Marginalised Britain will one day count the cost of the lost Euro opportunity

Labour Party

First things first, amongst all those many others may I wish Prince Philip a speedy recovery. He has been a tower of strength over the last 60 years and has made a contribution beyond compare to the Queen herself and the monarchy as an institution.

Nevertheless, the Diamond Jubilee celebrations can only distance the rest of the world to a limited extent. While we have been enjoying our good fortune, the Eurozone leaders have been slowly forming a reaction to the sovereign debt crisis, specifically the banking crisis in Spain.

According to the Guardian today, the recently elected French socialist government represented in this instance by Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici and the European Commission led by President Jose Manuel Barroso have just given strong backing for a new Eurozone “banking union”. Crucially, the plan could see vast national debt and banking liabilities pooled and then backed by the financial strength of Germany in return for Eurozone governments surrendering sovereignty over their budgets and fiscal policies to a central Eurozone authority.

This is heady stuff indeed, and good news for the European single currency. Finding a way through the crisis in the Eurozone countries is also good news for the UK. Probably the only thing on which I agree with David Cameron is that it is in Britain’s interests to have a stable Euro.

However, it is also very bad news for Britain. Yet again we are outside major European developments. This may not be harmful in the short-term, but will be damaging for the UK in the longer term. 

The European Council president, the President of the European Commission, the President of the European Central Bank and the head of the Eurogroup of 17 finance ministers have apparently been charged with drafting the proposals for a deeper Eurozone fiscal union, to be presented to an EU summit at the end of the month.

The European Commission and France are piling pressure on Germany to line up behind the proposal. Angela Merkel would need to take it to the German parliament for agreement.

The international financier George Soros is on record as saying: “The likelihood is that the euro will survive because a breakup would be devastating not only for the periphery but also forGermany.Germanyis likely to do what is necessary to preserve the Euro…”

Soros continued with these prophetic words, “”That would result in a Eurozone dominated by Germany in which the divergence between the creditor and debtor countries would continue to widen and the periphery would turn into permanently depressed areas in need of constant transfer of payments.”

Everything appears to be coming together -France and the European Commission working together, plus tentative but seemingly real acceptance of their proposals by the European Council, the European Central Bank and the Eurozone countries. Although it’s by no means all set to go, it does look as if the 17 Eurozone countries are coming closer together and accepting the need for a central Eurozone authority look at budgets and fiscal policies.

Britain as ever is not part of what promises to be the most important European project since the formation of the Common Market. Unfortunately 50 years or so later, we still don’t get it. Europe is where the future lies. If Britain has any hope of being more than a bit player outside our own shores, we have to be a leader in the European Union. Today that means being up there with France and Germany in the Euro. Very unfortunately we did not join, and this blog post explains just how serious a missed opportunity this will turn out to be.

To add salt to the wounds, if Britain had joined the Euro, there is little doubt we would have been at the top table with France and Germany. Yes, we would have suffered from the current crisis in the Eurozone countries, but thanks to dogmatic Tory Chancellor George Osborne and Prime Minister Cameron we are suffering a double dip recession anyway, even outside the single currency. The Euro was always a political as well as an economic project and the UK has comprehensively failed to grasp the political opportunity.

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

More than a million spectators converged on the Thames yesterday to watch the diamond jubilee river pageant, despite worsening weather that forced the cancellation of a flypast.

As the Queen and other members of the royal family joined 20,000 participants in the 1,000-strong flotilla, millions of people across Britain joined in the celebrations at street parties, though many were hastily relocated indoors.

Understandably the media has been very focussed on the Jubilee, especially in the last few days, so there hasn’t been much discussion of the referendum vote in Ireland, despite it being a highly significant moment, especially for us in the UK.

In Britain, hostility to the EU is growing, with an array of political forces clamouring for a break-up of the euro and even of the European Union.  The main trouble with the British anti-EU argument is that Europe’s voters keep letting them down. The Irish referendum is a case in point. In spite of the ongoing crisis in the eurozone, they did not endorse the policies of the current Dublin government. Instead, they remain firmly pro-EU.

Similarly, in Greece the leftist Syriza party is carrying the hopes of those struggling against the economic depression and is both pro-EU and anti-austerity, as is the majority of the Greek population.

It is also true in France, where the pro-EU, anti-cuts Front de Gauche performed so well in the first round of the presidential election. The same applies to the emerging anti-cuts movement in Spain.

Sadly in the UK we are out of touch with the rest of Europe.  The leader of the formerly euro-fanatic Lib Dems has joined the anti-EU chorus, even Ed Balls has suggested a European referendum to “rebuild trust” with the electorate. Reversing the coalition’s cuts might achieve that more directly. Bending to Euro hostility will benefit only the Tories and UKIP.

As we celebrate the Diamond Jubilee, life now is better than in 1952

Labour Party

Peter Kellner’s recent commentary on the polling YouGov has done for the Diamond Jubilee tells us that people show cheer towards the royals but pessimism as to whether life has really improved since 1952.

There appears to be some kind of collective nostalgia for the 1950s, which I believe is completely misguided. For a series of reasons, people choose to see the post-war years through glasses so tinted with rose they become totally opaque.

I was there. Born between Queen Elizabeth acceding to the throne in February 1952 and her coronation in June 1953, I attended primary school in from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. I suppose you could call these my formative years, and I have many memories of the way people lived then which I am very glad have changed for the better.

First and foremost, it was cold. The 1950s were still the era of the coal fire, which was fine for the room where the fire was lit. In cold weather going from one room to another could be like a trip to the arctic, as were the bedrooms. Heating upstairs was simply not done. We slept in the cold with extra blankets (duvets were still long into the future), bed-socks and even night-caps if you couldn’t bear tentacles like ice seeping through you.

While on the subject of cold, I remember icicles on the bedroom windows regularly in winter. At my primary school’s nineteenth century building the free school milk – one of the great benefits of the time – sometimes froze in the bottles as it was stored ready for us to drink at the morning break. The school lavatories also deserve a very dishonourable mention. Not only were they outside and therefore very cold for quite a lot of the year, they also lacked wash basins. As children at school, hygiene quite simply was not an option.

This takes me on to what I believe was the real scourge of the 1950s – poor health and illness. Killer diseases existed in large numbers. Children died of polio, and I remember seeing enough adults with disabilities caused by polio not to be surprised by them. Many serious illnesses for which there are now vaccinations were rife in the 1950s. I had whooping-cough, measles, mumps, rubella and, on one occasion, pneumonia. This was not unusual and I was not a specially sickly child.

These serious health problems should be looked at in conjunction with the low-level conditions which were suffered by very many people. Chronic bronchitis was everywhere as were other respiratory problems caused by the cold and the high levels of air pollution which caused smog. Small irritants such as chilblains brought on by the cold were universal. I challenge any young person to describe chilblains as they simply will not have seen them.

As if this were not enough, there were quite simply not the opportunities people have now. I was unusual in that my first trip to continental Europe was at the age of 11. Many never went abroad at all or did not manage it until their 20s or later. Neither was there the ability to travel in the UK we have now. Car ownership was much lower; my family did not have a car for some of the 1950s and early 60s. Although the train service was more comprehensive in terms of branch lines serving small places, it took a very long time to go any distance. The result was people stayed in their own areas, only venturing out for a summer holiday if they were lucky.

The YouGov poll shows people think Britain’s standing in the world was much higher in the post-war years that it is now. This is undoubtedly true, and maybe it’s this perceived loss of imperial power that is at the root of the problem. However, the huge advantages since the 1950s introduced almost exclusively by Labour governments – the National Health Service, the social security safety net, higher levels of equality in education and at the workplace, an improvement in the position of women – I believe outweigh the downside that Britain is no longer the world leader. We are still a world leader. I’d rather be slightly lower down the world pecking order and warm and healthy than right at the top with the risk of debilitating disease or worse.