Thursday, July 06, 2006

Bye Bye BBC Scotland

I'm mad as hell and I'm just not going to take it any more. So cried the suicidal anchor man in the 70s film,'Network News". After nearly thousand live political TV programmes, I was freeling much the same.

Every live presenter has the same fantasy of going berserk on air, even when your audience is a daytime handful of students, hacks and old age pensioners. Not that I have anything against retired people - at least they still vote, read newspapers and have some connection to the old virtues of public debate and political engagement. The viewers I didn't have a lot of time for were the Scottish Labour MPs in Westmnster who spent an inordinate amount of time and tax-payers' money lobbying to have me removed from the screens on the grounds that I was nationalist/anti-war/anti-Labour. None of which I am.

Odd that it was WESTMINSTER Labour MPs which found my face so obnoxious on the box. Since I was presenting, er, Holyrood Live, you might have thought it would be Members of the Scottish Parliament who'd be writing poison pen letters to the Director General. But in seven years of Holyrood coverage, in which I have not been wholly uncritical, there was scarcely a murmur from Holyrood. Or rather there was, but MSPs tended to take matters up with me face to face and up-front. Perhaps they're just too busy in the Scottish Parliament to bother trying to do the BBC's job for it.

You might have expected Westminster Labour MPs to have been targeting my Westminster equivalent, Andrew Neil, who presents (brilliantly) the Daily Politics. After all, Mr Neil is a prominent right wing Conservative, who has repeatedly expressed his views in colums and through the editorials in the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday, when he was editor in chief and publisher. A greater Labour hate figure would be hard to imagine.

But hey, I'm not bitter. BBC Scotland resisted these malign political representations on the grounds that it was their job to decide who to put on the telly, and that if they had no problems with my professionalism and impartiality, then they were not going to be told otherwise by politicians. In a curious way, the criticisms made my position more secure, because the BBC couldn't be seen to bend to political pressure. So - thanks Tom.

I hung up my microphone in a wholly amicable separation from the BBC last week to pursue what has always been my real interest - writing political commentary. Indeed, I only recount this story because of what it says about the condition of broadcasting in Scotland. There is an obsessive sensitivity, verging on paranoia, in London Labour about what goes on in Queen Margaret Drive.

MPs seem to believe that there is some deep-rooted nationalist conspiracy at the heart of BBC Scotland. There is not - though there may be a Gaelic one (that's a joke, honest). It really isn't a hotbed of separatism. But neurotic attempts to suppress this nationalist phantom are in danger of making it one.

The present state of impoverished dependency to which BBC Scotland is consigned, a kind of cultural house arrest, is the surest way to generate a political resentment. The hostility to the perfectly sensible proposals for a Scottish Six O'clock News have - I believe - ensured that, within a few years, Holyrood will wrest control over broadcasting from Westminster. Not because it wants to, but because it has no alternative.

Consider the absurdity. Up to sixty percent of the main evening news bulletin is now irrelevant to Scotland. Ok, perhaps not irrelevant, but of secondary importance. I'm thinking for example of the recent troubles in the English health service. These deficits and ward closures are a by-product of market reforms which not been introduced in Scotland. Doesn't mean that NHS Scotland is better - just different. However, it means that the Scottish Executive is being blamed for problems which aren't actually happening here. This is because it is not made clear that these health stories are about England.

One need hardly add the lunacy of turning the national UK news into an intoxicated, hyperventilating, cheerleader for the English football team in the World Cup. This indifferent squad was accorded the coverage of heroes, much to Scottish irritation.

And it happens the other way round too. Such is the metropolitan myopia that the Shirley McKie fingerprint affair was given minimal coverage - even though it is the most important single case in the hundred year history of finger print evidence.

The Six misrepresents the priorities of Scottish public life. What Scotland gets instead of a proper service are patronising 'opt outs' from programmes like Newsnight and the Politics Show. More and more local news. Oh, and the programmes I used to present, like Holyrood Live, for which mea culpa.

However, having presented the equivalent BBC network programmes in Westminster before I returned to Scotland in 1999, I was acutely aware of how miserable are Scottish political programme budgets. A tiny fraction of the resources that go into equivalent Westminster programmes. When I asked why, I was often told - ' Scotland has a tenth of the population so we get a tenth of the money".

This is a grotesque argument. If programmes are worth doing, they are worth doing properly. You don't give a Scottish hospital patient one tenth on the care or Scottish schoolchildren one tenth of the books. This patronising centralism is doing the SNP's job for it.

I have great respect for the people who work in BBC Scotland- some of the best journalists in the entire corporation. Producers like John Boothman who have a rare commitment to breaking stories, and correspondents like Glen Campbell, one of the sharpest tools in the BBC box . But they are ground down by relentless, tedious, mindless cuts. The only indigenous political programmes which seem to get proper money spent on them are in Gaelic - like 'Eorpa' because there is political clout behind the language.

What BBC Scotland manages to put on the screen is amazing, given the constraints. But it eats people up, destroys commitment drains creativity. It can't go on. The BBC is in serious danger of destroying what it is trying to protect - the unity of the UK broadcasting culture. It's time for Scottish viewers to get up and say they're mad as hell too.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Crime hits back at Jack

Jack McConnell has made clear his big idea for the Scottish elections next year is law and order . If so, prepare for an SNP-LibDem coalition, for the war on crime is going about as badly right now as Tony Blair’s war on terror.

Crime is down overall, largely due to economic growth, but in the specific areas targeted by the First Minister’s five-year anti-crime drive – youth, drugs, knives, child abuse – the numbers all appear to be going the wrong way.

Just look at last week’s press. Knife crime is up, we are told, and stabbings actually increased during the recent UK-wide amnesty. Drug abuse is at epidemic proportions in Scotland, with one in eight babies being born with illegal drugs in their bloodstream. Scotland’s “drugs tsar”, Tom Wood, the former chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, declared that the war had been lost.

It also emerged last week that half of all prisoners released from Scottish jails are back inside within two years, and nearly two-thirds of youth criminals re-offend within the same period. The “ned” culture, which Labour promised to end, has flourished. The Children’s Hearing system is being swamped by tens of thousands of referrals.

In desperation, McConnell has taken to attacking the police and local authorities. Last month, he said councils were “doing a disservice” by failing to use Asbos. Last week he said it was “inexcusable” that only four of the country’s eight police forces had used dispersal orders, designed to prevent young people ganging up on the streets. The councils and the police said they weren’t aware of any “correct number” of orders, adding that there was a 60% increase in Asbos in 2005. So, sucks, Jack.

McConnell’s frustration is understandable. There are more police than ever; longer sentences than ever; more people in jail than ever; more anti-drug programmes; more people on paedophile and child abuse registers. The police have Asbos, closure orders, dispersal orders . But despite all McConnell’s efforts, people still think the government isn’t doing enough. Why?

Well, one possible reason is the phenomenon of crime inflation. The FM’s measures may affect real crime, but public perceptions of crime are another matter. Crime sells newspapers and with falling circulations, editors are desperate to keep readers attention. The pages of tabloids are filled day after day with stories of stabbings, beatings, gangs, illegal immigrants; terrorists on the loose; prisoners being let out of jail early; paedophiles at loose in the community and murderers being given derisory sentences by liberal judges.

It’s hardly surprising we’re are in a state of fear. A couple of people are beaten up, allegedly for supporting England in the World Cup, and you’d think that a racial war had broken out in the UK. Society is presented as saturated by lawlessness because it is a way of connecting emotionally with people. Saying crime is down doesn’t sell the evening rag.

I’m not saying all crime is a fiction made up by the media. But “if it bleeds, it leads” is the old newsroom adage. Newspapers don’t do “proportionate”. IT was ever thus.

But what happened in the early years of the new century is that the Left started trying to surf this crime panic. Finding that social justice, economic growth and working-class solidarity were no longer enough to motivate Labour’s traditional vote, the party turned from class politics to street politics. It embraced the law and order postures that used to be so successful for the Tories in working class constituencies such as Cathcart.

Now, there’s no doubt this is what many voters want – politicians testify to the sense of panic on the doorsteps. Crime hits those at the bottom of the social scale in run-down council estates far more harshly than the middle classes in leafy suburbs. Former left-wing Labour MSPs, such as Johann “hammer of the neds” Lamont of Glasgow Pollok, are only reflecting the concerns of electorate.

But while you develop policies for the crime wave, it is very difficult to do anything about the media wave. You can’t lock up editors. They will continue to report, in pornographic detail, every evil and misfortune to hit ordinary people in their areas, and their readers will want something done about it.

Moreover, cracking down on crime is all very well, but there is also the question of justice. The police simply can’t go around slapping dispersal orders on every young person on a city street corner on a Saturday night if they are doing nothing wrong. Yet many local people now regard the very presence of groups of young people as a threat.

And yes, the police could be doing more, by just being there. There’s nothing like a bobby on the beat to make people feel secure. But the police say they are up to their eyes in paperwork, thanks to Executive policies.

Last week, McConnell attacked the police for inundating the Children’s Hearings system with spurious cases. These were not offenders, but children at risk of abuse in the family home. However, this is a result of McConnell’s own campaign to protect children, launched after the death of baby Caleb Ness at the hands of his violent father in 2001. He called for all the agencies to take greater care of children in homes with violent or drug-taking adults. The result was that officials now automatically refer such children.

Those who live by the tabloid, die by the tabloid. The FM is sincere in his concern about crime, but he is fighting a phantom, and the phantom is winning.

Wigs of Mass Destruction

OH dear. Just when Bush and Blair thought the worst was over in Iraq, and suddenly they are fighting on an entirely new front. And this time they’re up against an opponent who is a lot tougher than Saddam’s Republican Guard: the law.
Wigs of mass destruction are raining down on Number 10 and the White House as the courts rule that their conduct, from Guantanamo Bay to Belmarsh, is unlawful.

The US Supreme Court has told George W Bush his treatment of detainees in Cuba is contrary to the Geneva Convention. Meanwhile, in Britain, a judge last week ruled house arrest of terrorist suspects under the Blair government’s control orders is illegal under the Human Rights Act. Which is unfortunate, because it was Tony Blair’s government that introduced the HRA.

Now, neither ruling means that the government will be throwing open the doors of Belmarsh and Guantanamo, at least not yet. But this represents a serious double blow to the moral authority of both governments, and the war in Iraq. After all, isn’t the rule of law what we are meant to be fighting for? If we don’t treat prisoners decently and in accordance with international conventions, how can we lecture tin-pot dictators about their maltreatment of their own citizens? You can’t fight a police state by setting up a police state – and that is what many senior legal figures fear is what the government is creating in Britain by default.

This new willingness of the judiciary to hold the US and UK governments to account will have serious implications for the war on terror. Practices like rendition of terrorist suspects for interrogation in countries that practise torture are almost certainly illegal under the Geneva Convention, it only needs someone to test it in court.

Such “torture by proxy” is, anyway, morally indefensible. As is maltreating prisoners in Abu Ghraib, or Guantanamo Bay, or using interrogation techniques such as “waterboarding” – where a detainee is strapped down, dunked under water and made to believe he might be drowned – which the CIA doesn’t define as torture, but every civilised person would.

Last week was the second time that the British government has been in the dock over Belmarsh. The House of Lords ruled last year that detaining terrorism suspects without trial or charge was illegal, and the government had to change the law to get the power to issue house arrest control orders as an alternative to detention. But it hasn’t satisfied m’learned friends.

Tomorrow the pugnacious new Home Secretary, John Reid, will be in court trying to overturn last Wednesday’s ruling by Mr Justice Sullivan on control orders. “Judge” Reid’s made clear he’s no’ huvvin’ it, and that the judges will have to sort themselves out or be sorted out.

Certainly, the ruling could hardly have been more provocative. It was like saying “thanks to the government’s own legislation, we can’t protect the public from terrorists”. It coincided with a call from Conservative Party leader David Cameron to scrap the HRA and replace it with a Bill of Rights.

Now you can be pretty sure that Reid is no enthusiast for the HRA, or at any rate its interpretation, but there’s a lot more going on here than a debate on the finer points of law. There is a suspicion in Labour circles that last week’s judgment was political – a shot across the bows by a judiciary incensed at the way the government has tried to blame it for soft sentences, such as that handed down to paedophile murderer Craig Sweeney.

Reid ruled that sentence “unduly lenient” and ordered a rethink, thus trampling across the supposed separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive. Reid doesn’t like being contradicted. He believes that he is the only man who can make Labour’s hardness on crime more than a slogan.

Tony Blair has, of course, has made no secret of his own contempt for the “legal establishment”. As he sees it, ivory tower lawyers are endangering national security by a punctilious and old-fashioned interpretation of the law. And this time it’s personal: the Human Rights Act was Blair’s policy.

It’s nothing new for the government to see a conspiracy by the legal establishment. This is the way politicians think, in terms of power struggle. There’s no evidence Justice Sullivan was pursuing a vendetta against Labour, or even trying to extend the powers and scope of the HRA. He did not outlaw control orders, but rather the “draconian” way they were being implemented.

Tagging people and then banging them up for 18 hours a day with no human contact is not just a restriction of liberty, it is the negation of it. These people are effectively being punished, just as much as they would be in prison. But they have not committed any known crime and are not subject to any charge likely to be tested in court.

What the judge was saying in effect was: “We realise that certain people have to be under close supervision, and that this may restrict their liberty, but to impose such sanctions on innocent individuals is incompatible with the Human Rights Act, 1998.” You can’t have it both ways – either scrap the HRA or shape up and stop being hypocrites.

The HRA did not invent human rights; nor was it the creation of woolly-minded pacifist lawyers. It simply incorporated into British law the European Convention on Human Rights, which Britain helped to draft, and which was ratified by Winston Churchill in 1951. It allows people to pursue their rights under the convention in a British court, instead of having to go to Strasbourg.

Similarly, the 1949 Geneva Convention, which President Bush has fallen foul of, was a product of the war against fascism. In a real sense these conventions codify the freedoms that won the cold war against the Soviet Union.

This is what is so worrying about these two rulings. The courts shouldn’t have to remind democratic leaders of their responsibilities to guard our fundamental freedoms from arbitrary arrest, punishment without trial, torture and deportation. We are told the individuals under detention are dangerous terrorists, a threat to public safety. If this is so, then let’s put them in a court and hear the evidence – or let a judge hear it in private if the evidence would compromise intelligence sources.

We have seen from the accidental death of Jean Charles de Menezes last year, and from the recent shooting in Forest Gate, that intelligence is far from reliable. The Islamic world is watching with mounting suspicion. Miscarriages of justice can do greater damage than the terrorists themselves.

So, would Scotland really be happier on its own?

“Some of us fervently believe in Scottish independence,” said the Guardian commentator Simon Hoggart, at the height of the World Cup footie wars, “they would be so much happier without us”. Well, would we?
Other small countries in Europe seem to be pretty happy on their own. Take Catalonia, the already devolved Spanish region, which last week voted three to one in favour of a new Statute of Authority which gives it national status, plus extensive powers over taxation, judicial affairs and immigration. No regrets there. At the other end of the economic spectrum, we have Slovakia, which also went to the polls last week and is forming a new left-of-centre coalition government.
Slovakia’s case is fascinating. It was regarded as an economic basket-case at the time of the “Velvet Divorce” from the Czech Republic back in 1993. Rather like Scotland today, it was regarded as ‘provincial’, backward and dependent on the richer, cosmopolitan Czechs. Not any more. Slovakia is now becoming an industrial powerhouse and the EU’s fastest-growing economy. Peugeot’s new plant at Trnava is one of the biggest in the world, and takes over much of the production that used to take place at Ryton in Coventry.
So, it’s not just the “original” small nations of Europe like Norway, Finland, Ireland which are doing well. It is looking increasingly as if Scottish-sized nations of around about five million citizens may have competitive advantage in the European Union. Catalonia and Slovakia have done well out of autonomy, even though the former has one of the highest and the latter one of the lowest wages in the EU. They are very different societies in many ways, and have different histories. But what they demonstrate is that regional independence, far from being a recipe for decline and introversion, can unlock latent economic and cultural dynamism.
Yes, size matters. It’s not just about oil or the possession of other natural resources. Small economies are, in many ways, better suited to the new economic political arrangements in the European Union thant the old, multipurpose nation states. They are nimble enough to adapt to a rapidly-changing global economic environment and don’t have the kind of political, cultural and class divisions that drain the life out of multinational entities like the UK.
In an over-centralised state like Britain, where London dominates the mass media, political decision-making and the allocation of public investment, it is very difficult for a province like Scotland to alter its own circumstances. Scotland has long had a lower growth rate than England, but is unable to rectify this by lowering business taxes or developing its own infrastructure. Or, indeed, formulating its own immigration policies.
In Britain, all roads lead south and that’s where Scottish entrepreneurs, professionals and skilled workers traditionally gravitate. They might still do so after independence, of course, but at least a Scottish government would be able to legislate for tax policies to attract them back.
Or replace them. It is now widely accepted that the UK’s recent economic growth could not have happened without the influx of low paid black and Asian labour. This has now run up against the limits of political acceptability among the white English urban community, so the government has responded by clamping down on immigration. But the Scottish economy is in a different cycle and needs more of it, not less - as the Fresh Talent initiative demonstrated.
So, there really is no doubt that Scotland could survive and thrive as an independent state in Europe, and most economists I speak to agree. Membership of the European Union has eliminated many negatives like separate currencies (except of course in Britain) and barriers to the movement of labour and investment. Guaranteed access to a market of 300 million, plus political representation in the councils of the EU, have removed the fear of being “too small to matter” which used to afflict small countries.
In Scotland autonomy has always been presented as a threat to economic stability. Labour’s 1999 election slogan, “divorce is an expensive business”, pretty much summed up the state of opinion at the time of devolution, and many Scots still believe it. Certainly, an independent Scotland would would have a structural non-oil deficit of several billion pounds if the Barnett formula, which allocates public spending, were to be wound up tomorrow.
However, despite what Lord Barnett says, his formula is already being wound down under the new population formula, according to economists like Strathclyde University’s Dr Karen Turner and Stirling’s Prof David Bell. Convergance is happening. Anyway, budget deficits needn’t be terminal - as America has demonstrated - and can be managed for many years. Britain has historically run budget deficits of around 50 billion without any economic distress. Moreover, with 12 billion a year in oil revenues going south, the Scottish budget deficit is in reality a theoretical one.
So, perhaps Hoggart and co are on to something. The English chattering classes, anyway, show every sign of being fed up with Scotland. "The loss of one-twelfth of our population”, said the former Tory Defence Minister Michael Portillo in the Sunday Times last week, “in a region that drags down our national performance could not harm us”.
The irony is that in other old nation-states like Spain, the talk is all about keeping the country together and avoiding fragmentation. Before the referendum campaign got underway a Madrid general even proposed a military invasion of Catalonia to prevent secession. It’s the same in Italy and France, where central governments are increasingly anxious about the example set by the new small nations.
But the metropolitan media in Britain seems relaxed about Scotland going it alone. The big issue in England right now is multiculturalism and ethnic diversity, which even members of the liberal chattering classes, like the editor of Prospect magazine, David Goodhart, fear might have gone too far.
It is not acceptable to criticise immigrants as dependent, lazy spongers, who are undermining the integrity of the nation, but it is acceptable, apparently, to attack the Scots in this way, and claim that Gordon Brown cannot be Prime Minister because of his nationality. Perhaps what we are seeing here is a displaced ethnic antagonism. If so, the UK is surely doomed.

Brown had to back Trident - but that doesn't make it right

It isn’t independent and it certainly isn't a deterrent. Britain’s fleet of Vanguard class nuclear submarines carry Trident D5 missiles leased from America which cannot be deployed without the agreement of the White House. Far from deterring emerging countries like Iran or North Korea from developing nuclear weapons, the renewal of Trident positively encourages them to do so.

If Britain, as Gordon Brown believes, requires these devices to meet some nameless future threat, and to ensure Britain’s clout in the United Nations Security Council, then every industrialising country will argue the same. Iran is surrounded by nuclear nations - Pakistan, Israel, Russia, India - and has a greater cause for pleading the logic of deterrence than Britain, which faces no immediate threat from anywhere, unless you believe France has a sinister ambition to irradiate Albion.

This quintessentially Eighties weapon system, which Brown promised in last week’s Mansion House speech to renew, was developed under the Cold War doctrine of “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD). And mad it certainly is. Trident is designed to obliterate every significant city in the former Soviet Union. Since the Russians are now on our side, this makes the system anachronisitc to say the least.

We will be spending #20 billion on a system which cannot be used against any known enemy. Terrorists like al Qaeda will certainly not be deterred. However, Britain’s dependence on the US for supply and servicing of our nuclear weapons, more or less signs us up to American foreign policy, and to disasters like Iraq. Meanwhile our impoverished conventional forces struggle in Afghanistan with inferior kit.

At best, Trident is a military virility symbol, at worst a threat to world peace. Gordon Brown knows all this - he has been an opponent of nuclear weapons for most of his life and, I am convinced, remains one at heart. He knows also that the development of a new generation of nuclear weapons - the so called Reliable Replacement Weapon being developed at Britain’s nuclear laboratory at Aldermaston - is a breach of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. That requires countries to work actively towards disarming existing nuclear weapons instead of developing new ones.

The Chancellor claims to be an internationalist, dedicated to eradicating poverty and promoting world peace. He spoke at Robin Cook’s funeral about this agenda. So, why did the future PM announce, out of the blue, that Britain is going to keep the very system that defines big power hypocrisy. That says to developing nations: ‘Just remember - there’s one law for us; another for you lot’ ?

The short answer, of course, is political expediency. It’s all to do with Brown’s obsession with ensuring that ‘orderly succession of power’. He believes he has to persuade Middle Britain that the future Prime Minister is not a man of the Left..
Like wrapping himself in the flag, and supporting England in the World Cup, Brown is appealing to the Daily Mail constituency, who believe nuclear weapons are a source of national pride and national security.

The Chancellor’s aides were tickled that Clare “It’s the end” Short, the former Development Secretary, disowned Brown last week declaring him to be beyond the pale. That’s exactly where the Chancellor’s aides want him to be - at least in the eyes of those mainly English Labour voters who suspect that Gordon’s true colours are not red white and blue, but plain red.

This column forecast, wearily, that Gordon Brown would make just such a public affirmation of his intention to maintain nuclear deterrent the weapons system, if only because it was in Labour’s election manifesto. His justification is that the future Prime Minister has to reassure Britain’s allies and the UN Security Council, that he does not intend to pull Britain out of its international treaty obligations.

To have made a declaration of unilateral intent now would have spooked America and created an unbridgeable gulf between himself and Tony Blair. This could have destroyed Labour as a governing party. Just imagine if Tony Blair, Labour’s most successful leader ever, were to disown his successor on the grounds that, to use Nye Bevan’s old phrase, he would “leave Britain naked in the conference chamber”?

Neil Kinnock, a hugely influential figure, might also have criticised Brown for endangering Labour’s electability and reopening the wounds of the 1980s. Needless to say, the tabloid newspapers and the mainstream press would have condemned Brown as a figure from Labour’s past - an unreconstructed Left-winger who is out of tune with public opinion and unsuited to the disciplines of office.

Put this way, Gordon Brown had little option but to make a statement affirming his support for Labour’s settled policy on our oxymoronic nuclear deterrent. However, I am not trying to apologise for this decision. It may be understandable but that doesn’t make it morally justifiable. It certainly doesn’t justify the nuclear chauvinism of his aides who spun the Chancellor’s bald announcement last week into a declaration of war on unilateralists and CND.

In private briefings to journalists, Number 11 spinners portrayed Brown as a kind of Dr Strangelove who had learned to love the bomb and was eager to show that he was signed up to MAD. Brown authorised these briefings and the Chancellor should be ashamed of them. He should look back on this moment, as with his defence of the PM’s conduct of the Iraq war, with a deeply troubled conscience.

He knows that the only way to justify the maintenance Trident is if it is used as a means of reducing the international arms race. The only utility of a system which, if it were used, could destroy a quarter of the planet is to employ it as a means to decommission other nuclear weapons. I may be naive, but I suspect Brown will try to do something about this when he becomes Prime Minister.

Britain’s nuclear deterrent is already “stood down” and only a token force actually takes to the seas. Trident missiles are targeted, not on any cities, but on the South Atlantic. It is questionable whether they could be used in earnest without a great deal of work being done on the fleet to make it fully operational.

And may they rust in peace. It is possible that Brown may use the renewal of the nuclear deterrent as an opportunity to downsize Trident, to make it compatible with the NNPT. There’s some evidence that the chiefs of staff would not be unhappy at the prospect of saving the 4% of the military budget that goes on Trident and using it to buy something more useful - like decent boots and rifles.

It may be wishful thinking, but I suspect Brown might try to use the nuclear system, constructively, as a form of bargaining with so-called rogue nations, to persuade them to put their own arsenals ‘beyond use’. To mothball all nuclear weapons, under a form of international supervision, is the only plausible way, ultimately, to create a climate of disarmament. Brown is an internationalist. In the age of climate change and global warming the last thing the world needs is further proliferation of nuclear weapons. But the reality is that, if things go on as they are, many more countries will join the nuclear club in the next two decades.

There is no way of stopping this race by running faster than the rest. Someone has to call a halt to the nuclear madness - we can only hope against hope that, in his pursuit of power, Gordon Brown keeps his sanity in reserve.