More on the (de?)merits of masks.
Cosas de España/Galiza
The Pontevedra city council plugs the nickname for the city of Boa Vila. Buena Villa, in Castellano. I was a little surprised last night to hear a lifelong resident insist that, despite population growth, it’s a city in decline. And that it compares badly with the burgeoning cities of Santiago de Compostela and La Coruña. She cited the deteriorating retail scene I’ve mentioned a couple of times. So I agreed with her on that at least.
Anyway, said city council has set up billboards advising us that Pontevedra’s emblem has changed. It’s now the one on the right here, emphasising water and stone. Rather like the previous 2 did, some might say:-
As ever cynical these days, I wonder which of the mayor’s relatives is in the sign-writing business. And I also wonder what the wags will make of it. Tonsils and a furry tongue??
Yellow is definitely the colour of approaching spring in my neck of the woods. The mimosa trees start blooming in January:-
And these weeds appear at the end of my rear lawn:-
And then there are the daffodil shoots, just starting to appear.
Incidentally, although I’ve used the word ‘weeds’, the definition of a weed is simply ‘A flower in the wrong place’. So, it depends on subjectivity. Fashion, even. And, whatever its official status is in horticultural circles, I prefer to regard this very welcome weed as a flower.
Day 2 of María’s enforced confinement.
Another joke at the expense of the hapless PP deputy of last Thursday . . .
Boris Johnson: See below for a profile of a man whose vaunting ambition far outdistanced his capacity to be an effective political leader, especially in difficult times. Which, of course, is ‘always’ in politics. One way or another.
This is an interesting run-through of the British economic times through which I’ve lived. And which ends on a surprisingly upbeat note. Let’s hope it’s valid.
See the 2nd article below for something from a French observer who lives in the UK.
Finally . . .
The Netflix documentary The Tinder Swindler is well worth watching. But anger is probably the strongest emotion it’ll leave you with. Though some plump for victim-blaming. Mostly men, I fear. Though certainly some women at least.
For new readers: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here.
1. Boris Johnson has become what he always loathed. The PM used to be internationalist, open, liberal — now bowing out gracefully is the only way to save his reputation: Clare Foges, The Times
Thwop, thwop, the blades of the helicopter whirr, hovering over No 10 as a ladder dangles down and one of the last souls in the building reaches to grab it. Tom, Dick and Harry tunnels snake under Whitehall; in the Downing Street garden a special adviser spells out SOS with empty wine bottles. Soon only the prime minister and Nadine Dorries will be holed up in the Cabinet Room, the culture secretary loyally standing by her master to the end and beyond, Westminster’s own Greyfriars Bobby.
We have reached that stage of government meltdown that might be called bull***t bingo; a drink for every time you hear that the prime minister is “getting on with the job”, “beefing up” the No 10 operation, having a “reset”, or “not going anywhere”. We all know he’s going somewhere at some point in the next six months or so — and that some point must be soon, not only for the sake of the country and the Conservative Party, but for Johnson himself.
Jumping before he is pushed is Johnson’s only chance of public rehabilitation some way down the line, and it might prove a blessed relief, too. Unfashionable as it may be to say it, I feel sorry for our prime minister. A photo taken on the day Munira Mirza resigned last week showed him looking miserable and hollow-eyed. Having worked with Johnson many years ago I suspect the cause of that haunted expression was not only the loss of a long-time ally but the dawning of a realisation that Mirza’s departure made undeniable: he has become the kind of politician he used to loathe.
The old, pre-Brexit Johnson was an internationalist, open, liberal politician, popular but not populist. His natural habitat was the offices of The Spectator, his allies the raffish and bookish types who wrote for the magazine. This was his scene, not parliament with its sharp-elbowed colleagues from Bogborough West machinating in the tea room.
The old Johnson proudly talked up his Turkish heritage; the new Johnson blew dog whistles on Turkey joining the EU. The old Johnson was scornful of the lengths that politicians would go to in order to cling on to office; the new Johnson digs in. The old Johnson had as his lodestars people like Mirza and his old Spectator colleagues, clever types who could put him in his place in an intellectual jousting match. The new Johnson’s Praetorian Guard is Dorries, Priti Patel and Michael Fabricant.
Mirza’s resignation must have been a double blow because it confirmed the full and complete transformation of old Johnson into new, and this isn’t the kind of leader he wanted to be. He didn’t yearn to be a mini strongman, a crusher of process and trampler of democracy. He wanted to be an optimistic leader for feelgood times, to show that he and he alone could straddle the three horses of leafy shire Conservatism, red wall Toryism and urban progressivism. Above all, this gossamer-skinned politician wanted to be well liked; now three quarters of Britons want him gone.
How did the gap between Johnsons old and new grow so wide? An image springs to mind of two train tracks diverting very gradually before ending up in entirely different places. The transformation has not come about through some dramatic corruption of the prime minister’s soul but because he has no real political purpose or principles and a very real desire to please whomever he has spoken to last, and this fundamental weakness — coupled with unquenchable ambition — has led to some disastrous calls.
In a bid to please Tory members he chose the pro-Brexit fork in the road despite not really believing in it. To please his Vote Leave handlers he peddled nonsense about Brexit dividends and sunlit uplands. To please Dominic Cummings he jumped on every culture wars bandwagon going. To please his most loyal parliamentary colleagues he appointed them to posts above their intellectual pay grade. To please various cabinet ministers he let them stay even though evidence of bullying and corruption hung around them.
We can imagine that the root of the Paterson affair was a desire to please backbenchers who were circling the wagons around their colleague. We can imagine, too, that a desire to please his wife might have led to some of the scandals surrounding him, from the trivial business of the golden wallpaper to the very serious business of the animals-before-humans evacuation from Kabul.
What would the Noughties Johnson make of his present-day self; lying in parliament, hurling the ghastly Jimmy Savile accusation, doing anything short of supergluing himself to the cabinet table? It would have provided a rich seam for copy, I suppose, but he would have been scathing. Indeed, in 2006 he wrote this of prime minister Tony Blair: “It is a wonderful and necessary fact of political biology that we never know when our time is up. Long after it is obvious to everyone that we are goners, we continue to believe in our ‘duty’ to hang on, with cuticle-wrenching tenacity, to the perks and privileges of our posts. We kid ourselves that we must stay because we would be ‘letting people down’ . . .”
Johnson is perhaps kidding himself that it is his duty to stay on because of the possibility of war in Ukraine, though he will remember that we swapped prime ministers fairly efficiently in the middle of the Second World War. I suspect that deep down, his main reason for wanting to stay put is to prove to people that he is still Boris Mark I, the amiable, liberal politician that many adored.
I fear it is too late for that — but it is not too late for a post-politics Johnson to at least partially rehabilitate his reputation. Increasingly he is being written up as Britain’s Trump, a malevolent schemer, a sociopathic liar, a nasty individual. Having known the prime minister I think this is way off the mark, but if he refuses to give up when the jig is up the Trumpian comparisons will inevitably continue.
It would be far better for the prime minister to resign with dignity soon, explicitly put the nation and the party first, and enjoy other outlets for his considerable talents before re-emerging as a public (but not political) figure a few years down the line.
Johnson, a lover of Shakespeare, would be wise to remember the line from Macbeth about the death of the Thane of Cawdor: “Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.” The same might be said of political lives. Better a dignified steering of his own destiny than a protracted battle to cling on to power. One way allows at least the possibility of redemption in the public eye, the other does not.
2. Macron is the best of a painfully bad bunch – Agnès Poirier, The Times
Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Both the French and British seem to be living in tragicomic times. The British PM undermines his country’s reputation on the world stage with his “inadvertent lies”, while inflation and energy prices rise in Britain will soon leave the poorest choosing between starving and freezing. In France, the government may have capped energy price rises at 4%, but our presidential election pre-campaign offers the most grotesque and painful spectacle.
Have you heard of the French left primaries, also called “popular primaries”, organised online by self-styled members without a card? I thought not. They insisted on holding a ballot even though no candidates wanted to take part, except Christiane Taubira, a former justice minister of François Hollande. Guess what? Taubira, for whom this charade was staged, was chosen through a system of . . . school marks. She got a B+ while the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon got a C and Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist Party candidate, got a D.
There are now 7 candidates on the left. If you add their respective polling numbers for the first round, the left amounts to just 28.5% of voting intentions. Now look at the right. We don’t have one but two far-right candidates. TV talk show star Éric Zemmour’s ideas are so vile that, in comparison, Marine Le Pen appears almost respectable. And Valérie Pécresse, a former Sarkozy minister and the Les Républicains party’s candidate, almost sufferable. Together, the right represents 45% of the polls.
A sociologist recently claimed that “France dreams itself on the left while voting on the right”. All I know is that the divisions, mediocrity and incompetence displayed by France’s left amount to a national tragedy. No wonder our 44-year-old centrist wizard President Macron looks like the only sane and decent option to most French people. With 24%, he’s at the top of first-round voting intentions and has, according to The Economist’s election model, a 79% chance of winning the presidency.