It’s elementary, Watson. Here’s why faith in the police is rising

“It’s rising in London as well. What, my dear Watson, do you conclude from that?” “I suppose it does seem a bit odd,” I faltered. “Odd!” ejaculated Holmes, leaping from his armchair and throwing off his dressing gown. “It’s perplexing in the extreme. Month in, month out the British public is being conditioned to think that there is something amiss with policing – and yet their faith in the police seems actually to be rising. To what do you attribute this anomaly, Watson?”

I looked blankly at the Morning Post. “Perhaps they are just ignoring the media,” I hazarded. “Ignore the media?” said Holmes. “Unthinkable. Try harder.” Now he crossed the room, out of my line of sight, and started rummaging in a cupboard. I clutched my head, and went through the evidence.

“Well,” I said at length, “one thing that most of these scandals have in common – with the exception of Plebgate – is that they took place some time ago. Orgreave and Hillsborough were in the Eighties, the Lawrence investigation was in the Nineties. Even this apparent shredding of documents about undercover policing took place more than 10 years ago – under a former commissioner.

“Perhaps the public have noticed that. Perhaps they feel it is all a bit – historic?”

Holmes seemed displeased by my explanation. “Tchah,” he said from his corner. “Not good enough, Watson. The police are given extraordinary powers over us. They can arrest. They can detain. They can enter a person’s home without leave. They often carry lethal weapons. It is absolutely right that the public should demand the highest possible standards of probity and integrity from every police officer in this country, and I am sure our friends at Scotland Yard would agree, and that is why they are getting to the bottom of all of these matters.

“No, Watson, there is a simpler reason for this rise in public confidence in policing” – at this I heard him approach the back of my chair – “and it is staring you in the face!” I whirled round and gave a yelp of alarm. Holmes had vanished, and in his place was an elderly Chinese man, with pigtails and an opium pipe. I looked again, and realised that my friend was using his almost supernatural ability to take on a new identity – a skill that he had found invaluable for his undercover detective work.

“I get it, Holmes,” I said. “You mean the public value undercover police work, and think some of the attacks on these methods are overdone?” “Of course they do,” said Holmes. “Undercover officers crack paedophile rings. They expose drug lords. They do some of the most difficult and terrifying work in policing. But that is not the clue to which I was referring. What do you see – here in this room – that explains why confidence in the police is going up?”

I looked around in bafflement at the old sofas, the deerstalkers, the mouldering books. I gave up. “You’ve got me beat, Holmes,” I conceded. “Why, Watson,” said Holmes, tossing off his disguise and thumping his chest, “it’s our very presence in this room; it’s me; it’s you; it’s both of us! Here we are on a Monday afternoon, and we haven’t had a decent case in months. And why?

“Because crime is falling, my friend. It is falling across the country, and in London it has fallen about 7 per cent in one year. Burglary, car theft, violence, knife crime – you name it: virtually every type of crime is well down. Murders in London are running at about 100 a year – almost 50 per cent down on six years ago – and an amazingly low rate for a city of 8.2 million. Bus crime is down 40 per cent…” “Bus crime?” I said. “I didn’t know buses could commit crimes.” “Crime on buses,” said Holmes crisply, “and crime on the tube is lower than ever before. That’s why people are more confident – because beneath the hullabaloo the police are doing an outstanding job.” “Great Scott, Holmes! I think you’ve got it,” I gasped.

“But why won’t the media report the good news?” “Ah,” said my friend. “Now that is like the giant rat of Sumatra. It is a tale for which the world is not yet ready.”

Budget 2014: the Lamborghini ride that says: power to the people

It is free market, it is libertarian, it is all about trusting people to run their own lives – and, as the wretched Labour party is finding out, it is very hard to disagree with. The pensions minister, Steve Webb, crystallised the Government’s thinking in a phrase that sent the Lefties round the bend – and which made me stand on my chair and cheer. It was going to be up to us to decide how to spend the money, he said, and if people wanted to blow it on a Lamborghini – well, he was “relaxed” about that.

It is the first time I have heard a Lib Dem say anything remotely liberal, in the sense of free market (I await the day when they stick up for democracy, in the face of the intrusion from Brussels, but you never know). He is making a moral point, that when people reach a pensionable age they should be allowed to run their own lives, and not be treated like children. It may well be that buying a Lamborghini is not always the right move. There may indeed be some foolish old people who end up living in a rusting and motionless Lamborghini and eating tins of dog food, because they have gone for the luxury car without making adequate provision for the rest of their needs.

There might be some pensioners who spent their declining years plying the streets with a Lamborghini minicab. As I am sure Steve Webb meant to imply, the Lamborghini option is not going to be for everyone – not when the average pension pot is £25,000. But the point is that it is their look-out; it is their savings; it is up to them to decide what to do with it. It is that sudden rush of freedom – the empowerment of millions of people – that naturally appals the left.

Though Miliband and Balls have yet to announce their precise policy response, the idea of liberating Britain’s pensioners has sent some of my favourite socialist commentators into spasm. In The Observer, Will Hutton prophesied that “This pensions 'freedom’ will be a long-term social disaster.” He argued that pension contributions were sheltered from tax, and that therefore, “We should care if the resulting money is spent on a Lamborghini: a chunk of the car belongs by right to taxpayers.”

Isn’t that amazing? By that ridiculous logic a chunk of anything that we buy with our existing pensions “belongs by right to taxpayers”. Is he seriously saying that taxpayers have a right to go around telling people how to spend their pensions? It isn’t taxpayers’ money, you Lefty bossyboots control freak: it’s the money that the pensioners have saved up themselves – out of their taxed income!

Like any elected politician, I have received loads of letters and complaints, over the years, from people who found they were sitting on this apparently huge sum of cash, in the form of their pension pot, and were only allowed to take a dribble a year – and with the risk that they might die before they had taken the yield they deserve. Of course some people will want to continue to milk the desiccated beast, and rely on the security of the annuity; and others will want to slaughter it, and use the cash as they see fit.

I don’t think many will end up blowing it on Italian cars, actually. I think the vast majority will want to put their pots into the market with the greatest yield over the past 40 years – and that is property; and I expect huge numbers of those approaching pensionable age will be thinking about how they – the baby boomers – can do something to help the younger generation with the single biggest problem they face, namely the cost of housing.

This pensions change is not a social disaster, but a wonderful opportunity. It is a chance for the older generation to find that sudden wodge of dosh that will enable them to help their children or grandchildren find a deposit and get on the ladder; and the existence of those new deposits will give developers even greater confidence to build more homes – and faster than they are now. I am not saying all pensioners will follow such a path of enlightened self-interest; but many will.

Above all, it is their own choice. That makes this policy not only right, but fundamentally Tory.

Let Boris Johnson stand as leader from outside Commons, says father

The comments are the first suggestion from anyone close to the London mayor he would consider running for the leadership from outside the House of Commons.

Adding his voice to the growing number speculating over the future of the leadership of the Conservative party Stanley Johnson said: “It would not be a reasonable expression of the way things are if there were to be an election in the Tory party for leader under whatever rules they have - it just wouldn’t be reasonable if Boris somehow was not able to be a candidate.”

To allow a contender from outside Westminster the Conservative party rules would need to be rewritten. However the change it would allow Mr Johnson, who is seen by many as a natural successor to David Cameron, to focus on being Mayor of London without running an election or by-election campaign.

Stanley Johnson used the Conservative leadership campaign of 1963 as a comparison. Alec Douglas-Home won from the House of Lords, and then quickly renounced his peerage and won a safe Conservative seat. “Alec Douglas-Home was not a member of the House of Commons, he was a peer. But they found a way.

“Don’t tell me it wouldn’t be possible to have a system whereby you say: OK, life has moved on, there are now important elective offices.”

He added: “How reasonable would it be to exclude the mayor of a major city?”

The comments follow earlier reports that Mr Johnson was left furious following claims that the Chancellor had made a “personal approach” urging him to stand as an MP.

A source close to Mr Johnson distanced the Mayor of London from the reports, insisting that there is "no civil war" between the two men and that Mr Johnson has yet to decide if he will stand in 2015.

Speaking to LBC Radio earlier this month, Mr Johnson ruled out any attempt to re-enter the Commons before 2015, and indicated he wanted to serve out his full term as mayor, which runs to 2016.

"I am so sick of this subject, I think I'm going to expire sometimes. I am going to get on with my job as mayor of London," he said.

"The answer is I am sticking to my job that I was elected to do in 2012 and indeed in 2008. I'm very, very privileged to be here."

Let Boris Johnson stand as leader from outside Commons, says father

The comments are the first suggestion from anyone close to the London mayor he would consider running for the leadership from outside the House of Commons.

Adding his voice to the growing number speculating over the future of the leadership of the Conservative party Stanley Johnson said: “It would not be a reasonable expression of the way things are if there were to be an election in the Tory party for leader under whatever rules they have - it just wouldn’t be reasonable if Boris somehow was not able to be a candidate.”

To allow a contender from outside Westminster the Conservative party rules would need to be rewritten. However the change it would allow Mr Johnson, who is seen by many as a natural successor to David Cameron, to focus on being Mayor of London without running an election or by-election campaign.

Stanley Johnson used the Conservative leadership campaign of 1963 as a comparison. Alec Douglas-Home won from the House of Lords, and then quickly renounced his peerage and won a safe Conservative seat. “Alec Douglas-Home was not a member of the House of Commons, he was a peer. But they found a way.

“Don’t tell me it wouldn’t be possible to have a system whereby you say: OK, life has moved on, there are now important elective offices.”

He added: “How reasonable would it be to exclude the mayor of a major city?”

The comments follow earlier reports that Mr Johnson was left furious following claims that the Chancellor had made a “personal approach” urging him to stand as an MP.

A source close to Mr Johnson distanced the Mayor of London from the reports, insisting that there is "no civil war" between the two men and that Mr Johnson has yet to decide if he will stand in 2015.

Speaking to LBC Radio earlier this month, Mr Johnson ruled out any attempt to re-enter the Commons before 2015, and indicated he wanted to serve out his full term as mayor, which runs to 2016.

"I am so sick of this subject, I think I'm going to expire sometimes. I am going to get on with my job as mayor of London," he said.

"The answer is I am sticking to my job that I was elected to do in 2012 and indeed in 2008. I'm very, very privileged to be here."

In this agonising mystery of Flight 370, there is also hope

But even if that information is undisputed, we are still left scratching our heads. If it was indeed pilot suicide – not unknown in the past 20 years or so – then why did the plane make this extravagant diversion towards the Andaman Islands? The evidence from the Acars (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) would seem to be that the machine flew on, possibly for hours, after someone had disabled communications. Why bother to do that, if you were a suicidal pilot?

In any event, it does not seem – from what little we know of the personal history of the two pilots – that they were the kind of men to want to take their own lives. One was married with three children; the other apparently about to get married. Some have therefore suggested that the mission was not suicide but terrorism, either by one or both of the pilots, or by one or more of the passengers, or a combination. That analysis would certainly cohere with the data that seem to suggest the plane’s course was erratic – both gaining and losing height dramatically. One could imagine some kind of struggle in the cockpit, or a deliberate attempt to murder the passengers by causing decompression of the cabin. But if there is a terrorist motive behind the disappearance of MH370, then why has no group been identified? It is now nine days since the plane vanished; the whole world is talking about it. Surely a terrorist group would want to maximise the publicity for its outrage? If not terrorists, then who?

Someone apparently decided to close down communications and to take the plane decisively off course. That would appear to rule out so many of the alternative explanations that are still being canvassed around the world. Some say there was a catastrophic structural failure, associated with that wing tip that had recently been clipped in an airport shunt, and that had perhaps been inadequately repaired.

Some suggest that it might be straightforward pilot error, of the kind we saw in the case of the Air France flight from Brazil – where the pilot failed to understand that if he kept the joystick pulled back then the plane would stall and fall. There is even a suggestion that the plane was struck by a meteor, or lost in freak weather. None of these theories are believable if you accept the radar evidence that the plane was a long way off course; and if it stayed on the right course, there is no wreckage where you would expect it.

It is in this vacuum that the conspiracy theorists are supplying the answers. There are some who claim that it was engulfed by an alien mothership, or hijacked by North Korea, or stolen by the “Illuminati”. Much has been made, sadly, of the easily explicable fact that the mobile phones of the victims appeared to be ringing after the plane had gone. Someone has even derived significance from the numbers: Flight 370 disappeared on 3/7 at a height of 37,000 feet and on a journey that was to cover 3,700km, and Luigi Maraldi, one of the men whose passports was stolen, was 37.

So what? Indeed. I can’t disprove any of these hypotheses. We all know in our hearts that we will eventually find the answer, and we all suspect that the eventual answer will be little consolation to those grieving friends and family.

But in the meantime, I take something positive from the sheer volume of global speculation – because it tells me that our species is still full of hope. We yearn to believe that this story will turn out like Lost, or Flight 714, or Lord of the Flies – and that somewhere, incredibly, we will find those people alive.

Even more important, this is one of the first times I can remember when the whole human race has seemed at one in their sympathy and their concern for others. This is a global edition of that staple of local or national news – the unexplained disappearance of much loved people. It has the same plot, the same false leads, the same wild hopes, the same despair.

As the story of MH370 is followed around the world – in minute detail – we are seeing how the internet and 24-hour news are turning the 200 nations of the earth into a single global public, in a way we have never seen before.

How Michael Gove and George Osborne are trying to halt Boris Johnson, the great pretender

However, Mr Gove is a central figure in Team Osborne, the group around the Chancellor, preparing the way for him to become either the leader or, should he fail to build sufficient support, the kingmaker in any contest. It is suggested by MPs that Mr Gove could be a de facto running mate or deputy, with the pair offered as a dream team to counter the appeal of Bojo.

Even Mr Gove’s most newsworthy observation this weekend is best seen in the context of the efforts to prevent Mr Johnson from becoming leader. There are too many Old Etonians in the Prime Minister’s inner circle, the Education Secretary said yesterday in an interview in the Financial Times. This was interpreted as an attack on Mr Cameron, and it is certainly true that the Tory leader does not like seeing his old school traduced.

Yet Mr Gove and Mr Cameron are close friends, and the education reforms they have introduced in government are aimed in large part at kick-starting social mobility and reversing the trend of recent decades in which top private schools have reasserted their dominance in public life.

Rather than attacking Mr Cameron, it seems more likely that in mentioning Eton, Mr Gove was seeking to make another point. A Tory MP said yesterday: “Who else went to Eton? Boris. Gove is saying don’t pick another Old Etonian as leader after Cameron. George went to St Paul’s.”

Indeed, Mr Osborne was nicknamed “oiky Osborne” by some of his associates at Oxford, on account of him having attended St Paul’s School in London. While it is one of the top schools in Britain, it is more traditionally one for children of the ambitious west London middle classes, whereas Eton is regarded as being socially more elevated. On such small and ludicrous differences – irrelevant to most voters – are Tory feuds built.

Actually, part of Mr Johnson’s appeal to his supporters rests on his popularity transcending such petty concerns. He is regarded as the Tory most capable of reaching voters across social classes, and in parts of the country where the party struggles to win support.

But if he is to become leader, Mr Johnson must first overcome an obstacle: he is not even in the Commons. His preference is understood to be to wait until just after the 2015 election, with several MPs ready to stand aside quickly, triggering a by-election, on the basis that a leadership contest without the party’s biggest star would be a strange affair.

Yesterday, Mr Johnson had another not-particularly convincing go at scotching the latest reports of Tory infighting and leadership plotting, saying: “Old friends of mine around the Cabinet table all want to work together for a Tory victory. We all want to unite. We are united.”

This is – to borrow a phrase used by Boris himself in a different context – “an inverted pyramid of piffle”. For months now, supporters of the Mayor have been growing increasingly annoyed by the manoeuvrings of Mr Gove. They see him as doing the Chancellor’s dirty work.

Said a leading Tory: “Boris thinks Michael is licensed by George to attack him. Boris is mystified as to why his old friends have turned so unpleasant. And he is baffled why they seem to have such contempt for the Tory party and the grassroots.”

An MP who supports Mr Johnson, and who has been encouraging him to run for the leadership when the moment comes, accused the Chancellor and the Education Secretary of playing games. “This is all about Osborne and Gove trying to box in their opponents, whether it’s Boris or Theresa May. There isn’t even a Boris operation yet. Boris isn’t undermining Michael. There is only one operation in town – George’s. It is aimed at making him the next leader. Osborne has been on manoeuvres for about two years.”

Even that may be an underestimate of how long Mr Osborne has been at it. Since the last election, the Chancellor has skilfully used patronage to get his supporters promoted in government, just as Gordon Brown did in the New Labour years when he was preparing to become prime minister.

Mr Osborne is not pursuing the leadership in the same maniacal manner as Mr Brown did, and he remains close to Mr Cameron. But the belated economic recovery has also lifted Mr Osborne’s reputation, after the low point of his botched 2012 Budget. This week’s Budget gives him the latest opportunity to try to burnish his credentials as a future leader.

The Home Secretary is someone who could emerge as the candidate capable of stopping both him and Mr Johnson. If the boys’ infighting ends up making all involved look ridiculous, there could be an opportunity for a strong and serious woman who can claim to have got on with her job.

Mrs May is also the figure who could most easily turn herself into the Eurosceptic candidate. Might she even become the “better-off out” candidate? Someone who battled in government to control immigration only to discover that it is impossible with free movement of labour across the EU? Despite their rhetoric, both the Chancellor and the Mayor are firmly for staying in the EU.

There also remains the slim possibility that some of the so-called irreconcilables – a group of 30 or so Tory MPs who hate Mr Cameron – will mount a kamikaze-style assault on the Tory leader this summer, if the results of May’s European and local elections are dire.

If 46 Tory MPs sign up for it, there would have to be a leadership challenge. However, it is unlikely that it would succeed, and those who want to challenge Mr Cameron have never been able to explain who their alternative leader would be.

Much more likely is a contest in the summer or autumn of 2015, if the Conservatives are defeated in the election. A leading Tory MP and former minister predicted that the eventual victor would not be one of the current front-runners: “It’ll be someone else. It always is in these situations in the Tory party. Someone new they’ve all never thought of. That’s what happened with John Major and when Cameron won the leadership. If the party goes down after the Coalition, the entire Cabinet will be tainted. It will be time for fresh blood.”

Names including the education minister Elizabeth Truss and the MPs Dominic Raab, Jesse Norman and Andrea Leadsom are mentioned – as is Sajid Javid, a Treasury minister and ally of the Chancellor who has ambitions of his own. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, may also consider standing.

Meanwhile, Labour finds it all fascinating. A member of the shadow cabinet said yesterday that it looked as though the Tories were already preparing for the aftermath of electoral defeat: “It’s great. They do seem to be spending a lot of time fighting each other.”

But who, Mr Gove, was Bob’s uncle?

Gove used Cameron’s Downing Street cabal of Old Etonians – which includes Ed Llewellyn, his chief of staff; Oliver Letwin, his minister for government policy; Jo Johnson, his head of the policy unit; and Chancellor George Osborne’s chief economic adviser, Rupert Harrison – to draw unfavourable comparisons with the close-knit cabinet assembled by the late-Victorian Tory prime minister, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, the Marquess of Salisbury.

“At the beginning of the 20th century, the Conservative cabinet was called Hotel Cecil,” Gove said. “The phrase ‘Bob’s your uncle’ came about and all the rest of it. It is preposterous.”

A stalwart of the ruling class, the Eton-educated Lord Salisbury was ridiculed for nepotism and cronyism, at a time when membership of the ruling class was a nobleman’s privilege and the public-school dominance of the corridors of power mostly went unquestioned.

The clearest beneficiary of Lord Salisbury’s largesse was his favourite nephew, Arthur Balfour, for whom he pulled strings first in 1873, to get him elected unopposed in a safe seat, and then in 1902, to anoint him as his successor. When Lord Salisbury surrendered the seals of office – without first notifying his government – it was Balfour whom the King asked to form a government. Hence where the phrase “Bob’s your uncle” is said to have come from.

In the first episode of his The Making of Modern Britain series, Andrew Marr also suggested that the phrase was coined around the turn of the century. That ‘nepotism’ is also thought to be derived from ‘nephew’ makes the link all the more clear.

However, not all etymologists are convinced: the origin of the phrase is notably absent from the Oxford English Dictionary.

Squabbling Tories grow deaf to their own good news

No one quite dares to bash George Osborne. He has become the Cardinal Richelieu of Cameron’s court, and has his allies strategically placed in government departments and committees. They make a formidable intelligence network, and a power base that he can hope to activate when the time comes. His allies don’t see why his mastery of the Westminster game shouldn’t take him to the very top.

The Chancellor’s personal ambitions are entirely tied up with Cameron’s re-election. This is why Gove and Osborne are now seen to be acting in tandem, out to stop mischief from Boris – or anyone else. This makes sense, insofar as any posturing before an election would be political suicide. But this tactic can go too far, as was demonstrated in the Gordon Brown years, where the most likely leadership challenger was identified, and treated as a suspected traitor.

It is Theresa May, the Home Secretary, who is now the bookmakers’ favourite to succeed Cameron. The thought does not seem to appal her, as she occasionally hints when making wide-ranging remarks about the nature of Conservatism. Gove got his teeth stuck into her ankles the last time she did so, and she has never quite forgiven him.

Her problem as a leadership candidate lies in her utter lack of interest in talking about herself. A few months ago, I chaired a discussion with her about modern slavery, and the audience questions soon turned to her own vision. “There’s so much cynicism in politics,” said one woman, “but remembering Martin Luther King, do you have a dream?” The Home Secretary looked flummoxed. On a personal level, such reticence is admirable: she wants to be judged by actions, not words. But if she wants to run for leader, it’s a fatal handicap.

Relations between the Home Office and 10 Downing St are, to put it politely, frosty. But Mrs May is in a strong position: she is proving to be one of the most accomplished home secretaries in living memory. Still, her allies feel she has been cast in a kind of purgatory, under suspicion of harbouring leadership ambitions which she’s deemed incapable of fulfilling.

This adds to the overall feeling of disharmony and mutual suspicion, and produces some bizarre battles. We have seen Osborne’s well-publicised feud with Iain Duncan Smith about welfare reform, thrown in among the now-standard crossfire between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Every achievement seems to trigger an instant battle to claim credit – a battle between Tories, as well as between Tories and Lib Dems.

This is far from an ideal backdrop against which to conduct a Budget. As Osborne knows, his statement next week will set the narrative for the final year of the Government. He has a good story to tell. The British economy is now set to grow faster than the rest of the G7, inflation is back under control, manufacturing is going gangbusters and living standards are finally edging ahead.

But there is one simple narrative that should trump all others: the British employment miracle. Each day, the economy is creating 2,000 jobs. In the Labour years, there were plenty of jobs, but most of the rise was accounted for by foreign-born workers. There is, of course, no point in economic growth unless it shortens dole queues and increases prosperity. This problem looks as if it may be sorted. In the past six months of last year, a full 89 per cent of the increase in employment was accounted for by British-born workers.

An employment miracle is under way, but it’s not clear the Tories recognise it. “We have no idea why the jobs are increasing so much,” a senior Treasury source tells me. This is worrying, because there are plenty of plausible explanations. Work now pays more, thanks to the tax cuts delivered in the form of a rising personal allowance. The Treasury, as an institution, struggles to recognise the positive effect of tax cuts, and doesn’t seem to be looking too hard for evidence that they promote jobs.

The most obvious contender, however, is the welfare shake-up. Thousands on incapacity benefit are being assessed for what work they can do, but the able-bodied are also finding it harder to game the system. There has been a sharp rise in sanctions for those who turn down job offers, or miss appointments. This is tough, but it corresponds with a spike in the number of Brits in work. The Bank of England recently conceded that a “tightening in the eligibility requirements” for welfare might have done it.

All this adds up to a powerful narrative at Budget time: it’s working because of what the Government, as a team, is doing. It was the Lib Dems who demanded that the personal allowance be raised, so taxes fell for the low-paid. Duncan Smith’s “tough love” is helping to restore the link between British jobs and British workers. The record number of apprenticeship schemes, overseen by the Business department, has played its part. And the (mild) cuts have not caused the misery predicted, as people such as Theresa May have demonstrated by squeezing better results from less money.

When he reached the White House, Reagan adopted a new commandment – which he displayed on a plaque on his desk in the Oval Office. “There is no limit to what a man can do,” it said, “if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” This should be the motto of the next Budget. This Coalition Government does have a good story to tell. The question is whether ministers can stop feuding for long enough to tell it.

Fraser Nelson is editor of 'The Spectator’

Is Vladimir Putin the new Stalin? Not now the USSR has fallen apart

It was midnight in the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin was watching himself in the mirror as he toned his glistening pecs. “Pretty buff,” he thought. Behind him on the desk were a slew of headlines from the Western press – and they were very satisfactory. “Putin calls West’s bluff”, read one. “Obama – what a pussy”, said an American tabloid. “Putin brings back USSR”; “A Tsar is Born!” and so on. A thin smile passed across the lips of the former KGB man. Yes, he was summoning up the spirit of the former Soviet Union, the spirit of – Stalin himself! Just then there was a disturbance in the air.

A window seemed to bang. A net curtain puffed out. Putin turned around to see a little moustachioed man standing behind him. There was no mistaking those crinkling Georgian eyes and the evil glitter within. “Joseph Vissarionovich!” said Putin, laying down the dumb-bells, and noting that his arms were trembling. “Someone said they were trying to summon up my spirit,” snapped Stalin. “I see I am back in my old office. But who are you, and what the hell is going on?”

Putin did his best to bring the former communist tyrant up to date. “So capitalism didn’t collapse under its own contradictions?” asked Stalin. “Er, not exactly, Comrade Stalin,” said Putin, falling easily into the old ways of address. “Hmmm”, said the world-class mass murderer. His eye fell on the headlines. “Well, I see that you are at least continuing the struggle against imperialism. It says you have launched an invasion. That’s good – but where?” Putin gulped. “Well, Comrade Stalin, we have had to send some of our crack troops against the fascists in Cri –” He faltered. “Cri – Cri –” “Cri-Cri?” Stalin sneered. “What’s got into you, man? Where are we invading? Cricklewood? Christmas Island?”

“Crimea!” blurted Putin, looking more sallow and goblinesque than ever. Stalin blinked. His terrifying eyebrows seemed to merge like a pair of mating hairy caterpillars. He spoke softly. “Crimea? Are you mad? We can’t invade Crimea – we own Crimea. That’s where the Tsars had their summer palace, for heaven’s sake. That’s where I had my greatest diplomatic triumph.” A look of suspicion passed across his face. “You do remember the Yalta summit, don’t you?” “Of course, Comrade General Secretary,” said Putin unctuously. “You carved up the world.

“Roosevelt was dying and Churchill had no cards to play, and so you took advantage of the triumphs of the Red Army and brought huge tracts of Europe into the Soviet sphere of influence. It was superb.” “Thank you,” preened Stalin. “But…” said Putin. “But what?” said Stalin, getting visibly irritated. “But things have not turned out exactly as you foresaw, Comrade.” “In what way?” Putin’s eyes were downcast. He looked as if he might cry. “Really I cannot say, Comrade Stalin. It is too shameful.” “Tell me, confound it!” roared Stalin, or I will have you drowned in the septic tank of the Lubyanka. Tell me which Warsaw Pact countries are coming to help us fight these mysterious Crimean fascists!” “There is no more Warsaw Pact,” sniffed Putin. “No Warsaw Pact!” He took a step towards Putin. “Then tell me who is in Nato!” “Er, places like Hungary.” “What places like Hungary?” said an amazed Stalin. “Well, Poland for instance,” said Putin.

“Poland in Nato!” Stalin was turning puce. “Poland, aligned with the imperialists and capitalists of Britain and America! I will have you shot!

“In fact I will shoot you myself. Did this happen while you were running the Soviet Union, you snivelling idiot?” “I am sorry, Comrade Stalin,” said Putin, his voice firming as he tried to make a clean breast of it. “There is no Soviet Union. It broke up before I could take over. The Baltic states have left us and are members of Nato. The -Stans have all gone, and there are American troops in places like Uzbekistan. Even the Moldovans want to leave and join Romania.”

“Romania?” expostulated Stalin. “But Churchill gave me 90 per cent control of Romania! He wrote it on a napkin in Moscow and called it his “naughty document”. You can’t mean to say we have lost control of Romania as well?” “I am afraid so, Comrade. They have all joined a certain Western bourgeois capitalist economic club…”

By now Stalin was really beginning to lose it. He began to jig on one leg, and then to bounce around the room as though on the verge of announcing a general execution of the intelligentsia or the liquidation of the kulaks. “Silence! Lithuania in Nato! Latvia and Estonia in Nato! This is unbelievable! What is your name, you pointy-eared loser? Putin? Putin, I hereby execute you for gross betrayal of the Soviet Union.”

He reached into his sock, drew out a small snub-nosed revolver, and levelled it straight at the quivering form of the Russian president. All Putin’s machismo melted away; his martial arts expertise was forgotten. With a choking sob he flung himself at the feet of the former Soviet leader and clasped his knees in the ancient gesture of supplication. “It wasn’t my fault, Comrade Stalin. The Soviet economic system was just hopeless and the whole thing collapsed. So we replaced it with a gigantic kleptocracy funded by the proceeds of fossil fuel exports – and even then we have pretty shocking life expectancy figures and the birth rate is dismal.

“I am afraid that in the end we have to face the truth that people really do want democracy, and an end to corruption, and they want free markets and the rule of law. That’s why so many Ukrainians are turning to the West – in spite of all the cash I heaped on them – and that’s why in the end I expect we will lose it in Kiev…” “Lose Kiev?” Stalin’s voice rose to a shriek. “Lose the place where Vladimir the Great was baptised? You are a madman and traitor!”

There was a bang. Putin opened his eyes and saw that he was alone. It was just a paperweight that had fallen to the floor, so that his sheaf of cuttings blew mockingly around him. “Is Putin the new Stalin?” asked one.

The children taught at home about murder and bombings

Both Britain and France banned this barbarism in the mid-Eighties; and yet the French have been much more effective in tackling it than we have. They have jailed about 100 people, and started proceedings against a dozen doctors. We have thousands of victims in Britain, thousands of girls being cut every year, and yet we have managed not a single prosecution – let alone a conviction.

Again, there is that fatal squeamishness about intervening in the behaviour of a “protected group” – in this case ethnic minorities, often but by no means always from the Horn of Africa. There are still Left-wing academics protesting that the war on FGM is a form of imperialism, and that we are wrong to impose our Western norms.

I say that is utter rubbish, and a monstrous inversion of what I mean by liberalism. On the contrary: we need to be stronger and clearer in asserting our understanding of British values. That is nowhere more apparent in the daily job of those who protect us all from terror – and who are engaged in tackling the spread of extremist and radical Islam.

We are familiar by now with the threat posed by the preachers of hate, the extremist clerics who can sow the seeds of madness in the minds of impressionable young people. We are watching like hawks to see who comes back from Syria, and the ideas they may have picked up.

We know that the problem of radicalisation is not getting conspicuously worse – but nor is it going away. There are a few thousand people in London – the “low thousands”, they say – who are of interest to the security services; and a huge amount of work goes into monitoring those people, and into making sure that their ranks are not swelled by new victims of radicalisation.

What has been less widely understood is that some young people are now being radicalised at home, by their parents or by their step-parents. It is estimated that there could be hundreds of children – especially those who come within the orbit of the banned extremist group Al-Muhajiroun – who are being taught crazy stuff: the kind of mad yearning for murder and death that we heard from Lee Rigby’s killers.

At present, there is a reluctance by the social services to intervene, even when they and the police have clear evidence of what is going on, because it is not clear that the “safeguarding law” would support such action. A child may be taken into care if he or she is being exposed to pornography, or is being abused – but not if the child is being habituated to this utterly bleak and nihilistic view of the world that could lead them to become murderers. I have been told of at least one case where the younger siblings of a convicted terrorist are well on the road to radicalisation – and it is simply not clear that the law would support intervention.

This is absurd. The law should obviously treat radicalisation as a form of child abuse. It is the strong view of many of those involved in counter-terrorism that there should be a clearer legal position, so that those children who are being turned into potential killers or suicide bombers can be removed into care – for their own safety and for the safety of the public.

That must surely be right. We need to be less phobic of intrusion into the ways of minority groups and less nervous of passing judgment on other cultures. We can have a great, glorious, polychromatic society, but we must be firm to the point of ruthlessness in opposing behaviour that undermines our values. Paedophilia, FGM, Islamic radicalisation – to some extent, at some stage, we have tiptoed round them all for fear of offending this or that minority. It is children who have suffered.