Off Games

Last time I went through the U.K. the nation was consumed with a dead pedophile by the name of Jimmy Savile. I must say we saw a couple of British expatriates out in Thailand who looked suspiciously like escapees from Savile row.

This time around, the U.K. was on tenterhooks about Cameron’s ‘Europe’ speech. By Sunday, when I made my escape, the speech was yet to be delivered—Cameron’s focus had been on In Amenas, and his days had been spent in the fangs of COBRA.

Cabinet Office Briefing Room A is the U.K. equivalent of the White House Situation Room, with secure video and audio. Like its U.S. counterpart, COBRA defines a location, rather than a composition. Attendees depend on the particular crisis at hand.

On Wednesday morning the U.K. prime minister finally had a chance to let everyone know his plans for the troubled marriage between Britain and Europe. This is an LTR, a long term relationship based on mistrust, contempt, and lackluster love.

So here’s a chance for a separation, an opportunity for the British public to come clean about whether they want to leave the European Union or not. But this can only happen if the Conservative Party wins the next election—Cameron’s referendum pledge holds only for the first half of his second mandate.

Cameron’s speech was forced by political pressure from the right of his party, and also an effort to steal the thunder from UKIP, the devolutionist group that demands an immediate withdrawal from the EU. Minority parties everywhere do well when times are hard—in some cases they come perilously close to power, as we saw in Greece last year with Syriza. And in others, such as the emergence of the German Nazi party, the outcome is six years of global war, capitals and countries destroyed, and genocide on a grand scale.

A UKIP guy called Farage recently made headlines for himself dissing Belgium. Insulting Belgium is one of Europe”s favorite sports—they’re the butt of French jokes, Monty Python, and anyone else who cares to take a shot. Farage was subsequently found to be descended from… Belgians.

Hatred has its twists: Hitler was partly of Jewish origin. Tomás Torquemada, the founder of the Spanish Inquisition, descendended from Marranos (pigs)—converted Jews.

In 2011 two Jewish brothers, David and Edward Miliband, ran for the keadership of Britain’s Labour Party—younger brother Ed won. He’s now a serious contender in the general election to be held sometime in the next two years.

Ed has come out firmly against the referendum, but his party, wary of losing the election on this issue, has already added the word ‘now’ to the mix.

Miliband the Younger pissing on Cameron's parade.

Miliband the Younger pissing on Cameron’s parade.

If Labour does run on the Miliband platform, then the referendum will have been implicitly held on election day.

Most of Europe views the U.K. as a world apart: the response from the continent was gelid. No special conditions or exceptional rulings. As a French politician put it, if you’re in a football club, you’re not there to play rugby.

Auntie Angela, politically closer to the U.K. conservatives than to Hollande’s socialist government, was contained in her comments—but it was Germany and France that kicked off the whole experiment, fifty years ago. De Gaulle and Adenauer put the war behind them and set up an ideal of a Europe without war. Apart from the Balkan fringes, that dream holds true today.

Europe is in many ways mimicking the history of the United States without realizing it, and the U.K. episode places us roughly at the stage of the War of Secession—thankfully, without the war.

Of course, any such war would not yet be civil, but then the very term civil war is profoundly bizarre.

No one can seriously defend that the economic woes of the U.K. are due to the E.U. Britain already has special status across a range of issues, starting with the single currency, moving through the working time directive, and ending in the treaty of Shengen. For the latter, the basis for a border-free territory of Europe, only the Irish joined the U.K. in exclusion—I suspect they were bullied.

On the other hand, I have no doubt that some of the pain the euro went through in the past couple of years can be directly linked to Britain. Ever since Soros shorted the pound out of the ERM, and probably ever since sterling lost its place as a reserve currency, fading with the dusk of the British empire, any new arrivals were always unwelcome.

As far back as the early 1980s the pound was already irrelevant. A English friend who visited Texas was dismayed to find that a bank in San Antonio was unable to exchange (or even recognize) pounds—Mexican pesos? No problem.

Supermario (Draghi) threw in the full weight of the European Central Bank and reversed the euro crisis—traders are like vultures, deciding which carrion to pick on next. All the austerity nonsense has been an utter waste of time, except to bring home a much-needed message of frugality. Otherwise, it led to increased poverty, misery, and unemployment.

Portugal”s efforts to increase tax revenue are now known to have resulted in a ten percent drop in VAT income. This morning I was chatting to a perfect stranger, and he summed up the general feeling by saying ‘if they can steal millions, why can’t I steal a little too?’

So Britain and its currency may be left to face the music alone; Brits will tell you that it wouldn’t be the first time, and some would mention the war—maybe even both wars. But the fact is Britain would have lost the first one without American banks, and the second without American boots.

Two of the last British papers still worth reading, the Independent and the Financial Times, note Britain has lots to teach Europe. It’s true: this is the oldest democracy in Europe, and there are lessons on transparency, free speech, and civil liberties that all Europe needs to learn.

As things stand now, I don’t think the British will even get a chance to vote the referendum. If they do, the answer will be no, just as Scotland will not devolve. Meanwhile, with a stronger euro, and uncertainty for three to four years in the U.K., British business will suffer. Betting on Britain will be more risky, and the pound will become a tempting target for speculators, now the euro is well defended—Soros revisited.

But perhaps I’ll be proved wrong as events unfold. Maybe the collateral damage between today and the U.K. general election will feed the devolutionist fire, and we’ll never know how much fuel came from the uncertainty generated by Cameron’s speech.

If the consequences for the U.K. are recession or reduced growth, the offspring of uncertainty and risk-aversion, then it just may be seccession is in the cards.

After the endless punditry by City sages about Greece leaving Europe, not to mention the whole set of Marranos, there’s a certain irony in the notion that Britain may be the one that bids adieu.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.

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