How I got my politics…

“We might be lions led by donkeys but..” the man on the television with the round red face on the squat but powerful frame paused momentarily and then spitting out the words, “but at least we´re not jackals!”

A huge roar and the Trades Union Congress conference delegates rose to their feet to cheer and applaud. Ron Todd, leader of the Transport and General Workers Union, my Dad´s union, 1984, at the height of the Miner´s strike against the government of Margaret Thatcher. It was the most important political and industrial confrontation of the second half  of the twentieth century in the UK.

I was never really one for skiving, at school or at college. But when I did then it was normally during the Trades Union Congress or the Labour Party conference.

I´d heat up some tinned chicken soup, (you always had chicken soup when you, supposedly, weren´t well) and buttered toast with it, to share with my Dad. And then we´d sit back in our own smoke filled backroom, like special delegates over from Ireland, to enjoy the wonderful richness and diversity of our adopted country.

Working class voices, so common in soap operas and comedies, are rarely heard in the media as voices of authority. Even in the conference t.v. coverage there were, of course, the usual privately educated middle class men, the Robin Days and the Dimblebys, to explain to us what it all meant. We ignored them.

And paid attention instead to these passionate, funny and earnest women and men, reporters from the front line of ordinary people´s lives, defying the latest Tory outrage in the tones of the Mersey, the Thames and the Tyne, Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow, Sikhs from West London, West Indians from the West Midlands, cleaners from South London, and miners from South Wales.

Dad had worked at the textile factory in Aintree in Liverpool, next door to the famous Grand National course. Airplanes had been made there at the start of the century, then silk for parachutes during the Second World War, then it was taken over by Courtaulds, a multinational and, at their peak in the seventies, the largest man made textile manufacturer in the world. Their biggest customer was Marks and Spencer.

The factory had closed in 1981, one of the first to go in the high interest rate, high rate of sterling recession deliberately designed to deindustrialize Britain by the Conservative government. Where the factory once stood there´s now a retail park.

We knew that, though Ron Todd could spit defiance, he wasn´t about to call for a general strike.

“Won´t matter though, will it Dad? If the engineers and electricians won´t support the miners then they´re going to lose, aren´t they?”

It had been the Electricians leader, Eric Hammond, who´d just incensed the conference by referring to the miners as lions led by donkeys.

“Most likely. If they did strike, and that bugger Hammond will make sure they won´t, the miners would win overnight.”

I had visions of a national fuse box somewhere, and a big switch the electricians could throw and that´d be the ruling class sorted.

But they never threw the switch. And the miners lost. And my Dad is sadly, like Eric and Ron, long dead.

Eric became a good friend of Mrs Thatcher, worked secretly with Rupert Murdoch to destroy the print unions when News International moved from Fleet Street to Wapping and was awarded an OBE from the Queen. On the other hand when he finally took early retirement nobody from the union thought it worthwhile having a farewell party to mark the occasion. He never left the Labour Party.

Ron Todd led his Union for seven years, feuded with Neil Kinnock as he moved the Party to the right, and refused all honours but recruited the Queen Mother to the T. and G. as an honorary member. He wrote lots of poetry in retirement and his memory is kept green by a facebook page. He too died a member of the Labour Party.

And now that the neo-liberal deep chill is finally beginning to thaw, my Dad was very much with me in spirit as I watched the Labour Party conference (on line) last week.

“Bloody disgrace that chairman.”

I could hear him say as the conference chairman ignored party rules to stop a vote the right wing might have lost. But he would have said it with a smile.

“…. that´s what the right of the party have always been like. Big on power. What do they say? By whatever means necessary.”

And the big picture is the fact that the right were up to disreputable tricks like purges, coups and court action is proof that there is finally a left worthy of the name.

And he´d have loved it that the accents of London, of Leeds, of Manchester, of Stockport could be heard and not just from the conference floor but from the shadow cabinet!

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A Budget to be proud of…..

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Disabled handrail. Thanks to George we know how destructive they can be!

It´s well known that George Osborne and David Cameron are great admirers of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher. It´s less well known perhaps, that George Osborne is a supporter of gay marriage and equal opportunities for ethnic minorities but that does not mean that a different and dangerous minority group can pull the wool over his eyes.

Because, as you may remember, there was a global financial collapse in 2008 which as today´s budget will testify, had nothing to do with banks, dodgy deals in the City or inflated house prices in the United States, but everything to do with disabled people in Britain, without a thought for the global implications, getting handrails or walking sticks and other aids that, you see, they don´t really need.

For the centerpiece of austerity in George´s budget today will be stopping up to 500,000 disabled people getting money to buy things that really they can manage without having, like…. grab rails, shower stools, walking sticks, commodes, electric/reclining beds, screen readers, amplified telephones, infrared hearing systems, adapted cutlery…….the list surely speaks for itself. Absolutely necessary savings. There´s no way the ninth richest country in the world can afford to provide such things.

At first glance, I admit, it may seem that in comparison Mrs Thatcher had more worthy, powerful opponents, like the Print Unions or the Miners. Osborne and Cameron have only the sick and the lame, but then you can´t choose your enemies, can you? And the disabled simply are more to blame for the black hole in the nation´s books than bankers, city brokers, tax exiles, tax avoiding corporations or expenses fiddling MPs. They must be because if George has said it once he´s said it a thousand times, the broadest shoulders will bear the biggest burden. So let it never be said they lacked, or lack, the moral courage to give them a right good pasting.

Indeed George has been particularly courageous given the stubborn refusal of any disabled group or large charity (and there`s over 50 of them!) to say anything good about what he´s done. And he´s done a lot.

For example research into the effect of all the ‘necessary savings’ made by the last government indicate that purely because disabled people are on average poorer than able bodied people (…hard to credit I know given their crucial role in undermining the nation´s finances, but still….), then they have got what they deserve being undoubtedly the single hardest hit of all groups in society by the cuts, sorry, the necessary savings.

George will have been particularly pleased with the effect of the bedroom tax that also disproportionately hits the disabled. Claiming they need an extra room ´cos they need a special bed, or specialist equipment say, for example, to breathe, is, after all, just so much, well, hot air.

A centerpiece of this courageous facing down of people we might refer to (with our clear sighted friends in the oligarch press) as shirkers and scroungers was, of course, the re-assessment by non-medically qualified people of thousands of the sick and disabled as fit for work, overturning assessments by medically qualified, but it seems not entirely trustworthy, professionals. And if in the years 2011-2014 2,380 self declared sick and disabled people were found fit for work shortly before they died, well, seeing their benefits cut as they came to face their own mortality probably did them no real harm.

And admiration for George and David simply knows no bounds when they´ve steadfastly refused to allow any independent assessment of the impact of all these changes on the disabled. The boys are not for turning. Maggie would be proud….wouldn´t she?

And they haven´t been slow already to let the disabled know in this parliament that they´ve still got them in their sights. So in the last couple of weeks the Work Support Allowance has been forced through a strangely reluctant, lily livered House of Lords, and appallingly, also against the opposition of some of their own Tory MPs, meaning a thirty quid reduction in the weekly benefit of disabled people who have been found fit for work. The rebel MPs fell for the argument that the new law would simply make the disabled poorer, and otherwise do nothing. As one Tory rebel put it,

“It is clear this is not acceptable as just a cost saving measure,”

And although there is no evidence that the change does actually do anything else, surely David and George are entitled to reply…

“…. and the problem with that is what exactly?”

Given the intrinsic merit of these attacks on the disabled and sick though, it seems strange to remember that in the election campaign, while David and George were both clear there would be cuts, amounting to billions of pounds, they didn´t state who in particular they would be taking money from. False modesty, perhaps?

And don´t entertain for a second the thought that actually what it´s all about is the step by step destruction of the welfare state and returning us plebs to the squalor, want and ignorance from which the welfare state freed us. No, no, no. Perish the thought. After all it´s not as if people are going hungry and the weak are going to the wall……

Please speak up with and for the sick and disabled. Do everything you can, even if its just talking to friends and neighbours, liking and sharing on facebook posts that are supportive of the disabled, tweeting, etc, so that this budget is remembered as the one which pushed the intrinsic decency and kindness of British people too far and that we all say, for the sake of common decency and the common good, enough is enough.

For more info on the relative effects of austerity and how it disproportionately affects the disabled and women. See. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/31/austerity-women-ethnic-minorities-disabled-tax-welfare

On the fight to defend the disabled see.

https://thehardesthit.wordpress.com/stats-and-facts/

 

Was haben wir mit unserem schönen Crosby gemacht?

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Crosby Village……..und wo ‘Central Buildings’ einmal waren.

Simon Jenkins, ein berühmter Kolumnist in England hat vor einer Woche in der nationalen Zeitung „The Guardian“ geschrieben, dass Liverpool, meine Heimatstadt „sich selbst zerstört hat“. Diese Worte haben mich sehr getroffen, weil der Teil von Liverpool, wo ich wohnte und meine Familie noch lebt, sehr „zerstört“ aussieht. Haben wir, die Einwohner das geschafft, und wenn ja, dann wie?
Es gab hier nie Randale. Crosby ist kein armes Problemviertel. Und wir sind nie politisch extrem gewesen. Als ich hier in den 80 und 90 Jahre aufwuchs, hatten wir keinen einzigen Labour Stadt Verordneten. In den Nationalen Wahlen wurde hauptsächlich für „the Conservatives“ (ungefähres Equivalent wäre die CDU) gestimmt.
In dieser Zeit lebte Crosby den Traum der kleinen Unternehmer. Allein in unserer Straße gab es einen Süßigkeitenladen, eine kleine Firma die Brillengläser produzierte, eine Umzugsfirma, einen Reifenreparaturladen, der dann eine Doppelverglasungsfirma wurde. Die letzte von dieser Firmen, das Doppelverglasungsgeschäft ,schließt gerade für immer.
Im Zentrum von Crosby, ‘the Village’ genannt, gab es viele Kleinläden, Gemüse-, Fisch-, Uhrenreparaturgeschäfte, und ein sehr beliebte Bäckerei. Die Bäckerei ist über die Jahre hinweg immer kleiner geworden und kämpft immer noch ums Überleben, alle Anderen sind schon weg. Vielleicht, Simon, kann es sein dass wir nicht genügend Kuchen und Brot gegessen haben, aber als wir für die selbsternannte Partei der kleinen- und mittelständigen Firmen gestimmt haben, glaubten wir, wir hätten die richtige Entscheidung getroffen.
Trotzdem, in Bezug auf seine Beschreibung von Crosby Village muss ich Simon auf jeden Fall Recht geben. Es sieht genau so aus als hätte in letzter Zeit jemand eine Bombe darauf abgeworfen. Wo das „Central Gebäude“ früher stand, gibt es jetzt eine Einöde und in Moor Lane gibt es überall geweißte Fenster von geschlossenen Läden.
Die Eigentümer des „Central Gebäudes“ haben ein in 2008 Neubaugenehmigung von der Gemeindeverwaltung bekommen. Daher wurden die Gebäude auf dem betroffenen Gelände abgerissen. Seitdem passiert nichts mehr. Außer dass nach dem letzten windigen Unwetter ein Stück Zaun umfiel, das mit einem Stück Zaun, das dem Wind besser standhält ,ersetzt wurde.
Wieso ist der Plan zu nichts gekommen? Menschen auf der Straße in Crosby erwähnen die Finanzkrise und unrealistische Immobilien Spekulation. Kann aber sein, Simon, dass die nur ihre Schuld leugnen wollen.
Es scheint schwerzufallen, die Wirtschaft im ‘Village’ anzukurbeln. Zwischen 1998 und 2012 wechselten fünfzig Prozent aller Geschäfte nicht nur ihre Eigentümer, sondern auch ihre Art von Geschäft. Bei immer weniger Kundenfrequenz wird eine Wiedereröffnung der Fußgängerzone für den Straßenverkehr erwogen.

Man muss natürlich auch die Supermarktkette Sainsbury‘s erwähnen und damit das schlimmsten Beispiel der Zerstörungskraft des Volkes von Crosby und Liverpool.

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Moor Lane.

Sainsbury’s hat schon seit Jahren einen sehr erfolgreichen und gewinnabwerfenden Supermarkt in Crosby Village. Im November 2009 wurde von Sainsbury’s ein Plan veröffentlicht, der beinhaltete, einen neuen, dreifach größeren Supermarkt zu bauen. Nebenbei würde dies auch zwei neue Parkhäuser, ein zweietagiges uns ein vieretagiges, mit sich bringen. Anstelle eines Crosby Village hätten wir dann sicher ein Sainsbury’s Village.
Der Plan wurde von der großen Mehrheit der Anwohner zurückgewiesen. So blieb er auf der Strecke. Wie selbstzerstörerisch von den Anwohnen von Crosby! Denn leider hatte Sainsbury’s in Vorbereitung auf den neuen Supermarkt schon viele der Läden und Häuser in der Gegend gekauft. Viele dieser Läden bleiben jetzt, durch hohe Mieten und aus Unsicherheit über langfristige Mietverträge geschlossen.
Immerhin, im Januar berichtete die Lokalzeitung über neue Hoffnungszeichen. Auf nationaler Ebene sieht es so aus als würde Sainsbury’s zukünftig lediglich ein Netzwerk von eher kleineren Supermärkten in Englischen Städten und Dörfern bauen zu wollen. Wäre es möglich, dass andere Städte sich genauso destruktive wie Liverpool verhalten? Das könnte erklären warum einige Häuser, die gekauft wurden um abgerissen zu werden, jetzt zum Verkauf stehen und die kommerziellen Mieten drastisch gesunken sind um, neue Businesses anzuziehen.
Trotzdem muss ich leider zum Schluss noch einen Beweis für die Aggressivität und Zerstörungswut der Anwohner von Crosby vorlegen. Eine Künstlerin, Naomi Lawrence, hat vor Kurzem eine „Wollbombardierung“ im Village organisiert. Sie, und andere Kiezbewohner, die sie aufgewiegelt hat teilzunehmen, haben farbigen ‘Mäntel’ für die Bäume im Village gestrickt, gehäkelt, und angebracht, wie man im Bild sehen kann. Werden wir nie lernen?

Dieser Artikel wurde auf Englisch in liverpool confindential veroeffentlicht.

http://www.liverpoolconfidential.co.uk/News-and-Comment/What-did-we-do-to-our-Crosby

 

 

 

 

Geschichte ist ein Albtraum

Folgendes ist ein Teil der  ‘Yes we Scan’ Ausstellung bei Galerie Emma T Lehderstrasse Weissensee Berlin. Sie laeuft bis ende Oktober 2013.

James Joyce hat einmal geschrieben; “Geschichte ist ein Albtraum, aus dem ich zu erwachen suche.”

1975 – Liverpool. Der Jesuit breitet Zeitschriften vor uns auf dem Boden aus. Der Tag ist hell und die Sonne scheint durch die hohen Fenster. In jeder Zeitschrit findet er die Inserate für Fernreisen und exotische Urlaube, schöne Bilder von Afrika, Thailand und Indien. Dann schaut er uns, junge Männer mit fünfzehn oder sechzehn, an.
“Was sagen Sie dazu?” Stille. Er guckt uns an und sagt: “Das ist eine Obzönität!”
Ich würde mich niemals wieder im Leben so mächtig fühlen.

33 – Palestina. An einem bestimmten Moment kommt der Spitzel in den Garten und küsst den jungen Mann, damit die Soldaten wissen, dass er der Richtige ist. Sie wissen fast nichts über ihn. Trotzdem werden sie ihn töten. Zugute der Anderen.

1976 – Liverpool. Eine Englisch Literatur Stunde; eine Diskussion über Bill Naughtons Kurzgeschichtensammlung “Die Rache des Torwarts”. Der Lehrer, Herr Schmidt, klein, mit kurzgeschorenem Bart, leicht auf die Palme zu bringen, möchte wissen, was wir zu der folgenden Aussage einer der Charakter, denken;

“Du besitzt nichts in Leben, es sei denn, du hast es selbst geschaffen, oder du hast das Geld, um es zu kaufen, selbst verdient.”

Wir gucken ihn an, ahnunglos. Er starrt jeden einzelnen von uns in der ersten Reihe an, kommt ganz nah heran. “Ist jemand zu Hause?” giesst er sarkastisch in unsere Stille hinein.
Langsam, empört, geht er durch die Reihen, bis die Letzte. Seine Stimme voll mit Schmerz und Enttäuschung, “……nichts?”

Endlich, entschlossen, marschiert er nach vorn und knallt sein Buch auf seinen Tisch.

“Um Gottes Willen, es ist die Wahrheit oder nicht? Es ist doch wahr, oder?”
Er starrt uns an, fassungslos. Seufzend, achselzuckend, können wir nur unsere Dummheit bedauern.

532 – Mesopotamien. Der Heilige Simon Stylites klettert auf seine Säule. Von hier, weit oben, kann er die Wüste und die Menschen überwachen und verspricht seinem Gott, er hat alles unter Kontrolle. Die Leute machen sich über ihn lustig, aber manche kommen in der Nacht mit Essen und Fragen.

1979 – Liverpool. In dieser Zeit gab es keine Überwachung, ausser für Iren. Leider sind wir Irisch. Ein Mittwochabend, wie viele andere. Wir sehen fern. Ken Livingston, Labour Partei Politiker und, einige Jahre später, Bürgermeister von London, im Gespräch:
“Und naturlich bin ich unter Überwachung”.
“Wie können sie das so sicher sagen?” fragt der Moderator. Er wirkt skeptisch.
“Weil,” erwidert der Politiker, ganz locker, “die Technologie nicht so hoch entwickelt ist. Wenn ich den Hörer auflege, und dann sofort wieder abhebe, kann man den Kassetenrekorder stoppen hören.”
Er lächelt ironisch, und fügte dazu,
“klick, klick, wirrrr.”
Ein bisschen später gehe ich zu unserem Telefon, hebe den Hörer ab und rufe Tim, die Zeitansage, an: Beim nächten Ton ist es genau 19:15….
Ich lege langsam auf und hebe den Hörer wieder ans Ohr….
klick, klick, wirrrr.

1979 – Liverpool. Arbeitslos, nicht alt aber schon zu alt, deprimiert, er starrt den Bildschirm an. Sein Leben, wie sein Körper, ist ausser Kontrolle geraten, trotzdem wittert er Veränderung. Er murmelt zu Niemandem. “Werde reich, mein Sohn, werde reich”.

1980 – Liverpool. Ich bin achtzehn. Ich ziehe meine Turnschuhe an um joggen zu gehen. Mein Vater guckt mich an, völlig entgeistert.
“Warum denn das? Bist du verrückt? Hast du die Zeitung schon gelesen? Hast du kein gutes Buch, dass du lesen kannst?

1983 – Liverpool. November. Nachmittag. Draussen es ist schon dunkel. In der Kneipe wartet mein Vater auf einen Freund den er möglicherweise verpasst hat. Heute gehorchen ihm die Beine nicht so gut …. Ein Man, den er nicht kennt, kommt von der Theke und setzt sich neben ihn.
“Ich habe ihren Akzent überhört. Sie sind Ire oder?”
Mein Vater nickt.
“Ich bin aus Dublin. Bin nicht lang in England”.
Mein Vater sagt nichts.
“Fahren Sie manchmal nach Irland zuruck?”
Mein Vater schwiegt. Dann fragt mein Vater.
“Wie war nochmal die Strassenbahnnummer von Dublin nach Dalkey? Am Strand hatte ich immer viel Spass. Wie war nochmal die Nummer?”
Der Mann schweigt.
Mein Vater guckt dem Mann in den Augen.
Und er weiss – und er weiss, dass der Mann weiss….

1994 – London. Ich treffe zufällig einen alten Freund in der U-Bahn in London. Die U-Bahn ist voll, es ist schwer sich aufeinander zu zubewegen.
“Hi”, sage ich mit erhobener Stimme ich, “schön dich wieder zu sehen”.
“Ebenfalls! Deine Artikel, die jetzt immer in “The Times” erscheinen sind toll!”
“Nein,”, sage ich noch lauter, immer weiter in Richtung Zugtüren geschoben werdend. “Das ist ein anderer Nicholas Timmons: der Journalist.”
“Nein,” erwiderte er aus der Ferne, “…ich bin mir sicher, dass du das bist”
“OK”, gebe ich nach, angesichts seines unerschütterlichen Glaubens.

1819 – Wien. Josephine kommt spät in der Nacht, verschleiert und mit falschen Papieren. Ihr entfremdeter Ehemann hat ihr schon drei ihrer Kindern weggenommen. In den Schatten sieht sie immer Männer. Sie wird immer bespitzelt. Ihr Mann wird die anderen Kinder auch wegnehmen. Für seine “unsterblich Geliebte” kann Beethoven nichts tun.

1998 – London. Es ist spät abends. Ich fahre allein im Taxi nach Hause. London ist riesig gross und kalt. Der Fahrer kann irgendwie meine Einsamkeit fühlen. Mein Leben ist ausser Kontrolle geraten.
“Warst du schon mal in Thailand?” fragt er.
“Nein”, sage ich, mich jetzt schon schämend darüber, was er als nächstes sagen wird.
“Da Drüben, würden sich Frauen, ja, auch junge Frauen, gut um dich kümmern”.
Ich wuerdige ihn keiner Antwort, aber denke über das Gesagte nach.

2001 – London. Wir sitzen zusammen in der Kneipe. Kleines Bier. Wir versuchen ein anderes Thema als den Immobilienmarkt zu finden. Der Markt ist ausser Kontrolle. Wir sind dankbar, glücklich und fasziniert. Hintergedanken von Schuld machen sich breit.

2004 – London. Der alte Amerikaner, genauso alt wie mein Vater; siebzig, Stirn botoxgeglättet und mit versteckter Bauchbinde fragt.
“Und – wie alt ist diene Schwester?
“Zweiundvierzig”.
“Genau meine Zielgruppe”, sagt er.

2012 – Die Paralympischen Spiele. Ich bin bitter entäuscht. Alle Körperteile sind unter Kontrolle. Wir Behinderten bespitzeln unsere Körper, entschlossen alle Gefahr ausser Kontrolle zu geraten, zu unterdrücken.

2013 – Berlin. Ein Freund aus Liverpool ruft mich an, erzählt mir von seinen Erlebnissen beim Paint Ball, Bungeespringen, Fallschirmspringen, Segelfliegen und Schwimmen mit Haien…
“Wie weit ist Berlin von der Ukraine?
“Ich weiss nicht. Warum?”
“Weil ich vieleicht dort Urlaub machen werde. Ich habe gehört dass man dort aus echten Panzern schiessen kann.”

1633 – Italien. Die Inquisition. Galileo werden die Folterinstrumenten gezeigt.

2013 – Und jetzt wissen wir alle Bescheid über Geheimgefängisse, geheime Oparationen, psychologische Operationen, Isolierzellen, Wasserfolter, Guantanamo, ausserordentliche Auslieferung, Abu Ghraib, Obamas Todesliste, Dronen, die NSA und Prisma, Tempora und GCHQ.

2013 – Berlin. Kiezfeier – ein Mann bleibt am Rand. Weder spricht noch trinkt er mit uns. In seinem reinen Herzen glaubt er, dass er uns beschützt. Manche Leute spassen nie.

Bessere Zeiten kommen nicht nach Schlechteren, so wie der Tag der Nacht folgt……

Little Englanders and Little Canary Islanders

I’ve always liked Little Englanders. A couple of them have almost become in-laws. Sherry after six, roast on Sunday, preferably on a slow heat while one’s having a lunchtime pint down the Red Lion, respect for tradition, our island heritage and the monarchy which doesn’t exclude jokes about Phil the Greek. Narrow minded despite having views on everything, impatient of complexity, and often with routines that are as immovable as tramlines, they’re generally fair minded, reliable and, well, kind. They believe in an essence of Englishness that if everybody could just hold on to, as they try to do, then none of us would really have much to complain about.
I met one the other day, except he was proudly Spanish, and this was in the Canaries, which I guess would make him a Little Canary….ahem…Islander. He was our taxi driver from the airport. He told us with a smile he was Miguel, named after the warrior archangel, and of the family name, Cabrera. Stocky and bustling, he drove by gesticulation, introducing us to the strange black volcanic island of Fuerteventura. His family still look after goats, ‘cabras,’ in a village, way, way over the other side of the islands, he says, wildly gesturing out of his car window. On his mother’s side, he is descended from one of the original conquistadors who came from Vallodolid in mainland Spain and, as he chirpily put it, destroyed the native civilisation. Legend has it the aboriginal tribes, the Guanches, were given a choice between becoming the newcomers slaves or killing themselves. For the most part they chose the latter course. Miguel felt socialists were responsible for all Spain’s problems and recalled, apparently fondly, that the former military dictator, General Franco, had begun his uprising in 1936 against the democratically elected Republican government of Spain from the Canaries, from where he went to raise an army in Morocco and then invaded the mainland.
‘OK, Franco was a fascist, and that was bad… but he had some good ideas. Like national service, so everyone’ (….don’t think Franco enlisted women but I let it go, as he’s on a roll…) ‘…everyone goes from their home to another part of Spain and therefore feels part of the nation. And he always put the people of the Canaries ahead of the Moroccans. In the past we fished off the African coast. Now we cannot go in Moroccan waters and so we have practically no fishing fleet and we are an island! And cheese! Our famous goats cheese is exported to Europe but doesn’t actually come from here, it comes from…..Morocco! And tomatoes!! I won’t say anything about tomatoes, but we can’t live from tourists alone…excuse me, you are lovely people…but we cannot survive with just tourists.’
And now we’re at the apartment and Miguel goes out of his way to make sure I get out safely, helps Ramona and Dominic get the suitcases inside and shakes each of us warmly by the hand, and laughing as he goes, tells us he’s pleased there is now peace between England and Germany…..at least as represented by myself and Ramona.
We have ‘Little Englanders’ too in Germany, at the extreme end they call themselves ‘Reichburgers’, or citizens of the old (German) Empire. They don’t accept the post 1945 boundaries of Germany and reject the current Federal Government as illegitimate. They even go so far as to produce their own Imperial passports. Refusing to carry the official ‘ausweis’, or identity card, that is obligatory for all German nationals, has landed some of them in jail.
Attentive readers will have spotted its a bit of leap from people in England who might fancy Nigel Farage playing the Prime Minister as pub landlord to people who are pretty comfortable with the notion of reinvading Poland; especially as the Little Englanders’ finest moment was putting just such people in their place. But my point is that nostalgia for a better, simpler time often seems bound up with the imagined community that the nation state, be it Spain, England or Germany might once have been. And when it was seems mostly to have been in people’s childhoods, as in ‘…..that….. ( be it child killers on benefits or Moroccan drug dealers or Turks who won’t learn German…)…… would never have happened when we were kids’.
How much this matters of course depends on what else is happening. And the Canaries are suffering in the Great Recession. The burly guide, Angel, originally from the Cayman islands and reminiscent of a Polynesian prop forward, tells us as we admire the view over the northern headland of Fuerteventura across the narrow strait to Lanzarote from the comfort of his Land Rover, that there have been a million less visitors from mainland Spain in the last twelve months. When we remark that 4 X 4 excursions, boat trips, even the Aqua Park, seem quite expensive, he replies.
‘Of course with fewer visitors you still have to pay for everything, so you have to charge more. ‘
‘But people won’t go on the trips’ we say following the logic. And a glance tells us he knows we’re also thinking of the three figure sum this half day trip cost.
‘I know. But what can we do? Another land rover excursion company, a bigger one, has come to the island…..and they can charge less than us. They know we won’t last long.’ As he swings the Landie round he points to the birds circling in the high blue sky, ‘….vultures…’ he says and smiles.
The main drag in our resort of Corralejo, the Avenida de Nuestra Senora de Carmen, formerly the Avenida de Franco, is wonderfully flat and ramped and bright and bristles with souvenir shops, music bars, restaurants, clothes and jewelry shops. But maybe every tenth shop front has whitewashed windows and signs saying ‘liquidacion’, or is still trading but with huge signs announcing its closing down sales as a final trading gambit. In front of the disused store fronts women from Senegal sit on low stools and offer to plait and braid the hair of the female passersby. There are street hawkers on the corners, handing out fliers for their restaurants, some Moroccans, but often Lancastrians.
‘Eat Indian tonight love! Why not?’ ‘
‘Cos I’m in bloody Spain,’ comes the equally Lancastrian reply.
‘Fair enough love.’
Retiring to his corner, he’s more aware than most that there should be maybe twice as many tourists here as there actually are.
So is there any going back to a simpler, less disquieting time? General Franco, tried to make such an attempt after his victory in the Spanish Civil War. One of his main advisers, Francisco Salgado Araujo, declared.
‘We don’t want any liberal, capitalist, bourgeois, jewish, protestant, atheist or masonic progress. We prefer the backwardness of Spain.’
Which, varying a few adjectives, sounds like a lot of Tea Party speeches in the United States. Attempting to make ‘la autarqia’, or self sufficiency, the determining principle of the economy, Spain isolated itself from Europe (which was admittedly preoccupied with other issues after ’39) and the world. This led to shortages, particularly of petrol. In response to which the Spaniards developed a stove that could be attached to the back of a car and its transmission, and from which power could be generated to move the car forward by burning wood, leaves, or whatever could be found near the roadside. Fifteen miles an hour was the top speed although generally not for long! More seriously there were food shortages and diseases of malnutrition were widespread. And salvation from the insecurities of capitalism didn’t come either. A provincial, corrupt and nepotistic Spanish capitalism returned profitability to the Spanish business sector and to Spanish banks. In an echo of our problems, ‘Vacas Gordas sobre las ruinas’, fat cows amongst the ruins, was how the banks were described at the time. But this was done in effect out of the pockets of ordinary Spanish working people who saw their wages fall by 25% between 1936 and 1946.
Such falls in wages are today of course very familiar in contemporary Ireland, Spain, Greece and Portugal. But also, they’ve at best stagnated for twenty years in Germany. In a fascinating article for Social Europe Journal by Andrew Watt quoted in the Guardian (27.3.13) Watt pointed out that Mario Draghi, the head of the European Central Bank, presented a paper and graphs to the European Heads of Government in March that demonstrated how German productivity had raced far ahead of countries like Italy and France who, on the other hand, just let their wage costs keep on rising. Current neo liberal economic orthodoxy confirmed, Hollande, the French Socialist President pushing for growth, silenced. Except Draghi (formerly head of Goldman Sachs International investment bank), had not accounted for inflation in respect to wages in which case one sees that the French and Italians have matched productivity growth with wage growth, which you must do if working people are not to get relatively poorer. Germany in contrast has held wages down since the nineties and as economically the most successful country in Europe gets wealthier, its working people share in that wealth to a lesser extent than they should.
The best thing that could happen for Europe is the big rise in the wages of ordinary Germans which they have already earned! This would bring a few more of them back to the beaches of Fuerteventura, saving Angel his job. Miguel would have more people in his taxi to extol the virtues of Franco to, but without rancour and with his customary kindness, and maybe a couple of Reichburgers would add to the takings down the Red Lion where they could discuss beer with the locals and have the Little Englanders shaking their heads by telling them how the Queen is really of the family Saxe-Coburg and even the British national anthem was written by a German!