Monday 15 October 2018

An Increasingly Faint Hope

Peter Hitchens writes:  

The British economy today resembles a clown on a unicycle, wobbling across Niagara Falls in a high wind on a tightrope, carrying a tottering burden of dead refrigerators, umbrellas, saucepans and budgerigar cages. 

It is amazing that it does not tumble into the abyss, amid clattering noises and shouts of dismay. Each morning I wake up and the cashpoint machines are still working, I mutter my thanks that we have lasted a little longer. 

I am not sure who I am thanking. I think it doesn’t crash because everyone who understands the position is quietly hoping that something will turn up to save it. 

But what if nothing turns up? Are we remotely ready to cope? 

Her Majesty the Queen famously asked after the 2008 crash why nobody saw it coming. Almost anyone, even me, can see the next one coming. 

The International Monetary Fund pointed out on Wednesday that Britain’s liabilities, from unpayable debts to gigantic public sector pension commitments, outweigh its assets by five trillion pounds to three trillion pounds. 

That is to say, if they called in the bailiffs, and sold everything we have, we would still be two trillion pounds short. 

This is partly because the British State has sold off so many of its assets already, so that your water supply is now owned by a foreign bank, and your privatised train is run by a foreign nationalised railway system.

Presumably there’s some sense in this somewhere, though I can’t see what it is. 

At this rate, my local police force will end up being owned by the Kremlin and controlled by the GRU. And frankly, I’d be amazed if they do a worse job than the current management. 

This sort of wild crisis level of debt can just about be tolerated in wartime, but I do not think we have suffered it in peacetime before. 

I don’t think it even includes the slopping ocean of private borrowing, which for most people is the only way they can afford the standard of living they were once used to, but now can’t afford on their shrinking pay. 

We are, in every way, a lot worse off than we were when the last crisis hit us in 2008. 

But here’s one cause for comfort. The IMF praise us for at least being more honest than some countries about how bad things are. 

That’s nice. But it doesn’t really help. 

My problem is that I can actually imagine it going wrong, all too easily.

In 1990s Moscow, I saw repeated waves of catastrophe striking Russia’s middle classes, their savings wiped out, their welfare state, such as it was, shrivelling to nothing, their pensions evaporating.

It was awful. People had to sell their belongings on the street to buy food.

But Russians are very tough, and they survived, as they still do, as ghosts of their former selves.

Let us hope it does not come to that, and the wobbling clown makes his way safely to the other side, against all the odds.

In the meantime, in between the crisis and the catastrophe, we may as well have a glass of champagne. 


Haunted by the memory of the Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, who helped fake his own death in Kiev with the aid of the Ukrainian authorities and a lot of pig’s blood, I feel I must be cautious about the disappearance of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

It would be a great relief if Mr Khashoggi were to turn up alive and well, amid embarrassed explanations. But it is looking like an increasingly faint hope.

What should we in Britain make of this, if it turns out to be as bad as it looks? Sadly, we cannot say or do much. 

Even if we do eventually condemn the Saudis, we will do so with obvious reluctance, and will try as hard as we can to avoid a total breach. 

I’ll be more than surprised if we impose any serious sanctions. This country has been living in the pocket of the Saudi despotism for decades. 

Our crazy policy in Syria, of supporting jihadis we would lock up if we found them in Birmingham, was adopted to please the Saudis. 

We are more or less silent about their police state repressions. We swallow our revulsion at the cruel little war they are conducting in Yemen, and side with them in their wild sectarian confrontation with Iran. 

Our Royal Family is ceaselessly forced to pay court to the rulers of Riyadh. Flags in London fly at half-mast if a Saudi king dies. 

At least two recent British premiers have had to do obeisance to these tyrants as they were invested with some sort of ‘honour’. David Cameron was awarded the Order of Abdulaziz al Saud in 2012 for ‘meritorious service to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’. Theresa May got hers in 2017. 

I understand exactly why we do this. Britain is no longer a great and rich imperial power and must do undignified things to keep its citizens in work. 

That is worth a few humiliations, and having to be polite to people you don’t really like. 

Personally, I think we take it too far when we get involved in violent, futile and dangerous nonsenses like the Syrian war. 

But, in any case, we need to tone down our moral bloviation when other countries misbehave.

For some years now, the British Government has squawked about the undoubted wickedness of Russia. I have always said this outrage was phoney, because it is selective and is not aimed at lots of other countries we are afraid of, or owe money to.

Thanks to the Khashoggi incident, all kinds of other people who had never noticed this hypocrisy have now done so, and so it will have some effect. 

Well done, as always, for catching up. But remember, you read it here first – as usual.


I am glad that the Supreme Court has issued a sensible ruling on the gay cake case in Northern Ireland.

This political persecution of a Christian business was obviously unjustified from the start, and the lower courts which permitted it should be ashamed of themselves.

It was all about forcing someone to express an opinion he did not hold, by baking a cake supporting same-sex marriage.

No free society could allow someone to be coerced into doing that. But how many people, in this fix, have the money or the determination to fight all the way to the top?

The default position on such things in this country is still repressive and intolerant, as anyone in the public sector, and especially in the state schools, knows very well.

But he is wrong about the latest Dr Who. It is great fun.

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