Any other business

Some good came out of the negotiating chamber this week, but it concerned Iran rather than Greece

Plus: a woman for Barclays? And a new comedy of confusion for our times

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

As an occasional lecturer on the abstruse topic of the efficacy of sanctions in conflict resolution, I find myself much more excited about the emergence in Vienna of a settlement of the Iranian nuclear stand-off than I am about a third Greek bailout — which left-wingers of the Syriza party regard as a vindictive form of sanctions regime designed to humiliate the government in Athens and remove its fiscal autonomy.

The only thing that’s clear about the Greek crisis is that it’s not over: impossible to see how it could be ‘over’ without the debt relief Prime Minister Tspiras asked for but the Germans adamantly refused. Even if the €68 billion on offer turns out to be sufficient to prevent further collapse of the economy and banking system, and Syriza is replaced in power by a more malleable ‘technocratic’ regime, the bitter aftertaste of this episode, and the irresolvable nature of eurozone tensions it has exposed, will linger until the next crisis blows up. As a contribution to global geopolitical progress, therefore, the possibility of re-engaging Iran as a responsible international actor and trading partner rather than a nuclear-armed pariah state is a hundred times more important than finding a way, for now, to stop Greece falling out of the fractured euro.

A former Iranian ambassador to the UN, Sadegh Kharrazi, described this week’s deal — which lifts crippling UN and EU sanctions in return for restriction and inspection of Iran’s nuclear programme designed to limit it to non-weapon purposes — as ‘a new opportunity to find a way to put out the fire in the Middle East’; an EU spokesman called it ‘a sign of hope for the entire world’. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vehemently disagreed, but it surely ends a dangerous phase of the modern Great Game in which Russia and China have used Iran as a pawn to undermine US influence in the Middle East, and even North Korea has been a shadowy player as a potential nuclear collaborator. On the principle that prosperity fertilises peace, the re-entry of a partially defused Iran into the legitimate international oil market, and the unfreezing of its financial assets, must be positive — and all sane parties in the region can now concentrate on facing the threat of Islamist mayhem. I believe something good really did come out of the negotiating chamber this week, but in Vienna rather than Brussels.

Piranha Mack

I said last week I’d bet on a female appointee to succeed sacked Antony Jenkins as chief executive of Barclays. Why? Because that’s the way the world is going, and because a wily woman might have a better chance of standing up to chairman John McFarlane, who has already indicated he is looking forward to a reprise of his tenure at the insurer Aviva — where he axed chief executive Andrew Moss and enjoyed an extended stint as executive chairman before getting round to filling the vacancy and easing back to non-exec status, which clearly isn’t his preferred role. The spin this week, aimed at deflecting attention from the Jenkins defenestration, has been about McFarlane not as ‘Mack the Knife’ but as an amiable guitarist with a ‘fondness for singing at charity events’ — though one former colleague tells me he really is ‘a hard man, no airs and graces, demanding but supportive if you’re doing a good job… banking’s equivalent of Monty Python’s Piranha Brothers’.

Meanwhile, an all-male line-up of candidates who might be brave enough to become McFarlane’s next sidekick has already emerged from ‘City analysts’, or possibly from Barclays’ own spinmeisters testing market reactions. It is headed by the bank’s finance director Tushar Morzaria, ex-JP Morgan Chase, and includes its chief operating officer Jonathan Moulds, ex–Merrill Lynch and a collector of Stradivarius violins. But rightly or wrongly, and however interesting their hobbies, internal appointees always look second-best in the modern corporate world — and one in this case would not take the spotlight off McFarlane, which is what the Barclays board will want to see by next year.

Hence the need for fillies in the race, so here’s my shortlist. Jayne-Anne Gadhia of Virgin Money looks strong enough to deck Mack with a left hook. But if she’s too retail (as Jenkins was) and an investment banker is preferred, feisty Baroness Shriti Vadera, trained at Warburgs and now chairman of Santander UK, might fit the bill. Then there’s former FT chief Rona Fairhead, with experience at Morgan Stanley and (unhappily) on the HSBC board, who may soon be out of a job at the BBC Trust. From outside the sector, ex-Thomas Cook boss Harriet Green ‘gets up early and would enjoy the travel’, a tipster whispers. And what price former corporate lawyer Christine Lagarde, whose IMF tenure looks set to end next July? As I said last year when the hunt was on that produced McFarlane as chairman: come on, girls, just pick up the phone to the headhunters.

Euro boobies

I’m busy in Helmsley this week playing café owner René Artois in ’Allo ’Allo!, a stage farce spun out of the much-loved sitcom set in wartime France. All I’ll give away about the plot is that like the Greek bailout saga, it is not the victory for Germany that it may look — and the priceless portrait of the Fallen Madonna with the big boobies may or may not be hidden in the knockwurst sausage. René himself is the ultimate Euro-pragmatist, pimping his waitresses Mimi and Yvette — who are also his mistresses — to the occupying Nazis while hiding exploding cheeses for the Resistance and periodically trying to slip away to Switzerland, where he no doubt has an account at HSBC. There really ought to be a statue of him outside the Berlaymont building in Brussels, carved with one of his asides: ‘Most of us have to make compromises because we want to go on breathing.’ One day, perhaps, we’ll laugh at another comedy of confusion conjured from a painful episode in our continental neighbours’ past, called Euro Euro!

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  • Augustus

    “I believe something good really did come out of the negotiating chamber this week”

    But there is no end to the Iranian nuclear program. And that program will continue, and eventually grow very large. That’s simply the nature and the intention of the regime, despite President Obama’s (and, apparently, a lot of other people’s) view of the world.

    • Bonkim

      We are forgetting that even in the heady days of the stand off between the USSR and the US, it was the nuclear detente – once unleashed both sides perish.
      Israel is a powerful military power in the region and the US has an unconditional guarantee to defend Israel. Doubt if Iran would initiate any attack on Israel knowing the consequences but I am not sure hot-head Netanyahu has any brains. He is incapable of long term thinking. He is the mad dog and the real danger for the US.

  • Gareth

    The Iranian “deal” allows Iran to continue enriching uranium, operating a reactor to produce plutonium and develop long-range missiles. Egypt and the Saudis have reacted by announcing their own plans to acquire nuclear weapons.
    An islamist regime with nuclear weapons, an unstable monarchy with nuclear weapons and a military dictatorship constantly threatened by islamists also acquiring nuclear weapons. What could go wrong?

    • right1_left1

      The ‘funny thing’ is Pakistan has nuclear weapons and so far has shown restraint.
      Some in their population kill the odd Christian now and then and burn down things fairly regularly but no nuclear explosions yet.
      Maybe its the balance of power that is decisive.?

      See the cold war Usa – Ussr which was very lucrative for corporate America.

  • Bonkim

    Greece going bankrupt is no big deal for the world but Iran’s accommodation with the West after over three decades of discord is definitely a great achievement for both sides in the nuclear game. Will be one of the main achievements of Obama’s Presidency and a pity that sorting out the chip on Israel’s shoulder will have to wait for the next US President unless Netanyahu manages to blow up all around him including himself.

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    Vienna turned out a nuclear non-proliferation deal. A saving grace.
    Greece probably needs a debt non-proliferation deal,there may be some saving grace c/o Christine Lagardes very sensible suggestion of 30 years..but without proper forgiveness ie not ” an issue” ( Which may be too scary for those working to keep certain financial mechanisms oiled and working).. perhaps a more general application of non-proliferation of debt type deals would be kindly welcomed, I think.

    in fact, debt non-proliferation deals are very much needed all over the place, I think, in view of the news generally. EG young girls being issued with fines of hundreds of pounds and bailiffs turning up at their mothers house because of not buying a train ticket? What about jumped up executive type head teachers fining parents for taking the holiday time of their own lives with their children during term time? What or who can control such nether regions of the executive expression of debt culture?

    Debt must not be the only way to acheive goals or else we will end up slaves to financial mechanisms that have no brakes, human driver or common sense.

  • TowerOfBabble

    May I suggest an additional statue of René is commissioned — perhaps in the name of the Greek people — and inscribed with another of his famous catchphrases: “You stupid woman!”. It would be unveiled outside the IMF headquarters, naturally.