Toper Bush, Comrade Crick and China

Why Bush should have stayed on the booze.

The problem with George W Bush wasn't that he was once a toper, but that he gave up drink and found God. In his memoirs, Decision Points, he recalls that he renounced alcohol ­after a restaurant dinner on his 40th birthday. He and a friend went from table to table "telling the same stories over and over".

No doubt it was torture for the other diners, but it was hardly in the same class as waterboarding. At least they could leave, unlike the rest of us who had to listen to Bush telling stories "over and over" about WMDs and an axis of evil for eight years. Bush's response to any crisis during his presidency was to seek guidance from God. Given all that Old Testament stuff about smiting, punishing children for parental iniquities and taking an eye for an eye, he was likely to get only one answer. If he had still been a drinker, he would have reached for a stiff whiskey, and Afghans and Iraqis particularly would have been better off.

Chinese perils

Suppose David Cameron had gone to China and, instead of making coded comments to students about democracy, read the riot act about human rights. Suppose he had banged on about Tibet, several thousand executions a year, journalists in jail, internet censorship, forced confessions, the lack of independent trade unions, and so on. Suppose he had told Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao they are odious tyrants. What terrible consequences would have ensued?

We are told we cannot afford to imperil trade with the rising superpower. But our imports from China last year cost 4.5 times more than we earned in exports to them, and the gap is growing. Is there anything among their £24.3bn of exports that we couldn't buy elsewhere, make ourselves or just do without? It's not as if they send us oil, medicine or other essentials such as wine and cheese. Perhaps our children would miss Chinese toys at Christmas, but they usually fall apart by Boxing Day (the toys, that is).

What really concerns our politicians is that the Chinese might take their money away. When our leaders talk about "the financial markets losing confidence", they often mean the Chinese, who use our bonds as a kind of savings bank. Poor people in China - the majority of the population - need the money, but their government won't let them have it and lend it to us instead. So we Britons and Americans live way beyond our means, at direct cost to the Chinese masses. To maintain that situation, our leaders pretend it's OK to lock up Nobel Peace Prize winners. Perhaps Bush could ascertain God's opinion on this subject.

Strike against the bankers

Morgan Kelly, a Dublin economics professor, performs a great service (an unintended one, I suspect) by recalling the 19th-century Irish land revolt. Thousands of tenants went on rent strike against unfair rents and summary evictions, handing their money instead to the Land League, which negotiated discounts with landlords and organised resistance to eviction attempts. Ireland's deepening economic crisis, Kelly suggests in the Irish Times, may lead to a mortgage repayment strike. "If one family defaults on its mortgage," he writes, "they are pariahs: if 200,000 default they are a powerful political constituency."

Kelly seems to consider this a bad thing, arguing that, because Irish banks are broke, relief for mortgage holders would have to come from other taxpayers. That may be so in Ireland but, for this country, I detect the germ of a good idea. Couldn't an equivalent of the Land League hold mortgage repayments until bankers agree to stop paying each other ridiculous salaries and bonuses? Shouldn't somebody also be ready to organise rent strikes among those who have their housing allowances cut, particularly as the government says that landlords ought to be cutting rents anyway? David Cameron will surely welcome such actions as examples of the "big society" at work.

Biggest test of all

Michael Crick, political editor of BBC2's Newsnight, asked if he had heard Radio 4's Today programme during the two-day strike at the corporation, replied: "I regard listening to or watching the BBC as strike-breaking." This is what the Trots used to call "a correct analysis, comrade": one should not, as a friend put it, "cross an electronic picket line". But these troubled times present more testing dilemmas. I avoided BBC programmes with ease but confess to boarding a blackleg train during the latest London Tube strike. My excuse was that I was visiting a hospital patient.

We must all hope not to confront the biggest test of all. During a firefighters' strike, should one allow one's house to burn down rather than call a fire engine?

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I fear expectations about the England cricket team's chances in Australia are too high. I am reminded of 1958-59. England then held the Ashes, having beaten Australia in three consecutive series, overwhelmed the West Indies, whitewashed New Zealand and, over ten Tests home and away, narrowly got the better of South Africa. May, Cowdrey and Graveney were the main batsmen; Trueman, Tyson, Statham, Laker and Lock were the bowlers.

The Aussies, however, won the series 4-0, and none of the matches was even close. The English pleaded that the opposition bowlers illegally threw the ball, but that just added to our reputation as whingeing Poms. The tour was accident-prone from the start: during the voyage out, one batsman injured his knee rising from a deckchair. I hope James Anderson's rib injury, incurred while boxing against a fellow bowler during a pre-tour "bonding" session, wasn't a similar harbinger of disaster.

Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998-2005

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.