13/12/2011 Daily Politics


13/12/2011

With Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn. British High Streets are in crisis - that's the verdict of the government's retail tsar Mary Portas - so what can be done to regenerate them?


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Afternoon, folks. Welcome to the Daily Politics. Our high streets

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are in crisis - that's the verdict of the government's retail tsar,

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Mary Portas. So what can be done to regenerate them?

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After last week's deal, are European politicians any closer to

:00:35.:00:45.
:00:45.:00:47.

discovering the elusive solution to the euro-zone debt crisis?

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France blackballed Britain from the Common Market.

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Do you get a sense of deja-vu? After Britain wields its opt-out,

:00:52.:00:55.

President Sarkozy says there are now "two Europes" - it is the

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latest cross-Channel spat that has lasted - well, centuries.

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And do shrikes leave strikers any All that in the next half-hour.

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With us for the whole programme today is the general secretary of

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the PCS union, Mark Serwotka. And no Andrew this afternoon. He

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decided his presence next to me in the studio today would be a

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distraction. But don't worry, a bit like Nick Clegg, we are hoping he

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will pop up a bit later on to explain himself.

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First this morning, our high streets are in crisis. That's the

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conclusion of a report for the Government by the so-called Queen

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of shops, Mary Portas. She says many high streets will be lost

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unless councils and shops work together to regenerate them.

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Whereas the high street was always just about shopping, that shopping

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has shifted into new areas. We have the internet, we have these out-of-

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town malls, the hypermarkets and supermarkets. We have not redefined

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what the high street is. We have let it go and neglected it. We have

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not had a vision. I propose that we look at a high street in a

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different way, as a multi- functional social and shopping High

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Street, so that we create ft fall back on the high street for other

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uses other than shopping. Mark Serwotka Hamas -- how important is

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the high street? Is important not just to the high street, but to the

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communities we live in. But the first thing to do is make sure

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people have money to spend it in shops anyway. Part of the problem

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at the moment is that many are having a cut in their living

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standards. And therefore, there is not much disposable income to spend.

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It does not help when in many communities, the Government is

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withdrawing from high streets. We have seen Jobcentres closing or

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licensing offices. 39 of those are closing. It is about jobs, I take

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your point about consumer spending and people needing money in their

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pockets. But in terms of getting to the shops, should the Government

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focus attention on the retail sector at this time of year? It has

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to do what it can to regenerate our economy. What support can be found

:03:19.:03:24.

for small businesses and shops, we have to find it. But at the end of

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these -- at the end of the day, for these businesses to be a success,

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they need people coming through the door with money to spend. That is

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the real issue at the moment. We need to create jobs, create demand

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in the economy and make sure people can spend. That is the best way to

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regenerate the high street. Now, we are expecting a crucial

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press conference in Europe this afternoon. After all-night sessions

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and passionate disagreements over the details, scientists at the

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Large Hadron Collider in CERN are expected to announce the answer to

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life, the universe and everything - the discovery of the famed Higgs

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boson particle. Unfortunately, despite claims that the euro-zone

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debt crisis had been solved after press conferences in Brussels last

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week, doubts are beginning to surface. While particle physics has

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relatively few unknowns, economics, especially that of the euro-zone,

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seems to be a far more inexact science. European politicians have

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spent months rushing around in a circular motion, colliding with

:04:16.:04:21.

each other in the hunt for the Holy Grail of euro salvation. The latest

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experiment involves a new fiscal compact, with new rules as

:04:24.:04:29.

immutable as Newton's Third Law of motion. This new compact will be

:04:29.:04:32.

combined with an application of physical force - a 200 billion euro

:04:32.:04:35.

bail-out fund provided by national central banks via the IMF to prop

:04:35.:04:42.

up countries at risk of default. But at the moment, this is more

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theoretical than the Higgs boson, with only the German Bundesbank

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pledging EUR45 billion. And that sum is a mere fraction of the

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galactic 600 billion that would be needed to bail out both Italy and

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Spain. But the markets continue to exert their own inevitable logic,

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with bond yields in those Club Med countries creeping up again and the

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euro sliding against the dollar and the pound. So can Europe's leaders

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finally re-write the laws of economics and save the euro and

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avoid a catastrophic big bang? Andrew's at the European Parliament

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in Strasbourg, from where he joins me now. It sounds like this deal

:05:24.:05:34.
:05:34.:05:36.

that has been put on the table is unravelling? Yes, it is. We have

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already had a minister in France, the man the polls say will be the

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next President, saying he wants to renegotiate the deal agreed last

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week. The Austrian Chancellor does not like it. The president of the

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German parliament does not like it, and thinks it may be

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unconstitutional. The ratings agencies are talking about

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downgrading every European Union credit ratings. So the sense that

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the deal that was done last week has anything to do with the current

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sovereign debt crisis, they are far apart and it is beginning to

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unravel. The Americans have also made it clear that they will not

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put any more money into the IMF. A source in President Obama's White

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House said to me, if you think the president is going to Congress to

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get money for the Europeans in an election year, you must be on

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another planet. Be if no one is going to put more money in and

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everyone says it is not enough at the moment, not the big bazooka

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that is needed in terms of bailing out a country as big as Spain and

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Italy, where do they go from here? They go to another crisis. Word

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reached me from Berlin today that the Chancellor is even talking

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about another summit before Christmas. We have already had six

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this year. If not, there will be one early in the new year. While

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they talk about all sorts of things to do with fiscal union and 3%

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budgets and balanced budgets and so on, the markets are having their

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way. The Spanish and Italian bond yields are under pressure again,

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the euro is at a recent low against the dollar, and there is no

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firewall, as the Austrian Chancellor said. There is no

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firewall big enough to protect Spain or Italy at the moment. Last

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week's European summit did nothing to put one in place.

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I am joined now by the former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and

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from Paris by Jacques Myard, an assembly member in President

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Sarkozy's party. Jacques Myard, talking to our colleagues in

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Strasbourg, it does sound like the deal that was done will not happen.

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Is that your sense as well? It is not that the deal will not happen,

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the question is how the deal can solve the problem. Frankly, I have

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great doubts that we will find a solution to save the Eurozone. We

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are going to put the Eurozone in a straitjacket by controlling and

:08:08.:08:12.

cutting expenses. But that is not the solution. The solution is a

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lack of competitiveness of some members of the Eurozone, like

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Greece, Spain and even France. We are facing a wall, which is that

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this Eurozone is absolutely inadequate for the strengths of our

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economies. So what is needed to happen? If you say this is not

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going to be enough to stem the Eurozone crisis, you are talking

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about competitiveness, what do these countries need to do?

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short-term needs, if there is no militarisation of the debts, that

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means genuine aid coming from the central bank to those states, they

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will pay their debts more expensive live. In the long term, we have to

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think, is this single currency adequate for our economies? Of

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course, I have always been reluctant towards the euro. I think

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we have reached the end of it. We have to face the reality. I am

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sorry to say that in many terms, the French political classes and

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European political classes are in a kind of religious belief, saying

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that the euro is Europe, and there is no future apart from that, which

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is wrong. We need to face reality. Listening to that, Jack Straw, no

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one thinks it is enough. No one thinks it will work. The Eurozone

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crisis is going to lurch on, isn't it? Running a single currency

:09:54.:10:01.

outside a single country is inherently difficult, and that is

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one reason why I was never in favour of it, but that is what many

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countries opted for. If you are going to do that, you have to have,

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as George Osborne has acknowledged, a fiscal union, which was at the

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heart of the agreement formed last week. That is a necessary part of

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salvation, but by no means a sufficient part. As you and this

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gentlemen have just said, if you want to solve the immediate crisis,

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you have to monitor as centrally the debt of Europe. That is

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something Chancellor Merkel will not do. No, and without it, the

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Eurozone cannot move on. I think it will move on with great difficulty.

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It surprises me that the German Chancellor, although she has

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problems in her own backyard like every other head of a Government,

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she does not acknowledge and lead her people to say, we are the

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people who have month -- most benefited from the euro. Why can't

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we now assist in keeping the euro together? Jacques Myard, do you

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agree with Jack Straw that the Germans have to make the central

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bank come up with the goods now and without it, this crisis will get

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work? I have always said we need to monitor rise the debts. That means

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we need strong help from the central bank. The treaty forbids

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that. But this can only work if you transfer money from the strong to

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the weak countries. And Germany knows that if they do that, they

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will have to pay up to 4% of their gross national product in transfers

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to Italy and Spain etc, which is more expensive than the

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reunification of eastern Germany and western Germany. Even in France,

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Mr Sarkozy is now looking at the prospect of downgrading from the

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credit ratings in France. But the French economy is not strong either.

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You can't expect it also to come up with that kind of money, because it

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itself is vulnerable. Yes. A downgrading of France is not so

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awful, because I think all countries will be downgraded. The

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only point is that our -- it will be more expensive for France to

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borrow. So I think we have to change monetary policy. As Mr Straw

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just said, we need to monitor as that. If we do that in the short

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term, we will be facing a wall and it will be more expensive and it

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will be the end. Jack Straw, is it the case that Britain's position

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outside not only the 17, but the 26, if we were at that table, would we

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be able to influence more to persuade the Germans to let the

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central bank by government bonds and let them rescue the Eurozone in

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a way that we can't now? Yes. If you read the conclusions of the

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European Council last Thursday and Friday, you will see that a number

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of countries in the EU -- in the EU but outside the Eurozone said they

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reserved their position. David Cameron could have done that. He

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could have completely preserved all his negotiating position. He was

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not signing up to anything formal, but he would have been in the room.

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His difficulty and now the country's difficulty is that

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gratuitously, he has lost influence. Would it have made a difference?

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course. I have seen these negotiations. It is a fact of life

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that heads of government have very large egos. Tell us something we

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don't know! It is about national interest, but it is also about

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their interest. This matters, because these guys are very

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powerful. John Major understood that how you deal with it makes a

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reunification. The result was that when he needed something,

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Chancellor Kohl said to him, what can I deliver for you? In this

:14:29.:14:32.

situation, we need a resolution to the euro crisis. Schadenfreude is

:14:32.:14:42.
:14:42.:14:44.

not a policy. Our future depends on Of course, the British did not sign

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up to the agreement in Brussels last week. Nicolas Sarkozy rejected

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outright Britain's demands for an opt-out on City regulation, which

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he said was not acceptable. He added that there are a now clearly

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two Europes. Is this just another salvo in the centuries long tiff

:15:04.:15:09.

with our neighbours? Let's start in the 17th century, when this French

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bishop is one of the first to be recorded using the phrase,

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perfidious Albion. In other words, cheating Brits. Fast forward to the

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1960s, the news reels were fretting about vetoes then, too. Charles de

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Gaulle had denied Britain's application to join the group which

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was to become the EU. We finally got membership in the 1970s. Then,

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along came this lady, in a fetching jumper. They will be keeping an

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all-night vigil under the statue of Winston Churchill, the first person

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to have the great vision for working together for peace in

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Europe. Instead, war was waged by the Sun against the French man in

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charge of the European Commission in the 1990s. His request for more

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powers begat this famous soundbite. No, no, no! Tony Blair's language

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was warmer, but the relationship was spoiled by the French banning

:16:16.:16:22.

this, British beef, and disagreeing with this, the Iraq war. Now, the

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theory is that the French are trying to pinch business from the

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City. President Sarkozy, normally famously shy about speaking English,

:16:30.:16:35.

knows that money talks, as demonstrated by this clip from a

:16:35.:16:45.
:16:45.:16:46.

few years ago. You are welcome to invest in France. We will be happy

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to help you make money in France. And of course, to make some money

:16:54.:17:02.

with you - for us. There we go. And the two Jacks and Mark Serwotka are

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still with me. Is the entente cordiale dead in the water? It is

:17:08.:17:12.

not dead in the water, it is damaged. Don't forget they were our

:17:12.:17:18.

great allies in the First World War, and they are then faced German

:17:18.:17:24.

occupation in the Second World War. We are two similar-sized countries,

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both on the Security council, have remarkably parallel although

:17:27.:17:31.

different histories, very proud of our nations, but we need each other.

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My experience of dealing with the French, sometimes they could drive

:17:35.:17:40.

me mad, but I daresay I could drive them mad. But you could co-operate

:17:40.:17:45.

with them. As far as the current commissioner is now concerned, the

:17:45.:17:48.

commissioner on business regulation, I had a lot to do with him. He was

:17:48.:17:52.

the French Foreign Minister. He's French, I'm British, but this guy

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is not gratuitously going to damage European businesses. You can get

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alongside these people. I'm not naive at all. But I do not believe

:18:03.:18:07.

you need to damage diplomatic relations in the way that we have

:18:07.:18:14.

done, as David Cameron has done. Jacques Myard, Nicolas Sarkozy

:18:14.:18:17.

accused David Cameron of shouting from the sidelines about the

:18:17.:18:20.

eurozone crisis - is the relationship damage in that way, as

:18:20.:18:25.

we have just heard from Jack Straw, or is it all politics? I do not

:18:25.:18:29.

agree with Jack Straw. Our relationship, our diplomatic

:18:29.:18:35.

relationships, are much stronger than these last events. I tell you

:18:35.:18:40.

this morning, the French are more interested in Jonny Wilkinson's

:18:40.:18:44.

decision to retire than David Cameron and any comment like that.

:18:44.:18:50.

So, don't worry. No, in fact, in the view of Sarkozy, there are two

:18:50.:18:55.

kinds of Europe. There is the euro Europe, that he is trying to save

:18:55.:19:00.

with Germany, and there are other relations, especially in terms of

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defence, and world powers, which we do with Great Britain. We signed a

:19:05.:19:10.

treaty in the last few months on Nuclear Corporation, and this is

:19:10.:19:18.

very important. This has all been a bit of a sideshow, Mark Serwotka,

:19:18.:19:21.

saving the eurozone from its crisis is the most important issue, not

:19:21.:19:24.

this treaty - how do you see the relationship between Britain and

:19:24.:19:29.

France, is it important as far as the unions are concerned? My only

:19:29.:19:33.

beef with the French is that they beat Wales in the Rugby World Cup,

:19:33.:19:37.

with a very unjust outcome. The European trade unions, in France,

:19:37.:19:42.

Britain, Germany and Greece, have issued a statement in the last 24

:19:42.:19:46.

hours. What we say is, the people who are suffering in Europe are

:19:46.:19:49.

working people - people losing their jobs, having their incomes

:19:49.:19:55.

cut, their pensions slashed. None of what has happened over the last

:19:55.:19:58.

few days, it seems to me, has really been about addressing the

:19:58.:20:02.

needs of working people. They're trying to save these countries from

:20:02.:20:07.

a debt crisis. They say they are. But the view that we have is that

:20:07.:20:11.

it is the wrong answer to the problem. We need to grow our

:20:11.:20:15.

economies, and we want to grow our economies and deal with the deficit

:20:15.:20:20.

over the longer term. What we want to do is open the debate up and say,

:20:20.:20:24.

why aren't any of these European leaders talking about the role of

:20:24.:20:28.

the markets, the fact that the markets are unaccountable, are now

:20:28.:20:32.

picking governments in parts of Europe, setting social policy,

:20:32.:20:35.

effectively? We know that the markets do not care about the

:20:35.:20:39.

welfare state and the NHS, like we do. So we need a more fundamental

:20:39.:20:47.

discussion, not fiddling while Rome burns. A couple of weeks ago,

:20:47.:20:51.

members of Mark Serwotka's union, the PCS, were striking over the

:20:51.:20:55.

Government's proposed pension reforms. A fierce battle has raged

:20:55.:20:58.

over whether public sector workers were right to go on strike. But

:20:58.:21:02.

there is another issue. Our strikes in general effective means of

:21:02.:21:08.

getting your own way? Here's Giles. It is a fact of modern industrial

:21:08.:21:11.

relations that both unions and managers have started to see the

:21:11.:21:15.

strike as something of a last resort. Unions have discovered more

:21:15.:21:19.

sophisticated ways of industrial action, short of a strike, and

:21:19.:21:22.

private sector managers have discovered the economic value of

:21:22.:21:27.

compromise. So, is it time to ask the question, what do strikes

:21:27.:21:32.

achieve? The range of outcomes and his wide, from the success of women

:21:32.:21:36.

workers at Ford's Dagenham, whose strike led to laws on equal pay, to

:21:36.:21:41.

the failure of the miners to keep pits open. Most end with compromise,

:21:41.:21:47.

or compromise comes first. Bylaw, disputes are more specific, strikes

:21:47.:21:51.

are harder to call. There is more concession bargaining, less big

:21:51.:21:59.

causes. We deal with about 900 disputes per year. When I went to

:21:59.:22:05.

work for ACAS in 1976, we were dealing with 7,500. The threat of

:22:05.:22:08.

strikes is very often effective, and that is one of the more recent

:22:08.:22:12.

developments, with changes in the law requiring unions to ballot

:22:12.:22:16.

their members. They can then say, we have balloted our members, and

:22:16.:22:20.

they are willing to come out on strike, now, what more have you got

:22:20.:22:25.

to offer? Clearly, in the recent pensions dispute, things have come

:22:25.:22:31.

to a head. Militants, itching for a fight. They want families to be

:22:31.:22:35.

inconvenienced. We are not itching for a fight. But we do need

:22:35.:22:39.

ministers who want to reach an agreement with us. Despite the

:22:39.:22:42.

disappointment of the party opposite, it looks like something

:22:42.:22:47.

of a damp squib... But from experience of conciliator in many

:22:47.:22:51.

disputes, it may seem like two sides are at war, but it can be

:22:51.:22:53.

very different behind the scenes. The difference between the

:22:54.:22:58.

collective dispute, trade union and employer, and an individual dispute,

:22:58.:23:02.

is that in the collective dispute, the union and the employer have got

:23:02.:23:08.

to cope with tomorrow. Whereas genuinely, with an individual, the

:23:08.:23:12.

relationship is ended. So, there is much more of a meeting of minds

:23:12.:23:16.

than perhaps the public rhetoric would suggest. Increasingly, old

:23:16.:23:19.

unions have taken a lead on new tricks, with more sophisticated

:23:19.:23:25.

options, short of strikes. strike is a nuclear option. It will

:23:25.:23:28.

only do that if there is really nothing else that can be done. It

:23:28.:23:33.

is expensive, it is difficult, quite often unpopular, and unions

:23:33.:23:37.

use strikes as a last resort. I cannot think of any union which

:23:37.:23:40.

would simply go on strike for the sake of it. The strike in itself is

:23:40.:23:44.

not a principle, it is a tactic. There are does politically who will

:23:44.:23:49.

say strikes achieve nothing whatsoever. But there is one

:23:49.:23:53.

undeniable answer to that. You're never going to know what would have

:23:53.:23:57.

happened had there not been a strike, you're trying to measure

:23:57.:24:00.

something which is unmeasurable. If there had not been a strike, what

:24:00.:24:05.

the employer have offered more? You do not know. Mark Serwotka is still

:24:05.:24:10.

here, and we're also joined by the Conservative MP Dominic Raab. Mark,

:24:10.:24:14.

can you give any recent examples of where a strike has had a positive

:24:14.:24:19.

effect? In the last few months, PCS, employed in a private sector

:24:19.:24:23.

company, a multinational company, offered a derisory pay rise, went

:24:23.:24:27.

on strike and it ended up getting an 11% pay increase for the lowest-

:24:28.:24:32.

paid. Very interesting, because what it said is that if industrial

:24:32.:24:36.

action in the private sector is going to make a company realise its

:24:36.:24:41.

profits may be effective, they will come round the negotiating table.

:24:41.:24:43.

What do you say to that? private sector it rather different,

:24:43.:24:47.

you have got far less strike days lost in the private sector, the

:24:47.:24:51.

whole dynamic is very different. The whole issue with effectiveness

:24:51.:24:56.

is that if your aim is to cause damage, a strike will do that. We

:24:56.:24:59.

saw in the most recent strikes damage done to parents with schools

:24:59.:25:04.

closing. If your aim is to carry public opinion, I think they have

:25:04.:25:09.

failed. If you look back Mark's union, just one in five of his own

:25:09.:25:15.

members backed the strike, which is why, if I'm a finish, you seek

:25:15.:25:19.

instantly suddenly consistently from June to November, the polls

:25:19.:25:27.

are showing that they had lost the support of the public. Strike

:25:27.:25:31.

ballots only need a majority of those who take part, not a majority

:25:31.:25:35.

of those eligible to vote, and that is a real problem with the public,

:25:35.:25:40.

is it not? You're talking about far smaller numbers than the unions try

:25:40.:25:44.

to paint. I disagree. You cannot disagree that it is with the

:25:44.:25:48.

majority who take part. If we start talking about thresholds, we would

:25:48.:25:52.

not have Boris Johnson in his current post. It is an unnecessary

:25:52.:25:56.

hurdle. We have the most restrictive union laws in any

:25:56.:26:00.

Western European country. It is fantastically difficult. I have

:26:00.:26:03.

said to the government, and I will say it again now, if they want

:26:03.:26:07.

bigger turnout in ballots, we have made numerous suggestions to make

:26:07.:26:11.

it easier to vote, telephone, online, in the workplace - they do

:26:11.:26:15.

not want to know. Do you think that would make a difference? Of course

:26:16.:26:22.

it would. The public will not thing strikes are credible if you have

:26:22.:26:30.

such low numbers voting... I think actually, in all strikes, the

:26:30.:26:36.

times bigger than those who actually cast the vote. The turnout

:26:36.:26:41.

which matters is on the day. In the strike we have just seen, two

:26:41.:26:45.

million people on strike to stop a raid on their pensions, it was one

:26:45.:26:48.

of the most effective demonstrations of opposition to the

:26:48.:26:51.

Government which we have seen in recent years. Except, the

:26:51.:26:54.

Government make concessions on the threat of strike, not the strike

:26:54.:27:00.

itself. Since then, there has been nothing. Actually, it was the

:27:00.:27:04.

tiniest concession. I have just come from the TUC this morning, and

:27:04.:27:07.

we have started discussing further industrial action. The reason for

:27:08.:27:10.

that is to get the Government around the negotiating table. They

:27:10.:27:14.

have not met us since the 2nd November. We want a negotiated

:27:14.:27:18.

settlement, but if they are not even in the room, it becomes

:27:18.:27:24.

impossible. What do you say to that, Dominic? Will this mean the

:27:24.:27:27.

Government will feel it has to make another concession? Well, they have

:27:27.:27:32.

already made a massive concession. If you're a carpenter, a cabbie or

:27:32.:27:35.

a hairdresser, you will be looking at the reformed pensions which

:27:35.:27:43.

public sector workers will be getting, and it is way out of the

:27:43.:27:46.

League of what the vast majority, the hard-working majority in this

:27:46.:27:51.

country, will be able to access. I think if we have a further threat

:27:51.:27:55.

of strikes, you will see more ebbing of public opinion, and I

:27:55.:28:00.

think the unions have lost it. The real question is this - the

:28:00.:28:03.

government is out of touch with ordinary, hard-working people. I

:28:03.:28:06.

think it is the militant minority of hardline union leaders, who have

:28:06.:28:14.

not accepted a cracking offer on the table, though, with their

:28:14.:28:18.

inflation -- inflated salaries and pensions, are looking increasingly

:28:18.:28:22.

out of touch themselves. I think you should not be able to have

:28:22.:28:25.

hundreds of people paralysing the infrastructure in London, which

:28:25.:28:30.

disrupts millions, on the votes of a few hundred people. If ever there

:28:30.:28:33.

was confirmation of a government being out of touch, it used to

:28:33.:28:39.

describe as a cracking offer, work eight years longer, pay thousands

:28:39.:28:43.

of pounds more in, it is robbery. But equality of misery is not a

:28:43.:28:49.

British High Streets are in crisis - that's the verdict of the government's retail tsar Mary Portas - so what can be done to regenerate them?

After Britain wields its opt-out, President Sarkozy says there are now "two Europes". We look back at some previous cross-channel spats.

And you might think them right or wrong - but do strikes leave strikers any better off?

With Jo Coburn for the whole programmeis Mark Serwotka, the PCS union's general secretary, and guests include former foreign secretary Jack Straw and the French MP Jacques Myard.

And Andrew Neill reports from Strasbourg.


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