I had really given up on BBC 1’s Question Time but was tempted back last Thursday night by the range of big-hitters on the panel, with the exception of Leanne Wood, leader of Plaid Cymru and one of those QT regulars who have made the programme so boring and predictable.
Leanne has a one-dimensional voice which rather resembles the sound produced by an electricity sub-station, made all the worse by spouting typical left-wing, pro-public sector, tax-and-spend claptrap.
Indeed (perhaps to Nicola Sturgeon’s embarrassment) she makes the Scottish First Minister seem like a right-wing Tory by comparison.
Three of the other four panellists were also from politics, but an eclectic trio nevertheless, comprising the former Conservative Cabinet Minister (and former GP from East Kilbride) Liam Fox, former Lib-Dem leader Paddy Ashdown and the maverick Labour MP, Kate Hoey. Sounding the trumpet for business was Tim Martin, founder of the JD Weatherspoon pub and food chain.
On the night that President Obama flew into London to bolster the campaign to keep the UK in the EU, inevitably the first question focussed on the suitability, or otherwise, of his involvement.
Not surprisingly, Paddy Ashdown supported the Obama stance and, as a former army officer, set out the case – in his usual long-winded, somewhat arrogant style – for the EU as a bulwark for peace on the continent and beyond
Mr Ashdown’s views on the subject are given added gravitas by his army service in Bosnia during the break-up of Yugoslavia yet no one seems to question the dichotomy whereby this earlier experiment in uniting previously dispirit peoples ended in tragedy.
Yugoslavia only emerged at the end of World War One, following the defeat of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. In an effort to leave behind old hatreds and rivalries, Orthodox Serbia, Catholic Croatia and Muslim Bosnia, among others, formed a South-Slav federation, which survived the Second World War and after breaking from the influence of Stalinist Russia, embarked on 30 years of relative prosperity for a communist state.
But this was largely down to the country’s strong man, Josef Broz Tito; ten years after his death in 1980, Yugoslavia fell apart, in horrible circumstances as reports on our television screens almost nightly showed.
Back in today’s EU, the present Chancellor of Germany, unlike a certain predecessor, no longer has plans to turn Poland into a giant slave labour camp but many Germans remain unhappy about the Oder-Neisse line marking their country’s eastern border.
For their part, Poles still regret the loss of the city of Lwow, part of pre-war Poland but now in Ukraine, where it is called Lviv, while others no doubt would like to see a restoration of its earlier German name, Lemberg.
Further south, in the Adriatic, the Italian city of Trieste is referred to as Trist by neighbouring Slovenes, who claim it was unfairly awarded to Italy as a ‘reward’ for that country’s decision to ally itself with Britain and France during World War One and that it should be part of Slovenia.
Yes, the EU has kept a lid on potential border disputes and with them the inherit risk of strife but, as Yugoslavia suggests, it may not have the capacity to do so in perpetuity.
This possibility has been given even greater credence by the rise of right-wing, nationalist parties across the Continent following the ludicrous decision to welcome unlimited numbers of refugees by Angela Merkel, whom some regard as the unofficial ‘mutti’ (‘mummy’) of the EU.
INCLUSIVE – BUT AT WHOSE EXPENSE?
My wife and I have just returned from a break in Cyprus, where we enjoyed seven days of uninterrupted sunshine in a fantastic hotel set by the calm – and calming – blue waters of the Mediterranean.
At the time of booking, we took the ‘all-inclusive’ option, which comprised full-board plus unlimited quantities of liquid refreshments (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). When not abused by over-indulgent holidaymakers, an all-inclusive deal seems to suit all parties – guests, hotel management and tour operator, making it a win-win-win situation.
Only it’s not because tourists who have paid for their drinks in advance are, understandably, likely to consume them within the confines of the hotel, thus adversely affecting the trade of local bars and cafes who otherwise might have looked forward to their patronage.
Last year as the government of Greece – a country with close associations to Cyprus – stumbled from one financial crisis to another, the finance minister, called for all-inclusive holiday packages to be banned because of the way they diverted tourist spending money from family-owned businesses into the hands of hotel groups and foreign tour operators.
That indeed may be the case but the same minister was adamant that Greece should remain in the euro which seems rather contradictory because it is surely no coincidence that all-inclusive packages took off only following the admittance of southern European countries to the single currency.
In the days of the Portuguese escudo, Spanish peseta, Italian lira and Greek drachma, an attraction to British holidaymakers – in addition to the climate – was the highly-affordable cost of eating out in these countries. Now restaurant prices are similar to (and in some cases more expensive than) those at home – not because restaurateurs are pulling a fast one but because their governments have chosen to deal in a currency that does not reflect their respective economies.
Which seems a good reason for those countries that make up Europe’s Mediterranean coastline to ditch the euro.
For the respective governments, however, I suspect this option would be a step too far – and so local operators will continue to face an uphill struggle as foreign visitors remain seduced by keenly-priced, corporate-inspired all-inclusive deals.