Tuesday 15 October 2019

Mary Kenny: 'Winnie' on the five-pound is like a two-fingered 'V' salute to Europe

Undated file photo of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on his way to a War Council meeting.
Undated file photo of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill on his way to a War Council meeting.
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

IT has recently been announced that the next sterling five-pound note to be printed by the Bank of England will feature Winston Churchill, replacing the social reformer Elizabeth Fry.

The outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, said he was proud to put Churchill on the sterling note, even suggesting that it might henceforth be called "a Winnie" – as in: "I've put a Winnie each way on the 2.30 at Newmarket."

Some feminists are displeased that Elizabeth Fry, the Quaker and advocate for the prison reform system, should be displaced: apart from Queen Elizabeth, Mrs Fry is the only woman to feature on a British banknote.

A mother of 10 children, the Quaker preacher is portrayed on the currency, Bible in hand, ready to evangelise those poor wretches banged up in Newgate jail.

Should she be relegated for a "Winnie"?

Fortunate, perhaps, are the British that they still can have this discourse about who should appear on their money. For as sterling is within their own power and control – or, as much as any traded currency can be – they can put whosoever they like on the notes.

A currency may tell the story of a nation's history, and values, and maybe for that very reason, the European Union made the decision to discard all real figures from the euro notes. The French might have wanted Moliere, the Germans Goethe and the Italians Da Vinci, but the powers that be came to the decision that such examples of national genius would hamper the "ever closer union" that is part of the EU constitution.

There might be jealousy between the nations if one national figure was favoured and another wasn't. Belgium might have advanced Rubens, the Netherlands Vermeer and Spain, Cervantes.

Ireland might have put a bid in for O'Connell, Michael Collins or James Joyce.

So, rather than have an open debate about these great figures, the EU decided to have nobody and nothing in particular upon its notes – generalised bridges, non-specific arches and vague vaulted windows.

It always seemed to me that if a collection of nations cannot agree on common historical portraits on a common currency, then in inevitably, the currency will fissure: it is a metaphor of how different these 27 nations are.

President Michael D Higgins may attract much support for his jeremiads against "austerity", but the austerity of which he complains was surely brought about by the euro itself. The cause of the austerity is, to quote one leading, and critical, economist, Dr Ruth Lea: "Germany's masterplan to turn every other eurozone country into a mini-version of itself" . . . so as to impose and maintain "this dysfunctional currency bloc".

AUSTERITY measures are under attack from various quarters because the "one size fits all" euro prescription is a failure. This is one of the reasons why Spain is on the point of collapse, with a youth unemployment rate of over 50pc. Spain has now had seven consecutive quarters of economic recession, and the May Day street demonstrations expressed much anger against the austerity measures.

Britain has not escaped the problems of the economic recession. Yet the freedom to put Churchill on the currency and thus print its own banknotes is itself a symbol of some fiscal control.

More "leverage" (printing money) can be initiated, which may have an anti-austerity impact.

And we might wonder if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, along with Mr King, made the decision to put Churchill on the fiver just to show the world that they can still put whoever they like on their money. Maybe they should have shown Churchill's two-fingered V-signal!

To be sure, some of the British electorate have shown, over the past few days, that they would like to go even further than affirming the "Winnie".

The 23pc who voted for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP; which could be dubbed "Ourselves Alone") would be happy to withdraw altogether from the European Union. The prospect of unlimited immigration from Bulgaria and Romania at the end of this year is another element of UKIP's appeal.

It is easier to talk about these changes than to bring them about: undoing international treaties is a contractual nightmare.

And it is certainly not in Ireland's interest for Britain to leave the European Union, either: think of the nightmare scenario at the Border.

Departure from the EU is unlikely to occur, but reducing the powers of the EU is a well-supported idea. Nigel Farage's surge in the English local elections, and (in the by-election in the North-East where UKIP came second, ahead of the Tories, and the Lib Dems came 11th) must mean a referendum on the EU sooner rather than later.

And if Mr Higgins would take his arguments against austerity to their logical conclusion – and tell us that what Ireland needs is a return to her own currency – then he might eventually end up with his own face on an Irish five-punt note!

Irish Independent

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