Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Harriet through the looking glass

I am not quite sure what most irritates me about Harridan Harperson.

Her anti-Liberal special pleading perhaps?

That no one should achieve success by their own efforts, but should also match some Harman defined template for what is acceptable- this I find both patronising and insulting.
A feminist that does not believe simply in the equality of women, but rather that women should be given extra "help" in order to make up for some Harman-defined long term "injustice against women". Several highly successful women friends of mine would regard this as humiliation and not a triumph.

Her tone is such that when she- as usual- makes highly controversial statements, one can tell that to disagree with her is not just to hold a contending point of view, it is to be morally inferior. Only her vision is ethical and right, all others are so incorrect as to warrant persecution.

It is largely this arrogance that has got the Labour party into its current mess, so it is with rather mixed feelings that I greet the supposed "plot" that she and David Milliband are said to be concocting against the Prime Minister. If true, it only confirms her arrogance (and one might argue, her political naivety). However, one can hope that she may be successful and thus finally destroy the political zombie of the post-Socialist Labour party.

Since 1997, Labour have had two leaders, The Liberal Democrats four leaders and the Conservatives five. While one can certainly argue that Brown has so far not been a successful leader, to change now would be an admission of panic. In the looking-glass world of Harriet, perhaps such a failure would be counted as a success?

So in that spirit I wish this mistaken and occasionally deluded politician all the success in the world.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Russell

Russell Johnston was a civilised man. He embodied a certain courtly Highlander tradition that is the antithesis of the provincial. His interests were many and each of these he pursued with a passion. Those who only knew his honeyed Highland cadences could be caught out, for Russell did not tolerate fools too well and his peppery comments could be as acerbic as they were funny- delivered in words of one syllable, yet still in his beautiful Skye accent.

In many ways Russell was a visionary, famously well travelled, he could also be the source of surprising and detailed arcane knowledge. He was at his best, perhaps, in discussion after a good meal, clutching the inevitable glass of Scotland's wine. His passionate belief in the value of the European Union is not today a popular cause, but as the years passed he grew even more convinced of what he termed "the necessity of Europe". He grew yet more convinced of this after he became involved in the crisis surrounding the breakdown of Yugoslavia. He became an astute and -as ever- pithy observer of the protagonists, several of whom he grew to know well. He thus became a trusted advisor to Paddy Ashdown in his own journey though the Yugoslav Calvary.

Above all Russell was an often generous and loyal man. His commitment to Liberalism was absolute, but his charm made him many friends across the political spectrum- except perhaps Left wingers, who he famously had many runs-in with. A Liberal, He believed, was one who put humanity well above the demands of mere ideology. He would not accept conventional wisdom simply for the sake of it, and he was always determined to plough his own furrow- even if that could sometimes place him at a disadvantage.

Although the joke was "Russell's in Brussels", he nevertheless served his constituency with distinction until his retirement. His delight in Scotland would always bring him back to his beloved Highlands. Though in later years he encountered much sadness, he remained a popular figure, viewed with great affection across the Highlands, across Scotland and Europe as a whole.

A true original- he will indeed be much missed.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The UK- the country that died of indifference?

The previous piece I did on whether the UK might not survive until 2012 (see below), was greeted with some interesting reactions. Jonathan Calder makes a point that many have said to me: summarised as, "Yes, the UK might not survive, and No, we don't care". Others, more sanguine, have suggested that Britain is not in immediate danger and -again to paraphrase- that "there is an awful lot of ruin in nation".

I note that those most complacent about the future of our state are not Scottish. Just to make full disclosure: I am a multi-lingual European by culture, British by heritage, inclination and choice, and Scottish by descent, education and sporting support. I am also English by descent and -since I live in London- by current residence. I also have Welsh (and Dutch, French and probable Danish) descent too.
I freely admit to being shocked by the indifference with which the prospect of the dissolution of Britain is being greeted. In my view, the end of the United Kingdom will impoverish all of us- quite literally, since the credit ratings of both projected successor states would be lower than the United Kingdom. It would damage the security, not only of the inhabitants of Britain, but by reducing the military effectiveness of NATO as a whole: Alex Salmond has already said that he would no longer permit American nuclear armed or powered ships to use the facilities at Dunoon and Holy Loch, and would reserve the right to withdraw from the NATO alliance altogether.
In my view, the future of this country should not be a matter of indifference, but rather it needs to be urgently tackled now. In my view the question of balance and fairness within the UK constitution now needs to be addressed.
Denis McShane has written on some of the same themes in the Daily Telegraph. I find myself in broad agreement with his thesis: the problem of the UK is the growing sense that England is not getting a fair deal within the Union. However, the solution that some Conservatives have suggested- that Westminster should very largely be transformed into the central Parliament of England- seems more likely to put the Union at greater risk. By making the Westminster Parliament essentially the English Parliament, there is no common authority for the whole of the United Kingdom, and therefore any dispute where Westminster voted as an English Parliament against the interests of the Scottish Parliament would create Union threatening implications.
There needs to be a separate common British Authority that can act to resolve disputes. Since the constitutional authority lies in Westminster, it can only be Westminster that can take his role. It would, therefore, be dangerous to blur the Authority of the British Parliament by making it an English Assembly for some things and not for others.
The Liberal Democrats have suggested a model, like that, for example, of Spain, Australia, Canada, the United States and Germany: that is to say a Federal State. Of these, Spain is probably the most relevant, since it is both the most recent creation and it was a transformation of a previously highly centralised state. It is also analogous since, despite the intense national feelings of Catalans and Basques, the majority of Spanish citizens had only a vague sense of local identities different from that of Spain. However, had the majority Castillian speaking population remained as a single political unit, the disproportionate power that unit would have possessed versus the others was, at the time thought to be highly undesirable for a harmonious state. Indeed all federal states tend to try to create a rough balance of equality between their components. A state with nearly 90% of its population in one federal unit looks pretty unbalanced.
However the fact is that regional government in England is not particularly popular. This, despite the fact that it is generally agreed that the UK is far too centralised. The reduction in the powers of local government over the past forty years has been quite remarkable. the responsibilities for health and education have gone, as has provision of water and many other services. The freedom of action of a council has also gone- with strict budget limits and personal liability for councillors. Yet even as the power of local government has fallen, the bureaucracy involved has multiplied- to the point that most councillors are making an essentially full time commitment, which -amongst other things- increases the gap between the governors and the governed. Meanwhile the number of people who are able or even wish to be involved in local government has fallen dramatically. Once, in England, there were Parish councils, District Councils and County Councils. Now this has largely given way to Unitary Authorities. The result is that across the UK, Britain now has fewer elected representatives per capita than virtually any other country in Europe or North America. Nevertheless the idea of "a new layer of bureaucracy" remains unpopular.

Of course one suggested solution is that MPs from each region sit as a local assembly, only coming to Westminster when the Parliament of the United Kingdom was summoned- and since the regional assemblies would be primarily responsible in their own areas, that would be far less often than now. However, once again, the blurring of authority between the MPs sitting in Assembly and in Parliament creates constitutional problems. I have, in the past, put forward the view that English counties are sufficiently large to be able to take the primary role, and that they also carry a strong loyalty- as the growing popularity of many of the county flags you see at the top of this story has shown.

One thing is clear, however, the solution to the British constitutional crisis will be quite slow and by no means clear-cut. It will take clear headed political decision making. I do not share Denis McShane's optimism that Scotland would become the British Catalonia or Quebec. In both Spain and -especially- Canada there was already in place a flexible federal constitutional arrangement. Britain will face its separatist challenge while struggling to put such an arrangement in place.

The fact is that, apart from those who are perhaps rather complacent about the future of the UK, there is already a significant number of people who are indifferent. That such a level of apathy exists is a profound concern. If it is the case that the United Kingdom falls, then many will take the opportunity to leave altogether- that many emigrants would be young and highly skilled has not escaped the eyes of- ironically- the Canadian immigration department.

Perhaps because of my mixed heritage I feel loyalty to Britain as a whole and I would refuse to make a choice between any successor states that emerged. I- with many others- would have lost my country.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Can the UK survive until 2012?

Another by-election, another Labour humiliation- so far, so unsurprising.

That this time it was the SNP, rather than the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats delivering the shock may seem of only passing significance. After all, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the SNP were riding high, winning the Hamilton by-election in 1967 before gaining 11 MPs in the October 1974 election. Yet in the end the Scotland Act of 1979 was defeated and the SNP fell back to only two seats in the subsequent 1979 general election.

However, my fears for the very future of my country are growing.

In 1979, the Conservatives held 22 seats. Now they hold only one. Instead of voters abandoning the party of government for the party of opposition, the Scottish voters are choosing the party of opposition to the Union.

Even in their wildest dreams, the Scottish Conservatives can not hope to gain more than a handful of Westminster seats, even if their English and Welsh counterparts make dramatic gains. A future Prime Minister Cameron would have to face the fact that his mandate from Scotland would be weak at best. In addition he would be facing, in Alex Salmond, a wily and determined enemy of the British United Kingdom. The visceral loathing of the Conservative Party in Scotland is deeply entrenched. The Thatcher government was seen as a colonial master imposing deeply hated policies on an unwilling nation, and not -as in middle England- the author of necessary reforms. Salmond- naturally- will play on this for all that he is worth.

The next two years are clearly going to be very difficult economically for the whole of the United Kingdom. The weak public sector finances require dramatic cuts and a far more proactive from the Central Bank, yet the electoral cycle is highly unfavourable for the radical- even emergency- action that is necessary. Whoever takes office after the next general election will be looking at an economy with serious macro-economic imbalances and a poor quality domestic labour force.

This is a very bad time for a constitutional crisis- for that is what we are likely to face. With oil at over $120/bbl the interests of Scotland, as an oil producer and the rest of the UK as an oil consumer have certainly diverged- as Salmond never tires of telling us. The fact is that that over the next few years the UK faces a perfect storm: a conjunction of financial weakness, economic imbalance and electoral mathematics that will lead to serious constitutional implications.

Yet the problem I have is that no-one is making the positive case for maintaining the 300 year Union. The absurd scare stories do not alter the fundamental fact: of course it is perfectly possible for Scotland to be a viable independent state. The question is whether that is desirable let alone necessary, both to the Scottish people and indeed for the wider interests of the whole of the UK.

In my view, it is not only undesirable, it is a potential disaster for the security of the peoples of the current Kingdom, leaving two smaller states far weaker than their collective strength. In the face of the challenges of Russia and China, the UK -despite the looming economic crisis- is a far more viable entity than the separate states. Economically our collective credit rating will fall, and the influence we have together will have gone. Scotland would have the economic influence of Denmark and England about that of Spain- as opposed to a collective footprint today that is nearly equal to Germany and which can certainly contend with India and China.

All this assumes, of course, that any split would be reasonably amicable. But suppose it was not? One does not have to predict Yugoslav levels of violence to see outcomes that could be very disruptive. There may be considerable resentment in the rest of the UK. Scots may face problems in England or Wales, English people already complain of insults and discrimination in Scotland. Instead of the velvet divorce like that of the Czechs and Slovaks which the Nationalists forsee, there could be a bickering and poisonous divorce- as most divorces are- with legal and financial disputes that last for years after separation. I could easily see the entrance of any newly minted proudly Scottish Olympic team to the London Arena being marked not by cheers but with a hail of abuse and catcalls. Alex Salmond presumes much on English, Welsh and Northern Irish goodwill.

Yet the election that must take place before May 2010 is now a point of maximum danger. Any result where the SNP match at Westminster their previous result at Holyrood while the Conservatives gain a landslide in the rest of the UK has the potential for a constitutional crisis that could see the end of the United Kingdom.

The 55th Parliament of the United Kingdom could be the last, but if David Cameron does not wish to be the last Prime Minister of the UK, he must answer the legitimate aspirations of the different parts of the Kingdom, without turning Westminster into an English Parliament- for that way lies the certain break up of our country.

I can only hope that we can see sense in time:

"Let the love of our land's sacred rights
To the love of our people succeed
Let friendship and honour unite
And flourish on both sides the Tweed"


Dick Gaughan

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Shame, Pain & Dr. Death

So, the arrest of Dr. Radovan Karadzic finally happened.

I find it hard to be joyful. The return of the mispronouncing newsreaders makes me wince slightly, but so does the knowledge that few things in the Balkans are entirely as they seem.

Western leaders have gone onto the television praising "a genuine breakthrough", conveniently forgetting they role that their countries played in the savage unwinding of what had seemed to be a modern, European society. The hypocrisy of Douglas Hurd, the sanctimoniousness of David Owen, all were impotent in the face of defiance and -yes, not too strong a word- evil.

The fertile plain of Slavonia and the high mountains of Krajina and Hercegovinia look very different, yet in both places I found the detritus of war. The smell of burning villages. The terrible noise. The terrible silence. The heartbreaking details: a dog's lead, fading photographs of families who would never come home again. The faces, taught with fear and pale with exhaustion. Burned cars. Empty fields filled with mines. Graffiti screaming out messages of hatred, or rage or ultimately despair: "we have gone to Split". "Find us in Zagreb". "We have gone to Banja Luka". "We may be in Pale or maybe Belgrade". "We will be in Tuzla".

The high plateau is mostly empty now. The roofless houses merging into the rocky ground. The ancient graveyards untended. The wind is cold and even the ghosts of centuries must be lonely.

Karadzic was probably sold by someone- maybe Mladic- for their own skin. Though part of me feels a grim satisfaction that he will face trial and be forced to account for his crimes, it changes nothing.

One evening around a camp fire, I listened to a Serbian playing the one-stringed fiddle of the Balkans, the gusle. The buzzing dissonance became hypnotic. The sobbing song- inevitably- was a lament for the Battle of Kosovo Polje, the cataclysmic Serbian defeat by the Ottomans on June 28th 1389. I reflected then that Karadzic, apart from being a psychiatrist, was also a poet, seeking to emulate his ancestor, Vuk Karadzic. It seemed surreal that such a man could contemplate the horrors that his snipers and artillery were inflicting on the City of Sarajevo. Perhaps, some said with bleak humour, that was why his poetry was so leaden.

The world has changed much since those days, and so have I.

I will not forget. The anger of frustration that no one could believe in 1990 and 1991 the scale of what was about to happen. The disbelief at the callousness of those at the Edinburgh summit of December 1992 who were soon prepared to ignore concentration camps at Prijedor and Omarska and the use of rape as a weapon of war. The refusal to stop the siege of Sarajevo which was to continue until February 1996- just short of four years. The profiteering of certain -frankly disgraceful- British politicians that I have noted in previous posts still fills me with disbelief, anger and shame.

So those in the media who want to cheer the arrest of Karadzic and doubtless Mladic as well, in due course, should remember two things. The first is that our country too contributed to the scale of the crime. The second is more difficult to convey: the thing I learned by a campfire: the long sense of continuity and of history and of culture, of pride, of shame, of honour.

It means that the effects of that cruel and brutal war will never be entirely healed.

Those who died. Those who fled. Those hurt. Those bereaved. Those raped.

Those who witnessed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Idealism, Realism and Cynicism

How often to those involved in British politics hear the words "you're all the same- just in it for yourselves"?

The contempt for politics and politicians- never far away even under normal circumstances- seems to have become a mania of hatred- and is irrespective of political party.

I can understand a certain scepticism about what politicians can actually achieve, in fact I think it is healthy, but the hatred of all things political is extremely corrosive and could undermine the very basis of our free society and way of life.

What politicians might do to change perceptions is to inject some courtesy into the way that they interact with each other. If our politicians took each other a bit more seriously, then the yah-boo-shucks of the House of Commons at its worst would not be the fist image that people have of politics, but a rather more serious view.

If we begin to think that politics is irrelevant, then the very fabric of our freedom becomes vulnerable to simple populists and authoritarians. The lack of respect for our constitution and our ancient liberties is at the route of Liberal disagreements with the ethos of both Labour and the Conservatives, but the response that we get is not usually a considered discussion of our criticisms, but an infantile "even if you have a point who cares? You can't win anyway". It is this puerile dismissing of serious arguments (that all parties are guilty of, I admit) that turns off most people from politics.

Most people who are politically active are not selfish or greedy. Many political figures that I profoundly disagree with hold their positions from feelings of deep principle. That there are people in politics like the Wintertons, whose behaviour is rightly condemned, should not distract from the worth of the vast majority of our elected representatives.

So, a resolution for the new political year: I will (try to) engage in argument and not invective.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A "faraway country"

The European chessboard has grown complicated. The hostile regime in Moscow is exploiting any opportunity to damage the cohesion of both the European Union and NATO. The Kremlin continues to spread black propaganda against any state that annoys it in some way. Indeed the perceived enemies of the Putin regime have often come under attack- whether in the realms of cyberspace, as Russian hackers launch attacks designed to shut down most of the apparatus of the modern state, or quite literally, with state sponsored assassination and physical intimidation of diplomats. The straight theft of foreign owned assets in Russia is also routine- as the latest twists in the campaign against BP in Russia makes quite plain.

It is not a surprise that polls in the UK now show that Putin's Russia is considered the greatest threat to the country after Al-Qaida and Iran. After all, Russia- unlike Iran- has actually used a nuclear weapon on the streets of London.

Other states are much more sanguine about the influence of Russia- but then the leaders of several European states have been the recipients of considerable Russian largess. The questionable relationship of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder with the Russian state has led many to conclude that Germany has been effectively penetrated by the Russian secret services. The reliability of several NATO states has also been questioned: Italy and Greece, for example, seem to have warmer relationships with Moscow than with most of their NATO partners. Some- especially in Washington- have grown to despair of much of what NATO is supposed to be working for.

Yet such despair is, I think, somewhat premature.

Firstly, the new member states of the EU and NATO are by no means the passengers that hey have been represented as being. Poland has shouldered a considerable burden in several NATO operations and the Baltic countries too have contributed in radar and cyber-defence and also, more seriously, in blood, with the deaths of their servicemen in NATO operations in Afghanistan. More to the point, the fact of their recently having escaped from the terrors of the Soviet Empire gives them unique insights into the mindset and the agenda of the former KGB (and other security service) officers- the siloviki- who largely comprise the ruling elite in Moscow.

Despite the confidence that the petro-wealth has created in Moscow consumers, the image that is most powerful is the sense of fear amongst the siloviki. They- even if the West does not- at least understand their own vulnerability. While they remain determined to impose their will upon as much of the former Soviet Empire as they can- by force, persuasion or bribery as necessary- they have found they have not been anything like as successful as they had hoped.

The creation of a pro-Western regime in Georgia was a direct challenge to the Kremlin, since the Russian army has intervened to maintain the frozen conflicts in two Georgian territories: South Ossetia and Abhazia. Despite substantial efforts to eject Mikheil Saakashvili, and despite several mis-steps from Tbilisi, Russia has not brought to heel the defiant Georgians. Meanwhile the radical liberal economic policies that Saakashvili has enacted has seen a gigantic improvement in the economic position of Georgia, despite the Russian boycott. Russia watches with impotent fury as Tbilisi maintains a strongly independent line.

Despite the heat of the relationship between Georgia and Moscow, the most annoying country for the siloviki is Ukraine.

For many Russians- and especially the siloviki-, the idea of Ukrainian independence is still an unpleasant shock. Russians see a continuation between the ancient state of Kiev and the Grand Duchy of Moscow. They do not understand the differences that have create a separate Ukrainian consciousness, preferring to regard these as of minor, even provincial significance.

What is happening in Ukraine now is becoming central to the whole future of Europe.

Unlike in Russia, the relatively even split of economic power between different economic groups has helped to ensure that the political system has remained pluralistic. While this has created corruption, it has also ensured that no one group can take control of the state. The upheavals of the orange revolution have created a democratic sensibility in adition to the economically inspired pluralism. The impact of this has been to pemit considerable freedom of speech and an increasingly open cultural scene. Ukraine is becoming known as a country with a considerable sense of humour. One particular butt of Ukrainian jokes are the Russians who permit themselves to be ruled by the authoritarian regime of the siloviki.

Ukraine then is emerging as a very European country.

Yet both NATO and the European Union have hesitated to embrace Ukraine as prospective member of either organisation. Indeed at the Bucharest summit in April, the German delegation were openly saying that NATO "should not offend Russia".

This is dangerous nonsense. Ukraine is not a Trojan horse for Russian influence in NATO, but it could prove to be the Trojan horse to demonstrate the power of Western values to the wavering Russians.

It is time to put Ukraine firmly on the road to EU an NATO membership. The UK should play a part in this by progressively easing travel restrictions on Ukraine- particularly in the lead up to the 2012 UEFA Soccer tournament that will be jointly staged by Ukraine and Poland.

The Ukrainian people have repeatedly made it clear that they wish to join with the rest of Europe. If Russia objects, then it only serves to underline the threat that the siloviki pose to free Ukraine. Ultimately, Russia too may choose to recover its European identity, but if it chooses to maintain its hostility, while at the same time collaborating with China to undermine attempts by the West to solve problems like Darfur and Zimbabwe, then it should be treated as an opponent, expelled from G-8 and lose its largely illusory role as a great power.

For the West, Ukraine is now a litmus test- and Ukrainian freedom should be none negotiable.

Taking a breath

Blogging has been sparse- I have been changing my job and sorting out a new -at least part time- base in Tallinn. It has meant that I have been rather remiss in keeping up the blog.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fellow Travelers and Useful Idiots

Sometimes I wonder whether Mary Dejevsky is not actually in the pay of the Kremlin lie factory.

Pieces like her latest in The Independent leave me open mouthed. The idea that Britain is in some way responsible for Kremlin sanctioned murders in London, "because we give asylum to the Kremlin's enemies" is simply despicable. The special pleading she makes for the Kremlin is reminiscent of the most lick spittle Communist fellow traveller. The fact is that Russian agents were sent from Moscow to kill in broad daylight, and with scant regard for the well-being of any innocents who might have got in the way.

Then again, she actually supports authoritarianism- her piece in January was nothing short of disgraceful.

Mr. Brown and what we have to fear

On March 4th 1933 President Roosevelt made his inaugural address at the east portico of the US Capitol Building. In the face of a catastrophic failure of the financial system and almost total economic meltdown he began his leadership on note of optimism: "This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

His speech, which is well worth reading fully, stands out as the point when the United States accepted the need for radical measures. Though classical Liberals, with the benefit of much hindsight, criticise many of his most interventionist measures, at the time they seemed entirely justified- the scale of the economic collapse was simply so gigantic. More to the point, Roosevelt with a combination of practical measures and optimistic determination was to prove to be an exceptional leader- his success crowned with popularity and with repeated re-election until his death in 1945.

The last few days have bought home to many the scale of the crisis in the UK in 2008. As in 1929, to use Paul Johnson's evocative phrase, "the Everest [of the stock exchange in 1929, the debt markets in 2007] was a mountain of credit on a molehill of actual money". the consequences of the binge are the same: bank failures. So far we have only seen the failure of Northern Rock, but we have seen the dramatic impairment of almost all the banking system.

Rumours continue: Bradford & Bingley, Alliance & Leicester, HBOS, even RBS and Barclay's all need to repair damaged balance sheets- and some will not be able to complete the process independently. Not merely individual banks, but the whole banking system is under major strain. The crisis, long predicted, is upon us. As house prices wither and credit simply stops, we are now seeing a surge of bankruptcy- confidence has gone, and now the expectation is that the UK will now face not merely a downturn, but a major recession and even -whisper it those who dare- a major depression.

In the face of the gathering financial storm it may be valuable to think about who is at the helm. Gordon Brown is a man moulded fully in the tradition of Scottish Presbyterianism. in some small part of his psyche is the sense that the bad times are the punishment for the "excesses" of the good times. Instead of optimism, he offers the glum realities of belt tightening and the hair shirt. He accepts the reality of difficult times. However his intense and gloomy nature is the opposite of what is required. As some of the more obvious journalists have noted, he carries something of Private Fraser of Dad's Army- an undertaker whose catch phrase "we're all DOOOMED, I tell ye" reflects something of Brown's own gloomy personality.

In fact, the problem is Mr. Brown's lack of vision.

When times were good as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Brown spent all of the seed corn that could have seen us through harder times. All of the so-called limits that he proposed in the name of Prudence, he broke. Instead of reducing borrowing though the cycle, he increased it. Now the cupboard is bare. In the face of the banking crisis and the oil price spike, he has no reserves.

Small wonder that Russia- now grown rich and confident on the back of its burgeoning oil revenues- feels able to treat the injured lion with impunity. It now seems clear that the murder of a British citizen on the streets of London- Alexander Litvinenko- came from official Kremlin sanction. Meanwhile, the major investments of British companies in Russia: Shell and BP, are now being stolen from them. The prospect of Scottish separatism only adds to the contempt that the Kremlin has for the UK. All of Mr. Brown's policies seem to give succour only to our enemies.

Now, Mr. Brown can only see the downward slope. Unlike President Roosevelt, he misses the wider sweep of history: that eventually both booms and busts come to an end. His gloomy and pessimistic personality can only intensify the fear. In the end, we can not see the end of the crisis while he remains in office. His role is that of President Hoover: incapable of providing the energy required to deal with the critical problems.

It will make the difference between an 18 month downturn and a downturn that lasts twice as long. Mr. Brown, obsessed by his fears, can not understand that it is now fear itself that is the biggest enemy.