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Britain least convinced of EU countries of need for massive cuts

Posted on 14 March 2011 | 11:03am

It says something for the insularity of the UK media that The Guardian makes such a big deal of the idea of special reports from our European neighbours. Too often, the editor rightly says, the countries of Europe are reported purely in terms of their relations with Britain.

This was something of a bugbear of mine when I worked for the government, and European summits tended to be seen through two equally distorting lenses – Europe is ganging up on Britain; or Britain fails to get its way.

Pick up any broadsheet French or German newspaper and you will see more coverage of the UK – and generally pretty straight – than you will see about France or Germany in most UK newspapers. Yet these and other EU countries are fundamental to our interests.

So even if it is a response to a strategic failure, well done The Guardian for recognising it and may it herald a change elsewhere.

That being said, I am now going to zone in on a very British aspect of their big spread today on Germany, namely the findings in their Europe-wide poll about attitudes to public spending. People were asked whether they agreed with the statements that their government had been spending too much, borrowing too much, and needed to cut the national debt as a priority. The UK was the least convinced on all three fronts.

So despite having had such a free ride in setting the terms of the debate, the government seems to have failed to win its argument that there is no alternative to the draconian cuts they are making. That is interesting, and hopeful.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has blinked first following the Lib Dems’ spring conference vote against his reforms. The door is now open to drive through real change. Poor old Clegg. Just as student fees was made ‘his’ issue, the same is now going to happen with the NHS. Tory policies for which he will pay the political price.

  • David

    Isn’t the difference with the continent mostly that our highly adversarial politics, soundbite and spin culture and opposition-without-responsibility make it harder to build a consensus around tough decisions?

  • Isobel Alexander

    Highlights the need for encouraging people to learn a European language. Having only encounterd school French, I got the chance to learn German with a Marketing course at the age of 40. By using the internet as a reference point, this has provided a whole new avenue of enriching experience.
    I just keep going, reading whatever I can to widen this skill. I believe that a second language, at least, is vital to truly engage in European culture.
    I am now struggling with the basics of Italian, notwithstanding a degree of cognitive impairment due to a health condition and nearing the end of my fifties. It is never too late!

  • Daniel Pratt

    Clegg looked ridiculous yesterday. So did his party. They are speaking and acting as though they were still in the pre-election period … warm-sounding speech (look mum, no notes) cheers at bad jokes, wild applause at end. Talk about being out of touch

  • Paula Trenton

    I agree it is good we get more coverage from these countries but there was something very patronising about the Guardian’s treatment of it. We may not like to admit it but Germany is a bigger and in many ways better country than the UK

  • Olli Issakainen

    Rising oil prices might derail the recovery.
    The neoliberal economic model caused the 2008 crash and recession. Yet David Cameron appears to believe that more deregulation is the answer now!
    Britain´s economy needs to be balanced in direction of exports and manufacturing. We cannot afford to have financial sector of current size. The City is a threat to Britain´s national security. Banks should be split. Complex financial instruments should be banned.
    Britain´s economy shrank 0.6%. Thatcherite cocktail of VAT rise, deep cuts and privatisations is on a menu. Last time it destroyed 20% of industrial base and caused 3m unemployment.
    This time it will cause stagflation.
    Civilisations need strong governments if they want to prosper. Without good government economies and societies will fail.
    But today the very idea of legitimacy of government is threatened in Britain. But public services are expression of collective will. Idea of hyper-effective private sector is a myth. Yet the Tories, like sheep in Animal Farm, keep on saying that “Private is always best”.
    The economist Nouriel Roubini, who predicted the current “mess”, thinks that cuts and rising interest rates will put Britain back to recession.
    Britain´s debt of 58% is still relatively low. Only £8bn of the interest payments of £42bn went to foreigners.
    There is no economic need for cuts and tax rises of £111bn. £40bn of them are ideological.
    According to OECD figures the structural deficit was 3.5% of GDP in 2007. In 1996 under the Conservatives it was 4%.
    But it is difficult to distinguish between structural deficit and cyclical deficit.
    The alternatives to cuts include levy on land values, tackling tax avoidance and evasion plus the Robin Hood tax on financial transactions. 0.005% tax would bring in £13bn, 0.01% £25bn.
    The balance between cuts and tax rises should be fairer.
    The Tory-led government is about to remodel the whole British society. It is using classic shock doctrine tactics to achieve its goal.
    Labour´s approach should be based on European-style social democracy. Somewhat smaller but active state should regulate more the financial sector for economic security.
    Labour must decide whose side it is on. Will it support the movement against the oversized and ideological cuts?
    Ralph Miliband claimed that the Labour party is incapable of articulating radical political demands and providing serious challenge to capitalist power structures. According to his Parliamentary Socialism (1961) Labour will never present a challenge to established order.
    Mervyn King stated that banks caused the “mess”. He has also said that there will be a new crisis if imbalances are not tackled.
    Labour must come up with a new economic model based on fairness.

  • Dave Simons

    Nick Clegg’s performance at the LibDem spring conference in Sheffield should have demonstrated to his rank and file that he is not fit to lead their party. He made jokes about the 5,000 demonstrators outside the ‘ring of steel’ surrounding the City Hall, he added a joke about the unpopularity of the LibDems, and he made substance-free exhortations about not losing nerve and keeping calm. Also conference voted him down on NHS reforms. He should have taken the demonstrators seriously and shown a bit of humility, but maybe show business is show business. When he made that comment about wringing the necks of bankers it reminds you of the joke that’s been circulating for some time – ‘Why did Nick Clegg cross the road? Because he said he wouldn’t’. Bankers are no doubt laughing all the way to their workplaces.
    Relations between police and demonstrators were unusually good-humoured – after all, the police are being hammered like everyone else in the public sector – and the miniscule amount of trouble made the saturation policing seem well over the top, though it’s unlikely that anyone begrudged the police a bit of money for old rope in the face of what’s coming to them. Incidentally the anticipated figure of 10,000 demonstrators was a police estimate – demonstrators estimated more or less the 5,000 that turned up – so media reports of a lower-than-expected turn-out gave a characteristically-distorted spin. Usually of course the police downplay the turn-out and the demonstrators exaggerate it, so on this occasion an interesting bit of role reversal took place.
    The coming local elections will probably deal another hammer blow to the Coalition in general and Clegg’s leadership of the LibDems in particular. Meanwhile the Tories continue with their Thatcherite agenda, best illustrated by all this rubbish about moving the May Day bank holiday to the autumn. This is not – as in 1993 – because there are too many bank holidays bunched together, because they’ve seen fit to add another on 29th April. Nor is it for economic reasons – does anyone seriously swallow the line about boosting tourism in October? It is solely because the Tories are the sworn enemies of organised labour – unlike their supposed guru, Adam Smith – and they can’t bear to see people celebrating it.

  • the fact has always remained that if you dont cut as much then you will have higher and more sustainable levels of growth which is absoulutely needed for reducing the deficit, tories and lib dems are going way too far and too fast, even with all of the tories slavish press and “all labours fault” mantra the british people are not that stupid, which is why i believe that labour have been ahead 11 points in 3 consecutive polls over the weekend, labours alternative to the budget launched today, is a much better one than george osbornes, because it has ‘growth’ at the heart of it, investment in jobs and affordable reductions in the price of fuel to get this country moving properley again, but of course the tory ‘lie’ machine which consists of that unelected idiot sayeeda warsi in millbank tower is pushing out that labour has commited itself to an extra 12 billion in spending, which as Ed Balls sais is “claptrap”, labour would get an extra 2 billion of the bankers in a cautious and final bankers tax, in order to create jobs and apprenteships, which pays for itself and then some.

    also on the NHS, number 10 has said that their will be no u-turns with regards to NHS reforms, it just go’s to show that clegg and co are not treated equally as coalition partners, which is why it is the ‘tory-led’ government, but you can be sure that the public will get their revenge on clegg for these unwanted reforms, seeming as it is him who is enabling them to do it, did anyone actually believe that he would go back and tell cameron they werent going to stand for it, just the next day huhne was talking that type of action down

  • Ehtch
  • Chris lancashire

    Oh dear Mr Campbell, the interpretation of the Guardian poll does you no credit – disingenuous at the very least. The headline arising from the Guardian poll is that MOST (by a very large margin) people in the UK believe that the government has borrowed too much and the pressing priority is to reduce the defecit.

  • Dave Simons

    I think everyone agrees about reducing the deficit – at least I’ve yet to meet anyone who advocates maintaining it at its current level, or increasing it. The debate is about how quickly we reduce the deficit, given the fragility of the economy. Also there is a debate about whether the government has borrowed too much or enough, and again I hear nobody saying it borrowed too little. I remind you that there really was a serious banking crisis in the autumn of 2008 and I suggest to you that a responsible Opposition would have backed the government’s actions, knowing that if it had been in the driving seat it would have taken the same action to avoid a complete collapse of the financial sector. Instead the Opposition behaved irresponsibly and opportunistically, saw its main chance for a grab at power, and started promoting the mantra about Labour’s profligacy being the root cause of the economic crisis. The Guardian poll result – which I haven’t seen and take on trust from you – doesn’t actually seem to add much to either debate.

  • Michael in Munich

    I Couldn’t agree more with your initial point.
    I live in Germany, but watch British news
    media, as well as German.

    It has become a bugbear of mine that British
    media outlsets, especially – and it pains me
    to say the BBC – seem incapable of reporting
    on a “foreign” story without some spurious
    connection to home.

    It’s like we’re becoming like an insular USA, and
    also grossly insulting, like the great British
    public couldn’t possibly be interested in
    anything about Johnny Foreigner.

  • Ehtch

    On European matters, what has been totally fascinating is the collapse of the Iron Curtain, 1989 onwards, still going on today. And on meeting people over the years from the old “otherside” as always been refreshing. Every Pole I meet, for instance, are so impressive as people. Even the Poles I met that ended up living in the UK, post-1945.

    The insularity and smallmindedness of the Little England media attitude, over the years, has been wearing.

  • Ehtch

    The great Paul Robeson, in Moscow, 1949, on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943,
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzPShrawxLc

    A true hero.

  • Chris lancashire

    Plus ca change then Dave

  • Dave Simons

    Oui, plus c’est la meme chose, s’il vous plait.

  • Chris lancashire

    I suggest you watch the next Labour Conference and the next Conservative Conference – they’re actually all the same; the committed talking to the committed hoping the watching uncommitted will believe them.