The Spectator's Notes

Charles Moore’s notes: Grexit isn’t like Brexit (and that’s why it won’t be allowed to happen)

Plus: The Pope and species loss; a wet speech by my parliamentary ancestor; and a brilliant charity

27 June 2015

9:00 AM

27 June 2015

9:00 AM

People write about ‘Grexit’ and ‘Brexit’ as if they were the same, but they need not be. Grexit is about leaving the euro. Brexit is about leaving the EU. It seems, however, that the Greeks fear that leaving the euro would mean leaving the EU, and so feel paralysed. It simply is not clear what the true situation is. Although Britain has a specific opt-out (as does Denmark), for the other member states, euro-membership is, after a preparatory period is completed, an obligation. Does this mean that, once in the euro, an EU member state cannot leave it? If so, then William Hague’s famous phrase likening it to ‘being in a burning building with no exits’ is exact. If there can be no exit, then surely the Commission, the ECB and the member states are obliged to rescue Greece, however bad its situation, since, by membership, it has surrendered the right to decide its own future. In reality, a ‘British way’, by which Greece was not in the currency but stayed in the Union, might suit it best. The Greeks would keep the non-Balkan self-image for which they have always yearned and the subsidies; but they would regain a currency whose value would reflect their economic reality. No one dares suggest this, however — not Britain, who would attract European odium by doing so, and not the eurozone powers, because other poverty- and debt-ridden countries, seeing it working, would want to follow suit.

I am writing this from one such — Portugal. Here in the Hotel Palacio, Estoril (‘grand & cosy’, it calls itself), the sense of crisis is not, one must admit, apparent. Under the auspices of the Estoril Political Forum, a great invention of the Portuguese Burkean, Professor João Espada, we are contentedly discussing Magna Carta. In the evening, we sing Harrow school songs in honour of Churchill. There seems to be no constituency at all for Portugal leaving the euro, and the matter is not discussed. It still feels too frightening to contemplate. For years, Portugal — and Greece and Spain — were allowed to borrow as if they were Germany (often from now gravely compromised German and French banks). Eventually, reality intruded, and revealed to a shocked continent that they were not. So now the Portuguese effectively belong to Germany, and therefore they think that their only hope is to be on their best behaviour and to emphasise how they are not all like the naughty Greeks. All along the walls of this hotel are photographs of the exiled royalty for whom Estoril was once a watering hole. When they have finally driven half the continent they rule to throw off their yoke, perhaps the Junckers, Draghis, Schäubles, Lagardes could all end up here, giving one another elegant, pointless dinners by the sea.


‘Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which our children will never see’, says Pope Francis in his gloomy encyclical Laudato si. Can this possibly be true? Over the past 500 years, 1.3 per cent of birds and mammals are known to have become extinct — 200 species out of 15,000. There are far, far more species of invertebrates and plants in existence of course. The latest ‘predicted number’ of species is 8.7 million, of which 7.7 million are animals. (The remaining million are plants, fungi and microbes.) If you assume — which the great Matt Ridley assures me is unlikely — that an equally high percentage of these has become extinct, it averages out at about 350 a year. The loss of any species feels very sad — though, if Ridley is right, this has much more to do with (non-human) invasive species than climate change — but surely, at this rate, it is not the end of the world.

On Tuesday, the Times republished its issue of 22 June 1815, which reported the victory at Waterloo. I was pleased to find in the parliamentary reports (then, unlike now, extensive and often verbatim), a speech by my great-great-great-great-grandfather William Smith, the MP for Norwich. He was a rich Unitarian anti-slaver. On this occasion, he was arguing against flogging in the army. Was there no cure for drunkenness but flogging, he wanted to know. ‘He should suppose that example would be much more effectual’ than cruel punishment: so long as ‘the circulation of the bottle’ continued to be the fashion of the officers at dinner in the mess, the men were bound to want to get drunk too, he argued. My ancestor was followed by Lord Palmerston, the future Prime Minister. He wasn’t mad about flogging either, but argued that the deterrent was needed because English soldiers’ ‘feeling of personal independence’ made them unruly: ‘The love of ardent spirits was more common to the northern than to the southern nations, and occasioned great excesses. Hence punishments for this offence were rare among the Portuguese in our pay.’ So it remains to this day, though flogging is no more. Smith’s humanitarian concern did him credit, but perhaps Palmerston had a stronger grasp of human nature — the difference, in short, between the radical and the Whig.

About 20 years ago, a friend, Claire Mackintosh, had a brilliant idea about a very dull fact of commercial life. Lots of people, she realised, had small amounts of shares which made them not worth selling, because of the commission payable. Lots of companies had to send out certificates for these shares to those who owned them. It was all a bore. So Claire invented a charity — ShareGift — which undertook the paperwork of selling the shares and gave the proceeds to other charities. The result is that more than 2,000 charities have benefited. Recently the total of £20 million distributed has been reached. It is a beautifully simple concept, but not easy to operate. It is the scrip equivalent of vacuuming up all these coppers that lie around in streets and giving them to causes that need them. The latest thing, Claire tells me, is that people are now leaving money to ShareGift, which is so much more useful than dividing, say, 400 BT shares between your legatees. Even if you’re not about to die, remember www.sharegift.org.

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  • bombaybadboy

    Correct, Grexit isn’t like Brexit: Brexit would in the long run hurt Germany much, much more, notwithstanding the short term pain some German banks would feel on Grexit.

    Cameron and Osborne will know they have a strong hand. And in the current circumstances the bargaining power to deliver what the UK needs and wants has been handed them on a plate. But it requires playing hardball like the Greeks are doing. Most politicians are not by temperament pugilists, devious maneuvering is more their thing. I wonder, are Cameron and Osborne up for it?

  • Observer1951

    Cameron believes in staying in the EU no matter what. He will get some concessions and these will be sold as some great achievement. Cameron only offered a referendum to head off the UKIP threat. You would be amazed what Cameron could get if Merkel really believed he would take the UK out

    • LiamNewcastle

      Totally agree and Cameron will do everthing in his power to keep us in the EU – to what end I am not sure. Unless we know up-front, exactly the concessions he hopes to to ‘win’ for the UK and what would represent ‘success’ as a result of his on-going negotiations with the other member states, the British public are likely to be duped by claims of a ‘renogitation of terms in our favour’, however minor. The sooner we withdraw our nation from this vile and un-democratic institution the better. I’d go on, but fear I’d end up re-issuing the Ben Franklin quote us Eurosceptics are so fond of.

    • van Lomborg

      Eh? You think the rest of Europe is stupid?

      • bombaybadboy

        Remember Greeece?

        They took on huge unsustainable debts, and the rest lent to them on a huge scale without doing their homework. Worked out well for everyone, didn’t it?

        Now tell me the rest of Europe is not capable of being very stupid.

        • Mr Trainbeans

          blaming and punishing the population of greece for this is like holding the congolese responsible for the debts run up by mobutu….except the imf did that too iirc

          • bombaybadboy

            So then who was the Mobutu figure in Greece? Were the Generals still in charge, making bad economic decisions and looting the country? And I thought it was a European democracy elected by its people. But you are right, the Greek people, who are addicted to the EU like a drug, are not to blame at all.

      • Observer1951

        And your point is what exactly?

      • Steve Larson

        Looking at the performances of States in the Eurozone for the last 7 years then yes a lot of it is.

  • Hermine Funkington-Rumpelstilz

    Cameron needs to find allies within the EU that are not in the Euro. Will you let us know when he has found one, please. Kind regards, H.F-R

    • Hamburger

      Sweden, Denmark

      • Hermine Funkington-Rumpelstilz

        A Northern Powerhouse.

  • global city

    What we have to remember is that all those things like Magna Carter, the Bill of Rights, etc, were all about containing the power of our own creepy elites, who would otherwise screw us all in the same way they have in South America for centuries.

    The EU is seen by our own elite as a way of shaking off those constraints. They would rather share a bit of unfettered power with their own kind on the continent then remain under the partial control of the British people and their ‘Common Law’

    We must not trust our own elite……. and that includes Cameron.

    • mikewaller

      Completely back to front. The kind of people of whom you speak want us out of Europe so their power over us once again becomes unconstrained. Those who bang on about sovereignty are not talking about the sovereignty of the British people, they are talking about the sovereignty of parliament. They give us all the usual crap about us being the true sovereigns because we can dismiss them by means of the ballot box, but that does not help the little guy who is experiencing real injustice of a kind that offers no political brownie points. In such cases it is an exceptional politician that takes a real interest and they are rarely listened to. What you then need is a court of law and ideally one which is independent of government. This is not so in the UK which is why George Washington and Co. arranged things differently in the USA. At present we having something like the desirable level of judicial independence because our judges can lean back on the European Court of Human Rights which, in practice, very rarely finds against the UK. Abandon that oversight and you are back in a word in which our personal freedoms ultimately depend on that widely despised entity: the politician. It ain’t a world I would fell safe in!

      • Linda Smith

        It’s amazing how well we managed before we were ruled by the EU. Quite why you prefer to be ruled by Germany, Romania and the like, I can’t imagine. Of course the Eu’s accounts have not been signed off for 20 years, but don’t let a little fraud bother you, what!

        • mikewaller

          (a) The European Court of Human Rights has nothing to do with the EU.
          (b) As to doing well pre-EU, even Churchill recognised that the challenge for 20th century UK politicians was the management of decline.
          (c) Thanks to globalisation and massive levels of technology transfer to the emergent nations we would be re-entering a totally different word in which tens of millions of new, low wage, industrial workers are entering the labour market each year to produce goods at prices way below those we would have to charge to maintain our own living standards. Because of that, my bet is that democratic pressures will drive the Western nations towards protectionism. Being a comparatively high-wage independent trader would not be clever under such circumstances.

          • Linda Smith

            Stop coming out with that old chestnut that the ECHR has nothing to with the EU. It is enshrined in EU law that member states are subject to the ECHR.
            All the rest of what you say is bullshit. Most of the products of “emergent” nations are crap. I don’t buy anything Chineses in case it kills me.

          • mikewaller

            Do at least some research. Britain signed up to the ECHR in 1950, way before we joined the EU. Indeed the values enshrined are largely British values because our status then gave us a major role in determining what are human rights. The change made by the Blair government was to accept ECHR judgement as final. Given the preparedness of our politicians to trample on such rights when it has suited them (e.g. the super-gun affair) I am more than happy that a disinterest body of judges (which also serves to stiffen the backs of our judges) suits me fine. Of course, our abandoning the ECHR would give Putin all his Christmases at once, he having come to loath it because it routinely exposes the manifold injustices for which he is ultimately responsible. This is an aspect said to worry even David Davis.

            As for Chinese products being crap (a) it is not really true now; (b) self-deluding remarks such as yours were routinely made about Japanese products before WW2. Not any more; (c) polyglot London now offers a chance to compare the academic performance of hundreds of thousands of kids with different ethnic backgrounds.Two things stand out. (i) the appalling performance on average of poor indigenous white children; and (ii) that only one group out-performs poor Chinese children: rich Chinese children.

            Wake up and get real!

          • Linda Smith

            The “judges” of the ECHR don’t have to be trained legal judges. They are political appointees. Since 1950 they have “reinterpreted” their remit to expand it. This country doesn’t need foreigners to tell us how to run our country, and certainly not to tell us to give our prisoners the vote.

            I do not see any connection between crap, adulterated, foreign products being sold in the UK with the educational achievements in UK schools.

          • mikewaller

            Because politicians cannot be trusted to protect our basic rights as they are too concerned with pleasing the electorate, we need some kind of supreme court. This our politicians will never grant as their obsession is with the supremacy of parliament, not the people or the judiciary. Short of our judges being given absolute powers to apply a Bill of Rights not subject to parliamentary modification, I will settle for the ECHR which incidentally very rarely accepts cases against the UK and when it does, two thirds are settle in the UK’s favour.

            If you cannot see the connection with very smart Chinese kids in our schools and the long-term implications for our economy I am genuinely sorry for you. Before inter-ethnic IQ comparisons became unacceptable, idiots focused on Caucasian/African comparisons. The real story was that, on average, several major Asian racial groups routinely did better than Caucasians. Indeed they commonly matched Jewish people, a group properly famed for their intellectual abilities. In my view Napoleon had it right in calling China a sleeping giant that would move the world if roused..

          • Linda Smith

            Are you thick or wot? The ECHR “judges” are not necessarily judges and do not necessarily have legal training. They are peddling their own political ideologies and you want us to be ruled by them.

            Why are you bleating on about Chinese children in British schools? What’s it got to do with us being in the EU?

          • mikewaller

            Regarding the latter point, I can only discern a lack of intelligence. What yet another report, this one published this week, has shown is that children of Chinese and Indian ethnicity are routinely out-performing those of British ethnicity in our schools. The latest report suggested that if you really want your child to get on, get him or her into a school with plenty of Chinese or Indians as they tend to drag-up the performance of other races in the class. Couple that with the sheer lunacy of our having undertaken huge technology transfers to both India and China both by begging their young to come to our universities and by shipping manufacturing out there to increase profits, and it you cannot see the problem, I shan’t waste any more time in explaining it to you.

            Regarding the first point, only complete imbeciles like Straw and Davis would settle on prisoner voting rights as their cause celebre. There are less than 100 thousand of them, they are highly unlikely ever to determine the outcome in a particular constituency adn out biggest problems with them is usefully employing their time and trying to get them to take a more positive approach to civic life. Letting them participate in in the democratic process rings both bells. Only idiots would object.

            As for ECHR in general, although they are doing is what British judges have been doing for decades, taking a set of largely British values first codified not long after WW2 when we were top dog in Europe, and “creatively” interpreting them. Frankly, were I the victim of some rank injustice I would have more confidence in them than the British judicial system which. without the ECHR behind it, is ultimately the creature of the British parliament. And the British parliament does not have a good record in defending British liberties at the individual level.

            Where I do agree that there is a serious problem is in the overwhelming primacy given to individual rights as opposed to societal interests. The classic example is the legal principle that it is better that 9 guilty men go free than one innocent man be convicted. All very well and good unless you live on a sink estate to which the freed guilty men keep returning to make your life hell. However, this is a principle central to the British tradition not something imposed on us by the ECHR.

  • Perseus Slade

    There is a big opportunity here for Greece to reform and please its creditors.
    Take the tax collection away from
    the corrupt, inefficient and bribable civil servants and
    put it in the hands of tax farmers
    that get a percentage of the takings: motivation !

    This arrangement works very well with the
    one child policy people in China.
    Once the get their hooks into some poor woman
    they never give up.
    They don’t want to lose their bonuses.
    And they are very hard to bribe.

    • Faulkner Orkney

      Is this meant to be a poem?

      • Perseus Slade

        its a Haiku

  • mikewaller

    Because the Pope is now saying much the same thing as Prince Charles on global warming, my bet was that CM would take his normal asymmetrical approach on such matters. By this I mean that having given poor old PC a kicking over the matter, he would keep stum when his Pope took a similar stance. To his credit he has now mentioned the new encyclical although in far more muted terms that his mocking treatment of PC. However what most clearly demonstrates the weakness of his criticisms is his reliance on Matt “Northern Rock” Ridley as his guide in this field. This is a man whose willingness to underpin long term loans with short term borrowings played a major role in the UK banking crisis and who has now brought the same flawed psychology to bear of the issue of global warming. Frankly, although not a Roman Catholic, give me the Pope any time.

  • michael

    The PM said ‘Legally binding’
    Upheld In whose court? The British court that has no power in this regard ,stuffed with an unsympathetic europhillic Judiciary?
    -Or the EU courts?… who will operate at two speeds, ‘stone wall’ or ‘instant reverse’.

  • Cairo Cobra

    Greece is bankrupt – surely everyone can see that? There is no possible way that the country can ever pay back or even service its huge debts in the longer term no matter what financial shenanigans take place in the short term. That money is lost to its creditors and those debts will have to be written off eventually.
    Were Greece to make a fresh start tomorrow with the drachma and no debts, the country could not afford to pay for its current living standards and who would lend them money to restart the process of living outside their means?
    EU should start to work on a controlled withdrawal of Greece from the Eurozone rather than trying to defend an unsustainable position.

  • Dodgy Geezer

    …The loss of any species feels very sad — though, if Ridley is right,
    this has much more to do with (non-human) invasive species than climate
    change — but surely, at this rate, it is not the end of the world…

    Er…why is the loss of a species sad?

    Each year, some species die off, and new species evolve to fill the new niches. It’s called Evolution, and it’s been going on ever since life started. There has been no overall change in this. Environment scare-mongers carefully do not report new species, of course…

    The Pope, being catholic, presumably does not believe in evolution. But I’m surprised to hear that Mr Moore doesn’t believe in it either…

    • Faulkner Orkney

      Logically, you are right. Emotionally, it would be good to keep tigers, gorillas and Blue Whales etc. Logically we are also all just blips in infinity so we shouldn’t really worry about anything; but that way madness lies!

  • DaHitman

    I thought new members had to be in the Euro so surly this means the existing ones in it must stay in it?

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