Book review: Murray tries and fails to stir up panic about a “war on the West”

27 May

The War on the West: How to Prevail in the Age of Unreason  by Douglas Murray

This author makes, in his introduction, a number of preposterous claims. Here is his opening paragraph:

“In recent years it has become clear that there is a war going on: a war on the West. This is not like earlier wars, where armies clash and victors are declared. It is a cultural war, and it is being waged remorselessly against all the roots of the Western tradition and against everything good that the Western tradition has produced.”

How can Douglas Murray suggest that this “war”, as he terms it, has only “in recent years” become apparent?

At pretty much any time one cares to name in recent centuries, conservatives have feared that tradition is in danger both from barbarian invaders, and from reformers within the gates who wish to sweep away all we have built, and erect a glittering new edifice in which their reign of virtue can begin.

The French Revolutionaries promised this. Various varieties of Communist promised it. In the 1960s, rebellious students and satirists set out to subvert every traditional source of authority.

In order to justify his hysterical tone, Murray goes in search of enemies who today pose a mortal threat. By page four he has found the Communist Party of China, and complains:

“almost nobody speaks of China with an iota of the rage and disgust poured out daily against the West from inside the West.”

That is true, and this reviewer would not wish for one moment to downplay the horrors perpetrated by China. But the same double standard was applied by many in the West to the Soviet Union.

The problem is not new, and working out what to do about it, or how to contain it, is the work of decades, perhaps of centuries.

But Murray’s fiercest argument is with those inside the West who wish to debilitate the West. In 2017, he recalls, he brought out The Strange Death of Europe, in which (as he says in the volume under review) he asked why the Europeans have allowed mass migration, “and why they were expected to abolish themselves in order to survive”.

According to Murray, only Western countries “were told constantly that in order to have any legitimacy at all…they should swiftly and fundamentally alter their demographic makeup”.

That is a gross over-simplification. In pretty much every Western country, there have been big arguments about immigration. In Australia, the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, pretty much anywhere one cares to name, politicians have come to realise they will only possess legitimacy if they avert unrestricted immigration.

Africans are at this moment suffering in abominable camps in Libya because the European Union has devised ways to stop them crossing the Mediterranean.

A further paradox, untouched on by Murray, is that many British politicians of immigrant descent – one thinks of such figures as Kwasi Kwarteng, Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman, Priti Patel and Kemi Badenoch – express conservative opinions with wonderful gusto.

If Enoch Powell were still alive, he would perhaps concede that the British nation and British political tradition have proved more adaptable, and durable, than he had feared.

Where does Brexit fit in Murray’s narrative of a war on the West? He ignores that question and is instead indignant that “we have been pushed into racial hyper-awareness”:

“In recent years, I have come to think of racial issues in the West as being like a pendulum that has swung past the point of correction and into overcorrection.”

He continues:

“Racism is not the sole lens through which our societies can be understood, and yet it is increasingly the only lens used. Everything in the past is seen as racist, and so everything in the past is tainted.”

Is this really true, or is the pendulum already swinging back against such a simplistic reading of history? On one of my regular walks I pass a house, on a leafy slope on the Highgate side of Hampstead Heath, in the window of which for some months I was faintly irritated to see a hand-written sign which said “SILENCE IS VIOLENCE”.

The sign has now been taken down. I accept that this does not amount to conclusive proof that the moral panic which swept at hurricane force across Britain as well as America after the murder of George Floyd has blown itself out.

But things have died down a bit. No more statues have been thrown into Bristol harbour. Churchill still stands in Parliament Square, his plinth at present unsullied by accusations that he was a racist.

On page 126 of his book, Murray alludes to a Policy Exchange pamphlet in which Andrew Roberts and Zewditu Gebreyohanes rebutted the slurs cast at Churchill in February 2021 during a panel discussion at Churchill College, Cambridge.

So the pendulum does still swing, and contentions which for a short time have held sway are exposed to criticism, and cease to be quite so fashionable. It turns out to be possible to disapprove in the strongest terms of racism, without supposing it offers a complete interpretation of the past.

Gebreyohanes has just become Director of Restore Trust, an organisation set up, as she explained in a piece for The Times, to return the National Trust to its founding values and objectives.

Murray is in grave need of opponents, and inclined to magnify their importance. Many of those he finds are in the United States. He digs up Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, both of whom used to be more influential than they are now, and various other figures who may or may not become influential.

Karl Marx is dug up too, and we are reminded of some of that thinker’s today unacceptable views on race. Murray remarks ruefully that although the bust of Marx in Highgate Cemetery has from time to time been daubed in red paint, there have been “no online petitions or crowd efforts to pull it down and kick it into a nearby river”.

There is actually no river nearby, and to kick this colossal bust anywhere would be a difficult task, liable to end in many stubbed toes.

Marx, however, suffers what is in some ways a greater humiliation. He is ridiculed, or treated as a mere curiosity. If one does not wish to pay to enter the cemetery, one can see him through the railings on the southern edge of Waterlow Park, at a distance which reduces the bust to an acceptable size.

That is how the British public has long been inclined to deal with intellectuals who take themselves too seriously: it peers through the railings and laughs at them.

It seldom occurs to Murray that the best way to deal with fashionable absurdities is to laugh at them, and to trust to the good sense and conservatism of the wider public. Edmund Burke (absent from this book) put the point with genius in his Reflections on the Revolution in France:

“Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour.”

Murray has flattered the loud and troublesome insects of the hour by writing a whole book about them.

Since this ill-titled volume went to press, Vladimir Putin has ordered the invasion of Ukraine. There the true war on the West is being waged. The Ukrainians’ fight for freedom reminds us how trivial most of the pseudo-war recounted in this book really is.

Allan Mallinson: What if Putin opts to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine?

22 Mar

Allan Mallinson is a former soldier, and a novelist and writer. His The Making of the British Army is published by Penguin Random House.

Ben Wallace wrote on this site last week that Vladiir Putin should be in no doubt that escalation will meet a robust response. A day earlier, Garvan Walshe described the need for “escalation dominance”.

They’re right, of course. And unthinkable though it may seem, we need therefore to talk about tactical nuclear weapons. We’ve almost forgotten what they were.

The only thing that ever bothered me in the 1980s, when the Cold War was at a dangerous fork in the road and I was commanding a squadron in Germany, was the periodic guard duty at the nuclear ammunition storage site near Paderborn.

It wasn’t the thought of a nuclear accident – where else to be in that event but at ground zero? – or attack by Spetsnaz or terrorist gangs, for we could have dealt with that. Rather was it the military police battalion of the 59th (US) Ordnance Brigade (Special Ammunition Support).

The MPs’ job was security, and they took it hyper-seriously. (If not, why not?). A Lance Corporal that stumbled when interrogated about his precise orders could bring a career-stopping rebuke from the Commander-in-Chief for the officer in command.

The ammunition was nothing to do with the strategic nuclear deterrent (Polaris), technically. These were low-yield shells for the Royal Artillery’s eight-inch calibre howitzer (range about 12 miles), and warheads for the Lance ballistic missile (range, 50 miles or so): they were tactical – “battlefield” – nuclear weapons (TNW).

Each national contingent on NATO’s Central Front — the US, British, Canadian, German, Dutch and Belgian — fielded the same delivery systems, but the warheads were American, to be out-loaded during a crisis, and fiercely guarded for the rest of the time.

The Royal Air Force (Germany), along with the other national air contingents, had sub-strategic nuclear bombs and missiles of their own. The targets of RAF(G)’s TNWs were troop concentrations to the east of the River Weser, in the event of Soviet spearheads breaching the so-called Weser Line on the western side of the Upper Weser valley. The Lances and howitzers of the Royal Artillery’s 39th Heavy and 50th Missile regiments would have joined in the interdiction.

That, however, was the purely military view of TNW, and there were indeed some who regarded nuclear artillery as “just a bigger bang.”

The other view was that of the policy staff in Whitehall. I remember during my first week in the directorate of military operations being told by a senior mandarin that the General Staff did not understand deterrence.

In essence, the policy staff’s view was that of Sir Humphrey Appleby when he explained Deterrence to the Jim Hacker in Yes, Prime Minister.  Hacker thought he probably wouldn’t use Trident in the event of a nuclear attack on Britain, and that they, the Soviets, probably knew it – so buying Trident was pointless.

Sir Humphrey agreed, up to a point: “Yes, they probably know that you probably wouldn’t. But they can’t certainly know.”

Hacker doubted this. “They probably certainly know that I probably wouldn’t.”

Sir Humphrey was then at pains to explain the essential element of uncertainty in deterrence theory: “Yes, but though they probably certainly know that you probably wouldn’t, they don’t certainly know that, although you probably wouldn’t, there is no probability that you certainly would.”

Which is why when in 2015 Jeremy Corbyn, pressed by Sarah Montague, the Today presenter, on whether there were any circumstances in which he would use the nuclear option, said “No”, he effectively cancelled deterrence and made himself unelectable as Prime Minister.

Sir Humphrey didn’t explain to Jim Hacker the role of TNW in deterrence theory. It was comedy, after all, and the joke was better delivered quickly. But the purpose of TNW, said the real Sir Humphreys in the 1980s, was to provide a plausible ladder of escalation: graduated response, rather than the erstwhile and rather less plausible doctrine of massive retaliation, with its notion of mutually assured destruction.

What those eight-inch nuclear shells did was provide multiple threads in the seamless cloak of escalatory deterrence logic – from the first rifle shots as Soviet troops set foot across the Inner German Border, to the release of multiple warheads over Russian cities.

TNWs weren’t meant to be used; they were meant to demonstrate that the cloak of deterrence was indeed seamless, and that there was therefore real peril for the Soviets in any offensive. Strategic and tactical nuclear weapons were inseparable in deterring both conventional and nuclear attack, which was why NATO could never sign up to “no first use.”

The Soviets had to be convinced of the real peril, of course – and so the soldiers and airmen had to plan for the actual use of TNW, practise their firing, and store the warheads and missiles well forward. And indeed the policy staff tended to view calls for any substantial strengthening of conventional defence, as the soldiers were always urging, as potentially diminishing deterrence, since it might increase the threshold of tactical nuclear release and therefore tempt a Soviet conventional attack with limited objectives.

Some soldiers thought this was all nonsense. Several chiefs of the general staff in the 1980s, notably two of the most cerebral – Dwin Bramall and Nigel Bagnall – would happily have scrapped all nuclear weapons, strategic and tactical.

They supposed the Soviets acted with the same rationality as they themselves, and were probably right to, although we’ll never know because the Soviet leadership was never put to the ultimate test. The arguments ceased with the collapse of the Soviet Union, when TNW were withdrawn from Europe and, in effect, scrapped. The Russians, on the other hand, did not scrap theirs.

Putin quite evidently acts with a different rationality, his logic based on different premises. What if, therefore, in contemplating using TNW, he becomes sufficiently certain that NATO, unable to respond with other than strategic nuclear weapons, will never gain the authority of its members to escalate?

In the public imagination, his crude but tellingly vague nuclear threats over Ukraine suggest intercontinental strikes. But what if he were contemplating a TNW strike against a “legitimate military target”? And how, in any future confrontation with NATO, would the alliance deter that same threat — or if deterrence fails, would restore deterrence?

To win Cold War Two, we must get real again about deterrence. NATO rearmament must address the seam that has been inserted in the previously seamless cloak.

Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Russians

17 Mar

In October 1956, as Soviet tanks rolled into Hungary, the Bolshoi Ballet performed to packed out crowds in Covent Garden. Being the year of the defections of Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, Anglo-Soviet relations remained were already distinctly frosty, and the threat of cancellation had hung over the visit by Moscow’s leading dancers until the day they arrived.

But though the announcement that summer that the troupe would make their first appearance in the west with a month at the Royal Opera House was greeted with shock, people queued day and night for tickets. Not even Khrushchev’s tanks could stop the trip being a great success, as London’s ballet fans were coolheaded in separating entertainment and politics.

Almost six decades on, the parallels with our current geopolitical and cultural crisis are all too obvious. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, like the Soviet repression of Hungary, is an attempt by a paranoid Russian leader to prevent a country they view as part of their sphere of influence from getting too close to the West.

In Hungary’s case, that involved a revolution against their Stalinist government. In Ukraine’s, it involves the gradual Westernisation of a country cursed to straddle one of Eurasia’s traditional fault lines. In both cases, the clear evidence of Russian aggression has prompted Western condemnation. In 1956, this saw moments of high moral principle, such as the historian E. P. Thompson quitting the Communist Party of Great Britain. In 2022, it has meant some of most depressing examples of our inane contemporary cancel culture.

The comments of Nigel Huddleston to his Departmental select committee on Tuesday were a case in point. As, in part, Minister for Fun, Huddleston’s job is stand up for British sport and culture on the world stage. At times such as this, one assumes that means expressing our support for Russian athletes being excluded from the Winter Paralympics, or from having their football teams compete in international competitions.

Though painful for the sportspeople themselves, as representatives of a country that has broken international norms, that seems a decent punishment – and one fewer entry in Eurovision might at least bolster our abysmal chances. Similarly, going after the ill-gotten gains of various oligarchs, if hardly as vital as weaning Europe off Russian gas, at least gives the impression of something being done, and forces over-paid footballers to face the horror of a coach journey to Middlesborough.

But Huddleston’s comments went beyond these acts of sporting tokenism. He said that the Government is looking at the issue of those Russian players wishing to clog up our television screens for a few weeks this summer at Wimbledon, and whether they should be permitted to compete if they expressed ‘any support for Putin and his regime’.

The world’s number one – so I’m told (I’m a cricket fan myself) – is a Russian, Daniil Medvedev, who is currently competing under no national flag. That isn’t good enough for the minister though, who wants ‘some assurance’ that players like Medvedev are not ‘supporters of Vladimir Putin’, and so the Government is ‘considering what requirements we may need to get assurances along those lines.’ He didn’t go into detail on what these sinister-sounding requirements might be.

Whilst the lawn, Rolex, and strawberry enthusiasts of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club are well within their rights as a private organisation to ban someone from competing for holding dodgy or distasteful views, the idea of the Government stepping in to ensure players toe the party line is faintly terrifying.  In a very gentle way, a minister of the crown is suggesting the Government of the United Kingdom should pressure someone into a particular political view – and that is shocking.

But not unusual, in the current climate. The last few weeks have brought myriad examples of a disturbing inability on the parts of Western organisations to distinguish between the barbarities of Putin’s regime and Russian individuals, culture, and music.

Whether it was the Cardiff Philharmonic refusing to play Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, an Italian university temporarily cancelling a course on Dostoevsky, or the dropping of a Russian film-maker from the Glasgow Film Festival due to his having received funds from his government (despite his condemning the war), there seems to be an ongoing competition for the most ludicrous example of Russophobic virtue-signalling. It isn’t only in the West – Eric Clapton, Iggy Pop, and Franz Ferdinand are all amongst those who have joined Disney, Sony, and other leading corporations in cancelling performances in Russia. Some, of course, would say that’s a blessing.

If this was only limited to private companies and organisations, this wouldn’t be too bad. My staunch support for private property rights is in a natural tension with my loathing of prejudice, but if New York’s Met Opera or the Munich Philharmonic wish to sack a tenor or conductor because they won’t go far enough in condemning Putin, then that is their right.

But I draw a line when it comes to our government, and the suggestion of compelling individuals to agree with an agreed point of view. What’s next? Nadhim Zahawi banning the teaching of Catherine the Great in schools and universities? Nadine Dorries encouraging us to burn Tolstoy? That really is taking the, ahem, war and peace.

We don’t consider Emma Raducanu culpable for partygate, Sir Simon Rattle responsible for Net Zero, or Great Expectations to blame for Brexit. We are able, domestically, to separate individuals from the government and its actions. When it comes to Russian culture, and sports people competing in a private capacity, ministers should take the same approach as their predecessors did to the Bolshoi in 1956. Let them come. Let them entertain. And don’t let’s be beastly to the Russians.

Sarah Atherton MP: Russia’s Ukraine war. We must review our army cuts, reconsider fracking – and park Net Zero

14 Mar

Sarah Atherton is a member of the Defence Select Committee and is MP for Wrexham.

The invasion of Ukraine is a dreadful, shameless crime, perpetrated by a corrupt leader entertaining a fantasy of rebuilding the old Soviet Union. In the same way that the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc were brought to an end by the brave people that lived there, we can only hope that Russia’s own people and the heroic people of Ukraine will defeat him. The occupation and destruction of a peaceful European nation in the twenty-first century is truly horrifying.

Events have also shown that the West and our shared defence aims have been left lacking: whilst Russia and China have built formidable military forces, used misinformation tactics to exert pressure and resorted to domestic genocide and international war crimes, one might say that the West has been too focused on woke minority issues.

There have also been signs of what was to come: the illegal annexation of Crimea, the Salisbury poisonings, and widespread allegations of election interference. But what did NATO do – as a defence organisation and military alliance – to counter these events?

Yes, there were stern words of condemnation and the expulsion of Russian diplomats, but the West’s responses to these events look now to have been lacking. If NATO is to prevent future aggressions, we must all have ‘big sticks’ to back up our words of diplomacy and our democracy.

Francis Fukuyama famously declared the post-Cold War era to be the ‘end of history’. There was an assumption that the threat of a European land war was over, and we have allowed ourselves to forget the hard-fought lessons of European history. We have sleepwalked into these current events, believing that the collapse of the Berlin Wall meant that we could take our eye off the defence of our nation. The ‘end of history’, the so-called ‘peace dividend’ of Thatcher and George H.W. Bush, has proved to be a false dawn.

Whilst I welcomed the recent Integrated Review and continue to believe it proposes a solid plan for the future, looking towards the Indo-Pacific whilst recognising the changing nature of warfare, we must fundamentally rethink our national and global aims in light of what has happened in Ukraine. The belief is that defence spending should be linked to the threat that the UK faces, and this is why I believe we should increase spending to at least three per cent of GDP. The Foreign Secretary said this recently, and I agree with her.

To start, we must reconsider the cuts to personnel – particularly to the infantry and our armoured capability.

But defence – and our nation’s safety – should also look at our reliance on foreign energy sources and supplies. To ensure that we are no longer reliant upon Russia, directly or indirectly, this Government has been right to rethink how we supply energy to our nation. Recent announcements are welcome but the Government must come up with more – and fast.

We must roll out a new generation of nuclear reactors, and quickly, and we should be re-assessing fracking and tidal enhancement. Radical new energy policies will take time to take effect, but the longer-term implications for energy security will be welcomed.

As part of this, we should also park, for the time being, the Net Zero endeavour. Of course, it can and should remain a long-term aim but ensuring that we can, as a nation, generate the energy we need without a reliance on overseas sources should come first.

In my constituency of Wrexham, we have a large and hardworking Polish community – the largest outside of London and a history dating back to World War Two. We should be engaging a similar welcoming spirit this time around by welcoming into our town, and nation, those displaced from Ukraine who are true European refugees and victims of Europe’s latest war. It is right that the Government are engaging and re-evaluating support for refugees as this crisis evolves.

The appalling invasion of a democratic and sovereign European nation in the twenty first century will change our lives forever. It has already caused a seismic shift in global politics. Just look at Germany, where Olaf Scholz’s has executed an about-turn on German domestic and international policy. Scholz’s decision to increase defence spending and cancel Nordstream 2 goes in the face of German political orthodoxy under Angela Merkel.

The Government is rightly considering how to act in the face of this new reality – because some of the decisions of 2021 are now up for debate.

Jeremy Black: This crisis will require a Prime Minister able to devote sustained attention

1 Mar

Jeremy Black is Emeritus Professor of History at Exeter University.

Real people fear, suffer and die. That is the nature of war. Conflict is also intensely political, not just because war is waged in order to enforce policies and determine decisions, but also because observers recalibrate their world, its hopes, fears, opportunities and nightmares. What yesterday appeared of great consequence is rendered redundant and new contexts provide the basis for judgment.

The Ukraine conflict will not end las the Falklands invasion did with the fall of the aggressive government and a situation that can be readily policed. Instead, whatever the short-term outcome and resulting position, this situation will fester, which will pose major challenges for statecraft, and for the stability both of Ukraine and of surrounding areas.

Russia has taken on a huge task, one that ultimately depends on installing a pliant government. Ukraine (233,031 square miles) compares to such previous areas of intervention as the Korean Peninsula’s 85,232, Vietnam’s 128,066 and Czechoslovakia’s 78,871.

Moreover, whereas the Soviets invaded Manchuria (390,625) in 1945 with two million troops, Vladimir Putin, who cannot draw on the same land forces as Stalin, has deployed fewer than 200,000.

Moreover, Russia cannot draw on the support of the Warsaw Pact allies as the Soviet Union did when invading Czechoslovakia. Furthermore, modern missiles offer little for the control of over 40 million people, and you cannot have a secret policeman at everyone’s elbow.

So, due to arrogance and stupidity, Putin, with his unprovoked, illegal, and totally unnecessary aggression, has put Russia in a very difficult position. Yet, however badly it goes, it is hard to see any Russian government letting Ukraine become a member of NATO because, although neither is a threat to Russia, that is not how they are considered by the paranoid Russian leadership.

On the mega-strategic level, this Russian attitude to Ukraine is made more difficult because of the range of other crises in which Russia could play a more or less hostile role, from East to South-West Asia and the Balkans to the Caribbean. A hostile Russia could make such issues as Iranian aggression, Chinese expansionism, and North Korean volatility far more difficult, and could further empower dictatorial allies or would-be allies, a list by no means limited to Belarus, Cuba, Syria and Venezuela, none of which offer a pleasant prospect for Ukraine.

Western policymakers are going to have to consider the knock-on impact of the specific crisis, and the need to recalibrate tripwires elsewhere, both diplomatic and military.

The ability of the West to act with unity in this crisis will require continual care which means the need for real skill on the part of the Foreign Office and its ministers, and a Prime Minister able to devote sustained attention.

There is also the political wake within Britain. Covid costs and attention hit hard at this government, forcing the jettisoning of projects, such as the Yorkshire spur of HS2, and, more seriously, weakening its attention and energy. Differently, the same is the case with the Ukraine crisis, which, with Putin’s talk about nuclear alert, makes the relative inconsequence of the Covid pandemic more apparent.

Domestic governance will be harder as projects are cancelled and hopes brought low, and, aside from resulting problems, it would be unrealistic not to assume that Russia will meddle in domestic politics, not least by continuing to support separatist movements.

This situation ensures a need for maturity and judgment in the short term, but also consideration of the degree to which our democratic system is undermined from within by anti-democratic forces. The Soviet Union did so with some success during the Cold War, not least through providing assistance via allies to the Provisional IRA and the National Union of Miners, and it is naïve to expect that the same will not recur. This provides a particular need for government to consider how best to monitor, assess and, if necessary, counter dangerous, if not treasonable, domestic opposition.

As with the Cold War, this is a task that ranges widely, to include intellectual division. Indeed, there is a clear context in terms of culture wars, which the Left repeatedly appears to be winning, not least in the universities. Many who denounce a long past of the British empire and of the Atlantic slave trade appear all-too-oblivious about Russian imperialism and about the enslavement of the Ukrainians. What might appear a troubling absence of values is in fact a commitment against our country.

We can’t even begin to come to terms with the implications of this war

25 Feb

The Government’s responses to Vladimir Putin’s full invasion of Ukraine range from perhaps hosting its government in Britain, through sanctions targeted on Putin’s cronies and others aimed at Russia’s economy, to reinforcing our military presence in Eastern Europe and supporting armed Ukrainian resistance.

The asset freezes on more than 100 people and entities announced yesterday by Boris Johnson are an example of the first, and the proposed export ban on all dual-use items to Russia one of the second.

The Government has already moved army battlegroups, Apache attack helicopters, fighter jets and warships to Eastern Europe.  It is reportedly sending helmets, light anti-tank weapons and body armour to Ukraine.

It is essential to add that Ministers, like other participants in and observers of this drama, do not know how events will now unfold.

It could soon become clear that Putin has over-reached, and is consequently deposed.  Or he may hold what he is taking, as the western front against him collapses.

Most likely, he achieves his immediate objective amidst hideous bloodshed, installs a puppet government in Ukraine – and will then grapple with an armed insurgency supported by most if not all of the main western powers.

However, few certainties aren’t the same as none, and one development is certain.  Putin will react in turn to our allies’ and our own response to his war.  We have collectively not even begun to grasp the implications.

Some of us remember the Cold War against the Soviet Union.  More recall recent “hot wars” in which our troops fought abroad – Iraq, Afghanistan.

There has been republican and loyalist terror in Northern Ireland and Great Britain too, as well as atrocities by Islamist and other actors.

But most of us have not experienced such attacks, nor fought for our country abroad, nor encountered Soviet espionage at home.

Neither have we encountered what might be called Lukewarm War – or, in the less hyberbolic language of the Integrated Defence and Security Review, “competition across multiple spheres”.

This “will grow in other spheres, including technology, cyberspace and space, further shaping the wider geopolitical
environment”, it said.

“Systemic competition will further test the line between peace and war, as malign actors use a wider range of tools – such as economic statecraft, cyber-attacks, disinformation and proxies – to achieve their objectives without
open confrontation or conflict.”

Are our cyber-defences ready for possible cyber-attacks?  Our conventional ones for more Russian incursions into our airspace and waters? Is the Government geared up for Putin’s developing push in social media and elsewhere online?  Is the British public remotedly prepared for cyber assaults aimed at our national infrastructure?

Then there are the twofold implications of the further manipulation by Putin of Russia’s gas supplies – first, for prices at a time when the cost of living is already soaring and second, even more profoundly, for security of supply.

Successive governments have deprioritised this security, the first leg of any proper energy policy, at the expense of the other two: affordable prices and lower emissions.

So the war in Ukraine poses a new questionmark against the Net Zero emissions target, and will give new impetus to Rishi Sunak’s push for new oil and gas fields in the North Sea.

Security of energy supply, like running the NHS less hot in preparation for another pandemic, and like security of food supply, is an aspect of the emerging post-Covid politics of resilience (or should be).

It will be argued that Putin won’t cut off his gas supply nose to spite Russia’s economic face, and that it will be hit hard by western sanctions.

Especially by those applied to “high-end and critical technological equipment and components in sectors including electronics, telecommunications and aerospace”, to quote the Prime Minister’s words.

The counter-view is that Putin is turning Russia into an autarky, with low national debt, high reserves, a fiscal surplus and leverage over wheat and corn.  And that if you want to see what real resilience looks like, gaze eastwards.

It may be that with Russia moving closer to China, we are looking at a future in which Eurasia and Eastasia form a common economic bloc against Oceania’s, to borrow the terms of George Orwell.

Or in which, just as Nixon went to China, Donald Trump goes to Moscow: or rather, some future Republican or even Democrat President does so, in an attempt to peel off Russia from America’s hegemonic rival.

Then there are the implications for rogue actors: Iran; North Korea. Such future speculation returns me to today’s unknowns, such as Putin’s response to sanctions against Russia or the arming of Ukraine’s resistance.

It may be that Ukraine should indeed have been admitted to NATO, though I am far from convinced that the move would have been practicable. “Collective defence means that an attack against one Ally is considered as an attack against all Allies,” in the words of Article Five of NATO’s charter.

Would voters in some NATO member states, including Britain, see Russia’s attack on Ukraine in this way?  I doubt it. But whatever view one takes, the West in general, and the EU in particular, has been willing to float the end of Ukraine’s full membership of western institutions without providing the means.

At any rate, the Government is right to seek to arm the Ukrainian resistance, and western Europe must ready itself for a flow of refugees.

However, we have no alternative but now to draw a military line in the sand, or rather in the green grass of Europe, not in Ukraine itself but on the borders of our NATO allies, such as Poland and the Baltic States.

Which means action short of NATO seeking to establish a no fly zone over Ukraine, given the risk of escalation in the event of planes from any of the actors being shot down.

Admittedly, it’s impossible to weigh those risks in any event, since Putin is evidently more willing to take risks than some Russia-watchers believed.

In such circumstances, we tend to reach for the comfort blanket of the past.  It’s the Soviet Union all over again, say some.  No, 1939, say others.  Others still say 1914.

It’s true that history repeats itself.  But sometimes it says something new altogether, and the novelty catches us off-balance.

So it may be now in the wake of an event so baleful, like 9/11, that no-one can know where it will lead. Resolute voices filled the Commons yesterday.  But I also hear whistling in the dark.

Robin Millar: History teaches us that appeasing aggression only fuels more aggression. It’s a lesson we must apply to Ukraine.

26 Jan

Robin Millar is the MP for Aberconwy.

Earlier this month Russian troops were deployed to suppress a civilian uprising and to protect Russian nationals, economic and military assets. Russian supplied weapons were used by the Russian-trained security services who were ordered to “shoot to kill” protesters who had revolted against the Russian-backed dictator of their country.

This situation played out in Kazhakstan, a former Soviet republic – but it serves as a reminder that Russia is determined to maintain its influence throughout the former Soviet Union. It also serves as a stark warning of the seriousness of the situation on Ukraine’s border and the small but real prospect of Russian invasion.

There are clear incentives for western involvement to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

First, the West has a moral obligation to take an interest and to act. Ukraine is a Western-looking country with aspirations to join NATO, a defensive alliance. Russia’s response to such aspirations held by other former Soviet republics has been to try and install a puppet regime – historically with a scant regard for democracy or human rights. Further afield, Russia’s actions in Syria under Assad and Belarus under Lukashenko must raise concerns for the fate that awaits the people of Ukraine, should their country fall.

Second, practically, a Russian invasion would drive up our cost of living, energy prices, inflation and threaten our post pandemic economic recovery. While the UK imports minimal quantities of Russian gas – depending instead on imports of LPG imports from the Middle East and of gas through pipelines from Norway – we are as exposed as any other economy to wholesale gas price increases. Should Russia restrict, by which I really mean weaponise, gas supplies in the event of conflict, prices would be pushed even higher than present record levels.

Third, unchecked, an invasion would have huge geopolitical implications for Europe and the West. Plenty of other states around the world will be watching to see if Western words are followed by action. China – and Taiwan – will have noted the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, led by an increasingly introvert US.

History teaches us that appeasing aggression only fuels more aggression. Even after 30 years, Russia has never fully accepted the independence of these former Soviet republics and has yearned to bring them back within its sphere of influence. Should Ukraine fall, Russia’s focus will shift to the Baltic States – each with their own significant Russian minorities.

However, the UK, along with our NATO allies, has been deterring them by overtly defending NATO member states.

Military deployments have included RAF Typhoon fighter jets to Lithuania in support of Baltic Air Policing in June 2021 – resulting in multiple interceptions of Russian military aircraft. In May last year an RAF-led military Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) was sent to the Baltic region as a component of Operation Cabrit – the British operational deployment to Estonia where UK troops are leading a multinational battlegroup.

This battle group forms part of the NATO-enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) mission, designed to improve Euro-Atlantic security, reassure NATO allies and deter NATO adversaries. Additional NATO reinforcements to the Baltic Sea include Denmark deploying a frigate and F-16 fighter jets, and the US reportedly deploying additional warships and aircraft to the region, along with thousands of additional troops.

As NATO members, the Baltic States fall under the umbrella of NATO’s collective defence – the unique and enduring principle that binds all NATO members together: an attack, be it armed, cyber or CBRN, against one member is an attack against them all. Russian aggression against the Baltic States is therefore a scenario that must be deterred. NATO can provide this deterrence.

However, NATO must stand united – which is easier said than done.

Last week the US President cast doubt on that unity, mutual commitment and determination. He undermined weeks of diplomacy and careful positioning when he stated: “what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades and it depends on what it does… It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having to fight about what to do and not do etc”. He continued to say, “there are differences in NATO as to what countries are willing to do, depending on what happens.”

Closer to home, Germany, a key alliance member, is one of the world’s major arms manufactures and exporters and supplies weapons to nations such as Egypt, Israel and Pakistan. However, it is actively blocking the transfer to Ukraine from other alliance members urgently needed weapons including long range artillery shells and their delivery systems.

And this is exactly why the role of the UK is vital.

Shortly after being elected as the Member of Parliament for Aberconwy in 2019 I was privileged to be selected to participate in the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be briefed on our military preparedness in Eastern Europe and on the threat that Russia represents on several fronts. I am also grateful to have observed, first-hand, the professionalism and dedication of our Armed Forces personnel, along with the high standard of training that they receive.

The UK is showing leadership in supporting Ukraine and in deterring Russian aggression. In August last year Jeremy Quin, the Defence Minister, told Parliament that “since 2015, the UK has trained over 21,000 Ukrainian military personnel in medical skills, logistics, counter improvised explosive devices, leadership and infantry tactics as part of Operation Orbital.”

More recently, recognising that a Russian invasion would be led by armoured columns crossing the border, the UK has provided targeted support to the Ukrainian military by airlifting 2,000 Next Generation Light Anti-Tank (NLAW) missiles. Given the scale of Russian armour this contribution is hugely significant in deterring Russian aggression, although it will not have gone unnoticed that public flight data shows the transport flights of this vital cargo are deviating around German airspace.

The price of this support is indeed high, but the cost of failure will be undoubtedly worse.

Our military support of Ukraine’s freedom is a symbol of the UK as a force for good in the world – every bit as much as our leadership in support for COVAX, the programme to provide Covid-19 vaccines to developing nations. As I write, “God Save the Queen” is trending on social media in Ukraine.

Every effort must be made to secure a diplomatic solution. But we must not repeat the mistake of Chamberlain, to confuse peace with an absence of conflict, until it is too late. Russia must know that any invasion of Ukraine will be resisted, militarily if necessary, by a united and determined NATO.

David Willetts: Is it too hard for Ministers to exercise power in modern Britain?

17 Dec

Lord Willetts is President of the Resolution Foundation. He is a former Minister for Universities and Science.

One of the most extraordinary features of the debate on Covid measures has been the interventions of Conservative MPs who think that we are on our way to a Soviet or Nazi state. There are legitimate arguments about balancing the costs of new measures with the benefits, but that is a far cry from authoritarianism.

A requirement to show you have been vaccinated or offer evidence of a recent negative test before entering a crowded place is not an over-mighty state. The price of liberty is indeed eternal vigilance, but this seems to be going rather over the top. A limit of £50 on the amount of money you could take abroad as part of post-War exchange controls until 1979 was a far more illiberal extension of the state.

Meanwhile, many ministers feel the very opposite – how hard it is to exercise power in modern Britain. They chafe particularly at the legal constraints on their actions as everything is now up for judicial review. Will the MPs who voted against the new controls because they extend the power of the state nevertheless vote to weaken judicial scrutiny of what governments do?

When I was working for Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, the obstacles to her reforms were essentially organised opposition from trade unions, left wing local councils and then Jacques Delors and the European Commission.

Trade union power is much weakened –if anything today’s gig economy workers could do with innovations to strengthen their voice. Locall councils are not the force they were, and the Government is trying to give them a bigger role. And the Delors agenda of using majority-voting to impose European social regulations on us had been seen off long before Brexit.

Coming back into Government in 2010, I was struck by how the constraints on ministers had changed. Everything we did was susceptible to legal review and challenge in a way that had not applied during the 1980s. Many more decisions came with elaborate advice on legal pitfalls and constraints.

Sometimes the advice could be very cautious. David Cameron rightly said to Cabinet that we should not automatically be inhibited from acting because of the risk of legal challenge. We should be willing to go ahead and then see our judgements tested in the courts – if we lost, that was not to be seen as a political blow. He would rather that than our being reluctant to do anything because of the fear of legal challenge.

Moreover, sometimes these legal protections can serve Conservatives as much as socialists. It would be terrible if the cancel culture spread as far here as it has in the US. One reason I still hope it won’t is that there are more legal protections for workers here than in the US, so an employee can’t just be sacked because they get caught in a social media storm.

Judicial review is clearly more intrusive than it was a generation ago. It can be surprising, even, shocking when you find how far some lawyers want to go.

For example, I did my best to resolve a constituent’s complaint about child support but I failed to get the result he had hoped for. But what took me aback was then getting a letter from his lawyer saying that they wanted to take me to court for failing in my duty of care for my constituent. Nothing came of it – but still it was a reminder of how the legal environment was changing.

However, this is not something peculiar to politics. Boards of companies, trustees of charities and indeed even conventional media outlets are much more legally constrained than they were. Indeed, some of these intrusions have been led by politicians themselves, who are then surprised when they themselves are subject to similar constraints.

These constraints can be very tiresome when you are trying to get something done. And then the paranoia which can creep up on any busy and harassed Minister means you start thinking there is a deep-state trying to stop you doing anything. But it is not an organised conspiracy like that – it is the checks and balances which protect us in a liberal democracy.

Now ministers ought to be worried about another constraint. A strong majority and the belief that you will be around as a Government for a long time does give extra authority and capacity to do things.

But if your majority is falling, and people think you may not be around in a couple of years then authority drains away. One Cabinet minister said to me that he thought his officials were much more helpful when the Government had a healthy lead in the polls than when it was behind. He was too pessimistic, but perhaps sometimes advisers might go through the motions but don’t believe you will be around long enough to check what has been done. Then making things happen really would get hard.

Adrian Lee: Sixty five years on, how the Suez Crisis affected the direction of British Conservative policy

20 Nov

Adrian Lee is a Solicitor-Advocate in London, specialising in criminal defence, and was twice a Conservative Parliamentary Candidate.

Late on the evening of November 5 1956, an advance party of British soldiers from the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment led by Brigadier M.A.H. Butler, dropped on El Gamil Airfield in Egypt. The Anglo-French re-conquest of the Suez Canal Zone had officially begun.

The airfield was swiftly secured by the British, enabling the remainder of the battalion to be flown in by helicopter. The British forces then pushed on relentlessly to their main target, the city of Port Said. Despite strong Egyptian resistance, and with close support from fighter planes from the three British aircraft carriers nearby, they were able to secure the beach in time for the assault by 42nd and 40th Commando of the Royal Marines at dawn the following morning.

Meanwhile, the French forces were supported by two aircraft carriers, launching a similarly successful attack with paratroopers from their 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment on Port Fuad. The European forces appeared unstoppable, but the mission was forsaken before it started.

On November 2 the USA, with Soviet support, successfully proposed Resolution 997 (ES-1) at the United Nations calling for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of forces from the Suez Canal. Anthony Eden’s government then came under massive political and economic pressure from Eisenhower’s American administration to cease hostilities immediately.

Britain and France, just 24 hours away from complete control of the Suez Canal, reluctantly complied. The outcome of this Crisis was an undoubted humiliation for both countries and signified the end of independent strategic operations without American approval. The consequences for the international order have been debated for decades, but, in contrast, little attention has been focused upon the impact of Suez on the future direction of British Conservative policy.

The maintenance of the British Empire had been a cornerstone issue for pre-war Conservatives, leading them to enthusiastically embrace protectionism but the world had moved on by the time that the Conservatives returned to power in 1951. India had gained its independence and the establishment of the Commonwealth in 1949 acknowledged that all members were able to leave the embrace of the mother country at will.

Leo Amery, one of the casualties of the 1945 election cull, who had originally entered Parliament in 1911 as an enthusiastic Chamberlainite Tariff Reformer, had spent his career championing the unity of the Empire. With the Empire in decline, Amery now turned his attention to the battered continent of Europe as a possible replacement and as “a positive antidote to socialism”.

He wasn’t the only Conservative to become besotted with European prospects; Duncan Sandys (Churchill’s son-in-law), Robert Boothby (a European Federalist since the 1920s) and Harold Macmillan (an admirer of Jean Monnet) all became involved in the United Europe Movement (U.E.M.) during the years in opposition after 1945. The U.E.M. held its inaugural meeting at the Albert Hall in May 1947 and Sandys used all his powers of persuasion to obtain Churchill’s consent to serve as first Chairman.

Sandys had also been the main driver behind Churchill’s earlier “Europe Unite” speech at the University of Zurich in September 1946. The pinnacle of Conservative Europeanism came with the tabling of a Parliamentary EDM on 16th March 1948, drafted by Boothby and signed by 58 Tory MPs, calling for the creation of a “Western Union”. The influence of the Europeanists significantly declined after the Conservatives returned to power in 1951 and when Ministers were faced with the practical task of managing the remaining Imperial territories.

In the early 50s, Britain’s decline of influence was felt most acutely in the Middle East. Conservatives felt that we had been chased out of Palestine in 1948 and had been humiliated in the 1951 Iranian Abadan Crisis and the attempt to nationalise Anglo-Iranian Oil. Increasingly concerned about negotiations over the future of Sudan, backbenchers began to fear that the next outpost to be abandoned would be the Suez Canal.

The Suez Group of Conservative MPs was formed to maintain the Commonwealth as a political and military entity in the belief that, in order to continue being one of the “Big Three” powers, Britain must continue to act as America’s equal. Any retreat from Britain’s global commitments was viewed as fatal to prestige and would inevitably lead to decline to a second-class power.

The founders of the Suez Group were Captain Charles Waterhouse MP and Leo’s son, Julian Amery. Amery became de facto leader almost immediately, with the first meeting being held at his father’s house in Eaton Square on October 5 1953. The Group grew to number over 50 MPs, many of whom were from the new intake and destined to dominate the Conservative Right in future decades. These included Angus Maude, Richard Body, John Biggs-Davison and Enoch Powell (who served as joint Group Secretary with Amery).

The immediate practical aim of the Group was to force the government to maintain a strong military presence on the Canal, but the Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, decided to withdraw the British bases and thus grant Egypt’s strongman, Gamal Abdel Nasser, control of the Canal Zone under the terms of the 1954 Anglo-Egyptian Agreement.

Amery believed that withdrawing British troops constituted a “a catastrophic gamble” and placed too much trust in the word of Nasser. He urged military action to retake control of Suez before the Egyptians had the opportunity to renege on the treaty and unilaterally nationalise the Anglo-French owned Canal.

Enoch Powell disagreed, arguing that it was too late to act and the moment had passed when Britain closed the last military base. The majority of the Suez Group sided with Amery and, following Nasser’s nationalisation speech in Alexandria on July 26, lobbied Eden, by now Prime Minister, into launching a full-scale invasion.

The failure of the intervention and America’s opposition to Britain and France led to anti-Americanism spreading throughout the Conservative Right. Significantly, the experience caused Powell to abandon concern for the declining Empire and the new Commonwealth (perceived by him as “a costly fiction”) and to seek a post-imperial national identity.

In doing so, Powell evoked the country’s pre-Imperial past and adopted an increasingly UK-centred, isolationist approach to foreign policy. To Julian Amery, who maintained his love of Empire, this all sounded like “British Gaullism”. Kevin Hickson, in his study Britain’s Conservative Right Since 1945, sees this as a key division on the Conservative Right between the new nationalist vision and the older Imperialist one.

These divisions would eventually crystalize into two wholly different approaches to the looming issue of Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community. The Europeanists started to resurrect their ambitions following Suez.

However, whilst the likes of Amery and Bigg-Davison became enthusiasts for the European Project (and would even go so far as to form the short- lived Pan Europe Club “…to promote the role of Britain as a European nation and work for the unity of all the nations of Europe founded on the Christian tradition and ultimately for their political union.”), Powell, Derek Walker-Smith, John Biffen, Richard Body and Neil Marten opposed British membership on grounds of loss of sovereignty.

In certain respects, the European Union represented to the old Imperial enthusiasts a new manifestation of Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Milner’s Imperial Federation idea with a common external tariff, a common Imperial Parliament and an internal single market to strengthen unity. European divisions would last until 2016 in the Conservative Party. The events of November 1956 certainly cast a long shadow.

Orban says he’s defending Christian civilisation. His opponents say he’s subverting Hungary’s democracy.

24 Sep

Will the European Union hold together? Or is Western Europe going one way and Central Europe another?

Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary, is perhaps the most eloquent exponent of, as he put it in a recent lecture, “a Central European cultural, intellectual and political entity that is growing more and more different from Western Europe”.

Orban has many critics, but his lecture was directed against one in particular, Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at Oxford.

There was a time when they were on the same side, for as Orban says:

“The professor has an excellent knowledge of Central Europe and used to inspire many of us during our years of resistance against communism and the Soviet occupation, in the late 1980s.

“What’s more, members of the current Hungarian political leadership had the chance to personally attend his lectures, which took a stance for freedom, at the University of Oxford.”

Orban, born in 1963, sprang to fame in Hungary in June 1989 by giving a speech demanding the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the holding of free elections, after which he studied for a few months at Pembroke College, Oxford, on a scholarship awarded by the Soros Foundation.

He returned home in January 1990, was elected to the National Assembly, became the leader of Fidesz, which he led in a national conservative direction, and served as Prime Minister from 1998-2002 and again since 2010.

Garton Ash has become, as in this interview with Euronews on 8th September, an unsparing critic of Orban:

“we do have European Union values which are being massively violated in countries like Hungary and Poland, and I think we need to stand up for those values…

“Viktor Orban is having his cake and eating it. He’s winning elections by saying ‘Stop Brussels’, campaigning against the European Union, but taking billions of European taxpayers’ money.

“Therefore the key to an effective response is to establish a linkage between the Europe of values and the Europe of money. And that’s what the European Union has so far failed to do…

“It is absolutely outrageous that you have a member state of the European Union which in my view is no longer a democracy, which has destroyed media freedom, which doesn’t have fair elections, free but not fair elections, which has kicked out the best university in central Europe, which has indulged in outrageously xenophobic propaganda, the treatment of migrants and so on, which is still receiving billions of euros in the EU funds, that is an outrageous state of affairs.”

When asked whether Orban’s illiberalism is a real threat to the EU, Garton Ash replied:

“Without question… One has to go back a long way to find a period when a Hungarian leader was so important in European history…

“And that is because he has become the symbolic leader of the other Europe, the conservative, anti-liberal, ethnic nationalist, Christian, socially conservative Europe.

“And Matteo Salvini, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, are all with him.

“So he represents not just one medium-sized member state of the European Union, he represents a very important tendency in the entire European Union.”

Orban maintains that on the contrary, his conservatism is “a blessing for the European Union and even Western Europe”, because the West, he contends in his lecture, has lost the convictions which lay behind its success:

“I understood that beyond and behind all the technical equipment, novel institutions and scientific discoveries, there was also the West’s sense of its exceptionalism and mission, which gave it inspiration and confidence. The conviction that Western man has a mission in the world and with the world, and must act in order to accomplish that mission.

“Naturally, we do know that the Western mission has intellectual and spiritual foundations that should be sought in Christianity. ‘Go, and make disciples of all nations’, Matthew says. This mentality, even if in a changed form, survived in the West also during the Enlightenment, the periods of the humanist ideal of man, human rights and the discoveries of modern science.

“During a period of unquestionable development and brilliant success – despite evident mistakes, blunders and grave shortcomings – the conviction that the overall balance of the mission of Western civilisation and the West was fundamentally positive held for a long time.

“However, something had changed by the beginning of the 21st century. And this happened just at a time when the West, led by America and Britain, had scored its most brilliant victory, having won the Cold War…

“It no longer seeks meaning in its own history; instead, it keeps saying that it will end soon. It re-interprets or deletes entire chapters of its history, finding them shameful and so to be cancelled, and in the meantime, it is unable to replace them with anything else. And those who are not paralysed, but in fact very much active, are such deconstructive, negative forces that they would be better off paralysed…

“the concept of open society has deprived the West of its faith in its own values and historical mission, and with this now – at the time of the Muslim flood and the rise of Asia – it is preventing the West from setting its own mission against the rising intellectual and political power centres…”

Orban contends that in Brussels, and the West generally, “a sense of mission shared by a political community, a nation is now unacceptable, even suspicious.” Hungary, on the other hand, still has that sense of mission: hence Budapest’s disputes with Brussels.

To Garton Ash, speaking on Tuesday to ConHome, Orban’s essay amounts to “a brilliant exercise in ideological distraction”: Orban says “let’s have a really interesting intellectual conversation about the future of western civilisation”, and the disreputable methods by which Orban stays in power are forgotten.

ConHome suggested two questions arise: one is whether Orban himself is a reputable person, the other is whether it is permissible for anyone, no matter how reputable, to hold Orban’s views.

Garton Ash replied:

“You can be a Conservative nationalist party continuing to govern in a country which is still an excellent liberal democracy – we live in one.”

Orban, he went on, has instead subverted liberal democracy, by gerrymandering, by pay-offs to friendly oligarchs, by getting the media under control: “That’s the problem, that’s why I’m so angry.”

And Orban then distracts attention from his destruction of liberal democracy by reframing the whole battle as an ideological clash, so that people say “maybe I agree with him about immigration” or “maybe I agree with him about Islam”.

Garton Ash went on to say that “characterising Muslims as invaders” (as Orban has done) “is in my view beyond the pale”, and that “some of the election propaganda against Soros is borderline anti-semitic”.

He urged British Conservatives to be cautious about embracing Orban: “It’s the difference between Farage and Johnson.”

And he pointed out that while Orban attacks Brussels, he also accepts very large sums from Brussels: “Viktor Orban is a master of cakeism.”

For a long time Orban managed to keep Hungarian MEPs in the European People’s Party in Brussels, before at length they were eased out of it.

David Cameron, one may note, promised that British MEPs would leave the EPP, and at length kept that promise. British Euroscepticism, leading to Brexit, is in some ways more straightforward than Hungarian and Polish Euroscepticism.

In Hungary and Poland, with their recent history of Soviet occupation, there are still large majorities in favour of EU membership.

Orban wins elections by playing the nationalist card, but one should not imagine that this card does not exist in Western Europe. The EU is paralysed by the fear that taking the great leap to becoming a federal state comparable to the USA  would provoke a nationalist backlash in most if not all of the member states, including Germany and France.

The German Constitutional Court stands as the most reputable though so far reticent opponent of a federal Europe. Alternative for Germany, founded in 2013 by learned men opposed to the policies required to prop up the euro but soon degenerating into a xenophobic movement, is one of the least reputable opponents.

It is now 21 years since Larry Siedentop pointed out, in Democracy in Europe, that no Madison, Hamilton and Jay have stepped forward to compose Europe’s version of The Federalist Papers.

The euro remains a currency unbacked by a government. Perhaps under the pressure of some great crisis, surmounted by leaders who rise to the occasion, that government will be conjured into existence.

But in the meantime, one cannot help being struck by the persistence of the nation state as the fundamental political reality. Nations may be good or bad, reputable or disreputable, democratic or authoritarian.

Perhaps the ultimate function of the EU, towards which Garton Ash points the way, will be to keep its members democratic. But what an opportunity that offers to demagogues to blame the nation’s woes on Brussels.