My euro prediction, Olympics travel and another cricketing suicide

Prediction is nearly always dangerous, but here is one that I believe to be absolutely safe. Whatever you read elsewhere, the euro will survive and Greece, Italy, Spain, etc, will remain inside. That is not because Greeks or Italians have any great affection for the new currency, or because Europe's leaders are deluded visionaries, but because leaving it is a practical impossibility.

Consider. If Greece, say, were to leave the euro and revert to the drachma, obviously at a highly unfavourable rate, the decision would have to be taken in the utmost secrecy and implemented overnight. Otherwise, everybody would take their money out of the country and, these days, they don't need suitcases, since it can be done with a few computer keystrokes. To prevent that happening, bank deposits would be frozen and capital controls imposed. All economic activity would be suspended while new notes and coins were printed or minted and distributed, computers reprogrammed, and vending and payment machines adjusted. How long would that take? A day? A week? A month? (Note to any tabloid news ­editor who may be dozing off: British tourists would be stranded, possibly without retsina.)

That isn't all. If one country were to leave the euro, others in difficulty would be expected to do the same. So the mother of all bank runs would ensue across the continent. (Special alert to the Daily Mail: house prices would fall.) The only remotely plausible way for the euro to break up is for Germany to leave and introduce a super-euro or new Deutschmark which would probably be the most valuable currency in the world. Germans would then be better off than everybody else - or, rather, even better off. But they'd have trouble selling their exports. So it won't happen.

Now I've made my prediction - and, if I ­didn't believe it, I'd be storing tinned food at a secret location in Epping Forest - you will probably hear immediately that the drachma is back. Then you can sit back and laugh, but not, I advise, for very long.

Home it may concern
We British look complacently on the installation of Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos as unelected leaders of Italy and Greece respectively. Couldn't happen here, we say. But in 1963, when Harold Macmillan resigned, our unelected Queen, advised by mostly unelected Tory elders, sent for the unelected 14th Earl of Home and made him prime minister. He subsequently renounced his title, changed his name back to Douglas-Home and won a by-election in a safe Tory seat conveniently vacated for him. All that was stitched up in weeks.

We didn't even have the excuse of a national crisis requiring an economist with a super-sized brain to sort it out. Douglas-Home's knowledge of economics, he explained, was confined to what he'd worked out with matchsticks. Not that that was necessarily a handicap. According to research from the London School of Economics, 69 per cent of Greek and 55 per cent of ­Portuguese finance ministers since 1973 had PhDs in economics.

Celeb class
If you're looking for a real popular uprising in Britain - as opposed to a few tents in the streets - it could well happen during the Olympics next summer. Not only shall we have troops wielding surface-to-air missiles, as the new Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, promises. We shall also have London roads closed while VIPs are whizzed through specially programmed green traffic lights. When Tube drivers go on strike for a day or two, we hear about the vast cost to London's economy, but the Olympic organisers and the Mayor are telling workers to stay at home for most of August.

Most disruption will be caused not by athletes or ordinary folk going as spectators, but by politicians, corporate sponsors, bureaucrats and other grandees who seem to have snaffled most of the tickets. If that doesn't bring class hatred to the capital's streets, I don't know what will.

Cricket's dark side
Following the suicide of Peter Roebuck, the former Somerset captain and writer, the question again arises of what makes so many cricketers take their own lives. David Frith, who wrote two books on the subject (one with a foreword from Roebuck), unearthed more than 150 examples. He established, with a fair degree of confidence, that the suicide rate among English, Australian and South African Test players is significantly higher than those among the general population and among players in other sports.

The reason, I suspect, is that cricket, more than any other game, highlights the individual and his failings, which are assumed to be somehow attributable to flaws of character, temperament and even morality rather than ability. Tennis and golf also expose the individual, but players do not confront cricket's peculiar agony of letting down teammates, notably when catches are dropped. Cricket breeds introspection and gnaws at inner confidence. What little we know of Roebuck, a complex man who on the surface struck people as arrogant, seems to fit this explanation.

No sharing
The Guardian has dropped its daily listings of share prices, banishing them to its website. Yet it still prints the racing card, with details of runners and riders in the 2.30 at Plumpton. One understands that most Guardian readers don't deal in capitalist stocks, but can it really be true that more of them frequent betting shops?

Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

This article first appeared in the 21 November 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The myth of the Fourth Reich

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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.