When I first read that Putin was worth £20 billion, I thought it must be a misprint. Admittedly, £20 million would be on the low side for a Russian dictator, and so £200 million or even £2 billion (property is expensive these days) would seem fitting. But the shameless greed and depravity that would enable someone, by sheer virtue of their political position, to amass £20 billion is almost beyond imagining. It is obscene. But apparently, this is only a conservative estimate. According to Russian fund manager Bill Browder, the true figure is more like $200 billion, which include oil shares, palaces, country estates, real estate, planes, helicopters, yachts and luxury goods of every description. In short, Putin and his cronies own Russia.
What is Mrs May worth? Well, Mr and Mrs May owns a nice four-bedroomed house in a fashionable Thameside village nice Maidenhead. Mrs May has, in her political career, earned an above average salary, first as member of parliament, then as minister, and lately as prime minister, for which she is paid £150,000 a year. Her accumulated savings will, as a result, also be above average. And when she retires, she will be guaranteed a comfortable income, bolstered by any lucrative directorships she chooses to take on (a regrettable but possibly unavoidable feature of our political system) and earnings from any speeches she chooses to make (or that anyone would be prepared to pay to listen to). So, she will be worth a few millions. But hardly super-rich.
Putin and May differ somewhat in their backgrounds. Whereas Mrs May, the vicar’s daughter, entered politics with a vague idea of doing some good, and worked her way up by displaying a certain managerial efficiency, together with qualities of decency and common sense (her only nakedly ambitious Machiavellian act having been to have remained silent during the run up to the Brexit referendum), Putin entered politics as a KGB agent.
Putin and May also differ somewhat in their attitude to their opponents and critics. Whereas those who criticise Mr Putin (political opponents, investigative journalists, lawyers challenging corruption) have a regrettable tendency to end up dead, whether murdered, beaten to death in prison, or found dead in suspicious circumstances, those who criticise Mrs May face no penalty or hindrance whatsoever. The worst Mr Corbyn can expect is some sharp words across the floor of the House of Commons; and George Osborne was told he should learn some ‘emotional intelligence’. Corbyn and Osborne have both made good recoveries.
Of course, there is much wrong with our system of representative government, with capitalism, with the West. But perhaps the most serious flaw of liberal democracy, and liberalism generally, is its tendency to self-destruct. The ascendant values of equality, respect for others, tolerance and so forth constantly eat away at the values that at root hold society together – family structures, traditional attachments and loyalties, religion, patriotism. Throw in the fashionable notions of postmodernism which have taken hold of academia, and the cancer spreads. Throw in a bit of disinformation from outside, some half-plausible conspiracy theories, a bit of foul play by those who are not bound by high-minded liberal principles, or by any rules at all, and the whole edifice is in danger of toppling. No such danger threatens the dictator of a totalitarian state, so long as potential opponents are subdued with fear, and the wider population maintained in a state of nationalistic fervour through a suitable personality cult.
Much the most disturbing feature of the Russian spy poisoning affair, then, is that for a growing number of our fellow citizens, perhaps even the majority, the word of a British prime minister, heading a democratically elected government, and acting on behalf of the nation in a matter of national security, is judged of no more worth or value than the word of the thuggish leader of a totalitarian plutocracy. We are, in fact, in dead trouble.
Buy our quarterly paper or digital magazine. Prices from as little as £10 a year