When does a saying become a cliché? Well, I don’t know. All I know is that one thing many sayings and clichés have in common is that they invariably contain more than a grain of truth. And the saying - or is it cliché? - I should like to use in today’s sermon
is ‘When you sup with the Devil, us a long spoon’. I think we’ve all heard that one, but it is surprising how often we ignore such sage advice. One of the latest people to pay the price of ignoring that advice is a chap - a knight no less, which will, of course, be of great interest to any Americans happening upon this blog - who is by no means a dumbo and who, therefore, is all the more culpable. The man in question is Sir Howard Davies, who was once a chairman of Britain’s Financial Services Authority and a deputy director of the Bank of England. Sir Howard has just resigned as the director of the London School of Economics for doing something which, in retrospect, looks rather stupid. As the LSE director he accepted a £300,000 donation to the college from a ‘charity’ set up by the family of Colonel Gaddaffi. Remember him? The thug who has ruled rather brutally over Libya for 42 years and is now bombing his own people who have decided they want rid of him? That’s the chap. The point is that the Gaddaffi regime’s brutal repression was not somehow hidden from view for these past 42 years, nor was it just an open secret. But a few years ago, the good colonel decided - he is known for being unpredictable - he wanted to get on better terms with the West and made all sorts of repenting noises. Western business was not slow in realising that here lay an advantage for them and leading the charge on their behalf were the West’s leaders. (I published a series of pictures last showing a number of them, as well as Russia’s Putin sucking up to the colonel. They weren’t exactly sucking his dick, but they might have been.) In that context and at the time it is perhaps understandable that when the colonel’s son, Saif al Islam, arrived at the LSE with 3300,00 in a suitcase in used fivers and announced he would like to hand over the money for the good of mankind, Sir Howard thought it would be all right to accept. If all the other great and good of the West were at it, why not the venerable LSE? you can almost hear him thinking. In a sense, all Sir Howard is guilty of is following the latest political fashion of shutting one’s eyes and counting the cash.
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But we never, ever learn from our mistakes. And while the West does its best to forget how it sucked up to Gaddaffi as he goes about slaughtering ‘his people’ - apparently they still love him. The ones causing the trouble are young men high on drugs supplied by al Qaeda and the CIA (whose alleged congenial co-operation would be unprecedented) who will be hunted down house by house - it continues to suck up to other regimes which can be equally as brutal when needs must. China, for example.
China, the West tells itself (while keeping its fingers firmly crossed behind its back), is improving. Slowly, perhaps, but it is feeling its way towards democracy, or, at least - the qualifications are obliged to multiply as the truth sits increasingly uncomfortable with the claim - towards a kind of democracy. The evidence, says the West, is there for all to see: a burgeoning middle class (without which no democracy is possible, of course), unprecedented economic growth (without which no democracy is possible, of course), a growing private sector (without which no democracy is possible, of course), home ownership (without which no democracy is possible, of course), and far greater freedom for the West’s media to travel throughout the country and report on what it sees (without which no democracy is possible, of course). Or not as it now turns out.
In view of the unrest spreading throughout the Middle East and anonymous calls from within its own borders for the people to mount similar demonstrations, China has taken fright. The West’s media has now been told that it cannot report from certain parts of one or two of its cities and that it must again seek permission before travelling around the country. Oh, well, you might say, remember: it’s a ‘developing democracy’ and the path to freedom is not always smooth. Quite, and it was a damn sight less smooth for the BBC’s Damian Grammaticas and his television crew as well as other reporters who had gone to film in Beijing’s famous shopping street, Wangfujing. They were set upon and beaten up by state security agents. His report can be found here. Has China changed its spots? Well, for the past ten years while the West’s apparent prosperity was sustained by a never-ending supply of cheap consumer goods from China, we persuaded ourselves that it had. But if - make that when - the shit eventually hits the fan, when those in China whose homes are bulldozed overnight to make way for nice beaches for the ‘burgeoning middle class’, when the housing bubble bursts and that same ‘burgeoning middle class’ is reduced to penury, when the West really takes fright at how much farming land China is busily buying up in Africa and other parts of the world and decides to get tough, we will see just how reformed China has become.
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China is, of course, very aware of the danger of its economic miracle turning to dust and the political unrest which would follow. In a speech delivered yesterday, Premier Wen Jiabao has acknowledged the growing gulf between the country’s poor and its ‘burgeoning middle class’ and widespread corruption and its 11 per cent economic growth cannot be sustained. The problem is, of course, that China is a very curious kind of dictatorship. It doesn’t actually have a dictator. Instead it relies on an intricate web of vested interests - in other words all those benefiting from the widespread corruption - to keep the system running, and it must tread carefully. Very carefully. And, as Caesar once pointed out, the solution to dealing with domestic trouble is to cause trouble overseas. It tends to take one’s countrymen’s minds of their own difficulties. I’m sure the Chinese leadership is aware of that, too. It’s not, of course, in anyone’s interests for there to be worldwide trouble: China needs us to buy its goods just as much as we need China to produce those goods more cheaply than we can. But if needs must, which they eventually might ...
. . .
And just for the craic...
and another for good measure...