Too grand to pay taxes....
Christine Lagarde is a perfect representative of the arrogant European elite that has landed us in the mess we’re in. The head of the International Monetary Fund championed the euro during her four-year tenure as France’s finance minister, and throughout her previous political career.
Like her fellow members of the European elite, she thought it would be possible to have monetary union without political union. Predictably, that has proved an illusion, as the peoples of Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain are discovering at a terrible cost.
One might have thought that a modicum of contrition was called for, but Mrs Lagarde isn’t showing any. Over the weekend she laid into Greece, blaming its economic plight on citizens ‘who are trying to escape tax all the time’.
Non-payment of tax has obviously contributed to Greece’s problems, as has wildly excessive public spending. But what is breaking the country at the moment are austerity measures imposed by Germany, as well as its inability to devalue because it is locked into the euro.
At the best of times Mrs Lagarde’s remarks would have seemed insensitive. They turn out to be grossly hypocritical, too. As head of the IMF she is paid a salary of £350,000 which — wait for it — is tax-free. Some Greeks do not pay tax. Neither does she.
I’m sure she’s not a bad person. She is stylish and intelligent and speaks perfect English. Nonetheless, she embodies two characteristics typical of the European political class: fat-cattery and a preposterous assumption of superiority. The IMF may not be a European institution, but Mrs Lagarde is a true specimen of her class.
What she has said will make Greeks see red — literally. She will have boosted the chances of the far-Left leader Alexis Tsipras in next month’s elections. And do you know what? If I were Greek, I might vote for his party. At least he isn’t a know-all fat cat, and can’t be held responsible for Greece’s predicament.
None of the Eurocrats stuffing themselves in Michelin-starred restaurants in Brussels and Strasbourg, while paying themselves enormous salaries at a specially low rate of tax, has apologised to the peoples of Europe for the disastrous effects the euro is having on many of them. They don’t suffer for their mistakes.
Unfortunately, the European political elite doesn’t stop at Calais. We have our own representatives, though perhaps because the British Press is more vigilant than its Continental counterpart, fewer of them are egregious fat cats. But, my oh my, they make up for it with their conviction that they know what is best for us.
That former Eurocrat Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is one such example. My old friend the Lib Dem MP Chris Huhne, who once wrote a book advocating our membership of the euro, is another. A third is the Tory warhorse Ken Clarke: usually amiable, often refreshing, occasionally wise, but always wildly and unreasonably europhile.
His latest sally has been to assert that the only people demanding a referendum on Europe are ‘a few Right-wing journalists and a few extreme nationalist politicians’. Can Ken really believe this? His remarks have a Lagarde-like quality of detachment about them.
As a matter of fact, a succession of polls has suggested most voters want a referendum on our membership of the European Union, though other issues such as falling take-home pay no doubt loom larger in their minds. The polls also suggest that a sizeable majority wants to leave the EU.
Moreover, several of Mr Clarke’s fellow Cabinet members, some on the Labour front bench including possibly Ed Miliband, and even a smattering of Lib Dems, are in favour of a European referendum.
Are they ‘extreme nationalist politicians’?
So Ken is splendidly and magnificently out of touch — not that I expect to see him eating humble pie.
The truth is that for all his appearance of being a jolly man of the people, he is a typical representative of the Euro elite in his conviction that he knows what is best for them.
By the way, I was struck by his observation at the Leveson Inquiry yesterday that when he entered politics, Parliament was more important than the Press but now it is the other way around. It seems not to occur to him that if Parliament has lost influence it is largely because it has handed over so many of its powers to Europe. Ken won’t like it, and nor will the European elite, but there is a strong swing in Parliament towards a referendum on Europe, largely, though by no means exclusively, in his own party. The question is how David Cameron will respond.
He is reported to be consulting senior Conservatives over plans to promise a referendum in the party’s next election manifesto. Meanwhile, a poll this week found 83 per cent of senior Tories want an in/out vote. Apart from all other considerations, Mr Cameron is keenly aware that his increasingly plausible rival Boris Johnson is openly backing such a vote.
The moral argument for a referendum is irresistible. Even as it stands, the European Union far more closely resembles a superstate than was imaginable when the British people were last asked for their opinion in 1975. The euro can only survive if the eurozone becomes a federal state. The British people surely have a right to decide our country’s relationship to such an entity.
The political arguments for Mr Cameron advocating a vote on the issue are also strong. It would help to see off Ukip, which threatens to attract many dissident Tory voters at the next election, and bind Mr Cameron into the heart of his party. It goes without saying that any promise to hold a referendum would have to be seen as cast-iron, and resistant to any watering down by the Lib Dems in the event of another coalition.
Does Mr Cameron have the courage to do it? The answer depends on whether he is, in effect, a member of the Euro elite and a timid supporter of the status quo, or whether he cares more than Mr Clarke about democratic accountability, and places more weight on the views of his party and of Tory voters.
The Sir Humphreys of this world will continue to tell him that a referendum is neither necessary nor practical but what they can no longer reasonably say — with Labour itself toying with the idea, and Europe in a state of tumult — is that an in/out vote would be a lunatic move.
No one can predict what the EU will look like even in a year’s time, but it seems likely that we are at some sort of historical crossroads, and the right of the British people to have a say in their destiny can no longer be resisted.
I won’t predict how David Cameron would vote in such a referendum, and it doesn’t matter now. All that matters is that there should be one — in the interests of his party, his prime ministership and, above all, his country.
By Stephen Glover in The Daily Mail here
Last Updated (Wednesday, 13 June 2012 09:32)