Last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer acknowledged – in public! – that he would no longer be able to achieve what he and the coalition government had set out to achieve: tackle the deficit in one Parliament. This was big news. However, the consensus across press seemed to be that he ‘played a bad hand well’. But Osborne didn't just play a bad hand well. He arrived at the House of Commons with his pack amiss but paraded as though flourishing a straight flush. What a card. Boy George, like Hot Chocolate, believes in miracles.
The economic outlook is miserable. To make matters worse, on Friday the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, delivered her grand Edikt: namely, Europe lurching towards a fiscal marathon. Or marathon fiscal. I don’t know. I have studied a few European languages and the silly sausages tend to get their nouns and adjectives muddled up.
Which is what Frau Merkel’s fiscal union is: muddled up. It isn’t going to happen, at least not without a sizeable quantity and frequency of bloodletting. A marathon, she says. Now I’ve run a marathon or two and I can assure you Angie, you enter into it in the highest of spirits but come miles 16, 17 and 18, you begin to wonder why you embarked on this godforsaken adventure. Which translated for you (in die Zeit, nicht deutsch) means somewhere around March 2013.
Now, Mutti, you don’t seem the sort to have run a marathon (Berlin’s a bit testy, whereas Edinburgh, ach, even Alex Salmond could get through that), so allow me to spell it out.
You begin with the most effervescent air of confidence. It feels crowded – and of course, you know this, with those 27 troublesome trucks amassed around you, jockeying for position – but somehow you inhabit a space of your own. You have trained hard and waited long for this moment. Single-mindedly you shall run, no deviation, in a straight line to the finish.
Miles one, two, three, four, you’re just warming up. You revel in the gushing of onlookers – oh, how brave, courageous, magnificent you are to take on such a challenge!
Now you are into your stride. You push on through miles five, six, seven and eight (next summer for you) and you feel on top of the world. Everyone’s getting along, your legs still feel powerful, fresh, the sun is on your back, and all is – how do they say it in Germany? – glücklich.
At mile eight, so the experts say, you should suck on your first energy gel. Or gel energy. I like to eat jellybeans because those gels give me the runs but the choice is yours, Angie. You might think of this as a bit of quantitative easing (you do know you’re going to have to concede that, don’t you?), or in practical terms, something for nothing. That’s what the energy gels will feel like in another eight to ten miles’ time.
Pretty soon, you will have reached the halfway point. This is psychologically crucial because from now on you can count downwards. 12 miles to go. 11 miles to go. 10 miles to go. Single figures!
By this point – what did I say, March 2013? – that might be what you are looking at. Single figures. The number of fellow Europeans you’ve crossed the i’s and dotted the t’s with.
Then you hit the Wall. Le mur. Der Wand. You wonder why you ever thought this would be a good idea. Every step is painful, another Polish, British or similar apparatchik whining about this, that or another repatriation or renegotiation. The lactic acid builds in your muscles, wheezing inhabits the lungs and every last drop of glycogen departs your being. Eat another jelly bean. Nothing. What was that I said about something for nothing?
Miles 20 to 24 are probably the worst of all, so make sure you don’t block off summer and autumn 2014 for your holiday. That’s when you’ll need to be on the ball – and I don’t mean watching the World Cup from Brazil. Your whole strategy could unravel in these few crucial steps. Resources are always tight over the hotter months. If you’re on holiday, you’re on holiday. If you’re not on holiday, you wish you were on holiday. If you don’t wish you were on holiday, your opinion probably shouldn’t be trusted.
And so you stumble, hobble, trip and blunder towards the finish line. The finish line to your two-year Geschäftsjahr Marathon.
Was it worth it? It will feel like it. It will. Not then, but it will. The great American athlete Frank Shorter once said that the marathon is all about energy management.
“I had planned to run it like a track race with strategic surges to blow up my competitors by putting them into oxygen debt, so that is the way I prepared.”
Money, lubricating money, is the oxygen to the eurozone. German money is the purest of them all. Is that what you really mean, Angie, when you talk about marathons?