I am normally a fan of Newsnicht. Gordon Brewer, Isabel Fraser, Glenn Campbell et al hold incisive discussions relevant to Scotland without resorting to the Paxman sneer. But last night, the four MPs asked to comment on the latest twists of Hackgate stood in weak comparison to the preceding Newnight piece on the Eurocrisis. My own MP, Fiona O’Donnell was on her worst apparatchik/rentaquote setting, looking off-screen as if reading a teleprompter from John Smith House how Milliband was knocking ‘em dead with his Coulson witch hunt down at the Palace of Westminster.
Personally, I think Milliband would have been far better letting Tom Watson continue taking his verbal chainsaw to Cameron’s defences but that is to miss the point of asking why Newsnicht should be obsessed as any red-top by this juicy scandal when its London sibling had raised its eyes from such mire and even had Ed Balls saying sensible things about Greek default.
For, immersed as it is in collective outrage at indiscriminate phone hacking and pies being thrown—both physically and figuratively—at the once dreaded Darth Vader of world press, all our media—English or Scots; print or TV—spent this last week of parliament ignoring two major stories that may combine, like storms into a tornado supercell, in as little as two weeks from now. But good luck finding reportage outside anorak organs like the Economist or the WSJ. The Tweetosphere was thick with Kuenssberg or Reid chopping the same hackgate story into a hail of soundbites.
The most urgent story is of Merkel and the European Central Bank putting more elastoplasts on the brain haemorrhage called Greek National Debt. On the heels of their ‘stress test’ for banks comes a wheeze to levy €30bn eurozone bank levy, likely to weaken said banks. If the last rescue package for Greece has failed (see “Let Them Eat Baklava”) what likelihood is there that another €115bn will make the spendthrift Greeks mend their evil ways? If it all unravels, we’re talking about defaults on a major scale and a huge spanner jammed into financial machinery. Britain may stand outside the Euro but half our exports are to the Eurozone: we’re in it up to our necks.
This would be apocalyptic in itself. But on the other side of the pond, we have the Standoff at the Capitol Corral as Tea Party (=low-tax) Republicans eyeball Obama’s ‘free-spending’ Democrats. The US hoped to export its way out of the crisis. But they are net importers from BRIC (i.e. growing) countries and the previous paragraph explains what little hope Europe offers. With a budget stalemate continuing and time growing short, House Republicans are pushing their plan to cut spending, rule out tax increases and amend the Constitution to forbid government spending more than it takes in. Such a plan will fail: in the Democratic-controlled Senate or under a veto by the President. If a budget is not agreed by August 2nd, then the US government moves into the unknown. Soldiers may not get paid and a drop from AAA bond ratings—not to mention recession and/or market collapse—could well follow.
However unaware we are in Scotland, these storms are gathering. Either of them would hit us badly. Both together would trigger a recession making 2008-10 look like the good times. Because many middle-class people had their normal short-term expedient of putting expenditure on credit cards blocked by reluctance to issue new cards and draconian limits on cards already out, their maneuver room is small. And, if recession returns, the inevitable rise in interest rates will catch another tranche of those pegged in mortgage payment ability or who took out variable-rate loans to cover expenditure. These third and fourth horseman of our fiscal apocalypse would ride out to join their foreign kindred.
Famine and pestilence may not sweep the land as a result. But, unless some of our more able minds stop fixating on tabloid trivia and deal with the repercussions of and antidotes to such a doomsday scenario, the opprobrium heaped on News Corp will be as nothing compared to what those at the helm will receive if this destructive fiscal supercell does form. Take your earphones out, the better to hear the sound of gigantic hooves approaching.