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Hope next time she’ll use a sabre

Outside my front door in central London: vermin on the prowl

Making the rounds is a video of balaclava-clad thugs attacking a hunt in Sussex. The saboteurs grabbed the horses’ reins, trying to dismount the riders.

This was a serious matter because on many occasions saboteurs have beaten hunters up and injured them badly. For example, Mike Lane, joint master of the Tedworth Hunt, ended up in hospital with concussion and broken teeth.

One of the Sussex hunters, a courageous woman, lashed out with her riding crop, striking an attacker and, unfortunately, causing only superficial damage. She was shouting: “Get off my horse!” and “This is private land!”

I do wish hunters were allowed to defend themselves with something heavier than crops. They need real weapons in defence of our civilisation.

Commenting on the incident, a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance said: “The reality is that the anti-hunting movement is far more about the hatred of people who hunt than the love of animals.”

The statement is correct, but it doesn’t go far enough. The spokesman was alluding to class hatred, which is the most obvious motive driving the thugs, who share their sartorial tastes with bank robbers.

Disgusting though this is, the issue is really deeper than that. The thugs don’t just hate ‘toffs’ – they loathe, and seek to destroy, our whole civilisation.

This they wouldn’t admit, of course, although they aren’t always bashful about expressing their feelings for the ‘toffs’. Instead they’ll claim burning compassion for those poor furry animals torn apart by beagles.

“How would you like that to happen to you?” one of those cretins once asked me. I wouldn’t. Which is why I don’t steal chickens and devour them raw.

Hunting was banned, with some qualifications, by Blair’s government in 2004, which wasn’t the most subversive thing that awful gang did, but right up there. John Prescott, Blair’s loutish deputy, openly professed hatred for “the red coats”, correctly perceiving them as his superiors in every sense.

The face value of the anti-hunting argument doesn’t hold water at any level. Many people who hunt aren’t toffs at all, just people who like country sports. And thousands of those who served the hunts and lost their livelihoods as a result of the ban came from the same class as Prescott.

Since the ban, the fox population has exploded, with catastrophic effects for poultry farmers. And the vulpine population has spilled into cities as well, with the vermin rummaging in rubbish skips even in central London.

But in such matters, it’s not the text but the subtext that matters. And the subtext is the rejection of the founding presupposition of our civilisation: the uniqueness of and supremacy of man over all other living creatures.

Before Christ, Plato defined man as a two-legged animal without feathers; after Christ, Darwin explained that man was but a cleverer ape. Like two jaws of a vice, the two extremes have squeezed the life out of history’s greatest civilisation caught in between.

That civilisation rose to celestial heights because it proceeded from the assumption that man was created by God in His image, endowed with an eternal soul and destined for salvation and immortality. Any similarities with other animals were thereby reduced to the level of petty atavisms of academic interest only.

It was also understood that not everybody has the mental faculties to answer what Dostoevsky called “the accursed questions” for himself. People were encouraged to accept the authority of their intellectual and moral superiors and not bother themselves with matters beyond their understanding.

One of those matters was the relationship between man and other living creatures. In the unlikely event any parishioner had questioned the morality of eating meat or hunting, the priest would have referred him to two verses in Genesis.

In one, man was told he would “…have dominion over the fish in the sea, and over the fowl on the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” In the other, it logically followed that “every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things.”

But priests no longer have intellectual and moral authority – no one does. Modern people have been misled to believe they can be self-sufficient, that their puny, underdeveloped resources are adequate to answer every question for themselves.

When that calamity became final, in the nineteenth century, man came down from his uniquely high perch and descended to the level of all fauna. The newfangled concept of equality of all extended to equality between man and beast.

For the first time in Western history nature became sentimentalised and glorified. This wasn’t even old-fashioned pantheism – it was non-theism, the first time ever that phenomenon appeared en masse.

This was strictly the domain of urban lumpen-intelligentsia: peasants never felt sentimental about nature – and certainly not about vermin like foxes.

Nature kept peasants alive, but it could also kill them: with hurricanes, freezes, droughts, floods. Their crops could be devastated by blights, their livestock and poultry by wild animals. Nature was sometimes a friend and sometimes an enemy, but the difference was clear-cut, leaving no room for sentimentality.

The clash between actual and virtual reality in the treatment of nature was but one battle in the massive onslaught on our civilisation, but it can be properly understood only in that context.

The war is still being waged by direct action, such as attacks on furriers, women in mink coats and hunters, or by passive affirmation, such as encouragement of vegetarianism among the young. They don’t wonder why there are no veggies among farmers and peasants – instead they claim a high moral ground for their hysterical sentimentality.

Hunt saboteurs are today’s shock troops of the enemy; hunters, one of the few remaining lines of defence. I wish I could join them, but regretfully I can’t ride to hounds. But if my passive support is useful, they have it.

How the EU breeds fascism

The EU seems to have set out to prove that Newton’s Third Law (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction) doesn’t just pertain in physics.

Being a generous man, I’m prepared to accept for the sake of argument that the EU founders genuinely thought it both advisable and possible to toss all European nations into a cauldron and boil them down into a new entity: the generic, denationalised European bossed by a single state.

However, even clearing them, against all evidence, of the charge of wickedness, one still has to bring up another accusation, that of woolly thinking. On what common element did they think all European nations could overlap?

European culture, is their usual reply. True enough, this is a powerful unifying force. Speaking from personal experience, I feel more in common with a cultured Frenchman or Dutchman than a loutish Englishman.

Alas, it’s an unfortunate fact that most Europeans aren’t privy to European culture, in the sense in which the term is properly used. The problem is much worse now than ever: if in the past culture was off limits only for the uneducated majority, these days it’s beyond the reach of even most of the university-educated minority.

As a gregarious type, I talk to many people, most of them blessed with higher education – only to find out that one can no longer confidently assume that we all share a common corpus of knowledge. Most young university graduates can’t even place many of the names that used to signpost the cultural universe of reasonably bright 10-year-olds.

Analysing this situation is beyond my scope today. Suffice it to say that the belief in culture as an adhesive gluing Europe together is an indigestible pie in the sky.

What brings two Englishmen together isn’t their shared admiration for Byrd’s motets and Donne’s poems. Two Frenchmen don’t perceive commonality because they both read Ronsard and Baudelaire through the night. Two Germans sense kinship not because they’re innately sensitive to the subtleties of Heine and Brahms.

In each case, the glue is a complex cocktail of tribal loyalties and historical similarities. Language plays an important role, but the underlying Mowgli-like understanding is really unspoken: “We be of one blood, ye and I.” Two English tourists can establish their own commonality by merely exchanging faint smiles at a conversation between two effusively gesticulating Romans.

Xenophobia is a fashionable bogeyman these days, but to some extent all nations are latently xenophobic – perhaps not in the proper etymological sense of fearing foreigners, but certainly in the sense of perceiving foreigners as alien and vaguely suspicious.

What’s called the ‘European project’ is well on the way to converting latent xenophobia into the active kind. Sensing that their ill-conceived undertaking can only succeed by diluting each European nationhood into eventual demise, the EU insists on ‘free movement of people’ – it’s one of its four founding principles, and the most essential one.

Not only that, but they’ve also flung Europe’s doors wide-open to millions of non-Europeans, most of whom aren’t just alien to our civilisation but actively hostile to it. These multitudes are the battering ram used to breach the walls of nationhood, and the walls are crumbling.

That’s where Newton’s Third Law comes in. The grassroots reaction isn’t yet equal to the EU action, but it’s definitely opposite to it – and gathering momentum.

An election in Ostia, a seaside town near Rome, has delivered nine per cent of the vote to Casa Pound, a party that honestly calls itself fascist. The tattooed whorish-looking girl who fronts it explained that “Fascism in Italy left behind so many positive things, otherwise Mussolini would not still have so many admirers.”

She also pledged to become the dominant national force and succeed in Italy where Marine Le Pen has failed in France. Le Pen’s failure may actually be seen by some as success: her influential fascisoid party punches way above its intellectual and moral weight.

The Ostia election reflects a rise of populist-chauvinist, in essence fascisoid, parties throughout Europe. This is worrying not because they commendably want to destroy the EU and leave the euro, which, according to the Italian tattoo-bearer, is “slowly killing Europe”, but because of the kind of society they’ll usher in to replace it.

We may – in fact, I do – gloat over Merkel’s inability to put a governing coalition together, but her failure is largely due to the tremendous electoral success of the faschisoid AfD party.

Those who sow a single European superstate may well reap fascism, a result they might have predicted had they studied their Newton.

Above all, the current shift in European politics testifies to the abysmal failure of conservatism – the only political and philosophical movement that’s truly in touch with European culture, along with its geopolitical ramifications.

Conservatism as a mass, or even influential, movement is impossible without the old triad of God, king and country, the only logical answer to the question of what it is that we wish to conserve. Yet religion is no longer a factor in European affairs; monarchy, where it still exists, has been reduced to a largely ceremonial role; and country alone can’t sustain conservatism.

Reliance on patriotism above all is more likely to yield a fascist, or at least fascisoid, order rather than a conservative one. Some people I know may not mind that, but they may be in for a let-down.

Johnson and Gove poke the hornet’s nest

Pictorial representation of the Remain faction

A couple of months before the Brexit referendum, Manny Macron, then France’s finance minister, issued a deadly threat.

Should Britain be insane enough to abandon the celestial economic benefits of EU membership, said Manny, she’ll end up like Jersey. As a former New Yorker, I felt like asking “Which exit?” As HM’s subject for 30 years, I knew he was talking about the Channel Island.

At the time, I wondered if that was a threat or a promise. Did he mean that we, like Jersey, would have a maximum tax rate of 20 per cent, as opposed to 45 per cent we have now or 75 per cent in France?

And would we, like Jersey, become an international tax haven, albeit on a vastly greater scale? That would elevate the City of London from its present position of global financial prominence to that of near monopoly.

A parallel reduction in corporate taxes and red tape would act as a powerful magnet to foreign investment, which, according to Remainers, will disappear the second after we leave. Manny didn’t mention that Jersey-like measure, but it was definitely in the back of his mind.

Anyway, I thanked Manny from the bottom of my heart. What a lovely idea, being more like Jersey and less like, well, France.

Now Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Environment Secretary Michael Gove submitted a letter to Mrs May, outlining roughly the same programme of “Singapore-style economy” for a post-Brexit Britain.

The letter says: “We may choose to remain identical to the EU – or we may embrace a vision more aligned with pro-competitive regulation. Other countries must know this choice is in our hands – and they must know it on day one.”

The nest was poked, the hornets flew out and began to sting. Establishment shill Sir Anthony Seldon called the letter “reckless, cringe-making and contemptible.” That could be. But it’s also absolutely right, and that’s the only consideration of consequence.

According to Sir Anthony, the letter shows “contempt for Mrs May” and “undermines Chancellor Phillip Hammond”. Perhaps. I can’t really judge, being less familiar than Sir Anthony with the subtleties of etiquette.

But looking at the substance of the argument, one is tempted to think that some contempt and undermining may be called for. For both putative victims of the epistolary villainy are dedicated Remainers, who, for appearances’ sake, go through the motions of negotiating with the EU.

Like all predators, EU officials pounce when they sense weakness. They realise that the top two positions in HMG are occupied by figures who share their desire to keep Britain in the EU. Hence their whole negotiation strategy is aimed at deterrence: pretending that Britain would be so severely punished in case of a hard Brexit that she may not survive.

And, like blackmailers who feel they’ve got their mark over the barrel, they keep coming up with bigger and bigger ransom demands. Actually, they go further than most blackmailers.

Blackmailers usually offer a straight barter: a swap of the hostage’s life for some money. The EU lot, on the other hand, demand ever increasing sums even to start negotiations. And our government goes along with it.

The federasts have already said they’d keep our £5 billion rebate as a warning shot across Britain’s bows. And then there are further demands – and further concessions on our part. Apparently Mrs May has already tacitly agreed to a £50 billion “divorce bill” (actually ransom), but that’s just whetting the blackmailers’ appetite.

Only one strategy works in any hostile negotiations: a show of strength. Blackmailers must realise that you’re ready to walk out at any moment, and that you have something to threaten them with as well.

If they realise your acquiescence isn’t contingent on anything, you become not a negotiator but a supplicant. That’s exactly what HMG has become: our key ministers don’t even entertain the notion of hard Brexit.

Similarly, their statist gonads reject freeing up our markets, for that measure would reduce the power of the state, thereby depriving our current ‘leaders’ of their raison d’être. Hence they’re reduced to mumbling platitudes about increasing our trade with other countries to take in the slack formed by Brexit.

This could work, but only if the other countries played along, moving Britain to the top of the queue as their preferred trade partner. However, there’s no guarantee they will. They may or may not, and those EU predators sense that the British negotiators have doubts on that score.

This impression is confirmed by the indecent haste with which May’s government offers concessions that negate the whole idea of Brexit. Such as their incessant assurances that the rights of EU citizens resident in Britain would be protected. This reflects the modern tendency to pass aspiration as rights.

Now even visitors to these shores, never mind residents here, enjoy and will continue to enjoy almost all the rights of Englishmen. For instance, if a Romanian is arrested for theft, a Hungarian for pimping or a Serb for smuggling weapons (purely random examples, you understand), he’ll have the same rights as anybody: habeas corpus, legal representation, fair trial – the lot.

But no foreigners will have the right to stay here for as long as they wish. The permission to do so may be granted or denied. But they won’t be able to demand it as of right.

Protecting those nonexistent rights would mean continuing to submit to the authority of the ECJ, thereby reducing Brexit to an exercise in silly petulance. The whole point is for Britain to regain her legal status as a sovereign nation, with the only laws valid here being those passed by our Parliament.

We must realise that the EU pursues nothing but a political goal: the creation of a giant superstate. All their legal and economic practices are solely designed to further that goal, or else to camouflage it. A sovereign nation can no more go along with any part of it than a woman can be partly pregnant.

Agreeing to the EU’s demands on anything means negating Brexit and creating conditions for the subversive elements within all our political parties to derail Brexit altogether. There can be no compromise: rejecting the EU’s political goal means rejecting everything that serves it.

Thus hard Brexit isn’t one of the options on the table, but the only one. Johnson and Gove understand this.

Now they may be “reckless, cringe-making and contemptible”. But that doesn’t reduce the intrinsic value of their argument. May and Hammond should either act in the spirit of the letter or leave and let better people take over – before Corbyn does.

A requiem for a good book

The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution, Yuri Slezkine, Princeton, 1096 pp, £29.95, ISBN 978 0 691 17694 9

The eponymous house was built in 1931 across the river from the Kremlin. It provided home for 2,665 tenants, of whom 700 were high officials who fell just short of rating apartments in the Kremlin itself.

The rest were members of their families extended in every possible direction, including previous wives with their new husbands, several generations of in-laws, and children sired by all of them on either side of the blanket.

Those trusted comrades didn’t remain trusted for long. When Stalin decided to do a little Government House cleaning, 800 of them were imprisoned or shot. The subsequent war put paid to another 300 or so.

Slezkine set out to produce a chronicle of most of those families. That part of the intent is commendable, but alas it isn’t the only part.

The book has two other thrusts, analytical and literary. The analytical part explains Slezkine’s explanation of Bolshevism; the literary part provides illustrative quotations from the Soviet literature of the time.

One thing that amazes me about this book is the universally laudatory reviews it has received. Some reviewers compare it to War and Peace and Slezkine to its author, some others claim that the book opened their eyes on this and that.

Well, it certainly opened my eyes: on the plight of bricklayers. For The House is the size and weight of an average brick, thereby placing inordinate demands on the reader’s muscles, especially in the upper arms and wrists. Just to think that some poor people have to handle hundreds of bricks every… But I digress.

Anyway, on the book’s subject matter, my eyes are open already and, when they aren’t, they are better off staying shut. However, as a wise friend of mine suggested, the book wasn’t written for me.

After all, I grew up a mile from the eponymous House and I know a fair amount about most of its residents. A few of them I even knew personally. I’ve also read most of the Soviet books Slezkine cites, or at least other books by the same authors.

Both the protagonists and the books formed part of my life for the first quarter-century of it, and since then I’ve read just about everything about the world that begat them. However, even though I’m attracted to the subject personally, emotionally and intellectually, I had to skip many pages of The House that added nothing to my knowledge and little to the narrative.

So fine, the book wasn’t written for me. But I’d be curious to know what reader Slezkine saw in his mind’s eye. An academic like him? But the book is aimed at a general audience. (If it weren’t, it would cost much more. For example, my slim volume on Tolstoy, inexplicably published as an academic tome, goes for £80 or more.)

Now I can’t for the life of me imagine a general reader, no matter how keenly he’s interested in Russian history, wading his way through the 1,096-page deluge of names, biographies and events most of which mean nothing to him. At my most jaundiced, I’d bet that even most of the reviewers didn’t read the book cover to cover.

Yet within those 1,096 pages, there’s a good 400-page book, buried alive. It suffocates, trying to scratch its way out of the rubble piled up on top, but never quite succeeds.

If exhumed, it would be interesting and enjoyable to read. For Slezkine is a lucid and elegant writer. Comparing him to Tolstoy in this regard is ludicrous, but he writes better than most historians this side of Gibbon.

Much as I appreciate his style, I admire his industry even more. Under no circumstances could I match the amount of painstaking research that fills The House to the brim. In fact, one often feels that Slezkine would be better off if he were a bit lazier.

It’s hard for any writer to activate the check valve controlling the flow of information, but Slezkine doesn’t even try. The same stories about the same people could have been told in half the space, and they would have been the better for it.

In the literary part of the book, Slezkine doesn’t seem to believe in quoting a paragraph or two when a full page can do as well. Show me a man who says he read every quotation in its entirety, and I’ll show you a liar – or else a critic.

However, excessive length is a minor quibble, especially if the reader’s biceps are strong enough to handle the book’s weight. It’s the analytical part that I find objectionable, and there parallels with Tolstoy are amply justified.

For Tolstoy almost succeeded in ruining the sublime prose of War and Peace with inane philosophical asides, mostly dealing with the determinist theory of history. The great writer thus taught subsequent generations a valuable lesson, which Slezkine didn’t heed.

Tolstoy’s sublime narrative survived the silly asides because it didn’t depend on them. But Slezkine’s philosophy is a peg on which his whole story hangs, and it’s too weak to support it.

To Slezkine, Bolshevism is another millenarian religion, just like Christianity was until believers realised that Jesus had misled them about the end of the world being nigh.

Hence Lenin is, mutatis mutandis, a modern answer to Jesus; the Bolshevik concept of sin is identical to Christ’s, as interpreted by Augustine; the Tenth Congress of the Party (which banned all opposition) is akin to the first Council of Nicaea; the CheKa isn’t unlike the Inquisition. Most important, the ghoulish residents of the House are like early Christians, fervent in their faith and prepared to do all it takes to spread it.

Slezkine doesn’t quite say that the sincerity of their faith justifies what they did on its behalf: murdering tens of millions and enslaving hundreds of millions. But, judging by his sympathetic treatment of some of the personages, this is an impression one could get.

Slezkine is an obvious atheist, as are some of my best friends. But, unlike him, they have enough self-awareness not to tread the terrain where they’re guaranteed to get lost. They also have the taste not to indulge in the waffle popular among the flower children of the ‘60s, along the lines of Jesus being a sort of Che Guevara of Galilee.

That’s exactly what Slezkine does, except that he pads the waffle with much intellectualising. However, in essence he’s no different on this score from those pimply vulgarians.

As a hard-working historian and good writer, Slezkine accurately describes the evil deeds perpetrated by the House’s residents. But as an atheist, he doesn’t understand the nature of evil.

Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, understood the true animus of Russian revolutionaries: they were demons, possessed by the devil. Had he lived to see their triumph, he would have observed that the only real purpose of mass murder is to murder masses.

Everything else is a self-vindicating cocoon. Few evil people realise they are evil ontologically, even though they’ll readily acknowledge the wicked nature of what they do. But they’ll try to deceive others and often themselves by claiming that what they do is necessary to achieve a higher, redemptive purpose.

Thus Lenin, Christ’s typological equivalent according to Slezkine, said that he didn’t care if 90 per cent of all Russians perished, as long as the remaining 10 per cent lived to see communism. Not quite Matthew 5-10, is it?

Slezkine should ponder the difference between religion and ideology. Religion, especially Christianity, teaches good. Ideology, especially Bolshevism, justifies evil. If he understood that, he wouldn’t sound like, to quote Chesterton, “the village atheist talking to the village idiot”.

I grieve for the good book buried under prolixity and inanity. Slezkine’s erudition and cultured pen deserve better.

From the loo to the toilet

“Language is only a means of communication” is a phrase that instantly identifies its utterer as an ignoramus, especially if used to justify sloppy grammar, puny vocabulary and nonexistent style.

He doesn’t know enough about language, doesn’t understand enough about communication and doesn’t have enough taste not to mouth truisms. What such a chap usually means is that language is like money: it has no intrinsic value and can only act as a means of exchange, in this case of bits of information.

This doesn’t quite explain, say, John Donne or William Shakespeare, who obviously treated language as an art form in itself. Yet in a broader sense than truism-obsessed dolts can imagine, language is indeed a means of communication.

It’s variably successful at communicating whatever it is the speaker wishes his audience to know, but it’s invariably unerring in communicating all there is to know about the speaker.

By way of illustration, let’s look at various words describing the room designated for discharging bodily waste. Most such words have one thing in common: they are euphemisms.

But that’s where the similarity ends. (All my subsequent remarks relate mainly to British, which is to say proper, English, although some of them may apply to any Anglophone sphere.)

‘Toilet’, for example, is a euphemism that identifies the speaker as a lower-class person with aspirations to gentility. The word originally comes from the French toilette, which means ‘dressing room’. When used to describe a room where, rather than dressing, people urinate and defecate, it’s a euphemism.

Squeamish to identify the area by its principal function, the speaker has to resort to a euphemism that, due to its French provenance, sounds sophisticated, which is what he tries to be. Hence he identifies his social class as rather low: truly sophisticated people don’t care whether or not they sound as such.

Moreover, one may add, sophisticated people tend to eschew euphemisms wherever possible.

However, thumbing one’s nose at euphemisms, one may have to resort to the reverse snobbery of words like ‘shithouse’ (which is curiously almost a homophone of the French chiotte). If the user of this Anglo-Saxon word isn’t a reverse snob, he’s a lout who’s proud of his loutishness. On balance, I prefer the reverse snob, but neither is appealing.

The problem is that all socially acceptable words for this facility are euphemisms. Take the more socially advanced terms ‘lavatory’ and ‘loo’.

The former means ‘washroom’, and in fact some colonials do pretend that washing or bathing is what that area is for. Hence Americans routinely refer to it as ‘bathroom’, which makes any Englishman worth his bath salt cringe.

Curiously, the British don’t use the word ‘crapper’, which has some currency in the lower reaches of the US.

The British mistakenly associate it with the crude term for faeces, whereas in fact this a case of what linguists call back formation. The crude word comes from the name of a perfectly respectable English gentleman, Thomas Crapper, who in the nineteenth century invented the flushing… whatever you call it.

A shortened version of ‘lavatory’, ‘lav’, betokens one of the better public schools or else the pretence of having attended one. Yet the euphemistic quality remains. And ‘loo’, which occupies a highish rung on the social ladder, reflects the English affection for silly word games.

The facility under discussion was originally called ‘water closet’ (WC for short). The English immediately realised that tagging ‘-loo’ to ‘water-’ gives them delicious memories of rubbing Frenchmen’s nose in the dirt. In due course, ‘loo’ left ‘water’ behind and began a life on its own.

While ‘WC’ is still sometimes used, mostly in pubs, as an inscription above an arrow, ‘closet’ left English and entered Russian as the euphemistic klozet.

What else? I’m always confused by doors identified as ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gentlemen’. Being manifestly neither a lady nor, less manifestly but just as surely, a gentleman, where am I supposed to go? Mercifully, I’m blessed with a robust bladder and a high tolerance for discomfort.

‘Men’ and ‘Women’ (or M and W for short) is unambiguous linguistically but anachronistic in every other sense. The polarity presupposes the belief that these are the only options in His Creation, which presupposition is being successfully and widely challenged.

A man pretending to be a woman is now entitled to relieve himself in the W facility, whereas a woman pretending to be a man is welcome at the M. So far I’ve been spared, as far as I know, the experience of using a urinal adjacent to one being irrigated by a recently reconstructed woman, but I doubt I’d like it.

We’re rapidly running out of options, without yet finding one that’s unobjectionable or indeed generic. What’s left?

Englishmen of the middle class and higher may at times use the word ‘bog’, which too is a euphemism, with a tinge of reverse snobbery – these days. In the days predating Thomas Crapper’s invention, people used open-air cesspits for this purpose, which must have ended up resembling a putrid swamp.

The word is therefore less euphemistic than the others, but it’s certainly no more mellifluous. One doesn’t expect words for this facility to caress one’s ear, but neither does one wish to have one’s ear grated.

My point is that any of these terms will convey cold information as well as any other. But they all convey so much more – and don’t let me get started on words denoting rooms in the house, different meals and whatnot.

Anyway, I have no time to go there: it’s my turn to cook tea today.

“We’re on to you, Vlad”

Well spoken, Prime Minister, shame about the dress

Opportunities to praise Mrs May are as rare as whale droppings, but yesterday she kindly provided one. In the process, she showed Trump how a residually free nation should talk to criminal regimes.

Then again, Mrs May has more reason to be cross with Putin’s junta: it was in London, not New York that it committed the world’s first and so far only act of nuclear terrorism.

“Russia’s actions…,” she thundered, “threaten the international order on which we all depend.”

She then provided a brief list of said actions, including “Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea [which] was the first time since the Second World War that one sovereign nation has forcibly taken territory from another in Europe.

“Since then, Russia has fomented conflict in the Donbas, repeatedly violated the national airspace of several European countries, and mounted a sustained campaign of cyber espionage and disruption.

“This has included meddling in elections, and hacking the Danish ministry of defence and the Bundestag, among many others…

“So I have a very simple message for Russia. We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.”

Mrs May probably has little experience dealing with neighbourhood Russian thugs, of whom Putin self-admittedly is one. So perhaps I can offer some unsolicited advice:

An appeal to their good side won’t work, even if accompanied by a litany of transgressions the thugs have committed. This will only elicit a scowl and a contemptuous question “So what are you gonna do about it?”.

The only thing to do about it is to deliver a hard punch on the nose – and then hold your own in the ensuing fight. Win, lose or draw, there’s every chance you’ll be left alone after that: thugs want to bully, not to fight.

But it takes two things to answer that question in such a decisive manner: muscular strength and, much more important, guts. Extrapolating to current geopolitics, the US may have the strength, but not the guts. The UK has neither.

So the preemptive punch option isn’t on the table. But something has to be, for otherwise Mrs May’s tough talk would be just that, talk.

But then she uttered a sentence that, perhaps inadvertently, constituted a veiled deadly threat to Putin’s junta, deadlier than any other any Western politician could possibly make.

We are, she said, “strengthening our cybersecurity and looking at how we tighten our financial regimes to ensure the profits of corruption cannot flow from Russia into the UK.”

Putin and his clique are, not to cut too fine a point, thieves. To their credit, that’s not all they are: their other pursuits include murder, blackmail, racketeering – and that’s before we talk about the activities that upset Mrs May so.

Further to their credit, they mostly steal not from us, but from their own country, robbing it blind. Some of the money stays in Russia, taking the shape of tasteless palaces, private jets and other trinkets too numerous to mention.

But the surplus far exceeds such expense items. What are they supposed to do with it? Put it into a Russian bank? Mention this possibility to any Russian, and he’ll smile sardonically.

Out of one corner of his mouth, he’ll be smiling at the very idea that a fortune, ill-gotten or otherwise, can possibly be kept in a country where property protection not only doesn’t exist now but has never existed – and where most criminal sentences have been accompanied by confiscation since, well, for ever.

The other corner will be used to smile at a naïve outlander who doesn’t realise that these people’s fortunes don’t belong to them. At best, they are leaseholders, with the freehold staying in the hands of the ruling junta.

They are the junta at the moment, but fortune is fickle in general, and in a gangster economy especially. At any second, they may be charged with a real or imaginary crime and dispossessed. What protects them is proximity to the leader, but he himself is a hostage to circumstance: a coup can oust him tomorrow, and he won’t be able to protect anybody’s fortune, including his own.

The conclusion is obvious: the money must be exported to the West, laundered and kept relatively safe from political upheavals. ‘Relatively’ is the operative word here: Putin’s typological predecessors showed that absolute security doesn’t exist.

In 1917 many prescient Russian moneybags transferred much of their wealth abroad in anticipation of the Bolshevik putsch. But, as Comrade Stalin said, “there are no fortresses Bolsheviks can’t take”.

The prescient ones were arrested and tortured until they coughed up the Western account numbers and passwords. If they managed to flee Russia, that fate befell their families. If the families fled too, well, to quote Joe Lewis, they could run, but they couldn’t hide. (Ask Mrs Litvinenko; she’ll tell you.)

Still, relative security is better than none, and Russian ‘oligarchs’, including the national leader, have managed to transfer to the West a neat sum estimated at a trillion dollars. The estimates of Putin’s cut vary from a derisory $40 billion to a healthy $200 billion, and even the lower amount would be a shame to lose.

Hence the deadly nature of Mrs May’s implied threat. For Western governments have the power to arrest those accounts or even, in an extreme scenario, confiscate them.

Whether or not Mrs May meant that, Vlad and his jolly friends could only interpret her words one way: “Boys, behave – or you can kiss your money good-bye”.

Such a development would represent a catastrophe worse than a nuclear strike on Moscow. The boys have prepared shelters deep enough and hard enough to protect them. The people they’ve robbed would perish, but you don’t seriously think this lot would care?

Their money on the other hand is the raison d’être of Putinism. Well, perhaps not the whole raison, but the way of keeping score in the diabolical game they’re playing. Losing it would mean losing the game.

Incidentally, it’s easy to determine which Russian money sitting in Western banks represents proceeds of criminal activity. All accounts in excess of a few hundred thousand are. All of them are an unmissable target.

So Mrs May is on to something. Whether she realises it or not.

“Women at Human Rights Chambers Complain of Sexual Harassment”

I usually try to come up with my own headlines, but my modest talents have proved inadequate to matching either the poignancy or the comic effect of this contribution in today’s Times.

Few headlines these days make me rejoice, fewer still call for jumping up, punching the air and screaming “Yes!!!”. Yet this one did the trick.

It’s hard to think offhand of any other line that could have a similar effect. Perhaps “RSPCA Staff Guilty of Cruelty to Animals”. Or “Blacks Excluded from Commission for Racial Equality”.

Or “Church of England: Let the Boys Wear Tiaras”… oops, sorry. This last one is another real headline, and it had no air-punching effect – quite the opposite. In fact, that was one of those rare instances when I was speechless.

Surely encouraging transvestism, transsexuality and other gender-bender perversions is the job for the government, not the Church? It’s downright presumptuous of the Archbishop of Canterbury to think that HMG needs God’s help in either reducing or increasing the number of sexes stipulated in Genesis.

So back to the story at hand. Matrix Chambers is the brain child of Cherie Booth, QC, better known as Mrs Tony Blair. If half the stories one hears about her are true, Mrs Blair represents an organic blend of Messalina, Lucrezia Borgia and Rosa Luxemburg, which makes her marriage to Tony one of those made in heaven.

She and a few other lawyers set up Matrix in 2000 to champion diversity and dedicate itself to the “promotion and advancement of women”. Yet a secret internal report proves that laws of nature (not to be confused with natural law) haven’t yet been repealed.

Actually, they have been repealed, but the news hasn’t quite reached the male lawyers of Matrix, who apparently are guilty of the worst, or at least the most fashionable, crimes. The moment those legal gentlemen doff their wigs, they’re out to subject their female colleagues to sexual harassment and salacious innuendo.

Moreover, such felonious outrages are “endemic in our profession”, according to a group of barristers called Behind the Gown. Actually, Under the Gown seems more appropriate.

No wonder the Matrix management ordered its 80 members to hush up the report because spilling the beans would be “highly corrosive”. They obviously know little about justice, at least that of the poetic variety. Nor do they possess sufficient sense of humour to enjoy the delicious irony as much as I do.

A number of female barristers working for Matrix clearly doubt not only the sexual probity of their organisation but also its professional competence. “We need to know,” they wrote, “that if something happened that required us to make a complaint, Matrix is equipped to handle it.”

I dare say that if an outfit employing 80 lawyers isn’t equipped to handle such a situation, criminally monstrous as it is, I don’t know who would be. Perhaps the Church of England – unless it’s too busy promoting degene…, sorry, I mean the equality of sexes, all 10 of them.

It’s also instructive that our female barristers think far ahead. Judging by their wording, and barristers do know how to express themselves precisely, nothing that would require them to make a complaint has happened yet. But, judging by the behaviour of their frisky colleagues, it might.

In the same vein, I’d like to know that, if something happened that required me to make a complaint that my car has been stolen, the police would be able to handle it. No, forget that. I know they wouldn’t be: their time is taken up investigating such crimes as people being called fat bastards, ginger tossers or black anything.

Now that I’ve vented some bile out of my system, two serious comments are in order.

First, the very existence of a legal speciality devoted to human rights is as offensive as the Church of England promoting degene…, sorry, I mean the equality of sexes. For, hard as I try, I can’t recall any great human rights lawyers of the past.

Solon? Cicero? Anyone closer to our own time? Earl of Mansfield perhaps? You’ll find that human rights law is a modern concoction, and a very recent one at that.

In the past, it was assumed that the English Common Law provided adequate protection for the ‘rights of Englishmen’, without any need for narrow specialisation. Simply upholding just laws was enough.

Then, at some point in Mrs Tony Blair’s and Mrs George Clooney’s lifetime, a need arose to defend human rights. Though deemed sufficiently protected before the advent of democracy and equality, they were now in jeopardy.

The idea appeals to me: my human rights are egregiously violated by the very existence of Mrs Tony Blair and Mrs George Clooney as public figures. But the inventors of this revolutionary idea must have had something else in mind.

The second serious observation is that every evil revolution does a Saturn by devouring its children. Many French demons went to the guillotine they loved so much. Many Russian demons perished in the terror they glorified.

The revolution under way now is, so far, less sanguinary, but it’s just as destructive – possibly more so. And it too is beginning to hit out at its perpetrators.

“None of it can be prevented,” wrote Seneca, “but it can all be despised.” And mocked. All we have left.

I envy Trump his innocence

Friendly waiters at my favourite Asian restaurant Ho Lee-Fook

In 1807, Napoleon and Alexander I met at Tilsit, where they signed the eponymous treaty. Exactly 210 years later, Trump and Putin met in Vietnam – and I wouldn’t dare push the parallel any further than that.

For five years after the Tilsit meeting the two countries were at war. Mercifully, judging by the cordiality between Donald I and Vlad II, no such conflict is on the cards.

In deference to their hosts, both leaders donned local garb, which made them look either like waiters at the fashionable Asian eatery Ho Lee-Fook or else superannuated Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.

Having served the paparazzi the perennial special Photoop Suey, the two waiters cum leaders had a friendly unofficial talk, making sure that nothing like the post-Tilsit hostilities will ever break out.

The meeting put paid to the greatest obstacle in the way of peace: the seemingly well-established fact that Putin meddled in the US elections. Never mind that all the hackers and trolls did their business from Russia – Vlad had nothing to do with that.

How can Donald be sure? Simple. Vlad told him so, and Donald has no reason not to take him at his word:

“He said he didn’t meddle. He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times … He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election… Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that. And I believe. I really believe when he tells me that he means it.”

Given such touching credulity, I’m amazed Donald had to ask so many times. Surely he knows by now that Vlad’s word is his bond.

As a good Presbyterian, Donald follows Christ’s entreaty to be as innocent as doves and as wise as serpents. He’s at least halfway there: serpent-like wisdom still needs a bit of work, but dove-like innocence is there for all to see.

As an old cynic myself, I envy this ability to trust other human beings. Donald must have benefited hugely from his professional life spent in the rarefied moral atmosphere of property development in places like Atlantic City.

It’s clear that Donald can’t even imagine other people lying to him because he himself has never told a lie. And he learned to spare the other man’s feelings too – who in his line of work has ever offended anyone?

Thus Donald understandably rues that Vlad “is very insulted” by such vile allegations. As well he should be: George Washington with his cherry tree has nothing on Vlad’s unimpeachable honesty… sorry, I shouldn’t use any cognate of ‘impeach’ within a few words of mentioning Donald.

Had Donald already achieved serpent-like wisdom to complement his dove-like innocence, he would have stopped to consider Vlad’s form before accepting his words as gospel.

He would have asked himself a question that naturally comes to old cynics like me. Supposing that Vlad did meddle in the elections, how would he have replied to Donald’s point-blank enquiry?

“But of course, Donald, I did. You know it, I know it, the whole bloody world knows it. Are you complaining? Remember I did it for you. You and I, mate. We’re like two jaws of the same vice – we’ll squeeze the living bejeesus out of the world…”?

Donald is no lawyer, but counsel at criminal trials tend to ask a series of questions aimed at establishing the witness’s record of ‘truth and veracity’. If he’s shown to be a serial liar, his testimony is either thrown out or at least treated with caution.

Still, even without the benefit of legal background, Trump ought to have reminded himself of Vlad’s professional life, spent in a considerably less rarefied atmosphere than Donald’s own.

It started in the KGB Second Chief Directorate, responsible for combatting dissent. Fair enough, Vlad had no need to tell any lies there. He could tell any dissident that he’d send him to a camp, where murderers would queue up for his favours – and keep his word.

But then Vlad was transferred to the First Chief Directorate, whose remit was spying on the West and spreading disinformation, which is to say lies, about the Soviet Union.

Hence lying can’t possibly be as alien to him as it seems to be to Donald. In fact, the ability to lie believably was an ironclad requirement in Vlad’s pre-government job.

His first government job was that of deputy mayor of Petersburg, where in 1992 the Council commission headed by Marina Salye investigated Vlad’s record of truth and veracity.

Among other choice bits, the resulting dossier shows that Putin signed deals to export $100 million worth of raw materials in exchange for food. The raw materials dutifully left Russia. No food came back in return – this at a time of rationing in Petersburg.

The dossier also states that Putin’s “quest for personal enrichment and absence of any moral barriers became obvious at the very onset of his career.” But people do change, and it’s possible Vlad had his Damascene experience when becoming the national leader.

Alas, he didn’t. He has lied about every major event occurring in Russia on his watch, and quite a few minor ones.

He lied about those blown-up apartment blocks, staged by the FSB to kick off the second Chechen war and tighten Putin’s grip on power.

He lied about having nothing to do with any murders of dissidents, from Politkovskaya and Starovoitova to Litvinenko and Nemtsov – and hundreds of others, including dozens of journalists.

He lied that the Crimean invasion was executed by the ‘little green men’ who had nothing to do with the Russian army.

He lied that pogroms had been committed against Russians in the Ukraine.

He lied that the Russian army played no role in the subsequent aggression against the Ukraine.

He lied that the airliner Flight MH17 wasn’t shot down by a Russian missile.

He lied about his state sponsoring industrial-scale doping of Olympic athletes.

He lied about having nothing to do with money laundering, through Panama and other offshore havens.

We could be here all day: a tissue of lies is being spun every hour of every day by every Russian spokesman, every print and broadcast medium, and Putin personally.

Then again, we could echo Bertie Russell and argue that the sun doesn’t have to rise tomorrow just because it rose yesterday. Yes, that was a clear-cut fallacy, but still: just because Vlad has never uttered a word of truth in his life, it doesn’t mean he’s lying in this case.

I am trying to develop Donald’s innocence (and Bertie’s philosophical depth) to believe that. I’ll let you know how I get on.

JFK was killed by a KGB agent

Now that, courtesy of President Trump, some archival data on the Kennedy assassination have been declassified, interesting documents are coming to light.

Some of them were published in The New York Times on 26 October, and I have the Russian journalist Piontkovsky to thank for bringing the article to my attention.

Those who are constantly on alert for conspiracy theories needn’t worry. Yes, the uncovered documents confirm what any Russian (or anyone who really understands Russia, which in practice means, well, a Russian) knows anyway, that Oswald was a KGB agent. But no, they don’t prove that killing Kennedy was his assignment.

The documents prove the existence of only one conspiracy: that of staggering ignorance on the part of Western intelligence services and their academic consultants when it comes to Russia – in her Soviet or post-Soviet incarnations.

They may know the facts, but they typically don’t have a clue how to interpret them, including those in the public domain. For any Russian, the whole Oswald story smells fishier than Billingsgate first thing in the morning.

In 1959 Oswald, a young American left-winger, emigrated to the Soviet Union in search of millenarian happiness. So far so good – quite a few Western ‘idealists’ were tropistically attracted to the land of concentration camps.

However, and here Oswald’s story again follows a familiar pattern, by 1962 he realised that millenarian happiness was too elusive. So much so that even Oswald, a man of limited intellect, realised it might not exist.

Unlike Adam, he wanted to leave the paradise of his own accord, of which desire he informed the KGB. Nothing earth shattering there: the KGB supervised Oswald’s stay.

At this point the official story becomes less credible. For the KGB magnanimously allowed Oswald to leave, even at the risk of the Americans squeezing a lot of propaganda value out of the incident.

Such generosity wasn’t completely out of the question, but it was unlikely. At that time, thousands of Americans, some former ‘idealists’ like Oswald, some POWs stuck in Eastern Europe at the end of the war, some kidnap victims, were languishing in Soviet concentration camps or in exile.

They were desperately trying to return home, but to no avail – partly because the State Department wasn’t really interested. The peace process had to survive at any cost, didn’t it?

But fine, Oswald got lucky. The doors of the paradise were flung open, and he was ready to leave. What follows crosses the fine line separating unlikely from impossible.

For this Adam had his Eve, a model Soviet citizen called Marina Prusakova. Lee and Marina fell in love, got married and wanted to leave together. And the KGB let them.

Now anybody who lived in the USSR at that time will tell you that this is neither unlikely nor improbable – it’s utterly impossible. As a rule, Westerners married to Russian women could never get them out. In those few instances when they could, it took the man many years of banging on every door and finally getting the support of his government to see his beloved again.

Yet here we have, for all intents and purposes, an American traitor to the Soviet paradise, who’s not only allowed to leave but gets the divine dispensation to take his wife with him. This could only be possible if the happy couple – or at least Oswald – had been recruited as KGB agents.

On 26 September, 1963 (Kennedy was shot on 22 November), Oswald travelled to Mexico City, where he met officials of the Soviet embassy – this much is known.

However, the newly declassified documents identify his contact there: Valery Kostikov, of the KGB Thirteenth Chief Directorate, responsible for assassinations and sabotage. At first, Kostikov, the Directorate’s principal officer in the Western hemisphere, talked to Oswald in the presence of two other Russians, then for the next 20 minutes on his own.

What did they talk about? Mexican food? We don’t know. So far there’s no proof that the KGB told Oswald to shoot Kennedy, and we should deal with facts, not conjecture.

One such fact is that less than two months later Oswald did shoot Kennedy, and the Russians quaked in their knee-high boots, thinking that a friendly visit from SAC (US Strategic Air Command) was imminent.

The last thing they wanted was to be in any way implicated in the assassination. And here we’re treated to another declassified document that puts to shame the Brothers Grimm, Hans-Christian Andersen and all other spinners of fairy tales.

On 4 December, 1963, a CIA agent in Moscow submitted a report based on “reliable information” from “a highly placed source”. US intelligence services accepted this information as authentic – which would have been risible to any Russian child at the time:

A source who has furnished reliable information in the past advised on Dec. 4, 1963 that the news of the assassination was greeted in Moscow by great shock and consternation and church bells were toiled in the memory of President Kennedy. According to our source, officials of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union believed there was some well-organized conspiracy on the part of the ‘ultralight’ in the US to effect a ‘coup’.

He meant ‘tolled’, not ‘toiled’, and ‘ultra-right’, not ‘ultralight’, but never mind the language. Feel the lies.

The Soviet Union was a militantly atheist country. Churches there were razed or converted to warehouses. One anti-religion campaign followed another, and in fact one such was at its peak in 1963.

Only 38 churches were still open in Moscow, a city of seven million people – and their bells never tolled (take it from me, I was 16 at the time). That church bells would toll for Kennedy would have been as likely as Khrushchev ending one of his interminable speeches by crossing himself and saying “In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”.

Any CIA analyst, in fact any halfway educated person, should have instantly identified the source of the “reliable information”: the KGB First Chief Directorate, responsible for disinformation.

That art involves telling the enemy what he wants to hear and therefore is likely to believe. Westerners, Americans in particular, have always wanted to believe that at heart the Russians are just like them. At the time, many Americans were religious, and hence even their Russian experts were ready to swallow the canard of those bells ‘toiling’ all over Moscow.

Just as now they’re eagerly swallowing the canard of the veteran of the same First Chief Directorate leading Russia on a path to Christian virtue. It’s the same bells, ‘toiling’ just as deafeningly.

Good job we didn’t have a balanced cabinet then

Germany’s previous attempt to unite Europe

First, let me offer you some in-depth political insight, based on my intimate familiarity with Westminster ins and outs, extensive life experience, understanding of human nature and acute aesthetic sense:

There’s no doubt that our new International Development Secretary Penelope ‘Penny’ Mordaunt is tastier than Theresa May, Andrea Leadsom and even David Davis. Her thighs in particular are most noteworthy.

If you wish to contest this conclusion, I suggest you Google numerous photographs of Penny wearing swimsuits. The pictures show her to be slightly on the heavy side, but generally falling into the ‘I would’ category.

Considering that our field of political talent currently lies fallow, with little chance it’ll ever be sown again, this ought to be a sufficient qualification for a cabinet position. Add to this Miss Mordaunt’s impeccable Brexit credentials and the fact that she has the same Christian name as my wife, and I dare you to find a better candidate.

However, reading the newspaper accounts of Miss Mordaunt’s elevation, one gets the impression that she wasn’t promoted on the basis of her thighs, cleavage or Christian name. Her Brexit credentials did have something to do with it, but in a convoluted way.

Apparently, “Theresa May bowed to Eurosceptic demands to maintain the delicate Cabinet balance on Brexit,” and “Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said it would be wrong to tip the balance in the cabinet further [my emphasis] in favour of Remainers.”

Verily I say unto you, our political system is getting more nervous by the minute. So our cabinet shouldn’t be balanced in favour of Remainers more than it already is.

Suddenly it dawns on me that my grasp of politics isn’t as firm as I hubristically thought. In fact, I realise I understand nothing, even though I’m still clinging on to my aesthetic appreciation of Miss Mordaunt’s thighs.

My whole world has gone topsy-turvy, with every certitude stamped into the dirt. However, out of sheer nostalgia, let me tell you what those certitudes were.

Brexit is one of the most critical constitutional issues in British history and by far the most critical one in the past 25 years. At stake here is the sovereignty of the realm, which is exactly the situation Britain faced in 1940.

The parallel shouldn’t be pushed too far. Mrs Merkel is no Hitler, and her country today isn’t exactly the Third Reich. While Germany is again the principal agent of European unification, she so far achieves her goal without relying on Stukas and Tigers. And, though we’re constantly bombarded with pro-EU propaganda, we aren’t being bombarded with anything more explosive.

But that doesn’t mean that no parallel exists. If Brexit doesn’t go through (and there’s every possibility it won’t), Britain will be no more sovereign than she would have been had the events of 1940 gone the other way.

Britain then stuck to the principle best expressed by the great Jesuit Matteo Ricci (d. 1610): “Simus, ut sumus, aut non simus” (We shall remain as we are or we shall not remain at all). And the War Cabinet was formed to put this principle into practice.

Though led by the Conservatives, the cabinet was an ad hoc coalition including such arch-Labourites as Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin. Hence different parties were represented in the cabinet – but not different approaches to the problem at hand.

Churchill didn’t strive to balance the hawks and doves in his cabinet. All its members were united in their unwavering commitment to preserve Britain’s sovereignty founded on her ancient constitution.

In fact, Churchill delivered a most unbalanced speech, explaining his philosophy of cabinet appointments: “If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”

And he practised what he preached: Churchill didn’t appoint Neville Chamberlain, Ramsey MacDonald and Oswald Mosley to maintain a ‘delicate Cabinet balance’ between defence and appeasement. He welcomed the diversity of party affiliation, but not the diversity of patriotism.

This brings us to the present day, when Britain’s sovereignty is imperilled as much as it was then, albeit with no Luftwaffe bombs levelling London’s East End.

However, the need for a balanced cabinet seems to be taken for granted even by the conservative press, such as it is. I don’t get this.

There’s no more important function in any government than defence of the realm, meaning the safeguarding of the realm’s sovereignty. Following the plebiscite of 23 June, 2016, HMG undertook to do just that and, in due course, activated Article 50, thus pushing the button for exit.

We’re out, which is the opposite of in. The two opposites are mutually exclusive. What’s there to balance? The commitment to sovereignty and absence thereof? As I say, I just don’t get this.

A message to Honourable and other members of the cabinet: Brexit is no longer an issue to argue about. It’s an official policy to carry out. Those who disagree with this policy or refuse to carry it out don’t belong in government – it’s as simple as that.

I’d argue they don’t belong in Parliament either, but, to use the wishy-washy jargon of our politics (and so many editors I’ve met), such a view is too ‘controversial’ and ‘not at all helpful’.

So I won’t say it. Instead, I’d like to redirect your attention to Miss Mordaunt’s thighs, which, as far as I can tell, are in perfect balance.