Bernard Ingham: Putin might not get just deserts – but Labour will if it keeps Corbyn

Is Putin a threat to the West? (AP).
Is Putin a threat to the West? (AP).
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Any conversation I have these days invariably ends with a two word query: whatever next?

It is a reasonable question as Vladimir Putin works through his hit list of allegedly delinquent Russian exiles, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ever more aligns himself with the UK’s foes, President Donald Trump sacks his ministers and officials every five minutes, and North Korea’s rocket man, Kim Jong-un, apparently contemplates talks with the United States in Sweden.

Whatever next, indeed. The only thing that would surprise us would be if peace and goodwill to all men broke out all over the world. That, I must say, is nowhere to be found in the crystal ball into which I have been gazing intently these last few days.

At risk of irreparable damage to my credibility, I will share with you some of my conclusions.

But first let me dispense with Corbyn’s doubts as to whether the Kremlin is behind the latest rush to eliminate identified so-called enemies of Mother Russia living in this country.

Strictly, Putin’s culpability will never be established beyond peradventure unless his operatives have made so far undetected bloomers or the hit men confess.

But the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming, given what we know of Putin’s KGB background and character, the nature of the Soviet nerve agent unleashed on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury and the suspicious, to say the least, deaths of a string of Russians from Boris Berezovsky, through Alexander Litvinenko (poisoned by radioactive polonium) to the now strangled remains of Nikolay Glushkov in Surrey.

In the annals of British jurisprudence many have hanged for less.

We can safely say that Putin will not be hauled before the International War Crimes Tribunal or any court of human rights to be given his just deserts.

In any case, how would he be arrested? So we can only assume this narcissistic thug with an inferiority complex will be with us for the next seven years now that he has inevitably been confirmed in office in a spurious election.

But my crystal ball tells me he will calm down now that his assassins have helped to secure re-election by perpetuating the myth that the West is a threat to Russia.

Yet all is not lovely in the Kremlin garden. Why did Putin feel it necessary now to be seen to be acting against Russian enemies of the state and remind the world of his nuclear strength?

The answer is that he knows that he is not all that revered in Russia, where 20 per cent of the population live below the poverty line. And to prove it he prevented his most dangerous opponent from standing against him for the election.

But Putin will continue to try to destabilise the West by probing its Eastern European frontier, through his bloody alliance with President Assad in Syria, and wherever else he can be provocative, including threatening Europe’s gas supply.

You may feel that Putin is all the greater threat when Trump, the spoiled kid, tends to remove from the White House anybody who restrains him. Indeed, you may feel like calling for a stiff whisky and a pearl-handled revolver if you think both these megalomaniacs are certifiably mad.

But my crystal ball tells me they are not mad enough to unleash nuclear war. It also shows that Trump’s excesses have their uses. He has brought to the world a new uncertainty, though – as is the tradition of the US presidency – without Putin’s inherent expansionism.

Given the United States’ strength, that will induce caution in the Kremlin as in North Korea. Hence Kim’s willingness to talk, though with any commonsense is less clear.

What all this does for the Labour Party is less obvious. The most I can detect is a stirring, if not yet the turning, of the worm. But Corbyn’s reaction to the Skripal attack after his association with IRA and Palestinian terrorists, is doing him immense harm.

So is Momentum’s systematic takeover of the party, its ousting of local government leaders and threatening to de-select moderate Labour MPs.

Sooner or later the majority of his Parliamentary party is going to have to decide whether to leave Corbyn and co to their fantasies and launch the Real Labour Party. If not, both they and their party will be done for.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May comes into her own as she governs quietly but firmly and even makes progress on Brexit.

Whoever would have thought it? Whatever next? I’ll bet she is in No 10 come the next election.