It’s not Miller time, not yet anyway

It’s a truth acknowledged widely, if not exactly universally, that any country whose government includes posts like Culture Secretary is on its way to perdition.

Culture isn’t a legitimate concern of the state. Before any country even thought of putting cultural pursuits within the domain of government, such pursuits had yielded rather spectacular fruit.

Since that time the same orchard has been lying fallow. Methinks there’s a causal relationship there somewhere.

Culture Secretary Maria Miller tends to go out of her way to prove the validity of this point. Thus she attacked the BBC for the ‘sexist’ bias in its sports coverage.

It has to be said that, what with the BBC being a state broadcasting service, Mrs (Ms?) Miller is within her remit to pass judgment on its various prejudices.

Prime among those is its distinct leftwing bias, leading to the BBC’s laudable consistency in supporting every harebrained cause known to man: climate change, wind farms, homomarriage, Islamism, Muslim immigration, Labour and LibDem parties in every election – before long I’ll run out of fingers on both hands and then of toes on both feet.

Yet Mrs/Ms Miller has remained stoically silent on all of those. What caused her wrath was a few unchivalrous remarks sports presenter John Inverdale saw fit to make about Wimbledon singles champion Marion Bartoli.

Specifically, Mr Inverdale said, “I just wonder if her Dad did say to her when she was 12, 13, 14 maybe: ‘Listen, you are never going to be, you know, a looker. You are never going to be somebody like a Sharapova, you’re never going to be 5 feet 11, you’re never going to be somebody with long legs…’”

These remarks weren’t so much ‘sexist’ (whatever it means) as stupid and ignorant. Maria Sharapova, for example, isn’t 5’11’’ but 6’2”, though her legs are undeniably long. This is something a tennis commentator should know, and if he doesn’t he should refrain from comment.

Neither is it his business to pontificate at such length on the aesthetic aspect of Miss Bartoli’s appearance. This isn’t to say that no comment on her looks would be appropriate.

Compare, for example, Mr Inverdale’s remarks with what I wrote on the same subject at the same time: “…Marion Bartoli of France reproduces in her body the map shape of her native land. There’s something wrong when a professional athlete paid millions for her trade has a waist broader than her shoulders.”

My problem wasn’t with Miss Bartoli’s chances of winning a beauty contest but with women’s tennis in general. There’s indeed something wrong with a sport where many star performers clearly don’t have to train all that hard to win major competitions. And it’s scandalous that such people get the same prize money as their male counterparts, who not only spend twice as long on the court but also manifestly thrice as long working on their fitness.

The reason Miss Bartoli got paid £1.6 million for her victory is modern egalitarianism that demands equal pay even for unequal work. It would behove a Conservative minister to comment on this gross iniquity. Instead Mrs/Ms Miller chose to reinforce the same feminism that’s responsible for it.

Deputy PM Nick agreed, even though he magnanimously accepted that, “Of course it’s not the role of politicians to start second-guessing what every single journalist and every single reporter says, but of course we’ve got to be clear that what we don’t want is sexism in sport and we don’t want that reflected in the way it’s supported.”

God spare a country whose second-in-command so sorely lacks in rhetorical skill, knowledge of basic grammar and sense of style. The underlying philosophy, however, is even more problematic.

Both Nick and Mrs/Ms Miller are planning to boycott this year’s British Open which is to golf what Wimbledon is to tennis. Why? Because it’s going to be held at Scotland’s Muirfield club that doesn’t admit women.

Nick is aghast: “I was just dismayed and incredibly surprised to hear this still goes on in this day and age. I find it so out of step with everything else that’s happening in the rest of society.”

It is indeed. Everything else that’s happening in the rest of society includes things like homomarriage, which Nick finds admirable.

Yet he and his friend Dave Cameron, who’s equally angry, ought to remember that Murfield is a private club, which means it’s home to its members and their committee. Just as Nick or Dave would be within their right to deny admission into their homes to anyone they find unacceptable (say, a real conservative), so should Murfield be free to determine its own membership criteria.

Nick, incidentally, finds it hard to get his head around the concept of membership policy. For example he was incensed a couple of years ago when turned down for membership at my own Putney Lawn Tennis Club.

Nick, who lives a hundred yards from the club, wanted to circumvent our policy of play-ins designed to make sure that new members would be able to hold their own against established players. He obviously felt that he merited admission just because he was, well, Nick.

Our committee disabused him of this notion – and I do hope Muirfield defends its membership policy with the same steadfast vigour. Someone ought to tell this utterly objectionable lot where to get off.

Found in translation: The Tragedy of Fidel Castro

This may be a solipsistic view of literature, but nowadays I only ever read books about myself.

You may think this would narrow my options down to zero: no book has so far been written specifically about me – not even my upcoming memoir How the Future Worked, which only pretends to be about me, but is in fact about Russia.

But I don’t mean this quite so literally. Rather I’m talking about books that touch a chord sounding whatever occupies me at the moment. Some such books may tell, some may show, but they all stimulate. A book may neither enlighten nor entertain, yet I’ll forgive the author – as long as he gets me thinking about things that matter. On this requirement I’ll never compromise.

Thus I don’t read many novels any longer: somehow they seem to be a thing of the past. Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Austen and Dickens, Rabelais and Stendhal along with dozens of others still rate my admiration and gratitude. Yet they only rarely rate my time. As to new novels, they invariably get short shrift: a quick glance and back on the bookshop’s shelf they go: life’s too short.

Well life’s still too short, and it’s not getting any longer. But The Tragedy of Fidel Castro (River Grove Books) by the Portuguese writer João Cerqueira makes me wonder how much pleasure I’ve denied myself.

Good prose, regardless of its genre, may not always be realistic but it’s always real. Bad prose never is. Gulliver living in a land of talking horses, Georg Samsa turning into a monstrous vermin, Major Kovalev’s nose walking off his face ring true, while the naturalistically drawn characters of, say, Zola don’t.

We believe Swift, Kafka and Gogol not because they describe in minute detail the world we see around us. We believe them because they invite us into a world of their own creation, and their power of imagination and expression is such that we readily come in, shaking off our feet the dust of the world we’ve hitherto regarded as the only unassailable reality.

Placing Cerqueira into the same category as the triad I’ve mentioned would be issuing too much credit on too small an initial deposit. He needs to do much more to find himself in such exalted company. But there’s enough in his short and sharp Castro to suggest than one day he might.

For Cerqueira too swaps realism for reality, and he too creates an unreal reality that, on its own terms, rings true.

His preface lists the dramatis personae, including an unlikely mélange of Christ (who “has nothing to do with Jesus Christ, the son of God”), JFK (who “is someone other than an American president with the same initials”), God (who “does not represent God, creator of the world and men”), Fidel Castro (who “perhaps has some similarities with the revolutionary leader and dictator”) and Fatima (who “has no connection whatsoever with a particular site in Portugal”).

This lets us know from the beginning that we’re in good hands, and we let these hands guide us through a plot that’s utterly unrealistic and so much the more real for it.

The land of Castro and the land of JFK are about to go to murderous war, and Fatima appeals to God for help. The deity responds by talking his son Jesus (bearing no resemblance…) into interceding on His behalf.

Castro’s decision to invade “the land of JFK” comes from the same impulse that so many other tyrants share. They seek in foreign aggression a reprieve from domestic problems, especially when the natives become restless.

Fidel then wins the initial battles against JFK’s army but can’t win the war against the people’s certitudes. The JFKers are as reluctant to abandon their freewheeling ways as Castro’s own people are to accept that the revolutionaries’ practices are in accord with their ideals.

Faced with this seemingly unsolvable conundrum, Castro again follows the path trodden by other tyrants: he runs. Unlike others, however, whose chosen destination is typically some faraway haven made heavenly by purloined fortunes, Fidel flees to a monastery where his brain is wiped clean by amnesia.

Yet he retains enough visceral memory to start plotting against the friars. This brings back his physical memory as well, and he retakes command of his army. In the process he sells his soul to the Devil. Fidel’s payoff in this Faustian transaction again has something to do with memory, in this instance that of his people. In exchange for his soul he wants to be remembered as a hero, rather than the bloodthirsty despot that he is.

The divine protagonists set up the ultimate battle by sticking to the scenario they know best. Rather than leading a global war of mutual annihilation, JFK and Fidel stage a personal battle, starring the former as David and the latter as Goliath. Yet again David carries the day, and the weapon he launches is the all-familiar stone.

The ultimate winner is the author who manages to pull off the improbable feat of making this phantasmagorical plot believable – and an even more improbable one of producing satire that doesn’t strike one as redundant.

This is no mean accomplishment, for our modern world seems to be dead-set on outpacing any attempt to satirise it. Not only is reality stranger than fiction; it also has an unmatched if unwitting ability to satirise itself.

A sporting man, Cerqueira more or less eschews the land of Fidel as too easy a target. A quick sketch suffices, acting as a reminder of what most of us already know. Instead Cerqueira is at his most poignant when showing the spiritual emptiness of “the land of JFK” (bearing no resemblance… and all that).

What he sees in his sights, in other words, isn’t just modernity at its most violent but modernity as such. The battle between Fidel and JFK isn’t a clash between irreconcilable opposites – it’s one between cathode and anode, opposites that attract rather than repel each other.

In this sense, The Tragedy of Fidel Castro is my tragedy as well. It’s a book about me, about you, about all of us. All of us should read it.


The girl with the dolphin tattoo

According to mounting reports, Samantha Cameron affects Britain’s policy by using her hubby-wubby Dave as a conduit.

Perhaps it would be useful to remind the happy couple that she is neither elected nor qualified to act in that capacity. Dave, at least, meets one of these requirements.

In fact, it’s far from certain that she is intellectually superior to the creature tattooed on her ankle. After all, the dolphin’s intelligence has been established by extensive tests, and it has the demonstrable advantage of not having the likeness of Samantha tattooed on its fin.

By all accounts, it was Sam who pushed Dave towards his untenable positions on climate change, homomarriage and aid for variously unsavoury groups.

Specifically, she’s believed to have persuaded Dave that any attempt to protect marriage may lose him votes among groups that are hostile to the institution either ideologically or physiologically.

Now Sam has visited a few refugee camps in Syria and discovered that they don’t even remotely resemble the manor in which she grew up. That had a revelatory effect on Sam, similar to what Saul of Tarsus once experienced in the same region.

Upon return home she used her feminine wiles to push Dave towards supporting the very groups whose bellicosity had brought the camps into existence.

“As a mother,” she said, “it is horrifying to hear the harrowing stories from the children I met today. No child should ever experience what they have.” The grammar is questionable, but the sentiment is unassailable.

The trick, however, is to translate sentiment into policy, and this requires a certain set of qualities of which our sensitive mother is singularly bereft. So, for that matter, is Dave, but at least he is able to consult competent advisors.

Hence our senior military commanders told him in no uncertain terms that, unless he’s prepared to declare war on Syria, he should muzzle his wife. Put out or shut up, was the gist, although I’m sure the actual language was more refined.

And speaking of translating sentiment into policy, Sam isn’t the only one who has a problem in that area. His Holiness Pope Francis seems to find it hard too.

Last week the Pope visited Lampedusa, a tiny island off the coast of Sicily. The island is a popular destination for refugee ships sailing from Tunisia and Lybia. A couple of those have sunk along the way, with many escapees dying.

His Holiness delivered a stirring sermon on the subject of such fundamental Christian virtues as charity, compassion and solidarity.

He gave “a thought, too, to the dear Muslim immigrants that are beginning the fast of Ramadan” and accused the world of “globalised indifference” to their plight.

One wonders if all those prone Muslims being called to prayer by our Radio 4 reciprocate by giving a thought to the thousands of Christians robbed and murdered throughout the Islamic world. Then of course a true Christian doesn’t believe that there must be a tit for every tat.

As to such Christian virtues as compassion, are we also allowed to feel it for the 4,500 inhabitants of Lampedusa who’ve seen their bucolic little island turned into a giant refugee camp? The Lampedusans are, after all, communicants in the same Church of which Pope Francis is the leader. Surely His Holiness’s first job is to ‘give a thought’ to them, before going all multi-culti?

All Christians must pray for those persecuted, dying horrific deaths, driven out of their homes. The Pope is entirely within his remit to remind us sinners of compassion and charity – in fact, he can’t do so too often.

Similarly, any normal person visiting a refugee camp will be overwhelmed with pity and empathy. Having visited a Chechen refugee camp in 1995, I can testify to this from personal experience.

Yet the next question ought to be the one always asked at the end of political get-togethers: “So what are we going to do about it?”

Here both sentimental mothers and celibate prelates can find themselves on shaky grounds. For neither sentiment nor especially sentimentality is a reliable guide to policy making in the secular realm.

How does His Holiness see the policies required to overcome our “global indifference”? How are we supposed to prevent an exodus of desperate people risking their lives on the way to our welfare offices?

Two possibilities come to mind. One, driven by Christian compassion and charity, we extend a warm welcome to the entire population of Africa and the Middle East.

Within a year or two, the population of Europe would triple, making it indistinguishable from the lands of the refugees’ origin. Europe’s predominantly Muslim population would starve, and all our radio stations, not just the BBC, will be airing muezzins’ calls to prayer.

Assuming this isn’t the end His Holiness sees in his mind’s eye, one can think of only one alternative – that of repeating something John Quincy Adams said about America in his 1825 inauguration speech: “She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.”

Our thoughts and prayers should go to the Africans and Asians suffering poverty and oppression. Our policy should be to tell them that Europe has run out of even standing room. If they don’t like it where they are, they should do something about it – and joining our welfare rolls is no longer an available option.

We should also undertake not to provoke refugee-spinning conflicts in places like Syria – or stay out of them if they conflagrate spontaneously.

Perhaps Sam should seek an audience with His Holiness. They may have a most enjoyable chat – provided she remembers to wear opaque stockings.













Born on the 14th (and 4th) of July

Yesterday France was celebrating the anniversary of one of the most catastrophic events in the history of Western civilisation: the French Revolution.

On that day, 224 years ago, the mob stormed the Bastille and liberated the seven prisoners held there. Not much of a triumph, one would think, but it’s the symbolic value that counts.

The mob, expertly egged on by bloodthirsty revolutionaries, was thereby liberated to do what the mob does best: murder, rob and destroy.

The downtrodden masses had shaken off the centuries of oppression by kings, aristocrats and the Church. Or at least that’s how they were encouraged to think of those centuries. Good people described them as Western civilisation, the greatest the world had ever known. Even better people referred to them as Christendom, thereby pinpointing the source of all that grandeur.

The difference of opinion predictably led to mass slaughter and destruction. About a million Frenchmen were massacred in the immediate aftermath, another two million in the subsequent wars.

As if to emphasise that it wasn’t just certain classes that were singled out for extermination but also the culture they had created, the mob went on to destroy man’s highest architectural achievements: Romanesque and Gothic buildings.

In the estimation of the prominent medievalist Régine Pernoud, over the next 100 years about 80 percent of such structures were razed and most of the others defaced.

In our neck of the Burgundian woods one can still admire countless Romanesque and Gothic churches, most of them empty, some slated for destruction but not yet destroyed. If that represents the remaining 20 percent of a great civilisation, imagine the marvel that was France with all 100 percent still intact.

One man’s marvel is another man’s target, and clearly the newly liberated mob had to hate such reminders of the glory of God. It wasn’t just the buildings to which they were taking their wrecking balls – it was to everything the buildings represented.

How any decent person can feel jubilant on 14 July escapes me. Yet there were fireworks in every village, with villagers getting drunk joyously, rather than just as a matter of daily routine.

Interestingly, the same class divisions that partly inspired the original mayhem are still extant. Thus there isn’t a single Frenchman among our friends, cultured people all, who shares in the spirit of celebration.

One chap told me at a party the other day he agreed with me entirely: there’s nothing to celebrate.

He then went on to describe himself as both a royalist and a Thomist – a most agreeable combination in my eyes. Not every one of our friends here is either a Thomist or a royalist, though many are at least one of those, but they all think of their revolution as a disgrace.

So one suspects they won’t be celebrating 4 August with any more enthusiasm than they displayed on 14 July. On that day all class privilege and titles of nobility were abolished in France, just as they had been in America a few years earlier.

The Americans still haven’t come to their senses, but the French have. Amazingly in a republic, all those Messieurs les Comptes and Mesdames les Baronnes we know wear their titles on their sleeves the way their British equivalents don’t – and we’re supposed to be a monarchy.

A psychologist might refer to this tendency as overcompensation, but whatever we call it France remains a much more hierarchical society than Britain. That may be why it remains marginally more civilised, although the gap is closing.

America, for which the advent of social egalitarianism coincided with the beginning of their civilisation rather than, as it did in France, its end, may have suffered less from her revolutionary upheaval – after all, she had much less to lose.

Consequently even civilised Americans, those who still haven’t moved to England or France, have their barbecues on 4 July, weather permitting.

That’s why I tend to be more reticent when talking to Americans about their revolution. This represent a triumph of self-restraint, for my feelings about the 4th of July are the same as about the 14th.

Remarkably, even Burke, who was right about everything else, was wrong about the relative merits of the two revolutions.

In general many, not just Burke, have argued that there were fundamental differences between the American and French revolutions, or indeed between the Anglo-American (‘Right-wing’) and the French (‘Left-wing’) Enlightenment.

I have never found the arguments to be as immediately persuasive as Coleridge did, to name one conservative scribe. Both the philosophical and religious sources of the putative two types of the Enlightenment were the same, owing much to the Reformation and its intellectual spawns Hobbes and Locke.

This debt was acknowledged as gratefully by Jefferson or Madison as by Montesquieu or Voltaire – Protestant deist Locke was admired in Catholic France more than in his own land.

Hysterical hatred of monarchy as the political manifestation of Christendom and of Trinitarian Christianity as its base; egalitarianism; deism; pluralism understood in a most mechanical sense, rampant statism – all these were shared equally by the philosophes of both the Old and the New Worlds.

If one lot arrived at their deism, in effect atheism, from a Catholic starting point and the other from a sectarian Protestant one, they all got there in the end.

Then they all converged in their keenly felt urge to wipe out Western civilisation, otherwise known as Christendom.

One can feel complacent about America, where this constituted not so much a desire to destroy as a refusal to create. France is a different matter, of course, and I do hope one day 14 July and 4 August will be declared national days of mourning.

Mind you, I am not holding my breath.    












Americans weren’t careful what they wished for

US foreign policy probably isn’t designed to empower wild-eyed fanatics everywhere in the Middle East.

But one is hard-pressed to see what the Americans would be doing differently if it were.

First they destabilised the region by their unprovoked – and, what’s worse, foolhardy – attack on Iraq. The immediate result was plunging the country into sanguinary ethnic strife, which was something Saddam, monstrous as he was, managed to keep in check.

The long-term effect was a burst of energy experienced by every militant group in the Middle East, Sunni, Shiite or simply diabolical.

The Americans then felt they had to go into Afghanistan, allegedly to obliterate the terrorists’ strongholds there. At that point all hell broke loose, and whenever that happens it’s the devils who stand to benefit.

In this instance these weren’t the devils we knew – and knew how to handle. The beneficiaries of American meddling were the so-called Islamists, a term probably invented by the US State Department.

There’s no such thing. An ‘Islamist’ is just a consistent Muslim, someone who lives by the commandments of Islam.

Now that religion, with the civilisation it has produced, is our enemy, pure and simple. The more consistent a Muslim is, the greater danger he presents to us, both collectively and individually.

Therefore it’s in our interest to support the least consistent Muslim regimes, while isolating or trying to undermine those run by real, pious believers.

In practice this means supporting the most undemocratic regimes, for most Muslims, unlike most Christians and Jews, are active believers and practitioners of their creed. A democratic election is therefore likely to bring to power an Islamic regime – and this is exactly what happened in Iran, to cite one example.

As a rule, it’s the army that is the principal force for secularisation in Muslim lands. It wasn’t by popular uprisings that most secular or quasi-secular regimes have ever taken over. It was by military coups.

Turkey is a prime example. Atatürk secularised the country not by politicking but by brute force. And it was by that expedient that Turkey’s predominantly Islamic people have been made to keep their heads down ever since.

Then the West got into the act, this time spearheaded by the EU, with the Americans bringing up the rear. Turkey, they explained, is a European country – after all, as much as five percent of its territory is in Europe.

As we all know, every European country must belong to the EU, and Turkey is no exception. But the EU being a world-famous champion of democracy, it couldn’t possibly countenance the army exercising any serious power in any of its member states.

Since at the time Turkey unwisely wanted to join the EU, the army was shunted aside, and the country became sufficiently democratic to satisfy the refined tastes of the EU and the USA. As a result it predictably became ‘Islamist’. Which of course it had been all along at the grassroots – but, thanks be to Allah, not politically.

For Turkey, read Egypt, except that there the same process was provoked, encouraged and touted by the Americans (even the dialectical minds of EU chieftains couldn’t quite find a way of portraying Egypt as a European country).

The army ousted the royal family in 1952 and reinvented Egypt as a secular, if variously nasty, state. Actually, by Muslim standards, the governments of Sadat and Mubarak were as benign as they get.

They could stay that way because, as themselves military men, they could rely on the army to keep a lid on the predominantly Islamic inclinations of the populace.

This didn’t agree with the demands of America’s secular religion for which democracy is the principal tenet and the neocons the main proselytisers. The USA provoked the ‘Arab Spring’ with its democratic elections and the predictable result thereof.

The Muslim Brotherhood took over and immediately began to act in character. The transition was a bit too sharp for the people and they became restless.

The army then ousted Mohammed Morsi’s government, but the cat of Islamic fanaticism wouldn’t stay in the bag. The country has been brought to the brink of civil war.

Dozens of people have died in the ensuing violence. Last Monday alone more than 50 Morsi loyalists were killed in clashes with the army.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie, and nine other senior figures were charged on Wednesday with inciting Monday’s carnage, which they probably had.

The Americans instantly began to shed crocodile tears over the violence and protest against the ‘arbitrary’ arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members. That apparently isn’t going to prevent them from supplying to Egypt a batch of F-16 fighter-bombers – business has to come first.

But the US administration has to decide whether the military takeover constitutes a coup. Alas, US law prohibits export of arms to any country whose elected leader is deposed by a military coup. This is one area in which I trust the Americans: they’ll find a way.

One just wishes they spared us sanctimonious pronouncements and fulsome regrets. If you instigate civil wars, chaps, people will die. A lot of people.

More Americans were killed in the 1861-1865 Civil War than in all the country’s other wars combined. The English Civil War of 1642-1651 killed a greater proportion of the population than the First World War. That war claimed fewer Russian lives even in absolute terms than the Civil War of 1918-1922.

The old saw about being careful what you wish for is being vindicated. Americans, Egyptians and, vicariously, the rest of us are finding this out the hard way.

The Times on our times: a new constitution is ‘unavoidable’

Daniel Finkelstein, the Executive Editor of The Times, has it all figured out. If you don’t believe me, read his article It’s Unavoidable: We Need a Directly Elected PM.

First he diagnoses the problem: “The entire modern British constitution is based on a party system that is crumbling.”

Then he prescribes a treatment, drawing in Ed Miliband to provide a second opinion: “… Open primaries in which anyone can run and anyone registering an interest can vote. Ed Miliband suggested he would move towards such a system… Take the executive out of Parliament and have a directly elected prime minister.”

And the desired clinical outcome? “The monopoly of the executive over law-making would go, unable to survive the increased independence of legislators… And both Supreme Court judges and executive appointments could be made subject to some form of confirmation hearing.”

Sorted. The newly cured patient, otherwise known as our ancient constitution, will jump off its sick bed and rush out towards new worlds to conquer – with Miliband as the directly appointed prime minister, and Finkelstein as his chief ‘expert’.

(One of the advantages of the proposed system is that it will have “more outside experts drawn into government”, and who better to lead them than Finkelstein?)

I like it. This is a true and tried system. The only teeny-weeny problem is that so far it hasn’t been tried in Britain.

But hey, who says we can’t adopt what’s best in other systems? Certainly not Finkelstein. And certainly not me.

In fact, I’d like to offer a couple of embellishments to the Finkelstein-Miliband model, stealing their thunder.

To emphasise that our new prime minister will be directly elected, he should be called not prime minister but president. We already have a Supreme Court, so why not a president?

Then of course Parliament, now that the executive has been taken out of it, should change its name too. And the two chambers? Easy.

Rather than racking our brains for the appropriate names, we can use those we know work. The upper house should be called the Senate and the lower one the House of Representatives.

Parliament itself should now be called Congress, and it goes without saying that both its chambers will be elected.

Each of the 86 counties, regardless of their size, will elect two senators, making the Senate a body of 172. The counties’ representation in the lower house will be proportionate to their population, with the overall number of congressmen to be determined.

Oh yes, unless I forget, the counties should now be referred to as states – it’s much more progressive and will now also be more accurate.

The only downside of this project is that our army of the unemployed will have to grow, now to include the entire royal family. After all, nominally it is the monarch who is supposed to head the state, the role now to be assumed by President Miliband.

Not to worry. Her ex-Majesty could be appointed director of the new Ye Olde England museum, with the princes and princesses acting as tour guides. They could be made to wear Elizabethan costumes, say things like ‘thou art’ and be photographed with American tourists.

Since the country will no longer be a kingdom, its present name will have to change in line with the new constitution.

Again, rather than reinventing the wheel we can go with the name that has withstood the test of time, modifying it slightly for local colour: the United States of Anglia, the USA for short.

To avoid any possible confusion at UN meetings, the new USA should apply for the honour of being incorporated into the old one, perhaps as its 51st state.

No, scratch that idea. That way Ed Miliband, Dan Finkelstein’s constitutional idol, would have to be called governor, not president. That’s not good enough.

So perhaps the new country ought to be named the USB (United States of Britain). Yes, that’ll work.

There, all our problems have been solved. Now we can confidently predict that we’ll be governed by a much better class of statesmen.

After all, the system on which the Miliband-Finkelstein proposal is based has placed at the helm such titans as Obama (directly elected! with primaries!) – preceded by Dubuya.

Who says we can’t throw up a comparable giant of intellect, character and morality (we already have one waiting in the wings: Ed Miliband, the constitutional philosopher)? Not me. In fact, I’m already throwing up.

What we need, Dan and Ed, isn’t to draw a new constitution but to respect the existing one. You know, the one American tourists say doesn’t exist because it’s not written down, like theirs.

In fact, a written constitution is like a nuptial agreement stipulating the frequency of sex: if you have to write it down, you might as well not bother.

Granted, a new state like the old USA may need a written document. But our state has been rather successful for over a millennium – with a constitution based on what Burke described as prescription, presumption and prejudice.

At its heart is the monarch whose power is limited but real, the elected House of Commons, whose power is real but limited, and the hereditary House of Lords that maintains the proper balance between the two.

It’s only after this constitution, easily the most successful one the world has ever known, was debauched by the moral and intellectual equivalents of Dan and Ed that it began to be operated by moral and intellectual pygmies.

The treatment proposed by Miliband and Finkelstein is poison, not medicine. Its only possible result would be euthanasia, not recovery.

We need a different remedy: a system that keeps the likes of Ed away from political power. And the likes of Dan away from what used to be a respectable newspaper.   























What on earth do those Egyptians want?

The question is superfluous for anyone familiar with the principles lying at the foundations of our foreign policy.

Actually, ‘lying’ is the right word for it.

For these principles presuppose a mendacious answer to the question in the title, which American and our neocons are quick to provide: Egyptians, along with the rest of the Middle East, want to be like us.

Do they really? Are they really craving all those things we’re so proud of? To wit:

– Women walking around with their secondary sex characteristics barely if at all covered

– Drunks adorning pavements in even good neighbourhoods with puke

– Men marrying each other because their women are already married, also to each other

– Gay Day parades

– Facial metal, tattoos and other body art

– Borders open to anyone wishing to get in – numbers no object

– Religion vulgarised, secularised and marginalised

– Propaganda of every known perversion to school children

– Hospitals that kill, not treat

– Schools that dumb-down, not educate

– Economy going to the dogs

– Currency rapidly becoming worthless

– People’s savings reduced to dust

– Spivs like Dave, Nick and Ed running (ruining? – amazing how much difference one letter can make) people’s lives

No, perhaps not. What the Muslims really yearn for is DEMOCRACY.

And specifically? Well, that’s a tough one. Let me think…

Why, those Egyptians and other Middle Easterners want to vote freely for politicians who are guaranteed to deliver every item on the above list.

That’s what our democracy has come to mean this side of sloganeering. And we’re told Egyptians want to be just like us.

That’s why they’re out in the streets, shooting and being shot at, killing and being killed, raping and being raped. All that because they want DEMOCRACY.

To satisfy that putative craving American and British boys have been killing and dying in huge numbers for over a decade. No sacrifice too great for the noble cause of bringing DEMOCRACY to the Middle East.

Now, it’s reasonably clear to anyone with an IQ higher than today’s scorching temperature that no such craving exists – nor can exist. So all that slaughter must satisfy a craving that’s quite different.

It does. It satisfies the bellicose instincts of the neo-Trotskyites who formulate foreign policy on either side of the Atlantic.

It also satisfies the pragmatic instincts of the neo-Machiavellians who are familiar with the time-honoured tradition of using foreign wars to distract attention from domestic problems.

The bigger the problems, the bigger the wars, so we must be grateful that we’re merely in recession. If we had a depression, like back in the 1930s, the spirit of the Blitz would have to be revived.

It’s pointless to criticise any policies put forth by the Baracks and Daves of this world – or their predecessors and followers.

It’s useless telling them it’s wrong to kill people for ideological and political reasons, especially those as ill-advised and immoral as theirs.

It’s no good suggesting to them that instead of provoking or actually perpetrating violence abroad they ought to redirect their energy to improving life at home.

That’s like telling a dog not to chase a cat around the house. Fido doesn’t do so because he thinks it’s a good idea. He does it because that’s what a dog does.

An exercise that might be useful is telling everyone we know that democracy, especially its export version, has become nothing but a neocon trick.

Any attempt to shove it down Muslim throats is bound to create the kind of reflux that can engulf the whole region, and possibly the world. Agitating for yet another Arab Spring, we can get a nuclear winter instead.

Perhaps it’s us who should be out demonstrating in the streets, not the Egyptians. Can’t you just see it?

Conservatively dressed crowds marching down Whitehall and Pennsylvania Avenue, shouting in proper accents, “Leave the world alone!”, “Mind your own business!”, “Give us our country back!”, “How about some democratic choice at home?”

Many things would have to happen for something like that to be possible. Too many for us to hold our breath.

Too many people would have to see that the choice between Dave and Ed, or Barack and whomever, is no choice at all. That our whole political class, regardless of party affiliation, is so profoundly corrupt that only surgery, not therapy, could possibly work.

So perhaps we should indeed encourage them to carry on as they are. It’s just possible that our only hope can come from the purifying effect of a major conflict. You know, of the kind our leaders are so assiduously trying to provoke.

I doubt Egyptians want that. But maybe we do.





















St Andy of Dunblane

Andy Murray has won Wimbledon.

For those of you who don’t follow sports, that’s a tennis tournament.

For those of you who know nothing about sports, tennis is a game that involves two participants chasing fuzzy yellow balls around a court.

When one of them gets to the ball, he uses a stringed bat to wallop it over the net, making sure the ball lands within the area demarcated with white lines.

The player who doesn’t manage to do that loses the point. When this happens, he chooses any or all of the actions from this list: a) swear at himself, b) swear at the umpire, c) swear at the spectators, d) swear at the opponent, e) swear at the coach, f) issue a primal scream, g) smash the racquet (a player who’s any good gets his for free), h) kick courtside furniture.

The player who has to draw from this list less than his opponent wins the match. If he does so seven times in a row, he wins Wimbledon.

Which is what Andy has done.

This feat ranks so high on the scale of human achievement that all those Shakespeares, Newtons and Cricks (of the Watson fame) are weeping in their graves.

Their puny careers pale by comparison to what Andy has accomplished. Andy has won Wimbledon.

By doing so, he, according to his new best friend Dave, “lifted the spirits of the whole country.”

A cynic might suggest that said spirits couldn’t have been that far down in the first place, if all it took to lift them was Andy chasing fuzzy yellow balls rather fast.

But we must keep in mind that these days the more trivial the achievement the more it’s cherished.

So one shouldn’t be surprised that the country perked up as a result of Andy’s triumph. Never mind youth unemployment, the standard of living dropping precipitously, Britain being run out of Brussels through our local spivs, none of the public services working properly, schools turning children into little savages, hospitals killing patients.

None of it matters any longer. Andy has won Wimbledon.

How then can we reward a chap who chased fuzzy yellow balls so well that the country became happy when it had every reason to be miserable?

Andy’s new friend Dave thinks a knighthood would be a good start.  “I can’t think of anyone who deserves one more,” he said.

One has to agree. Of the 60 million people inhabiting the British Isles not one has ever achieved anything comparable to chasing fuzzy yellow balls rather fast.

Of course the aforementioned cynic might opine that, of the nine ringing words Dave uttered, only the first three are true.

But a Brit whose spirits have been lifted sky high would agree wholeheartedly. Chasing fuzzy yellow balls is the highest achievement of all.

But if that is so, then why stop at knighthood? The highest award for the highest achievement, I say.

The Victoria Cross springs to mind. Yes, I know it’s a military decoration, but Wimbledon is like a war, with every match its decisive battle. That makes Andy a hero in the same sense in which Douglas Bader was one.

And a mere knighthood? Really, Dave, how mean can you get? I mean, John Major got that and whose spirits did he ever lift? Not even Norma’s, I daresay.

No, a peerage would be the least we can do. And not the half-arsed life variety either. Hereditary peerage at least, better still a dukedom. Duke Andy of Dunblane – can’t you just see it?

At the same time, Andy must be canonised in the Church of Scotland, with a halo made of fuzzy yellow balls attached to his head.

We shouldn’t accept any lame excuses either, such as that the Church of Scotland doesn’t do that sort of thing.

About bloody time it did, if only this once. Finally, they have a Scot who deserves sainthood more than all those Smiths and Flemings.

Didn’t Dave describe Andy’s deed as a miracle? There you go then. And let’s not forget he won the US Open last year – that’s two miracles right there. Even the RC’s think it’s enough.

Arise, Sir Andy. Ascend, St Andy. You’ve made us all deliriously happy. Britain is back from the dead.



You are no longer in marketing, Your Grace

Nostra culpa, declared the Archbishop of Canterbury in a speech to Synod.

The Church of England, he said, is widely criticised for its opposition to same-sex marriage. Much of this criticism, he acknowledged ruefully, is “uncomfortably close to the bone”.

The Church, lamented the prelate, doesn’t seem to realise that “the cultural and political ground is changing.” Yet “pretending that nothing has changed is absurd and impossible.”

The C of E has only one way to go. “We must accept there is a revolution in the area of sexuality.” Only thus can the Church contain some of the pent-up hostility to it.

Let me see if I get this right. The reason people are leaving the Church in droves is that they can’t abide by its opposition (rather meek opposition, it has to be said) to an abomination that no Christian can possible countenance while remaining a Christian.

Reverse this unfortunate situation, and our predominantly atheist people will do an about-face and march towards the Church as fast as they have been marching away from it.

Essentially this means that in order to reconvert England to Christianity, the Church of England must stop being Christian. I’ve got news for the Archbishop: it’s not just the Church’s opposition to homomarriage that turns people off, and it’s not just “in the area of sexuality” that a revolution is under way.

Under attack is the whole ethos of Christianity, based as it is on the centrality of God rather than man. Modern man, his head deep up his own rectum, has been brainwashed to think that he himself is the ultimate authority: his own judge, his own priest, his own God.

Accepting an authority that’s infinitely higher than himself has become abhorrent and impossible to him. His vulgar materialist mind can’t fathom the sublime subtlety of Christianity; his greedy, acquisitive nature can’t accept the Church’s moral restrictions on his vile behaviour.

The problem is fundamental, and one can only regret that the highest prelate of the Church doesn’t realise this. Nor, and this is deeply worrying, does he seem to have the remotest idea of what the Church is for.

When it comes to its interaction with the secular world, the Church is there to pass moral judgment on the multitudes – not the other way around.

It’s the Church’s sacred duty to tell the world where it’s going wrong, not to get up and salute every time yet another subversive aberration is run up the flagpole. If the people don’t like what they hear, then so much the worse for the people.

Any sane person, never mind a Christian, must see that homomarriage is a foul obscenity. Alas, people have been largely deprived of their sanity by centuries’ worth of ever-accelerating atheist propaganda. The Church must do all it can to restore this sanity – even if it means becoming unpopular with the atheists of Notting Hill and other fashionable parts of London.

Instead the Archbishop clearly thinks in marketing terms, within which he operated for most of his adult life. Even those he both misunderstands and misapplies.

A successful marketing campaign aims at both breadth (expanding its market) and depth (keeping hold of the core customers). Any marketer worth his salt is loath to achieve the former at the expense of the latter. Yet this is what in effect the Archbishop is trying to do.

His forlorn hope seems to be that homosexuals marrying at the altar will suddenly make the Incarnation and the Resurrection universally attractive. It won’t. What is absolutely and totally guaranteed is that true Christians will leave the Church as a result – to Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, or else variously heretical fundamentalist sects. Many will part ways with any church Christianity altogether.

Turning the Church into a fancy-dress extension of The Guardian, which seems to be the Archbishop’s intention, shouldn’t stop at sanctifying same-sex marriage.

The next step should be for the Church to abandon its sacraments, rituals and dogma, as it has already largely abandoned its formative Scripture. Why stop halfway, Your Grace?

You’d achieve a much broader appeal by declaring ex cathedra that, though Jesus was basically a decent bloke and a bit of a prophet, he was in no way divine. That no one can be conceived without some hanky-panky. That no one can come back from the dead. That one’s enemy should be eviscerated, not loved.

This is the direction in which “the cultural and political ground is changing.” Rather than fighting this change, surely our Church must trail in its wake to avoid criticism that’s “uncomfortably close to the bone”.

I don’t know how many more speeches like this it will take for any orthodox Christian to realise that the Church of England can no longer remain his home. Not very many, would be my guess.       










Where are the Snowdens of today?

The odyssey of Edward Snowden is nothing short of fascinating.

The chap is desperate to relocate from his native USA to any place where they won’t clap him in prison for a rather long time.

His options, never endless to begin with, are narrowing faster than you can say ‘the Yanks are angry.’ Potential havens have been told in no uncertain terms that harbouring Snowden would mean getting on America’s bad side.

For the time being he’s cooped up in a hotel at Moscow’s Shermetievo Airport, waiting for 21 countries to act on his application for political asylum.

His first choice was Russia itself, which shows just how desperate the poor man is getting. Putin was magnanimous enough to offer refuge, but only on condition that Snowden stop blowing his whistle.

If you aren’t fluent in Russian, allow me to translate: this means Snowden isn’t supposed to reveal American secrets to anyone other than the Russians. As if they haven’t pumped him dry already – if they hadn’t he wouldn’t be allowed to breathe the fume-stinking Sheremetievo air.

Anyway, Snowden has refused to play along, and quite right too. If he clammed up at this stage, he’d lose whatever celebrity status he has gained. And surely becoming a celebrity was the whole purpose of the exercise – what else would anyone else wish to become these days?

Apparently, however, Venezuela, Nicaragua and possibly Bolivia have begun to nibble on Snowden’s line.

Now I don’t know if living in Danny Ortega’s Sandinista paradise is better or worse than spending a few years in an American minimum-security prison. Suffice it to say that the choice isn’t necessarily straightforward.

Of course a maximum-security jail would be a different matter. The advantage there is that a weedy white chap is guaranteed a vigorous sex life. The disadvantage is that this may not be the kind of sex life he’d normally choose.

It’s fairly clear that Snowden’s motives are far from noble, closer to those of Herostratus than of St Francis. But it does happen at times that bad impulses motivate good deeds, and in this sense my sympathy is with Snowden, sorry excuse for a human being that he may be.

For I regard all modern, post-Christendom governments as profoundly corrupt by definition. They have become nothing but giant bureaucracies, meaning nothing but self-serving.

All such bureaucracies, be that governments, large corporations, the NHS, you name it, have one thing in common. They serve those who run them and hardly anyone else.

Just consider this. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, when Marx’s dreaded capitalism was at its peak and robber barons at their most oppressive, the average ratio of income earned by US corporate directors and their employees was 1:28. Yet in 2005, with ‘democracy’ in full bloom and egalitarianism proudly reigning supreme, this ratio was 1:158.

Thus the ultimate ends of any corporation, acquisition of wealth, are now reached by management only or at least predominantly. The arrangement is at heart more USSR than USA, and the same goes for our governments.

They are no longer our servants, our friends or even our allies. They pursue ends that aren’t just different from ours but are actively hostile to them.

Even as corporate executives are single-mindedly committed to maximising their own returns at the expense of everyone else’s, modern states are just as committed to increasing their power at the expense of our liberties.

Smugly growing ever more certain of their own impunity, they’ll impose any abomination upon us, provided their own power to impose even greater abominations grows as a result.

Thus our Education Secretary Michael Gove, who’s supposed to be a good egg, comparatively, is threatening severe punishment to anyone using the word ‘gay’ as anything other than ringing praise.

He hasn’t specified the nature of the punishment, but contextually it sounds like a custodial sentence. Now what would he do to a brazen chap quipping in jest that ‘gay’ is an acronym for ‘Got Aids Yet’? Nothing short of the death penalty would be commensurate with such a crime – bring it back, I say.

In light of all that one has to welcome anything (well, practically anything) that puts the brakes on the state juggernaut. Less power for them means more power for us – it’s as simple as that.

You’ll notice that modern governments have become past masters at using any conflicts, such as wars or threats of terrorism, to increase their power exponentially – this regardless of whether or not they achieve their ostensible objective.

Their ability to put paid to the privacy of our personal communications may or may not reduce our safety vis-à-vis terrorism. What it is absolutely guaranteed to do is reduce our liberty vis-à-vis the state, and this constitutes a far deadlier threat to our society than the odd bomb going off on a bus.

In any case, why does the state need free access to the e-mails I exchange with my friends Peter, Tony, James, Stephen and Sally? The chances of any of us ever flying a jumbo jet into a building are considerably less than zero, although the idea of doing it to 10 Downing Street isn’t without a certain attraction.

I hope you won’t think me unfashionably biased if I suggest that by far likelier culprits are to be found in a group whose members are typically named Ahmed, Mohammed or Tariq. This observation, I hasten to add, is based exclusively on historical evidence, not any ethnic or racial prejudice.

So why not monitor mostly e-mail exchanges between Tazeem and Abdul rather than those between Peter and Alex? Surely this would be logistically easier, cheaper and more productive?

It would also be impossible – just as it’s impossible for our police to favour tall black strangers for stopping and searching, or for our airport security to focus on the usual suspects.

To do so would be discriminatory – and discrimination of any kind, except in favour of state power, is a crime possibly worse than murder and certainly worse than burglary. So if airport security guards want to pat down a young Rasta wearing a psychedelic T-shirt, they must also pat down a middle-aged gentleman wearing a tweed suit.

So first the state introduces asinine, counterproductive, politically motivated regulations and then it uses them to justify infringing upon the most fundamental liberty of the individual.

That’s why I say more power to Snowden’s elbow. Any action that slows down the despotic growth of our spivocracy ought to be welcomed – whatever the perpetrator’s motives, personality traits or moral fibre.