The Prime Monster gets cuddly

Brown has become all touchy-feely since the Prime Monster bullying row.

Big Gordie is frightening his colleagues again -- this time with hugs. Brown has become all touchy-feely since the Prime Monster bullying row. I hear from a surprised visitor to No 10 that he has taken to greeting ministers and MPs with a mighty embrace instead of a growl. The government's less robust members complain that the Great Hugger's mateyness is intimidating. One said he would rather take his chances with a flying Nokia than a bear hug that squeezed him to within a breath of his life.

The Tory whip Simon Burns is plotting revenge on Speaker Bercow after he denounced Burns's rowdy behaviour at Prime Minister's Questions. A tearoom informant whispered that a seething Burns is threatening to stand against Bercow when the new Commons comes to elect its chair. If David "Daddy-to-Be" Cameron tells Burns to hold fire, the Chelmsford West bruiser has a plan B. He will run for deputy speaker. "I would be," Burns was overheard saying, "the deputy from hell."

"I am the daughter of working-class Italian immigrants," Gloria De Piero wrote on her CV for the Labour candidacy in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. Twice. It worked. The former GMTV presenter, who came 85th in FHM's 2008 list of the World's Sexiest Women, won the ballot to succeed the rather less glamorous would-be lobbyist Geoff "Buff" Hoon. She was once known as "Tony Blair's favourite broadcaster", but it seems the ex-PM is not quite as popular with her. On her CV she also cited interviews (for this magazine) with Gordon Brown, Alan Johnson and Ed Balls. One name absent from the two pages was Blair.

Cash-strapped Labour is charging hacks £13,000 to sit on a bus to follow Brown during the election. The price smacks of an unsubtle subsidy. Fleet Street is revolting, if you know what I mean. There is talk of a boycott.

The Tory union-basher Michael Gove was a serial striker in his younger days. A snap of the trainee hack on a picket line outside the Press and Journal in Aberdeen two decades ago isn't the only evidence of Red Mike's militancy. A snout recalls Gove downing pens at the BBC in 1994. During unrest at Auntie, he was despatched by union officials to persuade other right-wingers to join the walkouts. By all accounts, he was effective. Up the Tories!

The target of Gove's recent anti-union blasts, Charlie Whelan, evaded the Tory tabloids by tweeting that he had been fishing when the British Airways strike started. But that very same day my spy observed a Whelan-like bloke in Unite House, the union's London office. Fishing for parliamentary seats, perhaps.

Laura Moffatt, MP for Crawley, had her majority at the last election -- 37 -- tattooed on an ankle. Quitting has its upside. Before deciding to step down, fiftysomething Moffatt had originally planned, if she won this time around, to get another tattoo. On her bottom.

Kevin Maguire is associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

 

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Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

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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