Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain.
If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.
- The Inés Arrimada of Ciudadanos I mentioned yesterday has penned a column for The Times, criticising the secessionists in no uncertain terms. As they say.
- Is there really partisanship in the Spanish media? The Local suggests there is: Suspicion of El Pais has left much of Spain and Spanish readers without a place to read even modestly neutral coverage of the complex Catalan crisis. Elsewhere in Spain’s media landscape, deep partisan lines between outlets have made coverage of the Catalan events often unrecognizably different from one end of a newsstand to another. El Pais in particular comes under fire in the report. Highlighted as a bastion of media freedom in the 1970s and 1980s, the report claims that several senior journalists have been either fired, gagged or sidelined because of their refusal to tow the paper's alleged unionist editorial policy. More here.
- Said El País insists that President Rajoy is, indeed, willing to consider constitutional reform provided only that certain conditions are met. This is uncharacteristically progressive of this politician but perhaps reality is beginning to dawn on him.
- Meanwhile, the hapless Rajoy has made another history boob. Last time round he claimed Spain was the oldest nation in Europe but, in fact, France and England were created earlier. This week he wrote in The Guardian that “Britain is the cradle of parliamentarianism and the rule of law.” This left residents of León furious. They believe said cradle was there, not in the UK. And they point to the 2013 UNESCO declaration that the Decrees of León of 1188 were “the oldest documentary manifestation of the European parliamentary system.” I could have sworn the Anglo Saxons in the UK were celebrated for their pre-Norman-invasion democratic institutions.
- Need I say that - on this week of 2 public holidays and a long puente – my insurance company hasn't delivered on its promise to check the validity of my claim within 24-48 hours. And I don't expect to see anyone for at least another 3 days. I'm so glad I didn't seek their prior approval to getting my central heating system fixed.
- Who but a megalomaniac would want to be in charge of it? . . . While the EU maintains a united front over Brexit, there are deep divisions between east and west over the handling of the migration crisis and the state of the rule of law and democracy in Hungary and Poland. The EU’s uneasy relationship with Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic sunk to a new low on Thursday as Brussels said it would take them to the European Court of Justice for refusing to accept the bloc’s imposed quotas of migrants. Hungary was also hit with a separate EU lawsuit on Thursday over a higher education law that could close a university founded by George Soros, while Poland has been at loggerheads with Brussels over EU concerns over reforms to its judicial system.
- A terrifying paragraph in a Times column this morning:- If Labour looks likely to win the next general election, it will be assumed that a new era of populism has dawned that demands eccentric leadership. In these circumstances Jacob Rees-Mogg will put his hand up but Mr Johnson is the best roll-of-the-dice candidate. His colleagues in parliament, who are the first group to vote in the Conservative leadership election, will only overcome their mistrust if they are in a hole and they need to call on a celebrity to get them out of it.
- More is less, it's regularly said: UK Universities are presiding over a “mis-selling” scandal which is leaving some graduates with a lower earning capacity than people who eschew degrees, a major report finds today.
The English Language
- A propos . . . The writer of the article below takes issue with the use of 'populism', when what is really meant is 'nativism'.
- Our president is concerned that – when it comes to the financing of regional spend – Madrid is playing one Autonomous Community off against the other. And he might well be right. Either way, like every other president, he's unhappy with what his region is getting. A more specific concern is that Cataluña will eventually get the same deal as the Basque Country and be allowed to keep more of its revenue out of the clutches of Madrid. Meaning less for the poorer regions, of course. Unless debt is further increased. Which can't be ruled out, given that the pension reserve fund had now been almost completely depleted.
- Apologies if your comment hasn't appeared. I'm still trying to master moderation via the small print on my phone . . .
Why nativism, not populism, should be declared word of the year: Cas Mudde
Last week the Cambridge Dictionary declared populism its 2017 word of the year. In many ways, that makes perfect sense. Since Brexit and Trump, virtually every political event has been couched in terms of populism, from the Dutch parliamentary elections to the French presidential elections earlier this year. New media catchwords such as “fake news” are linked to populism.
However, it has become the buzzword of the year mostly because it is very often poorly defined and wrongly used. Indeed, the Cambridge Dictionary’s definition perfectly illustrates this. It describes populism as “political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want”.
Oddly enough, this is almost identical to the interpretation used by many populists themselves. However, rather than populism, it describes responsive politics, as exists in idealistic models of democracy. The only part of that description that has some overlap with more common academic definitions of populism is the reference to “ordinary people”.
In its blog , the dictionary further claims that people tend to use the term with reference to “the implied lack of critical thinking on the part of the populace, and the implied cynicism on the part of the leaders who exploit it”. In other words, populism is a political ploy by cynical leaders who mobilise the “ordinary people” by promising them whatever they want.
While this might be the way that many of the members of the embattled cultural and political establishment use the term to disqualify it and (implicitly) its supporters, this is elitist, self-serving and unhelpful. It implies that non-populist politicians are genuine; non-ordinary people are politically sophisticated; and that populism has no true substance, and therefore no real critique of the political status quo. This might be a convenient definition for those who find themselves challenged by populists, but it has little to do with what populism actually is.
While there is no consensual definition of populism within academia – like all important political terms, it is contested – most scholars use the term to denote a specific set of ideas that juxtapose “the people” and “the elite” and side with the former.
In our new book, Populism: a Very Short Introduction, Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser and I define populism as an ideology that considers society to be separated into two homogenous and antagonistic groups, “the pure people” and “the corrupt elite”, and argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people. While many colleagues debate whether populism is truly an ideology, or more a political discourse or style, their definitions are not much different.
However, the Cambridge Dictionary does not only get the definition wrong – its application is wrong, too. It argues: “What sets populism apart … is that it represents a phenomenon both truly local and truly global, as populations and their leaders across the world wrestle with issues of immigration and trade, resurgent nationalism and economic discontent.”
This conflates populism and the radical right. As elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Austria have this year been couched in terms of an epic battle between an emboldened populism and an embattled status quo, populism has became a synonym for what used to be termed the radical right. (The only left populist of relevance in the last year has been Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s challenge in the first round of the French presidential elections.) The populist radical right combines populism with two other core ideological features, authoritarianism and nativism.
If anything, 2017 was the year of nativism, or more correctly, yet another year of nativism, as we have had many of these years since the turn of the century. Nativism is an ideology that holds that states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group (“the nation”), and that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation-state.
This year mainly stands out for the way in which nativism has been whitewashed as populism. This is not to say that populism is irrelevant to contemporary politics or to the populist radical right. But within the core ideology of the populist radical right, populism comes secondary to nativism, and within contemporary European and US politics, populism functions at best as a fuzzy blanket to camouflage the nastier nativism.
Journalists should not let the radical right get away with that. They should not allow the popularity of the term populism to mask the nativism of the radical right. Because it’s only when we know exactly what is threatening our liberal democracies that can we effectively defend them.
Cas Mudde is the author of “On Extremism and Democracy in Europe and The Populist Radical Right: a Reader”