Friday, May 17, 2019

Thoughts from León: 17.5.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • I have my doubts that anyone will agree that this winner is the best in all Spain.
  • This probably won't go down well, as an attack on an ancient tradition/institution.
  • This drastic change in the weather is possibly good news for folk doing a camino in the north and north west of Spain. . .
The UK and Brexit
  • Better to leave the EU than make a hero of Farage.  Remainers should see that letting Brexit happen may be smarter in the long run than allowing a grievance to fester, says Times columnist Philip Collins in the article below
The EU
  • I had no idea whatsoever that I was in the majority as regards The Project's future. Though not in Spain, ironically enough. 
Finally . . .
  • Camino news: An excellent if - for me - a toughish day's walking from Ponferrada to Borrenes, in the enjoyable company of reader Geoff Jones. As well as being supremely fit from a lifetime, it seems, of walking and cycling in every country of the world, Geoff is technically hyper-efficient and highly knowledgable about his iPhone and its apps. As a result, there's hardly a statistic which Geoff can't give you at the end of the day. Or even en route. I must admit that I smiled a little internally when, within in few minutes of our setting off, his superb technical capability brought us up against a dead end, as Geoff himself notes in this nice write-up of the our first day. I also had to smile a few hours later when Geoff, who'd had his phone in his hand for almost the entire walk, laughed when we stopped for our lunch and I took my laptop from my knapsack to check some details of the way. Which seemed a tad ironic to me . . P. S. I would only quarrel with Geoff's view that our walk today was 'a little hilly', though I've no doubt it's accurate from his stronger-legged and bigger-lung perspective! 
  • On to Galicia this morning, after seeing the sights of Las Médulas.
  • Final word on this  . . . We stayed last night in the lovely rustic Hotel Cornatel Médulas and were royally treated by the very amiable owner, Saturno. Who this morning is kindly driving us up to the Mirador de Orellan. And hopefully back again.

Better to leave the EU than make a hero of Farage Philip Collins, The Times.

Remainers should see that letting Brexit happen may be smarter in the long run than allowing a grievance to fester

Nigel Farage was always destined to be the winner in the great Brexit fiasco. Either Britain leaves the European Union, in which case his political mission is fulfilled, or we do not, in which case his political career is revived. His best and most dangerous days might now be ahead of him. Mr Farage can and should be stopped but, alas, all the people who most want him arrested are ushering him into the spotlight. The choice is a stark one: leave the EU and cut off Farage’s supply of oxygen or carry on the campaign to remain.

If Britain does not leave the EU then Nigel Farage will be a fixture in British politics. The thwarting of the 2016 referendum will be the incarnate grievance on which his politics thrives. He has nothing else but it is all he needs. At his rally in Huddersfield this week, Mr Farage tried out a line that we are going to hear a lot. This is not even about Europe, he said. This is about democracy.

Mr Farage is pulling the populist trick at its most magical. The people have been cheated of their inheritance, he says, and I, the popular tribune, am here to confront truths that the elite can only avoid.

There is a real problem here, which is deeper than the oleaginous hail-fellow-well-met, phoney pub-soaked xenophobia of the man. The real problem is that he has hold of a nasty little germ of truth.

Of all the historic nationalisms, and all their current manifestations, English nationalism frightens me least. There is a different story to tell, on another day, of the imperial legacies of the English around the world but, domestically at least, English nationalism is a dog that can hardly bark. The European continent was convulsed and then set aflame by nationalisms during the 20th century. Britain avoided the excess and will probably do so again.

Though I loathe his mimicry of their populist methods, it is hard to envisage Mr Farage as the equivalent of the Le Pen family in France or the Brexit Party as a viable vanguard to disgrace such as the AfD in Germany or Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in Hungary. Radical nationalists are likely to do well across Europe in next week’s European elections and it will be tempting to lump Mr Farage into their pit.

Tempting but wrong. Britain is, in this case, exceptional. The threat of Mr Farage is not a prelude to politics that are truly dark. If we end up staying in the EU, I predict there won’t be riots in the streets. Anger will be expressed in the coming campaign but a lot of it will be synthetic, puffed-up, pretend anger about an issue (Europe) that, if only we can recall the times when we used to discuss other things, doesn’t matter nearly as much as everyone involved seems to think.

No, the risk of Faragism is not to be found in any invigorating passion. The risk is a vast deposit of cynicism, a boost to the popular myth that politicians are all liars and democracy yields no benefits to benighted people like us. Politics, in this reckoning, is a conspiracy against the people. Eventually, there are no winners when an idea like this gets its boots on.

There is a foolproof way of preventing this undesirable outcome and that is to leave the EU, as arranged. There is close to zero chance of this happening so all we can do is to spell out the consequences of not leaving so that we might at least proceed in plain sight. The immediate beneficiaries of upgraded cynicism are Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage. Mr Corbyn benefits because a Tory government that has failed to deliver Brexit is toast. It only had one job and it cannot do it. The Labour Party could be led by someone as hopeless as Mr Corbyn (oops, it is, apparently) and could hardly fail to win power in such circumstances.

While Mr Corbyn sets about nationalising the electricity supply, Mr Farage will be free to nurse his grievance. His case — that a solemn promise has not been redeemed — will be hard to answer. A second referendum which led to a reversal of the first would entrench the Faragist narrative of betrayal into British politics for decades to come. But if Brexit actually took place, it would end his political career. There are plenty of people who care about the EU sufficiently to say that Mr Farage cannot be allowed his victory. But let’s be clear about this — there is a choice. Leave the EU and bid farewell to Farage, and perhaps to Corbyn, or remain and see the two of them prosper. Is it worth the prize? Not for my money.

I feel I am in a category of one as someone whose view on Europe is that I would like to go back in. Leaving the EU is a mistake and, as the consequences unfold and a new generation comes to political maturity, that mistake will become plain. Nothing is for ever and Britain could seek to reverse its course once remorse has set in. Yet you can only be an advocate of going back in once you have left.

Imagine the difference in the atmosphere if, instead of launching the People’s Vote campaign, the Remain side of the argument had accepted the result and sought to make the feasible best of Brexit. Then, when the process fell into its own contradictions, the fault would unarguably have lain with the advocates, rather than the critics, of Brexit. A moment would come when, in sorrow rather than anger, it would have been possible to argue for a change of course.

Instead, we are going to have to take the unscenic detour via Faragism. Someone other than Mr Farage could express popular irritation that Britain has not left the EU, as the main party manifestos pledged, without rhetorical appeals to all that is most unforgiving and unpleasant in us. Mr Farage will not resist the temptation to be visceral, simplistic and cheap. Good leadership is about turning discontent to positive account but Mr Farage has no interest in that. He has nothing to say that is not cynical, nothing to offer that doesn’t make things worse.

It would therefore be naive to deny the political costs of remaining in the EU. By all means argue that the economic gain tips heavier on the scales than the political loss (though I disagree) but don’t pretend it’s all upside. The politics of leaving the EU have proven to be childish and divisive but they will be a monument to the wisdom of man when set beside the politics of not leaving the EU. The Brexit Party and the anti-Brexit movement are in lock-step and one will follow the other, like night after day.

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