John Terry, tree-hugging and Blair
What exactly does a football captain do, and why is he important?
The global warming deniers, I fear, have won. For the past 15 years, green has been fashionable, rather as nuclear disarmament was in the 1960s and again in the 1980s. Now, according to polls, public belief in human-induced climate change is, so to speak, melting away. Vancouver, which is hosting the Winter Olympics, may have had the warmest January ever, but most important people live on the US eastern seaboard, which has just suffered what the media are calling "Snowmageddon", or in western Europe, which has also been exceptionally cold this winter. Add the University of East Anglia's dodgy emails and errors in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, and politicians haven't a prayer of persuading voters to support painful lifestyle adjustments.
The next UK general election, experts tell us, will be decided by "Motorway Man" and his partner. They live near a motorway junction and "drive off separately in the morning to the different towns and business parks where they work". For them, choosing a party to vote for is "purely a shopping experience". They don't sound like tree-huggers to me.
True, the global warming believers have glamorous, youthful leaders such as Zac Goldsmith and the sainted Ed Miliband, while the deniers can muster only the emaciated figure of Nigel Lawson, ranting hacks such as Melanie Phillips and Peter Hitchens and a few obscure emeritus professors. But the latter will soon find some popular music or film stars to speak up for patio heaters. If greenery follows the usual fashion cycle (including its own: it was big in the 1970s but went out in the 1980s), it will be back around 2025. By then, scientists say, it will be too late.
Eurosceptics in the zone
Also in the ascendancy are the Eurosceptics. They may be mostly Tories, but they have been proven right. In previous recessions, the troubled eurozone countries - Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain - would have eased their economic problems by devaluing the currency, printing money (now called "quantitative easing") and cutting interest rates. These levers are no longer available, so they have no alternatives to immediate cuts in public spending, together with steeply rising unemployment, falls in wages and drastic reductions in benefits.
Thus, as the Eurosceptics warned, a single currency leads to loss of sovereignty, which sounds like an abstract idea until you get a crisis like this. It applies even to the more economically successful countries. If the eurozone is to survive, Germany may have to keep rates lower than it might wish, risking inflation. Eventually, like Greece, it will have to accept greater EU control over public spending levels. Neither country can run a wholly independent fiscal policy within the eurozone, any more than Cardiff or London can within the sterling zone.
You could argue that, with proper democratic controls, a single European treasury would be good for everybody. But the pro-Europeans never made that argument, preferring to insist that the loss of sovereignty was an illusion.
No party animals left?
Are our contemporary intellectuals up to scratch? In a review of Michael Scammell's biography of Arthur Koestler in the New York Review of Books, Anne Applebaum quotes a passage about a night in 1946 when Koestler, Sartre, Camus and their partners got roaring drunk in Paris, visiting nightclubs and throwing bread across restaurant tables. As the revellers broke up at dawn, Sartre and his partner, Simone de Beauvoir, wept over "the tragedy of the human condition" and debated throwing themselves in the Seine.
Applebaum says that it is "simply not possible" to imagine contemporary public intellectuals - such as Malcolm Gladwell and Niall Ferguson behaving like "Hollywood starlets and pseudo-celebrities". Yet newspapers allege that Ferguson has left his wife for the Somali-born feminist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Andrew Roberts, another right-wing historian, is a dedicated partygoer, and Christopher Hitchens (a neocon formerly of the left) is well known for his conviviality.
Our left-wing intellectuals must do their bit. Perhaps David Marquand, Anthony Giddens and Will Hutton could attempt a wild night in London. Though I fear, given the present state of the left, a decision to throw themselves in the Thames at dawn would be the logical and inevitable outcome.
Here is what Alastair Campbell might have said to Andrew Marr: "Look, honestly, at the time we thought we were doing the best thing for Britain, Iraq and the world. But we were carried away by what we believed was a good cause, and we didn't look at the intelligence closely enough. We still think that it was right to overthrow Saddam and that the Iraqis are better off. But, yes, thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of British soldiers died for reasons that weren't quite as we stated, and we are deeply sorry for that." Would we then be more forgiving of him and Tony Blair? Answers on a postcard, please.
A question of sport
One aspect of the John Terry affair remains obscure. What exactly does a football captain do, and why is he important? Cricket captains set fields and change bowlers, the grounds being too big to allow coaches to shout constant instructions from the sidelines. But in football? As far as I can see, captains shake hands before kick-off, enjoy more licence than other players to intimidate the referee, occasionally clap their hands and shout: "Come on, lads!" Yet from all the fuss, you'd think that Terry, now removed from the England football captaincy, held one of the great offices of state.
Peter Wilby was editor of the New Statesman from 1998-2005
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