On Tuesday morning, I was sitting reading Jessica Douglas-Home’s vivid new book about the great Delhi Durbar in 1911 (A Glimpse of Empire, Michael Russell). In the background, the Today programme was burbling. I had just got to the bit about the Maharajas paying homage to the King-Emperor. The author describes how the Maharaja of Nawanagar — better known as the great cricketer Ranjitsinhji — though splendid in his silver carriage, was also stony broke: ‘Ranji’s extravagance was much frowned upon in official circles … After the Durbar, he was humiliated by the imposition of a financial adviser upon his administration’. Then on to Today came a man called Horst Reichenbach, a German. He is the representative of the EU ‘troika’ charged with making Greece submit to its financial ‘advice’. From Raj to Reich, with exactly a century in between, the situation is not so different.
Another colourful figure at the Durbar was the Gaekwar of Baroda. He showed signs of independence which worried the Viceroy. He caused dismay by making only ‘a cursory bow from the waist’ to George V, and then, ‘wheeling around, turned his back on the royal couple and walked from their presence nonchalantly twirling a gold-topped walking stick’. As a result, the authorities snubbed the Gaekwar. Frightened of ostracism, he dashed off a letter of apology. In the EU today, the role of the Gaekwar is played by the British government.
This is the first year in human history when the word ‘trillion’ (dollars or euros) has started popping up every day. A trillion is hard to understand. To get a perspective, it may help to recall that the resignation of Peter Thorneycroft as Chancellor of the Exchequer from Harold Macmillan’s government in 1958 (the ‘little local difficulty’) was caused by Thorneycroft’s reluctance to spend an extra £50 million.