Bill Carmichael: Lessons for UK from the Greek tragedy

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ONE good thing to come out of the never-ending Greek calamity is at least we now know what a country would look like if Russell Brand (or Jeremy Corbyn) was in charge.

But the comedians running the Greek economy are deadly serious and seem determined to run their experiment with Marxist economics to the bitter end – even if it means driving their country off a cliff.

The impact on ordinary people is devastating – as it invariably is when the socialists are in power.

Hospitals are running out of food 
and medicines and pensioners can’t access their money because the banks 
are closed and the cash machines 
empty.

Greece has made plenty of mistakes over recent years, and the creditors and EU bureaucrats have behaved despicably. But despite the complexity of the current situation the crisis can be summed up in a single word – debt.

From the 1990s the Greek state started running a deficit – that is the country was spending more than it took in taxes – and was fiddling the figures to disguise the fact.

Sound familiar? It should do because more than five years after a Conservative Chancellor entered the Treasury we too are spending more as a country than we earn – a lot more.

In Greece this paid for an unproductive public sector even more bloated than the UK’s. Civil servants retired at 58, those in ‘onerous occupations’, such as hairdressers and radio announcers retired even earlier at 50. Public servants were paid 14 monthly pay cheques a year and the black economy was, and still is, huge.

All very pleasant I am sure – and all funded by borrowed money that has to be paid back by your own grandchildren.

There were those in Greece then – and in the UK now – who argue that the deficit doesn’t matter. So long as borrowing remains cheap and there is some economic growth then, so the theory goes, the debt will look after itself.

But, as Greece found to its cost, borrowing doesn’t always remain cheap. When the crisis hit the Greeks were in no state to resist disaster and the whole unsustainable edifice came crashing about their ears.

Couldn’t happen in Britain? Don’t you believe it. Our current £1.4 trillion in debt is only sustainable because interest rates are at historically low levels. Once interest rates begin to rise – as they inevitably will – we’ll be scrabbling to avoid a Greek-style crisis.

And as Greece has shown, what happens then is that you are no longer a sovereign country in any meaningful way. The will of the people doesn’t matter. Your elected representatives in parliament have little power. Your creditors call the shots. They, and not your MPs, decide on taxes and spending – with the added problem that you can never vote them out.

It would be great to think that in Sunday’s referendum the Greek people would have the courage to finally free themselves of the Eurozone straitjacket that has impoverished their country.

Leaving the euro would not be easy, but by devaluing its currency and defaulting on its debt Greece could at last begin on the road to recovery as a proud and independent nation.

Sadly, I suspect a bullied and cowed populace will vote for never-ending poverty as a slave state to their masters in Brussels and Berlin. More fool them.

As for the UK we should learn two vital lessons from this Greek tragedy.

First, if we want to remain in charge of our own destiny, we must do much more to balance the books – and that means much deeper cuts in public spending.

Second, we should cut ourselves free from the rotting corpse that is the European Union.

Spirited Lionesses

Well played England Women who were narrowly defeated in the semi-final of the World Cup in Canada yesterday.

The fast, flowing skilful football from England and the other teams in the tournament was a delight to watch.

Best of all was the spirit in which the games were played. Few of the women make much more than a modest living paying football at the highest standard – they play for the love of the sport, not the money.

A sharp contrast to the £300,000-a-week underachieving mercenaries of the men’s game.

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