Exit middle-aged, middle-class males, enter Dave’s Dolls to spice up British politics

THERE’S a fair chance I’ll get my head chewed off by feminist ultras for sounding sexist and patronising, but say it I will, because it’s a fact: in a week of bad tidings the last seven days have been great news for the girls.

First, the Church of England General Synod voted in favour of ordaining female bishops and one candidate is said to be awaiting receipt of her mitre and crozier before the year’s out.

Quite why this was the stuff of headlines was beyond me.

Women won the right to be welcomed into the Anglican priesthood yonks ago and I’ve always believed they’d had a pretty strong discrimination case to take before an employment tribunal for not being allowed to realise their full potential much beyond being parsons.

This ‘glass ceiling’ was especially ludicrous and contradictory, since a female – The Queen, no less! – is the titular head of the whole shebang.

Canon Law, though, governing the clergy has been an omnishambles of an ass for centuries. Nonethelesss, it was instructive that Justin Welby, the oil industry exec-turned-Archbishop of Canterbury, emphasised the church’s volte face was based on religious principles, not a rush of 21st Century liberalism to the collective brain.

However, before a Geraldine Grainger can swap her Vicar of Dibley’s black cassock for a bishop’s purple and ask, ‘Does my bum look big in this?’, a tad more tinkering with the rules has to happen.

This involves designing special opt-outs for hardline evangelicals – especially from the African communion – and traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, who won’t accept the authority of a woman on theological grounds, in an attempt to keep them within the Cof E’s shrinking fold.

The second and more momentous win-of-the-week for women came with Squire Cameron’s Cabinet reshuffle – well, at least the Tory element of the Coalition – with what’s been described as a ‘cull of middle-aged, middle-class males’.

TEN UP! Prime Minster Cameron has promoted 10 women to top jobs in his government, with five now sitting at the Cabinet table

TEN UP! Prime Minster Cameron has promoted 10 women to top jobs in his government, with five now sitting at the Cabinet table

The Prime Minister has long been at the butt-end of criticism for denying women seats at the grand table of power, which – apart from three  females – has tended to be warmed by the backsides of fatcat Old Etonians or chums from his Bullingdon Club days at Oxford.

Now comes the figurative ‘charge of the skirts’, as 10 women enter the higher echelons of Britain’s corridors of power and a succession of big, male beasts are defanged or forcibly demobbed.

Not since Harold MacMillan’s ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in 1962, when seven ministers got the chop, has a British Cabinet undergone such drastic surgery.

At face value, William Hague’s decision to quit as Foreign Secretary and stand down as an MP at the next election, seemed extraordinary. On reflection, however, it makes perfect sense, since he’s one of few politicos whose CV includes proper jobs – from working in the family brewery as a 15-year-old drayman to high-flying management consultant.

With his experience, contacts and intellect, Hague’s bound to attract directorships by the bucket-load and, having once failed as Tory leader, he’s hardly likely to get another shot at the top.

As his dad, Neil, 86, noted undiplomatically, though with typical, Yorkshire bluntness, ‘William plans to enjoy himself, do some writing, go to places and make a lot more money, because he loses money working with all those goons.’

ON THE MOVE: A bewildered Michael Gove has been 'transferred' from Education to Chief Whip...but wonder if it's a demotion or promotion

UPPER OR DOWNER? A bewildered Michael Gove has been ‘transferred’ from Education to Chief Whip…but can’t tell if it’s a demotion or promotion

Meanwhile, Michael Gove doesn’t know if his move from Education Minister to Chief Whip signals a downward spiral – ‘Demotion, emotion, promotion, locomotion, I don’t know how you would describe it,’ he says, uncharacteristically mystified – but it smacks of damage-limitation, after a succession of Gove-driven reforms have left teachers seething.

Veteran Ken Clarke’s departure from office was the least surprising, since the 74-year-old was first appointed a minister in 1972 and has spent two decades in top jobs, including Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

However, British politics surely hasn’t heard the last for the man famed for his brown, suede shoes. He’ll undoubtedly be offered a lordship, whereby he’ll be unshackled from the chains of office to harangue his party’s lurch further towards Euroscepticism.

Because, despite Cameron’s pre-election stunt being a naked appeal to female voters by promoting a posse of women, the lion’s share of the new Cabinet is dominated by the anti-Brussels brigade, none more so than new Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond.

Nevertheless and regardless of this Machiavellian sleight of hand designed to placate the Tory Right, the arrival of the likes of Nicky Morgan (Education), Liz Truss (Environment) and ex-TV presenter, Esther McVey (Employment) is the real attention-grabber.

Hence, after Blair’s Babes, we have – in tabloid parlance – Dave’s Dolls, as inadvertently underscored by BBC Political Editor, Nick Robinson, in a mis-Tweet announcing Morgan as ‘the new Education Sexretary’.

So does this presage things to come?

ONE OF DAVE'S DOLLS: Ex-telly presenter, Esther McVey, takes over at Environment

YES, A MINISTER: Blonde, ex-telly presenter, Esther McVey, takes over as Minister for Employment

Undoubtedly and, at the risk of being accused of indulging in reverse misogyny, it’s no bad thing – perhaps even a wakey-wakey call for those of the male persuasion not to presume we rule by divine right.

Because the unassailable truth is girls now outperform boys at school on almost every count, from nursery to uni.

The gap in reading abilities between the sexes widens from seven percentage points at seven years old, to 14% by GCSE time; more girls are applying for university places than boys; and women in their twenties now earn more per hour than men.

Germany’s Angela Merkel is the unchallenged mistress of Euroland – by the way, Mutti, congrats on your boys winning the World Cup – and the EU has more female leaders than ever (i.e. Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia).

Furthermore, in less than two years, the US could very well have it’s first female president in Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Finally, speaking as the father of a daughter, who’s intelligent, resourceful and balances a high-pressure career while being a wife and mum to two rumbustious boys, I have only great admiration and pride in all she’s achieved through hard work, true grit and sheer talent.

Lauren was in the vanguard of the breakthrough generation of ambitious, young women and all the indications are the next will strive to stride even further.

So is this ‘the end of men?’ as one newspaper editorial asked last week.

Dunno. I’ll have to ask my wife.

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Paranoid Putin wants a Ukraine poodle – and the Kremlin bullyboy won’t stop there

FRENCH cynics have a phrase for progress. ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’, they sneer, which roughly translates into, ‘The more it changes, the more the same old claptrap.’

So, for those who imagined the collapse of Soviet repression was an overture to genuine democracy in Russia, the straightjacket and funny farm awaits.

Granted, there was a brief flush of hope in the early 1990s, when, for all his boozy buffoonery, Boris Yeltsin wrested power from the fading, old Red Guard and promised liberal reforms.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve, 1999, when a 47-year-old ex-KGB officer and political rookie called Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin suddenly emerged as Russia’s new boss and the truth dawned on realists that progress, Kremlin-style, was a transient mirage…the leopard merely reshuffling its spots.

In the decade-and-a-half since, even the last pipe-dreamer can no longer doubt Putin’s take on democracy is whatever he says it is and Siberia welcomes dissenters.

Because, after centuries of unrelenting brainwashing, like Pavlov’s dogs, Russia’s masses are conditioned to respecting a strongman, who fans their raging national pride, not to say endemic paranoia.

Western statesmen appear to have overlooked this glaring trait. Or, in the case of that most malleable of US President, Barack Obama, they’ve lulled themselves into the misguided belief Russians are just as much residents of the global village as everyone else, therefore abide by the same norms.

They don’t. And the code Putin applies – recently slammed as ‘19th Century rules’ by American Secretary of State, John Kerry – is little changed from the policies of Ivan the Terrible, Lenin and Stalin.

In a nutshell Moscow believes might is right and actions speak louder than words.

WINK LINK: Kremlin-watchers believe Putin had a cunning plan to draw the West into the Ukraine rumpus

WATCH MY WINK: Kremlin-watchers believe Putin had a cunning plan to draw the West into the Ukraine rumpus

So, following his diplomatic coups in mesmerising Obama into imagining Iran’s devious mullahs were peace-seeking pussycats and Syrian butcher, Bashar Assad, was really a much- maligned nice guy, poker-faced Putin has scooped the ultimate jackpot over Ukraine.

Of course, it could have been mere coincidence weeks ago that goons, in green uniforms minus military flashes and brandishing hardware far more lethal than anything the local militia toted, suddenly turned up, en masse, and land-grabbed the Crimean peninsula.

And, just perhaps, the insurrection by Ukraine’s 17% ethnic Russians in the east was simply a spontaneous poke in the eye to the interim Kiev regime that had booted out pro-Moscow brigand, Viktor Yanukovych.

But when Putin branded the upstarts a ‘fascist junta’ eager to cosy up to the European Union, the mantra fell on willing ears, since it rang with poignant echoes of WW2, when too many western Ukrainians queued up to join Hitler’s SS.

Which is why the West-backed presidential election in a week’s time will be a waste of polling paper. However transparent, Russia has already trashed the outcome by blessing last Sunday’s ‘plebiscite’ in Donetsk, where a massive 89% voted to split from Kiev and demand self-rule.

And if that result doesn’t deter Western adventurism into what Russia sees as its backyard, Putin’s banker bet is that NATO won’t mix it – just as it failed to do in Georgia in 2008 – if he orders phalanxes of T-95 tanks and Spetsnaz Special Forces to pour over the border and annex eastern Ukraine, as a postscript to Crimea.

Meantime, if this is the prelude to a new, Cold War world order, the big money’s on Putin saying, ‘Bring it on – see if I care.’

So no amount of Obama sanctions against his henchmen – which, tepid as they are, have rattled EU states reliant on Russia energy – will deter the expansionist, Russian bullyboy.

Notably, last week Germany signalled its mounting fears by warning its nationals in eastern Ukraine to beat a hasty retreat, foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, warning that the country is only a ‘few steps’ away from ‘military confrontation’.

The chief twerps in creating this stand-off are the EU. As America’s diplomatic eminence gris, Henry Kissinger wrote – during what I guess was an severe attack of verbal diarrhoea – ‘The European Union must recognise that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning negotiation into a crisis.’

That might sound utter gobbledygook, but the master tactician of realpolitik is stating the blindingly obvious: the EU was too slow, too stupid and too arrogant in imagining it could prise free a cornerstone of Putin’s defensive rampart.

And the procession of Western big wigs, who rushed to Kiev to congratulate the rebels for bravely ousting Yanukovych – including Britain’s silly Billy Hague – made a colossal misjudgement in thinking they could de-claw the Russian bear.

Putin was not only expecting EU meddling, Kremlin-watchers reckon he long ago hatched a cunning plan to spark, then check it, by skyrocketing the price of Russian gas to Ukraine in anticipation of the West charging in like Custer’s Seventh Cavalry (and no reminders about what happened to them!).

EURO FOOLS: Elder statesman, Henry Kissinger, believes the EU is to blame for trying to woo the new Kiev regime

EURO FOOLS: Elder statesman, Henry Kissinger, believes the EU is to blame for trying to woo the new Kiev regime

Now, no amount of diplomatic embroidery will patch up the beleaguered country, even if some dodgy fudge is fashioned, whereby the eastern provinces are granted autonomy – under Moscow’s protective wing, naturally.

All this runs counter to the 1994 deal hammered out in Budapest, whereby Russia, the EU and US guaranteed to respect Ukraine’s borders.

However, since this was five years before his Kremlin putsch, Putin isn’t inclined to honour it; besides, Vlad The Invader has invented the perfect excuse for intervention: defending ethnic Russian minorities.

That same logic applies to Estonia and Latvia, where some 25% of their populations are descended from detested Russian incomers, transplanted during the communist era to slap down local aggro.

Unlike Ukraine, though, both states are NATO members, which is why the West is growing increasingly edgy over the future of its Baltic flank.

Though in no mood for military confrontation, Obama and friends must know if they don’t face down Russian thuggery there, they might as well shut up for good.

Because, while the Kremlin’s bully has changed faces from Soviet times, he still spouts the same old claptrap.

‘Plus ça change, etc…’ as the French say.

 

 

‘Mini’ Crimea War result prediction: Vlad The Invader 1, Wobbling West 0

THE question facing Ukraine’s Crimean citizens in today’s referendum ought to ask, ‘Do you prefer to be part of Russia again – or be mashed into a gooey blinis topping by a bunch of uniformed goons, who’ve apparently arrived from nowhere to offer fraternal greetings?’

Because, however quasi-democratic – and America dubbing it ‘illegal’ – the plebiscite’s outcome is a given: the Crimea, once Stalin’s holiday playground, will revert to its previous status of a Russian entity, this time as part of Vladimir Putin’s new, expansive, nationalist empire.

It will also signal the culmination of one of the slickest coups d’état, a ‘mini’ Crimean War  that’s a throwback to Soviet power plays, with all the familiar Kremlin agitprop used to justify crushing upstarts (think Hungary, in 1956, and Czechoslovakia a dozen years later).

Also, it’s an ominous reminder of Hitler’s 1938 annexation of the Sudetenland, carried out in the name of ethnic Germans living in the Czech province.

Back then Britain and France gave the Nazis a free pass, but the warning signs were glaring. Thus emboldened, Germany invaded Poland – again on the specious pretext of defending nationals there – and the Second World War was up and running.

Like Hitler, Putin claims he’s intervening in Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians and spare the country from ‘fascist, racist revolutionaries’, who overthrew their democratic leader.

CALLING THE TUNE: Putin shows off his piano-playing prowess and makes sure all sing from his hymn sheet

CALLING THE TUNE: Putin shows off his piano-playing prowess and makes sure all sing from his hymn sheet

For the record, that was Viktor Yanukovych, a thieving bruiser with a penchant for sharp suits and tyranny, who hot-footed it to safety under Putin’s protective wing when the people tired of his lies.

As an aside, totally disregard any scurrilous rumours the mysterious horde of heavily-armed men – in uniforms minus regimental flashes – who turned up weeks ago to corral Ukrainian forces into their barracks, are Russian.

They are merely local patriots, insist Kremlin mouthpieces, outfitted by a nearby army surplus store I wish I had shares in, who only sought to restore law and order. That they can’t speak a syllable of Ukrainian is a by-the-by.

So, game, set and match to V.V. Putin.

The only issue to be resolved is: what will be the grand bully of diplomatic chess’s next gambit?

Will he ‘liberate’ the rest of eastern Ukraine, with its Russian-speaking majority, who magically appear as a rent-a-mob to decry the ‘neo-Nazi’ usurpers in Kiev?

Or could other soft-touch nations bordering the Black Sea, like Moldova, be on Vlad The Invader’s wish list, because surely it’s a matter of time before he flexes his muscles again?

And who’s going to stymie the ex-KGB thug’s pursuit to rebuild the Russian Empire?

Enter the brave, bold West, with a procession of foreign ministers trekking to Kiev to allay fears that ‘free’ Ukraine has been abandoned.

Perish the thought, intimated Britain’s William Hague, as his boss, Squire Cameron, fulminated about ‘the most serious crisis in Europe this century’ and ‘unacceptable’ Russian expansionism.

Tough, if empty talk, because the reality was laid bare when a Downing Street policy document was inadvertently revealed, stating, ‘We should not support, for now, trade sanctions or close London’s financial centre to Russians.’

Heartening news, then, for estate agents in Mayfair and South Kensington, if not gladder tidings for Putin: British bluster is a sham.

Conversely, if briefly, it seemed President Obama – or The Great Ditherer as he’s now known – nearly discovered he had a backbone, after announcing, ‘Putin must know that there is a price to pay for his actions.’

HOT LINE: But Obama inaction is interpreted by the Russians as weakness, says a NATO source

HOT LINE: But Obama’s dithering is interpreted by the Russians as weakness, says a NATO source

Inexorably, he reverted to type and sabre-rattled with a penknife, merely despatching a squadron of Phantom jets to Poland and a couple to safeguard the Baltic republics…feeble gestures, indeed, and unlikely to wipe the smirk off Putin’s face.

But hark! More sanctions are being threatened, like Russia being kicked out of the G8, visas revoked, asset freezes on Kremlin apparatchiks and – who knows – oligarchs banned from Harrods’ food hall.

For its part, the punchless, witless European Union vacillates from the sidelines, despite Ukraine proverbially being in its backyard (as was Kosovo, remember – and look what a mess they made there).

Unsurprising, I suppose, since so many EU nations – notably Germany – rely on Russian gas, EU leaders just gassed on, condemning Putin’s moral, political and legal bankruptcy, but paying only lip service to diplomatic retaliation.

And, as regards Obama, the nationalist tsar sussed out long ago he was no Cold War warrior in the Reagan mould; that this occupant of the White House was a navel-gazing poseur, more social-worker than commander-in-chief, whose foreign policy – if, indeed, he has one – is anchored in the biblical credo that the meek shall inherit the earth.

For all Putin’s paranoia over perceived Western encroachment eastwards into Russia’s sphere of influence, like his inglorious Soviet predecessors, he recognises wobbling when he sees it.

As a NATO official noted last week, ‘The Kremlin respects strength and despises indecisiveness – they see comprise as weakness.’

So, for all his macho posturing, Obama has reverted to a default setting that’s hands-off and isolationist – or, in Russia’s eyes, jelly-kneed and wimpy.

Putin probably first recognised it when the President shelved plans to base missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic in 2009, then scotched talk of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO.

The next signals were Obama backing the losing, Islamo-fanatic side in Egypt’s ’s Arab Spring counter revolt and a retreat on Libya, when he subcontracted the destruction of Gaddafi’s maniacal regime to the RAF and French air force.

Then came the vacuous ‘red lines’ warning to Assad over chemical weapons in Syria, which vaporised into nothing and left Putin – of all people – orchestrating US foreign policy towards the Butcher of Damascus (NB: so far it’s going nowhere).

Worse still, security analysts agree almost universally that America’s deal with Iran over checking its nuclear weapons development was a diplomatic farce, with only one winner – the mad mullahs of Tehran.

Little wonder last week The New York Post heaped further scorn on the gullible President, dubbing him ‘Jimmy Obama’ in an unsubtle reference to James Earl Carter, probably the most inept US leader in living memory.

So apologies to the valiant Ukrainians. None of what I’ve said is any consolation, but be assured that with friends like us in the West, you don’t need enemies.

Eat your ‘red line’ words, Mr. President – or show some real stomach for a fight

There’s a question I’d like to ask Barack Obama right now: Where does a red line become a green light?

You’ve guessed, of course, because the answer is self-evident… in Syria.

Nonetheless, I’d be interested to hear how the US President unhooks himself off a peg he fashioned a year ago, when, in sternly unambiguous language, he warned dictator Bashar al-Assad a red line would be crossed if ever biological weapons were moved, let alone unleashed on the Syrian people.

Yet, even before last week’s horrific massacre that probably took at least several hundred lives, Obama knew the Demon of Damascus had already employed his chemical arsenal to lethal effect more than once.

And, though, as yet, there isn’t incontestable proof Assad wasn’t embolden to repeat the war crime on a far grander scale, the finger of suspicion points inexorably in his direction.

However, there are caveats. Aided by Iranian Republican Guards and Hezbollah cutthroats, government forces are reportedly crushing the opposition. And, with UN arms inspectors in town to check the scenes of earlier gassing incidents, it’s a questionable moment to re-deploy deadly nerve agents.

Contrarily, maybe in his Machiavellian mindset, Assad is counting on the swirling fog of civil war to cloud culpability and/or deliberately tweak Obama’s nose, knowing his allies, Russia and China, will parry any UN censure.

They did exactly that last Wednesday, rendering a Security Council statement gutless. However, in the light of international condemnation, Russia has been forced to back calls for a probe, even if Vladimir Putin still insists his pet tyrant isn’t the guilty party.

A MOTHER MOURNS: Many of the victims of the recent gassing in Syria were children

A MOTHER MOURNS: Many of the victims of the recent gassing in Syria were children

And it is not outside the realm of possibility that the motley rebels – especially battle-hardened jihadis, sprinkled with Al-Qaeda affiliates – concocted a ‘false flag’ black op to smear the Assad regime, not that it any needs help in cloaking itself in further opprobrium.

But, if Obama drew a red line in the Syrian sand and someone took this as a green light to act in gross defiance, what price the warning from the leader of the free world?

All we’ve heard is Obama has – finally! – asked his generals to ‘provide all options for all contingencies’, as he views the worsening situation with ‘grave concern.’

Understandably, after Iraq and Afghanistan, the West doesn’t want any more complicated adventures on Muslim soil or another gung-ho president in the mould of G. ‘Dubya’ Bush.

Yet, after seeing the hope that began as the Arab Spring lurch into an Islamic Winter and now serial slaughter, what is not required is a vacillating, over-conciliatory, moralising poseur, who talks the talk but patently fails to walk the walk.

And, while Obama may be the coolest dude to occupy the Oval Office, for all his theatrical gravitas, he’s in danger of becoming the lamest duck President since bumbling Jimmy Carter, which takes some underachieving.

He signalled this potentiality from the very start of his first term in office, when his initial foray overseas was to Cairo, where he made a grovelling speech, which the Arab world predictably scoffed at.

Since then, where Middle East matters are concerned, Obama has rarely put a foot right.

Admittedly, his options with Syria are now limited, particularly since he muffed the chance to be effectual a year ago, before the conflict became the magnet for every turbaned headbanger with an AK47 to hitch a camel-ride and join the carnage.

That lost window of opportunity would have afforded the West the chance to supply the then mainly moderate rebels at least with light arms plus anti-tank ordnance and prod the bunglers of the Arab League into helping clean up a mess in their own back yard.

MUFFED IT: Obama misses a putt during a golf game, just as he muffed the chance to sort out Syria

MUFFED IT: Obama misses a putt during a golf game, just as he muffed the chance to sort out Syria

Instead, like the legal geek he is, Obama navel-gazed, preferring to wag a reproving finger at Bashar The Basher and mutter darkly about ‘red lines’.

Well, one way or another, they have been crossed and, as the US Commander In Chief huffs and puffs, Vladimir Putin unfailingly delivers macho support to the Assad mafia, however disingenuous Russia’s morally-bankrupt motives are.

Britain and France, meanwhile, seem up to the challenge of trying to stop the Syrian madness escalating into a mini-holocaust – the death-count is already beyond 100,000 and largely composed of innocent civilians, many of them children – though UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, doesn’t specify what sort of intervention he has in mind.

It might mean establishing no-fly zones to checkmate Assad’s MIGs or bombing his missile batteries, as the RAF and French air force did to help oust Muammar Gaddafi in Libya; conversely, it could involve selectively arming rebels, but ensuring weaponry doesn’t reach those seeking to impose an anti-Western, Sharia paradise on Syria; or it may mean diplomatically arm-twisting Russia and China to bring Assad to the peace talks table.

It should not mean, as Hague and his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, have been at pains to stress, Western troops on the ground.

But at least they are talking robustly in a test for the West inflicted by the rhetoric of an American leader, who, so far, seems to display no real stomach for a fight.

So I suggest Obama recalls what he said on August 20, 2012, and, if he doesn’t, here’s a reminder:-

‘We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.’

Now the world waits with mounting urgency to hear what the President’s solution is, before droves more innocents die in Syria.

If something positive isn’t quickly forthcoming, I suggest Obama pops into the White House kitchen, butter two slices of bread, insert his words in between and eats them.