Monday, September 26, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 26.9.16


Health: In an international survey, Spain ranks as the 7th healthiest country in the world. Alongside the UK, Australia and Canada. Given the life expectancy here – the highest in Europe – I was surprised Spain doesn't do better. But there are elements of the total package where things could be much better and which drag down the overall ranking. Some details here.

Paradors: I'm a great fan of these but I can take or leave the service you get at them. The staff are, in fact, civil servants and I long ago concluded that some of them imbue themselves with the importance of their highest status clients. Most Sunday mornings I go for a coffee and a read of the national papers on the terrace of our parador. For the last 2 weeks, my presence has been ignored by the staff setting the lunch tables. Which suits me fine, of course, as it means I can read the papers for free. Anyway, here are what The Local thinks are the Top Ten paradors. Nice to see that 2 of the top 3 are here in Galicia,


Brexit: There's an interesting article at the end of this post on the challenges ahead for Mrs May. The first paragraph is a gem. And here's an article from Giles Tremlett, a well-known Brit who's one of those affected by it. As an aside, he mentions that the UK doesn't give us a vote in key elections. Well, neither does Spain, even though we pay taxes here. In fact, we don't even get a decent ID card.


Drug Smuggling: One of our well-known narcotráfico clans is facing demands for a total of 94 years in jail from the public prosecutor. Well, we'll see.

Our Sunday Flea Market: You may recall this was moved from Veggie Square and a licence system introduced to deal with the problem of local and Romanian gypsies taking it over with household junk offered from the floor. Well, this worked well for a while and the traders now all wear badges. Or some of them do. For, as this fotos shows, the gypsies are sneaking back in. And, if things follow the Spanish norm, it will be while before the authorities take stock of the complaints and do anything about it.


Theists: As regular readers will know, I'm a lapsed-Catholic atheist, with Catholic and Jewish relatives. Over the last year or two, I've been in dialogue with a pious Catholic and an equally fervent Jehovah Witness over their beliefs. The major difference between them, of course, is that the JW believes the Bible is 100% true while the RC doesn't. Both of them regard themselves as the only true Christians. Indeed, my JW friend believes neither the RCs nor any other followers of Christ are Christians at all. Another major difference is in their approach to scientific developments that question their faith. The JW's simply regard anything that conflicts with the Bible as, well, wrong. Whereas RCs accept them and then argue that, in fact, they fit with their fundamental beliefs. Indeed, that they strengthen their beliefs. One conclusion I've reached is that the RC approach is essentially an abuse of intelligence. It starts with an un-evidenced, subjective, a priori belief and then indulges in intellectual legerdemain to accommodate everything that blatantly undermines this. Which is a lot harder to deal with than the either-you-agree-with-us-or-not approach of the JWs. With them, either you accept the truth and the moral precepts of the entire Bible or you don't. With the RCs, in contrast, there's a great deal more room for argument and disagreement. If only because of their cop-outs and their obvious self-deceptions. Anyway, I'm pleased to say that – with the dialogue now over – I remain friends with both theists. And am still an atheist. As is one of my daughters. Thank God.


The 'Cicret' Magic Bracelet: Hopefully, you won't have contributed to the crowdfunding for this. If you did, you might not enjoy this video as much as the rest of us.


More examples of Finnish/British nightmares:-


Summon the troops, Sergeant-Major May, for our EU marching orders

After the Duke of Wellington had held his first cabinet meeting as prime minister, that great soldier is said to have exclaimed: “An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them.”

When she launched her campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party, a week after the vote for Brexit defenestrated David Cameron, Theresa May reminded her audience of MPs: “I grew up . . . the granddaughter of a regimental sergeant-major.” Perhaps Mrs May was trying to let them know that, Wellington-style, she expected her cabinet to be as obedient as the ranks should be to their commanding officer.

Certainly, her office has been brutally direct in slapping down two of her cabinet ministers who expressed an opinion on the likely nature of this country’s departure negotiations with the European Union. First, David Davis, the secretary of state for Brexit, was publicly rebuked by No 10 for telling the House of Commons that it was “very improbable” that the UK would remain a member of the single market.

Then, last week, it was Boris Johnson’s turn to have one of his epaulettes ripped off. The foreign secretary had told journalists that Britain would formally invoke article 50 (the element in EU treaty law that formally initiates the secession of a member state) “early next year”.

Next day, under the headline “May’s Brexit rebuke to Boris”, the front page of The Daily Telegraph — whose comment section Johnson had for decades adorned as a columnist until sadly sidetracked by his new job — informed the nation: “Downing Street sources last night made clear that all decisions on the timing of Brexit were the prime minister’s alone . . . ‘The decision to trigger article 50 is hers,’ the source said.”

Sources or source — they, he or she — are, or is, mistaken. Such decisions are not “the prime minister’s alone”. They are the decisions of the cabinet, collectively. That is how governments work in this country. The prime minister is, as the very title suggests, no more than primus inter pares; she is not an elected president. Indeed, Mrs May has not even won a general election as leader of her parliamentary party and (as it happens) backed the losing side of the referendum. By contrast, both Johnson and Davis did campaign for Brexit, which is presumably why May put them in two of the cabinet jobs most critically involved with our EU departure negotiations.

I can see why the prime minister — especially as a person who doesn’t like to make any sort of commitment until she has examined it from every imaginable angle — may have been irked by these two men sounding off with what she would regard as reprehensible spontaneity.
There can be a transitional period of post-Brexit tariff-free trade with the EU.

The trouble is that the debate about how, actually, we should depart the EU is in full flow. If the government is mute on the matter, the silence will be filled chiefly with the noise of self-interested lobbyists explaining how difficult it will be to exit the EU and that unless we at least remain a full participating member of its single market — which would involve free movement of labour and continued multibillion budgetary contributions — Britain’s economy will be reduced to a “medieval state”. (That was a comment in the Financial Times, a newspaper in such deep mourning after the Brexit vote that it swathed its pink pages in funereal black.

By contrast, those who understand how international trade works know this is really not an intractable problem. Their message needs to be relayed publicly, to reassure the British people (or at least those who believed the former chancellor George Osborne and his co-opted mates Mark Carney at the Bank of England and Christine Lagarde at the International Monetary Fund when they foolishly chorused that a Brexit vote would be economic hara-kiri).

Admittedly, Mrs May has declared: “Brexit means Brexit — and we’re going to make a success of it.” That’s a brilliant soundbite. But not an argument.

So, first, let’s deal with the City lobbyists who have been wailing (not least to the new chancellor, Philip Hammond) that the Square Mile will be sunk if we don’t remain full members of the single market, with the so-called passporting that enables a firm in London to market financial assets within the EU without needing to set up offices in each country.

Allegedly, this is essential to maintaining the capital’s pre-eminence as a financial centre. But as the former Conservative trade and industry secretary Peter Lilley — who actually negotiated the first passporting directive — observed last week: “British financial companies seem to export very successfully without passports to countries like the USA and Switzerland — our two largest markets.”

When it comes to financial services, London is a global leader, competing with New York, Tokyo and Shanghai. It is a leader because of its extraordinary concentration of expertise, honed and toughened over centuries.

That helps to explain why some large foreign financial firms have announced plans for significant expansion in London — since the Brexit vote. It also explains why half as many more financial companies “passport” into the UK than out of it: EU firms want access to the skills London provides.

This serves to illustrate a wider point about free trade. It may be very complicated to negotiate such agreements in the first place — but once they are set up, there are colossal incentives, on both sides, not to wreck them. The point is we already have free trade with the other member states of the EU — and if there were a sudden imposition of tariffs after a failed Brexit negotiation, it could be hugely costly for both sides.

Given that the UK is the single biggest engine of demand for goods produced in the EU — we import 66% more goods from the EU than we export — are the economies and banks of the eurozone so robust that they can tolerate a juddering shock? With the electorates of those nations in a febrile state, are their political leaders really prepared to act in such a way as to increase already grotesque levels of unemployment?

None of that is remotely necessary. As Alice Enders, of Enders Analysis — who spent the best part of two decades working with the World Trade Organisation — put it to me: “All of this can be done without any mess or fuss. There can be a transitional period of post-Brexit tariff-free trade between the UK and the EU until a formal free-trade arrangement is finalised — this is the wholehearted wish of EU companies reliant on supply chains involving the UK.

“There is much precedent for such an arrangement from the EU side. And this would not involve the UK continuing with unchecked migration from the EU or substantial payments into the EU budget.”

I should add that Ms Enders was absolutely not in favour of Brexit: this is dispassionate analysis, not politically motivated wishful thinking.

I can see that there is something inherently unsettling about such an undefined transitional period while negotiations for a final deal drag on for who knows how long. So perhaps the British government might need to agree on some sort of final deadline with the European Commission.
Over to you, Mrs May. The nation awaits your orders.



Alfred B. Mittington said...

Although I must admit that the mathematics of demography totally escape me, I do remember reading once that the high life expectancy of Spaniards is the result of the prohibition of anti-conceptives under the Franco regime (i.e. until the late 1970s), which notably increased the proportion of very young people in the general population. If this be correct, it would not be the result of the good health service or the life style (which we all know leaves much to be desired).


Colin Davies said...

Bloody 'ell - A sensible and interesting comment! Looks like being a good week . . .

kraal said...

On page 2 of The Times last Saturday there is an article suggesting all expats will be able to vote in the 2020 general election. Theresa May has committed to changing the law by then.