EVERY so often, a confluence of events forces a country to choose a new direction. Britain is at such a crossroads: we need radical reform in virtually all areas of domestic policy as well as new trading relationships and security alliances internationally.
The riots and the crisis in the Eurozone ought to serve as catalysts for change. But so far the government remains hopelessly in hook to vested interests. The job description for the new Metropolitan Police commissioner bars non-UK nationals and stipulates that only serving UK chief constables or people of equivalent UK ranks may apply. These non-meritocratic, discriminatory clauses are there to prevent the appointment of a US chief such as Bill Bratton, the world’s greatest expert on vanquishing crime and gangs while boosting community relations. It’s a closed shop, a job-creation scheme for UK police bosses, signed off by Theresa May, our hapless home secretary. Why doesn’t David Cameron stop this nonsense? Bratton is keen; he would even consider switching nationalities to get the job. Cameron is right to want to make the police more efficient and redeploy more resources to actual policing – but overall budgets shouldn’t be cut. It would be suicide for the UK to give up on austerity. But instead of massively increasing foreign aid, why not spend the money on more front-line, street-based police?
There may be light at the end of the tunnel. Cameron will diagnose the problem correctly today: “Irresponsibility. Selfishness. Behaving as if your choices have no consequences. Children without fathers. Schools without discipline. Reward without effort. Crime without punishment. Rights without responsibilities. Communities without control. Some of the worst aspects of human nature tolerated, indulged – sometimes even incentivised – by a state and its agencies that in parts have become literally de-moralised.” It’s much better than Ed Miliband’s constant attempts at drawing moral equivalences between the looters and the City, a philosophically absurd parallel which fails to distinguish between legal wealth acquisition by mutual consent and grabbing money and property through theft and the illegal breach of others’ property rights. We shall soon find out whether Cameron’s words are matched by actions.
As to the Eurozone, the UK now supports the creation of a fiscal union with tax raising powers and the ability to transfer unlimited wealth from some countries to others. Of course, the euro as currently constituted doesn’t work. The one-size-fits all interest rates are inappropriate for most members, countries can’t devalue any more – and yet they cannot readjust in any other way because they have failed to deregulate their economies, including their labour markets, to allow them to respond to shocks.
This will never change. But that doesn’t mean that forcing Germans to pay for the errors of Greeks or Italians is the answer either. A giant pan-European welfare state would merely reward failure and fuel nationalism and bitter resentment. Short-term, Eurobonds, federalised debt and central bank purchases of toxic bonds will prevent a catastrophic, uncontrolled break-up of the euro which would trigger another recession. Long-term, the backlash will be cataclysmic. The only sustainable solution is a controlled, managed break-up of the euro. The UK is backing the wrong horse.
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