Boxing Day and we join the confederacy of dog walkers, joggers and Christmas sofa escapees on Crosby waterfront. The plan when we left home was a bracing stroll along the beach, meandering between Anthony Gormley’s iron men.
It was not to be – the tide was in, and the wind, which in the city had been no more than breezy, was a here an ear-deafening, body-battering roar. The waves pounded the promenade, sending spray far into the dunes beyond.
Skeins of geese headed south, hugging the estuary coastline, working hard to hold their course as the wind buffeted them towards the land. In the distance the cranes of Seaforth docks and the towers of the city glinted silver in the sunlight.
It was a fine morning; away from the wind the day was mild, and has been so for several days – a stark contrast with the icy temperatures this time last year. The air was clear and the views across the estuary towards the Wirral and the Welsh hills were sharp as a knife.
Looking at these photos now I think: this could be somewhere remote – the Scottish islands, perhaps – rather than a place barely ten miles from a city centre. Only the turning blades of the wind turbines out on the horizon hint at something different.
It’s not often that we’ve seen it like this at Crosby. We always seem to arrive when the tide is out and the iron men of Gormley’s Another Place stand erect along the sands – go compare.
Returning to the city and the other reality of the newspapers is a reminder of what else might be blowing in the wind as we edge towards 2012. Assessing the crisis in the eurozone, Aditya Chakrabortty writes in The Guardian that something pretty scary lies in wait on 1 February:
It is almost certain that 2012 is going to be worst year yet for the eurozone. Easily the worst financially, terrible economically and increasingly grim politically.
A good rule of thumb in this crisis is that when a European state pays more to borrow than an ordinary taxpayer shells out for a bank loan, the government eventually has to call in the rescue brigade. For much of November, Italy was borrowing at a rate of 7% – and probably the only thing that has kept interest rates from going higher still is that the European Central Bank (ECB) has been buying Rome’s IOUs.
In other words, the markets trust the Italian state – with its own tax-raising powers – less than it does a couple in Kettering who’d quite like a new kitchen. Which, given that Italy plans to roll over more than €360bn (£310bn) of debt next year, is hardly sustainable for the new prime minister Mario Monti. Indeed, on 1 February, Rome will have to either repay or renew €28bn of loans. Even now, no one has the faintest idea how it will do that.
Over the next couple of months, Italy’s crisis can go one of three ways: either the ECB keeps on buying its bonds, with the blessing of northern-European voters and markets; or ECB head Mario Draghi pledges to fund financially distressed eurozone governments; or Rome gives in and calls for a bail-out. If the last even looks likely, financiers will almost certainly panic that Italy is about to default on its debt. With about a third of the country’s bonds held abroad, this could wreak chaos in world markets – including in Britain, which is by far the biggest foreign owner of BTPs. That’s the sort of event Barack Obama has in mind when he remarks that Europe’s crisis is “scaring the world”.
In the same paper, David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, offers a precis of his book on the summer riots, Out of the Ashes, in which he, too, has a grim prediction for 2012:
In the inner-cities, lighting does strike twice – ask Brixton, Toxteth and Tottenham. Last summer’s riots have been swept under a very big, eurozone-shaped carpet. All the while, the fundamentals of the disorder remain unchanged. Hopelessness still permeates the estates of concentrated poverty and worklessness. People who have no stake in society are the least likely to have respect for it. And those with the least to lose are invariably the first to throw the brick. There is a very real chance the riots will repeat themselves in 2012.
In a nutshell his argument is that the riots were the consequence of ‘two revolutions’, one social and cultural the second economic:
The riots signposted the failure of successive governments to deal with two liberal revolutions: a 1960s social revolution and a 1980s economic revolution. Together they made Britain a wealthier and more tolerant place. But these two revolutions, built around notions of personal freedom, sell Britain short unless they are moderated by other forces. The riots were a reminder that, whether we like it or not, we are heavily dependent on one another. A good life depends on the strength of our relationships with family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and strangers.
Lammy’s conclusion is that ‘we cannot live in a society in which banks are too big to fail but whole communities are allowed to sink without trace’.