Since Vicky Pryce is still serving her sentence over those speeding points – albeit with an electronic tag – it’s tempting to draw a parallel with Second World War safebreakers who were sprung from gaol by the military to steal Axis documents from behind enemy lines. Sometimes a crisis is just too big to tackle without the real experts. The eurozone is in meltdown; send for Pryce!
That at least seems to be how the Lords’ European Union Select Committee saw it. How could they properly review the subject without the advice of one of the country’s foremost authorities? Or consider the latest, perilous, slide of the Continent’s most ancient civilisation without the former joint head of the UK Government Economic Service, currently updating her standard work on “Greekonomics”?
If we secretly expected one of their Lordships suddenly to lose it and ask her about her feelings about gaol, marriage, or the hazards of talking to the press, or that Ms Pryce might play the tragic heroine in some lachrymose bid for sympathy, we were seriously wasting our time.
What we got was “Unless the debt is written off to a certain extent in most of the peripheral countries such as Greece, Portugal – and we probably need to do something in Spain – who knows what will happen this year? So the second thing that needs to happen... is for the European Central Bank to heavily intervene and finally be allowed by the Germans to buy bonds in the market. It hasn’t done that. Basically we need our own Quantitative Easing, in Europe to see us through. So, a big stimulus package is what is needed.”
Gulp. This no-nonsense summary, delivered at characteristically breakneck speed, was fairly typical. The peers had weight, at least if judged by the declared company directorships of some – including 11 held by the former Tory Treasury Chief Secretary and scourge of public spending, Lord Flight. But clad in a black jacket and pink and white striped shirt, occasionally brushing back her hair, leafing from time to time through a sheaf of papers, and making notes with a white translucent pen, Ms Pryce showed every sign of absorption and none of nervousness as she sat between her fellow witnesses, political scientist Stephen Haseler, an avowed pro-European, and her fellow economist Ruth Lea, formerly of the Institute of Directors, who is much more Eurosceptic.
There were some crispy moments. “For once I agree with Ruth,” said Ms Pryce at one point. “For once?” asked a surprised Ms Lea. And she deflected a masochistic invitation by the session’s Labour chairman, Lord Harrison, to say to the committee what she had written in the past, that politicians “just don’t get” economics. “Well, there are different views around, so I can’t generalise,” was her retort.
So grateful was Lord Harrison for the three experts’ “magnificent” testimony that he invited them all for a coffee. Maybe then did they discuss a topic that wasn’t once mentioned during the open session – Ms Pryce’s recent experiences. But, since she is now writing a book that will reflect upon them – Prisonomics, an appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee cannot be far off.
If nothing else, this woman gives good witness.