Call me a loser, but Michael Portillo discussing the eurozone crisis is my idea of a great night’s television. The former Thatcherite minister and Conservative leadership contender has reinvented himself as a broadcaster.
His appearances on the politics programme This Week transformed him into a warm television personality. But the former Treasury minister has the credibility to analyse the political and economic implications of the eurozone crisis.
In his latest show, Michael Portillo’s Great Euro Crisis, he starts in recession-torn Greece, visiting homeless shelters and comparing the situation to the US depression of the 1930s.
His Tory instincts are apparent quickly with his appeals for the country to exit the euro while criticising the decision to enter.
Joining the euro allowed Greece to enjoy a booming economy when it feasted on cheap credit. Luxury German cars were imported, Athens hosted the 2004 Olympics and in the same year the national football team won the European championships.
Portillo talks to Greeks who have endured the roller coaster decade about how they have been affected. One person who previously employed 100 people now runs his business with just his son. He is owed money and his daughter is long-term unemployed.
Interestingly, despite their problems each member of the family chooses the euro over the drachma.
“I don’t like the drachma, I think it would take us back not forward,” says the mother of the family. “We had a good time for 10 years. I think the euro made Greece rich. It’s not the euro’s fault if the government made the wrong choices.”
She blames mismanagement by politicians rather than the entry to the euro, which doesn’t support Portillo’s entrenched euro-scepticism.
“The euro has done many good things for Greece but the way our politicians have handled it is going back to how it was before,” says another Greek who has fallen on hard times.
Portillo argues it is unsurprising Greeks feel this way because of the growth but says the economic miracle was a mirage. Spectacular airports, trains and the 2004 Olympics were funded with German and French funds, with no plans to repay.
With a military dictatorship within living memory and economic stagnation in the 1990s Greece is a resilient country. Portillo however claims its economic situation is similar to times before it joined the euro in 1998 and deteriorating. But it flies in the face of the anecdotal reality from journalists, a former finance minister, families and business owners.
Its problems are significant but nobody blames the euro and many favour the straightjacket the currency imposes because they do not trust politicians.
It is a fascinating new perspective on the nation and one Portillo clearly doesn’t expect or accept. He even questions whether the citizens are ready for the economic punishment ahead through austerity.
But he still provides a brilliant analysis with fresh insights and information. It is well worth spending an hour with Portillo to get an understanding of the euro crisis.
Review by Samuel Dale