The Spectator's Notes

The Spectator’s notes

2 July 2015

1:00 PM

2 July 2015

1:00 PM

‘The Greek people,’ the Financial Times leading article said on Monday, ‘would be well advised to listen closely to the words of Ms Merkel. The plebiscite will be a vote for the euro or the drachma, no less.’ It is interesting how menacing powerful ‘moderate’ institutions can become when popular feeling challenges them. In the eurozone theology to which the FT subscribes, its statement above cannot be true. It is not possible (see last week’s Notes) for a member state to leave the euro, any more than it is for Wales to renounce sterling. Eurozone membership, once achieved, is a condition of EU membership. So the Greeks cannot vote to leave the euro, unless they vote to leave the EU — which even the FT is not claiming is happening. If the eurozone leaders say this will be the result of a No vote, they are either lying or proposing to break their own law. Mr Tsipras’s government must have a good legal case before the European Court of Justice that its country became the victim of an illegal act when the ECB cut off funding. No doubt it won’t win, because the ECJ always finds in favour of ‘Europe’ and because it probably won’t get to court anyway since the frightened Greek people are more likely to vote Yes than No on Sunday, and then the Greek government will change yet again. But it is not a clever idea for the eurozone to humiliate its weakest member; and it is not clever of Britain’s leading business newspaper to order poor little Greece to do what Germany wants.

If Greece does vote Yes, and Mr Tsipras has to go, who is left to run the country? The voters have tried all the main parties, only to find them broken by the demands of the eurozone. The only category left is the extreme right, so there would be a sort of desperate logic in electing the repulsive Golden Dawn party. Otherwise, there really doesn’t seem any point in having any more votes at all. Greek citizens — or rather subjects — might as well invite the satraps of the troika formally to take up the reins of power, sit back, and see how they manage. If they do not like what happens next, they can reserve the right to riot. It will be like being under the Ottomans all over again.

How much longer should the IMF be run by a European? The job of the fund is to assist any member country which is in trouble, not to advance the dream of European integration. So far, since it all began after the war, the IMF’s managing directors have been Europeans, most commonly French. The current one, Christine Lagarde, is a French former politician, as was her predecessor, the socialist sex-maniac Dominique Strauss-Kahn. In her opinion, the needs of the EU trump everything, but that is a political view, not a financial one. It must be annoying for the scores of poorer, non-European IMF members — e.g. the Philippines, Mexico, Jamaica — to be paying for this. When Britain had to call in the IMF in the 1970s, we felt ashamed, but we never doubted that the fund saw its task as putting our economy to rights. Imagine what we would have felt if we had thought it was working to help not us, but Brussels.

Shortly before the atrocity in Tunisia, David Cameron made an important speech in Bratislava. In it, he emphasised the relationship between non-violent and violent extremism — the way a ‘firebrand preacher’ who is not himself violent can stir up young people to violent acts. He challenges the idea that only specifically violent behaviour threatens national security. Mr Cameron first advanced these ideas in a speech in Munich in 2011, but the relevant agencies have been intensely resistant to them, preferring the idea of ‘engaging’ with extremists so long as they didn’t actually advocate blowing people up. Now that he has won the general election, Mr Cameron is returning stronger to the fray, quite rightly. Yet the institutional resistance continues. It still says on the MI5 website, as it has for years, that in the 20th century, ‘Subversion was a major concern for MI5. This threat diminished sharply following the end of the Cold War. We no longer undertake counter-subversion work.’ But subversion has risen hugely in the era of Islamism, and is far more extensive in British communities than it was with communism. The MI5 website adds, ‘we would only resume if our monitoring of emerging threats suggested an increase in the subversive threat’. The Tunisian killer seems to have picked up many of his ideas from a British-based preacher. How much ‘monitoring’ before we act on what is happening?

The Mail on Sunday website led, as did other papers, with the picture of a young woman in a bikini grieving, perhaps praying, on the beach at Sousse. On the right hand of the page, the celebrity column was carrying on as usual. If you moved your eye from the mourner, you found ‘Vivacious in violet! Jada Pinkett-Smith shows off her toned tummy in plum two-piece number.’ It can be hard to know how one is being invited to react to public events in the internet age.

You have heard of ‘social capital’: now get used to ‘erotic capital’. Some people have it, apparently, and need advice on how best to invest it. It is a depressing concept because, like most forms of capital nowadays, if you haven’t got it at birth, you are unlikely to acquire it later. It is a form of inherited wealth. I suggest it be taxed by government. This would be wildly popular: at last we poor ugly-wugglies would have something to console ourselves with.

I find it almost frightening to be stuck in London in a heatwave. It is not just the bad air. It is also the sense that this is something that does not suit the British. White northern people have never discovered an elegant means of wearing little in public. We look dreadful and behave as if this is an occasion for having fun, although we secretly know that it is just something unpleasant to be got through. Our street life becomes everything contained in that grim word ‘vibrant’. All cultures are precarious. That of London works only between 0 and 21 degrees centigrade.


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