Bashing the Bishop

Criticism for Rowan Williams and praise for John McCain

The best way to unify the blogosphere against you, it would seem, is to come out in favour of shariah laws in Britain, as Rowan Williams did this week.

In a thoughtful piece on the subject, Cranmer concludes: “God forbid that Britain should ever return to the days when religious leaders should determine guilt or innocence, or legislate on matters of crime and punishment. For some of us, those memories are all too acute and dreadfully painful.”

The news brought a swathe of imaginative post titles. Iain Dale comes up with “Who will rid us of this idiotic priest?” Chris Paul responds: “Archbishop: who will rid us of this ID-iotic blogger?”, while Obsolete’s contribution is titled “Opening your mind so much that your brain falls out”.

In one of the few posts that supports Williams’s position, Brian Sloan writes: “It is an issue that calls for informed debate if we are to have a genuinely pluralistic society, and I admire the Archbishop for raising it. Given the ill-informed and immature reactions of some, such a debate seems a long way off.”

Apparently there have been some elections over the pond. At Harry’s Place, Gene serves up some Super Tuesday afterthoughts, including praise of John McCain: “Although I can't help liking McCain (if it wasn't such an insult in certain circles, I'd call him a decent man), I'm quite aware that on many of the social and economic issues I care about, he's far to the right of me. I actually was moved last night when he referred, non-sarcastically, to ‘our friends’ on the Democratic side.”

Danny Finkelstein calls the caucus voting system “ludicrously undemocratic”, highlighting some of the winning margins (e.g. Mitt Romney winning 25 seats in Montana on the back of 625 votes, while Mike Huckerbee needed 120,776 votes in order to win just 26 Arkansas delegates).

While acknowledging it may appear hypocritical judging American democracy as a Brit, Finkelstein states: “Romney, Huckabee and Obama all gained delegates as a result of this system that they otherwise might not have won. Caucuses (and state conventions) clearly favour the choice and enthusiasm of activists over those of ordinary voters.”

And finally, on the 90th anniversary of women winning the right to vote, Jon Bright at Our Kingdom assesses how far we have come in terms of equality of political power between both sexes. He concludes: “I hope that in another 90 years we are able to celebrate the equal access of men and women to positions of power, whilst also celebrating the anniversary of when change first began. Sadly, even today, this is a hope rather than a certainty.”

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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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