I’d heard, in recent times, how well the “right wing” former British Finance Minister, Lord Lamont, got on with famously “left wing” current Finance Minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis.
So it was great to test that at a recent investors’ conference in London, where I was introducing Norman Lamont.
Yanis Varoufakis may describe himself as an “erratic Marxist”, but Lord Lamont disagrees...
“Like Yanis, I studied at Cambridge University, and by the standards of the economics faculty there, I don’t think he qualifies as left wing at all!”
Yanis asked me to ask the peer how ironic it was that two people from such polar opposites could get on so well, but it’s clear their political positions are much more subtle than that.
And at the moment, they may well feel that they are, or have been in, a similar leaky boat.
As Chancellor of the Exchequer, Norman Lamont had to support Sterling’s membership of the old European Exchange Rate Mechanism - at, for him, the wrong level versus the Deutschmark. Sterling came under attack for being too weak for its placing - and Norman had to pull the UK out of the ERM.
I think Lord Lamont said that he and Mr Varoufakis first properly talked at an event a few years ago in Australia, where they were taking opposite positions on whether the Euro currency experiment was working. After listening to Norman’s argument in favour of scrapping the Euro, Yanis apparently tore his own speech up!…
In return, a couple of months ago, the peer tried to get his chum into the Reform Club in London, for breakfast. But was turned away because Yanis wouldn’t put on a tie. The club was in the process of changing that dress code, but not in time for the Greek Finance Minister, apparently.
That certainly won’t have fazed Yanis. He’ll probably have had something earlier anyway. He and I have been swapping emails at what must have been 4 or 5am his time. Before and after his visit to the gym!
On both the possibility of a Grexit and even Brexit, what Lord Lamont said to the conference is for the delegates to have enjoyed, so no big report here, in fairness to them.
But I guess a summary would be that Norman will make his mind up on whether a British exit is a good idea, after he sees what concessions the UK is able to wring from the EU. If an exit takes place, though, he thinks it will be much less than a disaster.
Hardly a ringing endorsement either way, I thought.
As for Greece, he thinks the current conditions imposed upon the country are unrealistic. And warns that any Greek exit from the Eurozone will be traumatic for the country - but potentially even more so, through a domino effect - for the Eurozone.