Cyprus, the mouse that roared, is still no pipsqueak – even after the EU’s bank heist

Way back in the mists of cinema history – 1959 to be precise – there was a spoof movie whose plot might just have provided the answer to cash-strapped Cyprus. Plus, it could also have sent a reassuring message to other Club Med Eurozone members on their uppers, their populations incandescent with rage over force-fed austerity.

Based on a book by Irish-American writer, Leonard Wibberley, and starring Peter Sellers, The Mouse That Roared chronicled the tale of the miniscule European duchy of Grand Fenwick when it was hit by a financial tsunami.

With its tiny economy almost entirely reliant on Pinot Grand Fenwick wine – read that as a metaphor for today’s banking – the country suddenly faced ruin when a US winery made a knockoff version of the highly-quaffable plonk.

The medieval micro-state, its 20-man army equipped with longbows and arrows, had but one recourse…to declare war on America, pray for instant defeat and trouser the largesse Washington usually doles out to those it has vanquished (e.g. the Marshall Plan for Germany following World War II).

So far, so good. Except it all turns turtle when the pauper duchy accidently defeats the mighty superpower and stumbles on control of the ‘Q-bomb’, a doomsday weapon capable of destroying mankind.

Naturally, in the world of wacky movies, all’s well that ends well; Grand Fenwick loses the conflict…and wins the moolah.

CYPRUS TAKE NOTE: The 1959 movie that showed how to take on a super power, lose...and win

CYPRUS TAKE NOTE: The 1959 movie that showed how to take on a super power, lose the war…and win the moolah

Fast-forward 50-plus years and, with nowhere to run to find financial succour, Cyprus played an audacious, Mouse That Roared card and took on the clunking fist of the EU in a poker game over bail-out terms for its banks relatively huge toxic debt.

However, unlike Grand Fenwick, Cyprus (population: 700,000 and dwindling) didn’t stand a snowball in Hades chance of plucking victory from the jaws of defeat. Because German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble – a man who could start a fight in an empty room – were never going to dip into their tax-payers’ wallets, especially in an election year.

Despite Germany’s financial might only required to back-stop a European Central Bank-EU-IMF (a.k.a. the Troika) loan approaching €10bn to the blighted island, it was time to set a brutal example to all Club Med beggars and crack the whip, even if it confirmed (once again) the Eurozone isn’t fit for purpose.

So, if Cyprus railed over the hardball terms being dictated, the door marked Exit, Ausgang or Salida beckoned to bankruptcy, irrespective of the EU’s Alcatraz rules that once in, there’s no escape.

This was the Euro superpowers’ revenge for feckless bankers having the audacity to set up an off-shore tax-haven paradise on the tiddler island…a money laundrette for washloads of filthy lucre (€18bn by some accounts), dropped off by Russian oligarchs wanting more bangs for their buck – or rather rouble – and no questions asked.

Then, to compound their monumental folly and displaying quite staggering disregard for due diligence, the Cypriot whizkids showered an avalanche of euros on iffy on Athenian junk bonds, which sank when the vacuous nation’s gravy train hit the buffers (Moral: beware of Greeks seeking gifts).

So, like their busted flush neighbour before it, Cyprus took its begging bowl to Brussels, with the implied threat that if you don’t underwrite our debt, we’ll upset the EU applecart.

However, the response was predictably draconian or, to paraphrase a fox-hunting analogy, the ruthless in pursuit of the potless.

BANK ROBBER: Hard-up Cypriots blame Germany's Angela Merkel for their misery, as this satirical ATM image shows

BANK ROBBER: How hard-up Cypriots satirically portray Germany’s Angela Merkel on their ATMs

Spurred on by a Germany for whom the Eurozone is fast becoming a jigsaw of Teutonic provinces, the Brussels bullyboys (Motto: take a sledgehammer to crack a nut) exposed themselves – once again – as crass, anti-democratic, bean-counting thugs.

And, to stamp their authority with maximum savagery, they demanded not only an end to Cyprus’s dodgy tax laxity, but depositors become victims of blatant bank robbery to help stump up nearly €6bn.

This will be achieved via a 40% haircut (scalping more like it) for those with over €100K in one dubious bank and the total annihilation of another. Plus, there’ll be ‘temporary’ controls to stop capital flight – another pillar of monetary union conveniently disregarded – though most of the dirty money has already flown.

The net result is that no-one comes out of this smelling of attar of roses. The EU is exposed for what it is – a wannabe super-state without a grain of compassion for its hoi-polloi; and Cyprus, an omnishambles of Byzantine idiocy, is to be the template for any other uppity lot misguided enough to believe it’s still a sovereign nation (Club Med+Ireland take note).

My guess, though, whatever arm-twisting deal was cobbled together, we’ve not heard the last of the Eastern Mediterranean mouse and how it cheesed off the EU (sorry, couldn’t resist that pun).

So the fear of contagion lurks and not a day goes by without me hearing folk voicing similar distrust of the Troika’s heavy-handedness, despite Spain’s finance minister assuring investors it can’t possibly happen again.

Why not? Even with depositor guarantees of €100,000, if the ECB – supposedly the milch-cow of last resort – cocks a snook at Cyprus, for all its profligacy, which Eurozone politician can predict with any certainty no more cruelty will be meted out to purge ungodliness from the sainted euro paradigm?

However, Cyprus may have more room for manoeuvre than Brussels imagines.

Having propped up the island with a €5bn inter-government loan, Moscow is livid at being locked out of rescue talks in what it perceives as an EU snub. And now it is muttering darkly about pay-back.

This, then, could be the trigger for woebegone Cypriots to pull, because they have two prizes Vladimir Putin muchly desires: Russian exploration rights to a natural gas field Cyprus is developing with Israel and the potential to be a new base for its Mediterranean fleet if the Syrian port of Tartus is lost, come Bashar al-Assad’s downfall.

And writing off a €5bn loan – mere loose change – is no hardship for an economy swimming in petro-dollars.

Moreover, the geopolitical implications of Cyprus falling further under Moscow’s sway could be dramatic. The EU’s third smallest nation could not only afford to shun the euro and return to its old Cyprus £ – as one of its ministers threatened – it could deliver a strategic uppercut to the West’s sphere of Middle East influence and threaten the British army outpost at Akrotiri, one of NATO’s pivotal monitoring stations.

With Greece already deep in hock to the expansionist Chinese, who own the deeds to the port of Piraeus, and the Moscow-Beijing axis strengthening, Cyprus may provide the key to unlocking greater riches than its emptying bank vaults.

If that happens, the smart alecs who dictate EU tyranny may well rue the day they put the screws on the tiny Eastern Med mouse with the temerity to roar.

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The faith whose name Brits are too afraid to mention (clue: it isn’t Christianity or Judaism)

Today’s lesson cometh from the first Book of Life and poses the question, ‘If the stranger comes to dwell among us, is it too much to ask he respects us?’

No, don’t worry. I’ve just made that up and not invented some new-age religion. Nor have I come over all pious (although, when I go into my local café, people immediately look heavenwards and cry, ‘Oh G-d, it’s him again’).

Generally, though, I avoid religious debates, since they can easily become fractious. Moreover, my faith, whatever it is or isn’t, is my affair. So I refrain from being judgemental of anyone else’s – providing they don’t step on the toes of mine (or the lack of it).

That said, religions have historical and political aspects that impact on non-believers, too, and however tolerant our modern-day ideals, we are entitled to comment.

So, Francis I, the new People’s Pope, is already facing uncomfortable questions from some quarters.

Why, it’s being asked, didn’t this humble yet resolute man do more to combat the Argentine military junta’s ‘Dirty War’, from 1976 to 1983, when countless thousands disappeared?

And why is his sense of nationalism so ingrained, he refuses to acknowledge the legitimate self-determination of the Falklanders to remain British, as David Cameron reminded him.

JUSTICE HOOKED: Firebrand Islamic preacher, Abu Hamza, ran rings round the UK's legal system for years

JUSTICE HOOKED: Firebrand Islamic preacher, Abu Hamza, ran rings round the UK’s legal system for years

Certainly, Francis has much on his papal plate, not least the child-sex abuse scandals some bishops, cardinals and members of the Curia wilfully kicked under the Vatican carpets.

That, however, is a pastoral matter, albeit with strong morality implications, and not related to pressing religious dilemmas – contraception, abortion, gay marriage and arcane, canonical disputes – that will test His Holiness.

The point is, whether the Catholic Church likes it or not, it is being held to proper account in the court of public opinion.

And Judaism, the precursor of Abrahamic faiths, has never been far from smears – spoken or written – for two millennia. But old-fashioned Jew-bashing has become passé; replacing it is an insidious, nouveau ideology that transposes the word ‘Jew’ for ‘Israel’, which is a handy cloak under which anti-Semites can hide their bile.

Like every democracy, Israel isn’t above criticism; but knock Netanyahu or Peres, not world Jewry any more than you’d rap Anglicanism for what the Coalition does in Britain.

Only a moron would buy into the slanders that, in a world population approaching seven billion, less than 14 million remnants of an ancient nation mainly dispersed by the Romans two thousand years ago, are somehow responsible for all global ills…from deicide and using blood of gentile children to sanctify Passover bread to today’s inane claims Jews caused all wars, capitalism and communism, aided and abetted by international freemasonry (which they apparently also control).

Meantime, that notorious, anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion – invented by the Czar’s secret police at the dawn of the 20th Century – remains a best-seller throughout the Muslim world and its outrageous porkies accepted as gospel truth.

So, with massive population shifts from East to West, it’s no coincidence that crimes against Jews have risen exponentially, as blood libels and Holocaust denials spread to modern Europe, like Black Plague pustules. As columnist, Mehdi Hasan, noted in the New Statesman last week, ‘It is sheer hypocrisy for Muslims to complain of Islamaphobia in every nook and cranny of British public life, yet ignore the rampant anti-Semitism in our own backyard.’

Because, along with disdain for Western values, radical Islam transported its hatreds when droves of Muslims came to Europe seeking better lives. Yet, as exemplified by Britain, unlike waves of earlier settlers – Irish navvies, who built the railways and canals, Jewish tailors who clothed our backs, and black Caribbean public sector workers, all of whom recognised integration was the golden key to their children’s futures – fire-breathing Islamists demand the host changed to accommodate their warped distortion of a respected faith.

American academic, Lawrence Krauss, said he was shocked when recently taking part at a debate hosted by an Islamic group at a UK university to find men and women segregated.

The leading physicist and atheist threatened to walk out unless seating was reorganised – only to find himself accused of intolerance by angry members of the audience.

No such problems existed in a similar debate in Australia, he recalled, suggesting Britons were cowed by those eager to protest whenever they felt ‘their cultural norms not being met’.

Krauss said, ‘There is a segment of the Islamic community that is very vocal. But I think the notion that these cultural norms should be carried out within a broader society that not only doesn’t share them, but is free and open, is a very serious problem.’

In other words, raise a whisper of comment – e.g. the satirical Mohammed cartoons – and the hard-liners scream ‘Islamaphobia!’ and heads must roll…which they mean quite literally!

The problem is compounded by the politically correct lobby, usually of the Left persuasion and still wedded to the failed doctrine of ‘multiculturalism,’ which turns a blind eye to the extremists’ jihad against the democratic tenet of free speech.

Which is why Islam is off limits to legitimate debate. And why hate preachers, like Abu Qatada and the hook-clawed Abu Hamza ran rings round the British legal system with relative impunity for years.

BLAME GAME: Lord Ahmed is said to have claimed the 'Jewish-owned' Press were responsible for his jailing

BLAME GAME: Lord Ahmed is said to have claimed the ‘Jewish-owned’ Press were responsible for his jailing for dangerous driving

It’s also why the Labour Party had only now been forced to suspend (again) its first Muslim peer, Lord Ahmed, for allegedly telling a Pakistani TV channel his 2009 conviction for dangerous driving – after a motorist in a parked car was killed by his Jaguar and a flurry of texts, sent and received moments before the crash, were later found on his cellphone – was all a ‘Jewish plot’.

According by The Times, which uncovered the interview, Ahmed fingered the ‘Jewish-owned Press’, for his light-rap, 12-week sentence, of which he served just 16 days.

No doubt this will come as a shock to Rupert Murdoch of News International, the Daily Mail’s Lord Rothermere and the Barclay brothers, owners of Telegraph Media Group, who, hitherto, never realised they were Jewish.

However, even if the accusation proves untrue – unsurprisingly, Ahmed denies it – it doesn’t absolve the outspoken peer from previous excesses.

For instance, in February 2005, Ahmed hosted a book launch in the House of Lords for a man who calls himself Israel Shamir, but is actually a Swedish arch anti-Semite called Jöran Jermas (Google him, as the noble lord should have done had he been a wiser man).

At the meeting – ‘Jews and the Empire’ – Shamir/Jermas claimed, ‘All the [political] parties are Zionist-infiltrated. Your newspapers belong to Zionists…Jews indeed own, control and edit a big share of mass media, this mainstay of Imperial thinking.’

And, even if Ahmed didn’t embrace the view Jews controlled the Press, he’d sponsored one of the most scurrilous supporters of the slur – and in the Mother of Parliaments, where decent politicians of all persuasions regarded such racist rants as anathema.

In any event, the Pakistan-born baron and property developer became no stranger to controversy.

In 2007, he lambasted Salman Rushdie’s knighthood, claiming the author had ‘blood on his hands.’ And last year Labour suspended the multi-millionaire amid reports he offered a £10M bounty for the capture of Presidents Obama and George W Bush, until an internal inquiry reinstated him.

Anyway, it would muddy the point that here, in the allegedly Free World, there is one religion in our midst we dare not discuss – however peace-loving its believers insist it is – and hold it up to the same, reasonable scrutiny we use to judge Christianity and Judaism.

So game over. Democratic freedom of speech lost.

Did George take the secret of the holiday homes raffle’s missing million to his grave?

MAN OF MYSTERY: George Scott in 2006, at the Mallorcan hotel he 'raffled' on the Internet. Exclusive photo by Mike Gunnill

MAN OF MYSTERY: George Scott in 2006, at the Mallorcan hotel he ‘raffled’ on the Internet – Photo by Mike Gunnill (c) mikegunnill@mac.com

As a silver-tongued charmer, George Scott always appeared to adore the sound of his own voice. Plausible and intellectually adroit, he seemed every inch the flamboyant character he fashioned himself into – a colourful entrepreneur, shameless self-publicist and writer of mystery fiction, whose epitaph is steeped in mystery.

Tall, grey-bearded and sporting a trendily-battered, straw Fedora, the ex-pro wrestler cut a Hemingwayesque dash, accentuated by a trans-Atlantic drawl, honed during his youth in Canada and the US. And he never lost an opportunity to milk his persona to the max.

I last talked to George in mid-2012, the conversation centring on the self, same topic of our many previous chats: where had over a million euros of other people’s money gone?

Unerringly, his responses were the same. He’d generally obfuscate, cavil, admit (some) blame yet somehow pass the buck. So pinning him down was akin to nailing jelly to a wall. Whatever else, he’d insist, he didn’t con anyone; he was ‘sorting the investors out’, even though they were pestering him (‘counter-productive’, he’d claim); he was in his late 70s and a sick man (true); and the banks were ‘impossible…they’re out to ruin me.’ Maybe, but, when pressed, he offered no reason why.

Normally, I’d have given up on George ages earlier, but, in my capacity as Fleet Street’s Man in Mallorca, I’d played some small part in his first flush of good fortune.

Because, in July, 2006 I was commissioned by a UK national newspaper to write a piece on a man who’d launched a unique Internet raffle – winaholidayhomeinspain.com – in which participants could scoop prizes of ‘exclusive villas’ or ‘luxury studio apartments’ in a ‘paradise’, tucked away off the beaten track in the majestic, Mallorcan hinterland.

Nestling astride a pine-clad, hillside, with the shimmering Mediterranean on the horizon and only birdsong to ruffle the tranquillity, one could be yours for the price of a ticket – just £100, €150 or the US$ equivalent, trumpeted the website’s blurb.

OVER & OUT: Scott's voguish Binisallem B&B was siezed on  a court's order and Scott was locked out

OVER & OUT: Scott’s voguish Townhouse B&B, in central Mallora at Binisallem, was siezed on a court’s order and Scott  locked out

That was the tantalising entry fee to George’s master plan to offload the 10 ‘properties’ he valued (or, in this writer’s humble opinion, rather over-inflated) from €250,000 to €500,000, comprising a rustic hotel, Scott’s of Galilea. If all went to script, he’d gross himself over three million euros. Trousering such a windfall would have given him the moolah to pay off the bank’s lease on the business and live out his days in bliss, while still operating his other B&B, the voguish Scott’s Townhouse in Binisallem.

And, back in 2006, before the house-price bubble popped, George underlined his generosity of spirit, saying, ‘This seems a fair way to put luxury properties into the hands of people who couldn’t otherwise afford them. All people have to lose is the price of a meal out for four or a couple of tanks of petrol for an average car. And, heck, life’s a gamble anyway.’

All he needed was 33,000 punters for his raffle to work and, as he told me a month later, he’d sold 5,000 on the back of my story alone.

But, even given George’s panache, I felt a sense of misgiving about the idea. People had tried similar stunts before – like raffling their homes – and, for one reason or another, most had ended in tears.

Plus, there was Mallorca’s reputation for get-rich-quick schemes, which initially flourish on this Alice In Wonderland island, only to evaporate in the heady sunshine.

And, while he may have set out with sincere motives, for all his acumen, George seemed a man intoxicated with the bigger picture, rather than the devil in the detail.

Which is probably why his own pipedream got stuck in a morass of red tape and a self-manufactured mess.

Among oversights he admitted to, not only had he neglected to obtain planning permission to carve up his hotel into individual parcels, each one requiring its own property deed (an escritura in Spanish), he failed to obtain a local licence for a raffle, though he insisted he had American, Spanish and UK ones.

And, after an early rush, ticket sales – they were later re-branded ‘hotel vouchers’ to overcome legalities – flatlined.

About two years on, having exhausted excuses to hold regular draws as George promised, under pressure from participants a first – and only – lucky dip took place, with a couple from Rutland, in the UK, ‘winning’ a €250,000 studio

Only they didn’t… George told them ‘for legal reasons’ they couldn’t have it.

And in common with a host of others, they also made loans to his businesses, some up to €25,000. These were usually redeemable as fixed-period, interest-bearing bonds. But, to my knowledge, despite the terms expiring, none of the creditors has been repaid.

 OFF-LINE: The website announcement, declaring the raffle dropped

OFF-LINE: The website announcement, declaring the raffle axed

Meanwhile, at least 10,000 wannabe holiday home owners worldwide – many of them Brits – had snapped up tickets/vouchers, until the man himself scuppered the scheme two years ago.

George claimed he was too ill with cancer to continue, adding, ‘Due to cost factors, legal registration issues and a plague of fraudulent web scams, this offer is no longer available.’

Worse still, almost a year ago, a court siezed his twee Townhouse B&B, closed it down and its website, scottshotel.com, listed it as ‘for sale.’

Meanwhile, a group of anxious investors were demanding to know where their money was and Spanish police were called in to investigate the case, which a Palma lawyer conservatively estimates involved at least €1.3-million.

One frustrated investor, a retired police officer from Cardiff, said at the time, ‘We cannot get sense any out of Mr. Scott and, along with 32 other bond-holders, we’re considering legal action in Spain. As bond-holders who lent him cash to invest in his businesses in good faith, we are entitled to know what he’s done with our money and when we will get out returns.

‘It is also a gross injustice to build up people’s hopes of winning a holiday home, then not holding regular drawers for the properties as Mr. Scott promised. Even the one that he did hold was a farce and the winners never received their prize.’

In response to all allegations, the colourful hotelier adamantly denied any business impropriety, claiming he could account for every penny received. Yet, he never did to the creditors’ satisfaction.

Instead, just as he batted away my questions, he appeared to be playing a legal stalling game, until his death intervened at the beginning of this month.

Only George Scott knew the truth about the missing million from his holiday-home raffle and his business loans.

What investors want to know today is: will the mystery ever be cleared up now the mystery fiction writer-cum-B&B entrepreneur is in his grave?

Though I dearly hope it will, sadly, I have my doubts.

As the conspiracy mill grinds out lies, if anyone bumped off Hugo Chavez it wasn’t me

Let me begin by emphatically denying any culpability in the demise of Hugo Chávez, the thuggish, Venezuelan overlord, who shuffled off his mortal coil this week, aged 58, from pelvic cancer, as some of his doctors have now confirmed.

It would have been convenient if I’d had the odious autocrat ‘retired’, as the intelligence community mundanely refer to such ‘black ops’. However, I didn’t, so the wild conspiracy theories fanned by Chávists – no, they’re nothing to do with Wayne and Colleen Rooney – continue to gain traction.

According to them, someone slipped their Commandante, as he was known, a killer Mickey Finn virus while he was doing what he loved best, hectoring the world and squandering his nation’s oil riches. It was much in the manner of his soulmate, Iran’s nutter-in-chief, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a likeminded megalomaniac, who fritters away his country’s petroleum wealth on pipedreams of becoming a regional tyrant.

Obviously, the Yanks – rumoured to be aided and abetted by neighbourhood villains, the Colombians – are in the conspiracy frame for arranging Chávez’s date with his Maker.

All the same, in the far-flung unlikelihood someone fingers me, my alibi is: I was watching EastEnders.

I was also glued to the everyday story of quasi-incestuous Cockney folk when Chávez’s bosom buddy, Yasser Arafat, slid off the plate and I remember being transfixed to the goings-on in Walford when North Korea’s fruitcake, Kim Il Sung expired.

So, as Dot Cotton would say, ‘Nah, it weren’t me wot done it, but I’ll  ‘ave a sweet sherry all the same.’

Not that anyone’s denials will halt the conspiracy theory mill grinding into overtime.

Strange, though, that every time a nasty pops his clogs – unless there is incontestable proof he was terminated, as in the cases of Saddam Hussein, Mahmoud Gaddafi and Osama bin Laden – the loonies and mischief-makers don their thinking caps. And, thanks to the wonders of the internet, every hair-brained, crackpot, beyond-belief fantasy takes root.

However, in Chavez’s case, there’s method in the madness of concocting a fiendish plot to cast doubt on nature taking its course.

Apart from playing to Latin America’s obsession with a populist martyr (think Evita Peron), the red-shirted Venezuelan Leftists, whom Chávez bossed from for 14 years, desperately need to kindle the flame of his memory to keep their grasping mitts on the nation’s helm, because they were the chief beneficiaries of his ‘Bolivarian’ revolution.

These uncivil servants are the ones who man the vast tranche of needless ‘ministries’ he created and they needed his magic oratory at the polls, each time the fear of being rumbled in an election haunted them.

And Chávez never let them down. He was a master at mind-bending the masses’ will to his needs and those in his nepotistic, bureaucracy-batty United Socialist Party. He was also a dab hand at hiding behind a veneer of democracy, though, in reality, he always had the last word – usually a foul-mouthed one.

Having snatched the country in a coup d’état in 1999, the ex-army officer embraced a crude form of ‘ex-parliamentary’ rule that extended to suppressing the centre-Right opposition, emasculating the judiciary, stifling the electoral commission and censoring the independent media.

Freedom House listed Venezuela’s Press as being ‘Not Free’ in 2011 and Reporters Without Borders criticized the Chávez regime for ‘steadily silencing its critics’, branding Venezuela ‘now among the region’s worst Press freedom offenders.’

BYE BYE BULLYBOY: Chavez unleashed a new repertoire of repression on Venezuela

BYE BYE BULLYBOY: Chavez unleashed a new repertoire of repression on Venezuela

Yet, Chávez’s recipe of red-hot socialism, heavily laced with nationalist fervour and tinged with religious zeal, resonated elsewhere in the region. Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua, Paraguay and even bourgeois Uruguay saw power shifts to the Leftists, for whom ‘statism’ was the war cry. Rafael Correa, in Ecuador, and Bolivia’s Evo Morales were Chávez’s most fervent copycats, riding roughshod over their national parliaments, supreme courts and constitutions, on the hallowed altar of ‘anti-imperialism’.

Only Chile and Colombia resisted the temptation and stuck, more or less, to credible, transparent democracy.

So, regardless of a commodities boom in which mineral-rich South America should have been a major winner, the countries that followed in the ranting demagogue’s wake – surging Brazil apart – have merely experienced corruption, inflation and dire shortages.

Naturally, Chávez’s defenders will insist he purged the country of just such malaises orchestrated by the old, Rightist cabal, which is partially true. What they don’t say is that he was the architect of an entirely new repertoire of repression, which saw the crime rate – particularly murders – soar unimaginably.

And, as always with neo-Marxist polemicists, there was always a convenient scapegoat for a country’s self-inflicted ills.

As Cristina Kirchner presides of Argentina’s woeful economy, she shifts blame to Britain’s refusal to negotiate away the Falkland Islands, while Morales goes ballistic about territory lost to Chile in the 19th century.

This behaviour is the hallmark of the autocrat and Chávez based the template for Latin America on the Fidel Castro model.

Unsurprisingly, then, he chose pariah allies…Iran, North Korea, Syria, the local states he urged to go beyond the democratic fringe and Ken Livingstone, when, as mayor of London in 2000, he welcomed Chávez, declaring he was ‘the best news out of Latin America in many years’.

If a person is judged by the friends they keep, such company speaks volumes for Hugo Chávez.

And so, too, were the enemies he cherry-picked, principally the Great Satan to the North, the USA, at whose door Venezuela’s many ills were laid. The first President Bush was tarred a ‘monkey’, the second a’devil’.

Almost with his dying breath Chávez underscored his scorn for Western values when he ordered the expulsion of a US diplomat from Caracas, as he scurried back and forth from Havana for medical aid, while teetering on the precipice of the hereafter.

The Commandante also despised the International Monetary Fund, the ‘rich’, and the then Columbian leader, Álvaro Uribe, for taming the Chavez-back Maoist insurgents of FARC and introducing a reformist, liberal agenda.

So who can claim surprise that Chávez’s lackies are crying foul and a claiming a dastardly plot was behind the death of their sainted leader, a great man of the people for the people, who conveniently forgot his people?

All I know is: don’t blame me. I was watching Jack Branning duffing up Phil Mitchell at the time. But if the Queen Vic was a real pub, I’d be in it…drinking a toast to one less bullyboy stalking the planet.

Lib-Dumbs weren’t the winners in the Eastleigh by-election – it was UKIP

You’ll probably be bored to distraction by acres of newsprint today, as the heavyweight pundits – those who boast ‘inside sources’ so close to the Whitehall merry-go-round, they even know which brand of loo paper Samantha Cameron buys from Harrods – pick over the bones of the Eastleigh by-election.

But not here you won’t, I hope. Because, to play on words, the result of the vote in the Hampshire town, whose main claims to fame are railways, Benny Hill’s birthplace and the headquarters of B&Q, was a bygone (or foregone) conclusion before even a ballot was cast.

It’s so utterly rock-solid Lib-Dumb – pardon me; Freudian slip, meant to say Lib-Dem – no shift in the political tectonic plates will move a constituency brainwashed to think and dream in yellow. The local council’s overwhelmingly Lib-Dem yellow and the previous, two MPs, Chris Huhne and David Chidgey, now in the Lords, sported yellow war-paint.

Despite Huhne, the disgraced ex-Minister for Energy, causing the by-election by having been exposed as lying through his molars about his ex-wife taking the rap for a speeding offence, there was never the slightest danger of Eastleigh falling into the dastardly clutches of any other political entity.

In fact, if they’d put up Iggle Piggle, Makka Pakka or Upsy Daisy, the Lib-Dems would have still been breaking open the champers (well, maybe organic Blue Nun in their case).

Not even the pong of scandal surrounding Lord Chris Rennard – currently under observation by the plods for allegedly using his position in the party hierarchy to sexually ingratiate his considerable bulk on ambitious female apparatchiks – could dissuade voters from returning yet another candidate, swathed in jaundice yellow.

And, while Mike Thornton didn’t win on Thursday by the proverbial country mile, he did nab 13,342 votes – at 32%, some 14.48% down on 2010 – to ensure the Lib-Dem dynasty survived.

Not even his master and leader, Nick Clegg’s embarrassing bout of amnesia, apropos when he exactly heard rumours of Rennard’s alleged aberrations – Cleggy had a sudden rush of recall and it was 2008, not just a couple of weeks ago, as he inadvertently first asserted – made an iota of difference to the Great Eastleigh Yellow-washed.

However, the Lib-Dems continue to wallow in a slough of despond elsewhere throughout Britain, their opinion poll ratings slumped to sub-10% popularity.

The reason why is simple: unlike in indoctrinated Eastleigh, less generous voters don’t/won’t forgive Clegg’s sell-out by hitching the Lib-Dem wagon to the despised Tories; of breaking just about every promise in the party’s 2010 manifesto, particularly on tuition fees; and hiding his power lust behind a veil of acting in the ‘national interest’.

One wonders, then, what purpose the Lib-Dems actually serve, apart from being Tory cannon-fodder?

DANGER MAN: Nigel Farage has signalled UKIP's intention of upsetting the political applecart

DANGER MAN: Nigel Farage has delivered on UKIP’s intent to upset the political applecart

Under the Coalition agreement, they got their referendum on opening the door a crack to proportional representation and received a bloody nose from the electorate. Similar fates met their burning yens to reform the House of Lords, education and the NHS.

So, the short-termism of the Beloved Leader is still likely to backfire when a General Election comes round in 2015, which is why it’s a real possibility Clegg will fail to see out his tenure as the Coalition’s junior prefect.

The shock of Eastleigh, then, wasn’t the Lib-Dems retaining a seat dynamite wouldn’t shift them from, but the abysmal failure of the Tories to score even an honourable second. Eastleigh was 16th on their hit-list of winnable constituencies, yet they could only claim the bronze podium.

Third, even at a time when Britain is beset by all manner of woes – not just financial and the loss of a AAA rating Chancellor George Osborne insisted was his gold standard – is fourth rate by any stretch of the public’s imagination.

And what in creation were the Tories doing with a candidate like Maria Hutchings, who can be described sympathetically as ‘eccentric’, though weirdo would also be appropriate?

Even the Conservative hierarchy feared she was a loose cannon, a flaw she underscored by insisting local schools weren’t good enough for her ‘gifted’ son’s ambitions to be a surgeon, dodging a Radio 5 Live inter-candidate debate and sounding off (script) on topics ranging from the EU and abortion to gay marriage.

Small wonder, following the count, Hutchings could only grin like the Cheshire Cat and remain obdurately silent, as reporters pressed her for what went disastrously haywire.

Had the woman, a mother of five and previously branded ‘a snob’ by locals, come up with a plausible excuse for leading the Cameroons up the scaffold, she couldn’t have blamed UKIP, since the former loony-fringe party took away votes from the big three in equal measure.

In fact, far from being nutters and bigots, as the Prime Minister dubbed them, under Nigel Farage’s canny leadership, UKIP has been refashioned into a genuine alternative to the established mainstream and not just a bunch of spoiling, dissenting opportunists, grabbing protest votes wherever they can filch them.

Undoubtedly, UKIP still has its crazies, but so do the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib-Dems, such has always been the nature of politics and its ability to attract oddballs.

However, Cameron accurately identified the potential menace of UKIP long ago, which is why he promised the ‘in-out’ plebiscite on European Union membership and how he came to block the profligate Eurobrats’ budget demands for yet more moolah to fritter away.

Yet, far from soothing the inflamed passions of voters and outflanking UKIP, the Tories’ Eastleigh farce will have only worsened his frustrations. Because, according to the pollsters, one issue surfaced at the top of the pile of public concerns: immigration.

And there is zilch the PM can do if Britain is forced – by EU decree – to open its doors to a potential floodtide of Bulgarians and Rumanians later this year.

Neither, for that matter, can Farage. But he will be far more vocal, outspoken and populist about it and, for good or ill, his opinions will resonate with hordes of disenchanted electors.

Of course, UKIP has far to go before it can make the ultimate breakthrough into parliament. But one more by-election push in a ‘soft’ seat – and don’t rule out it being a Labour stronghold in the North – could consolidate their momentum.

Cameron saw the danger signs and so, now, does Clegg. If Ed Milliband doesn’t, Labour has a nasty shock coming.