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.

 

Advertisements

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.

Forget out-UKIPing UKIP – play up the plus side of immigration instead

ACCORDING to my doctor, there are two sorts of cholesterol: the goody variety, HDL, which makes us purr like a Rolls-Royce, and naughty LDL, which clogs up the blood vessels of those with a lusty appetite for animal fats.

Likewise, there are two, principle types of immigration: talented, educated incomers, who help make the host nation richer, and those at the fag-end of the earning scale, who do the low-skilled, heavy-lifting.

Like it or not, every post-modern economy need a dollop of each, from degree-burnished graduates to oil the gears of industry, the professions and City, to those who’ll serve minimum-wage hard time in jobs beneath the dignity of work-shy locals, like the 100 Hungarians to be employed by sandwich-maker Greencore in Northampton.

But how much of each commodity is tolerable is the question driving politicians across the industrialised West to distraction.

In the USA a debate rages about President Obama’s call to decriminalise ‘wetback’ illegals – ‘wetbacks’ because they crossed the Rio Grande to reach their promised land – while Europe wrestles with porous borders inflicted by the Schengen Agreement.

Meanwhile, Calais’s mayor chides Britain for having a benefit system so generous that’s it turned the drab Channel port into a magnet for stateless Asians and Africans, looking to hitch an illicit ride to Dover.

Hardly surprising, then, immigration has become the most emotive of buzzwords and a dark spectre haunting the UK’s 2015 general election.

MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Party boss Nigel Farage (left) congratulates Mark Reckless on his return to parliament - as UKIP's second MP

MANY HAPPY RETURNS: Party boss Nigel Farage (left) congratulates Mark Reckless on his comeback to parliament – as UKIP’s second MP

Predictably, it once again played into the UK Independence Party’s clutches in Thursday’s Rochester by-election, when Tory defector, Mark Reckless, reclaimed his old seat to become the archly anti-EU party’s second MP, after Douglas Carswell held Clacton.

Whether Nigel Farage’s purple bandwagon gathers further momentum by next May 7 is a matter of intense debate.

What’s clear, though, is UKIP’s anti-politics populism strikes a chord with a section of the electorate heartily disaffected with the snotty Westminster elite’s belief it rules by divine right.

Meanwhile, as Clacton and now Rochester has proven, even rabid Tory Euro sceptics are realising it’s a waste of hustings time trying to outstrip UKIP’s Little Englander agenda.

And Labour’s latest wheeze, newly unveiled by shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, is one of the feeblest attempts yet at playing to the gallery’s fears about Johnny Foreigner.

After months of inertia and leader Ed Miliband’s ratings plummeting like a thermometer outside an igloo, the party that opened the floodgates to unfettered immigration is now calling for Britain’s border police to be boosted by 1,000 extra personnel.

This, says Cooper, can be funded by charging a £10 ‘entrance fee’ to incomers. Except – as the Home Office was delighted to enlighten her – thanks to the European Union’s visa-waiver scheme, the moolah raised will hire just 59 immigration cops.

MENTAL ARITHMETIC: Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, discovers Labour's immigration sums don't add up

MENTAL ARITHMETIC: Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, discovers Labour’s immigration sums don’t add up

Similarly inane is Labour’s plan to stop migrants claiming benefits until they’ve been in Britain for two years, not the current ceiling of three months.

This, of course, would require an EU treaty change, by which time piglets will take off from Heathrow’s tenth runway, alongside the usual procession of Jumbos.

What gets forgotten, overlooked and ignored, however, is that the great immigration debate in Britain is several centuries old and every wave – from Farage’s French Huguenot, lace-making ancestors to Irish navvy canal-builders, Jewish tailors and West Indian NHS recruits – met with vehement hostility before they melted into the fabric of British society.

Even Enoch Powell, UKIP’s spiritual godfather and best remembered for his notorious, 1968 anti-immigration ‘rivers of blood’ speech, once played a leading role in wooing Commonwealth citizens to settle in the UK to fill staff shortages in the health and public transport sectors.

Today, UKIP is banging Powell’s drum and giving a disingenuous, one-dimensional picture of greedy, grasping, benefit-scrounging foreigners – of which there are undoubtedly an untold number – for whom Britain is a land of give and take…the nation gives and they take.

And this demi-truth is resonating, especially in deprived areas where immigration has had a detrimental impact on housing, schooling and jobs, because successive governments have serially failed for decades to heed the warning signs.

Only now has their folly been rumbled and the three major parties – that’s if the Lib-Dems still qualify as one – are playing catch-up, though they don’t stand a snowball in Hades’ chance of out-UKIPing UKIP.

However, obscured by Farage’s scare tactics is a multi-faceted image of immigration, one in which business cries out for talent that can only be sources from abroad and industries, like farming, which needs minimum-wage labour to bring in crops that defy automated harvesting.

The recent report from University College London (UCL), then, makes uneasy reading for the anti-EU, anti-immigration lobby, because rather than draining Britain’s exchequer, European migrants made a net contribution of £20bn to it between 2000 and 2011.

UKIP GODFATHER: The late Enoch Powell - famed for his notorious 'rivers of blood' speech - was responsible for a wave of immigration into Britain

UKIP GODFATHER: The late Enoch Powell – famed for his notorious ‘rivers of blood’ speech – was responsible for a wave of immigration into Britain

If there is a downside, don’t blame the Czech nannies, Spanish nurses or Polish plumbers drawn to the UK because of high unemployment in their own states, but non-EU migrants who, according to UCL, cost Britain £120bn in 1995-2011.

Even this huge sum, though, should be put into context, because it’s dwarfed by UK nationals, who cost the country £591bn over the same time frame.

So, at the risk of sounding neo-liberal, I suggest that much of what Farage peddles is selective twaddle as he and his mavericks ride a wave of xenophobia on a balloon of hot air.

That in no way diminish the glaring fact that the putrid edifice of the EU – not its peoples – is in drastic need of reform and there should be no further empire-building by an unelected commission and its clique of Europrats, who mainly serve no useful purpose but their own.

Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to renegotiate Britain’s terms of EU membership and put them to a referendum in 2017 should he be re-elected next spring.

If Europe’s leaders ignore his rational arguments Britain will quit, UKIP will be cock-a-hoop and parties beyond the EU’s fringe – especially France’s far-Right National Front – will be further embolden to copycat Farage.

So UKIP’s second by-election win on the spin spells trouble not just for the UK’s political elite, but for all those at the helm of every nation in Europe.

Brussels take note…and beware.

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.