Syntagma Digital
Editor, John Evans

DIARY: What’s Putin on?, Boris inveigled?, Greasy poll, Poppycock Watch: Return of Green Dave, Profundity of the Week


Watching Russia’s President Putin on the news channels this morning, was a demonstration of the rejuvenating powers of armed conflict.

Almost unrecognisable from the scowling fellow of yesteryear, he appears to have taken on a new zest for life. His skin is baby-smooth, the permafrown replaced by the joviality of youth, and he even looked interested in his questioners and their queries. What is he on?

Does he realise how marketable such a product, or technique, would be in the youth-obsessed West? The Daily Mail would find it irresistible for its multitudinous women’s pages.

Vlad, you need a sales manager!

* * * * *

The mop-haired big beast that is Boris Johnson is on manoeuvres again in the bowels of the Tory Party, his old roistering ground.

Benedict Brogan, writing in the Telegraph reports that “George Osborne let it be known that he would like Boris Johnson to stand for Parliament in 2015, and join the Tory effort to secure an outright majority. David Cameron expressed much the same view …” It’s all kicking off — literally.

In politics, nothing is quite as simply benign as it is often made to seem. You see, Gorgeous George (his new sobriquet) is a plotter in the Ali Campbell mode. The rest of the Tory pack believe he is up to mischief.

Goodo! Nothing enlivens politics more than a portion of mischief, preferably a large one.

The suspicion is growing that by inveigling Boris into the election fray, they can pin the blame on him for its failure. Surely not!

And if they win, they can claim a personal victory and are unsackable for at least another parliament.

One fly for this ointment: Boris is versed in the black arts of ancient Greece and Rome, as wicked a bunch of villains as you’ll find in history until the Liberal-Democrats arrived.

It’s going to be fun!

* * * * *

Ofcom, the broadcasting watchdog, has deemed UKIP to be “a major” player for the purposes of May’s European elections. Nigel Farage’s party is steadily climbing the ladder of power.

Nige thinks UKIP will top the greasy poll (sic), and who can doubt him. Despite the verbal drubbing in the Telegraph recently, his nag is still well-placed in the field coming round Tattenham Corner.

Frankly, I hope he makes it. Anything to ring the changes from the sterile debates between the present unimaginative bunch of party leaders.

* * * * *

Poppycock Watch
At PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions) last week, Dave burnished his green credentials (again!) as if they had never gone away. What a confusing fellow he is. Or would that be confused?

Now, I’m aware of the difference between common-as-muck weather and the aristocratic realms of climate science. Weather is in-yer-face, while climate is so damned esoteric that meterologists can have twenty different opinions before breakfast.

It seems that thirteen EU member states, including Britain, have set up the “Green Growth Group”, aiming for a renewable energy target of at least 27%. Their deliberations will not be binding at national level, however. Small mercies, and all that.

Dave should take on board Ed Miliband’s mocking banter on the topic last week. The election is not that far away; does he really want to be caught thrashing around in uncharted air currents?

* * * * *

Profundity of the Week
UKIP was in Torquay for the party conference over the weekend. Great choice of venue … Syntagma lives nearby.

I didn’t spot Nige with trouser bottoms rolled up taking a paddle in the sea though. Terrible disappointment.

I suspect the shrewd Farage realised that each stride taken in the briny is one step closer to Europe.

* * * * *

Postscript of the Week
Loved the line in The Guardian: 50% off Soulmates.

Says it all, doesn’t it?

* * * * *

John Evans

… who is the author of The Eternal Quest for Immortality: Is it staring you in the face? Available from Amazon and all good booksellers.

Coming soon: Practical Mysticism: A different way of looking at the world.

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DIARY: Energy bills, Andrew Marr, PMQs, End of the Church?

Exeter Cathedral
Young people occupying cathedral in protest about everything

Radio 3’s Petroc Trelawny was on the Sky News Channel recently and had an interesting take on the energy bill uprising — in both senses of the word.

Like many of us he wondered why his direct debits are rising so fast, so he went to his account online. I dare say not many of us do that regularly, if at all. I certainly didn’t.

What he found was both unsettling and incomprehensible. There was a surplus on his dual fuel account of £800, which suggests that the DD being charged is way over the top and that his supplier is raking in interest payments that really belong to him.

Naturally, I immediately looked up my NPower dual fuel account online and found a surplus of around £300. The company was due to take a monthly sum of around £100 the very next day. Shocking, or wearily inevitable?

My note to them remained unanswered three weeks later. I have now cancelled the DD with my bank and asked NPower to remit the surplus to my bank account. Not even that has been done.

In fact I did receive a belated letter protesting that my DD had been cancelled and outlining the many disadvantages of paying a paper bill every three months. No mention of my email or surplus on account.

We really should despair at the way this cavalier cartel of energy giants treats us.

* * * * *

It was good to see Andrew Marr getting back his mojo on his TV and radio shows in recent weeks.

His tentative return after a massive stroke revealed a good physical recovery, except for the damage on the left side of his body. But mentally his spirit seemed subdued — not surprising after such an ordeal, and the prospects of a life in the slow lane.

In the past two weeks, though, he appears to have recovered his humour and zest for life. These are always the last elements to recover, and bodes well for his continuing career.

He was also on good form on his old programme, Start the Week 10 days ago, especially when talking to John Tavener, the celebrated British composer who, eerily, had suffered the same physical blow as he had.

It must have been a shock to Marr when Tavener died the very next day. At least he had one last outing to demonstrate his unusual genius, plus a few snatches of his marvellous music.

I hope he read this website, with its many consolations about life and death in a wider context than they receive from our dismal cod-scientific culture.

* * * * *

Poppycock Watch
PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament), was brutal this morning with David Cameron hammering Ed Miliband on the Paul Flowers appointment at the Co-op bank, which has strong affiliations with the Labour Party.

Can you believe that a man with no knowledge of banking and a taste for smoking crystal meth, among other mind-altering substances, was appointed Chairman of the Cooperative banking group? And he had previous form for this.

Is it possible that Miliband and the leadership of the party knew nothing of his CV and behavioural record when nodding through his appointment?

Alas, this is the crew that presided over the biggest banking collapse since at least the Great Depression just five years ago.

How can they possibly submit themselves for re-election in 2015 and, worse, act as if nothing of the sort happened?

* * * * *

Profundity of the Week
The always reliable A.N. Wilson has an excellent article in the Telegraph today questioning whether Christianity can survive in any meaningful form in England. Apart from some elderly folk, the next generation seem to have completely deserted the old faith, especially in the big cities.

Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has been saying that the Church is only one generation away from extinction. This is palpably true. Young people find the whole business achingly boring and lacking in relevance to their lives. It’s hard to condemn them for that.

The Church relies on old forms of texts that were written in the Near East millenia ago in languages long since forgotten. Today, the ancient names are incomprehensible and unpronouncable, the whole ethos of the era as outdated as dinosaurs. Why should vibrant youngsters go along with what seems like a baffling charade that rings like a shattered bell.

And yet … as this site frequently points out, the practical side of Christianity — spirituality and mysticism — are wildly popular among all age groups, with an eager following of younger people who, like all generations, ache for real meaning in their lives. My weekly column Midweek Mysticism is widely read and, if I may say so, silently quoted in the national press and online.

Archbishop Welby, a former businessman, is a very modern figure who appears to get it. But will he be able to wrench the old institution far enough away from its fading methodology to make a real difference?

The furore over women bishops suggests not.

John Evans

Coming soon: Mystology: A different way of looking at the world. Also a website,

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Parish Pump: Changes at Syntagma

Now that the British General Election is out of the way, we can catch our collective breath and get back to what passes for normality. That means changes here at Syntagma Towers.

Saturday Ramble will return to being a thoughtful, even speculative, wander through the byways of interesting ideas — not, as it has been recently, relentlessly political.

To compensate, the sometimes edgy Sunday Diary column will re-emerge this week, sparing nobody with a hint of red thread in their suit.

And as the hols are beckoning, we’re going to be pushing the delights of the West Country beyond normal tolerance levels.

Oh, and immortality could feature on rare occasions.

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DIARY: David Cameron, Publishers, MP’s expenses, Brown football, World car, 50p tax rate, Giscard d’Estaing

David Cameron I’ve just watched David Cameron deliver another accomplished speech at the Conservatives’ Spring Conference at Cheltenham.

Gradually — a word also used by George Osborne this morning — he’s beginning to give shape to the message that will take him into the General Election.

“Thrift” loomed large, while “tax and spend” becomes the natural enemy. Sensibly, he didn’t put too much skin on the flesh and bones. Things could take many turns for the worse before election day arrives, however soon it comes.

The speech was a good mix and plays well with the mood of the times, especially after last week’s atrocious Labour Budget. It sounded pitch perfect to me, as far as it went.

I would have liked to hear something about an association agreement with the European Union, but recognize the constraints he’s under. Maybe a little dog whistle in code to us genuine Conservatives would do the trick?

Here’s my suggestion. In his next speech or TV interview Cameron could mention former French President Giscard d’Estaing by name, in any context, and we will get the message.

I’ll be listening out intently.

* * * * *

The following is my contribution to the debate on the standards adopted by our Members of Parliament.

As an author I sometimes despair of publishers. And yet, as a former book publisher, I know the problems publishers face. So I’m posting this little cri de coeur I found on the web.

It’s written by a publisher, obviously, who shall remain anonymous, largely because I’ve lost the reference. But it does provide some insight into the always tortuous relationship between author and publisher:

Authors really don’t like publishers. They don’t like us because we change their work, or force them to. We reject their titles. We dress their books in jackets they hate.

We take custody of their manuscripts and refuse visitation rights. We don’t let them see or comment on marketing plans. We spend very little money or time promoting their books.

Our royalty statements might as well be in Aramaic. We don’t return their voicemail or email. We don’t communicate and we don’t care.

Sure, that’s an over-generalization, but it’s too close to the truth for comfort. It should concern us that so many authors feel this way about their publishers. And it’s our fault, really, for not communicating better about exactly what we do, and why.

Why can’t our MPs demonstrate such exquisite self-knowledge?

* * * * *

Continuing with the ever present thorn in the public foot of MP’s expenses, something glaringly obvious (to me, at least) has been missed by many.

MPs on the left of politics spend a lot of energy denouncing “fat cats” in industry and commerce, as well as the City of London, for their huge paypackets. Consequently, they have induced a phobia about putting up their own salaries to appropriate levels.

A kind of Freemasons’ nod and winkery has been covertly put in place across party lines to use the expenses system to compensate them for what they regard as inadequate remuneration.

Such a system encourages corruption because it is fundamentally corrupt to conceal and disguise payments received — of any sort.

Thus most MPs cross the line between fair reward and brown envelope practices. The system itself is corrupt, therefore those who take part are corrupted.

As Iain Martin writes in today’s Sunday Telegraph, the answer lies in Members’ own hands — they are meant to be sovereign, after all.

How can they hold the Executive to account, when Chief Whips know everything about the jiggerypokery going on all around them? Francis Urquhart would have had a field day. “I know about that bathplug, Jacqui.”

Pay them £100k and be done with it. After all, if a 5-a-day officer at Warminster-on-Sea Parish Council gets that, why not our legislators?

Oh, I forgot. They aren’t our legislators any more, are they? Brussels has taken that prize.

Okay, promise them £150k if they pull us out of the EU. That should get things moving, don’t you think?

* * * * *

Down here in the South West of England we have three football teams: Exeter (the Grecians), Torquay (the Gulls), and Plymouth (the Pilgrims).

Mostly they languish towards the bottom of the Football League, which I believe has four divisions.

Usually one of them manages bottom spot in the fourth division, before disappearing, through relegation, into a bottomless pit of poverty and amateurism.

However, our local supporters are rarely downcast, taking it all in their stride as an Act of God. One cheery soul told me how he deals with the constant stench of defeat.

“Easy,” he said. “When you get your football paper at the weekend, turn it upside down before looking at the tables. My team is usually top of the whole football league.”

Is that a glimpse of Gordon Brown’s political philosophy?

* * * * *

Remember the “world car”?

It could be a Ford, a Range Rover, or a Chrysler, but its parts were made all over the world, from Brazil to China, before being assembled into its final incarnation, when someone would stick a badge on it proclaiming its proud provenance.

This was globalization in the raw. A ruthless, yet profitable, use of comparative advantage to drive the costs of motoring down — however carboniferous the footprint as all those parts criss-crossed the globe on smelly bits of shipping.

Then the socialist left — devoid of purpose after the collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s flight to capitalism — spotted a gap in the market. The old International Socialist movement, now describing itself as “Progressive Internationalism”, subverted the word “globalization” to describe its own activities.

Many normally astute commentators fell for this subterfuge and eagerly jumped on the global bandwagon, little knowing that it is, in reality, their worst nightmare.

Syntagma has been one of the few voices to proclaim this dirty trick from the rooftops.

Listen very carefully, I will say this only once: Globalization has ceased to be a technical term of economics and is now a pernicious political doctrine of the old left hiding under a thin veil of modernity.

Anyone using the word “global” more that once a year should be sacked immediately from high office.

* * * * *

Finally, on the new 50p tax rate for anyone earning more than £150k a year:

Both David Cameron and George Osborne said today they will put it on a list of taxes to repeal, but priority will be given to National Insurance increases for people earning just £20k and more.

Fair enough, but given the rate of attrition 50p will cause (see Nigel Lawson’s piece in today’s Sunday Telegraph), perhaps they could turn the list upside-down when deciding which tax to drop first.

Some of the best people do this, I’m told.

* * * * *

PS: I shall be listening out for a Cameroon mention of the secret codeword: Giscard d’Estaing, over the coming week. PMQs would do very nicely.

John Evans

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DIARY: Water droplets, Dirty tricks, David Starkey, Liddle’s Lent, Carbon storage, Michael Parkinson

Acorns As it’s a holiday weekend and we’re all supposed to be tackling the puzzle supplements that newspapers inexplicably distribute at this time, I thought Syntagma should have its own version.

Well, one puzzle, at least:

In the world of apples and oranges, two plus two equals four.

In the world of water droplets, two plus two equals one.

Does that destroy the cosy world of mathematical certainty? Answers in a linked blogpost or by hitting the contact button in the sidebar.

* * * * *

Dirty tricks are all over the British newspapers this Sunday morning. A senior government aide has fallen on his machete, and the Labour blogosphere, such as it is, has gone into meltdown. More heads are predicted to roll.

I’m not going to comment on the specific incidents or personalities involved because I’m too far off the action to contribute anything of interest. Iain Dale’s blog is the place to get the lowdown and links to other players.

On a side note, this site has twice been the victim of dirty tricks. Two years ago I wrote a review of a new IT product launching in Britain. I criticized the cost of the deal and held the view that it would be a flop over here. I was wrong, but that’s irrelevant. Almost immediately our servers were subjected to a three-day distributed attack, presumably from zombie computers, that closed down our sites for 72 hours.

That was a commercial intervention. I’ve reason to believe that an ongoing kicking is political.

I’m not going to spell this out because that might prejudice the operation of the site, but someone very web-savvy has caused considerable inconvenience to the operation of Syntagma.

Taking into account the new revelations of the extent Downing Street will go to attack its perceived enemies, plus the anti-Labour nature of much of what I write here these days, it doesn’t take much to invite strong suspicions.

Putting two and two together, and making either four or one, it seems just possible that someone who knows about these things is throwing a few silent blows in our direction.

I can’t prove it, of course, but I’m about to approach a third party to investigate.

Politicians are supposed to take reasonably-argued criticisms in their stride. After all, politics can be a brutal game. It seems that this is not the case. Someone somewhere has a thin skin masquerading as a thick one.

* * * * *

The historian Dr David Starkey, has accused lady colleagues of writing only about women in history.

A few of them have replied with the charge that he writes only about men.

Girls, girls!

It’s true that Antonia Fraser and others have penned many pages in the cause of Elizabeth I. Boudicca (Boadicea) attracts a great deal of interest from women historians.

Starkey, who has just begun a Channel 4 series on Henry VIII, is sticking to his guns.

Isn’t it reassuring that some of our most distinguished historians, who interpret the past for us, are capable of having such a deep and edifying discussion?

* * * * *

Rod Liddle, an old Today Programme hand, has informed us that he gave up chives for Lent. A noble choice, and a great sacrifice, given how easy it is to become hooked on chives.

Many years ago, I made a more subtle decision. I gave up giving up for Lent.

In an ad hoc straw poll, someone asked around how many people now give up anything for Lent. The result was vanishingly small, and not much better among Catholics and High Church supporters.

Most, apparently, genuflect towards the practice by giving up something they never consume anyway — Liddle, you have a lot to answer for. Others just lie about it, or ignore it altogether.

Like Advent calendars at Christmas, we just can’t be bothered with all this paraphenalia nowadays.

Apart from farmers, does anyone mark the Quarter Days, for example. Michaelmas is not often mentioned in my presence, even on the day itself. However, it remains part of our poetic heritage, occurring mainly in novels by Thomas Hardy, George Eliot and others of their vintage.

With many Anglicans only using churches for “hatch, match and dispatch” purposes, (births, marriages and deaths), Church leaders really are fighting Canute-like against a tide of indifference.

As today is Easter Sunday, probably the most significant day in the Christian calendar, it does indicate a bleak future for the old religion.

Even America, Christianity’s most humble servant for 200 years, is going in the same direction.

If it is disappearing, do we need to find a substitute fast, or will it be replaced by something infinitely worse and more terrifying?

“When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”
G.K. Chesterton

An opportunity, or a fall from grace? Times change, but human nature retains its propensity for disaster, and genuine mystics will always be thin on the ground.

* * * * *

The latest answer to the perceived problem of climate change is a process called Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

A current advert by the Shell oil company informs us that “capturing” carbon dioxide gas (CO2) from industrial processes, and “storing” it underground, is the safest way of reducing our “carbon footprint” on the Earth. While the company admits this will not be easy, it nevertheless promotes the practice for the future.

Now, I’m trying to visualize this process in the real world. By common consent we emit vast quantities of CO2 from almost everything we do. I haven’t got a number for it, but it must be millions of tons of every day.

If all of that is somehow blown into underground caverns, do they suppose there won’t be leaks? And not just leaks but whole plumes of the stuff spraying out into the air in some places.

Adverse conditions underground, like earthquakes, could make this a nightmare scenario. Imagine not only having to cope with the effects of a quake, but with vast amounts of carbon dioxide gas in the local atmosphere too.

CO2 is not deadly toxic in the way carbon monoxide is, but enough of it has poisonous effects and might reduce the oxygen in the air sufficiently to suffocate many people. It might also be changed by atmospheric conditions — sun, cosmic rays, etcetera — into deadly monoxide and kill everyone in sight.

Here’s what expert website calculates:

CO2 Poisoning

After a few decades of this process, the amount of the gas stored underground will be vast. Given scientists’ knack of getting things wrong, how can we possibly allow this to happen?

We may be in more danger from the climate scientists than the climate itself.

* * * * *

TV veteran Michael Parkinson, had this to say about Jade Goody’s death: “When we clear the media smoke screen from around her death, what we’re left with is a woman who came to represent all that’s paltry and wretched about Britain today.”

Jade Goody’s grandmother replied: “If I could see him face-to-face I would love to give him a right mouthful and a wallop.”

It proves Parkie’s case, doesn’t it?

John Evans

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