In the Critics this week

Neil Morrisey's childhood, 20th century folk music, and civil war reprobates.

In the Critics section of this week's New Statesman, Rob Young traces the utopian visions conjured by folk music in the 20th century; Felicity Cloake discovers that English winemakers are "making great strides"; Helen Lewis-Hasteley wonders whether there's such a thing as "English cuisine", and concludes that though our dishes are prone to absorbing foreign influences, "when you can walk along a high street in even a smallish English town and a small peri-peri, cinnamon and garlic alongside the salty tang of fish and chips, who would have it any other way?"

In Film, Ryan Gilbey watches Duncan Jones' Source Code, and appreciates its sense of "underlying futility": "the visions of violence and destruction can't help but seem definitive". However, "few films" have "generated so little excitement from that old stand-by, the ticking bomb". Rachel Cooke watches celebrity documentary Neil Morrissey: Care Home Kid on BBC2, confessing from the off her "allergy" to the sub-genre ("the narcissism and self-pity is enough to make the skin itch"). This particular one, though, is "extremely moving". On the radio, Antonia Quirke listens to the various on-air tributes to Elizabeth Taylor, and finds the BBC's coverage strangely rife with mentions of "tributes that we never quite got to hear". Heat FM, conversely, had captured "Elton John" and "similar exotica" paying their respects. American radio was "headier", and World Service oddly reserved.

In Books, Leo Robson considers Philip Hensher's King of the Badgers, and Monica Ali's Untold Story as two examples of "condition of England" novels. Hensher is praised for "his steady head" ("his greatest attribute after his energy and fluency"), whilst Ali's mishandling of the "relationship between recorded fact, outright fabrication and plausible invention" has consequences for this novel's "identity and scrutability". David Crystal admires Melvyn Bragg's taking of opportunity to fruitfully display his "breadth of encounter" in a review of Bragg's The Books of Books: the Radical Impact of the King James Bible (1611-2011). Amanda Craig notes the charm of Katherine Swift's writing in her homage to gardening, "the most emotionally involving of all the arts". The Morville Year combines "observation of nature, creative day-dreaming and scholarly musing". Jonathan Beckman thinks John Stubbs' Reprobates: the Cavaliers of the English Civil War an "outstanding achievement". His success "lies not simply in working these dramatic life stories into the larger political and religious conflicts in England" but in "show[ing] that the circumstances of poetic production are an indispensable adjunct to appreciation". "Stubbs", writes Beckman, "has rescued the Cavalier's literary reputation and tempered the most scornful excoriations of their moral character".

Vernon Bogdanor wonders why there is no definitive biography of Churchill ("that may seem like an odd question to ask"), whilst Alexandra Harris, this week's Critic at large, examines the writers' trend of attempting to narrate the story of England by exploring the histories of particular, and personal, slices of land.

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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