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Gerard Batten’s rock and hard place

Gerard Batten: damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t

First a disclaimer: I know and like Gerard. That’s hardly unique, for he’s known and liked by many.

Nor can I claim any originality in deploring his choice of the thuggish criminal Tommy Robinson as his adviser. I’m sure many of Gerard’s friends feel the same way.

Where I diverge from some is in understanding, compassionately, why Gerard did what he did, going I’m sure against his better instincts.

Whenever a friend of mine has a problem, my first impulse is to offer help, if only in the shape of unsolicited advice. Alas, I can’t do so in this case – for the simple reason that I can’t find anything sensible to suggest.

The problem is that, though Gerard’s heart and head are both in the right place, his party isn’t. In fact, when Gerard took over as Ukip leader, the party was moribund.

It was sinking fast, and it took all of Gerard’s administrative talents to keep it afloat. But a ship that’s not structurally sea-worthy will sink sooner or later, for all the best efforts of its captain and crew.

That I’m afraid is Ukip’s situation, and it largely derives from the party’s nature. For Ukip isn’t really a party, in the sense in which we usually understand the word. It’s more of a pressure group, pressing on a single point: getting out of the EU.

For Ukip is a party not just of a single issue but of a single hope. The hope, even if continuously frustrated, can sustain the party’s life. But the hope fulfilled will have the same effect as the hope stamped out: death.

In other words, the party’s success would spell its demise, which isn’t how other political entities typically define achievement.

A political party is deemed successful when it gains enough votes to win or at least influence elections. It may or may not become king, but, to justify its existence, it must always have the capacity to be a king maker.

A party can become successful only when it enjoys a broad, and expandable, support base. It doesn’t have to be all things to all men (although most parties try), but it does have to be many things to many men.

A single-issue party is thus at an inherent disadvantage, which Ukip illustrates vividly.

I once asked a senior Ukip figure if the party could extend its life expectancy by positioning itself as the true conservative party, as distinct from the Labour Lite that has appropriated the name.

That was an ignorant question, my interlocutor was quick to explain. For Ukip isn’t only, perhaps not even predominantly, conservative.

For the issue of Brexit is narrow enough to attract broad masses. People who disagree on everything else may still overlap on that one point.

Generally speaking, they are all disaffected with the existing establishment, Tory, Labour or especially the cross-party apparat that transcends any nominal affiliation and governs on the basis of narrow self-interest. But they do fall into separate, sometime irreconcilable, groups.

One group is indeed formed by intuitive conservatives, those who realise that a transfer of sovereignty from Parliament to any foreign body invalidates Britain’s constitution and hence effectively Britain herself. Anyone who knows Gerard Batten or has read his book on Henry VIII will know that this is the group to which he belongs.

Another lot are old-fashioned patriotic Labourites, who are socialists not because they wish to destroy Britain but because they’re misguided into believing that socialism won’t do that.

Yet another group are hard-Left socialists in the Corbyn vein, for whom the EU isn’t socialist enough. They do want workers of the world to unite, but only under the Corbynites’ own aegis. If conservatives are loath to weaken the constitutional mandate, this lot hate weakening their own power.

And then there’s another wad of humanity, one with which the Remainers perfidiously identify the whole Brexit movement: fascistic thugs. This group is best exemplified by Tommy Robinson.

If the conservatives and old-fashioned Labourites are chiefly motivated by love, the Tommy Robinson types are driven by hate – of foreigners, minorities such as Muslims and often also Jews, poor people, rich people, you name it.

A conservative may deplore the uncontrolled influx of Muslim immigrants because he is aware of the cultural and demographic catastrophe that may ensue once a certain critical mass has been reached. But he won’t viscerally hate individual Muslims, the way fascistic types do.

So why did Gerard welcome that criminal thug into the inner sanctum of Ukip? The answer lies not in any imperfection of Gerard’s character, but in the structural defects of his party.

Dave Cameron put Ukip in the coffin by agreeing to hold a Brexit referendum. And, when more Britons voted to leave than had ever voted for anything else, they nailed the lid shut. The single issue seemed not to be an issue any longer.

A succession of Ukip leaders followed, until the reins were taken by someone with all the requisite qualities: Gerard Batten. He prised the coffin lid open because Ukip couldn’t be buried yet.

Hence Ukip had to go back to acting like a party, which entailed standing in all sorts of elections, winning some, affecting the outcome of most and thereby putting a squeeze on the mainstream parties.

After all, Dave Cameron didn’t call a referendum out of the goodness of his heart. He did so because Ukip was cannibalising the Tory vote, delivering marginal seats to Labour.

Since the cross-party apparat is tirelessly working to undermine, ideally torpedo, Brexit, the need for Ukip is as urgent as ever. But the core support for it has been compromised.

The disaffected Tories have gone back to their political roots, as have the disaffected Labourites. After all, both their parties claim to be committed to Brexit.

Those prodigal sons will smell a rat sooner or later, but later is no good for Ukip. It needs to make its comeback now, before the coffin has been lowered six feet under.

The most immediate political opportunity lies in bringing under its unifying banners all sorts of marginal groups, those that go by the misnomer of ‘extreme right’. There are at least half a dozen of them around, and I mean only the largest ones, those that call themselves a party.

However, Ukip’s charter wisely ostracises BNP types and their ideological relations – it’s incumbent on a serious political party to disavow any extremist group claiming affinity with it.

When a party refuses to do so, it thereby brands itself as not serious. Corbyn’s Labour springs to mind.

Throughout its life, the Labour party has tried to keep communists and other hard left riff-raff out. In that effort, the party has been only variably successful, but at least until now the hard left has been unable to claim the party as its own.

Now the loony left are in charge there, and one can only pray that the British have enough nous left to keep that bunch out of power – for all the vacillating inadequacy of the Tories. Alas, I’m not sure electorates are capable of thinking in terms of lesser evil.

Labour didn’t have to open its doors to the lunatic fringe, but I’m sure Gerard Batten feels Ukip is in no position to be fastidious. If it can survive at all, it has to get support wherever it can find it. It can no longer afford to pick and choose.

Having said all that, if I were a member of Ukip, I’d leave it over this out of sheer squeamishness – just like many years ago I stopped attending parties at a conservative magazine because I had espied some BNP types there.

Mercifully, anticipating just such a situation, I never joined Ukip even though I faithfully voted for it in a number of elections. Now I’m not bound by party loyalty to defend the hiring of Tommy Robinson.

I would never hire scum like that in a million years, and I’d leave any room he’d enter. But I have the luxury Gerard lacks: reaching for the high moral ground.

I’m responsible to no one but myself; he has a party to run. I can afford being uncompromising; Gerard can’t. So I’m sorry he did what he did – but I understand why he did it.

What’s baseball bat in French?

Batte de baseball, I know, I looked it up

Call this a sop to my American past, but I think that, in everyday life, a baseball bat offers certain ballistic advantages that a cricket bat doesn’t.

The cricket one is heavier, but, since the force of impact equals mass times velocity squared, it’s speed that’s at a premium. And, when swung with grim intent, a baseball bat travels through the air so much faster.

What does this recondite information have to do with the price of tea in China? Nothing. But it has something do with my Christmas shopping.

We always spend Christmas at our little house in the Burgundian woods, out of range for some essential supplies. So each time we go we stock up on some condiments unavailable there and, at Christmas, also Bramley apples, essential to stuffing a goose (the French have no equivalent).

However, before we get to that stuffed goose we have to drive halfway across France, and that’s where the baseball bat comes in. As another sop to my American past, I’d prefer a gun but, France being what it is, I’ll have to settle for a palliative.

For there’s a distinct possibility that our way may be blocked by rioters taking a dim view of les anglo-saxons motoring through their beautiful countryside. I, in my turn, will definitely take a dim view of louts endangering my vehicle, person or wife (not necessarily in that order).

Hence I’ll have to stock up not only on marinated grape leaves, Stilton and sumac, but also on the aforementioned piece of sports kit. This although my only previous experience buying one was as embarrassing as it was comic.

It was 1984, and I had just moved from Houston to New York, where I found that my car, and by extrapolation my person, was a target for abuse.

The car itself, a much-dented Chevy, was unremarkable, but the word ‘Texas’ on the number plates clearly had a vast offensive potential. People hissed Oedipal m-words, flashed obscene gestures, spat on the car’s bonnet in slow traffic.

Impervious to Tolstoy’s sermon of non-resistance, I finally had enough. Fearful of carrying an illegal pistol, I bought a baseball bat and stuck it under the bench seat. But the weapon never saw the light of day because soon thereafter I got a company car.

That left the Impala sitting idly in the driveway awaiting a buyer, or perhaps a wreckage crew. But then my company car broke down just when I had to drive out of town to meet an IBM client. So the Chevy had to be brought back into life.

Realising that the sight of the jalopy would permanently damage my company’s reputation, not to mention my own, I parked it as far from IBM’s front door as the spacious car park allowed. That way, I figured, we’d have to take the client’s car when we went to lunch.

Now I don’t know how IBM is at present, but at that time it was the most conservative company around. Not only did it have the strictest dress code of suit and tie, but white was the only colour acceptable in a shirt.

The executives’ monochrome personalities tended to match their attire. Their idea of a joke was to ask “Warm enough for you?” on a sweltering day. A real knee-slapper, that.

Anyway, come lunch time I suggested we go out for a bite, and my earnest client readily accepted. “But,” he said, “do you mind if we take your car? Mine’s being fixed.”

My ploy having failed, I had to offer a lengthy explanation as we walked half a mile to my banger. “Sorry about the state of the vehicle,” I said, “but my company car is being fixed too. This one’s my wife’s.”

The client assured me he understood, and off we went. Alas, I had to brake rather sharply at one point, and the baseball bat rolled out from under the front seat.

“Your wife must be one tough lady,” remarked the client, perfectly deadpan. I must have turned beetroot red, not something I do often.

The embarrassment was such that in the intervening 34 years I never once have been tempted to shop for a baseball bat again. Until now.

On the remote, nay practically nonexistent, possibility that potential French rioters are reading this, I’m hereby putting them on notice.

If they block my way in a threatening manner, I won’t even slow down – human flesh actually improves traction. And if they do force me to stop, I’ll come out swinging, putting Babe Ruth to shame.

My priest will approve, and if he doesn’t, I’ll quote Augustine’s De Civitate Dei on the subject of just war. The French police may be less forgiving, but, as Teddy Kennedy once said, I’ll drive off that bridge when I get to it.

P.S. Brigitte Macron’s family owns the Jean Trogneux chain of sweet shops started in their home town of Amiens. The original shop is known for its macaroons (macarons in French), which delicacy is almost a homophone of Manny’s surname.

Could it be that it was this phonetic affinity that led Brigitte to commit that famous statutory rape 26 years ago?

Anyway, having tried those celebrated macaroons at Amiens, I can testify to their superlative taste. It would be a shame if the rioters razed or torched those outlets, as they’re trying to do. France’s First Foster Mother would be upset.

Don’t take rioters at their word

Paris Is Burning: different place, same song

As fires, tear gas and stun grenades turn Paris, the world’s most beautiful capital city, into a combat zone, the urge is strong to understand why.

Why do people take to the streets in a country whose legal system leaves plenty of room for peaceful protest? Is it really just because they don’t want to part with a few more euros to fill their cars?

In general, why do people start or join revolutions? Or why do countries go to war?

Granted, at times violence may be necessary and, if you believe Messrs Augustine, Aquinas et al, even moral.

The Greeks fighting against Xerxes, the Romans against Hannibal, anybody against the Bolsheviks or Nazis could all cite unimpeachable reasons for resorting to violence – they knew they could die, but they were certain some things were worse than death.

However, many, perhaps most, conflicts between countries or especially people within the same country lack such noble reasons. They do have plenty of noble slogans, but that’s a different thing altogether.

For example, why did American colonists rise against George III, one of history’s least tyrannical monarchs? Was it really because of taxation without representation?

But taxes (including duties on tea, that party drink so popular in Boston) were even higher in the metropolis, and many Englishmen weren’t represented either.

Moreover, directly the revolution succeeded, taxation skyrocketed. Americans then realised they didn’t like it even with representation, but it was too late to do anything about it.

If the French thought Louis XVI had scaled the heights of despotism, they were quickly disabused of that notion once their revolution conquered. They didn’t get their liberté, égalité, fraternité. They got hundreds of thousands perishing to revolutionary violence inspired by considerably less attractive desiderata.

By the same token the Russians overthrew the unquestionably tyrannical Nicholas II to hasten the advent of an earthly paradise created for the benefit of workers and peasants. However, both groups, as well as the rest of the country, were then promptly enslaved and had to die in their millions to realise how false their original slogans were, how little they had to do with real life.

And so on, so forth. Each time we look at a violent clash we wonder why it occurred – only to find as often as not that the stated reason isn’t the reason. It’s at best a pretext.

The on-going mayhem in France was supposedly inspired by public revulsion against new fuel taxes. On the face of it, that was a perfectly legitimate grievance, especially considering why those new taxes were to be introduced.

Manny Macron is wholly preoccupied with pan-European, pan-planetary and presumably pan-Galactic issues. Such lofty concerns leave him no time for tackling lowly domestic issues, such as millions of Frenchmen living from hand to mouth in la France profonde.

Whenever there’s a conflict between high and low, Manny will go high any day. Hence he’s prepared to squeeze the poor out of their cars for the sake of preserving the planet, presumably ours. I don’t care if your supermarket is 10 miles away, Jean-Pierre, he seems to be saying. Walk, it’s good for you.

Alas, people who can neither travel to a supermarket nor afford decent groceries find little consolation in how pristine the air will be in the next century.

Keep your planet, Manny, they seem to be saying. Just don’t rob us for trying to get about – and in most of France the car is the only possible transportation.

The grievance was legitimate, but the mode of its expression wasn’t. When they are unhappy with the government, poor people don’t set buildings and cars on fire, smash shop windows, deface statues – not of their own accord.

They need to be organised and led to do those things, and that’s where professional malcontents move in, those of the right, left or centre, it doesn’t really matter.

They slide over the ostensible issue and tap deep reservoirs of resentment, envy, fear, jealousy, hatred – all those maelstroms bubbling in the depths of the subterranean sulphuric swamp of the human psyche.

When thanks to their efforts an eruption occurs, the original grievance is buried underneath. No concession on the part of the government will quell the unrest, not quickly at any rate and certainly not for ever.

Having played hard to get for a couple of weeks and insisting that, unlike his predecessors, he wouldn’t surrender to violence, Manny then did just that and announced that fine, no hike in fuel tax if that’s how you want to play it.

That was missing the point. The riots had acquired a life all their own, and it was no longer about the measly extra €50 a month to fill that antediluvian Renault. “We want lower taxes tout court!” screamed the rioters, now properly primed.

However, they then contradicted themselves by demanding that the wealth tax that Manny had abolished be reinstated. Let’s remark parenthetically that in purely economic terms that measure made a lot of sense – similar steps have led to a brisker economic activity everywhere they were taken.

That’s the essence of trickle-down economics: stimulating wealth producers to produce more wealth makes everybody better off – eventually. Alas, that last word undoes all the others.

Eventually? When is that? Ten years from now? Two? To hell with that! We want to make the rich pay – now!!! (Il faut faire payer les riches – in French politics this mantra is heard more often than any other.)

Trickle down? That means the rich pissing on the poor! We want Macron’s arse (Macron, on veut ton cul)! screamed the rioters, and they didn’t mean that in the nice, Alexandre Benalla sort of way.

Nothing but a complete redistribution of wealth would do, explained the ring leaders. Now we’re talking – the language of a communist revolution, or a fascist one if you’d rather. This is where the two converge, smudging along the way all the technical differences between them.

That’s why the rioters were equally encouraged by the Trotskyist Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the fascist (okay, populist) Marine Le Pen, who profess mutual hatred. But then so did Stalin and Hitler, which didn’t prevent them from amicably dividing Europe between them in 1939-1940.

It’s no use pretending that all the fun was caused by the new taxes on diesel. Manny can scream “No new diesel tax!!!” till he sounds like Luke Armstrong on a bad day, it won’t make any difference.

Revolutions, big or small, aren’t about getting what the people want. They are about smashing what the people hate. The true animus of any uprising is always negative.

Love may be inscribed on the bumper sticker, but it’s hatred that’s in the driving seat. A car thus propelled will crash sooner or later, but those who revved it up don’t care.

Shake your spear, baby!

These wax figurines are easier to accept as Antony and Cleopatra

A word of avuncular advice: when you pay an exorbitant amount for a Shakespeare production in London, do your research.

Before parting with £120 for two tickets to see Antony and Cleopatra at the National, I had followed my own advice, but only halfheartedly.

All I had done was scan the reviews, which had all been gasping with delight, and there I was last night, perched in a stone-like seat designed according to the Suvorov principle of “train hard, fight easy”.

If for Stanislavsky the theatre began at the cloakroom, the NT show began with the captions displayed on either side of the stage, saying that “this production is captioned for the benefit of the deaf, deafened and hard of hearing”. At first I thought ‘deafened’ was redundant, but I realised in due course that the sound effects had just such an effect.

Now you would have thought that at my advanced age I’d know better than to trust critics. Had I been less credulous I would have realised that this production is but another exercise in vulgar vandalism.

The advertising poster showed the eponymous characters wearing neutral costumes, which cleverly disguised the fact that the production was in modern dress. Most Shakespeare plays are these days.

I struggle to understand why. That is, I can’t identify any fathomable artistic reason for this abomination. Other reasons are limpidly transparent, all based on the director’s ideology and hubris.

The underlying statement seems to say that Shakespeare is timeless and – that dread word – relevant. In the past, directors used to rely on the sublime text to reconfirm Shakespeare’s transcendence. Today’s lot must feel the Bard needs help, for otherwise the paying public might miss the point.

The problem is that theatre even at its best demands at least some suspension of disbelief.

We must accept that the sketchily painted backdrop is indeed Ranevskaya’s cherry orchard; that Nora’s doll’s house has four walls, rather than just the three we can see; that Hamlet is actually only thinking about being or not being, rather than speaking out loud.

The play may be classicist, romantic, modern, absurdist or surreal but, if it’s written by a great playwright and staged with talent, taste and sensitivity, we’ll accept the narrative as life unfolding before us.

There may be an initial effort involved, but no longer than for a minute or two. After that our lives morph into the action; the passive viewer becomes an active participant, not just a chap expecting an entertaining night out.

When the text is sublime, most of the job has already been done. The greater the play, the lesser the original effort required to believe it.

All the production staff have to do is refrain from doing harm, implicitly taking some sort of theatrical Hippocratic oath. If they have genuine talent, they can add something to the play. But their first responsibility is not to subtract from it, not to make suspension of disbelief difficult.

Here I’m acutely sensitive to the possible shortcomings of my own imagination, which must be lamentably inferior to the critics’ own powers. For I found it impossible to believe I was looking at Octavius Caesar, when all I saw was a young black man wearing a double-breasted suit and moccasins with no socks.

That sort of thing goes over big in SW1, or rather used to in the past, when it seemed ‘cool’. But here we have this lad with his accent some 500 miles north of SW1, delivering lines like: “Let not the piece of virtue which is set betwixt us, as the cement of our love to keep it builded, be the ram to batter the fortress of it.”

Doesn’t the director realise how tasteless this incongruity is? The costume doesn’t have to be Roman or for that matter Elizabethan; it can be neutral and generic.

But we’re supposed to be looking at the Roman emperor, not a mock-Sloanie layabout. All I saw was a grossly miscast actor who couldn’t enunciate his lines properly.

The actress playing Cleopatra was black too, as were half the supporting cast. My literal mind struggled to get around the artistic message being conveyed there.

The protagonist, as her surviving busts show, wasn’t black at all. She was a Ptolemaic monarch of Greek origin, and as aristocratic as they came at the time. No doubt her Greek and Latin sounded as patrician as she was – Cleopatra may have used sex as a political tool, but she certainly didn’t sound like a London slapper one could meet in a City wine bar.

And, in this case, not a good-looking slapper at that, and I’m not talking about the combination of lines and curves the actress possesses. A real actress may not be a beautiful woman, but she’ll make us believe she is.

For example, Vanessa Redgrave was almost 50 when she played Cleopatra. And yet her mastery was such that we saw a beautiful young woman who bewitched Antony, and Caesar before him.

Sophie Okonedo is roughly the same age now, but one couldn’t believe great men would fall under her spell. She came across as rather common mutton straining to act like tasty lamb. And to her credit she honestly didn’t even pretend to be regal.

If the director wanted to use this occasion to strike a blow for racial integration, I’m sure there are cries of approval to be heard in London’s better postcodes. Yet in aesthetic heaven, there’s only weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Transsexualism got an airing too: Agrippa, that stern warrior, was played by a woman. That was supposed to mean something profound, but I’m not sure what.

Ralph Fiennes, the good actor playing Antony, was the only cast member who could deliver his lines comprehensively. In fact, he was the reason I wanted to see the play in the first place: having seen his Prospero a few seasons ago, I knew he could do Shakespeare well.

But the director Simon Godwin wouldn’t let him. Rather than coming across as a dramatic hero with the odd touch of sardonic humour, Fiennes played a vaudeville comedian at heart who occasionally had to pretend something tragic was happening in his life.

But at least one could understand what he was saying, which in the context of that production was no mean achievement.

And speaking of production, the usual bag of tricks one nowadays expects in a Shakespeare play was dragged on and emptied with relish. Rather than a great play, we saw a multi-media presentation, complete with radar scanners, computer screens, jets roaring overhead, the whirring of helicopter rotors and giant backdrop videos of rioting Africans.

The production was supposed to last three and a half hours. We lasted one and a half, and even that was going some.

As a civically responsible person, I felt like reporting that act of gross vandalism. But  our arbiters of taste all thought the production was brilliant. So I felt like a burglary victim in today’s Britain: nobody would have been interested in my complaint.

Libertarians have it easy

$10 million for one night’s work. How much is that per concussion, Tyson?

Simplistic (as distinct from simple) philosophies attract – and corrupt.

Whenever someone reduces the whole complexity of life to a straightforward proposition or two, people feel grateful. They no longer have to think for themselves.

Just apply the ready-made stencil to the problem at hand, cut away everything that sticks out and the problem is no more.

But then a curmudgeonly pedant points out something that stubbornly resists the excising scissors. Suddenly Bob’s no longer your uncle – and Fanny is emphatically no longer your aunt.

True to character, I propose to cast myself in that spoilsport role today, using the boxing ring as my battleground.

Boxing is very much in the news following the heavyweight bout between the American Deontay Wilder and our own Tyson Fury. The two pugilists manfully slugged their way to a draw, with the latter twice picking himself up from the canvas to withstand more battering.

(Allow me to paraphrase: Mr Fury was twice knocked unconscious, suffering two concussions and each time taking multiple additional blows to risk lasting cerebral damage if not instant death.)

Whenever boxing attracts public attention, it attracts public debate. Should such brutal displays be banned? Or should people be allowed to do as they please, provided they hurt no one else but themselves?

Matthew Syed jumped into the debate swinging with libertarian haymakers. In turn, I’ll try to point out gaps in his defences, but without landing the knockout blow of advocating a ban.

For what interests me here isn’t so much boxing qua boxing as the weakness of any dogmatic libertarian argument, however it’s applied.

Mr Syed shows enviable erudition in pointing out the historical provenance of boxing in classical antiquity and quoting nineteenth century accolades for “the science of sweet bruising”. Yet he also acknowledges that boxing is a dangerous sport.

Fighters get killed in the ring. Barring that, they suffer brain damage. Having taken thousands of punches to the head, they develop things like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s at a prematurely young age.

My Syed is aware of this: “The lasting harm of boxing can be gleaned from any number of interviews with former champions, the slurred words and slowed speech as instructive as any medical report.”

But then he throws a libertarian counter: “They [the fighters] know the risks, they recognise the dangers and are willing to encompass them.” And oh yes, many of them are grateful to boxing for the life they otherwise wouldn’t be able to have.

It’s true that one doesn’t immediately see how Messrs Fury and Wilder could have split $15 million for one night’s work in any other way, at least legally. It’s also true that the choice of this profession was their own, and it was made freely.

However, now we appeal to antiquity, all the same arguments would apply if Messrs Fury and Wilder wielded gladii, not boxing gloves – provided they hadn’t been forced to become gladiators.

Granted, the likelihood of death or serious injury would be even greater, but statistical probabilities shouldn’t be allowed to affect the core principle. If two adults freely agree to kill each other, who are we, libertarians, to object?

However, if we’re horrified at this suggestion and insist that gladiatorial combat is an inappropriate public spectacle, then we acknowledge that the libertarian argument has its limits.

Once we’ve agreed on that, the issue becomes eminently debatable. A line can be drawn, and it’s up to us to decide exactly where. Entering into our consideration would be, inter alia, such retrograde notions as the inviolability of the person and the sanctity of life.

Assuming that Mr Syed wouldn’t enjoy the show of two gentlemen trying to kill each other with their swords, he seems to see a qualitative difference between that and seeing them trying to kill each other with their fists.

I don’t – but then, though I don’t believe in progress, I do believe in civilisation. Etymologically opposite as this word is to militarisation, it presupposes the existence of a social and cultural arrangement wherein grievances are settled peacefully, not with brute force.

Since propensity for violence is demonstrably part of human nature, the role of civilisation can be defined as a never-ceasing effort to discourage the bad parts of our nature, while encouraging the good ones.

Conversely, casting civilisation aside and allowing the bad parts of our nature to triumph is sheer atavism, a throwback to a time when people expressed themselves with the untrammelled brutality that always accompanies unchecked freedom.

Viewed in that light, any violence hurts not only its immediate victims but society at large. For example, European society was for all intents and purposes killed by the Great War, even though a relatively small number of Europeans perished in the conflict.

Downscaling from there, two young men bashing their brains out don’t just hurt themselves. For they aren’t the only ones exercising their free choice to engage in atavistic savagery.

The reason Messrs Wilder and Fury were paid all those millions is that throngs of panting viewers around the world enjoy the show of two feral men suffering repeated concussions. They love the sight of blood in the ring – and beyond.

I don’t know if they still do it, but in the old days the proud holders of ringside seats at Madison Square Garden would come equipped with newspaper sheets to protect themselves from the scarlet spray. They knew what was coming – and looked forward to it.

One would find it hard to argue that boxing civilises by encouraging the good side of human nature to come to the fore. Hence I’d suggest that the damage done to the viewing public, and therefore to society, is greater than that suffered by the two sluggers.

It’s the public, not so much the boxers’, health that concerns me.

It’s true that most professional boxers would find it hard not only to match their income in any other occupation, but indeed to earn any income at all.

For example, Mike Tyson’s IQ is just over 70, and I suspect most boxers have something similar – that’s before they take thousands of blows to the head. This isn’t a good qualification for remunerative employment in our value-added economy.

Moreover, since these men are innately violent, one could feel relieved that their natural tendencies are manifested in a roped space 20 by 16 feet rather than in the High Street, where Christmas shoppers could otherwise find themselves on the receiving end of crosses and uppercuts.

So yes, boxing isn’t without its positive effects. But these are barely noticeable compared to the heavy blow it deals to civility, and therefore civilisation.

Whether or not it should be banned is a separate argument, and one I’m not prepared to make. Too many unrelated variables would go into a decision of this sort, such as the encouragement it would give to some central authority to ban anything its sees fit.

My task is merely to point out the inherent weakness of the undiluted, unvarnished libertarian argument in this and most other instances. Life is too complex to lend itself to simplistic reductions.

Russia, the last bulwark of conservatism

Immanuel Kant, traitor to Putin

When it comes to Russia, the Right are wrong. That’s hardly surprising, considering that their views are informed by trained Putin trolls, and I don’t just mean RT.

Our own media do their level worst too, and one would think they’d know better.

Thanks to their efforts (voluntary or paid by the Russians, makes no difference), in some circles Russia enjoys the reputation of being what Peter Hitchens once piffily described as “the most conservative, patriotic and Christian country left in Europe”.

As a result, conservative, patriotic and Christian people in the West see the glow of affinity emanating from Russia and feel its warmth. Of course if they bothered to learn something about the place, rather than relying on dishonest, ignorant or in some cases deranged commentators, they’d know the truth.

But there are only so many hours in a day and life is short, as two oft-cited clichés go. Those good right-wing people have many other things to worry about, such as Islam, Brexit and the advisability of appointing Tommy Robinson as Secretary of State for Race Relations.

Since the need for acquiring new information has to be prioritised, they just gobble up the canned bilge pouring from our papers, nod and go on to more important things. Now what was it again that May gave away in her deal? Are we still allowed to keep Sussex?

God knows I’ve said enough about the pro-Putin effluvia over the years, but sometimes it’s just best to let facts do the talking.

A couple of them caught my eye, as an illustration to Russia’s conservatism and Christianity, if not her patriotism (about which later).

A recent study shows that the incidence of HIV infection in Eastern Europe is eight times as high as in the high-rent part of the continent. And Russia is responsible for 65 per cent of all such cases recorded in the region.

Now unlike, say, laryngitis, HIV infection is behavioural, reflecting as it does certain life choices. These can vary, but they all tend to spring from the kind of conduct that weakens the claim to conservatism and Christianity, if not necessarily to patriotism.

To soften the blow, the authors of the study hastened to add that in Russia HIV is mostly transmitted through heterosexual intercourse and drug addiction. You could see me wiping my brow and heaving a sigh of relief – that’s all right then, the country’s reputation is upheld.

Or perhaps not quite. You see, that Christian and conservative country doesn’t really care about, or look after, its drug addicts. Drug treatment facilities are scarce, and only about 10 per cent of even registered addicts ever see the inside of one.

As a result, over 70,000 of Russia’s 6 million addicts die from drug overdoses every year, and the average life expectancy of addicts is only just over four years. Similar numbers die from their affection for the national beverage or its surrogates unfit for human consumption, but that little problem at least bears the patina of long-standing tradition.

Yet it’s comforting to know that at least the third element of the Hitchens Triad, patriotism, is in rude health, and I use this adjective advisedly.

The authorities in Kaliningrad are mulling over the possibility of renaming the local airport after Immanuel Kant, who spent his whole life in that city when it was still Prussian and called Königsberg.

At that time neither Kant nor for that matter the city suspected that it was slated to change its nationality and acquire the name of one of Stalin’s principal butchers.

So much the worse for Kant, decided the local Russian patriots both categorically and imperatively.

For openers, they splashed a bucket of paint on the Kant statue adorning the city centre. Then, in an outburst of unrivalled Russian spirituality, they desecrated the philosopher’s grave.

Yet, since the word is mightier than a pot of paint, it’s only fitting that the patriotic outrage was then put on a verbal, or if you will philosophical, footing.

Since university is the likeliest place in which to find those who know their Kant from their syringe, the local institution of higher learning was appropriately chosen as the arena for scholarly debate.

Patriots, Christian, conservative or otherwise, looked at the starry sky above them and into the moral law within themselves.

So inspired, they inundated the proverbial groves with packs of leaflets in which Kant was, without a trace of casuistic equivocation or post-Cartesian dualism, described as an “enemy”.

“No more betraying the Motherland!” screamed the leaflets. “Cross yourselves the Orthodox way to banish the very name of this enemy, this German whose people have caused us so much suffering!”

Having thus held Kant personally responsible for all of Russia’s misfortunes and displayed a deep knowledge of history, the patriots so dear to Hitchens’s heart then explained that “Kant betrayed the Russian land that had accepted him.”

Hence the students were urged to “reject this accursed name”, thereby proving that they are “true Russians and not degenerates who have betrayed their Motherland.”

Don’t know about Christianity and conservatism, but patriotism is very much in evidence, so one out of three isn’t too bad. Up your thing-in-itself, you Kant!

Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of vodka!

Vlad Putin at yesterday’s press conference

Vlad ‘Morgan’ Putin can now list piracy on the high seas in his rapidly swelling CV.

However, unlike most of his predecessors in this time-honoured trade, the Botox Boy wasn’t after a pecuniary gain.

There’s no need for buccaneering exploits: he can get all the loot he needs by stealing nationally and laundering globally.

So, what’s he up to? First, the facts.

On Sunday, Russian ships shot up, rammed, boarded and seized three Ukrainian vessels sailing through the Kerch Strait from the Sea of Azov into the Black Sea.

Unlike Russia’s 2014 land grab against the Ukraine, this time Vlad’s spokesmen didn’t claim the assault was perpetrated by colliers, tractor drivers or soldiers on an R&R furlough.

There was no coy pretence that the attacking ships were trawlers fishing for mackerel. The piracy was committed by ships flying the ensigns of the Russian navy, which scores high on my scale of honesty but abysmally low on every other scale.

I realise how tactless it is to use the words ‘Russia’ and ‘international law’ in the same sentence (unless it also contains the words ‘breaks yet again’), but the inner integrity of the piece demands it.

Thus free navigation through the Kerch Strait was stipulated by the 2003 treaty signed by Vlad and the then Ukrainian president Kuchma.

According to that treaty, the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait are the joint territorial waters of Russia and the Ukraine, with both naval and merchant vessels of the two countries enjoying free navigation rights.

All disputes are to be settled peacefully through consultations and negotiations. Critically, the treaty doesn’t include a unilateral cancellation clause.

Yet even before Sunday, the Russians had been harassing Ukrainian ships sailing between the major Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdiansk. (A brief look at the map will show that the Kerch Strait is the only route available.)

Hence the Sunday seizure was indeed an act of piracy and a blatant provocation of conflict. So far President Poroshenko has responded by introducing martial law in the 10 provinces on Russia’s border and appealing to the UN for help.

But the question remains: What’s Vlad up to?

My answer to that is a resounding “I don’t know”. One possibility is that he’s playing the old trick much favoured by evil rulers: using a foreign adventure to divert the people’s attention from the country’s economic plight.

There are signs in the polls that the rapidly declining living standards, which weren’t stratospheric to begin with, have somewhat doused the Russians’ affection for Vlad. His raising the pension age beyond the average life expectancy has had an especially sobering effect.

Generally speaking, the Russians possess a historically cultivated instinct to respond to official inquiries in the way they feel the inquirer will like. And most people can’t distinguish a pollster from a government official.

That’s why Putin’s approval ratings mustn’t be taken literally – and that’s even those few that aren’t demonstrably falsified.

Yet undernourishment has a way of making people go for broke, and Putin’s rating has dropped down to some 45 per cent, from a high in the mid-80s.

It’s not so much the absolute number as the underlying tendency that must be narrowing Vlad’s eyes even more than they’re already narrowed by Botox.

Clearly the Russians need a little jolt to make them see what’s good for them – and Vlad knows how to administer such stimuli.

After all, when he first found himself in the Kremlin his approval rating wasn’t just lower than low: it was nonexistent. No one knew him not only from Adam but indeed from Eve.

Vlad’s KGB training taught him to treat such PR problems head on. A few blocks of flats mysteriously blew up together with their residents (for the solution to the mystery, I recommend the book Blowing Up Russia, whose co-author Alexander Litvinenko suffered an extreme form of literary criticism), and the Chechens were blamed.

A short, bloody war followed, Vlad rode in as the national saviour, and he was on his way to becoming a global statesman. He thus has form in using military forays to whip up popular enthusiasm.

Yet the Sunday piracy may also have a more sinister meaning. It might have been the prelude to a full-scale invasion of the Ukraine, with potentially catastrophic consequences going way beyond the two countries involved.

Vlad may feel that the time has come to test the West’s resolve with a sabre slash, rather than a pinprick. In a fine tradition going back to that Gleiwitz radio station, Vlad’s Goebbelses have already accused Poroshenko of launching a bellicose provocation (declaring martial law in preparation for a possible Russian onslaught).

And Vlad himself had the gall to complain to his old friend Angie Merkel that he was “deeply concerned” with Poroshenko’s response to that little frolic. How dare those uppity Ukies even think about defending themselves?

The likeliest scenario is that Vlad is simply testing the waters, as it were. He wants to have another look at the West’s response before risking a headlong plunge.

To their credit, both Mrs May and her Defence Secretary pulled no punches in their condemnation of Russia’s new entry into the annals of international crime.

However, with all due respect to them, it’s the US response that really matters, which behoves the self-appointed leader of the free world.

If Russia is inching towards war step by step, each subsequent step must be discouraged immediately and in no uncertain terms because otherwise at some point it’ll be too late.

The fitting response would have been for the US-led NATO to state its commitment to defending the Ukraine against Russian aggression – and to punish the act of piracy by introducing, effective immediately, much tougher sanctions and possibly even threatening to disconnect Russia from the SWIFT system.

Details may vary, but the principle shouldn’t: if the history of aggressive evil regimes has taught us anything, that juggernaut must be stopped before it gathers full speed.

However, as if to vindicate Hegel’s pronouncement that the only thing people learn from history is that they learn nothing, the US response was tepid at best.

Nikki Haley, American ambassador to the United Nations, did say that Russian piracy was an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory” and “yet another reckless Russian escalation”. She also referred to “concerns at the highest level of the American government”.

However, the very highest level of the American government, in the person of Donald Trump, could offer nothing better than a damp squib.

“We do not like what’s happening either way,” he told reporters. “We don’t like what’s happening, and hopefully it will get straightened out.”

What does ‘either way mean’? That he isn’t sure who was to blame for the incident? That he sides with Putin’s Goebbelses in accepting it just might have been the Ukraine’s fault?

I especially like the second sentence, and I don’t just mean the illiterate use of ‘hopefully’. More baffling is the use of the passive voice.

How will it get straightened out? All by itself? Through Vlad’s good offices?

Such matters can only ever be straightened out actively, by a show of force and resolve, and Mr Trump has offered none so far.

I’m not going to delve into the peculiar relationship between Trump and Putin – let Special Counsel Mueller sort that out. Suffice it to say that Mr Trump is considerably more decisive when rebuking his allies than he is with the man who may yet plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust.

Since the president is notoriously computer-literate, perhaps he should Google the historical analogues to the situation at hand. By way of key words, I’d suggest ‘appeasement’, ‘Munich’, ‘to die for Danzig’ and ‘Gleiwitz’.

Meanwhile Vlad should order a nice black eye-patch for himself. One must always dress the part.

What on earth is a Europhile?

If you don’t love Junk, you hate Europe

I’ve never seen a political mess to match what’s going on in Britain today, and I lived in the US during Watergate.

The mess doesn’t even rate the soubriquet of crisis – it’s that much of a mess. And in all such situations language falls one of the first victims.

Suddenly conservatives, so called because they want to conserve something, in this case Britain’s constitution, are described as extremists, romantics or idealists.

Those who sling that kind of mud obviously see national sovereignty as an unachievable ideal – indeed making those who stubbornly cling to it wild-eyed romantics.

But British independence is no more unachievable or idealistic than, say, my becoming a British subject. After all, that’s exactly what I did become in 1992.

Analogously, it so happens that until that year Britain had indeed been independent for the better part of 2,000 years. If something exists for so long in reality, striving to restore it still may be foolhardy or anything else one cares to call it.

What it absolutely can’t be is romantic, unrealistic or unachievable. Those who cherish Britain’s constitutional integrity are more appropriately called realists, conservatives – or patriots, if you’d rather.

It’s a matter of semantics and therefore of clear thinking. By all means sling mud if you must, but do try not to sully yourself with the dirt of stupidity in the process.

Then there are people like Edward Lucas, who contribute the word ‘Europhile’ to the semantic gallimaufry – and to think that he’s one of our few columnists who think straight on Russia.

“I am a lifelong Europhile; my two sons work for Our Future Our Choice, the youth wing of the campaign for a second referendum, or People’s Vote,” he writes. “My heart swells with pride and sympathy.”

Mr Lucas’s heart should really swell with shame at this abject failure at parenting, but his offspring and how he raises them are his business. On the other hand, his debauchery of English hurts us all.

Mr Lucas reminds me of a friend with whom I sometimes have coffee after tennis. This nice Englishman also calls himself a Europhile (presumably to distinguish from my Europhobe), which to my pedantic ear sounds like he loves Europe.

Yet in all his 60-odd years he has only crossed the Channel a couple of times and not at all for decades. He doesn’t speak any continental languages, doesn’t know much of European history or culture and has no interest in European philosophy or religion.

In other words, his passion for Europe remains unconsummated, a bit like a man who loves women but has never slept with one. My presumptive hatred of Europe, on the other hand, manifests itself in peculiar ways.

I cross the Channel a dozen times a year, spend half my time on the continent – and tick all those boxes above that my friend would leave blank. Thus I feel justified in rejecting the charge of Europhobia and instead levelling it at my friend.

But of course he and Mr Lucas neither mean that they love Europe nor that people like me hate it. They mean they love the EU and we don’t. Which is another way of saying they see no value to preserving Britain’s constitutional and political integrity.

Thus their Europhilia is neither cultural nor ethnographic, but political. Now I could offer quite a few terms to describe those who wish to undermine their country’s sovereignty and pledge allegiance to a foreign entity with no political mandate in Britain, nor any affection for it.

However, most of those terms would be incendiary, and my purpose today is to untangle the linguistic mess, not to singe it with fire. Suffice it to say that Mr Lucas confirms my cherished bias towards converts from the extreme Left: they can’t really convert.

One can change one’s intellectual opinions but not one’s gonadal temperament, and the Left-Right divide has more to do with the latter than with the former.

And then there’s another term that adds to the confusion: pragmatism. This word is supposed to distinguish the British from fiery continental ideologues.

The British deal with the world as it is, not as we wish it to be, or so the story goes. As applied to the sub-plot of Brexit, the story acquires new twists from both ends, Leave and Remain.

The latter sigh fulsomely and bemoan the unsolvable difficulties of Brexit. Yes, they say with differently human Blairite expressions, the referendum went the wrong way.

But that’s because the electorate had been duped into voting without first considering the insurmountable barriers firmly in place. Now we’ve had two post-referendum years, we’ve seen how high and infinitely numerous those barriers are.

So let’s be pragmatic about it: we can’t leave without a deal, and the deal Mrs May has managed to wrench out of the EU is rotten.

Hence, in our new pragmatic incarnation, we must either vote again and keep doing so until we get it right or, better still, forget the whole ungodly non-pragmatic mess and stay in the EU. The EU is magnanimous enough to take the prodigal son back into the family, having first spanked him pour encourager les autres.

These chaps forget to mention that all the mind-bending problems of Brexit are mostly of their own making. Such problems aren’t force majeure; they are products of wicked human agency.

At play here is the trick routinely uncorked by cynical political nonentities. First, they do something indescribably stupid or even seditious (destroy the economy, start a war they can’t win, enter into unconstitutional treaties or whatnot). Then they issue a call to the banners of pragmatism: yes, we’re in trouble, they say. Yet the world is what it is; we must learn to live with it.

But the world wasn’t what it is before this lot made it so. They couldn’t do things right and now they regret they can’t do things over. Hypocrisy comes together with cynicism to produce a foul result.

But Leavers, such as the ever-sage Stephen Glover, can also bandy pragmatism about with the best, or rather the worst, of them.

They converge with the Remainers in agreeing that we can’t leave without a deal, much as we’d want to. But do let’s be pragmatic about this: Parliament will never go along with no-deal, and time is running short.

Time wouldn’t be running short if we hadn’t wasted two years on Oliver Twist-like supplicancy, begging our European masters to be kind, whereas all they want is to punish us, discourage others and, ideally, torpedo Brexit.

A PM committed to Brexit, rather than to the warped ruling elite, could have invoked the Royal Prerogative, left immediately after Parliament activated Article 50 – and only then started negotiating ‘deals’.

Now those pragmatic Leavers jump through the same hoops as their Remainer friends from Groucho’s and the Arts Club, saying well, alas, the deal Mrs May has secured may be awful but it’s the only one on the table.

Either we go along with it or risk having no Brexit at all – with the extra benefit of getting the kind of Trotskyist government Mr Glover would hate, and Mr Lucas would have loved as a young man but not any longer.

Sorry, there’s so much more I could add, but the emetic impulse is getting too strong. Or, to put it in the idiom of my down-to-earth friends, this mess makes me want to puke.

The French started as they meant to go on

Protests against new diesel tax in Champs Elysées, Paris, yesterday

It’s tempting to say that the French have all the fun, but that’s not quite true.

We have our fair share too. But ours is sedate British fun, lacking the son et lumière pizzazz of barricades, tear gas, fires and stun grenades.

The French have all that and what do we get? Only dark hints that perhaps the Tory party has been living off the proceeds of prostitution.

And yes, Mrs May is always good value, this time tying her apron to our hearts with the same strings in a humbly triumphant Brexit letter. Looking increasingly like a Russian babushka at her samovar, Mrs May is proud of her unwavering fortitude that has secured, for some time at any rate, our grip on Merseyside, Shropshire and Chelsea Cloisters.

A bit tame compared to the show put up in the centre of Paris by the gilets jaunes, backed up by the CRS chorus line, wouldn’t you say? Billowing smoke, raging fires, cars overturned, shop windows smashed, barricades going up, clouds of tear gas – we’ve got a lot to learn from the French when it comes to urban entertainment.

When the British seek a redress of grievances, they write to their MP, swear, then go down the pub and have a pint. I don’t know what the gilets jaunes are on, but their protest is rather more robust.

Perhaps it’s time to disabuse the French of a widespread misapprehension. They always mock our class distinctions, juxtaposing them to the égalité boasted on their public buildings.

In fact, we have nothing even remotely approaching their cleft between the metropolitan, predominantly Paris, elite and the rest of the country.

No doubt that a grocer in Merseyside (which Mrs May’s formidable negotiating prowess has secured for Britain) lives a different life from the owners, and especially guests, of Chelsea Cloisters.

It’s also possible that he views them with seething resentment, while they view him with mild disdain. But such feelings are usually enveloped in a puffy fog of British placidity, rather than the red mist of French exuberance.

The Us-Them divide does exist, but it has neither the depth nor the width one observes in France. In this case, though the gilets jaunes aren’t the type of people I’d often see at my dinner table, they do have a legitimate grievance – or rather a legitimate pretext for the underlying resentment.

At a time when the price of crude oil has been going down, Macron’s government has steadily increased the price of diesel by 23 per cent, with another 6.5 per cent hike planned for January.

In addition, the epiphany that diesel fumes are more harmful than carbon monoxide after all has inspired Manny Macron to threaten phasing out all diesel cars within a couple of years, forcing the owners to buy newer and dearer vehicles.

Now about 77 per cent of all cars in France are diesel, which is, not coincidentally, the proportion of the French who support the protesters. What we observe here is a clash of aspirations.

The metropolitan elite so ably led and personified by Manny wants to save the planet. The rest of the French want to make ends meet. These are the two electrodes sending sparks all over France.

As someone who does most of his driving in provincial France, and in a diesel car at that, I can testify that, in the universal absence of public transport, one needs to do at least 1,000 miles a month there just to survive.

Thus the difference between the diesel price as it will be in January, 2019, and as it was in January, 2018, adds up to something like £40 a month – and that’s before new cars have to be bought. In a vast, rapidly depopulating countryside subsisting on peanuts this punches a gaping hole in people’s livelihood.

But it’s not just the money that rankles, I’m sure. It’s the snide, patronising indifference to their plight that the people detect in the metropolitan bobos (bourgeois bohemians).

People may tolerate robbery, but they’ll never forgive contempt. And in Manny’s latest attack on their lives they detect both.

As to the manner in which such feelings tend to be expressed in France, the clue again comes from the slogan liberté, égalité, fraternité. (I think it would make more sense to replace egalité with Aligoté there, but no one has asked me.)

The triad serves as a reminder that modern France started life as a revolutionary republic, with barricades firmly encoded into her DNA. Such a genetic defect is impossible to cure or live down – it’s only sometimes possible to mitigate for a while.

This points at the fundamental difference between what I call (in my Democracy as a Neocon Trick) an organic state and one that’s an ideological contrivance.

To see which is which we can apply a simple test that would work in most cases: unlike the origin of a contrived state, the origin of an organic one can’t be pinpointed to a single historical event or, for that matter, any precise moment in time.

We can say with certainty that the American republic started in 1776, the French one in 1789, the unified German state in 1871, the Soviet one in 1917 (or more accurately in 1923, when the Soviet Union officially came into being), Israel in 1948 and so forth. But when did the English state begin? We can’t be sure.

The Norman conquest? Magna Carta? The Civil War? The Restoration? The Glorious Revolution?

Advocates of the primacy of any such event will present their arguments; we may agree with some and dismiss others. But the very fact that there are many such events vying for the honour, and that they’re scattered all over history, points at the organic nature of the English state.

It would take another, longer, book to establish the causal relationship between the national character of the people and the political dispensation they produce. And deciding which was primary and which was secondary would be even harder.

But it would take a frivolous interpretation of political history not to see the continuum uniting the Paris barricades c. 1789 with those c. 2018. And then perhaps we could ponder the long-term pernicious effect of all modern revolutions, regardless of how well they may seem to have turned out.

There’s always a price to pay in the end, political, cultural, civilisational. And human.

Can people vote for slavery?

The ABC of politics: Anything But Corbyn

If a democracy can elect a Marxist government, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with the democracy.

This conclusion may sound uncomfortable and politically suspect, but it has more to do with logic than with politics.

The very essence of Marxism is transferring power to the ‘people’, which is the Marxist jargon for a small group of bureaucrats running a tyrannical, omnipotent state.

However, grudgingly allowing that modern democracy has veered a long way away from the word’s etymological origin, even in its manipulated form it’s still rather different from Marxism.

Democracy isn’t exactly bondage, whereas, if Marxism is different from slavery at all, it’s only in legalistic technicalities.

We are therefore looking at a difficult paradox: democratic people may democratically vote for de facto putting an end to democracy. In other words, free people may opt for slavery and rape the spirit of the law without breaking its single letter.

It’s impossible to argue against such a possibility without also arguing against democracy, as it now is.

Note that so far I haven’t made a single political or indeed moral argument. I’m simply staying in the domain of logic, where it’s irrelevant whether we think Marxism is virtuous or evil.

What is relevant is that no viable system can have a self-destruct button to be pushed by majority decision. If it has such a button, and within easy reach, it’s no longer viable.

Hence the shelf of democracy must come with bookends, demarcating the allowable extension in either direction. Should such restraints be firmly planted, the electorate could still go wrong, at times terribly wrong. But it won’t be allowed to commit political suicide.

Such bookends, usually called checks and balances, can take different shapes. It doesn’t really matter which as long as the public’s ability to self-harm is securely kept within reasonable limits.

History provides ample empirical proof that, no matter how much we adore democracy of any type, it’ll ultimately fail in the absence of a clearly defined limit on its power.

Thus the perfectly democratic Athenian constitution of Solon didn’t last as long as the rather authoritarian Spartan constitution of Lycurgus, wherein the king was separated from his subjects by an aristocratic council. According to Plutarch, that council added stability to the commonwealth like the ballast in a ship.

In post-Hellenic Europe, it’s England’s constitution, developed over centuries from its medieval precursor the Witenagemot, that has provided the best balance among various mechanisms of government.

The royal power of the crown at one end, the elected power of the Commons at the other and the unelected power of the Lords as the mediator in between created by far the oldest and most successful constitution in the world.

England sometimes went tragically wrong, but there was enough margin of error built in for the commonwealth still to survive without abandoning too many of its basic principles. Democracy functioned because it wasn’t dogmatically democratic.

The very real danger that we’re likely to have a Marxist government within months, possibly weeks, is a tell-tale sign that the system has become irreparably flawed: its inner logic no longer works.

If we realise that the system is sputtering to a grinding halt, diagnosing the problem isn’t unduly hard. Obviously whatever kept the system ticking along come what may is no longer there.

Our democracy is no longer balanced. The bookends have been removed; the books have fallen down on the floor.

What we’re observing now is a result of the systematic constitutional vandalism perpetrated by successive governments, most prominently, though far from exclusively, by that led by Blair.

The House of Lords has been debauched to a point where it doesn’t, nor indeed is able to, counterbalance the elected power of the Commons, whereas the crown lost all executive power long ago.

Though Blair’s government is especially culpable in this perversion of the country’s entire political history, sniping at the hereditary chamber has been a popular sport for at least my rather long lifetime. (The temptation to say ‘for 200 years’ is strong, but I’ll desist for fear of sounding too controversial.)

The House is Lords is unelected and undemocratic, scream democracy hounds. Of course it is, should have been the proper reply. That’s its whole point, for unelected means immune to political pressures. The upper House is there to prevent the commonwealth from committing inadvertent suicide.

Alas, we’re no longer brave enough to proffer this reply. Hence, rather than empowering the people, democracy has become a deadly weapon in the hands of those who wish to empower a wicked elite, relying inter alia on an endless expansion of the franchise and systematic dumbing down of the populace.

The larcenous syllogism hammered into the increasingly ignorant heads of the electorate seems unassailable: democracy is uniquely good; democracy means one vote for every man, woman and increasingly child; ergo, any other mechanism of government is bad even if it’s only a part of the political mix.

One can remain unbiased and dispassionate only for so long, and at this point I’ll go so far as to say that the notion of a Marxist government ruling Britain isn’t just illogical but evil.

I hope there’s enough residual spunk and sagacity left among the British to prevent this catastrophe from happening. However, the destiny of a nation shouldn’t hinge on the tenuous hope that the electorate will stop just short of suicide.

There should be sufficient safety mechanisms built into the system to be activated automatically when self-destruction beckons. Yet such cut-off valves are manifestly missing in our democracy-run-riot.

If they still existed, we wouldn’t be anxiously checking the current standing of what has the rich potential of becoming the most evil government elected in a European country since 1933.