A personal anti-Brexit pro-EU manifesto
#AftertheMarch and the journey home from London to Alicante, I had intended a quiet week at home with the donkeys. The stable needs new internal wooden stalls as the donkeys have half-eaten the original ones! There is work to be done on winter electric lighting for the donkeys’ food store
. And finally, I had intended the long-postponed bread-making day! A week of quietly pottering around with hammer and screwdrivers, bread tins and dough-mixer, enjoying a few beers in the autumn sunshine. Life is peaceful under the pine trees at El Parral in the company of four kind animals. It is also my first autumn of retirement. I really enjoy the pleasure of simply staying at home!
Then my neighbour Peter stopped by: he is from the second house up the valley, two kilometres away. Being in a remote location we look out for each other on issues that pose a threat to our security. Like dodgy white vans cruising up the valley road with furtive-looking drivers. And Brexit.
Peter had a press cutting from last week’s Euroweekly News: “Health care and Brexit.” There was a meeting with the British Consul but Peter couldn’t get to it as it started at 9 a.m. on a weekday and he was doing the school run with his grandson, then had to be home for the district nurse’s visit to attend his elderly father. I said I would go to the Consul’s meeting and pass on any useful information I gathered.
And so my week began.
I reflected much later – on the timing – that these meetings are all organised in the daytime on weekdays. Previously, any meetings with the British Consul had been during the evening, so working people could attend. Ah, the penny drops! They are trying to sell private health care insurance to the British – with all the urgency of the Brexit panic – and with a natty new URL: brexithealthcare.com The homepage features the British Consul centrally placed. I suppose it makes sense to be clear on your target audience.
All the meetings with the consul scheduled for November and December are during working hours, apart from the one in my local village of Finestrat which starts at 5pm, and even that is still too early for various British school teachers I know who live in the village, and other working people. (For this reason, evening events in Spain typically begin after 7pm.
These private medical insurance sponsored meetings are clearly timetabled for retired people, for they are more worried about post-Brexit healthcare. Some have specific health conditions already. Handily, many of them have lifetime savings and good pensions: so hello PoliFani Insurance Brokers and a helpfully contrived 1st Forum on Brexit by Brexit Health Care with glossy booklets tucked away in red cloth goody bags. (See my earlier post which has now been also commented on by the Conservative MP and general practitioner Sarah Wollaston.)
So, I decided there was something that needed doing here: and in the end, after the weekend journey to London to join the 700,000 marching for a People’s Vote, I did not have the quiet week I was looking forward to.
I attended one meeting in La Nucia on Wednesday and challenged the British Consul, Sarah-Jane Morris, and then spent some time contacting other people and writing my blog on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday I went to Benidorm to observe the third of these forums and check once more on the demographic of the people being targeted.
I have taken on this monitoring task this week as an individual, and while I am keeping others informed – in pro-European groups I am associated with – this is my personal blog and I take legal responsibility for what is written here. (My lawyer’s email address and phone number is available.)
But now I see that the PoliFani insurance experience is just the start of the Brexit scams. Yesterday I finished doing all I could regarding the unethical connections – in my view – between the British consular service and pushing private medical insurance to worried pensioners, and I went to sit down in a British-run pub in the village, with my friend Carl who was having his lunch break. He’s a builder and had been ripping out a bathroom in a house in Finestrat. As he ate his hamburger and chips and drank his Coke, he was trying to read a poster on the window behind me, reading through the paper back-to-front, as the poster faced the street.
“Free… Breakfast… something…” he said.
I ignored him, being antisocial and focused on checking my tweets.
“Brexit or something breakfast…?”
I got up and went around the door of the pub to read it. Oh my God! It is a free breakfast in the pub, for people who are worried about Brexit. There will be financial experts and people who know about pensions and insurance. Just eat your sausages and sign on the dotted line… This is the start of the new phase of this Brexit horror for the British who live in the EU: the Brexit Scammers. We now need a community Brexit Scam-watch. Brexit Scambusters! I decided, right there and then: I’m in this fight now until we have won it.
Why am I so motivated? In the first place, I am a European. I have enjoyed the benefits of belonging to the EU and I have lived and worked in Barcelona and Alicante. I have taught students from a wide range of nationalities. Also at one time in my life I lived in a Catholic monastic community in France and I have spent time in Rome and Assisi, in the Church and pursuing academic studies looking at the connection between 5th century refugee monastic exiles from Syria (ring any bells?) and the intellectual riches they gave to the Benedictine movement and later Franciscan cultural revolution of the 13th century.
Oh yes, a typical Brit abroad? Well here’s the news: there isn’t a typical Brit abroad… There are individual people living their lives.
As historians have pointed out, a unified culture of Europe was a monastic project long before it was a modern economic common market. Within that culture grew the universities of Oxford, Paris and Cologne with the masters of philosophy, like Duns Scotus and Bernard of Siena, who travelled to and from those seats of learning as Europeans. In their sense of belonging, they were Franciscans or Dominicans before they were English or French or Germans. Nationality was simply a language. The well-known postmodern novel The Name of the Rose captures the period well and I shall return to Umberto Eco – requiescat in pace – for a final note at the end of this post to explain the word fascism in the title.
So, now I am retired, living with four donkeys here in Spain, and going nowhere ever again from this quiet terraced hillside of El Parral. It is a place of simplicity and the wisdom of equus asinus africanus to add the zoological genus to the individual genius of donkeys Matilde, Rubí, Morris and Aitana. Yes, I enjoy the quiet, and it would have been good not to take on one more fight in this life. We deserve a rest when we get to my age. I am sixty-seven next week: I just wanted to spend my time re-visiting my favourite books and walking the donkeys.
But I am not going to rest just now. We cannot let the bastards win this. I am glad my daughter Alys paid for my flights to go to London last weekend for the #PeoplesVoteMarch because – before that – I felt a sense of hopeless inevitability about the whole Brexit shambles. As Ian Jack says, writing in today’s Guardian, “I want to be able to say that at least I did what I could to avert an avoidable catastrophe.” Whatever happens now, I can also say that at least I was there. With my daughter bearing her bunch of helium-filled balloons with the names of those who also wanted to say #StopBrexit but could not be there in person.
I have some outstanding memories of last Saturday’s 700,000 strong march through London. The most amusing for me was when someone in the crowd with a portable speaker shouted out the standard demo chant: “What do we want?” and there was a momentary pause. What has been cheekily described in one newspaper as “the longest Waitrose queue in history” didn’t seem to know how to respond… Then a lone voice piped up: “A People’s Vote!” and then we all joined in and felt relieved to know how to vocalise what we wanted. And when did we want it? We wanted it now!
A more chilling moment came when we walked past the row of gentlemen’s clubs in Pall Mall and there were two fifty-something men standing on a low first floor balcony in green tweeds, drinking red wine from crystal glasses, and looking down with the kind of superiority that says, “Only 700,000 of you? But is there anyone of note?” And people shouted in vain: “Come and join us!” but they just remained impassively superior. Britain is leaving Europe…
There are some who self-describe as The Bad Boys of Brexit (and yes they are all boys, interestingly) but I would like to be a little more precise in my description. I am going to call them what they are: fascists. Not “bloody fascists,” note: I am not using this as a term of abuse. No, I am using the term as a category.
I had a bit of an argument with a long-time conservative fellow Catholic friend recently, who said it was “ludicrous” (favourite John Humphrys’ word?) of me to refer to Jacob Rees-Mogg as a fascist. He then pursued a long mansplaining-type diatribe at me, as if I’d never thought about defining historical fascism. In this view, nothing in today’s extreme right bore any relation whatsoever to uniformed Mosleyites marching into Cable Street, etc. etc.
Oh dear. My friend was deperately missing the point. For a postmodern 21st century, post-truth, post-Trump, post-2016 EU referendum, post-Cambridge Analytica, analysis of fascism we have to remind ourselves of a key political essay. An essay in the best tradition of George Orwell. It is in the June 1995 New York Review of Books: Umberto Eco’s superb essay “Ur Fascism.” (You can download the full essay on pdf file here).
The real fascist danger is not the odious thug Tommy Robinson, or the earlier National Front that we fought in Red Lion Square in 1994 (when Kevin Gately was killed by a blow to the head from a mounted policeman wielding a night-stick), or any of the other numbskull manifestations of British post-colonial working class and lower middle-class inadequates, backed by occasional stupid treacherous aristocrats. (See David Edgar’s 1997 play Destiny for that sort of late 20th century thing!)
No, 21st century fascism is best described in Eco’s essay and when you read it you will feel the chill of recognition go down your spine. Here is Farage. Here are the “Bad Boys of Brexit” who walk out of a select committee hearing because it is lunch time and they can’t be arsed talking to democratic representatives who they dismiss as Remoaners. Here is Lord Ashcroft. Here is David Davis, seventeen years as a director of Tate & Lyle and still trying to ruin his own country in order to reduce EU tariffs on Belize cane sugar. Here are the hedge fund operators like Crispin Odey who made millions out of the pound crashing in 2016 when the referendum result was announced. These are the new fascists. They truly do not believe in democracy.
I will just quote once from “Ur Fascism” and you can read the rest of the essay, I recommend it. Here is point 13 in Eco’s detailed analysis of what constitutes “ur (i.e. eternal) fascism”. Remember when reading this, Eco wrote it in 1995, before most people were on the Internet and before the current infection of populism into the body politic.
Ur-Fascism is based upon a selective populism, a qualitative populism, one might say.
In a democracy, the citizens have individual rights, but the citizens in their entirety have a political impact only from a quantitative point of view – one follows the decisions of the majority. For Ur-Fascism, however, individuals as individuals have no rights, and the People is conceived as a quality, a monolithic entity expressing the Common Will. Since no large quantity of human beings can have a common will, the Leader pretends to be their interpreter. Having lost their power of delegation, citizens do not act; they are only called on to play the role of the People. Thus the People is only a theatrical fiction. To have a good instance of qualitative populism we no longer need the Piazza Venezia in Rome or the Nuremberg Stadium. There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.
Because of its qualitative populism Ur-Fascism must be against “rotten” parliamentary governments. One of the first sentences uttered by Mussolini in the Italian parliament was “I could have transformed this deaf and gloomy place into a bivouac for my maniples” – “maniples” being a subdivision of the traditional Roman legion. As a matter of fact, he immediately found better housing for his maniples, but a little later he liquidated the parliament. Wherever a politician casts doubt on the legitimacy of a parliament because it no longer represents the Voice of the People, we can smell Ur-Fascism.
And now it begins:
Parliament was told on Tuesday 23 October that the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU Dominic Raab will be unable to attend or give evidence to the Committee until after a deal with the EU has been finalised. The Committee describes this as “unacceptable… [it] inhibits the Committee in fulfilling its obligations in scrutinising the progress of Brexit negotiations”.
That same afternoon, precisely four and a half miles north, at Canonbury railway station, a Spanish woman talking on her phone was punched in the face by a 56-year old man on a crowded train, who shouted, “Get out of my country – speak English!” (Hackney Gazette news article 24 October) Only this summer, in Benidorm not far from the remote location where I live, an English woman holidaymaker complained that her hotel was full of Spanish people. Later when she returned home to the UK her case was upheld and she received compensation.
Last Saturday after the People’s March, as we walked through busy Covent Garden on a Saturday evening, a woman screamed and swore at my daughter Alys because she had “Stop Brexit” written on a bunch of balloons.
We can fight it.
I am on the side of democracy, the vision of a peaceful united Europe, and I stand with the only people who have been reasonable in these past two years: honourable men like Michel Barnier and Guy Verhofstadt, who have shown willingness to meet with everyone (even us!) and try to understand what is it that the British want. In contrast, the middle manager Raab and his fascist masters – now you understand I am using this word as a Brexit technical term – have done everything to obfuscate processes, ride rough-shod over law, and ultimately wish to subjugate the British people in a version of vulture capitalism that we would do best not to even try and imagine.
Here on the Costa Blanca, in a place of real stillness and natural beauty, I take up my responsibility as best I can. For all the reasons above, I declare myself part of The Resistance. What will you do?