Sunday, 18 December 2011

Wogs begin at Calais

Nicolas Sarkozy, the small man of Europe, with Uncle Sam

It is interesting that now the Euro is imploding, dragging with it countless economies and creating more than just a little ripple through the world’s financial markets, it is the French and to a lesser but not insignificant degree the Germans who are incensed that the product of one of England’s rather more prestigious schools and now the leader of our nation is finally aware of his own balls rather than the Balls sat on the opposition benches of Parliament.

By exercising Britain’s right to veto a proposed new European Treaty, he has poured battery acid onto swimming pool chlorine with all its attendant pyrotechnic results and the caustic effluent has scoured its way viciously through UK and European politics. One effect of its erosive properties has, however, been to remove the veneer of cynicism and expose farce.

Let me remind you of a few facts. Britain had already dipped deeply into its reserves buying the kit it needed to prosecute yet another European conflagration under the ‘Cash and carry’ scheme with the US. With an absurd irony that would become apparent after the war, a vitriolic, anti-colonial country (the US), also accepted ceded British colonial territory as payment. Recognising it really is impossible to squeeze blood out of a stone, the 'Lend Lease' programme was introduced.

After the Second World War, the UK economy was trashed. Despite the beneficence of the US and then an extraordinarily generous renegotiation whereby the UK was allowed to retain the equipment ‘lent’ to Britain under the Lend Lease programme, equipment that was effectively unreturnable because it lay smashed up across various European battlefields, for a nominal value of only 10% of its true value, we still owed the US £1.075 billion. If I hired a car and failed to return it because I smashed it to scrap metal, I suppose I’d be delighted with a bill of only ten percent.

Still, a billion Sterling was hardly a shabby amount in 1945 although at only 2% interest and repayments over fifty years not bad terms either considering it was an investment which allowed us to hang on to a whole country. Mind you, they did force us to give up the Jewel in the Crown, India and then all our other colonies went like falling domino stones which made it harder for UK to service a debt at even only two percent. And while the Marshall Plan modernised Germany’s industries, UK factories retooled from Lancaster bombers and with the same old kit went back to producing pre war cars for which, suddenly, there was no longer a market. But such cynicism is best left alone.

The UK defaulted a couple of times but finally paid off its debt to the US for the assistance it received during the Second World War on the 29th December 2006. Sixty seven years after the war started. We English often accuse the Americans of being late to get stuck into a European war but no reasonable man could ever accuse them of starting one and, thankfully, they had deep pockets. Britain still owes the US £866 million from the First World War at 1934 exchange rates. Adjusted by the Retail Price Index, this would amount to £40 billion in today’s money and if calculated against growth domestic product it would be £225 billion. No wonder the hair of all newly appointed UK Chancellors turns white thirty seconds after first sight of the country’s accounts.

Believe it or not, the country is still paying interest on ‘Consul’ loans used to fight the Napoleonic Wars, erm, against the French. On the subject of the debt situation in 1934 and at 1934 prices Britain, in turn, was owed an astonishing £2.3 billion. Imagine what that would be worth in today’s money. 1934 is significant, by the way, because that was when UK’s debtors, including the French, ceased servicing their loans from which we can only conclude that while the US has always been very reasonable regarding the debt owed to them by UK, tolerant if tight lipped when the country defaulted, even declaring a moratorium on repayments to provide relief, the UK is absolutely bloody incompetent at collecting debts. Instead of all these esteemed economists employed on outrageous Day rates, perhaps we should appoint Vinnie Jones as George Osborne’s enforcer (I mean Personal Assistant) on a percentage. Bet we get a better return.

The idea of a European Union of one sort or another gained momentum in the late fifties and in 1958 the EEC began. The UK, fearful of the effect of relinquishing control to a central, essentially foreign authority, of its trade with its traditional trading partners and increasingly 'former' colonies baulked, instead setting up with Nordic countries and, ironically given the situation today Portugal, the European Free Trade Area in 1960.

After the war, there was a belief amongst the so recently liberated French, enduring to this day, that Britain had let France down by failing to make the decisive stand at Dunkirk before victoriously rolling the Germans all the way back to Danzig, the French Generals at the rear choking down the exhaust fumes of British tanks, Disque Bleu’s and bottles of unlooted Dom Perignon in hot pursuit. It was this cowardly act of the British, fleeing across the Channel or ‘La Manche’, as the French who have never managed to dominate yet still insist on calling it, that forced them to capitulate in a hurry and then through their Vichy government collaborate with their Nazi oppressors. The British fleet even had to shell the French fleet to oblivion to prevent them handing their ships over to the Germans providing yet another reason for the French to hate us and for us to sigh deeply and buy up their old farmhouses and turn them into holiday rentals..

There were some noble Frenchmen of course, a lot of them betrayed to the Gestapo by Vichy Police, their own countrymen, but as victory seemed imminent, it wasn’t them on the streets of Paris sniping at fleeing Germans, it was opportunistic French Communists who have ever since played a significant role in the more often than not turbulent politics of their nation. An attempt was made to reconcile rather shabby wartime performance post liberation when, like something out of a ‘Tale of Two Cities’, the mob emerged from their cellars and shaved the heads of all the young ladies who had survived the war by opening their legs to the Germans while ignoring, with Gallic selectivity, the many profiteers who, for a few years at least, enjoyed an unprecedented monopoly.

These were the stark, conflicting views of two erstwhile allies. Rather than allowing healthy national pride to concentrate on each nation’s triumphs and successes, discreetly ignoring the many and sometime shameful failures, now that a common threat had been removed, xenophobia and prejudice once again raised its ugly all consuming head. Hardly conducive to the spirit of European Union.

Such a stain on the French national character could not go unpunished so when the Conservative Prime Minister of UK, Harold Macmillan blinked first in 1961, recognizing that the once mighty nation he now led was to all intents and purposes bankrupt, and asked if we too could join the EEC, an absolute chancer, a man otherwise destined for a very undistinguished military career before fate dealt him a once in a lifetime hand leading to fame, prestige, a Presidency, and more than a few attempts on his life had no hesitation in exercising his veto against the country that had succored him while his own countrymen suffered. As a result, the UK’s application failed in 1963. Two years from application to rejection. Surely prescient of how European bureaucracy would work in the future?

De Gaulle’s veto was quickly followed by Adenauer’s of Germany. Amazing to consider how quickly these two former adversaries jumped into bed with one another other.

Opposition leader, Hugh Gaitskill, the leader of the Labour party, was passionately opposed to membership and issued a warning as to the effects membership would have on the UK’s sovereignty. The nub of the argument now. Those even remotely interested in British and European politics will be aware that opinions on Europe within Europe are divided and cross party boundaries. Observers might, however, be as bemused as I am to note that party policy flutters like a butterfly from one side of the Channel to the other.

The next UK leader to suffer humiliation at the hands of the French was Harold Wilson, the Labour Prime Minister who tried to apply for UK membership to the EEC again in 1967 to the delight of de Gualle, who was given an unprecedented second chance to kick ‘Le Boefs’ in the dangly bits, not only avenging Dunkirk, but Agincourt as well. Hardly surprising, that the anti hero in the book and subsequent film written by Frederick Forsyth, ‘The Day of the Jackal’, was a refined Englishman.

Finally, the evidently onerous task of getting Britain into Europe was left in the hands of part time politician, subtle orchestral conductor and clumsy sailor, Edward Heath a Conservative, whose chances had been considerably enhanced with the death of that old nemesis, de Gaulle. Sadly, as anyone who grew up in the Seventies will recollect, we entered the EEC as the ‘Poor Man of Europe’. While the Germans were banging out one brand new Mercedes after another, we were on a four day working week with power cuts and the Japanese were invading our streets with cut price cars twice as good as anything coming out of Longbridge.. Mr. Heath’s reign was short lived but we still struggle on with a legacy imposed on us by both main parties (the liberals since the war having declined to insignificance so Nick Clegg should take the advice of any old soldier and keep his head down in Europe since so many of all nationalities on the Continent have had them shot off, and remember that the English take a very dim view of disloyalty, which is probably why his party is so far down in the polls).

Given the current economic situation, the awkward relationship we have with the rest of Europe, it is hard to reconcile that it was the Conservatives that brought us into Europe against the sound advice of the Labour party at the time yet it is now the Labour party, and the Liberal part of the coalition that are castigating a Conservative leader for trying to, if not get us out, at least minimize the threat posed to the democratic institutions we invented, had enshrined in the Magna Carta and reinforced by civil war, that a Mr Gaitskill, a long dead Labour politician predicted half a century ago.

It is a farce. The French delayed our entry by twelve years using their veto. The first time the UK uses its veto they slam us. Forty years ago we were bankrupt, had given up our colonies and were pushed into Europe instead, a shotgun marriage to a woman with Prada tastes who now expects us to wash her dirty dishes, pay off her credit cards and provide her ever extending family entering from outside Europe through her soft and fertile loins, taxpayer funded accommodation and Human Rights so long as they all go to UK.

I do not hold with domestic violence (and we are part of a European family) but we do find ourselves in some unholy alliance so all credit to Mr. Cameron for swinging a good old, bespoke English leather boot right where it will make Sarkozy’s eyes water.

UK, still suffering the economic burden of two World Wars in quick succession, its colonies gone, its economy on increasingly expensive life support and ravaged by internal dissent, still reeling from the shame of Suez, the final nail in a once mighty empire, may well once have been the poor man of Europe but today, Sarkozy is the small man of Europe. In every respect. He, and his rather odd Finance Minister, have turned serious debate on the fundamental issue of equable economic relations between European States, and the rest of the world into farce.

British Admirals and Generals have regularly humiliated their French equivalents on the fields and oceans of battle resulting in the almost internationally recognised two fingered salute, now not only interpreted as a sign of victory.

Master Bowman David, Son of Cameron, an impeccably dressed English Gentleman aged fourteen and a half, pictured on the field of Agincourt by our intrepid reporter after England's most glorious victory on Friday, 25 October 1415 said, 'Old 'Enery gave us a bit of verbal before we got stuck in like, so we stuffed the Frogs in their Le Creuset armour wiv are arrers but after a hundred years service, I am a bit worried about me penshun. Still got me fingers though. and brekfust wus fucking brilliant apart fom the beer being shit and the women not laying it out like but we've come up wiv a sort of common policy, but on our terms'

Now that the Uk, however, has conceded that the costs of aircraft carriers are a burden that can no longer be carried by the exchequer (the revenue for which is derived from the humble tax payer to be dispensed with gratifying largesse by unelected Permanent Secretaries), I ask our allies who call constantly on the ‘Special Relationship’ to recognise that our cupboard is bare and consider that our only remaining alternative: the few remaining aircraft we can afford to put up in yet another ‘out of area operation’ in support of the US (my apologies, I mean in support of UN sanctioned International foreign policy) will be launched off a French aircraft carrier.

The humiliation.

To conclude, a documentary, historical, covering Britain's first two attempts to join the EEC. Note carefully the distinct differences in diplomacy. On the one hand abuse, on the other, self righteous arrogance and how at the end, the English retreat across the Channel (La manche). Note also the ingenuity of the British serviceman who, faced with the lack of kit resultiing from defence cuts, can improvise.


  1. While I'm all in favour of giving the French a kicking (who isn't?), I do fear there is something in the rumours that Cameron fell into a French trap by voting against the treaty changes. Cameron effectively isolated us in Europe and now we seem to be on an irresistable path towards Norwayisation (is that a word?), which suits the French perfectly as we won't be able to interfere in their scheme of getting the Germans to pay their bills for them.

    We are the second largest country in the EU and now we are ignored and on the periphery, because we vetoed a treaty that hadn't even been written yet and that would have been vetoed by a dozen countries in the end anyway.

    I'm no friend of the EU, but I'm struggling to see how Cameron's actions constitute a victory for us.

  2. Pity you are posting anonymously.

    All your points are valid and highlight the angst felt by the average citizen. Our membership of the EEC has exposed us to a ramp of legislation. Pounds, shillings and pence went ages ago but we managed perfectly well on LSD. Then I watched my Father-in-Law, a dairy farmer die early because he was not allowed to maximise production from his acreage, his only crime being he was too efficient. Fisherman whose livlihoods disappeared with the introduction of quotas. We have been fishing our waters for centuries but of course they will be overfished if you let in a load of Spanish factory boats. I could go on.

    Now the Euro is imploding and the Europeann Union expect the British taxpayer to support lazy southern Europeans who want to retire in their fifties.

    It isn't the first time the UK has been isolated.

    Finally, someone is making a stand if only to say, enough is enough.

    We want our bendy bananas and mis-shapen cucumbers back and I could not give a shit if they are priced in pounds, kilos or bloody talers.

    I cannot remember how long Mr Cameron has been in office but finally, at long last, he has done something right and, according to Sky News, he is up two points in the polls.

  3. Not sure why it was anonymous, sorry - I think I clicked the wrong thing.

    I'm sure that what Cameron did is popular, but that doesn't make it right necessarily. I'm certainly not supporting the fisheries or CAP madness. However, it seems to me that the EU is going to have a massive effect on us one way or the other. As our overwhelmingly dominant trading partner, our exports will have to meet EU regulations so if we can remain relevant within it, then perhaps we might not get humped quite so often and actually be able to help write the regulations that we’ll have to adopt anyway. This may sound awfully wet and defeatist, but I think it’s just the way things have to be when conducting business across borders. Look at how we have to adapt to enter the American (or any other) market. Look at how Switzerland and Norway are having their laws dictated to them from Brussels, with no hope of influence. This compromise or accommodation is not new or abnormal – it’s the way international business has always worked.

    The bendy bananas and cucumbers stories are pure myth ( - probably not the best source, but one found after 10 seconds on Google). If we're going to debate the EU, let's stick to facts. It worries me that some of these myths go unchecked in our media - almost as if some of these outlets (I'm looking at you, Murdoch) wanted us to not like the EU. Tip O'Neill said that all politics is local. It seems to me that much of the opprobrium directed at the EU serves domestic politicians to make Brussels the scapegoat for any unpopular decisions.

    Like I said, I'm no friend of the EU, but if it could address the lack of democracy in it and knowing where to keep its nose out of which business, it is not necessarily a bad thing per se. 60 years of peace in Europe for the first time since Neanderthals met us is probably worth something – it’s certainly worth more than having to put up with some regulations.

    You said Britain has often been alone and isolated. Britain has also been bankrupt and depressed. Often at about the same time.

  4. Dear Henry,

    Please refer to

    Commission Regulation (EC) 2257/94 puts it, bananas must be "free from malformation or abnormal curvature". In the case of "Extra class" bananas, there is no latitude, but Class 1 bananas can have "slight defects of shape", and Class 2 bananas can have full-on "defects of shape".

    As usual, no attempt is made to define "abnormal curvature" in the case of bananas, which must lead to lots of arguments. Contrast the case of cucumbers (Commission Regulation (EEC) No 1677/88), where Class I and "Extra class" cucumbers are allowed a bend of 10mm per 10cm of length. Class II cucumbers can bend twice as much.

    Bassically, what I am saying is that over regulation by the EEC means that producers will play safe. Regulations regarding the curvature of bananas and cucumbers exist which restrict the types available to the market. There are many much sweeter bananas out there, principally those indegenous to former British colonies but they would not pass inspection so we get idealised and quite frankly, tasteless fruit and veg.

    The EEC has taken the consumer's right to choose and therefore drive the market and product standards. If customers did not buy Tesco bananas and went to Sainsbury's instead, Tescos would quickly learn to import better quality bananas.

    My Banana/cucumber analogy was supposed to be symbolic of the degree to which EEC wants to control every aspect of our lives down to the tiniest detail.

    The whole of my post is supposed to exude cynicism and farce. I don't hate the French. I was born and brought up in Germany so I do not hate them either. I went to Sandhurst and served in the British Army so I am quite fond of them. I live in Africa and have an Angolan wife. I am not a xenophobe but I can recognise it when I see it and it is a shame to see politicians across Europe of all political parties falling prey to its insiduous embrace.

  5. In my current home in the state of Queensland, Australia, we are called Banana Benders.

    That implies that they are straight to begin with. I wonder if it is the cold climate that bends or shrinks them.

    If we cannot sell our supposedly straight bananas directly to the EU, I guess we could be inventive and find work re-straightening them

    Here we have a smallish banana crop by international standards but it is protected. We do not import foreign bananas partially to protect the industry and partially to prevent importation of disease.

    So, when a cyclone / hurricane / typhoon come though and devastates the crops, we pay around $12 a kilo. If you wait 18 months, they are down to 99cents a kilo.

    But… I am sure there is a politician or two that will believe it is in the public interest that we pay a consistent amount for a natural product every day of the year and it is well worth the tax payers coin to have review after committee after focus group to remedy this very important issue.

  6. Nigel, my dear Antipodean friend.

    Here you demonstrate the clear lack of comprehennsion 99.9% of all living things crawiling across the face of His earth have for the way the EEC works.

    Using your example:

    Local banana production must be protected

    Banana production is unpredictable.

    A permanent government department is required (not just a commitee).

    Lip service is paid to the free market economy so the Department must cover its costs.

    Historical evidence shows that customers are prepared to pay $12 a kilo.

    Recommendation: Fix retail Banana prices at $14 per kilo, the extra $2 per kilo used to fund the other government department that will monitor the banana department.

    In order to avoid over production, establish banana quotas for which each producer has to pay, thereby increasing government revenue.

    If one area is devastared by natural disaster, the producers from those areas (now with no production to sell), can sell instead their quota to the producers in the areas that survived, (this revenue being taxable as unearned income).

    This should ensure that all banana producers keep their land under cultivation providing even in the leanest times sufficient produce to meet the demand for a luxury product (which, as such, would attract Value Added Tax at the higher rate as it is not an essential food item).

    To avoid over production, a department could be set up to predict harvest quantities based on highly sophisticated computer predictions supported by the technical expertise of a dedicated division of the meteorolgical department. Should it appear that a situation of gross over production might occur, certain producers could be persuaded to plough their crop under the ground or not even plant it in the first place in return for suitable compensation to avoid a banana mountain as only the strict quota amount may enter the retail market to maintain the legislated price. Such compensation to be determined by a dedicated, and to ensure transparency, totally independant department.

    After careful review, if Australians would like us, the EEC to manage your banana production, we will guarantee a high quality, luxury product available all year round at $14 per kilo (plus luxury tax).

    We could do it for your milk production and all other dairy products as well. And your wine.

    Is the EEC beginning to sound a little like some Politburo's 'conceived in the Fifties' five year plan?

    Henry, don't you think Cameron dealing Europe a diplomatice kick in the nuts now is better than revolution in ten or twenty year's time or are you one of the masses that have historically meekly shuffled their way toward economic slavery?

  7. Hi Hippo,

    Nice one with the banana regulation – you got me. I’d heard it said so often that it was a myth that I believed it myself. So much for sticking to the facts and so much for believing something on a Lib Dem website.

    However, I would still argue a couple of points about this. All economic blocks have regulations concerning quality of products. It would not surprise me at all if the USA, for example, had similar bendy banana regulations. I’m not sure if that makes it OK and I do agree with your point that it would be better to let the market do its job in this case. If no one buys bendy bananas, then they will be removed from the market automatically. However, some regulation is good and necessary, especially when a market’s complexity prevents all consumers having equal access to the same information, for example in the financial sector. Our own government refuses to do this for us (perhaps our politicians and our City boys play golf together).

    I’m a little worried about Cameron presenting what he did as being good for the UK, whereas it was only good (and even that is debatable) for the City. Besides, I never said that the EU is wonderful. CAP, fisheries and no democracy being prime examples of the madness from Brussels. However, I think just because there are some fairly fundamental concerns doesn’t mean we need to tear the whole thing down. If we are active participants, rather than mere onlookers, perhaps we can help improve things. I’d rather help build than heckle. I can see some great reasons to have something like an EU system. 60+ years of peace being a particularly good example.

    “don't you think Cameron dealing Europe a diplomatic kick in the nuts now is better than revolution in ten or twenty year's time or are you one of the masses that have historically meekly shuffled their way toward economic slavery?”

    And that’s the point. I don’t think he kicked anyone in the nuts. The changes everyone says he vetoed will proceed in one form or another anyway and I think he completely isolated us. The French came away from that summit popping champagne corks in the knowledge that we can no longer stick our nose in their business. I’m all for our leaders standing up for us, but Cameron didn’t.

    I think you’re being a bit unfair. Because I disagree with you (and not as much as it would seem from this exchange) then I must be one of the sheeple shuffling merrily towards slavery? No. If I wanted to go with the flow and the masses with regard to the EU, I would be voting UKIP. Those I would consider sheeple are the ones who completely believe what they read in the papers, or even worse, read an opinion piece somewhere and then present it a few hours later as their own opinion.

    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of years – I know that you are pretty cosmopolitan and certainly not xenophobic or a little Englander. I never suggested otherwise. I know you don’t hate the French (although sometimes it’s irresistible to take the piss out of them). I really hope that you don’t think that I thought that of you. If I did, I would have stopped reading your blog long ago. We can disagree and still be friends.

  8. Morning Henry,

    Reading my blog for a couple of years and this is the first time you comment? Thank you for doing both and now I know what subject turns you on!

    If we all agreed, Henry, then this enjoyable exchange would not be taking place, there would be no intelligent debate and neither of us would be enriched by the other's experience.

    Agreed, to leave the EEC entirely would be extreme. While I understand the reason for us joining, it would have been better if we had been allowed to join from the start.

    I also agree that Cameron is City orientated and that equable regulation is necessary, I evidently do not need to remind you of the fundamental causes of the spectacular collapses of financial institutions in the States. There we also saw farce when California suffered power cuts and near bankruptcy when it had to buy back its own power production. Cause? Deregulation.

    It is human nature to buck against rules, we would all love to have a free hand but sadly, avarice is also human nature often pushing ethical conduct into second place on our list of priorities.

    At least the Germans are now cosying up to us. European relations at the moment resemble that old board game Diplomacy, I don't know if you are familiar with it. Are the Germans genuinely sympathetic with Cameron's point of view? Or is it Angela Merkel's turn to kick Sarkozy in the nuts, after all, they have not been getting on so well lately, a warning that if France isn't more sympathetic to German interests...

    I await the outcome of the next roll of the dice with interest.

  9. Henry, email me

    I am writing an article for an Angolan TV station. Angola has sought the advice of British specialists on taxatation (!!)

    I just wanted to slide a few radical ideas I have past you for your opinion.

    I was at a party attended by someone from the local independant TV station and the subject came up. I made the remark that income tax should be abolished in favour of a consumption tax.

    VERY briefly the thrust of what I said while consuming several whiskies was, since the rich consume more lavishly, they will pay more tax. By sticking to just one form of taxation, you could lose 90% of the civil servants in the Ministry of Finance. He wants to do a programme on it.

    As usual, I was teasing them but he has called my bluff.

    So, Henry, if you have the time, I could use all the help I can get so I don't look like a complete dick on the telly!

  10. “now I know what subject turns you on!”

    Yep – there’s nothing that gets me going more. I’ll have to get my wife to read out some EU regulations to me in bed – perhaps fireworks will ensue.

    “I also agree that Cameron is City orientated and that equable regulation is necessary.”

    I think deregulation is a massive part of the problem. Another is that the regulations that did exist were ignored. There’s no point in banning something that is already illegal – we need to enforce the regulations that already exist and then see if we need more. All too often the fines imposed, if actually imposed, were considered a cost of business. If the likes of Goldman can make $500m on an illegal deal where they are fined $10m, do you think they’ll even care if it’s illegal?

    “At least the Germans are now cosying up to us.”

    I’ve often thought that a Berlin – London axis makes more sense than a Berlin – Paris one. We complement each other better in terms of our economic and political strengths and weaknesses. However for that to happen, we need to be more constructive in Europe – which is another reason why I think Cameron made a massive mistake.

  11. Speaking as a kiwi and natrualised Aussie... would it be wrong for me to say I liked the word


    I had not heard it before but love it... in a linguistic sense.

  12. after reading the blog, the comments as wel as the sebastian debarcle....
    I am exhausted
    Nadolig Llawen x

  13. John,

    Nadolig Llawen i chi gyd to you too.

    Sorry it was such a slog!


Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.