Spying on Citizens

Sir, Your leading article (“Digital Danger”, Jan 2) warns of the use of Chinese-made surveillance systems to track people in the UK. But neither your editorial nor the surveillance watchdog, Fraser Sampson, seems to have any qualms about British-made equipment being used for the same purpose. In 1786 Jeremy Bentham designed the Panopticon, in which a central prison watchtower could shine a light on all the encircling prison cells without the inmates being able to tell that they were being watched. This, he thought, would motivate them to behave legally. Bentham thought his contrivance was equally applicable to hospitals, schools and factories. In Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, one-way TV systems are installed in every flat. Big Brother would always be watching you.

The danger of where a surveillance system is made seems of minor importance compared with our acceptance of the right of democratic governments to spy on their citizens whenever and wherever they please in the name of national security.

Times letters: The tough act of following Cressida Dick


Sir, In discussing the possible “Finlandisation” of Ukraine, your leading article (“Kyiv’s Cause”, Feb 11) correctly states that it would unacceptable for great powers to enforce such a policy on Ukraine. In his brilliant book The Ambassadors, Sir Robert Cooper explains that Finland’s neutrality was not “enforced” by great powers but was decided by Finland itself, against the wishes of the Soviet Union, which wanted a military alliance. It was the ability of the two Finnish negotiators, Paasikivi and Mannerheim, plus the respect Finland had earned from Stalin by its brave resistance to the Soviet invasion of 1939, which secured more than “nominal” independence in 1948.

The moral of the tale is that it is up to Ukraine to determine the conditions of its coexistence with Russia. They are the two leading actors in this drama; all the rest are bit players.
Lord Skidelsky

House of Lords

Witter: Robert Skidelsky

The world’s fastest interview: 140 characters max per answer — the economist, 74, on happiness, taxation and loyalty in politics

Witter: You’ve consumed political parties with abandon. Now you’re a cross-bencher. Are you at all loyal to any of the parties you have belonged to?
RS: I do not accept Disraeli’s dictum: “Damn your principles! Stick to your party.” Political parties deserve no more than conditional loyalty.

Are there any principled politicians left?
There must be some principled ones left, but you don’t hear them because they almost never rise to the top.

Who do you most admire in modern politics and why?
I think the greatest politicians of the last 30 years, by the scale of their achievements, were Mikhail Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping.

Is there anything you would ban in this country?
Nothing that hasn’t been banned already. Advertising could be restricted by financial measures, for example, by taxing it.

Hasn’t man always wanted more possessions and territory?
Yes, but advertising inflames it. The pioneers of advertising called it “the organised creation of dissatisfaction”.
You have an interesting Russian heritage. Why are so many oligarchs such enthusiastic consumers?
Because they had so many years of having almost nothing to consume. Private consumption was the way out of communism.

Their consumption has become grotesque, has it not — or are we saying that from a smug, self-satisfied standpoint?
It’s not more grotesque than the consumption of any nouveaux riches. They’ve bought into the western delusion that money can buy happiness.

How will our economy grow if we fail to consume more?
Economic growth shouldn’t be the main object. We should consume enough to lead a good life. For some that means more, for others, less.

What could you personally not do without?
My family and friends, my music, my books, good food and wine, high thinking. Now, I fear, my computer and internet, and a few more gadgets.

How Much Is Enough? The Love of Money, and the Case for the Good Life, by Robert and Edward Skidelsky, is out now (Penguin, £8.99)

Letter to the editor

It’s very hard to get a sensible discussion on fiscal policy going right now. Perhaps Keynesian economics was always too paradoxical to impress the plain men and women who write Times leaders on the subject. In their world view, Labour’s modest spending pledges — notably on childcare — would, if implemented, “draw money from business”. They do not realise that government spending only draws money away from business if the economy’s resources are fully employed, which is patently not true today.

Continue reading “Letter to the editor”

Puttnam and the Defamation Bill

As one who spoke and voted for Lord Puttnam’s amendments to the Defamation Bill passed in the Lords on February 6, may I say that Matthew Parris’s attack on the amendments misses the point. The Puttnam amendments remedy two major omissions from the Bill: its failure to deal with the question of costs and its failure to prevent the publication of things which may be true, but whose publication has no sufficient reason.

Continue reading “Puttnam and the Defamation Bill”

Russia and Britain: it looks chilly… but it’s far from a cold war

Britain and Russia have uniquely bad relations with each other – far worse than between Russia and any other main EU country, and worse than Russia’s relations with the United States. This frostiness was highlighted again yesterday when a new spying row broke out after the Russians accused a senior diplomat in Moscow of working for British Intelligence.

Continue reading “Russia and Britain: it looks chilly… but it’s far from a cold war”

How Russia became doubly delusional

THE LITVINENKO AFFAIR gives a human dimension to what we in the West find most disturbing about modern Russia. It leaves the impression of rogue elements of the Russian State murdering enemies with impunity, at home and abroad. Add to this Andrei Lugovoy’s surreal claim that MI6 had a hand in the murder and Russia’s use of its “energy weapon” to bully its neighbours and it is as if the Cold War never ended.

Continue reading “How Russia became doubly delusional”

Could the poisoner be from Prince Putin’s court

THE POISONING in London of the former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko confirms what we already know: that it is dangerous to criticise the Kremlin. It comes less than a month after the shooting in Moscow of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who tirelessly exposed Russian atrocities in Chechnya. Paul Klebnikov, another crusading journalist, was shot dead in 2004.

Continue reading “Could the poisoner be from Prince Putin’s court”