Thursday, June 23, 2005

Hypocrites of the world unite

No sooner do I invoke the shade of Tartuffe but I am reminded by the performances of Messrs Blair and Brown in Brussels and the Mansion House respectively of the fact that we, too, have a fine figure of hypocrisy in English literature. Tartuffe may be a darker, more dramatic figure than Mr Peksniff but the latter is a great deal more fun.

My colleague has already analyzed the vaporous waffle produced by Prime Minister Blair to the European Parliament. To quote the Bard (nothing if not erudite, this blog, from Star Trek to Shakespeare):

“ --I will do such things,--
What they are, yet I know not: but they shall be
The terrors of the earth.”

For there it is, Mr Blair does not know what can be done with the good ship SS European Union, even if he cannot quite bring himself to calling it the EU and continues to prattle about Europe.

Meanwhile, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon “Peksniff” Brown shakes his head sorrowfully and calls upon other EU countries to follow the spending British model. This is how we must all behave to achieve economic growth and prosperity, he smirks, in a true and awful Peksniffian manner.

For some bizarre reason, this sort of tosh is accepted at its face value. Even the Wall Street Journal Europe [subscription on the web needed] seems to have fallen for it. Daniel Schwammenthal in today’s issue has an article under the suggestive title “Iron Tony”, which effectively analyzes how the EU must develop along Blair’s reform ideas (unspecified) and the need to reshape Europe (in fact, the whole article uses the word Europe, when the European Union is meant) “a little more in Britain’s image”.

And just to bolster that image, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has produced a report, to prove
“that Britain’s work and welfare model is better at creating jobs and improving working conditions than its ailing continental European counterpart”.
Of course, productivity is not so hot and we are lagging behind in that but nobody seems to know how to calculate it, so that does not matter. Everything in the garden is wondrous; Mr “Peksniff” Brown can look magisterial and virtuous while the Mr Pinches that are the poor European countries can slink away in mortification (or bluster if they are France and Germany).

Ahem, says Neil Collins in today’s Daily Telegraph, things are not quite so. Even without reading his acerbic piece one cannot help noticing a glaring omission in the CIPD report: there is no distinction between private sector and public sector employment, whereas economically there is a lot of difference between what brings in money and what is largely a burden on the taxpayer.
“However much Mr Brown might like to blame the EU (in fact he's careful not to) the BCC reckons that 70pc of the new regulations are home-grown. It cites the minimum wage, the impenetrable thicket that is his "tax credit" scheme, and paid maternity leave. Every company, down to the tiniest, must hold the job open, regardless of the damage to the business or fellow employees.

Even the barmy stuff that really does come from the EU is Labour's fault, a direct result of its decision to give up Britain's opt-out of the Social Chapter, as a communautaire gesture when it came to power. Our performance may look good compared to France or Italy, but it looks pretty poor against the world outside the eurozone.”
In fact, much of what appears to be home-grown originates in framework EU directives that is then dutifully implemented, often with knobs on.

Actually, things are worse than that:
“All the other "anglo-saxon" economies have outperformed Britain since 1997. The OECD calculates that by next year Mr Brown (or his successor) will be spending over 45p of every pound generated in the economy, against 40p in 1998. We're shooting up, while Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, Spain and even Italy are all managing to cut back. At this rate, the eurozone may become more "anglo-saxon" than Britain.”
The same theme is taken up by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.
“According to OECD data, Britain's public spending will rise to 45.2pc of GDP in 2006, up from 40.2pc in 1998 and now far above the average for developed countries worldwide.

Meanwhile, Spain and Italy have both cut state spending by 9pc of GDP, Sweden has come down 16pc, while Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Holland and Austria have all cut by over 6pc. Germany has reduced the state sector to 46.1pc of GDP.“
If even Germany is moving in the right direction, even if it is at the speed of an arthritic snail, and Britain is definitely moving in the wrong one, then where does Mr Brown get off lecturing everybody else?

More to the point, should he not start looking at the problems? If memory serves me right, Mr Peksniff’s goings on ended in the complete destruction of his family and collapse of all his ambitions. Mr Brown should take note.

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