Dawn

Dawn

Monday, May 17, 2021

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 17.5.21

 Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain' 

 

NOTE: Info on Galicia and my Guide to Pontevedra city here.  


Covid 


Spain. So now we know . . . The Spanish government blames lack of trustworthy data on its slow response to the pandemic. The National Security Council says that decisions on how to address the crisis were made with “partial or out-of-date information”. More here on this. One wonders how different this was from every other European country, including the UK - in contrast with Asian countries.


Cosas de España and Galiza 


More bad news for Spain . . . Brits' holiday plans are thrown into chaos by Covid variants, as they're urged to stay away from Amber list countries such as Spain, Italy, France and Greece. Because: Swathes of Europe are largely unvaccinated.


This won't help. . . Appeals for calm fell on deaf ears as revellers filled Barcelona’s streets after the Covid curfew ended. Mass street drinking sessions, or 'botellones', erupted over the weekend after the Spanish government lifted a 6-month state of emergency. Crowds hugged, danced and sang on the city’s streets, with the largest groups gathering on the beaches. Many partygoers were not wearing masks despite it remaining mandatory in all public places in Spain, both inside and outdoors. Perhaps Spain needs a new motto to replace Spain is Different. Maybe: Fun can be fatal.


More here on the plans to change the social security payment system for the self-employed(los autonomos).


Europe's only 'true' desert?


María's Level Ground: Days 41-43


Portugal 


Brits (and Germans, I guess) are flooding back as of today.

 

Quote of the Day: Moral superiority is the curse of our times.


Finally  . . 


Today is a holiday in Galicia - Galician Literature Day. So, much/most/all of the text in our 10-15(sic) regional papers will be in Gallego. I might get to read bits of some of them.


Oh, yes. To add to my woes of yesterday, my coffee machine broke this morning. Though, in this case, I did manage to fix it. But both laptops are still malfunctioning - well, Apple products are so cheap, what can you expect? - and today the IT stores here in Galicia are, of course, all closed.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 16.5.21

 Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain' 

 

NOTE: Info on Galicia and my Guide to Pontevedra city here.   


Covid  


That newish Indian variant: Everything depends on its transmissibility . . . . If it is just 10-20% more transmissible, we will only see a mild bump in new hospitalisations. But if it’s 30-50% more transmissible, the numbers of infections will grow so large that hospitalisations will quickly rocket beyond the heath service's capacity to cope. “At this point in the [UK]vaccine rollout, there are still too few adults vaccinated to prevent a significant resurgence that ultimately could put unsustainable pressure on the NHS, without non-pharmaceutical interventions. If the Indian variant does have such a large transmission advantage, it is a realistic possibility that progressing with all relaxation steps would lead to a substantial resurgence of hospitalisations”.


Cosas de España/Galiza


Bad news. Diminishing optimism?


Good news? The government is reported to be backing off its proposal to make all main roads tollroads in 2024


Someone up in La Coruña has been defrauded by ‘a Frenchman’ who advertised a  €30,000 watch on aa false web page. I wonder if it was the owner of Inditex/Zara, the richest chap in Spain. I mean, who else buys a watch at this price?

 

I’m told you can get a quick turn-round PCR test in Vigo for €30. The UK price range seems to be €70-170. I’ve no idea what accounts for the massive difference, as there seems to be plenty of competition in the UK. 


The Way of the World/Social Media


Taking things to their logical extreme . . . We aren't even free to to retain books in Navaho, Swahili and Euskara.


Free society is finished if we fail to resist this new Dark Age of unreason.  See the article below.


Quote of the Day


I understand the requirement to “get things working again” post Covid. But could we not retain at least something of the modesty and simplicity that has been imposed upon us these past 15 months? Shopping locally, spending less, travelling less and taking a greater pleasure in the natural world? That may be the gift of Covid: a realisation that not everything we did before was terribly good for us, or for the planet.

 

Harry and Meghan are poster children for a strange new kind of ‘activism’ that manages to be cringey, preachy, narcissistic, faintly ridiculous and incredibly remunerative at the same time. 


Finally  . . 


This post is late today simply because I forgot, because of grandfather duties, to write it. And also because I now have charging and printing challenges with both my old laptop and my newish one which I’ve been trying to fix. Another thing I’m trying to do is not kill my daughter for causing one of the problems. Temporarily revised priorities, you might say.


THE ARTICLE 


Free society is finished if we fail to resist this new Dark Age of unreason. With the old arguments over, we’re living through an era in which rational debate itself is rejected: Janet Daley, The Telegraph


Many years ago someone who was not remotely sympathetic to Communism told me that he dreaded the collapse of the Soviet Union because the Cold War balance of threat between the two superpowers was the only thing preventing global chaos. If the USSR ceased to exist, he said, what would follow would be endless outbursts of nationalist territorial disputes and terrorist adventurism. What was then called the Third World (because it was outside the two main power blocs) would no longer be bribed and bullied into some kind of order by the competing interests of East and West and so would be abandoned to its own anarchic ends.


That may or may not have been a sound analysis. You may feel, looking at the Middle East and Afghanistan, that there was something in it. But there was an even more cataclysmic consequence of the end of that almost century-long ideological confrontation between the communist bloc and the West which we are living through now. The Cold War which dominated the politics (and culture) of the twentieth century was not just a military confrontation, it was an argument: a substantive, sometimes cynical but nonetheless genuine, disagreement about how people should live. To engage in it – even to understand it – required knowledge of basic principles, an ability to marshal evidence, a willingness to enter into debate.


In the West where it was legally possible to converse about these things, there was ongoing and very serious discussion of the merits of capitalism and private enterprise vs state ownership of property and a command economy. Occasional fits of repression, or attempts to suppress such debate, would flare up but they never really succeeded in extinguishing the fundamental notion that this was, by its very nature, a conflict of ideas which had to be examined on their merits.


Now that great argument is over. Totalitarian communism is either utterly discredited (as in Russia) or persists in name only (as in China where it has been replaced by totalitarian state capitalism). Both of those nations have more or less reverted to their ancient traditions of tyrannical rule without too much resistance from their populations. It is in the West where the vacuum has caused the most trauma.


In the void left by the absence of that huge, all-embracing disagreement, what has emerged? A rejection of rational dispute itself, a retreat from reasoned debate, of arguments that follow from first principles, of defending a conclusion with evidence or paying due respect to conflicting viewpoints: in short, a culture war in which no ground can ever be given.


Marxism and capitalism in their original doctrinal forms had grown directly out of the Enlightenment: the whole point was to construct political and economic systems that would be beneficial to the majority and which could compete for general approval. Both were corrupted and distorted by human frailties but their idealistic intentions were based on theories and values that could be articulated and defended. As indeed they were, so extensively and exhaustively that people, not infrequently, changed their minds – were converted or “turned” in the case of intelligence agents.


What has replaced all that? Public discourse does not consist of competing arguments any more: it isn’t a proper discussion at all. It is a diatribe in which one side tries to destroy, or prohibit, or totally suppress the other. We have returned to a Dark Age where reason and actual disputation are considered dangerous: where views contrary to those being imposed by what are often nothing more than activist cults can be criminalised. Not only must those who now hold opinions which breach orthodoxy be banned but historic figures who could not possibly have anticipated current social attitudes must be anathematised as well.


Where have we seen this before in the West? When religious authority determined the truth and could prohibit any dissent – when books that might lead to subversive, unacceptable thoughts could become prohibited texts forbidden to anyone not given specific permission to read them. By an extraordinary irony, the Vatican’s list of prohibited books, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (which was only abolished in 1966), included two great Enlightenment thinkers, David Hume and John Locke, who are currently under attack by the new Inquisition which seeks to root out any historic connection with the slave trade.


What is significant is not the modern views that are being propounded but the way they are being enforced. The question is not whether you approve of these opinions but whether you accept that they must not be questioned, subjected to examination, or disputed. Much has been said about the “illiberalism” of what now presents itself as liberal opinion but what is happening goes way beyond simple intolerance. It is a return of something no thinking person expected to see again in the rational West: the banishment, or the hunting down, or the deliberate ruination, not just of explicit opposition but of coincidental association with a tainted position.


This isn’t so much the Middle Ages – which had its own high standards of intellectual rigour even when it was condemning Galileo for heresy: it is a kind of enforced blindness to the process of reason. As a result, the only arguments that may be permitted are about detail within the orthodoxy: do trans rights take precedence over those of biological women? Which forms of speech for describing contentious identities are permissible? How far back must historic guilt be traced?


So we are arguing about how many angels can stand on the head of a pin. What is worse is that once you have devalued argument and evidence, you have no defence against superstition and hysteria: the lunatic conspiracy theorists and the social control fanatics have as much legitimacy as anyone.


This new Dark Age, with its odd combination of narcissism and self-loathing, is a threat nobody saw coming. If the institutions that should resist – universities, the arts, and democratic governments – fall before it, the free society is finished, defeated more resoundingly than it would ever have been by the old enemy.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 15.5.21

 Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain' 

 

NOTE: Info on Galicia and my Guide to Pontevedra city here.  

 

Covid  


Spain. More optimism?


The UK: In contrast, pessimism. The newish Indian variant, being more transmissible and possibly vaccine-resistant, could kaibosh plans for relaxations and delay the return to whatever normal used to be. Overseas summer holidays for Brits are looking less and less likely. You’d have to be pretty optimistic/stupid to book a holiday right now.


An interesting article on Ivermectin and its non-use. A minority view seems to be gaining wider acceptance.


Cosas de España/Galiza 


Mark Stücklin returns to the subject of squatters here, with a warning for those planning to buy property in Spain. Especially those who plan to leave it empty some of the time.


Those new speed limits . . . A foto guide. Not at all confusing. If you never exceed 20kph, you should be OK. Though not in Pontevedra city's one-way streets, of course.


Here's an article on the cleaning of Santiago cathedral. For some reason, the before and after fotos aren’t of the main facade, even though it’s no longer covered in blue plastic, I believe. As for the beautiful Puerta de Gloria, it used to be free to see this but, now it’s been re-painted, this costs €12. Maybe even more now.


I read yesterday about wild boar marauding in our hills but, as yet, nothing as outrageous as this . . . In the latest example of wild boars wreaking havoc in Italy, a group of them cornered a woman in a supermarket car park and stole her shopping.


Portugal 


A 2nd volte face in within 2 days. Now the Portuguese government has returned to the assurance Brits will be allowed into Portugal from Monday, May 17. Not May 30. Despite EU ‘rules’. Hence:-


The UK 


One wonders what this signifies: More than 5m EU citizens living in the UK have applied for settled status, nearly double the number thought to be residents before the 2016 referendum.

 

Religious Nutters/Crooks Corner


My favourite religious nutter: Self-proclaimed Christian “prophetess” Kat Kerr, who thinks there’s football in Heaven, that God will put back any baby lost through a miscarriage, and that God keeps a warehouse in Heaven for anyone who needs (for example) a new kidney, now claims she has definitive proof of angels. Kerr now says she has a picture of “Heaven’s Army” dragging demons, in chains, past the roof of her house. Just imagine what would've happened to this woman in, say, the 15th century. Or even the 19th.

 

English


The neologism cheugy: Pronounced chew-gee.

1. Used on the internet to denote lifestyle trends characteristic of the early 2010s, seen as the opposite of trendy or as trying too hard. Hence cheugs.

or

2. Aesthetics/people/experiences that are basic. Broadly, someone who's out of date.  


Finally  . . .


Irritating things on (British) TV.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 14.5.21

 Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain' 

 

NOTE: Info on Galicia and my Guide to Pontevedra city here.  


My thanks to Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas for a couple of today's items. 


Cosas de España 


Spain hopes to welcome around 45 million foreign tourists this year, just over half the pre-pandemic total registered in 2019, when it was the second-most visited country in the world. Which sounds more than a tad optimistic to me.


Politics: The bogeyman of the right wing - pony-tailed Pablo Iglesias - has retired from the game, after years of appalling abuse from right wing opponents. Giles Tremlett reviews here his impact on Spanish politics, averring that he changed it profoundly, as his party - Podemos - was the first insurgent party to break up the longstanding and corrupt Socialist-PP duopoly. Meaning that now, each of these must rule with a coalition partner or two. 


Be careful when buying your saffron. The police have cracked down on a crime ring passing off 'cheap' Iranian stuff as Spanish. We're told there was a shadowy business network that allegedly used complex financial transactions, real estate purchases and front men to hide profits, while setting up secret warehouses where saffron would be weighed and sorted.  


I've always been  confused by the attitude of the Spanish government to the self-employed - autonomos - forcing them to pay very high social security contributions from the first day. In recent years, a discount has been applied for a short initial period but the current (socialist) government is proposing to markedly reduce contributions for early-stage entrepreneurs and compensate by markedly increasing them for later stage folk. It's said that the Tax Office (La Hacienda) is particularly suspicious of the self-employed, perhaps with some  justification.


Cousas de Galiza 


Two or three years ago, the Pontevedra council said it was going to introduce a limit of 10kph(6mph) in the city and I believe I did see a sign or two in evidence of this. But I also noted that no one seemed to be obeying it so wasn’t surprised when the signs disappeared. Yesterday, I saw a report that this limit is going to be (re)introduced for the city's one-way streets. Of which there are many. Last night I tried to keep to this and, of course, couldn't get out of first gear. And Lenox Napier has written somewhere that, on a motorbike, you'll fall over at this speed. These laws can only be written by 17 years olds who've never driven a car. Or by bureaucrats with too much time on their hands. Or, most likely, under the tutelage of a mayor who really wants to see no cars in his city at all.


Meanwhile, is it a coincidence that - the day after the introduction of a 30kph limit - I saw 6 police cars within an hour in the city? Admittedly with 5 of these being in a petrol station. For reasons I can't begin to guess at. There’ve been official denials of a special campaign but I naturally wonder how truthful these are.


María's Level Ground: Days  39-40


Portugal 


The latest headline: Tens of thousands of Britons hoping for a holiday in Portugal this month had their plans plunged into chaos last night as the country looked set to ban holidaymakers until at least May 30. So, later than the optimistic date of 18 May, cited yesterday.

 

The UK 


At Cerne Abbas in Dorset, there's a hillside chalk carving of a naked giant boasting a huge erect phallus. It dates from Saxon times and was thought to have always been thus. But soil investigation reveals the impressive member was added in the 17th century and was probably created by a chap taking the piss out of  Oliver Cromwell, via a 'political statement', after he'd been forced by the Puritan head honcho to flee to France. Which is nice to know.

 

France


A wonderful country relentlessly let down by its politicians, says the (right wing) writer of the article below. Who fears the country is a pressure cooker waiting to explode.


Finally  . . .


I've recently bought coffee beans from 2 cafés here in Pontevedra city and have paid €17.50 and €12.50 per kilo for them. In the second case this was actually below the price of €15.35 quoted to me by the local company providing it. This week I bought some Portuguese stuff down in Valença at €14.00. Two things surprise me:-

1. The beans I buy normally at Mercadona are only €8.64 a kilo, which must say something about the quality of their product.

2. At the recommended dose of 7gms of beans per helping of coffee in a café (on the side of one pack), each kilo provides 143 cups. At €1.20 a cup this is a gross income (for black coffee) of €171.60. And a net income of:-

17.50: 154.10 

14.00: 157.60

12.50: 159.10

Which seems rather a lot and perhaps explains why so there’s a café every 50 metres or so.


THE ARTICLES 


Barnier’s incendiary immigration U-turn betrays the panic gripping the French elite. France’s pressure cooker politics can only be fixed by a Brexit-style moment of democratic renewal: Allister Heath, Telegraph


What is wrong with France? There is an unmistakable whiff of panic in the Parisian air, a growing sense among sections of the ruling class that France, riven by culture wars, its economy and society in never-ending decline, its housing estates in the banlieues permanently on the brink, is nearing a tipping point. 


For all the sneers, Boris Johnson’s latest electoral triumph did not go unnoticed. What, the more far-sighted intellos ask themselves, will be France’s equivalent of Brexit, if, or rather when, it finally comes? Will it be another 1961 (a failed putsch), 1968 (hard-Left student insurrection), 1981 (communists in government), 1789 (proper revolution) or, hopefully, something milder, more constructive?  The gilets jaunes two years ago were a false alarm, but how will the rage of la France profonde manifest itself next time? Emmanuel Macron has admitted that Leave would win a vote on Frexit, though nobody will want to risk one. It’s a great shame: France, the country in which I grew up, needs a cathartic reset like Brexit, a political earthquake that is neither hard-Left nor hard-Right but which finally empowers the culturally conservative majority.


The country’s woes are many. Crime and disorder remain horribly high; extremist Islamism is rife, despite Macron’s efforts; racism and tensions between communities continue to traduce France’s republican heritage; the economy has been sluggish for years, weighed down by taxes, a bloated state, red tape, militant unions and a residual anti-entrepreneurialism; unemployment is high, especially among the young; and the education system, captured by egalitarian Leftists, is in long-term decline. 


Like in the UK, smaller towns, rural areas and the provinces are in freefall, and economic activity is concentrated in big cities. Yet France’s crisis is far greater than Britain’s, and unlike here a log-jammed political system militates against a rational solution. There is no middle France, anti-technocratic but mainstream radical conservative force. The result: extremist parties of Left and Right enjoy huge support.


The president’s latest gimmick has been to abolish the technocratic super-school he graduated from – the Ecole Nationale d’Administration, alma mater of swathes of the ruling class. There is just one caveat: he is opening a seemingly identikit institution under a new name. The vaccine mess has exposed France’s bureaucracy as pathetically inadequate, and thus further questioned its legitimacy. 


Hilariously, Michel Barnier, the EU’s erstwhile Brexit negotiator, believes he has the answer. Barnier has always been part of the problem, building an undemocratic Europe and causing untold misery with the euro. Yet he craves rewards for his many failings, and fancies himself as president.  In a breathtakingly hypocritical reinvention, Barnier is now calling for the end of all immigration from outside the EU for three to five years, and a rethink of the Schengen agreement. The first part is unbelievably extreme, stolen from Marine Le Pen’s manifesto. It is not racist to want to control and reduce immigration; it is racist to want to ban all non-European migrants and only them. It is also absurd: why not allow exceptions for doctors or entrepreneurs? No Western government has ever gone this far. 


Although ending Schengen is a separate issue, Barnier was probably dog-whistling that he would also like to restrict internal EU movement. It would be an astonishing U-turn from a man who claimed to venerate the indivisibility of the single market. When the British wanted to control immigration, he dismissed them as xenophobic; now that he seeks to tap into France’s anger against the system, a total ban on non-EU migrants suddenly becomes a sensible way of tackling terrorism. Never again believe Eurocrats claiming the liberal internationalist moral high ground.


The backdrop to Barnier’s demagoguery is simple. Le Pen is at 26 per cent in the polls; she would still be defeated in the second round against Macron but only just, grabbing 46 per cent. Much of her support is derived from younger people: she is the first choice of 30 per cent of 25-34-year olds, against just 20 per cent for Macron. She would be a disastrous choice, but many otherwise sensible voters are flirting with her because they think there is no other way of precipitating the shake-up they crave.


Even more ominously, France’s military, including retired generals and serving officers, have made two inflammatory interventions in recent weeks. “If a civil war breaks out, the army will maintain order,” they warned in a letter to a magazine; a poll revealed that the majority of the public agree. The soldiers accused the government of “selling out” to Islamism and slammed those who “scorn our country”. The fury in the army is mirrored in the country’s many police forces, and is deeply unhealthy. 


Meanwhile, Macron’s correct and necessary anti-Islamism keeps morphing into a dangerous and immoral anti-Islam and anti all other minority faiths. Appallingly, one Macron ally this week told off a party candidate for wearing a Muslim headscarf on an election leaflet, claiming it was incompatible with the party’s values. 


France rightly rejects wokery, but otherwise has catastrophically conflated integration with assimilation: it believes the only way to make immigration work is for newcomers to embrace compulsory secularism and sever all connection with their past. Freedom of religion is over: such madness will simply fuel further explosive tensions. Britain’s liberal-conservative solution is hugely superior, and conducive to harmony, freedom and social mobility; we have embraced hyphenated identities. It is obviously and rightly possible to wear the symbols or garments of any religion or none and be fully, proudly British. 


Macron will be remembered as a slightly better French Tony Blair. He has passed some reforms, but his Left-Right fusionism has failed, and the country is dangerously close to falling into neo-fascist or neo-communist hands. France is in desperate need of a Thatcher, and a Johnson, rolled into one: first, to liberalise the economy, then to show that it is possible for a mainstream, respectable candidate to be tough on crime, Eurosceptic and ready to tackle the massive problems in the outer cities. 


France is a pressure cooker waiting to explode. Who can rescue her before it is too late?

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 13.5.21

 Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable

- Christopher Howse: 'A Pilgrim in Spain' 


NOTE: If you want to know more about Galicia or read my Guide to Pontevedra city, click here.    

 

Covid  


Spain: The Prime Minister claims that Spain is "100 days away from achieving herd immunity”. Yes, well. Maybe.


Cosas de España/Galiza


The Minister of Foreign Affairs blames Isabel Ayuso’s ‘Libertad’ program for Madrid for Spain being Amber: “The Madrid region president says that what matters in this country is libertad – going out for beers, going to the bullfights, out and about whenever and wherever they want. What's more, those who say that you have to respect social distance rules and you have to be prudent and responsible are accused of being communists. And what happens is that the infection numbers from Madrid, the worst in the country, count towards the average that the UK uses to put Spain at Amber”.


I’m confused about the new speed limit of 30kph which was supposed to be introduced in villages and towns yesterday. On one of the (admittedly) main roads into and out of Pontevedra city, there are still 80, 60 and 40 signs. And down the bottom of my hill (30 for a long time now), it’s still 50 in a residential area. On said main road yesterday, there was a police patrol at the surprising hour of 11am. Unlikely to be for breath testing, so possibly fining folk doing more than 30 as they approached the city. I wouldn’t be at all surprised.


Talking of roads . . . There were humungous tailbacks at the exits for Vigo airport yesterday, in both directions. This is because one of the main Covid testing centres is in an exhibition hall there. I imagine quite a few folk missed their flights.


Life in Spain . . . When I got a train back from Vigo yesterday, it was 75% empty but, of course, someone was sitting in my allocated seat. And, as usual, there was the standard profuse Spanish apology - on the well-established principle that it's easier and less inconvenient to say sorry than to obey rules.

 

Portugal 


The possible price of unity . . . Thousands of British holidaymakers due to visit Portugal next week may face difficulties entering the country as the EU has banned non-essential travel from non-EU states. To ignore the ban would be diplomatically delicate because Portugal holds the EU presidency. The cabinet will discuss the issue today. If the issue isn't resolved, thousands of British visitors could be turned away at the airport. By the time the Champions League final is due to be held in Porto on May 29, which is due to be confirmed by Uefa today, officials believe that the EU will have ended the non-essential travel ban and British fans will be able to enter the country without difficulties. However, it is thought that the earliest that the EU will change the ban will be Wednesday, 18 May.

 

The UK 


You can't keep AEP down. See the first article below for his optimistic take on the UK economy: Britain’s coiled-spring recovery is now an economic fact, and it looks even stronger than the most giddy optimists had dared to hope. 


You might well think the problem of Scotland for the UK is the same as that of Cataluña for Spain and that most non-Scottish Brits would be against that country’s independence. If so, you’d be wrong on both counts. See the second article below.


The USA


Trump labels Liz Cheney ‘A bitter, horrible human being’. Yet more evidence of the man’s indulgence in ‘projection’.

 

The Way of the World


Amazon ratings. Who's going to be surprised?


Social media


Social media was supposed to to free us all - but it's resulted in a free-for-all where no-one's free, certainly not children

 

English


1. Well, I never . . . The word ‘farm’ came to English from Latin, via Norman French. Its original meaning was ‘a fixed payment or rent for a plot of land.’


2. 'Price matched to' = 'Costs the same as'


Quote of the Day


Thanks to the pandemic, Boris Johnson – the playboy of politics, the Don Juan of Downing Street, the Conservative Casanova – found himself having to make casual sex a criminal offence. 


Finally  . . 


That Peleton ad that I hate . . .



THE ARTICLES


1. As Britain booms again, let us scrub ‘despite Brexit’ from the lexicon. By early next year the UK is set to close the entire economic gap with the eurozone that has built up since the Brexit referendum: Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, Telegraph


Britain’s coiled-spring recovery is now an economic fact, and it looks even stronger than the most giddy optimists had dared to hope. 


Barring any upset from Covid variants or a bond rout, the British economy will be the G7 star this year. That is not in itself surprising. Part of this is a mechanical V-shaped rebound from last year’s exaggerated statistical dip.  


But what may surprise some is the real possibility that the UK will grow faster than a slowing China in 2022 as Rishi Sunak’s “super deduction” on plant and machinery investment unlocks a treasure of excess corporate savings.


It may also outgrow Joe Biden’s America, despite his fiscal trillions and a compliant Federal Reserve. That would crown the first authentic year of Brexit – without pandemic distortions – fundamentally changing global perceptions of Britain’s post-EU reinvention. 


The 2.1% jump in GDP in March blew away consensus. It silences persistent talk that the UK has gained little from early vaccination and is still essentially moving in economic lockstep with Europe. Blockbuster growth of 5pc (20pc-plus annualised) is on the cards for this quarter. 


The pace is so torrid that Capital Economics thinks the UK may regain its pre-pandemic level of output by late summer, with little or no permanent scarring. Investec has pencilled in the sorpasso for September, saying growth could “easily exceed” 8pc this year.


If so, the UK will cross its pre-Covid line long before the eurozone, and a year ahead of the Club Med bloc. On a nominal GDP basis, it has already matched Germany and overtaken France, Italy, and Spain.


This is a remarkable turn of fortunes given that the OECD, IMF, and other voices of the global establishment were predicting something close to perma-slump for these benighted isles in 2021 and 2022. The OECD forecast in December that the UK would be the economic basket case among developed states this year (along with Argentina), limping into 2022 with output still 6.4pc below pre-Covid levels.


It is well known that British households have amassed £130bn of excess savings during Covid. We will find out soon how much of this is pent-up spending waiting to explode. But what is less known is that UK companies are sitting on a further £100bn, some 50pc above normal levels. “We think this is even more important,”  said David Owen from Jefferies.


“The super deduction has cut the effective marginal rate of corporation tax to zero. Companies have all this cash sitting on their balance sheets and it’s a no brainer for them to invest,” he said. The latest CBI survey shows that investment intentions are a whisker shy of thirty-year highs.  


The Bank of England thinks business spending on plant and digital technology will rise by 7pc this year and 13pc next year, matching the IT blitz during the dotcom boom in 1998.


“It won’t be the Roaring Twenties but we are about to ride an investment wave. It’s a Covid story, a net-zero story, and a Brexit story, all coming together in a very optimistic way,” says Owen.


The trade data for March showed that goods exports to the EU have largely regained their prior levels and are above flows last summer when the UK was still part of the single market. Even exports of fish and shellfish have returned to normal. 


“People were far too pessimistic about the magnitude of the hit. The idea that there was going to be a seismic fall in trade after Brexit was always rubbish. Companies adapt,” says Julian Jessop, a fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs.


This export rebound comes despite some harassment. The National Pig Association says 30pc of all UK consignments to the EU are being checked, far higher than for other third countries. Just 1% of pig imports from New Zealand are checked. I will add British pork to my next shopping trip.


We can start to separate teething problems from the structural effects of Brexit, and start to make a coherent judgement on where we stand. What is clear already is that British firms are learning to cope with customs red-tape – because they have little choice, and because the size of the EU market makes it worthwhile. The numbers complaining of UK border disruption have fallen to 7pc from 35pc in early February. 


What is equally clear is that EU firms have lost UK market share to global competitors. Imports from the rest of the world are growing twice as fast, and this divergence is likely to widen when Britain ends its unilateral waiver on customs clearance for EU goods and imposes reciprocal curbs.


The EU’s decision to make cross-Channel trade more cumbersome than flows under other trade deals – as a penalty for refusing to remain a full regulatory satellite – has had one salient consequence so far: it has hurt small European exporters.


There is much that can still go wrong for the UK. Simon Ward from Janus Henderson says the red-hot growth in the money supply risks a “major blow-out” in the balance of payments and ultimately a sterling upset. 


“What is concerning is that the UK’s money growth has overtaken other major areas. It’s crazy that they are still doing QE,” he says. His measure of broad money growth – non-financial M4 – topped 16% earlier this year, the fastest pace since the Lawson credit boom in the late 1980s. This will catch fire if velocity returns to normal.


The Bank of England has underestimated the strength of the rebound and is coming under increasingly ferocious criticism from monetarists. It will have to navigate a treacherous exit from over-stimulus. Any delay in tightening only makes it harder.


Europe too will have its boom. But recovery will start later, due to third wave lockdowns in April. It will be less exuberant when it comes. Industrial bottlenecks will be a bigger relative headwind for the manufacturing hubs of Germany and Italy. Fiscal stimulus is greater than it was but is half-hearted compared to Bidenomics. 


The Commission’s Spring Forecast released on Wednesday said the eurozone would grow 4.3pc this year and 4.4pc next year, implying that most countries will not recoup their lost GDP before 2022. 


The Recovery Fund remains totemic in EU rhetoric but is proving smaller than headline figures suggest. Submissions so far amount to just €433bn, too little to move the macroeconomic needle for the bloc as a whole over a five-year period. Most countries have shunned the loan component, with the notable exception of Mario Draghi’s Italy. “It’s lacklustre,” said Bert Colijn from ING.


My bet: by early next year the UK will have closed the entire economic gap with the eurozone that has built up since the Referendum shock in 2016; by the end of next year it will have regained its pre-pandemic trajectory, almost as if Covid had never happened.


At that point the UK’s maligned economy will have overtaken the eurozone big four and established an outright lead of around 2% of GDP. Can we then scrub the words “despite Brexit” from the journalistic lexicon?


2. Boris risks furious English backlash by throwing more money at Scotland.  Most English voters couldn’t give a stuff if Scotland choses to leave the union - and a sizeable minority would positively welcome it. Jeremy Warner, Telegraph

 

The pound has seen something of a resurgence, against both the dollar and the euro, since last week’s super-Thursday elections. The spurt in part reflects relief that Scottish independence has become that little bit less likely.


Notwithstanding the pro-separatist majority that now exists in the Scottish Parliament, the fact is that Nicola Sturgeon was denied the majority she sought for her own party, weakening the legitimacy of demands for a second referendum. In the event, more votes were cast for pro-union parties than separatist ones.


Small wonder that the First Minister shrinks from the idea of an immediate second vote; she would struggle to win it if held tomorrow. Her gamble is that Boris Johnson’s determination to deny any question of a second referendum will play into her hands, and she could be right.


In this age of identity politics, nothing is more likely to sustain Sturgeon in her position than lecturing from Westminster about how much worse off Scots are going to be if they vote for independence, and for good measure to deny them another chance to vote on it anyway. Once again she plays the downtrodden Scots card, subjugated by bullying English Old Etonians.


Yet it is not just North of the Border that Boris Johnson needs to win the argument for the union; he also has to win hearts and minds in England, where the challenge might reasonably be thought just as big. It is admittedly improbable in the extreme that the English will ever be given a vote on the future of the union, but if they were, chances are they would as happily vote for Scottish separation as the Scots themselves.


Surveys repeatedly show that most English voters couldn’t give a stuff if Scotland chooses to leave, and that a sizeable minority would positively welcome it. Attitudes are harder still when it comes to Northern Ireland, which in per capita terms enjoys an even bigger fiscal transfer from the rest of the country than Scotland.


Scotland may be the epicentre of the debate, but ultimately, the future stability of the UK depends as much on consent south of the border as it does among Scots.


Many English voters already think far too much money is spent keeping Scotland onside. Any more risks a serious backlash.


Ever greater levels of devolution are the price Westminster has deemed necessary to keep the union together. Yet chucking money and powers at Scotland is not going to be a sustainable solution if it ends up alienating everyone else. If going “federal” is the answer, it won’t work unless all are offered similar levels of political and economic autonomy.


The current devolution settlement is already intolerably asymmetric. Many of Scotland’s domestic affairs - including health, education and public transport - are determined by Scotland’s devolved institutions, over which England holds little sway. Yet public policy for England itself continues to be decided by UK-wide institutions in which Scotland does have a say through representation at Westminster.


This asymmetry used to be called the “West Lothian Question”, a term coined by Enoch Powell after the MP for the Westminster constituency who first raised the issue, Tam Dalyell. The “English votes for English laws” reforms of the first Cameron government only partially answered the complaint.


With the Johnson Government enjoying a “stonking” great majority at Westminster, constitutional issues such as these might seem of little more than academic interest. They hardly matter. Scottish MPs cannot influence what Johnson does in England.


What does matter, however, is the size of the subsidy paid by the rest of the country to support the devolutionary settlement. Analysis by the Office for National Statistics shows that in 2018-19, Scotland’s fiscal deficit was around £2,450 per person. In other words, they spend that much more per person than they raise in taxation.


The numbers that underlie this statistic further enhance the sense of English grievance. Tax revenues per person are about the same as the average for the rest of the UK, but spending is much higher - £14,500, against a little under £12,600 for England. If you want to know why Scotland can splash out on a 4pc pay rise for health workers, but England can seemingly afford no more than 1pc, there you have it.


True enough, the per capita fiscal deficit for Wales and Northern Ireland is even bigger, as indeed it is for the more deprived regions of England, including the North East and North West. The difference is that all these areas of the UK are considerably poorer. It is the shortfall in tax revenues, not the excess in spending, which makes the difference.


Scots should be careful what they wish for; many voters south of the border would gladly see them go. Yet English nationalists too should be worried by the logic of such thinking. Reductio ad absurdum, the same argument can be applied to the English regions.


To the extent that there are any fiscal surpluses to be had at all in the UK these days, they all come from London, the South East, and East Anglia. Why should rich Londoners subsidise poor Northerners? The old heptarchy of seven sovereign Anglo Saxon nations beckons. Refusal to cross-subsidise between regions would split the country asunder.


In any case, selling the merits of the union to the English is perhaps as big a challenge as selling them to the Scots. As Boris Johnson must know from his success in red wall constituencies, identity politics have become as powerful a force south of the border as north of it.


Yet despite the seemingly one-way flow of money, the bottom line is that the English have as much to lose as the Scots from the death of the union. Scotland is just 6.5pc of total UK GDP, so in simple economic terms, its loss might not seem of much importance.


Even so, a lot of things begin to unravel once the union is gone - the UK’s position on the UN Security Council, its independent nuclear deterrent, its military credibility and its still-potent soft power around the world to name but some of them.


International perceptions matter. What chance for Global Britain once globally insignificant? Scottish separation would be as much the end of an era for England as for Scotland, and not in a good way.