Thursday, 29 April 2010

Greece's path out of the eurozone

Never quite believed it until today. The markets can see it. The EU seemingly hasn't quite accepted it. But Greece is on a path heading out of the eurozone.

The prospects for the EU's embattled currency have worsened considerably in the last couple of days. First Greek debt was further downgraded to junk status and then it emerged that its problems are causing a loss of debt confidence for other eurozone countries.

Both Portugal and Spain have suffered new credit status downgrades and the OECD secretary general went so far as to describe the potential for contagion as 'like ebola'.

Markets and politicians once thought that the banks were too big to fail. Now it seems they are starting to realise that they have made the same false assumption about the euro.

Fears confirmed

The continued testing of the sustainability of Greek debt shows how market suspicions have lingered that the much-promised EU-IMF bailout was all for show, announced in the hope that real action would not be needed.

Those suspicions have only been reinforced by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, yesterday making it clear that, despite the precarious situation, discussions about the Greek cash injection are going to continue for several days yet.

One of the EU's plethora of 'presidents', Herman van Rompuy, perhaps feeling a little neglected from this process, has even been talking about an 'emergency' summit. But not until 10 May.

Standard, slow-moving EU - far too slow for the 21st century world.

The empty reality behind the EU's currency-without-government is nothing new to EU-watchers, but the real surprise is that the markets have bought the euro charade for so long.

Bailout blocks

That the markets have had little faith in the EU's words about backing Greece and have continued to test the situation can be no surprise, given the number of obstacles in the path to Greece avoiding a debt spiral and default.

First, for the eurozone countries to approve their €30bn share of the bailout (the further €15bn coming from the IMF) will involve many already themselves struggling with high debt, sluggish economies and bad-tempered public stumping up large sums for Greece.

This will only worsen others' debt problems, hamper economic recovery and cause further public unrest.

Second, as many are warning, the initial €45bn may buy Greece time but that amount will be far from the end of the financial support the country will need. Is there an appetite elsewhere in the eurozone for further bailouts and larger amounts in the future?

Third, even if the EU - propped up by the IMF - finally agrees to hand over the cash, the accompanying demands for further drastic cutbacks in public spending in Greece are likely to be so stringent that an already distressed and protesting public will not accept them.

Greece's umbrella private sector union, the GEEE, has already called a general strike for 5 May to protest against the "neoliberal extortion and demands [of the EU and IMF] to flatten the financial and job rights of workers" and other major unions have agreed to join in.

Fourth, there seems to be a clear case that the eurozone cash injection for Greece would breach the 'no bailout' clause in the EU treaty - a legal situation that a group of German professors are threatening to test, if the bailout is approved.

An injunction from the German Constitutional Court would freeze all aid for Greece while the case is pending, which may take weeks or months.

Finally, in any case, is Greece's total debt burden now too high for cash injections and such 'internal deflation' methods to restore competitiveness? Many are coming around to the view that a debt spiral is already underway and billions injected now would be just throwing money away.

Final shot

Only the fact that French and German banks are up to their eyes in Greek debt suggests the EU's bailout efforts will continue to the bitter end.

The EU's final shot at calming the market may involve offering far larger amounts than the present €45bn - amounts that may be seen by the markets as offering a more realistic long-term solution for Greece.

But in the absence of major IMF involvement - a situation against which the EU has a pompous, ideological objection - doubts will still linger about the capacity of eurozone countries to afford, and to deliver politically, such levels of cash.

Greek choice

What becomes clear from looking at the questions and obstacles above is that Greece is out of options other than default or voluntary, Uruguay-style (pdf) debt 'reprofiling'.

The key question for the euro comes in the implications of this outcome for economically connected countries, especially those sharing a currency.

Ireland has already felt the implications of currency connection, seeing their borrowing costs rise so far by €3m a year as a result of the Greek crisis. Greece is already dragging the eurozone down with it.

Worse, unless there is a clear isolation of Greece from the eurozone, it's hard to see how a restructuring of Greek debt will avoid knocking the confidence of buyers of other eurozone government bonds, provoking even bigger crises in other already finely balanced economies like Spain and Portugal.

The question that the EU and IMF may be struggling with, that is taking them so long to resolve, may be: might the billions of Greek aid on the table be better spent backing a 'new drachma' and curbing inflation - giving the country's economy a real competitive boost - than trying fruitlessly to ward off an inevitable debt default?

Friday, 23 April 2010

Leaders' stale old debate on the EU

The part of last night's second TV debate between the party leaders devoted to discussing the European Union proved mostly a stale rehash of the same old inaccurate lines - particularly from Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown.

As ever, they moved to shut down any focussed debate about the realities of the EU with a combination of smearing David Cameron's choice of political allies and of asserting that legitimate questions about the extent of the EU's powers indicated a wish not even to work with other European countries at all.

As if the only possible form of co-operation between countries is an EU-style transfer of political decisions to unaccountable, central institutions.

It's a low grade tactic that's deployed time and again by the EU lobby to subvert an honest debate about the true goals of the EU and the nature of Britain's relationship with it.

Everyone agrees with the need for co-operation between countries on the issues that affect us all. But the EU is entirely about political integration and the real debate is about how far it has gone, whether centralised decisions in EU institutions is a practical or democratic way to govern a group of very diverse countries, and what should be done about this problem.

But neither Clegg nor Brown want to engage in that debate because they know their unswerving ideological support for giving the EU ever more powers at the expense of our democratic national institutions is both unjustifiable and completely out of step with public opinion.

Why else would the pair of them have expended so much political energy wriggling out of promises made at the last election to give people a referendum on the EU Constitution / Lisbon Treaty if not to prevent the public blocking their plans? They knew we would, given the chance.

From their point of view, any debate about the EU must be quickly diverted and frustrated by the setting up of false dichotomies, distractions and plain old name-calling.

Brown's 'Big Lie'

Typifying this approach, Gordon Brown resorted to his favourite Big Lie on the issue, asserting that 3 million jobs depend on Britain's 'membership of the EU'.

In reality, the 3 million jobs figure comes from a National Institute for Economic and Social Research study into the impact of UK-EU trade.

But given that trade with European countries isn't dependent solely on EU membership, and trade would clearly not halt if we changed our relationship with the EU, it is not honest to suggest as Brown did that 3 million jobs would be at risk.

Clegg chimed in with the idea that you can only change the rules of clubs you're a member of by 'getting stuck in'.

But the truth is neither he nor Brown intend to 'get stuck in' at all, as their behaviour over the Lisbon Treaty showed.
If Brown truly tried to change the EU's rules or goals during the negotiations that resulted in the EU Constitution / Lisbon Treaty, you wouldn't notice it from the long list of extra EU powers to which he agreed.

Lib Dem dishonesty

Clegg also tried to distract from how he broke his promise made at the last election to support a referendum on the EU Constitution / Lisbon Treaty, by saying he would give people a say on the 'real question' - whether we should be 'in or out' of the EU.

However a glance at the Lib Dem manifesto confirms that the pledge is only for an in or out referendum "the next time the British government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between Britain and the EU".

Lib Dem 'small print' that provokes several further questions about the pledge's value.

First, what is a "fundamental change" if the EU Constitution / Lisbon Treaty wasn't and, given how the Lib Dems wriggled out of their last EU referendum promise on the grounds that even the EU Constitution / Lisbon Treaty did not present such a change, what's the betting they will wriggle out of this new referendum pledge by claiming exactly the same about the next EU treaty?

Second, why is it necessary to wait until the next treaty change is proposed before holding this 'in or out' referendum? In practice, we could terminate our EU relationship at any time we choose. So might this stipulation be there because, having battled for eight years against French, Dutch and Irish public opposition to get the EU Constitution / Lisbon Treaty ratified, there's little prospect of another EU treaty for many years to come. And, consequently, such a stipulation means little prospect of the Lib Dems having to deliver such a referendum?

Far from Clegg's glib TV comments, reading the small print of the new Lib Dem referendum promise reveals all. They won't pledge to hold that 'in / out' referendum immediately, because they clearly still want to avoid giving people any say on the EU at all.

Cameron's contribution

The responses of both Clegg and Brown to questions on the EU issue during the TV debate can each respectively be described in one word: dishonest and distraction.

In contrast, David Cameron's recognition that powers should not be transferred to the EU without people being asked directly, and his proposals to get powers back from the EU, have merit as a start to securing the change we need.

But he clearly wasn't able to resist a bit of stale mantra-reciting of his own.

A disappointment from among his own comments was the re-emergence of the lame old Tory 'In Europe, not run by Europe' line. It's a ridiculous idea because, as anyone with even the slightest knowledge of the way the EU works will know, you can't be in the EU but not run by the EU.

Steadily taking over the running its member states, in the place of national governments, is the EU's fundamental mission and goal.

Prize, however, for most ridiculous line of the night must still go to Nick Clegg, who probably thought he was being clever in defending the EU by saying that "the weather doesn't stop at the cliffs of Dover".

In fact, it rebounded on him quite badly by sounding so narrow-minded. Of course, the weather doesn't stop at the Polish border or Mediterranean coast either.

Final judgement

What was clear overall was that only one leader on the TV stage - David Cameron - was criticising the extent of the EU's powers and proposing to seek some reversal of that situation.

Whereas both Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown were defending the undemocratic status quo and showed no indication they wouldn't sign even more powers over to the EU given the chance in office.

But the most fundamental problem with the TV event was the short amount of time devoted to debating an organisation that membership of which will next year alone cost Britain £7.6 billion (net), that even so hasn't been able to get its accounts fully approved by auditors for 14 years in a row, and which according to German government estimates may now be behind as many as 80% of our new laws.

Is that all the high profile time that such an important issue gets during this election campaign, and how can its many and full implications possibly be explored in such a short period of discussion?

In fact, the EU problem deserves a 90 minute leaders' debate all of its own.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Dutch EU cuts pledge leads way for Tories

All the major parties competing in the forthcoming Dutch general election are supporting a multi-billion euro cut to the country's payments into the EU budget.

Ahead of the Dutch vote on 9 June, both the likely fourth-placed VVD and front-running CDA parties propose bringing the contribution paid by the Netherlands into line per capita with those of France and Germany.

According to EUobserver, the result would be Dutch payments to the EU being cut by around half from their current annual level of €5.3 billion (£4.6bn).

Other Dutch election front-runners, the centre-left PvdA and the Freedom Party, also support a cut.

UK contribution

According to the recent Budget documents, last year Britain handed over £6.4bn (net) to the EU and in the coming year, at a time when our next government is likely to be cutting public services towards reigning in our deficit, that net amount is due to rise to £7.6bn.

This is even more than the £6bn involved in the proposed rise in National Insurance contributions that caused such a huge fuss at the start of this general election campaign.

And so far other 'big ticket' items of government spending like the Trident nuclear deterrent and the ID cards scheme have all featured in debates about cuts.

But at no point on the campaign trail has a politician or journalist questioned the scale of money Britain will next year alone flush on the EU and what we're getting for those billions.

This is especially odd since auditors have not been able to fully approve the EU's accounts for an unjustifiable 14 years in a row and there are regular reports detailing extraordinary levels of waste and fraud.

So not even auditors can fully explain where the billions countries pay to the EU actually end up.

Vote winner

The move by leading Dutch political parties to cut the amount of public money the country wastes on the EU has proved immensely popular, with a survey showing 63% of voters support the idea.

So not just would Britain be far from alone or isolated in Europe in demanding a cut to the amount of public money the EU consumes, but the news also shows that - for the British party that made a similar pledge - the policy is likely to be a big vote-winner.

Not surprising, since such a move would show that party to be serious about the tricky task of tackling national debt levels by chopping waste and preserving key public services.

Ahead of tomorrow's 'foreign affairs' TV debate between the party leaders, during which David Cameron must produce some striking ideas to grab support and win back lost ground, now is the perfect time for the Conservatives to champion EU cuts.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Lib Dems guilty of major breach of trust

For Nick Clegg to attempt today to don the mantle of trust and honesty in British politics is the most laughable idea that has yet been put forward during this election campaign.

This man seems to think he can say one thing and be believed, despite having so recently and so conspicuously behaved in a completely different way.

The dangerous game he is playing with such a strategy is that anyone with a memory will see that he is trying to treat voters like fools and, in doing so, only discrediting himself.


At the last general election, the Liberal Democrats promised to support a referendum on the EU Constitution. "Ratification", they said in their 2005 manifesto, "must be subject to a referendum of the British people."

But when, in March 2008, the opportunity came to vote in the House of Commons in support such a referendum - the EU Constitution having been revived and re-named as the Lisbon Treaty - Nick Clegg instructed his party to abstain.

Despite the influential House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee - whose job it is to scrutinise EU legislation on behalf of MPs - confirming that the Lisbon Treaty was "substantially equivalent" to the EU Constitution, Nick Clegg and other leading Lib Dems conducted a charade claiming that the two documents were completely different.

The chairman of that committee, Labour MP Michael Connarty,
said during a debate in the House of Commons: "Every provision of the Constitutional Treaty, apart from the flags, mottos and anthems, is to be found in the Reform Treaty. We think that they are fundamentally the same, and the Government have not produced a table to contradict our position."

This view was backed up by a second cross-party group of MPs - the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee -
which concluded that "there is no material difference between the provisions on foreign affairs in the Constitutional Treaty which the Government made subject to approval in a referendum and those in the Lisbon Treaty on which a referendum is being denied."

And at the time there was a cacophony of other European leaders claiming that the EU Constitution had been preserved in all but name.

They said it

Valery Giscard d'Estaing, chief architect of the original EU Constitution,
writing in Le Monde, said of the Lisbon Treaty: "Looking at the content, the result is that the institutional proposals of the constitutional treaty … are found complete in the Lisbon Treaty, only in a different order and inserted in former treaties ... Above all, it is to avoid having referendum thanks to the fact that the articles are spread out and constitutional vocabulary has been removed."

Hans-Gert Poettering, then president of the European 'parliament', said in a letter to M. Giscard d'Estaing:
"I had the feeling that the voice of the European Parliament had been heard and that the essentials had been saved, even if we had to give up calling it 'a European Constitution' ... "

German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said: "
The fundamentals of the Constitution have been maintained in large part… We have renounced everything that makes people think of a state, like the flag and the national anthem."

Jose Zapatero, the Spanish Prime Minister, said: "A great part of the content of the European Constitution is captured in the new treaties"

Bertie Ahern, then Irish PM, said: "They haven't changed the substance - 90 per cent of it is still there."

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish Prime Minister, confirmed: "The good thing is...that all the symbolic elements are gone, and that which really matters – the core – is left."


Either the Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems thought they knew better than all these European leaders and, somehow, believed that the Lisbon Treaty was in fact 'completely different'.

Or, blinkered by their evident long-term fanaticism for passing ever more powers from our elected parliament to the European Union, they knew the truth but set out to deceive the public and deny us the say we had been promised.

Worse, having abstained in the House of Commons to ensure the treaty passed, the Lib Dems then voted against a referendum in the House of Lords - flip-flopping to vote whichever way it took to ensure the anti-democratic treaty became law without people being given the say we were promised at the last election.


The whole process of how the EU Constitution was revived after the French and Dutch 'no' votes and re-presented in order to avoid further public votes was a blatant deceit, endorsed by Gordon Brown and in which the Liberal Democrats - led by Nick Clegg, Chris Huhne and Ed Davey - actively participated.

Clegg and many in his party behaved in a deeply hypocritical and dishonest way, saying one thing and doing another.

They betrayed promises given at the last election and such behaviour should not be rewarded with votes at this election if we are to have a chance of achieving in the future the quality of democracy that we deserve.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Euro nears IMF-backed bailout over Greek debt

The EU's decade-old single currency experiment faces failure as early as this week, as Greece's debt crisis becomes critical.

In a new bid to shore up investor confidence, eurozone countries together with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over the weekend agreed a £26bn (€30bn) package of loans to be made available to Greece at a below-market interest rate of 5%.

The need for greater clarity on a safety net for the financially embattled country rose on Thursday as the interest rate on Greek government debt hit a new high of 7.5%.

On Friday credit rating agency Fitch added to the pressure by further downgrading the country's creditworthiness status to a level that, should other major agencies follow, would prevent large institutional investors from buying Greek government bonds.

Greece is currently faced with debts of nearly £267bn (300bn) - 12.7% of GDP. As its currency cannot fall in value to increase the country's competitiveness, its recovery plan involves further heavy borrowing on the bond markets and a punishing programme of public spending cuts plus higher taxes.

However last week's double blow made it increasingly unfeasible that the country would be able to borrow its way out of its economic problems.

IMF props euro

According to the Daily Telegraph, the amount each eurozone country will be expected to contribute to the bailout will be in proportion to the amount each puts into the European Central Bank.

The effect will be to drag other already highly indebted eurozone countries like Ireland, Spain and Portugal - all currently imposing their own harsh austerity measures - further into difficulties.

The only barrier to money being handed over to Greece is now the unanimous agreement of all eurozone member countries.

However, the contribution the IMF will make to the package is not yet clear.
Some say the IMF will "co-financed" the deal - others that the IMF will provide an additional "top-up" loan, should it be required.

But in any arrangement, IMF intervention to prop up the financial integrity of the eurozone will signal the ultimate failure of the EU's monetary union project.

Public response

The extra burden of funding the Greek bailout on their own economic recovery is unlikely to be received warmly by the public in many eurozone countries.

To calm public opinion over the cost of a potential bailout, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced to insist that any loans made to Greece must be at a market rate - a caveat that has been thwarted.

Yet, as the biggest contributor to the ECB, Germany will also have to stump up the lion's share of the bailout funds.

Critical sale

As earlier talk about a financial safety net for Greece failed to calm the markets' fears, the EU will be hoping that this fleshed-out deal will boost confidence ahead of a new bond sale by the Greek government.

This week's sale will be a critical indicator as to whether investors are sufficiently reassured about the safety of Greek debt or whether they will continue to test levels of commitment to providing the country with financial support.

Should the sale not succeed, the question will fast become; just how many billions are the IMF and the eurozone's other member countries willing to splash to prop up the fundamentally misconceived euro project?

Friday, 9 April 2010

Electoral credibility depends on pledging EU cuts too

Recent reports have warned that Britain faces losing its triple-A credit rating unless 'strong' action is taken after the election to cut levels of public debt.

A fortnight ago, the ratings agency Fitch said it was "uncomfortable with the fiscal adjustment path set out by UK authorities" and called for "more credible and stronger fiscal consolidation plans during 2010".

Fellow agency Moody's, meanwhile, spoke out to say that Britain had moved "substantially" closer to losing its AAA status and, at the end of March, Standard & Poors declared that the level of government debt may become "incompatible with an 'AAA' rating".

Most recently, one of the world's most powerful investment houses gave notice that Britain's AAA credit rating could be lost within a year.

The Independent reported that Scott Mather, the head of global portfolio management at the world's largest bond investor - Pacific Investment Management Co (Pimco) - said, "Miracles are needed in the next six months in order to keep economic growth in the developed world."

Looming debt trap

Alarm bells should be ringing loudly. Britain's AAA credit rating isn't merely a status symbol. Its loss would label Britain as a riskier lending prospect and, as a result, the cost of national borrowing would rise.

And when borrowing this year alone is forecast to hit £167bn, a higher interest bill could spark a spiral of higher taxes and faltering growth that could prove fatal for financial stability and prosperity.

For all the media circus of the election campaign, we are being asked to elect politicians who will have to walk a financial tightrope over that debt trap.

And so far none of them seem to be taking the problem seriously enough to be up to the job.

Major cuts to public spending - very likely public services too - will be needed. That much is being said.

But to decide which party has the credibility to govern and deserves our vote, we must be told where their axes will fall.

State the obvious

One particular point is already clear to many. We can no longer afford to splash multi-billion pound sums every year on propping up the European Union's wasteful activities.

So far, much heat and argument has been generated about the £6bn at stake over the proposed rise in National Insurance contributions.

But where is the debate about the equally substantial £6.4 billion (net) the EU cost us last year - 'taken out of the economy', if you subscribe to Gordon Brown's own rhetoric. Handed over to an organisation that hasn't had its accounts fully signed off by auditors for an unjustifiable 14 years in a row.

Surely a large and much clearer example of waste than almost any other element of government spending? But which journalist has asked Gordon Brown or David Cameron to either justify or cut this?

More relevantly, what will either party do to cut the £7.6bn that recent Budget documents show the EU will cost our new government over the year ahead?

Time must be called on where that money ends up; MEP junkets to the Canary Islands, sponsorship of dubious cultural projects, subsidised skiing holidays for the families of EU officials and much more waste.

Reality check

These are serious times and even enthusiasts in principle for the European Union must recognise that continued provision of many valued public services and even the stability of the economy are today at such grave risk that funding the grand ideals but wasteful reality of today's EU is a luxury that Britain can no longer afford.

Maybe now would in fact be a good time to discuss whether whole EU institutions which serve no coherent purpose, like the European Parliament - merely existing to provide a thin veneer of democratic respectability to the EU structure - should face the axe.

Imagine the savings! No more MEPs to pamper, grand buildings and facilities to maintain or that monthly circus back and forward to Strasbourg. No more six-figure salaries, expenses, travel allowances or multitude of other perks that - according to think tank Open Europe - cost us £1.8 million a year for each MEP.

A recent Daily Express report puts the figure as heading up to £2.1 million for each of the EU's 736 MEPs, nevermind the legions of support staff.

Really, would we miss MEPs? With our economy in dire straits, is it really such a hard decision to cut that all away, rather than slash much more valued public services?

In any case, for national ministers to get together periodically to discuss how to co-operate on the issues that affect us all, it isn't fundamentally necessary for the EU to be as politically centralised or have such a massive central budget as it wields today.

Wealth redistribution

Superstate ideology has long overtaken necessity. The EU has expanded way beyond its original purpose to the extent that its institutions and policies are now swallowing up far too much of Europe's financial resources.

Now these resources have become so critically scarce, they absolutely must be redirected - spent on the ground around Europe supporting economic recovery, rather than on glass palaces full of extra layers of lawmakers in Brussels.

Superstate enthusiasts, of course, like to downplay the EU's massive £116 billion budget by comparing it to the even bigger figure of the continent's total GDP. They conjure up an ocean to try to make a sea of money look like a drop. It's the oldest political trick in the book and, by now, surely the lamest.

So who in this election will show in the weeks ahead that they are serious about protecting public services, limiting the burden of taxes, and combatting obvious financial waste - by making clear that the £7.6bn ear-marked for the EU in the coming year will be the first piece of public spending under their axe?

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Now double standards on democracy

Suddenly, Gordon Brown is a convert to holding referendums.

In 1997, we were promised a referendum on the euro, should the government ever decide to recommend membership.

There was much talk of '5 economic tests', but most could see that the real reason the vote was never held was that, contrary to the government view, people would have voted overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the pound.

In 2005, we were promised a referendum on the EU Constitution.

But when, having been rejected by the French and Dutch peoples in their own public votes, it was renamed as the Lisbon Treaty - "substantially equivalent" to the EU Constitution, according to the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee - the government nevertheless played out a charade that it was a completely different document and shamefully wriggled out of their election promise.

Here in 2010, another referendum 'promise' is now being dangled before us by the same people who have repeatedly failed to deliver such promises in the past.

In a
speech to Centre Point yesterday, Brown proposed a public vote on reform of the electoral system for the House of Commons and on changing the House of Lords to make it elected.

Necessary changes, you may think. But why does such a domestic rearrangement warrant a referendum if transferring the actual decision-making powers of those institutions to external bodies beyond meaningful democratic control apparently doesn't?

Brown's double standards are exposed once again.

As a result of his plans, "Britain’s democratic future", he said, "will not belong to any politician or party. It will be up to the people."

Mere months after handing over a range of new decision-making to EU institutions and denying any of us the say on that fundamental shift of power that he promised us at the last election.

Actions, not words. Brown has already shown very clearly his real attitude to democracy.

There has indeed "been a fundamental rupture in the bond of trust between those who serve, and those who they are sworn to serve."

Gordon Brown's problem is that he himself has acted so shamefully, and so conspicuously, to diminish our democracy that it is now far too late for him to hope to regain that trust.

In truth, those who act to degrade democracy deserve only to lose their position within in.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Brown's double standards on jobs and public spending

It's day two of the general election campaign and the usual suspects are already trying to take voters for fools.

Business secretary Peter Mandelson was first on the stump this morning, making a speech to the Foreign Press Association.

Mandelson, a powerful yet unelected government minister, seems to enjoy inexplicable credibility from the media - even when talking about trust and honesty in politics. Can the media already have forgotten how Mandelson's own actions twice previously caused him to be sacked from the cabinet?

His latest argument about an opposition party being too 'inexperienced' for government is nothing more than an argument that government must never change - that only the experienced should govern. An argument against democracy itself.

Admittedly, not an entirely unexpected point of view, coming from someone known for his enthusiasm for the European Union. His favouritism for technocracy over democracy has long been clear.

But sadly the media seem to be letting the public down by reporting such anti-democratic sentiments from a senior government minister completely uncritically.

Brazen Clegg

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg also joined the fray early in the day, to claim that this election 'isn't a two horse race'. Despite presumably knowing what the rest of us do - that in reality, unlike Gordon Brown and David Cameron, he is not likely to become Prime Minister.

A much more remarkable claim, however, was his assertion that only the Lib Dems are untainted by corruption and can therefore restore trust in politics.

Firstly it's plainly clear that, like the other parties, Lib Dem MPs were also caught up in the expenses scandal and had to apologise and pay back misclaimed expenses.

But Clegg's claims about trust are especially brazen, given it assumes people have such short memories that we will already have forgotten how he led his party to break a clear 2005 election promise to support a referendum on the EU Constitution / Lisbon Treaty.

Worse, during that process, Clegg engaged in precisely the dodgy backroom deals he accuses the other parties of employing to ensure that his party quietly voted whichever way it took at each stage of the Lisbon Treaty's progress through Parliament - abstaining in the Commons and voting against a referendum in the Lords - to prevent people being given a say on something as important as who decides new laws.

Hardly very trustworthy, or democratic. So who does Clegg really think he's fooling with his 'holier than thou' rhetoric? In reality, such claims just serve to make himself look something of a joker and badly out of touch.

Commenting on the euro today, Clegg also reinforced his party's enthusiasm for handing power over to the EU.

The Lib Dem leader admitted that "we think there is a case for, a long-term case for, considering entry into the euro, which needs to be done with a referendum" but admitted that "eurozone interest rates over the last few years would have been wrong for Britain".

In revealing that he believes we should ultimately join the euro while admitting eurozone interest rates can be wrong for our economy, Clegg displays how his EU-statist ideology trumps the economic stability and prosperity on which many jobs depend. Hardly the best bid for a leadership position in our democracy!

Certainly, given his low grade behaviour over the Lisbon Treaty, it would be a brave person indeed who took seriously his purported commitment to holding a referendum before signing Britain up to the euro.

Brown's £6bn gaffe

At Prime Minister's Questions, a major theme was the government's proposed increase in National Insurance, versus the Conservatives' plans to ditch that increase.

Gordon Brown banged on repeatedly about the dangers of "taking £6bn out of the economy" that the NI increase will raise.

As the BBC reports, Brown said "Take six billion out of the economy now and there is more unemployment, more businesses go under and there is less growth."

"Thousands of jobs would then go", Brown lectured.

Yet this is the man who, last year, despite our growing deficit and massive borrowing, was quite happy to take £6.4bn out of the economy and hand it over to the European Union.

This is an institution about which there are regular reports of financial waste and fraud on a grand scale, and whose accounts have not been fully approved by auditors for an unjustifiable 14 years in a row.

According to the recent Budget documents, next year, if Brown remains Prime Minister, at the same time as he is slashing public services, his plan is to increase our cash payments to the EU to a scandalous £7.6bn net.

So, once again please for the record, Mr Brown. How many thousand jobs has taking such sums "out of the economy" and wasting them on the EU already cost?