The KGB rules, okay?

 Winston Churchill’s famous description of Russia pointed out her enigmatic nature. The great man had a point: Russia is indeed full of mysteries. Some of them, however, are relatively easy to solve, such as why Russian sports shops sold 500,000 baseball bats last year, but only three baseballs and one baseball glove. Even allowing that this great sporting nation may play the game to a different set of rules, the disparity is puzzling – but not very.

 Other mysteries may present more of an intellectual challenge, but the presidential election forthcoming on 4 March isn’t one of them. Col. Putin will win, and one has to compliment him on a ground-breaking electoral strategy aimed at negating some of the bad publicity the good colonel has received over the last 12 years.

 The task wasn’t easy, for some of the publicity was so bad it would scupper even a Mugabe campaign. Just take the dossier published by Marina Salie, who in 1992 headed the Petersburg Council commission investigating  Putin’s business machinations when he was still a lowly deputy mayor. Among other choice bits, the documents showed that Putin had signed deals to export $100 million worth of raw materials in exchange of food. The raw materials dutifully left Russia. No food came back in return – this at a time of rationing in Petersburg.

 Onwards and upwards: Putin’s current 12-year record as national leader is signposted by such milestones as the second (genocidal) Chechen war, the gassing of dozens of hostages together with their kidnappers at a Moscow theatre, 40-odd opposition journalists and politicians ‘whacked’ (to use Putin’s own jargon) in dark alleys, a spot of nuclear terrorism in the centre of London, free press suppressed, terrorist regimes armed, palaces built all over Russia, shady links with dubious ‘exporters’, dozens of cronies elevated to riches, stroppy billionaires sent to concentration camps – just tell me where to stop.

 So what kind of strategy would have steered Putin to his present leadership in the polls (55 percent, with the nearest rival at eight percent, all of them together at 28)? The kind that could stand our own politicians in good stead: ‘Putin is the lesser evil!’ Yes, he might have done all those unpleasant things. Yes, he may be one of the richest men in the world (something claimed by the political scientist Belakovsky in an interview to Die Welt). Yes, his use of a figurehead ‘president’ Medvedev to keep his own chair warm for a few years was cynical. But, if not Putin, WHO THEN?

 Surely not Gennady Zyuganov, the communist leader? Those chaps had their innings for 74 years, and you know what happened. And not ‘Mad Vlad’ Zhirinovsky, the music-hall fascist who wants Russian soldiers to ‘wash their boots in the Indian Ocean’? Mikhail Prokhorov, an ‘oligarch’ envied and therefore loathed for his billions? No, absolutely not. Putin, scream all government-controlled TV channels (which is to say all TV channels), may not be an angel. But at least he is a strong leader, a career KGB officer who won’t take any nonsense from the West. HE IS THE LESSER EVIL.

 It has to be said that even Russians who have lived in the West for decades struggle to counter this eminently realistic strategy. For example, in an article written for a Russian on-line magazine, Vladimir Bukovsky, who used to be tortured in KGB psychiatric wards by Putin’s colleagues, came out in favour of Prokhorov, all six-foot-eight of him. Prokhorov, according to Bukovsky, has two irrefutable assets going for him. First, if elected, he promised to donate 17 of his 18 billion dollars to charity, keeping just a miserly one billion for his day-to-day expenses (Mitt Romney, ring your office). Second, he has never been directly implicated in murder. So fine, he may have been arrested by the dastardly French for running a prostitution ring, but wasn’t he eventually released without charge? What more do you need? If this isn’t the stuff of which landslides are made, I don’t know what is.

 And the real democratic opposition? It doesn’t exist. Oh sure, there are a few websites filled with longings for the kind of politics Russia has never had, and some of the writers have a genuine literary talent. What they don’t have is any clue of how any other system can possibly function in Russia. Russia, they claim on rather feeble evidence, is ready for democracy, no matter what the naysayers are naysaying. Everybody is ready for democracy – just look at Lybia and Iraq. It’s never too late for freedom.

 And how do we define freedom? Here semantics comes in handy. The old Russian word for freedom is volia, which is a cognate of ‘will’. True enough, freedom to a Russian is tantamount to a licence to do as he will – not to have his person and property protected by just laws. That sort of thing is too legalistic for Russians, too unspiritual – too Western for words. Let the Brits have their laws; the Russians have souls instead. Characteristically, Nikolai Lossky’s standard text The History of Russian Philosophy devotes 57 pages to the metaphysical thinker Soloviov and only two to all the Russian philosophers of law combined. And things haven’t changed much since the tsars: in a recent poll 80 percent of Russians stated that a strong leader is much more important than any set of laws.

 Given such a political climate, a winning electoral strategy writes itself. The odd picture of Putin’s muscular naked torso, a few more of him holding a rifle, riding a steed, displaying his prowess at martial arts or sporting a military uniform, and Boris is your uncle. And specific promises? Why, if elected, Col. Putin will invest $750 billion into rebuilding Russia’s military power. So Russia will become as great as it was under Stalin, especially considering the rate at which the West is disarming.

The good colonel can’t lose and he probably won’t even have to cheat. For IF NOT PUTIN, WHO ELSE? No one. And few people will shed a tear for a country in which there’s no alternative to a KGB thug, who’s proud to be one. ‘There’s no such thing as ex-KGB,’ Putin once declared. ‘This is for life.’ Quite.

Weep if you love England

I don’t think it would sound terribly controversial to say that England wasn’t born yesterday. It has been lovingly nurtured over two millennia by sage men expressing their affection for this ‘green and pleasant land’ by building up institutions that don’t just help England thrive — they enable her to survive as England; they are England.

Destroy those institutions one by one, and England becomes less. Continue this attrition, and it won’t take long for England to become something else. To stop being England in other words. Do you wish this to happen? I know I don’t.

Yet that is precisely what’s under way at present, and the demolition is presided over by a government that has the gall to call itself conservative. By way of illustration, I’ll cite just three examples, of many — these are work in progress, so perhaps an outside chance exists that the ‘progress’ will be nipped in the bud. (This is more in the nature of hope than expectation.)

One is the plan to turn the House of Lords into a fully elected chamber, to be called Senate or some such. We already have a Supreme Court, so why not restyle the Queen as Governor, the Commons as legislature and be done with it? Then we can apply for statehood within the USA — provided they agree to pay the EU off.

This displays such a barbaric ignorance of England’s constitution that no such savage ignoramus ought to be allowed to leave school, never mind enter politics. It has been known since Plato and Aristotle that the most just and viable government is one that keeps various political systems in fine balance. Practically the only Western country that has historically achieved such a balance to resounding success is England.

The demos had its interests represented in a democratically elected Commons, an unelected monarch provided the overall authority, and an aristocratic House of Lords made sure that the power of neither the monarch nor the people would become tyrannical. In practice, the dominant power has been vested in the Commons since 1688 — but it was securely checked by the other two branches, none of which was held hostage to political pressures, as elected officials inevitably are.

It was also assumed that the peers, who owned so much land in England for generations, had umbilical links with the country and would therefore do their utmost to protect it against either royal tyranny or mob rule. Hence having an elected upper chamber is a travesty — the house built brick by brick over centuries will collapse, and our assorted spivocrats will lord over the ruins. Which is why they, regardless of their party affiliation, are pushing for this obscenity to become a fact soon. Never mind bono publico. Their own bono is all that matters.

Another institution that lies at the heart of England is the Anglican Church, of which the Queen is Supreme Governor. Yet speaking the other day at Lambeth Palace to leaders of various faiths, Her Majesty saw fit to declare that, ‘[The Church’s] role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country.’ Someone forgot to tell that to Richard Hooker.

In all humility, the Queen got it wrong. The role of the Church is precisely ‘to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions’ — as it is the role of the Supreme Governor of the Church to act as Defender of the Faith. The faith, Your Majesty, not any old ‘faith’ — Jack of all faiths, Supreme Governor of none. As Supreme Governor of the Church, it isn’t the monarch’s role, and nor is it the Church’s, to protect the freedom of any kind of worship. This may be her role as head of state, but that’s another hat, or rather crown, that she wears.

May I humbly remind Her Majesty of this exchange that took place on 2 June, 1953.Archbishop. Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them? Queen. All this I promise to do.’

The Coronation Oath didn’t mention any commitment to even-handed multiculturalism. However, as you can see, it did mention other commitments that sound as if they just may be at odds with Her Majesty’s statement the other day. Score another one for our spivocrats in all three major parties.

The third institution that’s currently under attack is marriage, and therefore family. Neither Plato nor Aristotle would have recognised its critical significance. They were champions of agora politics, where men expressed themselves not as individuals but as citizens. Home for them was but a bedroom and a dining room, and they — and their wives — easily floated from marriage to marriage, and, in every possible combination of sexes, from one lover to the next. If a heterosexual dalliance or marriage produced children, then Plato advocated their becoming wards of the state, so that every citizen could assume that someone roughly his own age could be his biological sibling.

Christianity changed all that by privatising the spirit and internalising man. People would now express themselves not by arguing in the public square, but by contemplating and praying at home or church. The Western world that reflected this seismic shift, the most revolutionary one in history, abandoned the overarching polis and began to rely instead on small, tight, familial bodies: guild, parish, village, township. And of course family was by far the most important of all familial institutions — the building block of Western society.

And it’s this building block that’s in the process of being knocked out of the house and smashed to smithereens. All three parties — and many clergymen — are pushing for ‘same-sex’, which is to say homosexual, marriage to gain equal status with what any sane Westerner would recognise as proper marriage. Family is of course the major competitor to the congenital megalomania of the modern state, and so it has to be destroyed for our spivocrats to reign supreme. It has already been largely deprived of any religious significance — now its social value will be discounted to practically zero. Since Abraham, marriage has been understood as a union between a man and a woman, with the propagation of our race being its social function. That’s why all three Abrahamic religions treat marriage as a sacrament and hold it in high esteem.

But of course such arguments don’t work for either our spivocrats or their flock. According to them, the dial is reset in every generation, and each subsequent generation is so much more advanced than any of its predecessors. So those anomic creatures in Westminster feel perfectly justified in destroying institutions that have proved their paramount value over millennia.

Do you love England? So reach for a handkerchief. And, once your eyes are dry, do something about it while England is still there. What’s left of it.







No, not a pig. I want some PICKLE!

I can’t boast of being particularly good at languages. But, what with an inordinate amount of toing and froing over a lifetime, I manage to get by in most countries when it comes to buying things or ordering a meal.

I even make a point of refusing English-language menus, and, if one is thrust upon me, only ever look at it for amusement value. For example, a Petersburg restaurant once had a mystery item on special, called ‘boiled language.’ I like mine nice and blue with lots of salt and pepper, I wanted to say, even though I knew that the Russians have the same word for tongue and language (yazyk, if you’re interested).

Anyway, by accident of birth I’m bilingual in English and Russian, so whenever I find myself in Moscow (which is as seldom as I can help it) I can ask anything I want, such as ‘I like my food hot, my vodka cold, and not vice versa’ or ‘Please don’t hurt me.’

Since I’ve been spending much time in France for many years, I can go so far as to exchange off-colour jokes with the maître d’ at my favourite Paris restaurant, secure in the knowledge that he is duty-bound to laugh at my one-liners (nowadays professional obligation seems to be a precondition for anyone to appreciate what my wife calls my infantile humour).

Having lived in Italy for a while and travelled extensively through Spain, I can order a fairly sophisticated meal in Rome or Madrid, and the waiters don’t even feel tempted to insult or overcharge me.

And English usually gets me through northern Europe, though not without the odd misunderstanding. Once I asked an Amsterdam fishmonger to prepare my bass for me, and he laughed just the way the French maître d’ does, even though on that occasion I wasn’t aware of making a joke. Turned out that to the Dutch gentleman preparing a fish meant cooking it, not cleaning and scaling, which is how the word is understood in the Anglophone world.

The only capital city in which I can’t make myself understood at shops and restaurants is the one where I happen to live: London. And I’d be lying to you if I claimed that my reaction to this linguistic conundrum is invariably good-natured.

This morning I was at a major supermarket where I couldn’t find Polish cucumbers in brine, which normally live in the Foods of the World section. I had to stop several assistants before I found one who could understand the word ‘cucumber’. Not a single one knew what brine was. ‘Vinegar?’ they’d suggest helpfully. ‘No, not vinegar! Brine! Salt and water!’ ‘Vinegar,’ they’d say with decisive finality.

On another occasion I was driven to distraction by a shop assistant who kept pointing me towards the butcher’s counter where I could buy ‘peeg’, rather than the pickle I had trouble finding. And when buying bread at a French bakery, such as Paul, one had better be able to speak French if wishing to communicate the difference between ‘rye bun’ and ‘rum baba’.

Now I don’t mind speaking French, but there’s a big difference between not minding and having to. In fact, I’m bloody-minded enough to refuse to speak any language other than English in my city. If they take my money in my country, they should damn well speak my language — just as I try my best to speak theirs in their country.

If this makes me sound as if I were somehow against immigrants working in London, I want to dispel this impression once and for all. I’m not. In fact, I welcome it — it’s nice to buy real bread from people who know how to make it; I like ordering my pasta from people who don’t pronounce it ‘passter’; I’m ecstatic about ordering a tapa from a waiter who knows the difference between Serrano and Ibérica hams. I just don’t want to have language problems in my own city.

Moreover, I’m a firm supporter of free trade, including the import of labour, though I do draw the line on the import of welfare recipients. I just wonder why I’ve never met a Paris waiter who doesn’t speak proper French, while these days hardly ever meeting a London one who speaks proper English.

Having lived in Texas, which in those days wasn’t known for a cosmopolitan outlook on life, I noticed that the widespread animosity towards Mexican immigrants went from peaks to troughs, depending on the economic situation (which in Houston depended entirely on the price of crude oil). When the economy was booming, nobody minded Mexican bricklayers or, for that matter, waiters very much — they were doing jobs that the good ole boys didn’t want. But when the economy dipped, suddenly the good ole boys wanted those jobs, at which point they’d begin to describe the ‘Messicans’ in terms that would incur the wrath of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

We don’t seem to have a similar problem here: our economy is in the doldrums, 20 percent of British young people are unemployed (and God only knows how many more on the ‘sickie’), and yet catering and retail jobs go to people who don’t understand me even when I speak slowly and loudly. I could suggest why this is happening, and even what needs to be done to change the situation, but I’ll save that for a different article.

For now I’ll just go on saying, ‘Well, you better habla, mate. This is England, you know. Inglaterra! Entiende?’



Can a politician feel shame? Not when he is Balls.

Just when I felt sure that nothing politicians could say would possibly surprise me, Ed Balls proved me wrong. The Shadow Chancellor has proposed a sweeping programme of tax cuts — and criticised the Tories for not having seen the light first.

‘Some people,’ he wrote in the Sunday Times, ‘may be surprised to see Labour prioritising tax cuts.’ Not surprised, Ed. Disgusted, is more like it. What we are indeed surprised to see is that there truly are no limits to the bold-faced effrontery of which politicians are capable.

Ed’s proposals are a bit like Adolph Hitler rising from the dead to point out our deficiencies in interracial relations. Or Rosemary West accusing the government of not doing enough to protect children from abuse. Or Attila the Hun rebuking us for excessive bellicosity.

For it is the Labour government of 1997-2010, which Ed served in various economy-related capacities, such as economic adviser to Brown and Economics Secretary to the Treasury, that pulled off the seemingly impossible feat. Having inherited one of the most competitive economies in the world, it turned it into a basket case.

Actually, this seems to be Labour’s role in life: getting into power only to smash the economy, then stepping aside for a few years to let the Tories paper over some of the cracks, then coming back to swing the sledgehammer again.

I’m not an unequivocal admirer of Lady Thatcher, but her ‘supply-side revolution’ of the 1980s did succeed in reviving Britain’s moribund economy driven to the brink by Labour’s harebrained subversiveness. Using such expedients as deregulation, pinning back the greedy unions’ ears, tax-cutting and privatisation, Mrs Thatcher’s government put ‘the sick man of Europe’, Britain’s economy, back on its feet. It may have been tottering, but it was standing up.

Thirteen years of Labour’s incompetence, tinged with the bright red of ideological commitment to greed and envy, brought the economy to its knees. Their regulations, quite apart from their direct cost of about £178 billion, suffocated enterprise; their extorting more tax from corporations made matters worse; their massive raids on pension funds beggared thousands of pensioners and reduced the competitiveness of our finance industry; their meddling in tax regulations added new layers of bureaucracy; their shifting of resources from the private to the public sector put an unbearable strain on honest people in productive employment.

Above all, Labour’s criminally irresponsible borrowing made it well-nigh impossible for the Tories to restore sanity upon their return to power. Thanks to Margaret Thatcher’s policies, early in the government of John ‘Maastricht’ Major the public debt stood at 24.6 percent of GDP, the lowest proportion in the 20th century. It took Major only a few years to prove that his economic acumen was only equalled by his taste in girlfriends: towards the end of his mercifully brief tenure the debt had risen to 43.8 percent of GDP. At the time that looked like a disaster. Now it loooks like the good old times.

During the 13 disastrous years of Ed’s beloved Labour the public debt was tropistically reaching for 100 percent of GDP and a trillion pounds in absolute terms, which threshold has now been stepped over by the coalition. A debt of this magnitude would bind hand and foot even a government made up of George Cannings and William Pitts advised by Adam Smiths and David Ricardos. For one composed of our own Daves, Georges and Vinces the debt isn’t just a tether but also a millstone around its neck. What they need is something they have not: the courage to tell the nation that the cancerous economy needs not a gentle massage but a drastic surgery combined with chemotherapy. The economy will emerge shaken, weak and possibly nauseated. But it just may live.

What they emphatically don’t need is lessons in economic probity from the likes of Balls. Anyway, what specifically does this newly hatched champion of low taxation propose? A three-percent income-tax cut. Not for ever, he hastens to reassure his socialist rank-and-file craving to punish the ‘rich’. Just for a year, until the economy gets going again. And then we can tax it back into submission, making sure industry and talent don’t pay and continuing to tax the marginal pound at 50 percent or more (which was one of the last thank-you gifts from the outgoing Labour government).

What else, Ed? Oh well, if you insist. Bringing forward the personal allowance rise to £10,000. Higher tax credits. That’s about it. Well, even assuming you mean what you say, Ed, that’s chicken feed. Considering the shambles into which you and your mates turned the economy, that’s like using aspirin as the pain killer during an amputation.

And anyway, how are we going to finance this generosity? Surely not by cutting public spending? Getting rid of the hundreds of thousands of government-paid freeloaders you chaps created during your baker’s dozen years in power? Oh no, God forbid. Ed is suggesting Labour’s proven method: printing more money. Never mind that since 2008 Britain has already printed more cash than in the previous few centuries combined. Ed thinks we should print even more, not just putting the economy into its coffin, but nailing the lid shut.

The nerve of some people. And you know what the most horrible thing about it all is? Labour’s rating may well rise, vindicating Ed’s real — and only — aim. Balls is trying to activate Tony Blair’s New Labour strategy of pretending to be more Tory than the Tories. All he needs is a good name for it, what with New Labour stinking to high heaven. I’m sure he’ll manage — coming up with code words to conceal their innate destructiveness is all our politicians are good at.

And once the vote-winning shibboleth is there and bedded down (‘Labour of Love’? ‘Labouring for Your Success’? ‘Small Labour, Big Economy?’ Possibilities are endless.), the trick may well work again. After all, it did before.





William Hague, the curate’s egg

Our Foreign Secretary’s photograph should appear in dictionaries to illustrate the concept of curate’s egg. Yesterday the good part warned of the dangers inherent in Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. But then the bad part took over and things went downhill all the way.

Mr Hague warned that we’re risking a ‘new cold war’, this time with Iran. Yet nothing can be further from the truth. We’re not risking a new cold war, we’re smack in the middle of it. What we are risking is nuclear war, which is as hot as they come.

Considering that I’m-a-Dinner-Jacket doesn’t even bother to conceal his aggressive intent, the West clearly can’t allow his regime to affix nuclear warheads to the long-range missiles it has already, those that can reach not only Jerusalem but even London. What we need, and have a right to expect, from our leaders at this time is clear thinking, resolve and courage. What we get is platitudes.

Such as Hague’s yesterday’s contributions: ‘We support a twin-track strategy of sanctions and pressure and negotiations on the other hand.’ [We’re no doubt encouraged by the resounding success this strategy has produced so far.] ‘All options must remain on the table’ because a military attack would have ‘enormous downsides’.

What happened to ‘look before you leap’ and ‘a rolling stone gathers no moss’? Why didn’t they make it into this glossary of clichés?

We know war is nasty business, Mr Hague; no reminder necessary, thank you very much. We also know, however, that sometimes it takes small wars to prevent big ones. Craven appeasement of tyrants — pardon me, I meant ‘a twin-track strategy’ — has been known to produce nothing but disasters.

Hitler, for example, could have been stopped dead with a minimum of fuss at any time until his westward thrust. Even after the Nazis attacked Poland they were there for the taking, what with not a single tank covering their western border (where the French and the British had about 1,400 tanks safely parked, with handbrakes on). Hague’s predecessor in the job, Anthony Eden as he then was, objected bitterly but was overruled by Neville Chamberlain, whom, at Maastricht time, John Major acknowledged as his role model. And then bombs came down on England, but at least their yield wasn’t measured in megatons, and there was no radioactive fallout.

Considering that Iran’s bombs are likely to be different from Luftwaffe’s blockbusters, the military option is the only one ‘on the table’. All others have been blown off the tabletop — the risk is too high to shilly-shally.

Rather than putting pressure on Israel not to take preemptive action, Hague should be in Washington, working out the diplomatic specifics of a coordinated attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities and infrastructure — and then in Saudi Arabia, making sure the consensus in the Arab League doesn’t go against us. Time is running out and, to put it into the kind of idiom Mr Hague seems to be most comfortable with, a stitch in time saves nine.

But at least Hague is aware of the danger. Shashank Joshi, of the defence think tank the Royal United Services Institute, isn’t. ‘If we could live with nuclear weapons in the hands of totalitarian, genocidal states like Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China,’ he said, ‘Iran in contrast… is far more rational’. If that’s the level of strategic thinking coming out of those tanks, they should all be decommissioned and broken up for scrap.

Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China were indeed totalitarian and genocidal regimes, but they didn’t rely on terrorism as their primary tactic in confronting the West. They were suspended in a global (or, in China’s case, regional) standoff with the West, and their aggressive ambitions were held in check by the certainty of nuclear obliteration by an American counterstrike. The American strategy behind this Mexican standoff was called MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), and, say what you will about it, it worked.

Today’s ‘rational’ Iran, on the other hand, isn’t at all like the Soviet Union — it can’t harbour any hopes of matching up to the West in a mano a mano situation. It’s more like an Al Qaeda with national borders, and it’s with Al Qaeda that Iran is reported to be coordinating its forthcoming actions. There wouldn’t be a swarm of bombers and ICBMs darkening the sky over London, Paris or Tel Aviv. But there well may be one nuclear missile hitting home, or one nuclear charge surreptitiously delivered in a suitcase by a foreign student of the LSE.

That’s why Iran’s leaders are indulging in the kind of brinkmanship that’s positively goading the West into an attack. They aren’t really scared of the hell that could be unleashed by the three US carrier groups in the region. They are prepared to take massive casualties in the hope of then inflicting them with plausible justification. The only action they would be afraid of is one that would wipe out their evil regime, but they think the West is likely to stop just short of it. They are prepared to gamble on the West’s cowardice and indecision, and they must feel the odds are good.

‘If they feel their regime is under existential threat, if they feel they face a Libya-like situation, they would have the option of building a bomb,’ explains Mr Joshi. And doing what with it? Putting it up on a pedestal and worshipping it from afar? ‘Building a bomb’ is precisely the option the likes of I’m-a-Dinner-Jacket must be denied. Whatever it takes. Before it’s too late.


Red corner: God. Blue corner: the state. Referee: Trevor Phillips

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, made a silly and subversive pronouncement, but then the chap has to justify his existence somehow.

In the statist gospel according to Trevor, the state shall ride roughshod over religion whenever there is a divergence of opinion between the two. Thus the state is within its right, say, to browbeat a Catholic adoption agency into giving up its opposition to homosexual couples adopting little boys. St Trevor thus believes — nay, dictates — that any state law, no matter how perverse or recent — should take precedence over a position laid down in Leviticus and Romans thousands of years ago. Only in today’s virtual world can such an issue arise, and commenting upon it seriously would be dignifying it with a consideration it doesn’t deserve.

So rather than questioning the validity of Trevor Phillips’s beliefs I’d like to question the validity of Trevor Phillips. Not as a person, you understand, and nor as an erstwhile defender of free speech, but as someone who is the official embodiment of his outfit.

It’s questionable whether the term ‘human rights’ has any value in serious discourse on political matters. Today we are served up any number of rights: to marriage, education, health, development of personality, leisure time, orgasms, warm and loving family or – barring that – warm and loving social services, employment, paternity leave and so forth. These ‘rights’ are manifestly bogus as they fail the test of not presupposing a concomitant obligation on somebody else’s part. When a ‘right’ presupposes such an obligation, it’s not a right but a matter of consensus.

Thus one’s right to employment would mean something tangible only if there were someone out there who consents or is obligated by law to give one a job. One’s right to a developed personality (guaranteed by the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, signed by such authorities on human rights as Stalin’s Russia) presupposes an obligation on somebody else’s part to assist such development. One’s right to a fulfilling sex life… this can get too silly for words. All these rights become tangible only if they are granted by others; and anything given can be taken away, so there go all those pseudo-rights alienated right out of the window.

On the other hand, the right, say, to property is real: my desire to acquire it doesn’t depend on your consent. Typically, it’s precisely this right that the modern state has well-nigh invalidated by assuming, about a century ago, the prerogative to inflate currency and impose extortionist taxes as it sees fit. The state, so worshipped by Phillips, thus became what H.L. Mencken called ‘the common enemy of all well-disposed, industrious and decent men.’

Phillips would do well to remember that, without the religion he wants the state to squash under its thumb, the very idea of human rights would be as unthinkable to us today as it would have been to Plato. A slave having the same rights as a full-fledged Athenian citizen? Preposterous.

That every person has an intrinsic value regardless of his wealth, race or status is a notion inseparable from every person having been created in the image of God. And it’s at that, and only at that, level that true equality exists. (Equality before law is merely an extension of the same principle into justice.) When appearing in the context of Trevor’s outfit, equality means something else of course: levelling, imposed and enforced by the state as a way of keeping people under control.

This is what I call the great larceny of modernity: shifting Christian ideas into the secular domain, where they are perverted and bent to serve the cause of burgeoning statism. Thus the injunction to give one’s possessions to the poor is warped into the ungainly shape of the welfare state; the sacrament of marriage as a union between a man and a woman essential to the survival of man is perverted into a union between either a man or a woman and any mammal of their choice; equality of all before God is taken to mean no pride of place for Christianity.

Phillips actually had the gall to equate a Catholic charity’s attempt to cling on to Christian values with the Muslims insisting on obeying only the Sharia law. Does he know anything at all about England’s history? Her constitution? The makeup of her realm? Does the term ‘established religion’ mean anything to him? Has he heard our head of state described as ‘defender of the faith’? Has he read the text of the oath Her Majesty took 60 years ago? Or heard her last Christmas speech?

In 2004 Phillips himself called upon various ethnic and religious groups to ‘assert a core of Britishness’ in the face of creeping multiculturalism. He must realise that Christianity is an essential part of this core, and therefore Christian and Muslim laws can’t enjoy equal status in Britain — or, for that matter, in the Islamic world, where, given a conflict, Muslim laws must take precedence.

An unfortunate turn of phrase, Mr Phillips. That’s what happens when a good man associates himself with a bad cause. 


Take it from an actor’s grandson: actors are seldom bright

A friend of the great Russian poet Mandelstam once referred to ‘the profession that’s the opposite of yours’, probably meaning a secret police agent. But Mandelstam naturally assumed his friend was talking about an actor.

Common sense would suggest he was right to make that assumption. Someone who can effortlessly slip into multiple personalities is unlikely to have a strong one of his own; someone who regurgitates the products of other men’s minds has to be able to suppress his own, and powerful intellects wouldn’t stay suppressed for long. Just imagine, say, Immanuel Kant playing Hamlet, putting his soul into the Bard’s immortal line ‘Sein, oder nicht sein…’, and you’ll know what I mean.

Naturally there are exceptions. For example, I hear from my friends who know him that Edward Fox is an intelligent man. I’ll take their word for it, but then there are exceptions to everything. I’ve even met well-spoken footballers who don’t have to pause after every other word to suppress the ‘f’ filler that would normally slot in there. Exceptions are exceptions, and rules are rules.

So much for the theory — now comes empirical validation. I grew up with my grandfather, a highly respected stage actor. Whenever he and his colleagues had a free evening, they’d crowd into our tiny place, drink and amuse themselves in all sorts of boisterous and crude ways. They’d bend over my pram, dripping sweat on my swaddled body, and teach me words that in those days only appeared in large unabridged dictionaries. Thus long before I could walk I knew how to describe a person’s maternal progenitor in terms suggesting intimate familiarity with most sexual variants.

When I grew up I found no forensic evidence to contravene the first pram-acquired impressions. By then the star dust covering famous actors had been blown off by close acquaintance, and I realised that my sainted grandpa and his friends weren’t just eccentric but, not to put too fine a point on it, stupid and vulgar. I’m aware how unfashionable it is to generalise, and I know I’ll burn in PC hell, but various large groups of people do tend to have much in common. So I suspect that many, though far from all, actors share at least one of those characteristics, and possibly both.

Nothing one reads about them in the press goes a long way towards dispelling this shameful preconceived notion. Take Sean Penn’s recent comments on British foreign policy in the South Atlantic, which stirred much indignation not just in the British press but, more important, among residents of the Falklands, which Mr Penn, displaying a fine command of geopolitical nuance, referred to as the Malvinas.

My first reaction wasn’t so much indignation as good-natured indulgence: I simply considered the source, which I knew only too well. Add Sean’s likely deficiency in the upstairs department to his well-documented adulation of Hugo Chavez and to the visceral hatred for Britain which is a trademark of many Hollywood actors of Irish descent, and all one can say is ‘there, there, no need to get excited, there’s a good boy — have another jar, my old son.’ Arguing against Sean and his colleagues would hardly be sporting.

Why actors and other celebs feel entitled not only to their own opinion, but also to an audience, is the really interesting part. In the past, one had to earn the right to speak in the agora; these days people assume that those who are good at something are good at everything.

Now Penn is an excellent actor, but it’s not his talent that puts him on the public platform. It’s his fame. Even those who barely know, or can appreciate, how good an actor he is, know he is a celebrity — and this is all that matters. If he next decides to pass judgment on the conflict between quantum mechanics and the theory of relativity, physicists will cringe, but the public will listen and nod.

Fame is these days divorced from attainment, and the two coincide only fortuitously. Thus we routinely get celebrities like Nancy del’Olio, whose sole claim to renoun is based on her amorous links to Sven-Goran Eriksson and Sir Trevor Nunn. I wonder what Nancy thinks about the Malvinas, wouldn’t you like to know? On second thoughts, never mind that. She probably thinks the word stands for lousy wine.






The French are good at burning things too — another flash point in the EU

The wise EU policy of putting the jackboot of politics over the head of economics and culture has created multiple flash points all over Europe. Some have already burst out; some are still smouldering. Some, such as the current riots in Greece, are widely covered. Some, such as thousands of cars being turned to torches in France, less so. And yet the explosive potential is even higher there, going way beyond the petrol tanks of the cars going off.

The EU can’t be held solely responsible for every ill — national governments, including that of France, are doing their fair share too. Over 42,000 cars were burnt in France in 2010, about 30,000 of them in the banlieues around Paris. The figure for 2011 isn’t available yet, and won’t be for a while, considering that most police chiefs refuse to divulge such data. The French press, scornful of the British tendency to wash private linen in public, goes along, tacitly agreeing not to wash even public linen.

That’s why this propensity for immolating private transport only gets an airing during major elections, especially those in which a member of the Le Pen family is a candidate. Then the issue is buried until next time, a few years later. The assumption is that flogging that dead horse (or rather those dead cars) might foster racism, Islamophobia and other fashionable vices that, as we all know, are much worse than social disintegration.

It would be neither racist nor Islamophobic but merely factual to observe that the banlieues, where most of the vehicular auto-da-fés (no pun intended) take place, are belts of public housing built around French cities specifically to accommodate some 10 million North Africans currently resident in France. Thus having assuaged their social conscience and post-colonial guilt, the French then began to pump welfare billions into the banlieues, with the implicit understanding that no stream of humanity must be pumped back into the city centres. As long as the denizens kept themselves to themselves, they were left more or less alone.

No serious attempt to encourage them to assimilate was ever made, partly because the French believe that their language alone is sufficient for any native speaker of it to be French, acquiring thereby an innate superiority over anyone of less fortunate nativity. The North Africans speak French, n’est ce pas? Well then, that’s all we need to know. It’s just best that these particular French speakers stay put in their ghettoes and stew in their own juice.

A social catastrophe flowed out of this attitude the way vin rouge flows out of a tipped bottle. Up to 50 percent of the banlieues’ residents are unemployed, and for young people the figure is believed to be closer to 75 percent. One doesn’t have to be an expert sociologist to realise that such areas will in short order become brutalised and criminalised.

And so it has transpired. The banlieues have turned into urban jungles, bearing little resemblance to ethnic areas in London or Birmingham. The British go to such areas to buy exotic spices in Brick Lane or to have a quick curry at a place that lets you bring your own beer. The French don’t ever go to the banlieues and whenever possible avoid driving through them. Even the police steer clear of those places, fearful of the automatic weapons in the hands of the populace. (Those are in plentiful supply; various Eastern European mafias make sure of it. The Serbs, for example, buy AKs for €450 apiece in their native land and flog them in the banlieues for €2,500.) If les flics ever do dare cross the line, it’s in armoured cars. That’s not to say we don’t have problems with the alienation of minorities — only that the French problems are much worse.

Saint-Denis, just outside the Paris Périphérique, used to be known for its basilica where French kings are buried. Now it’s known for French cars being burned. Most of the cars there are ready for the knacker’s yard anyway (even in nicer areas the French tend to drive heaps that no self-respecting Brit would be caught dead in), but that’s no excuse. The question is, how long before the fires, fanned by multi-culti sanctimoniousness, spread over into the nicer areas? At a guess, it wouldn’t take many more downgrades in France’s credit rating.

Europe is full of such disasters waiting to happen. The tectonic plates have been set in motion by the calamitous bien-pensant policies of the national governments, squared and cubed by the EU. If the current EU madness continues, before long the plates will clamp together, and then it won’t be just cars that’ll go up in smoke.





It’s not more democracy those Greek arsonists want. It’s more money.

Spivocrats and federasts are fiddling their expenses as Athens burns. The two are closely related, for most economic and social woes are at heart moral.

The problem with the European Union, its economies collapsing and its cities aflame, isn’t a deficit of democracy. It’s a dearth of morality, both public and private. As proof of that, compare the strategy pursued by the EU with that followed by our own democratic government.

Every serious political philosopher, from Plato and Aristotle onwards, has been aware that unfettered democracy is problematic. They have all known that democracy has to be limited and checked by other parallel forms of government, for otherwise it runs the risk of becoming mob rule.

If getting into power requires only the purely arithmetical exercise of counting heads, then those seeking power have to develop, to the exclusion of all others, the skills known to produce favourable counts. A few generations of that, and a new type of politician emerges: the unprincipled, self-serving, power-seeking spiv able to talk to electorates only in the language of shameless demagoguery. Part of the process is buying allegiance, or rather votes, with public funds, bribing the electorate as effectively, and as immorally, as stuffing £100 bills into their pockets.

This creates the vicious circle of corruption: corrupt politicians have to corrupt voters to vote the right way. This — and only this — is the reason for the welfare state, and any parallels between that and charity are mendacious. Erstwhile recipients of alms were grateful for what they got, and it would have never crossed their minds to demand more. Today’s welfare recipients do demand more as of right because they know they can: politicians depend on their votes to remain in power. It’s as if residents of an almshouse could oust the board of their charitable foundation and appoint one that would be more generous.

Yesterday’s giveaways become today’s entitlements, and even those few politicians who are aware of the immorality of this arrangement will claim nothing can be done about it. It’s a non-negotiable fait accompli. They also know that, should they demur, social unrest will follow — nothing like a few riots for the corrupt underclass to augment the power it already wields at the voting booth.

What works with individuals can also work with states, as proven by Prussia in the 19th century, when it set out to bribe (or force) other German states into unification. The Prussians created the Zollverein, a customs union ostensibly aimed at easing trade among various German areas. In parallel, they showered other principalities with free loans and subsidies, only demanding that all currencies be pegged to the Prussian thaler (or vereinsthaler, as it eventually became). Finally, the populations of the weaker principalities thoroughly corrupted, Germany became a single state with a single currency, called the mark since 1873.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. This is exactly the strategy Germany, assisted by her poodle France, used in the second half of the 20th century, after the failure of her rather more direct attempt to unify Europe. However, what could be regarded as a qualified success in the 19th century is proving an unqualified disaster in the 21st. For, unlike the German principalities of yesteryear, the European countries of today are heterodox. They vary immensely in their economic philosophies, work ethic, labour relations, expectations — you name it. German business practices, commendable as they may be, depend heavily on what Max Weber called the Protestant work ethic. In the absence of that, what’s Germany’s meat will become other countries’ poison.

However, one thing all European countries have in common is a corrupt political class self-perpetuating by creating a corrupt underclass. Whatever variations are observable are those of degree, not kind.

Sizeable and growing sections of European populations now expect to survive nicely without having to work much, if at all. Such expectations, already created by their national governments, have been boosted no end by the cheap bribery money pushed their way by German and French banks.

Then suddenly they are told it has to come to an end. The bribery funds are running dry, chaps. You may have to work for a living. But work is hard. Setting fire to a few hundred buildings is so much easier.

No doubt this isn’t the whole story. Considering their recent history, many Greeks must also resent being told what to do by the Germans — especially when what the Germans tell them to do is tighten their belts, go to work and wait for the Wirtschaftswunder to arrive. That’s ‘economic miracle’ in English. I doubt the term translates into Greek.

But such resentments ought not to be confused with a quest for democracy, which the Greeks experienced for only about 40 years of their history. (Any invocation of Athenian democracy in this context is frivolous: it bore no resemblance to our free-for-all. Only about 30,000 of Attica’s 250,000 citizens were entitled to vote, and the voting was direct, with no system of representation.) It more closely resembles nationalism.

Both our modern democracies and the non-democratic EU have similar problems of fundamental design, not mechanics. As they both ineluctably breed corruption, the problems are above all moral. They wouldn’t go away if the EU suddenly became more democratic — at best, nothing would change. Britain should get out of the EU not to get more democracy but to get more sovereignty, a much more important political and moral consideration.

Twenty-five European countries have succumbed to Germany’s and France’s blackmail to trade a lot of sovereignty for a little money. Many of them are finding out that they end up with neither. Before too long they all, most emphatically including Britain, will realise this.

And then real conflicts will begin, those between the classes that work and those that receive, the nations perceived as rich and those regarding themselves as poor, the North and the South, the West and the East. The Greek arsons are just the first spark of a massive conflagration. Is your fire extinguisher in working order?





The government doesn’t want us to be lonely. Just single.

It has been two years since Steve Hilton, the strategic ‘mind’ behind Dave Cameron, founded a ‘behavioural insights team’ at Number 10. The team includes a ‘behavioural nudge’ unit, whose mission is to nudge people towards the kind of life Dave thinks is good for them. What people themselves think is naturally immaterial.

Now my assumption, one that has yet to be proved wrong, is that, when the government has to attach unsightly names to its projects, the projects have to pursue unsightly aims. If an official is called a facilitator of optimisation or an optimiser of facilitation, you know he’s up to no good. When an office is called a diversity unit or social adhesion group, you know it’s a quango for mindless, immoral bureaucrats.

Witness the latest ‘insight’ by David Halpern, director of the ‘behavioural nudge’ unit. But before I tell you what it is, what’s the greatest problem the government has with old people? Right. There are too many of them, too many wrinklies soaking up their pensions, depriving the state of the funds badly needed for foreign aid and to pay all those facilitators of optimisation. With people living longer, the giant pyramid scheme called National Insurance simply can’t cope: too many able-bodied young people are encouraged to sponge off the government to have much left for the elderly.

And the solution? For people to retire later and die earlier. This puts the ‘insight’ into its proper context, and do remember that Dave Halpern works for Dave Cameron. According to Dave H, retirement is worse for old people than smoking: it makes them lonely, and they die sooner. It’s much better for them to work till they are carried out, feet first. ‘Work matters, particularly for older people, not just for money but absolutely for social contact,’ was how Dave H expressed his ‘insight’, with the elegance we’ve learned to expect from government stooges.

I’m deeply moved by this show of concern for our well-being. My eyes are misting over, but I’m still able to make out the outlines of a canard. First the state taxes our income mercilessly, making it hard for us to provide for our own retirement. Then it yanks out another 12 percent in National Insurance ‘contributions’ — an amount that would make an average Brit a wealthy, BUPA-treated retiree if he could invest it into a private pension and insurance. And then the state tells us that we haven’t spent enough years ‘contributing’, so could we please spend more. It’s for our own good.

Call me a cynic, but I have a sneaky suspicion that in this instance the context determines the text. The state, due to its own criminal, self-serving wastefulness, is — to use a technical term — skint. It’ll try anything in this desperate situation, in this case under the guise of touching concern for our ‘social interaction.’

I’d like to offer my own insight to the two Daves: you don’t have to have a 9-to-5 job not to be lonely. Neither my wife nor I go to an office, and yet we never suffer from solitude. We have our friends, our colleagues (mostly writers for me, mostly musicians for her), our families, our church. And, above all, we have each other.

In fact, marriage is the best way of preventing loneliness, and you don’t even have to buy a dog. Hence if the state struck a blow for marriage, it would strike one against loneliness. So how can the state do that?

By activating the only effective mechanism at its disposal: taxation. Or rather by using what I call negative taxation for positive purposes. It should gear the system of taxation towards rewarding marriage at the expense of bachelorhood or unmarried cohabitation. The idea is hardly ground-breaking: just about every Western country has marriage tax allowances, designed to promote the most crucial social institution in any society — and, as a corollary, to help people not to feel lonely in their old age.

And this is precisely the measure that our government has refused to introduce in its next budget. Advice to Dave C and his hangers-on: spare us your nauseating, touchy-feely bleating. We’ll sort ourselves out, thank you very much. Just don’t enslave us with extortionist taxation, nor fritter away our money on all those ‘behavioural nudging’ units.

Another insight of my own I can offer is that a government that pretends to do a lot for you will inevitably do a lot to you. To that there are no known exceptions. If this insight could help you ‘nudge’ this lot out of government, that would be no bad thing aesthetically. In practical terms, however, one struggles to come up with any alternative within our political class. They are all the same.