Most people suffer from a touch of solipsism when observing political events in other countries, especially those close to their own.
We look at the riots in France, the influx of millions of Muslims into Germany or – more to my today’s point – the elections in Spain and take a daring mental leap from those countries to Britain, looking for parallels.
However, besides the common civilisational thread tying all Western countries together, each has its own particular history, culture and political idiosyncrasies.
Alas, few of us possess enough experience, knowledge and sensitivity to appreciate fully such subtle differences. Instead we look for obvious similarities, trying on foreign clothes to see if they fit our own body politic.
Other countries become a prism through which we look at our own, and it’s in that spirit that I followed the elections in Spain.
Briefly, although Spain’s governing Socialists won the snap election, they didn’t win a majority and will have to seek coalition partners, probably in parties to their left.
One would think that although the conservative Popular Party lost half of its seats, it would still be a better partner. But PP is at odds with the Socialists on the issue of Catalan independence, which it opposes.
Yet the most interesting result is the success of Vox, a party that’s variously described as populist, extreme right-wing or Francoist. Since Franco’s death in 1975, the party has only once gained a parliamentary seat. This time it won 24 of them.
This may be a reflection of a growing trend. Parties similar to Vox are gaining a greater share of voice, and increasingly of vote, throughout Europe.
I manfully accept the charge of ignorance when it comes to the ins and outs of Spain’s politics. This even though I once had too much Rioja Alta at lunch in Madrid and joined a massive demonstration against the Socialist government that had just set some ETA terrorists free.
However, my fellow demonstrators detected a note of mockery in my heavily accented shouts of “¡No mas concesiones a ETA!” and “¡Viva España!”. They began to look peeved, and Penelope had to drag me away to safety before my drunken enthusiasm got us killed.
In a similarly lubricated outburst I also once screamed “¡Viva Generalissimo Franco!” when driving through a largely communist crowd in Barcelona, but there I was sober enough to floor the accelerator pedal in good time.
However, this experience doesn’t qualify me to attempt a scholarly analysis of Spain’s politics. Hence I look at Vox and wonder whether I’d vote for a similar party in Britain.
All I have to go by are newspaper reports listing the key planks of Vox’s programme. Scanning them I mentally tick those with which I agree.
From what I can glean, Vox opposes: multiculturalism [tick], unrestricted migration [tick], radical feminism [tick], abortion [tick], homomarriage [tick], laws against gender violence [tick, whatever that means], any concessions to the Catalan and Basque secessionists [tick, a more tentative one].
So, seeing that I endorse Vox’s programme, would I have voted for it if I were Spanish? More important, would I vote for a similar party in Britain if one existed? The answer to that question is a resolute “that depends”.
I’m wary of politicians, parties or groups that define themselves negatively, in terms of things they hate, rather than things they love. And if the thing they love is blood and soil nationalism, I’m even more wary.
Judging by Vox’s opposition to homomarriage and especially abortion, it combines some Christian inputs with its neoliberal economic ideas and a traditional liberal support for a powerful central state.
That suggests some intellectual muddle for there’s more to Christian politics than just opposition to abortion and homomarriage. One constituent is a preference for localism over centralism and a lukewarm attitude to neoliberal economics, particularly when it’s raised to the status of a social and moral panacea.
At least a Christian element is present there, whereas none exists in similar British groups. These are crystal clear on things they hate, typically the EU and Muslim immigration, and disconcertingly hazy on things they love.
That’s hardly surprising because such causes bring under their banners not only conservatives like my friends and me, who see them in a broad cultural, social and political context, but also fascisoid thugs like Tommy Robinson who simply detest foreigners, especially chromatically different ones.
I’d love to see, say, UKIP become a real conservative party, supplanting the one that bears this sobriquet though it’s no longer entitled to it. But that’s impossible even in theory, for UKIP draws its support from groups across the whole spectrum that otherwise have nothing in common.
History shows that, when conservative gentlemen and fascisoid thugs form a single party, eventually the latter oust the former. Thus, if either UKIP or the Brexit party ever gains an electoral victory, it’ll be taken over by the Tommy Robinson types, not someone like Gerard Batten or even that friend of Putin Nigel Farage.
Such a prospect terrifies me almost as much as the more likely victory of Corbyn’s Labour. Almost but not quite. I’m a firm believer in the ad hoc political principle of ABC: Anyone But Corbyn.
Hence I’d vote against Corbyn regardless of whom he were up against. For the same reason, I wouldn’t vote for any marginal party just to register my contempt for the Tories: the contempt is strong, but such a vote could let Corbyn in. So I’d pinch my nostrils and vote Tory.
Similarly, I’d vote for the Tories if they were opposed by any party led by the likes of Tommy Robinson. And if I were Spanish… well, in all honesty I don’t know enough about Spain’s politics to have a strong view.
I like Vox’s programme more than any other on offer, but countries aren’t governed by programmes. They are governed by people who most of them use political programmes to gain power. How they’ll act when they’ve gained it is anybody’s guess.
It all comes down to the situation common to all mature, or rather senescent, democracies: people vote not for but against. They support what they see as the lesser of two evils because they are faced with the evil of two lessers.
It’s useful to remember that, while not all populist parties are fascist, all fascist parties are populist, and it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference when they’re out of power. And when they are in power, it’s sometimes too late.
On historical evidence, we must also beware of single-issue politicians – even if we agree with the single issue. Thus I’m deeply concerned about the Islamisation of Europe, but I hope this cause may be championed by conservatives, not fascisoid thugs.
If you detect a note of relativism in all this, you’re right. But the relativism isn’t mine – it’s the effluvia exuded by modern politics. Much as we’d like to breathe a cleaner political air, it doesn’t exist.