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Not to remain too mawkish, but these things are on my mind. Spain’s new left-wing government is planning to move the body of General Franco from his underground mausoleum. Not before time, you might think. The only time I visited the Valley of the Fallen I was slightly shocked to see fresh flowers on Franco’s grave and a steady stream of Spaniards still coming to pay their respects. Even more shocking were the flowers laid daily on the grave of the other person buried in that ghoulish subterranean cathedral: José Antonio Primo de Rivera, founder of the Falange, who was executed by the republicans in 1936. A  Spanish friend memorably commented, “Yes, even the people still sympathetic to Franco admit José Antonio was a bit of a fascist.”

When the recent news broke about Franco’s possible relocation some Spaniards came out to protest, and did so with the old salutes. It sent me to YouTube — as almost everything does these days — where someone has helpfully posted footage of Franco’s last speech. The near-cadaver is on the balcony in Madrid in 1975, railing about a masonic-leftist conspiracy. In the packed square before him thousands of people respond with the fascist salute and a rendition of the Falangist song “Cara al Sol” (Facing the Sun). It feels as though it must be very ancient history. Yet it isn’t.
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To some extent everything is, of course, a matter of perspective. Last month I was in Oslo to give a public speech in the evening and one in parliament the next day. Oslo is a wonderful, calm and walkable city. The sun was out and people were drinking coffee on the pavements outside the cafes. Nevertheless it gave me a certain pleasure to overhear two Norwegian friends. “It’s just impossible to get around in Oslo at this time of year,” one complained. “It’s getting crazy.” The population of Oslo is 670,000.

It reminds me of a lovely story from a general election campaign in the Isle of Lewis a few years back. A candidate for Parliament ends up not just on the island, but on an island beyond the island and a mini-island beyond that island. He breaks the ice with an old lady whose vote he is after. “Well, you’re a long way away from it all here, Mrs McCrae,” he tells her bracingly. To which she replies pleasantly, “From what?”
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