In particular, on the political front, there seems few grounds for optimism with a total lack of real leadership anywhere in the western world, and reading John Redwood's Diary this morning simply confirmed my view. He argues that politics, both here and in the US has been living through a long period of followership with policy being determined by focus groups and polls which are frequently both volatile and contradictory.
As John says,
Today we need leadership. The west needs leaders who will explain that we have to change our ways. The west is too debt soaked. The public sector needs to be transformed, to do what it needs to do for less, and to confine its actions to the those most needed. The Euro area needs to settle its intentions quickly – do they want to pay the massive bills needed to complete their union? Wouldn’t it be cheaper and wiser to cut the membership down now, before more economic damage is done?Then I went on to read the Mail. Normally I take much of what it says with a large pinch of salt, but today, Dominic Sandbrook's comparison with what happened 80 years ago, in the thirties, rang only too true.
After the Wall Street Crash in 1929 — just as after the banking crisis of 2008 — some observers even thought that the worst was over.Isn't exactly the same happening now? The Euro crisis is spreading amongst all the countries involved and many informed observers believe that it will break up within the next year causing their banks to have similar problems to those of 1931.
But in the summer of 1931, a wave of banking panics swept across central Europe. As the German and Austrian financial houses tottered, Britain’s Labour government came under fierce market pressure to slash spending and cut benefits.
There was weak government in this country under a coalition led by Ramsay MacDonald, and with the politicians seemingly unable to be able do do anything about the rising unemployment, many people lost faith in parliamentary democracy and looked towards Oswald Mosley's Union of British Fascists. In the United States, there were similar problems and President Herbert Hoover seemed impotent to deal with them, just as Obama is today.
One can draw numerous other parallels with the thirties, from the growing power of China (then it was Japan) to the way the dictators of the EU are trying to consolidate their power by appointing non-elected leaders in Greece and Italy.
Here in Britain we have, in my view, a similar weak coalition government to that of the thirties which is quite willing to appease the EU just as Chamberlain appeased Hitler. We are embarking on a similar pattern of disarmament (aka Defence cuts) and failing to stimulate growth. The coalition is constantly squabbling rather than looking for solutions and offers little in the way of real hope for the future.
There is however one big difference between now and the thirties. At that time both Britain and the US had potential future leaders standing in the wings. We had Churchill and the US had Roosevelt, neither of whom were universally liked. But when it came to the crunch, both were accepted as leaders capable of steering their countries to better times. At this time I can see no such potential leaders in either of our countries.
As I quoted once before, Otto von Bismark, the German statesman said
“Fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experience of others.”
I just wish our politicians would have a look at the thirties and see what lessons they might learn from the events of 80 years ago.
So with these rather pessimistic thoughts, we move into the New Year.
Happy New Year!