Another Murdoch lesson: when the iceberg looms, it’s too late to change course
The sixth most famous Murdoch in history, after Rupert, James, Wendi and Rupert’s parents Sir Keith and Dame Elisabeth (the latter still with us at 102, and presumably wondering what the boy will get up to next) was of course William McMaster Murdoch, First Officer of the Titanic. If space permitted, I’d expatiate on how cruelly this heroic Scotsman was misrepresented in the 1997 cinema epic in which he is seen taking a bribe and shooting two passengers before turning his gun on himself. The film was of course backed by 20th Century Fox, which is controlled through News Corp by Will Murdoch’s distant clansman Rupert — thus offering further evidence of the triumph of ruthless commercialism over truth and decency in the evil empire… But the real point of mentioning the wronged seafarer is to lead into this column’s trustiest standby in times of trouble, the extended Titanic metaphor.
The iceberg is of course the debt crisis now dead ahead — and it’s too late to shout ‘Hard-a-starboard’, just as it was for the ill-fated First Officer. While argument rages at the captain’s table over who’s been peeping at first-class keyholes, destruction looms out of the night fog — and the wiliest passengers frantically buy jewellery from the others, to stuff in their pockets when the band stops playing and the stern lurches skywards.
Enough; I’m sure you can see where I’m heading. Hour by hour the European situation descends towards chaos. This week’s Greek finance minister may think ‘resolution is attainable’ but no one is watching his country any more — it’s a write-off, a failed economic state without the political willpower to plead with its own people for the co-operation that might win them last-minute reprieve. The leaderless herd of international investors has already stampeded elsewhere, dumping Spanish and Italian government bonds so fast that their yields have soared to levels at which the debt burdens of these two major euro members may soon become ‘unsustainable’ — a barely coded euphemism for ‘desperately seeking bailouts’.
Meanwhile, a mad standoff between Congressional Republicans and the White House threatens to push the US into default on its own debt — the rest of the world’s principal reserve asset — if agreement can’t be reached on borrowing limits and deficit-reduction measures by 2 August; the default will surely be temporary, but hugely damaging to global confidence. Not surprisingly, money from the bond markets (and bank shares, also badly hit) is flooding into gold, the doomster’s choice, which has just broken through the £1,000-an-ounce barrier.
And back in the iceberg zone, the European Central Bank is refusing to buy bonds as a calming measure while it waits for the politicians to come up with new solutions. Europe’s leaders were due to meet on Thursday, so by the time you read this there will most likely have been another muddled message from the bridge, another chanting of the mantra that the euro is unsinkable, and another row about who gets a place in the lifeboat if it turns out not to be.
As I’ve said before, if there’s any solution that saves the single currency, it is in the uncertain hands of Angela Merkel of Germany, the only one with the economic muscle to underwrite the whole misconceived project, if her citizens will let her do so. If not, then as George W. Bush said in a different context — but fitting my theme all too well — ‘This sucker’s going down.’ The waves will overwhelm us too, and our own leaders will be damned for having neglected our financial defences because they were so distracted by the more famous Murdoch.
I received two emails last week, one purporting to be from my vicar and the other from a well-known and rather fearsome lady journalist. Both said they had been mugged at gunpoint for their cash and credit cards while visiting Valencia, and could get no help from their banks. Would I send money via Western Union to relieve their predicament? ‘No help from the bank’ sounded convincing, but was it really possible that this unlikely pairing, both of whose spouses I also know, had run away to Spain together? Of course not: it was a scam, though a more convincing one than the usual ‘Dearly beloved, I am a Nigerian princess who wishes to deposit $10 million in your bank account if you would kindly send me the details’.
In the case of the vicar (who was innocently taking part in an ecclesiastical course somewhere) the message went to everyone in the diocese and — church folk being naturally eager to help the distressed — many assumed it was genuine. Versions of it must have gone to millions of less susceptible recipients. So if you’re reading this on holiday in Valencia, be especially wary of muggers — you’re unlikely to get a sympathetic response when you email your friends for help.
Bless my Soul!
While the rest of the media world has been obsessing over the ramifications of the hacking scandal, I’ve been on stage at Helmsley’s celebrated arts centre as the pig-loving Lord Emsworth in Oh Clarence!, John Chapman’s adaption of P.G. Wodehouse’s Blandings stories. In this refreshingly innocent, perpetually sunlit world, the only public official in danger of having to resign is the judge of the pumpkin prize at the county show, whom Emsworth believes to have been bribed by Sir Gregory Parsloe-Parsloe.
But it is the irascible Parsloe who accuses Emsworth of stealing a priceless scarab and brings in a detective, Simmons — leading to the only lines which (sadly, I thought) won a round of applause every night. Simmons: ‘I reckon if we call in Scotland Yard we could have him sent up for five years…’ Parsloe: ‘Imagine it, a member of the House of Lords, jugged.’ Simmons: ‘I never could stand corruption in high places. It’ll be a rare scoop for the Sunday papers.’ Parsloe (laughing, then clutching his chest in pain): ‘Emsworth… all over the News of the World!’