A Most Peculiar Friendship

30/07/2015 by

Crises sever old bonds. But they also forge splendid new friendships. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 17: Former Cabinet Minister Lord Norman Lamont leaves the Ceremonial funeral of former British Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher at St Paul's Cathedral on April 17, 2013 in London, England. Dignitaries from around the world today join Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh as the United Kingdom pays tribute to former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher during a Ceremonial funeral with military honours at St Paul's Cathedral. Lady Thatcher, who died last week, was the first British female Prime Minister and served from 1979 to 1990. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Over the past months one such friendship has struck me as a marvellous reflection of the new possibilities that Europe’s crisis has spawned.

When I was living in Britain, between 1978 and 1988, Lord (then Norman) Lamont represented everything that I opposed. Even though I appreciated Margaret Thatcher’s candour, her regime stood for everything I resisted. Indeed, there was hardly a demonstration against her government that I failed to join; the pinnacle being the 1984 miners’ strike that engulfed me on a daily basis, in all its bitterness and glory.

For Lord Lamont, a stalwart conservative politician, an investment banker, and long standing Treasury and cabinet minister under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major, my ilk surely represented everything that was objectionable in the youth of the day.

And yet since I became minister, and especially after my resignation, Lord Lamont has been steadfast in his support and extremely generous with his counsel.[1] Indeed, I would be honoured if he allowed me to count him as a good friend.

Fascinatingly, neither Lord Lamont nor I have changed our political spots much. He remains a solid conservative thinker and politician. And I continue to hold on to my erratic Marxism. Which brings me to the fascinating question: How is such a friendship possible?

The answer is simple: A common commitment to democracy and to the indispensability of Parliament’s sovereignty.

Tories like Lord Lamont and lefties of my sort may disagree strongly on society’s ends. But we agree that rules and markets are means to social ends that can only be determined by a sovereign people through a Parliament in which that sovereignty is vested.

We may disagree on the functioning, capacity and limits of markets, or even on the precise meaning of freedom in a social context. But we are as one in the conviction that monetary policy cannot de-politicised, nor be allowed to determine the limits of a nation’s sovereignty. The notion that a people’s sovereignty ends when insolvency beckons is anathema to both.

The Eurozone crisis has brought us close not because, as some have insinuated, each had his separate brush off with Brussels or Berlin. It did so because post Bretton Woods Europe has attempted to replace the post-war dollar-backed monetary order with a technocratic monetary union. And because the more Europe fails in this endeavour, as it must, the more anti-democratic it becomes in a bid to address economic failure with increasing doses of authoritarian rules.

[1] In a much publicised, recent, exchange, Lord Lamont addressed me as follows: “I would like to welcome a politician, Yanis Varoufakis, who for me has always been fearless in argument but who conducts himself with old-fashioned politeness. I don’t recognise the picture of Yanis Vaourfakis in many newspapers. Yanis, in my experience, is always scrupulously polite, fearless, but rational and always stimulating.”

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