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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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.