Back on – or just off – the Camino

I’m back revisiting favourite corners of the Camino, and also taking in places and landscapes which tantalised me last year by being just off route. Above all the monastery of San Millan de la Cogalla, where I’m writing this post.

We’re not staying in albergues, but in hotels – and some are almost smart. Do I miss the dormitories? And the snoring? Maybe not! Though I do have ambitions to walk the Camino Portugues later this year.

The monastery has claims to be the birthplace of the Spanish language, where what became Castilian was first written down by an early 12th century monk as marginal notes to a Latin codex. I knew when I first read about San Millan, in Navarrete last year, that I had to visit.

I loved and love the history of the Camino – the vast church interiors, ancient houses with coats of arms, streets winding through towns and villages as they’ve done for a thousand years, the Templar and Cluny connections, tales of battles against the Moors, my hero Sant Iago, the porch of the ruined church outside Navarrete now gracing the entrance to the cemetery on the other side of town, churches where pilgrims who might not make it to Santiago could nonetheless receive absolution  – all the powerful spiritual connections.

I’d attend pilgrim masses when I could, and light candles.

Down the road from San Millan is Berceo, the birthplace of the first recognised Spanish language poet, Gonzalo de Berceo. Another reason for visiting.

From my hotel window in San Millan woodlands stretch up both sides of the valley into the heart of the Sierra de la Demande. And a cuckoo is calling, as it has been on and off through the day.

San Millan himself was a 6th century hermit, and around him gathered other hermits, and in the 10th century a Benedictine monastery was founded on the site. There are monks here to this day, though I’ve yet to catch sight of any! There are depictions of San Millan is sculpture and paintings in Benedictine attire (hardly a military uniform!) and brandishing a strange red zigzag sword, taking on the Moors as did Santiago Matamoros. Like Santiago he was a patron saint, of Castile and Aragon, but Santiago’s status has fared better down the years.

We walked up the valley this afternoon and climbed the hillside to one of the many hillside caves. The views up to the still snow-touched peaks were wonderful, likewise the woodlands which extend everywhere. We took out all our woodlands back home in the UK for firewood and building ships and to create pasture – not so here!

If you want to be a hermit, I can’t imagine anywhere better.

Final thoughts …

Final thoughts on the EU. Unless provoked!

A friend sent me the link to the Brexit movie, which I mentioned two posts ago.  I viewed and responded to her as follows:

“I’m proud to be a liberally-minded outward-looking Englishman, European, citizen of the world. Any film or message that begins with ‘we the people’ is automatically suspect. Pretending to refer back to the American constitution, but sounding more like Oswald Mosley in the 1930s.

There’s much wrong with the EU. There’s bound to be with any institution which brings together 26 nations. But the important thing is that it’s brought them together. We live in peace, amazingly. After fighting each other pretty much forever. We trade successfully, and we can only lose by leaving. The Leave story here is a disgraceful misrepresentation. Fully-argued surveys on one side against rose-tinted speculation on the other. Which do we go for? And trade means regulations and standards – we will need them anyway if we want to trade with Europe. And on the environmental side, and that includes animal welfare, I’m delighted to see that our standards have been taken up by the EU, and that means countries with much poorer standards than ours.

Listen on iPlayer to Paddy Ashdown  on Any Questions last Friday [13th May] taking apart Liam Fox when Fox tried to dismiss all the world institutions – the IMF, OECD etc – that argue for the UK staying in the EU as somehow biased or self-serving or in the EU’s pay. Only by traducing the integrity of these institutions (and none have come out favouring Brexit) can the Leave campaign make a case for themselves – and it’s profoundly to their discredit that they try. Likewise Mark Carney and the Bank of England – should he not issue warnings when warnings are what his role as Governor requires of him?

I walked the Camino across northern Spain with fellow Europeans last autumn. Not with the Brexit-minded. But with people mainly younger, mainly much younger than myself. They are the future. There’s a spirit of optimism, of sharing.

Sovereignty – that’s how the film begins. Sovereignty is worthless unless you work with others, and that means sharing some of that sovereignty. The EU is what we make of it – and we have one of the dominant voices there.

Immigration – on the plus side, an incontrovertible net benefit to the economy, on the debit side, pressure on resources and in some cases, jobs. How we control immigration (and still get the benefits) should be the issue, not how we oppose it.

Do we really want to turn the world against us?

Boris’s comments about the EU wanting a European superstate as Hitler did are disgraceful. We are the EU. The EU doesn’t have a separate existence. Linking it to Hitler is atrocious history, and populism of the worst kind.

Someone somewhere said he hoped the film would enlighten and entertain. It does the opposite.”

 

 

No more on Brexit?

Well, almost.

Time I think to bow out of talking about Brexit in this blog. It’s taking me down paths I don’t want to go. It’s so easy to be intemperate, and that’s no surprise, and indeed inevitable, given the importance of the issues involved. Recent specifics:

We’ve had the Tory MP Steve Baker laying into the Remain campaign for its petty smears, which is a bit rich giving the diet of outrageously misleading reports we get from the Eurosceptic press.

There’s Ian Duncan Smith on Michael Heseltine: ‘a voice from the past’ in response to Heseltine’s comment that Boris’s ‘judgement is going’ – not ‘going’ but transparently ‘gone’.

And Chris Grayling refusing was it nine times to give a straight answer on whether or not he supported Boris Johnson’s comments equating the EU’s ambitions with Hitler’s.

And at an institutional rather than personal level we have the right-wing Eurosceptic press.

Ownership concentrated primarily in the hands of ‘press barons’ is a serious issue for any democracy which aspires to be a mature and stable entity. Freedom of the press and oligarchical control are not compatible.

There’s an excellent outfit called InFacts that takes the Eurosceptic press to task for its persistent and egregiously wrong or radically misleading reporting. It’s well worth reading.

They, and we, have to hang in there.  

A battle against ideas??

There’s an anti-intellectual, anti-ideas, anti-authority (academic as well as political) mood out there, encouraged and fired up by the media. In the USA by Fox and shock-jocks, and Trump and his cohorts. In the UK by much of the popular press and, sadly, by Brexit campaigners. See below for two contributions, both with Facebooks videos, which highlight the dangers such attitudes present.

One, a Barack Obama speech to the Rutgers University Class of 2016. ‘In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about… But when our leaders express a disdain for the facts, when they are not held accountable for repeating falsehoods and just making stuff up, when actual experts are dismissed as elitists, then we’ve got a problem.’

See: https://www.facebook.com/BusinessInsider.Politics/videos/1015027085240290/

As seen from the UK – ideas are out of fashion, reliable sources of information are cast as biased, or worse – establishment. Boris’s suggestion yesterday that Cameron had bought the support of big business by offering government contracts is the latest, and most absurd, example.

There have been dubious claims from leaders on the Stay side. But the weight of misinformation put out on the Brexit side takes some beating.

Almost every organisation of note, business and European, every country in Europe, groups like the Five Eyes security group (UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) – they have all come out in favour of staying in. Are they all tainted, biased, dishonested, bribed? Are they all to be damned as elitist and establishment?

Obama’s is a rallying-cry, and a reminder of what we stand to lose.

And, two, there’s a Brexit ‘film’ doing the rounds… It begins with the words, ‘We, the people are being cajoled… into surrendering our democracy and freedom.’ ‘The EU is turning into a dictatorship.’ But, given that we’re a key member of the organisation, the selfsame EU, which determines those regulations, and if we leave we’ll have them foisted on us, it’s a very dubious argument.

Happily you don’t have to put up with any further commentary from me. There’s a very good riposte: https://www.facebook.com/scientistsforeu/videos/787984157970262/

If Scientists for EU will forgive me I’ll quote the first paragraph:

‘The whole documentary is about the need for deregulation. It’s fundamentally a neoliberal infomercial, painting history through the mantra of deregulation leads to growth and regulation leads to stagnation. They tell us that the EU is over-regulated, so we need to get out – and then we will economically prosper. That’s the thesis. The only problem is that they have no business/ economist backing whatsoever. Instead of interviewing CEOs of Airbus, Rolls-Royce, etc (all of which have come out for Remain), the documentary interviews just the standard clique of Nigel Lawson, Daniel Hannan, James Delingpole, Nigel Farage, etc… Politicians and right-wing journalists – with Kate Hoey thrown it.’

Do check it out.

 

And if we leave?

If you prefer me writing country notes, or you’re American, and you’re not too interested in British or European politics, do give this post a miss! Though there are a good few parallels with Trumpery.

Also, if you’re expecting me to be mild-mannered, and avoid personalities, well, not this time. There is some pretty egregiously bad behaviour out there.

If you read the press and indeed listen to the BBC news you can get depressed, even feel beleaguered if you support staying in the EU. Michael Heseltine’s demolition of Boris Johnson yesterday, primarily over his linking the EU and Hitler’s ambitions, was featured in the Times, but not in the popular press. Heseltine would be ‘very surprised’ if Boris ever became the leader of the party, and that of course is an implicit part of the Brexit agenda. (How left-of-centre Brexit supporters can justify to themselves facilitating a Boris premiership I don’t know.) So however absurd Boris gets, he remains untouchable – and he is of course aware of that.

I don’t believe for a moment that Michael Gove shares Boris’s view of European history. I wonder (to myself only so far!) whether he might just change sides at the last. He is already tainted by association.

I also wonder what will happen if Boris does, after a Cameron resignation, become PM. Would all his party fall into line? I somehow doubt it – the party is badly split.(Just how far will all this mutual abuse extend?)  So he wouldn’t of course command a majority in the Commons, and in the event of an election there’s a very good chance that a pro-EU parliament would be returned. Would the Tories be able to campaign as a single party? If they did and they’re returned as the largest party, but well short of a majority, would they then still try and force through Leave legislation?

Another scenario: Nigel Farage asserts that, if the result is small Stay majority, there will be a clamour for a second referendum. I haven’t heard it from the Stay campaign yet, and I guess they’re too wise to make the comment – but if the result is a small majority for Leave, I expect there will also be a big clamour for … a second referendum.

Oh the joys of uncertainty and chaos!

If we weren’t all so deeply involved, if a potential Brexit hadn’t got calamity written all over it, these would be fascinating times. They will make good history ….

 

Three absurdities: 3) privatising the BBC?

And one more, absurdity that is, along similar lines to my last post:

Listening to two Tory MPs on Radio 4 debating the BBC (there’s a White Paper on the BBC about to be published):

one MP recognising that the BBC is much-loved and works well as it is –  we’ve all misgivings, but we can be proud …

and the other arguing that it would do much better in the private sector, as a subscription channel, and there it could do so much more. Precisely what I wondered, and how would it in the end differ from Sky?

An example of the kind of private-sector lunacy which affects and afflicts the Tory right.

They’ve a doctrinaire fear of the state, a ‘we’re all disciples of Hayek now’ mentality, a libertarian impulse which misreads history, scorns the role of the state and government, fails to recognise how state and enterprise can work together (and have done so remarkably over the last two hundred years) – and in the event disregards what the ordinary person wants.

It’s a perverse form of elitism. It’s a fetish, a dogma, which also infects the EU debate, a shadow agenda hiding behind the issues of immigration and sovereignty.

 

Three absurdities: 2) selling off council houses

And another absurdity –

I’ve been reading (Prospect magazine, on the future of cities) about Porto, in Portugal, and how the mayor, Rui Moriera, ‘has pledged not to sell a single council house and instead invest in a programme of renovations and converting derelict buildings into new ones’.

‘We could easily make 10% of our budget every year by selling houses. If you do that you can build a lot of bridges and lots of mayors like that. But it will kill the city. The city will lose all the flair that attracted people in the first place.’

The government here plans the further sale of council houses, and new bridges are planned for London of course. And in time as we lose the social mix, and city-centre estates are replaced by new ‘mixed-use’ developments, London will lose its flair.

In London, and across the country, building more social housing, allowing councils to start building again, encouraging housing associations, has to be the way forward. Not obliging them to sell off their stock, when housing is a vital commodity, more than that, fundamental to our future, and existing private sector plans simply aren’t coping.

Doctinaire considerations – private over public – bid down the practical. (See my third blog, my third absurdity.)