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.

 

Will our leaders now wake up to the war against the jihadi enemy within?

THE emotions coursing through me writing this in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity and the three-day terrorisation of Paris are a meld of seething anger, deep sadness and utter revulsion.

Not because eight of the 12 victims in Wednesday’s craven attack on the satirical magazine’s offices were fellow journalists – in fact, I considered much of what they produced offensive – but free speech and humanity, warts and all, were the targets.

The scum, unfit to dignify the title ‘human beings’ and perverting the faith they purported to defend, carried out the massacre with the lethal and clinical precision of Nazi stormtroopers.

They’d clearly recce’d their killing ground well in advance, just as the callous butchers responsible for the Mumbai Massacre did in 2008, and they executed the op like seasoned special forces.

Particularly chilling was the gruesomely slick way one snuffed out the life of a wounded cop – himself a Muslim – lying helpless on the pavement, begging to be spared.

All bore the indelible hallmarks of al-Qaeda, particularly the assault on the kosher deli in eastern Paris, where four hostages were murdered, which was deviously synchronised to throw police into disarray.

So let’s be straight: these full frontal assaults on liberty cannot be passed off by pussyfooting politicos as yet more ‘lone-wolf’ incidents, concocted by fanatical ‘self-starters’.

WORLD GRIEF: This sympathiser in Moscow shares her revulsion at the attack on the French magazine

WORLD GRIEF: This sympathiser in Moscow shares her revulsion at the attack on the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo

Nothing about them was haphazard or shamateur. And the arsenal of death the assassins toted, AK47s and an RPG rocket-launcher, couldn’t have be sourced from Galeries Lafayette or even local gun shops, which proliferate in a hunting-mad country.

No, a complex supply chain, involving cells of smugglers, financiers and armourers, was needed to support these multiple barbarities and it lies somewhere in the heart of France’s five-million strong Muslim community.

Undoubtedly, the peaceable followers of Islam will be just as gut-wrenched by the hideousness of it all as their fellow-countrymen.

But – as demonstrated ad nauseum throughout Western democracies – the question will once again be posed: are Muslim community leaders doing enough in their own backyards and mosques to counter the explosion of extremism?

Secular France has a particularly testy problem with Islam. Yet, in recent times, its liberal elite has bent over backwards to excuse an uptick of attacks – much of them anti-Semitic – as merely the handiwork of maniacs.

Just before Christmas, a shopper was killed and nine wounded when a van deliberately ploughed through a crowded market in Nantes.

A day earlier a man, shouting ‘Allahu Akba’ rammed his car into crowds in Dijon, seriously injuring 13, while in Joueles-Tours an assailant stabbed three police officers, likewise yelling in Arabic, ‘God is the great’.

That same week three drive-by shootings in Paris targeted a synagogue, a kosher restaurant and a Jewish-owned publishing house.

SAVED: A hostage holding a child shows his relief after paramilitary police stormed the kosher deli in eastern Paris

SAVED: A hostage holding a child shows his relief after paramilitary police stormed the kosher deli in eastern Paris and killed the terrorist

And it is a French jihadi, then newly returned from fighting in Syria, who faces trial over last May’s ambush at Brussels’ Jewish Museum, in which three people were shot dead and another critically wounded.

Yet, immediately after the Dijon attack – which the perpetrator dedicated to the ‘children of Palestine’ – France’s interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, called on the public ‘not to draw hasty conclusions since [the car driver’s] motives have not been established.’

And, despite admitting ‘the investigation had barely begun,’ the local public prosecutor quickly claimed, ‘This was not a terrorist act at all.’

In fact, it took the third outrage before Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, conceded, ‘There is, as you know, a terrorist threat to France.’

Had there been any lingering doubt, Paris’s 9/1 carnage has obliterated it, because the bloodletting was all too predictable, regardless of any counter-terrorism failings.

And, in stark contrast to the appeasers who rule us, people – not merely headbanging xenophobes – were already displaying greater awareness of the unpalatable reality confronting them.

Those in the Western street long knew our civilisation is locked in a guerrilla war on our own turf, waged by an enemy within, who cloak themselves in a ruthless interpretation of an eastern faith imported by waves of immigrants, seeking opportunity in better, fairer, freer societies.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has serially failed to slap down the army of 20,000 demonstrators, who meet each week in Dresden – and growing bands of likeminded activists elsewhere in her country – demanding tighter immigration controls.

And Australian Premier Tony Abbott was rightly rapped for downplaying the attack on a Sydney café by a self-style sheikh that left two diners dead.

Even though it was evident the killer, Man Haron Monis – an Iranian, who forced hostages to hold up to the window a black flag, emblazoned with a jihadi slogan – was driven by religious fervour, Abbott insisted, ‘This event was an act of politically-motivated violence.’

Politically motivated? Maybe he also believes the Irish ultra-nationalists of the IRA and the Basque separatists of ETA were inspired by radical Catholicism to commit mayhem. Somehow I think not.

At least in Canada there is no mood for whitewashing Islamic extremism.

SATIRE SURVIVES: David Pope's cartoon in the Canberra Times puts the hideous acts of Paris 9/1 into true perspective

SATIRE SURVIVES: David Pope’s cartoon in the Canberra Times puts the hideous acts of Paris 9/1 into true perspective

After incidents involving Muslim converts killing two soldiers, Canada’s leader, Stephen Harper, didn’t mince words: ‘I have been saying we live in dangerous world and terrorism has been with us for a long time,’ he said.

So what can be done to stem the rising tide of ultra-Islamic ferocity?

For a start we can stop bellyaching that our security establishment scanning emails is a snoopers’ charter, because this is a key bulwark against those out to destroy our society.

And, as the head of Britain’s MI5 pleaded last week, invest more resources in vigilance to minimise opportunities for the merchants of death to claim further victims.

Governments also need to force internet platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, to take down suspect sites. If they don’t, hit them with astronomical fines.

The international community, meanwhile, must enforce its money-laundering pacts with real vigour, choking off cash – mainly from Middle Eastern sympathisers – that’s the lifeblood of jihadism.

A further measure is more scrupulous border checks and denying the right of return to those who join the jihad cause abroad, rendering them stateless.

Finally, to aid pan-community solidarity, those who represent mainstream Muslims – often so quick to rage – should take it upon themselves to organise ‘Not in our name’ marches.

That gesture might, just might, isolate the fanatics and stop them providing ammunition to far-Right parties expanding across Europe, whose racist venom is only likely to make a grave situation even worse.

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.

The curious EU ‘club’ that rewards failure and punishes success

WINSTON Churchill once described Russia as ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’ and today he might well have said the same about the European Union.

Because, nothing is ever quite what it seems in the Alice Through the Looking-glass world of Brussels, where transparency is as rare as hens’ teeth.

Far from being a fraternity of hail fellow well met, the whole edifice is riven with self-interest, Machiavellian infighting and coded language so inscrutable, either its meaning gets lost in translation or the message it conveys depends on whose ears it falls on.

There are, in fact, two EUs: the theoretical club, driven by dreamers with a vision of a United States of Europe, where all citizens are equal and peaceable; then there’s the actual one, where the vested interests of the kingpins – Germany, Britain, France, Italy and, to a lesser extent, Spain – rule the roost and call the shots.

So don’t mess with the German auto industry, literally the engine of its economy. No tinkering, either, with France’s agrarian follies, hence the farce of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, whereby French farmers get paid absurd sums to play with their boules.

Italy’s fashion sector is similarly ring-fenced and Spain’s pot pourri of industries, ranging from tourism to wine to olive oil to banking and construction, earn it a free pass.

And then there’s Britain, the globe’s financial epicentre, but semi-detached from Europe by the world’s biggest anti-tank ditch and full of idiosyncrasies, like driving on the wrong side of the road.

The EU considers Brits its awkward squad; free-market, anti-protectionists, who demand answers to commonsensical questions snotty Europrats ignore…like why the European Court of Auditors last week refused to sign off Brussels’ accounts for 19th successive time and why there’s a £5.5-billion black hole in this year’s £117-billion spending.

Which is why the latest brouhaha between London and Brussels smacks of pure hypocrisy on the EU rule-makers’ part.

Because the UK chose not to inflict upon itself the masochism of the dysfunctional Euro – along with a paralysed European Central Bank – by injecting cash into its economy via quantative easing (QE), it has emerged from the 2008/9 financial crisis faster and stronger than the Eurozone nations.

Though by no means out of the financial excrement, unemployment in Britain is a fraction of Spanish, French and Italian levels, and the Coalition government – give or take a Lib-Dem – is far more pro-enterprise than anywhere in the still-floundering EU.

EURO MELTDOWN: As the EU struggles, Britain pays a high price for controlling its own destiny - and currency

EURO MELTDOWN: As the EU struggles, Britain pays a high price for controlling its own destiny – and currency

That, in itself, should be an object lesson to Brussels in can-do economic competence, not the £1.7-billion penalty imposed on the UK for outperforming its EU partners since 1995.

The surcharge – which factors £7-billion into Britain’s GDP gleaned from the immoral earning of prostitution and drug pushing – comes on top of the country’s net contribution to the EU budget, predicted to be around £10-billion for 2014.

Clearly, ladies of the night and spliff vendors should spend more time off the streets, since their efforts, while welcome in some quarters, aren’t in the national interest.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron is righteously indignant over what’s described in bland, EU-speak as ‘a correction to Britain’s contribution’.

The government of Greece – the Eurozone’s basket case – feels similarly narked, since it must cough up hundreds of millions it hasn’t got to prop up powerhouses like Germany.

In Britain’s case it was given until December 1 to pay or face a £41-million fine, plus punitive interest of £2.3-million a day or 52% per annum on the £1.7-billion.

Never mind Wonga.com, according to one seething Tory MP, such usury would make ‘the most predatory payday loan-shark blush.’

So Chancellor George Osborne was despatched to Brussels on Friday on a damage-limitation mission, after Cameron said he would not pay the ‘completely unacceptable’ bill, warning it would reduce the chances of the UK staying in the EU.

Some kind of iffy creative accountancy has now been cobbled, with Osborne claiming the amount has been reduced by half, interest charges axed and the UK can stage-pay the outstanding £850-million next year.

However, what the waffle doesn’t address is why the UK was saddled with the burden in the first place.

This latest spat comes at a moment when Cameron plans to outline proposals to cap immigration from Europe, possibly by introducing an Australian-style point system to deter benefit-scroungers or demand that migrants have a job offer and, if not, the funds to support themselves for three months until they find work.

SHOWING THE WAY? German Chancellor Merkel makes her point - literally! - UK Premier Cameron

SHOWING THE WAY? German Chancellor Merkel makes her point – quite literally! – to UK Premier Cameron

It’s an issue that runs straight into another Brussels’ brick wall, but one which Cameron is tailoring to woo Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who desperately wants the UK in the Union and faces her own problems over unfettered immigration.

However, the runes on both contentious matters directly affecting Britain – the ‘correction fee’ and curbing incomers – make unpleasant reading on both sides of the Channel.

While wriggle room may have been found to reduce the price Britain must pay for its success, Merkel is under pressure from Brussels not to compromise on the free movement of peoples, a pillar of EU statism.

This was highlighted by the influential political magazine, Der Spiegel, last week, which claimed Mutti – as Merkel is affectionately known in Germany – was prepared to accept a British bye-bye, the so-called ‘Brexit’ option, from the EU.

However, as I said, much can be lost in the translation. That’s why sources close to the German leader quickly pointed out that she considers Brexit ‘möglich’, which means ‘possible’ and she fears it, because she distrusts the profligate France and wants Britain to remain her partner.

With UKIP’s anti-European mavericks and Conservative Eurosceptics rumbling with discontent, Cameron is stuck between a similar rock and hard place.

Despite promising an in-out referendum on the EU in 2017 if he’s re-elected next May and his own, declared intention to campaign to stay in, the Prime Minister is likely to face a tough job convincing a British electorate increasing hostile to Brussels to trust his judgement.

Rightly, they pose the question: if the EU isn’t for its people, what is it for?

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.

If the UN is no longer fit for purpose, then the West must invent something better

UNLESS you’re a news junkie, probably you didn’t notice the United Nation’s General Assembly was in session last month, with world leaders piling into New York as if it were Blue Cross Day in Macy’s sales.

A sombre Barack Obama chaired the fatuous waffling show and so much extraneous CO2 was expended, it probably blew a chasm the size of Alaska in the ozone layer.

As was his privilege, the keynote speech was made by the US President – greyer, gaunter now and a far cry from the jaunty, upbeat figure of global optimism he cut when first addressing the gathering in 2009.

Way back then, he promised ‘a new era of engagement with the world’.  And – lo and behold! – we have it…just not quite the one he envisaged.

By ‘engagement’ Obama meant peace and conciliation, not the vicious, internecine, barbaric collision of religious credos, clashing cultures and political dogmas blighting almost the entire Middle East and swathes of Africa, not to mention Ukraine or the existential threat to the West from jihadis returning home from DIY decapitation courses, courtesy of Islamic State (IS).

Though not entirely all down to his inertia, no-drama Obama bears huge culpability for ignoring how the layer cake of conflicts was rising, not that such an egotistical poseur would have the humility to fess up.

After all, only a year ago he bragged to the General Assembly (GA), ‘The world is more stable than it was five years ago.’

That was either self-delusion or purblindness at its worst.

Because, as some of his once closest advisers have testified – none more so than former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton – Obama’s been hands-off when he should have been full-on, a telegenic prop not a globo cop, a dithery camp follower rather than a trailblazer.

HANDS-ON AT LAST! Obama tells the UN General Assembly he's awake to the evil of Islamic State

HANDS-ON AT LAST! Obama tells the UN General Assembly he’s awake to the evil of Islamic State

Now, after six years of comparatively moribund inactivity, even the peacenik president has finally accepted that actions speaks louder than platitudes and he’s taken on IS in its own backyard.

‘There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil,’ he told the Assembly, showing real fire in his gut for once. ‘The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force.’

Quite where what some describe as the Third Iraq War leads to is anyone’s guess, though at least a smattering of Arab nations have overcome their timidity to share the US-led coalition’s heavy lifting.

However, this isn’t about Obama’s flaws, IS carnage, sneaky Iran’s march to the nuclear weapon threshold or even the intractable Israel-Palestinian brouhaha.

It’s about the ineptitudes and blatant, anti-Western bias of the UN, bar some of its useful spin-offs, such as the World Health Organisation and UNESCO.

As the disorganisation celebrates its 69th birthday this month, how the founding fathers – notably President Franklin Delano Roosevelt – must be whirling in their graves in disgust at how their vision of a body intended to bring peace to a devastated, post-war world has begotten a corpse of grubby self-interest and accusatory spite.

Of the 51 original members, only the Soviet Bloc, China and the former Yugoslavia – all WW2 allies – weren’t democracies, even if the probity of some others at that time (e.g. Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama and South Africa) was contestable.

Nonetheless, all were signatories to the UN Charter and the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights, which ‘reaffirmed faith in fundamental human rights and dignity, and worth of the human person’, while committing all member states to promote ‘universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.’

Fine words, noble aims; but fast-forward nearly seven decades and what have we…193 states, a disreputable number of whom couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss for the club rules apropos human rights, gender equality or inter-faith tolerance.

So, only at the UN can indictable tyrannies, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran and Sudan – with their penchants for headbanging religious extremism, financing terror and judicial codes beyond the barbaric – share the civilised world’s lustre.

DISUNITED NATIONS: The UN is now a pale shadow of what its creators envisaged 69 years ago

DISUNITED NATIONS: The UN is now a pale shadow of what its creators envisaged 69 years ago

Meanwhile, whatever is the allure of IS’s Islamo-fascist paradise is beyond me. But I fully endorse Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s overview, as he told to the GA last week, ‘The Nazis believed in a master race; the militant Islamists believe in a master faith.’

Led by a succession of UN Secretaries General unfit to be short-order chefs, the liberal democracies now find themselves victims of a naïve misbelief their tools of egalitarian governance were beckoning to be adopted by states where people power was zilch or, if it dares show itself, got brutally crushed.

The so-called Arab Spring finally laid waste that fantasy.

Yet now, once again, the altruistic West is expected to intervene in a Middle East bloodbath, albeit at the behest of a slumbering American leader only just awoken to reality.

Strikingly, Obama didn’t bother asking UN permission, before sending his fighter jets to pulverise IS.

And maybe former Australian Foreign Minister, Gareth Evans, explains why, noting, ‘No organisation embodies as many dreams, yet provides so many frustrations [as the UN]. For most of its history, the Security Council has been the prisoner of great-power manoeuvring; the General Assembly a theatre of empty rhetoric; the Economic and Social Council a largely dysfunctional irrelevance; and the Secretariat, for all the dedication and brilliance of a host of individuals, alarmingly inefficient.’

Now many sage voices believe there is a critical need for a serious appraisal of the UN’s purpose and cost – a thwacking US$30-bn per annum, the tab mainly picked up by American and European taxpayers.

Because, after nearly 70 years, it has degenerated into a shambling old buffer with exorbitant tastes, its ‘halo effect’ dimmed by age, scandal, nepotism and corruption.

Hence, an idea being touted is for the UN to be evicted from its palatial tower overlooking New York’s East River and pack it off somewhere more in kilter with its skewered ethos – Doha and Khartoum have been mentioned.

Then, maybe, a Western-leaning Organisation of Democratic Nations – even if it accommodates China and Russia on the basis they are political and economic powerhouses – can emerge, thus checkmating the preposterousness of a Third World tail wagging the First World dog.

Only then might it dawn on the post-medieval despots that the West has had a bellyful of their inanity and insanity, and they should dump their self-inflicted woes in their own lap, not ours.

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.