Manny fiddles while Paris burns

One has to applaud Manny Macron for getting his priorities right. He puts culture above the little problems of life, which strikes a chord in my heart.

As riots spread to the centre of Paris, with shops torched (and presumably looted) in the elegant rue de Rivoli, Manny was last night partying with Elton John after the latter’s farewell concert.

As far as one can judge from the photographs, the party was à quatre: Manny, his foster mother Brigitte, Elton and his ‘husband’. (The moment I put quotation marks around that last word, I realised I could be arrested for such punctuation – but decided it was a chance worth taking.)

The venue for the festivities was located in Bercy, not exactly the most salubrious part of Paris, and hence a likely arena for riotous self-expression. Yet I’m sure Manny was protected well enough for his cultural quest to proceed unimpeded.

Thus safeguarded, he pinned a Légion d’honneur ribbon on Elton John’s shell suit, and I’m sure that wasn’t the first time a hideous, talentless creature received such an accolade. But I shouldn’t impose my aesthetic tastes on you – let’s stick to the rioting.

As Manny hobnobbed with Elton, the police all over France were battling frenzied mobs, with both sides taking casualties. So far over 650 arrests have been made, and an unspecified number of policemen injured.

The rioting proceeds under the slogan of ‘Vengeance for Nahel’, the 17-year-old Muslim shot dead by a policeman when refusing to stop his Mercedes AMG as ordered. That gave rise to the conflagration and to the silly pun popping into my head: ex nihilo Nahel fit.

The usual phrasing of rioting slogans highlights justice, rather than vengeance, and the difference is telling. Justice can be served by trying the trigger-happy cop and, if he is found guilty, putting him in prison for a long spell. He has already been charged with voluntary manslaughter, which is a logical step in that direction.

Vengeance is something else. Unlike justice, it’s open-ended. If justice can be denominated in so many years of imprisonment, it’s impossible to say how many torched cars, burned buildings, barricaded thoroughfares and trashed shops it will take for vengeance to be deemed adequate. Basically, it’s whether or not the rioters run out of steam before the police run out of tear gas.

Remarkably little has been reported about the victim, other than his name, age, the car he was driving to deliver pizzas, and his mixed Algerian-Moroccan origin that doesn’t sound all that mixed to me. The French papers mentioned in passing that Nahel “was known to the police”, which vindicated my wild guess: most Mercedes-driving youngsters who refuse to obey police orders must have a reason for being so stubborn.

Could it be that Nahel had borrowed the car without the previous owner’s permission? All we can do is guess.

Now Manny has reconfirmed his commitment to culture, even at its lowest, I wonder how he assesses the progress of France’s commitment to diversity. An outside observer like me may get the impression that French multi-culturalism is no more successful than ours. Race riots certainly are a more regular feature of French life than British.

We could discuss the face value of multi-culti diversity till the social workers come home, but that would be a wasted effort. As with most distinctly modern practices, face value doesn’t even come into it. What matters is subtext not text, connotation not denotation, ideology not ideas.

French civil servants tend to be clever and well-educated, at least they were back in the 1960s, when the massive influx of North Africans started. Hence I doubt France’s interior ministers and their staffs were confident in their ability to integrate millions of Muslims seamlessly into a residually Christian and predominantly secular society.

Educated at France’s elite grandes écoles, the mandarins and other fruits knew some groups can adapt to a new culture better than others, and some can’t adapt at all. The issue is indeed cultural rather than racial, as Britain illustrates. For example, immigrants from Trinidad or Barbados adapt well, whereas those from the adjacent Jamaica don’t.

Some Muslims can fit into Western societies as easily as some Westerners can feel at home in Arabia (remember Lawrence?). But ‘some’ is the operative word. It’s unrealistic to expect millions of Muslims to feel they belong in a culture they find alien and detestable.

It was entirely predictable, and I’m sure French officials did predict, that those huddled masses would end up settling in vast ghettos along the periphery of major cities, with social security cheques being the only part of Western culture they’d appreciate. Proportionally, they’d boost welfare rolls and crime statistics more than they’d swell the labour force.

Had public officials in the West been motivated by the hardnosed weighing of the rational pros and cons, Muslim immigration would have been tightly controlled and severely limited. But the underlying motivation of the officialdom was different. They were ideologically committed to signalling their multi-culti virtue, and bono publico be damned.

Now those alien chickens are coming home to roost, and there is no end in sight. France has thrown 40,000 policemen into battle (twice as many fighters as the Wagner Group has altogther) and so far they are acquitting themselves reasonably well. But the future can’t be too remote when the balance of power will swing away from the police, when rioters will be able to overrun them. God save us all when that happens – and not just in France.

However, I am happy to report that, though the drive towards diversity isn’t unfolding without a snag or two, the idea of European homogeneity is thriving. Similar riots have broken out in Belgium, specifically Brussels, whose Muslim suburbs are also engulfed in flames.

The rioters there emulate their French brethren by torching cars, using fireworks as weapons and battling with the police. But they’ve added a few nice sartorial touches by wearing hoodies and masks, which doubtless adds to the gaiety of the nation.

Police forces all over Europe are on alert, expecting impassioned displays of supranational solidarity throughout the EU, certainly its high-rent part. It’s good to see that European federalism works even if multi-cultural diversity doesn’t, not quite.

And it’s especially rewarding to see that the president of France knows what really matters in life: culture comes before social tranquillity. In fact, some of history’s greatest artistic achievements have been known to coincide with the greatest unrest.

The on-going riots don’t quite make it to the greatest unrest yet. But then Elton John’s outpourings don’t quite make it to the greatest artistic achievements – indeed to art at all.

Net zero is already here

This magnificent feat has been achieved by Sky News, which is the umbilical cord linking me to Britain when I am away.

Pre-empting your gasps of delight, I hasten to clarify that Sky hasn’t yet reduced to nothing the content of carbon in the atmosphere. Yet it has done its level best to deliver net zero in integrity, intellect and informativeness.

This is the case in its coverage of most subjects, but what I find especially indicative is its tackling of climate change, né global warming. Though adding nothing to my knowledge of climatology, Sky puts some telling touches on my understanding of anthropology.

People have a dire need for orthodoxies anchoring their thought and guiding their behaviour. These used to be ancient and permanent, passed along from one generation to the next through the mediation of family, church and, to a lesser extent, school.

The first two are no longer in play: the church has been relegated to the status of an antiquated eccentricity, and the family to that of merely a provider, if that. Schools do shape orthodoxies but not the ancient and permanent kind. Fly-by-night would be a more accurate description.

Hence, for the time being you won’t find many young people who don’t accept gender fluidity as an irrefutable orthodoxy – nor people of any age who don’t confer the same status on climate change.

‘Orthodoxy’ comes from Greek: orthos ‘right’ + doxa ‘opinion’. However, the notion of what constitutes right opinion is these days fickle and laden with relativities.

In the past, the church would pronounce on that issue and it still does, except that practically no one listens. Considering the quality of most such pronouncements, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

High church officials routinely display ignorance even of their chosen subject, for example when referring to God as “he or she”. And when stepping outside their remit, they tend to ignore absolute, eternal truths, promulgating instead pernicious half-baked fads.

When it comes to forming orthodoxies, the church at best plays second fiddle to the school, with the media, especially television, picking up the conductor’s baton. It’s outlets like Sky TV that tell our increasingly dumbed-down masses what the right opinion is on any subject.

Back in the 1970s, before Sky graced the airwaves with its presence, the right opinion on climate was that a new Ice Age was just round the corner. Then the UN, that world authority on climatology, ruled that a gas that makes up 0.04 per cent of the atmosphere was warming up ‘our planet’ so much that the only way for us not to fry to death was to reduce its content drastically.

The same experts who used to preach global cooling then began to advertise global warming with an ardour fuelled by generous grants and subsidies. This neatly dovetailed with the anti-capitalist orthodoxy already in existence, adding to it an enticing new dimension.

Capitalism is powered by modern industry and modern industry is powered by hydrocarbons. Yes, that created and spread wide a prosperity the likes of which the West had never seen. But that’s nothing but crass materialism, explained the orthodoxy mongers.

First, if not everyone is equally prosperous, then no one should be prosperous at all. After all, modernity was inaugurated by a promise of equality, which means capitalism is in default. And then, most important, that immoral prosperity was bought at a fatal cost to ‘our planet’.

The message was so striking that it quickly took pride of place as an aggressive constituent of the orthodoxy thus formed. Global warming became an article of faith, a new religion allowing for no heresy or apostasy.

Sky News, which I’m singling out because it’s the only news channel I watch, if only for 10 minutes a day, is one of the temples of the new creed. Though the subject of net zero comes up every morning, neither Sky presenters nor their guests ever question the underlying assumptions.

Every premise is accepted with an unquestioning loyalty that few religions have seen since the Middle Ages. Some ministers go out on a limb and say that net zero remains the sacred goal towards which they strive. Alas, that goal is slower in coming than any right-thinking (orthodox?) person would wish.

These virtuous individuals must be reassured that, while the goal remains the same, the state of the economy is such that hurrying matters along may result in general impoverishment.

We would desperately love to eliminate hydrocarbons altogether and all at once, say politicians and commentators. And in due course we shall – bear with us. Just let us break the back of inflation (low productivity, post-Brexit and post-Covid slowdown, you name it), and then we’ll be able to kiss hydrocarbons good-bye.

The valid argument that the scientific justification for net zero is fraudulent is never heard, not even in the name of balanced journalism. Someone saying, for example, that the climate has been warmer than now for 85 per cent of the earth’s existence, even when neither hydrocarbons nor indeed people were a factor, wouldn’t be seen as a chap with a different opinion.

He’d be seen and treated as a heretic, to be immolated in the pyre of public disdain. So it’s best to keep him off the air. Both he and the orthodoxy will be safer that way.

P.S. Speaking of immolation: as I write this, France is on fire again. Two days ago a cop demanded that a 17-year-old Muslim stop the car he was driving. When the boy refused to comply, the cop shot him dead.

President Macron made a scathing statement about that ‘inexcusable act’, this before the policeman involved had been tried and found guilty. But then the French tend to be less pedantic than les anglo-saxons about the presumption of innocence.

Thousands of ghetto-dwellers all over France responded in a characteristically logical and measured manner. They started torching cars and burning houses in their own neighbourhoods, as one does.

Well, when in France do as the French do. So it was only by a great effort of self-control that I desisted from torching my neighbour’s car. What finally stopped me was the mournful realisation that I wasn’t French enough to act in such an indigenous manner.

A propos of cars, the victim was delivering pizzas in a Mercedes AMG, the high end of the range. Even assuming that the car wasn’t brand new, pizza delivery must be a remarkably more lucrative occupation in France than even in my rather upscale part of London. There the victim’s colleagues tend to ride scooters – leaving a much smaller carbon footprint.

Dead man walking

No matter how high the premiums, no insurance company would agree to sell a life policy to Yevgeny Prigozhin. The risk would be unacceptable.

Yevgeny Prigozhin

Now those Wagnerian Valkyries stopped their march within swearing distance of Moscow, Prigozhin’s life isn’t worth that proverbial brass farthing. The same goes for all his officers and men.

The whole scenario seems to vindicate Hegel’s saying, later repeated by Marx, that “history repeats itself, first as a tragedy, second as a farce”. In that spirit, Wagner’s exploits quickly turned from opera to operetta.

Start with Prigozhin’s putative reason for turning around: I have moved within 100 km of Moscow, he said, without spilling any Russian blood. If I go any farther, that precious blood will be spilled, and that’s unacceptable.

First, Wagnerians shot down eight Russian aircraft, killing at least 15 flyers, possibly more. By Russian standards that may not count as spilled blood – I believe they start counting only at five digits, possibly not even then. Still, the claim of “no Russian blood” was farcical — especially coming from a man who had had his own stragglers publicly killed with a sledgehammer.

Most military experts agree that Prigozhin could have taken Moscow had he not stopped. The capital was denuded: the battle-worthy units in its garrison had been shipped to the Ukrainian front.

What was left was the so-called National Guard and security forces, armed only to disperse peaceful demonstrations. They still greatly outnumbered Wagner’s vanguard of some 5,000 advancing on Moscow, but one Wagner cutthroat is worth 10 such truncheon-wielders.

I was especially moved watching videos of the defensive measures taken by Putin’s men as the Wagner column advanced on the main highway linking Russia’s south with Moscow. Putin’s men brought in excavators, tore up the tarmac in several places and dug trenches across the roadway.

That wouldn’t have slowed down Prigozhin’s armour for no longer than an hour or two, but I confidently predict it’ll take the Russians many years to repair the highway. When it comes to such infrastructure projects, they move even more slowly than their British counterparts, which is saying a lot.

For all that, Prigozhin’s only hope was that the Russian army would switch sides and, buoyed by enthusiastic popular support, install Prigozhin in the Kremlin. Yet no such mass desertions took place, and the popular support was rather low-key. To be fair, one didn’t see any crowds waving Putin’s portraits either.

Even assuming that Prigozhin could have ridden his white steed into the Kremlin, he wouldn’t have lasted there. “Losing Moscow doesn’t mean losing Russia,” as Field Marshal Kutuzov said in 1812. He then let Napoleon take the ancient capital, whatever was left of it after Kutuzov and Governor General Rostopchin had burned Moscow to cinders (along with some 26,000 Russian wounded no one had bothered to evacuate).

I’m not suggesting Putin would have done a Rostopchin, but Prigozhin had no military, political or administrative resources to turn his putsch into a successful revolution. That meant the mutiny, if that’s what it was, was doomed. And so now is Prigozhin, along with his whole Wagner group. (I’ll mention another possibility later.)

The conclusion to the march was farcical. Putin, who just a few hours earlier had been describing Prigozhin’s foray as treason, promised to dismiss all charges and allow the Wagner men to return to their “positions of prior deployment”. The deal was mediated by Lukashenko, who generously offered Prigozhin asylum.

First, who on earth is Lukashenko? He is the figurehead leader of a country occupied by Russian troops. Thus he has no more say in such matters than, say, Pierre Laval had in the politics of Nazi-occupied France.

And, considering that Belarus is indeed controlled by Putin’s army and FSB, how safe do you suppose Prigozhin feels there? One word from the Kremlin, and there comes a cup of polonium tea or a spray of novichok aftershave.

Those who may think that Putin will abide by his promise of safe passage misread Russia and her politics woefully. Russia has no state and hence no politics in any accepted sense of the word. The country is run by a gangster family, along the lines explored in The Godfather.

Remember the attempt to assassinate Vito Corleone? The Godfather then went on to prove the old adage that if you merely wound the king, beware. If you don’t kill him, he’ll kill you. As Vito was recovering from his wounds, his enemies, the whole Tattaglia family, were wiped out, along with Corleone’s turncoats.

A mafia boss can neither forgive nor forget. If he does, he shows weakness, loses face. And losing face will inexorably lead to losing his life – such is the law of the criminal underworld.

Sure enough, yesterday Putin finally graced the TV audience with his appearance. Talking to the officers of his enforcement forces, he said that, despite reports to the contrary, the criminal case against the mutiny leaders hadn’t been dropped. The rank and file, he added, can either sign contracts with the Russian army or – listen carefully – join Prigozhin in Belarus.

In any case, the Wagner group seems to have been disbanded. All its officers are under a mafia death sentence and, logically, so is Prigozhin, even though Putin didn’t mention him by name. If any of them or their men choose to join Prigozhin in Belarus, that only means they’ll be killed there rather than elsewhere.

Those deciding to enlist in the Russian army will also be killed, in the Ukraine. There is no doubt they’ll be used as readily dispensable cannon fodder sent on suicide missions.

Such is the scenario lying on the surface. Yet there exists another one, more macabre if less likely.

At first, when Prigozhin’s exile to Belarus was announced, everyone was led to believe he’d be there by himself, a general without an army and therefore not a general any longer. Yet yesterday, Putin gave Wagner fighters the option of joining their caporegime.

Now, assuming that Lukashenko still retains a modicum of power in his land, he must be quaking in his boots at the prospect of several thousand armed bandits inundating his country. The most immediate prospect is that they’ll do to Belorussian towns what they’ve already done to Ukrainian ones, going on a blood-soaked rampage of murder, torture, rape and looting.

Then, of course, the same men who almost took Moscow within a couple of days could probably take Minsk within a couple of hours. Prigozhin has so far failed to oust Putin, but he could easily oust Lukashenko.

The latter understands this perfectly well, which is why he would never have accepted such an arrangement unless pressured by Putin. But why would Putin want to see a Wagner contingent in Belarus? After all, he is already in de facto control of that country.

So here’s some nourishing food for conspiracist thought: Prigozhin’s mutiny occurred within days of the announcement that Russian nuclear weapons had been deployed in Belarus.

Some analysts mulled over the possibility that Putin was going to deliver a nuclear strike on, say, Poland from Belarussian territory and then disclaim any responsibility. It’s all Lukashenko’s fault, he could have said. So, Mr Nato, if you want to retaliate, hit Minsk, not Moscow.

That would have been a transparent lie, but the West would have been predisposed to accept it for fear of an all-out nuclear holocaust. Still, some forces within Nato could have refused to be so credulous. That would have created unpredictable consequences for Putin, and he might not have liked his odds.

But the West could digest the same claim more easily if the nuclear strike were delivered not by a technically sovereign Belorussian state, but by a terrorist gang seizing control of those weapons. Enter Prigozhin and his merry men.

As I mentioned earlier, this scenario is unlikely. But unlikely doesn’t mean impossible – nothing is, with gangsters operating outside any moral constraints.

Come what may, Prigozhin would be well-advised not to make far-reaching plans for the future. He won’t survive any scenario, including the unlikely sinister one I’ve outlined.

Whether he is held responsible for a mutiny against Putin or a nuclear strike against the West, “Putin’s chef” won’t be allowed to live. His goose is cooked.

Cheap thrills are dear at the price

The other day Boris Johnson wrote a glowing panegyric for the ill-fated crew of the Titan submersible. The article was long, but its title cum lead paragraph really said everything Mr Johnson had to say on the matter:

“Lefties sneer. But those brave souls on the submarine died in a cause – pushing out the frontiers of human knowledge – that’s typically British and fills me with pride.”

This isn’t journalism. It’s an election leaflet that says nothing about the Titan catastrophe, while saying a lot about the route back to politics Johnson is charting for himself.

The salient points are instantly obvious: Johnson isn’t a leftie because lefties sneer at the tragedy and Johnson doesn’t. Neither is he a reactionary – he is all in favour of pushing back those proverbial frontiers. But he is a patriot, which is why he proudly if vicariously participates in any great feat accomplished by the British. In fact, accomplishing such feats is a typical trait of the British and, by association, Johnson. Ergo, vote for Johnson the next chance you get.

Now, I’m not a leftie either, but that’s not why I don’t sneer at Titan’s deaths. Actually, I’m not sure such sneering has a political dimension to it at all. This is about basic decency, not politics.

Yet at the same time I resent the implication that anyone who finds anything wrong with the Titan expedition is tarred with the leftie brush. I know it’s hard for a politician to see the world as anything other than partisan confrontations, but it’s possible for a man to disagree with Johnson and still remain conservative.

Moreover, I’d go so far as to suggest that disagreeing with Mr Johnson on most subjects, including this one, is an essential qualification for a conservative. One characteristic of that breed is the imperative to think before speaking or writing. Yet Mr Johnson treats that requirement with cold disregard.   

First, exploration that pushes out the frontiers of human knowledge isn’t typically British. It’s typically human, and I can prove it with just a list of names: Ericson, Columbus, Cabot, Vespucci, Magellan, Diaz, Marco Polo, Vasco de Gama, Amundsen, Nansen, Peary – to say nothing of Neil Armstrong.

None of them was British, though all of them were true explorers. Hamish Harding and his friends weren’t. They were adventurous tourists in pursuit of an adrenaline rush, which to me betokens a certain paucity of inner resources.

That’s not how Johnson sees them: “Hamish Harding and his fellows were trying to take a new step for humanity, to popularise undersea travel, to democratise the ocean floor.”

Considering that a seat on Titan cost the best part of £200,000, this democracy is more Athenian than British. If we want to designate those fellows with a Greek word, plutocracy comes to mind more readily.

They weren’t archaeologists, oceanographers or marine biologists. They were holiday-makers looking for exciting action, not a way to expand the boundaries of human knowledge. As to undersea travel, there is no need to popularise it – it’s already quite popular among certain groups, namely smugglers.

They have been using submarines for ages, for example to transport contraband to places like Panama and then on to North America. There aren’t too many eagle-eyed customs officers down below, which offers endless possibilities for pushing out the frontiers of human greed.

Other than that, I don’t see any obvious advantages to travelling undersea, especially since oversea traffic is never particularly heavy. One doesn’t see too many jams in the Atlantic.

As to travelling undersea in a craft like Titan, that undertaking smacked of a suicide mission. The submersible hadn’t been properly tested and certified, and some of its parts were off-the-shelf trinkets purchasable at any DIY store.

Some real experts had issued dire warnings, saying that Titan was unsafe. That didn’t deter those extreme tourists: mortal danger injects even more adrenaline into the bloodstream, which is the whole point.

Many years ago I saw a poster saying: “Noah’s Ark was built by an amateur. The Titanic was built by a professional.” Titan was built by professionals too, but those who were as lackadaisical about fine detail as the designers of the Titanic. But to make matters worse, Titan was crewed by amateurs, and not by real explorers.

They were reckless, but this is a particular type of recklessness. It’s a trademark of blasé men who have made a lot of money and don’t quite know how to extract maximum pleasure out of their wealth.

I’ve met many such self-made men, and the impression is they are never quite finished. That’s understandable: making a fortune in today’s world involves such single-minded focus of one’s mind and energy that there is nothing left to develop faculties like spirit, culture and intellect.

However, once the purpose of one’s life has been achieved, the adrenalin reservoir gets depleted and needs to be replenished. Rather than rejoicing about having plenty of time to enjoy spiritual and cultural pursuits, the nouveau-riche acutely senses a deep void.

He needs to do something with his time, and not just any old thing. He needs his adrenalin fix that making money used to provide, but spending it in any ordinary ways doesn’t. Hence he climbs Mount Everest, flies into space or dives 2.5 miles deep in a jerry-built craft.

Like an addict he needs ever greater doses of the drug – and like a real addict he doesn’t stop to think about the dangers involved. Getting that fix is all that matters.

Not being a leftie, I don’t think people should be prevented from harming themselves, provided they don’t harm anyone else. Nor do I begrudge them their wealth – on the contrary, I congratulate them for it. And when they kill themselves, I don’t sneer – I pray for their souls.

Yet neither do I admire them, nor feel pride if they happen to be British. In fact, I’d rather they were more careful about preserving God’s generous gift to us: life. And more devoted to cultivating the faculties of mind and spirit that are the greatest parts of that gift.

The crew of Titan, RIP

P.S. Here’s something else for Boris Johnson to be proud about: British cultural influence on the world. One sees all over France posters for the movement to abolish police. The movement is called 1312, and one has to be a particularly perverse collector of slang to figure out why.

The fact is that many British criminals have tattooed on their four knuckles the letters ACAB, which stands for All Cops Are Bastards. If you assign their alphabetical numbers to those letters, you get 1312.

That’s what I call cultural colonialism, and my French friends ought to be proud of their countrymen’s multilingual adroitness. One only wishes it were applied to a worthier end.

Prigozhin as Alaric, Lenin and Denikin

Historical parallels vindicate Euclid by never converging. Sometimes they also defy Euclid by almost converging. Hence Evgeniy Prigozhin comes close to being a composite image of the three gentlemen in the title.

Alaric, the king of the Visigoths, turned his Roman weapons against Rome and sacked it in 410 AD. His private army had been in the vanguard of the Roman forces defeating the Franks.

However, though Alaric’s casualties had run into many thousands, he had received little recognition from Rome. The disgruntled general then led his men in a march on Rome, effectively putting paid to the Roman Empire.

Lenin, whose claim to being the greatest modern villain has been undeservedly usurped by Stalin and Hitler, knew that the only way for him to seize and keep power in Russia was to wage war on the Russian people.

Capitalising on the demoralising effect of several frontline defeats, Lenin stated his aim as “transforming the imperialist war into a civil one”. He was as good as his word, plunging Russia into an internecine conflict that killed millions of people and turned the country into ruins. Russia then did a Phoenix and rose out of the ruins as history’s most evil regime, brushing aside even Nazi Germany’s claim to the same title.

In response to Lenin’s challenge, tsarist generals Alexeyev, Kornilov, Denikin and Admiral Kolchak rose in revolt. Denikin’s Volunteer Army, formed in the south, advanced on Moscow in 1919. The Whites took Rostov-on-Don and Voronezh, but then their thrust ran out of steam.

Do you detect the parallels? Like Alaric’s troops, Prigozhin’s Wagner Group of mercenaries have spearheaded Putin’s offensive, specifically the attack on Bakhmut. They suffered heavy casualties, but eventually claimed their Pyrrhic victory by taking that strategically irrelevant town.

Like the Romans, Putin and his people began to fear their mercenaries more than the actual enemies. They treated them with disrespect, which is never forgiven in criminal circles, the true alma mater of both Putin and especially Prigozhin. (The latter spent nine years in Soviet prisons, and not for political crimes either. His stock in trade was fraud and armed robbery.)

Prigozhin has been railing against the Russian high command for months, accusing Defence Minister Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Gerasimov of deliberately sabotaging his troops by denying them the necessary ammunition.

As Wagner losses mounted, his language was getting more and more obscene, and Russian is ideally suited for that form of self-expression. However, Prigozhin made sure he never aimed his rants specifically at Putin, whose servant and confidant he used to be.

Finally, some three weeks ago, Prigozhin delivered himself of a tirade that sounded as if he had thrown caution into the wind: “They [meaning the Russian generals] blindly follow Grandpa, and Grandpa is a total arsehole.”

‘Grandpa’ is a term opposition journalists use to describe Putin. Clearly, Prigozhin went too far and Putin had to respond.

Respond he did, by reminding his TV audience that private armies are unconstitutional, and we all know how pedantically Putin observes the constitution, chapter and verse. Hence, he continued, all Wagner fighters should disarm and sign contracts with the regular army.

That would have deprived Prigozhin of his power base, which explains why he categorically refused to comply. That insubordination couldn’t go unpunished, and Russian artillery and air force took some pot shots at Prigozhin’s men, killing a few.

The latter saw red and did a Lenin, effectively calling for transforming the wrong war against the Ukraine (not morally wrong, you understand, just wrongly pursued) into a right civil one.

This is what he actually said, and I haven’t seen a more or less complete translation of his remarks in any of our papers:

“They’ve tried to disband the Wagner Group, making it impossible for us to defend our homes… Today, having seen our unbending resolve, they delivered missile strikes at our rear camps. A great number of fighters, our comrades, perished. We’ll have to decide how to respond to that evil act. The next move is ours.”

Yesterday, Prigozhin made it clear what the next move was to be. His private army of 25,000 cutthroats advanced on Rostov-on-Don, took it without a shot and marched north to take Voronezh. This is eerily the same route as the one taken by Denikin’s Volunteer Army in 1919, which should please no end every proponent of the plus ça change concept of history. The ultimate destination is also the same: Moscow.

Those proponents may get further joy from Prigozhin’s statement this morning, again with echoes of the erstwhile Whites. Back in 1918 they had stated their intention to rid Russia of the Bolsheviks and then honour Russia’s wartime obligations to her allies, and Prigozhin’s statement vaguely reflected the same spirit:

“The evil personified by our military leaders must be stopped.” [Note that, though Prigozhin didn’t mention Putin by name, he is the commander-in-chief of the Russian forces, the ultimate military leader.] Those who resist us will be treated as a threat and eliminated immediately… I am asking everyone to remain calm, not to respond to provocation, stay at home and ideally not to go out along our route. After we have finished what we have started, we’ll return to the front to defend our Motherland [meaning to carry on the bandit raid on the Ukraine]… We’ll sort out those who kill Russian soldiers and go back to the frontline. Justice will have been restored in the army and then all over Russia…

“There are 25,000 of us, and we’re going to get to the bottom of the unlimited corruption in the country. Those 25,000 are the tactical reserve, and the strategic reserve is the whole army and the whole country. Everyone who wants to join us is welcome – it’s time we put an end to this outrage… This isn’t a military coup, it’s a justice march.”

There is every indication that Prigozhin’s entreaty is finding a good response. None of the troops and police forces in Rostov put up any resistance, and the city houses the headquarters of the whole Russian southern army.

As I write this, the Wagner troops are within a couple of hundred miles of Moscow, whose mayor has introduced emergency restrictions, including those on the movement of people and transport. Spot searches are being conducted all over the city.

Putin made his own televised address this morning, in which he described the events as exactly what Prigozhin said they weren’t, a military coup. Putin liberally bandied about various synonyms for treason and betrayal, and those were the words his interpreters used in English.

In one instance that wasn’t quite accurate though, for Putin used the word otstupnichestvo, which means apostasy. That introduced a sacral note to the proceedings, implicitly equating Putin’s resistance to Prigozhin with the Albigensian Crusade.

But enough of the historical parallels. Let’s try to understand what it all means. Call it a coup, call it a mutiny, call it anything you want, but the development is hugely important.

Prigozhin has no political or administrative body carrying his message to the masses (like the Whites, and yes, I know I promised no more history). His 25,000 fighters are better than anything the Russian army has, better trained, better motivated, more battle-hardened. But they are too greatly outnumbered to succeed on their own.

Assuming that Prigozhin genuinely wants to do what he says, his chances don’t look good – unless the largely demoralised regular soldiers begin to desert in droves and swell Wagner’s ranks. However, I find it hard to believe that there isn’t some Kremlin conspiracy supporting Prigozhin, secretly for the time being.

The war they started isn’t going well. It’s reasonably clear that, unless Russia goes nuclear, she will lose in the end. And the consequences of going nuclear will be awful probably and unpredictable definitely.

In any case, Putin’s regime in its present state is unlikely to survive any end to the war other than a resounding victory, and that’s not on the cards. This bodes badly for Putin personally: he probably won’t survive even physically, never mind politically. But what about the gangsters who surround him?

They have to be looking out for number one, and I assure you that’s not the good of the country. Their natural instinct has to be putting all the blame on Putin and exculpating themselves. They have to be looking for an alternative leader, and there have been some reports that Nikolai Patrushev, a career KGB/FSB officer and head of the Security Council, has been approached as the potential head of the provisional government (can’t get rid of historical allusions, can I?).

If that offer was indeed made, Patrushev turned it down. It’s quite possible that Prigozin’s ambitions reach as high as that, but he would lack international credibility. His Wagnerians have murdered too many people (some with sledgehammers), raped too many women, castrated too many men, looted too many households for Prigozhin to emerge as a knight in shining armour.

His role is probably that of the battering ram punching through the Kremlin wall and making it possible for others to rush through the breach. That’s accepting his coup on face value.

However, it’s also possible that the whole escapade has been designed by Putin to rally the population whose enthusiasm for the war is flagging. Prigozhin’s advance may enable Putin to introduce a state of emergency and declare a general mobilisation, for example.

The possibilities are numerous, and none of them is especially promising. If the conflict between Prigozhin and Putin is real, then the Ukrainian army will benefit. Its own offensive may accelerate, what with the aggressors fighting one another.

But even if real, the clash isn’t between good and evil but rather between two evils. Both Putin and Prigozhin are equally hideous and criminal, both are implacable enemies of the West. So will be any government formed by Putin’s hangers-on, and I can’t see any other valid candidates.

Still, there is a chance that this squabble may put an end to the massacre of the Ukraine, which has to be seen as a good outcome. But let’s not get our hopes up: Russia will remain a threat for any foreseeable future.

This won’t be a case of a good tsar replacing a bad one. The next Russian government will be a Stalin to Putin’s Lenin. Or else, a Hitler replaced by a government led by Goering and Himmler. Or… well, now is really the time to put an end to historical analogies. You get the picture.     

A case of penile dementia

Our education is progressive, isn’t it? Of course it is, and I for one observe its progression with unflagging interest.

Warning: this isn’t fancy dress

Each new step follows the previous one inexorably: from ineffectual to ideological to immoral to wicked to sinister to evil to downright satanic. The recent reports I’ve seen suggest that the satanic phase has already been reached, leaving me wondering what the next step will be. Human sacrifice?

As part of the compulsory RSE classes (Relationships and Sex Education), children, both boys and girls, are taught to masturbate and given masturbation as homework.

This invaluable tuition is graphically illustrated with line drawings of boys and girls engaging in that activity. Meanwhile, girls as young as 12 are told to seek amorous pleasure in vaginal, anal and oral sex.

Children are also offered a way out of a lexical conundrum I always find baffling: the difference between sex and gender. Gender to me has always been a purely grammatical category, but I can’t help noticing that the word has acquired new meanings. One of them overlaps with what I previously described as sex.

So, along with 9-year-old readers of a school textbook, I have gratefully learned that “gender is the state of being male or female socially or culturally” while “sex is the state of being male or female biologically”. The two may or may not coincide.

So defined, sex can be dismissed as an utter irrelevance. It’s gender that defines a person, and the definition is endlessly fluid.

Some people, explain our educators, are born in the wrong body. If that’s how they feel, they owe it themselves, and implicitly also to the good of society, to change their gender by publicly identifying as something else. At the same time they are encouraged to change their sex as well – which apparently is going to cost the state a pretty penny in legal settlements.

Over 1,000 families are launching a massive group lawsuit against the NHS for rushing children into taking puberty-blockers. The children sought that help because they were encouraged by their teachers to take charge of their own sexuality.

The other day I was doing a podcast on this very subject, and one of my listeners commented – correctly – that it should be up to the parents to take care of their children’s sex education. I readily agreed, but added that how things should be isn’t necessarily how they are.

In this case, parents are helpless to save their children from such satanic indoctrination. One mother, Clare Page, demanded to see the contents of the lessons taught to her 15-year-old daughter in her RSE classes.

The school refused, explaining that it was none of Mrs Page’s business – she is nothing but a mother after all. The irate woman sued, but the judge predictably found for the school.

Now, you might think this is a fight in which I have no dog: not only my son but also his children are way past school age. That is true, but, quite apart from my general abhorrence of any satanic practices, our progressive education has a direct effect on what I do.  

You see, I often rely on satire to make a point, but modernity conspires to knock that weapon out of my hands. It outpaces the most fecund satirical imagination, making it superfluous and irrelevant.

In this case, I’ve been known to suggest that, if children are encouraged to identify as anything they wish, why should it be limited to gender? Why can’t they identify as members of other species? After all, specism goes against the most sacred tenet of modernity, inclusion.

However, the beauty of modernity is that it can make the most dystopic, hyperbolic fantasy come true. Hence I wasn’t especially surprised to read that teachers are now encouraging pupils to identify as cats, horses or dinosaurs.

Such anthropomorphised animals (or bestiamorphised humans) are called ‘furries’, and they must be accepted on their own terms. When some pupils refuse to do so, all hell breaks loose. One 13-year-old girl, for example, was branded as “despicable” by her teacher for rejecting the idea that her classmate was now a cat because she identified as such.

One pupil at a state secondary school in Wales answers her teacher’s questions not in English but with “meow”. And no, she isn’t just speaking Welsh, and if that’s what you think I’ll have to report you to the Equalities Commission.

Two teenage pupils in East Sussex were ordered to stay behind in class after being nasty to their classmate who identifies as a cat. One of the girls secretly recorded their teacher reprimanding them for their reactionary intransigence and also for their view that gender is strictly binary. According to the teacher such views are “very sad” and “really despicable”.

The number of furries is growing, and the Safer Schools organisation has issued guidance on how to support children identifying as animals. The organisation’s website talks about the furry “community”, sometimes described as “fursonas”. Members of that community do something Safer Schools describes as “normal”.

William Golding managed to publish his Lord of the Flies in the nick of time. Today every self-respecting publisher would reject his manuscript as being too anodyne and oh-so-yesterday. Young people no longer have to act like animals. They can act as the animals they identify as being.

In Michigan, some parents took exception to their school district that allegedly provides lavatory litter boxes for pupils who identify as furries. The superintendent of the school district denied the rumour and called it “unconscionable”. He should change his tune sharpish if he wants to keep his job. Furries have the same rights as all other pupils who are all free to identify as anything they want – and have their lavatorial rights protected by law.

It’s not only my modest satirical abilities that modernity renders useless. Even Messrs Juvenal, Rabelais and Swift, giants of the genre, would find themselves unemployed in today’s West.

The question we need to ask is “Why?” Why have our schools stopped being educational facilities, becoming instead centres for satanic ideological indoctrination? Do our ‘educators’ genuinely think they thereby benefit their pupils, preparing them to face the vagaries of grown-up lives?

I might think that had I not seen it all before, in the Soviet Union. There school curricula, certainly in the humanities but also in the natural sciences, were designed to act as smithies of the new species, Soviet Man. The aim of education, if it existed at all, was subservient to the aim of indoctrination.

Thus, when I was 10, I was taught that “the atom was the smallest and further indivisible particle of matter”. My teachers knew – and even I did – that the Soviet Union was already making thousands of godawful bombs based on the fact that the atom was very much divisible. But that was neither here nor there: ideology trumped facts.

Our teachers don’t believe that girls can be boys (or furries) any more than Soviet teachers believed that (as one of them tried to convince me) the Berlin Wall had been built to keep at bay hordes of West Germans rushing towards the communist paradise of the DDR.

Their beliefs don’t matter, reality doesn’t matter, morality doesn’t matter, sanity doesn’t matter. Only the ideology does.

And any ideology can only ever be shoved down people’s throats by coercive means. In the Soviet Union they had prisons and concentration camps for those who dared to resist. In today’s West, we rely on reprimands, sackings and ostracism – for the time being.

When such vegetarian measures stop working, more carnivorous ones will come into play. They always do, sooner or later.

I describe the current obsession with deviant sexuality and insane identifications in our schools as satanic, a term some may find too emotionally charged. It isn’t. It strikes me as an accurate description.

But fine, I’ll settle for penile dementia with a touch of bestiality. Yes, that works.

Are you U or non-U?

I wrote about Nancy Mitford the other day, which reminded me of another bestseller she wrote, Noblesse Oblige (1956).

There she developed the concept first introduced by Prof. Alan Ross: U (as in ‘Upper Class’) and Non-U. Mitford described the tell-tale signs, mostly but not exclusively linguistic, by which one could identify different social classes.

The little book became a huge success, mainly because most people didn’t realise it was merely a tongue-in-cheek attempt to épater les bourgeois. That is a rather exclusive game, typically played only by two groups: the upper classes and, mostly, creative intelligentsia. Since Mitford straddled both groups, few could do it better.

Later, in 1983, Paul Fussell wrote an American equivalent, titled Class. His effort was more detailed and, interestingly, caused even more of a stir. Understandably so, for Americans have always found class to be a painful subject best avoided at all costs.

To that end they like to claim that social classes don’t really exist in the US and, if they do, no one pays any attention to the differences. Fussell exposed that myth for what it is: wishful thinking. In fact, he wrote, Americans are more sensitive than Britons to class distinctions – and the more acute their sensitivity, the more ‘prole’ (his word) they are.

Getting back to the firm ground of His Majesty’s realm, many of the distinguishing features highlighted by Nancy Mitford no longer apply. For example, she was appalled by the egalitarian familiarity of addressing strangers by their Christian names.

When I moved to Britain from the US in 1988, I dutifully observed her injunction, only to be told by older people to ditch the Mr and Mrs nonsense. For example, I had stubbornly insisted on addressing my mother-in-law – who couldn’t be called a prole by any stretch of the imagination – as ‘Mrs Blackie’ until she ordered me to call her Bridget.

(No such problems for my American son: he met my English family when he was 18 and instantly started addressing people four times his age by their Christian names – tempora do bloody well mutantur, don’t they?)

But that the tell-tell signs have changed doesn’t mean they no longer exist. Thus, a social chasm separates an Englishman who says ‘napkin’ from one who says ‘serviette’. And a discerning observer can instantly tell a man’s class from what he calls the largest room in his house. For the record, ‘front room’, ‘lounge’, ‘living room’ are far beneath ‘sitting room’ and ‘drawing room’.

There are hundreds of other such differentiators: an Englishman referring to the main meal of the day as ‘tea’ would be shunned by those who describe it as ‘dinner’ and especially by those who say ‘supper’. U people die, non-U ones pass on; the former are mad, the latter are mental; vegetables and puddings are U, greens and desserts (and especially sweets) aren’t; U people catch their reflection in the looking-glass, not in the mirror – and so on.

When I say hundreds, that’s exactly what I mean. That’s why anyone pretending to be upper- or upper-middle class is on a losing wicket. He is bound to slip up somewhere, causing his interlocutors to smile in a barely perceptible way.

In fact, making such an attempt is a sure sign of someone Paul Fussell calls a ‘prole’. Every upper- or upper-middle person I’ve met doesn’t give an infinitesimal damn about which class he appears to be. Such people are socially secure, which of course doesn’t mean they are indistinguishable from the lower classes.

The nuances of the English language are my life-long object of study, my love and my livelihood. That’s why Nancy Mitford’s and Fussell’s knock-about fun has always delighted me. Yet some class characteristics go far beyond the difference between a napkin and a serviette.

For me, the most important differentiator was mentioned by Oscar Wilde in one of his aphorisms: “A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.” Or causes discomfort to other people, I’d be tempted to add.

In other words, a gentleman, whom Mitford would describe as a U, gauges his behaviour by the effect it has on other people. A real gentleman does so intuitively, without thinking; an aspiring one has to watch his step. But neither one is selfish at the expense of the people around him.

Now, much to my shame I don’t have a good eye for physical detail – I am to a large, though not infinite, extent oblivious to my material surroundings. But I have always been keenly interested in observing, and classifying, human behaviour.

Since I have been doing that for a depressingly long time, I can afford the luxury of taxonomic generalisation. With that proviso, I think I can dispel the myth of selfless, altruistic lower classes and the egoistic, disdainful ‘posh’ people (a little free tip: no one who says ‘posh’ is posh).

Getting on a crowded bus or going to a supermarket would give one sufficient grounds for stating exactly the opposite. You are much more likely to be jostled or pushed out of the way by a hoodie than by a tweedy gentleman. A manifestly lower class chap is more likely to obstruct a supermarket aisle with his trolley, blocking a gentleman’s path.

Old Britons say it hasn’t always been like that, and they may well be right. In fact, one detects a big difference in the conduct of lower-class Britons my age or older and their children. The former tend to be chirpy to the latter’s surly, well-mannered as opposed to rude and socially at ease rather than gauche.

The older people are just as likely to have their trouble cook their tea in the evening and serve it in front of the box in the lounge, but they’ll know to place their supermarket trolley along the aisle, not across it. Much as I love Nancy Mitford, and like Paul Fussell, that to me is more important than the odd unfortunate turn of phrase.

I could venture a guess about the reasons for that behavioural shift from one generation to the next, but that would take me beyond my subject today. Perhaps some other time.

Arise, Sir Joe

President Joe Biden narrowly missed this year’s Honours List, which is most unfortunate.

His impassioned if belated expression of the royalist sentiment would certainly have earned him at least a knighthood, possibly a peerage.

Alas, Joe’s declaration of loyalty to the Crown came a few days after the honours had been announced. Now he’ll have to wait until next year, and all Britons should hope he’ll still be around, not only in this life but also in the White House.

After all, there is a distinct possibility Joe is harbouring plans to reverse those two and a half centuries of republican nonsense in America and bring the country back into the fold. At least that’s how I understand his statement, and I’ll look askance, possibly out of the window, at any other interpretation.

Judge for yourself. The other day Joe delivered a speech on gun control to a Connecticut audience. But at the end, instead of the customary “God bless America”, that crypto-royalist shouted: “God save the Queen, man!”.

The significance of that rousing finale escaped most observers, especially those vermin who insist that Joe isn’t qualified to be president because he is suffering from an onset of senile dementia. How little do those naysayers understand!

Joe has been our man in Washington all along – under deep cover. To mask his true role, he has been known to make anti-British pronouncements and even hint at his sympathy for the IRA cause (and I don’t mean Individual Retirement Accounts).

But behind the scenes Joe has been doing all he can to prepare America for a triumphant return to the British realm. His economic policies, for example, have been designed to make Americans so desperate that they’d be happy to become British again. (They’d be in for a letdown, but that’s a separate story.)

Those senility hounds smirk at Joe’s mentioning the Queen, rather than the King who is currently the monarch. “Queen Elizabeth is dead,” they sneer with smug QED smiles.

True. But who said Joe meant Her late Majesty? It’s a distinct possibility he shares my conviction that Princess Anne is the royal best qualified to sit on the throne. It’s pure conjecture on my part, but Joe may well demand that Anne replace her brother as a precondition of America re-joining the Commonwealth, né the British Empire.

The president’s speech was replete with hidden messages that went right by most so-called experts. For example, why do you suppose Joe chose to conclude his oration against the Second Amendment with the words from the British national anthem?

Don’t know? Well, I can tell you. Joe doesn’t want to see a “well regulated militia” bristling with rifle barrels all over America. Such bands may well be driven by their misguided patriotism to resist Joe’s plans for a peaceful transition to the auspices of the Crown.

With his subtlety and unerring ear for nuance, Joe slyly pandered to such jingoistic grassroots by ending his statement of allegiance with an indigenously American usage “man”. That was an implicit promise to safeguard and foster the American national identity even within the framework of a different constitution.  

Far be it from me to suggest that Joe underestimates the complexity of the task facing him in this noble undertaking. He hinted at his stark realism a few days later, in Philadelphia.

“We’ve got a fight on our hands,” he told the union audience. “My question to you is simple: Are you with me?” “Yes!” roared the union members, who must have been briefed in advance on the kind of fight Joe had in mind.

Did I say knighthood? No, Joe deserves to become a hereditary peer of the realm, passing his title on to Hunter when he shuffles off this mortal coil (Shakespearean references are now apposite when talking about Joe Biden). And ‘Lord Biden’ sounds so much better than ‘Sir Joe’.

Alas, such an accolade is impossible within the existing – antediluvian! – honours system in Britain. The best foreign nationals can hope for is honorary knighthood, and so far only three US presidents have received it: Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and George Bush (the elder).

However, if Joe is planning to alter the US Constitution so drastically, it’s only polite that we meet him halfway. Yes, nothing short of a hereditary peerage will do, along with the post of America’s Governor General or perhaps Viceroy.

Verily I say unto you, man, it’s Joe who knows exactly how to make America great again. His slogan should be MABA – and I’ll let you guess what the ‘B’ stands for.

Warning: May contain Nancy Mitford

When one of Nancy Mitford’s bestselling novels, The Pursuit of Love (1945), was reissued by Penguin a couple of years ago, it carried a trigger warning.

The book, Penguin warned, contained “prejudices that were common in British society” and that were “wrong then” and are “wrong today”. The warning is a typically sanctimonious woke perversion, but its idiocy stands out even against that backdrop.

That’s like warning that The Hunchback of Notre-Dame may be offensive and traumatic to vertebrally challenged persons.

One would be hard-pressed to name a single novel set in pre-woke times that doesn’t portray prejudices our lumpen intelligentsia now consider vile. Practically any Dickens novel, anyone? Gulliver’s Travels? Clarissa? Vanity Fair? Huckleberry Finn?

They all represent an artistic, usually satirical, sometimes caricatured, take on society with all its good points, but also its failings of mind, morality and character. Prejudices, both good and bad, often come in for rough treatment, and the understanding of which are good and which are bad changes from one era to another.

So why not put a blanket warning on every such novel, to the effect that it “may contain literature”? Or, in this case, “may contain Nancy Mitford”?

Her The Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949) happen to be among my favourite novels, as distinct from those I consider the greatest. The greatest novels try to paint a picture of universality on a vast canvas, something that impressed me no end in my youth.

With age, I began to look for universality elsewhere, reading fiction mainly for style, wit and social observation. That’s where Nancy Mitford can hold her own against anyone, coming close to her lifelong friend Evelyn Waugh (the correspondence between them is among the best epistolary literature of the 20th century).

The two novels I mentioned are autobiographical, with most characters being thinly disguised members of Mitford’s own family, one of the most aristocratic in Britain. She was the eldest of Baron Redesdale’s six daughters, and the two novels sketch the aristocratic interbellum life she knew intimately.

If Nancy’s talent brought her fame, two of her sisters, Diana and Unity, could only manage infamy. Diana married Oswald Mosley, the leader of British fascists. As Nazi sympathisers, in effect agents, she and her husband were interned for the duration of the Second World War.

Unity was even worse. She was Hitler’s friend, confidant and, according to some historians, lover. Throughout the ‘30s Unity was involved in active pro-Nazi propaganda, supporting Hitler’s regime in word and deed (I’ll spare you the salacious details). When Britain declared war on Germany, Unity shot herself in the head, but survived and lived as a vegetable until 1948.

Nancy is usually described as a mild socialist, which by the standards of her siblings (mostly either fascist or communist) is practically apolitical. Her novels certainly are. They are just trenchantly written and brilliantly observed pictures of the life she knew.

The Pursuit of Love, about which Penguin feels duty-bound to prewarn readers, is largely satirical, and most of the satire is aimed at the character of Uncle Matthew, based on Nancy’s father.

Uncle Matthew is introduced with a description of his chimney-piece, above which “hangs an entrenching tool, with which, in 1915, Uncle Matthew had whacked to death eight Germans one by one as they crawled out of a dug-out. It is still covered with blood and hairs, an object of fascination to us as children.”

Clearly, in common with many Englishmen of his age and class, Uncle Matthew was inclined towards Euroscepticism, which he proved throughout the narrative with his offhand references to ‘the Hun’, ‘frogs’, ‘dagos’, ‘wops’ and foreigners in general. They were collectively dismissed as ‘fiends’.

When the Second World War started, Uncle Matthew’s sister (loosely based on the socialite Idina Sackville) brought her Spanish lover into the family home. Uncle Matthew was aghast. “Can’t have too many dagos here,” he fumed.

However, it turned out that the Spaniard knew how to get around food shortages by procuring groceries and cooking delicious meals. That reconciled Uncle Matthew to the offensive presence of the ‘dago’.

Even this brief description shows that Nancy didn’t extol xenophobia – any more than Mark Twain extolled racism in his portrayal of Nigger Jim. Twain seethed at bigotry, Mitford only smiled at it in her understated English way, but the satirical effect is similar.

So what’s there to warn against? Denouncement of racism? Caricature of xenophobia? Penguin editors and our lumpen intelligentsia display the ideologised obtuseness of the Soviet sensors who made cultural life impossible. Soviet writers were sentenced to imprisonment for the acts their characters committed, the words they uttered.

The approach was purely formal: the author was culpable even if his own feelings about such characters were negative. The context didn’t matter; only the text did.

Yet let’s assume for the sake of argument that the author himself shared his protagonists’ failings. For example, neither Shakespeare nor Dickens can be described as Judeophiles, and both Gogol and Dostoyevsky were virulently anti-Semitic.

Some readers may wince when reading some of their passages, but surely they can form their own judgement without being told “look, moron…”? If I winced all the way through Atlas Shrugged, should I have been warned in advance about the novel being aesthetically inept and philosophically fascistic?

People talk about an encroachment by the nanny state, but the situation is actually more sinister than that. Some nannies may be quite peremptory, but most, I’m sure, genuinely think everything they do is for their charges’ benefit.

Our lumpen intelligentsia, on the other hand, are entirely self-serving. They work against, not for, the people about whom they profess so much love – and what’s worse is that they know it because the people tell them.

The Times recently polled its readers, asking “Should books containing prejudices carry trigger warnings?” A whopping 88 per cent answered ‘no’. Practically everyone, and one would think The Times aims at precisely the audience that should jump up and salute every manifestation of sanctimonious woke rubbish.

Like the Soviet ghouls of yesteryear, today’s ideologists are schizophrenically divorced from real life. They create a picture of virtual reality in their minds and enforce it by every means at their disposal, from massive propaganda to coercion.

The relative weight of the two is different in our ‘liberal’ democracies, but that’s only a difference of means, not ends. The desired end is exactly the same: replacing the actual reality of life with the virtual reality of ideology.

That effort usually starts modestly and then escalates by incremental steps. The destination is clear: banning, ideally burning, the books falling short of the fake morality concocted by modern ideologues. But that’s a race won by a slow and steady progression.

Some books, like The Pursuit of Love, carry idiotic warnings. Others, like those by Roald Dahl, are rewritten. Still others, like Huckleberry Finn, are taken out of libraries. That’s how tyrannies start: with short but gradually lengthening steps.

Unless they are stopped, blazing bonfires await at the end of the journey, immolating books and, in due course, their authors. Such is one of the lessons history teaches. Alas, we agree to play truant.  

I admire Lord Heseltine’s honesty

Some commentators, including me, have written about a pandemic of ministerial dismissals that seem to be strangely biased.

Practically all the Tory ministers who lost their jobs in recent months, for whatever reason, were staunch Brexiteers. Among them are Suella Braverman, Priti Patel, Michael Gove, Nadhim Zahawi, Gavin Williamson, Dominic Raab – and of course Boris Johnson.

Different reasons were cited in each case, but the conspiracy theorist in me couldn’t help noticing a definite anti-Brexiteer slant. And now that the Privileges Committee has ruled that Boris Johnson “deliberately” misled Parliament about lockdown breaches, another one bites the dust.

Johnson claims he did that inadvertently, but the distinguished Committee members peeked into the wrongdoer’s brain and ascertained beyond any doubt that his transgression had been deliberate rather than merely inadvertent.

Frankly, I don’t know anyone who didn’t breach the lockdown at some point. Why, even such law-abiding people as I committed one or two such indiscretions. It’s true that not every one of us has lied to Parliament about it, but it’s the acme of hypocrisy to hold politicians to the apocryphal standards of honesty set by either George Washington or his cherry tree.

Every day politicians make promises they have no way, or intention, of keeping. That’s treated with boys-will-be-boys equanimity – par for the course, old boy, what? Accusing a politician of massaging the truth is like accusing a footballer of committing the odd foul, something impossible to avoid.

Nevertheless, the Committee spent 14 excruciating months investigating Johnson’s case as if it was serial murder. The clear, if unarticulated, intention was to get him for something, anything. Again, people like me suspected Brexit had something to do with that.

For Johnson not only voted for it, but he also campaigned for party leadership under the slogan of Let’s Get Brexit Done. And as prime minister that’s precisely what he achieved, bypassing or breaking through the sabotaging efforts by the civil service and most MPs.

Now those same people accuse him of undermining democracy – after they themselves took two years trying to subvert the biggest democratic vote in British history. Clearly, Johnson’s real crime was Brexit, not that unauthorised slice of cake he ate at a proscribed party.

I say ‘clearly’, but until the other day that had been merely conjecture – Johnson’s detractors wouldn’t come out and say it outright. So much more admirable is Lord Heseltine’s honesty.

For those of you too young to remember, or too foreign to know, in 1990 Heseltine led the coup that stuck a knife into Maggie Thatcher’s back. The conspirators desperately wanted Britain to join the EU by signing the Maastricht Treaty, but Mrs Thatcher, as she then was, declared it “a treaty too far”.

As Deputy Prime Minister, Heseltine then became the éminence grise of the cabinet, and greasy he doubtless was. It was Major’s signature that went on the Maastricht Treaty, but it was Heseltine who moved the PM’s hand.

Obviously, later he campaigned vigorously against Brexit and took the vote for it as a personal tragedy. Though he had retired from active politics, Lord Heseltine, as he had become, continued to lobby and conspire against leaving the EU, defying the will of the very demos in whose name Parliament is supposed to govern.

That made Johnson Heseltine’s enemy, definitely political and probably also personal. But unlike other Remainers who have finally succeeded in getting Johnson, Heseltine is forthright in explaining his reasons.

“I’m glad we finally got the bastard,” he told Sky News. “That’ll teach him how to side with the people against his colleagues. No one secures Britain’s sovereignty and gets away with it.”

Sorry, I’ve made it up. Or rather I’ve made up the letter of Heseltine’s remarks while accurately conveying their spirit. This is what he actually said:

“All of this, I’m sorry to distract slightly from the subject of the report – all of this is about lying in the most senior of public offices.

“And you can’t escape from the consequences of that on Brexit. Because we left the EU, one of the worst decisions, one of the most regrettable decisions, most economically damaging decisions of modern times, on the basis of lies of which Boris Johnson was the principal architect.

“It is a clarion call to begin the process of restoring our relationship with Europe. We are Europeans. We are a part of Europe. We are essential to their defence, we are dependent upon their home market. And there are no credible alternative ways in which to make a success of the British economy.”

Right, I get it. Because Johnson lied about that slice of cake in 2020, the British people voted for Brexit in 2016. Who can fault that logic? Oh well, many people, I suppose. But Heseltine’s honesty is beyond reproach: he owned up to the real reason for the Johnson witch-hunt.

As to Heseltine’s comments on Brexit, the poor chap is 90, so one can expect some symptoms of senility. On second thoughts, he was saying exactly the same things 30 years ago, and the onset of dementia usually happens later in life.

If Heseltine thinks Brexit damaged Britain economically, he hasn’t been reading the papers. In fact, the Eurozone is in recession, and the British economy isn’t. It’s not growing as briskly as we’d like, and our government of Heseltine’s philosophical kin is doing all it can to prevent real growth.

But we are still doing better than the Eurozone, which makes it hard to believe that the British economy would miraculously improve by joining it. Yet to his credit Lord Heseltine still remembers his geography. Britain is indeed a part of Europe, and we are indeed “essential to their defence”.

That’s why most Eurozone members and Britain are members of Nato, a military alliance designed to defend Europe against the likes of Putin. Does Lord Heseltine think Nato isn’t doing an especially good job? Perhaps. But it takes a singular lack of understanding to believe that a European army run by corrupt socialist bureaucrats would fare better.

He also shows the same legerdemain that’s typical of all Remainers. Heseltine uses the terms ‘Europe’ and ‘European Union’ as if they were synonymous. They aren’t.

Europe is a geographical, cultural and civilisational entity. The EU is a strictly political contrivance designed to make the rule of socialist bureaucrats absolute. It’s only to EU fanatics that being ‘a part of Europe’ is tantamount to being a part of a single European megastate.

People of Lord Heseltine’s age often suffer from single or double incontinence. I hope he has been spared that indignity, but he is clearly afflicted with logorrhoea, verbal incontinence. Then again, he never made much sense at 60 – so it’s hardly surprising he is mouthing gibberish at 90.

But let’s not be ageist about this. Even much younger Remainers are incapable of putting a cogent thought together, certainly not on that subject. The longing for ‘Europe’ is visceral, not intellectual. And make no mistake about it: if (make it when) Labour takes over, every effort will be made to drag Britain back into the EU, tail between her legs.

Every economic ill of the country will be blamed on Brexit – not on the staggering incompetence of our national governments and certainly, God forbid, on any systemic defects of liberal democracy. Our comprehensively educated public will swallow it, especially since this time one doesn’t detect many visible political figures ready to present the opposite view.

Why, even Nigel Farage is saying that “Brexit has failed”. Unlike Putin’s Russia that, according to Farage, had been a rip-roaring success until February last year.