Thoughts from Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain: 25.5.21    

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable

– Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’ 

Detailed info on Galicia and Pontevedra city here. 

Covid 

The UK: There’s growing optimism that June 21 will see total freedom, as fears about the Indian variant recede and the jabs continue to mount up.

Spain. A warning from the British government: In some parts of Spain – i. e. the Canary Islands  – a negative COVID-19 may be required when checking in to tourist accommodation. You should check this prior to travel.

Cosas de España/Galiza

This comment risks misinterpretation . . . The UK’s media obsesses about pedophilia and the Spanish media does the same about ‘gender violence’, even though – as far as I can tell – the stats here are no worse than elsewhere and are lower than in, for example, the UK. That said, last week saw 6 women die at the hands of men. Experts speculate that the surge in murders may be related to the easing of lockdown restrictions. Gender-related murders fell to a historic low last year because, it is thought, men were able to control their partners without the need to use violence or kill them. Once mobility curbs were lifted and women sought to escape their captors the killings increased.

To my astonishment, they’re going to use DNA testing to prove which of 5 candidate places really saw the birth of Christopher Columbus. Here in Poio, we know he was a Gallego, born just down the road. Where there’s a museum dedicated to him on the site of his birthplace.  

So, was the computer item waiting for me at the IT shop last night? Of course not. After waiting 20 minutes, I was told it hadn’t been sent because, on someone’s reflection, it didn’t do what I needed it to do. So, against my will, I resorted to Amazon and will have to wait another week.

María’s Level Ground: Day 51. A different Santiago.

The UK 

It’s suggested that up to 100,000 desperate Brits will ignore government injunctions and go on pilgrimage to Amber Spain this week. Which will cost them at least and arm on tests and quarantine costs, and will probably de at the expense of medical insurance.

A propos . . . Here’s the BBC on the current travel rules.

Boris Johnson might well be a global laughing stock but: The clock is ticking on Johnson’s people-pleasing. The prime minister’s brand of matey nationalism wins plaudits from fans but hides an emptiness behind the masquerade. See the harsh article – from a right-of centre -paper – below.

In case you live in a (British) cave . . . As of ‘quite soon’, there’ll be a right-of-centre-but-certainly-not-Fox News-type TV news channel in the UK – GB News. To be available on Freeview, Freesat, Sky, YouView and Virgin Media. It won’t provide rolling news but, instead, is expected to be a mix of news, opinion and debate. A la France 24? Or Moscow’s RT?

English

‘Main character energy’: Generation Z uses this to positively describe themselves or others. While it originated as a meme, the idea of thinking of yourself as the primary character and romanticizing your own life actually has cognitive benefits. They say.

Finally  . . . 

The answers to yesterday’s conundrums:- 

1. 5

2. 5

3. 47

Don’t worry if you didn’t get them right because . . .  One’s quotient of rational ability has been called RQ, as opposed to IQ and this correlates imperfectly with IQ. You might still be clever. Sort of. 

Backcloth: Starting in the 20th century, psychologists began to realize that people use their analytical ability not to analyze, but rather to rationalize — that is, to conform observed facts to their preconceived biases. Understanding the two main reasons why humans do so lies at the heart of both individual and mass delusions. The first reason for the proclivity all of us—the smart, the dumb, and the average—have for such irrationality is that true rationality is extraordinarily hard work, and few possess the ability to do it. 

THE ARTICLE

The clock is ticking on Johnson’s people-pleasing. The prime minister’s brand of matey nationalism wins plaudits from fans but hides an emptiness behind the masquerade: Max Hastings, The (right-of-centre,Tory-supporting) Telegraph

Eight years ago Tim Montgomerie penned a Times column citing the Danish TV series Borgen, in which lead character Birgitte Nyborg breaks the political mould to form a Free New Democratic party. Montgomerie asked: “Don’t we need something like that in Britain?” He proposed a grouping of the centre right on crime, welfare and migration, committed to extending home ownership and cutting taxes on the poor.

Today, his dream has sort of come true. Britain is ruled by a government that, though called Conservative, is nothing of the sort. Trending right on culture, left on economics, it represents instead Johnsonian nationalism. People like me, who deplore the prime minister, nonetheless cannot dispute that he has remade British politics. This is an achievement that ensures his place in the history books, although it remains to be seen whether he winds up nudging his idol Winston Churchill, or instead Lord North.

The new party’s mastery derives from the prime minister’s personal popularity, rejection of Europe, a willingness to embrace any other policy that pleases a quorum of voters, and the brutal suppression of dissent. Even when the government incurs public wrath, as it has done by the chaos of its foreign holiday guidance, anger attaches to ministers rather than to their leader.

This evokes the wartime German catchphrase in the face of disaster: “If only the Fuhrer knew!” It explains Johnson’s stubbornness in indulging on his front bench proven inadequates and rogues. They serve as lightning conductors for failure; emphasise his own stature by their lack of political inches; rely for their bread upon his patronage. It is hard to imagine Gavin Williamson or Robert Jenrick, to name but two, reaching a shortlist for town dogcatcher if they lost their jobs.

No one can aspire to displace the prime minister who lacks a generous measure of his star quality, which argues that Rishi Sunak remains the only plausible contender. Johnson’s future troubles will come not from the opposition, but instead from Conservative MPs who recoil from his personality cult and from policy-making on Strictly voting principles.

As long as the pandemic persists, which seems likely to be many moons yet, so will the invisibility of other issues and of lesser politicians. Johnson’s licence to address the nation at will, without facing tough scrutiny from a shamefully tame media that defers to the national emergency, confers a huge advantage upon him. He has borrowed from the Trump playbook a contempt for rules and precedents: if he has the power to adopt a course, to promote a favourite or ignore a hostile regulatory verdict, he uses it, judging that his base does not care.

I wrote earlier this year that all politics has become vaccine politics. We remain so preoccupied with personal circumstances that our capacity to engage with other issues is slight.

In the historic narrative of Britain, the pandemic represents a temporary crisis alongside the enduring challenges: education, the post-Brexit threat to the financial services sector, infrastructure, climate change, incompetent policing, health and social care. But scarcely anybody outside think tanks is addressing these things.

The prime minister and his chancellor have drowned short-term discontents beneath a tidal wave of public money. Johnson offers pledges on social levelling-up, global trade deals, resolution of the post-Brexit Irish threat, improving education, reforming the railways. There is no evidence, however, that he possesses substantive policies for any of these things, nor even that he thinks deeply about them. He merely persists with doing what he does best: telling every audience what it wants to hear, not least that he will not attack their pockets.

“To govern is to choose” has been a truism since the phrase was first attributed to Pierre Mendes-France in 1954, though it is probably a couple of millennia older. Johnson, however, has transformed that principle into “to govern is to fudge”. He is a fundamentally weak man, save in his personal ambition, who hates to be forced to make decisions.

I do not doubt that he would like to make Britain a better place, where the trains run faster, schools educate, the north flourishes and carbon targets are met. But while he excels at articulating such objectives, he lacks the application, and sincere concern for others, to pursue them effectively. The government’s Integrated Review of defence exemplified this. It represents an admirable statement of where Britain would like to go, bereft of plausible explanations of how it might get there, especially since the prime minister has led us into isolation. Many British people feel more disdainful than for decades towards foreigners. A cynic might suggest that Johnson bribed French fishermen to blockade the Channel Islands on the eve of the Hartlepool by-election.

As a nation we are cursed by self-importance, a belief in our exceptionalism fed by recent events. How could the vaccinated British not feel smug when they gaze across the Channel towards so many unvaccinated Europeans?

Nobody much cares that, since Brexit, 10 per cent of bank assets have been transferred from London to the EU. Few people have read last month’s paper from the US Council on Foreign Relations, proposing a “concert of major powers” to conduct ongoing discussions about global issues. Its six-strong membership would comprise America, China, Russia, India, Japan and the EU. We are not mentioned. Practically, this does not matter, because the “concert” will never happen. But we should be sobered by the revelation that an influential transatlantic body is so dismissive of “global Britain”.

I wrote three years ago that, if Boris Johnson ever achieved his ambition to become prime minister, Britain would forgo any claim to be considered a serious country. I stick with that. The day will come when the British people again feel obliged to be serious, but probably not soon. With heroic complacency, many today think that, if we can only get the masks off, we shall be in a pretty good place. Would that this looked likely for our children.

Part of me hates myself for writing like this. Bleak reflections win few friends when there is a craving for good cheer, which the prime minister uses his remarkable blokeish gifts to assuage. But such thoughts demand expression if we are to retain some grip on reality, as distinct from the parody of it dispensed by No 10.

The pandemic is causing much that is not normal to happen all over the world. But some uniquely British not-normal stuff is also taking place. It seems important to keep flagging the weirdness of the presidential imposture and abolition of accountability that characterise the Johnsonian age, from which honesty, and thus moral authority, have sailed away on a balloon ride.

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