These days I often find myself out of my depth trying to understand how Britain is governed.
The upcoming vote on press regulation is one such occasion – I simply can’t get my head around the maddening complexity of the issues involved. Mercifully I can rely on my good Russian friend Mr (formerly, and in his heart still, Comrade) I.L. Kutchaheadoff to sort me out.
I.L. happens to be in town this week, to approve the British advertising campaign for his new Russo-Anglo-Italian bank Londra Unlimited. A keen connoisseur of all Indo-European languages, Comrade Kutchaheadoff has misgivings about the proposed slogan: Londra for your money.
Yesterday he met with the advertising agency at a Mayfair casino where my friend spends most of his time whenever he’s in London. ‘Doesn’t Londra sound like laundry?’ he asked while putting £100,000 on red. ‘I’ve heard of truth in advertising, but this is ridiculous.’
‘Londra means London in Italian, that’s all,’ argued the creative director. ‘It conveys the international nature of the organisation.’ The red came up, which put I.L. in a jovial mood. ‘I don’t know, lads,’ he beamed happily. ‘Mull this over, will you? If the campaign doesn’t work, you’ll become structural elements in my new office tower, currently under construction. You know this, I know this, my partner Vlad Putin knows this.’
By association this reminded Comrade Kutchaheadoff that he still hadn’t returned to me with his ideas on press regulation. He turned to his secretary/bodyguard/mistress Svetlana Putitin and began dictating:
‘Comrades Cameron, Miliband and Clegg! Your collective heart is in the right place, but you’re overcomplicating the issue. And anyway, “Royal Charter” sounds like a tour operator – you don’t want this ambiguity.
‘My good friend and partner Vlad Putin likes to keep things simple, and he shows you the way. In our country every journalist is free. No one restricts his freedom in any way. He’s free to write – in his own words! – whatever Vlad wants him to write. And Vlad is free to choose among various means of protecting this freedom: shooting, beating, defenestration – you name it, total freedom of choice all around.
‘Everyone understands how the bone crumbles, no need to wash your Londra – I mean laundry – in public. Hell, there we go again. Don’t write this down, Svetlana, but this bloody name just won’t work for my bank, not in this country. Not yet anyway.
‘Give you an example. Last year this defence reporter at Kommersant abused his freedom by publishing a piece about us sending missiles to Comrade Assad on the sly. And what do you know, he got so upset when he realised what he’d done that he threw himself out of the window with so much force he took the window frame down with him.
‘Now we in Russia have a different culture, I appreciate that. But you’re coming round to our way of thinking, which is good. What you don’t need is all this glasnost. It’s not our cup of vodka, and it shouldn’t be yours either.
‘Just let your ministers and newspaper owners meet for a drink at a public house – did you know this means ‘brothel’ in my country? – and work out an understanding. Oh by the way, just thought of a funny one. What do you get if Conrad Black buys The Mail? The Black Mail, that’s what. But enough of this Levety. As in Leveson, geddit?
‘The understanding can be as simple as sturgeon pie. As the ministers are all legislators, they can lay down the law, isn’t that the idea? So they say to the hacks, you undertake to publish what we tell you and there won’t be any need for undertakers.
‘Now isn’t that beautifully simple? Happiness all around, no need for press regulators, royal charters and all that nonsense. But hey, I’m no stick in the mud. I understand you English can’t live without forming yet another government agency. So here’s an idea for you.
‘Comrade Cameron’s defence policy leaves no room for the SAS, so what do you do with all those unemployed chaps? You turn them into press regulators, that’s what. They have all the right training already. We did this with our ex-Spetsnaz, and it worked gangbusters.
‘This way everyone does what he’s trained to do. Legislators legislate, reporters report, observers observe, guardians guard, ex-SAS regulate. We become like you, you become like us – perfect foundations for lasting peace.
‘Oh well, got to run. There’s this Londra business to sort out. Keep up the good work, Comrades. And don’t worry about Parliament. Next time I’ll teach you how to make sure good people never cast bad votes.’