We should learn from Russia

Ever since the monk Philotheus proclaimed in the 16th century that Moscow was the Third Rome, Russia has set out to teach a lesson to the world.

The face of inherent political virtue, as seen by Russian liberals

That she has done, and quite successfully, except that it’s a lesson in how not to do things, especially in politics. Different analysts ascribe that unfortunate state of affairs to all sorts of factors, cultural, geographic, demographic, geopolitical and so forth.

Most of them have a point, but I think they tend to miss the point. That’s based on the first words in St John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word”.

St John was making a cosmological statement, but it can be profitably extrapolated to just about everything, and certainly to the art of creating and running a just and successful state.

That too starts with the Word, which in this case is a body of philosophical ideas. But they don’t create themselves – like the world itself, ideas require creators. And in a state evolving over centuries, their historical number has to be large.

Now, the Russians are talented people. Yet no nation is equally talented in every area: peaks dialectically presuppose the existence of valleys. For the Russians, it’s philosophy in general and, especially, political thought.

Although they’ve had some interesting metaphysical thinkers, few of them are known internationally. As to political thinkers, not a single one comes to mind.

Since Russia left her cultural development for late, she had to borrow Western patterns. However, those were but the starting points for Russian writers, artists, composers, inventors and scientists. Eventually they managed to find their own paths leading to greatness.

Nothing like that ever happened in modern political thought: it started and ended with aping the West. The Russians stuck Western saplings into their own soil, but the saplings didn’t take. That’s why I often comment regretfully on the paucity of the Russian opposition to Putin.

No intelligent person, especially no intelligent Russian, will fail to see the monstrosity of Putin’s kleptofascist regime – just like no such person ever failed to see the Soviets for what they were.

Where the problems start is in identifying an indigenous philosophical position – the Word in the beginning of everything – from which Russia can move away from Putin and towards a semblance of political virtue.

I read opposition publications every day and invariably bemoan their generally low, at times abysmal, level of thought. That’s especially vexing since some of the writers are genuinely talented.

One such is Igor Yakovenko, a kind of doyen of Russian liberal journalism. Writing in his characteristic acerbic style, Yakovenko is one of the most brilliant critics of Putin and his crimes.

However, when he ventures outside that area, a kind soul ought to tell him to do some serious thinking assisted by serious reading in political science. Using the ideology personified by The Guardian, La Liberation and other ‘liberal’ papers just doesn’t cut it.

Thus Yakovenko laments the existence of  “the word levak (leftie) reflecting a negative attitude to a possessor of left-wing views… The word pravak (rightie) doesn’t exist. If a right-leaning politician is disliked, he’s criticised not for his views but for their consequences. Such as cynicism, neglect of moral and legal norms, a proclivity to solve complex problems by force. A levak is disliked simply for being on the left.”

Yakovenko seems to think that the West is like that too. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Levaks hate conservatives for what they are, while the latter abhor the former for what they do: mass murder, concentration camps, artificial famines, universal destitution, inordinate growth of state power, downgrading civil liberties.

Yakovenko takes issue with an article critical of the removal of Franco’s remains from their resting place in the Valley of the Fallen: “The article’s essence is fully reflected in its sub-title: ‘In memory of an outstanding man who saved Spain from international leftie scum’. [The author] criticises the Spanish people for no longer being capable of distinguishing imperfect good from absolute evil’.”

Now, I probably wouldn’t use the word ‘scum’, and neither would I describe Franco as someone only narrowly missing perfect goodness, but, in 1936, he did save Spain from the absolute evil of Stalinism.

Yet Yakovenko sharpens his irony: “To [the author] the concept of ‘international leftie scum’, along with those who were sent by Stalin to fight on the republican side, includes George Orwell…, Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos…”

This sounds like the maligned author committed the ultimate apostasy. Yet Orwell, who fought with the anarchist POUM, was indeed a leftie. He thought that dispossessing the rich was a key to universal happiness and, in his Homage to Catalonia, criticised Stalin’s secret police, which had unleashed a reign of terror in Spain, for being insufficiently hard.

Hemingway is now known to have been a Soviet agent of influence, while Dos Passos, who started out supporting the republicans, was so disgusted by their murder of his friend José Robles that he refused to take part in Hemingway’s Stalinist propaganda film. Later he became a staunch conservative.

Yakovenko seems to believe that literary talent, of which he too has some, issues a free pass to its possessor. In that case, he shouldn’t find fault with the fascist views of Ezra Pound, Kurt Hamsun or Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Yet one suspects he does, which is most illogical.

Characteristically, Yakovenko mentions Guernica, but not the thousands of priests, nuns and members of the upper classes murdered by the Loyalists. In his eyes, the International Brigades have a halo of romantic goodness about them, whereas they were in fact the vanguard troops of the Comintern, which is to say Stalin.

Aware that the terms ‘right’ and ‘left’ aren’t without a potential for confusion, Yakovenko manfully embarks on the effort of straightening it out.

“In the modern world, to be Left means defending the rights of ‘the insulted and humiliated’ [echo of Dostoyevsky there] and demanding changes to the existing order. Described as leftists are progressives, communists, Maoists, greens, social-democrats, socialists, autonomists, secularists, social-liberals, anti-globalists, defenders of the rights of LGBT and feminists.”

A fairly broad church then, but then so is the right, which presupposes “support for traditional values, demonstrated to various degrees by conservatives, national-democrats, reactionaries, globalists, right liberals, nationalists, monarchists, theocrats, fascists, Nazis, Francoists.”

Hence conservatives like, say, Burke or Enoch Powell only differ from Nazis by the degree of their support for traditional values. And they all display, if to various extents, “cynicism, neglect of moral and legal norms, the proclivity to solve complex problems by force.”

Yakovenko’s political taxonomies of both the Right and the Left are the ignorant drivel of a man traumatised to distraction by what he correctly identifies as his country’s evil regime.

Lumping together conservatives and Nazis is particularly galling. Support for traditional values? Seriously?

The traditional values of our civilisation are Christian, and national socialists hated them as much as their international cousins did. Just like the latter, they were economic socialists. If the Bolsheviks nationalised the economy de jure, the Nazis did so de facto, but they did nationalise it.

Yakovenko would struggle to show the inroads made into fascism by the conservative virtues of prescription, prudence and prejudice, so identified by Burke. Nor would he be able to give an example of a conservative thinker, or for that matter government, displaying “a proclivity to solve complex problems by force”.

Yakovenko regrets the fanaticism of Western lefties, which reduces what he sees as their inherently good ideas to caricatures. His analysis isn’t always wrong, but it’s always facile, at times to the point of being infantile.

A serious thinker would delve deeper, trying to identify the underlying causes of such fanaticism. He’d then uncover the existences of a vast group of monomaniac discontents whose monomania isn’t the cause they happen to tout at the moment, but hatred of every aspect of Western civilisation.

“The Soviet Union is dead but not buried,” concludes Yakovenko, at last finding himself in his comfort zone.

“Its decomposing corpse is poisoning the atmosphere, filling it with the miasma and phantoms of the past, one of which is the original sin of left-wing views…. We must bury the Soviet Union and then, after some 20 years, the word levak will stop being a swear word in the Russian language.”

I started out by saying we should learn from Russia. For Britain has had the requisite number of great political thinkers, along with the tradition of justice and liberty that has never existed in Russia.

Yet how many Britons ascribe unquestioned goodness to left-wing ideas? How many put conservatives and fascists under the same rubric? How many are as confused as Mr Yakovenko and his colleagues about their political taxonomies? How many fail to identify the philosophical core of our civilisation?

I haven’t counted. But if their number were to exceed a certain critical mass, we may end up like Russia: confused, impoverished, tyrannised. 

I fear for the Tories

That’s to say I fear for Britain, for a Labour victory on 12 December will spell an instant and unmitigated disaster for our country.

Boris, I lived under Marxism as a youngster. Please don’t make me do that again. Please?

Yet the campaign strategy followed by Boris Johnson and his advisors seems to make such a development more, rather than less, likely.

I may be wrong of course, and nothing would make me happier should the upcoming election prove so. If the Tory government is returned with a large majority, I’ll ecstatically eat my words and even ask for seconds.

Admittedly, I only proceed on general principle, whereas the Johnson campaign doubtless bases its strategy on numerous focus groups and private polling. Still, someone who trusts such research implicitly may not be familiar with its long history of failure.

My problem with the campaign is that the Tories have effectively turned it into a second Brexit referendum. Johnson answers practically every question with “Let’s get Brexit done”, repeating that mantra ad nauseam to the already jaded electorate.

That effectively allows the Labour agenda to dictate the terms of debate.

First, the majority for Leave was solid, but hardly spectacular. A couple of percentage points here or there, and next time the result may well swing the other way. That’s why Corbyn wisely (and I never thought these two words could appear side by side) chooses to sit on the fence, refusing to be tarred with either the Remainer or Leaver brush, ready to swing either way.

On everything else, the Labour campaign is clearly and unwaveringly targeting the young, dumb, gullible, ethnic and anyone else for whom the sentiment in the first paragraph above isn’t self-evident.

The Tories, on the other hand, meekly accept the truth behind Labour principles, only ever engaging the opposition quantitatively, not qualitatively.

End ‘austerity’? Definitely – but not as thoroughly as Labour wants. Deficit expenditure? Of course – but less than Labour proposes. Reaffirming the godliness of the NHS? Goes without saying – but a bit easier on the tithes. Using prisons mainly for rehabilitation? Absolutely –  but not quite to the extent Labour proposes. Early release? For sure – but perhaps less early and wide than Labour wants. Reduce armed forces? Yes – but not quite down to nothing.

Such shilly-shallying won’t make the slightest dent in the socialist cravings of those who have them, which I dare say is most voters and practically all the young ones. Wiser heads, those who would vote Tory no matter what, wouldn’t be impressed either.

After years of socialist propaganda, people must be given a persuasive reason to vote Tory. They don’t need one to vote Labour or some such.

I’m afraid Johnson et al. are preaching to the choir of core believers who shudder at the thought of a Corbyn government. I’m not convinced there are enough of them to carry the day.

Boris Johnson may have the brains, but evidently not the character to tell the people that the difference between the Tories and Labour is that of principle, not just of detail – and then to announce in a loud and confident voice exactly what those principles are.

Leaving to Labour the promises of free broadband, along with canonised ‘free’ education and healthcare (something that can’t exist by definition), the Tories should use that adjective differently: free conscience, free speech, free assembly, free markets, free enterprise, free trade – all those freedoms guaranteed by the constitution of the realm. All those things that put Great into Britain.

They should then make clear that even attempting to enact Labour’s policies will be tantamount to eliminating all those freedoms, some of them instantly, some within months. For no Marxist programme has ever been realised anywhere without producing political oppression and widespread destitution.

And yes, by all means let’s get Brexit done. But the need to do so hasn’t come about parthenogenetically. It’s strictly derivative, begotten by our constitution and what used to be called the rights of Englishmen.

Having said all that, the line of demarcation between the two parties does exist, mainly because of the sheer monstrosity of Corbyn’s Labour. My point is that this message doesn’t seem to be coming across plainly and forcefully enough.

Is Johnson going to repeat May’s error and expect to win the election by default? I hope not, for such weak-kneed complacency may well set up the stage for a tragedy.

P.S. Speaking of tragedies, the father of the young man murdered by a Muslim terrorist on early release expressed the hope that his son’s death wouldn’t lead to “draconian sentences” being imposed.

Grief works in all sorts of ways, and in this case it might have numbed the poor man’s brain. More likely though is that he’s a Social Justice Warrior, meaning a share-care-be-aware Leftie.

These chaps have nothing against draconian sentences in general. It’s just that they see the group meriting such punishment in their own bizarre ways.

We used to believe that long prison sentences should be reserved for traitors, terrorists, murderers, thieves, burglars and other transgressors against person and property.

This lot would rather punish sex crimes (understood broadly, to include pinching an unconsenting bottom on public transport), racism (such as telling ethnic jokes), homophobia (stating that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman) and tax evasion (also to include tax avoidance). Tempora mutantur… and all that, but these people should check their moral compass, for it’s going haywire.

And of course Jeremy Corbyn, displaying the sensitivity for which Marxists are so justly famous, said that early release is fine for terrorists, provided they are rehabilitated and, contextually, Muslim. Just like Usman Khan, in other words.

Jeremy, repeat after me. The only thing that can rehabilitate those evil men is a bullet. They can then forget their feral hatred and stroll serenely through luxuriant, fragrant gardens, enjoying one of those 72 virgins behind the bushes.

P.P.S. Today’s news illustrates my yesterday’s article. Turns out the long document, which Corbyn waved in the air to show that the Tories are planning to flog the NHS, is a Russian fake. No, seriously? Who could have thought. This also shows whom Putin considers his choice.

Manny does Russia

Sound like the title of a porno film, doesn’t it?

Does this look like I’m smiling, you sale Boche?

Open on a naked Manny removing Europe’s clothes, slowly and sensuously. He then lays her and himself down on the bed. Cut to Vlad taking off his PVC top to reveal a muscular torso…

Actually pornographic is as good a way as any to describe Manny’s affection for Russia into which he seems to be channelling his inner woman.

This is a recent development, for in the past Manny used to make anti-Putin noises. But then women, inner or otherwise, are known to be fickle.

His affections have a zero-sum element built in: the more he feels for Russia, the less he has left for Nato. Nato, according to him, is “brain dead”, and Europe no longer needs America’s protection. It can take care of its own defence by itself; no outside help needed, thank you very much.

This stance is extraordinarily foolish since Russia outguns Europe by at least a factor of 10 in most categories (more in tanks), including nuclear warheads.

Moreover, since the Russian government isn’t accountable to such extraneous irritants as parliaments and voters, it can increase its military spending exponentially. Europe, on the other hand, especially its high-rent part, would rather spend money on social programmes, foreign aid, bribery of electorates and functionaries’ pensions.

This made Manny’s braggadocio sound like empty bluster, and, clever chap that he is, he realised that. His nimble mind whirred into action and got around the problem with the agility that puts to shame both Solomon with that baby and Alexander with that knot.

Russia, he declared, is our friend. That’s why we don’t have an enemy to protect ourselves against.

“Nato is an organisation of collective defence,” explained Manny with his usual perspicacity. “Against what, against who is it defending itself? Who is our common enemy? This question deserves clarification.”

That was Manny’s response to Jens Stoltenberg, Nato’s Secretary-General, and Angela Merkel, who had rebuked him for his puerile anti-Nato diatribes. Reports don’t mention if they told Manny to ask his foster mother Brigitte to come and see them after class.

If Stoltenberg and Merkel were bemused, Eastern Europeans were aghast. They still remember the delights of Russian occupation and dread acting as the destination for Russian tanks.

Manny ought to remember he’s talking about the only European nation that has grabbed foreign territory since 1945. He’s right though: Russia won’t attack the West – because she already has. All around the globe, Putin’s charges confront the West and Western interests.

Not only has Russia launched a bandit raid on the Ukraine, justifying it by trying to prevent further rapprochement between that country and the West, but she also explicitly threatens the Baltics, whose Nato membership is their sole protection.

It’s far from certain that, should those much-suffering countries be attacked, Nato would activate its Article 5 and spring to their defence. But at least that’s a possibility, and this has so far kept Putin on a leash.

Should the Nato umbrella be rolled up, would the mythical European army defend the Baltics and other former parts of the Soviet empire, whose collapse Col. Putin sees as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”? Or will those Left Bank intellectuals shrug and sneer “Mourir pour Riga?”, which is what they were saying about Danzig in 1939?

Manny ought to remind himself of what happened next, of Hitler dancing in Paris and especially of Edouard Daladier, the appeasing French PM who signed the Munich Treaty only to end up in Buchenwald.

The hysteria of bellicose propaganda in Russia has reached a pitch I never heard back in the 1960s, with the West identified as the enemy and the possible target for a nuclear strike.

It’s not just talk, and neither is it just military action. Yes, Russian boots are treading the stolen soil of the Ukraine and also parts of Syria and Africa. But that’s only one aspect of what their Chief of General Staff called ‘hybrid warfare’.

Russia is conducting a massive programme of electronic terrorism and propaganda aimed at sowing discord among Western allies. She’s also busily trying to undermine Western politics by skewing elections her way, as she has already done in the US, Britain and elsewhere.

To that end, she’s also financing every extremist party in Europe, without discriminating between left and right. As long as the party is a catalyst of social unrest, it’s Russia’s client.

One example of that is Marine Le Pen’s NF, or whatever it’s called these days, which is bankrolled by Putin – but Manny magnanimously doesn’t hold that against the KGB colonel even if he does finance Manny’s political opponents.

It’s not that I think kleptofascist Russia is planning an attack on Paris, London or Rome. That would overstress the second part of that composite adjective at the expense of the more important first, ‘klepto-‘.

If they did to Western Europe what they’ve done to the Ukraine, where would those gangsters in and around the Kremlin keep their palaces and yachts? Where would they go for medical treatment and their wives for shopping? Where would their children go to school?

No, they want Europe to remain as their playground. Similarly, a chess player doesn’t plan to checkmate his opponent. He knows that, once that outcome becomes inevitable, the other chap will resign.

With Nato and its key American component removed from Europe, the Russians will promptly grab the wayward parts of their erstwhile empire and dictate their terms to the EU. They won’t conquer Europe – they’ll dominate it, and I don’t know which is worse.

Manny’s anti-Nato diatribes have two constituents: playing quisling to Putin and hating the US in that haughty way that’s the calling card of the European Left. Both are immoral and strategically idiotic.

Now logically, if Europe doesn’t need Nato because it has no enemies, it doesn’t need its own army either. So what’s all that one hears about the urgent need for one?

“Is our enemy Russia or China as I sometimes hear?” Manny asked Stoltenberg. “… I don’t think so. Our common enemy, it seems, is the terrorism which is striking all our countries.”

If so, all we need is an efficient police force, which would take a lot less than the two per cent of GDP that Nato requires. Happiness all around.

But just out of curiosity, who does he think sponsors today’s international terrorism? Who supplies their weapons and teaches them how to use them? Who does their intelligence and logistics? Who comes up with funds whenever the Saudis get mean?

Manny’s foster mother Brigitte ought to explain to him that the great upsurge in world terrorism coincided with the KGB taking the reins of power 20 years ago through their Kremlin stooge Putin. And that many of the IS chieftains were educated at Russian universities, just as Khmer Rouge murderers were trained at the Sorbonne.

If Brigitte obliges, Manny should listen to his elders. Then he may realise that terrorism and Putin’s Russia are inseparable. It’s all part of the same story, waging war on the West without ostensibly attacking it.

Is Manny perhaps laying the groundwork for a Gazprom job, following in the footsteps of the former German chancellor Schroeder? If so, best of luck to him. The sooner that happens, the less likely is Europe to get screwed.

There, I hope I’ve provided the clarification Manny demanded.

So what have we Learned Together?

Learning Together was the umbrella for the Cambridge University conference on prisoner rehabilitation. The attendees, some of them convicts out on an early release programme, gathered at the Fishmongers’ Hall to, well, learn more.

Khan with his accomp… sorry, I mean friends

Visual aids are an important instructional tool, without which education runs the risk of descending into lifeless scholasticism. Such aids were helpfully provided by attendee Usman Khan.

Khan had been recently released halfway into a 16-year sentence for terrorist offences because a) he had been judged to be a reformed character [“Khan has bigged up,” in the opinion of Judge Lord Justice Leveson] and b) our prisons are terribly overcrowded.

He was wearing an electronic ankle tag and wasn’t allowed to enter London, but in this case his probation officers made an exception. Khan’s experience was deemed too valuable for him to miss Learning Together.

Hence he attended several workshops before taking a short break. From that Khan emerged slashing and stabbing with two large knives. Two people were killed and several others wounded before Khan himself was shot dead.

One of the victims was Jack Merritt, 25, the idealistic Cambridge criminologist who had organised the conference. Jack believed Khan was living proof of how a life can be changed for the better. He chose a wrong case study.

In the wake of the tragedy, every paper in His Creation has proposed various measures. Yet they all have one thing in common: in line with much vaunted British pragmatism they deal with the symptoms of the problem without touching upon the underlying philosophy.

Philosophy is for the French and other continentals. The British are about practicalities, not abstract theories – and proud of it. Alas, without grasping the underlying abstractions, the practicalities will be allowed to fester.

However, do let’s proceed inductively by first considering the only three possible methods of tackling the problem of prison overcrowding. One, not to send criminals to prison. Two, not to keep them there for long if they regrettably have to be given custodial sentences. Three, to build more prisons.

Of the three, only the third requires investment in both physical plant and personnel. The first two cost nothing and, critically, vindicate the key premises of modernity. Hence some combination of them is a perfect solution for everybody – except Jack Merritt and other victims of evil recidivists.

Since repeat offenders account for 57 per cent of violent crime in Britain, at this point I have to leave the comfort zone of practicalities and consider the underlying assumptions.

The dominant political system in Britain (and the West in general) is based on the premises variously called liberal, liberal democratic, socialist or social democratic. I call them demonstrably wrong in their understanding of man and the state.

Presumption of human goodness. This came to the fore with the debunking of the founding religion of the West, according to which all men bear the mark of Original Sin.

The formative assumption of our civilisation was that Original Sin requires redemption, both collective, provided by Christ, and individual, provided by personal efforts of imitatio Christi.

That, along with other anachronistic ideas, was dumped into what Corbyn’s role model Trotsky called the rubbish bin of history. Courtesy of Rousseau and his followers, man was assumed to be perfect until society spoiled him.

The expedient of perfecting the primordial noble sauvage thus boiled down to the opening of the paths leading to virtue. Therefore, if some people behaved imperfectly, that meant not enough paths had been open for their innate goodness to come through.

Comparing the two assumptions, one has to be an obtuse fanatic not to see that the entire history of mankind vindicates the first one and debunks the second.

People are sinful and some are evil, manifestly and, in this world, irredeemably. Once we’ve established that, we can segue into the second underlying assumption.

The role of the state. The state has many roles, but only one of them goes back to the very reason that states were instituted among men. And that’s not to keep people equal, educated, healthy and solvent.

All these are derivative and consensual, meaning debatable. There’s only one iron-clad function the state has to perform to justify its existence: keeping people safe from external and internal enemies.

That means having an adequate defence capability and a justice system capable of protecting good people from bad ones. Corollary to that is the understanding that, when budgets are planned, the first decision to be made is the amount necessary for the state to do what it’s fundamentally for. All other needs, real or perceived, must be financed out of the funds left over.

The role of prison. I’ve twice appeared on the BBC, arguing that prison is an essential element of justice whose sole purpose is to protect Her Majesty’s subjects from evildoers. Part of that process may be rehabilitation, but it’s the least significant part. (I was allowed a total of 20 seconds before being outshouted by frenzied lefties.)

Prison is a punitive, not educational or religious, institution. It’s there to punish committed crimes, deter subsequent ones and communicate to the public that justice is done.

Once we’ve defined the problem this way – but only once we’ve done so – the practical solutions will offer themselves.

Our policemen should function as crime fighters, not social workers. They should be given every chance to do their job, which includes having sufficient strength in numbers.

Policemen should be allowed to exercise their judgement in stopping and searching suspects from groups that are statistically more crime-infested than others. Given the choice of spread-eagling on a car bonnet a tweedy middle-aged gentleman or someone who looks like Khan, a policeman mustn’t be accused of racism if he’s good at maths.

Our courts must be instructed to pass stiff sentences, especially for violent and terrorist offences. When a human life is taken or credibly threatened, no parole or early release should be on offer – including with life sentences.

That would drastically increase the prison population, and we must have enough prisons to allow for that – whatever it takes in effort and expenditure. And there’s also another way to reduce overcrowding.

In extreme cases, the death penalty is the only just punishment. Perhaps the standard of proof there should be upgraded to beyond any, as opposed to reasonable, doubt. However, abolishing capital punishment altogether doesn’t uphold the value of human life. It trivialises it.

Offsetting murder or especially terrorism with merely a few years in prison is cruel and unusual punishment imposed on society. For, unless they are attenuated, the tectonic waves murder sends through society may eventually destroy it.

Getting back to the question in the title, what have we Learned Together? If history is anything to go by, precisely nothing.

We’ll continue to treat criminals as poor lost souls, more sinned against than sinning. They’ll still receive derisory, almost apologetic sentences from which they’ll be released early, provided they, like Khan, make a convincing show of ‘bigging-up’.

We’ll neglect to prosecute most crimes against property, and will treat crimes against the person with avuncular tut-tuts. And yes, whenever more people are murdered by Muslim fanatics, we’ll continue to insist that Islam has nothing to do with it.

Moreover, we’ll prosecute those who disagree for racism. Such is justice in modernity, and it’ll change only when modernity does. Which means never.

P.S. The other day a reader posted my photograph on Facebook, and it received more ‘likes’ than any of my articles. That makes me think I’ve missed my true calling: I should have been a male model, not a writer. 

Terror on London Bridge

Earlier today, armed police shot dead a terrorist on London Bridge, but not before he stabbed several people with two kitchen knives.

So far his identity hasn’t been revealed, nor indeed even hinted at. That leaves room for guesswork, which is what I’m inviting you to try.

On the balance of probabilities, do you think the attacker was a) a Tory-voting Englishman, b) a Labour-voting Muslim or c) an apolitical other?

Remember your answer to this question and check the test result tomorrow, when, one hopes, we’ll find out.

Corbyn: Israel has no right to exist

In his 2011 interview with Iran’s Press TV, our would-be PM said that in practically – if not exactly – so many words.

The stubble is greyer now, but the heart is just as black and the mind just as vacuous

Here’s what he said exactly: “I think there is a bias [at the BBC] towards saying that Israel is a democracy in the Middle East, Israel has a right to exist, Israel has its security concerns…”

(If you can’t believe that a Western politician with far-reaching ambitions could have said such a thing publicly, take 36 seconds to watch this clip:

When someone accuses someone else of bias, he expressly disagrees with whatever it is his opponent is biased to. For example, whenever I take issue with the BBC’s left-wing bias, I don’t thereby pledge support for that organisation’s ideological bend.

Hence Corbyn denies that Israel is a democracy, that it has a right to exist and that it has security concerns. This can be safely reduced to a simple statement cutting right to the chase: “I hate Jews”.

This isn’t to say that criticism of Israel is always a tell-tale sign of Jew hatred. For Israel isn’t perfect. Like all human constructs it’s susceptible to human folly. That’s why in this life we aren’t blessed with perfect institutions, nor perfect states.

If we accept this, then we’re forced to apply comparative standards. That method will probably show that there are more obvious objects for criticism in that region, which is what snipers call a target-rich environment.

However, criticism can proceed not only from hate but also from love, when the object of one’s affection falls short of the high standards one expects. If you’ll forgive another lapse into solipsism, only yesterday I wrote a scathing piece about the English, who are nonetheless by far my favourite people.

Thus any country including Israel is open to criticism. However, one questions the motives of those who focus on finding fault with Israel too much and too often.

This reminds me of an old Texan joke. A woman buying a chicken holds the bird up to her nose, smells under the wings and between the legs, and says to the butcher: “This chicken smells.” “Lady,” replies the butcher, “are you sure you could pass the same test?”

A similar thought was in the past expressed with greater elegance: “He that is without sin among you…” Still, by all means criticise Israel if such is your wont. Why, I’ve done so myself on occasion.

However, there’s a difference between that and denying Israel’s right to exist – especially if we realise that, out of the world’s 195 countries, only Israel is singled out for such strong feelings.

If, for example, I were to question Jeremy Corbyn’s right to exist, you’d be justified to suspect I hate him. And you wouldn’t be far wrong, although ‘despise’ would be closer to the mark.

Even if we knew nothing about the virulent anti-Semitism within the ranks of today’s Labour Party, nor about Corbyn’s protestations of friendship with Hamas, Hezbollah and all Muslim terrorists having Israel in their sights, that one interview would make this an open and shut case.

But since we do know all those things, everything snaps together with an audible click. Corbyn is a visceral anti-Semite moulding his party in his own image. His election would put British Jews in jeopardy.

That message was communicated the other day by the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who called on them not to vote Labour. One would think it would be hard to argue against the underlying accusation.

For you and me, maybe. But not for Len McCluskey, who, in his capacity as General Secretary of Unite, is Labour’s paymaster.

Suggesting that anti-Semitism within Labour is “sanctioned from the top,” fumed McCluskey, is “poison”. By way of antidote, he offered this statement: “Labour has fought, Jeremy Corbyn has fought, I’ve fought all my life against anti-Semitism.”

Yes, quite. So did Hitler, Stalin, Ayatollah Khomeini and Osama bin Laden.

I’m not suggesting that Corbyn is a full equivalent of those gentlemen, only that he’s demonstrably as anti-Semitic as they were, if not yet in possession of the means to put his passion into practice.

Vying with McCluskey in the inanity stakes is the official response by the Labour Party spokesman: “Jeremy is committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on a two-state solution – a secure Israel alongside a secure and viable state of Palestine.”

In other words, he’s committed to the solution Israel has put on the table time and again. Her only condition is that the Palestinians (and other Middle Eastern groups) acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and abandon their pledge to “drive Israel into the sea”.

Since this has been consistently and resolutely denied, it would be suicidal for Israel to accept a “viable state of Palestine” whose doctrinal raison d’être is to perpetrate another Holocaust.

It’s touching to observe that the chap who wishes to lead our country shares such sentiments. For, if Israel is deprived of her right to exist, what’s going to happen to the 6-odd million Jews who live there? Just consider the numeral, and you’ll know the answer.

Russian arguments by British people

First, a nostalgic recollection of how serious issues were discussed in the Russia of my childhood.

Yes, Mr Rhodes, but what does one do with the lottery winnings?

When I was little, my parents were friends with a singer in the Red Army Choir, whom I called Uncle Kolia.

(British visitors admired their singing, admitting wistfully that the Royal Marines weren’t as gifted vocally. Of course, the Choir had nothing to do with the Red Army. They were all professional singers whose job was to practise their art clad in the monkey suits of Soviet PR.)

His velvety baritone and perfect biographic credentials got him into the Choir when it was first formed, carrying him all over the world. The first Western country he toured was France. The tour lasted three months, and Uncle Kolia came back a changed man.

In common with many singers, he wasn’t blessed with a far-reaching intellect, so he didn’t even attempt to comment on the socioeconomic fabric of French society. What had blown his mind was the abundance of cheap consumer goods, and he had used his hard-currency allowance to bring back 27 cases stuffed with products of decadent capitalism.

From that day, Uncle Kolia used his experience of Western consumerism, to the exclusion of all other topics, as both a conversation starter and finisher.

In response to an unrelated statement, such as, “A fine day, isn’t it, Uncle Kolia?”, he’d put on a conspiratorial face and hiss: “Fine day, eh? Who cares about the weather? One rouble for two litres of orange juice! Twenty roubles for a suit! Five hundred roubles for a car!”

“So are things better out there than over here then?” That question never failed to restore Uncle Kolia’s sanity.

“Of course they aren’t! You see, we have socialism! It’s just that… well, two roubles for a shirt! Three roubles for a pair of shoes! Fifty kopecks for a chicken!”

Reading today’s report that Manchester, Liverpool, Hull and many other areas have higher death rates than Romania, Poland and Turkey (to say nothing of Western Europe), I feel like asking people in the streets: “So is medical care better out there than over here then?”

I’m sure the posthumous echo of Uncle Kolia’s miraculously Anglophone baritone would rumble above the traffic noise: “Of course it isn’t! You see, we have the NHS!”

Now, since my bloody-minded childhood I’ve always sought, if not always found, rational answers to rational questions. And already during those salad days of my life I discovered that most people aren’t like that.

Their response to serious questions is more typically Pavlovian than Aristotelian. Their knees jerk, but their minds remain immobile – often even in people who unquestionably have minds.

This always happens when I ask intelligent fans of the EU to name one rational argument in favour of that contrivance, and especially British membership in it. The only arguments they ever conjure up can be demolished in 10 seconds flat by an averagely informed and intelligent 12-year-old.

The same goes for the NHS, and I wish I had £10 for every time I’ve tried to argue that free at the point of delivery doesn’t mean free; that the purpose of medicine is to save people, not to level them down; that every socialist enterprise demonstrably functions mainly for the benefit of those running it; that Britain is a first-world country with third-world medicine; that no, Europeans don’t envy our NHS – if they did, they’d nationalise their medicine too.

All to no avail. Decades of brainwashing have scoured British minds of any rational thought when it comes to totemistic idols. Such as the two I mentioned and countless others.

Now, Uncle Kolia had his personality formed under the worst tyranny known to man. Those who had independent minds, especially if accompanied by dignity, integrity and honour, simply didn’t survive in Stalin’s Russia.

But Britain isn’t like that, is she? So how come so many good Englishmen (and Westerners in general) have developed this servile propensity to worship any bull’s head perched on top of the totem pole?

They grow up being able to read, think and say anything they want, and surely they’ve heard many sage men argue serious issues in a logical, well-informed manner. Many Englishmen must even have had professors teaching them how to think.

So how come they don’t? This is a short question demanding a book-length reply, with chapters bearing titles like Age of Reason Against Reason, The Socialist Delusion, Education That Doesn’t Educate and so forth.

God willing, I may be able to write it one day. Meanwhile I’d like to refer to Cecil Rhodes, who’s rapidly becoming a Soviet-style nonperson in British universities. 

“To be born English,” he said, “is to win first prize in the lottery of life.” Perhaps. I’m just sorry that so many Englishmen have lost the winning ticket.     

It’s conservatives who are homeless

A couple of years ago, I was trying to persuade my friend Gerard Batten, then chairman of UKIP, to broaden the party’s appeal by positioning it as genuinely conservative – unlike the party that uses the name but doesn’t really mean it.

“Well-done, Nige. Now about that president’s job…”

My effort at armchair political consultancy was cut short when Gerard explained to me the facts of life. Many of our supporters, he said, perhaps even most, aren’t conservatives at all.

They may be all sorts of things when they are at home: green, red, pink, yellow, any combination thereof. What unites them all isn’t shared political temperament, much less a shared political philosophy, but a shared distaste for the EU.

I was reminded of that conversation the other day, when Nigel Farage unfurled his manifesto banner. Prominently inscribed there was the promise to get rid of the House of Lords.

He didn’t say if he had a replacement in mind but, if pressed, I suspect he’d opt for an American-style senate, fully elected and therefore impeccably democratic. A damn good idea, that.

We already have an American-style Supreme Court, so the first step has been taken. By all means, let’s have a senate now, but why stop there? Let’s call our counties states, their heads governors, our MPs congressmen – and while we’re at it, our country the United States of Britain.

And oh yes, clearly the monarchy will have to go, replaced by an elected president. May I suggest Nigel Farage for that role? Or perhaps he’d rather keep the job open for his friend Don after Trump retires from US politics?

What Farage is proposing is tantamount to constitutional sabotage quite on the par with anything Corbyn sees in his wet dreams. Now perhaps Farage and his admirers feel that our constitution is anachronistic, and some sabotage wouldn’t be a bad thing at all.

I could easily take issue with that belief and I’m self-confident enough to believe I could blow Farage’s arguments out of the water. But I’m not going to do that.

Instead I’m going to say something that no one will disagree with. Whatever the merits and demerits of the Brexit Party manifesto, it’s certainly not conservative.

That makes me reiterate the mournful statement in the title above. Contrary to what a silly Speccie columnist wrote the other day (see my piece of 15 November, it’s not the Jews but conservatives who find themselves politically homeless.

All we can do is seek temporary accommodation at our perennial Lesser Evil pit stop, otherwise known as the Tory Party. I mean, we aren’t going to vote Labour, are we? And on this evidence I won’t vote for the Brexit Party either.

Dat’s strictly for the boids, Ed

The other day Edward Lucas knocked English phonetic snobbery, holding up America as a shining example of linguistic egalitarianism.

A century later, Dr Johnson would have dropped his Lichfield accent. Two centuries later, he would have got it back.

“In America, accents are neutral,” he writes. “They may show geographical origins but they say nothing about your brains, wealth or social status.” Witness the plight of Fiona Hill, a miner’s daughter, who “at her Oxford University interview in the early 1980s… was mocked for her clothes and diction – the most humiliating experience of her life.”

Sympathetic as I am to Miss Hill’s youthful traumas, I could tell similar stories galore about the US. A Houston friend of mine, for example, spoke with a rural Texan accent that was mercilessly mocked at Stanford.

When I found out he had gone to that elite university, I asked how his pronunciation had gone down there. “Ah was fixin to run away,” he sighed.

“When did you last hear someone on Radio 4 or the World Service speaking at length in Fiona Hill’s unapologetic Durham coalfield accent?” asks Mr Lucas. But then I don’t recall any US announcers – even those in Texas – speaking with the diction of my Stanford friend.

Yet Mr Lukas is right to point out that many US politicians have regional, or even foreign, accents. Or rather he’s half-right. Yes, JFK had a Boston accent, Johnson and Dubya a Texan one, Carter and Clinton a southern lilt.

But they all spoke with only a trace of those accents; none ever went the whole hog. Under no circumstances can anyone speaking like my Stanford friend become a US president.

Similarly, a slight New York inflection is no social impediment, but I question the career prospects of someone cursed with a broad Brooklyn accent of “dey, dem and dose”.

As to foreign accents not putting brakes on advancement in the US, that stands to reason. Being a country of immigrants, America can ill-afford to practise phonetic discrimination.

Yet even there things aren’t as straightforward as Mr Lucas thinks. Yes, “Henry Kissinger’s growling vowels still signal his German birthplace”, but according to his classmates at George Washington High, they didn’t always do so.

By the time Kissinger matriculated there, he had got rid of his Dr Strangelove accent – but revived it later to add gravitas to his foreign policy expertise. That he should have felt the need to do so hints at the inordinate, at times sycophantic, respect in which many Americans hold Europeans.

Thus many cultured people on the Eastern Seaboard cultivate English, or rather mid-Atlantic, accents to come across as more sophisticated. Hence also a plethora of English-sounding place names all over the American backwater, all those Kensington Streets, Windsor Plazas and Chelsea Lanes.

(This may explain the relief Fiona Hill felt on arrival in the States: any British accent is seen as a sign of sophistication there.)

It’s true that, in general usage, American English displays fewer and subtler dialectal varieties than British English. But it’s wrong to deny that they act as social and cultural indicators.

A man who, when introduced at a New York party, says “How do you do”, instantly builds an invisible wall between himself and not only someone who says “How y’all doin?” but even a chap who merely says “Nice to meet you”.

Someone who eschews the retroflexive vowel in words like bird won’t have much of a public career even if he doesn’t say boid. Similarly, dropping the r-sound at the ends of words like deliver is social death in the smart circles outside Boston.

There’s no denying that every nation has a standard pronunciation based on the language of the cultured elite. Where they differ is in the degree of tolerance to those who deviate. This largely depends on the country’s age, history, geography and ethnic makeup.

For example, both America and Russia are ethnically diverse and linguistically young: the Russian literary language only dates back to the early 19th century; the American equivalent is at least half a century younger. Hence the vital importance of a unified standard acting as a national adhesive.

The cultural elites in Russia’s provinces typically came from Petersburg and Moscow gentry whose language was seen as a social and professional hoist. (The same situation existed during the British Raj: educated Indians tended to speak English in exaggerated upper-class accents.)

America’s need for a uniform language was even more urgent: there was little else to unify culturally people settling from all over the world. You can see this even in relatively modern times, specifically in Texas.

Even though about a third of the state’s population are Mexicans, until 1973 the government had refused to allow bilingual education. In fact ‘Ma’ Ferguson, governor in the 20s and 30s, famously commented: “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.”

Her intuitive understanding of the American ethos was stronger than her knowledge of ecclesiastical history, but her heart was in the right place.

The situation in Britain is entirely different, as it is in all core European countries. For any number of historical reasons, Britain shows an unmatched dialectal variety. The phonetic atlas of the country identifies 50 major dialects and God only knows how many minor ones; London alone has five distinct accents.

Yet the received pronunciation of the cultured elite acted as the aspirational standard for about a century and a half. In recent decades, that has changed by what Mr Lucas calls ‘accommodation’. “People from the English regions soften their accents. Those like me who grew up speaking the strangulated posh-talk of ‘received pronunciation’ may adopt glottal stops and vowel shifts.”

Anyone who says ‘posh’ isn’t posh, but that’s a different matter. It’s true that the urge to achieve some uniformity is getting stronger in proportion to cultural and economic levelling. But that street isn’t exactly two-way.

After decades of socialist propaganda, educated people like Tony Blair have indeed begun to add glottal stops and drop their aitches to advance their careers. But the lower cultural strata aren’t exactly meeting them halfway: prole is the new posh.

Yet the dictum that all educated people should speak the same way is rather recent. It goes back to Victorian times, when the aristocracy was knocked off its perch and the middle class replaced it as the dominant cultural force.

Back in the 1700s, the last aristocratic century in British history, most people had regional accents. Dr Johnson, for example, wasn’t exactly an ignoramus, yet all his life he spoke in the accent of his native Lichfield. He could easily have dropped it when he went to Oxford University, but felt no need to do so.

Passion for uniformity is the distinguishing bourgeois characteristic. Middle-class people are desperate not to put a foot wrong and slip down the social ladder. Hence their desire to cut off both the peaks and the troughs, flattening every curve that undulates too much — not only phonetically, but also culturally, intellectually and even sartorially.

Neither the upper nor the lower classes share this propensity: they try to cling on to their social and cultural identity. Both are being sucked into the middle-ground morass, but I for one enjoy their rearguard action. And I certainly wouldn’t use it to denigrate England – especially by comparison to America.

Such things are more complex than Mr Lucas fancies… Anyway, got to run. It’s my turn to cook tea today, while me trouble hangs the serviettes out to dry in the toilet.

Invasion of the bowl snatchers

A year ago, two Ukrainian gunboats, Berdiansk and Mariupol, were, along with their 24 crewmen, illegally seized by the Russian navy in the Sea of Azov.

Was that scritchy-scratch or scritchy-snatch, Vlad? Oh well, never mind.

A week ago both the sailors and the ships were returned, but with certain parts missing. That is, I hope you understand, the parts were missing from the boats, not the sailors.

The sailors, as far as I know, have retained a full complement of their organs and body parts. But the boats weren’t so lucky.

That they were stripped of their weaponry and navigational equipment is, I suppose, par for the course. Piracy must have its rewards, otherwise what’s the point?

The Ukrainian navy being a formidable adversary, it stands to reason that the Russians wanted to uncover the secrets of Ukrainian machine guns (of Soviet manufacture) and radars (ditto).

Even as we speak, Russian boffins must be analysing the specifications of those weapons, their rate of fire, accuracy, range. Or at least they must have been doing that until someone said: “Boys, why not just ring the manufacturers? They’re in Russia, they’ll tell you what you want to know.”

Yet it wasn’t just the top secret Russian guns that the pirates lifted from the Ukrainian ships. They also stripped the boats of everything that wasn’t welded or riveted to the deck, including such non-bellicose items as dome lights, sockets – and lavatory bowls.

One suspects that the order to do so didn’t come from the Kremlin – those chaps tend to think in bigger categories. No, that was a display of the ability to think on one’s feet of which the Russians are so justly proud.

As the government spokesman once explained, the Russians’ microbiological makeup possesses an extra spirituality gene. Hence it’s spirituality, as Putin explained, that acts as the brace holding the nation together.

That means the Russians despise philistine acquisitiveness and material goods – that is, until they find themselves in the West where such things are readily available. While still in Russia, however, they rely on their unmatched spirituality to get them through life.

This attitude has much to recommend it, reflecting as it does an ability to adapt to ambient conditions. Since material possessions have always been scarce in Russia, the Russians have learned to despise them. Might as well.

Naturally they also despise the effort that goes into producing material goods. Nicking them is of course a different matter. One can do so without compromising one’s towering spirituality in any way.

Thievery, therefore, takes pride of place next to drunkenness as the country’s national characteristic. Much as I like to ascribe those proclivities to Putin, neither started with him.

According to a probably apocryphal but eminently believable account, 1,000 years ago Grand Duke Vladimir chose Byzantine Christianity over Islam specifically because of the latter’s injunction against alcohol. “Drinking is the joy of the Rus,” quotes the Primary Chronicle, “we can’t be without it”.

Runaway thievery also goes back to the origin of the Russian nation. In the mid-19th century, Tsar Nicholas I asked the court historian Karamzin how things were in the provinces. “Ils volent, sire,” sighed the historian (“Thieving, Your Majesty” – in those days educated Russians expressed their spirituality in French).

Karamzin was referring to the tsar’s viceroys, many of whom weren’t paid any salary at all on the assumption that they could live nicely off the fat of the land. Yet as one went further down in Russian society, one could always observe the snowball effect: thieving increased.

The Russians never got around to the idea that private property is inviolable because it’s a guarantor of liberty. John Locke believed it was the guarantor, and there he went too far. But the Russians never even graduated to the indefinite article.

Under the tsars, every Russian from the loftiest courtier to the lowliest peasant could be dispossessed on a whim. Most prison sentences were accompanied by confiscation of property, if that’s the right word.

Confiscation means the state taking away something that’s privately owned. Yet in Russia the tsar held the patrimonial freehold on every square foot of land. All others in effect held merely a leasehold.

The tsars could reward loyalty with gifts of land. Catherine II, for example, gave Prince Potemkin estates bigger than all of the UK. But what the tsar gives, he can take away.

No one in Russia, noble or common, rich or poor, had any guaranteed protection of property, no certainty that tomorrow he wouldn’t starve, and that’s before the Bolshevik looters took over.

Russian folklore reflects both the insecurity and the resulting disdain for acquisition in proverbs like “don’t be sure you’ll escape prison or beggar’s bag”, “work isn’t a wolf, it won’t run away into the forest”, “work likes fools”, “you won’t build a stone house by honest work” and – appropriate to my theme here – “you don’t steal, you won’t survive”.

There exist countless other proverbs to the same effect: money is worthless, working to earn it is useless, those who do so are either fools or knaves. It’s little wonder then that the same people whose property isn’t respected feel no compunction to respect property that belongs to others.

The loo bowls were then fair game, especially in a country where millions of people still use outdoor facilities, that is a jerry-built booth housing a hole in the ground.

Since winters in Russia can be rather cold, certain activities that Westerners take for granted become life-threatening – those booths aren’t heated and, without going into unsavoury detail, it’s hard to stay fully dressed while there.

This situation only exists in the countryside, but then it’s a safe bet that many of Putin’s pirates aren’t committed urbanists. And even if they do live in towns, they know many people who don’t.

Hence what they nicked could be flogged, and the temptation must have been irresistible. Those shiny porcelain objects could be quickly exchanged for the Russian national drink, sometimes bypassing the exchange medium of money.

Now, though I’ve generously allowed that Putin didn’t order his brave sailors to snatch the loo bowls, there’s no doubt that his kleptocratic government fosters the culture of thievery. And I don’t just mean the trillions in oil revenues they’ve dumped into Western offshore havens while a third of the population are starving.

Speaking at the Russia Is Calling! forum on 20 November, Vlad felt called upon to explain why Russia doesn’t produce shale gas. The existing extraction methods, he explained, aren’t sound enough ecologically, which must have brought one of those mirthless diabolical grins to Greta’s face.

“We’ll just wait until the Americans have spent a lot of money on R&D and then – scritchy-snatch [my attempt at translating the onomatopoeic Russian expression цап-царап].

It’s good to see that the folk wisdom of “you don’t steal, you don’t survive” exists in the rarefied atmosphere of the Kremlin. For what’s a national government if it doesn’t keep its finger on the pulse of national ethos?