Euro-demons issue a rude reminder

Share
Related Topics
OH, YES, thanks, a super holiday - a few days spent with beloved friends in beloved Cornwall. It was marred only by the mournful groans of the foghorn, by weather tolerable only to those, like me, who don't mind soft rain on faces and knees.

Oh, yes, and there were the newspapers, too, filled as always with miseries and disorder. No good news, save of our lady cricketers. Of the genuine miseries of Bosnia I say nothing. Vying for attention were, on a less tragic plane, the nefarious tricks of those knavish speculators. Mr Heath has denounced them - which might suggest to the cynical that they, the speculators, can't be all bad. According to him, they can 'wipe us out, one by one. No individual national currency can stand up to them.' No, indeed, nor any international fixed mechanism either, it seems.

Speculators have been dubbed demons. They have 'battered' and 'humiliated' the dying ERM, will 'kill it off', have perhaps already done so. Their sabotage has brought about 'the end of the European dream'. They have 'savaged' the ERM, now 'celebrate victory'. Their hapless victim is often portrayed as if it were an ancient, precious and benign institution, conferred on us by God, Lord Keynes or providence, hallowed by time, beyond criticism. Actions and sentiments calculated or likely to harm it can thus spurt only from benighted, selfish and perverse Europhobes.

The current picture of the predatory speculators irresistibly recalled to me Hitler's odious anti-Semitic propaganda film, in which the Jews were portrayed as rats teeming out of drains and gutters and gnawing at grain sacks, thus robbing and polluting the food of das Volk. The notion that speculators might perform some legitimate functions with salutary effects has not been exactly emphasised. They appear customarily as termites and locusts, scavengers and vultures. Ah, but at this point the pejorative imagery starts to tear and crack. For the vulture, despite his grim appearance and habits, does have for us a benign purpose. By clearing the streets of noxious garbage, he fights cholera and other horrible diseases. He is an environmental health official of the best sort.

If I venture a word or two in favour of speculation, I am certainly not moved by professional pride or personal profit. Far from it: I have never made a billion in a crisis, and might be less credible if I had; I am also one who for 50 years has warmly favoured a Europe united, if not in this way then in that, to guard against perils that disappear only to delude us and are forever reborn in forms more vast, monstrous and menacing. No, history is not over]

Nor am I any enemy of a common European currency, provided it comes about slowly and naturally, by general acceptance for the convenience of all. The common currency should surely come last, like the cart, not first like the horse. It should not be misused to enforce harmony, still less uniformity. It should rather be the late fruit of a harmony already achieved by free trade and prosperity. If the speculators rudely bid us to hasten slowly, they deserve thanks, not insults.

Even the dread F-word (federation, of course) does not in itself affright me. At the mere mention of it, the British turn pale and drop their teacups. To me, it all depends on what sort of federation. It can and should be, by its constitution, severely limited and limiting. Mr Delors' redistributive and regulatory fantasies and excesses should be ruled unconstitutional, out of order. The great Lord Acton is often quoted (often against Delors) about absolute power corrupting absolutely. Less often cited is his commendation of the F-word. He found federation 'most efficacious and congenial'. It restrains sovereign power 'by dividing it, by assigning to government only certain defined rights. It is the only method of curbing not only the majority but the power of the whole people.' Note his implied suspicion of 'the more democratic Europe' that left- wingers now howl for.

My sort of federation would be one in which people such as Acton, Burke, Benjamin Constant, de Tocqueville and founding father Jean Monnet, even Mrs Thatcher, would be happy. My federation would not admit socialism through the back door but push it out through the front. The European dream now ending was for many of us a nightmare. If speculators woke us up from this, again they deserve thanks.

When G K Chesterton was a child, he was convinced that great gales were produced by the frantic agitation of the trees. About speculators we, too, have our causes and effects mixed up. We blame the speculator for causing financial convulsions which in fact he is trying to predict, observe and measure, to react sensibly to, thus to weather or even profit from. Even the words 'profit from' do not do full justice to many speculators. Think of them for a moment not as men driven by supernatural greed, but as responsible agents charged to look after other people's money as well as their own, thus conscientiously concerned to ensure that it is not stored in currencies that are manifestly about to lose their value. The speculator accordingly moves it about, as is his duty. By doing so, he does not cause crises, though he may exacerbate them or make them more obvious to all. He is primarily an observer, trying to cut through all the wishful thinking, false hopes and lies of politicians and others to the underlying reality, to the real value of currencies.

He is not the thief who stole the ERM emperor's clothes. He is the candid child who blurted out that the emperor is naked. He is a lie detector, the best in his field we have. None will despise him, save those who wish to be deluded.

I devoured with fascination Gitta Sereny's account in the Independent last week of the trial of the so-called 'Ivan the Terrible'. Whenever I read of the trials or proposed trials of such dotards, I think back on a passage from Primo Levi.

On Auschwitz and such horror camps, Levi has been upheld and honoured as an incomparably truthful witness. Writing in 1960, he affirms of the commander of Auschwitz, that he, Levi, 'would not even recognise his face . . . they were all identical, those faces, those voices, those attitudes: all of them distorted by the same hate and the same anger, and by the lust of omnipotence'.

Since then a further 33 years have passed. Would Levi, had he lived, have been more confident now of recognising them?

I have myself recently met at reunions officers I once knew well, served with in the army 50 years ago, but have not seen since. Some were recognisable, others emphatically not. Asked by the late Kaiser whether he remembered Napoleon at Borodino, an ancient Russian soldier said, yes, vividly - a tall man with a long white beard.

Confronted with old, old men who, long ago in a distant land, may or may not have yielded to temptations we can hardly imagine, could we not in all humility call it a day?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yarl's Wood in Bedfordshire, Britain’s largest Immigration Removal Centre  

Thanks to Channel 4 we now see just how appallingly Yarl’s Wood detention centre shames Britain

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
 

If I were Prime Minister: I’d ensure ministers took mental health in the armed forces as seriously as they take physical wounds

James Jones
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003