I watched Sophie Raworth interview the Prime Minister, apparently in a dimly lit Munich basement, at the weekend. It was absolutely excruciating. The interview lasted twenty five minutes but the substantive trafficking of information might have been accomplished in about three. It would be folly for Russia to attack Ukraine and if Mr Putin fires the starting pistol we will impose economic sanctions; we are going to remove Covid restrictions in England, with caution; I can’t say anything about Partygate while a police investigation is underway; I won’t say anything about the Duke of York’s difficulty, and the public purse. That was it. Mr Johnson stonewalled, and let the clock run down. Ms Raworth needed to take the PM by surprise, with an unexpected flanking manoeuvre, and by stealth. She didn’t have this in her armamentarium. She merely continued a full frontal assault, the entrenched warfare of attrition, a heavy and prolonged, but futile bombardment. By the time the guns fell silent, no advance had been made.
But how apposite, or perhaps ironic, that the Great Powers (without Russia, who declined to attend the Bavarian security conference) should convene in Munich. The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (one time stand-up comic) flew in both to thank NATO for its support, but also to accuse it of appeasing Russia. Of course “appeasement” invokes the spectre of Munich, 1938. Meanwhile Russia and Belarus have continued joint military “exercises”, including, most chillingly, rehearsals of “tactical” nuclear missile launches, personally supervised by Mr Putin.
While Munich 2022 was being reported, a family member was attending church. I was told the sermon was very good. It concerned Jesus’ teaching that we turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and do good to those who hate us. If somebody demands your coat, give him your shirt as well. Is that what Mr Chamberlain did? And should we follow that advice with respect to Mr Putin? There is a letter in today’s National from the redoubtable anti-nuclear arms campaigner Brian Quail, pointing to the grim inevitability of the situation we now find ourselves in. He quotes the prophetic words of Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels: “Even if we lose, we will win, because our ideas will have penetrated the hearts of our enemies.” Mr Quail urges us to renounce our devotion to war. We must stop blaming the other. “I have seen the enemy, and he is us.” Did not Wilfred Owen explicitly put himself in his enemy’s shoes? I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
From my own limited experience of school bullies in the playground, I remember that one of their prime motivations was fear. But it only became evident if you stood up to them. I seem to recall that Jesus rather lost his temper with the commercial entrepreneurs in the temple in Jerusalem, and took a whip to them. He preached, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”, and I hope that if I were behaving badly, my friends, and even my enemies, would call it out.
But I experienced the best of Russia on Saturday evening, at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. Patricia Kopatchinskaja played the Stravinsky Violin Concerto, and the RSNO played Rachmaninov 2. Ms K, aside from being a virtuoso violinist, was a real character. She played with wit. She engaged the audience. The music came alive. Afterwards, she regretted the fact that Stravinsky had not provided her with a cadenza, and proceeded to play one of her own composition, full of the concerto’s themes. It involved a duet with the RSNO leader Sharon Roffman, herself a stellar performer. Brought the house down. As did, after the interval, the gorgeous Rach 2. After that, it was not difficult to love Mother Russia. But then, more than a century ago, when it all fell apart, Rachmaninov and Stravinsky both got out.
But we mustn’t take our eyes of Beijing. Thanks to the men’s curling team (silver), and the women’s curling team (gold), team GB avoided the embarrassment of coming home from the Winter Olympics empty-handed. Reviewing the papers on Sophie Raworth’s show on Sunday, Pippa Crerar, the political editor of the Mirror, pointed out that the teams were Scottish. But then, Ms Crerar has a Scottish accent. It is good to know that the United Kingdom has been supported in her need by the broad shoulders of Scotland.