Pickled fish and rotten oranges

"£150,000 wrapped up, please"

"Yes, hello, I’d like to pay off my mortgage with a pickled fish" isn’t the most likely of banking requests, but then it’s not everyday that somebody has a Damien Hirst trevally-in-formaldehyde worth as much as their house. Darren Walker, a childhood friend of the Leeds-born artist, hopes to make £150,000 from the fish, a gift Hirst made to the Farsely chippy where Hirst’s brother worked, when it is auctioned later this year. Ever-concerned that art should not be about privilege, this follows on from last November when Hirst donated one of his sketches as a prize in a £1 raffle for Heart Research UK. At least the fish should help his humility rating, which plummeted last year when he created a diamond-encrusted skull.

Delia’s Bread and Butter

In the unlikely event that nobody fancies the Hirst fish at auction, perhaps Delia could pop it between two slices of long-life bread. Her 'How to Cheat' cookery series may have been denigrated by just about every food writer and TV critic with senses, including the New Statesman’s Rachel Cooke, but sales of the accompanying book soared last week, and saw Delia take the top slot for the best-selling UK title.

Oranges are not the only fruit

Ahead of the Orange Prize, Whitbread First Novel Award-winning author Tim Lott has dared to venture into the lionesses’ den by suggesting that the women-only writers’ prize is "discriminatory, sexist and perverse." Feminism has long-opposed the argument that women-only arts prizes actually increase the gender inequality gap in writing and publishing. In a rhetorical question, Lott debated whether a men-only prize might actually be more justified, "given their level of relative exclusion in schools and the marketplace." He might have immediately dismissed the idea, but Lott’s planting the seed suggested that secretly, he quite liked the idea. His statement that "pupils are taught reading mainly by female teachers promoting mainly female writers" was proved factually inaccurate by the F Word, where blogger Sian pointed out that Lott had neglected to heed the predominance of men in the English literary canon: "we had lectures entitled 'women in modernism'; next to lectures entitled 'ts eliot'."

Blogger Caitlin reiterated this, and criticised the poetry booklets the Guardian and Independent gave away last week: “in the Guardian series, Sylvia Plath is apparently the only 'great' female poet from the 20th century, out of the seven chosen (and while she was amazing, that is beside the point) while the Independent fairs slightly better with Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Charlotte Mew and The Bronte Sisters - out of 38 poets! THIRTY EIGHT!”.

Meanwhile John Sutherland, A S Byatt and Anita Brooker have rallied round Lott. Considering the Orange Prize winner won’t be announced until June, there is of course still time for judge Lily Allen to pen a suitably anthemic pop song about it.

Anthony Minghella

The untimely death of British writer and director Anthony Minghella was met with unanimous regret and reverence this week. Alan Yentob called him “a great champion of British cinema, an elegant advocate for the craft and a marvellous mentor for new talent” and Tim Walker summed up Anthony’s significance on IndyBlogs – “Say what you like about The English Patient (and I know it gets right up some people's noses), but it put Britain back on the cinematic map.” Although there was debate at the BBC about whether screening was still appropriate, his final directorial effort, ‘The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency’, will be shown on BBC 1 this Easter Sunday. Check out the next issue of the New Statesman for a full review. The tribute that Anthony Minghella wrote to Samuel Beckett here in the New Statesman suddenly seems all the more poignant.

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump