THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

Of juries #2

If, gentle reader, you had hopes of more posts this week I must disappoint you. With great haste, to spare the taxpayer the cost of today’s lunch and half the minimal loss of earnings allowance for today, the clerks just discharged everyone not currently serving on a jury. Those of us in our second week were discharged without thanks. Those, like me, in our first week are required back at court next Monday to have our lives devalued further at the hands of our surly masters. 

So, maybe next week …


Of juries and justice

This week and next I am on jury service.

The jury is the last of Britain’s institutions in which I have any faith. I learned about “criminal equity” (known in the US as "jury nullification") during the legal history part of my long-ago law degree. For example, the hated “game laws” providing for capital punishment of poachers were reformed against the wishes of the landowning gentry in Parliament because juries refused to send men to their deaths for those crimes. They acquitted the guilty to subvert the system. In the end, to secure convictions, Parliament had to scale down the punishments.

As a libertarian I believe that most of our current laws should not exist. Perhaps there will be some scope for criminal equity if I am asked to convict someone under one of those superfluous laws? I should be so lucky.

So far, as I was not selected for any of the trials, I have had a day of my life wasted in a scruffy, noisy and uncomfortable "Jury Assembly Room." Looking around me, it's clear I am – as is of course to be expected – going to meet people outside my usual circle. I look forward to that with interest. As names were called out for each jury, there were precious few Smiths and Joneses. I'd estimate about one traditional British name per jury. Interestingly, there were almost as many names from Eastern Europe as from the Sub-Continent. I may get the chance to practise my Polish.

The officials marshalling us citizens like cattle seemed efficient enough though their training did not involve public speaking. They had difficulty projecting their voices (if indeed they were trying) and they were not supported by any sound system. Given the noise from the in-room cafe (selling meals at precisely £5.71 – the maximum allowed expense), the general hubbub of a crowded room and the fact that the court is under the Heathrow flight path, that made it difficult to hear them at times.

They had the usual condescending tone of people whose wages are funded by state force. I enjoyed it when the lady welcoming us had a script to read thanking us for our contribution. She just couldn't sound convincingly grateful. Let's just say I fancy my chances if I ever get to play her at poker.

I also noticed the usual over-familiar use of first names. The private sector is just as guilty of that these days, but it's particularly annoying from state functionaries from whom I cannot walk away. In fairness, I despise the British state so much that its employees would need to be epically polite to please me, even if they wanted to. In truth, if they knew how much they get on my nerves, I suspect it would make their day. So I must just grin and bear it.

My only direct interaction was to enquire politely about reimbursement of taxi costs. The lady said "no" before I finished my sentence and without enquiry about my reasons for asking. I am not short of money for the fares and will put my own comfort and convenience first regardless. I just wish now I'd never asked. It wasn't worth the irritation for the sake of a few quid. I guess the optimist in me still hopes for one pleasant interaction before I die with the state funded by most of my life's work.

It's a criminal offence to write about details of the trial or jury deliberations. I wouldn't do it anyway as that's a good law. We could not reasonably ask jurors to participate in criminal trials if they were at risk of their identities or opinions being exposed to people they might convict. However, I will let you know my general impressions of the process.

Let's hope I retain my faith when my service ends.


Nurse Ratchet

Yes, I know the movie character was Ratched. Bear with me. According to Wikipedia, she is also;

a popular metaphor for the corrupting influence of institutional power and authority in bureaucracies

She's a symbol of what I want to write about today and her name echoes the essential problem. 

Sir Keith Joseph was a key influence on what became known as Thatcherism. He coined the phrase ratchet effect to describe the way in which each new Socialist government moved policy leftwards, whereas a Conservative government never moved it back. If the UK State was a car, then the Labour Party was the accelerator (gas pedal), the Conservative Party was the brake and there was no steering wheel.

The direction of political travel was never in doubt and only the speed could be adjusted by the electorate. Sir Keith's point, well-taken by Margaret and constantly railed at by Tory wets was that the ratchet had to be broken if the Conservatives were actually to move towards their goals. For all that Leftists call themselves "progressives" (perverting the language as they love to do in order to thwart honest discussion) real human progress should be in quite another direction.

Taken to its logical conclusion, the end result of the ratchet effect must be that everything either belongs to the state or is under state control. Democratic Socialists and Communists have always had the same ultimate goal. The former are just more patient. They will cheerfully discuss each step of the journey with the electorate, as long as the planned route never changes. All it takes to see the destination is to zoom out a little and observe the completely consistent direction they and all their predecessors have taken. 

Margaret's achievement in breaking the ratchet was significant. For a while, though she had no such intention, the Left even feared that it had been reset so that the wheel would turn the other way. Tony Blair certainly felt the need to reassure voters that Thatcher's reforms would not be endangered by electing the Labour Party under his leadership. He even claimed to be her ideological heir; a bold lie even by political standards. 

It has been clear for some time however that Sir Keith's ratchet has been refurbished, well-oiled and set back as it was before Thatcher. This is why, as I made clear in my last post, I had no interest in the Conservative Party's choice of new leader. It turns out I was wrong that it didn't matter at all, however. The choice of the political naïf Truss has at least shone a searchlight on the situation. She tried to be a sort of Thatcher mini-me and failed dramatically. At the first hint of any movement rightwards, all hell broke loose. Even though another self-absorbed leadership contest will surely scupper the Tories for the foreseeable future, her position is already in doubt. 

I am not sure if it needs a conspiracy theory to explain why a nation that keeps voting Conservative keeps moving leftwards. I don't believe there are dark cabals planning it. I don't think they're even needed. Someone like me, who believes – along with my namesake – that 

Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.

is simply never going to apply for employment by a state as huge and pervasive as the UK's.

I have horrified state employees in conversation by saying, in perfect truth, that my conscience would not allow me to sleep at night if I had their job. Not because what they do each day is necessarily always bad, but because every penny they are paid to do it has been taken from others by force. My proudest boast is that every penny I ever earned came from contracts freely entered into by clients with choices. If I had ever worked for the state, that would not be true. 

So it's not surprising that, when the state apparatus has grown to be – as it is in the UK – a gorilla in a flea circus, that the people working for it are broadly in favour of a state on such a scale. No conservative or classical liberal could possibly wish for that, but it's the highest aspiration of a Leftist. So the Prime Minister may be "Conservative", her cabinet may have some "Conservatives", and the electorate may be mostly conservative by instinct, but the state apparatus rolls leftwards regardless. It's going to take leadership by someone with more of a personality than Truss to take on that mighty foe and win.


Why I have nothing to say about the new PM

If you're in a minority in cabinet (and, if you're thinking at all, you probably are quite often) you must let your colleagues know about your concerns. However you mustn't say anything to undermine the agreed policy in public. You stand behind the decision. This isn't dishonesty in a broad sense; it's basic teamwork. Most voters have been part of a team in their lives and understand this well. A minister who thinks a policy is very wrong has the option to resign. If it's morally wrong or likely to cause serious damage to voters, that's what the minister should do.

"Cabinet responsibility" is therefore not a problem to voters. We get it. We would probably take against a minister who was disloyal in this way. We might even sympathise (while of course – for we are only human – enjoying the PM's discomfiture) when a dissenting minister briefs the press anonymously.

This is one reason why the recent Conservative Party leadership election has been so problematic for the government. Like a primary in the US, it has provided endless ammunition to the opposing party as candidates tried to differentiate themselves. A bit of Blue on Blue was inevitable. It's an index of the poor quality of the Reds that no more serious damage was done. The fact that modern Leftists seem to look more for opportunities to insult their opponents than to engage them in reasoned argument is a gift that keeps on giving.

Some interesting data emerged – for example as to the COVID 19 lockdowns – but the fact that the people claiming they'd opposed them were in Cabinet at the time – and didn't resign – prevents them gaining the moral high ground. We're still left feeling betrayed that the "the science is clear", "there is no alternative," "Save the NHS"  propaganda was a lie, of course. It just doesn't make us love the people claiming they always knew. And of course it's embarrassing data HM Opposition can't exploit, because its stance on democidal lockdowns was consistently "sooner, harder and for longer". 

As a supporter of Austrian economics and a proponent of minimal Government/maximal Liberty, I couldn't take seriously the various candidates' sloganising about free markets and free societies. The Johnson regime was wrong on pretty much everything but Brexit in ways that suggest that – though the Left can't win an election in Britain because most Brits are conservative – they're winning all the arguments in the corridors of power. Until a "conservative" government actively purges the Deep State including the Civil Service, the police, the NHS and the education "blob", it will always now be conservative in name only. To these "Conservatives", "Liberty" is a nostalgic name to call your daughter, not a principle to die for. 

On such issues, for example, as Net Zero (the ultimate cause of the current cost of living crisis;  the proximate cause being the actions of a Russian leadership emboldened by our suicidal energy policies) this Conservative Government is to the left of reality itself. The Deep State in Britain (the permanent establishment that is merely fronted by elected politicians) is to the left of the Chinese Communist Party. It doesn't care who the Prime Minister is. It doesn't need to. 

So no, I can't get excited about a change of PM. It's as interesting and important as changing the figurehead on a tall ship. The UK Ship of (Deep) State will sail on serenely to the nation's doom. Liz Truss might be slightly more aerodynamic than Bunter Johnson, but not enough to make a difference to a ship so vast, clumsy and barnacled.

Nothing has changed and I see no reason to hope that anything will until it's too late.


Reflections on "Big Bad John" by Jimmy Dean.

Jimmy_Dean_1966
© William Morris Agency (management)

I am listening to this song today and remembering how I used to make my daughters (and any other children who found themselves in the back of my car) sing along to it on road trips. 

I probably first heard it – played to me by an uncle who took informal responsibility for my musical education – not too long after it came out in 1961. I'd have just started infants school. I heard it a lot over the years that followed.

Given the size of said uncle (and all the other men in my family) I knew that one day I'd grow up to be the size of the song's hero.

The boy Tom was a serious, thoughtful little chap and thought that one day he'd have to aspire to be that way – metaphorically.

It was a daunting prospect and good reason to enjoy the rest of a carefree boyhood while it lasted.

The only mine I ever went down didn't collapse on me. I never faced such a test of courage. Who knows how I would have fared? I might well have been one of the other miners: praying, my heart beating fast and fearing I'd breathed my last. Still, the song embodies for me the ideal of what it means to be a "proper man".

Today, that's "toxic masculinity" and is to be despised. "Courage" is now used as a word to describe public whingeing about one's first world problems – real or imagined.

Mr Paine the elder, a wiser gentleman than he knows, has often told me over the years that we have to die in the end, because the world changes until we no longer fit in it. Perhaps, when your highest ideals are looked down upon, it is time to move on?

Maybe so but I still love the song. YouTube does not permit it to be presented here, but follow this link to hear it. If your woke education permits, enjoy!


Of family, friendship and being alone

You can't choose your family but if I had chosen mine I could not have done better. Post-modernists insist I am "privileged." I am, but not as they imagine. It has nothing to do with race, class, wealth or sexual orientation. Anyone brought up in a loving family under the guidance of both a mother and a father is privileged. It's no criticism of single parents doing their best in difficult circumstances to make that obvious point.

There is an obnoxious but necessary stage of a young man's life when his main focus is on asserting independence. I may have overdone the obnoxiousness in my youthful zeal to break free from my parents' hands-on care. To make things worse, they made the mistake of criticising my choice of fiancée. I responded, as any fool might have predicted, by being loyal to her. She herself (understandably) took against them in consequence.

She drew me (as she would probably have done anyway) into the circle of her own family. Again, I was lucky. That family too embraced me and my late wife's mother became a good friend. I gave her help and advice on practical matters and she was my advisor on softer ones. Her daughter had her issues and was difficult to live with. Her mum knew that better than anyone and quietly provided "after-sales" support throughout the marriage. She was also often my advocate when her daughter was inclined to focus on my faults, real and imaginary. The marriage would not have lasted thirty years without her.

When the late Mrs P died, her mum lost it, understandably. There's no greater tragedy than for a parent to bury a child. Stricken by her grief, she couldn't help me in mine. The Misses P. also needed more support than they were able (though they tried) to give. Fiercely loyal to their mother, it became clear they felt the wrong parent had died. I struggled and failed to help them as their mum would have done if our places were reversed, so perhaps they were right. I would have traded places if I could.

At that point, the nuclear family in which I grew up came back into its own. Mum and Dad never retired from their job as parents. They'd just been – as the French say of redundant employees who can't be fired because of crazy labour laws  – placardisé. Literally, placed in a cupboard. Metaphorically, shunted aside and ignored.

They helped me handle my grief as only they could. They'd known me as a small child before my face closed and I learned to dissimulate. They saw through the brave appearance my friends were keen to accept with relief. I don't blame my friends for that either. Have you ever tried to console a two-metre tall, one hundred and fifty kilo man? There's no way to hug such a beast that doesn't look and feel wrong to all concerned. 

As they become frail and elderly, my parents are still my advisors. I shall miss them when they go. I already miss the late Mrs P's mum, who died recently. The de facto new head of that family – the sister with whom the late Mrs P conducted a lifelong sibling-rivalry feud – has made it clear she sees the Misses P (and therefore me) as "other". Now her mum is gone, we're out. 

What of friends then? We can, they say, choose them. But do we? Most of us have no review process. A pleasant moment or two, often under the influence of alcohol – a shared experience or three at study, work or play and there they are. I watched grief and loss separate wheat friends from chaff friends in my dark days. In this winnowing the results were not (to me at least) predictable. In fairness, I'm not sure I'm not myself chaff. Certainly before grief and loss educated me as to the true value of friendship, I might well have steered clear of a grieving friend to whom I could offer no practical help. So, unlike Miss P the Younger, who formally fired friends who hung back when her Mum died, I am forgiving of those who just didn't know what to say.

As I have faced grief again in the last few months, it has been noticeable this time around – though friends know I consider Freud second only to Marx in evil's premier league – they're suggesting I "talk to a professional". I hear that as "don't talk to me." I have asked too much of them in the last decade and must study deserving of their friendship. It's not possible to placardiser a friend. That cupboard has no locks.

I am tired of being a burden. There's no dignity in it. So far from plotting against me, the universe no more acknowledges my existence than it does that of Meghan Markle. I mention her because I realise I have – shamefully – been adopting her approach to life's disappointments. She's an unlikely guardian angel but mine may prove to be the first life she affects positively – albeit by a powerful negative example. 

In an unguarded moment, I told my Dad the other day, "I just need a win." Whether I get one or not, I need to buck up. I had a long run of good luck and it ran out. Many only get bad luck so, on average, I am still blessed.

My frail, elderly parents are both now under the care of what their local NHS (with Northern bluntness) calls The Heart Failure Clinic. It's the same bluntness with which they brought me up, so my parents can't see why that name bothers me. I suppose I have spent too much time since I graduated from their care with the word-obsessed, over-sensitive bourgeoisie. If there's silver lining to my clouds of despair, it's that I found my way back into their lives before they ended.

Maybe that was my "win", properly viewed? Who knows? Either way, so they can leave this life contentedly and so my friends can see my name on their phone without trepidation, it's time for me finally to learn to live happily alone.


Apollo in transit

I am a practical man and a problem-solver by nature. Some say I lack emotional intelligence. Perhaps I do. It's an attribute I find hard to take seriously. When someone claims it, in my experience, it can often be translated as "Hey! I'm dumb but I'm nice". 

That's not to say that I don't have emotions. In the months since last November, I've had too many of them – or perhaps just too much of the same one. Either way, it hurts and doesn't achieve much.

I made a new friend online in recent months. We volunteer together on a trivial pastime project entirely unworthy of our skills and experience. We are both widowers, both retired and of the same generation. He was an engineer. I was a lawyer. We have nothing much in common but get along well. I was excited when he told me his name appears in the NASA Apollo Lunar Surface Journal. Like me, he was a boy at the time, so didn't work on Apollo itself. His credit is for a later technical contribution.

Earthrise
Earthrise, by Bill Anders | Image Credit: NASA

Those who worked on the Apollo Program are among the few government employees I have ever admired.  The astronauts were (and still are) my heroes. My new friend gave me access to the operating manual for the Saturn V rocket and other such wonderful documents. It's hard to explain how much pleasure I took in looking through them. Suddenly it was Christmas 1968 again and I was an 11 year old boy waiting anxiously for AOS (acquisition of signal) from Apollo 8 to confirm that the SPS (service propulsion system) had ignited to achieve TEI (trans-Earth injection).

NASA alway did the best TLAs (three letter acronyms).

My new friend also recommended From the Earth to the Moon, a late-nineties TV series (currently available on Amazon Prime). At the time of its original release on HBO, I was working crazy hours in a demanding career. Any TV I saw was chosen by a wife and daughters with no interest in such stuff. When I organised a trip to Cape Canaveral during a Florida family holiday, they ganged up on me as we were about to set off and told me I was going alone. I was upset but, hey, I had one of the best days of my life.

I'm enjoying the show – including the appearance in the story of my namesake Thomas Paine, the NASA administrator who oversaw the first seven Apollo missions. It's pre-woke and tells the story straight. Yes it portrays the society of the time in which an astronaut could say affectionately to his worried wife (without her flying off the handle, or even looking miffed); 

You take care of the custard. I'll take care of the flying 

But it doesn't use the phrase "toxic masculinity" once.

The costs of this epic endeavour were not just the billions extorted from American taxpayers or the strains put on the astronauts' families. Three men: Command Pilot Gus Grissom, Senior Pilot Ed White, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee laid down their lives in grisly fashion on the launchpad during a routine test. As so often in such epic tales, it's not the fallen heroes who are remembered. The glory goes to the ones who come home in triumph. In my book, those men are among the greatest heroes Mankind has ever known. 

One particular scene in the show may (time will tell) help me to gain some perspective on my woes. Two characters – Harrison Storms, an executive at North American Aviation and Joseph Shea from NASA – walk in a park and discuss their fates. Both had been scapegoated for the Apollo 1 tragedy. The script puts these words into Storm's mouth;

You know in my years in flight tests I saw a number of crews slam into the desert floor. Too many. I loved those guys and each time that happened I wanted to die. But I’ve learned that you’ve got to let go of the "what ifs". They’re meaningless and they’ll kill you

In the next episode the script attributes these words to Wally Schirra, commander of Apollo 7, when asked by a documentary-maker how he felt about the Apollo 1 disaster; 

You mourn the loss but you don't wear the black armband for ever.

Maybe Captain Schirra lacked emotional intelligence too. Or maybe he was just wise enough to play the cards life dealt him and not waste it on regret. 

By the standards of most humans, let alone real heroes, I don't have a problem worthy of the name. Someone I love stopped loving me. It happens. It seems to have happened to me a lot, so perhaps there's something wrong with me. If there is, I can't identify it and – at 65 – it's unlikely I can change it. So it may be time to let go of of the "what ifs" and stop wearing the black armband.

I'm not sure the Apollo 1 story would have given me that insight if it were not for the fact that it also woke memories of my young self – a boy full of hopes and dreams – quite a few of which came true.


Depp vs Heard

Celebrity gossip is not my thing. This case has been particularly unedifying. In a rational world, people would now pay less attention to the opinions of play actors, having seen what shallow, narcissistic souls (and I speak as a devoted theatre person who admires their professional skills) they often are.

What has been interesting about the trial is the MSM vs Social Media aspect of it. Wounded journos bemoan the fact that people have followed the trial – not through the lens of their analysis and opinion – but via such odd channels as TikTok. I understand their point of view. They are professionals and would like people to trust them. However, they just don't seem to understand the role they played in losing that trust. They would do better to work hard to win it back, rather than insult the customers they've so clearly lost. The intense social media interest in a defamation trial shows the demand for coverage is there. Perhaps they should begin to think about how best to meet it? No-one (as the Remain campaign has still not learned) was ever insulted or abused into agreement. It's just bad advocacy. 

I have watched a couple of the videos of which they complain out of curiosity. They consisted of people I had never heard of pointing fingers and raising eyebrows in the corner of a screen showing video from the court. Every so often they'd point downwards to a "subscribe" button. Having practised law myself, I was just as unimpressed as the journalists with this approach to court reporting. Unlike the journalists, I recognised that their customers' preference for it is a profound critique of the MSM. Just how much trust have you lost, dear journalists, that people trust these clowns more?

I formed a strong suspicion that the "influencers" in question had a very limited understanding of what was going on. That didn't particularly concern me. Most people don't understand most laws and still less most court procedures. That "influencers" can make money grimacing thus doesn't bother me. Good luck to them. What was really amusing however was the reaction on social media to the outcome of the trial. The "believe the victim without ever establishing they were a victim" mob is in uproar. Some hilariously misguided points are being made.

Firstly this bubble of fanatics is convinced that the ravings of their social media foes during the trial somehow influenced the outcome. If only people had read their tweets and not those of the Nazis*, Ms Heard would have won. Firstly, she didn't entirely lose. Mr Depp's suit succeeded. She did defame him. Part of her counter-suit succeeded. He did defame her. Whatever damages he wins will be offset by the damages she wins. They've both damaged their careers with this nonsense and (as so often) only the lawyers have really won. As a retired lawyer, I am relaxed about that. I am confident both legal teams will make better use of these idiots' wealth than they would have done themselves. I see excellent private educations in their offsprings' future!

Secondly, the jurors were among the few people in America without access to the social media (or indeed the mainstream media) coverage. They were probably (statistically) also among the majority of Americans who don't pay much attention to the enraged rants of people correcting other people's errors on the internet. The jurors formed a view on the evidence presented to them in court. They did so with guidance from the judge as to its relevance. Legal process is not perfect in America or anywhere else but it wouldn't have to be very good to be a more reliable route to truth than Twitter etc.

I read an exchange today where someone told a tweeter saying the jury had not believed Ms Heard that it might be true "in his bubble" but evidence from agencies in the field proved otherwise. I have never seen a point more spectacularly missed. Statistical evidence from social work or law enforcement agencies in the field may or may not prove that most domestic abusers are male and most victims female, but that says literally nothing about the facts of this (or any other) specific case. That some women are abused does not prove this one was. 

When studying law I was taught that modern civilisation began when legal relations stopped being determined by status and were instead determined by contract. Much energy is now being expended to reverse that. Rather than reviewing their evidence to determine what happened between two equals in law, we are being asked to accept that Ms Heard is telling the truth because she's a woman and that Mr Depp is an abuser because he's a man. Let's pass over for the moment that the very people insisting women can't lie can't define a woman. They are essentially reviving the medieval concept of "nobility" to ascribe inherent moral superiority to new categories of nobles. 

Surely they can see this is a route back to the "status" oppressions of old? If someone is always to be believed because of their status (rather like a feudal prince or lord) they will be able to oppress those of lesser status with false accusations. As in the story of Robin Hood, where a lie about the outlaw's father allowed a superior lord to seize his land, so modern lesser humans will lose out to unscrupulous members of the new "nobility".

Economic equality is a crock of shit. All attempts to enforce it will create poverty at best. Equality before the law, however, is the beating heart of a healthy civilisation. If you are claiming legal privilege on the basis of your status being anything other than just "human", you are an enemy of civilisation itself. What are now called "protected characteristics" may (or may not) be significant politically but, to be just, the law should be blind to them.

*Anyone who disagrees with them.

 


Where are we now?

It’s been two months since I last posted here. The Last Ditch is not dead but it’s moribund. The same might be said for me.

I have made some progress since Mrs P the Second left last November. I am no longer in purdah. I am going out with my friends. I am making plans for my future. I have progressed from saying that I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with me to actually meaning it. That’s not the same as being happy about it  I still feel bereft, lost and lonely.

We have filed for one of the new mutual divorces. We have agreed on the financial terms of our separation. It has not taken many conversations with friends who have experienced divorce for me to realise that I am blessed. Mrs P the Second is being reasonable, kind and considerate. She clearly regrets hurting me and is trying to make this as easy as possible. If anything, I like her better than ever. By this stage of most divorces, the other party and her lawyer would have raised the emotional temperature to the melting point of love. I know how lucky I am (though a smidgeon of hatred might make it easier at this point).

The pandemic being over, I am making travel plans. I intend to tour all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movie locations in New Zealand on an epic road trip next January/February for example. I hope my spirits will have sufficiently revived by then to make a good travel blog of the journey. I’m not shipping Speranza though. I will do it in a hire car.

Having no wife to leave my assets to tax-free I am revising my estate-planning. I’m responding to the wicked, perverse incentives of Inheritance Tax by planning actively to destroy the modest wealth I worked so hard and long to build. I hate that, of course. Those perverse incentives, born of envy and malice, will destroy our civilisation one day.

An Ancient Greek proverb said a civilisation is where a man will plant a tree to shade his grandson. By that definition IHT is uncivilised. No UK-resident family will ever own a global company in the way the Porsche family does. Much English energy that could have been expended on wealth-creation will be wasted. But “equality” (defined as “all being equally insignificant in the face of state power”) is more important to most English people now than productivity. Especially to the leftist “Deep State” Establishment wedded to that state power.

Open Web Page
Felicity

Those readers who know me will be unsurprised that I plan to destroy my wealth by automotive depreciation. My much-loved maternal grandfather was a store man at the Bentley factory in Crewe. He died young and still in service when I was sixteen. The company (then Rolls-Royce Motors of course) sent a car and bearers to his funeral. Talking to his co-workers I learned that grandad, though he had no interest in cars himself, had marked me as a petrol-head. He’d persuaded his craftsman colleagues to make me a scale model from offcuts of real cars. He was almost fired when caught trying to smuggle it out for me and was forced to destroy it in a furnace. Ever since hearing that story for the first time at his funeral, I’ve had an ambition to commission a new Bentley. 

I have already worked out the configuration for “Felicity”, as she is to be known. She’s to be a V8 Flying Spur in a burgundy colour. I plan to place the order when the divorce is final. My financial advisor is clear I shouldn’t tick off the Family Court judge by placing it sooner. Mrs PII is a robustly independent feminist who wants nothing from me but continued friendship, but our courts still see marriage as a financial transaction.

I’m not sure what the lead time is so this may take a while. I’m hoping to take my mother to the factory to collect Felicity. I plan to have Bentley place a plaque in the engine compartment that says “Commissioned in memory of” my grandfather. If you know Mum don’t spoil the surprise please. She hates all extravagance and is quietly horrified by all this. I’m hoping the plaque will make her smile. 


What is Putin up to?

I practised law in Central and Eastern Europe. My old firm had offices in both Moscow and Kyiv. I lived in Warsaw (11 years) and Moscow (7 years). The region is where most of my friends are, including both Russians and Ukrainians.

I am pleased to see some of the former putting dove of peace emblems on their social media profiles. It says much about Russia that I worry it may have adverse consequences for them. One of my Ukrainian friends was interviewed on BBC radio recently. It was chilling to hear his usual calm, reasonable tone as he talked of joining a citizens militia and preparing to resist invasion. He and I were law partners. I fear for his safety and that of his family. He was born to a Ukrainian family in Canada and had the option to leave. I respect and admire his decision to stay and fight. I hope, in his position, I would have his courage. As his friend, I wish he was in Canada.

I hoped against hope that Putin was sabre-rattling. Part of the secret of his success has always been that, one way or another, he keeps Russia in the western news, which soothes his electorate. Why? Because it was a shock to their collective psyche to descend from being one of two super-powers to just a regular nation with an economy the size of Belgium's. Britain struggled psychologically in descending from being the greatest empire in history to just another G7 nation, but we had decades to adjust. We had time to build such institutions as the Commonwealth to soothe the jangled psyches of citizens used to red world maps in their classrooms. Russia had only days.

I am not excusing Putin's aggression by saying the West has made terrible mistakes in handling the demise of the USSR. They flowed not from malice but from a naive, innocent and as it turns out optimistic belief that Russia would rapidly become just like us. Fukuyama's book The End of History and the Last Man (published as I moved to Warsaw) pretty much summed up our leaders' attitude in that respect. The West simply did not feel the need to take the Russian elite's paranoid views on NATO seriously. It saw Russia just as a new, economically-insignificant, member of the Free World. 

NATO was an anti-Soviet defensive alliance. Its weaponry was trained on Russia and the Warsaw Pact. When the USSR ended, it should probably have been disbanded precisely because Russia's military and intelligence communities (who, unlike in other Warsaw Pact countries, were not purged after the fall of the USSR) had grown up thinking of it as "the enemy." They felt threatened by it. That feeling was unjustified. NATO was a defensive alliance with a "no first strike" doctrine. It poses no threat to Russia now and, in fact, never did. The feeling is real though. More accomplished diplomats than ours would have understood its significance.

If post-Soviet Russia's economy had been bigger, it might have been listened to. Ignoring the fears of its generals and spies because it was now a country that didn't matter very much seems in retrospect to have been an error. It won't help a paranoiac to laugh and say he doesn't matter enough for anyone to be out to get him.

This became a worse (but still unrecognised) problem when Putin and his chekisti (ex-KGB men) came to power. The military, intelligence and political communities were in practice just different arms of the Communist Party in Soviet times. Real democratic politics was in its infancy when Putin came to power. Once he was in the Kremlin, Russia's political elite was once more completely aligned with the attitudes of old KGB guys like him.

I suppose we in the West thought we could just rewrite NATO doctrine and retarget its weaponry to handle other threats. NATO worked, so why not repurpose it? The other Warsaw Pact countries, after all, cheerfully applied to join. I was in Poland when that happened and can assure you my friends there still saw it (having had the same education as their Russian contemporaries) as an anti-Russian alliance. That's exactly why (knowing Mother Russia rather better than we did) they wanted to join! I mentioned to a person I met from the Foreign Office at the time that I thought it was a mistake because Polish attitudes were (a) entirely contrary to NATO doctrine and (b) likely to fuel Russian paranoia. She said (I quote from memory, but I am confident it's pretty accurate);

The Foreign Secretary privately agrees with you but the Cabinet doesn't. Anyway the Americans wouldn't hear of excluding Poland.

So while we in the West sincerely saw NATO expansion as harmless (and would probably have accepted Russia as a member, with some conditions) the Russians didn't. Neither did some of their former allies who were joining it – and the Russians knew that. We are not responsible for their paranoia, but we did feed it. 

That said, Putin is lying comprehensively in his depiction of NATO. There's a useful (and very mild) web page of refutations from NATO itself, which is well worth a read. He is just spinning a yarn to justify doing what he wants to do. He's pretty clearly expressed his view that the Ukraine has no right to exist as an independent nation. My hopes have failed. He's about to fix that "error" and, in so doing, write himself into Russian history as (he thinks) a hero. 

The Putin of my days in Moscow was cleverer than this. He knew that rattling his sabre was enough. I fear that his isolated life for so long among people too scared of him to tell him he's wrong has caused him to lose his mind. I don't fear for the West, which could defeat his armies as readily as we could defeat those of Belgium, I do fear for my friends in the region.

I explained to a Ukrainian lady I met yesterday that – while I could understand if she had no time for that at the moment – I feel sorry for the Russian people. They are a wonderful, cultured people who have almost always been badly led because of endemic corruption. The end of the USSR didn't end that, as anyone who'd read Gogol could have predicted. Russia didn't stop being a problem to the West when the USSR fell. It may prove to become a worse problem now because the old Communist leaders always responded rationally to circumstances. I fear this madman won't. 

The West's leaders must perform better now than they have so far because how they respond could expose the world to much more than the loss of Ukraine's independence.