Sunday, May 19, 2019

Thoughts from Galicia, Spain: 19.5.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain

Not much time to write this morning . . .

The UK and Brexit
  • There's a fine article below, which really merits being read by both Brexiteers and Remainers, as it deals with the largest issue(s) at stake.
Finally . . .
Camino Notes

  • Another great day of wonderful scenery, serious ups and downs and tumbledown houses. Not to mention another fine menú del día the moment we hit the outskirts of Quiroga. All captured here by Geoff Jones, along with a foto of 2 baby owls in a hollow tree in the garden of the casa rural we stayed in last night.
  • Along the way, I was highly  entertained by Geoff telling me how far we'd walked, how high we'd climbed, how many breaths I'd taken since setting off, and how far down my digestive tract my breakfast had gone. Not to mention who it was knocking at his front door back home . . . If ever there was a man on top of today's technology, its Geoff. Very impressive.
  • Geoff has a brief write-up of the day in his own blog here. Where you can also catch up with the previous 2 days' accounts. Being a lot fitter than me, he does rather less moaning as we wend our way. In fact, at times, I had to stop him from exploding with joy. Or distract him from his euphoria at the scenery with cape antics.
  • There's little more I can say, really, other than it was a tad annoying to spend the last 6km from Saldón to Quiroga going up and down and round and round, while both the road and the river Sil far below us to our left remained both pretty straight and totally flat. Geoff had a sensible - geography-related - theory as too why we had to ascend and descend so much, way above the road and the river but I put it down to the Catholic Church's desire to make penitent sinners suffer to the max on their way to Santiago.
  • As on the previous 2 days, we saw not a single other 'pilgrim'. But we did come across some papers dropped on the path which suggested a previous sufferer had proceeded us at some time.
  • Late last night, I re-read a document I'd come across when preparing for this camino. Here's a couple of extracts which now ring far truer in retrospect than they did in prospect a few months ago:-
- This is a solitary route for fit and confident walkers with good basic Spanish.
- This route is still in its infancy. Pilgrim-centric accommodation is nearly non-existent.
- If you are the kind to choose the path less taken, or have tired of the growing number of pilgrims along the Camino Francés, do yourself the favor of taking this detour. It is not unlikely that you will be the only pilgrim on the trail until you reach Lalín. [Assuming you haven't dropped dead of exhaustion by then, of course]
  • Final comment: The old chap whom Geoff mentions told us that there was, nearby, a bit of Roman stonework/statue based on a Persian or Russian design. But we never got to see it, being anxious to get away from his pressure to buy his house. Which I blame on Geoff's showing interest in buying the entire dilapidated village in which he was the sole surviving resident.

Tories and Labour are despised over Brexit – but there is a path out of this democratic crisis: Janet Daley, the Telegraph

Jeremy Corbyn blamed the breakdown of the cross-party Brexit talks on the “weakness and instability” of Mrs May’s government. To which Mrs May responded that the talks had failed because “…there is not a common position in Labour about whether they want to deliver Brexit or hold a second referendum which could reverse it.”

They were both right. Which is to say, the leadership of both major parties is utterly discredited. What satisfaction they may gain from trashing one another is neither here nor there. Their credibility in the country is gone. The leaders themselves are in a race to the bottom in opinion polls. And the minor parties are simply serving the purpose of protest vehicles for a furious electorate: none of them, at this point, offers anything that could count as a plausible prospectus for government. Voters would be within their rights to ask, quite seriously, whether anyone in this game is seriously interested in governing at all, or even in conducting a sensible discussion about what the business of running a national government consists of now.

We have grown so accustomed to this chaos that it threatens to become normalised but it is very important to appreciate how very startling it is. I certainly cannot recall a time in British political life when both main parties were almost universally regarded as useless. Generally the prevailing disenchantment is with the party in power while (at least some) hope and optimism is attached to the Opposition – especially if it has been out of office for a long period. But for both parties to be pretty much equally despised is, I think, quite unprecedented in modern times.

There is an obvious temptation to attribute this phenomenon to Brexit – or rather, to the referendum on Brexit which broke the unity of both the major parties. But the referendum result was a symptom, not a cause of this massive breakdown of public trust in what we must call “the governing class”. It simply crystallised and made unavoidably, devastatingly clear what had been an amorphous sense of alienation.

The organised, relentless attempt to countermand that result on the part of a huge swathe of political and economic forces has been shocking – if not surprising – to those voters who really did believe that this time their expressed wish would not be disregarded. It is truly heartbreaking to hear ordinary people (some in my own extended family) say, in genuine despair, “They don’t care what we think.” This goes way beyond cynicism or vague distrust. It is outrage of a visceral kind that is unprecedented in living memory. The worst of it is that no lessons whatever seemed to have been learned – except by the wrong people.

There are plenty of opportunists and rabble rousers on the scene ready to make hay out of this. They will serve their fleeting purpose as vehicles for dissent and embarrassment to the mainstream parties but they will not – cannot – provide any substantive answers because the wrong questions are still being asked while the right ones are scarcely mentioned.

When anybody claims that there is a crisis of democracy, they are assumed to be referring to the systematic attempt to undermine the referendum result, as if that vote was the defining democratic act of our time. In fact, that is not true. The referendum result was not itself legally binding. It was only the Supreme Court’s decision (thank you, Gina Miller) that Parliament must pass the result into law that made it so. Thus did it become, in the constitutionally accepted way, binding on government.

But the flouting of that Act of Parliament is not the real democratic scandal. The discussion that should be dominating the public debate is whether true self-government within nation states can remain possible in an age of globalisation. In a world where international players dominate economic and geopolitical reality, can the idea of an elected government accountable to its own populations survive?

The Remain lobby says, in so many words, that it cannot. Indeed, this is their principle argument: the world is too big for parochial little guys who want to make their own way with their own leaders making decisions on their behalf. At least, that is what they say when they deign to argue at all. Mostly they just smear their Leave opponents as bigoted know-nothings. But the terms of that abuse all add up to this one significant point: Britain cannot go it alone in the way for which it has been renowned, with only its unique institutions and the judgement of its own population to guide it. The world is a different place now: you have to belong to a much bigger conglomerate whose authority must take precedence over your piddling little outfit if you are to have any chance of competing for business, making your mark, having your voice heard, etc, etc.

This may or may not be true. (Most of the factual evidence suggests that it is not.) Either way, it is the argument that must be called out. It must be seen for what it is with all its deeply unattractive implications. This is what the case for Remain really amounts to: the democratic nation state is the past. The corporatist global bloc is the future.

It is that inexorable logic that is sensed by so many of the dissident “populist” forces in Europe and even beyond the EU. For there is a critical loss of confidence in government in much of the democratic West: a sense that what was once one’s own country is being run by some world-dominating club to serve its own interests, and that this global hegemony regards ordinary people with contempt (“They don’t care what we think”.) 

If the real debate can be flushed out into the open, there might be a very different set of heroes and villains on the stage. Perhaps the benighted bigots of media legend are really the true advocates of liberty and their enlightened cosmopolitan critics are actually the placemen of self-serving international monopolies. Maybe that is the story that is yet to be told. The first politicians who dare to tell it could be the ones to rescue their party from oblivion.

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