Fresh in from far out - Mallorca

<em>New Statesman Scotland</em> - Where the Sun comes sooner

William Hague may burble in that about-to-burst-into-song voice of his about the need to capture Florida Woman for the Portillistas, but he would be far better concentrating his efforts on Magaluf Man and Cala d'Or Widow. Mallorca, the biggest Balearic island, is home-from-home these days not just for the likes of The World's Most Famous Welshwoman, Catherine Zeta Jones, and her ageing partner, Michael Douglas, but anyone with a few ultra-bouncy quid keen to take advantage of the flaccid euro-linked peseta. Richard Branson is building a house on the island. And, as the pound threatens to hit 285 pesetas, the flood of Brits keen to turn their annual fortnight in the sun into whitewashed concrete and ceramic flooring is soaring.

So Wee Wullie could do worse than take out an ad or two on Sunshine Radio or in the quaint English-language Majorca Daily Bulletin, seeking support among the expats with retained voting rights: the crinkly-skinned golfers flirting with melanoma, the arthritic yachties, the owners of bars like The Falklands, Trotters (Peckham, Paris, Puerto Pollensa on the side of their Reliant three-wheeler van) or restaurants like The Codfather. But these are fairly safe bets: they are long-term investors in Britain's favourite Mediterranean destination. Less certain will be the voting intentions of the new settlers, the young-middle-aged couples who have discovered the more sophisticated parts of Mallorca such as the beautiful, French-flavoured mountain town of Soller - places you can get to for £40-odd from major British airports, where most spirits are a fiver a bottle, 20 fags are 20 of your old shillings, and food is both cheap and generally excellent; where digital mobiles work better than in Britain; and the Guardian Europe, along with every other paper, tabloid or true, arrives daily long, long before its UK edition ever hits the Shetland Isles. As for the weather, well . . . leaving aside the assault by marble- sized hailstones which left my Nissan Primera looking like it had been attacked by a manic drummer, it's better than Wick's.

So many Brits are trying to buy property in Mallorca at the moment with their mighty sterling that prices have soared beyond the heights of the Sierra Tramuntana. And they were already buoyant, thanks to an influx of German cash late last century. Resentment among locals, particularly in the rural north, where Mallorcan dialect is widely spoken and tourism has not been so dominant in the economy as in the more accessible south, is increasing. It is a story familiar to many Highlanders: mortgages for native Mallorcans rarely go over 80 per cent; wages for young people can be low; and the Germans and now the Brits pay inflated prices the locals cannot hope to match. I saw one beautiful town house in Pollensa old town, a rental villa for a tour company, with its nameplate vandalised. For a second, I thought I was in Portree.

But there were no killer midges, the sun was shining, and I knew the tomatoes just bought at the market would taste not of face flannel but tomato. As I drank a cafe solo in the cosmopolitan Cafe Espanyol (sic), I somewhat selfishly rejoiced in my two-week break, mostly bathed by sunshine several factors brighter than anything available at home, blessed by a favourable exchange rate, dirt cheap gin and good Penades wine. And I wondered about the political complexion of the British couple who own the villa I had rented via a big British tour company. It is a rebuilt ruined farmhouse, worth, at a guess, £200,000; and, according to my friendly tour rep, the owners use it for only a few weeks each year.

Presumably the Jeffrey Archer and Danielle Steel books are theirs, but that doesn't make them bad persons, not really. Does it render them suitable fodder for Wullie's recruitment drive? Not,surely, as long as the pound stays this strong. When Eurofication kicks in, maybe it will be a different story. By that time, too, there could be members of some militant Mallorcan cultural group squatting in shuttered foreign-owned properties, and demanding . . . oh, I don't know. Maybe a few hundred million pesetas a year so that they can set up their own Mallorcan-dialect television station. Or something like that.

Correction: last week's column was by Tom Pow, not Tom Morton

This article first appeared in the 17 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The rise of the ergonarchy

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.