence of such, I’d prefer for him to be feathering his own nest – rather than devoting his undivided attention to governance.

He’d do less harm that way.  

Unfair exchange is robbery

If you accept this logical transposition of a well-known proverb, then the US has been robbed blind. Its government has also gone back – yet again – on its commitment never to negotiate with terrorists.

My namesake

These melancholy observations follow from the prisoner exchange between the US and Russia. America got back her heavily tattooed basketball star Brittney Griner. Russia reclaimed the international arms smuggler Victor Bout, affectionately nicknamed the “Merchant of Death”.

I have to admit to a personal interest in Mr Bout and his illustrious career, for he is my namesake, one of the few in Russia. Though spelled differently, his is the same name. (When issuing passports for foreign travel, the Russian Interior Ministry insists on spelling all names the French way, whereas mine is spelled phonetically in English.)

The name is so rare that I once used it to get an otherwise unavailable booking at a Petersburg restaurant. “My name is Boot,” I intoned on the phone in an uncharacteristically weighty manner. A table materialised miraculously: they assumed I was either Victor himself or his close relation.

Bout’s name is such an instant door-opener in Russia because he is a local hero. A high-ranking officer in the GRU, the Soviet military intelligence, he began to be used by the post-Soviet government as its shadowy deniable operator.

Bout ‘bought’ several transport planes and started his own arms smuggling company. I put ‘bought’ in quotes because a Soviet officer’s salary didn’t quite stretch to a fleet of airplanes. Bout bought his planes in the same sense in which Russian mafioso oligarchs bought up Russia’s natural resources – as a practically free transfer of assets in exchange for unwavering loyalty and some unspecified future services. (If you’ve seen The Godfather, you are familiar with the transaction.)

The strategy of both the Soviet and post-Soviet governments has always been to stir every malodorous substance in every part of the world, creating troubled waters in which evildoers can then profitably fish.

Instigating and conflagrating regional conflicts is an essential part of that strategy, especially in vulnerable parts of the world. The Soviets armed various wicked regimes and splinter groups more or less openly, whereas their heirs initially tried to keep up a civilised façade. That’s where my namesake came in.

He became known as both a sanctions-buster and a gun-runner, arming murderous gangs and rebels in Angola, Zaire, Liberia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Columbia and anywhere else where bloodstained chaos could be fomented.

In the process, Bout accumulated an endless list of charges, including for forgery and money laundering, on every continent except perhaps Antarctica. The chickens finally came to roost in 2008.

In a sting operation led by the US DEA, an agent posing as a representative of the Columbian terrorist group FARC negotiated with Bout for the supply of 109 surface-to-air missiles and armour-piercing rocket launchers. (You didn’t think he was just flogging AKs, did you?)

He was lured into Thailand, arrested by the local police, tried and convicted for terrorism and conspiracy. Two years later Bout was extradited to the US and sentenced to 25 years for conspiracy to kill US citizens.

Russia protested all along, claiming Bout was an upstanding individual, a paragon of virtue and a man incapable of committing the heinous crimes of which he was so unfairly accused. He was, after all, a GRU officer and hence a gentleman.

Putin’s bloodhounds were so incensed that they even declared that the US judges and officials involved in the trial would be for ever denied entry visas should they wish to visit Bout’s birthplace. And of course the Russians never stopped trying to get their boy back.

In addition to pursuing normal diplomatic channels, they resorted to their more natural terroristic methods: arresting US citizens and sentencing them to long prison terms in the hope of exchanging them for Bout and other agents.

One of those Americans was the businessman and former marine Paul Whelan, sentenced to 16 years on a trumped-up espionage charge in 2020. Another was Miss Griner, who pleaded guilty to having a few hashish oil ampules in her luggage and was sentenced to nine years for smuggling.

While Whelan was innocent of the charges and Griner wasn’t, we aren’t going to get bogged down in the fine points of Russian jurisprudence, are we? Whatever the two Americans did or didn’t do, they were in fact hostages, to be used as bargaining chips by a state internationally recognised as terrorist.

And the US played along, pretending not to recognise the terrorist nature of the situation. At first American officials wanted to swap the Merchant of Death for both Whelan and Griner, correctly claiming that Bout was a more important figure than either of them.

Say what you will about my namesake, but he was indeed a heavy hitter, with expertise going far beyond Miss Griner’s dribbling and jump shots and even Mr Whelan’s knack at managing corporate security.

In the end Americans had to settle for Griner only. I don’t know if they were given the choice but, had they been, I’m sure they would have chosen Miss Griner anyway.

After all, she ticks many more boxes. First, Griner, 6’9’’, is a star, known to everyone who follows women’s basketball (I don’t know what sort of numbers we’re talking here). Second, she is black. And third she is an open lesbian, ‘married’ to another woman. You must agree that such credentials are both unimpeachable and unbeatable.

But swapping this heroic woman for Bout is tantamount to succumbing to terrorist demands. You don’t need me to tell you why such surrender is ill-advised: it encourages further acts of terrorism.

The Russians are in effect given an invitation to kidnap any Western citizen and use him as a blackmail weapon, securing the release of criminals like Bout. Since Russia is self-admittedly waging war on the West, this is a legitimate ruse de guerre.

But then equally legitimate would be response in kind. Many children of Russian government officials live in the West, and most of them – including our newly hatched Lord Lebedev – subsist, directly or indirectly, on the proceeds of their parents’ criminal activities.

That provides sufficient legal grounds, especially in wartime, to pick them up and use them the way the Russians use their Western hostages. Yet anyone who thinks Western governments are capable of protecting their citizens in that manner holds an unjustifiably optimistic view of Western politics.

Hence I can confidently predict that the Russians will persist with their terrorism, which we’ll refuse to recognise as such. And they’ll continue to be as successful as they were with this lamentable swap.

P.S. I fear for Peter Hitchens’s mental health: the man clearly suffers from what psychiatrists call ‘perseveration’, the urge to repeat the same things over and over again. Thus in today’s column he repeats for the umpteenth time that Russia was ‘provoked’ into her genocidal raid on the Ukraine, which Mr Hitchens professes to regret.

That claim would be more credible if over the past two years he hadn’t talked our ear off about “conservative and Christian” Putin, the strong leader Hitchens wished we had and the last bastion of traditional values.

That was the official line peddled by the Kremlin propaganda – as is the current one, about Russia having been provoked into mass murder, torture, rape and looting. Vlad has no better friend in the West than our perseverated hack.