Friday, November 22, 2019
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Poles apart … the war of city versus State

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I GAVE up reading Roger Boyes many years ago. His banal analyses of Middle Eastern politics sounded like they were dictated by MI6 or the State Department. However, I chanced across an article of his about the Polish government, about which I want to know much more.

It is presiding over an unemployment rate of three per cent, child benefit of £100 a month, a minimum wage of £800 a month and five per cent economic growth last year. It is also Catholic, gives mothers incentives to have children and steers Poland away from the wilder shores of LGBT theory. It tried to restrict abortion.

Anne Applebaum hates the Polish government, which in itself makes me like it rather a lot. It is poles (no pun intended) apart from her globalist, liberal, pro-immigration and pro-abortion world view, which she shares with the FT and the Economist. So am I.

I quote Mr Boyes: ‘When statisticians say Poles, based on purchasing power parity, are now richer than Greeks (and may soon overtake the Portuguese), they are talking about the wealth being generated by major cities. Go 70 kilometres beyond the urban sprawl and you find emptying villages drained by youth migration, a remittance culture. And so the populists embraced social solidarity, improved the disposable incomes of people who were just getting by and started to soft-pedal on the ideological kulturkampf.

‘For now, they think they are winning the battle, but they face two real threats to eternal rule. First, redistributive policies hinge on continuing growth. A worldwide recession or a significant slowdown in Germany, which dominates central European trade, would make the current handouts look very expensive indeed. They will cut into long-term funding for education and healthcare.

‘Where does that leave Poland’s Child First philosophy? Leaders might try to distract attention from their feeble economics by trying to find scapegoats – at which point we will again see the less loveable side of the populist model.

‘Second, the liberal opposition to centralised populist government is concentrated more and more on city mayors. The mayors of Warsaw, Istanbul and, from this week, Budapest will be speaking up for more tolerant national policies and going beyond their brief to defend any threat to democratic institutions.

‘It is an uneven contest and they will find it all but impossible to promote themselves as serious challengers to national leaders. But this tug of war between cities and provincial power bases is likely to dominate populist politics for the coming years, and it will get dirty.’

A long worldwide struggle between capital cities and countries makes very good sense – all capital cities nowadays are part of one capital city, with the exceptions of Pyongyang, Havana and various backward places, of which Bucharest used to be one.

The London and New York elites hated Mrs Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, as did I. They now hate Trump and Brexit. Budapest elite hates Viktor Orban and the good Muscovites hate Putin. Istanbul hates Erdogan.

I pick and choose about the forenamed leaders, but try to avoid following the Economist-reading or Oxbridge-educated crowd. I am a capital city rat, but I am on the side of the provinces, which would bore me to tears to live in, against the new rich, the capitals, the public sector know-alls and the elite universities. I am William Cobbett, not Will Hutton.

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Paul Wood
Paul Wood
Writer.

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