Bill Carmichael: A new world full of danger

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EVENTS in Russia demonstrate that the world is an unstable place – and it is getting nastier and uglier by the day. Vladimir Putin’s party won a disputed and, many allege, rigged election at the weekend, although with a much reduced majority.

When pro-democracy campaigners called foul, the authorities arrested hundreds of demonstrators and set militia and pro-government thugs to beat them up.

Things became so bad this week that former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev demanded the fraudulent elections be rerun, but it seems Putin is unlikely to yield.

It is all one in the eye for the optimists among us who hoped the collapse of Soviet communism 20 years ago would herald in a new era of liberty and prosperity for the long-suffering Russian people.

Instead, much the same gangsters remain in charge and Russia seems as far away from the ideal of a Western style democracy as ever it was. These are painful lessons to be learned. For those of us lucky enough to be born during the last 60 years, it has been tempting to think that the relative peace and prosperity we’ve enjoyed is the norm.

It is not. Our parents and grandparents expended much blood and treasure to secure our freedoms. In fact both historically and geographically the benign environment of modern Britain is the exception, rather than the rule.

For much of the world, widespread corruption and brutal repression is commonplace. Even in much of “civilised” Western Europe the roots of democracy don’t run very deep. Until the mid 1970s, for example, Spain, Portugal and Greece were run by military dictatorships.

On the Continent, as recent history bears witness, extremism of both the Right and Left always lurks not very deep below the surface. As the dominoes topple and country after country collapses into economic chaos, we can expect those extremists to grow in power and influence.

I’m reluctant to be so pessimistic to draw the obvious parallels with the 1930s, but needless to say it isn’t going to be pretty.

And of course there is always the baleful influence of Russia, which can bully its neighbours through its military strength and control of vital energy supplies.

Add that to the threat of militant Islam and a nuclear armed Iran, as well as the growing confidence of a rapidly expanding China, and you have a combustible and potentially explosive mixture.

And for the first time in a generation there are no reliable allies to whom we can turn. The United States has been left paralysed and impotent by catastrophically weak leadership under President Barack Obama, coupled with an unsustainable level of debt.

Europe, meanwhile, is going through a slow-motion car crash from which there are unlikely to emerge many able bodied survivors. Incidentally, at a time when the UK will need to be nimble and adaptable to compete economically, we would do well not to handcuff ourselves to the rotting corpse that is the European Union.

So, just as we become aware of a much harsher, more dangerous world, it looks like we are pretty much on our own. Perhaps, for the first time, the current generation will be required to defend our hard-won freedoms – alone if necessary.

It may be a comfort to recall that it wouldn’t be for the first time.

Empty sack

Much hilarity at Westminster where shadow chancellor and Morley and Outwood MP Ed Balls dressed up as Santa Claus for the Christmas party for MPs’ children at the House of Commons.

But given Labour’s past form, I suspect Santa’s sack may have been empty on this occasion except for a scribbled note that said: “Sorry children – no presents this year because we’ve spent all the money!”