A ‘Grexit’ could finally sink the euro – so beware of Greeks bearing threats

THIS is an election year like no other, few can dodge its impact and, whoever wins, most voters will probably feel they’ve lost out.

Because, like a nasty rash, polling fever is erupting almost everywhere and what’s at stake isn’t so much who governs where next, but whether the world plunges into the financial abyss again.

In Britain the only certainty about what will happen in the general election on May 7 is uncertainty, though I have a sneaking suspicion Squire Cameron won’t be handing over the keys to 10 Downing Street.

Why? Because there’ll be what veteran American pollsters wryly recall as the ‘Richard Nixon Gambit’, an event from the annals of politicking gimmickry and the 1960 White House race, squeakily shaded by John F. Kennedy.

Too close to call, the Democrats stooped to a now legendary low in black propaganda by releasing an image of Nixon looking sweaty and shifty behind his grizzled five o’clock shadow, alongside the headline: ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’

NIXON NIXED: The ad showing a shady Richard Nixon that tipped the 1960 US election JFK's way

NIXON NIXED: The ad showing a shady-looking Richard Nixon that tipped the 1960 US election JFK’s way

The stunt resonated sufficiently for JFK to win literally by a whisker – 49.7% to 49.6% – after voters carried the scary vision of the then Republican Vice President into the polling booths.

Nine years later, and remembering to shave at least twice a day, Tricky Dicky won the presidency – perhaps proving you can’t keep a good crook down – only to resign in 1974 in the murk of the Watergate Scandal.

So, it would surprise me not one iota to see a montage of Ed Miliband snaps, showing the Labour leader at his geekiest worst, cropping up like Comparethemeerket telly ads.

The tacit caption would be: ‘Would you believe this nerd could lead the nation?’

Though Britain’s hustings might be enthralling to dedicated followers of UK politics, they are a parish-pump sideshow to elections globally – and I don’t mean in Burkina Faso, where President Blaise Compaoré is hotly tipped to get the heave-ho in November.

Nor am I referring to Israel’s March vote, which will predictably end in a cobbled-together Left or Right-wing coalition government, neither of which will bow to Palestinian blackmail and have imposed on them a factionalised, corruption-riddled Arab statelet that adamantly refuses to recognise its neighbour’s right to exist.

And forget the polls in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt, which sully the name of democracy. Ditto Estonia, Finland and Poland, where properly constituted elections should hardly cause a ripple on the Richter scale of political earthquakes.

No, the fun – if that’s not too sardonic a description – is in the European Union’s Club Med nations, beginning next Sunday in Greece, the so-called ‘sick man of Europe’ (well, considerably more bilious compared to the ailing rest).

CAN’T PAY, WON’T PAY: Alex Tsipras (left), head of Greece’s Syriza bloc, demands debt relief to relieve his nation’s plight…or else

Because if a bunch of rebel populists called Syriza, who make the Chinese Communist politbureau look like Young Conservatives, the flaking euro is in for a further buffeting, one which – this time – could actually prelude the first exit of a member state from the Eurozone.

A bloc of far-Left hardliners led by neo-Marxist Che Guevara fan, Alexis Tsipras, the thrust of Syriza’s manifesto is simple: ‘Stop austerity – or we’ll stop paying our debts’, beginning with the instalment of €6.7-billion due to the European Central Bank (ECB) in July.

Unless you’re an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bean-counter, it’s a difficult to gauge just how much Greece owes creditors and what interest it’s cranking up. But terms like ‘colossal’ and ‘humungous’ are understatements and, as one economist noted, ‘At the current rate of pay-down, it’ll 130 years before they return to where they were in 2008.’

How a nation that produced arithmetical geniuses such as Pythagoras, Archimedes and Euclid got itself into such a mega-mess – or managed to flannel its way into the Eurozone in the first place – is no longer the issue.

With unemployment rocketing, the prospect of triple-dip deflation and Greece’s economy screwed to the floor by the ‘Troika’ – that’s the IMF, ECB and European Union, otherwise known as Greater Deutschland – Tsipras is demanding a 50% write-off its debts, just as the international community let Germany get away with in 1953.

For the record, deflation is a mixed blessing. In the UK, where inflation has fallen to 0.5%, courtesy of falling oil, food and commodity prices, consumer spending power is boosted. In contrast, what it means for the Eurozone is rising joblessness, stagnant wages, weak consumption and an inexorable slide into deflation.

POKER FACE: Germany's Merkel fears that a 'Grexit' would be contagious and infect other Club Med states

POKER FACE: But Germany’s Merkel fears that a ‘Grexit’ would be contagious and infect other Club Med states

Meanwhile, despite lame messages from Chancellor Angela Merkel about wanting to keep Greece in the club – which chimes with what Syriza claims it wants – behind the scenes an ultra-high-stakes game of diplomatic poker is being played, with many German politicians refusing to blink first.

‘We are past the days when we still have to rescue Greece,’ insists Michael Fuchs, parliamentary leader of Merkel’s Christian Democrats. “The situation has completely changed from three years ago. Greece is no longer systemically relevant for the euro.’

In fact, it was recently revealed that in 2011 Germany offered Greece a ‘friendly’ return to the drachma, the so-called ‘Grexit’ option. However, Merkel had an attack of the jitters when it became clear Spain and Italy would be mired by contagion from it.

Notwithstanding great strides the Spanish and, to a lesser extent, the Italians have made in putting their houses into better financial shape, with both nations also facing elections in 2015, many voters are looking to see what happens in Athens before they decided which way to jump.

The storm clouds are certainly gathering in Spain, where the Left-wing upstarts of Podemos (‘We Can’), who are allies of Syriza, are currently leading the polls on an anti-corruption, anti-austerity ticket.

Which is why Merkel fears a domino effect across the Club Med if Greece defaults on its IOUs, starts afresh with a new drachma and its economy shows signs of revival.

Because, however tentatively it finds its newly-liberated feet, the Greeks will offer an example to others stretched on the German-imposed financial rack to do likewise.

And the lure of a born-again peseta or lira – plus the freedom of nations to structure their own destiny – might be too strong to resist.

So watch this space…2015 could be the year that reshapes the future of the Eurozone.

 

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Making predictions is a mug’s game, so don’t worry – mine will be 100% wrong (again!)

IN his palatial City office in London’s Canary Wharf, my friend – chief economist of a major, global financial institution – sits behind a desk so gargantuan it could the solve the issue of Heathrow’s third runway.

Chewing the fat with him one day at the height of the 2008 banking meltdown, I asked this master of the universe when he thought the crisis would end.

Instead of answering, he just shrugged, then nodded towards an ornate plinth in the corner of his mini fiefdom, on which was mounted a soccer-sized crystal ball.

‘Take a dekko inside that,’ said my friend eventually. ‘You’ve a better chance of finding the answer in there than from me.’

I left, shaking my head and musing on the folly of making predictions.

This thought was rekindled last week, when I read an apologia from a financial whizkid, who wrote, ‘No-one expected this sudden, sharp drop in crude oil prices.’

His buzzword was ‘sudden’. Because, if the anointed experts had seen it coming, there would have been no shock.

STARDOM BECKONS: Cyberhackers will forced movie moguls to move to North Korea, so Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un will be an Oscar winner

STARDOM BECKONS: Cyberhackers will force movie moguls to move to North Korea, so Young Leader, Kim Jong Un, will be an Oscar winner for his role as Wonder Woman

In fact, looking back, the only person in my experience to make an accurate prediction was Madam Petrulengo, the palmist on Blackpool promenade, who forecast I’d get a ticket on my car parked outside on a double yellow line. She was right; I did.

So, generally, it’s been my firm prediction that the likely outcome to making predictions is the predictions will be totally wrong. And, so far, my record has been 100% accurate.

Nonetheless, since it’s that time of year, worst luck, when my arm is twisted into risking a spot of soothsaying, here goes…and heaven help us if I’m right.

Firstly, the nightmarish potboiler that’s a story of purblind Eurozone politicians will rumble on, with no consensus to ease the plight of the EU’s jobless, homeless and hopeless. Shovels will be issued to Euro commissioners, so they can did themselves into bigger holes.

Beyond-the-barmy, Right-wing parties – like France’s National Front, Hungary’s Jobbick and Greece’s Golden Dawn – will democratically vote to end democracy, while Brussels Europrats will take 2015 off and nobody will notice any difference.

Vladimir Putin will order Russians to bathe in oil, because – at $60 a barrel and sliding – it’ll be cheaper than water. The population of Moscow, barring oligarchs who can afford to import Evian by the tankerload, will assume a brackish, oleaginous glow, so they’ll be light-reflective. This will reduce the number of pedestrians struck down by drunk drivers at night, thus hailed as a health and safety success by the Kremlin.

END OF THE ROAD: With petrol-powered vehicles banned, rickshaws will be London's most popular form of transport

END OF THE ROAD: With petrol-powered vehicles facing a ban, rickshaw pullers will rush to become London’s most ‘eco’ form of transport

Americans will finally realise President Obama is actually a hologram, since he’s been as effective as one for the last half-dozen years. During 2015, he’ll gradually evaporate like the Cheshire Cat in Alice In Wonderland, with only a grin left behind.

Hillary Clinton will declare her intention to run as Democratic Party candidate for the White House and she’ll face Jeb Bush, brother of G Dubya and son of HW, who’ll fly the flag of the Republican cause.

US geneticists will then discover only members of presidential dynasties possess that unique strand of DNA – the two-faced, lie-through-the-teeth, back-stab helix – to be leaders, so there’ll be a nationwide hunt for descendants of Richard Nixon to stand in future hustings.

North Korean cyber-hackers will blackmail Hollywood’s movie moguls into relocating their studios to Pyongyang and the dashingly handsome Young Leader, Kim Jong Un, will be the next James Bond, Batman and Wonder Woman, a role for which he’ll award himself an Oscar.

A bloke called Nigel will decide who wins next May’s UK General Election.

No, not that Nigel – the UKIP Farage one – but Nigel Dodds, whom nobody outside Northern Ireland (and few inside it for that matter) has ever heard of.

But with an expected mish-mash outcome to the result, with neither of the major parties winning a majority, the minor cast members will be crucial players in deciding who rules. In short, reprising 2010, the tail will wag the dog.

Which is where Doddsy comes in. Tipped to replace Peter Robinson as leader of Ulster’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – the bunch invented by the late Reverend Ian Paisley, who brought the fire and brimstone of religion to bear on politics – Nige could even emerge as Deputy Prime Minister, depending on which way he throws the dice of his eight MPs.

After much cogitation, as a huge fan of Wallace & Gromit, he will come out in favour of Ed Miliband for Prime Minister, since the Labour leader is a doppelganger for Wallace and Wensleydale is also the DUP’s favourite cheese.

NOBEL LAUREATE & CIGAR MAGNET: Pope Francis will scoop the Peace Prize and the Vatican worldwide rights to selling Havana cigars

NOBEL LAUREATE & CIGAR MAGNET: Pope Francis will scoop the Peace Prize and the Vatican worldwide rights to selling Havana cigars

The Tories will sack David Cameron, merge with UKIP to become the Conservative, Unionist and UK Independence Party and elect London Mayor, Boris Johnson, as leader, who’ll make Nigel – the Farage one – Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Nick Clegg will quit as head honcho of the Liberal Democrats; their core voters will switch to the Greens, who’ll demand a ban on all forms of petrol-powered transport, resulting in an influx of Hong Kong rickshaw pullers, in anticipation they will eventually replace London’s Routemaster buses.

In the Middle East, the Saudis will wreck the Iranian economy by driving down the price of oil to a bucket of camel dung a barrel and do a back-channel deal with Israel to buy the Matzoball Bomb – a doomsday weapon with a difference, since all infected by its fallout turn Jewish.

It will first be tested on the headbanging jihadi rabble of IS/ISIL/ISIS, thorns by any other name in the side of humanity, who will – en masse – discard their AK47s to become rabbinical students.

Pope Francis will be awarded the Nobel Peace prize for his role in patching up the 45-year US-Cuba tiff; the Vatican will be given the worldwide concession to peddle Havana cigars.

Finally, the space probe, Cassini, will discover huge gold and diamond deposits on Saturn; FIFA will announce the 2026 World Cup will be held there.

So those are my forecasts for next year. But they’ll be wrong all counts, because, from long experience, I learnt there’s  no future in making predictions.

The Queen is still the ace in Britain’s Royal pack

QUEEN ELIZABETH: Riding on the crest of a wave of positive publicity

QUEEN ELIZABETH: At 87, she’s riding on the crest of a wave of positive publicity

Over the years I’ve heard many impassioned pleas by republicans to axe royalty – not literarily, I assume, though I wouldn’t put it past some of the raving firebrands.

Predictably, they trot out the usual verbiage, like that voiced by a strident anti-monarchist in a BBC Newsnight debate last Monday, amid the euphoria celebrating the birth of Prince George of Cambridge, new, third man in the House of Windsor pecking order.

In summary, the woman – a Guardian columnist (surprise, surprise!) – insisted the monarchy was an anachronism; nobody was entitled to have a silver spoon thrust into their mouth from Day #1; most countries opted for a president; and it was all ‘yah-boo unfair.’

Ah, such is life. Because if fairness prevailed, I’d have won last week’s British Open Golf championship or be banking €350,000 a week, like Neymar, Barcelona’s new, Brazilian wunderkind, just for playing keepy-uppy with a spherical object.

Alas, alack or otherwise, some are born into privilege and a rare few become kings.

Meanwhile, having a good president – especially with executive powers, which British monarchs long since lost – is pretty much a lottery of deciding who the most plausible snake-oil salesman is.

And when presidents come to mind, so does the spectre of Richard Nixon and the slogan that immortalised his Tricky Dicky image: ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’

Personally, I prefer a constitutional monarchy and, over the 61 years of her reign, The Queen has done an impeccable job, which is more than can be said for some of her kith and kin.

Even at 87, the gait now plodding, she exhibits wholehearted commitment to the cause of country, commonwealth and empire, albeit now reduced to a melange of sometimes contentious dependencies.

Ma’am suffered trials and tribulations, of course, none more than in her ‘annus horribilis’, 1992: Charles’ separation from Princess Di erupted into a public slanging match, Ann divorced and the tabloids had a right, royal photo fest with snaps of Andrew’s ex, Fergie, having her toes sucked by her ‘financial adviser.’

To cap it all, Windsor Castle caught fire and a priceless art collection was damaged.

Five years on, the Palace gaffed monumentally, utterly misjudging the national mood following Diana’s death. Against protocol, Prime Minister Tony Blair practically ordered the entire bunch back to London from Balmoral and drop the Buck House flag to half-mast, because the people demanded it.

TRICKY DICKY NIXON: 'Would you buy a used car from this man?'

PRESIDENT NIXON: ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’ was the rhetorical question used to tar him with a Tricky Dicky image

Never before was the British monarchy’s stock so depleted and resurrecting it so costly. The Queen and Charles agreed to pay income tax, Buckingham Palace was opened to the hoi polloi to raise funds to repair Windsor and HM’s exes ( a.k.a. the Civil List) was slashed.

However, what resuscitated Royal fortunes was the advent of the Princes Charming, Wills and Harry – the heir thoughtful and sensitive, the ‘spare’, an endearing jack-the-lad.

William’s marriage to commoner Kate captivated the nation and now the birth of a son and future king has catapulted the British crown’s popularity to a new zenith (and how many kings will be able to claim their gran was a BA trolley-dolly and great-great granddad a coal miner?)

Still, the Guardianista-republican is right: the monarchy is an anachronism and probably the world’s juiciest, real-life soap opera – an everyday story of Royal folk – to boot.

That, though, is the way we like it. Because forensic analysis of Britain would inevitably conclude the country is an anachronism, too, miraculously and creakingly evolving like no place on earth.

Steeped in the trappings of centuries-old tradition and inclined to be socially conservative, Brits are mainly tolerant as a nation, though resentful of foreign interference and stoic in repulsing invaders. Hence, ruffling our plumage comes with a health warning.

Meanwhile, we’re obsessed with bemoaning the weather – hot or cold – and inventing games with rules so arcane only a handful of former colonies understand them (e.g. have you ever tried explaining cricket to a Spaniard?)

And, despite losing an empire on which once the sun never set, Britain continues to punch above its weight on the international stage, Perfidious Albion one moment, honest broker the next.

Unlike almost everywhere, we have no written constitution yet constantly defer to one; we also have an affinity for democracy, even if our politicians are often more quantity than quality.

Then there’s our relationship with Europe, best summarised by a 1930’s Times headline that pronounced, with telling understatement, ‘Fog in Channel – Continent cut off.’

But, then, we do inverted superiority rather subtly, which probably accounts for Britain’s semi-detachment from the EU and retention of the £ (no bad idea, in retrospect, given the Eurozone’s abject failings).

KATE AND WILLIAM: Now with baby George, they've given Britain's Royalty

KATE AND WILLIAM: Now with baby George, they’ve helped resuscitated the British Royal Family flagging fortunes

Meanwhile, underscoring our distinctiveness, we drive on the wrong side, have a taste for warm beer, don’t dress as foppishly as Italians, our national dishes are invariably fried and, in the publicly-funded BBC, we possess a self-appointed, liberally illiberal arbiter of the national conscience.

I could go on, but you get the drift.

So finally, let’s return to the Monarchy. And note the capital M this time, since there are countless kings and queens sprinkling the planet, but only one Monarchy the world sits up and really notices – the British one.

Others come and go almost unheralded, as Holland’s Queen Beatrix, 75, did in April, standing aside for her son, now King Willem-Alexander. And earlier this month, 79-year-old Albert II vacated the Belgium throne, replaced by his son, Phillippe.

Neither abdication caused much of a ripple and it would have been thus had Harald V of Norway, Sweden’s King Carl Gustav XVI or Queen Margrethe II of Denmark asked for their marching orders.

Meanwhile, King Juan Carlos – once feted for leading his country out of the dark age of dictatorship – must be eying Britain’s monarchy with undisguised envy, as a slew scandals rock Spanish royalty.

To those hankering for Britain to be a presidential republic, then, here’s a tip: visit Zimbabwe.