Verdict on Leveson: don’t blame the Press for Cameron’s pantomime of blunders

In certain countries – including not a few in the so-called free world – I couldn’t write what you are about to read. Laws would proscribe such anti-Establishment heresy, though not in Britain…not until now, that is, where the Leveson Report threatens to challenge that.

In his defence, the judge walked a tightrope over his inquiry into the ‘culture, practices and ethics’ of the Press. Because whatever were to be his findings, m’lud was inevitably stuck between the proverbial rock and hard place.

His first option was to modify the status quo – beefing up the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), with greater representation from the laity or even a judge like himself.

Inevitably, this would have laid Leveson open to accusation by certain vested interests that he buckled to the print barons and we hacks would be toasting his health in the Last Chance Saloon

His second was to recommend a new, independent body to police newspapers and, after long deliberation, Leveson plumped for it. However, if implemented it will signal a monumental blunder in the wake of the earlier one, which established his inquiry.

I’ve no criticism of the judge, who did a commendable job with an impossible brief and his observations are fair, balanced and objective.

JUDGING THE JUDGE: Leveson had an impossible brief

JUDGING THE JUDGE: Leveson’s observations were fair, balanced and objective

Yet, his recommendations patently fail to square a circle he desperately sought to avoid: state licensing of the Press, totally contradicting his insistence, ‘This is not and cannot be characterised as statutory regulation’.

It can and will. Moreover, any short-term gain risks being outweighed by long-term dangers of future regimes moving the goalposts. So, small wonder David Cameron is squirming.

The inquiry might have made for compulsive telly viewing, much of it a pantomime of hot air from celebrity whingers grinding axes. But it was a monumental political gaffe to have unleashed Leveson in the first place.

The PM hung it on legitimate concern of ‘havoc’ – the judge’s own word – wreaked on innocent families, like that of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, by rabid newshounds, blatantly oblivious to their own rules of engagement.

A likelier reason, though, was Cameron trying to amend for – as his critics claim – naivety in supping with the media devil, only neglecting to take a long spoon. As Icarus flew lethally too close to the sun, he made the cardinal error of getting too cosy with The Sun newspaper (and News of the World) luminaries, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson.

Nonetheless, appointing Leveson was a silly, political knee-jerk, and one that threatens to nail Cameron for posterity as the PM who chanced 300 years of Press freedom on the toss of a judicial inquiry. In doing so, he ignored wiser heads, like Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s founding fathers, who noted, ‘the liberty of speaking and writing guards our other liberties’

What pains me as, I believe, a conscionable journalist is I’ve been hung out to dry with a bag of rotten apples that lurks within every profession, business and industry.

CLOSE UP: Is Cameron paying the price of his friendship with Rebekah Brooks?

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT?  Cameron is paying the price of his links with Murdoch luminary Rebekah Brooks

Because the overwhelmingly vast majority of us scribes don’t eavesdrop on other people’s voice-mail, hatch plots with dodgy MPs and bung coppers moolah. We see our role as uncovering and reporting the truth, but as fallible humans we don’t always get it right.

In the main I think we do, because of the 50,000-plus stories that appeared in UK publications last year, the PCC received 7,341 complaints, 719 of which were deemed to have breached the voluntary Editors’ Code of Ethics (yes, we actually have one!).

That reinforces my opinion Leveson was a crass over-reaction. Because Britain already has rigorous laws against bribery, phone-hacking and corruption, not to say protection of human rights, without having a judge reaffirm them, as Ms Brooks and Mr. Coulson will testify.

The country also has some of the world’s sternest libel laws. And, as a one-time senior, UK national newspaper executive, I have long experience of such counterweights to media excess.

Nonetheless, in a career spanning over 40 years, very occasionally and for sound reasons, I’ve supported decisions that were legally risky.

Hand on heart, I did so not simply to land a scoop, but to reveal injustices, connivances, scams and hypocracies the public deserved to know the truth of, because there are some powerful, arrogant people who abuse their positions of trust and deserve to be outed.

Sometimes, only a probing, fearless media can do that.

Which is why a lynch mob of certain aggrieved MPs salivated for Leveson to bring in a guilty verdict over the Press. The reason? Look no further than the Daily Telegraph’s exposé of their grubby expenses rip-off – based on illegally-leaked information – and the ‘entrapment’ by the Sunday Times of certain lords a-leaping for cash in return for breaching lobbying rules.

Even the dead, disgraced News of the World, sunk in the phone-hacking morass, wasn’t all boobs and celeb trash. It conducted some genuinely admirable investigations, one of the last being to bowl out a clutch of Pakistani cricketers involved in match-betting fixes.

Meanwhile, in hindsight, would you feel David Mellor – the ostensibly squeaky-clean family man-cum-political populist – still merited power, having been outed by The People over his extra-marital tryst with Antonia de Sancha?

And how would you have liked unctious Jonathan Aitken as PM – once a distinct possibility – before he was impaled on his own ‘sword of truth’ and jailed for perjury and perverting justice, after being exposed for his iffy links to Arab businessmen and lying through his teeth in a libel action against Granada TV’s World In Action?

OLD NEWS: But even the defunct News of the World produced some

OLD NEWS: But even the defunct News of the World produced some admirable investigations

So would you be better off without a free, self-regulated Press, warts and all, or one at the mercy off government?  Alternatively, will you prefer your ‘news’ delivered by an anarchic, unpoliced Internet, where crackpots abound and Twitter twits compound libels, like misnaming Lord McAlpine a paedophile?

As several MPs sagely noted last week, state regulation of the Press is ‘absolutely pointless’ when people are able to use the Web to spread ‘lies and slurs’.

And consider: was the Leveson Inquiry solely about the ‘culture, practices and ethics’ of the Press or were other dimensions in play, a back-story so to speak?

Because, in our dog-eats-dog menagerie, some media gloried in the bloodbath of the tabloids. Unsurprisingly, most enthusiastic were standard-bearers of the illiberal Left, the pious Guardian and the haughty BBC, despite the serial cock-ups of the Jimmy Savile affair exposing its inherent hypocricy and journalistic ineptitude.

Both harbour agendas, The Guardian because anyone who disagrees with its prejudices must surely be wrongheaded and the Beeb because it feared a Murdoch takeover of Sky TV would shove it further down the road of decline.

So, too, does a cabal of righteous, self-appointed lobby groups, like the Media Standards Trust, which spawned the Hugh Grant-led ‘Hacked Off’ campaign.

Hence, despite the best intentions of Lord Leveson, his inquiry was essentially a trial of the Murdoch media, set against a Left-versus-Right political backdrop.

Its recommendations are still to be fully weighed, dissected and debated. But the final verdict rests with politicians, who equally shared the dock with the Press.

Which prompts me to ask: since when did the guilty decide the fate of co-defendants?

A siren voice in the Middle East madness signals a glimmer of hope and sanity

Incredible as it may seem at this critical juncture, could I have detected a tiny glimmer of hope amid the chaos and lunacy of the carnage-strewn Middle East?

Not that Shiite and Sunni, Palestinian and Israeli, Arab and Jew are all suddenly going to embrace each other warmly, cooing ‘Salaam’ and ‘Shalom’. On the contrary: tragically, there’s no denying much more blood will be spilt before the pipe dream of peace comes true, if ever fully.

No, the script will continue apace, after disparate anti-Assad fighters forged an iffy alliance in Doha early this month, the fragmented opposition agreeing to combine under the Soviet-sounding nom de guerre of The National Coalition Forces of the Syrian Revolution. With Al Qaeda extremist and raving Salafists in its ranks, skeptics aren’t betting it’ll enjoy a long life.

In the meantime – having already overflowed into Turkey and Jordan, where thousands of Syrian refugees have fled their odious regime’s killing machine – the conflict is engulfing Lebanon, where Iranian-backed proxies of the terrorist franchise, Hizbollah, hold the country by its throat.

Israel has done its best to stay above the fray, despite Syrian army tank rounds, mortar shells and stray bullets landing in its territory. But now they, too, have been shanghaied into taking defensive action on their southern flank.

With nearly 800 rocket attacks targeted at its civilians so far this year up to the beginning of November from Hamas’s terror enclave in Gaza – missiles smuggled in from Libya, Iran and Sudan and seriously lethal ordnance – it’s small wonder Israel felt compelled to take out the terror-monger-in-chief, Ahmed Jaabari, on Wednesday.

READY TO FIRE: Hamas terrorists prepare another rocket fussilade to further provoke Israel

But what did Hamas expect by deliberately provoking an Israeli defensive retaliation with a rocket blitz?

As usual, they escalated the violence for PR gain, but the real reason is they want to test the new-found power of their sponsors and armourers, the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, who swept to control after Egypt’s overthrow of the Mubarak mob.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, the Palestine Authority’s inept boss and arch foe of Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas, is ignoring all sage advice by preparing a second bid for fig-leaf statehood at the UN, knowing it will kybosh any hopes of reigniting talks with Jerusalem.

Chuck into the mix maniacal Iran’s obsession with developing a nuclear weapon that will guarantee them bully-boy status over the Middle East if only they can only annihilate Israel – in your dreams, Ahmadinejad – and the perfect storm continues to foment.

So the status quo is worsened and – unlike their creative, medieval predecessors – today’s Arabs can appear guilty of seeming unable to organise a fondu party in a funfair, so factionalised and fractious are they over ancient tribal and religious enmities among themselves.

Hence, with an Arab Spring now turned Islamic Winter, where’s this glimmer of hope I mentioned? So, consider the following carefully:-

The Arab world wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and lost tens of thousands of innocent lives fighting Israel, which they considered is their sworn enemy, an enemy whose existence they never recognized.

‘The Arab world has many enemies and Israel should have been at the bottom of the list.

‘The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good health care, lack of freedom, lack of respect for the human lives and finally, the Arab world had many dictators who used the Arab-Israeli conflict to suppress their own people.

‘These dictators’ atrocities against their own people are far worse than all the full-scale Arab-Israeli wars.’

These aren’t my words, though I fully endorse the sentiments. No, they emanate from Abdulateef Al-Mulhim, who goes on to state tellingly, ‘If many of the Arab states are in such disarray, we should contrast them with Israel.

‘It now has the most advanced research facilities, top universities and infrastructure. Many Arabs don’t know that the life expectancy of Palestinians living in Israel is far greater than in many Arab states and they enjoy far greater political and social freedom than many of their Arab brothers.

‘Even the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank enjoy more political and social rights than in some parts of the Arab world.’

VOICE OF REASON: Saudi journalist Abdulateef Al-Mulhim

So who is this Abdulateef Al-Mulhim and is his a siren voice of reason in the Arab wilderness, where hatred is common currency and unyielding Islamo-fascists are increasingly calling the shots?

Strangely, he is a retired commodore of the Saudi navy, now a columnist in Arab News, the oil-rich desert kingdom’s first English-language newspaper.

Given the implacably Sunni Muslim House of Saud isn’t a renowned advocate of a free Press or human rights, it is bizarre Al-Mulhim was permitted to express such heretical opinions. So they must have passed muster with a censor high up the Saudi bling chain.

Al-Mulhim’s comments – and their obvious official sanction – represent a glimmer of blue-sky thinking by the ultra-conservative Saudi establishment. And it’s a sign, too, they are getting a tad hotter under their kaffiyehs about what’s long been brewing on the Iranian Shiite side of the Persian Gulf.

As small acorns become imposing oaks, many Middle East watchers are intrigued by what they perceive may be an ever-so-slight thaw between the Saudis and the Israelis, since Al-Mulhim has called into doubt the one, abiding distraction uniting Arabs: eradicating Israel.

The three wars they instigated against the Jewish state – in 1948, 1967 and 1973 – all resulted in ignominious loss, along with large tranches of territory that Israel negotiated back to Egypt and Jordan in exchange for ‘cold’ peace deals.

Abbas, however, hasn’t shown he’s serious about such accommodations, much to the satisfaction of his glee club of purblind, Left-liberal luvvies, whose credo is echoed daily by the anti-Zionist cheerleaders at The Guardian, BBC and New York Times.

The luvvies, of course, will continue to pretend that Israel is still the nub of all Middle East woes and 250 million Arabs will make love, not war when those five million stubborn Jews disappear in a second Holocaust and the Palestinians reclaim a ‘homeland’ that was never their birthright in the first place.

Al-Mulhim has shot that proposition down in flames, as if to say ‘It’s not Israel, stupid’; that’s just been a convenient sideshow, camouflaging the real problem of tyrants suppressing their people.

While I’m not naive enough to imagine such ideological foes as Saudi Arabia and Israel can kiss and make up, a chink of light has broken through the gloom, even if it is largely based on the premise that my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

It might never guarantee total peace, but if back-channel diplomacy can unite Saudi influence with Israeli can-do, it could put the brakes on an unfolding calamity exploding into an apocalypse.


Ryanair’s O’Leary: Mad, bad or just a very clever boyo?

There are two, contrasting schools of opinion on the theory: ‘Any publicity is good publicity’. But as a gnarled, old newsman, who’s witnessed many self-destruct buttons pushed over the years, I cite Gerald Ratner as the example that disproves the rule.

The jewellery tycoon, you’ll remember, once boasted the bling he flogged in his shops was ‘crap’ and paid the ultimate price…near ruin, ignominy and remorse.

People get it into their heads we media types can make or break someone at will, but that’s over-simplistic and often tripe.

Publicity-addicts are well capable of shooting themselves anywhere in their anatomy, since they’ll do practically anything to grab attention (i.e. Nadine Dorries, the maverick Tory MP opting to go on ITV’s I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here displayed all the hallmarks of a calamity waiting to happen and, predictably it did).

Frankly, I’ve lost count of the number of calls I’ve fielded on national newspaper news desk from agents/PRs/mums & dads/siblings/friends of wannabe celebs begging me to send a photographer round to such-and-such a nightclub at 4 a.m. when their charge can be snapped, rat-legged and drugged up to the bulging bosom, staggering out.

‘Would you prefer her to have her knickers round he ankles?’ I remember one PR plaintively asking. ‘That’d really spice up the pic.’

Invariably, the request was filed in the appropriate receptacle under my desk, commonly known as the waste-paper bin.

FLYING HIGH: Ryan continues to pile up the profits, despite its boss’s controversial opinions

On the other hand, there’s always the exception that proves the rule and by far the best exponent of this is Michael O’Leary, boss of ‘no-frills’ airline Ryanair, who has deliberately turned it into the world’s most talked-about carrier.

O’Leary knows his controversial prognostications invariably lead to a blizzard of publicity – nearly always bad. Yet his company recently recorded a 10% rise in profits for the first half of the year to £477M atop the mountain of gains Ryanair has made since it first took off in 1984.

While others dub the Irishman mad, bad and dangerously to know – as Lady Caroline Lamb once described her lover, the poet Lord Byron – I say O’Leary is nothing if not a consummate showman, astute businessman and an archly-cunning media manipulator.

His speciality is floating outrageous ideas, the more shocking the better – like suggesting passengers pay a £ or €uro to spend a penny in mid-flight or even planes minus loos, since he can add extra banks of seats where the toilets are. Not long ago O’Leary even suggested his short-haul planes needed no co-pilots, since cabin crew were quite capable of handling a 737 if the captain suddenly snuffed it and, besides, many landings nowadays were automatically controlled.

He is also a dab hand, too, at inventing destinations that don’t exactly exist. Frankfurt-Hahn, for instance – which I’ve used occasionally to visit my son in Luxembourg – is actually over a two-hour drive to Germany’s commercial hub and there’s one designated as ‘Oslo’ that I understand is a four-hour bus ride from the Norwegian capital.

What I admire most is when O’Leary puts on his ‘public service’ hat, viz-a-viz Ryanair’s launch of a sting of routes to obscure, though bucolic destinations in France. As expected it turbo-charged the local tourist economy and sparked a property-buying spree by Brits, causing considerable glee among locals keen to offload any old pile of rubble to gullible rosbifs.

A few years on, when one local mayor wanted to raise landing fees and stop subsidising Ryanair crews’ overnight stays at local hostelries, O’Leary caused havoc – and set house values plunging – by threatening to pull out and go somewhere more accommodating.

And, until a recent EU directive instructed all airlines to be transparent over ‘hidden’ charges, passengers really didn’t have a clue about costs they were incurring when they logged online to book their flights (Ryanair weren’t the only culprit it should be said, because many competitors followed their lead).

But, rather like Marmite, Ryanair users either love it or hate it; in fact, there’s hardly a scintilla of middle-ground to shove a cigarette paper through the crack.

So, if you book early, Ryanair is a budget airline; contrarily, if you need to go somewhere in a hurry, they can be the Dick Turpin of the skies.

‘Stick to their rules and you can’t go wrong,’ a regular commuter advises. ‘Keep cabin baggage to a minimum and make sure you’ve printed off you online boarding pass, or they’ll charge you €60/£50 for one.’

Meanwhile, all the inevitable, ensuing negative publicity must make O’Leary guffaw all the way to the bank when the scornful headlines are heaped on him, because he deliberately courts such controversy and must have the hide of a rhino.

However, there was a real sting in his latest diatribe, launched the other day, excoriating the airline regulators as ‘plonkers’ for continuing to insist seatbelts were a requirement on all planes.

FLY BOY? Not Ryanair’s O’Leary, an arch media manipulator

In a proper paddy, the man who supports the shooting of all environmentalists, insists, ‘Seatbelts don’t matter.

‘You don’t need a seatbelt on the London Underground. You don’t need a seatbelt on trains, which are travelling at 120 mph and if they crash you’re dead. If there was ever a crash on an aircraft, God forbid, a seatbelt won’t save you.’

Perhaps he’s right, because the evidence actually supports O’Leary’s proposition.

However, what it doesn’t sustain is his latest flight of fantasy to allow punters to stand and strap-hang in the tail section of his planes for a cut-price fee, because he considers his aircraft to be ‘just b****y buses with wings’.

O’Leary is certainly right, though, when he adds, ‘Most people just want to get from A to B and don’t want to pay £500 for a flight. You want to spend that money on a nice hotel, apartment or restaurant – not p*ss it all away at the airport or on the airline.’

Personally, I admire the man’s outspokeness, not that I don’t get mildly irked at times by his incessant ravings. But at least they are original and, unlike most anonymous company CEOs, he puts his head above the parapet, knowing full well his extreme views are going to be machine-gunned to pieces by an ever-accommodating media.

So clearly O’Leary has proved any publicity is good publicity and it’s helped him build Ryanair into a hugely successful brand, even if it is the world’s most contentious airline and pioneer of a revolution that’s stripped the fun out of flying.

Meanwhile, I’m due to fly Ryanair to London shortly and only hope it arrives a tad late.

I don’t think I can stand a dah-dah-dah trumpet voluntary, bragging ‘Another Ryanair flight arrives early!’

But with my luck – and Michael O’Leary’s operational acumen – it probably will.

Memo to me: Must remember the earplugs.

The Obama Report: Must do better next term, Mr. Re-Elected President

Whatever the 2012 Presidential election demonstrated, it’s that the USA is nowhere near United as its name suggests.

Not for the first time the country is pretty well split asunder, more precisely 50/48. The centre largely remains steadfastly Republican red, while the densely-populated fringes Democrat blue.

In terms of the popular national vote it was, as Wellington noted after Waterloo, ‘a damn, close-run thing’ – something tellingly not reflected by the arcane Electoral College (EC), which allocates ballots per state populations.

However, as the brouhaha boiled down to a cluster of predicted swing states, maybe the contenders could have saved $6-billion and America a bout of national nausea over tedious telly ads, each candidate hell bent on trashing the other, and simply fought the contest on the see-saw battlegrounds of Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Colorado and Nevada.

The chatterati are pretty well agreed rustbelt Ohio (18 EC votes) was the clincher and what copper-bottomed it for Obama was his bail-out of near-broke automobile industry, one of the state’s major employers. Oddly, businessman Romney’s idea of allowing car giants, like General Motors, to go into ‘Chapter 11′ administration would have had the same, net effect, but let’s not get into the dark arts of corporate crisis accountancy.

Omni-storm Sandy was also a contributory factor. It gave Obama the brief chance to appear presidentially above the fray and, crucially, he visited New Jersey, one of the worst hit regions, comforting the homeless and promising aid. Romney (big boo-boo, Mitt!) stayed away and Democrats milked every second of air-time apropos his absence.

To be fair to the Republican challenger, he did far better than most pundits originally imagined. His wealth, Mormon faith – a heretic cult in the eyes of many Bible Belt Christians – and propensity to occasionally put his foot where his mouth was were undoubted impediments.

But, in hindsight, he was the best of an ill-starred bunch from the Right – some almost certifiable (Google: Michele Bachmann for confirmation), which says little for a schism-ridden party more divided than the nation itself.

And the US is not simply split, but increasingly factionalised as the polling statistics icily demonstrate.

COCK-A-HOOP: Obama celebrates his re-election in a victory shower of tinsel

Whites, predominantly males, voted 60/39 for Romney; African-Americans, Hispanics and Latinos balloted almost en block for Obama. Clearly Obama’s vow to legalise the status of 11 million ‘illegals’ – mainly Spanish speakers – resonated (and think of the tax revenue this will scoop, not to say the hole it will blow in the ‘black’ economy).

The key constituency that garnered most supported for the incumbent, however, was women. This will rattle the Christian fundamentalist Right – as exemplified by Sarah Palin’s head-banging Tea Partiers – who tried to ram their anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage social agenda down the nation’s gullet.

Mainstream women understandably demand freedom to control their own bodies and even though Romney distanced himself from the extremists, he was viewed by many female voters as a risk too far.

So where does this leave Obama? Last time out, in 2008 he caned John McCain, a nice man in need of a personality transplant, winning the national vote by a margin of nine-and-a-half million and the Electoral College by a cricket score of 365 to 173.

This time, though, there’s a bitter-sweet tinge to victory. Despite how my irate detractors will fulminate, Obama is tarnished goods, an ideologue, who’s patently failed to deliver on his war-cry of ‘Change’ for the better.

Admittedly, not everything was his fault. He inherited the greedy banks’ ‘sub-prime’ mortgage crisis, G-Dubya’s inept attempt to impose democracy on Iraq – now a vassal state of the Iranian maniacs – the stalemate war in Afghanistan and a stuttering economy.

But, the glaring question is where did he nearly screw up, having been swept to power on a tsunami of popularity four years ago?

Baldly, the facts are: free-spending, uber-liberal Obama failed to halt the rise in a US deficit that impacts on the world – not that the financial imbroglio in the Eurozone is any help – failed to lift the US out of recession and failed to recognise his worthy, but ambitiously expensive ‘Obamacare’ NHS-style initiative was the right policy for the wrong time.

Mostly, he’s failed as a political operator at mending fences with a Republican-dominated House of Representative, in contrast to Bill Clinton. And if Obama – by all accounts a stubborn, aloof and irascible figure, inclined to throw his toys out of the pram if he doesn’t get his own way – continues his battle of attrition with Congress, ‘Change’ will be a hollow slogan.

Because, as Clinton seminally reminded George H. Bush back in ’92, ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ and the squeezed middle classes of Blue Collar America want actions, not platitudes. To deliver, Obama needs friends in high places – Republicans at that – and learn the art of compromise with grace.

CRESTFALLEN: Republican challenger Mitt Romney bows his head and admits defeat

Though foreign policy was way down the election agenda, it’s clear the President must also radically revise his brief. He was blindsided by the Arab Spring-cum-Islamic Winter and the US can’t rely on the freemasonry of tyrants that once ruled the region, filling their personal coffers with American aid.

He’s been fortunate, though, to have had Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, because she’s a far savvier oracle of the international horizon than her boss, whose only marquee achievement was hastening Osama bin Laden wish to enter Paradise, succoured by a harem of nubile virgins (and, by all accounts, cutting the snake’s head off Al Qaeda was Hill’s idea).

Mrs. Clinton, however, is reported to be quitting office – possibly for a stab at the White House herself in 2016 – so replacing so sage a voice on foreign affairs is going to be tough challenge for the President.

Meanwhile, China – as the BBC’s John Simpson pointed out on election night – thinks Obama’s a wimp (an opinion echoed by Vladimir Putin); the Muslim Brotherhood sees him as a push-over; and the Taliban are just waiting to give the corrupt, quasi-democratic Afghanistan government a murderous kick up their shalwar kameez’d backsides when US troops exit in 2014.

At least, so far, Obama’s demurred from getting his hands dirty in the Syria civil war, where what constitutes the ‘rebels’ are a total conundrum to Washington.

America – and the West’s – one ally in the Middle East, Israel, not unreasonably doesn’t trust Obama an inch, despite their congratulatory rhetoric. This is especially so since his insistence the Jewish state retreats to pre-1967 borders – the so-called ‘Auschwitz Lines’, as Benjamin Netanyahu reminded the President in one acerbic tete-a-tete.

While the Palestinians are locked in an internal squabble between Fatah on the West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza, Obama has breathing space on that front, although meddling by the ‘bearded ones’ in Egypt’s new, Islamic regime may cause irritation.

What the President must do, however – and not merely at Israel’s behest – is take a tougher stance against Iran, who have lied, obfuscated and patently run down the clock over their nuclear ambitions.

Hillary Clinton could read the runes. Taking tiny Israel out of the equation, she knew if the crazy ayatollahs had a finger on the nuclear button, it would trigger an arms race for weapons of mass destruction and Saudi Arabia will be first in line for US know-how in building its own bomb.

However, probably the biggest imponderable facing Obama is how to deal with the emergent super status of China, especially with a new leadership in Beijing ready to be rubber-stamped.

Tellingly, in his final debate with Romney, he referred to the inscrutable Chinese as ‘both adversary, but also a potential partner.’

Obama might like to chew on a phrase attributed to Winston Churchill (though, Napoleon said something similar): ‘Beware the sleeping dragon. For when she awakes the earth will shake.’

Well, Mr. President, you’ve been granted four more years to sort out that dilemma and stop China throttling world trade. If you don’t, indeed the world will quake.

When it comes to well being, why can’t men be more like women?

It’s that time of year again when the love of my life and yours truly dig deep into our reservoirs of nerve and submit our bodies to a series of tests, which the GP blithely and metaphorically calls his ‘MoT’.

Pretty much in the same way ageing, 4-wheeled bangers undergo annual, mandatory roadworthiness checks, we voluntarily elect for the probing, blood-sampling and analysis of bodily fluids, as they provide a fairly accurate indicator of how time is ravaging us and what the prognosis is for the future.

Both being 60-ish, we’re pretty sanguine about not living forever, despite the advances in medical science. Quality of life is what we value most, so hopefully we’ll rumble on for a while longer.

Naturally, each of us have developed aches and pains with age – mitigated somewhat by living in a climate as benign as Mallorca – and need propping up with a small, daily cocktail of drugs.

My wife worries about her cholesterol. The condition is likely to be genetic, since her diet is low on dairy products and a pill a day keeps it within the proscribed limits.

For my own part, I’ve been nursing an above-average PSA (prostate sensitive antigens) level since 2006, which can be an indicator of prostate cancer. I have regular check-ups, but it continues to yo-yo, which is worrisome, though my urologist doesn’t seem unduly concerned (mind you, he’s not the patient).

I hope he’s right, since prostate cancer – described as the ‘Cinderella of cancers’, until it attracted attention via the Movember moustache-growing campaign – can by symptomless unless it becomes dangerously aggressive, killing as it does over 10,000 men a year in the UK alone.

Most men contract it, usually in their declining years, but generally its progress is snail’s space and they go on to shrug off their mortal coil for other, more sinister reasons.

And, since genetic conditions are increasingly regarded by the medical fraternity as a guide to what can strike future generations, I’m fortunate, because the disease doesn’t run in my family, though that doesn’t absolve me from a positive diagnosis some day.

My wife and I were also lucky to be post-WW2 baby-boomers. It meant we were fed on home-made, additive-free food, minus preservatives, and I didn’t have my first, US-style hamburger from a fast food chain until about 1958 (it was a Wimpey, by the way).

Meanwhile, 1950s rationing limited us to good, plain, old-fashioned grub – plenty of meat and fresh veg dishes; yucky steamed fish; nutritious, home-made winter soups – which my kids now dub ‘soul food’. We also ate plenty of fruit, either straight out of its skins or cooked as baked and stewed apples, and in various tarts.

Since most families didn’t have cars way back then, we walked lots and cycled. In my early teens, regardless of the weather, I pedalled twelve miles a day to school and back on my prized, Sun Superlight drop-handle-barred racing bike and can still remember every hill.

We also played out almost daily on the local ‘rec’, inventing our own games and filling our lungs with what passed for fresh air in damp, polluted Manchester.

On reflection, it was a gilded childhood and somehow, heathwise, I believe it has stood us in good stead, since we weren’t afflicted by video games, cellphone toys and the plethora of gizmos that tantalise today’s young and keep them housebound and anti-social for hours.

But, to return to the point of this and our choice to be proactive about our health, though it’s fair to say we’re not obsessional about it, just moderately sensible.

The annual medicals have taught us to avoid too much salt, fizzy, cola-style drinks and pre-prepared convenience foods, which are rarities in Mallorca anyway (though I do miss M&S duck a la orange).

However, the doc’s ‘MoT’ can be a contentious issue – and especially among men of my vintage. Maybe they fear what they’ll hear.

But blokes, by nature, are blokish. We’ll happily chew the fat about sport, politics, business/work and dissect the attributes of a pretty girl if one chances by.

DON’T CARRY ON, NURSE: Men shun medical check-ups, maybe because they fear what they’ll hear

But, in our macho world all talk of medical matters is taboo and if one of us suddenly developed a third testicle, it would be a topic of hilarity – envy even – not a health concern.

In fact, too many men I know take an ostrich-eye view of their bodies and say, ‘If something happens, I’ll sort it. But I don’t want to go looking for trouble.’

That was the mindset of two friends until they were required to take medicals for insurance purposes and discovered to their horror they had aggressive prostate cancer. Fortunately, it hadn’t spread to other vital organs and, after treatment, I’m glad to say they’re still kicking.

Contrarily, two female strangers standing at a bus stop will strike up a conversation that’s invariably a prelude to comparing hysterectomies, smears and mammograms.

True, women are far more accustomed to their anatomy being medically invaded; it’s a fact of life they reluctantly accept. But, hence, they have far fewer inhibitions about discussing intimate details.

Generally, they’re also considerably more proactive in looking after their bodies than we Neanderthals.

This leads me to the conclusion – contrary to Professor Higgins song in My Fair Lady, bewailing the fairer sex and demanding ‘Why can’t women be more like men’ – men should be more like women when it comes to treating wellness seriously.

Of course, guys, if you want to continue swilling half-a-dozen litres of San Miguel nightly, chased by tequila shots, existing on a fast-food diet and walking no further than the car, by all means carry on, because I don’t want to bang on like a health nerd.

Sooner or later, though, I’ll probably see you at the cemetery. Hopefully, I’ll be the one with the bunch of flowers and an R.I.P. note.