Courteous. Dignified. Almost statesmanlike.
There’s nothing like the problems of other countries to bring out the best in the chancellor. “Greece is a proud nation and a very longstanding ally of the UK,” George Osborne declared solemnly at the start of his statement on the Greek financial crisis. “We respect the decision of its people.” With barely disguised relief, the chancellor was also more than happy to respect the right of the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund to come to their own agreements with Greece.
When the stakes are this high, the fence is by far the most comfortable place to sit when you have no responsibility for the outcome. George’s voice caught momentarily as he urged all those concerned to reach a humane and sensible resolution as quickly as possible to prevent panic and uncertainty.
Something he – presumably unwittingly – added to, by suggesting British tourists should take huge wads of cash with them to Greece “to cover the duration of their stay, emergencies, unforeseen circumstances and any unexpected delays”. £100K should just about take care of rioting, kidnapping, heart attacks, meteor strikes, earthquakes, tsunamis, dinner with the Rothschilds and a couple of bottles of retsina. With these sorts of sums in mind, the chancellor then suggested, “travellers should be careful and take sensible precautions against theft”. That’s another £300K for a private militia.
George being George, he also couldn’t resist the opportunity of lowering the tone by saying what a superb leader of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn would make. You’d imagine this gag would be wearing a bit thin by now, but it still seemed to provoke forced hilarity on the Tory benches. Little things please little minds. Being generous, maybe he was just trying to cheer the Greeks up with a quick laugh to take their minds off having no cash, food or medicine.
Realising he had wandered slightly off compassionate message – he was enough of a neo-liberal to let his backbenchers make their own “let the useless, greedy bastards starve” and “the EU is Satan” capital, the chancellor ended his statement keen to put some distance between himself and Pontius Pilate. Though it wasn’t within his gift to decide whether the Greeks should live or die, he had spent hours and hours on the phone trying to persuade his European counterparts to find a deal.
He didn’t elaborate on whether most of that time had been spent in conversation or on being kept on hold. “There’s some bloke called George on the line for you, Angela. Says he wants to help with the Greek crisis.”
“Not that dumkopf. Tell him I’ll call him back. In a week or so.”
Taking a phone call from the British chancellor isn’t likely to be a top priority for eurozone finance ministers right now, so they probably didn’t get to hear Osborne say how well the UK economy was doing thanks to him and that they should watch out for the further cuts he would be making in Wednesday’s budget. Liberté, egalité, austerité.
Osborne certainly made a better fist of handling the Greek financial crisis than he did leaking his budget changes to the BBC licence fee. Wisely he left the culture secretary, John Whittingdale, to take the flak for that one. “The BBC has agreed to lose £650m,” the minister said, embarrassed as much by his Wallace and Gromit tie as the U-turn he was having to pretend was consistency. This was agreed as in gun to head. A job swap felt in order. Leave the Greek economy to George and the BBC to the Greeks.
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