Jubilee reflections

As I walked along The Mall towards Buckingham Palace this weekend enjoying the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, I saw a significant cross-section of our nation’s people, together with guests from all around the world.

Following two miserable years of pandemic lockdowns. It was bliss to think how we could go where we pleased, meet with whom we chose and walk freely under the sunshine in our own city.

As a celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s 70-year reign, it was a uniquely British occasion that brought the massed crowds together, not only in the capital but across the country and to an extent, the Commonwealth.

To be in London on this weekend was to experience the unadulterated and genuine joy, warmth and affection that the fans and supporters of the monarchy feel. It was lovely.

There are of course, many people that do not appreciate the monarchy. Those who feel it costs too much money, is outdated, does not reflect a democratic state and/or sits atop a ruling elite that oppresses the masses in an unfair and prejudiced patriarchal system of rule.

(Hope I got all that right my republican friends).

There are some customary exchanges that happen at this point in the Royal vs Republic debate:

Cost – the actual living constitutional monarchy bring in far more money than they cost. No they don’t, because people would come and visit anyway (etc)

Outdated – this institutional in an anachronism that belongs in a bygone age. No it isn’t, we love the pomp and pageantry as much as we ever did (etc)

Undemocratic – an unelected head of state who occupies the role from accident of birth makes a mockery of democracy. No it doesn’t, to have a head of state that is above politics is a godsend and the royal prerogative prevents any political head of state grabbing and using unlimited power.

The last one – the monarchy presents a shield that romanticises and beguiles the masses into believing they are part of something special, whilst the system continues to oppress them. No they don’t, the people are smart enough to tell the difference between self-interested politicians and corporates and the hand of royalty (etc)

So I won’t bother to regurgitate those arguments here. Instead, I’ll lay out some of the thoughts and feelings I have as a monarchist and supporter of the current royal family. Whilst in full Voltaire fashion defending the right of any republican to state their own case in return.

The relationship between the monarchy and the people is closer and longer established than any political affiliation. The armed forces enjoy a very close relationship. Senior royals are required to complete service in each of the army, royal navy and air force. Populated in the main by working class recruits, the armed services receive visits, support and ongoing contact with their commanders in chief throughout their careers. It is a source of great pride for those families to serve and be affiliated to the crown. Politicians dipping in for a photo opportunity do not compare.

The Prince’s Trust and the Duke of Edinburgh’s scheme have benefited millions of young people chewed up and spat out by successive education systems. Skills, confidence and real, practical help to secure jobs, start businesses and climb out of the station in life allocated to them by that oppressive patriarchal system, are not the actions of participants to the system.

Some will say they could do that anyway, without royal status. Really? Would the papers, tv cameras and money come flowing in if Joe Bloggs did the same? It’s the royal family that brings them in – and using that influence to good use.

The sprinkling of royal dust over national (and global) charities boosts coverage status and donations too. Princess Anne in the 1970s travelling through some of the poorest states, with sleeves rolled up and headscarf, not tiara in place drew the cameras and shone the light on poverty that shames humanity. The beautiful Audrey Hepburn did the same. Nobody said her sky-high movie actress salary should be banned.

There are far too many charity examples to list, but the same holds true for all. Would they rather a fleeting association with a celebrity, or a decades-long support of a member of the royal family? Always the latter.

The clout of the royals has been brought to good effect. When the Somerset floods left farmers bereft and the Cameron government dragged their feet, the Prince of Wales summoned ministers to his offices after going himself. There followed a stampede of said ministers to the west country and funding to support them. Gordon Brown’s time as chancellor and prime minister was equally peppered with the ‘spidery writing’ letters from Charles demanding attention and action where he had been approached by the public and unions.

Again – people will say Charles, Anne and William could do this as private citizens. Really? Let’s see again how far Joe Bloggs gets with this. Royal voices draw crowds, bring cash and coverage and bypass party politics. This is where they earn their position and right to remain – the enduing status of a constitutional monarchy depends on the perception that they are on the side of and/or bring benefit to the people.

It has to be said that the courtiers to the royal family have sharpened up their acts since the tragic death of Princess Diana and are now better attuned to the pubic mood and able to shift accordingly. The monarchy under Queen Elizabeth has changed and adapted throughout her reign and will need to remain nimble and able to do so continually, as the succession proceeds.  

Polly Toynbee and her Guardian colleagues and readers no doubt bemoan the ignorance of the working classes they claim to represent. Can’t they see they’ve been had? Why do they still cling to this anachronistic status quo? Why don’t they revolt and throw off the yolk of monarchy?

Which brings me nicely to my final point.

The relationship between monarch and people is an emotional one. It is more about identity, feelings and a sense of belonging and a desire for continuity in an ever-changing world.

The Queen’s unchanging nature has often been described as her greatest strength and greatest weakness. She does not change. She has not become gushy or emotionally incontinent to fit the prevailing culture of recent decades. She is seen as a steady hand, a dependable figure, the image of stoicism and stability as the world around her (and us) changes, in ever increasing and sometimes scary ways.

In the post-Diana era, the family have adapted to incorporate a more compassionate approach and opened up to closer involvement and been seen to engage with more empathy. The best of them have achieved this whilst maintaining a dignity of position. That balance will become ever more difficult to maintain in the years to come. And another monarch akin to Queen Elizabeth is unlikely to be seen in the same light, with no war years for reference.

Would an elected head of state be better? When I think of the problems our country faces, I frankly think the last thing anyone wants is more elections and more politicians. Adding another layer of party politics is unlikely to engage or inspire. President Thatcher? President Blair? President Corbyn? President Johnson?

For those who aspire for a non-political Head of State, who shall set the ground rules and criteria? Who shall be eligible? Will an elected president really cost less than a monarchy that equates to an annual cost of 1 or 2 premier league footballers? With no political power where shall the allegiance of the armed forces, courts and legal system and public services be placed? All power concentrated into the Prime Minister’s office? Now that really is a really scary thought.

Even the most ardent republicans have grudgingly accepted the goodwill that exists for Queen Elizabeth. The calls for reform around the Commonwealth and within our own borders will grow once Her Majesty has left us and Charles III is anointed king. It is good that these conversations happen and I shall engage with friends on all sides of the argument.

But as this Jubilee weekend draws to a close, I join others in thanking Her Majesty for her years of service, dedication to duty and providing the sparkle and unity for this country in times high and low.

Your servant

MC

Back in the USSR?

On 24th May 2003 Paul McCartney played a concert in Red Square, Moscow. Feted by the Kremlin and adored by the attending Russian crowds, McCartney sang a selection of crowd pleasers, cheered and hugged by the president, Vladimir Putin.

One song went down so well, it had a reprise as an encore, “Back in the USSR”. How portentous that tune seems today.

Seven years later, Putin appeared at a charity event in Moscow attended by Hollywood stars. He got up on stage and for the sake of the children with cancer he sang ‘Blueberry Hill’ in English, to the delight of the international crowd.

We desperately wanted to like Putin. After the chaotic years of the drunken oaf Boris Yeltsin, fumbling his lines and crashing the Russian economy with haphazardly applied market reforms, we wanted stability in Russia.

We wanted another man we could do business with. Someone strong enough to bring and hold Russia together, but sober enough to realise the benefits of freedom, democracy and all that.

We so wanted Putin to be that man. The KGB – now rebadged as the FSB – were invited to the CIA headquarters for talks. Britain’s MI6 cut funding to their Russian office and agents were no longer required to learn the language – we needed more resource for the Middle East.

However, the true nature of the man and his ambitions were in plain sight for all to see. In 2005, between the McCartney hugging and the charity crooning, Putin told the Russian people:

“It is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.”

This was not ambiguous. Putin made clear with that statement, the humiliation he felt for himself and his nation about the tumultuous events of 89-91. And the subsequent expansion of the EU and NATO into the sphere of former Soviet influence. Anyone actually listening could hear the echoes of the Treaty of Versailles. German humiliation sowing the seeds of grievance for World War 2.

Sadly, few were listening. Or those that were dismissed this as residual sour grapes from a loser, flat on its back with dreams of reconquest that were mere fantasy.

The last decade has seen a fatal combination of events on each side of the former iron curtain. Putin has rebuilt the authority of the state and spread his tentacles of influence deep into the conservative west. He has no diverse economy to leverage, but he has the natural resources that Europe needs. And nobody speaks out of line in his power-centralised state.

On the other side, the west has been distracted, divided and particularly with Trump’s White House and Johnson’s Downing Street, quite ambivalent towards unity of purpose.

The adventure into Georgia by Russian forces was a trial run. Slapped wrists from NATO but no real threat. Shortfall in military might, but lessons were learnt. They did much better next time round in 2014 by invading Ukraine and taking Crimea. Cleverly installing a permanent battleground in the east of Ukraine. Again, the west did nothing.

So who could blame Putin for thinking that Ukraine was there for the taking? He’d been waiting 20 years to start putting right that collapse of the Soviet empire. OK, this wasn’t quite reclaiming the whole Warsaw Pact but it was still a significant win.

And so the fateful order was given. After going through the motions of entertaining western leaders and ministers, Putin brushed aside their words and his troops invaded.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing always, but the level of shock we’ve heard is quite something. Did the rest of the world really think that Putin wouldn’t fire shots in anger? This man has been a seething ball of anger his whole adult life. Only the KGB training buttoned him up into a suit to play the statesman.

So what is to be done? We must act now. NATO must strike hard, fast and with overwhelming force. Stay with me on this…

Background

The only western leader that ever deployed an effective NATO-led defensive action was George H Bush. Gathering a global coalition, getting UN sanction, assembling that overwhelming force – he cleared Saddam out of Kuwait with clear and limited objectives. Boots did not go beyond the Iraqi border. Saddam was back in his box and sovereignty restored.

(What George H’s son did twelve years later, is another matter entirely).

The same action is required now. A limited NATO intervention with clear objectives to force Russian troops back behind their own lines.

Why not?

Putin has nuclear weapons. If we join the battle, it could trigger World War 3 with nuclear war breaking out and destroying much of Europe.

This scenario is possible. But unlikely. The gravity of pressing the button in the sure knowledge that your own country will also be obliterated has historically worked as the deterrent it was always meant to be. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) remains.

The brinkmanship of Cuba took us to the edge before, but Washington and Moscow stepped back. Despite Putin apparently reigning supreme, surrounded by the terrified, the sycophantic and the equally bloodthirsty – the Kremlin is bigger than the man.

More persuasive for me is the price of inaction. Putin doesn’t care about sanctions. They won’t hurt him. Putin doesn’t care about world opinion. He doesn’t care much about domestic opinion either. He has been in power for 22 years and feels invulnerable. His people may starve, but that is a price he is willing for them to pay. Resistance from the Ukrainians? Hit them harder. Starve them, raze their cities to the ground. Kill them all. Agree humanitarian ceasefires then keep bombing them.

The price of inaction is that Putin will go much, much further. He will eventually crush Ukraine. And then on to Moldova. And then Georgia. Still no NATO intervention? How resistant will the Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and other former Soviet states feel, to demands from Moscow?

How long before Putin feels so empowered that he finally reaches towards the Latvian lands, to answers the calls from the Russian population? When he finally ticks the box that requires NATO to get involved. He will still have those scary nuclear weapons. But he will have much less fear, and be driven still further by his own sense of invincible destiny, as he has advanced so far.

A strategic strike by NATO now would remove the Russian troops in days. The generals would look at Putin with the blood of their troops on his hands. Like Hitler before him, Putin is no soldier or military strategist. He’s a bitter ex-spy who ended up on the losing side and is willing to spill any amount of anyone’s blood to avenge what he sees as an historic disgrace.

If he has any kind of philosophy or doctrine of belief, Putin reaches back to the giants and warriors of the Soviet past. Above all, he remembers the famous words of another Vladimir, comrade Lenin:

“You probe with bayonets: if you find mush, you push. If you find steel, you withdraw”

It’s time for NATO to join the brave Ukrainians; and for Putin’s Russia to finally find steel.

Your servant

MC

Pro Life? Pro Choice? Job for a man, obviously…

Some while ago I saw a man shouting at his daughter in the street. He then bent over and clipped her head, making her cry.

The crowd all around looked away, shook their heads and carried on with their day. Not good, but none of our business. One brave soul stepped forward and told the man he shouldn’t hit the little girl.

As he (unsurprisingly) got an earful back, the little girl clung on to her father’s leg and looked up scared at the other guy. Despite the abuse, she felt a dependency and held on to her damaged protector tightly.

That’s the thing with dependency. It overrides other instincts. Better the devil you know and all that. Invariably it is the various strands and levels of patriarchy that establish, reinforce and maintain this control. And the victims are often left without an alternative champion.

I mention the patriarchy, because the various remaining institutions that have held on against progress (predominantly religious organisations) are run by men. Our great friends and cousins in the United States have rolled back the frontiers for female representation and influence more than most. But unfortunately this doesn’t always run deep.

In New York and LA you can indeed be what you want to be. And the dreams for little girls across the nation and projected to inspire. But the entrenched views and ways in the bits in between remain static in many cases.

I’ve travelled through that heartland. And met some wonderful alpha females and plenty of lovely folk who genuinely believe in equality and fairness. They’re not all hicks, any more than our own rural communities in dear old Blighty.

But the grip that religious organisations hold over some sections of those communities remains mighty. The rules applied by some elements of Islamic societies seem extreme to us, particularly those involving women, but the male-dominated hierarchy of the various Christian groups is not exactly enlightened.

And yet they keep coming back. Despite the slanted table, the loaded dice, the biased rules of the game, generation after generation keep going to church, keep voting for hardliners, keep refusing the rebel against the patriarchy. Why?

If you are taught from a young age that you are a bad person of you don’t follow the rules, that impression can last a lifetime. Formative as any dog bite, burnt finger, cold water shock. And the desire to please of a child reinforces that doctrine.

When religion and politics are interwoven – blimey, I’m covering all the taboos today – then it takes a really strong person to stand aside and stand alone to reject all they’ve known. No matter how old you get. The comfort and reassurance of familiarity in a changing world, an uncertain world is very hard to turn your back on.

We are fortunately more secular than ever here in Britain. A few hundred years ago, we too cowered in the pews, believing we were condemned if we didn’t follow the preacher’s words. We cheered as Catholics and ‘witches’ were burned. Indoctrinated and scared to think any other way – thankfully no longer.

But this patriarchy prevails here too. Window shopping about women’s rights and breaking the glass ceiling makes good copy for organisations. Whilst the majority of female executives are still to be found in HR and Marketing.

Returning to our American cousins, there was renewed focus this week on an article by the Washington Post about Susanna Salter. In 1887, just after women had been granted the vote in Kansas the menfolk decided to let her run for mayor of Argonia as joke.

She won the election with more than 60% of the vote. Far from marking the start of a new era of representation, this gave them a very clear warning of the dangers of underestimating the peasants’ power.

And so to this week, where the patriarchy in the legislature, with full backing and cheerleading from the churches has reasserted itself in Texas. New laws have been passed making abortions completed more than 6 weeks into pregnancy subject to criminal prosecution. Rape, incest, threat to mother’s life – no exceptions.

Now, as a Brit it is not my place to judge or criticise the constitutional set-up of the United States law-making structures. House of Lords discussion coming soon…

But whether it’s DC’s federal instructions or delegated controls out to the individual states, there are matters that are referred all the way to the top and decision are made that apply across the lands. Roe vs Wade has not been overturned by the Supreme Court, so there are (or should be) limits of what the individual states can do on this matter.

Irrespective of the legal niceties, there is something rather grim about a group of men telling women what they can and can’t do with their own bodies. It’s particularly galling when these are the same men who insist that wearing a Covid-preventing mask in public places is a ‘matter of choice’

That controlling attitude, that demand for obedience, that regret of the loss of absolute power has made the debate nastier, the approach more bitter and the divide wider. God help Jesus if he ever does come back and mix it with these ‘Christians’ – he wouldn’t last 5 minutes with those limp, hippy wishy-washy views of his.

And though I hate to say it – these men have plenty of allies with their comfortably-off, zealous wives and daughters. When the lifelong teachings of patriarchy are engrained – and frankly your lifestyle is pretty comfortable – you can afford to ditch the sisterhood and cling tight to what you know.

So before we criticise the Taliban or any other organisation for its oppressive approach towards women’s rights, let’s just take a look sideways to make sure we are the models of equality. Two wrongs don’t make a right but there are some corners of the West that would make very comfortable seats for those we are all too ready to condemn.

Your servant

MC

Charlie Watts – Ode to the Wembley Whammer

On Saturday 26th June, 1982 I travelled by train to London with friends Paul B and Paul S. We were on our way to Wembley Stadium. We were 16 years old and going to see the Rolling Stones.

A year earlier I had bought – and played to death – my first Stones album, Tattoo You. It was the beginning of a love affair with the band that remain to this day.

Through death, riots, drug busts, leavers and joiners over the almost 60 years, the Stones have been perennial to Great Britain and the world as the Queen.

Always there, still touring, playing those thrillingly familiar songs that have marked the progress of my youth, adolescence, loves, life, hopes fears and dreams. The triumphs and joys had me reaching for a Stones song. Despair and low confidence had a Stones number to pick me up. Uncertainty, crossroads moments and big decisions were taken with a familiar soundtrack.

There is a love of music and the people that produce it, that defines analysis. Why this band? Why this song? Try and touch the magic and it turns to dust or stays one tantalising step out of reach. Of course you can quantify production values, look at chord progressions, call out references within lyrics.

But trying to nail why you love any form of music and why it moves you? Don’t bother. You’ll sound like you are draining the very soul that soars when the music plays.

At the heart of my beloved Stones was Charlie Watts. When news emerged that he had died on Tuesday, everything stopped. It was a moment of genuine grief and loss. Someone who had always been there was now gone. I’d never see him playing live again.

My mind was flooded with sounds, images, the sound of drums and the face of this incredibly talented, yet disarmingly modest man who eschewed the excesses of the rock & roll lifestyle yet contributed more than most to its mountain of memories.

The tributes paid have been wide and effusive. Rightly so. There will not be another Charlie Watts. As there will not be a cohort of bands like the 60s British invaders. As there will not be a generation like the war babies.

Like millions of us fans, I never met Charlie. I hope that my chanting of ‘Charlie, Charlie’ when the band was introduced over the years touched him in some small way.

Interestingly my sister Cheryl did speak with him one day back in the 80s. She was working at the Ritz and took telephone bookings.

On this particular day, an old client called up to request his usual room. She carefully took his name and asked a colleague if they knew this gentleman who said he’d stayed there before. (Oh yes, Mr Watts, he has room number…’)

Charlie asked if she was new there. Cheryl said yes. He asked how she liked it, chatted over the booking and wished her well in her new role. It’s often the small moments that speak volumes of a person’s character.

Like the way Charlie sketched every hotel room he stayed in. When in rare interviews he was asked about life on the road and it was clear he’d like nothing better than to get back home to wife Shirley and his daughter, the horses they bred and the dogs they loved.

His talent for design that had a massive hand in the creation of the Stones live stage sets over the years. From Still Life to A Bigger Bang, the amazing sights that accompanied the sounds were from  Charlie’s ideas with the crew.

I won’t recall the famous punching Mick Jagger incident again – it’s enough to show that whilst modest and self-effacing, Charlie knew his worth. And for that I’m glad. His recommendation that the free Hyde Park concert in 1969 go ahead in tribute to Brian Jones who’d died a few days earlier. His genius idea to play live on the back of a truck through the streets of Manhattan in 1975 to promote the upcoming tour, like the old blues bands used to.

His sense of timing, his deliberate execution of every beat. Knowing what to play and when not to play. More learned scholars will be able to explain his technique better than me. I just loved to see and hear him play. Listening to the Charlie Watts Orchestra on Radio 3 this week and catching up on YouTube with the Charlie Watts Quintet showcased his love of jazz, his impeccable quiet leadership and his diverse gifts as a musician and artist.

His indifference to the celebrity lifestyle made him greater in stature. Especially amid the wilder excesses of the band he found himself in. Some have contested that he was a frustrated jazzman, somehow compromised by the ongoing obligations to the Stones. That misses the point entirely.

Charlie simply loved to play. He loved being on stage, playing in a band. And he loved Mick, Keith, Bill and Ronnie. The silence of Mick and Keith in particular in the days since Charlie died is significant. This is a bigger blow that anyone could imagine; the rock on which the band was built is gone.

The music of the Rolling Stones will be played as long as people love music written and played with passion. They will endure and be heard by generations not yet born.

When you sit and listen – no dammit, get up and jump around listening to Paint It, Black, Street Fighting Man, Gimmie Shelter, Tumbling Dice, Miss You, Start Me Up, Undercover of the Night and whatever else you want, the driving force that keeps the whole gloriously ramshackle, sloppy Greatest Rock & Roll Band in the World on the money, is the indefatigable steadiest heartbeat that ever graced the rock & roll stage.

RIP Charlie. We Love You.

61-91-21 – Timeline of triumph and tragedy

Photo: TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP via Getty Images

1961. Berlin. The Soviet forces laid out barbed wire across the road in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Their chiefs later admitted that if the Americans, British or French had steamrollered the wire down, they wouldn’t have replaced it.

But the Allies did nothing. A green light for the construction of the Berlin Wall, the most visible, miserable symbol of the Cold War. One indecisive moment prompting almost three decades of the divided city.

1991. The world. We’d won. The Cold War was over, the Soviet Union collapsed and all the money cut off from the communist states from Cuba to Africa. Russia entered a decade of mishandled misery under Yeltsin, George H Bush coordinated a global, united alliance to kick Saddam out of Kuwait.

Western liberal democracy had emerged as the prevailing power in the world. The UK and US felt confident enough to dispose of the strong-arm leaders Margaret Thatcher and the same George H Bush for moderate, next-generation leaders Clinton and Major.

Unfortunately they forgot the words of President Thomas Jefferson, abridged to “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance”.

A terrible level of complacency set in very quickly. The Russians were now our friends. All the threats came from the Middle East, but we could easily contain them, like we did with Saddam.

British Intelligence defunded the Russian monitoring office. Our agents were no longer required to learn Russian. NATO and the EU stepped up efforts to expand their membership across the former Soviet states, now that Russia was no longer a threat.

At the same time, western liberal democracies’ insatiable appetite for cheap goods and lower energy prices increased the traffic of trade and corporate partnerships with – or rather from – ever-more stirring China. Tiananmen Square had revolted us, but not enough to cancel the Christmas decorations.

As the 90s gave way to the 2000s, our complacency and arrogance was confronted in the most horrific fashion.

9/11 in New York was the first of many attacks across the west. London, Glasgow, Spain, France, Denmark, Germany followed. The response from George W Bush and Tony Blair were not-so skilfully coordinated responses.

They showed themselves to be very good at starting things, but very poor at finishing. Afghanistan (more of that in a moment), Iraq, Libya – the cheering on of the false Arab Spring. The removal of dictators and naïve belief that democracy would fill the void in tribal, feudal lands.

All the while, Russia had never stopped spying, never stopped planning and infiltrating. Developing its cyber capabilities and cleverly leveraging its armed forces. From a position of relative weakness, new leader and former KGB chief Vladimir Putin outfoxed every western leader as his stature and power base grew.

China’s deployment of capital and intelligence meant an equally ‘soft’ progress to inherit the crown of the world’s top dog. Cameron & Osborne’s ‘golden age’ initiative to feather the capitalists nests by doing deals with the faux-communist state must have provided hours of amusement in Beijing. Whilst the unregulated (forget de-regulated) British marketplace, offered not only the family silver of companies, but the controls of infrastructure, transport and energy. Roll up, roll up…

2021. The world. We’ve lost. Western liberal democracy has shown itself to be weak, divided and unwilling or unable to square up to the brutal rival ideologies.

The scenes from Afghanistan  over the last week or so have painted a painful picture for everyone directly associated with the war conducted over the last 20 years. Armed Services from all allied nations are asking, ‘what was the point?’. Once again, the country has proved its reputation as the ‘graveyard of empires’.

Thousands of allied deaths, goodness knowns how many thousands Afghan fatalities, mass displacement of people fleeing the violence. False promises, false hope, no coherent strategy. And a fantasy that we could somehow train and equip a domestic force to police its own state under the guidelines of our ways and values.

The lamentable performance of President Biden and the desperate, embarrassing narrative from the Johnson government show how far we have fallen down and short of what we once cherished. There were of course no easy answers or exit strategy from all this. And President Trump’s Taliban deal didn’t help matters.

But the only conclusion looking at the world as it stands right now is – dictatorship is the winning strategy. With no domestic audience to placate and no elections of substance to face, Russia and China are filling the power vacuum.

The Soviet disaster of the 80s in Afghanistan has been brushed aside as Russia keeps its embassy open and Putin’s team reach out to the Taliban. Masters of realpolitik as ever. While China and Iran weigh up their options either side of the wreckage.

Twenty years of piling up the debt burdens and staying one step ahead in the cyber warfare and manipulation have enabled both Putin and Xi to plant metaphorical bombs under the foundations of our societies.

But real bombs and bullets remain available. And the willingness of the west to fight back has been absent. The chaotic withdrawal from Kabul currently in progress follows Russian aggression in Georgia and Ukraine that went unpunished. Sanctions? The Kremlin refuses to tremble. China’s cancellation of ‘One Nation Two Systems’ in Hong Kong 27 years early has brought no backlash beyond words.

There will be nervousness in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan as American resolve appears wavering. Some will say this is no bad thing. Perhaps we should stop charging around the world, poking our noses in and insensitively imposing our will. Corporate pillaging is often as bad as the Nordic original.

Whatever happens, the west’s rhetoric needs to be matched by its deeds. The Cornwall summit earlier this year declared that ‘America is back’ and that liberal democracies must stand firm for their values and good influence in the world.

We are falling someway short on that. The coming months and years will show what our values truly are.

61 – dictatorship

91 – democracy

21 – dictatorship

51 – ?

Your servant,

MC