+Well bugger me! I was just thinking a day or two ago how seized Russian oligarchs’ assets could be used for the benefit of Ukrainian refugees. Those Berkshire mansions, those Kensington pads, those luxurious yachts could all be housing the victims of Putin’s aggression. And then lo! On the news this morning ‘Levelling Up’ Minister, Michael Gove has had the same idea! But he’s meeting resistance from government lawyers questioning the legality of it all. It’s in situations like this that Gove should take back his old mate Dominic Cummings and shake-up these dusty denizens of Whitehall with a piece (at length) of his mind. It is slightly disturbing to discover that me and Govey are on the same wavelength at least about one thing.
+Perhaps the West’s failure to turn Russia into a nice liberal democracy back in the 1990s has something to do with the current crisis. I did my bit though. Back in the days when I was a Labour Party Organiser I took part in a kind of ‘learn about democracy’ session for some visiting Russians. They seemed somewhat bemused about the whole thing. In the Q and A at the end one asked ‘What do you do with the petrol?’ I asked what he meant, and he answered quite happily that where he came from giving people petrol was part of the election (bribery) process. I didn’t have time to explain that in this country we have far more subtle methods than that, by which I meant (of course) that the Tories had mastered these dark arts.
+These efforts at teaching ‘democracy’ continue of course, in some cases backed by a propagandist funding regime, a soft form of diplomacy you might call it since from experience such efforts cannot guarantee any immediate results. Unlike perhaps lessons in autocracy which might more quickly bring rewards. In 2008, again through the Labour Party I went off to speak at a weekend training course for grassroots socialist party workers in Romania, the week before the NATO summit which was being held in Bucharest that year. My subject was climate change and local election organising. Judging by the audience's desultory response I sensed I might have gone to the wrong venue and was perhaps speaking to a wedding party. Having everything translated doesn’t help. But things perked up nearer lunchtime, and my fears of having accidentally spoken at a wedding party weren’t allayed by the fact that a large buffet with copious amounts of alcohol were on offer. It was judged that my services were no longer required and I was free to clear off. This gave me the opportunity to visit Bucharest’s art gallery, which like the city itself was pretty much deserted, apart from the flags of NATO countries fluttering on the empty airport—city centre road. The gallery was full of medieval religious icons. I was followed around at a distance by two totally inconspicuous gentlemen in black over coats, who never once took an interest in what was hanging on the walls. This time I seemed to have attracted some attention.