16/12/2011 Newsnight


In-depth investigation and analysis of the stories behind the day's headlines with Emily Maitlis. What lies behind French criticism of the UK economy?

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Would you rather be French than British? France's Finance Minister


suggests, economically speaking, we might.


There's history to these spats, but this evening, the French are


slapped down by Nick Clegg. Is it French nervousness about their own


problems behind the latest row. Also tonight, author, polemicist,


thinker, Susan Hitch has died, we will show one of -- has died. We


will show one of his last interviews. I'm happy to take it as


face value, I will take that, whatever has been said.


You get a real sense of the year ticking away from up here. David


Grossman looks back and down on Westminster.


Good evening, it's not exactly the 100 years war, but let as say


anglo-French relations have probably been better, this evening


the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, described as simply


unacceptable, French criticism of the UK economy, after the French


Finance Minister suggested that Britain's economic situation was


very worrying, and argued it was better to be French. The looming


specter of a credit rating downgrade for France hangs over


this argument, as does the recent European treaty by David Cameron.


Tonight, as one ratings agency declares a solution to the eurozone


crisis, beyond reach, we ask which economy is superior.


# God save our gracious Queen # God...$$NEWLINE There has often


been a healthy rudeness about cross-channel relations. Honest


John Bull, versus the scheming French frogs, Orla France versus


England the spats go along way back. We have had spats over doing


business, and now the business of last week's Brussels summit, means


it has all broken out again. From Westminster, that's drawn a


robust British response. I'm always pleased to be British. In this


economic situation, although we have got a bigger deficit than


anywhere else in Europe, because of the legacy of Gordon Brown, we have


got two things very strongly in our favour, we have got our own


currency, and so we are in control of our own destiny, and we have our


own Bank of England, that can manage that currency. And we have


got a credible fiscal plan, that has passed through parliament, that


the markets believe. Those two things together put us in a far


stronger position. From Joan of Arc, through to General de Gaulle,


French leaders have aunch been good and saying no -- often been good at


saying non or worse to Britain. What has angered them this time, is


not just David Cameron's behaviour at the summit, the Prime Minister's


veto forced precisely the outcome, an inter-governmental pact, rather


than a full treaty, that President Sarkozy wanted. Rather the main


trigger for French wrath, seems to be a threat by American credit


ratings agencies to downgrade France's AAA rating, if there isn't


decisive action to stablise the euro.


To Nicolas Sarkozy, facing re- election next spring, it is a sign


that the Anglo-Saxon world has no confidence in the future of the


currency. And that it fears France, in particular, is dangerously


exposed to the crisis in Greece and Italy. It is a natural moment,


cynics would say, to try to undermine the standing of Europe's


main non-euro state. So economically speaking, is it better


to be French? Or to be British? Britain's deficit 9.4% of GDP, is


much bigger than France's at 5.7%. Its bebt is only slightly lower.


90% against France's 8%. Its inflation rate is more than double,


4.5 he%, against France's 2.1%. But in the City of London, this


economist thinks that is not the full story. At the moment the two


countries look much the same, to be honest, if you look at most


economic and fiscal indicators. But I think, looking ahead, it is


certainly the outlook for France that is probably worse, because


France, is of course, in Europe, and directly hit by the eurozone


debt crisis. Where as the UK is a little bit removed. What matters is


the relative future health of the two economies. That depends on the


fate of the euro. One ratings agency, FITCH, today, affirmed


France's AAA rating, but said the long-term outlook is no longer


stable, it is negative. It says France is the most exposed of the


top rated eurozone states, to a further intensification of the


crisis. I think it would be going a bit far to say France is the next


Italy or the next Spain. It doesn't have the big debt problems those


economies have. But its banking sector is exposed to those troubled


peripheral economies. Its banking sec tosh is very fragile, that


means its -- sector is very fragile, so the economic outlook is be


Ahead for the French, as for the British, more austerity, to bring


down the deficit. But it may not be enough. The ratings agency, FITCH,


said it believes that a comprehensive solution to the


eurocrisis, is technically and politically beyond reach. As for


the deputy, Nick Clegg who rebukeed French President, for what he


called unacceptable French remark about the UK economy. A long-term


relationship with a country, always keen to project its power on the


world stage, is probably repairable, but the problem with its currency


is another matter. Joining me now from Paris is one of


Nicolas Sarkozy's MPs. Thank you very much for your time this


evening. Your Finance Minister had his wrist slapped today by our


deputy PM, but think he went too far? Well, I think that in fact,


you know, we have kind of bad fever peak, but it will go down very


quickly. I know that the Prime Minister rang up your Deputy Prime


Minister, to try to rub off the misunderstanding between the two


men. I don't think that this is very serious. It is showing, in


fact, of course, that there is some anxiety in France about the


eurozone's future. That it is true that I myself, I'm a very sceptical


Uri man, but we are used to this kind of fever between the two


countries, it never lasts very long. So it is good for the press, but it


is, you know, it won't stand very long. Your deficit, as we saw, in


those figures, is lower than Britain's, but your biggest problem,


really, is that you are in the eurozone. Are you now saying you


wish you weren't? I would agree with you, that in fact, this is


true, I heard that the Bank of England and Britain, the British


Government, had its own currency, and can master, you know, its own


money currency policy. I agree with that. And in fact, this is very


difficult, this is what in fact the Finance Minister said, it is very


difficult to conduct, you know, in the eurozone a currency policy


which could be adapted to each country. This is why, I think, that


the eurozone may not survive very long. But, of course, I'm not


representing the French Government when I say that. I only look at the


facts, and I would say that the eurozone is in danger, especially


also because the central European bank is very rigid, and because of


the German attitude, in fact, which, they should do quanative easing to


help the states, not just for the banks to help the states to invest.


Looking at the political position, it is a very hard message this, for


your President Sarkozy, going into an election year, then. Do you


think this whole spat, indeed even the way the treaty was negotiated,


was a political manoeuvre to help him? No, I met personally President


Sarkozy before the Brussels summit, he wasn't very surprised by the


British attitude. He said to us a couple of MPs, that of course, if


there is no agreement with 27, there will be an agreement between


the euromember states, that means the 17. In fact, this is very


normal. Because Britain is not belonging to the eurozone, and in


this kind of discipline, bugetry discipline, that they tried to


achieve, you know, it cannot really apply to Britain as such, because,


in fact, this kind of budget discipline is to achieve, to save


the euro, and I have doubts about that. Because in fact, this is not


a question of budget deficit, it is a question of lack of


competitiveness between the euromember-state. Thank you very


much indeed. We appreciate your time. Thank you, good night.


Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain is then


to be lived far more intensely, we stumble, we get up, we are sad,


confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There


is nothing more, but I want nothing more. Christopher Hitch, wrote in,


one since, his own momento hori, and thought about his death many


months before it came. He talked candidly about cancer, making him


sober and objective. Today it finally killed him. We look at an


extraordinary writer, polemicist, thinker. Dashing, smart, funny, to


his admirers, the young Christopher Hitchens was the securing of idle


thinking. A bit like Hemingway, he was a two-fisted writer, that went


for typing, scrapping, oh yeah, and drinking and smoking too.


Of a leftish bent, he nevertheless challenged sacred cow its like the


mythology surrounding President Kennedy. Like everyone else of my


generation, I can remember exactly where I was standing on the fateful


day when John Fitzgerald Kennedy nearly killed me, I can remember


the Cuba crisis. Some said Tom Wolf had Hitchens in


mind when he created the hard- drinking hack played by Bruce


Willis in the Bonfire of the Vanties. We had a number of Scotchs


before lunch, big tumblers of Scotch. He had wine at lunch and


Cognac after. We stumbled back up to the office, and sat down at an


old desk with a typewriter, oOlevetti, he produced a thousand


seemless words in an hour, he could write better than any mine drunk


than sober. Hitchens had the work ethic of his


her low George Orwell, if not the same addiction, to tea. Settled in


the states, an American citizen, Hitchens reaction to 9/11, led him


to modify his view of George Bush, and end up backing the Iraq war.


People said, ignorant, unqualified, uncultured, uninstructed, if his


brains were made of gun powder and they have detonated, they would


barely be enough to disarrange his hair. Yet here he is, half way


through his first term, with wall- to-wall public sympathy. So, were


his critics premature, or has he been doing something right? Though


he found common cause with Tony Blair over Iraq, the atheist


Hitchens, by now ill with cancer, couldn't agree with him over


religion. Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes you objects,


in a cruel experiment, whereby we are created sick, and commanded to


be well, I will repeat that, created sick, and then ordered to


be well. Over us to superadvise this is installed a sell lest kal


dictatorship, a kind of -- celles ti, al dictatorship, a North Korea.


He was determined not to move the inch to the argument that religion


might have some purpose or some justification to it. Unlike Orwell,


who wrote a famous essay called Books Versus Cigarettes, Hitchens


chose both. In other respects, he may be judged to be in the same


tradition as the master. Jeremy interviewed Christopher Hitchens


last November, he started by asking about cancer. Are you terrified by


it? No, it is a superstition, among many. I know where it comes from,


if you would like me to say. When I was a child we were all very


frightened still by polio, it takes an effort to remember that now, but


in many countries still they are. Previous generations it would have


been small pox, the heart that never gets the right rhythm,


bronchitis, TB, but none have the same horror that cancer has been


allowed to acquire. It is probably because of the idea of there being


a live thing inside you. A sort of malignant alien, that can't


overlive you, but does in a sense has a purpose to its life, which is


to kill you and die. It is an obscene parody of the idea of being


pregnant. I always feel sorier for women who have cancer than who have


men. For men the idea of hosting another life of any kind, is hard


to think about. But for a woman, it must be a grotesque, nasty version


of the idea of being a host to another life. I have been idea why


people propigsate with bogus cures, scare stories. I have set my face


to try to demonstrate it is a maldy like any other, and will yield to


science. That is what I will spend my life pushing. The most common


word used for cancer is "battling"? I think that is a version of the


pathetic fallacy. It is giving a real existence to a something that


is in a sense, in a real sense inanimate. If it has a sort of life.


I rather think it is battling me, it is much more what it feels like.


I have to sat passively every few weeks and have a huge dose of kill


or cure venom put straight into my veins and poll it up with other


poisons too -- follow it up with other poisons too. It doesn't feel


like fighting at all, possibly resisting, but no, you feel like


you are drowning in passiveity, and being assaulted by something that


has a horrible persistence, working on you while you are asleep. There


will be people, who won't say it to your face perhaps, who will say you


smoke and drank a lot? That is demystifying. It is people saying


it is God's gift to me to have it in on throat because that is the


organ I used to blaspheme. If you have led a Bohemian life that I


have had, it is precisely the kind of cancer that you would get, that


is a bit of a yawn. Do you still consider yourself a leftist? I do.


Many of your critics would say that as your waistband expanded your


politics moved further to the right? They should see my waistband


now, I have lost 30 pounds. It is such a well known script, it is


deserving of the name cliche, I pin that accusation on my accusers,


that is what they are resorting to. Do think of these labels apply to


you, leftist, or whatever, you are more of an iconclass. There isn't a


global class now, some of us miss it, but it is gone. Is it likely to


be replaced, I don't think so. Is there a socialist theory of an


alternative world economy, just in theory that could stand up against


the idea of a market system, not conspicuously, no. In fact the


anti-globalising movement seems to be nostalgic for a preIndustrial


Society in many ways, thus to be rather Conservative. From this you


could probably tell I still think like a Marxist, which I do.


believe in the dialectiv? And the materialism of history. Do you


think it is a life well lived? have to leave that to others. I


have been encouraged in the last few months by some extraordinarily


generous letters, including, these are the ones I take most to heart,


from people I have never met or don't know. If they say what I have


written or done means anything to them, then I'm happy to take it at


face value, for once. I will take that. And yes, it cheers me up. I


hope it isn't written with the intention of doing so. Though I


must allow for it, possibly being for that reason. But, in case you


are watching this, anybody, and you ever wonder whether to write to


anyone, always do, because you would be surprised by how much of a


difference it can make. I regret, here is a regret, I regret not


doing it more often myself. Thank you very much.


My pleasure. Christopher Hitchens, talking to


Jeremy last year. There is another chance to see the full half hour of


Jeremy's interview with Christopher Hitchens, on BBC Two on Sunday at


11.30pm. Joining me now is a close friend of


Christopher Hitchens, the historian, Simon Schama. Really nice of you to


come in, Simon, on a day that I'm sure is very difficult for you.


could I not, Emily. I mean he's a man who clearly was not scared of


making enemies, not scared of upsetting people, and yet there has


been this tangible sense of affection for a man who embraced


division? You know, I think it is partly because Christopher was


really against a time of pablamand demureness, really. He believed him


self to be sort of the inheritor of mischief makers, like Tom Payne and


Wilks, The Levellers, and George Orwell. Well said in his essay on


the English language and politics, that most political writing is in


defence of the indefensible, and takes on a transparent melatricious


quality Christopher was not like that, really, he wanted not to be a


party person of any kind, but his own particular self, wielding his


own particular sword. The bitter irony in way, for those of us who


knew and were deeply fond of him. Was his notorious larger than life


habits were completely of a peace with his intellectual courage. That


is to say there was something morally decent about his double


Scotch, if you catch my drift. That he was outside the normal


boundaries of the polite, the conventional and the ingraceating.


This idea of being a mischief maker, was it ever a polemicist for the


sake of argument, or do you think he genuinely believed every time he


went against the grain? I feel a complete fraud sitting in his shoes,


which in many ways are impossible to fill. Being anguished at taking


his name in vain. I think he would have said there was a certain


amount of instinctive taste for mischief, that if there was trouble


brewing he would seek it out. That is why he wasn't a conventional


journalist or prepared to be an armchair journalist. He wanted to


go where the sewer stunk most awfully, and he made sure he was


there. He liked actually skiing along the race zor blade in that


kind of way, to mix my fete fors, shocking to Newsnight and to Hitch.


He would want to do that, the vast majority of the arguments,


otherwise why, for God's sake, support the war in Iraq and


alienate most of your ideolgical comrades. Most of the arguments he


took he took absolutely from principle. Today we had this quite


curious push from David Cameron about the revival of Christian


values, there is something ironic of this coming on the day when such


a passionate believer in atheism has died. Did it alter his approach,


do you think, to death? I'm sorry, Emily. In the sense of riceing Oder


of sanctity. Is that -- rising oder of sanctity. This idea that God is


not great? I don't think he was like Richard Dawkins in a sense in


which he felt there needed to be an impassioned neo-Darwinian crusade.


He was surprised, bemused and shocked, all our generation were,


I'm slightly older than him, that theocracy was possible in the 21st


century. Not that religion was still hanging around, but religion


which actually had the power of force to it. The great moment for


many of us was the Salman Rushdie, it changed a lot of us, until that


point, we could make jokes actually about making sin a crime, a capital


crime too. After that, that fatwah wiped the smile from our faces. In


that sense the doing the battle with the state still having the


power of zealotry, that could get you in horrible trouble. I think


during his illness, I will say this. I was put in mind of a great


unrepentantly atheistic death, I know, eventhough Hume was some what


of a story, Christopher would not mind being identified. Hume died a


heroic death, reported by Adam Smith, by his friend, who was


visited by a doctor, that said I'm delighted to leave you in better


spirits than I imagined. Hume said no doctor, that you would not


choose my truth, tell my enemies I'm dying as fast as I can, and my


friends as easily and cheerfully as I can. The courage with which Hitch


looked at his own death, was the sense, in truth is the ultimate


strength, and you can aim for no better thing than that. Thank you


very much. So this was the year then that


politics was overshadowed by economics, and, yes, this was the


year when division in Europe started to open up again. But a


curious byproduct of this year, it was the year where the backbencher


became a better known voice than those in the frontline of politic.


David Grossman looks back on this year.


Big Ben is getting ready for its big moment. In just two weeks the


nation will turn to its four faces to get us started on 2012, but,


before then, a little contemptation of the old year is called for. 2011


has been a cracking political year, here are Newsnight's headlines.


The they, it's worse. Europe it's back. Ordinary MPs, they are really


quite cross! The sun is out today, but 2011 was the year that even


more thick black clouds appeared in Britain's economic sky. In fact, it


has got so gloomy that the entire deficit reduction programme of the


coalition, has been destroyed. That, is having profound consequences for


British politics. The Chancellor's Autumn Statement


is usually, well, a bit dull. This year's though, was political


dynamite. The bust was deeper and had an even greater impact on our


economy than previously thought. And the result of this analysis is


that the OBR have significantly reduced their assumptions about


spare capacity in our economy, and the trend rate of growth.


reason why the Autumn Statement was so seismic was the political


calculation of both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, was


that they would go into this coming election saying, look we have


sorted it out. We can now start to delivering -- delivering some


goodies. There is no way that will be the message at the next election


now. The change for Labour is to say we won't be worse, we will have


a convincing alternative, that up until now they have failed to make


any impact in terms of the wider electorate as to what that message


would be. It is a very long time to ask people to put up with quite


dire circumstances. Groups of people in whom you rely to shift


the vote in the centre ground, whether it is women aged between


30-40, or swing constituencies in the Midland, or Medway towns, these


classic areas where the big battles of British politics are fought, it


gets hard Tory say come back to us, or come with us, -- harder to say


come back to us, or come with us, if people are still going through


tough times. Just like the mechanism of Big Ben, the coalition


was finely tuned, it had been to be. Both party leaders knew one issue


above all others threatened to rip their common endeavour apart, they


had to do everything they could to resist making any new policy on


that issue for the entire parliament. That issue, of course,


was Europe. There were rum pblgs over the summer. Conservative


backbenchers wanted David Cameron to make a treaty change in Europe


dependant on Britain getting powers back. And David Cameron sounded


keen. Any treaty change, as the last treaty change did, is an


opportunity for Britain to advance our national interest. The Liberal


Democrats were adamant this wasn't going to happen. This Government is


not going to launch some smash 'n grab raid on Brussels on its own.


But this month, that sense sayingal veto, and as a result, strained --


sensational veto, and as a result strained coalition relations.


Europe is the great potential killer of this coalition. It is a


running story, that is the danger. Not one that erupts every nine


months then disappears t will continue to be a theme throughout


this parliament. And could, at some point, as Paddy Ashdown and others


have hinted, break the coalition. David Cameron was rather pushed


into that veto, after Number Ten spectacularly mishandled a


completely meaningless vote on an EU referendum in October. Imposing


the full force of a three-line whip on outraged backbenchers. I'm not


prepared to go back on my word to my constituents. And I'm really


staggered, no, I'm really staggered that loyal people like me, have


actually been put in this position. Which brings us, rather neatly, to


our final headline. The parliamentary drama in 64 though


acts. At the other end of the palace of Westminster, from Big Ben,


is the Victoria Tower, with shelves and shelves of vellum controls,


Britain's laws going back to the 1400s. We, of course, don't needing


to back that far. The big piece of parliamentary legislation this year,


after the budget, was the health and social care bill. Not so much


for what it did, but for what it told us about how coalition


politics worked. The Liberal Democrats managed to get concession


after concession by getting a bit nasty and cutting up rough.


Conservative backbenchers looked on and took note, they realised that


if they wanted to get things their way, well, it is the squeaky wheel


that gets the oil. Not only were there rebellions. The ayes to the


right, 111. Backbench committees came into their own, freed from the


power of the whips, they drove the news forward, where once


parliamentary committees may have helped try to bury news. I would


just like to say, one sentence, this is the most humble day of my


life. I think this was the year of the


backbencher, they were certainly very lively, we have seen a new


fearlessness coming in. You have seen a lack of control, if you want


to put it that way, of the select committees. You look at someone


like Louise Mensch, she doesn't come across when she's in her


committee as someone who is very worried about what the whips or


anyone else thinks about what she has got to say. And you might say,


it is harder to remember the names of ministers who stood out this


year than it is to think of a good clutch of interesting backbenchers.


Funny that. So that's it, our time is up. And


soon, so will 2011's. Above all, this has been another transitional


year in politic, slowly, some times rather cluanky, our politicians


In-depth investigation and analysis of the stories behind the day's headlines with Emily Maitlis. What lies behind French criticism of the UK economy?

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