Scots will take a heart-over-head risk if they think Smart Alex will deliver

YOU’VE got to admire Alex Salmond’s balls, or cojones if you’re a Spanish reader.

The Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) boss was hands-down winner of last week’s debate against Alistair Darling, ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer and empowered by the ‘No & Better Together’ campaign to keep the 307-year Union alive.

Either that, or the BBC – which televised the joust – had a cunning plan to fill Glasgow’s iconic Kelvingrove Hall with wildly partisan ‘Yes’ voters, who, at times, almost raised the gilded rafters with whoops of joy as their man thundered and harangued his way to victory.

Maybe schemers at the Beeb had calculated that if Scotland votes for independence in 20 days’ time, Salmond will deliver on his promise of a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation, so they can ‘free-transfer’ Newsnight’s grating Kirsty Wark back to whence she came.

Meanwhile, having been roundly trounced in last month’s Sky TV debate by Darling’s intellectual grasp of financial realities, it was clear from the outset Salmond was hell bent on turning Round Two into the verbal equivalent of a bar-room brawl.

ALLTO PLAY FOR: Pro- independence chief, Alex Salmond (left) and Better Together spokesman, Alistair Darling have drawn 1-1 in the TV debates

ALL TO PLAY FOR: Pro- independence chief, Alex Salmond (left) and Better Together spokesman, Alistair Darling have drawn 1-1 in the TV debates

Arrogant, indignant, abrasive and smugly contemptuous, the man who would be Laird of Scots merely bulldozed aside his opponent’s cogent ripostes with bluster, if not Braveheart bravura, dismissing glitches – such as a liberated Scotland’s currency – as minor impediments, if not trivialities.

Besides, according to him, it’s all been sorted.

So forget all three Westminster party bosses and the Governor of the Bank of England vetoing the GB£ as a go-it-alone Scotland’s currency – while Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, effectively kyboshed any pipedreams of Scots joining the euro – Salmond is adamant he’ll be sticking with sterling.

A win in the September 18 plebiscite will be a mandate from the ‘sovereign will of the Scottish people’ to demand it, announced Smart Alex haughtily, disdaining Darling’s rhetorically query, ‘What about the sovereign will of the people in the rest of the UK?’

Despite waves of approval flooding over him from the Glaswegian faithful, Salmond exposes his economy naivety by stating the good, old £ was an international currency that could be traded by anyone.

Absolutely. But, as Darling pointed out, so is the US dollar and Russian rouble.

NO GO: One voter signals his pro-Union sympathies with tea and a T-shirt

NO GO: One voter signals his pro-Union sympathies with tea and a T-shirt

However, whichever foreign currency the born-again nation choses, it wouldn’t have a central bank to back it up and could be mashed into neeps and tatties by speculators.

A lack of economic nous was spectacularly absent from the brash, tub-thumping, populist, even if an audience that could have been hand-picked by SNP apparatchiks salivated all the more over his gall.

Ditto with the party line on North Sea oil, Salmond emphasising, ‘It cannot be regarded as anything other than a substantial asset.’

Again, absolutely. But, as Darling tried to explain to deaf ears, the SNP has inflated the fossil fuel’s revenue to the tune of £5-billion a year to support its profligate spending plans. And, anyway, it’s a diminishing asset, with experts predicting oil revenues will tumble sharply in the next 20 years and could vanish by 2050.

Then there was Salmond’s claims that cuts in the English NHS budget were impacting adversely on Scotland.

What he neglected to mention was that health is the responsibility of Scottish ministers in the devolved Scottish parliament. Besides, as Darling noted, spending is actually increasing in England, with corresponding extra cash – via the block grant or Barnett Formula – going to Scots.

On nuclear weapons, Salmond repeated his vow to expel those pesky, Trident-toting subs from their Faslane base within five-and-a-half years, even if it took two decades to move the warhead storage facility from nearby Coulport.

While I’ve never quite understood the Left’s obsession with nuclear disarmament – especially since the East-West ‘You nuke us, we nuke you’ stalemate stopped the Cold War overheating – this would be at the direct cost of 8,000 jobs and countless others dependent on the shipyard workers’ spending.

YES WE CAN: Kids in the frontline of the 'go-it-alone' campaign - but the odds are still against them winning

YES WE CAN: Kids in the frontline of the ‘go-it-alone’ campaign – but the odds are still against them winning

It might also cause a rethink in Defence Ministry plans to move the entire Royal Navy submarine fleet to Faslane, along with the countless fresh jobs it creates.

Salmond’s fuzzy solution is to establish ‘very substantial’ onshore employment in that area and create a ‘considerable’ Scottish navy.

Cost? And in what currency? Who knows?

And thereby the Nats’ case for independence is exposed for what it is: the Scots, a small, feisty and highly inventive nation, are being asked to take a massive leap of faith into the great unknown, based on the say-so of a man who seems to struggle with elementary maths.

As a mere Sassenach, with no part to play in Scotland’s decision on its future, I respect Salmond’s fervour, but I question his judgement and some of the ploys his Nats have used to tilt balloting rules in their favour.

The 400,000 expat Caledonians living south of Hadrian’s Wall – who’d add 16% to the turnout – are barred from voting, yet the franchise is extended to home-based 16-year-olds, with negligible experience of life and probably less of economics.

So, as crunch time approaches, what it boils down to is whether Scots buy into Salmond’s patriotically brazen, heart-over-head vision of a liberated, real-time Brigadoon or decide that remaining part of the UK is less chancy and there’s strength in numbers.

Even after last week’s TV browbeating of Darling, the bookies still make the ‘No & Better Together’ campaign 1/6 favourites, though pollsters say that with 10% of the electorate refusing to state a choice, the referendum’s outcome is too close to call.

‘There remains a chunk of voters who flatly refuse to tell us anything and they hold the true balance of power,’ says Martin Boon of ICM Research.

For a variety of commercial, financial and emotional reasons – not merely being historically joined at the hip for three centuries – I’d prefer Scotland remains part of the UK, as, I guess, would most of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish.

Nor would I be wooed by the sweet talk of an egotistical English political hustler, who wanted to annex England from the rest of the UK.

I trust the majority of commonsensical Scots will share that view in 20 days’ time.

Why the West’s Muslims must lead the fight against the enemy within

THE video – filmed somewhere in Iraq or Syria – is beyond gruesome as it begins with journalist, James Foley, kneeling impassively before a knife-wielding man garbed in black, like a ninja assassin, a ski-mask covering his face.

Moments later the 40 year-old US reporter, who went missing two years ago, is beheaded in what his captors blandly described as an ‘execution’.

Another American newsman, Steven Sotloff, who went missing in Syria, is facing a similarly grim fate, as are up to 20 other Westerners, who have disappeared in the Middle East.

Whether you believe in capital punishment or not – I don’t, but that’s a debate for another day – this was anything but an ‘execution’.

Foley’s decapitation was an act of unspeakable barbarity; a celebration of butchery carried out by a piece of scum who desecrates the title: ‘human being’

The slaughterer said he was ‘sending a message to America’, the fabled Great Satan of Islamo-fascism’s warped mythology.

Meanwhile, to add further shock to the horror show is news that the killer speaks with a distinctive London accent and is said to be called ‘John’.

There’s no doubt Brits are among the homicidal filth parading under the black banner of the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as ISIS or ISIL, with Western intelligence sources estimating their number as high as 600.

Apparently, they are also the most bloodthirsty and take huge delight in their grisly handiwork.

VIDEO NASTY: The IS thug identified in some media outlets as a Brit named 'John', prepared to behead US journo, James Foley

VIDEO NASTY: The IS thug identified in some media outlets as a Brit named ‘John’, prepared to behead US journo, James Foley

A 16-year-old girl from the Midlands recently tweeted a photo of herself against a backdrop of severed heads, while a dead IS fighter was identified as English by his Liverpool Football Club season ticket and another by his membership card from an Ealing, West London, gym.

So, I’d wager, somewhere in Britain an impressionable kid, perhaps from a decent, god-fearing, Anglo-Asian family, will have seen the monstrous clip online and thought, ‘Hey, that’s cool and I want to be part of it, to fight, kill and die, if necessary, for the cause.’

Precisely what cause justifies such evil, perverted lunacy is beyond all comprehension. Equally so is the reason why some Muslim teens, brought up with all the advantages and values the UK provides, are drawn to it, like the student from Bristol, who chose IS, jihad and killing over studying medicine to save, not take lives.

What the cause demands, though, is chillingly transparent and intended to be delivered in stage payments of savagery.

IS is on a genocidal roll, proclaiming a Sharia ‘caliphate’ across the huge swathe of Iraq and Syria it now controls, where the bloodiest excesses of medieval cruelty are visited upon any man, woman or child who won’t embrace their fanatical take on Sunni Islam.

Hence, the spate of beheadings, disembowelments and crucifixions, the stonings to death and burials alive of minority unbelievers – including toddlers and women, who, if not murdered, are taken as sex slaves – like Christians and Yazidis, refusing to renounce ancient faiths that predate Islam.

The Kurds, Muslims whom IS considers heretics, currently stand as a bulwark against the advancing horde. But, lacking the hi-tech American weaponry IS filched from a craven Iraqi army in hasty retreat, tough Kurdish Peshmerga militia are left fighting a see-saw battle against an implacable foe.

Which is why even that most dovish of US presidents, Barack Obama, has been forced to send in fighter jets – supported by RAF planes, acting as ‘eyes in the skies’ – to curb what seems like an inexorable IS advance.

However, we are witnessing only phase one of the fanatics’ master plan.

Through its brotherhood of terror, IS’s aim is to extend the ‘caliphate’ westward and – mimicking Osama Bin Laden, whose Al-Qaeda cutthroats seem pussycats in comparison – its manifesto includes the return of Andalucía, formerly the Moorish province of El Andaluz.

Last week four civilians were found murdered in Egypt’s Sinai desert, their headless corpses the hallmark of IS, and its henchmen are said to be operating alongside Hamas in Gaza.

FLAG OF HATE: Copycat versions of IS's hideous black flag are said to have been flown in London and elsewhere in Europe

FLAG OF HATE: Copycat versions of IS’s hideous black flag are said to have been flown in London and elsewhere in Europe

In the harshest reality check so far from a European leader, UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, warned, ‘The West is embroiled in a generational struggle against a poisonous brand of Islamic extremism that will bring terror to the streets of Britain unless urgent action is taken to defeat it.’

Cameron predicted the struggle will last ‘the rest of my political lifetime,’ adding, ‘The creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and extending into Syria is not a problem miles away from home…it is our concern here and now.

‘Because if we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain. We already know that it has the murderous intent.’

Cameron’s warning, though, maybe too late: IS’s tentacles already snake into Europe, where copycat versions of its dastardly flag have been unfurled in pro-Hamas demonstrations in France, Germany, Holland and the UK.

Meanwhile, an estimated 260 IS thugs are said to have already returned to Britain, some vowing to raise the black standard over Big Ben.

And therein lies Britain’s dilemma. Because, in common with the rest of Europe where there are large, Muslim minorities, the nation is now in the front line of potential terror attacks from an enemy within.

Porous borders, an undermanned frontier security force and police intimidated by accusations of Islamophobia don’t instil confidence, either.

But, mindful of the harm being done to Islam’s image, moderates in the UK’s Muslim community have now said they will assist anti-terrorism officers in identifying those in their midst who harbour only hatred for the country that nurtured them.

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, said, ‘We are ready to support the police and intelligence agencies in their work to defeat terrorism and protect our nation.’

Those are wise and welcome words.

Because Britain’s population of approximately 3,000,000 Muslims, which can be very vocal when it wants to be, needs to stand up and be counted upon as never before in the war against the most evil scourge to plague the world since Nazism.

Memo to Bardem and Cruz: Sound off when you really know what you’re talking about

IN her ignorance, Penelope Cruz probably best summed up a tranche of addled opinion of the latest Israel-Hamas war, admitting in a letter to USA Today, ‘I’m not an expert on the situation and I’m aware of the complexity of it.’

This mea culpa was a backtrack on an earlier, incendiary ‘open letter’ she’d co-signed – along with a host of other right-on, Spanish showbiz luvvies – written by her actor husband, Javier Bardem, which essentially laid the entire blame for the fighting on Israel and lambasted Europe for ‘allowing genocide to happen.’

Renowned for his fiery radicalism, Bardem damned the conflict as ‘a war of occupation and extermination against a people without means, confined to a minimum of land, without water and where hospitals, ambulances and children are targets and alleged terrorists.’

Without understating the unimaginable horrors suffered by Gaza’s innocents, the actor’s sanctimonious rant was as misguided as the countless Hamas missiles that annihilated their own people and a shameful distortion of reality, while wilfully flouting facts.

Why, for instance, didn’t Bardem mention nearly 3,000 rockets fired at Israeli civilians, deliberately intended to incite retaliation; the millions of dollars of Israeli-supplied cement, electricity and water meant for civilian purposes, but diverted to construct a labyrinth of terror tunnels; Hamas using civilians – even reporters – as human shields and hospitals as HQs; ambulances hijacked to ferry fighters and missiles launchers; or that there’s nothing ‘alleged’ about Hamas being a gang of homicidal terrorists, because the UN, US and the EU long ago judged them so?

NO CRUZ CONTROL? Spanish actress, Penelope Cruz, and her husband, Javier Bardem, tried to backtrack over their Gaza 'genocide' accusation

NO CRUZ CONTROL? Spanish actress, Penelope Cruz, and her husband, Javier Bardem, tried to backtrack over their Gaza ‘genocide’ accusation against Israel

At least, the gobby thespian fell short of seconding Spanish writer, Antonio Gala’s viciously anti-Semitic tirade in El Mundo, reprising the 1492 expulsions by proposing Spain’s 50,000 Jews be kicked out, since ‘it is though they were not made to co-exist’.

Gala’s rabid racism, though, is not unusual in a nation of forty-five million, with an inglorious history for persecuting minorities, particularly Jews.

In a 2008 survey by the independent Pew Research Centre on global attitudes to anti-Semitism, Spain saw the worst and highest recorded rise in Europe, where the study reported unfavourable views of Jews had doubled from 21% in 2005 to 46% among Spaniards.

According to Pew, only 37% of the Spanish viewed Jews favourably, in contrast to 50% in Poland, 64% in Germany and 73% in Britain.

A later poll by Spain’s Education Ministry stoked further consternation, revealing more than 50% of students between 12 and 18 said they would not want to sit next to a Jew in class.

The level of Spanish anti-Semitism was abetted by the then far-Left prime minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, sporting a Yasser Arafat-style scarf and regularly attacking Israel at pro-Palestinian events, which usually descend into vitriolic Jew-bashing.

Zapatero was also reported to have stated that he ‘understood the Nazis’ when it came to ‘the Jewish question.’

But, while Zapatero ignored protests from angry US legislators, Bardem’s inflammatory bombast has provoked worldwide outrage, not least from fellow Oscar winner, Jon Voigt, who accused the Spaniard of ‘stupidity’ and fanning the flames of anti-Semitism.

Using the platform of the Hollywood Reporter, he provide Bardem, Cruz & Co with a history lesson about Arab attacks on Israel since 1948 ‘when the country was created through the United Nations, including the 1967 and 1973 wars. And when Israel was not fighting a major war, it was defending itself against terrorist campaigns.’

Voigt, a non-Jew and father of Angelina Jolie, called on the purblind celebs who signed ‘that poison letter against Israel’ to ‘examine their motives’, adding, ‘Can you take back the fire of anti-Semitism raging all over the world now?’

And, for extra measure, he reminded them, ‘You had a great responsibility to use your celebrity for good. Instead, you have defamed the only democratic country of goodwill in the Middle East: Israel.’

Days later, then, Bardem followed his semi-repentant wife in performing verbal acrobatics, saying he regretted using the word ‘genocide’, claiming his diatribe was only directed at Israel’s government and military.

‘I have great respect for the people of Israel and deep compassion for their losses,’ he added, hoping to wipe the plate clean of slurs.

SPAIN'S SHAME: Zapatero - in a 'terrorist chic' scarf - presided over a country with Europe's highest level of anti-Semitism

SPAIN’S SHAME: Zapatero – in a ‘terrorist chic’ scarf – presided over a country with Europe’s highest level of anti-Semitism

At least it dawned on him to withdraw any allusion to ‘genocide’, a highly emotive and abused term that – quoting Chambers dictionary – specifically refers to ‘the deliberate extermination of a racial, national, religious or ethnic group.

Nothing diminishes the carnage of Gaza… lifeless children, weeping parents, buildings reduced to rubble. But, despite Hamas’s unverified claims of 1,875 deaths – 430 of whom they said were under 15 – it was not a genocide.

Meanwhile, the terror group’s arithmetic is being contested by Israel and independent arbitrators, whose initial estimate states at least 900 Hamas fighters perished in Operation Protective Edge.

So onlookers shooting from the lip, while ignoring – or, in the case of Cruz, being ignorant of – salient facts make a mockery of their own, ill-informed opinions.

As the fog of war temporarily cleared during a 72-hour truce broken – again! – by Hamas, other, too, might be rueing their rush to judgement, including the Obama administration.

Last week the State Department’s kneejerk reaction to an Israeli attack on a rocket launcher, said to have killed 10 in a UN school, was to brand it ‘disgraceful’.

New evidence, backed by photos, strongly points to the missile strike hitting the road outside, where a crater is plainly evident, and that dead bodies were moved into the school by Hamas – with the corpse of a small girl added to hype the PR impact.

After the two, previous Hamas-Israel wars, it should be patently obvious to sensible, fair-minded folk that there are no depths to the terror gang’s skulduggery.

Even Judge Richard Goldstone was forced to retract the ‘findings’ of his notorious report on the 2009 conflict, admitting later, ‘If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.’

However, the blinkered Left – and its dimwit celeb cheerleaders – only see and hear what they want to, blurring fallacy into ‘fact’.

BARDEM BASHER: Oscar winner, Jon Voigt, trashed the Spanish star and his actress wife for '

BARDEM BASHER: Oscar winner, Jon Voigt, trashed the Spanish star and his actress wife for their ‘poison-pen letter against Israel’

And their abiding, pathological, obsessive prejudice against Israel now openly spills over into old-fashioned Jew-hatred, as forests of placards spelt out so unambiguously in so-called ‘peace marches’  across Europe during recent weeks that morphed into attacks on innocent Jews.

Bizarrely, I find it implausible how the Left’s saintly bigots can defend Islamo-fascists, like Hamas, whose cherished wish is to slaughter Christians, Jews and gays, subjugate women and refashion the world according to a loony, 7th Century religious dogma.

Also, I have to wonder why these self-styled do-gooders, wrapped in their ‘terrorist chic’, keffir scarfs, don’t give a hoot about Christians crucified in ISIS’s new ‘caliphate’ across Iraq and Syria – or Yazidis facing genuine genocide – Russia grabbing a huge chunk of Ukraine, China murdering Tibetans wholesale or Iran persecuting opponents of its crackpot regime.

If they do, then where are the demos?

And, lest I forget the useful-idiot apologists for Islamic savagery – Jimmy Carter, Paddy Ashdown and Baroness Warsi take note – forever claiming Israel’s defence of its citizenry only serves as a recruiting sergeant for Muslim extremism, the simple answer is: it doesn’t, as history is my witness.

Maybe they should share their judgemental folly with relatives of the victims of 9/11 (2001), the Madrid bombings (2004), 7/7 (2005) and the countless other terror outrages to see how their inanity is viewed.

So, yes, certainly protest the hideous death toll in Gaza, but, instead of continually castigating Israel, point an accusing finger at who’s really to blame – Hamas.

How others see us: we’re bad boozers, can’t eat – and Mr. Bean is one of the greatest Brits

FROM long experience I’ve developed a healthy scepticism about polls, surveys and, particularly, ‘vox pops’ – you know, those street-corner tests of public opinion the media loves to indulge in, where most answers are predictably politically correct.

Unless they are headbangers on day release from a nearby psychiatric facility or have an ardent view on the topic – anyone for fracking, capital punishment or FIFA? – people’s kneejerk reactions tend to parrot mainstream opinion, even if they’re lying through their pearly whites.

After all, who wants to be damned from their own mouths for being a racist, anti-environmentalist, male chauvinist pig…or, worse still, a UKIP supporter.

To continue the theme: how can we be certain eight out of 10 cats prefer Whiskas? None of mine did and nobody is told the total number of moggies ‘surveyed’ or what other brands were sampled.

And if Carlsberg claims to be ‘probably’ the best lager in the world, why doesn’t it refresh ‘the parts other beers cannot reach’, as Heineken supposedly does?

Yeah, yeah, I know these are just examples of admen’s creative thinking and aren’t taken any more seriously than those who believes Wonga is a not-for-profit organisation and bankers deserve even more humungous bonuses.

Nonetheless, such claims have an impact on our buying habits.

Similarly, if the ditty that wins the European Song Contest is so darned good, why doesn’t it become an instant, Top 20 hit? Or, maybe Molitva, sung in Serbo-Croat, or Sweden’s Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley soared up charts and I didn’t notice.

SIMPLY THE GREATEST: Wartime leader, Sir Winston Churchill, topped the 2012 BBC poll to find The Greatest Briton

SIMPLY THE GREATEST: Wartime leader, Sir Winston Churchill, topped the 2012 BBC poll to find The Greatest Briton

But you don’t need to consult Graham Norton or Terry Wogan for explanations why Eurovision is a stitch-up, with groups of mutually back-scratching nations taking it in turn to vote for each other. All know the PR payback in terms of national prestige is worth chicanery more redolent of elections for the presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Back in 1999 – in a campaign orchestrated by the Press and the nation’s leading politicians – the Turks tried to ‘fix’ the vote for Time’s Person of the 20th Century by balloting in their millions in favour of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

While he might be lauded locally as the founder of modern, secular Turkey, Ataturk is hardly a household name in Llandudno. Yet, briefly at least, he led in every category the prestigious magazine listed…warrior, statesman, scientist, artist and entertainer, even if his stand-up didn’t feature overmuch at Istanbul’s Comedy Central.

It was only when Turkey’s long-time foes, Greece and Cyrprus, rumbled the fiendish plot – and voted in their droves to counter it – that Ataturk’s stock plunged, to be variously replaced by the Sir Winston Churchill, Bob Dylan and Albert Einstein, the eventual winner.

For the record, Ataturk made the Top 100, but so did mobster, Lucky Luciano, who, Time said, ‘modernized the Mafia, shaping it into a smoothly-run, national crime syndicate, focused on the bottom line.’

A survey less tainted by gerrymandering is the BBC’s 10-yearly quest to find The Greatest Briton.

The 2012 edition attracted 30,000 votes and Churchill, the nation’s indefatiguable wartime leader, came top, squeezing out engineering genius, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and – presumably based on enduring sentimentality – Princess Di into a highly creditable third.

A GREAT BRIT? Many foreigners see bumbling clown, Mr. Bean, as the epitome of Britishness

A GREAT BRIT? Many foreigners see bumbling clown, Mr. Bean, as the epitome of Britishness

However, the other day another poll lit up my eye: how we Brits are viewed by others. Or, to quote Robbie Burns’ Ode to a Louse – which, to the best of my knowledge, hasn’t yet been adopted by Scots Nats as a commentary on the English  – ‘to see ourselves as others see us’.

More than 5,000 people from the US, China, India, Brazil and Germany were asked to summarise their views of us and give an example of a person they most associate with British culture, without being offered a list of options.

On the whole Britons emerged with a decidedly contradictory reputation.

Those surveyed by IPSO-Mori, on behalf of the British Council, regarded us as ‘polite’, ‘friendly’ and ‘well-educated’, but also hard-drinking, xenophobic and afflicted with appalling eating habits (note: with all their slurping over bird’s nest soup, the Chinese are fine ones to talk).

When asked to list the best and worst characteristics, one way or another, British manners were by far the most common answer, cited by 46 per cent of those polled.

A quarter said the British sense of humour was a plus factor and as many as 37 per cent thought Britons to be ‘learned’.

But among less positive responses, 27 per cent said they thought the British ‘drink too much’, 23 per cent listed ‘bad eating habits’, just ahead of ignorance of other cultures and intolerance towards people from other countries.

The British Council’s John Worne said, ‘While there’s a lot to be proud of, some stereotypes still colour the way that we’re viewed overseas: boozy, bad eaters and ignorant of other cultures all figure in our worst characteristics.

‘At our best we are rated ‘polite’, ‘educated’ and ‘friendly’, and the English language, our cities, universities, arts and culture definitely make people want to visit, study and do business with us.’

So who did foreigners most associate with British culture? Literary giants, such as Chaucer, Milton or Burns?  Maybe national icons, like Churchill, The Beatles and Charlie Chaplin? Or great shapers of military history, as exemplified by Elizabeth I, Oliver Cromwell and Lord Nelson?

Not a bit of it.

While, predictably, The Queen and Shakespeare commanded the premier positions, David Beckham came third, while Churchill and the titans of English prose were relegated to also-rans behind…Mr. Bean!

It seems Rowan Atkinson’s fictional clown – with his tweedy togs, emblematic Mini and ability to overcome idiocy – is the epitome of Britishness.

There’s no doubt Bean’s antics transcend all language barriers, since he says nothing that makes any sense.

Maybe that’s where the likes of Chaucer and Co. went wrong.

PS: I wonder what the world would make of the French?

Why Hamas terror merchants want babies to die and control coverage of the carnage

IT took two days for carrier pigeons to deliver news of Wellington’s rout of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 – ‘a damned, near-run thing’, admitted the gumboot general – to London.

In stark contrast, today’s battles are played out ‘live’ before a worldwide audience, tooled up with hi-tech gizmos, commentary too often provided by rookie correspondents parachuted in, having read the Janet & John primer to Middle East conflicts on their flights over.

But so horrendously tragic are images of the unfolding carnage, alone they are worth a thousand words, even if they conceal a hundred lies. Or, as a German reporter on the scene noted tellingly, ‘The viewers see everything, yet understand nothing.’

SACRIFICIAL LAMBS: Women and babies are deliberately used as tools for Hamas's ghoulish PR strategy

SACRIFICIAL LAMBS: Women and babies are deliberately used as tools for Hamas’s ghoulish PR strategy

Because, epitomised by Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, the vast majority of coverage is slickly choreographed, as a TV cameraman friend told me in 2012, having covered Operation Pillar of Defence, the previous Israeli incursion into Gaza to root out the Hamas murder machine.

‘Your local ‘minder’ – an embedded Hamas PR – tells you where to go, what to film,’ he explained. ‘Since you also need a permit from them to work, don’t get the idea you can roam around freely.

‘So, it’s all carefully contrived and tightly controlled. One day it’s ‘Go to a hospital and film the injured children’; next you’re ‘advised’ where a stack of apartments has been hit, even if the damage is a Hamas ‘own goal’, caused by a misfired rocket.

‘They’ll say ‘Pick out a child’s toy or battered shoe…great colour!’ But don’t – don’t! – show any of the hordes of young men, scurrying around with AK4s, hijacking civilian ambulances or setting up missile-launchers in mosques or next to schools. If you do, your footage will never see the light of day.’

Hamas runs its PR machine with ruthless efficiency. And its greatest weapon is Gaza’s innocents – the old, the infirm, women, but preferably kids – who are expendible cannon-fodder in the ghastly name of jihad…the ‘dead-baby strategy’, as one commentator labelled it.

Even donkey and dogs are used as suicide bombers and foreign journos human shields, according to a Japanese news crew.

So the higher the body count, the greater the joy expressed by a gang of cynical, Islamo-fascist fanatics, their minds warped by a 7th Century, death-cult credo. As Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, spouts from the safety of his bolthole in Qatar, ‘We love death more than the Israelis love life.’

TUNNEL VISION: Israeli soldiers on patrol, looking for Hamas's underground terror network

TUNNEL VISION: Israeli soldiers on patrol, looking for Hamas’s underground terror network

Shamefully, the UN’s Relief & Works Agency (UNRWA), is complicit in the bloodbath, because twice within days they’ve been caught red-faced, when stores of rockets were found in UN schools. More shamefully, UNRWA returned them to their rightful owner – Hamas.

Meanwhile, the usual, hypocritical Left-whingers in the Western Press salivate over every Hamas porkie, like the absurdities that ‘the fighting all started when Israel retaliated’ and Israel’s response in defending its people within the legitimate rules of warfare is ‘disproportionate.’

Incidentally, ‘proportionality’ emphatically does not demand casualties must be equal on both sides or that an army use less force than needed to obtain its objective, just because the other side is weaker.

Still, it’s understandable ordinary folk can be temporarily seduced by Hamas’s odious PR, but only those afflicted by crass gullibility or driven by an atavistic hatred of Jews really buy this devious bile long-term.

At least The Times of London rumbled Hamas’s diabolical charade, stating in an op-ed, ‘The deaths of Palestinians, many of them children, are the direct and predictable outcome of Hamas’s tactics and its use of civilians as, in effect, human shields. Instead of providing good governance and economic development, anticipating statehood, Hamas practises theocratic thuggery. Palestinians are paying an unconscionable price.’

However, it can’t be denied that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) are unwittingly helping the merchants of terror achieve their ghoulish ambition of sacrificing as much of their poplace as possible. And no amount of explanations from Israel’s spokesmen diminish the impact of the heart-wrenching, civilian tragedy.

THE THREAT BELOW: A Hamas terror tunnel, complete with scaling ladders - some stretch deep into Israel

THE THREAT BELOW: A Hamas terror tunnel, complete with scaling ladders – some stretch deep into Israel

The Jewish state, though, is continually held to higher moral account than any other nation by the pious Left, so the inevitable tragedies laid at the feet of IDF in the fog of war are immediately branded ‘war crimes.’

Yet – according to Colonel Richard Kemp, a former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan – the IDF does ‘more to safeguard the rights of civilians in combat zones than any other army in the history of warfare.’

Unlike the Israelis, NATO troops in Afghanistan (civilian death toll: circa 23,000) and Coalition forces in Iraq (civilian death toll estimate: 140,000) never phoned ahead to give building occupants 15 minutes warning before they attacked, then aimed a ‘knock-on-the-roof’ smoke grenade at a target property before commencing to strike five minutes later.

One can only wonder, then, how the dovish Obama would react if Mexico suddenly turned terrorist and lobbed fusillades of deadly missiles into California. I’d bet the Marine Corps would be over the border within minutes.

Moreover, Israel faces the most implacable and intractable of foes. Not simply because Hamas’s denies its existence and wants to annihilate every Jew on earth, but humanitarian considerations are out of its equation.

Last week, when the IDF suspended hostilities in three, Egypt-brokered truces, Hamas repaid the gesture with more fusillades from its stockpile of 8,000 missiles. Ditto today, after Israel agreed a 24-hour ceasefire, only for the ghouls of Gaza to pour scorn on it with further attacks.

The Jewish state’s key concern, however, is not the aerial bombardment, but Hamas’s $multi-million labyrinth of sophisticated tunnels – some large enough for trucks to navigate – which burrow deep into Israeli terrority and were built with concrete America insisted be allowed into Gaza for ‘civilian purposes’.

Already 24 tunnels have been identified and intelligence from Hamas prisoners has revealed a mega-plot for waves of terrorist cutthroats to use them to infiltrate kibbutz settlements and villages, striking during the Jewish high holy days in September in a mini-reprise of the Yom Kippur War of 1973.

PRAYING FOR PEACE: But, so far US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has got nowhere with his diplomacy

PRAYING FOR PEACE: But, so far, US Secretary of State, John Kerry’s efforts have been futile

Which is why the Israelis baulked at ‘peace proposals’ from US Secretary of State, John Kerry, that – among assorted concessions rewarding Hamas – would have banned the IDF from destroying the remaining tunnels and left the terror regime free to continue subterranean ambushes, one of which killed six IDF soldiers.

After his abysmal failure to forge a treaty between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas’s West Bank Palestinian Authority (PA) – talks collapsed when Abbas invited his arch foes, Hamas, into a ‘unity government’ – America’s premier diplomat has flopped again.

Following a brief flurry of consultations in the tinderbox region, including in Qatar, which bankroll Hamas, and Paris, Kerry has retreated back to Washington, underscoring yet again America’s  growing impotence on the world stage.

So the bloody mayhem will persist until either Israel achieves its objective of destroying the terror tunnels and degrading Hamas’s arsenal or it dawns on Gaza’s Islamo-fascist crazies there are only so many babies they can sacrifice

Exit middle-aged, middle-class males, enter Dave’s Dolls to spice up British politics

THERE’S a fair chance I’ll get my head chewed off by feminist ultras for sounding sexist and patronising, but say it I will, because it’s a fact: in a week of bad tidings the last seven days have been great news for the girls.

First, the Church of England General Synod voted in favour of ordaining female bishops and one candidate is said to be awaiting receipt of her mitre and crozier before the year’s out.

Quite why this was the stuff of headlines was beyond me.

Women won the right to be welcomed into the Anglican priesthood yonks ago and I’ve always believed they’d had a pretty strong discrimination case to take before an employment tribunal for not being allowed to realise their full potential much beyond being parsons.

This ‘glass ceiling’ was especially ludicrous and contradictory, since a female – The Queen, no less! – is the titular head of the whole shebang.

Canon Law, though, governing the clergy has been an omnishambles of an ass for centuries. Nonethelesss, it was instructive that Justin Welby, the oil industry exec-turned-Archbishop of Canterbury, emphasised the church’s volte face was based on religious principles, not a rush of 21st Century liberalism to the collective brain.

However, before a Geraldine Grainger can swap her Vicar of Dibley’s black cassock for a bishop’s purple and ask, ‘Does my bum look big in this?’, a tad more tinkering with the rules has to happen.

This involves designing special opt-outs for hardline evangelicals – especially from the African communion – and traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, who won’t accept the authority of a woman on theological grounds, in an attempt to keep them within the Cof E’s shrinking fold.

The second and more momentous win-of-the-week for women came with Squire Cameron’s Cabinet reshuffle – well, at least the Tory element of the Coalition – with what’s been described as a ‘cull of middle-aged, middle-class males’.

TEN UP! Prime Minster Cameron has promoted 10 women to top jobs in his government, with five now sitting at the Cabinet table

TEN UP! Prime Minster Cameron has promoted 10 women to top jobs in his government, with five now sitting at the Cabinet table

The Prime Minister has long been at the butt-end of criticism for denying women seats at the grand table of power, which – apart from three  females – has tended to be warmed by the backsides of fatcat Old Etonians or chums from his Bullingdon Club days at Oxford.

Now comes the figurative ‘charge of the skirts’, as 10 women enter the higher echelons of Britain’s corridors of power and a succession of big, male beasts are defanged or forcibly demobbed.

Not since Harold MacMillan’s ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in 1962, when seven ministers got the chop, has a British Cabinet undergone such drastic surgery.

At face value, William Hague’s decision to quit as Foreign Secretary and stand down as an MP at the next election, seemed extraordinary. On reflection, however, it makes perfect sense, since he’s one of few politicos whose CV includes proper jobs – from working in the family brewery as a 15-year-old drayman to high-flying management consultant.

With his experience, contacts and intellect, Hague’s bound to attract directorships by the bucket-load and, having once failed as Tory leader, he’s hardly likely to get another shot at the top.

As his dad, Neil, 86, noted undiplomatically, though with typical, Yorkshire bluntness, ‘William plans to enjoy himself, do some writing, go to places and make a lot more money, because he loses money working with all those goons.’

ON THE MOVE: A bewildered Michael Gove has been 'transferred' from Education to Chief Whip...but wonder if it's a demotion or promotion

UPPER OR DOWNER? A bewildered Michael Gove has been ‘transferred’ from Education to Chief Whip…but can’t tell if it’s a demotion or promotion

Meanwhile, Michael Gove doesn’t know if his move from Education Minister to Chief Whip signals a downward spiral – ‘Demotion, emotion, promotion, locomotion, I don’t know how you would describe it,’ he says, uncharacteristically mystified – but it smacks of damage-limitation, after a succession of Gove-driven reforms have left teachers seething.

Veteran Ken Clarke’s departure from office was the least surprising, since the 74-year-old was first appointed a minister in 1972 and has spent two decades in top jobs, including Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

However, British politics surely hasn’t heard the last for the man famed for his brown, suede shoes. He’ll undoubtedly be offered a lordship, whereby he’ll be unshackled from the chains of office to harangue his party’s lurch further towards Euroscepticism.

Because, despite Cameron’s pre-election stunt being a naked appeal to female voters by promoting a posse of women, the lion’s share of the new Cabinet is dominated by the anti-Brussels brigade, none more so than new Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond.

Nevertheless and regardless of this Machiavellian sleight of hand designed to placate the Tory Right, the arrival of the likes of Nicky Morgan (Education), Liz Truss (Environment) and ex-TV presenter, Esther McVey (Employment) is the real attention-grabber.

Hence, after Blair’s Babes, we have – in tabloid parlance – Dave’s Dolls, as inadvertently underscored by BBC Political Editor, Nick Robinson, in a mis-Tweet announcing Morgan as ‘the new Education Sexretary’.

So does this presage things to come?

ONE OF DAVE'S DOLLS: Ex-telly presenter, Esther McVey, takes over at Environment

YES, A MINISTER: Blonde, ex-telly presenter, Esther McVey, takes over as Minister for Employment

Undoubtedly and, at the risk of being accused of indulging in reverse misogyny, it’s no bad thing – perhaps even a wakey-wakey call for those of the male persuasion not to presume we rule by divine right.

Because the unassailable truth is girls now outperform boys at school on almost every count, from nursery to uni.

The gap in reading abilities between the sexes widens from seven percentage points at seven years old, to 14% by GCSE time; more girls are applying for university places than boys; and women in their twenties now earn more per hour than men.

Germany’s Angela Merkel is the unchallenged mistress of Euroland – by the way, Mutti, congrats on your boys winning the World Cup – and the EU has more female leaders than ever (i.e. Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia).

Furthermore, in less than two years, the US could very well have it’s first female president in Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Finally, speaking as the father of a daughter, who’s intelligent, resourceful and balances a high-pressure career while being a wife and mum to two rumbustious boys, I have only great admiration and pride in all she’s achieved through hard work, true grit and sheer talent.

Lauren was in the vanguard of the breakthrough generation of ambitious, young women and all the indications are the next will strive to stride even further.

So is this ‘the end of men?’ as one newspaper editorial asked last week.

Dunno. I’ll have to ask my wife.

Gary versus Ade…Auntie BBC against ITV – now that’s what I call a World Cup crunch match

SHE thought it was all over when England scuttled home, but tonight it really is and my long-suffering wife’s World Cup widowhood comes to an end.

Mrs A has borne the burden of the great soccer fest manfully – okay, womanfully – but it has only served to underpin her belief sport needs a radical makeover.

Her contention, you see, is footie would be all the better a spectacle if reduced to penalty shoot-outs, golf to putting competitions and tennis to tie-breaks, though she reluctantly admitted to being as transfixed as I was by the electrifying Jokovik-Federer Wimbledon men’s final last Sunday.

And cricket? Well, that should be banned by the International Criminal Court on the grounds that it abuses spectators’ human rights with rules beyond comprehension.

For the record, though, let me fast-back to a conversation of a couple of weeks ago, when my fair lady asked plaintively, ‘With England out, why are you still interested in the World Cup?’

‘Because I like to see how top class teams perform and England aren’t one of them,’ I replied. ‘Only a starry-eyed optimist believed Woy’s Wonders had the ghost of a chance of reaching round two, let alone the quarter finals.’

‘Then why do you keep saying the English Premier League is the world’s best?’

‘It is, but that’s because it’s crammed with talented foreigners.’

‘Why doesn’t someone ban them, then?’

‘It’s all about money – and European Union rules, which allow for the free movement of people, including footballers.’

‘Luis Suarez [now Barcelona-bound] isn’t European; he’s from Uruguay. So what’s he doing playing for Liverpool?’

SOCCER SMOOTHIE: Ex-England star Gary Lineker, skipper of the BBC's World Cup pundit panel

SOCCER SMOOTHIE: Ex-England star Gary Lineker, skipper of the BBC’s World Cup pundit panel

Good shot, even if Mrs. A hasn’t quite got a handle on why World Cup referees were toting cans of shaving foam, when some – like England’s Howard Webb – are as bald as cue ball.

‘Can we have this conversation another day,’ I pleaded, feeling a tad sick as Steve Gerrard’s parrot, after Chewey Luis showed him the exit door with a brace of super goals, before acquiring a taste for Italian beefcake. ‘Besides, there’s an interesting game going on off the pitch.’

‘What game?’

‘The one between the BBC and ITV over who’s providing the better coverage.’

‘You can’t be serious.’

‘And you can’t be John McEnroe.’

Ah, well, back to re-reruns of Downton Abbey and Homeland on the spare telly for one member of the household – clue: not yours truly.

So, returning to the theme of who won the punditry teams joust and who was their better skipper: boyish smoothie, Gary Lineker, who knows a thing or two about soccer, fronting the Beeb, or Adrian Chiles, who know a thing or three about imitating a plank, in ITV’s hot seat?

Now I realise that seems judgemental. But, since Chiles’ ‘transfer’ from hosting Auntie’s The One Show to ITV’s Daybreak and That Sunday Night Show, it’s not gone unnoticed commercial telly has pulled both progs, apparently leaving Ade a £1M a year worse off.

KNOBBLY KNEES COMP? Chiles (right) with bare-legged ITV analysts (l-to-r) Lee Dixon, Glenn Hoddle and Fabio Cannavaro

KNOBBLY KNEES COMP? Chiles (right) with bare-legged ITV analysts (l-to-r) Martin O’Neill, Glenn Hoddle and Fabio Cannavaro

However, good for him, I say, in hanging onto Channel 3’s soccer coverage, despite a dreary presention style – possibly a result of being a life-long West Brom fan – even if ITV’s World Cup didn’t exactly get off to a champagne start.

‘Welcome to Rio!’, Ade announced to viewers before the start of England’s pre-tournament warm-up game with Ecuador…the only flaw being the backdrop wasn’t Copacabana, but a strand of sand 4,000 miles north in Miami. But let’s pin that faux pas on jet lag.

Alas, similar leeway can’t be extended to pundit, Glenn Hoddle, in ITV’s pre-match pontification on Germany’s game ‘with Al Jezeera’.

You could practically see the ex-England manager’s tanned face blanch, as the producer was presumably shrieking into his earpiece, ‘It’s bloody Algeria – Al Jezeera’s an Arab TV news channel!’

Neither did ITV cover itself in glory by having Chiles and his World Cup brains trust sitting at a trestle table above a beach – this time it really was Rio – all clad in shorts, as if they were auditioning for a dads’ knobbly-knees contest at a Butlins’ holiday camp.

To add injury to insult, they then spent a small eternity discussing the pronounciation of Columbian striker, James Rodriguez’s name.

‘It’s Ya-mes,’said Chiles.

‘No it isn’t,’ insisted a bullish Ian Wright. ‘It’a Hah-mez.

The dispute was finally arbitrated by match commentator, Clyde Tyldesley, who resorted to the anglocised ‘James’, which reflected the player’s parents’ preference, since they’d named him after Ian Fleming’s 007.

HAND IT TO HANSEN: The veteran Beeb pundit is still the shining star of the sofa

HAND IT TO HANSEN: The veteran Beeb pundit is still the shining star of the sofa

Over at the BBC, where much emphasis was placed on sartorial elegance – loved Clarence Seedorf’s shirts, by the way – the game plan didn’t always follow Match of the Day’s seemless format, either.

A hiccup, before a ball was kicked, almost sidelined Robbie Savage, who turned up at Heathrow for the Brazil flight with his wife’s passport.

Then there was L-driver analyst, Phil Neville, droning monotonously like a superannuated country parson. Even by his own admission, he was an antidote to insomnia, which was about as funny as Phil got (suggestion to the former Man United and Everton star: Give Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast a go).

Meanwhile, quipster Mark Lawrenson went clearly OTT with a sexist remark that Swiss striker, Josip Drmic, ‘should have been wearing a skirt’ after a glaring miss against Argentina.

It produced 172 complaints and a yellow card from his Broadcasting House referees.

Further brickbats, too, were aimed at the Beeb for their employment of barely comprehensible, foreign soccer luminaries.

The taciturn Thierry Henry’s verdict on most games was measured on the Gallic Shrug Scale – the higher the shoulder blades, the worse it was – while Fabio Cannavaro was so linguistically challenged, all he could sprout sounded pure gobblygook.

This was understandable since the former Italian international only learned English two years ago…in Dubai. But you have to question who picked him to play for the BBC.

Inevitably, it fell to veteran Alan Hansen, marking his swansong from telly punditry, to act as bulwark of Auntie’s defence with tellingly concise, if the occasional tetchy observation that has been his trademark.

So which channel won the World Cup battle of the sofas? On cock-ups, I’d say it was a draw.