Friday, November 08, 2019

Thoughts from Heald Green, Cheshire, England: 8.11.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.   
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
Spanish Politics 
  • There’s no clear end in sight for Spain’s political deadlock, says Politico here.
  • And here's The Guardian's take on the depressing mess.
  • The writer of the article below warns that not only is Spain riven by political polarisation and fragmentation, facing separatist protests in Catalonia and a rapidly rising far-right but also faces a serious rural problem, too.
  • In case you're not familiar with how Spain is governed and can't say whether it's a federal state or not, this is for you.
The UK
  • While I can't think of anything that would compel me to move back 'home', I can say there are several positives about living here. Basically, life is simpler, if not of an overall higher quality for me :-
  1. Drivers are more courteous, don't do daft things on roundabouts, do use their indicators and invariably go in the direction indicated. Which you eventually get used to.
  2. Sending a certified letter takes 30 seconds and involves a little receipt. Not 5-10 minutes, proof of identity and the signing an A4 sheet full of small text. Which probably absolves Correos of all responsibility for everything.
  3. Couriers give you stuff at the door without you having to sign everything and prove who you are. Even if you are clearly not Mrs Hannah Davies.
  4. People don't walk within 10cm of your face.
  5. Everyone calls everyone else Love, at least here in the North.
On the other hand, the prices of wines are truly preposterous, especially in bars and pubs.

The EU
The UK and Brexit
  • Too boring to comment on. 
The Way of the World
  1. Academics have called for the term 'Anglo-Saxon' to be dropped because it is “bound up with white supremacy” and has been used by imperialists and white-supremacists to describe white people of British origin. Historian Tom Holland has describe the idea as “mad as a bag of ferrets” and will possibly now be either crucified or hung, drawn and quartered in the Wokesphere. Maybe both.
  2. Possibly what we'll all be eating in 20 years' time, if the world survives that long.
Finally . . .
  • The things you learn. . . Before he set up his own salon in Liverpool, my brother-in-law used to manage a branch there of a famous national chain. One of his most notable clients was a woman who always arrived with a cigarette stuck to her bottom lip and kept a flagon of brandy next to the bottle of hair colour. She was Josephine Gwynne Armstrong, wife of the last Earl of Sefton and so the Countess of Sefton. Most interestingly, she was, says Wiki, a lifelong friend of her fellow American, the Duchess of Windsor. My bro-in-law - who rejected the offer of a house on land she was converting into a residential development - now regrets that he didn't talk to her more about this relationship. Anyway, here's what she - a redhead - looked like at her best. Decidedly not bad. The earl had taste. And lots of land, 3 homes and plenty of pasta. And might well have been good-looking too:-


1. Spanish elections: Desolation in rural areas destroying traditional politics: Isambard Wilkinson, Teruel, the Times.

As Pepe Espada drove his flock of sheep from his isolated mountain village yesterday morning, he wryly wondered whether his birthplace would still be there when he returned in the evening. His village of Ladruñán has 26 inhabitants and sits in a region with a population density lower than Siberia. He predicts that in a few years Ladruñán will be semi-abandoned. Like many other villages in Teruel province, in Aragon, it has no school, poor transport connections, scarce mobile phone coverage, faltering radio reception and no internet.

Mr Espada, 55, laments the failure of successive governments to help the remote province’s villages survive. In Sunday’s general election he will not vote for either of Spain’s two main parties because they have not developed his area. “Their politicians haven’t done anything for Teruel — or even Spain,” he says.

Spain’s emptying rural interior has become a major election issue, highlighting disillusion with the country’s political system and government paralysis as voters plod to the polls for the fourth time in as many years. Buffeted by one of its worst political crises since the dictator Franco died in 1975, Spain is riven by political polarisation and fragmentation, facing separatist protests in Catalonia and a rapidly rising far-right.

But it has a serious rural problem, too. In March 50,000 protesters marched on the capital under the umbrella title of “The Revolt of Empty Spain”. They demanded equality between rural areas and its cities, complaining of a lack of hospitals, schools, internet connectivity, training and jobs.

Ignacio Urquizo, the Socialist Party mayor of Alcañiz, a town in Teruel, contends that what happens electorally in the province also happens in the rest of the country. “It is the Ohio of Spain,” he said, referring to the US bellwether state. “So I expect more fragmentation and more difficulties to govern nationally.” Nationally the far-right Vox is expected to become Spain’s third party, but in his province the protest vote would go to Teruel Exists, a grassroots movement that began in 2000. 

Last month 23 provinces from España profunda (deep Spain) held a five-minute silence to draw attention to grievances. Political leaders have since made grand proposals for España vacia (empty Spain). During a televised debate this week the acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez, the Socialist Party’s leader, said he would “fight against depopulation” and create a ministry for it. It is a tough call. Since the Sixties Spain has become an overwhelmingly middle-class urban society. Francisco Burillo, a professor at the University of Zaragoza, estimates that 53% of Spain’s territory is home to only 15% of its population. He says that Teruel and surrounding regions comprise an area twice the size of Belgium but with only 500,000 inhabitants, one of the least populated areas of Europe.

Academics suggest that the low population is due to a variety of factors, including the civil war, the distance from the sea, altitude and low birthrate. Also cited are unemployment, disconnected infrastructure and policy in an area that includes Teruel and spans five of Spain’s autonomous regions.

Teruel, 15,000 sq km (5,800 sq miles) of windblown upland plains, has lost almost 9% of its population during the past decade. Its register records 134,042 inhabitants. The Teruel Exists leader, Tomas Guilarte, has decided to take part in Sunday’s poll, leading Teruel Exists on the road to the 350-seat national assembly for the first time, but as a voters’ group, rather than a political party.

Mr Urquizo said Teruel Exists’ electoral gambit also reflects Spain’s wider political fragmentation. “It is a crisis of representation,” he added. Others are cautiously optimistic, citing a range of possible initiatives, from promoting truffles, olives, ham and history to tax breaks, transport subsidies, paying doctors higher salaries and attracting immigrants.

Silvia Gimeno, the socialist mayor of La Mata de los Olmos, says her 280-strong village is just about holding its own because it has attracted Senegalese, Romanian and Moroccan workers with jobs in its cured meats factory and slaughterhouse. “About 60% of our schoolchildren are from foreign families,” she says.

This does not impress Mr Espada. He will vote for Mr Guilarte, because “even if they are a small group and can’t do much, at least they will tell people that we exist”.

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