How provincial the British press can look as it hunts Suella Braverman. Here is a blood sport which can all too easily consume its entire attention, which before that was taken by the hunt for Liz Truss, who provided indifferent sport, for she was useless at defending herself.
The scalp of Boris Johnson was worth the three-year chase, for he was a big beast who could be blamed for the blunder of leaving the European Union, and how much better off, it is frequently implied or asserted, we would be if we had remained in.
The assumption tends to be that the British Government is exceptionally and unforgivably incompetent, and they run things better on the continent of Europe.
We derive a morbid satisfaction, almost a sense of superiority, from supposing ourselves worse governed than anyone else. On our holidays, taken in some of the most charming spots in Europe, we see with our own eyes that everything is better there.
But the difficulties with which Braverman, Truss, Johnson and the rest struggle exist far beyond these shores.
According to the UNHCR, over 3,000 people drowned last year while trying to make their way by sea from Africa to Europe.
Oliver Moody explained, in a recent review of My Fourth Time, We Drowned by Sally Harden, why, thanks to a deal with Libya, that number is not even higher:
“the EU is paying Tripoli to haul thousands of people a year out of the Mediterranean and pack them into verminous prisons where rape, starvation, child abuse, medical neglect, shootings and torture are routine instruments of control.
“A few months ago Pope Francis described these places as ‘concentration camps’. He was absolutely right.”
Looking beyond the deficiencies of the British Home Office, and of whoever is currently trying to run it, we find other problems which do not stop at Dover: the war in Ukraine, rising interest rates, energy prices and food inflation all contributing to a severe cost of living crisis, public borrowing swollen to dangerous levels by the pandemic, jittery bond markets, whole industries at risk.
“We are risking a massive deindustrialisation of the European continent,” the Belgian prime minister, Alexander De Croo, recently warned.
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard pointed out in Tuesday’s Telegraph that the European Central Bank faces “an excruciating dilemma”, for it cannot set an interest rate which will suit both Germany and Italy:
“Eurozone inflation jumped to 10.7 per cent in October and has yet to peak. The stagflation misery mix is no worse than in the UK – and no better either – but the political implications are profoundly different within the structure of the euro.
“German inflation has reached 11.4 per cent on the Eurostat measure, the highest since the Korean War in 1951. It is significantly higher than the brief eight per cent peak during the energy crisis of the 1970s when the Bundesbank – almost alone among the Western central banks – opted early for recession to break the back of inflation…
“The German economic establishment thinks the country is on the cusp of a wage-price spiral. Workers from 12 big industrial companies went on strike over the weekend as a warning shot. The trade union giant IG Metall is demanding an eight per cent pay raise and is threatening a very un-German winter of discontent. Public sector workers recently asked for 10.5 per cent…
“Volker Wieland, a former member of the German Council of Economic Experts, said inflation had reached the point where nothing short of sharply positive real rates will be enough to break the fever…
“Positive real rates are precisely what Italy cannot endure. It is why premier Giorgia Meloni lashed out at the ECB on her first day in office, denouncing rate rises on the cusp of recession as precipitous.
“She said ill-timed monetary tightening would choke credit to families and firms, and she complained that halting bond purchases creates ‘extra difficulties for member states with high public debt’ – as indeed it has…
“Mrs Meloni is now in implicit alliance with France’s Emmanuel Macron, who has also castigated unnamed monetary hawks at the ECB. His demarche is logical: France has an even bigger debt burden than Italy.”
Macron, who during his first five-year term could rely on a complaisant National Assembly, has found himself faced, since his re-election, by an altogether more menacing situation, with extremists of the Left and Right doing all they can to make life intolerable for him in the National Assembly, where the Government lacks a majority and has instead had to force its measures through using the risky and controversial article 49.3.
The French Constitution may not suit France all that well, but such a procedure would be regarded as utterly intolerable at Westminster.
In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s predicament is at least as unenviable. This Social Democrat heads a coalition in which the Greens and the Free Democrats do whatever they can to obstruct each other.
Still more seriously, he is the inheritor of, and himself complicit in, the appalling misjudgment made by the German political class when it decided it could rely on Russia to go on supplying cheap gas indefinitely.
Pretty much everyone who mattered in Berlin got this wrong. The last Social Democrat to serve as Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, decided in 2002 to shut down Germany’s nuclear power stations, and on leaving office in 2005 at once became Chairman of Nord Stream, suppliers of the Russian gas on which Germany believed it could depend instead.
His successor as Chancellor, Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democrats, at first said she would extend the life of Germany’s nuclear power stations, but then decided, in 2011, that they would be closed after all: a move designed to damage the Greens.
A report was recently published which showed that German politicians continued until the last possible moment to maintain that Vladimir Putin could be trusted:
“The German government…declassified a top-secret security assessment on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from 2021, only four months before the outbreak of war, which claimed energy supplies ‘won’t be jeopardized’ by increased dependency on Russian gas.
“The document, dated 26th October 2021, was adopted in the final days of former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s outgoing government, in which Germany’s current leader Olaf Scholz played a key role as vice chancellor.”
“At my Kleinsee Forest about two hours southeast of Berlin, I signed a contract to be part of a wind farm in January 2021.
“First of all, an environmental impact report was needed. Before this nothing can be done. Such a study costs over 100,000 euros and means that for twelve months groups of people are running around my woods day and night counting birds, bats and everything else that crawls, walks or flies.
“During the hottest days of the summer, a man sat perched on a lifting platform 20 metres above a meadow from dawn to dusk, recording whatever he saw in the sky. Among the significant findings was a nest used by a peregrine falcon. The peregrine falcon is no longer
endangered and the population in Germany and Europe has risen since the 1970s.
“There are 600 breeding pairs in Germany and up to 15,000 pairs in Europe. Nevertheless, under present regulations, windmills cannot be built closer than 1,000 metres (in a few cases, 500 metres) from the nest. For this wind farm, the nest means that three potential windmills have been axed.
“Multiply this across Germany and it means lots of windmills are never getting off the drawing board due to birds that aren’t really threatened. Habeck’s ministry [Robert Habeck, a leading Green, Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action] says they want to loosen these regulations. Good luck to them.
“The project developer says that if all goes well – a big if – the first wind turbines may start producing electricity in 2027. That’s almost seven years after I signed the contract! And this is a small wind farm with just 10 to 12 windmills.
“Oh, by the way, approval for this wind farm cannot now even be granted. The state of Brandenburg currently has no legally mandated areas for building new wind farms. None. The old locations were declared invalid by courts after legal challenges.”
Just as in the UK the planning system has for many years been used to prevent the building of enough houses, so in Germany it can be used to stop the building of enough windmills. Bureaucracy promotes immobility.
What will become of the big energy-intensive industries scattered across Europe such as steel, aluminium, chemicals, ceramics, fertilisers, paper and cars? One should not underestimate the speed and resourcefulness with which these industries are cutting their use of energy, and developing new sources to replace the lost Russian supply of cheap gas.
But the already marked energy price differential between Europe and the United States has so widened that it will be virtually impossible for some European manufacturers to remain competitive.
Fertiliser factories in Poland, Hungary, Romania and Croatia lie idle for lack of the Russian gas on which they depended.
Poland has recently announced that an American company, Westinghouse, will build the country’s first nuclear reactor, and South Korea will build the second.
Germany has not said where its energy is going to come from on windless, sunless days. Mangasarian commented: “I stand by my view that while the First and Second World Wars were not enough to destroy German industry, the Greens may succeed.”
What has aptly been termed Germany’s pacifist-industrial complex continues to set great store by doing deals with China, just now being visited by Scholz. Has anything been learned from the Russian debacle about the danger of becoming best friends with an autocrat?
When I was a correspondent in Bonn and Berlin in the 1990s, I could not help observing that German politicians (like politicians in other countries, but the Germans went about it with impressive thoroughness) are inclined to value talk above action and to mistake process for substance.
Day after day I scanned the coverage in the morning papers of the pensions debate, and reflected that I could see no way of turning this into a news story. A quarter of a century later, The Times this week carried a report headed “German pensions system ‘is near collapse'”.
British politicians are more than capable of committing blunders: we know that, but how easy it is to forget that their German, French and Italian counterparts, wrestling as they are with many of the same problems, are just as capable of committing blunders, and of falling out with each other as they disagree (remember the Greek crisis?) about how the pain and the costs should be shared out between EU members.
Will German taxpayers and savers agree to tighten their belts in order to save the Italians? It is quite wrong to assume that Rishi Sunak’s problems are any worse than those facing Scholz, Macron, Meloni and other European leaders.