‘Darling attacks Germany’ announced the Telegraph website, instantly revising my opinion of the former Chancellor. There was I with this idee fixe of the Scotsman as nothing more than a mouse brooding beneath two black caterpillars: and here he was on a one-man do-or-die mission to finally see off the resurgent Hun. But Alistair Darling was merely drivelling on about Germany not intervening soon enough in the financial crisis.
There is a form of chutzpah possessed by politicians similar to that which we called ‘brass neck’ when I was a kid in Manchester. It was also called ‘nerve’, and very occasionally, ‘buck’ – meaning cheek. But nobody has it more – not even old Gordon of Ourdoom – than Darling, the lion who squeaked. So he thinks it perfectly OK to accuse Germany of being late for the battle, despite the fact that he was late for every last stage of meltdown during 2008. There was, he’d declared in turn, not going to be a slowdown, a Northern Rock failure, a recession or a global crisis. The only time Ally called it early was in summer 2009, when the global crisis which wasn’t going to happen turned out to be the reason why Britain was in the recession we weren’t going to have.
Pretty much the same thing is happening now in relation to sovereign debt and potential default in the EU. Late yesterday afternoon, The Slog picked up the rumours about Ireland’s impending bailout by the IMF. I couldn’t stand the story up, and it has since been ‘rigorously denied’ by the Irish Government and the IMF. What I can tell you is that the Irish situation is even more awful than we’re being led to believe – and a few weeks from now, the denials may look very hollow indeed.
Everything the EU Central Bank head Jean-Claude Trichet says is hollow, but finely honed. For his statements are played upon an instrument, a siren pipe whose mellifluous noise allows this quintessential banker’s tune to lead all the rats back onto the sinking ship. Come all ye doubters and follow Norway, for have they not seen the light of Greece, a land of milk and honey? Did he say that? Or did he say in debt up to the hilt in money? Only time will tell – and quite a short time at that.
Tricky Trichet is smarter than Darling and he gives good fib, but Alistair was really a small-town Scottish solicitor chosen by Brown to be a patsy. Jean-Claude by comparison is a banker from his anorexic smile all the way down to those feet of clay. He is one of those battalions of bad guys we have become accustomed to over the last century: the ones who did it for the Fuhrer, for la Patrie, and for the shareholders. Show me a banker taking an oath of allegiance, and I’ll show you a man with crossed fingers confirming an instinct for the double-cross. But when Nuremburg beckons, their sense of honour is always on show and never to be doubted.
I wouldn’t be so nasty about the elites conning investors around the world were it not for the continuing feedback I get from a broad cross-section of traders, dealers, credit managers and bright commentators – all of whom confirm that the media, the authorities, and the regulatory agencies are being sold the biggest litter of pups in the history of mendacity. As a former market researcher, I find it hard not to group people by beliefs and attitudes; the financial opinion-leading people at the sharp end divide into three groups, I think – although the lines between them are blurred.
The first I’d call the Benefit of Doubters. These people are sure that the EU’s Trichettes are being too glib about the size of the problem, but have no malign intent: they are merely high-ups deluded by hubris. The eurozone will survive pretty well intact, they think.
The second are the Hardly Anyone Deaders. They accept Greece is a dead duck, but they think with a bit of wishful accounting and stealth taxes upon the poor, the eurozone might just scrape through with one, at most two, defaults.
The third I have given the name Let’s All Go Homers. These folks think only a hugely slimmed-down eurozone is possible, but a German-dominated Europe from here on is a certainty. A largish minority think the euro and the EU are doomed. A few die-hards think France is doomed unless it gets a move on. They all think Spain and Ireland are doomed. (On a global canvas, this psychographic I think of as the Titsups. Lest you find this funny, I should point out that one of them works for a major European Government, and The Slog counts himself among their number. My only point of departure from this group is a gut feeling that Italy is a darkly dead horse too).
It’d be comforting if these three attitude groups were all the same size. But as a quotient, I’d say that in order of optimism they are roughly 1:3:7. It’d be even more reassuring if these experts at the sharp end had a track-record of being panicky and wrong. In point of fact -like me and millions of others – all of them saw Crash 1 coming: and over two-thirds think Crash Two is now inevitable.
And on that cheery note, I shall bid you goodnight, as I am in charge of tonight’s starter – and the guests arrive in four minutes.