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.

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.

I can’t stand this December heat, but it has nothing to do with global warming

And then I had a ghastly vision. What if this is it? What if this is the long-awaited inflexion point – the moment that has been prophesied since the Eighties? What if winter is over – for ever?

Aaargh, I thought: and in that moment of horror, I contemplated the loss of something so intrinsic to our psychology. Imagine: no more snow. No more tobogganing on Primrose Hill, no more waking up to see the magic prints of the dog on the lawn.

Imagine if this unseasonably warm spell is just the beginning of a long period of meteorological mediocrity: no more ice on the canal, no lovely crispness in the air, no excuse to walk into a room with a fire and go “brrr” while theatrically rubbing your hands.

"In my despair, I rang the great physicist and meteorologist Piers Corbyn. You know, Jeremy's brother"

Imagine if we have nothing in these long, dark months save a muggy and melancholy mildness, soft, damp and unwholesome; nothing but rain and a louring grey sky pressing down on our hungover eyeballs. The thought made me feel almost unwell.

In my despair, I rang the great physicist and meteorologist Piers Corbyn. You know Piers: he is the older brother of Jezza, and he is famous for believing that the world – on the whole – is getting colder, and that the whole global warming theory is unsound, to say the least. Piers thinks that whatever the role of humanity in affecting the temperature of the planet, that role is pitifully trivial next to the Sun, the supercolossal boiling ball of gas about which we revolve and which enables life on Earth.

In the view of Piers and his colleagues at WeatherAction, it is all about sun spots, and he is on record as believing that we are now due for a new “Maunder Minimum” – like the famous cold spell in the 17th century, when the Thames froze several times.

“Piers,” I said – and I felt like the children of Israel, denouncing Jeremiah for getting it wrong – “what about the new Ice Age? Where is it?”

And Piers did his best to calm me down. “Helmsman!” he said (since that is how he addresses me). “Relax. Winter has not gone.” And he went on to argue, quite persuasively, that there are plenty of places that are really very cold at the moment – the west of the USA, for instance. He reminded me of the prodigious snows that hit the eastern seaboard of America last winter. Yes, it is warm in the UK at the moment – amazingly warm – but the UK and its territorial waters amount to only one six-hundredth of the planet.

The current mild spell would last till the end of January, he said, and it would then turn bitterly cold in February. Whatever is happening to the weather at the moment, he said, it is nothing to do with the conventional doctrine of climate change.

London policemen on ice skates on the frozen River Thames circa 1900

And there, of course, he is in agreement with the vast majority of mainstream science. Meteorologists of all kinds – climate change sceptics and believers – can see the difference between climate and weather; between randomly occurring changes and deep, long-term trends.

We ordinary human beings are not so rational; we are no different from all earlier cultures in that we have to put ourselves in the story, and to attribute this or that individual weather event to our own behaviour or moral failures. Think of Agamemnon at Aulis, unable to get the wind he needed to sail for Troy. What was the problem? He had shot a deer sacred to Artemis. And the solution? Sacrifice his daughter! It was all about him, him, him.

Scientists look at the data. But everyone else just looks at the weather – and it is the weather, therefore, that makes the psychological difference to the debate. Look at the recent summit in Paris, which ended in a good agreement to cut CO2, in contrast to the debacle at Copenhagen six years ago. What was the real difference? It was the weather. Paris was ridiculously warm for December. Six years ago, Copenhagen saw the biggest snowfalls anyone could remember. “Global warming?” everyone asked.

It is fantastic news that the world has agreed to cut pollution and help people save money, but I am sure that those global leaders were driven by a primitive fear that the present ambient warm weather is somehow caused by humanity; and that fear – as far as I understand the science – is equally without foundation.

There may be all kinds of reasons why I was sweating at ping-pong – but they don’t include global warming.

et’s deal with the Devil: we should work with Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad in Syria

That brings us to Vladimir Putin. I was in Paris at the end of last week, and the Russian leader’s face glowered sulkily from every billboard. “Poutin”, said the headline, “Notre nouvel ami”. Many French people think the time has come to do a deal with their new friends the Russians – and I think that they are broadly right.

Vladimir Putin replaces Dmitry Medvedev as Russia's president - billboard. Russia Now.

"Despite looking a bit like Dobby the House Elf, Putin is a ruthless and manipulative tyrant"

Look, I am no particular fan of Vlad. Quite the opposite. Russian-backed forces are illegally occupying parts of Ukraine. Putin’s proxy army was almost certainly guilty of killing the passengers on the Malaysia Airlines jet that came down in eastern Ukraine. He has questions to answer about the death of Alexander Litvinenko, pitilessly poisoned in a London restaurant. As for his reign in Moscow, he is allegedly the linchpin of a vast post-Soviet gangster kleptocracy, and is personally said to be the richest man on the planet. Journalists who oppose him get shot. His rivals find themselves locked up. Despite looking a bit like Dobby the House Elf, he is a ruthless and manipulative tyrant.

Does that mean it is morally impossible to work with him? I am not so sure. We need to focus on what we are trying to achieve. Our aims – at least, our stated aims – are to degrade and ultimately to destroy Isil as a force in Syria and Iraq. That is what it is all about.

Our mission is to remove an evil death cult, to deprive their organisation of the charisma and renown that goes with controlling a territory of some 10 million people. We need to end their hideous administration of Raqqa, with its torchings and beheadings. We need them out of Palmyra, because if Syria is to have a future then we must protect its past.

We cannot do that without terrestrial forces. We need someone to provide the boots on the ground; and given that we are not going to be providing British ground forces – and the French and the Americans are just as reluctant – we cannot afford to be picky about our allies.

We have the estimated 70,000 of the Free Syrian Army (and many other groups and grouplets); but those numbers may be exaggerated, and they may include some jihadists who are not ideologically very different from al-Qaeda.

Who else is there? The answer is obvious. There is Assad, and his army; and the recent signs are that they are making some progress. Thanks at least partly to Russian air strikes, it looks as if the regime is taking back large parts of Homs. Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants are withdrawing from some districts of the city. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.

With Russian air support, the Assad regime is only a few miles from Palmyra – the fabled pink-stoned city of monuments, where Isil decapitated the 82-year-old curator, Khaled Al‑Assad, before beginning an orgy of cultural destruction.

Am I backing the Assad regime, and the Russians, in their joint enterprise to recapture that amazing site? You bet I am. That does not mean I trust Putin, and it does not mean that I want to keep Assad in power indefinitely. But we cannot suck and blow at once.

At the moment, we are in danger of treating our engagement as if it were some complicated three-sided chess game, in which we are trying to neutralise the Islamists while simultaneously preventing Putin from getting too big for his boots. If we try to be too clever, we will end up achieving nothing.

“If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons”

Winston Churchill

This is the time to set aside our Cold War mindset. It is just not true that whatever is good for Putin must automatically be bad for the West. We both have a clear and concrete objective – to remove the threat from Isil. Everything else is secondary.

Think of all those planes above Syria – some for the Assad regime, some against the regime, some against Isil, some against the non-Isil rebels. It is absurd. The best hope of getting rid of Isil is an agreement between all the powers – America, Russia, France, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the rest – to take them out, together with a timetable for Assad to step down and a plan for a new Syrian government.

Everyone in Paris last week seemed familiar with one quotation from Sir Winston Churchill. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Churchill decided to qualify his lifelong hatred of communism. “If Hitler invaded Hell,” said Churchill in 1941, “I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” And as he foresaw, it was the Russians who did the most to help us win the war.

Let’s deal with the Devil: we should work with Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad in Syria

That brings us to Vladimir Putin. I was in Paris at the end of last week, and the Russian leader’s face glowered sulkily from every billboard. “Poutin”, said the headline, “Notre nouvel ami”. Many French people think the time has come to do a deal with their new friends the Russians – and I think that they are broadly right.

Vladimir Putin replaces Dmitry Medvedev as Russia's president - billboard. Russia Now.

"Despite looking a bit like Dobby the House Elf, Putin is a ruthless and manipulative tyrant"

Look, I am no particular fan of Vlad. Quite the opposite. Russian-backed forces are illegally occupying parts of Ukraine. Putin’s proxy army was almost certainly guilty of killing the passengers on the Malaysia Airlines jet that came down in eastern Ukraine. He has questions to answer about the death of Alexander Litvinenko, pitilessly poisoned in a London restaurant. As for his reign in Moscow, he is allegedly the linchpin of a vast post-Soviet gangster kleptocracy, and is personally said to be the richest man on the planet. Journalists who oppose him get shot. His rivals find themselves locked up. Despite looking a bit like Dobby the House Elf, he is a ruthless and manipulative tyrant.

Does that mean it is morally impossible to work with him? I am not so sure. We need to focus on what we are trying to achieve. Our aims – at least, our stated aims – are to degrade and ultimately to destroy Isil as a force in Syria and Iraq. That is what it is all about.

Our mission is to remove an evil death cult, to deprive their organisation of the charisma and renown that goes with controlling a territory of some 10 million people. We need to end their hideous administration of Raqqa, with its torchings and beheadings. We need them out of Palmyra, because if Syria is to have a future then we must protect its past.

We cannot do that without terrestrial forces. We need someone to provide the boots on the ground; and given that we are not going to be providing British ground forces – and the French and the Americans are just as reluctant – we cannot afford to be picky about our allies.

We have the estimated 70,000 of the Free Syrian Army (and many other groups and grouplets); but those numbers may be exaggerated, and they may include some jihadists who are not ideologically very different from al-Qaeda.

Who else is there? The answer is obvious. There is Assad, and his army; and the recent signs are that they are making some progress. Thanks at least partly to Russian air strikes, it looks as if the regime is taking back large parts of Homs. Al-Qaeda-affiliated militants are withdrawing from some districts of the city. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.

With Russian air support, the Assad regime is only a few miles from Palmyra – the fabled pink-stoned city of monuments, where Isil decapitated the 82-year-old curator, Khaled Al‑Assad, before beginning an orgy of cultural destruction.

Am I backing the Assad regime, and the Russians, in their joint enterprise to recapture that amazing site? You bet I am. That does not mean I trust Putin, and it does not mean that I want to keep Assad in power indefinitely. But we cannot suck and blow at once.

At the moment, we are in danger of treating our engagement as if it were some complicated three-sided chess game, in which we are trying to neutralise the Islamists while simultaneously preventing Putin from getting too big for his boots. If we try to be too clever, we will end up achieving nothing.

“If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons”

Winston Churchill

This is the time to set aside our Cold War mindset. It is just not true that whatever is good for Putin must automatically be bad for the West. We both have a clear and concrete objective – to remove the threat from Isil. Everything else is secondary.

Think of all those planes above Syria – some for the Assad regime, some against the regime, some against Isil, some against the non-Isil rebels. It is absurd. The best hope of getting rid of Isil is an agreement between all the powers – America, Russia, France, Britain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the rest – to take them out, together with a timetable for Assad to step down and a plan for a new Syrian government.

Everyone in Paris last week seemed familiar with one quotation from Sir Winston Churchill. When Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, Churchill decided to qualify his lifelong hatred of communism. “If Hitler invaded Hell,” said Churchill in 1941, “I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” And as he foresaw, it was the Russians who did the most to help us win the war.

Bombing Syria is not the whole solution – but it’s a good start

In June, a 17-year-old from Dewsbury became this country’s youngest home-grown suicide bomber – again, after he travelled to Daesh-held territory in Syria. You only had to listen to the appalling delusions of the four women who were filmed in east London by Channel Four for the documentary ISIS: The British Women Supporters Unveiled, to see the effect of what is happening in Syria on the minds of impressionable and alienated young people. These women spoke of filthy Jews; they scorned democracy as being un-Islamic; and above all they looked with fascination and approval at the supposedly new holy kingdom that has been carved by violence from Syria and Iraq. “Nobody would have thought in our lifetime we would see the establishment of the Khilafah,” said one.

This so-called Caliphate is not only the origin of an increasing number of plots against this and other countries – two of the Paris bombers, at least, were jihadis returning from Syria. It is a landscape of the imagination for the western would-be jihadis and those at risk of radicalisation. We rational people can see it for what it really is: a kind of Mordor, or the brutalised realm of Colonel Kurtz – where children play with decapitated heads, where prisoners are burned alive in cages, where gay people are thrown out of windows and where elderly women are shot and put in mass graves because they are deemed to have no use as sex-slaves. We see it as the home of an evil death cult. But in the minds of these potential recruits it has a dark charisma; a place whose very racism and viciousness somehow indicate a fascist purity.

As long as it exists, the so-called Islamic Caliphate will exercise a death-star pull on the mind of those who are willing to be deluded. The longer we tolerate the existence of this vast feculent breeding ground of hate – with a captive population of 10 million – the worse it will be for the world; and the more spores of terror will waft over the web and lodge in the minds of young people in European cities.

That is why this vote is not like the 2003 debate on the Iraq war, and those evanescent weapons of mass destruction. This time no one seriously doubts the threat. In the last few days, the UN Security Council has voted unanimously that “all necessary means” should be used to remove this haven for terror; and that is because every member of the security council – indeed every member of the UN – shares David Cameron’s reasonable ambition: to degrade and ultimately to destroy this gangster statelet.

If you ask, very sensibly, how exactly we are going to achieve that objective by bombing from the air, then the answer pretty obviously is that we can’t, or certainly not immediately. But that does not mean that aerial bombardment is pointless: it has helped to drive Daesh back in Iraq; and it will enable us to be of more use to those terrestrial forces willing and able to take them on in Syria.

Who are they? Whose boots will be on the ground? The only way to work that one out is to build on that international consensus, to create a coalition in which everybody – Putin included – lives up to their rhetoric and turns their fire unequivocally on Daesh. That means more than just the 70,000 non-Daesh rebels, including the Free Syrian Army and others. It probably means brokering a ceasefire between Bashar al-Assad and the non-Daesh rebels, as well as agreeing a timetable for the eventual removal of Mr Assad, and gradually ensuring that all are focused on the common foe.

Of course it will not be easy; not when Mr Putin was yesterday bombing some of the anti-Daesh, anti-Assad rebels, and not when Mr Assad is actually buying oil from Daesh. The place is a writhing bag of snakes. But just as no British military action can be a substitute for a political deal, so no British diplomacy can be effective if we are only half engaged. How can we be taken seriously, if we fail to join a coalition of some of our closest allies?

To those who say we risk blowback, I say we already face a systematic terrorist threat; and it is wrong to contract out the fight. You cannot say the do-nothing option has worked: we have seen 240,000 people killed in Syria; we have seen millions displaced; the biggest refugee crisis in our lifetimes and terrorist plots emanating from the ideological cesspit of the so-called Islamic state. Of course bombing alone will not solve the problem; everyone can see that. But the military and political effort must go hand in hand, and Britain must be part of both. I hope Parliament votes resoundingly to join our allies in taking the fight to the enemy.

Paris terror attacks: This was a 9/11 moment for our sister city – this was an act of war

The answer is that even though I think an attack of that particular type is unlikely, and even though we are doing everything in our power to prevent it, I am afraid that it would be impossible – and irresponsible – to rule it out completely.

How could we rule it out? Yes, of course the police and the security services are doing an amazing job – with the resources they have – in monitoring the thousands of potential suspects (perhaps 3,000-4,000), some of them clearly more dangerous than others. They foil all sorts of plots, half-baked or otherwise. They make arrests with great frequency. But it is plainly no use hoping that the problem of Daesh-inspired terrorism is going away.

Just in the last few months we have seen appalling loss of British life on the beach in Tunisia; we have seen a Russian passenger jet blown out of the sky; and now 129 people killed in Paris, in the most vicious and shocking fashion, and many others seriously wounded.

Several people over the weekend have echoed the sentiments of the excellent French ambassador to London, Sylvie-Agnes Bermann, who said that this massacre was qualitatively different from the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January. This, she said, was a 9/11 moment. This was an act of war. I agree. And as we deliberate on how to respond, it is essential to be cautious, and to be pragmatic – and yet to use every weapon at our disposal.

First of all we need to catch the bastards before they strike; and I am afraid that I have less and less sympathy with those who oppose the new surveillance powers that the government would like to give the security services. To some people the whistleblower Edward Snowden is a hero; not to me. It is pretty clear that his bean-spilling has taught some of the nastiest people on the planet how to avoid being caught; and when the story of the Paris massacre is explained, I would like a better understanding of how so many operatives were able to conspire, and attack multiple locations, without some of their electronic chatter reaching the ears of the police. I want these people properly spied on, properly watched – and I bet you do, too.

Second, we need to be able to intercept them at frontiers. I know Molenbeek, the melancholy Brussels suburb that is said to have produced some of the Paris killers. I remember happy hours walking its bemerded and frituur-smelling streets, and alas I am not surprised to find – a generation later – that some of those scampering North African children have grown up to become jihadis. What are the implications for the security of Europe, if you can load your car with Kalashnikovs in Molenbeek, and drive unimpeded not just to Paris but to any EU capital you please?

The Paris massacres – as the French have implicitly confirmed, by trying to control their own frontiers – have greatly strengthened the hand of David Cameron as he argues for better control at the borders. And yet it is not enough just to spy on them. It is too late to try to catch them, once they have pupated into proto-terrorists. We must intercept them before the metamorphosis begins. We need to get the antidote down their throats before the poisonous death-cult takes over their minds. That means working ever harder to enlist the vast majority of Muslims who despise Daesh (so I propose to call them, since it is a shame to play their game and use the word Islamic in their title), and who can help most powerfully in differentiating their abominable doctrines from the teachings of the Koran.

"We need to be much faster and much cleverer in beating the absurd propaganda from Raqqa"

It means working with the families, and coming down hard on parents who – all too often, alas – are allowing their kids, of both sexes, to go online and imbibe the jihadi madness: the ranting sermons, the home-made hydrogen peroxide suicide belts, and all the rest of the claptrap.

We need to be much faster and much cleverer in beating the absurd propaganda from Raqqa. How hard can that be? Their “caliphate” is savage, dysfunctional, and so scary that many British would-be jihadis end up pleading to come home. But there it is – a breeding-ground of terror; and it looks very much as if at least one of the Paris killers actually came from Syria, via Leros. And so we come to the last of our possible responses – the military one. All the generals I have talked to are leery. They want to understand the mission, and how we propose to achieve it. Would we go in with Putin? Would we effectively be backing Assad? No choice looks attractive; no plan is perfect. But is doing nothing any better? It is more than two years since the government was defeated in its plan to intervene in Syria, and the rhythm of terror would appear to be increasing. These people avowedly want to destroy us, and in those circumstances no military option can be off the table. This is a fight we will one day inevitably win – because in the end our view of the human spirit is vastly more attractive and realistic than theirs. But we won’t win if we don’t fight back.

Sorry Benedict Cumberbatch, but you’re wrong about politicians

It might have been instructive to put that question to the audience, once they had calmed down. If 20,000 is too little, what is the right number for Britain? Cumberbatch spoke of 11 million refugees from Syria. How many should we take, in all decency? 200,000? Half a million? I think at that point there might have been a certain amount of shuffling in their seats. Some people might have discovered some fascinating and overlooked detail in their theatre programmes.

The truth is that good people are capable of two inconsistent desires in their hearts. They are perfectly capable of being simultaneously indignant at the slowness of politicians to take more migrants fleeing Middle Eastern war zones, and alarmed at the failure of politicians to cope with the consequences of the rapid and unforeseen growth in UK population. As we learnt last week, the population of this country is set to grow by another 4.4 million just in the next 10 years. It is going to hit 74.3 million by 2039 – 80 million by 2050.

That is an astonishing change, when you consider that Britain was only about 54 million when I was born. This boom is in many ways a compliment to this country – the most dynamic economy in Europe, the place people want to be, where ambitious and energetic people can see a future for themselves. And yet you could not argue that this fundamental change represents the settled will of the British people – and especially not when 51 per cent of that demographic expansion is to be caused by immigration.

The reason people get so aerated about this issue is that they feel politicians have somehow tricked them. First there was the Labour Party that decided in the late 1990s to take the brakes off immigration, and to turn a blind eye to illegals, for the utterly cynical reason that they believed that immigrants were more likely to vote Labour. That conspiracy, for obvious reasons, was not explained to the public at the time, though some Labour people have since fessed up.

Then there has been the general failure of government since to get a grip on the numbers – in spite of repeated promises to do so. It is a painful truth that we said we could cap immigration in the “tens of thousands”; and yet this year alone we have had net immigration at 330,000. It is no wonder, when you have your natural fecundity rate turbo-charged in this way, that we have been struggling to catch up with the homes and the transport infrastructure that we need.

Now, I am not remotely pessimistic about our future, and with care and imagination we should be able to find the space. For all the talk of a Northern Powerhouse, Manchester is still a third smaller than it was in 1931. And I am not sure that we want the opposite problem – a falling population. In Japan they are going to plummet, over the same period, from 125 million to 90 million. They buy more nappies for old people than for babies, and have more pet dogs than kids under 15. People understand the problem of an ageing population, and the need to pay for pensions and to keep the economy moving; indeed, most people are prepared to support some level of immigration, provided it is controlled.

But it feels at the moment as if there is a giant plot – abetted by big business and tacitly supported by the forecasters in the Treasury – to use the excuse of EU rules to keep immigration beyond democratic control, so that the numbers keep rising, and so British companies get the skills they need; and all the while politicians can limply claim there is nothing they can do, except perhaps for some misguided and counter-productive restrictions on student visas. It won’t wash. There may be a case for immigration; there is no case for a lack of control. Cumberbatch was right to bash us politicians – but not for the reasons he gave.

Don’t bash the baby-boomers – they have left us fit to face the future

You know the essentials. The older generation – the post-war baby-boomers – are among the most financially fortunate in our history. They did not fight in the war; they cannot exactly be called the generation of heroes; and yet they have been attended by every comfort of the welfare state. Their state pensions are triple-locked, and rising, and any other pensions they may have are immeasurably more generous than those on offer to the generation below.

Indeed, it is the fate of the current working population to pay for the older generation to have pensions on a scale that they will certainly not receive themselves. Today’s pensioners have been given free TV licences and free bus passes and winter fuel allowances.

Above all they have been able to afford their own homes – in a way that is proving all but impossible for those in their twenties and thirties. And to make it worse, it is at least partly the Nimbyism of the baby-boomers – their very great reluctance to have more homes built in their neighbourhoods, or spoiling their views of green spaces – that is making the housing crisis so much worse.

As David points out, they were perfectly happy to have loads of homes built for themselves – there were about 300,000 homes built every year during the Fifties and Sixties. Now they are pulling up the drawbridge, and organising themselves politically so that it is very difficult to get things moving on the scale required. Now we are building half that number – and at a time when the population is growing faster than ever, and when the demand is volcanic.

How can these oldies be so influential? They are powerful not just because they are so numerous, but because they vote, vote, vote. Woe betide the political party that tries to erode their privileges. The Liberal Democrats used to talk about means-testing the bus pass. Look what happened to them.

That, my friends, is the gist of the Willetts case – and that is the argument that he eloquently makes in his book The Pinch. I hesitate to disagree with him, or to take issue with the conclusions of just one of his brains; but I feel that someone needs to stick up for the baby-boomers, and their legacy.

It is not contemptible, first of all, for a society to treat its older generation well. That is a fine thing. And I am not sure that the legacy of the baby-boomers is really as poisonous as all that. Look at the Britain they have helped to create – a place that has been at peace for generations, and where everyone of every age has achieved a standard of living that was unimaginable 50 years ago.

"Thanks largely to the baby-boomers, we are living in the fastest-growing and most dynamic major economy in Europe"

Every family in the land has access to food of a daintiness and delicacy that the post-war generation could not have imagined. Virtually every child has access to electronic machines whose capacity for entertainment and education and self-affirmation is astonishing, and whose full social benefits we have yet to understand.

We have more young people going to university than ever before, we have more people in employment, we have more years of healthy life ahead of us – on average. And we in the UK – thanks very largely to the labours of the baby-boomers – are living in the fastest-growing and most dynamic major economy in Europe. Yes, we have all kinds of challenges, if we are to serve the younger generation properly. We must build more housing – and the forthcoming Government Housing Bill offers the way ahead, and we must make it work to deliver homes where they are needed most – above all in London, where the crisis is most acute.

We have to put in the transport infrastructure that young people will one day need: and as we grapple with HS2 we should look at what they are doing in Japan, with a Maglev train that is capable of travelling at more than 600 kmh (373 mph); and will link Tokyo and Osaka on a route that is 85 per cent in tunnel. Why aren’t we doing that in the Chilterns, and all the other areas that will be blighted by a 19th-century approach? We invented Maglev, for heaven’s sake. The Japanese plan makes us look antiquated.

All this investment – in housing and transport – will benefit the younger generation; all of it needs to go in the ground if we are to answer the challenge that Willetts has issued, and abate the intergenerational strife.

And there is one little thing we might do at once. Let’s get Back to the Future, and stop this ludicrous and nannying prohibition on the electric scooter-surfboard gizmos. They are the Segway-like things which the authorities have said young people may not use on the pavement.

Well, I have consulted Transport for London (Surface Transport) experts, and they think this hogwash. They are a new and potentially liberating form of personal mobility. We want to legalise them. If the oldsters can charge towards you on their terrifying chariots, the youngsters should be able to waft on their boards. It’s intergenerational fairness.

Boris Johnson knocks over ten year old Japanese schoolboy during game of rugby

With ball in hand Boris Johnson lines up a young opponent Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The young boy hit the ground after coliding with the mayor and was soon up and running again.

He said: "I felt a little bit of pain but it's OK", adding that it had been "enjoyable" meeting the mayor.

After they had picked themselves up, the mayor went over to Toki and asked if he was OK before shaking his hand.

"I'm so sorry," he said.

In a speech to the British and American chambers of commerce in Tokyo, Mr Johnson said: "We have just played a game of street rugby with a bunch of kids and I accidentally flattened a 10-year-old, on TV unfortunately.

"But, he bounced back, he put it behind him, the smile returned rapidly to his face.

"That is my theme tonight - the possibility that confidence can suddenly and unexpectedly return."

Boris Johnson barges into a young rugby player during a game in a Tokyo street Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA

The game comes as the country's prepares to host the next World Cup in 2019 and marks the end of Boris Johnson's three- day whistlestop trade mission to Japan.

Mr Johnson has been keen to highlight the benefits of staging major sporting events and told the Japanese the 2012 Games left the English capital a "sensational legacy".

He said: "We are both Olympic cities and I have no doubt that Tokyo is ideally placed to take our crown - currently unchallenged - as the city that staged the greatest ever Olympic and Paralympic Games."

Yesterday Mr Johnson said it was "totally unfair" that Japan was knocked out of the Ruby World Cup and the rules should be changed as a result.

Mr Johnson described the team as "heroic" and said it wasn't right that the team had won three matches in a row, but still failed to make it through to the quarter finals.

The boy crashes to the ground as Boris touches down for a try Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Asked if he backed a rule change in the game, Mr Johnson told the BBC: "I'd support that. It seems totally unfair that they should win three times in their pool group and not go through.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson shakes hands with 10-year-old Toki Sekiguchi after the mayor knocked him over during a Street Rugby tournament in Tokyo Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA

"They are plainly heroes here and they deserve to be. They are fantastically - a fantastic, heroic performance."

He said the Japanese team had "won the hearts" of the British public with their "flair and sportsmanship".

Perhaps Mr Johnson could learn a little from the Japanese when it comes to improving his sportsmanship.

The London mayor has a bit of a track record when it comes to sporting fouls involving small children.

Exactly a year ago, Mr Johnson was forced to apologise after tripping up a small boy during a football match outside City Hall.

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