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Friday 8 June 2012

Fire Up The Argy Bargy

[Update at end of post]

You can tell when the economic situation here in the UK is less than rosy by the digging up of pantomime villains. There is, after all, nothing quite like railing at someone else to take the public’s mind off bad domestic news and maybe bringing the electorate together. And there is no softer target in the pantheon of easily demonised villainy than the Argentineans.

A voice of tolerance and sweet reason

So, following the less than rapturous reception given to their co-sponsorship of the 2020 Tax Commission, the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA), ever ready to court a little cheap popularity while not telling the public about their desire to lower the poverty line, abolish the minimum wage, decimate public transport, end free education for all to age 16, and dismantle the NHS, has seized its opportunity.

The TPA has figured out that the UK, being a subscriber to the World Bank, underwrites loans (not “funding”, though) to Argentina, the effective amount being just over £200 million. This is not the largest sum imaginable. And Argentina’s total indebtedness to the World Bank, at just over $16 billion, is only 12% of its pile of external debt. But, heck, these are Argies we’re talking about.

Yes, it's them again

So the TPA has wheeled out the spin and dishonesty machine, telling that President Kirchner has been sounding off about the Falkland Islands, which nobody gave a fig about in 1979 when Nicholas Ridley told the Commons we couldn’t afford to keep them on and was proposing a deal with Buenos Aires to effectively offload them. But now we’ve gone to war over them, and there may be oil nearby.

But, as I pointed out some time ago, the idea that Argentina would ever do more than plead for negotiations is ludicrous. The TPA isn’t about to let that inconvenient fact into their world, though. Instead, Argentina is described as “a middle-income country” with “no pressing humanitarian need for aid”. Ho yus. Let’s have a shufty at the CIA World Factbook, shall we?

GDP per capita is less than half that of the UK, and only 65% that of Greece. The percentage living below the poverty line is over twice that of the UK. Argentina entered the new Century with almost a third of its population lacking secure access to basic health care, an area where the World Bank has been active, and successful. Health outcomes are much improved.

Not, of course, that the TPA wants to tell you this. Instead, they have roped in the usual suspects, the Guido Fawkes blog “The Argies are no friends of ours”, and their pal Donal Blaney, who wants Argentina kicked out of the G20, a suggestion magnificent in its sheer idiocy and a move which, if enacted, would increase the prospect of further default. And then nobody would get their money back.

Still, nothing like stoking up a bit of hate, is there? Keeps the kiddies occupied.

[UPDATE 1745 hours: FullFact has shed some more light on the gestation of the TPA claims, which have followed a Parliamentary question tabled by self-promoting Tory MP Priti Patel. From this the TPA has produced another of its pretentiously titled "research notes".

However, as FullFact has noted, the Treasury has advised that, despite the figures for Argentina's liability to the two organisations that come under the World Bank umbrella, the UK merely underwrites loans in general from the banks, and that "It is therefore not possible to calculate a potential UK liability from these loans".

Moreover, World Bank loans are not "British aid money" as the Mail asserts. And it is very noticeable that the Mail piece has copied and pasted parts of the TPA assertions without quotes, a mistake that I'm sure they will rectify, if only well after the readers have made up their minds the way that Paul Dacre has decreed that they should]

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