A ‘Grexit’ could finally sink the euro – so beware of Greeks bearing threats

THIS is an election year like no other, few can dodge its impact and, whoever wins, most voters will probably feel they’ve lost out.

Because, like a nasty rash, polling fever is erupting almost everywhere and what’s at stake isn’t so much who governs where next, but whether the world plunges into the financial abyss again.

In Britain the only certainty about what will happen in the general election on May 7 is uncertainty, though I have a sneaking suspicion Squire Cameron won’t be handing over the keys to 10 Downing Street.

Why? Because there’ll be what veteran American pollsters wryly recall as the ‘Richard Nixon Gambit’, an event from the annals of politicking gimmickry and the 1960 White House race, squeakily shaded by John F. Kennedy.

Too close to call, the Democrats stooped to a now legendary low in black propaganda by releasing an image of Nixon looking sweaty and shifty behind his grizzled five o’clock shadow, alongside the headline: ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’

NIXON NIXED: The ad showing a shady Richard Nixon that tipped the 1960 US election JFK's way

NIXON NIXED: The ad showing a shady-looking Richard Nixon that tipped the 1960 US election JFK’s way

The stunt resonated sufficiently for JFK to win literally by a whisker – 49.7% to 49.6% – after voters carried the scary vision of the then Republican Vice President into the polling booths.

Nine years later, and remembering to shave at least twice a day, Tricky Dicky won the presidency – perhaps proving you can’t keep a good crook down – only to resign in 1974 in the murk of the Watergate Scandal.

So, it would surprise me not one iota to see a montage of Ed Miliband snaps, showing the Labour leader at his geekiest worst, cropping up like Comparethemeerket telly ads.

The tacit caption would be: ‘Would you believe this nerd could lead the nation?’

Though Britain’s hustings might be enthralling to dedicated followers of UK politics, they are a parish-pump sideshow to elections globally – and I don’t mean in Burkina Faso, where President Blaise Compaoré is hotly tipped to get the heave-ho in November.

Nor am I referring to Israel’s March vote, which will predictably end in a cobbled-together Left or Right-wing coalition government, neither of which will bow to Palestinian blackmail and have imposed on them a factionalised, corruption-riddled Arab statelet that adamantly refuses to recognise its neighbour’s right to exist.

And forget the polls in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, which sully the name of democracy. Ditto Estonia, Finland and Poland, where properly constituted elections should hardly cause a ripple on the Richter scale of political earthquakes.

No, the fun – if that’s not too sardonic a description – is in the European Union’s Club Med nations, beginning next Sunday in Greece, the so-called ‘sick man of Europe’ (well, considerably more bilious compared to the ailing rest).

CAN’T PAY, WON’T PAY: Alex Tsipras (left), head of Greece’s Syriza bloc, demands debt relief to relieve his nation’s plight…or else

Because if a bunch of rebel populists called Syriza, who make the Chinese Communist politbureau look like Young Conservatives, the flaking euro is in for a further buffeting, one which – this time – could actually prelude the first exit of a member state from the Eurozone.

A bloc of far-Left hardliners led by neo-Marxist Che Guevara fan, Alexis Tsipras, the thrust of Syriza’s manifesto is simple: ‘Stop austerity – or we’ll stop paying our debts’, beginning with the instalment of €6.7-billion due to the European Central Bank (ECB) in July.

Unless you’re an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bean-counter, it’s a difficult to gauge just how much Greece owes creditors and what interest it’s cranking up. But terms like ‘colossal’ and ‘humungous’ are understatements and, as one economist noted, ‘At the current rate of pay-down, it’ll 130 years before they return to where they were in 2008.’

How a nation that produced arithmetical geniuses such as Pythagoras, Archimedes and Euclid got itself into such a mega-mess – or managed to flannel its way into the Eurozone in the first place – is no longer the issue.

With unemployment rocketing, the prospect of triple-dip deflation and Greece’s economy screwed to the floor by the ‘Troika’ – that’s the IMF, ECB and European Union, otherwise known as Greater Deutschland – Tsipras is demanding a 50% write-off its debts, just as the international community let Germany get away with in 1953.

For the record, deflation is a mixed blessing. In the UK, where inflation has fallen to 0.5%, courtesy of falling oil, food and commodity prices, consumer spending power is boosted. In contrast, what it means for the Eurozone is rising joblessness, stagnant wages, weak consumption and an inexorable slide into deflation.

POKER FACE: Germany's Merkel fears that a 'Grexit' would be contagious and infect other Club Med states

POKER FACE: But Germany’s Merkel fears that a ‘Grexit’ would be contagious and infect other Club Med states

Meanwhile, despite lame messages from Chancellor Angela Merkel about wanting to keep Greece in the club – which chimes with what Syriza claims it wants – behind the scenes an ultra-high-stakes game of diplomatic poker is being played, with many German politicians refusing to blink first.

‘We are past the days when we still have to rescue Greece,’ insists Michael Fuchs, parliamentary leader of Merkel’s Christian Democrats. “The situation has completely changed from three years ago. Greece is no longer systemically relevant for the euro.’

In fact, it was recently revealed that in 2011 Germany offered Greece a ‘friendly’ return to the drachma, the so-called ‘Grexit’ option. However, Merkel had an attack of the jitters when it became clear Spain and Italy would be mired by contagion from it.

Notwithstanding great strides the Spanish and, to a lesser extent, the Italians have made in putting their houses into better financial shape, with both nations also facing elections in 2015, many voters are looking to see what happens in Athens before they decided which way to jump.

The storm clouds are certainly gathering in Spain, where the Left-wing upstarts of Podemos (‘We Can’), who are allies of Syriza, are currently leading the polls on an anti-corruption, anti-austerity ticket.

Which is why Merkel fears a domino effect across the Club Med if Greece defaults on its IOUs, starts afresh with a new drachma and its economy shows signs of revival.

Because, however tentatively it finds its newly-liberated feet, the Greeks will offer an example to others stretched on the German-imposed financial rack to do likewise.

And the lure of a born-again peseta or lira – plus the freedom of nations to structure their own destiny – might be too strong to resist.

So watch this space…2015 could be the year that reshapes the future of the Eurozone.

 

Making predictions is a mug’s game, so don’t worry – mine will be 100% wrong (again!)

IN his palatial City office in London’s Canary Wharf, my friend – chief economist of a major, global financial institution – sits behind a desk so gargantuan it could the solve the issue of Heathrow’s third runway.

Chewing the fat with him one day at the height of the 2008 banking meltdown, I asked this master of the universe when he thought the crisis would end.

Instead of answering, he just shrugged, then nodded towards an ornate plinth in the corner of his mini fiefdom, on which was mounted a soccer-sized crystal ball.

‘Take a dekko inside that,’ said my friend eventually. ‘You’ve a better chance of finding the answer in there than from me.’

I left, shaking my head and musing on the folly of making predictions.

This thought was rekindled last week, when I read an apologia from a financial whizkid, who wrote, ‘No-one expected this sudden, sharp drop in crude oil prices.’

His buzzword was ‘sudden’. Because, if the anointed experts had seen it coming, there would have been no shock.

STARDOM BECKONS: Cyberhackers will forced movie moguls to move to North Korea, so Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un will be an Oscar winner

STARDOM BECKONS: Cyberhackers will force movie moguls to move to North Korea, so Young Leader, Kim Jong Un, will be an Oscar winner for his role as Wonder Woman

In fact, looking back, the only person in my experience to make an accurate prediction was Madam Petrulengo, the palmist on Blackpool promenade, who forecast I’d get a ticket on my car parked outside on a double yellow line. She was right; I did.

So, generally, it’s been my firm prediction that the likely outcome to making predictions is the predictions will be totally wrong. And, so far, my record has been 100% accurate.

Nonetheless, since it’s that time of year, worst luck, when my arm is twisted into risking a spot of soothsaying, here goes…and heaven help us if I’m right.

Firstly, the nightmarish potboiler that’s a story of purblind Eurozone politicians will rumble on, with no consensus to ease the plight of the EU’s jobless, homeless and hopeless. Shovels will be issued to Euro commissioners, so they can did themselves into bigger holes.

Beyond-the-barmy, Right-wing parties – like France’s National Front, Hungary’s Jobbick and Greece’s Golden Dawn – will democratically vote to end democracy, while Brussels Europrats will take 2015 off and nobody will notice any difference.

Vladimir Putin will order Russians to bathe in oil, because – at $60 a barrel and sliding – it’ll be cheaper than water. The population of Moscow, barring oligarchs who can afford to import Evian by the tankerload, will assume a brackish, oleaginous glow, so they’ll be light-reflective. This will reduce the number of pedestrians struck down by drunk drivers at night, thus hailed as a health and safety success by the Kremlin.

END OF THE ROAD: With petrol-powered vehicles banned, rickshaws will be London's most popular form of transport

END OF THE ROAD: With petrol-powered vehicles facing a ban, rickshaw pullers will rush to become London’s most ‘eco’ form of transport

Americans will finally realise President Obama is actually a hologram, since he’s been as effective as one for the last half-dozen years. During 2015, he’ll gradually evaporate like the Cheshire Cat in Alice In Wonderland, with only a grin left behind.

Hillary Clinton will declare her intention to run as Democratic Party candidate for the White House and she’ll face Jeb Bush, brother of G Dubya and son of HW, who’ll fly the flag of the Republican cause.

US geneticists will then discover only members of presidential dynasties possess that unique strand of DNA – the two-faced, lie-through-the-teeth, back-stab helix – to be leaders, so there’ll be a nationwide hunt for descendants of Richard Nixon to stand in future hustings.

North Korean cyber-hackers will blackmail Hollywood’s movie moguls into relocating their studios to Pyongyang and the dashingly handsome Young Leader, Kim Jong Un, will be the next James Bond, Batman and Wonder Woman, a role for which he’ll award himself an Oscar.

A bloke called Nigel will decide who wins next May’s UK General Election.

No, not that Nigel – the UKIP Farage one – but Nigel Dodds, whom nobody outside Northern Ireland (and few inside it for that matter) has ever heard of.

But with an expected mish-mash outcome to the result, with neither of the major parties winning a majority, the minor cast members will be crucial players in deciding who rules. In short, reprising 2010, the tail will wag the dog.

Which is where Doddsy comes in. Tipped to replace Peter Robinson as leader of Ulster’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – the bunch invented by the late Reverend Ian Paisley, who brought the fire and brimstone of religion to bear on politics – Nige could even emerge as Deputy Prime Minister, depending on which way he throws the dice of his eight MPs.

After much cogitation, as a huge fan of Wallace & Gromit, he will come out in favour of Ed Miliband for Prime Minister, since the Labour leader is a doppelganger for Wallace and Wensleydale is also the DUP’s favourite cheese.

NOBEL LAUREATE & CIGAR MAGNET: Pope Francis will scoop the Peace Prize and the Vatican worldwide rights to selling Havana cigars

NOBEL LAUREATE & CIGAR MAGNET: Pope Francis will scoop the Peace Prize and the Vatican worldwide rights to selling Havana cigars

The Tories will sack David Cameron, merge with UKIP to become the Conservative, Unionist and UK Independence Party and elect London Mayor, Boris Johnson, as leader, who’ll make Nigel – the Farage one – Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Nick Clegg will quit as head honcho of the Liberal Democrats; their core voters will switch to the Greens, who’ll demand a ban on all forms of petrol-powered transport, resulting in an influx of Hong Kong rickshaw pullers, in anticipation they will eventually replace London’s Routemaster buses.

In the Middle East, the Saudis will wreck the Iranian economy by driving down the price of oil to a bucket of camel dung a barrel and do a back-channel deal with Israel to buy the Matzoball Bomb – a doomsday weapon with a difference, since all infected by its fallout turn Jewish.

It will first be tested on the headbanging jihadi rabble of IS/ISIL/ISIS, thorns by any other name in the side of humanity, who will – en masse – discard their AK47s to become rabbinical students.

Pope Francis will be awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his role in patching up the 45-year US-Cuba tiff; the Vatican will be given the worldwide concession to peddle Havana cigars.

Finally, the space probe, Cassini, will discover huge gold and diamond deposits on Saturn; FIFA will announce the 2026 World Cup will be held there.

So those are my forecasts for next year. But they’ll be wrong all counts, because, from long experience, I learnt there’s  no future in making predictions.

Silence isn’t so golden if we’re driven to keep our mouths shut out of fear

THE other day an email arrived in my inbox, accusing me of being a ‘neo-con’.

I’ve been called far worse and really didn’t take it as the insult intended, largely because the missive spewed such far-Left drivel, it might have been lifted from the Socialist Workers Party’s hymn sheet.

Just for the record, the sender ended by advising me to ‘keep your neo-con views to yourself.’

‘Nuff said. Except the post slated by whoever hides behind the nom de plume, DemoFan, was my call for Britain’s politicos to emphasise the positive side of immigration and stop playing the UK Independence Party at its favourite game.

By any measure my piece was ‘neo-lib’, perhaps a reprise from my days as a Gucci socialist (failed) and hardly ‘neo-con’, an Americanism that came to prominence as a barb aimed at President G. ‘Dubya’ Bush’s cronies.

But what got my goat was being told to shut up by someone, I guess, who’d take to the barricades at the drop of a Stop The War Coalition hint or an invite to a CND jamboree in Trafalgar Square, if, indeed, there are still enough members left in it to fill the fountain.

LET HIM SPOUT: So-called hate preachers, like Andjem Choudary,  should be given air time to condemn themselves from their own mouths

LET HIM SPOUT: So-called hate preachers, like Andjem Choudary, should be given air time to condemn themselves from their own mouths

Clearly, DemoFan’s versions of democracy’s saintliest virtue, the freedom of speech, is that it was okay to say what you liked, so long as its mantra echoed his. And any philosophy falling short of that is taboo, fascist or – as in my case – ‘neo-con’.

Yet, if I were to categorise myself it would be as a ‘free-thinker’, hidebound by politically correct rules imposed on Western society by the real fascists: a hardline, censorious liberal elite who have strangled public debate in ways more reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984 vision of Big Brother’s Thought Police.

That notion occurred last week when I read a YouGov survey, which reported that 41% of Brits don’t feel free to air their opinions and that Britain, home to the Mother of Parliaments, has developed a ‘culture of silence’.

Of course, I realise that stat includes headbangers who believe Hitler should be beatified as St. Adolf, others on a day out from the funny farm and a few, token Flat Earthers. But it also encompasses many with mainstream opinions on techy topics, such as immigration, religion, ethics and their political preferences (admittedly, it takes some guts to fess up to voting Lib-Dem nowadays).

For the record, the poll also said 40% felt they could sound off at will and 17%, who reckon there’s too much freedom anyway.

Nonetheless, in a so-called free society, it’s worrisome that two out of five citizens keep their thoughts to themselves out of a dread they may hurt someone’s feelings, perhaps prompt a Twitterstorm and get their Facebook page trolled.

The largest proportion of the self-censored (38%) said they feared speaking up in case they uttered something illegal, while 28% stayed silent because they couldn’t stomach criticism. A further 10% thought airing their ideas might damage their careers prospects.

However, of all those polled, an overwhelming majority (77%) agreed on one point: too much protection is given by officialdom and the media to religious believers from ideas and arguments which might offend them.

In its summary of the survey, the New Culture Forum, which commissioned it, pointed a particularly scathing finger at universities, where it claimed free speech ‘is carefully monitored, not by the state or the campus administration, but by the students.’

It added, ‘Student unions now see the mental wellbeing of the student body as a reason to ban anything from a pop song to a reading group.’

ON THE LEASH: The report rapped students' unions for the control they exercise on campuses

FREEDOM TO SPEAK? The report rapped students’ unions for the ‘mind’ control they exercise on campuses

Since today’s generation of undergrads – many of whom love nothing better than a juicy demo and a chance to kick those fascist lackeys, the police – will deliver tomorrow’s leaders, I can only surmise more Big Brothers are rolling off the production line.

So, while we quite rightly have laws banning hate speech and incitement to racism, we’re in danger of stifling legitimate argument, not because it might cause actual bodily harm, but because someone, somewhere might be offended.

Britain once had a proud tradition of allowing people to speak their minds, often a shrewd ruse to suss out the real odium peddlers, who’d damn themselves from their own mouths.

But when the BBC announced that British National Party leader, Nick Griffin – a real, live neo-Nazi – was to appear on its flagship political forum, Question Time, a tidalwave of outrage nearly quashed the broadcast.

To their credit, the Beeb bravely stuck to its script, the BNP nasty duly appeared and got the pillorying his despicable views richly deserved.

That example is one of the exceptions rather than the rule, because invariably received wisdom is to gag debate, which is Home Secretary Theresa May’s policy, as she seeks to ban extremists from TV, like the so-called hate preacher Anjem Choudary.

I’d say: bring them on and let’s hear their obnoxious ravings, so we’re all aware of what degree of danger they pose.

The Establishment, though, doesn’t subscribe to the view people are capable of making up their own minds, so silence is foisted on them.

PUBLISHED & DAMNED: Instead of defending Salmon Rushdie from a death sentence fatwa, Britain's Establishment attacked the writer

PUBLISHED & DAMNED: Instead of defending Salmon Rushdie from a death sentence fatwa, Britain’s Establishment attacked the writer

Such was the case when Salmon Rushdie’s Satanic Verses hit the bookshelves in 1988, provoking a fatwa death sentence from Iran’s then Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. Yet, instead condemning a gross and medieval assault on a long-prized Western freedom, the great and good cravenly attacked Rushdie.

Nor did the fabled, fearless British Press cover itself in glory, when not a single Fleet Street newspaper dared reproduce the ‘Mohammed Cartoons’, after an obscure Danish daily sparked worldwide debate on whether founders of the great religions could be satirised.

Yet, when a ComRes poll early last year asked what freedom people prized most, freedom of speech topped the list by a country mile.

Clearly, the public subscribed to the notion, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ – a quote wrongly attributed to Voltaire and actually the words of his biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall – and that is a plucky and noble sentiment.

More’s the pity, then, the Establishment is too cowardly to share it.

Plebs 2, Toffs 0 – rare victories for the ruled against our snotty rulers

THERE’S a hoary adage in this weird, old words business, ‘When in doubt, leave out.’

The advice is – invariably sound, in my humble experience – that if something wasn’t provable beyond a reasonable doubt, you dropped it like a hot brick, unless you had a fetish for appearing before bewigged m’lords in libel courts.

Andrew Mitchell, the UK Coalition government’s former Chief Whip, is a prime example of the ‘doubt dictum’ ignored and it’s cost him – so far – £3-million for the privilege of abusing his privilege.

Brimming with hubris, he committed legal hara-kiri by suing The Sun newspaper for libel, after it leaked details of the words – and particularly the slur, ‘f***ing pleb’ – Mitchell used in a ruckus with police, when the plods refused to open the gates of Downing Street so he could wheel his push-bike through them.

In court proceedings of what became dubbed the Plebgate Scandal the scales were tipped by the contemporaneous notes of the reporting officer, a PC Rowland, whom the judge, Mr. Justice Mitting, believed on the basis the copper was…er…too thick to have made it up.

In his summing up of the case, the judge said the officer was ‘not the sort of man who would have had the wit, imagination or inclination to invent, on the spur of the moment, an account of what a senior politician had said to him in temper.’

ON YER BIKE! Ex-Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell, loses a £3M libel case...because cops wouldn't open a gate for his pushbike

ON YER BIKE! Ex-Chief Whip, Andrew Mitchell, loses a £3M libel case…because he lost his rag, after cops wouldn’t open the Downing Streets gate for his pushbike

While this speaks volumes about the intellect of a section of London’s Metropolitan constabulary, it also illuminates how utterly insulated from reality and real people – if, indeed, coppers qualify as such – those who believe they were born to rule truly are.

Mitchell, rich enough to take the huge libel fees hit, remains unrepentant and unabashed, continuing to think he is a ruler, not a ruled.

It’s a fault-line in the minds of many of the arrogant elite, too consumed with the aphrodisiacs of wealth and power. So it’s no bad thing that, from time to time, they’re reminded of their human frailties by we of the hoi poloi.

Adam Boulton, Sky TV’s Political Editor, recounts an anecdote of another brought to earth with a humiliating bump: one-time Conservative head honcho, Michael Howard.

Once stopped in his tracks by a PC from going through a barred door, the then Home Secretary stomped, ‘Do you know who I am?’

Showing commendable cool and cheeky defiance in the face of his self-proclaimed better, the policeman merely clicked on his radio and said, ‘Er, Sarge, we got a bloke here who doesn’t know who he is.’

TAXI TANTRUM: Former UK minister, David Mellor - seen here with his partner, Lady Cobham - lost his cool with a London cabbie

TAXI TANTRUM: Former UK minister, David Mellor – seen here with his partner, Lady Cobham – climbed down after he lost his cool with a London cabbie

Last week rage similarly did for fallen Tory grandee, David Mellor, who appeared ‘tired and emotional’ – Private Eye magazine’s euphemism for alcoholically challenged – when launching a foul-mouthed rant at a taxi driver during a ride home from a bash at Buckingham Palace with his partner, Lady Cobham.

Furious at the route they were on, he called the cabbie ‘a sweaty, stupid little sh*t and smart a*se’, adding, ‘Shut the f*** up’ and, for the autobiographical one-upmanship, ‘I’ve been in the Cabinet, I’m an award-winning broadcaster, I’m a Queen’s Counsel – you think that your experiences are anything compared to mine?’

Alas for the arrogant Mellor, in 1992 forced to resign as Heritage Minister after his month-long holiday in Marbella as guest of the daughter of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s paymaster made headlines, the canny cabbie taped the exchange, which appeared – you’ve guessed it – in The Sun.

At least Mellor, who is to broadcasting what your truly is to astrophysics, had the good grace to apologise for his tirade the following day, presumably his champagne goggles having faded.

However, it’s still my earnest hope that London’s 25,000 Hackney carriage drivers will blacklist Mellor and even Transylvanian minicab drivers will switch off their sat-navs if he ever chances into their back seats and turn his 20-minute hop from Westminster to Chelsea into a five-hour tour round the M25.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a grudging admiration for coppers and cabbies, since they wield the power to represent the revenge of the have-nots against ludicrously vain authority figures, too bumptious for their boots.

But, borrowing from Karl Marx, sometimes it is the massed ranks of the proletariat, coupled with the wonders of 21st Century social media that does for those who use their position to do unto others, even if the others are higher up the greasy pole.

OFF LIMITS: Top Republican aide, Elizabeth Lauten paid the price for slagging off President Obama's daughters, Sasha (left) and Malia

OFF LIMITS: Top Republican aide, Elizabeth Lauten, paid the price for slagging off President Obama’s daughters, Sasha (left) and Malia

Just such an example was the American public’s response to top Republican aide, Elizabeth Lauten’s vicious attack on President Barack Obama’s daughters, Malia, 16, and 13-year-old Sasha, press-ganged into appearing with their dad on TV at the tradition ‘spare-a-turkey’ Thanksgiving Day ceremony.

Typically bored and glum as teenagers are, the girls trundled through the motions of doing their bit, but certainly didn’t deserve Lauten’s eviscerating insults, posted on her Facebook page (since deleted).

‘Dear Sasha and Malia,’ she wrote patronisingly. ‘I get you’re both in those awful teen years, but you’re a part of the First Family, try showing a little class. At least respect the part you play.

‘Then again, your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much, or the nation for that matter. So I’m guessing you’re coming up a little short in the good role model department.’

The post went on to advise the girls to ‘rise to the occasion and act like being in the White House matters to you.’

And, to twist the knife of spite a further turn, Lauten added, ‘Dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar.’

Frankly, the girls were clad far more appropriately than I’ve seen many teenagers.

And, while their father isn’t necessarily at the top of many folks’ Christmas card lists, his children are off limits – a point rammed home to Lauten by an avalanche of on-line condemnation the silly woman richly deserved.

After prayerful reflection and probably much prodding from her Republican Party bosses, a contrite Lauten apologised and quit, saying she ‘had judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager.’

So power to the people – even coppers and cabbies – in showing up our egotistical betters as being less than half our equals.

Forget the UKIP factor – Labour must keep Red Ed gagged if they want a chance of winning

NEVER rush to judgement was the dictum of Strangler Lewis, an old editor of my acquaintance and verily a legend in his own lunchtime.

Trouble was Strangler rarely heeded his own advice, too readily succumbing to impulsive, high-velocity outbursts, which often saw weighty Underwood typewriters heaved through his third-floor office window.

Fortunately at 2 a.m. passers-by were few, so whichever plate of glass in the Black Lubyianka – as the art deco building was dubbed by its hacks within – got shattered was hastily repaired and a maintenance crew despatched to sweep the debris off the pavement below, before the gendarmerie took an interest.

Despite the paper’s Right-leaning sentiments, Strangler’s attitude to politicians was ‘a plague on all their houses’, since he considered the Conservatives a meld of noblesse oblige country squires, stockbrokers on the make and part-time MPs-cum-QCs, Labour up to its gills in hock to union paymasters and the Liberals, as they were then, utterly irrelevant.

Had they been around in his day, Strangler should have been a natural UKipper. After all, he ran the Union Jack up a 30-foot flagpole on his front lawn each morning, which Mrs. Strangler ceremonially lowered at dusk.

Except Strangler had fierce disdain for political carpetbaggers and, I’m sure, would have cast Nigel Farage as one of them, heaping grave misgivings on the UKIP boss’s shark-like grin and bloke-in-the-boozer Vaudeville act.

The four-party politics that exists now – if you count the pious Greens, plus regional nationalists as a single, nuisance-value entity – would have posed a huge dilemma 40 years or more ago for the likes of Strangler, just as it does to today’s electorate.

ELECTION WRECKER: Farage's UKIP threatens to damage Labour as much as the Tories

PARTY POOPER: Farage’s UKIP threatens to damage the Labour Party as much as the Tories, but they still aren’t fancied to hold the balance of power in a future coalition

Because the threat the also-rans wield could be a wrecking ball to the chances of ‘Call-me-Dave’ Cameron’s Tories or Red Ed Miliband’s socialists winning outright victories and not having to schmooze fringe mobs into an uneasy coalition.

So much, then, for Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system, which – for the foreseeable future, I’d wager – will see government continue to be run by the strongest single party, propped up by one of the weakest.

Hence, Britain again looks set fair for a two-party coalition come the general election next May and possibly a reprise of a Con-Lib Dem pact, which has soldiered on longer than I imagined and performed better than I expected.

Much credit for that goes to Nick Clegg’s lust for power.

What’s more, in my humble estimation, I think the British electorate would buy into another dose, albeit with Lib-Dem Treasury Secretary, Danny Alexander, replacing the discredited Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister.

This is regardless of the projection the Lib-Dems will be all but decimated next time out, their 56 seats reduced to a rump of about 17. Because even that should be enough for them to be willing coalition bed-mates again, providing the Tories emerge with the largest number of seats.

UKIP mavericks are tipped to gain about six constituencies, mainly in Thames delta towns, like Clacton, where Tory defector, Douglas Carswell, won nearly 60% of the vote in the October 9 by-election.

Probably a more eye-popping result, though, was the by-election that same day in Labour’s northern heartland of Heywood and Middleton, where the socialists squeaked home with a humbling 617 majority over UKIP, underlining Farage’s boast that his upstarts pose an equal threat to Miliband as much as Cameron.

Undoubtedly, the party of dissent – and their cheeky-chappy leader – has demonstrated the dangers it pose on all fronts, even if by-elections bring out the worst in a disgruntled electorate, who uses such opportunities to cane the major parties, then revert to type come a general election.

All the same, Cameron’s political machine is taking no chances in Rochester & Strood on November 20, where another Tory defector, Mark Reckless, hopes to become UKIP’s second MP.

Whereas they regarded Carswell winning Clacton as a foregone conclusion, given his local popularity, Rochester & Strood is altogether different territory for Tory strategists.

More affluent and less malleable to Farage’s blarney, Reckless faces the Conservative’s kitchen sink, plus its star performer – London’s much-admired, if eccentric mayor, Boris Johnson – being chucked at him.

Nonetheless, the bookies rate Reckless as 2/5 favourite. And if he does carry the day, it will force Cameron back to the drawing board, hatching fresh plans to out-UKIP Farage.

Labour’s problems are no less daunting. Apart from UKIP no longer being dismissed as a Tory-only hassle, their chief concern remains the credibility and popularity – or lack of it – of their leader.

Miliband’s rallying call at his conference speech last month fell like a lead balloon, leaving many of the party faithful at best bemused, at worst terrified.

MILI-BLAND: The Labour leader did little to convince he is the UK's Prime Minister-in-waiting

STUMPED BY A SARNIE: Even munching a bacon sandwich is a struggle for Miliband, which is another reason why so many voters have little faith in him as a UK Prime Minister

And that was after an ICM-Guardian poll reported Miliband’s ratings had crumbled from -25 to -39 points, with only 22% of voters saying he was ‘doing good job’. In contrast, Cameron’s slid from +2 to -5, but his leadership qualities still command most voters’ respect.

Not since Michael Foot, in 1983, has an opposition Labour leader registered such negativity with a general election looming.

And, at a time when the Milibandits should be a country mile ahead in the polls, a new Opinium survey for The Observer shows Labour and the Tories running neck-and-neck on 33% each, UKIP on 18%, the Lib-Dems floundering on 6% and the Greens on 4%.

Meanwhile, piling further misery on Labour is the nightmarish prospect that many of their 41 Scottish MPs might be culled by the resurgent Scottish Nationalists, now commanded by Nicola Sturgeon.

Labour, however, are sticking to the belief that if they can pull 35% of the vote, it should haul them over the finishing line first, but that hope appears to be fast fading.

With every vote counting, naturally a UKIP success in Rochester & Strood will be heaven sent.  And the more they can keep Miliband gagged – and away from embarrassing bacon-sarnie photo shoots – the better their chances.

For their part, the Tories must hope the spectre of the wimpy Miliband occupying 10 Downing Street will loom large in the electorate’s mind and deter many – even hard-core socialists – from opting for a Labour government.

All that’s certain is next May’s UK general election will be laced with intrigue and uncertainty.

But, for my money, the bookies odds of 4/1 on another Con-Lib Dem coalition look a good bet.

Why Labour’s Israel-bashing obsession batters Britain’s influence on the peace process

ONCE it was the far Right – a nasty rash of neo-Nazis, xenophobes and assorted morons with a racist grudge – plus rabid Arabists, who drove the anti-Israel agenda, especially when it provided a handy cloak to hide their anti-Semitism.

Of course, this motley horror show still manages to occasionally emerge from beneath its rock. But much of its Israel-bashing thunder has been hijacked by the hard Left, many of whom harbour an unhealthy obsession with demonising the only state in the madhouse of the Middle East where democratic sanity prevails.

Naturally, Israel is far from perfect. No multicultural, free society is, especially Britain’s.

And I, too, have issues with elements inside Israel’s present government, especially the Settler Movement, just as I have with certain members of the UK’s ruling coalition and, most certainly, the current US President.

However, I don’t blame Israel as a nation for the policies of some at its helm and I have only admiration for what its eight million citizens – including nearly two million Muslims, Druze and Christians – have accomplished, set against a backdrop of an unremitting, 66-year conflict they never sought.

MOTION MAN: Fist-waving MP, Grahame Morris, who compared Israel to the Nazi, was behind Labour's pro-Palestine Commons motion

MOTION MAN: Fist-waving Grahame Morris, who compared Israel to the Nazis, was the British MP behind Labour’s pro-Palestine Commons motion

Indeed, far from being the target of bloodlusting venom from its 350 million neighbours, the Jewish state offers them an object lesson in creativity, scientific achievement that includes a cure for Ebola, intellectual thought and justice.

Can you imagine, for instance, a Jewish judge in, say, Egypt, Syria or Iraq – where once-vibrant Jewish communities flourished long before the notion of Islam occurred to Mohammed – sending a Muslim leader to jail, as an Arab judge did in Israel, when he found former president, Moshe Katsav, guilty of rape.

This and innumerable, everyday instances of equality being exercised across all stratas of Israeli society, regardless of gender and sexuality, kill stone dead the odious lie of an ‘apartheid’ state. In fact, the majority of Arabs agree they enjoy more freedoms and benefits as Israeli citizens than they would in Muslim states and I see no queue of them at the border, lining up to become subjects of Palestine.

So those (mainly Labour) MPs, who aired the ‘apartheid’ slander – along with a compendium of slurs bordering on racism, like allusions to an all-pervasive ‘Jewish Lobby’ – in last Monday’s House of Commons debate on UK recognition of a Palestine state were talking unmitigated hogwash.

Sadly, all too many are gullible dupes, swallowing hook, line and stinker the deceits of the Palestinians’ devious PR machine.

Unsurprisingly, then, they parroted its mantra of ‘illegal settlements’, ‘atrocities in Gaza’ and ‘occupation’, with nary one addressing the theme of Arab intransigence in the peace processes – not to mention the countless times Yasser Arafat was offered and refused a viable state – or Hamas’s pledge to destroy Israel and world Jewry with it.

And, such is their appalling ignorance of Middle East history, not a voice from Ed Miliband’s Party of Togetherness mentioned Israel’s land-for-peace swaps with Egypt and Jordan or how these Arab nations purloined all that was meant to be Palestine – had the Arabs accepted UN partition in 1948 – until they waged and lost the 1967 Six Day War.

Meanwhile, even a smattering of Tories joined in the verbal onslaught, most notably Sir Alan Duncan, the former International Development Minister, who used UK taxpayers’ cash to help pay salaries, circa £2,000 a month, to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails.

The small, but perfectly-formed hypocrite, who made millions from serving Arab oil interests, assumed the ‘moral high ground’ to back the motion, perhaps forgetting morality isn’t necessarily his forte.

Named and shamed in the MPs expenses scandal for claiming thousands to manicure his lawn – which, by his own admission, ‘could be considered excessive’ – even his property dealings have sometimes been, at best, iffy.

IN A MORAL MAZE: Ex-UK Aid Minister, Sir Alan Duncan, was one of few Tories to back the pro-Palestine motion

IN A MORAL MAZE: Ex-UK International Development Minister, Sir Alan Duncan, was one of few Conservatives to back the pro-Palestine motion

Apart from having to explain his rather ‘complex’ mortgage arrangements, it emerged that in 1992 Duncan lent an elderly next-door neighbour money to buy his 18th Century, Westminster council house under right-to-buy legislation.

The neighbour duly did so at a significant discount and sold it to…er, Alan Duncan.

But the motion – ‘This House believes that the government should recognize the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel’ and later amended to include ‘as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution’ – was a wholly Labour stunt and boycotted by the vast majority of Conservatives.

Proposed by Grahame Morris, who recently compared Israel to the Nazis, it passed with a predictable, overwhelming majority: 247 for, 12 against.

Basic arithmetic attest to the fact that of Britain’s 650 MPs, less than half attended the debate. And, regardless of the result, it was a shoddy gesture, non-binding on Prime Minister David Cameron, who is icily clear that only a negotiated, bilateral agreement can solve the Middle East’s most intractable dispute.

There is no denying, however, it was a hugely symbolic vote and a warning to Israel of perils to come, should Red Ed’s socialists win a majority in next May’s UK General Election.

BRITAIN'S GUILT: The UK shut the door to escape for millions of Holocaust victims, by barring them for Mandate Palestine

BRITAIN’S GUILT: The UK shut the door to escape for millions of Holocaust victims like these, by barring them from entering Mandate Palestine

But the Israelis are no strangers to British perfidy, because – bar the Balfour Declaration favouring a Jewish state in the Levant after World War One – the UK pursued a cynical, anti-Jewish/pro-Arab agenda from the 1920s onward under its League of Nations Mandate.

In fact, from a moral perspective, Britain’s actions in shutting the door to escape for millions of future victims of Hitler’s Holocaust before and during the World War Two, as well as callously preventing survivors from reaching Palestine until its Mandate ended in 1948, deserves opprobrium.

Ditto the Commons’ motion.

Shot full by ambiguity, it referred to ‘recognition of a Palestine state’ that doesn’t exist, lacks defined borders and whose racist leadership adamantly refuses to recognise its Jewish neighbour.

And, regardless of the latest sham of unity between Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah administration in Ramallah and Hamas’s Islamo-fascist terrorists – one already fraying at the seams – which bipolar entity does the motion recognise: the West Bank Palestine or the Gaza Palestine?

Meanwhile, though such showboating plays well to Labour’s vocal Muslim vote, far from advancing Britain’s influence in the peace process, the Israel-bashing Commons motion leaves an enormous dent in the UK’s credentials as an honest broker.

Answering the ‘English Question’ is the key to Cameron staying on as Britain’s PM

WHISPS of highland mist still swirl over Scotland’s great referendum result – and will continue to do so for some considerable time, in my humble estimation – but glimmers of clarity are breaking through the haze.

Possibly the harshest lesson from it goes out to the Catalans, Basques, Bretons, Cornish and any of the European Union’s minor players and it is: if you’ve any pipedreams of secession,  Brussels will blow them to smithereens.

On the lighter side, rumours Prince Franz of Bavaria, heir to the Stuart dynasty, will replace The Queen as Scotland’s monarch have been, well scotched, so to speak, and – three cheers! – Piers Morgan is leaving Britain (or so he said).

The unctuous chat-show host promised he’d shove off as his personal thank-you if the No vote prevailed. It did, so I suggest Rockall would be a fitting destination, since it’s uninhabited and he can talk to himself all day long and discover what we all know: he’s a snotty, egotistical bore.

Other oddball news: CNN’s exit poll called the referendum result 58% to 52% in favour of Yes. Not only a wildly inaccurate projection, it casts doubt on Americans ability to master simple percentages – unless, that is, 5.5 million folk do comprise 110% of Scotland.

Meanwhile, Labour leader, Ed Miliband, apparently represents a Scottish constituency in Doncaster North (yes, you heard it right).

FINGER PAINTING: But Miliband's picture of himself as a British PM didn't inspire Labour's faithful in Manchester last week

FINGER PAINTING: But Miliband’s picture of himself as a British PM didn’t inspire Labour’s faithful in Manchester last week

The Yorkshire town was ceded to Scotland more than 900 years ago as part of the Treaty of Durham, after King David pillaged large areas of northern England and Doncaster remained in Scottish hands for 21 years, until Henry II reclaimed it in 1157.

The treaty, however, was never formally revoked, which will come as a thunderbolt to many proud Tykes I know, who’d always believed they were inhabiting God’s Own County, not some Celtic Gibraltar.

Absurd as this situation may seem, though, it might do Ed a power of good. As the representative of an ostensible Scottish constituency in England, he’ll still be able to vote, if – as that semi-Jock, David Cameron, has threatened – Scots MPs in Westminster will be barred from voting on matters affecting only the English.

This, you see, is the Prime Minister’s canny solution to the arcane West Lothian Question, as posed by Left-wing firebrand, Tam Dalyell, the then Labour MP for the Scottish seat.

In a 1977 House of Commons debate on devolution, he asked, ‘For how long will English MPs tolerate at least 119 Honourable Members from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland exercising an important, and probably often decisive, effect on English politics, while they themselves have no say in the same matters in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?’

That idiosyncrasy has assumed fresh gravitas, as the Scottish Parliament is poised to receive extensive new powers – including setting its own levels of income tax and VAT – so Cameron has delegated sorting out the ‘English Question’ to his ex-Foreign Minister, William Hague, and a draft bill is due by January 25, aptly Robbie Burns Night.

Legislation can then be passed before next spring’s UK General Election.

Behind this haste to beat the May 7 polling deadline lies a fiendish Tory plot, one that’s left Miliband ambushed and outraged,  casting a shroud over the Labour’s Party annual knees-up, last week in Manchester.

A nobbled Ed complains Cameron is ‘playing politics’ following the Scottish No victory, but isn’t that exactly the rough, old trade both chose to follow.

WRONG CALL: According to CNN, Scotland's Yes voters were about to win the referendum 58%-52%

WRONG CALL/MUDDLE MATHS: According to CNN, Scotland’s Yes voters were about to win the referendum 58%-52%

Miliband’s dread is if Labour wins only a narrow majority in the next parliament, thanks to retaining its 40 MPs north of the border, he’ll be a stymied, partial PM, his writ on domestic policy extending no further than England (that’s presuming Welsh and Northern Irish MPs also get the block put on them).

Additionally, the ploy could outflank UKIP, the self-styled English liberation army, even if it forces a constitutional crisis the like of which a country that doesn’t even boast a written constitution has never seen.

Unsurprisingly, Conservative MPs – especially the unhinged, Eurosceptic fringe – are salivating like rabid dogs over the prospect of English votes for English laws, since all but nine of Cameron’s current crop of 304 represent constituencies in England against Labour’s total of 256 spread across the UK.

Nor are some Labourites blind to the idea of ‘freedom’ for England, a question Miliband dodged 13 times on last Sunday’s BBC1 Andrew Marr show.

Former minister, Ben Bradshaw, called for the party to ‘grasp the nettle’ of English home rule, adding there was an ‘innate and accurate feeling’ in the country that the ‘imbalance is unfair.’

Meanwhile, most Tories also want to see an end to the Barnett Formula or block grant, another piece of hoary, esoteric legislation that leaves the average voter utterly bamboozled.

As Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 1974 to 1977, Joel Barnett – an accountant by trade and now Lord Barnett of Heywood and Royton – was Denis Healey’s bagman in the Callaghan government and tasked with the job of adjusting the amount of Whitehall largesse doled out to the UK’s four regions.

I won’t trouble you with the gobbledygook of the Formula, since, like me, you’d suddenly be overcome with the desire to have a siesta or commit hara-kiri. The net result, though, is Scotland receives over £1,600 per head more than England and even the now ancient peer admits it’s unfair and should be scrapped or revised.

OCH AYE TO DONNY: According to history, Doncaster - Miliband's parliamentary seat - is still part of Scotland

OCH AYE TO DONNY: Legally, according to historical treaty, Doncaster, Yorkshire – Miliband’s parliamentary seat – is still part of Scotland

Cameron says he won’t touch it. But, should his stewardship extend beyond 2015, my bet is he’ll face a full-blow revolt from his own backstabbers if it isn’t at least tinkered with.

What there is no escaping, however,  is the notion of federalism taking root in the minds of British voters, who are fast concluding all regions of the UK can achieve more for them if they have governments or assemblies to fight their personal corner.

Labour, the midwife of devolution, is none too chuffed about the prospect and Miliband studiously avoided it when addressing the faithful last Wednesday in what should have been a rousing, final, pre-election call to arms.

In a 78-minutes long speech, so insipid it made Gordon Brown appear positively charismatic, Red Ed concentrated almost solely on the National Health Service and – by his own, embarrassed admission – there were too many glaring, policy omissions

But he’s really a highly cerebral, decent bloke, who’d make a great Prime Minister, Labour insiders insist.

The problem is he has less than eight months to convince voters of that. And, so far, many fear – rather than welcome – the prospect.

If Obama doesn’t want to be remembered as President Pushover he has to act NOW!

ANYONE got a strategy? Because they’re been hunting all over the White House for one. Either someone can’t remember where they filed it or nothing has yet magically emerged from Barack Obama’s gazing into his navel.

In actuality, the president fesses up to the latter predicament. When it comes to dealing with the barbarous jihadis of IS – the Islamic State formerly known as ISIS or ISIL – his legendary intellect is out to lunch or on the golf course, where he prefer to spend time nowadays.

Apart from pleading perplexity, Obama validates his inertia, saying, ‘You don’t play whack-a-mole wherever these terrorist organisations may pop up.’

That sentiment chimes with the recall of former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Chronicling her time in office in her recent memoir, Hard Choices, she said Obama’s pro-isolationist foreign policy was, in his words: ‘Don’t do stupid sh*t’ (or, in polite conversation, substitute ‘stuff’ for excrement).

As the woman who could become America’s first female head of state noted witheringly, ‘Great nations need organising principles and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organising principle.’

And neither are IS your average bunch of Islamo-fascist headbangers. With hi-tech US weaponry seized from the Iraqi army, they’ve already carved out a tranche of Syria and Iraq the size of Britain and proclaimed it a Sharia ‘caliphate’, slaughtering thousands of Christians, Yazidis and anyone else who disagrees with their warped worldview.

From ransoms – France is said to have paid $58M, Switzerland $12.4 and Spain $11M – bank robberies, taxes and extortion IS has amassed a war chest of $2-billion they intend to use to reconquer all former Muslim lands, from the Balkans to Andalusia and including pseudo-secular Turkey.

STRATEGY SEEKERS: Obama and Cameron ponder the IS threat at the recent NATO summit

STRATEGY SEEKERS: Obama and Cameron ponder the IS threat at the recent NATO summit

With at least 500 Britons in their ranks and more Europeans queuing to join the carnival of carnage, intelligence sources have no doubt IS poses a clear and present danger to the West. It is, they say, only a matter of time before battle-hardened jihadis drift back home and wreak havoc.

Meanwhile, as the waiting continues for the tumblers in Obama’s brain to clunk into place, the free world must kick its heels, festering – or apoplectic, as his generals are reported to be – and hoping against hope no more Westerners are decapitated, as journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff were so gruesomely slain.

However, midway into his final term in office, Obama remains as gung-no as his predecessor, G ‘Dubya’ Bush, was gung-ho. Yet, as history testifies, neither formulated coherent foreign policies to deal with the charnel house that’s the Middle East.

Obama insists he was elected to extricate America and its allies from conflicts and, in 2008 when he first won election, the war-weary West was grateful to hail a leader who vowed to close the book on military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mainly due to IS atrocities and the dread of what may follow, the public mood is shifting from indifference to belligerence, even if the world’s most powerful commander-in-chief – a tag that sits uncomfortably with Obama’s peacenik default setting – doesn’t see it.

ON THE MARCH: Fighters from IS already control a huge swathe of Iraq and Syria

ON THE MARCH: Fighters from IS already control a huge swathe of Iraq and Syria

True, he’s sent a squadron of fighter jets to hamper IS progress and is arming the Kurds, albeit with pretty unsophisticated Eastern European hardware, as they manfully defend their stronghold in northern Iraq against the barbarians at their gates.

Shamefully, that’s the current extent of Obama’s bellicosity, even if he does warn, ‘Those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget, and that our reach is long and that justice will be served.’

Sticks and stones, Mr. President. And we’ve heard your vacuous sabre-rattling before, apropos the ‘red line’ threat to obliterate the chemical weapons arsenal of Syria’s Bashar Assad, but which the Demon of Damascus continues to use on the sly.

The plain, if unpalatable truth is that from Day 1 of his Oval Office tenure, Obama has never put a foot right in the Middle East, the planet’s most viciously volatile region and he’s daily exposed as President Pushover for his indecision and ineptitude.

And, much as I take no pleasure in repeating it, a year ago I wrote here, ‘After seeing the hope that began as the Arab Spring lurch into an Islamic Winter and now a serial bloodbath, what is not required is a vacillating, over-conciliatory, moralising poseur, who talks the talk but patently fails to walk the walk.

Under Obama, Iraq has fragmented into its component parts, the Shia government’s authority extending little further than Baghdad, while only the plucky Kurds withstand the scourge of IS.

After three years of grisly civil war, over 200,000 deaths and two million made refugees, Syria is a multi-dimensional bloodbath, though the loathsome Assad regime remains in situ, propped up by an unholy alliance of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, Libya – where US Ambassador, Chris Stevens, was murdered by Islamic fanatics in 2012 – is ungovernable, as tribal factions compete to grab the oil wealth.

And Obama trying to arm-twist Israel, the only sane nation in the region, to stomach the demands of Hamas’s terrorist thugs only resulted in exposing the White House’s emissary, John Kerry, as a diplomatic dunce.

Though by far not the last piece in the mangled Middle East jigsaw, much against Obama’s wishes the army stopped Egypt becoming another Sharia paradise by toppling the Muslim Brotherhood, even if it was victorious in a travesty posing as a democratic election.

Fast forwarding to last week’s NATO summit in Wales, topping the agenda of the 28 member states was Russia’s incursion – invasion more like it – of Ukraine and Afghanistan’s future, following the withdrawal of all foreign troops by the end of 2014.

It was also patently clear the heat was on a equivocating American leader to find a strategy to crush IS.

Hence Obama’s sounding out UK Prime Minister David Cameron on transforming the RAF’s recce sorties over Iraq into strike missions, though that isn’t likely to happen unless British MPs agree it.

So, as the clock ticks down on his reign, the 44th US President faces being remembered as the man whose dithering made the world a far more dangerous place.

Only if he finds the will – and a strategy – to act decisively can he avoid that ignominy.

Obama needs to do that now. Dilly-dallying any longer will be too late.

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.

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.