A few days ago after reading the news that an estimated 50,000 had turned out in Moscow to protest against the latest election results and to call Vladimir Putin names, I sagely turned to a colleague at work and predicted that Putin’s strategy would be this: he would adopt that tried and tested standby of beating his breast publicly and asking for the public’s forgiveness. In essence he would say: ‘I am your man and I am the man to lead Mother Russia, but I have been guilty of not listening to you and for that I am truly sorry. From now on I shall listen to you and consult you when I take decisions on your behalf.’ That line - sincere contrition - has worked a treat for many in the past and Tony Blair often resorted to it and when he still had that boyish grin he got away with murder, and in rather less grand circumstances, I have used it myself although I like to think I am not half as smarmy as Blair. It works so well because the person or group addressed feels flattered by the apology and is also somewhat disarmed: it is harder to be angry with a contrite man than one who insists on outright confrontation. That is what this wise old owl told his colleague.
As it turns out, I was completely wrong (which only goes to show the Vlad the Lad is a rather cannier politico than I could ever hope to be). Vlad obviously calculated that the best form of defence was attack and in a four and a half hour programme of responding to the public’s phone-on questions let rip on all fronts. The protesters, he assured a grateful Russian public, were put up to it by the U.S. That is pretty unlikely, of course, but most certainly what a great number of Russians wanted to hear.
He also suggested that web cameras should be set up in polling stations - I hope he meant polling stations, not polling booths - but I’m not too sure what he meant. The white ribbon worn by many protesters he compared to a condom. Perhaps his remark on that score was a joke and something got lost in translation, because I don’t understand that one at all.
What is certain is that Putin is dying to be president again and ain’t nothing going to stop him.
. . .
As for the euro crisis, it seems to be getting sillier by the hour. Yesterday some chappie at France’s central bank claimed that of France’s credit status is downgraded by the credit ratings agencies, then so, too, should Britain’s. His suggestion doesn’t make much sense in as far as France’s status would be downgraded not because of the state of its economy but because of its memebership of the - very - troubled eurozone. Britain's economy is also bumping along the bottom but one advantage it has at the moment - no thanks to one Tony Blair - is that it is outside the eurozone. But that wasn’t the point. The point is that the French are rattled, and when the French are rattled they do what we do (only the other way round): attack the opposition. That was odd enough, but at least it came from a stare functionary, the head of the central bank. What is rather odder was that his attack was repeated today by France’s finance minister, which really is extraordinary.
This whole euro shambles is at the centre of a Twitter spat I have been having with my sister (and as she tells me she reads this, I can assure you I am not talking out of school or being in any other way underhand). Her ‘Continental credentials’ (to coin a daft phrase which I must admit would no be out of pace in the Guardian but will have to do for now) are rather stronger than mine, in that although we were both born of a German mother and went to German schools when we were younger, she actually live in France and went to French schools when our father was posted to Paris, and then went on to marry a German. Furthermore, she has lived in Germany for the past 30 years and, in her own words, is ‘a European’.
Now that is all very well, but I can’t quite see why being ‘a European’ should in some mystical way persuade one that all the effort to establish, and now keep afloat, the euro is a good thing rather than believe, as I do and have done from the outset, that it will all end in tears. Wishing something were the case does not, and never will, actually make it the case. And I am quite prepared to argue that I am as much ‘a European’ as she is in as far as I am thoroughly persuaded that the single market has been a good thing all round. But I just wish the EU had left it at that rather than fallen into the hands of a bunch of superannuated Sixties ex-hippies with all their la-la ideas of brotherhood and sisterhood (‘all them cornfields and ballet in the evening’) from the Volga to the Shannon (forgive me if that is poor geography, but you get my point).
Removing trade barriers and making commerce easier and more efficient is one thing. Treating everyone and everything in Europe as ‘equal’ when, as is now abundantly clear, they are nothing of the kind, is quite another. I’ll say it again: wishing that something were the case doesn’t, and never will, actually make it so. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if in their heart of hearts Merkel, Sarkozy, Van Rompuy and the rest of that sorry crowd haven’t all offered a private prayer to Santa to ‘bring a solution, please. Please, please, please, please, please. And I’ll never be naughty again. Promise’. I’ll tell you what this ‘European’ want for Christmas: a bunch of men and women running the bloody EU who aren’t all away with the fairies.
. . .
There is always the chance that the new ‘fiscal union’ rules are so subtle, I am far too thick to understand them, but I tell me if I have got this right or not: if a country borrows to much to finance it’s spending, it will be fined. That is, because it didn’t have enough moolah to pay its bills, it borrowed money, but borrowed more than it should have done. So where exactly is the money going to come from to pay the ‘fine’?
Then there’s the question of how exactly a country which has been obliged to impost austerity measures on every last man, woman, cat and dog in the country is going to go about ‘growing its economy’? Oh, and while I’m at it, it is acknowledge that part of the problems faced by both Greece and Italy is their cultures of chronic tax evasion. Once, as the plan visualises, tax matters are taken over by Brussels, how exactly is the EU going to go about tackling any tax evaders? Will guns and other armaments be allowed or will it restrict itself to sending strong letters of complaint?