Tube strikes: Come on, Mr Khan, condemn this lurch back to dinosaur socialism

We have all become accustomed to automatic ticketing, whether by Oyster or bank card or mobile. Old ticket offices will now serve as coffee shops, and heel bars, and mini-markets and newsagents and click-and-collect depots. The new businesses will pay rents to TfL (and corporation tax to the Government) and they will be of considerably more value to passengers than keeping staff trapped behind plate glass.

So why go on strike? No one – not even the union members – seriously believes that the action will achieve a darned thing. The strike promises to be nothing more than a pointless inconvenience. Everyone sensible has condemned it – including Zac Goldsmith, who I hope will follow me as Mayor of London.

There is one glaring exception, one voice we need to hear – and that is the candidate of the Labour party, Sadiq Khan. Why won’t he just say unequivocally, loud and clear, that the RMT leadership is wrong to put its members through this madness – not to mention the travelling public? Come on, Khan: man up. This is a golden opportunity to make a statement of the blindingly obvious. Denounce this bonkers strike.

Will he? Of course not. He will weasel around with all sorts of nonsense about how he would “get people round the table” or “bang heads together” – all of which blather achieves nothing except to undermine TfL management. He’ll blame TfL. He will blame me (of course!). He will blame everyone except the people responsible – the leadership of the RMT.

He would not dream of coming straight out and condemning this nonsensical strike because he is the creature of the unions; he is their patsy and their plaything. Of course he is. They bought him when they paid £141,306 into his Mayoral campaign coffers – Unite, TSSA, the lot of them.

How can anyone rely on Sadiq Khan to make sensible use of technology and drive forward the modernisation of the underground? Every single one of these changes – from ticket office closures to the Night Tube to automation of the trains – has been achieved in the teeth of union resistance. Look at the record: what happened when Labour last ran London.

Transport for London officials first proposed closure of ticket offices to Ken Livingstone, more than 10 years ago. He nervously agreed – then chickened out when his union chums cut up rough. It was way back in 2007, under Livingstone, that Tube management suggested they might be able to run services late on Friday and Saturday nights (though not yet a full Night Tube).

Livingstone announced the plan – and then had to drop it when the unions refused to play ball. I am reliably informed – and the Labour candidate should be volubly challenged on this point – that Sadiq Khan has promised Livingstone that he will make him the chair of TfL. They are trying to put the band back together!

"There is a huge risk that London is about to lurch backwards to the Jurassic age, ruled by saurian socialists such as Livingstone and Corbyn"

We now need to proceed with full automation of the service, like the best Asian metros, with driverless trains. Of course the unions hate the idea, even though it would deliver a better, faster and more reliable service. Can you imagine Khan, or the unions – let alone Livingstone – allowing it to happen?

Khan wants to bring back “check-off” to make it easier for unions to take subs from employees; he wants electronic balloting for strikes, to make them easier to hold. His policies would cost TfL billions, and to cap it all he wants to take £2bn out of the fare box with his unaffordable fares freeze. That would make it impossible to deliver some of the big-ticket transport improvements that are so vital for building the housing London needs.

How would Khan and Labour try to plug the gap? By whacking up council tax or putting in new congestion charges. Even then it wouldn’t add up. They would certainly have to look at taking away much-loved concessions such as the Freedom Pass.

There is a huge risk that London is about to lurch backwards to the Jurassic age, ruled by saurian socialists such as Livingstone and Corbyn. Passengers who desperately need continued improvement are in danger of becoming Labour’s lab rats – a Corbynista experiment under Khan. Don’t let it happen. Back Zac and crack on with modernising the greatest city on earth.

We all want Apple to pay more tax

Omigosh – what a contest; and what a dilemma for us all! Your eyes flit desperately between them, and for many people it will be an eerie feeling: the first time they have ever been tempted to side with Brussels over anything. Margrethe has made an extraordinary demand. She wants Apple to pay the Irish state an infarct-inducing sum in back taxes – between $8 and $16 billion, and I know that many of you will egg her on. Yee-hah, Margrethe, you will be saying. Go on, darling. You fine them. You tax them. You show those overmighty Yankee tech giants that someone, somewhere, will finally stand up to them.

Are you in that camp? If you are, I can understand why. About a month ago the bankers Goldman Sachs published a list of the biggest and richest firms in the world. The top three, in order, were Apple, Google and Microsoft – and Facebook and Amazon were also in the top 10. All these tech companies make staggering sums from an avid British population. We love this stuff. We can’t get enough of it. We buy tens of billions of pounds’ worth of American hardware, software and services – and yet these companies pay quite derisory sums in tax to the UK Exchequer: derisory, that is, when you consider how much dosh they are earning from us all.

Google has just agreed to stump up an extra £130 million, to compensate for underpayments over the past nine years; and if its executives were expecting applause from the public, they must be disappointed today. They got a raspberry, and everyone is complaining that it isn’t enough, that it still amounts to a tax rate of only about 2 per cent on earnings.

"The Commission is plainly using the EU treaty articles on state aid to intervene in the tax jurisdiction of a member state when strictly speaking, it seems to me, they should butt right out"

There is a widespread feeling that the loopholes and dodges should be axed, and that they should be paying more. To a large extent I agree. It has never seemed fair that some of these companies – no matter how wonderful the service they provide – should be paying so much less in tax than the high-street tea rooms and bookshops they have pulverised. It would be a good thing, both for the UK finances and for the image of these great companies, if they paid more.

And yet I must confess there is a part of me that sides strongly with Tim Cook and Apple – or at least can see his point of view. It is absurd to blame the company for “not paying their taxes”. You might as well blame a shark for eating seals. It is the nature of the beast; and not only is it the nature of the beast – it is the law. It is the fiduciary duty of their finance directors to minimise tax exposure. They have a legal obligation to their shareholders. Tax is not paid on the basis of what “feels right” either to public opinion or to politicians. It is not some eleemosynary contribution. It is not as if we are all in church, and watching beadily to make sure that Tim Cook puts his £50 note into the collection basket. Tax is paid, and must be paid, in accordance with the strict requirements of the system. And the second reason for sympathising with Apple, and not Margrethe the crusading Danish commissioner, is that in my view this dispute should have nothing to do with Brussels.

The Commission is plainly using the EU treaty articles on state aid to intervene in the tax jurisdiction of a member state when strictly speaking, it seems to me, they should butt right out. The paradox of this whole case is that the Irish and Apple are on the same side. If Margrethe the Commissioner makes Apple give Dublin $16 billion in back taxes, that will actually be against the wishes of the Irish government.

The Irish decided they wanted to go for an ultra-low corporation tax, at 12.5 per cent. It was their sovereign ambition to attract the HQ of Apple and others. They wanted Irish taxi drivers to have the honour of ferrying Apple executives around, and they wanted Irish waitresses to snaffle their huge tips. The EU Commission is partly excited by the chance to bash a corporate American giant; but mainly it is a chance to attack tax arbitrage between member states – to move ever closer towards uniformity and away from a spirit of healthy competition between jurisdictions.

We need that competition. We need the Irish to be able to do their own thing. Otherwise business tax rates would simply rise in lockstep across Europe. We should be resisting the Commission’s approach, and we should recognise that the fault in the whole affair lies with our national arrangements – our own system for not getting a fair whack from the tech giants. After years of Labour inertia, George Osborne has made progress. The Google payback is a start. We now need to go further. We want, need and deserve these companies somehow to pay more tax in the UK. But the problem does not lie with the firms, or the Irish government, and it certainly should not need Brussels to sort it out.

Being a war hero didn’t help Lord Bramall – it only made things worse

Lord Bramall at home in Crondall, Hampshire

It is not so very long ago that Sir Jimmy Savile was thought to be a national treasure, a fund-raiser of genius, whose sheer love of humanity expressed itself in his curious willingness to work all night alone in the morgue. Cyril Smith was the genial and much loved fatso of the Liberal party, who went to his grave amid tearful tributes. Greville Janner was revered for his work with Holocaust survivors. All three of them are now alleged to have done very vile stuff. None would be let anywhere near a kindergarten. All would now be behind bars or facing prosecution.

My point is that terrible things turn out to have been done by very famous, very saintly-seeming people; and as Lord Guthrie said yesterday: “High rank and public service does not disbar a man from committing heinous crimes.” The police have a duty to follow the evidence – wherever it takes them. Imagine if it turned out that they had gone soft on the field marshal, just because he was so well-connected. Imagine if it looked as though our police were conniving in some establishment conspiracy to cover up rape or child abuse.

How would you feel if your children were involved? How would you feel if you were one of the victims, and no one would listen? The police have a duty to act without fear or favour. I can also understand the general reluctance – in principle – to offer an apology every time it is decided not to proceed with a case.

"You can’t blame the police, in the current climate, for taking no chances"

There will always be an evidentiary range, even in the cases that are dropped. Some cases (like Bramall’s) will end up seeming fatuous; some much less so. Sometimes the police will be so sure that they are on to something that an apology would stick in the throat. And in any case, new evidence may well turn up. They can’t apologise every time. Where do you draw the line? And why should the police apologise to Bramall, just because he is highly distinguished, and not to everyone who is the victim of some vexatious allegation?

There are plenty of wholly innocent people who are maliciously accused of all kinds of things – look at the young man at Durham University who was falsely accused of rape, and whose life was put on hold, his reputation jeopardised. Why should field marshals get an apology, and not everyone else?

Well, I think there is an answer to that – and it is that Lord Bramall’s very fame and distinction have helped to make things not better and easier for him, but much, much worse. If he hadn’t been Lord Bramall, the papers and websites would not have given the story so much of the publicity that aggravated his distress. And if he hadn’t been Lord Bramall, would the investigation have been conducted with quite such zeal?

Lord Bramall

Let us suppose that an anonymous “victim” approached the police with a series of outlandish and unproveable 40-year-old allegations against a group of blameless and excellent but otherwise obscure old codgers. Would the police have raided their houses? Would they have turned up, mob-handed, without a shred of evidence? Without a crime? Without a body? On one man’s say-so? And kept at it for months? I don’t think so.

The paradox is that it is precisely because he is an establishment figure – a KG, GCB, OBE, MC, a former Lord Lieutenant – that the police feel they have to show a scrupulous refusal to be intimidated. Indeed, you could argue that this is a fine thing about our country, that no one is too grand to be ruthlessly investigated. That, today, is not much consolation to Lord Bramall. His accuser is surely sad but delusional.

You can’t blame the police, in the current climate, for taking no chances. But in this case they were plainly barking up the wrong tree. I hope a way will be found of making amends, because being a British war hero didn’t help Bramall against these allegations; on the contrary, there was a sense in which his status simply made things worse. He deserves to put the last year behind him, and accept the continued thanks of his country.

The BMA has Corbyn fever and is more interested in politics than patients

The trouble is that we have yet to come up with a sensible replacement – a system that delivers at all hours seven day a week. The result is that we have too many people arriving in Accident and Emergency departments, and waiting miserably, when they do not really need to be there, and we have far too many dying at weekends. Study after study has shown that if you check into hospital on a Friday or a Saturday, you are much more likely to snuff it – with an increased weekend mortality rate of between 11 and 15 per cent. Now this may be because people are heroically containing themselves all the working week, and showing the fortitude that I lacked as a child, and then collapsing at weekends when their relatives have time to take them into hospital.
"In the end, this boils down to how much the state will have to pay to get x number of doctors to work y number of hours, in order to provide a truly seven-day service"
Or else – and this is what most experts think – the phenomenon is related to the comparative scarcity, during the weekend, of expert medical opinion. Anybody who has waited with a relative on those quieter days, desperate to see a consultant, will know what I mean. It is a problem that this Government is rightly trying to sort out. To achieve a seven-day service in the NHS is something that is supported by the overwhelming majority of doctors, and Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is absolutely right to be pressing ahead with his reforms. So it seems incredible to me that we are faced with escalating industrial action from junior doctors, beginning with a strike tomorrow and then – for the first time in the history of the NHS – a complete “no-cover” strike on February 10, a total withdrawal of services by those 55,000 junior doctors, an action that must surely endanger the lives of patients, that is when the problems start and the Medical Negligence Claims start to pile up, the Hospital have management issues  and the people start to distrus the health system and the government that provie it. How can they believe that this is the right thing to do? The crux of the dispute is about what constitutes “plain-time” (or the normal working day) and what are deemed to be “anti-social hours”. The doctors say that this is not about the money, but about their “work-life balance”. It is certainly true that being a doctor is about far more than the financial rewards. They are in it to heal and help their fellow human beings, and I have, as I say, a deep and primitive veneration for what they do Distribution of hours grouped, for consideration But I am afraid it cannot be completely true to say that money is irrelevant to the problem. In the end, this boils down to how much the state will have to pay to get x number of doctors to work y number of hours, in order to provide a truly seven-day service and help the British population to live longer and in better health. The Government estimates that 75 per cent of junior doctors will be better off as a result of the proposals and that only 1 per cent will be worse off – those that already work more than 91 hours per week. So what is the difficulty? It is surely not irrelevant that the doctors’ leadership – the BMA council – would appear to be heavily infiltrated by people who are not just Labour voters but who regard Jeremy Corbyn as the messiah. One BMA council member, Jacky Davis, tweeted “Now we can all vote Labour again”, when the bearded one was elected. Another council member, David Wrigley, said that with Corbyn in charge “we can beat the Tories and make this country great again”. One member of the BMA junior doctors’ committee, Yannis Gourtsoyannis, said “a victory for the junior doctors would signify the first real crack in the entire edifice of austerity in the UK”. It strikes me that at least some of these people are more interested in politics than their patients. The BMA leadership is in the grip of advanced Corbynitis. They need to get back round the table. The arbitration service Acas says progress is being made and surely a deal can be reached. As for a strike: at the risk of traducing his memory, I can’t believe it is what Dr Peck would have done.

Amid dystopic visions of an Islamic Europe, remember the Alhambra

It begins with the mandatory teaching of the Koran in schools; then French women start wearing veils and abandoning skirts; then men start having up to four wives, and as many concubines as they can afford; and then the genial Ben Abbes embarks on a great and visionary programme to change the whole contour and complexion of the EU, to admit Turkey and the Maghreb countries. Before you can say Allahu akbar the French are leading a programme to create a kind of “Eurabia”, and France’s Jewish population flees for Israel.

As for the rest of the French population, they follow the establishment in a kind of submission, as the title suggests; and “submission”, of course, is the literal meaning of Islam. The hero is a seedy-looking, chain-smoking intellectual who becomes a Muslim, and is rewarded with a luscious, Gulf-funded university post and a nubile young wife. Otherwise – and this is the really spooky bit – the country just carries on. The point of the book is to send a shiver up the spine, to play upon Islamophobia, and to make you wonder what it really would be like if Europe were under Muslim rule.

French writer Michel Houellebecq

I was brooding on this vanishingly unlikely contingency when the plane touched down and it hit me. We were there: we had just landed in the last patch of western Europe to resemble Houellebecq’s dystopia in the sense that it was the last place to be under the control of the Muslims. We have spent a couple of nights in Granada in southern Spain, and on Saturday there was a procession through town to celebrate the expulsion of Boabdil, otherwise known as Muhammad XII, the last sultan of Granada.

You may remember this wretch. On January 2 1492 he was forced to hand over the keys to the incomparably beautiful rose-pink Alhambra palace, and as he looked back he emitted a groan of anguish known as “El suspiro del Moro” – the Moor’s last sigh. At which point his mother whipped him, saying: “You weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man!” When you look at what Boabdil had surrendered, you can see her point.

The Muslims ruled this part of Spain for 800 years, and their legacy was colossal. Now I don’t go along with this notion that it was all a kind of multi-culti sweetness and light, with Christians, Muslims and Jews living side by side in perfect harmoneee, like Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder. Both Christians and Muslims wanted to be on top; both indulged in occasional pogroms and forced conversions; and don’t forget that in 1492 it was the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, who kicked out the last Moor from the citadel of Granada and expelled every Jew from Spain.

No, there is no easy way you can retrofit medieval Spain to become some prototype of modern urban pluralism and tolerance. But what you cannot deny is the scale of the Muslim achievement. It was the intellectual flowering of the Cordoba caliphate that helped to protect and transmit ancient Greek texts and eventually to propel the European Renaissance. The Islamic architecture of Granada is simply astonishing.

Granada, Spain: guide to visiting the Alhambra

When I went for a run yesterday I saw files of Japanese and Koreans waiting to get in, and you can see why. With its honeycomb ceilings, reflective pools and jasmine-scented gardens, the Alhambra, many would argue, is the most beautiful building in the world. In this very Catholic country it is notable that it is this Muslim structure – not the Prado, not the Gaudí cathedral, not the Bilbao Guggenheim – that is Spain’s biggest tourist attraction. And in Spain’s euro-ravaged economy, that cash makes a big difference.

Our age is likely to be bedevilled by anxiety about Islam – or at least about Islamism. Consider the psychological impact of Sunday night’s appalling video message from the sick fanatics in Raqqa. We will be forced constantly and ruthlessly to insist on the distinction between Islamic extremism and a religion that is followed around the world by more than a billion people who are no less peaceful, no less loving, no less kind or good than ourselves.

"It is worth celebrating an epoch in which a specifically Islamic culture made a great and imperishable contribution to civilisation"

In the tensions now between Iran and Saudi Arabia, between Shia and Sunni, we can see the outline of what could become a chronic and disastrous struggle for mastery within Islam itself. Amid all this gloom and all this apprehension – upon which people like Houellebecq are able to harp so skilfully – it is worth celebrating an epoch in which a specifically Islamic culture made a great and imperishable contribution to European civilisation.