Multi-culti hell breaks loose

All right, all right, I’ve learned my lesson. No more commending our government for anything. Every time I say something nice about it, it instantly rubs my face right in the dirt.

Just the other day I welcomed a speech on immigration and multiculturalism by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who is familiar with the subject not just from hearsay.

Actually, I still think the speech was good. Where I went terribly wrong with my precipitate praise was in suggesting that perhaps the speech signalled a volte-face in government policy. No such luck.

First, Rishi-washy sanctimoniously repudiated his Home Secretary’s correct statement that multiculturalism is a “misguided dogma” that “has failed”. Not at all, said the PM. We are proud of our “fantastic multiculturalism”, and Britain had “done an incredible job of integrating people into society”.

Rishi-washy should put the incredible job of integration to a test by walking through the back streets of, say, Leeds, ideally at night. He could then testify to the delights of multiculturalism, provided he lives to tell about them.

The Times called Mrs Braverman’s speech “incendiary”, leaving the really bad epithets for The Guardian to utter. That was followed by an outburst of indignation from the two groups she had mentioned specifically, women and homosexuals. Belonging to either group in places where they are held in low esteem, said Mrs Braverman, isn’t sufficient reason to claim refugee status in the UK.

Oh yes it is, screamed the so-called ‘pink wall’, a group of more than a dozen homosexual Tory MPs. They accused Mrs Braverman of “bigotry” and, like kindergarten children, rushed to the chief whip to complain, smearing tears over their contorted faces.

Oh yes it is, echoed the MeToo types, who complained both to the chief whip and to every medium willing to listen and report.

Mrs Braverman seemed to think she was on safe grounds there, being a woman herself, and a child of refugees to boot. Well, she has another think coming, that traitor to her sex. Like Maggie Thatcher in the old days, she no longer qualifies as a woman. And if she really means to be conservative, then, to quote Joe Biden, “she ain’t black” or any other minority.

Nor was it just secular fanatics. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, anathemised Mrs Braverman, or rather would have done if she weren’t a Buddhist. Earlier he denounced the government policy (introduced by Mrs Braverman) to deport all illegal migrants to Rwanda as being “against the judgement of God”.

Since I no longer belong to the Church of England, I can’t confirm or deny that God Our Lord spends his valuable time evaluating British immigration policy and then communicating his feelings to His Grace. Suffice it to say that Christians who worship God rather than fly-by-night political fads tend to believe that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.

That doesn’t mean God has washed his hands of his creatures’ actions. It does, however, mean that prelates who remain oil traders at heart shouldn’t invoke the deity to justify their own woke heresies.

Apparently, His Grace has sought an appointment with Mrs Braverman on several occasions, but so far she has refused to see him. That raises her even higher in my estimation, but unfortunately my feelings have no bearing on her career.

The rumour mill in and around Westminster insists that Mrs Braverman’s days in her Great Office of State, possibly even in politics altogether, may be numbered. She has offended the God of Multi-Culti, the one Welby worships, and that God is athirst.

However, to the extent to which Mrs Braverman’s beliefs can be inferred from her statements, she is right in her basic assumptions. A major country that has developed organically over millennia may have multiple ethnic groups within its population. But it can only have one culture recognised as her own.

If it’s multi-cultural in any true sense of the word, it no longer has any culture worthy of the name. Whatever it used to have has been fractured and diluted into oblivion.

English culture is a ganglion of hundreds of synapses finely honed and attuned since pre-Roman times. It is a fundamentally Judaeo-Christian culture, but with an idiosyncratic twist. The Venerable Bede (d. 735), writing shortly after St Augustine baptised England, already spoke of the specifically English Church, as distinct from any other.

Just as the English Church, with the culture it spawned, has had its distinct character from the early days, so has the country’s secular culture. Talking specifically about high culture, England reminds us of the biological law that a tree produces its best fruit towards the end of its cycle. Our best music, that of Byrd, Gibbons, Tallis and other polyphonists, and our best poetry, that of Shakespeare and his great contemporaries, were produced towards the end of the Christian period.

But England’s unique contribution to Western culture isn’t so much in arts but in politics, and it continued to thrive even when Christianity stopped being a dominant force.

While they destroyed the political and social structure of their own country, even French revolutionaries were casting envious glances across the Channel. And their American disciples  (in practical terms, precursors) constituted their own revolutionary state largely on English principles going back to Saxon times and refined by sage men since then.

Such is the core of English culture, and there exist hundreds of layers around it. This is the only culture that can sustain Britain qua Britain. Any cultural exotica can exist strictly on the margins, and I for one am happy that they should exist. London would be dull without some ethnic presence.

However, when ethnic presence amounts to 60 per cent of London’s population, the core culture of the capital, indeed of the whole country, is under threat of erosion.

The threat becomes a deadly reality when some ethnic groups not only refuse to accept the traditional culture but are actively hostile to it. When major cities have whole boroughs declaring their allegiance to a legal system other than the English Common Law, we don’t have multiple cultures. We no longer have any.

I don’t know whether Mrs Braverman genuinely realises this or merely angles for Tory leadership by appealing to the traditionalists within the party. Either way she says all the right things and gives every impression of wishing to do them as well, if allowed.

Yet there is every sign that she won’t be allowed to act on her putative convictions. The shamans of the Multi-Culti cult have already started their pyres, kindling them with whatever is left of our culture. I hope Mrs Braverman won’t have to step into them.

My wife got sexually assaulted

Crime scene

That’s right, Penelope fell victim to a heinous assault… Sorry, I’m so overcome with rage I can’t even get started. Give me a second…

No, thanks, I don’t think a glass of water will help. Anyway, I feel better now. So I can tell you what happened.

As we were getting out of a taxi yesterday, the driver sent me on my way by saying: “Good-bye, sir”. He then turned to Penelope and…

Jumped into the back seat to assail her? Reached over to grab some portion of her anatomy that’s supposed to stay off-bounds for strangers? Drove off on screeching tyres, leaving me on the pavement and taking her to some den of iniquity?

No, none of the above. As I was helping Penelope out of the cab, the criminal driver said: “Good-bye, love”. Now if that isn’t sexual assault, I don’t know what is.

Perhaps I’ve put my finger right on it: I no longer know what sexual assault is. Does anyone? The Crown Prosecution Service certainly doesn’t, which it proved by charging former cruiserweight boxer Glenn McCrory with that very crime.

The ex-champ, now almost 60, was a guest speaker at a pre-fight dinner. At some point he felt he was being ignored by the waitresses. Trying to attract the attention of one of them, he touched her elbow and – brace yourself – addressed her as ‘pet’.

Did he then throw the waitress on the floor to have his wicked way with her amidst the noisy crowd? No. That was it, his whole crime, the one that put him in the dock at a criminal court.

Now, in case you are unfamiliar with British mores, the lower classes routinely address female strangers with terms of endearment, such as ‘love’, ‘pet’, ‘darling’, ‘flower’ or some such. Most men choose from a whole glossary of such salutations, their preference often depending on their age and place of origin.

I haven’t conducted any painstaking research but, from aural experience, a Londoner, such as the cabbie who assaulted Penelope so egregiously, is most likely to say ‘love’, whereas a northerner, especially a Geordie, may prefer ‘pet’.

Either of them may opt for some other friendly words, but every Geordie I’ve known addressed women as ‘pet’, whereas only a couple of Cockneys did. All those men would address a male stranger as ‘mate’, no geographic variety there at all.

In case you’re wondering, the word ‘mate’ doesn’t imply a lifelong friendship between the two men. It’s just a friendly proletarian way of addressing a stranger whose name one doesn’t know.

By the same token, the word ‘love’ doesn’t necessarily imply the existence of an amorous relationship, nor a hope for one. And ‘pet’ doesn’t suggest the speaker’s wish to have the woman fetch him his slippers in her mouth or bark to be taken walkies.

Mr McCrory comes from County Durham, which makes him a Geordie. When realising he wasn’t getting any service he bent down from his 6’4” to the diminutive waitress, touched her elbow to catch her attention and, addressing her as ‘pet’, asked for his starter.

That earned him three counts of sexual assault charges from our supposedly overworked legal authorities. The third charge was for what another poor victim described as Mr McCrory winking at her. In fact, thick scar tissue around the former boxer’s eyes makes him blink all the time. No criminal intent there.

The prosecutors laid out their case meticulously. Mr McCrory, they said, used the word ‘pet’ flirtatiously, which constituted sexual assault. Not quite rape, but the next best (sorry, I mean worst) thing.

As to getting tactile, the prosecution saw no valid difference between touching a woman’s elbow and, say, clutching her breasts. It’s a slippery slope thing: first he touches her elbow, then he… well, I’m not going to inflame your imagination with lewd suggestions of subsequent possibilities.

Mr McCrory’s crimes were committed in 2021, whereas the trial took place last week. Thus the CPS took two years to prepare an airtight case guaranteeing conviction. Finally, the evidence was sewn up, and the perplexed Mr McCrory, still unable to understand what he had done wrong, was waiting for his verdict.

Mercifully, it took the jury less than 90 minutes to acquit him of all charges. I’m sure they could have done it in 90 seconds, but that could possibly have been interpreted as contempt of court – not that the court wasn’t contemptible.

In view of all that I’ve decided not to report Penelope’s assailant to the police – this though we have a record of his licence number. Such magnanimity is a sign of civic responsibility on my part – the CPS already has its hands full pursuing men who glance at women’s legs, women who bathe their (naked!) children and anyone trying to flirt with anyone else.

Criminal behaviour of a sexual kind must be stamped out before the authorities can get down to minor indiscretions such as burglary, mugging and pickpocketing. First things first.

So I’m not going to add to the CPS’s work load, for now. But on the off chance the offending cabbie is reading this, let him know he is on a warning.

Suella’s good work, undone

I must reassure my conservative friends that Suella Braverman’s good work this week is only undone in the eyes of inveterate pedants like me. So far, at any rate.

“Is that a Channel boat I see before me?”

Other than that, the Home Secretary’s speech was impeccably conservative, which is to say sensible. So let’s have the good news first.

Mrs Braverman delivered the speech on uncontrolled immigration in Washington DC, going beyond parochial boundaries both geographically and substantively. An influx of millions of cultural aliens who don’t even try to integrate, she said, presents an existential threat to our whole civilisation.

If we eschew big words for a moment, essentially she said that, when untold millions arrive over here, over here will eventually become just like over there. If you seek proof, she added, just walk through the streets of Malmo, Paris, Brussels or Leicester.

She could have just as easily cited any other major city in Western Europe and North America, but I admire her self-restraint and sense of timing. A litany of the complete list of overrun cities would have kept her audience there for hours on end.

The present system, said Mrs Braverman, is unsustainable because it provides “huge incentives for illegal immigration”. Even huger ones for the legal kind, I’d suggest, for Western laws are way too generous to new arrivals.

Mrs Braverman estimated that 780 million denizens of downmarket countries could potentially qualify for refugee status in the West. I don’t know how she arrived at such a precise number, but it strikes me as too low.

She probably figured out that at least 10 per cent of the world population would be happy to swap over there for over here. I suspect the real proportion is closer to a third, but that’s nit-picking. Considering that the West has a combined population of about 1.4 billion, it’s reasonably clear that even Mrs Braverman’s lowish number couldn’t be accommodated.

Speaking specifically about the UK and the rest of Western Europe, Mrs Braverman took a richly deserved swipe at the European Convention on Human Rights. This is indeed the millstone sinking any attempt to solve the problem, although I’d be tempted to delve a bit deeper.

The ECHR is a product of the liberal, which is to say dominant, mindset in Europe. This mindset is ossified into a skeleton of orthodoxies, with each little bone having the sinews of stock demagoguery attached to it.

Hence anyone who dislikes the European Union is automatically demonised as a Europe-hating xenophobe (or a Little Englander in Britain). And those who insist that the ECHR damages the cause to which it’s ostensibly committed are accused of hating not only Europe but also human rights as such.

To her credit, Mrs Braverman came out swinging. “Uncontrolled immigration, inadequate integration, and a misguided dogma of multiculturalism have proven a toxic combination for Europe over the last few decades,” she said.

And then: “If cultural change is too rapid and too big, then what was already there is diluted – eventually it will disappear.” Hear, hear.

So much for her good work. But then she undid much of it in my eyes with a single word, and I must admit I disagree with Shakespeare on the subject of a rose by any other name smelling as sweet.

That may be, but anyone who refers to a rose as a bicycle raises doubts about his literacy. If the person in question holds a Great Office of State, one is within one’s rights to question his, or in this case her, suitability for it.

Thus, when asked how she could reconcile her position with being a daughter of immigrants from Mauritius and Kenya, Mrs Braverman said:

“What you’re suggesting is because I’m the child of immigrants, I have to adopt a position which is pro-migration and pro the status quo, and I totally and fundamentally refute that.”

Just as totally and fundamentally I insist it’s shocking that our Home Secretary misuses a relatively common word with the blithe ease of a Millwall FC supporter. ‘Refute’, Mrs Braverman, means to prove something wrong, not simply to disagree, reject or deny.

I’m not suggesting that our politicians should all do a Churchill by being able to win the Nobel Prize for literature, but as a loyal British subject and reluctant taxpayer, I think I have a right to demand basic literacy from our governors.

Other than that, one can both detect some positive signs in current Tory politics and understand where they are coming from. Essentially, our Tory ministers have begun to make Tory noises, none too soon.

Their natural inclination these days is to win elections by out-Labouring Labour, but poll after poll shows that therein lie many years in opposition. Labour’s gigantic lead in every survey shows that the public would rather have socialism neat, not diluted with meaningless admixtures.

What the Tories have been diluting successfully is their core support, voters who for old times’ sake still believe that the word ‘Conservative’ in the party’s nomenclature should stand for something.

Realising this, our cabinet ministers, especially Mr Sunak and Mrs Braverman, have started to sound conservative on such vital issues as the economy, climate and immigration. Mrs Braverman also hints that in next year’s elections the Tories will target Labour’s soft stance on Europe.

Actually, it’s not so much soft as perfidious. Expertly prodded by the indescribably hideous Tony Blair, Labour grandees are transparently mapping out a strategy for re-entering the EU, on conditions vastly inferior to those of our erstwhile full membership.

Hence, and I hope you won’t think me too cynical, Mrs Braverman’s frequent jabs at the ECHR. By now I’ve become so jaded, not to say callused, that I simply don’t trust our politicians to do or say the right thing for any other than electoral reasons.

But at least they have indeed begun to say the right things, which beats the alternative any day. One can even harbour hopes that their words will be backed up by deeds, if only for the sake of politicking.

Speaking of ulterior motives, Mrs Braverman, whose current remit after all covers only domestic affairs, is clearly positioning herself as Tory leader-in-waiting. Hence her choice of an American venue for her big speech, and also her frequent references to the global nature of the migration problem.

Actually, I quite like her, considering other available options. I don’t discern any problems in Mrs Braverman that a crash course in English couldn’t fix. And really, when all is said and done, what’s the odd solecism among conservative friends?

P.S. Laurence Fox, actor turned GB News presenter, has caused a massive outburst of rage by saying on air that he wouldn’t “shag” the journalist Ava Evans. I demand he refute the invective by proving publicly that he would.

A hit of fentanyl, anyone?

Welcome to Portland, Oregon

In case you’ve been living on another planet, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s about 100 times stronger than morphine and 50 times stronger than heroin.

Hence it enjoys booming street cred, making it a runaway marketing success. Because it’s so potent, pushers usually cut it with cheaper drugs. That lowers the street price of fentanyl, while still preserving its heroin-like effects.

All in all, one could say fentanyl gives pleasure-seekers the greatest bang for a buck, or rather three bucks, which is what American pushers typically charge for a hit. They enjoy a great deal of repeat business because fentanyl’s high potency is matched by its addictiveness. (It’s also matched by its ability to kill by overdose, the highest of all drugs.)

I’m not going to delve into the physiological and psychological nature of opioid addiction. Suffice it to say that I myself was once iatrogenically addicted to heroin (intravenous dimorphine, if you wish to be technical) for a short spell. That experience strengthened my conviction that addicts don’t quit not because they can’t but because they won’t.

Be that as it may, fentanyl is highly and quickly addictive, whether physiologically or psychologically or both – it’s immaterial for my purposes. What matters is that, instead of flushing fentanyl down the tubes, addicts send their lives in that direction.

This raises questions about the advisability of legalising fentanyl, or drugs in general. There exist many opinions on that score, but the two most salient ones are libertarian and conservative.

The two groups share many ideas and sentiments, mainly aversion to the big state. Both wish to devolve power to the lowest sensible level, both resent state involvement in private lives. The differences between them are those of degree and passion. Let’s just say that conservatives relate to libertarians the way the latter relate to anarchists.

Another difference is that libertarianism is an ideology and conservatism isn’t. That’s why conservatives are more likely to approach any issue on its merits, rather than relying on general principles, however sound.

When it comes specifically to legalising drugs, libertarians are always for it. So are liberals, the American word for lefties, who support any perversion as long as it strikes against what they call the establishment.

Conservatives – such as yours truly – tend to be against legalisation and even decriminalisation. My main concern isn’t the destroyed lives of the addicts: everyone is entitled to go to hell if he so chooses. What scares me is the unpredictable social effects.

Too many questions remain unanswered. Such as, would legalisation increase or reduce the number of addicts? If the answer is the former, then by how much?

Opioids in general don’t encourage aggressive behaviour, but cocaine and meth do. Would our streets be overrun by unsavoury and dangerous individuals whacked out of their minds? Would crowds of down-and-out addicts turn our streets into slums?

Unless we obtain satisfactory answers to such questions, we shouldn’t leap into the unknown by legalising drugs. So much more must we appreciate any empirical evidence available, no matter how scant.

The American state of Oregon is happy to oblige. In 2021, Oregon became the first state to decriminalise possession of small amounts of such drugs as LSD, cocaine, methamphetamine – and fentanyl.

Libertarians rejoiced and so did their etymological cognates, liberals – and Oregon is one of the most ‘progressive’ states in the Union. At last, the state pulled its fingers out of the drug-laden pie. People were free to make a choice, and most of them were bound to steer clear of the fruit no longer forbidden.

Over 60 per cent of the public agreed, happy that people were no longer risking imprisonment for acting on the old slogan: turn on, tune in, drop out. Surely that had to mean more people would make the right choice and there would be fewer addicts, fewer deaths from overdosing.

Alas, things haven’t quite worked out that way. Rather than solving the problem, the new law made it worse. For example, last year fentanyl caused 209 deaths in and around Portland alone.

A majority of the people now regret their support for the decriminalisation, and not just because of the overdose deaths. The number of homeless people went up by 29 per cent last year, and malodorous tent encampments have covered Portland’s pavements.

Now the people want that law repealed – they’d rather not see their cities turn into shanty towns. Overdoses they could live with, but the squalor is just too offensive.

Meanwhile, addicts are openly smoking fentanyl throughout the city centre, some of them barely conscious. Finally, Portland’s city council has had enough and issued a ban on hard drug use. Not so fast, countered the state. The ban won’t go into effect until the state has ratified it, and no one knows when that will be.

Since Oregon was the first state to decriminalise cannabis, in 1971, proponents of the slippery slope theory feel vindicated. Once cannabis becomes freely available, more people are encouraged to replace a slow spiritual and intellectual quest with a quick high.

Once their inner resources have been sufficiently depleted, and cannabis no longer has the same effect, they may well turn to the hard stuff, especially if it’s easy and, as with fentanyl, cheap. Such is the theory, and Oregon has kindly supported it with empirical evidence.

This is consistent with the experience of other places, such as Amsterdam, where so-called coffee shops have been legally selling cannabis for decades. And what do you know, studies show that 17 per cent of Amsterdam’s population also used hard drugs last year.

Proponents of legalisation argue that we might as well allow what we can’t effectively ban. True enough, whenever any government declares a war on drugs, drugs win.

Yet the same argument can be used for murder: it still happens even though it’s against the law. Does this mean murder should be decriminalised? Laws exist not only to eliminate an objectionable activity, but also to express society’s attitude to it.

Therein lies the problem, for modern societies are running out of moral arguments against drugs. Their growing use isn’t so much the reason for a social malaise as a symptom of it.  

Witness the fact that drug use in Britain was unrestricted until the 1868 Pharmacy Act and uncriminalised until the 1920 Dangerous Drugs Act, yet there were nowhere near the same number of addicts as there are now. British society was healthier then, even if it was poorer.

Any criminal laws against drugs will be directed against the symptoms, not the disease. Yet anyone who has ever popped an aspirin for a bad headache will confirm that symptomatic relief is worth having.

Crime and (immoral) punishment

It’s best to establish the premise first. So here it is: I regard both early release from prison and plea bargaining as a travesty of justice.

That’s why I welcome the government’s announcement that rapists will now have to serve out their whole sentence without any possibility of early release. However, as I begin to applaud, my palms stop in mid-air. Acting as a brake is one insistent question: Why just rapists?

Does this mean that a thug who cripples a woman for life with a savage beating will get out after serving half his sentence, while a brute who rapes her without leaving a scratch is to do the whole stretch?

This question prevents me from applauding Sunak’s idea, but many Tories aren’t bothered. At last, they rejoice, this is a truly conservative measure. ‘Real Rishi” is finally coming out of his cocoon.

In fact, Rishi-washy is playing both ends against the middle. On the one hand, he comes across as an upholder of law and order. On the other hand, he implicitly confirms that rape is a crime like no other. So it is, according to woke mythology, which shapes the whole modern ethos.

A monster who breaks every bone in a woman’s body only commits a crime against that woman, an individual. However, a man who rapes a woman ‘objectivises’ her, thereby transgressing against feminist diktats – and against the state that feels called upon to indulge every radical woke fad.

Women are brainwashed to believe – or at least to declare – that rape is the worst thing that can happen to them. Worse than losing an eye or a limb, worse than becoming paraplegic, worse than death.

That said, I don’t know a single woman untouched by the ague of feminist zealotry who would prefer, say, being blinded to being raped.

But politicians, whatever their party affiliation, don’t want to appeal to the women I know. They don’t even want to appeal to a majority of women. All they want is to signal woke virtue, hoping to spare themselves from an avalanche of bad press in the runup to the next election.

Earlier, Mr Sunak announced he would change the law to ensure that all sexually motivated murderers receive whole life sentences (life without parole, to my American readers). What about fiscally motivated murderers? Will they be allowed a tariff to their mandatory life sentence? If so – and it is often so – I fail to see any logic to that, and even less morality.

Then again, crime passionnel may well be murderous. Am I to understand that a man who kills his wife out of jealousy will never see the outside of prison, whereas a robber who kills a whole family for their jewellery may be out in a decade or two? Verily I say unto you, our society is even more obsessed with sex than I thought.

I refuse to accept the logic behind any early release, for any crime. Let’s say that a duly instituted legal authority decides that a punishment of 10 years in prison is commensurate with the misdeed committed. If it isn’t, then the sentence is a travesty of justice. But if it is, then a travesty of justice occurs if the prisoner is released after, say, five years.

Why should he be? One stock answer is that our prisons are overcrowded, we can’t afford more prisons, and the upkeep of a prisoner is expensive. However, such arguments ab pecunia run headlong into the next question: what is the state for?

The state has many functions, but most of them are strictly contingent and therefore debatable. The state has only one core, absolute, non-negotiable raison d’être: keeping the people safe from external enemies and internal criminals.

Thus, if the question of how much we can afford to spend on justice and defence arises, only one answer goes to the very essence of statehood: as much as it takes.

Another stock excuse for early release has to do with rehabilitation through remorse. Apparently, having served half his sentence, a typical inmate repents his misdeeds so deeply that he can enter outside life as a new man. I suppose such metamorphoses can happen, although my friend, who used to be a prison doctor, assures me they are rare.

In any event, how is anyone to decide that a prisoner has been sufficiently rehabilitated? By looking into his soul? Hearing what he has to say for himself? I can’t be the only one to see how easily mistakes can be made.

No wonder our recidivism rate is so high, with over 40 per cent of adult inmates released from custody reoffending within 18 months, and these are just those who are caught.

Some of the same excuses as those for early release, such as the cost and overcrowding of prisons, are also used for plea bargaining. That is even more immoral.

Let’s say the defendant charged with murder is as guilty as Cain. But preparing an airtight case may take a lot of time, effort and money, something the prosecutors may not feel like expending, not with government watchdogs breathing down their necks.

This leads to an offer of knocking the charge down to, say, GBH (10 years, out in five), with the defendant pleading guilty. Or else he is welcome to take his chances in court, risking a life sentence.

In rarer cases, plea bargaining may lead to an innocent man going to prison. The prosecution scares him with the prospect of a stiff sentence, encouraging him to plead guilty to a lesser charge, thereby clearing the case off their backlog.

This results in a gross miscarriage of justice, but allowing a criminal to serve just half his sentence is almost as bad – justice not so much served as abused. But all such things, emphatically including Mr Sunak’s announcement, aren’t about justice. They are about politics.

The PM-in-waiting, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, got his knighthood for the sterling job he did as director of public prosecutions. Except that the job was far from sterling.

Sir Keir never saw a criminal who couldn’t be either exonerated or at least rehabilitated after a slap on the wrist. He was one of the worst men in that job ever, which the Tories feel gives them an opening. Screaming off the rooftops that Labour is soft on crime may be an election-winning strategy, against all odds.

Even better, the claim will be justified. The trouble is that the Tories’ record in that department is only marginally better, if at all. So it’s just a matter of who shouts first and louder. Isn’t politics grand?

‘Alice’ in cloud cuckoo land

“That’ll be £100,000”

Although I am apparently one of the few people in England who haven’t been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted by Russell Brand, I follow his case, albeit with flagging attention.

Among his many transgressions, Mr Brand is accused of rape and sexual assault. It stands to reason that anyone caught committing those acts should face charges.

Since these are serious crimes, they are tried by jury in criminal courts. The jury then either convicts or acquits the defendant.

But there exists a little nuance there, called the presumption of innocence. It goes back to the Code of Justinian that states: Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. Loosely translated, it means Russell Brand never raped or otherwise assaulted anyone unless a jury of his peers says he did.

One may argue that Mr Brand’s sleaziness and general hideousness are so peerless that no appropriate jury could ever be convened. Leaving that argument aside, let’s just say that until he has been convicted, all talk of Mr Brand’s propensity to have sex without permission should cease. To rephrase, commentators who keep talking about it should just shut up.

To their credit, most of them do. The talk of Brand’s rapes has attenuated to a point where, after the initial burst of enthusiasm, hacks have instead started to concentrate on his moral decrepitude and lack of proper respect for womankind.

Surprisingly, much of their ire is drawn to a perfectly legal act Mr Brand freely admits he committed: having sex with a 16-year-old. Since the girl is now 33 years old, that liaison happened a while ago. But whenever the papers feel like tickling their readers’ naughty bits, what Americans call the statute of limitations is null and void.

Hence the woman, whose brittle sensitivity is protected by the alias ‘Alice’, is very much in the news. If I were a betting man, I’d offer good odds on her eventually abandoning her anonymity to cash in on her victimhood. That sort of thing can earn her good money with any tabloid – especially if she gets satisfyingly graphic (she is already talking about having choked during an act still deemed illegal in some American states).

Meanwhile ‘Alice’ is laying the essential groundwork for her coming out by explaining why she had to speak up after all these years. (I’ll give you a clue: the word ‘bandwagon’ doesn’t appear in her narrative.) She has been tortured the whole time by “gnawing shame”, knowing that her silence was enabling Mr Brand to target other victims.

Now, the word ‘victim’ implies that a crime was committed, which isn’t the case. The age of consent in the UK is 16, so having sex with a girl that age is as legal as it can be boring.

Sensing that, ‘Alice’, or rather those who are putting words into her mouth, suggests changes to the consent law. No, she isn’t in favour of raising it to 17, as in Cyprus, or to 18, as in Turkey; nor lowering it to 15 (France, Czechia) or even 14 (Austria, Germany, Italy and many Eastern European countries). As far as she is concerned, 16 is about right.

What Alice wishes to see criminalised is older men having sex with 16-year-old girls. She doesn’t talk about penalising older women for sex with boys that age, but that follows logically in our egalitarian times.

Now a grown-up woman, ‘Alice’ is even able to invent a new legal term, ‘staged consent’. This is how she explains it: “There should be staged consent – a change to the law. The age of consent could stay at 16, but I think it would be reasonable to recommend that it be a criminal offence for a person over the age of 21 to engage in sexual activities with someone under the age of 18.”

I congratulate ‘Alice’ on the proper use of subjunctive in her legalese second sentence: few people aged 16 or even 33 are capable of such grammatical subtlety these days. Or perhaps congratulations are in order not to ‘Alice’, but to her ventriloquists, some of whom must be lawyers. (She may be one herself for all I know. But on the balance of probability I rather doubt it.)

However, as a man no longer burdened with his first (or tenth) youth, I have to protest vehemently. Her proposal amounts to ageism at its most blatant, criminalising older people for being just that, older. And ageism sits proudly next to homo-, xeno-, transphobia, misogyny and body shaming in the phantom criminal code of modernity.

But forgetting my righteous indignation for a moment, let me see if I understand her proposal correctly. So a young chap a few days past his 21st birthday would be a criminal if he got his wicked way with a girl a few days short of her 17th. He would be seen as a wily statutory rapist who has manipulated that innocent lamb into sex.

First, our progressively comprehensive, comprehensively progressive education makes sure that children aren’t allowed to keep their innocence past kindergarten age, if then. They may not be taught how to read without moving their lips, but they are extensively educated in such academic subjects as advanced sex techniques and the use of condoms.

Moreover, on their first day at school they are encouraged to plumb the depth of their sexuality to decide which of the 102 established sexes they choose for themselves. And if they assure their disembodied computers they are over 18, they can download for free the sort of films that used to be only shown to mac-wearing audiences in Soho cinemas.

That’s why, by the time they are in their teens, they don’t see sex as something traumatising or even especially exciting. Alan Bloom observed back in the 1980’s that they regard it as no big deal, and things have got worse since then.

It’s also a fallacy to assume that any relationship with an older man would traumatise a girl, even as it’s true that any normal woman of any age should find sex with Mr Brand aesthetically crippling. Quite the opposite – an older man is more likely to treat her more sensitively than a bumbling youth would.

Once we have established the statutory cut-off point of 16, putting legal limitations on the older person’s age is unsupportable. Any limit would be arbitrary and lacking in psychological, physiological or empirical justification.

However, discounting blanket one-for-all limits, individual cases vary. I have seen middle-aged men who wouldn’t know how to manipulate their way to sex in a Soho massage parlour. But then I’ve also seen accomplished teenaged lotharios handling even older women, never mind their own coevals, with the expertise of a lion tamer.

I’ve also known women who were 30 going on 12 in matters carnal, and also 16-year-olds indistinguishable in that respect from women twice their age. If we have to talk about such things at all, individual characteristics are worth talking about.

However, it’s hard not to notice that newspapers devote more space to most cases of alleged sexual impropriety than to most murders and to practically all thefts. Any advertising man could give you the reason in two words: sex sells.

That’s why even broadsheets, and of course tabloids, go into such lurid detail when describing rape cases or even such consensual affairs as Brand’s with ‘Alice’. They know that their panting readers will want to come for more titillation – without the “gnawing shame” of turning to unvarnished porn.

So I can’t blame ‘Alice’ who’ll probably earn a six-figure sum for her belated revelations. I can’t even blame our deranged times. They are what they are, and ‘Alice’ is what she is. The way of the world, friends.

The BBC said the magic word

Four of the spying five

Normally, I’d be the last man to praise the BBC for anything, least of all for its political commentary. But this time they put paid to a serious matter with a single word, and my hat’s off to them.

This is how the BBC communicated the news of five Bulgarian residents of the UK caught spying for Russia: “The Bulgarian nationals are accused of conspiring to gather information which would be useful to an enemy between August 2020 and February 2023.”

Can you guess what the magic word there is? It’s ‘enemy’ of course. That one word is so replete with meaning that practically anything else said on this subject would be superfluous.

Our most important broadcaster identifies Russia as an enemy, and not just since 24 February, 2022. This reminds me of France’s former ambassador to Russia who once told me he had seen nothing wrong with the Putin regime until that fateful date, only then to reassess in one fell swoop.

According to the BBC, Russia has been our enemy at least since August 2020, when those Bulgarians embarked on their spying mission. That one word puts everything in its place.

If gathering intelligence information for an enemy is a crime, then surely so is spreading enemy propaganda. When this is done by a foreign national, it’s as bad as espionage. When it’s done by a Briton, it’s worse because it introduces an element of high treason.

That’s exactly what William Joyce, ‘Lord Haw-Haw’, was hanged for in 1946, the last person to suffer that fate on that charge. That precedent would settle any legal squabbles if Britain were officially in a state of war with Russia, which isn’t the case.

As it is, I’m sure clever barristers would point out the fine legal distinctions between serving the cause of a de facto enemy by spying and by propaganda. I’m sure such legal nuances exist. But for the life of me I fail to see any moral difference.

It’s no secret that Russia is conducting a full-scale propaganda effort aimed at undermining Western resolve to support the Ukraine. The exact words change depending on the situation, but at present there are five key points the Kremlin is communicating either directly or through its stooges:

  1. The Ukraine has no chance to recapture the territory occupied by the Russian invaders.
  2. Hence all the deaths and economic damage are in vain.
  3. Britain has no dog in this fight. It certainly isn’t a clash between good and evil.
  4. Both sides are equally corrupt, except the Ukraine is even more so.
  5. Both sides, and also Britain and the rest of the world, have a vital interest in an immediate and lasting peace. Britain and NATO must do what they can to bring it about.

This takes me to Peter Hitchens, a frequent visitor to this space. Before Russia’s aggression he had extolled Putin’s regime for years, describing it as “the most conservative and Christian in Europe.”

That was the thrust of the Kremlin’s effort to recruit allies among European parties that like the sound of the words “conservative and Christian” but are in fact neither.

So Hitchens, who isn’t the only British champion of Russian fascism but one with the widest audience, constantly extolled Putin, expressing regrets that we aren’t blessed with such a strong leader.

After 24 February, 2022, the photographs of Bucha and Mariupol made that line difficult if not impossible to sell. Hence the Kremlin had to change tack, and so did Hitchens. His latest contribution to the fascist cause enlarged on each of the five points above.

To wit, Point 1: “… the large-scale recapture of the land lost to Russia in 2022 looks less and less likely as the days shorten. Those who invested heavily in a summer offensive against Russia have so far been disappointed.”

Ergo, these rhetorical questions (Point 2): “Does this just have to go on and on filling graveyards and doing severe economic damage to Ukraine and Europe? With what aim?”

On to Point 3: “I’ve never been able to grasp what Britain’s interest is in sustaining a costly and risky war in South-East Europe between two corrupt and ill-governed hunks of the old Soviet Empire.”

The interest is in stopping a fascist regime explicitly dead set on territorial expansion beyond the Ukraine. Stopping such juggernauts is easier and less costly while they are beginning to build up speed than at a time they get to roll at full pelt. If Hitchens can’t grasp it, he’d be well advised to study European history of the late 1930s, and also speeches on Russia’s aspirations by Putin’s mouthpieces.

Point 4 isn’t far behind. Yes, these are “two corrupt hunks of the old Soviet Empire”. But, “you can barely breathe in Ukraine without encountering corruption.”

The implication is Russia doesn’t restrict your respiration quite to the same extent. That is a lie.

If you look at the less damaging kind of corruption, the fiscal kind, Russia sits above the Ukraine in every corruption index I’ve seen. The country is run like a Mafia family, with those close to the godfather enriching themselves unimaginably. Russia, one of the poorest countries in Europe, is run by a government of billionaires headed by reputedly the world’s richest man, Putin.

Those fortunes have been made by pumping Russian national wealth into conduits leading to private accounts in Western financial institutions, and from there to yachts the size of a football pitch and palaces in Europe and North America. None of that can be said about the Ukrainian government, corrupt though that country undoubtedly is.

But looting the country’s treasury isn’t the worst type of corruption for politicians. Corrupting their flock into pursuing evil ends is. And there only an idiot would even compare the two countries in question.

The Ukraine doesn’t pounce on its neighbours. It doesn’t murder, rape and loot its way through other people’s lands. It doesn’t kidnap children by the thousand. It doesn’t constantly threaten the world with nuclear annihilation. It doesn’t fund every subversive party or splinter group in the West. Russia is doing all those things. Shall we talk corruption now?

And finally Point 5: “If our concern is truly for the people of Ukraine, then we would be much better occupied promoting a lasting peace than in fuelling and paying to prolong a war in which actual Ukrainians die and suffer, and gain nothing much in return.”

So we should promote not only any old peace, but a lasting one. Now, I love lasting peace. Don’t you? Of course you do. All God’s children love lasting peace, especially at a time when so many people “die and suffer”.

But here’s the rub: how are we supposed to “promote” peace and make sure it lasts? And what shape would this blissful outcome take?

Western countries, including the UK and US, have vowed not to have any negotiations that don’t include the Ukraine. And the Ukrainian government has stated that the only starting point for peace negotiations would be Russia’s withdrawal from the occupied territories. The Kremlin is equally determined to keep them.

Hence the only conceivable way for us to “promote” peace would be to stop supporting the Ukraine, which Hitchens gleefully informs us is happening already. The Ukraine would then have no means of defending herself and would have to accept whatever peace terms Putin dictates.

But anyone with a modicum of nous would know that such a peace would never be lasting. Russia would retrench, lick her wounds, rearm and then resume pursuing her declared goal: humiliating the West and rebuilding the Russian (or Soviet) Empire. Since some former parts of it are NATO members, the world will turn into a powder keg.

In other words, what Putin and Hitchens want isn’t peace, lasting or otherwise, but Russia’s victory, and it’s touching to see two such not-so-great minds thinking alike.

In still other words, Hitchens is spreading enemy propaganda. And if you question the modifier, ask the BBC. It knows.

Have you ever been stopped dead by a headline?

“Were these diamonds mined by child labour, Madame?”

As a former copywriter, I appreciate newspaper headlines that land with knockout force. Two examples spring to mind.

One is from The New York Post of decades ago: HEADLESS BODY FOUND IN TOPLESS BAR. Another was a front-page single-word line in The Sun during the 1982 Falklands War, when a British submarine sank the Argentine cruiser Belgrano: GOTCHA!

Those two headlines stopped me all right, but they didn’t shock me. They didn’t make me sit up and say “Excuse me?!?” or “You can’t mean that!” That’s why I am grateful to The Mail that yesterday achieved all those feats with a 32-word headline.

The story was about King Charles’s visit to France, and specifically the banquet in his honour in the Versailles Hall of Mirrors. Even more specifically, the subject was the menu prepared by some of France’s top chefs. So here goes:

Insiders reveal the food King Charles has BANNED from French state visit banquet – and the reasons why (but mushrooms are on the menu because they remind him of Queen Elizabeth II)

It was the parenthetic phrase that went through me like a jolt. Really, Your Majesty? I understand that generational tensions exist in many families, and the royal one is no exception. But practically calling Her late Majesty a mushroom in public does take the brioche.

What exactly did the king mean? That his late mother was kept in the dark and fed on dung? Or something even worse? I’ve heard of lèsemajesté, but this is outrageous.

However, I must admit the headline had plenty of stopping power. It certainly stopped me, making me read the piece.

Thankfully, I was then able to heave a sigh of relief. The only sense in which mushrooms reminded His Majesty of his late mother was that she liked them. That’s why he endorsed a cep gratin, while at the same time vetoing some other suggestions.

I’ll let you in on a secret: I wasn’t really shocked by that headline. I instantly recognised it as an unfortunate turn of phrase, typical of today’s newspapers that seem to have dispensed with sub-editors and copy readers.

It’s King Charles’s vetoes that I found shocking. Had that happened before he acceded to the throne, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Prince Charles, as he was then, tilted to wokery so steeply that I’m amazed he never keeled over to his left.

However, since his accession Charles has shown few signs of his erstwhile leanings. He has deported himself with dignity and restraint, making me happy that my worst suspicions haven’t come true. Well, let me tell you: I rejoiced too soon.

First, His Majesty issued a royal interdict against foie gras, which featured on the proposed menu. He is deeply bothered by cruelty to ducks and geese that are force-fed to make their livers bigger and oh so delicious.

I wonder how the French swallowed that insult to their culinary tradition. Foie gras is their staple, as far as I can judge on the basis of my friends’ dinner parties. My French friends may not be perfect – who among us is? – but they are certainly not callous sadists who spend their time pulling wings off flies.

They don’t ponder the moral implications of some foods. Instead they are eternally grateful to God (or, barring that, to Joëlle, the best cook in our circle) for what they are about to receive.

The only thing they – and I – won’t eat out of principle is human flesh, and that’s how it should be. Imposing ethical standards that outdo the Biblical ones in severity goes hand in hand with flouting those that are actually mentioned there.

Yes, if you think about it, forcing corn down a bird’s gullet through a tube is cruel. So it’s best not to think about it – there exist much more momentous subjects for us to ponder. Such, for example, as the sustained effort to promote animal worship and revert to the darker periods of paganism.

As a result, half of our public school pupils, whose parents shell out up to £100,000 a year in tuition fees, think eating meat would make them fascists. Hunting, that traditional British sport, has been practically banned out of soppy concern for the wellbeing of foxes.

Speaking of which, King Charles has been shooting throughout his life. He’d have to explain to me why blowing a duck to bits with lead pellets or, even worse, winging the bird is less cruel than force-feeding it. I’m sure there must be a valid difference, but my moral gauge isn’t calibrated finely enough to perceive it.

One has to admit with some chagrin that the king’s injunction against foie gras is nothing but woke grandstanding designed to appeal to the very people who would destroy our monarchy in a second, given the chance.

Another item King Charles banned from the menu was asparagus. Can you guess why? Is it because the French prefer the white variety produced by growing the vegetable without sunlight? After all, keeping those stems in the dark may well be regarded as cruelty in some quarters. Imagine how asparagus must suffer and weep.

A good guess, that, but a wrong one. You see, asparagus is out of season in France. That’s why the delicacy would have had to be flown from elsewhere, at a terrifying cost to ‘our planet’.

Hence one has to assume that Their Majesties swam across the Channel and then walked from Calais to Versailles to attend the reception. No? They flew? I sob, thinking of the massive carbon footprint their plane left on ‘our planet’.

While we are at it, the £500 wines served at the banquet were between 10 and 20 years old. Just think of all the steel and fossil fuels that went into the machinery for planting and tending the vines, think of the electricity expended on keeping the wines at just the right temperature, of the trees that had to be felled to make the barrels, the glass factories polluting the atmosphere… .

His Majesty draws the line in such funny places that the seditious word hypocrisy refuses to leave my mind. Also, I wonder if his French hosts were offended by such pickiness. If they were, they certainly didn’t show it.

Other than that, the visit was a great success. His Majesty delivered a toast in a French that I had to admit was miles better than mine. And he was greeted with genuine enthusiasm everywhere he went.

That didn’t surprise me. The French, especially those of a certain class, are obsessed with our royalty. One detects a touch of envy there – by comparison any French president, and certainly the current one, comes across as a power-grubbing chancer devoid of the natural grandeur and dignity conferred by the throne. A bit like our prime minister, in other words.

Any conversation with our French friends and acquaintances inevitably gets to the royal family sooner or later. One senses that they find something missing in their post-revolutionary republic, although I doubt many of them would support the restoration of the Bourbons.

Years ago, when Sarkozy stood for president, I had an interesting exchange at our local market in France. A socialist activist tried to thrust a leaflet into my hand, which I rejected with disdain.

“So who are you going to vote for?” she asked with palpable hostility. “Sarkozy?” The way she asked that question suggested that such a choice would be morally identical to voting for Heinrich Himmler. When I said “non”, she was perplexed. “Who then?”

“Les Bourbons,” I replied, just to see that look on her face. Alas, that option wasn’t on the ballot. And I can’t vote in French elections anyway.

Britons are brainwashed green

In recent polls, Britons signalled their unwavering commitment to the 2050 net zero target set by Boris, or rather Carrie, Johnson.

Two thirds of us are deeply worried about climate change. Half think the government isn’t doing enough about it, while only 12 per cent find our policies too green.

Why do you suppose that is? Is it because some 50 million Britons have analysed reams of historical data on climate, read yards of books written by scientists who advocate global warming and those who regard it as a pernicious swindle? Have they then found the arguments pro more convincing than those con?

Don’t make me laugh. Given the truly egalitarian nature of our public education, most Britons don’t know their carbon dioxide from a holding midfielder. What the polls show isn’t the output of rational, educated minds. It’s yet another success of massive, cradle to grave indoctrination.

Whatever the colour of brainwashing – red, brown, rainbow or green – it will always succeed, given enough time, cash and all-out effort by our lumpen intelligentsia. At the moment, red and brown are applied only in their lighter hues. But lurid rainbow and green are being poured onto British brains by the bucketful, with the washing machine on full cycle.

Most British brains are scoured of any possibility of critical judgement on green policies. Hence our version of focus group democracy makes it impossible for any politician to attack the global warming swindle for the unscientific, ahistorical, ideologically inspired rubbish it is.

If any politician mentioned in Parliament that ‘our planet’ was warmer 2,000 years ago, when there were few SUVs about, and therefore anthropogenic factors have next to no effect on climate, that would be the last speech he’d ever make in that august institution. The opposition wouldn’t even have to bother. His own party would drum him out.

Now Rishi Sunak is a clever lad, and I’m sure he knows all that. That’s why he didn’t propose anything that would put an end to beggaring the country for the sake of a fad that wasn’t there yesterday and won’t be tomorrow.

By all means, he said, do let’s reduce Britain to penury if that’s what the people want. But not just yet. Let’s prolong the process, like cutting off a dog’s tail piece by piece, rather than all at once. This crude simile sums up his proposals.

Home Secretary Braverman explained that: “We are not going to save the planet by bankrupting the British people.” Not yet anyway, she forgot to add. She did say something that amounted to the same thing though: the government’s commitment to net zero “remains undimmed”.

The proposed steps include banning all petrol and diesel cars by 2035, not 2030, as Boris-Carrie promised. Phasing out not 100 per cent of all gas boilers (that is, most boilers in the country) but merely 80 per cent for now. Postponing new recycling laws that would make households use seven different bins. Not yet forcing people into car sharing and vegetarian diets.

Hardly revolutionary stuff, you’d think. But you’d think that only if you ignored the deafening outcry emanating not just from all the predictable sources but also from Mr Sunak’s own party.

Joining the chorus of indignant clamour is the motor industry, and I can understand its frustration. Many Britons felt the same way when the government first encouraged them to switch from petrol cars to diesel and then decided to penalise them for it.

In anticipation of the 2030 cut-off point, car companies, especially the American ones, have taken steps to phase out their production of IC vehicles, replacing them with electric ones. Now it turns out they jumped too soon.

As Lisa Brankin, chairman of Ford UK put it, “Our business needs three things from the UK Government, ambition, commitment, and consistency … a relaxation of 2030 would undermine all three.”

My heart bleeds for them. But perhaps if car companies had joined forces to stop all that Boris-Carrie nonsense in the first place, we wouldn’t find ourselves in the present situation.

Many MPs in Sunak’s Tory Party are also aghast. They are accusing him of seeking short-term political gain by trying to separate the party from Labour.

Perish the thought. Doesn’t Sunak realise that the ideal of modern democracy is a single-party state?

Parties should differ only in the names they assign to themselves and in the specific people they wish to see in power. God forbid they should differ in their political and moral philosophies, their understanding of public good.

That way some parties may deviate from the only true teaching, which is to say the only current teaching. From the general line, in other words, to persevere in the use of Stalinist terminology that suddenly feels so apposite.

Poor Rishi tried to defend himself by appealing to pragmatism and common sense. He even had the gall to say that delaying the cull of IC cars until 2035 would put Britain in line with EU policy.

But some Tory MPs would have none of that. We don’t want to be in line with the EU. We must race to the loony bin ahead of it, in this area if no other.

Lord Goldsmith put that in so many words:  “Around the world, one of the few areas where the UK really is looked up to is on climate and the environment. Today Sunak is dismantling that credibility, not by accident but by choice.”

Quite. Greta Thunberg will now think less of Rishi. There she was, hoping Britain was a smidgen better than the rest, only to find out it’s as committed to profiting from obliterating ‘our planet’ as all the other villains.

And Hilary McGrady, chief executive of the National Trust, said: “This would be a deeply depressing step. From flooding to wildfires we’re facing the impacts of climate change here and now. We need to step up ambition, not water it down.”

Watering down wildfires strikes me as a sound idea, but perhaps I’m missing something. Yet I do understand that Mrs McGrady and her ilk are ideologically committed to the notion that, before SUVs and aerosol sprays, flooding and fires never happened.

Never mind history and all that nonsense. Facts don’t matter; only ideology does. And ideology mandates that we must ignore all the great floods (starting with the one described in Genesis) and devastating fires that have always ravaged ‘our planet’.

Has Mrs McGrady heard of 1666? Perhaps not, come to think of it. Basic education would disqualify her from running the National Trust.

Glad I’ve got that off my chest before I have to go and cook the dinner. I’ll enjoy my roast collar of pork even more knowing that by eating it I’m doing irreparable damage to ‘our planet’.

What isn’t a joking matter?

What if someone told you that Jesus Christ was originally supposed to be named Gary, but then Mary stubbed her toe? Would you laugh?

Let’s face it: the joke is funny, and there is no reason for a non-Christian not to laugh. But what about a Christian?

To find out I’ve conducted a poll with one respondent, Penelope, and 100 per cent of my sample laughed quite sonorously. But afterwards the same 100 per cent regretted they – well, she – laughed at such a blasphemous quip.

Actually, the protagonist of that joke didn’t seem to mind such humour: “And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.”*

Since the joke doesn’t mention the Holy Ghost, both I who told it and Penelope who laughed at it seem to be off the hook in that instance – ecclesiastically speaking. But forgetting eglesia for the time being, let’s return to the original question.

Is there anything that should be off-limits for humour? What shouldn’t be a joking matter? Anything?

Had you asked me this question 50 years ago, immediately after I left the Soviet Union for pastures free, I would have said no without thinking twice.

Growing up in constant need of protecting oneself against history’s most awful tyranny made one rely on humour as the only defensive bulwark. Since I left Moscow, I have never again witnessed such a profusion of jokes, both stock and impromptu.

Most conversations among Muscovites started with the words “Have you heard the one about…”. The joke to be unveiled could have been about anything, from Lenin and Stalin to the Holocaust or God.

The picaresque novels Twelve Chairs and The Golden Calf (commissioned by the GPU from two very talented writers) were by far the most read – or certainly the most quoted – books. If a thesaurus of quotations existed in Russia, then those two titles would figure in it more densely than Shakespeare does in the English-language version.  

The novels’ main character was an inexhaustible font of funny lines. At a guess, at least one of them appeared in any conversation between two Muscovites within the first minute.

Add to this their original waggery, and one could be forgiven for believing that Muscovites were incapable of taking anything seriously. This though one could easily lose one’s career (in the previous generation, one’s life) for a political joke told within earshot of a KGB informer.

The line “it’s not a joking matter” was hardly ever heard (unless a known KGB informer was present), and I certainly never uttered it. So yes, my answer to the question in the title would have been a resounding “nothing”. There are no jokes, I would have explained, that are too rude, too blasphemous or too offensive. Jokes can only be either funny or unfunny. That’s all.

Would I give the same reply today? Probably. But with so many qualifications that the enquirer would regret he ever asked. So let me play devil’s advocate and argue against myself, as I was 50 years ago and even to some extent still am.

We may not show it, but every one of us has at least one sore point that could hurt if touched by a mocking line. Notice I said ‘could’, not ‘would’. Yes, some people wear such impenetrable armour at all times that they can’t be hurt by a joke.

Thus someone, say, whose daughter has died of anorexia may still laugh at a joke about anorexics (there exist plenty of those). Yet I’d suggest that beneath the laughter there would be some real pain that the man tried to mask with his mirth.

Even jokes at one’s own expense could hurt others. For example, when I was treated for a rather advanced cancer years ago, I said in mixed company that I was “trying to win the oncological argument”. However, there was a chap present who was going through the same ordeal, and he found the pun offensive. He called me a callous cynic, which I don’t think I am. (Both of us survived, by the way.)

Indeed, each of us does have at least one sore point we’d prefer to keep beyond the reach of humour. The problem is that this point is different for all of us.

Thus I could joke about cancer, even – especially – my own, but my interlocutor was hurt by such jokes. So perhaps I was wrong to apply my own standards to others.

This brings into question the Golden Rule, the one about doing unto others as you’d have others do unto you. Yes, but what if your tastes differ?

“A gentleman is a man who never gives offence unintentionally,” as Oscar Wilde could have said, but didn’t. If you accept this definition, then hardly anyone I know, especially myself, is a gentleman. My friends and I crack jokes all the time, thereby running the risk of offending someone unintentionally.

Moreover, my writing friends and I are perfectly capable of levity when broaching extremely serious subjects, such as first principles and last things. We assume that levity works better than gravity to make serious subjects palatable, yet I am sure that some unsmiling tight-arsed puritans may feel upset.

How, how often and when to joke are questions that should make us ponder the nature of art, in this case that of conversation and writing. Like all other arts, these rely heavily on a proper sense of balance.

Wax all ponderous, and you’ll bore people, especially when you are already taxing their mental resources by tackling highly involved subjects. Overdo humour and, even if no one is offended, you won’t be taken seriously. People won’t take a profound message from a clown.

If you accept that both conversationalists and writers are artists, then, just like in any other genre, there are good ones and bad ones. The good ones have an intuitive sense of balance, the bad ones don’t. Yet both should offend other people’s feelings only if they really mean to.

I’d suggest that, as one grows older, wiser and kinder, the legitimate targets for humour ought to get fewer and narrower. But God help us all if they disappear altogether – this world would become intolerable.

Alas, Britain is beginning to resemble the Soviet Union in that one can get into serious trouble over an inopportune joke.

For example, Russell Brand is the greatest problem the world seems to face today – so great it is that I was tempted to write a piece about him. I desisted though, feeling unable to add anything to the millions of words being disgorged every minute, both pro and mostly con.

Though Brand (one of the slimiest sleazebags I’ve ever had the misfortune to clap my eyes on) has never been convicted of any crime, nor even charged with one, he has already been tried and found guilty by ‘public opinion’, meaning social and other media.

The charges vary from sexual assault to out and out rape, and that revolting creature strikes me as capable of both. Still, I’ll withhold my judgement until he has been found guilty in a court of law.

But, germane to my subject today is one of the accusations that involves variously idiotic jokes with which Brand is supposed to have offended some especially sensitive individuals.

One would think that accusing a supposed rapist of a lousy sense of humour is like charging a murderer with jaywalking. Yet this is par for the modern course.

A rape is a crime committed against individuals or, if one listens to Brand’s detractors, several of them. On the other hand, a joke about, say, homosexuals strikes at the core of the modern ethos. Hence it stands to reason that it should claim pride of place next to seemingly more serious indictments – hell has no fury like the modern ethos scorned.

Oh well, enough of that. Have you heard the one about an Irishman, a Jew and a Pole walking into a bar…

* You may have noticed that all my scriptural quotes come from the King James Version, which is after all Protestant and I am not. It’s just that I think that, if we can’t read the Bible in the original, we should read it in the most beautiful English we can find – and never mind denominational squabbles.