July 7: Next act in Greek tragedy

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TO a certain extent, Britain is fortunate to be insulated from the full financial fallout of the Greece crisis thanks to the foresight of Gordon Brown and Ed Balls who resisted overtures by Tony Blair and others for this country to join the single currency.

Both men had many flaws, but both were proven to be correct on one of the totemic issues of these times.

However the political fallout could still be considerable as Eurozone leaders, headed by France and Germany, decide whether to continue bailing out the left-wing Syriza government in Athens after voters rejected the austerity terms demanded by its international creditors. If the will of the Greek people is denied, it could embolden those Eurosceptics here who always warned that a “one-size-fits-all” monetary union was unsustainable.

Yet Eurozone members are, in many respects, paying a heavy price for the decision to allow Greece to join the euro in 2001 without meeting the strict entry conditions demanded of others. This has been a crisis waiting to happen and it remains to be seen who blinks first – Germany’s Angela Merkel, who is coming under pressure to cut her losses, or Greece’s radical leader Alexis Tsipras if his country’s banks remain shut? The political reputations of both are on the line.

Perversely, it also offers an opportunity for David Cameron, after this crisis overshadowed his attempt last month to renegotiate the terms of UK membership of the European Union ahead of a long-awaited referendum vote. If there have to be fundamental changes to the structure of the EU to accommodate Greece, a country crippled by youth unemployment that now stands in excess of 50 per cent, Mr Cameron should use the opportunity to demand concessions that he is seeking on behalf of British voters. How ironic, therefore, if the Greeks have inadvertently forced the Prime Minister’s hand.

Osborne’s remedy: NHS and crisis management

THE GREECE crisis has not shielded George Osborne from intensive lobbying ahead of tomorrow’s Budget, not least those business leaders who want the top rate of tax reduced to 40p in order to make Britain’s economy even more competitive and the precise details about where the £12bn welfare cut will fall.

Yet, while Mr Osborne has proved himself to be a formidable political operator, it would also be prudent – especially bearing in mind his own leadership ambitions – to consider the social policy consequences of an ageing society. Having challenged town halls to come up with unprecedented efficiency savings that could see more than £1bn taken out of social care budgets this year, there is every possibility that the next round of efficiencies will impact on society’s most vulnerable – the one million elderly people who are struggling, say Age UK, to cope with basic tasks such as getting out of bed and who cannot count upon the support of friends and family.

As David Cameron said on the eve of the 2010 election, the “test of a good and strong society is how we look after the most vulnerable” and it now falls to the Conservative Party to put these wise words into action – doing nothing is simply not an option when so-called “bed-blockers”, elderly patients who cannot be discharged because of inadequate care arrangements at home or in the community, are putting hospitals under such strain. Unless there is a greater correlation at a local level between social care and NHS budgets so health professionals on the ground can plan for the future more effectively, the system will simply lurch from one crisis to another.

Weather worries: the great national obsession

THE weather has long been a national obsession of ours so a new study that suggests hot summers are likely to become increasingly common in the UK is sure to get people talking. Met Office researchers have analysed long-range climate projections for the UK which point towards hotter, drier summers and milder winters over the next century.

However, before we start dreaming about Scarborough and Filey becoming Yorkshire’s answer to the French Riviera, it is worth remembering that forecasters sometimes struggle to know what will happen next week, never mind next year. In recent days we have seen soaring temperatures followed by thunderstorms and later this week there is a chance of frost as winds blow in from the Arctic. So much for a heatwave. When it comes to the British weather, it seems the one thing we can forecast with a degree of accuracy is its glorious unpredictability.