Is this the most aggresively atheistic British government ever?

Our (Conservative!) government has upheld employers’ rights to sack any employee for wearing a visible cross or a crucifix. This is an outrage. But that two British women, Nadia Eweider and Shirley Chaplin, have to challenge that decision in the European Court of Human Rights is perhaps even a greater one.

Their assumption has to be that even the judiciary extension of a socialist Leviathan would be kinder to Christians than HMG. And the greatest outrage of all is that they may well be right.

This is astounding, considering that upon her accession the HM part of HMG had to swear to ‘maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel.’ In other words, in this reign at least, Britain is still legally a Christian country where, logically, the Christian faith has to be held supreme to any other. That means that, if members of any religion are to be banned from displaying symbols of their creed, Christianity should be the last to suffer that invidious fate. This isn’t a matter of faith. It’s a matter of constitutional fact.

So why would anyone object to a woman wearing a cross at work? The two organisations that banned the plaintiffs from doing so, BA and the Royal Devon & Exeter Health Trust, no doubt feel that, say, Muslims would be offended by this statement of infidelity to Allah.

I don’t know if they would or wouldn’t be, though I do know for a fact that none of my Jewish friends has ever expressed such feelings. But even if the Muslims do feel offended, I suggest they ought to grin and bear it — the way we do in, say, Istanbul, where, upon hearing a muezzin sing from his minaret, hundreds of Armani-clad executives drop on the ground where they stand and worship their God.

We know that the country we’re in is Muslim (if the most secular of all Islamic nations), so, if someone is stupid enough to take this as an insult, he’d be better off not going there. And if such an idiot booked the trip without realising that it’s Allah and not Jesus who’s worshipped in Turkey, he should catch the next flight out. This would also be the advice I’d give to anyone offended by the sight of the cross in a constitutionally Christian country.

The government’s defence is that ‘the wearing of a visible cross’ can be banned because it isn’t ‘a requirement of the faith’. I’d prefer to let the church decide such matters, especially the established Church of England, whose authority our head of state has sworn to uphold. But what’s wrong with a woman going beyond the formal requirements of her religion and displaying the most quintessential symbol of her faith?

Assume for the sake of argument that the woman in question isn’t a Christian at all. She just happens to fancy a gold cross as an attractive ornament. You know, the way so many of our youngsters (or not such youngsters) sport Lenin pins on their lapels, CCCP T-shirts on their torsos, or KGB insignia on their hats. Or the way some morons hang on their office wall portraits of the sadistic mass murderer Che Guevara. Or the way the more immature members of the Royal family dress up as Nazi stormtroopers — just for fun, you understand.

I’m willing to allow that most of such ill-advised individuals don’t support the truly satanic theories and, more important, practices such things symbolise. They just think they are kind of cool, and so far I haven’t heard of anyone banning such displays, much though I think it would be a good idea.

In other words, our government finds the symbol of Christ’s sacrifice more objectionable than the symbol of any other religion (one sees a lot of turbans, hijabs and yamulkas in London streets) — and even the likeness of the monster who founded a regime responsible for the murder of 60 million of its own citizens. Why is that, do you suppose? You must admit it sounds eerie — especially coming as it does at a time when our spivocrats are also trying to destroy the institution of marrriage, the bedrock not just of Britain’s established religion but of our very realm.

The only answer I can find is that HMG officials hate Christianity more than anything else. And the reason for that has to be that they love themselves more than anything else. And of course these spivocrats’ self-respect, indeed their self-definition, is inseparable from their hold on power. Hence, regardless of what they do or don’t do on Sunday mornings, they must feel that Christianity puts what’s dearest to them in jeopardy. They are right; it does.

For Christianity represents 2,000 years of tradition, something that our state is trying to undermine through most of its policies, including those that seem to be purely secular. If the worthiest of our traditions were upheld, our worthless politicians would have to look for honest work — perish the thought.

I remember 1997, when the Observer responded to the revolting spectacle of mass hysteria following Diana’s death with a front-page banner headline A Nation United Against Tradition. I dare say it’s not so much the nation but our spivocrats who are so united. And, given a bit more time, they’ll corrupt the nation in their image and likeness.

After writing that last sentence, I realised that the phrase, though here used in an unimpeachably secular context, has Biblical provenance (Genesis 1: 27). How long before HMG will try to ban the use of such references from public discourse? Not very long, if their natural cravings aren’t nipped in the bud.

Shame on them. And shame on us — for letting them get away with such assaults on everything that makes England England.





OAPs and SOBs

Some of our spivocrats have a bee in their bonnet. Some, a burr under their blanket. However, in both instances the irritant is the same: money in other people’s pockets.

The LibDem part of the coalition is mostly driven by the traditional socialist vice: envy, and the irrational hatred of the well-off it engenders. I must emphasise that this lamentable animus is indeed irrational, for anyone with a minimum of economic savvy will know that attacks on the top 10 percent of earners are tantamount to a broad-front assault on the economy as such.

Vince Cable, known among his admirers, such as myself, as Vinnie the Poo, possesses more than a minimum of economic education, so he knows this as well as anyone. Yet self-admittedly his viscera override his mind every time. 

For example, when the area in front of St Paul’s was tastefully decorated with malodorous canvas dwellings, our venerable Business Secretary declared that he had ‘sympathy with the emotions that lie behind’ the tent city. ‘Some of their recommendations aren’t terribly helpful, but that’s not the point.’ I agree: never mind ideas — it’s emotions that count.

Driven by his noble feelings and nonexistent ideas, Mr Cable himself ought to have moved into one of those smelly tents, doing on the floor of St Paul’s what he is doing to the British economy. It has to be said that, in choosing emotions over thoughts, Cable has form. Not so long ago he defended the 50-percent tax rate by saying that, though the financial effect of it is negative, it does send the right message. Again I agree; it does. And the message is that in today’s Britain talent, hard work and enterprise will be severely punished — preferably by banishment out of the country.

These days, beaten over the head by the predictable fact that the 50-percent rate is losing the Treasury billions, he’s prepared to abandon it and punish ‘the rich’ in other ways. Such as the frankly idiotic ‘mansion tax’, punishing, among others, poor old widows, who bought their houses for a tuppence 50 years ago, without realising that one day they’d cost millions. Considering that over the last 50 years asset inflation has outstripped the money kind sevenfold, this situation isn’t so much exceptional as normal.

Consequently he wants to launch yet another raid on private pensions, and he’s joined in this iniquitous undertaking by — are you listening? — the ‘Conservatives’. Now this lot for the most part don’t share Vinnie’s phobias, at least not the ones I mentioned. Their motivation, also driving Vinnie and his ilk, is more profound and therefore pernicious.

Private pensions large enough to provide for people’s old age render such people independent from the state. Our spivocrats, regardless of what slogans they choose to appeal to what sections of the electorate, hate that. They don’t want Englishmen to be free, loyal subjects of the Crown. They want them to be the state’s clients and therefore slaves. Just as a slave’s livelihood, sometimes life itself, is at his master’s mercy, so do our spivocrats crave to create the same relationship between them and us. They don’t mind that we resent them; it’s not our respect they want but our docility. And, short of concentration camps, what better way to ensure that than keeping their hands on the taps through which our retirement money flows?

It’s not by accident that one of the first acts of Tony Blair’s New Labour was an annual £5-billion raid on private-pension funds. They are a soft touch for hard feelings. And although our Coalition is drawn from the other parties, the raid has since then turned into a rout.

A few figures, if you can bear with me for a second (I hate maths myself, but it’s useful when one wishes to make a point about money). Our pensions funds have lost 3.9 percent of their value since last July. As a result, annuity income from every £1,000 has dropped by 10 percent. The national shortfall in corporate schemes is a whopping £470.7 billion, and rising. And it’s not as if the state’s generosity made up for these catastrophic tendencies.

In fact, 30 percent of British pensioners live below poverty level, defined as less than 60 percent of the average income. The corresponding figures are 17 percent in Germany and 13 percent in France. In Europe, only Cyprus boasts a higher proportion than ours, so we find ourselves in good company. A few more years, and we’ll be sharing this ranking with Guinea-Bissau.

Much has been made of the increased demand for British bonds in the financial markets, hit hard by the domino effect of the EU on most European economies. Of course, it’s bonds that back annuities, so this ought to be good news for the pensioners. But it isn’t — they find themselves on the receiving end of the unrepealable law of supply-demand.

As the demand for British bonds grows, so does their price. Not only does this then reduce annuity rates, but the soaring costs lead to corporate schemes having to invest greater amounts, which could otherwise be used for jobs and productive investment. And our government’s incontinent quantitative easing, queasing for short, is pulling in the same direction. To prevent this fiscal incontinence from driving inflation into double, and possibly triple, figures, the state has to keep the interest rate at practically zero — hitting savers and pensioners with another whammy.

Everything is interconnected. For example, the higher the marginal tax rate, the less investment, the fewer jobs, the more economic emigrants, the greater the numbers and the fatter the pay cheques of the unproductive gang of those who devote their lives to helping others avoid — and, given half the chance, evade — taxes.

And so our spivocrats’ fiscal policy will affect people’s economic behaviour in all sorts of ways, few of them commendable. Saving, be it in private pensions or anywhere else, will dwindle away: the sacrifice will no longer be commensurate with the return. Instead people, most of whom aren’t natural-born investors, will be taking punts on variously wild get-rich schemes — or else relying on property as something that, unlike pension funds, is unlikely to disappear altogether.

Vinnie and his Tory accomplices will get those who succeed in some other ways: a version of their ‘mansion’ tax, wealth tax, the closing of tax loopholes, you name it. And those who fail will fall into the eagerly awating clutches of the state. Job done, the spivocracts can’t lose. We, however, can. And are. And will.

Watch your tongue, squire


‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.’ ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean different things.’ ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’


I remember a dialogue of years ago, when I returned to the office after a client meeting, and our chairman asked me to ‘appraise’ him.

“You’re an excellent businessman,” I offered. “What’s that supposed to mean?” “That’s me appraising you.” “How did the meeting go, is what I mean.” “Oh, so you mean ‘apprise’, not ‘appraise’.” “There’s no such word.” “Yes, there is,” I said, producing my trusted Chambers yet again. ‘I don’t care if the word is in the @£4$%&! dictionary,’ explained the chairman. He then proceeded to call me a pedant (true) and a snob (false).

This episode wouldn’t be worth recalling if it weren’t symptomatic of the collapse of our culture in general, and language specifically. I haven’t had the pleasure of learning proper grammar and usage at an English school, but the impression one gets is that neither have most people. My guess is that such things are simply not taught.

‘Language,’ one hears said so often, ‘is only a means of communication.’ That’s not strictly true: if it were nothing but that, we wouldn’t have Shakespeare’s sonnets to savour. But even so, no communication can be complete without the same word meaning the same thing to both speaker and listener. Otherwise there’s always the danger of the communication turning into Chinese whispers. Alas, our comprehensively educated people have been trained to share Humpty Dumpty’s belief that words mean whatever they want them to mean.

I used to think that the debacle of 1965, which eventually turned Britain’s education from being the envy of the world into its laughingstock, was simply an administrative oversight inspired by vague egalitarian longings. Now I’ve come round to the view that it was an act of conscious sabotage. Our spivocrats actually strive to make the people illiterate.

For it takes an illiterate populace not to realise that our politicians are capable of committing several rhetorical fallacies in one sentence – or to accept that their Robin Hood attempts to rob those who earn for the sake of those who don’t have something to do with ‘justice’ (Chambers: justice. the awarding of what is due).

Advocates of this linguistic mayhem insist this is par for the course, for language develops. The assumption is that any change is for the better, which is as manifestly false in linguistics as it is in politics.

Real development has over centuries turned English vocabulary into the largest of all European languages (twice as large as in Russian, for example). The post-1965 pseudo-developments, however, have had exactly the opposite effect on our language. In fact, apart from the four-letter words having entered the mainstream of discourse, English is getting smaller by the minute.

The warning signals are ringing throughout the English-speaking world. Kevin says ‘masterful’ when he means ‘masterly’ – beware! A good word is on its way to perdition. Jill is ‘disinterested’ in classical music – woe betide ‘uninterested’ (not to mention classical music). Gavin thinks ‘simplistic’ is a more elegant way of saying ‘simple’, ‘fulsome’ is a sophisticated version of ‘full’ or ‘naturalistic’ of ‘natural’ – English is coming down to a size where ignoramuses can handle it comfortably. Trish thinks ‘innocuous’ means ‘innocent’ – in a few years it will. And it’s not just words; whole grammatical categories bite the dust. Present Indefinite, where is your brother Subjunctive? Trampled underfoot by the education our spivocrats spawned.

Once words are deprived of their substance, spivocrats can perpetuate their power by enforcing the formal aspect of any word. That is precisely the impulse behind political correctness that has succeeded only because resistance to it was softened by our so-called education. A semi-literate population is a soft touch for spivocratic Humpty Dumpties insisting that words mean whatever they want them to mean. Who cares about nuances if a lexicon of 1,000 words is sufficient to get one through modern life? So when a dictate is issued that some stylistically neutral word is now taboo, people just shrug with equanimity. We can’t say Negro any longer? Fine, we’ll say black. You prefer Afro-American? yawns the New Yorker. Splendid. Afro-Caribbean? echoes the Londoner. Right you are, gov. Words don’t matter.

And in fact they don’t – as such. What does matter, however, is the spivocratic impetus behind the words, the Humpty-Dumpty power to enforce the arbitrary meaning at the expense of the real one. This matters because the united spivocrats of the world know that they assume a greater power every time they win a linguistic skirmish. Thus, when a New York public official is made to apologise in the press for having used the word ‘niggardly’, yet another triumphal chariot rolls through our modern world.

‘The head bone connected to the neck bone, the neck bone connected to the back bone, the back bone connected to the thigh bone…’ and so forth. If we were to deny the existence of any semantic aspect that’s more or less immutable, words would stop being a means of communication and become an instrument of power – or nothing.

They would be nothing if the speaker could not impose upon the listener the intended meaning of the word. They would be an instrument of power if he could. So do let’s mind our language, shall we?

Putin, the shadowy president of a shadow state

The elections on 4 March rubber-stamped the status quo: Putin has been in control for 12 years, and he remains in control. Or does he?

This question is more interesting than things that excite our press so, such as election fraud followed by public backlash. To be fair, there was enough of that. Moscow alone reported 1,349 ‘procedural violations’, most of them fraudulent, and it’s but one city in a rather large country. And yes, thousands of protesters turned up in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, Petersburg’s St Isaak’s Square and elsewhere; and yes, the police treated them brutally. When the US ambassador expressed a most diplomatic ‘concern’, the Foreign Ministry spokesman undiplomatically suggested he mind his own business. We, said the spokesman, treated our protesters more kindly than you treated your Wall Street occupiers.

Well, not quite. Hundreds of people, including women, were savagely beaten with truncheons, and the human-rights activist Tatiana Kadyrova had to be taken from the police station to hospital, suffering from a severe concussion, broken nose and multiple lacerations. Others weren’t so lucky: one woman had a stroke while in custody, and yet the police refused to allow any medical help. And the protesters arrested outside the FSB (KGB) Headquarters are being held without food or water in unheated cells (it’s minus 10 in Moscow as I write).

All this raises yet again the really serious questions of the nature of Putin’s state and the vector of its evolution. For Putin has definitely created a state in his own image, that of a career KGB officer, who since his retirement has been implicated in shadowy deals that would put any mafia don to shame. He’s definitely a strong leader, drawing public support in Russia and envious gasps from some of our own commentators: ‘We could do with one of them – just look at the nonentities who govern us.’

I too love the idea of a strong leader – provided he displays his strength within the law. A state that lets him operate outside the law is, by way of shorthand, called fascist.

Only the naïve think that the visible physical structure of Putin’s state, with its executive, legislative and judicial branches, is the actual state. The executive subsumes the other two: Russian parliamentarians pass the laws, and Russian judges the verdicts, that Putin tells them to pass. Yet Putin, like any other strong Russian leader, can only govern through some instruments of power that traditionally operate in the shadows, as a sort of collective éminence grise. They form the ruling class usually described by words like ‘apparat’ or ‘nomenklatura’, those terms that Russian has contributed to most languages.

The problem comes from the relative rate of growth: the leader’s power grows in an arithmetical progression, and the apparat’s in a geometrical one. At some point the shadow defies physics by becoming stronger than the man who casts it. The leader is then eliminated, either physically or merely institutionally.

This happened to tsars like Peter III, Paul I and Nicholas II. It happened to Lenin, eventually overpowered by the nomenklatura led by Stalin. It happened to Stalin, reputedly killed by his comrades led by Beria. It happened to Beria, eliminated by Khrushchev and to Khrushchev, ousted by Brezhnev. It happened to Gorbachev and Yeltsyn. And it’ll happen to Putin, though my crystal ball is too murky to say when. Not now, anyway. Not for quite some time.

The wheels of a shadow state need to be greased by shadow money, and in Russia there’s little of any other kind. Loyalty to the apparat and Putin personally is a prerequisite for doing business. Every businessman knows he has to toe the line if he wants to make any sizeable money and especially if he wishes to get a fat government contract. By way of expressing his gratitude, he knows that a large chunk of any large transaction, typically about a third, needs to be transferred into numbered offshore accounts specified by the apparat.

Acting as conduits in such transfers are the loyal oligarchs, mostly residing abroad. In return for their loyalty, they are allowed to keep the leasehold on their capital, with the firm understanding that the freehold is owned by the apparat. Someone like Abramovich is welcome to his 500-foot yachts, but when Putin tells him to spend $230 million on medical equipment for Russia, he does. When Putin tells him to bankroll a Russian football club, he does. When Putin tells him to pay for the Winter Olympics, he does. And whenever an oligarch like Khodorkovsky doesn’t get the message, suddenly he isn’t an oligarch any longer.

Some of the money makes its way back to Russia, where it’s used to pay public officials, whose salaries are usually derisory. Their real pay comes in envelopes stuffed with banknotes; the Russian refer to this system of remuneration as konvertitsia (‘envelopation’). Nothing new there: even in tsarist Russia it was assumed that public officials would live off the fat of the land, and Catherine II stopped paying them altogether, there was no point.

Hence it’s hardly surprising that, in the Transparency International corruption ranking of 186 countries, Russia found herself at Number 143, between Nigeria and Timor, and the TI doesn’t know the half of it. But the word corruption doesn’t really apply – it’s just the way the state is run.

The other power tool used in the shadows is political terror. Sometimes this is exercised through the courts, sometimes in the dark alleys, with opposition journalists, politicians or activists routinely beaten up, maimed or murdered. Putin’s advocates point out, correctly, that the scale of political terror is now immeasurably smaller than it was under Stalin. That’s true, but only because Putin needs less terror than Stalin did to keep things moving along. When he needs more, he’ll use more.

One thing Putin lacks is an ideological umbrella, something to justify the shadow state’s corruption and violence in a marketable fashion. All Russian rulers have had it. For the tsars, it was ‘autocracy, Orthodoxy and populism’, in the words of a government minister. For Lenin, it was communism. Stalin in his turn shot everyone who honestly believed in that nonsense, replacing it with what Mussolini called ‘a Slavic version of fascism’.

There is every indication that what Putin is developing now is a version of the version, some form of neo-fascism with national-socialist overtones. Even if he weren’t that way inclined anyway, he’d have no alternative. Any attempt to introduce a semblance of a civilised, never mind democratic, government would bring about the collapse of the shadow state, which is to say the state. As the experience of the 1990s shows, an out-and-out anarchy would follow, with consequences as unpredictable as they would be undesirable.

That leaves us with the hope that Putin will eschew flexing his neo-fascist muscles internationally, trying to play more of a hands-on role in world politics. As it is, he’s arming and supporting every tyrant on earth, from Chavez to Assad, not to mention numerous groups that haven’t yet attained the state status. Meanwhile, all we can do is stay vigilant – and skip all articles seriously discussing Russia’s democratic prospects.

From an important institution to a mental one: The Times has moved on

I’ve been inside a psychiatric hospital only once in my life (note to my detractors: as a visitor, not a patient). Reading The Times editorial For Gay Marriage enabled me to relive that eerie experience.

It’s not only that I disagree with the views expressed in the article, though I do have a tendency, much and justly decried by my friends, to presuppose intellectual deficiency on the part of my opponents. However, over many years I’ve learned to consider the other man’s well-argued opinion as valid, if ill-advised. In fact, I’m constantly reminded of that great adman who always wore a lapel pin saying ‘Maybe he’s right’.

But whoever wrote that editorial isn’t just wrong — he is mad. When sane people argue a case, they do so by looking at the evidence, analysing it, finding logical links and amalgamating the lot into a coherent point of view. They eschew ignorant, emotive, grossly biased non sequiturs — of the kind this editorial flashes in every line.

‘[Gay marriage] is a cause that has the firm support of The Times,’ it says, because ‘to allow same-sex couples to marry would enrich an historic institution and expand the sum of human happiness.’

This is insane twaddle. Governments have been instituted among men not to create a paradise on earth but to prevent hell on earth. Five millennia of recorded history show that this is only ever achieved by pursuing not happiness — whatever it means, which isn’t much — but justice, social cohesion and, as Edmund Burke put it, prudence, prescription and prejudice. (The last word is getting rotten press from the PC set, but to Burke it simply meant the intuitive knowledge shared by most people — effectively what makes a nation a nation.)

It has been understood from time immemorial that one man’s happiness is another man’s misery. Pursuit of happiness, enshrined in the American Declaration of Independence, is an Enlightenment construct that, in order to mean anything at all, has to be qualified in so many ways as to make any sane person question the validity of the term altogether.

Otherwise one could suggest all sorts of absurd ways in which ‘the sum of human happiness’ could be ‘expanded’. Legalised necrophilia, zoophilia, money laundering, driving without a licence, shoplifting — all these would add no end to the number of happy individuals, thereby achieving the expansion so dear to the warped heart of The Times. They would also knock stones of different sizes out of the foundations of our society.

Marriage, a union of a man and a woman sanctioned by the state and, ideally, blessed by God, is a building block not just of society but indeed of the human race. It’s also a natural competitor to the power of the state. That’s why all tyrannical states in history sought to undermine marriage or even to do away with it.

One of the first acts of the bolsheviks in Russia was to abolish marriage, and Inessa Armand, Lenin’s mistress, likened sex to ‘drinking a glass of water’ (for the sake of the Great Leader’s reputation, one hopes she didn’t mean drinking it in one quick gulp). To the same end, the bolsheviks also legalised homosexuality. Thus the first country to make homosexuality legal was Soviet Russia between 1917 and 1934, a time and place not otherwise known for worshipping human rights. And the Nazis reduced marriage to a gruesome exercise in eugenics, augmented by SS stud farms and euthanasia.

It’s a lamentable fact that Western governments are gravitating towards totalitarianism as well, what with the individual becoming less and less powerful and the state more and more so. And though today’s governments wouldn’t dare abolish marriage altogether, they too have a burning need to take it apart piece by piece.

Ye shall know them by their fruits: statistics in this case don’t lie. Today as many people get married in Britain as did in the 1890s, when the population was half of today’s. In 1950 there were 408,000 marriages in Britain and 33,000 divorces. The corresponding numbers for 2000 are 306,000 and 155,000 — in a larger population, there were fewer marriages, and more than twice as many divorces. Almost 50 percent of all children in the UK are born outside marriage, which usually means they grow up fatherless — with all the well-documented consequences that don’t fall far short of a social, cultural and educational collapse.

Now the government strives to redefine the very concept of marriage the better to destroy it — sorry, ‘to enrich an historic institution.’ Dave wants to do it ‘because he’s a conservative’. Nick wants to do it because he’s a LibDem. Both want to do it because they sense in their statist viscera that, unless marriage is destroyed, their spivocratic power will never become absolute. A stable marriage is likely to keep the man, the woman and their children out of the clutches of the state — they are less likely to become its dependents and therefore more likely to reject its dictates. That just won’t do, will it now, Dave and Nick?

And why stop there in our quest for equality? Commendably, Dave and Nick aren’t sexist but they are still specist. I’m awaiting their unequivocal support of marriage between humans and other mammals. As that too would expand the sum of human happiness, they’d be able to count on The Times as a staunch ally.

‘Reforms to marital law need to be informed by a sense of history, lest they give rise to unintended and damaging consequences,’ continues The Times, as if deadset on proving that it has indeed gone bonkers. Surely any sane person would see that homomarriage isn’t ‘informed by a sense of history’? And surely no one blessed with such a sense would dismiss as antiquated irrelevances the strong protests coming from the leaders of both principal Christian confessions in Britain? That sentence, appearing as it does amid a strident clamour for same-sex marriage, can be used for diagnostic purposes by any competent psychiatrist.

The history of Britain and her realm is inseparable from the church as the guardian and teacher of public morality. The more effectively does the church act in that capacity, the greater the moral health of the nation. An agnostic may question that this is the case. An atheist may even oppose this or that tenet of Judaeo-Christian morality. But, regardless of his faith or lack thereof, anyone with a secure grasp on historical reality will see that every attempt to replace Judaeo-Christian morality with anything else has invariably produced untold misery.

I feel sad every time a venerable British institution bites the dust. The Times has been moving to perdition for quite some time now. Its circulation is now merely eighth in Britain, having declined from 726,349 in 2000 to 405,113 today. A few more editorials like this, and it’ll dwindle away to nothing. Sorry to see that happening.



Putin regains the presidency he never lost


According to the official estimate, Putin scored 64 percent of the vote. Accoding to the independent observer Golos (Voice), the figure was just over 50 percent. A landslide by any other name, and this was on the cards before the last voter cast his ballot for a tenth time.

Both estimates agree that the communist Zyuganov finished second with about 17 percent, leaving every other candidate in the dust of single digits. So yet again the KGB and the Party have reenacted their perennial struggles for power. Yet again the KGB won, as it has done consistently since 1982, when its chairman Yuri Andropov took over the country and paved the way for his beloved apostle Gorbachev. Yet again the Russians went for the devil they know, rather than any cardboard angel waved by the opposition.

Putin’s re-elevation was never in doubt. Everybody knew he was running the country anyway, only having relinquished the actual office to Medvedev to avoid serving three consecutive terms. The National Leader acknowledged as much himself, when announcing his candidature a few months ago. Asked if he didn’t think this swap of offices looked a tad cynical, he replied with disarming honesty that the people mustn’t worry their pretty little heads about such trivia. He and Medvedev had had it all set up from the very beginning. Unimpressed with such candour, the opposition websites raged and raved, but the ordinary Russians just nodded. They expected nothing less, or nothing more.

Yesterday’s election boasted a 65 percent turnout, higher than we’ve known in Britain for quite some time. Having said that, we don’t use what the Russians call ‘carousel’ voting, with crowds of bribed citizens bussed from one polling station to another, voting each time. Yesterday some were shipped to Moscow from as far as 600 miles away, what with the polls in the capital having pointed at a worryingly even split of the vote.

Among other things, this points at the Russians’ ability to learn from the West, something Dostoyevsky described so eloquently in his Karamazovs. After all, the same technique was used to resounding success by Mayor Daley of Chicago who thereby delivered the swing state of Illinois to JFK in the 1960 election. The Mafia boss Sam Giancanna added a helping hand, thus showing how well the symbiosis of crime and politics could work. Lesson 1 learned, and I fully expect the Russians to learn a few others in the next couple of centuries, such as how to run an election in a different way or how to deposit money in a bank without first laundering it.

Carousel voting isn’t the only violation reported during yesterday’s elections. There are thousands of others (over 3,000 were reported shortly after the polls opened). Voters were bribed or threatened, observers beaten up, ballot boxes stuffed — all par for the course. Again the opposition politicians and journalists sputtered spittle, but even they stopped just short of claiming that without such tricks Putin would have lost. They may not know who Joseph de Maistre was but they all have heard his aphorism: every nation gets the government it deserves.


Beauty is best perceived from a distance, as the Russians say, and I happily watched last fortnight’s shenanigans from the comfort of my London flat. First came the rally at the Luzniki sports arena on 23 February, the Army Day. Dr Goebbels himself would have been proud of the spectacle: tens of thousands were brought to Luzniki, seduced by overtime pay at work and a promise of a good show. Beats working, any day.

Flags waved, crowds screamed themselves hoarse, but the highlight came from the National Leader himself. Suffocated by tears, he was still able to recite a few lines from the patriotic poem Borodino Lermontov wrote in the wake of the 1812 war against Napoleon. In my loose translation, ‘Boys, is it not Moscow behind us? So let’s die before Moscow as our grandfathers did! And to die we promised; and at Borodino the oath of loyalty we kept.’ Stirring stuff, that, but what does it actually mean in the context of a political campaign?

Simple. The opposition is the enemy, assailing, Napoleon-style, everything a real Russian holds sacred. Putin is that real Russian, the present-day answer to Field Marshal Kutuzov, and he demands loyalty in the face of the common enemy. And in case the implication got lost in the translation from 1812 to 2012, he then made it abundantly clear. ‘Don’t look to the other side of the hill [the West, in the lingo of Russia’s mean streets), don’t betray your motherland!’ he shouted, tears streaming down his face. What could be clearer than that? Anybody who opposes Putin is a traitor. And traitors, as he said in a different context, don’t live long.

Job done, election in the bag. By way of insurance, however, Putin put a finishing touch on his real-man image created by numerous photos of him half-naked galloping on a steed, him half-naked holding a rifle with telescopic sights, him showing off his prowess at martial arts, him clad in the uniform of the Russian special forces — in short, him being the strong leader making most Russians and a few of our own commentators swoon from excitement.

This time he was depicted playing ice hockey in full medieval-knight gear. For most Russians the game is shorthand for testosterone-fuelled masculinity. They all know the hockey song with its lyrics ‘Hockey is played by real men; a coward doesn’t play hockey.’ Putin is that real man. He’s not a coward. So how could he lose? He couldn’t. And he didn’t.

Mikhail Ivanovich Putin

Yes, I know Putin’s name is Vladimir Vladimirovich. But in his circles, those formed by the intertwined strains of the KGB and the international underworld, a man doesn’t always go by the name his parents gave him. A moniker is de rigeur. Some code names are transparent: for example, Gen. Zolotov, head of Putin’s security, is known as ‘Generalissimo’. Others are less so, such as the one identifying the oil trader Timchenko as ‘Gangrene’, which wouldn’t be my first choice of a codename, but then I haven’t got one, so there.

Putin’s is a neutral ‘Mikhail Ivanovich’, which was revealed by the businessman Sergei Kolesnikov in a February interview to the Russian newspaper The New Times. The interviewer didn’t know why Putin would choose such an odd moniker, but I could venture a guess: he named himself after Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin, the nominal president of the USSR under Stalin. Sometimes the National Leader also goes by the more straightforward ‘boss’ or ‘tsar’.

Kolesnikov was a partner in several businesses with intimate links to Putin, such as the Ozero (Lake) Cooperative and Rosinvest, a well-known conduit of money from Russia to various offshore accounts. At some point he fell foul of his partners, including the silent ones, and had to run for his life. Kolesnikov came out of Russia bearing not only his own testimony but also audio tapes of highly incriminating conversations, share certificates, bank transfer documents and other bits of evidence. In this country they would be sufficient for the CPO to indict Putin for money laundering, though not necessarily to obtain a conviction.

According to the paper, the evidence has been authenticated by Western media, including the FT. Kolesnikov stated that back in 2001 Putin instructed him and his partner Nikolai Shamalov to buy $203 million worth of medical equipment abroad. The money was to come from London’s own Roman Abramovich, but 35 percent was to go into various offshore accounts. Kolesnikov says that 35 financial institutions have been used for this purpose since then, but he names only two: Rolling International in the British Virgin Islands and Santal Trading in Panama.

According to him, the money would then be rerouted into the shares of various corporations, mostly in Liechtenstein where they widely use bearer stock certificates — no names please, we are Russians. The corporations (Kolesnikov specifically mentions London’s EM&PS Medical Supplies wholly owned by the Russians) would then pay dividends, up to $41 million at a time. It was with this money that a group of investors bought the controlling interest in Rosbank, which handles most transactions for Gazprom, the world’s largest exporter of gas.

Kolesnikov is in no doubt that Putin is the real owner of Rosbank, something Putin’s spokesmen deny. But then they would, wouldn’t they? This tallies neatly with the claim Stanislav Belkovsky, the Russian political scientist, made to the German magazine Die Welt. According to Belkovsky, Putin owns, among other interests, 4.5 percent of Gazprom as well as 50 percent of the oil-trading company Gunvor (the other 50 percent is owned by Timchenko, aka ‘Gangrene’). That, suggests Belakovsky, makes Putin one of the world’s richest men.

I have seen the documents quoted by The New Times, but obviously can’t verify their authenticity. That would be a task for the police. However, one could suggest that, if even 10 percent of the accusations were true, Putin should be in prison, not in the Kremlin. And in any case, such documents published in the runup to a campaign would scupper the chances of any Western politician, including the likes of Berlusconi and Chirac (who both, incidentally, attended Putin’s 55th birthday party in 2007 — I’m sure, if neither is in prison by then, they’ll be guests of honour at his 60th this year). In Russia, no one bats an eyelid. You don’t expect a chap like Putin to live on his salary, do you?


As I write, crowds of protesters are gathering in Moscow’s Pushkin Square. The losing candidate Mikhail ‘Single-Digit’ Prokhorov will be in attendance, all in a purely disinterested fashion of course. There will be speeches and diatribes galore, and more such events will be held all over Russia.

Some Western observers believe that public unrest will put an end to Putin’s tenure long before its legal expiry, but I doubt that. Much as I’d like to share this optimism, the National Leader is fully in command, and he knows how to combine coercion with bribery to nullify any serious opposition.

With the price of oil sky-high, he’ll have enough wherewithal at his disposal to increase the pensions a bit (not much of a commitment, considering that few Russians live to pensionable age) and the military spending a lot, thus confirming his muscular image. He has already mentioned $750 billion as the first tranche — this at a time when we can’t afford a single aircraft carrier to defend the Falklands or, for that matter, the planes to take off from a carrier even if we had one.

I pity the Russians; I fear for us. Interesting times lie ahead — personally, I’d welcome something considerably more dull.


I just wish those spivocrats stopped calling themselves conservatives

John Major extolling the virtues of a classless society. Dave Cameron explaining that he supports same-sex marriage not in spite of being a conservative, but because of it. His Chancellor, much to his fulsomely professed chagrin, being unable to justify the abolition of the 50-percent tax bracket.

It’s tempting to suggest that these so-called Tories simply don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘conservative’. But, as simple explanations tend to gravitate towards simplistic, do let’s try to delve a bit deeper.

Every word today’s spivocrats use has two meanings: one is the actual dictionary definition; the other, something they wish to communicate in order to get reelected. If the two coincide, fine. If they don’t, the second will take precedence over the first every time. Keep misusing words long enough and often enough, and their true meaning will gradually fade away not only for the spivocrats themselves but also for their audience. As Aquinas suggested, repetition is the mother of all learning. So we learn.

To counter this kind of education, before Dave and his merry men come out in favour of post-natal abortion as the ultimate expression of conservatism, do let’s try to grasp the true meaning of the term. (Incidentally, as a conservative, I find abortion abhorrent, and the post-natal variety beyond abhorrent. However, every time I see a picture of Tony Blair’s smile I get second thoughts.)

Conservatives are people who wish to conserve something, that’s basic. Since different nations cherish different things they wish to conserve, the word doesn’t easily cross national borders. In the USA, for example, a conservative means mostly a Whiggish economic libertarian, which isn’t the same thing. In Russia the word means a Stalinist. And in France it means nothing at all. To find a way out of this semantic maze one would have to narrow the word’s meaning to a British conservative, or, even further, to an English one.

So what would English conservatives like to conserve? First they’d observe that England has been blessed with a comparatively smooth historical continuum. Represented graphically, it would be somewhat jagged, but not nearly as much as in any other sizeable European country this side of Switzerland. Obviously, an invisible chain binds the past, present and future generations of Englishmen, and it’s this chain that a conservative would strive to keep intact.

In order to do so, he’d have to identify the key links, which is a fairly straightforward task. In politics, he’d like to preserve the constitutional makeup of the realm. In matters of the spirit, he would be aware of the critical role Christianity in general and the established church in particular play in every aspect of the realm — so he’d want to maintain that. In culture, he’d favour the eternal over the transient, so, if he found himself in a position to finance, say, music, he’d choose the tradition that links William Byrd with James McMillan over one that connects Sid Vicious with Led Zeppelin. In clothes he’d prefer a three-piece suit to a ‘Kiss me, I’m British’ T-shirt. Given the choice between a woman with and without a tattoo, he wouldn’t hesitate to choose the latter.

A complete list, if it were at all possible to compile, would be inordinately long, but you get the picture. An English conservative would amalgamate his intuitive, temperamental predisposition with a certain system of thought to make sure that England’s political, spiritual and cultural history proceeds on a relatively smooth course. In other words, he’d do his bit to make sure England remains England.

That doesn’t mean he’d be opposed to any kind of change. Without peripheral changes, no civilisation would be able to keep its core together. Or, as Burke, one of history’s greatest conservative thinkers, wrote, ‘A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.’ Trust a Whig to explain conservatism to future generations.

But the key word in his pronouncement is ‘some’. Burke didn’t say ‘any old’ because, as a true conservative, he refused to assume that any change is automatically for the better. Some changes serve conservative ends and ought to be hailed. Others undermine it and ought to be decried.

Now, if we apply our understanding of conservatism to today’s Conservative party, we’ll instantly see that the two simply don’t mesh. For the sake of brevity, let’s just look at the current debate on the House of Lords, heir to the barons who 797 years ago gave us Magna Carta, the bedrock of English liberties.

The traditional, constitutional role the House of Lords plays in the English realm is to act as a counterbalance to the unelected power of the monarch and the elected power of the Commons. It has been understood for the best part of a millennium that hereditary peers have a vested, historical interest in preserving the realm with its traditional liberties. Since they owe their political presence to birth and not politics, they aren’t subject to political pressures and can freely proceed with the business at hand: preventing either the king or the majority from acquiring dictatorial powers.

Thus, having the Lords either appointed by politicians or elected by the people is a travesty of the system, its gross perversion. I’m not even arguing against this sort of thing on merit — such an argument would hardly be sporting for being too easy. I’m simply saying that a conservative would under no circumstances support either an appointed or elected Lords.

So here’s a Conservative MP Martin Vickers, writing to The Times in support of an elected upper House. ‘A key to any reformer should be to sweep away the many unaccountable bodies that rule our lives and that must include the House of Lords.’ Mr Vickers then goes on to equate an unelected Lords with the European Commission as one of those unaccountable bodies that tyrannise the English. I’m surprised he left the Queen out.

That this is frankly idiotic and ignorant is so obvious it hardly needs saying. But the interesting thing is that for Mr Vickers and presumably for his ‘conservative’ colleagues the debate is between an appointed and an elected Lords. An hereditary upper House, which even Harold Macmillan’s generation of the Tories would have regarded as a given, isn’t even mentioned any longer. The English constitution has been buried under the rubble of political correctness and political expediency.

In the good tradition of English pragmatism, something to which I’m privy only vicariously, one can’t just point out what’s wrong. One must answer the perennial question ‘So what are we going to do about it?’ Well, the immediate measure I’d propose would be to deselect any Tory candidate who scores below the national average on an IQ test and fails a simple test on the constitutional history of the English realm. That wouldn’t guarantee the survival of conservatism in this country. But at least it would keep the likes of Vickers out.

He could then apply for citizenship in America where they already have an elected Senate. In due course, Vickers could stand in senatorial elections and conceivably win. Try that, Martin, you never know your luck.


How the NHS tried to kill me

Yesterday I spoke about the economic crisis to the students and faculty of a London university.

At some point, the subject of the NHS came up, tangentially, with me mentioning in passing that a) contrary to a widespread superstition, it’s not a religion, but merely a way of financing medical care and b) as far as ways of financing medical care go, it’s just about the worst one can think of: wasteful, corrupt, statist and grossly inefficient.

The students, surprisingly, agreed with me, but their professors, predictably, didn’t. Never mind the waiting lists, insisted one of them. The NHS is the best value for money anywhere in the world.

That’s a hell of a consolation, I objected in my usual facetious manner, if you don’t happen to be bleeding too fast. And anyway, that’s simply not true.

Then how come, insisted my opponent, all European countries envy us our wholly socialised medicine? If so, I replied, they’ve managed to contain that emotion reasonably well. After all, not a single one has gone for that sort of thing. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they haven’t really flattered us all that much.

I had neither the time nor the inclination to comment on my own experience with the NHS, and anyway, patience not being my prime virtue, I soon got disgusted with that lot. I feel differently about my readers, so here it is.

First, my worship at the altar of our national deity has been somewhat curtailed by private medical insurance. My principal exposure has been at the primary-care level and, though it takes several days to see my GP, he is truly excellent.

In fact, by spotting the early symptoms of a rather ghastly disease and instantly referring me to one of the best consultants in the business, he probably saved my life a few years ago. However, my experience with NHS secondary care makes me understand my good friend (an NHS doctor himself) who claims that, if he had a serious problem, he’d rather be treated in Zaire than at an NHS hospital.

Once I had a series of gall-stone attacks, without knowing that’s what they were. Each attack was worse than the previous one, and finally my wife had to call the ambulance in the middle of the night.

The paramedics explained that it was against their charter to take me to a private hospital and promptly transported me to one of London’s newest and supposedly best NHS hospitals.

It had been built only a few years earlier, and the plan – mercifully shelved though not yet cancelled – was to accommodate this new arrival by demolishing a great hospital, itself only about 30 years old, a mile down the road. Sounds like a perfectly sensible idea, doesn’t it?

The doctor on duty took a couple of hours to see me, with the pain growing worse by the minute. Finally he turned up, admitted he didn’t have a clue about the diagnosis and shot me full of dope, which produced the kind of convulsions that would take a Goya to render pictorially and a Kafka verbally.

My doctor friend later suggested that this classic reaction of gall stones to opiates would have served as differential diagnosis for any decent physician. Well, it didn’t in this case.

Another hour or two later (I’d lost track of time) I was wheeled into a ward, only to find that half the beds next to mine contained women in various stages of undress.

Historically, I haven’t always minded sharing my bedroom with scantily dressed females, but somehow the time and the place seemed wrong. And in any case, most of them were way past the age of consent. Respect for patients’ dignity is clearly not a top priority in the NHS, I thought before passing out.

To cut the long (and painful) story short, I spent the next three days there without either being seen by a specialist or having my condition diagnosed by any other doctor.

Finally, in the evening of the third day, I rose from my bed, put on my clothes and said I was discharging myself, much to the displeasure of the doctor on duty. She was a diminutive girl who looked about 15 but, considering she was fully qualified (in a manner of speaking), had to be older.

‘Does this mean you’re going against medical advice?’ she demanded haughtily. ‘Yes, I know I’m denying myself the advantage of your vast experience…,’ I said and added a few words I later regretted.

The next day I went to see a private consultant who diagnosed gall stones before I finished my first plaintive sentence. We’ll operate tomorrow, he said (a friend of mine, not blessed with private insurance, had to wait six months for a similar operation on the NHS). Not to worry, he said, it’s only a keyhole surgery.

However, when the surgeon got inside me the next morning, he realised that gangrene had set in. So keyhole surgery went out of the window, and he had to open me up like a tin of sardines.

Another day or two, he told me when I came to, and you would have been dead. Then he said something about the NHS, translating the first letter in its name as ‘Nasty’, the second as ‘Horrible’ and the third as something I’ll let you guess.

My only other experience with an NHS hospital was more comic than near-fatal. That time it was a kidney stone, rather than the gall variety (in case you’re wondering, I collect ailments, aiming to merit an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records).

I was taken to a hospital that had both an NHS wing  and a private one. The former was my first port of call, but, after they realised I could go private, I was wheeled to the latter.

The muscular chap who did the wheeling kept calling me ‘Alex’, even though we weren’t close friends and he was less than half my age. It was Alex this and Alex that, but only until we crossed the magic line separating the two wings. The moment we did cross it, he instantly began to call me ‘Mr Boot’, which I remained for the duration of my stay.

Add to this my beloved mother-in-law who died of a hospital-acquired MRSA, and I’d be lying to you if I claimed that my objections to the NHS are purely academic and dispassionate. Personal experience does come into it, adding an empirical tinge to the philosophical rejection.

This would be unsound if it were only my own experience – but it isn’t. One can hardly open the papers these days without reading about yet another murderous outrage committed in the name of a medical care equal to all.

How much brainwashing has it taken, one wonders, to make Englishmen worship the NHS the way they used to worship God? Probably enough to make the USSR proud and Red China turn green with envy.