As an occasional lecturer on the abstruse topic of the efficacy of sanctions in conflict resolution, I find myself much more excited about the emergence in Vienna of a settlement of the Iranian nuclear stand-off than I am about a third Greek bailout — which left-wingers of the Syriza party regard as a vindictive form of sanctions regime designed to humiliate the government in Athens and remove its fiscal autonomy.
The only thing that’s clear about the Greek crisis is that it’s not over: impossible to see how it could be ‘over’ without the debt relief Prime Minister Tspiras asked for but the Germans adamantly refused. Even if the €68 billion on offer turns out to be sufficient to prevent further collapse of the economy and banking system, and Syriza is replaced in power by a more malleable ‘technocratic’ regime, the bitter aftertaste of this episode, and the irresolvable nature of eurozone tensions it has exposed, will linger until the next crisis blows up. As a contribution to global geopolitical progress, therefore, the possibility of re-engaging Iran as a responsible international actor and trading partner rather than a nuclear-armed pariah state is a hundred times more important than finding a way, for now, to stop Greece falling out of the fractured euro.
A former Iranian ambassador to the UN, Sadegh Kharrazi, described this week’s deal — which lifts crippling UN and EU sanctions in return for restriction and inspection of Iran’s nuclear programme designed to limit it to non-weapon purposes — as ‘a new opportunity to find a way to put out the fire in the Middle East’; an EU spokesman called it ‘a sign of hope for the entire world’. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu vehemently disagreed, but it surely ends a dangerous phase of the modern Great Game in which Russia and China have used Iran as a pawn to undermine US influence in the Middle East, and even North Korea has been a shadowy player as a potential nuclear collaborator. On the principle that prosperity fertilises peace, the re-entry of a partially defused Iran into the legitimate international oil market, and the unfreezing of its financial assets, must be positive — and all sane parties in the region can now concentrate on facing the threat of Islamist mayhem. I believe something good really did come out of the negotiating chamber this week, but in Vienna rather than Brussels.
I said last week I’d bet on a female appointee to succeed sacked Antony Jenkins as chief executive of Barclays. Why? Because that’s the way the world is going, and because a wily woman might have a better chance of standing up to chairman John McFarlane, who has already indicated he is looking forward to a reprise of his tenure at the insurer Aviva — where he axed chief executive Andrew Moss and enjoyed an extended stint as executive chairman before getting round to filling the vacancy and easing back to non-exec status, which clearly isn’t his preferred role. The spin this week, aimed at deflecting attention from the Jenkins defenestration, has been about McFarlane not as ‘Mack the Knife’ but as an amiable guitarist with a ‘fondness for singing at charity events’ — though one former colleague tells me he really is ‘a hard man, no airs and graces, demanding but supportive if you’re doing a good job… banking’s equivalent of Monty Python’s Piranha Brothers’.
Meanwhile, an all-male line-up of candidates who might be brave enough to become McFarlane’s next sidekick has already emerged from ‘City analysts’, or possibly from Barclays’ own spinmeisters testing market reactions. It is headed by the bank’s finance director Tushar Morzaria, ex-JP Morgan Chase, and includes its chief operating officer Jonathan Moulds, ex–Merrill Lynch and a collector of Stradivarius violins. But rightly or wrongly, and however interesting their hobbies, internal appointees always look second-best in the modern corporate world — and one in this case would not take the spotlight off McFarlane, which is what the Barclays board will want to see by next year.
Hence the need for fillies in the race, so here’s my shortlist. Jayne-Anne Gadhia of Virgin Money looks strong enough to deck Mack with a left hook. But if she’s too retail (as Jenkins was) and an investment banker is preferred, feisty Baroness Shriti Vadera, trained at Warburgs and now chairman of Santander UK, might fit the bill. Then there’s former FT chief Rona Fairhead, with experience at Morgan Stanley and (unhappily) on the HSBC board, who may soon be out of a job at the BBC Trust. From outside the sector, ex-Thomas Cook boss Harriet Green ‘gets up early and would enjoy the travel’, a tipster whispers. And what price former corporate lawyer Christine Lagarde, whose IMF tenure looks set to end next July? As I said last year when the hunt was on that produced McFarlane as chairman: come on, girls, just pick up the phone to the headhunters.
I’m busy in Helmsley this week playing café owner René Artois in ’Allo ’Allo!, a stage farce spun out of the much-loved sitcom set in wartime France. All I’ll give away about the plot is that like the Greek bailout saga, it is not the victory for Germany that it may look — and the priceless portrait of the Fallen Madonna with the big boobies may or may not be hidden in the knockwurst sausage. René himself is the ultimate Euro-pragmatist, pimping his waitresses Mimi and Yvette — who are also his mistresses — to the occupying Nazis while hiding exploding cheeses for the Resistance and periodically trying to slip away to Switzerland, where he no doubt has an account at HSBC. There really ought to be a statue of him outside the Berlaymont building in Brussels, carved with one of his asides: ‘Most of us have to make compromises because we want to go on breathing.’ One day, perhaps, we’ll laugh at another comedy of confusion conjured from a painful episode in our continental neighbours’ past, called Euro Euro!