Life here is better in most ways than life in Moscow, and yet the people are more resentful and dissatisfied. More scornful of politicians or any other authority and far less committed to friends and relatives than those Russians, because, of course, here they can afford to be. This all becomes so clear that I start to wonder if there is not an inverse correlation between quality of life and happiness; it certainly reflects poorly on this place.
In Russia, the politicians are genuinely, spectacularly corrupt: they don’t quietly fiddle expenses to get a better flat; they steal whole buildings as a matter of course. They are unaccountable in the way that the stars in the sky at night are unaccountable: gloriously remote and indifferent to the concerns of ordinary people. What they do, they do with complete impunity, safe in the knowledge that the voters don’t even know who represents them and moreover, expect no representation. They have no law as we understand it: they have instead a set of rules that are used as a club so heavy that only the powerful can ever hope to lift it, and when they do there is no protection for the ones on the wrong end of the deal. None of this changes daily life that much, except insofar as whatever you have, you have not by right, but because no one has decided yet to take it away. A Russian businessman friend gave me an illustration a while back: at a conference for small and medium business owners he took to asking people if they planned to leave the business to their kids and not one of them did. Out of more than a hundred businessmen not a single one saw that as a valid move.
Nowhere is perfect and democracy is always a mess, but here in England life is safer, you are safer and your children are safer, which is why the guys in the sharp suits telling us that Russia is leading the fight-back against western decadence strive to put their kids in London, not Moscow, schools, and launch their IPOs in London.
Here people tell me that all politicians are only in it for the money, do nothing for the country and are arrogant, vain and venal. Ten minutes on the web is all it takes to see the absurdity of this grumbling, resentful nonsense, but they can’t seem to find the time.
They talk about Westminster and they are describing the Kremlin, which is handy for the Kremlin or at least its host of human spambots invading the comments pages of the daily papers. But it’s nonsense all the same and when they set off on their litany of whining it takes a fair bit of restraint not to tell them they don’t know they’re born.