|How London looked before the introduction of the congestion charge|
The problem is caused by the fact that the city has, in round terms, 10% of the population of the whole country, 20% of its GDP, 50% of its cars with black windows, and the vast majority of the cosmopolitan smoothies who have always last shaved more than three days ago. And I forgot: 100% of the political power. All live together in a city whose boundaries were largely defined, and infrastructure constructed, by Soviet planners when the population was half its current size.
Understandably, therefore, various proposals for decentralisation have been made. The most prominent recent one was President Medvedev’s suggestion that government agencies be moved to new areas to the south-west of the city. Some people do not think that idea radical enough. It will still leave the Moscow region overcrowded and may mean only different patterns of commuting, without any large-scale relocation.
To answer those questions, the new governor of the Moscow Region, Sergei Shoigu—who I presume, from his surname, is Japanese—suggested last week that the capital be moved to Siberia. I can see the logic in this. If a Moscow Region governor is to have any peace, and to be able to rule his fiefdom in the way he sees fit, without interference from higher powers, it would obviously be beneficial to have the federal government three or four thousand miles away.
But I see two problems with the “oriental” solution. First, Siberia arguably does not have the infrastructure necessary for the efficient transfer of money around the country and world which is one of the main activities of modern government. Secondly, a move to Siberia would increase, not decrease, the isolation of the power elite from the main currents of European and international life.
I therefore suggest that the Russian government consider biting the bullet, and moving to London. Now that government in Britain has largely moved to Brussels, and much of what is left is shortly going to be departing for Edinburgh and Cardiff, there is a ready-to-use capital sitting nearly idle on the banks of the Thames, complete with excellent restaurants, wonderful taxis on unchoked streets and a legal infrastructure which ensures that money transferred there should be safe from any unlawful demands on the part of the Russian tax inspectorate.
GovRus OOO, as the new enterprise might be called, could move in on a turn-key basis, taking a long lease on Westminster, and boosting itself into the governmental hyper-sphere where location is the sort of old-fashioned notion, like High Street banks, that earth-bound consciousness in the on-line age seeks to transcend—beam me up счёты! That surely is the wave of the future. Look upon it if you like as third-generation out-sourcing.
Is this such a wild idea? Not really. Lots of Russians already live (and die) in London, and most of the important Muscovites still left in residence here seem to want to move their families there, often in order that their children can go to English schools and universities. With modern communications, there is no need for them to stay out of touch with events in Russia simply because they happen to take breakfast with their wives in Belgrave Square and dinner with their cronies at the Gavroche. They could learn how to wear morning dress properly at Ascot, and practice making small-talk at Lord’s or the Chelsea Fowler Show. Mr Putin could conduct his archaeological researches in the Staines reservoir, take his shirt off in Epping Forest, and go tiger hunting at Longleat on the weekends.
They would all be welcomed by the local dignitaries. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is known to want to attract business of all sorts to his city in order to expand the tax-base. And if the Russian powers-that-be are content to have greater Moscow run by a man with a Japanese surname, they should feel equally at home in London where the Mayor has a Russian Christian name.
From the operational point of view, there would also be at least two major advantages to GovRus in this solution. The first, domestic, one would be that it would kill opposition in Russia. Distance, combined with Britain’s strict visa rules, would ensure that there would be no more protests against government conduct in places where a Minister or official might be inconvenienced by the sight of angry shareholders. The Cabinet could administer its customer base in the austere calm of the gods on Mount Olympus.
The second, international advantage would be that a Russian government in London would be free to wage nuclear war on America, safe in the knowledge that only their clients back home on the Reservation would be likely to suffer if the wrong finger pushed the wrong button at the wrong moment. That would be about as “asymmetric” a response to the controversial US missile shield proposal as it is possible to imagine. Sergei Lavrov would surely be happy to see credibility restored to the Russian missile threat. And everyone else would be happy because a stronger deterrent should make the world a safer place.
Can there be any serious counter-argument to my proposal? Debate!