Sunday 6 November 2011

When The Grown-Ups Take Charge

Many of us in these parts are pretty hostile towards Euro-federalism, and it’s easy enough to have a chuckle at the apoplectic reaction to Papandreaou’s referendum. Seeking democratic endorsement for fundamental economic interventions, perish the thought, ha-ha ! These Euro-democrats, they don’t like it up ’em, eh ?

Maybe, just maybe, it was a calculated Machievellian move. But it looks like, and certainly counts as, an entirely childish act, in circumstances where only grown-ups are welcome. And this particular Boy George has shown himself to his Euro-peers to be delinquent. Juvenile.

Look at the haggard faces of the main players, look at their negative body language. Hear them lost for words. See their mortification at the disapproval of China and the USA. At times like these, the only contributions wanted are those intended constructively, by the lights of the crisis itself. Anything else is to miss the gravity of the point.

The Mediterranean debt crisis is the equivalent of war: we might as well all be facing an invasion from the planet Zog. In real war, of course, the position is clearer: the generals, the War Cabinets (no children appointed there) take the powers they need and their actions require no further legitimacy (until, of course, they lose and victors’ justice prevails). Those that by temperament would be minded, or even likely, to raise issues of due process, of morality or balance or consultation or constitutional propriety or any number of happy peacetime considerations - of anything that falls short of iron resolve, immediate purpose and utter expediency – will never make it into those counsels.

[“Open fire on that building.” “But Sir, there may be some of our own men, taken prisoner, inside!” “Fortunes of War. Carry on.”]

There are almost as few constraints in evidence in the boardroom when a full-blown commercial crisis is in progress – and certainly none welcomed, in the person of weak-willed HR directors or meddling non-execs. [“What about the accounting treatment ?” “We’ll take a view.” “Fiduciary responsibility ?” “Let the lawyers tidy that up tomorrow.” “The Risk Committee ?” “They’ll do as they’re told.” “The unions? the works council ?” “Stuff ’em. Get with the programme ! (& get rid of this man ...)”]

And in democratic politics, replete as it is with oppositions, awkward squads, disaffected back-benchers, ambitious and unscrupulous Disraeli-opportunists, parliamentary rules freaks and newspapers with copies to sell and agendas of their own ? Ah yes, it all gets a bit more difficult. But the same basic rules apply: adults to the front, children to the play-pen; Whips out, cards marked, threats made – we know the score. Oh yes, everyone knows the score – except, it seems, Papandreaou (and the eternal smirking schoolboy Berlusconi).

And is this an endorsement of expediency ? Hardly – we know that ghastly mistakes are made when counsel is no longer sought, when ‘yes’ is the only correct response – don’t we, Sir Fred ? For many years Churchill was the juvenile – until he took charge of the war room.

But, seriously. This is serious.

And in these circumstances, they stop at nothing.


And where does this leave Cameron, Hague and our own Boy George ? We should all read this, from the Economist. And ponder.



Barnacle Bill said...

Unfortunately our Parliament is filled with spotty, hormone driven, teenagers who think they know best.
Reality is going to hit them squarely between the legs when they go outside to tangle with the big boys.

Alex said...

So keeping the Euro alive (and hence probably the whole EU project) is incompatible with democracy and the rule of law?
As someone who is quite fond of the latter 2 that sounds like an excellent reason for us to have nothing to do with it.
And, continuing the war analogy, the issue here is that the people who want to give the orders are the ones who created the enemy in the first place.

Old BE said...

Interesting article. However it is totally based on the premise that Britain would be obliged to stay in an EU where the Eurozone countries have written their own treaty and decide en bloc to vote together to impose burdens on Britain. Britain has the ultimate tool of sovereignty at its disposal (unlike Greece and Italy).

Britain will definitely have to have a referendum on any major treaty change, so Cameron's hand is somewhat bolstered by that.

The timing could be interesting. If a new treaty is taking shape towards the end of this parliament it might well be an election issue, one that in the current climate the slightly more sceptical Conservatives might do well on. A kind of Up Yours Delors election.

Interesting times!

Old BE said...

This whole situation also is a stark reminder that it's a hell of a lot better to be a lender than a borrower country. If Ed Balls had his way it would be us begging for the IMF to help out not us deciding whether the IMF should help out Italy.

Let's hope that enough of the electorate understand this and don't go running back to Labour too soon and leave the economy stuffed for another generation.

dearieme said...

In Cameron's shoes I'd be bringing the troops home from Afghanistan and Germany.

Budgie said...

The Economist article highlights the emerging dilemma that Cameron will end up, in effect, deciding for us. The euro is not going to implode any time soon. The 17 eurozone members will go for fiscal union (disguised if necessary to fool their electorates).

The crucial moment for us, will be whether or not the UK is hustled in to EMU because CMD and the rest of the establishment cannot bear to see us on the margins of the EU. That means we would have to be fully in because being fully out is something they are viscerally afraid of.

I have despaired for months as one eurosceptic after another has predicted the imminent collapse of the euro. It is not going our way, we are in more danger than ever, not least because Cameron is monumentally useless and an instinctive quisling to boot.

Old BE said...

Except nobody can take us into the Euro without our consent through a referendum. And the Euro countries cannot fundamentally re-write the Euro rules outside the existing EU treaty without tearing up the existing EU treaty. The same reason why the Euro crisis cannot be solved very simply by the ECB printing some money while the Italians and Spanish sort out their deficits and growth is the same reason that the Euro countries can't forge ahead without Britain's consent.

I think Britain is in a stronger position than that Economist article suggests.

Anonymous said...

"If Ed Balls had his way it would be us begging for the IMF to help out not us deciding whether the IMF should help out Italy."

We're only not begging the IMF because the focus is on the PIIGS.

Do you hear much about Iceland now?

Zephyer said...

Anon: That's because Iceland are going to JOIN the Euro.

...the third major factor behind the resolution of the financial crisis was the decision by the government of Iceland to apply for membership in the EU in July 2009. While views on the feasibility of EU membership are quite mixed in Iceland, this action has served to enhance the credibility of the country on international financial markets. One sign of the success of the above efforts is the fact that the Icelandic government was successfully able to raise 1$ billion with a bond issue on June 9, 2011.

Bill Quango MP said...

Just reading Anthony Beevor's D-Day.

Ike told Churchill he expected 15,000 French civilian casualties from the air attacks alone, leading up to the invasion.

Churchill, hardly a pacifist himself, went spare. Those casualties had to be less. Couldn't the allies warn them when an attack was to take place? Couldn't the bombers attack other targets, without civillians. Couldn't only military targets a long way away from population centres be chosen?
Winnie even suggested starting, seeing how it went..and a complete abort if casualties rose above 8,000..

Ike told him he either wanted to do the thing or he didn't. There were no half measures. If the troops couldn't get ashore there was no point going at all. Churchill relented and okay'd the attacks.

French civilian casualties were three times those of the allied and axis troops combined. And that's just in Normandy in the first few weeks.

That was one tough call.

I reckon Merkel would make it.
Not sure who else.

Nick Drew said...

BE - like BQ, I liked your Greece piece too. Not sure that we are quite as strongly placed as you suggest: that may be a rather literal reading of the 'referendum lock' - there is a weasel for most situations

Barnacle Bill - yes, almost makes you pine for Mandelson, he knows a trick or two

then again ...

Alex - will have to think about that one

dearime - quite seriously, I get disconcerted about the war-talk (see also Raedwald)

Budgie - euro is not going to implode any time soon:
wouldn't like to call this one myself (CU - ?); but do you also rule out some reduction in the number of members of the €-zone ?

I think Cameron is desperately trying to be one of the grown-ups (hence the tactical IMF ploy) and I don't think quisling is the right analogy

I think he is an instinctive (indeed, genetic) insider - it's not quite the same

remember he was at Lamont's right hand all through the 1993 melt-down, doubtless a formative experience (not in the sense that he's a guaranteed anti-€ Lamontite, but that he knows what it's like for the doors to be locked any everyone gets on with 'whatever is needful')

Anon, Zephyr - interesting to think abt Iceland. But they are so-o small, they may not be a good prototype of anything in particular

Nick Drew said...

Bill - a timely historian's intervention

do you think the Libyan adventure tends to make Cameron (and Sarkozy) more of a Player ? a couple of junior-grade hard calls were made there (I'm guessing) when the full story is known

Churchill had a bit of history as regards beach landings, of course ...

and a soft spot for the French (offering them full union in 1940)

hard to overstate how much the US election will do for Obama's resolve - if he knew what to do with it, but there will always be people at his side who have ideas ...

the real wild-card is China: my distant and probably ill-informed judgement is, they are willing to wound but have very little idea how to strike, got a few problems of their own in the pipeline etc

best we get this all over with in the next few years: give it a decade and the Chinese will know exactly what to do

Budgie said...

BE said: "nobody can take us into the Euro without our consent".
Hmmm, and nobody will take us into the Lisbon treaty without our consent, too. Or so they promised.

BE said: "the Euro countries cannot fundamentally re-write the Euro rules outside the existing EU treaty".
Just you watch. They can make a new treaty for the eurozone 17 only. It is already being mooted.

ND said: "wouldn't like to call this one myself".
Ok, but I just did. Some eurosceptics have been stating that the euro would disintegrate "imminently" for 6 months or more. It hasn't happened. If they hustle in fiscal union it won't happen.

ND said: "I don't think quisling is the right analogy".
Cameron has given way on every single issue favourable to the EU, except the EFSF. Including helping to prop up the euro, when now is the time to strike the killer blow.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, it seems to me that Papandreou was right.

Now we have a coalition government in Greece that will force through austerity whatever. This leaves the anti-austerity crowd (whether pro or anti EU) totally disenfranchised. We don't know how many of those there are, but it is a big proportion of the Greek population and will probably grow as long as the cuts bite.

That is a recipe for disaster in Greece. Please remember that the real "hard-men" of politics are never those that are part of the democratic process. In Greece these now have a army of Greek people willing to be led wherever the hard-men take them.

Early democracy in Britain was about powerful men raising their hands to say "I can raise a bigger army than you can." The vote simply indicated who would prevail in the advent of civil war on a serious issue. In Greece we may be about to see the danger of forgetting that underlying principle of robust democracy.