Tuesday 15 November 2011

Small satisfaction in being proved right as the storm clouds gather

I find it hard to believe that almost two decades have passed since the Conservative party was tearing itself apart over John Major’s determination to ratify the Maastricht treaty, despite Britain’s ignominious exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism.


That, it seemed to me, should have been evidence enough of the utter folly of attempting to lock exchange rates between divergent economies. But the ideologues pressed on regardless with their creation of the euro as a means to advance the cause of a single government for Europe.

Turned out well, hasn’t it? Having been castigated as a backward-looking little Englander for opposing this half-witted project, I hope I may be forgiven a moment of quiet satisfaction as I read the recantations of many of the scheme’s cheerleaders; there was a particular corker in one of the Sunday papers from the former editor of the Financial Times.

But unfortunately we are where we are: in the most horrible mess, with deeply depressing implications for prosperity, democracy and even peace.

Images of Greek protesters and rioters have been removed to avoid potential charges (financial, not criminal) from the money-grubbing image copyright police.

All going terribly well

In the early 1990s I had regular arguments with a distinguished client who was one of the leading lights of the pro-euro campaign. When his economic arguments failed, as they always did, he fell back on the spectre of war. Binding Europe together with a single currency was the only way to preserve the peace that had lasted since 1945.

It always seemed to me to be taking an excessively negative view of the Germans to believe that the only way to stop the Panzers once more rolling into Poland or Alsace was to give Germany a pivotal role in the economic management of the whole Continent.

Far more likely, I argued, that the creation and inevitable collapse of a supranational authority with no popular mandate would ultimately cause conflict, rather than preventing it.

It gives me no pleasure at all to note that this is exactly how it looks today, as the elected governments of Greece and Italy are deposed in favour of administrations led by “technocrats”.

This may not sound too bad, particularly as an alternative to a buffoon like Berlusconi. But how would we have felt if Gordon Brown had exited Number 10 not following a General Election, but because he had simply been sacked by the Queen, acting as proxy for the European Commission, and replaced by Baroness Ashton or Mervyn King?

Surely it is worth bearing in mind that the global banking crisis was the creation of the technical experts in that field, and that what we desperately needed was not more technocrats but more lay people with a smattering of common sense saying loudly and repeatedly “Hang on, this is completely mad.”

Right now, the ways forward seem to be the collapse of the euro, causing widespread economic misery; Germany picking up the gigantic bill to keep the euro together, which its taxpayers will not wear; or China backing down on its unsporting refusal to drop a few trillions into the proffered European hat.

Whichever way it goes, the implications look bleak for the future of democracy, and the avoidance of civil unrest and international tension. Yes, those of us who argued against British membership of the euro have done the country a service by keeping us off the passenger list of the doomed liner, but our rather frail craft stands no chance of enjoying a smooth passage as the whirlpool of catastrophe on the Continent does its best to suck us down.

So we sceptics were bang right. Big deal. Move on. But do please bear this lesson in mind the next time someone tries to sell you an idea wrapped up in the phraseology of progressiveness and inevitability.

A rare image of a wind turbine actually doing something

I will take similar momentary satisfaction, a decade or two from now, when the eager proponents of wind power finally admit that they were completely wrong. But by then our finest landscapes will have been desecrated by useless turbines, and we will be sitting in the cold and dark. And there will be no quick, easy and painless solution to that avoidable mess, either.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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