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Cable Street comes to US

Historical parallels vindicate Euclid by never converging. Yet sometimes they run so close to each other that they almost touch.

The Battle of Cable Street

The first parallel line runs through Cable Street in London’s East End, the site of the eponymous battle. The conflict was triggered by Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) that staged a march on 4 October, 1936.

The march broke no law, emphasising the difference between what’s legal and what’s good. That difference was blindingly obvious to the opposing groups, some of which, such as communists, anarchists and socialists, had equally dubious claims to goodness.

They employed extra-legal means to stop the objectionable procession by building barricades and coming out in large numbers to man them. Some 20,000 turned up to confront about 3,000 fascists.

Now, the Metropolitan Police are in the business of enforcing the law, not any group’s understanding of virtue. Since the fascists weren’t breaking the law and their opponents were, the police tried to protect the marchers.

The crowd charged, attacking the police with all sorts of objects not manifestly designed as weapons: full chamber pots, rocks and rotten vegetables used as projectiles, sticks and items of furniture swung as improvised clubs.

Seeing that the police were about to be overrun, Mosley was forced to move the march to Central London, which didn’t stop the Battle of Cable Street immediately. The riot continued, eventually claiming 175 wounded on both sides and some 150 arrests – on one side.

That was a serious, but by no means an isolated event. Mass brawls between international and national socialists raged throughout the 1930s, with the second group represented by the BUF and its splinter group, the National Socialist League led by William Joyce, better known later as Lord Haw-Haw.

The police were doing their best to maintain a semblance of order, but, their hands tied by constitutional niceties, it was disintegrating fast. Social cohesion only recovered when the War started, giving the police the power to treat the fascists as enemy agents. Mosley was imprisoned for the duration, while Joyce escaped to Germany and embarked on a fruitful career as Nazi propagandist that eventually led him to the British gallows.

History is screaming parallels. Is anyone listening? So I thought, reading today’s accounts of the clashes between opposing militias in American cities.

The latest battleground was kindly provided by Louisville, Kentucky, the birthplace of Muhammad Ali and the famous Derby. This time the initiative was taken by a predominantly black group elegantly calling itself Not Fucking Around Coalition (NFAC). I find this name objectionable – the first three words should be separated by hyphens.

Playing on the same team were BLM rioters, while the opposition came from a white militia, largely made up of people who build secret caches of weapons and food in preparation for any number of cataclysms from a long list.

Such militias include between 40,000 and 100,000 members, but they are spread thin all over the country. The Battle of Louisville involved more modest numbers, some 250 from each side, a far cry from Cable Street.

However, what they lacked in numbers they amply made up for in firepower. Both sides were armed with assault rifles, shotguns and pistols, which were all brandished but miraculously not fired.

Similar events have been going on for several months in other American cities as well, Portland, Oregon, being especially affected, and Rochester, NY, not far behind. Clashes involving BLM, NFAC, various militias and police are becoming routine events in America, with a match never farther than an inch away from the tinderbox.

A bloodbath can ensue at any moment, and such outbursts tend to escalate like brushfire. Add to this some training and organisation generously provided by foreign powers with a vested interest in inflicting paralysis on the US, and the dangers can’t be overstated.

I don’t have, mostly for aesthetic reasons, much sympathy for either side as such. But I do have endless sympathy for the militias, however unsavoury, trying to protect their homes and businesses from rioting mobs.

The clashes are teaching us all a lesson we’d better heed: if the law is remiss in its duty to protect its citizens, the citizens will take the law in their own hands. When they do, it won’t be gentlemanly types coming to the fore. It will be thugs egged on by demagogues.

But why is the law so remiss? Because the state has hoisted itself with its own petard by making progressively greater concessions to rotten ideas begetting subversive demands.

Revolutions are fought by people, but they are won by ideologies, as distinct from ideas. The former are all evil by definition, and it takes the latter to stop them.

The intellectual discourse in America, and throughout the West, is dominated by ‘liberals’ endlessly gravitating to ‘democratic’ socialism and then unalloyed Marxism. Class conflict, real or more typically bogus, is its food and drink.

Class may or may not mean race, this is just a detail. The principle is portraying large swathes of the population as victims of historical and on-going injustice, correctable by revolutionary means. Since Marx didn’t have a wide choice of candidate groups, he had to focus on workers detached from the means of production by greedy capitalists.

Today’s subversives have a longer menu of victims to choose from. In addition to the downtrodden social classes, they include any number of ethnic, racial and religious minorities, all women (even those who reject victimhood indignantly) and actually the entire mankind about to be made extinct by warm weather.

Inciting any or all such groups to riots and even armed rebellion is a matter of some organisation, much propaganda and perhaps some fortuitous happenstance, such as fatal shots fired at a crowd, if only accidentally.

The problem is that the West has run out of ideas that can put evil ideologies into their place. Promises of prosperity, preferential treatment and restitution don’t qualify as such. Fevered masses brandishing weapons will only regard those as signs of weakness.

Should social order and national unity collapse, it’s unlikely that this time a world war would interfere to restore them. In any case, any such future event will only make things irretrievably worse.

We may shrug and say well, that’s America for you. Because of their Second Amendment, the Yanks are all armed to the teeth. British rioters have to resort to the kind of projectiles used in Cable Street all those years ago because firearms are harder to get here.

True. But harder doesn’t mean impossible, as both the IRA and Prod gangs have proved. It takes a bit more organisation and outside help, but things can eventually come to a head here as well.

Thanks to globalisation, John Donne’s words about the bell that tolls for thee have never been more apposite than now. Only truly conservative governments, proceeding from truly conservative ideas, can stop it ringing, governments that wouldn’t hide their cowardice behind fake principles, non-ideas and babble about misconstrued human rights.

Such a government would have the intelligence to realise we’re already at war – and the guts to win it. You know the kind of government I’m talking about? The kind that simply doesn’t exist any longer.   

He don’t like his boring job

This line – whose relevance will soon become clear – comes from a 1977 song in which the punk rock group The Clash anticipated Dave Cameron’s arrival on the political scene:

“I can do to England what I failed to do to Sasha”

“He’s in love with rock’n’roll woaahh/ He’s in love with gettin’ stoned woaahh/ He’s in love with Janie Jones/ But he don’t like his boring job, no…”

That such prescience (but for the identity of the love interest) was on display follows from the image of Cameron emerging from Sasha Swire’s upcoming book Diary of an MP’s Wife. Mrs Swire, married to a former Tory minister, is about to publish her catty memoirs that, judging by the available excerpts, will leave no turn unstoned.

Cameron is depicted as a louche, dipsomaniac and aspirationally priapic lightweight who routinely shirked his government duties in favour of what he called ‘chillaxing’.

Once, when political families were out on a picnic, Dave told Mrs Swire that he’d like “to drag her into the bushes and give her one.” How any woman could resist such romantic wooing is beyond me, but apparently Mrs Swire did.

As a keen watcher of Cameron’s tenure, I find this portrait eminently believable. Then of course I don’t know Dave personally. Sarah Vine, poor Michael Gove’s wife, does, and she commendably sprang to Dave’s defence in her column.

Since the Goves fell out with the Camerons over Brexit, this shows Miss Vine’s magnanimity and even-handedness. However, the way she went about that task highlights her less admirable qualities, such as a lamentable deficit of intellect:

“The David Cameron I knew, especially in the early years of his premiership when it was still possible to bypass the No 10 machine, was well-read, a good listener and someone who empathised and felt things deeply. Yes, he enjoyed a glass of wine and listening to music (The Clash being a favourite). But he only ever did those things off-duty. The rest of the time he was deadly serious.”

If Miss Vine didn’t realise she was in effect arguing that Cameron was unfit for the job (as if we didn’t know that already), she’s dim. If she did, she’s perfidious. Either way she shares with her protagonist a complete detachment from our civilisation.

My contention is that no one able to listen to the disgusting cacophony produced by The Clash – and rank it as his favourite music – should be allowed anywhere near the government. And no one who doesn’t realise this should be allowed to write for a newspaper with 1.5 million readers.

Such people are barbarians, which doesn’t necessarily make them bad persons. They may indeed have all the fine qualities enumerated by Miss Vine: capacity for listening, empathising and feeling things deeply. (I question the well-read part, or else the nature of Dave’s preferred reading matter. I suspect it’s the literary analogue of The Clash, which is astounding in a man educated at Eton and Oxford.) 

However, good, bad or indifferent, barbarians shouldn’t lead great Western nations. That capacity presupposes, in part, acting as the bulwark against the incessant barbarian onslaught. And how can a barbarian defend his nation against barbarism? He’d be more likely to fling the castle gates wide open.

Music is the distillation of Western culture. It shows how high the human spirit can soar, how it can approach the divine. No one has ever expressed this better than Plato:

“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the Universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good and just and beautiful.”

Aristotle went even further, directly linking music and politics. He decried musical innovation, especially of a more sensual kind, because he believed it led to political subversion. Agree or disagree, the greatest minds of even the pre-Christian period understood the transcendent nature of music.

In Christendom, otherwise known as Western civilisation, music became the most poignant expression of its aesthetic, cultural and spiritual content – and therefore of any other.

It was also able to keep barbarians at bay much longer than the other aspects of our culture. Sublime music was written throughout the twentieth century and, as my friend James MacMillan proves, it’s still being written.

Victorious barbarians have failed to destroy it, as they’ve destroyed just about everything else. But they’ve succeeded in marginalising it, indeed in desemanticising the very word ‘music’. It’s now applied to the anomic, anti-musical, anti-cultural din accompanying cretinous lyrics pitched at the mental level of an average paperweight.

You know, the sort of stuff spewed out by the likes of The Clash or George Osborne’s favourite Niggas with Attitude. Had I known this duo’s musical tastes in advance, I could have predicted their disastrous tenure, wholly committed as it was to undermining Britain’s constitution and promoting homomarriage.

Real music hasn’t just been marginalised. Even worse, it has also been ideologised, and isn’t everything these days?

Here’s the view of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony spread by Vox, an online publication started by former Washington Post correspondents and regularly visited by over eight million people.

Their writer talks about “… the wealthy white men who embraced Beethoven and turned his symphony into a symbol of their superiority and importance. For some in other groups – women, LGBTQ+ people, people of colour – Beethoven’s symphony may be predominantly a reminder of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism.”

The chap who wrote this moronic drivel must wear upmarket sports clothes and handle his upmarket Negroni glass with practised elegance. But he might as well wear wolf skins and swing a battle-axe. He – along with the other protagonists of this article – is a barbarian who isn’t just at the door. He’s busy reducing the castle to smouldering ruins.

Right to kill

With a bow towards Hegel, if the right to be killed is the thesis, then the right to kill is the antithesis.

Doctors have the same licence

The synthesis is the vastly discounted cost of human life and the debauchment of its sanctity as a general principle. But, on the plus side, it widens the worship of consumer choice, the true religion of modernity.

Like all rights, especially bogus ones, the right to perform euthanasia can be both used and abused. Note that I’m not imposing on anyone my view that this ‘right’ constitutes an abuse ipso facto. I’m merely commenting on the vicissitudes of human nature.

When people are liberated from reasonable constraints, before long they’ll reach out for unreasonable licence. Tell a 10-year-old he can have a glass of wine with dinner, and he’ll grab five when the grown-ups aren’t looking. Tell ethnic groups they must protest against discrimination, and they’ll end up demanding privilege. Tell a woman that a comment on her looks breaks some nebulous moral law, and she’ll sue everyone in sight.

Extending the same observation to the subject in hand, when doctors are given the power to kill within a certain rigid framework, the inexorable pull of human nature will encourage them to expand the framework, making it more and more elastic.

Such is the warning issued to his British colleagues by Dr Bert Keizer, Holland’s prominent practitioner of euthanasia. Now, when someone like Dr Keizer is lecturing British medics on this subject, you know we’re in trouble.

That’s like Julius Streicher pronouncing on racial sensitivity, Lenin on the inviolability of private property, or Elton John on marriage. Listeners would be likely to consider the source and then ignore the message. Yet this message should be heeded.

In 2002 Holland became the first country to legalise euthanasia for consenting terminally ill patients. However, says Dr Keizer, “Every time a line was drawn, it was also pushed back.”

Specifically, it was pushed far enough back to compromise both the consenting and the terminally ill parts of that requirement. One example from a couple of years ago:

A woman of 74 suffering from Alzheimer’s decided to be euthanised. In preparation, the doctor put a sleeping pill into her coffee, and the woman dropped off. But when she woke up, she decided she didn’t want to die after all and began to kick and scream. But she was overpowered and killed anyway.

At about the same time a Dutch health official proudly stated that 92 per cent of the 6,000-odd patients euthanised that year actually were terminally ill. No one saw fit to ask about the remaining eight per cent, some 500 people who could have lived many more years.

Dr Keizer laments that legalised euthanasia is steadily moving towards “random killing of the defenceless”. Dutch doctors are now doing the job of the Dignitas suicide factory by killing even healthy people who simply don’t feel like living any longer.

Disabled children and prisoners serving long sentences will soon be culled en masse, fears Dr Keizer, and surely he’s right. Doctors these days claim the divine power of deciding who deserves to live and who doesn’t.

At the same time, many patients, schooled in the sanctity of consumer choice as the only sacred notion, demand that deadly syringe as of right. I didn’t choose to be brought into this world, they claim with a certain deficit of logic.

They don’t realise that the argument is self-refuting. Precisely because they didn’t choose to be born, they shouldn’t choose to die – and they certainly shouldn’t be assisted in acting on that macabre choice.

All this goes to show what happens to man when he is no longer subject to any discipline other than his own desires. All links connecting him with reason are severed, and he is cast adrift in an endless sea bubbling with infinite personal choices.

Life and death become products for sale, with everyone cast in the role of customer and, in this case, doctors acting as helpful assistants. That’s the stuff of erstwhile dystopic fantasies, now miraculously transformed into everyday reality.

The slippery slope that incomprehensibly vexes the Dutch merchant of euthanasia is getting ever steeper. Dr Keizer stops his train of thought halfway to its destination: when euthanasia becomes legal, at some point it’ll become compulsory.

I hope that the 1961 Suicide Act, according to which a doctor helping someone to die can get up to 14 years in prison, will never be repealed by our Parliament. This hope will likely prove forlorn: we no longer have any philosophical and moral ramparts protecting the sanctity of human life.

Without such bastions, we are at the mercy of the zeitgeist and its champions. And modern zeitgeist is a wind blowing in one direction only, if at varying strengths.

Monuments to silly jingoism

France has hundreds of beautiful places but, in this beholder’s eye, the tiny royal city of Senlis takes pride of place.

Good Ukrainian lass, Annie, as she was yesterday

It’s tiny because its population is just under 15,000 and you can walk all over it in a couple of hours. It’s royal because it was the capital of Hugh Capet who became the King of the Franks in 987 and bequeathed the place to his descendants.

One of them, his grandson Henri I, married the Kievan Rus’ princess Anna in 1051, turning Senlis into a shrine for those interested in Russian history – and especially those who, like me, were forced to live it in their youth.

Kiev is now the capital of the independent Ukraine, and long may it continue. This long-suffering country has paid for her freedom in blood, spilled throughout history by her powerful neighbours Poland and Russia.

Russia is actually still at it, but that’s a separate subject – as is the fact that the Ukrainians did a fair amount of blood-spilling of their own. That’s still fondly remembered by visitors to Kiev’s Babi Yar, where tens of thousands of Jews were massacred in 1941, mostly by the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police.

Ukrainian patriotism has always been strong, as has been the people’s resentment of both Poland and particularly Russia. Specifically, the artificial famine that in 1932-1933 killed some five million Ukrainians didn’t do much to foster goodwill and neighbourly amity.

Patriotism, however, is a good but dangerous thing. Care must be taken for it not to become jingoism, the mill to which ignorance, stupidity and ideological fervour are the grist. I was reminded of that yesterday, looking at the Senlis statue of Anna erected by the Ukrainian sculptor Vladimir Znoba in 2005.

The inscription on the plinth identifies her as a Queen of France in both French and Ukrainian. That’s fair enough: the sculptor was entitled to use his mother tongue on a statue he gave Senlis as a gift.

However, some fire-eating patriot stuck a Ukrainian flag into Anna’s bronze hand, presumably on the assumption that she was a Ukrainian patriot too. No doubt she would have been, but for a small detail: the Ukraine didn’t exist at the time, and neither did her blue-and-yellow flag.

The word ukraina in its various Slavic versions means ‘outskirts’, an area at the edge of a country. It was first used in the vicinity of today’s Ukraine in 1187 – 102 years after Anna’s death – to describe the strip of land running between Kievan Rus’ and Poland.

As to the flag, it was first unfurled in 1848, making it a fair guess that Anna wouldn’t have recognised its significance. That makes the chap who thus decorated (defaced?) her statue the worst type of blithering idiot, one with an ideology.

Nor is this an isolated case. In 1988, London’s Ukrainian community erected a statue to Anna’s grandfather, Grand Duke Vladimir, identified on the plinth as ‘Ruler of Ukraine’, which word was first heard 229 years after he was born, and which country never really existed even a few centuries later. Vladimir was no more the Ruler of Ukraine than Alaric was the Chancellor of Germany or the Etruscan chieftain Tyrrhenus the Prime Minister of Italy.

Kievan Rus’ has even less to do with either today’s Russia or today’s Ukraine than the Rome of Augustus has to do with today’s Italy or the Athens of Pericles with today’s Greece. A strong magnifying glass could perhaps discern intersecting lines, but they would be tiny, peripheral and smudged.

Anna was a princess of the Scandinavian Rurik dynasty, a descendant of the Vikings (called Varangians in Russia) who in the ninth century established an outpost on the route to Byzantium, where they regularly went for marauding purposes.

When the Byzantines used a most unsporting weapon, called Greek fire, to burn their boats and repel their aggression, the Vikings retreated and settled in Kiev. Over the next two centuries they turned it into one of the most glittering European capitals.

In fact, Henri’s emissaries sent to Kiev to accompany the king’s bride to France had to apologise in advance for the comparative dinginess of French cities. The same held true for Anna and her bridegroom: he was illiterate, while she knew several languages and had even learned French in preparation for her marriage.

Ethnically, Anna was mostly Scandinavian on her father’s side and all Swedish on her mother’s side. A typical Ukrainian ancestry, in other words – at a time when the Ukraine wasn’t even a twinkle in God’s eye. Claiming Kievan Rus’ as a property of either the Ukraine or Russia is ignorance at best and ideological falsification at worst.

A message to the Ukrainians: chaps, my heart goes out to you when a KGB-run Russia pounces on you like a rabid dog. When that happens, I’m prepared to add my voice to the chorus intoning the proud battle cry: Slava Ukraine! (Glory to the Ukraine.)

But there’s neither glory nor dignity in raping history the way Russia rapes her neighbours. Amica Ukraina, sed magis amica veritas

Why Merkel is Putin’s favourite woman

I’ve translated this slightly abridged article by the German journalist Boris Reitschuster as a rare example of a Westerner who actually knows and understands Russia, where he was a correspondent for many years.

After the Navalny poisoning, ridiculous theories and rumours began to spread in Germany. One gets the impression that everyone has become an expert on Russia overnight. Yet many statements one encounters only testify to mass ignorance.

“The poisoning only harms Putin” is something one hears over and over again here in Germany. This shows a complete lack of understanding of both the balance of power in Russia and Putin’s personality. Alas, we apply our Western standards to the conditions prevalent in the world’s biggest territory. However, those conditions are incomparable to ours.

If Putin were indeed harmed by the well-known murders of his opponents, then, by Western standards, he’d hardly be able to retain his post afterwards. This logical inference lays bare the fallacy of such views.

In reality, it’s exactly the other way around: Russian rulers, not only during Putin’s tenure but, with a few exceptions, over centuries, have always relied on domination and violence. Their underlings knew: whoever rebels against them will be in trouble. Fear is the highest principle of Russian government.

We in the West find it hard to imagine that Putin’s KGB colleagues and other supporters glorify, or at least respect, him for eliminating his enemies. The Kremlin boss comes across as a ‘strong leader’, a ‘piranha’ punishing its opponents.

All this is part of a PR spectacle that also includes photographs and videos showing Putin with a bared torso, as a tiger tamer or a Kalashnikov wielder. We find this risible because this ritual show of strength is alien to us. For Putin, however, it’s par for the course.

What amazes me about the poisoning of Navalny, whom I know personally and view rather critically, is the number of people and especially my colleagues who have suddenly become experts on Russia, capable of offering their ‘competent’ assessment of the event. I, for example, would be extremely cautious about commenting on the events in the US, Turkey or other countries about which I know next to nothing.

These ‘experts’ know no Russian, aren’t familiar with the Russian media and usually have never even been to Russia, except perhaps for a short visit. They make up for this deficit of knowledge with loud voices and strong ‘convictions’. This leads to glaring errors of judgement.

Why did this murder attempt happen at this time? ask Putin’s acolytes. Because Putin always talks about fearing street demonstration more than he ever has since his stay in Dresden.

That’s what’s happening in Belarus, where hundreds of thousands have come out into the streets, hugely affecting Russia herself. And in the Far East, tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people have been demonstrating for weeks under the slogans of “Putin is a thief” or “Imprison Putin”. Coronavirus has crushed Russia’s economy. People sometimes have no money even for food. The situation is dire. Dissatisfaction is increasing steeply. Putin’s ratings are at an all-time low. At the same time Navalny spends every day uncovering the corruption and steady enrichment of the Putin elite.

How naïve do my colleagues have to be to deny a motive here? How badly do they want to pervert the facts?

Putin’s supporters claim reproachfully that the presumption of innocence should apply to him. That’s nonsense. This legal principle applies only to criminals, not politicians. Opponents to Putin have been murdered for 20 years, and it’s beyond my scope here to enumerate all the victims, many of whom I knew personally.

Boris Nemtsov told me a few months before his murder: “He’ll kill me, and I even know why”. That murder happened because he had said publicly that Putin was “buggered”. In Russian, that’s the worst insult, which no Mafioso can countenance. Responding to a question about Nemtsov’s murder, Putin later said: “He went beyond personal, but that doesn’t mean he had to be executed.” Not a single word of regret or empathy was uttered.

Any more questions? The murder of opponents has for over 100 years been the hallmark of the KGB, whence Putin comes. And this is a tradition he proudly acknowledges and regularly hails. Just imagine a German politician extolling the Gestapo and admitting to affection for it!

Stalin once said: “No man, no problem”. After the attempted murder of the defector Skripal, Putin declared that traitors must be liquidated. The evidence in the Skripal case is so transparent that it’s simply astounding that many still deny a conspiracy. Also astounding is that the West didn’t respond to that and other such crimes with serious and telling sanctions against Putin. The evidence of the polonium murder of Litvinenko can be traced back all the way to Moscow, because the radioactive poison left traces everywhere, even in Hamburg. So Germans were in danger too.

More than 3,000 people came in contact with the radioactive substance in London. That’s state terrorism. Litvinenko was poisoned shortly before he was to testify before Spanish judges trying the Petersburg-Tambov Mafia that has close links to Putin. The British government wanted to cover up that murder altogether – business comes first. Superrich Russians are a huge economic factor in London. The Stock Exchange there depends on Russian money. This shows up the absurdity of those who aver that the West simply wants to trip Putin up. It’s the other way around: the West and many here want Russian business and billions.

Litvinenko’s widow had to sue the British government, for there was no other way to make it continue the investigation. The British judge ruled that the murder had been ordered by the Kremlin. The evidence was more than clear. The message to Putin: you can continue to get away with your dirty work without fear of consequences.

By the way, Litvinenko’s murderer now sits in the Russian parliament and Putin awarded him one of Russia’s highest decorations. That happened shortly after the Nemtsov murder. It was proved that his murderers had links to the president of Chechnya, Kadyrov. Tellingly, Putin rewarded that murder with medals too. And after this, some people still insist on the presumption of Putin’s innocence.

Litvinenko’s murderer stated in parliament that Navalny could have been poisoned with novichok only in Germany, in the Berlin Charité clinic. Hence the attack on Navalny is a foreign provocation.

I can’t say definitively that Putin personally ordered the Navalny murder, though I could say a lot about Putin’s cherished ‘vertical of power’. But I can indeed say definitively that Putin bears a total political responsibility for everything happening in Russia.

Because it was he who created a political system under which murderers get parliamentary seats and medals. Political murders in Russia are neither prosecuted nor even investigated. The opponents are dehumanised and described as ‘fascists’. It was under that system that Navalny wasn’t allowed to go abroad immediately after the poisoning. And his wife wasn’t even allowed to see him. It was under that system that an attempt was made to prevent the emergency landing at Omsk of the plane carrying the dying Navalny.

The attempted murder of Navalny is unlikely to have consequences. After all, the 2019 murder of a Kremlin opponent in Tiergarten, a few minutes’ walk from the Chancellery, resulted in the expulsion of several Russian diplomats. That’s it. There was only one danger in store for Putin: he could have died laughing.

It’ll be more of the same this time. One of Merkel’s great successes is that she pretends to be Putin’s opponent, whereas in fact she’s his closest ally. They are alike, which is no wonder: they were both reared in professional communist organisations. Merkel has created the impression that our media are critical of Putin, whereas in fact it’s the opposite. Just think: who’s attacked more in the press, Putin or Trump?

Yet consider the differences between them: has Trump attacked his country’s neighbours? Killed political opponents? Imprisoned them? Was it Trump’s soldiers who, like Putin’s in the Ukraine, shot down a civilian airliner, killing almost 300 people? Or was it Russia that was held responsible for that crime by an international board of inquiry? However, in spite of these critical differences, Putin is much more popular here than Trump. I wonder why.

Many Germans are so disappointed with the media that they keep their eyes closed. Because they don’t know Russian they don’t realise that, rather than castigating Putin, our media are letting him off the hook.

I’ve experienced that myself, when I was deemed too critical of Putin for Focus magazine and even for our talk shows. Their policy was clear: one was allowed to criticise Russia’s deficit of democracy. However, Putin’s attempts to foment conflicts and his links with the Mafia are taboo. I know many colleagues from big papers who aren’t allowed to write about Putin because they are too critical.

When things aren’t going well for Putin, he can always rely on Merkel: it was she who prevented the Ukraine and Georgia from joining Nato. That cut the supply of arms to the Ukraine after Putin’s invasion. Merkel is pushing through Putin’s most important project: the Nord Stream II pipeline. It was she who cautioned against help for Belarus and pre-empted any sanctions. When it comes to Merkel, her words and deeds – and not only in relation to Russia – are diametrically opposite. I know this from politicians also trained in communist organisations. Westerners who have no such experience are usually incapable of understanding this. Merkel is Putin’s favourite woman – mainly because she hides this so cunningly.

Language vandals on the prowl

Yesterday I commented in passing on the English Spelling Society’s initiative to vandalise spelling, making it not so much easy as unnecessary to learn.

Tu bee, or not tu bee, dhat is dhe queschen

They used Hamlet’s soliloquy by way of illustration, offering various possibilities that wouldn’t tax our comprehensively educated masses too much (caption on the left is one such). That’s appalling by itself – but it’s not by itself.

Changes in the language provide perhaps the most reliable clue to a society’s social, cultural and intellectual dynamics. After all, since language is intricately linked with thought, whoever controls one also controls the other.

That’s why revolutionaries, who by definition seek to control the populace, have always chosen language as one of their first targets. For revolutions don’t just aim to change the existing government, creating a new political dispensation. They aim to change the existing society, creating a new man.

Revolutionaries thus seek godlike powers, but these are hard to come by. However, the power to eliminate the old man, with his anachronistic notions, manners, culture and allegiances is an easier task, one within revolutionaries’ reach.

All revolutionaries are populist in reality or at least in pretence. They need to be seen as acting in the name of the people and in their best interests, with ‘people’ typically defined as common people.

Cultural mobility in revolutionary societies is invariably vectored downwards, and this doesn’t depend on the nature of a revolution or the degree of violence required to perpetrate it. The common man becomes the new king, if only putatively.

Language is one characteristic of the educated classes that sets them apart from the revolutionaries’ desired constituencies. That’s why, when the sniping starts, language is the first target in the crosshairs.

The differences among various revolutions are well known and universally taught. Yet I’ve always maintained that they all have much in common too, and the similarities both outnumber and outweigh the distinctions.

Staying within today’s topic, it’s profitable to look at such apparently dissimilar revolutions as those in America (1776), Russia (1917), Turkey (1922) and China (1949). What do they all have in common?

I’ve pointed out a number of similarities elsewhere, but one that interests me here is that they all simplified spelling shortly after taking over. In Russia that upheaval involved significant changes to the alphabet and in Turkey a shift to a whole new alphabet, which also happened in many ethnic areas of the Soviet Union.

The usual argument in favour of such sweeping changes is based on the need to make mass literacy more accessible. That’s a tell-tale sign of the revolutionary mindset: the incoming lot wish the whole population to be able to follow their propaganda.

That’s why I’ve always dismissed Castro’s fans who proudly declare that under his tutelage all Cubans learned how to read. “Quite,” I agree. “So what do they read? Santayana? Borges? Ortega y Gasset? Or speeches by Che Guevara and the Castro brothers?”

The cultural revolution under way in Britain hasn’t so far produced a violent overthrow of the existing order. But that doesn’t make it any less revolutionary, and certainly no less committed to lording it over language.

The blatantly fascistic aspects of this drive involve the imposition of PC vocabulary, with variously severe punishments in store for the recalcitrant holdouts. Yet the attempts to vandalise grammar, orthography and phonetics are no less pernicious for being more subtle.

Language is a living organism and, like all such organisms, it can only survive if it benefits from both static and dynamic elements, both homo- and heterogeneity.

Local, dialectal and class varieties enrich standard English, while at the same time emphasising its vital importance. The interchange between the general and the particular has to proceed at a measured pace and in the right volume. Too little leads to calcification and ultimately linguistic despotism. Too much produces anarchy – and also ultimately linguistic despotism.

Language has a capacity for self-regulation, controlling the amount and rate of change (including that in spelling) judiciously and organically. The problem with change by diktat is that it disrupts this natural process – and anything that disrupts also usually destroys.

Standard English, with its rules of grammar, spelling and pronunciation, is based on educated speech as it now is, which has traditionally provided an aspirational standard for all. It also has an essential unifying role to play: whatever patois a Geordie, Brummie or Cockney speaks at home, he ought to be able to use standard English to communicate smoothly with all Englishmen.

At the same time, he can subtly change standard English by drip-feeding his linguistic idiosyncrasies into it over time. We’ve never had an equivalent of the French Academy, with its noble but ultimately ill-conceived effort to protect standard language from change.

Rather than protecting, this effort would be more likely to result in stultifying if it succeeded. But it can’t succeed: only dead languages will stand still.

In addition to its socially unifying role, standard English also acts as a yardstick of culture and education. Abolishing it would be thus tantamount to abolishing any hierarchy of culture and education, which is the target most revolutionaries see in their sights.

Our current ones actually go further than their typological equivalents in different places and at different times. For, rather than replacing one uniform standard with another, they seek to eliminate a uniform standard altogether.

If you look, say, at the caption above, practically every word there could be spelled in any number of ways. English offers unlimited possibilities along those lines, as was first shown by an anonymous 19th century reformer (and later by GB Shaw) on the example of the word ghoti, as a spelling variant of fish.

There, the gh is an f, as in enough; the o is an i, as in women; and the ti is a sh, as in revolution. If everyone spells every word in the Hamlet soliloquy in similar ways as he sees fit, without recognising any universal standard, the resulting Babel will make communication first difficult and then impossible.

But those English Spelling Society vandals are like all revolutionaries: they want to destroy first and worry about creating later – if at all. All educated people must join forces to fight this linguistic anarchy, thereby keeping all anarchy at bay.

For the ultimate fruit of anarchy isn’t liberty. It’s tyranny.

Paris falls victim to new cult

I spend about half my time within a two-hours’ drive from central Paris, which makes the odd visit hard to avoid.

Parc Monceau, as it once was

The other day was one such occasion, when my wife had a medical appointment in Avenue Hoche, and I acted in my usual capacity of chauffeur. That gave me a couple of hours to kill, which is never easy in Haussmann’s Paris.

Unlike the Left Bank, it strikes me as too deliberate in its planning, too uniform in its architecture and too lifeless in its spirit. Normally, it’s also too touristy, but at least Covid has taken care of that.

Avenue Hoche runs into Parc Monceau, for me the best part of the 8th arrondissement, a pearl in a sea of empty shells. That’s where I headed, looking forward to having a pleasant stroll and then reading the book weighing down my jacket.

Few things in life are as enjoyable and civilised as doing that… sorry, wrong tense. Few things were as enjoyable and civilised until this pre-Haussmann park was taken over by a new cult.

When I got there, every square inch of its 20 acres was overrun with compulsive exercisers, pounding, sweating, groaning herds of them. Even that objectionable activity was as carefully pre-planned as Haussmann’s urban totalitarianism.

For I didn’t spot any joggers or other exercisers who had come out on the spur of the moment. They were all, ones, twos or large groups, supervised by trainers, barking instructions in the tones of a drill sergeant at a boot camp.

That charming 18th century park had been turned into a giant gym, featuring smelly people of all ages and both (all?) sexes running, pushing up, stretching, sparring, sitting up – with most faces contorted by expressions of excruciating pain.

Not being the type to admit defeat easily, I stubbornly stuck to my original plan. To begin with I walked a couple of miles back and forth on different pathways, dodging, with variable success, the stampeding herds threatening to trample me underfoot.

I tried to concentrate on the lovely ponds and grottoes, pushing impending dangers out of my mind, but they wouldn’t go without trouble. Every minute or so I’d be jostled by some old boy veering off his jogging course and muttering “pardon” as he brushed against, or bumped into, me.

Finally, I plonked myself on a bench and opened my book, only to find that reading was even more difficult. The thump of running shoes hitting the ground, the trainers’ loud attempts to teach their charges to speak body French grammatically and without an accent, the slapping leathery sounds of boxing gloves hitting one another – they all competed with TS Eliot’s essays, and the book came off a poor second.

The park always featured the odd jogger or two, all parks do. But I’d never seen anything quite so perversely pervasive before – it looked as if an otherwise depopulated 8th arrondissement had emptied all its denizens into this 18th century gym.

What was unfolding before me, I realised, wasn’t a normal, pleasant athletic activity, like a tennis knock on a Saturday morning. It was a ritual of a new pagan cult involving the sacrifice of dignity and perhaps also sanity.

Chaps, I felt like saying, you’re all going to die anyway. Why, even I shall probably die someday.

And I can unequivocally guarantee that making a spectacle of yourselves won’t delay that event one bit. Moreover, as someone who experienced a sense of shameful schadenfreude when Jim Fixx, the patron saint of jogging, had a fatal coronary on a run, I suspect this self-torture may actually hasten your demise.

People used to seek real immortality through worshipping God. Now they seek fake immortality through worshipping their own bodies – to the distinct detriment of their souls.

This is just one aspect of the anthropocentricity that defines modernity. Having taken God off his pedestal, man tried to take the place thus vacated, but the climb has turned out to be way too steep. Seeking the ultimate truth within himself, man found only himself there – a transient, mortal, fallible creature.

And a desperate one – desperate to prolong his physical existence because, according to him, there’s nothing but dark nothingness afterwards. Life has lost all purpose; or rather life itself has illogically become its own purpose.

This reminds me of a friend assigned to interview a woman who spent four hours every day working out in a gym. “Why do you do this?” asked my friend. “To build up my stamina,” replied the sweaty one. “Stamina to do what?” “To go to the gym.”

That has become the paradigm of the circuitous route taken by Modern Man, who has lost his theology and, with it, his teleology. Those joggers doing laps around Parc Monceau symbolise their lives that move around in circles without going anywhere.

P.S. If you’re still unsure who’s winning the cultural war, this should put paid to all doubts. The English Spelling Society is petrified to see that traditional spelling condemns millions of people to feeling illiterate and therefore inferior.

Rather than suggesting that teachers take their fingers out and actually teach English, as opposed to advanced condom studies, the Society insists that spelling be made more accessible.

As an example, they propose this version of the Hamlet soliloquy: “To be or not to be, that is th qeschun, whether tis noebler in the miend to sufer th slings and arroes of outraejus forchun . . .”. That way madness lies – or modernity, to use a full synonym.

P.P.S. If doubts still persist, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts should put them to bed. It has introduced new requirements for the best picture Oscar, “to encourage equitable representation on and off screen in order to better reflect the diversity of the movie-going audience”. No diversity, no Oscar, in other words. And there I was, thinking such matters were decided on artistic merits.

There’s something American about Trump

When I first took an interest in international politics, I was so young I’d sometimes confuse Eisenhower with Adenauer. It took me a while to sort them out, especially because the Soviet papers conflated both under the same rubric: enemy.

Apparel oft proclaims the common man: a legible baseball cap and no tie

Since then I’ve followed with some interest the tenures of all subsequent 10 US presidents, which provides a fair basis for comparing Trump with the others. And in some aspects, he’s well-nigh incomparable.

No other president in my memory has aroused so much passion, pro or con.

As far as I can tell, the middle ground of the US electorate is made up of people who like Trump well enough to vote for him, considering the alternative; those who find Trump revolting but would still see him as the lesser evil (I’d fall into this category if I still voted there); those who think Biden is incompetent but still preferable to Trump; those who don’t care much one way or the other.

Without having reliable poll data at my fingertips, I’d estimate that all those groups together make up about 20 per cent of all voters. The rest seem just about evenly divided into those who either adore or loathe Trump, at equally hysterical pitch.

Trump’s policies in his first term don’t strike me as sufficient to rouse either passion. Some of them were good, others not so much, and I’d say that domestically the former outnumbered the latter, while in foreign policy they were the other way around.

Either way there wasn’t that much in it. So why all that hysteria among both the pro and con groups?

This is an interesting question because the answer goes to the very core of the American national character. Whether or not Trump wins a second term, he’ll be gone in the blink of an historical eye, whereas a national character is considerably more enduring.

His obsessive detractors fall into various subgroups, none of them attractive. Some are simply lefties who hate every word Trump has ever uttered, every policy he has ever put into effect and the palpable contempt he has for political correctness.

Others are simply conformists in passionate love with the establishment. They define the establishment as political mainstream represented by former lawyers sporting perfectly capped, unrealistically white teeth perpetually bared in fulsome smiles. Such men appeal to the peculiarly conformist nature of many Americans.

It’s peculiar because Americans are usually associated with the rugged individualism depicted in Hollywood Westerns. Americans do have such qualities, but they usually reserve them for commercial activities. In matters of the spirit, intellect and culture, however, most Americans tend to toe the line, wherever it’s drawn.

That is reflected in their language, overabundant in clichés. Many such come from TV advertising, proving yet again the effectiveness of my former profession.

I’m not as au courant with American speech as I used to be, but even in the streets of London one hears visiting Americans say things like “It’s Miller time”, “I’ll reach out to you”, or “Don’t leave home without it” – all of Madison Avenue provenance.

The cultural equivalents of these Americans in Britain would be embarrassed to show they can be influenced by advertising straplines, but Americans wear them on their sleeve as a badge of honour or at least identification. Alas, clichéd language, if overused for many years, may lead to clichéd thinking, and then to cultural and intellectual conformism.

Whatever else someone might say about Trump, he certainly doesn’t come across as a pillar of the political establishment. That by itself is enough for many Americans to hate him with the fervour of believers confronting heretics.

More interesting than Trump’s policies is the nature of his appeal to broad swathes of the American public. That, I think, offers a valuable insight into that great nation.

What I find repellent about Trump is his vulgarity, ignorance, narcissism and absence of higher (which is to say statesman-like) intelligence, a gap that’s only partly filled by a horse-trader’s common sense.

His admirers, including those who I know are otherwise capable of impeccable judgement, either deny such defects or, if they don’t, crack a Gnostic smile and say Trump only puts on that façade for popular appeal. At base, however, he’s a keenly intelligent man of refined tastes and unimpeachable morals.

Since neither I nor, by and large, Trump’s admirers know him intimately, his public persona is really all we have to go by. Hence whether he is all those unpleasant things for real or as make-believe doesn’t matter. What matters is that he was elected president, meaning that enough Americans either don’t mind those traits or, interestingly, actually like them.

This reflects America’s ideological commitment to the common, which is to say vulgar, man, whose advancement has been elevated to the aspirational peak of the American Dream. America was the first Western country genuinely committed to that desideratum, and in many ways it remains the only one.

Coming across as common men is essential not only for America’s politicians but even for her cultural figures. I recall that even the late writer William F. Buckley, a man of erudition and refinement who possessed (or rather used) the widest imaginable vocabulary, scattered much more slang around his narratives than any comparable British figure ever has.

It was as if Buckley was telling his readers: “Yes, I’m more cultured and talented than you, richer, better-educated, and I routinely use words like ‘encephalophonic’ even in everyday speech. But I know that Americanism is a club demanding membership fees, and I’m willing to pay them.”

That doesn’t mean that common Americans necessarily have all or any of Trump’s despicable qualities. But they must feel that his being proudly, triumphantly common outweighs whatever drawbacks he has.

They see him as the richer neighbour next door, or at least around the corner. And if having more money comes with being a narcissistic boor, then so be it – provided he’s a common boor.

If I still lived in America, I’d feel uneasy about the image of my country, as refracted through the prism of Trump’s personality. But then it’s largely to immunise myself against such disappointments that I left America in the first place.

If Tony Abbott is so awful, what does it make me?

Kate Burley of Sky News can’t open her mouth on any subject (such as, this morning, London transport) without fuming about the homophobic and misogynist Tony Abbott.

Misogynist homophobe concluding a Free Trade Treaty with China

His views, according to Burley, her interviewees and just about every progressive person, disqualify him from holding any public job this side of Nazi Germany. Hence, uncountable progressive knickers got in a twist when Abbott was nevertheless appointed advisor to the UK Board of Trade.

The underlying assumption is that holding any other than woke views on any subject places a man outside the pale. Whether or not such views have anything to do with his prospective job is immaterial.

Now, I’ve never been considered for any public job and neither have I ever sought one. But sometimes one likes to indulge in hypothetical speculations, along the lines of “what if…”

What if I were a candidate for a job in some sort of advisory capacity or perhaps as proverbial dog catcher? Would I be able to run the vetting gauntlet of ‘public opinion’ (made up of about 50 politicians, a hundred media personages and about as many academics)?

The best way to decide is to compare my views with Mr Abbott’s. Since I don’t have his name recognition, for me to stand any chance I’d have to be more acceptable than him. Alas, I have to admit with some chagrin that the opposite is the case.

Mr Abbott is a Catholic, but one doesn’t have to be a Christian to oppose homomarriage, as we both do. In 2017, he led the campaign against it in an Australian referendum.

By broadening marriage, he said, homomarriage weakens it – and he is absolutely right. I’d go even further though. This abomination effectively destroys the vital institution of marriage by disengaging it from the millennia of Western tradition.

Rather than being a sacred union essential to creating families, the building blocks of society, marriage becomes an affirmation of some nebulous – and in this case downright perverse – human rights. It loses not just sacramental significance, but also any other.

If two homosexuals choose to live together, that’s their business. But conferring an official status on such unions is the business of society at large. By doing so, society agrees to redefine marriage so broadly that it becomes undefinable.

That was demonstrated by the late Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld, who married his cat and bequeathed much of his fortune to her. That was followed by a spate of similar ‘marriages’ all over the world, especially in the more fashionable states of America. And why not? If any marriage is a human right, regardless of the parties involved, then any objection to interspecies marriage becomes invalid.

In the same vein, Abbott is opposed to homosexual adoptions. He called marriage “the basis of family”, adding that “it is not homophobic to maintain that, ideally, children should have both a mother and a father”.

That’s another example of Christian doctrine overlapping with common sense. Every study I’ve ever seen shows that any other than the traditional family spells a recipe for disaster, social, psychological and economic.

Having two daddies who from one day to the next may decide to be two mummies, or else alternate in those roles, is perverse in every moral, aesthetic and intellectual sense. A child reared in such an environment has next to no chance of growing up a normal, well-balanced individual.

Mr Abbott also put homomarriage, rightly, into a broader context. “If you’re worried about religious freedom and freedom of speech, vote no,” he said. “And if you don’t like political correctness, vote no because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.”

Political correctness, I’d add, is a battering ram of the cultural revolution aiming to crash through every certitude of Western polity and indeed civilisation. At its extreme, it’s unadulterated fascism, different only in the scale and extent of violence from the nightmare of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany.

An ability to see what appears to be an isolated problem as but a strand in the rich fabric of life is rare, and Mr Abbott ought to be commended, not castigated, for possessing it.

Then there’s the misogyny chestnut the likes of Kate Burley are trying to shove down our throats. To wit, when talking about the cost of electricity in 2011, Mr Abbott said: “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing…” He needn’t have said anything else.

Housewives?!? Ironing?!?!? There’s a woman hater if the Kates of this world have ever seen one. Doesn’t that vermin know that the only differences between men and women are physiological or, given the advances in medical science, not even that?

Well, call me a troglodyte, but I’ve never handled an iron in my life. This job is always done by my wife, although I let the men’s side down by doing all the cooking.

Mr Abbott seems to believe, as I do, that, rather than being shameful and demeaning, housewifery is a vital social occupation, deeply rooted in human nature. If pressed, he’d probably invoke suitable biblical passages to that effect, but that’s unnecessary.

When both parents go to work every day and then share household duties, one such duty usually falls by the wayside: bringing up children. I could cite numerous examples to that effect, some from my own family, though I wish I couldn’t.

Agree or disagree, such remarks fall far short of misogyny. As does another statement Mr Abbott made, that men are better at exerting authority. That’s a truth flying in the face of totalitarian woke lies.

Exerting authority involves an aggressive personality, and aggressiveness is directly linked to testosterone. That’s basic physiology, confirmed by any number of clinical studies, and we don’t even have to go deep into sociology or indeed history to prove it.

It’s true that some women are more authoritative than some, or even most, men. Elizabeth I, Catherine II or, closer to our own time, Margaret Thatcher spring to mind. But statistical averages over the seven billion people inhabiting the globe would doubtless vindicate Mr Abbott’s statement by a wide margin.

What else? Mr Abbott has misgivings about climate change, although, unlike me, he acknowledges both its existence and anthropogenic nature. He only objects to some economically ruinous policies aimed at counteracting it.

He is also opposed to euthanasia, which is probably linked to his Catholicism. Yet one doesn’t have to be a Catholic to construct a strong and, to me, irrefutable argument in favour of the sanctity of every human life and therefore against the arbitrary taking of it.

I also go further than Mr Abbott in opposing abortion. He’d like to limit the number of terminations, while accepting that women have a right to have them. I disagree – on the same grounds as my opposition to euthanasia.

Since it’s impossible to pinpoint the exact moment during gestation when a human life begins, conception is the only indisputable point. And, if any doubt exists, it must decently be interpreted in favour of saving, rather than taking, a life.

When he was Australia’s PM, Mr Abbott secured many advantageous trade deals with China, Japan and others. That makes him qualified for the advisory job he has got – and any disqualifications exist only in the agued minds of our aspiring totalitarians.

In the unlikely, nay impossible, event that any government department is thinking of offering me a job, my message is a resounding don’t. I’d be buried under an avalanche of black balls, and I wouldn’t have the strength of Mr Abbott’s credentials to extricate myself.

Trump’s loyalty to Putin is beyond doubt

The moment seemed right to dispel rumours about some nefarious connection to Putin. With the election looming, it was essential for Trump to take one arrow out of the Democrats’ quiver.

All he had to do was issue a statement similar to those made by Angela Merkel, Boris Johnson, Jens Stoltenberg and other Western leaders. Nothing too strident – just a few indignant words about the Navalny poisoning with a toxic compound that only the Russian government possesses and has used before.

And then, in the immediate run-up to the November election, Trump could have mocked the Democrats’ insinuations of links with Putin by citing, and profitably exaggerating, his response to the murder attempt.

A golden opportunity was presented – and missed. For Trump has effectively exonerated Putin and his gang of yet another crime.

“I don’t know exactly what happened,” he said. “It’s terrible, it shouldn’t happen.” But: “We haven’t had any proof yet but I will take a look.”

Criminals have been sent to the gallows on much less proof than in this case. The doctors at one of Germany’s top hospitals stated it was “beyond doubt” that Navalny had been poisoned with novichok.

Anyone who has ever had any experiences with medics knows they don’t say such things lightly. Doctors are like lawyers in this respect: they’ll couch every diagnosis in several layers of disclaimers, qualifications and words like ‘may’, ‘however’, ‘likely’ and ‘balance of probability’. So when top doctors say something is beyond doubt, it is.

Is Trump confident of his ability to “take a look” at a medical report and make heads or tails of it? A man who can rarely string a grammatical sentence together doesn’t strike me as a polymath. So what’s he going to take a look at?

Evidence that Putin ordered the hit personally? The sole standard of proof that might conceivably, though not definitely, satisfy Trump would have to come in the shape of a written order signed by Putin. As I mentioned the other day, such a document probably doesn’t exist or, if it does, will never see the light of day until Putin finds himself in the dock.

His KGB training taught Putin not to leave a paper trail. A simple phone call on a secure line would have sufficed for a hitman to crack a novichok ampule open.

Even in the absence of ironclad corroboration, any unbiased court would convict Putin and his gang of a string of political murders, including this attempted one. They are the only ones who have that lapidary forensic triad: motive, means, opportunity – plus exclusive access to novichok. As I said, people have been hanged on less evidence.

Then Trump went even further. Not only should Russia not be charged with this heinous crime, but Russia, and his friend Vlad, should be off limits even as a topic of discussion, never mind criticism.

He went on to say: “It is interesting that everybody’s always mentioning Russia and I don’t mind you mentioning Russia but I think probably China at this point is a nation that you should be talking about much more so.”

Dictating to the press what it should be talking about is an idea Trump must have got from his friend Vlad. And since when do our media concentrate on one subject only? They are perfectly capable of talking about both Russia and China, since both present a clear danger to the world.

However, do let’s keep in mind that China hasn’t occupied anyone’s territory since 1949, when she invaded Tibet. The list of Russia’s aggressive acts committed during the same period would be too tedious to mention.

China’s communist regime is evil, but I haven’t seen many reports of the Chinese poisoning their opponents all over the world. Nor have they been caught trying to subvert Western elections. Nor have they threatened the security of Nato countries, with potentially calamitous consequences.

That China is our enemy is beyond doubt, to use the current phrase. But so is Putin’s Russia, and in my view she’s a deadlier enemy, if only because of her location at the West’s doorstep.

But it’s not just that. Putin is using aggressive imperialism as a legitimising strategy, desperately needed to mollify his impoverished population. If the pinpricks he has engineered so far are found to be insufficiently effective, he may well try something desperate, like attacking one of the Baltics. Under such circumstances the West could do with a leader less sycophantic to the KGB colonel.

I don’t know the nature of the link between Trump and Putin. But the slightest doubts of its existence that anyone might have harboured has been removed. When it comes to dealings with Russia, Trump is definitely not acting as a free agent. This threatens us all.  

Trump’s remarks have been met with triumphant clamour by the Russian news agency Tass. Its name is a Russian acronym that stands for the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union. After the Soviet Union collapsed the agency lost its name, only to regain it in 2014 on Putin’s orders.

This reflects his plans to rebuild the Soviet empire to its erstwhile evil grandeur. Soviet methods of subverting the West are also very much extant, and cultivating ‘useful idiots’ (Lenin’s phrase) has always been prime among them.

At best, that’s what Trump is. I hate to think of what he may be at worst.