Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in SpainSpain
- Corrupt cops and tax inspectors. What next?
- This advice from The Local is pertinent for my daughter in Madrid and seems spot on to me, from observation over the years.
- This has been going on for decades in Galicia. In the 60s, there were 20,000 cases a year. Now there are 'only' 4,000. Worse than killing songbirds, of course.
- Some fine example of Romanesque architcture in Spain
- My neighbour, the lovely Ester - and I were arguing about the respective merits of Mercadona and Carrefour 2 days ago. This survey has endorsed my opinion.
- Which reminds me . . . I was astonished to see a couple of novelties - a rare thing in Spain - in my branch of Mercadona the other day - several types of rice (basmati and jasmine, for example) at prices not much above the normal stuff. There'll be Asian stuff on the shelves one of these years . .
- Nerves are being tested by the Franco-German axis, it says here. [Is 'axis the right word here?]
- In sharp contrast with The Netherlands and Germany - Cycles of failure.
- Richard North today: Ignorance is a pervasive feature of contemporary politics – something which Barnier's deputy, Sabine Weyand, was keen to point out at a European Policy Centre (EPC) seminar in Brussels yesterday. In a surgical dissection of the current debate, she observed that a lot of the discussion of the withdrawal agreement in the UK was "uninhibited by any knowledge" of what it actually contained. When, at the same seminar, Sir Ivan Rogers, made similar remarks, it is fairly evident that we have the makings of a serious problem. He was reported as saying that the "level of understanding" amongst even the best briefed MPs of what was in the deal was "strikingly low". He explained that there was an "enormous gap" between what the executive understood, what the people at the core of the negotiations understood and what the legislature understood. . . . When Weyand repeats for the umpteenth time that there will be no further negotiation between the UK and EU, to expect anything different is beyond stupidity. It dwells in the realms of insanity. What happens later today in the Commons, therefore, is a matter of supreme indifference. Whatever the outcome, all we will get is another day older and closer to Brexit day, whence Weyand asserts that there is a "very high risk" of crashing out, not by design but by accident.
- Conflicts of interest???- Dozens of MPs and peers, including some with vast inherited wealth, own or manage farms that collectively have received millions of pounds in European Union subsidies. More here.
- Rachel Sylvester has written an excoriating article on the hapless Mrs May. See it below.
- Irony that might be lost on Fart.
- Can there one anything more illustrative of the downside of the internet that the existence of 'rival royal fans' and online abuse of the main UK princesses?
- Come to think of it, there probably are better examples . . .
- Word of the Day: Deshacer
- Are all cleaners clumsy? I ask because this week - for possibly the 10th time - I had to glue the head back on this chess piece. Why always this one??
- Apple tells me it's St. Valero's Feast day in Zaragoza today. Do I really need to know that?
Divisive May should take the Queen’s advice: Rachel Sylvester
The prime minister should give up on her moribund Brexit deal and listen to other politicians about the way forward
There are two styles of political leadership — consensual and conflictual — and despite the need to bring the country together Theresa May continues to fuel division. Instead of seeking “common ground”, as the Queen urged last week, the prime minister has insisted on cultivating her own tiny plot of land, thinking only of the Tory party and her political survival, rather than the national interest.
With her threat that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, she deepened divisions between Leavers and Remainers, and ignored the concerns of almost half the country in her pursuit of a Brexit that she thought would be pure enough to satisfy Conservative hardliners. But of course it wasn’t. “Theresa May has proved herself completely incapable of being a unifying leader,” says one Tory MP. “She’s not a leader who makes big arguments that bring people along. At every opportunity she has chosen division over the common ground. That’s why we are where we are.”
This is a question of character as well as of political strategy. When David Cameron failed to win a parliamentary majority in 2010 he made a “big, open and comprehensive offer” to the Liberal Democrats to form a coalition government. Had he stayed on as prime minister after the EU referendum in 2016, he might have been able to work with other parties to forge a softer Brexit deal. His successor lacked the imagination to start a constructive discussion, instead defining the referendum vote in her own narrow terms that alienated swathes of voters and MPs.
On her recent visit to London, Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, suggested that the first-past-the-post electoral system made it harder for politicians to work together. In New Zealand, which has proportional representation, she said, “we are constantly negotiating, having dialogue and forming compromises with other parties.”
The right leader can rise above partisan political pressures. Several newspaper tributes to Paddy Ashdown, who died last month, carried a photograph from 1995 of the former Liberal Democrat leader laughing with Sir John Major and Tony Blair. Each man fought for what he believed in but they also embodied a more civilised era of politics. It is impossible to imagine Jeremy Corbyn sharing such a moment with Mrs May; he is as sectarian and closed as she is.
Instead of trying to build a “big tent” in which people with different shades of opinion can feel at home, the prime minister has zipped the canvas shut on a teepee that leaves large numbers out in the cold. Even loyal cabinet ministers are excluded from the inner circle by a leader who lacks the confidence to be honest with them. Those who are seen as rivals are ruthlessly undermined. Over Christmas, newspapers reported that Sajid Javid had been spotted on a luxury safari in South Africa. In fact, the home secretary had not yet arrived there and had spent the day visiting Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in jail, so somebody in Whitehall must have leaked the information. His closest aides did not know his itinerary but for security reasons, Downing Street did. Divide and rule has always been Mrs May’s style, as she demonstrated during her own time at the Home Office, but there is an added toxicity if such a callous “them and us” attitude is applied to the already divisive issue of Europe.
Opposition MPs and trade union bosses, who should have been consulted last year when it was clear that the prime minister was struggling to get her Brexit deal through the Commons, were only invited to No 10 after the government suffered a humiliating defeat earlier this month. Although Mrs May promised to reach across party lines in an attempt to find a way forward, it took her less than 24 hours to rule out all the possible compromises. Her focus narrowed to winning over the European Research Group of right-wing Tory MPs; people like Mark Francois, who said after the German chief executive of Airbus warned about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit: “My father was a D-Day veteran, he never submitted to bullying by any German. Neither will his son.”
One former minister says: “The truth is she’s got two confidence and supply agreements [to keep the government in power], one with the DUP and the other with the ERG . . . I have never seen a political party set out its stall so deliberately to exclude half the population [who voted Remain]. She has granted the Tory party its death wish.”
The prime minister has cynically tried to position her deal as the middle way between “no Brexit” and “no deal” — a classic piece of political triangulation which is deeply misleading. She wants to put those calling for a second referendum and those who want to crash out at opposite ends of the Leave-Remain continuum, with herself in the middle. But there is no symmetry between asking people to give their informed consent to leaving (which would only result in “no Brexit” if people voted to Remain) and pursuing a course of action with potentially catastrophic consequences for the economy and national security.
MPs who are trying to seize control of the parliamentary agenda to stop a no-deal Brexit are also accused by No 10 of trying to block Britain’s departure from the EU. They are doing nothing of the sort. When a cabinet minister is unable to rule out that Britain might impose martial law to prevent disorder, and the image of the country being projected abroad is of lorries driving round and round in circles in preparation for no deal, you have to ask who is the responsible grown-up — Yvette Cooper or Mrs May?
The prime minister wants her Brexit deal to be seen as the “common ground” on which everyone should gather but one former minister says she has pursued a scorched earth policy of trying to “toxify” everyone else’s position in order to shore up her own. The long-term consequences will be devastating whether or not Mrs May’s deal ever gets through: “because of the way she’s handled it we have got to a point where there’s no Brexit without betrayal.”
The Queen is right that this is a time for “respecting different points of view, coming together . . . never losing sight of the bigger picture”. There is no one who needs to listen to her advice more than the prime minister. As one Tory MP puts it: “The biggest impediment to finding the common ground is a leader who has no interest in unity.”