Don’t PLUs ever travel?

The acronym stands for ‘People Like Us’, which is to say reasonably cultured, well-behaved, well-dressed, well-spoken folk, the only minority that can be abused with impunity in Britain.

Any British comedian knows he can count on getting easy laughs by simply mimicking educated diction, and no one minds when hearing vicious and unfunny jokes about the toffs.

The PLUs retaliate by striking snobbish attitudes and cracking jokes about the proles, but seldom in public and never in pubs. Make fun of chaps raping their vowels there, and you’ll get punched – no exceptions (good job Penelope never goes to pubs).

Yet every time we drive down to Folkestone on the way to France, we comment on the complete absence of PLUs at the Channel Tunnel terminal. We talked about this once, and Penelope opined that PLUs don’t drive to the Continent. They fly.

However, exactly the same observation can be made at Heathrow, even in the VIP lounge. Every style of legible clothes, tattoos and objectionable accents is represented there, and hardly anything else.

The other day Penelope upped the stakes by suggesting that PLUs take private planes, but since we’ve never been able to afford such luxuries, those fortunate fat cats are certainly not ‘like us’. And in general, class distinctions mostly have to do with culture and style, not money – especially in free-market economies, where refined culture is rather a hindrance.

As Paul Fussell correctly remarked in his seminal 1983 book Class, when JFK said Nixon had no class, he wasn’t talking about money. This must-read book convincingly debunks claims to classlessness often heard in the US.

When we finally get to our European destinations, we have little reason to be proud of being British. Go to Amsterdam, for example, and you’ll see crowds of drunk, drugged up Britons shuttling between coffeeshops (called ‘opium dens’ in the past) and knocking shops. The latter display their wares in ground-floor windows, with gaggles of Britons gawking and trying to decide which STD (called VD in the past) they’d rather contract.

Many bars and restaurants in Prague and elsewhere exhibit signs saying “No British parties”. The owners clearly don’t believe the profits from selling cisterns of lager make up for the smashed furniture, puddles of vomit on the floor, and regular customers being scared away for ever.

And Parisians wince in disgust watching British visitors swill beer and eat nothing but chips in top seafood restaurants (personal observation). One can almost lipread the locals whispering “vulgaire”.

Such is the background against which I evaluate a comment from a regular reader who himself is definitely a PLU — despite being a Scotsman and an Orthodox believer to boot. “Most Americans are vulgar,” he writes. I agree, but with a minor proviso: most American tourists are vulgar, just as most British tourists are prole louts.

Having lived in the US for 15 years and worked in the advertising industry, that paragon of vulgarity, I can testify that most Americans are different in their native habitat. In fact, even the lower classes there treat one another with the kind of civility one has to climb up the social ladder to encounter in Britain.

It’s true that most Americans one meets are woefully ignorant, but let him who has ever chatted with our own comprehensively educated masses cast the first stone.

I also know several Americans who live in France, and they are indistinguishable from our French friends, more or less. I certainly wouldn’t call any of them vulgar, and all of them speak better French than I do.

However, certain traits of the American national character may indeed lead an educated European to the conclusion reached by my PLU reader. Most of these traits come from ideological egalitarianism, with the words “all men are created equal” having by now seeped into the national DNA.

For example, one doesn’t need to have a decibel meter to notice that American tourists tend to talk loudly in public places, much more so than Britons do while they are still sober. When you are in a crowded restaurant, you can often hear every word spoken by Americans sitting at the other end of the large room.

Phonetics may have something to do with that: American sounds are formed deeper in the throat and chest cavity, and hence may take more force to get out. However, I’ve known many soft-spoken Americans in various walks of life: from what passes for aristocracy there to my advertising colleagues.

It’s more likely that the Enlightenment phrase “all men are created equal” has expanded its meaning to “equally interesting”. Thus Americans have been conditioned to assume that anything they say must be of interest not only to their interlocutors but to everyone within earshot. If so, it’s polite to speak loudly enough for the innocent bystanders not to miss a single word.

There you have it: what sounds like vulgar brashness to a Briton may in fact be good manners to a chap weaned on the Declaration of Independence.

It’s not only the volume of American speech but also the style of it that may reinforce the impression of crudeness. The style is also traceable to the aforementioned document: Americans are ideologically committed to using demotic speech.

This is a useful reminder of the universal truth I often mention in various contexts: you can only ever level down, not up. Since the American masses can’t all talk with the patrician style and erudition of people like William F. Buckley, the latter feel obliged to pay verbal obeisance to the former.

This may explain why American speech tends to be more idiomatic than British. Idioms are clichéd phrases to be shared by everyone equally. They are the verbal expression and reinforcement of uniformity, that toxic post-Enlightenment gift that keeps on giving. And since Americans correctly see their country as the flagship of modernity, they like to run idiomatic buntings up the mast as a statement of identity.

Buckley, incidentally, was an interesting illustration to another part of my reader’s comment: “most of those [Americans] who aren’t vulgar are précieux ridicules, like the notorious ‘Boston Brahmins’.”

Since American culture is youthful by comparison to Europe, it tends to display certain provincial parvenu characteristics. These can be summed up in the phrase “if you got it, flaunt it”, the neatest encapsulation of bad taste I can think of. Acting in that spirit, educated Americans are more likely than their British counterparts to show off their culture, specifically the verbal part of it.

Buckley’s articles, books and talk show first taught me how to relate my conservative instincts to corresponding thought, for which I’m eternally grateful. However, he had a tendency to show off his stupendous vocabulary in a rather strained fashion, while trying at the same time to use enough demotic phraseology to preempt too many accusations of snobbery.

That too earned my gratitude because Buckley forced me to go to the dictionary, thereby expanding my own vocabulary. But I can see how British wielders of large lexicons might have felt that was laying it on a bit too thick.

Getting back to the question in the title, PLUs do travel. But these days they are so vastly outnumbered that they get lost in a sea of huddled masses yearning to be well-travelled. But that’s modernity for you, which is another proviso I’d like to add to the comments of my PLU reader.

“The cultural influence of the USA has been disastrous for the rest of the world,” he writes. I’d add just a few words to that statement: “…inasmuch as America spearheads post-Enlightenment modernity”. In other words, America is neither the disease nor the cure. It’s a symptom.

P.S. “With notable exceptions” is a disclaimer I may not always offer but always mean when generalising about various nations and their character.

P.P.S. Headline in The Mail: “Agony for boxer Francis Ngannou as his 15-month-old son Kobe dies just weeks after his heavyweight megafight with Anthony Joshua.”

I hope you’ll join me in protesting against fights between babies and heavyweight boxers. Alternatively, join me in wishing that our papers had sub-editors who’d know how to clarify antecedents in sentences.

That poison-Ivy League

“The young,” said Leon Trotsky, that great idol of campuses everywhere, “are the barometer of the nation.”

He could have added that not only do the young indicate pressure, but they can also drive it up to a bursting point. Trotsky was perfectly aware of how to channel destructive youthful energy into the right conduit.

When the first Russian revolution broke out in 1905, he himself was 26. Lenin’s nickname in the Party was ‘Old Man’, and so he was, relative to most revolutionaries. Lenin was 35.

Cross the Atlantic, fast-forward to April, 2024, and you’ll be regaled with the magnificent spectacle of youngsters in the late teens, early 20s, turning American campuses into a sort of Nuremberg rally, minus the torch-lit Riefenstahl pomp.

The Ivy League leads the way, and so it should. Such a role behoves its status in American academic life and, more important, life in general.

The eight universities that form the Ivy League are the smithies of the ruling elite. Their graduates densely populate the editorial rooms of The New York Times and CNN, the offices of the most influential law firms – and of course the Capitol Building, along with its clones in the state capitals.

Hence it’s America’s future that’s rioting on campuses at present, and the future looks bleak. For what’s going on there is more sinister than the usual display of gonadic rebelliousness.

Such emotions always bubble close to young hearts, overriding the brains still short of proper wiring. Yet it takes licence for youthful passions to burst out into a mass disorder, someone or something telling them: “Now you can.”

Reports suggest that student groups have been infiltrated by professional mayhem organisers, and I’m sure that’s the case. Mass revolts are never organised by the masses. Someone has to tell them where to go, at what time, what placards to prepare, what slogans to chant, which friends to extol, which enemies to demonise.

But no organiser, however expert, can exploit the feelings that don’t exist. There has to be something lodged in the youngsters’ hearts already to make them receptive to evil prodding.

So what drives American Ivy League students on those riotous pro-Hamas marches? Definitely not self-identification with the downtrodden: it costs some $80,000 a year to keep a youngster at Harvard, and the other elite universities aren’t far behind. Hence the students are either rich enough for their families to shell out (in which case they are sitting pretty) or academically gifted enough to qualify for scholarships (ditto).

It may be simple ignorance of the nature of the Gaza conflict, its historical, political, cultural and religious background. Many Americans who are aghast with what’s going on are posting comments saying “This proves educated doesn’t always mean smart”. But whoever told them Ivy League students are educated?

I can’t judge their knowledge of natural sciences, and it’s probably rather good – especially if we discount the politicised woke brainwashing going on in biology classes. But what they are fed in the humanities is nothing but that, the sort of thing that probably makes Comrade Trotsky flash a proud avuncular smile from his grave.

So ignorance can’t be discounted, and a strong left-wing, which is to say destructive, bias certainly shouldn’t be. People alliteratively called ‘limousine liberals’ or ‘Bollinger Bolsheviks’ intuitively take sides with enemies of the West, especially those describable as Third World.

So yes, add ignorance, leftist inclinations and youthful impetuosity together, and the picture begins to come together. But not completely.

There’s also the anti-Semitism, seemingly incongruous among youngsters whose brains are supposed to be thoroughly washed of any notions of racial or ethnic inequality. That, however, is one rinsing cycle that evidently isn’t working.

You might say that support for the ‘Palestinians’ presupposes some dislike of Israel and Zionism, and you’d be right. Yet equally right is the observation that anti-Zionism can be a righteous mask hiding the anti-Semitic scowl underneath.

When I was growing up in Moscow, the papers were full of scathing articles about Israel and the Zionists. These were illustrated with the kind of cartoons that would have made Julius Streicher wince at such a lack of subtlety. Obese, hook-nosed, vicious-looking, money-grabbing Jews with blood-dripping hands filled the pages of Pravda and Izvestia.

The grateful public was thus encouraged to indulge its latent anti-Semitism, and in Russia it doesn’t tend to stay latent for long. All it takes for it to come to the surface is that implicit licence I was talking about – “Now you can.”

But that was the Soviet Union, governed by evil men trying their utmost – and largely succeeding – to recast the whole nation in their image. Surely America, that paragon of what Tom Lehrer called “good and motherhood”, is free from such cave prejudices?

Apparently not. For those marching Ivy Leaguers don’t just scream anti-Israeli and pro-Hamas slogans, although these are nasty enough. The one that says “From the river to the sea”, for example, communicates a passion for exterminating everyone so demarcated, which is to say all Israelis.

But side by side with such anti-Israeli invective, one sees placards saying, inter alia, “Jews, go back to Poland”. Now, before the Second World War the Jewish population of Poland was about four million. Now it’s some 4,500. When you recall the reasons for this demographic slide, you’ll realise how monstrous those Ivy League chants are.

It’s quite a banal truism to say, along with Churchill, that “If you’re not a liberal by age twenty, you have no heart. But if you’re not a conservative by age forty, you have no brain.”

This adage makes some sense if one refers to espousing conservative views, but this is a far cry from being an intuitive, temperamental – which is to say real – conservative. Most ex-Leftists are really intuitive Leftists who find out the hard way that socialist policies leave them less money for their families. So, along with the so-called neoconservatives, they add support of free markets to their enduring love of the welfare state. That the two things are mutually exclusive escapes them.

But yes, some people do outgrow what Trotsky’s colleague Lenin called “the infantile disorder of leftiness”. In my experience, however, few outgrow the more deep-rooted resentments of much older provenance, such as anti-Semitism.

However, those campus rioters aren’t yet old enough to have outgrown anything. They get their implicit licence from the adults, such as Joe Biden, who indulge in moral equivalence, that subterfuge of the intellectually deficient and morally defunct.

While condemning the pro-Hamas Walpurgisnacht, they never forget to add a note of disapproval of Israel’s oppression, not to say genocide, of the ‘Palestinians’. The youngsters’ hearing is selective, and that’s the only note that reaches their ears.

The ‘Now you can’ licence has been issued and happily snapped up. Out those Ivy Leaguers go, chanting neo-Nazi slogans with the best of the Neo-Nazis and neo-communist ones with the best of the neo-communists. One can’t shake the feeling that America’s future elite just may be a rather nasty lot.

That barometer so close to Comrade Trotsky’s heart has fallen off the wall and shattered. Careful you don’t cut your feet on the shards of glass.  

They make a desert and call it peace

According to Tacitus, this is what the Caledonian chieftain Calcagus told his host before taking on the Romans in the Battle of Mons Graupius (83 AD).

Refusing to sue for a truce, that proto-Scot explained to his troops, mostly in words of one syllable, the difference between peace and surrender. Though Tacitus’s account of that rousing speech might have been apocryphal, it was nonetheless eternally instructive.

Whenever a small nation fights for its survival against a mighty invader, there are always some people shedding crocodile tears over the casualties and calling for peace at any price. The price they demand but are too coy to name is capitulation.

Some of those peace mongers are driven by genuine abhorrence of violence, but by and large they harbour a secret sympathy for the invader’s cause. Since expressing it openly would be treasonous, they camouflage their legerdemain as a touching concern for lives lost.

This is the point of my foray into ancient history. For we too have our share of such peace mongers, those who pass their attachment to Putin’s Russia as love of peace. Yesterday I mentioned one such, Richard Sakwa, whom I called “the academic answer to Peter Hitchens”.

Yet, as the French say, comparaison n’est pas raison (loosely and less mellifluously, comparison isn’t an argument). Hitchens obviously took exception to being compared to anyone and set out to prove that, in this respect at least, he is incomparable.

As a journalist, he has to be topical, and no topic is more irksome to Hitchens than the new transfer of US armaments to the Ukraine.

Yet as an aspiring intellectual, Hitchens must add an historical perspective to his pro-Putin propaganda: “And here we are, stuck in a stinking trench-warfare brawl which has already lasted half as long as the First World War.” The implication is that the Ukraine’s attempt to stem the flood of fascism into Europe will end up being as disastrous as the events of 1914-1918.

“Wise people (conservatives, as it happened) sought to end that war with a deal, too. But politicians and many in the media of the day were too proud and high-minded to do so. And so we got more killing, and Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini and the Second World War as a result. The same bloody fools are in charge again.”

God save us all, the man is suggesting that Zelensky and his Western acolytes are trying to usher in present-day Lenins, Stalins, Hitlers and Mussolinis. And there I was, thinking we were opposing the typological equivalent of those monsters (all of them, incidentally, socialists).

Then, in commendably brutal self-laceration, Hitchens insists that “shabby compromise is cheaper and safer than a fight to the finish”. I’m glad he realises that the immediate peace he calls for is shabby.

Hitchens is especially concerned about the use to which the Ukrainians may put their new weapons, especially the “powerful new American missiles which can travel almost 200 miles”. Make sure you’re sitting down: “I think we can also be sure that there will be more strikes into Russian territory… .” Crikey.

Contextually, Hitchens thinks it would be wrong for the Ukraine to deter further devastation of her own cities by retaliating in kind. I wish I could gain an insight into his logic, military or moral, that at the moment escapes me.

The only obvious conclusion is that Hitchens wants the Ukraine to surrender to what he once called “the most conservative and Christian country in Europe”. Otherwise it’s not immediately clear why he objects to the Ukraine striking into Russian territory while her own territory is being turned into wasteland.

He then unrolls a syllogism staggering in its fusion of dishonesty and inanity. Thesis: Hitchens is conservative (in the same sense in which Putin is?). Antithesis: Hitchens wants Russia to win. Synthesis: Anyone who wants the Ukraine to win is left-wing.

“The mystery is why political conservatives these days are so keen on war,” he writes. If he is truly puzzled, I’ll be happy to solve the mystery for him.

We, conservatives, aren’t keen on war in general. We are, however, hoping for the Ukraine’s victory in this particular war because her defeat (peace, in Hitchens’s parlance) would fling the sluice gates wide-open for a torrent of fascist aggression engulfing Europe.

Using a technique popular with all masters of disinformation, Hitchens establishes a correct premise, only then to pervert it to reach false conclusions:

“… Leftists have sound reasons for liking wars. War increases state power and centralisation, imposes regimentation and censorship and – in the past century – has made Europe far more socialist than it would ever otherwise have been. Leftists are also Utopian idealists, ready to kill and destroy for a glowing distant goal. Utopia can only be approached across a sea of blood, and you never arrive.”

All true. But this correct observation shouldn’t lead to the generalisation that conservatives should reject all wars because they all empower the state and lead to socialism. For example, the Second World War did have that effect, but nevertheless the desire to stop Nazism and defend Britain’s sovereignty wasn’t especially unconservative.

Then came another generalising truism: “The proper conservative (and adult) view of war is that it is a regrettable necessity, costly and destructive, and to be ended by compromise as soon as possible.”

Any war? Should Britain have sought compromise with Hitler to avoid the “costly and destructive” events of 1940? Just wondering.

I’ve mentioned it a thousand times if I’ve mentioned it once that Hitchens is clearly taking his cues from the Kremlin. How he takes them is irrelevant. It could be a response to a direct instruction or merely an osmotic understanding. One way or the other, those who have no time to study Putin’s concerns in detail can do worse than reading Hitchens’s articles.

The one today screams Putin’s fear that the new infusion of American armaments will turn the tide of the war. This means that we, real conservatives, have been right all along when campaigning for the end of America’s vacillation.

That doesn’t make us warmongering, bloodthirsty monsters. It makes us people who cherish other nations’ freedom – especially when its loss may diminish our freedom as well. So congratulations to the US for finally moving in the right direction – and shame on Putin’s quislings in the West, especially those who dare call themselves conservatives.   

Who is this British academic?

I hope you won’t take this as a putdown, but I doubt you’ll be able to guess who he is.

However, a simple list of his credentials should tell you exactly what he is. This gentleman is a former professor of Russian politics at Kent University, and the author of several books on Russia. That’s about it for his British badges.

The rest of his CV is all Russian. The good professor is a senior research fellow at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. An honorary professor of political science at Moscow University. A regular guest at the Valdai Discussion Club, a sort of Russian equivalent of Davos. A member of the advisory board at Moscow’s Institute of Law. A commentator for RT. And I’m sure I’ve left a few things out.

If we continue with our guessing game, you don’t get any prizes to figure out what sort of messages this gentleman sends out to his students, viewers and readers. I hope he feels embarrassed about being so transparent.

In brief, he believes that describing Russia as expansionist is “wrong-headed in conceptualisation and dangerous in its consequences”. Russia “isn’t Nazi Germany”. On the contrary, “Russia under Putin is not a land-grabbing state, it is a profoundly conservative power and its actions are designed to maintain the status quo… [Russia] makes no claim to revise the existing international order, but to make it more inclusive and universal.”

According to this Putinversteher, Russia’s attacks on Georgia and the Ukraine were simply attempts to counteract NATO expansionism. The Western parts of that pernicious alliance are out to create a “Wider Europe”, while the Eastern European members are indulging in “revanchist aggression” against Russia.

That makes European security a “hostage to a faraway country”, meaning the Ukraine. The spirit of Neville Chamberlain came wafting in, but, to my subject’s credit, he didn’t add “…about which we know nothing”. He is an academic, after all, which makes him omniscient.

But that’s not all he is. This gentleman is testimony to the only tangible success of Putin’s Russia: creating a worldwide fifth column of Western agents of influence, witting or unwitting. That’s to be expected in a country 85 per cent of whose ruling elite, including its national leader, are former KGB officers or at least agents.

Recruitment is their stock in trade, and they can build on a strong legacy of tradecraft left by the previous generations of their colleagues. Then, GPU, NKVD and KGB case officers were buying or seducing Western left-wing intellectuals by the gross.

Many didn’t have to be either bought or seduced: they were genuine believers in a communist Eden punctuated by death camps. But a little bit of inducement didn’t go amiss either: fees for their books and articles published in the USSR, lecture tours made so much nicer by Lucullan feasts and multilingual girls.

Above all, those de facto agents basked in the glow of lavish admiration and respect, that balm on the wounds of intellectuals feeling underappreciated at home (as most do).

But my subject ought to do a better job checking his pronouncements against those made by those ‘conservative’ dreamers in the Kremlin. “Maintain the status quo”? Russia “makes no claim to revise the existing international order”? Really.

I detect a lapse of coordination here. For just about every speech by Putin, his permanently drunk stooge Medvedev, his sweary foreign minister Lavrov and any other member of his government preaches exactly that: revising the existing world order.

This, they believe, is being dominated by the West, with the US at the helm. In the past, the Soviet Union managed to maintain a balance of power, which is no more. It’s up to Russia, assisted by China, Iran and North Korea, to restore the equilibrium lost, or ideally to create a new one.

In other words, we are looking at global subversion inspired, underwritten and perpetrated by the kind of countries that used to be called “the axis of evil”, in George W. Bush’s expression. But our hero doesn’t think in such absolutist categories.

He fancies himself a practitioner or at least a prophet of realpolitik, a term that much too often can be used as a full synonym for ‘amorality’, ‘appeasement’, ‘struggle for peace’ or, in his case, ‘service to hostile foreign powers’. All such words denote non-resistance to, and adumbration of, a potential geopolitical catastrophe.

I’m especially touched by our hero’s implicit definition of the word ‘conservative’. This, he feels, is a fair description of Putin. Since this is also a fair description of such Western politicians as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, one has to assume that our hero must believe that Putin is their philosophical sibling, perhaps even an identical twin.

Looking for points of similarity, I searched the biographies of Reagan and Thatcher hoping to find a tendency to pounce on neighbouring countries with the ferocity of a rabid dog. No dice? Fine. So what about suppression of free speech? No? Murdering dissidents? Imprisoning people for saying a critical word about the government? Running a corrupt state sustained by global money laundering?

No, neither Mr Reagan nor Mrs Thatcher (as she then was) did such things. Hence they aren’t conservatives to our hero – they clearly have nothing in common with Putin.

You might think this is just playing with terminology, but terminology does matter. I’d suggest our self-styled ‘conservative’ intelligentsia is as stigmatised by association with Putin as our erstwhile ‘liberal’ intelligentsia was by its pandering to Lenin and Stalin.

In fact, the use of such terms brings into question our whole political taxonomy. My subject is no more conservative than, say, Kim Philby was liberal. Like Philby, he is an enemy agent committed to undermining Britain from within and rendering her unable to resist evil encroachments. Whether he acts in that capacity for money or out of genuine conviction is immaterial – in fact, I’m not sure which is worse.

His name? Oh yes, sorry, I’ve almost forgotten to mention it. Here it is: Richard Sakwa, the academic answer to Peter Hitchens.


Me, supporting the Ukraine

I’ve been visiting European capitals for 35 years, and Madrid is one of the few to have changed so dramatically during this time. And the only one to have changed for the better.

Just like 35 years ago, our hotel is in Gran Vía, a major central thoroughfare. The two hotels are remarkably different: the current one features a constellation of stars and offers things like bathrobes – a nice touch even though the garments are too small for me. Our hotel 35 years ago was a third-floor walk-up that featured one lonely star and offered hardly any bath towels.

You might say we’ve moved up in the world – but not as much as the street itself. When we first saw it and for at least 20 years thereafter, Gran Vía was a grimy grey avenue of rundown blocks, dingy greasy spoons and down-and-outs flogging useless trinkets on the pavements.

It’s now an elegant avenue lined with rejuvenated buildings impeccably made up in subtle pastel shades. Suddenly one realises their belle époque architecture is quite beautiful, and where has it been hiding all these years?

It’s not just Gran Vía either. The whole city has received a thorough makeover, which, Penelope observed archly, was funded by the EU. Probably. But this is one instant of the EU spending its money wisely.

Madrid is easily the cleanest European capital I know. I wouldn’t go so far as to eat tapas off its pavements literally, but one certainly could do so figuratively. That’s an amazing achievement in a city that bustles with life into the wee hours of the morning every night. Buildings in central Madrid are outnumbered by bars and restaurants, and each one is heaving chock-a-block after dark.

Outside of the Prado, one of the world’s greatest art collections, Madrid offers little to a culturally inquisitive tourist in search of architectural landmarks. The city was only founded in the 16th century, which makes it an infant compared to Paris or Rome.

And I’ve spent less time in Madrid than in the other two or in Amsterdam, each of which is more beautiful, objectively speaking. Add all of my visits to Madrid together, and you won’t get to three weeks. Yet it took the first three hours of the very first visit for me to know Madrid was my favourite European capital. I just felt at home there, and I still do.

Madrileños aren’t as ostentatious as Parisians or as flighty as Romans. They are serious without being grave, hedonistic without being decadent, polite without being obsequious. They just live as they please and let you do the same, provided you don’t litter their streets.

Politics is never far from the streets of a city devastated by a civil war less than a century ago. I myself went political in Madrid years ago and managed to get away with my life, just.

Penelope and I had had a boozy lunch in the Salamanca area, just a few hundred yards from the Prado. When we alighted into the boulevard running past the museum, we found ourselves in a million-strong crowd waving placards and chanting slogans. Penelope, who is fluent in Spanish, made discreet inquiries and found out that a socialist government had let some ETA terrorists out of prison, which Madrileños found deplorable.

Now – and I realise this is a failing of mine – I find all political manifestations to be mildly humorous. The copious amount of the Rioja consumed at lunch turned humorous into hilarious, and I joined in, marching with the crowd and chanting, in bad Spanish, “No más concesiones a ETA! Viva España!”

Something in my demeanour made my fellow marchers doubt the sincerity of my feelings, and they began to look at me askance, not to say with growing hostility. Penelope, who had let me have most of the Rioja at lunch, managed to whisk me away before those inflamed Spaniards tore me apart limb from limb.

This time around we’ve seen only two political manifestations. One involved some 50 Cubans demonstrating outside the Cortes building yesterday because they didn’t seem to enjoy equal rights in Spain. Since that was before lunchtime, I didn’t feel sufficiently inspired to join in. And anyway, what’s Cuba to me, or me to Cuba?, to paraphrase Hamlet.

Actually, the demonstrators didn’t look especially different from the local population, which reminded me of something else that sets Madrid apart from other European capitals. The place isn’t nearly multi-culti enough to satisfy the exacting demands of progressive people, among whom I proudly don’t count myself.

The other political display was provided by several Ukrainian women who took a permanent position outside Madrid’s major department store. They waved the blue-and-yellow flag, exhibited photographs showing Russian atrocities and collected money for the Ukraine.

Now that cause is close to my heart, which is more than I can say even for ETA terrorists prematurely set free, not to mention downtrodden Cubans. I gave them some money, offered the stock battle cry “Slava Ukraine!” (Glory to the Ukraine) and received the stock reply “Heroyam slava!” (Glory to the heroes).

Judging by the pile of banknotes in the women’s jar, Madrileños sympathise with the cause. Perhaps the memories of their own carnage of 1936-1939 are still fresh, and they haven’t forgotten the role Russia played in that one.

But enough politics. Let’s get back to my favourite European city and my poor feet. They are sore from some 25 miles we’ve clocked in walking its gorgeous streets, each leavening Habsburg seriousness with Latin ebullience. That’s one medical problem I’ve suffered in good cause.

61 billion reasons to hope

That’s the size of the aid package for the Ukraine that the US Congress has finally approved after six months of dithering.

It would be easy to ascribe the dithering to bad faith, and the change of mind to subsequent pangs of conscience, but this explanation isn’t so much simple as simplistic. This isn’t to suggest that congressmen are incapable of bad faith or have no conscience, only that the mechanisms involved are more complex.

Politicians are driven above all, not to say exclusively, by political considerations. That truism applies tenfold to any election year, such as this one, when politics easily trumps geopolitics.

The two parties are busily trying to score points off each other, and if whole nations suffer collateral damage, politicians aren’t especially bothered. They have their day job to worry about.

The Republicans held up the aid bill not because they root for Putin to win this war, although I’m sure some do. But most of them simply wanted to show the Biden crowd in a bad light.

To that end they insisted for months on encumbering the aid bill with the unrelated ballast of border controls. The stratagem worked because the electorate is more concerned about the hordes of migrants crossing the Rio Grande than about the hordes of Russians fording the Dnieper.

Eventually the two parts of the bill were separated, but even then the Republican Speaker Mike Johnson (whose own position on Putin’s aggression is rather ambivalent) did his utmost to delay the vote. Again discounting the possible but unproven accusations of a pro-Putin stance, he and his idol Trump must have felt they’d win either way.

If the Ukraine ran out of ammunition and sued for peace on Biden’s watch, the Republicans would have screamed about the Democrats betraying America’s allies and promoting evil in the world. If Trump then went on to win in November, and the Ukrainians held on until, say, December, he’d get the praise befitting a peacemaker able to mediate a ceasefire.

The last US president to receive such accolades was Bill Clinton, for his part in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, supposedly delivering peace in Northern Ireland. Both that travesty and any treaty America would be willing to underwrite in the Ukraine prove yet again that the easiest way to secure peace is to capitulate. Britain capitulated to IRA terrorists then, the Ukraine would capitulate to Russian fascists now, and in both cases American presidents would emerge smelling like roses.

Biden and his people put up token resistance to such tactics, invoking the image of a schoolgirl in the back of her beau’s car. But they had their own reasons not to fight too hard.

For one thing, they are scared stiff of that dread E-word, escalation. They fear – or pretend to fear – that, if the Ukrainians start pushing the invaders back where they came from, the Russians would respond by nuking Warsaw and Vilnius or possibly even London and New York.

Even barring such cataclysms, Putin might force NATO, and therefore America, to take more of a hands-on part in the conflict. The upshot would be that Biden would face the unsavoury choice of going into the election with the reputation of either a warmonger or a heartless betrayer of everything good in God’s creation.

This explains America’s demands that the Ukrainians refrain from striking deep into Russian territory and her refusal to provide the long-range missile capable of doing just that. The Biden administration has even managed to describe as a possible factor of escalation the purely defensive systems capable of protecting Ukrainian cities from annihilation.

At the same time, the Democrats blamed the Republicans in Congress for torpedoing military assistance to the Ukraine, and not without reason. Yet the Biden administration itself refused to use the discretionary funds already cleared by Congress. Thus several billion sat idle in banks instead of being converted into several months’ worth of ordnance for Ukrainian guns.

Neither side, and this should go without saying, was unduly concerned about thousands of Ukrainian civilians being buried under the rubble with their whole families. No one has ever accused modern politicians of being too empathetic, although some people have dared to accuse American politicians of only ever being driven by parochial interests.

So much for the dithering. But why this sudden change of heart?

I’d suggest that the Russians themselves forced America’s hand. Just look at the situation from their perspective and imagine yourself in Putin’s shoes.

The Russians have finally begun to make noticeable advances on the front. These proceed inch by inch rather than mile by mile, but the balance is shifting. The Ukrainians, outgunned 10 artillery rounds to one, are finding it increasingly hard to keep the Russians at bay.

Zelensky’s principal hope is that the US will replenish his dwindling arsenal, with his heroic troops doing the rest. Conversely, Putin’s principal hope is to prevent such a development.

Hence one would expect him to reassure the Americans, through official and other channels, that America has everything to gain and nothing to lose by withholding armaments from the Ukraine. If I were his diplomatic adviser, I’d suggest this is what he should be communicating to Biden:

“Joe, we love and respect America. We understand that political necessity made you help the Ukraine out at first. We’d do the same in your place. By the same token, you must understand why our propaganda has been hostile to America. But we don’t really mean it. You have my personal assurance that, if you block any further aid, Russia will remain your grateful friend forever, and we’ll show our gratitude. Just name your, well, America’s, price.”

(I’d also advise Putin not to use Foreign Minister Lavrov as a messenger. Old Sergei doesn’t mind using the foulest obscenities in public. The other day, when he was asked an awkward question at a press conference, Lavrov laughingly impugned the sexual morality of the reporter’s mother. Since in the past he has shown his ability to do the same thing in English, Putin really ought to find a diplomat who’s more, well, diplomatic.)   

That would be the way for Putin to exploit America’s indecisiveness to his full advantage. So what has he done instead? Exactly the opposite.

When a month ago Moscow’s Crocus theatre was shot up and burned by terrorists, Putin’s propaganda instantly held the US responsible. That’s par for the course, and the media din could have been dismissed as simply ruckus for internal consumption.

But then Putin instructed the Russian courts to charge several top US congressmen with sponsoring and financing that terrorist act. Now, unlike Russians, Americans take legal charges, even those in absentia, seriously. Since anyone in his right mind realises how risible those charges are, US legislators were put in a position where they had to respond to what was a blatantly hostile act.

And respond they did, by swiftly pushing the $61 billion aid package through and also confiscating Russian assets held in America and transferring them to the Ukraine. Now Biden has run out of excuses not to send armaments to that beleaguered country, although he may still try to sabotage the aid.

For example, Biden may use his executive powers to declare that sending over some weapons, such as long-range missiles, would run contrary to America’s national interests. But then the Democrats will no longer be able to blame the Republicans for being Putin’s stooges, and Biden will be made to suffer in November.

So hope lives on now, where just a few days ago it was beginning to look moribund. Using their new kit, Ukrainian troops may be able to check the Russian advance and then start pushing back.

Alas, I have to talk about hope, not certainty. God only knows how much time will elapse between congressional approval and the arrival of actual physical crates in the Ukraine. One can only hope it won’t be too long.   

Britain is sick

Losing wicket, Rishi

Back in the 1970s, before Margaret Thatcher introduced a modicum of economic sanity, Britain was known as ‘the sick man of Europe’.

That was meant figuratively, as a figure of speech describing the catastrophic state of the British economy. Half a century on, the figurative has become literal.

Britain now has some three million people on permanent sickness benefits, which suggests we have more invalids than in the aftermath of either world war. Thousands more sign on every week, with overworked GPs either too weary or too scared to deny them the sick notes.

This is the situation that Rishi Sunak promises to change by stripping GPs of their power to sign people off work – if the Tories win the next election. Acting in the same spirit, I hereby undertake to eliminate bad weather if I become God.

That’s not an onerous commitment because there’s no chance I’ll become God. But then there’s no chance the Tories will win the next election either. And even less of a chance that the incoming Labour government will improve the situation. In fact, it’s guaranteed to make matters even worse.

It’s not just sick notes either. Some 10 per cent of our GDP is spent on welfare payments (excluding pensions), and that proportion is climbing steeply like a jump jet. Essentially, half the population are working to support the other half, an arrangement that spells economic, social and, above all, moral disaster.

There’s nothing new about this observation. If you’ll forgive a long quote, R.G. Collingwood (d. 1943) said it all when analysing the reasons for the collapse of the Roman Empire:

“The critical moment was reached when Rome created an urban proletariat whose only function was to eat free bread and watch free shows. This meant the segregation of an entire class which had no work to do whatever; no positive function in society, whether economic or military or administrative or intellectual or religious; only the business of being supported and being amused. When that had been done, it was only a question of time until Plato’s nightmare of a consumers’ society came true; the drones set up their own king and the story of the hive came to an end.”

Go back another century and Tocqueville presaged Collingwood by writing that “public assistance and ‘pauperdom’ exist in a symbiotic relationship”. And in the distant past both Plato and Aristotle made statements to the same effect, proving that Britain’s problem, while dire, is neither new nor unique.

A Briton would have to earn a gross salary of over £50,000 a year to match the full range of benefits on offer, and most benefit scrounges lack the qualifications to command such pay. So why would they want to work? Would you go to work every morning if you could make more money ‘chilling out’ at home? (The expression comes straight from young people explaining why they aren’t seeking jobs.)

Stating the blindingly obvious, this problem could be solved in five minutes. Technically, that is. Politically, it’s impossible to solve at all – not in Britain, nor in the US, nor in any country constituted along Enlightenment principles.

Call me a determinist, but it’s only individuals and not societies that are endowed with free will. Once a country steps on a certain constitutional path signposted by an ideology, it can only move in one direction, all the way to the precipice.

Any sociologist worth his salt will tell you how to solve the problem in question. Their research shows that people work much harder to get the basic necessities of life than they do to improve their lot further, once food and shelter have been taken care of.

There’s your solution: social programmes offering basic necessities for free must be abolished, or rather limited to the people who are too ill or too old to work. Able-bodied Britons in full command of their faculties must work for their sustenance – or starve in the street.

They won’t: given that choice, they’ll happily snap up all the lowly jobs now done by migrants from Europe or elsewhere. Such jobs exist and in huge numbers. It’s just that they pay less than our generous, compassionate Exchequer.

So much for the technical solution. Now a few words about the political impossibility.

Over the past three centuries, the Enlightenment has inexorably produced a certain mindset that can’t be changed without mercilessly cauterising the collective social brain. This mindset is at its most evident in societies calling themselves socialist or communist, but that’s just a matter of degree.

A thoroughly democratic country governed by people who have to seek majority approval every few years will inevitably empower the majority to demand handouts, especially in the absence of religious faith. The most obvious way to curry favour with the public is to bribe it by flinging the public wallet wide-open.

That’s why the welfare state is bound to appear, grow to maturity – and then turn into an ogre devouring public finances and, much worse, public morality. Everything else is just rhetoric, and we’ve bred a species of politicians who can juggle words like ‘compassion’, ‘socioeconomically disadvantaged’ and ‘social justice’ with the dexterity of a circus performer.

To paraphrase Jean-Claude Juncker, our politicians know exactly how to solve the problem of an economy sinking under the weight of the freeloading masses. They just don’t know how to get re-elected once they’ve solved it, in the only way it’s ever possible to do so.

This sort of corruption is a two-way street. Politicians corrupt the public by bribing it with blithe abandon, and the public corrupts the politicians by demanding more. Neither group is made up exclusively or even mostly of inherently corrupt individuals. They just sense the inner logic of their society and act accordingly.

As far back as in 1958, when the welfare state was still in nappies, the quintessential Tory Peregrine Worsthorne wanted his party to “pledge loyalty” to its “basic features”. He was preaching to the choir: the party calling itself Conservative already knew it would never gain power by bucking the DNA of modernity. And power is the be all and end all of modern politics – bono publico be damned.

Rishi Sunak is on a losing wicket, even though he doubtless understands the nature of the problem. Yet he also realises that a Conservative Party justifying its name would be heading for political oblivion.

Real conservatism is only possible at various gatherings where likeminded individuals exchange stories of woe, variously clever speeches and badly printed leaflets. Outside the walls of those hotel conference rooms, the welfare state will continue to grow until the economy bursts like an over-pumped helium balloon.

Rishi-washy will be fine come what may. But that’s more than one could say for the rest of us.   

Joey Barton and a broken clock

Former defensive midfielder and still an offensive man, Joey Barton must feel at home in the presence of police officers.

By anyone’s criteria, the ball kicker has had a rather eventful life, with many criminal incidents he could chalk up in his list. In fact, when he was younger, Joey’s photo should have been in the encyclopaedia, illustrating the entry for ‘thug, n’.

In 2006, at the dawn of his career, Barton was investigated for exposing his buttocks to Everton supporters after a game. It went downhill from there. If Joey never quite matched the exploits of his brother, who did 17 years for murder, it wasn’t for any lack of trying.

In 2007 he was arrested for assaulting a taxi driver. That same year he beat up a teammate, who ended up in hospital with head injuries and a detached retina. Barton only got a suspended sentence and a fine for that, which proves that our courts are way too lenient.

Later that year, Joey beat a man within an inch of his life in Liverpool. That time he was sentenced to six months in prison and served 76 days.

In 2008 Barton jabbed a lit cigar into a teammate’s eye and was sued for his trouble. The case was settled out of court, with Joey ending up £65,000 poorer.

In 2012, Joey was arrested for a fight outside a nightclub. In 2019 he was investigated for assault. In 2021, he was actually charged with assault for kicking Mrs Barton, his childhood sweetheart, in the head. She later refused to testify against her hubby-wubby, and the charges were dismissed.

Nor does Barton neglect non-criminal offences. Radio presenter Jeremy Vine is currently suing Joey for describing him as “a big bike nonce”. Jeremy is indeed known for preferring a bicycle to other forms of transportation, but not for being a child sex molester, which is what ‘nonce’ means in colloquial British usage. A libel case is pending.

However, even such an uninhibited life ill-prepared Joey Barton for his current ordeal. Receiving four visits from Cheshire police in three days must have taken even Joey out of his comfort zone. What takes me out of mine is the reason for these encounters.

This time around Joey, now a cracker-barrel philosopher with 2.8 million X followers, didn’t follow his customary tendency of putting people into hospital. His crime was much worse: he said a few disrespectful things about female football players and commentators.

The latter, he said, shouldn’t be “speaking with authority about the men’s game”. Those who do, he added, kill football fans at the rate made notorious by serial killers Fred and Rosemary West.

Barton later clarified his meaning. He didn’t mean that pundit Eni Aluko and broadcaster Lucy Ward murder people physically. They merely kill fans’ love of the game with their inane, unenlightening remarks. And oh, by the way, he, Joey, would score 100 out of 100 penalties against England goalkeeper Mary Earps.

That’s where a broken clock comes in. As we know, even such a timepiece tells the right time twice a day. And even an illiterate thug like Joey Barton can sometimes be right.

As he is in his disdainful assessment of women’s football and the punditry offered by its veterans. Joey was a good player who plied his trade in some of the best premiership teams. He can thus offer insights into the game that he knows are beyond women players, who don’t merely play the game to a different standard – they play a different game.

I played football for my university and I’m still man enough to admit that professional male players like Joey Barton have forgotten more about the game than I ever knew. That’s why I’m always interested to find out what former pros think. I find their commentary enlightening, especially if they’ve taken the trouble to learn their new trade properly.

Former women players, on the other hand, tell me nothing I don’t know already. But that’s not the point. It’s not that women now commentate on men’s games, or how. It’s why.

Their new employment opportunities come from the same emetic wokery that’s observable in other sports as well – indeed in every walk of life. For example, former women boxers now even do commentary at professional men’s fights, and as to tennis – don’t get me started on that.

When Serena Williams, probably the best female player of all time, was asked a few years ago whether she could beat Andy Murray, she laughed. “I’m not going to play Andy. He’d beat me love and love in 15 minutes. It’s a totally different game.” Yes, it is. It’s only the prize money that’s the same.

Presence in commentary booths is nowadays also shared equally, much to the chagrin of the viewers. Most men watching tennis play the game themselves, some to a high standard. They’d rather listen to, say, Tim Henman talking about a kick serve than to Jo, who even in her heyday couldn’t even kick a cat.

Following the success of their racquet-wielding sisters, some feminists are now demanding that women footballers also be paid the millions earned by their male colleagues. So far they haven’t got anywhere because footballers are paid by their clubs, not by tournament organisers.

And club owners can’t be bullied as easily. They aren’t going to pay man-sized salaries to women who play to empty stadiums and a fraction of the men’s TV audiences. Not yet at any rate.

Such minor considerations don’t deter the media though. They’ve been pushing women’s football down our throats for several years now, and they don’t mind the gagging reflux.

Even five years ago, women’s football barely rated a column inch in the bottom right corner of the last sports page. Now they command pages and spreads. And women don’t just present football shows, but also do expert commentary, which makes my finger reach for the ‘mute’ button.

Since I don’t have 2.8 million followers, I’m unlikely to receive police visits for saying all this. Joey Barton, on the other hand, is something else again. Considering his previous, he may go down for a long stretch because he got something right for once in his life.

No one spits into the wind of ideology without ending up with spittle on his face. Ideology is a hurricane that’s gathering momentum as it blows inland. Watch your step, Joey.

“Sir, you look too Jewish”

Acting Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Stephen House, has launched the national Police Race Action Plan with these rousing words: “The Met is committed to becoming an actively anti-racist organisation that can be trusted by everyone in London.”

Except, evidently, by the Jews.

One Jewish Briton found that out the hard way when he tried to cross the street in Aldwych, an area a few hundred yards from the Mother of All Parliaments. What unfolded then made a mockery of that proximity.

You see, a pro-Palestinian march was under way, and the marchers’ brittle sensibilities could be offended by the sight of a Jew. That’s what a police officer guarding the crowd’s right to parade its grievances explained to the man provocatively wearing a kippah:

“I don’t want anybody antagonising anybody,” said the cop, “… and at the moment, sir, you are quite openly Jewish. This is a pro-Palestinian march. I am not accusing you of anything but I am worried about the reaction to your presence.”

Being openly Jewish is thus antagonising (though mercifully still short of incurring criminal charges), whereas being openly pro-terrorist isn’t. I get it, but the pest in question didn’t, not straight away at any rate. Some people just don’t understand it when you try to be nice to them.

That’s why another officer had to explain the lie of the land in no uncertain terms: “You will be escorted out of this area so you can go about your business, go where you want freely. Or if you choose to remain here, because you are causing a breach of peace, with all these other people, you will be arrested.”

Lest he may be accused of blatant anti-Semitism, the policeman explained he was only threatening arrest to protect the interloper’s safety: “Your presence here is antagonising a large group of people that we can’t deal with all of them if they attack you… because your presence is antagonising them.”

‘Antagonising’ seems to be the current buzzword of the Met. The word seems to be peculiarly defined. The police are displaying epic forbearance at the sight of a mob chanting frenzied anti-Semitic invective and waving placards of the swastika superimposed on the Star of David. It’s only the presence of an “openly Jewish” man that’s antagonising.

Since we have the rule of law in Britain, we can’t rely on arbitrary judgement to decide who is transgressing against the new directive and who isn’t. Hence it’s necessary to formalise the antagonising features.

All Met officers should then be issued instructions defining openly Jewish appearance in detail. After all, not every Jew makes life easy for the police by wearing religious garments.

That done, every bobby on the beat should be equipped with a portable phrenology kit, making it easy to perform cranial and nasal measurements on the spot. One can just hear a Met officer saying to a pedestrian: “Awfully sorry, suh, but your nose is half an inch too long for this street, like.”

As to the concern for the man’s safety, let me make sure I understand. Sir Robert Peel, then Home Secretary, created the Metropolitan Police in 1829 for the express purpose of protecting public order and the safety of law-abiding individuals.

He bequeathed to his heirs not only the monikers based on his name (‘bobbies’ or ‘peelers’) but also a clear definition of their duties. Now they openly proclaim either their reluctance or their impotence to do the job. So what are the police for? They seem to be qualified or empowered only to enforce woke diktats, not the law.

In general, vigilantly as the police guard against every manifestation of anti-Muslim or anti-black bias (real or putative), they don’t seem to mind public displays of blatant anti-Semitism. Of course, it would be defying statistics to believe that the police force has a lower percentage of anti-Semites than the national average.

I don’t know what the national average is, but on this evidence it seems rather high. There’s no doubt that not only policemen but also indignant pedestrians would disperse any procession demanding that every black in, say, sub-Saharan Africa be killed.

Yet no one seems to mind when a crowd of fanatics marches through London streets screaming death to all Israelis (that’s what ‘from the river to the sea’ actually means). And the zealots don’t distinguish between Jews living in Israel or in Golders Green.

Policemen, being a captive audience, are easier to indoctrinate than the rest of the population. The public at large, at least some of its more recalcitrant members, can still resist constant brainwashing about ‘Palestinians’ being exterminated by genocidal Jews.

Cops, on the other hand, must follow the guidelines issued by their superiors. So even officers who are personally neither anti-Semitic nor pro-terrorist must enforce the rights of racist militants while denying the rights of people peacefully walking the streets.

The line between personal inclinations and official guidelines isn’t always easy to draw. Just look at the actions of another officer and tell me what his motivation was.

A woman took exception to the posters featuring swastikas at another such march last month. She complained to a policeman on duty, who in response gave her a lesson in both dialectics and history. That little logo isn’t necessarily a sign of anti-Semitism, he explained. The swastikas “need to be taken into context”.

Which context would that be? A sun-worshipping Hindu rite, where the swastika symbolised both the star and purity? If that’s what the cop meant, one has to applaud his erudition, which isn’t widely regarded as the core strength of our police force.

However, one suspects that’s not what he had in mind. He was simply fobbing the woman off by telling her to grin and bear it.

The cop knew perfectly well that, in the ‘context’ of today’s London streets, the swastika symbolises not the sun and not even purity, but the wholesale massacre of Jews. It’s just that he couldn’t see why a Jewish woman should be offended by the sight of the symbol under which half the world’s Jews were murdered just one lifetime ago.

His colleagues, on the other hand, had no doubt that the sight of a Jew was so unbearably painful to a frenzied mob that its feelings had to be protected.

How long before our mayor Sadiq Khan declares London a Jew-free zone (Judenfrei)? And authorises rallies like those so expertly filmed by Leni Riefenstahl? Nothing would surprise me. I’m rapidly losing the ability to be surprised.

Aptronym, if I’ve ever seen one

An aptronym is a person’s name that’s eerily appropriate to his occupation.

Star witness for the prosecution

Thus, I’ve known at least three financial people named Banks. Thomas Crapper invented… well, you know what he invented. Usain Bolt is a jolly fast sprinter. Swiss psychiatrist Jules Angst published books on anxiety. Rosalind Brewer used to be a director of the Molson Coors Brewing Company.

These are all amusing enough, but nowhere near as much as the name of one of the star witnesses for the prosecution at the trial of Donald Trump in Manhattan. That gentleman is the publisher of The National Inquirer, a tabloid known for its salacious stories fittingly illustrated.

His name? David Pecker – and do wipe that smirk off your face. That really is his name, I’m not kidding.

Apparently, Mr Pecker’s publication effectively served as the PR mouthpiece for the previous Trump campaign, constantly running stories detrimental to Trump’s opponents and spiking those detrimental to Trump. Allegedly falling into the latter category was the Stormy Daniels story and another similar one, involving a former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Let me tell you, old Donald was a busy boy, but by all accounts the American public doesn’t hold his virile exuberance against him. In fact, his core support holds nothing against him, certainly not the rapidly multiplying criminal charges.

So far Donald hasn’t been charged with the assassination of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy, but if that were to happen I wouldn’t be at all surprised. The difficulties encountered on the first day of the trial don’t surprise me either, as you can see for yourself by glancing at my yesterday’s piece.

There I used the example of this case to argue against the continuing validity of the jury system. I shan’t repeat myself, but the basic point was that the pool of humanity from which juries could be drawn has been poisoned by modernity. Thanks to instant access to information, prospective jurors learn every detail of any publicised trial long before being summoned. And their minds are firmly made up before Exhibit A is presented.

What’s true of any publicised trial is a hundred times truer of a politicised one. And the first ever criminal trial of a former president is as politicised as they come.

Reading today’s reports, I couldn’t help gloating in that ‘I told you so’ way that’s not my common currency. The jury selection has run into expected problems: 50 out of the first 96 candidates owned up to having a strong bias about the case. That means there were 50 honest people and 46 liars – none of them can possibly be impartial.

And if all Manhattanites have a bias, one can almost certainly guarantee it’s against Trump. After all, 86.4 per cent of the island’s population voted for Biden in the 2020 election, with only 1.4 per cent opting for Trump.

The very choice of Manhattan as the venue strikes me as prejudicial – that’s like trying the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in Beverly Hills or on the campus of an Ivy League university.

Even more of a travesty is the choice of the judge. Juan Merchan didn’t just support Biden but actually contributed to his campaign. Surely he should have recused himself, if only not to guarantee the success of a subsequent appeal if Trump is found guilty.

So far His Honour has made one ruling I find baffling. The prosecution wanted to admit as evidence the notorious tape of Trump explaining how grabbing a woman’s kitten can make her docile. That the judge declined to do, probably because it’s unclear what locker-room banter has to do with the case. If the aim is to show that Trump isn’t a choir boy, it’s superfluous: I don’t think many people are in doubt on that score.

But then His Honour undid his good work by allowing the prosecution to refer to the tape throughout the trial. That strikes a rank amateur like me as tantamount to admitting the tape: the jury will be getting constant reminders that Donald is a bit on the rough side.

 “Ms Daniels was living proof that the defendant wasn’t all talk,” said the prosecutor, trying to make the kitten tape even remotely relevant. But it isn’t. The subtle logic may escape me, but off the top I can’t see what Trump’s propensity for talking dirty has to do with the charge of cooking the books to conceal a hush-up payment.

Mr Trump and his admirers, among whom I proudly don’t count myself, claim that the trial is politically motivated. One has to agree: even if the accusation is true, the whole thing is too petty to warrant the cost of a trial.

However, no one can guarantee that the truth, whatever it is, will come out in a trial where the judge is a Biden activist (and therefore Trump hater – the two camps are bursting with mutual animosity), while the jury is guaranteed to be biased to begin with and made much more so by the media coverage generally hostile to the defendant.

I can’t think offhand of any real reason for taking this matter to court other than the desire to torpedo Trump’s campaign. If so – and every evidence suggests it is so – the trial represents a travesty of justice.

That is a far worse crime than any Donald Trump may or may not have committed. A country can survive a corrupt president or prime minister, but it can’t survive the rule of corrupt law. Justice is the cornerstone of a civilised commonwealth. Knock it out and the whole edifice will collapse.