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by Euro Reporter
2014-11-18 11:56:25
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Can Britain survive another European crash?

The lights are again flashing red on the dashboard of the world economy, David Cameron warned yesterday. The Prime Minister is almost right. Just to extend the metaphor, the plane is flying on empty, having pretty much exhausted its fiscal and monetary reserves, and there is no sign of a safe landing strip in sight. A couple of weeks ago, Mr Cameron said it would be “lovely” for interest rates to remain low “forever” because it would allow families “to buy the homes they can afford”. If Britain enjoyed an economic backdrop similar to that of the late 19th century – the last time rates were at historic lows for such an extended period – it would indeed be “lovely”. Back then, Britain was in the midst of a disinflationary, technologically driven productivity revolution; living standards were improving in leaps and bounds, and after the near bankruptcy of the Napoleonic wars, the national debt was falling strongly. To feed the aspirations of the newly affluent, moreover, extensive house building was taken for granted and went almost wholly unrestricted.

Today, we have the very reverse of many of these positives, with both living standards and productivity well down on the pre-crisis levels of six years ago. Most forms of mass house building – the true solution to “homes they can afford” – are meanwhile regarded as a kind of national blight. The only things that seem to keep us going at all, raising us somewhat above the economic disaster zone of much of the rest of Europe, are continued very high levels of deficit spending and the parallel stimulus of ultra-accommodative monetary policy. These are the things that truly mark the UK, and the much larger US economy, out from the pack – willingness to mortgage our futures in pursuit of short-term growth, in the hope that this eventually provides the wherewithal to meet the payments on our growing debt obligations.

I'm not saying this is not necessarily the wrong approach to the headwinds that afflict us; as things stand, there appear to be few good alternatives. And if everyone proceeded along these lines together, then perhaps a virtuous circle of growth – and thus declining indebtedness – might be generated. But to do it alone while all around are engaged in a process of what might be might be called “competitive deflation” is in the long term completely unsustainable. It is the economics of the Thirties we seem to be returning to rather than those of the late 19th century.

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Britain's first bird-flu outbreak since 2008 follows European cases

Britain has confirmed the first case of bird flu since 2008 after a strain of the virus that's deadly for chickens and highly contagious for other fowl was found in the Netherlands and Germany earlier this month. The case yesterday was identified as a H5 variant and the H5N1 strain that infects humans has been ruled out, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in a statement Monday. It was discovered at a duck feeding farm near Driffield in East Yorkshire, England. "The public health risk is very low and there is no risk to the food chain," Defra said in the statement. "Investigations are now ongoing to discover whether the outbreak is linked to cases found in Netherlands and Germany."

The Netherlands and Germany found that the H5N8 variant was the strain of the disease in outbreaks on chicken and turkey farms this month. It's the first occurrence of this type of bird flu in Germany since March 2009, and the first case since 2003 in the Netherlands, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health. Tests are being conducted to detect the British case's exact strain, Defra said. A 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) restriction area has been undertaken to ban movement of poultry, products and waste, while all 6,000 birds on the farm will be culled. The recent measures taken by authorities are adequate, Enrico Brivio, a European Commission spokesman for health and food safety, said in Brussels.

In Russia, an outbreak of the H5N1 strain started Sept. 1, the country's first since December 2012. It affected chickens, geese and ducks in two villages in Altai Krai region at the border with Kazakhstan. The H5N8 variant has never been reported to have been transmitted from animals to humans, though this can't be ruled out in the future, Christian Lindmeier, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said today by phone.

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John Major attacks Ukip and calls for Britain to remain in EU

Sir John Major has attacked the UK Independence party (Ukip) for spreading profoundly un-British politics of “negativity and sheer nastiness”, as he warned the UK would be a less relevant nation if it left the European Union. The former Conservative prime minister made his comments days after predicting that there was 50-50 chance of Britain leaving the EU, as support for Ukip and tensions between London and Brussels over immigration reforms increase. Major said he was not close enough to the prime minister, David Cameron, to become a new ambassador or negotiator for the UK in Brussels, but Downing Street is understood to approve of his call for Britain to stay in a reformed EU. Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1, Major suggested reforms could include allowing national parliaments to “block alien and unwelcome legislation”, and the possibility of controls on the free movement of people.

Some EU members, including Germany, have said that freedom of movement is non-negotiable, but Major said he had faith that any reasonable requests Britain made could be accommodated. He said he believed there would be no need to threaten to walk away because the reforms were achievable. “I really wouldn’t want to be the prime minister who had to explain that we are sinking to a much lower level of relevance in the world outside the European Union with the doors in the corridors of power being closed to us. “On every count, despite its frustrations, of which there are many, despite the reforms we need, which are many, we are far better off in the European Union than outside.”

Major also said the appeal of Nigel Farage’s party should fade once hard-pressed voters stop feeling the pinch as the economy improves. “The policies of Ukip, the direction of Ukip is, it seems to me, profoundly un-British in every way,” he said. “They are anti-everything. They are anti-politics, they are anti-foreigner, they are anti-immigrant, they are anti-aid. I don’t know what they’re for. “We know what they are against, and that’s the negativity of the four-ale bar. That’s not the way to get into parliament and not the way to run a country.” He suggested Ukip’s stance on foreign aid contrasted with “the huge generosity of the British people” towards charitable causes including Children in Need and the fight against Ebola.

“People, even in times of hardship, are prepared to put their hands in their pockets and be generous to other people,” he said. “What a counterpoint that is to the negativity and sheer nastiness of much of what Ukip stands for.” Tim Aker, Ukip’s policy chief, responded to Major on Twitter, saying the former prime minister “has some cheek saying Ukip engage in anti-politics”. “Remember ‘New Labour, New Danger’ and demon eyes posters? Hypocrite,” he said. The shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, told Sky News: “It’s a tragedy for Britain that we are seeing more effective leadership from an ex-Conservative prime minister than the present Conservative prime minister. “Of course there is reform and change that can be secured within Europe in relation to immigration and in relation to other issues. I thought John Major made a convincing case that change is possible. “The tragedy for the UK is that we have a prime minister today who is so weak in the face of his own backbenchers internally, and the threat of Ukip externally, that he seems incapable of grasping that reform opportunity.”

 


       
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