The technocrats are coming
There was a time when the British could look upon the French, and their monstrously big government, with a sense of superiority: not any more. There is now a horrible similarity to our political predicaments.We both have political leaders who have failed to kick-start an economic recovery, in spite of repeated promises. We both have old-school socialists as opposition leaders, riding worryingly high in the polls while touting high-taxing policies that would not have sounded out of place in the 1970s. Meanwhile, national debt is rising on both sides of the Channel, albeit twice as fast in Britain as in France.
But Britain does have the pound sterling. A country with its own currency can print money and keep debt artificially cheap. Sir Mervyn King’s magic money machine, Quantitative Easing, has dulled the pain of the downturn — for borrowers, at least. Pain is transferred to savers, via low interest rates, and consumers, via higher inflation. Banks and shopkeepers are blamed for what is, in effect, government policy. This suits ministers perfectly. Politically, it’s far preferable to making the kind of spending cuts that Labour did in the 1970s.
France’s politicians would kill to be able to fiddle the system so. But under the euro, only the European Central Bank can print money and it is based in Germany, a country with cause to remember what can happen when desperate politicians play with the printing press. France is past caring. ‘If the central bank does not support growth, there will not be enough growth,’ growls Nicolas Sarkozy. Had the ECB ‘intervened massively to buy sovereign debt,’ says François Hollande, then France wouldn’t be in such a mess. The truth is that the ECB has been up to all manner of tricks, buying debt and bailing out banks, but it’s still not enough.
There are only two options after a financial crisis: binge on debt, or embark on painful reform. One would have hoped Britain would have taken the latter path, but debt is now so cheap that George Osborne seems to believe it would be rude not to take advantage. He proposes borrowing an extra £480 billion over this parliament, just as much as Gordon Brown would have borrowed.The French, whose government has to pay almost twice the rate of interest, don’t have that luxury. This is why even M. Hollande’s fiscal policy is so similar to Sarkozy’s: neither have any latitude.
More debt doesn’t make Britain better off, it just allows politicians to muddle along, deferring tough decisions. Cameron’s goal — the elimination of the deficit — has now been pushed so far into the future that we don’t even have a date for when this government intends to balance its books. All we know is that it won’t be done by April 2017, by which time France will be back in the black. QE has cursed British politics not just by higher inflation, or hurting the elderly by decimating interest on savings. It has removed the sense of urgency from government.
As James Forsyth reports on page 12, the Prime Minister is meandering along the path of least resistance, to the despair even of his closest allies. Handing power to the civil service machine certainly makes life easier. Just as peddling cheap debt is easier than root-and-branch reform of the economy. But neither of these policies will transform the country in the way that the Prime Minister once claimed he wanted to do. While many in Britain mock various eurozone nations for having a technocratic government imposed on them by Frankfurt, Britain may end up with something worse: technocratic government by default.
The George Cross, that slash of red on white, will be fluttering all over the country next Monday, as England celebrates St George’s day. But there’ll be anxiety in the air as well as cheer, because the most vigorous parades are bound to march where ethnic tensions run highest, and the English Defence League will no doubt seize the opportunity to protest against immigration. The media will fret about whether patriotism of this sort verges on racism; whether it’s appropriate to celebrate St George’s Day at
By George all. But the comic truth, whether English nationalists like it or not, is that St George is the perfect patron for our ethnically diverse country. Like the current mayor of London, St George’s paternal family came from Cappadocia in Turkey. His mother was a Palestinian.Young George was baptised Christian (it’s said) and died a martyr, but he has risen above petty schisms and become a saint for all denominations; for Copts and Catholics, evangelicals and the Greek Orthodox alike.
Most English saints were excised from the spectator | 21 april 2012 | www.spectator.co.uk the calendar during the Reformation. Not George. He survived the cull and since his death has embraced as many different nationalities as England has herself. George is patron saint not only of England but of Aragon, Catalonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Germany and Greece, Moscow, Istanbul, Genoa and Venice.And almost alone among Christian saints, he’s venerated by Muslims too, from Egypt to Asia minor. So raise your George Cross high on the 23rd, and celebrate our multicultural saint.