Three Years on – Interesting Times?

In just over two weeks time Dani will be three years old. Where did all that time go? Yes, the usual question we ask ourselves with young children growing up so fast. With all that is going on in the world – and indeed Spain right now – we often hear people use that phrase: “We are living in interesting times”. But wasn’t it always thus?

Born During a Rubbish Collection Dispute

When Dani was born there was a city wide bin-man’s strike in full flow. The streets were strewn with rubbish. It reminded me of the bin-men’s strike back in the late 1970s in the UK. Yes, I am old enough to remember that.

The situation was made worse by some of the more militant strikers who had been opening the little lamp-post mounted bins thus rendering them unusable. I think that they thought this would make the streets look even more horrific – which of course it did – and so give them the upper hand in negotiations. I honestly cannot recall how all that ended; but end it did, soon after. I seem to remember that the mayor of Madrid in those negotiations was one Ana Botella, the wife of former Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar and Madrid’s first female mayor.

The Mayor of Elftown…

Meanwhile, the mayor of London at that time was one Boris Johnson and as luck would have it a character based on Boris appears as the mayor of Elftown in one of Dani’s favourite TV programmes – Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom. When I noticed the character a few weeks ago I immediately thought of Boris and lo and behold that little elf mayor is indeed based on Mr. Johnson.

It all goes to show that being a clown prince of fools counts for as much as any real skills these days.

boris-the-mayor

Boris is the Mayor of Elftown.

Back to the Present…

Three years on and Spain is still technically without a government after 10 months and two general elections. However, news hot off the press suggests that there may soon be at least an officially recognised Prime Minister. The main “socialist”  party (PSOE) – after an internal rift, see previous posts – agreed to vote for the current Partido Popular leader Mariano Rajoy to continue as Prime Minister. In reality they have only  agreed not to block that path. At the same time they have also vowed to block the next budget proposals – which they have not even seen yet. So despite appearing to support the appointment of a Prime Minister they will basically vote against anything he has to say. At least this will avoid a third general election in one year, or so they say. But it does not look good. Deadlock guaranteed for the next 3-4 years. Great eh?

Where is Señor Boris when you need him? It seems Spain could use some of his Elf magic. Then again, maybe not…

Spanish Politics – Part 4: The People’s Party?

The People’s Party (Partido Popular commonly known a PP) is a conservative and Christian democratic political party. It is one of the “big two” parties and heads the current government.

A Very Brief History…

The People’s Party was a formed when the People’ Alliance (Alianza Popular, AP) joined forces with smaller Christian democratic and liberal parties to form a centrist right alliance.

The People’s Alliance had previously been founded in 1976 by Franco’s Minister for Tourism – one Manuel Fraga. The man largely responsible for mass tourism in Spain which began in the early 1960s and is still the country’s biggest industry. Whatever your political persuasion you have to admit that señor Fraga was a man of great vision.

Fraga had hoped for a gradual transformation to democracy but in the 1977 general elections the AP received just over 8% of the votes and the socialist/left wing parties dominated. The AP then had its own internal struggle and some of the more right wing politicians (widely seen as being Francoist) left the party. The AP then joined with other moderate conservatives to form the Democratic Coalition (Coalición Democrática, CD). However, the CD fared no better, and in the 1979 elections also finishing a distant 4th with only 6% of the vote. Several other mergers were needed before the PP – in its present form – finally arrived on the scene in 1989.

The PP only won their first elections in 1996 when Jose Maria Aznar became Prime Minister. Only then with the help of Basque and Catalan parties.  In 2011 the PP won its first outright victory and Mariano Rajoy became Prime Minister. Technically – due to the lack of a clear winner (or agreed coalition) in the elections this past year – he still is.

So in term of general election success the PP is actually very much a new party. All of which will be noted with interest by the likes of the Podemos party.

The public gets what the public wants. Or do they? Bizarre and interesting times in Spanish politics.

PP Offices

I visited the offices after trying to meet with the PSOE (see previous posts) and was pleasantly surprised by the welcome I received. They took my name (and ID of course) and allowed me to pass through the airport-like security scanners. I was then allowed to sit and chat with a middle aged lady.

The PP offices seemed more professional than the others I had (almost) seen. There was a large armed police presence despite the area being quiet. A stark contrast to the PSOE offices I had just been to, which were mobbed with the media with not a policeman in sight.

The lady I spoke to was pleasant enough but oddly she never told me her name. I introduced myself and then told her what I wanted to know. We talked for a minute or two about the Ciudadanos party and how – in the PP’s eyes – they were trying to steal the right wing voters but were in fact swaying one way and the other; and ultimately had lost ground by the second of the recent elections.

Then it all went a little familiar. Any further questions were met with the standard answer. I was directed to their website and given an email address for any further queries. We never had chance to discuss the PSOE nor Podemos. I think the distinction between the conservative PP and the socialist parties is probably clear enough. I went home and emailed the usual questions about the EU policies and immigration and also asked about the possibility of sharing power with Podemos which however odd is something that may still happen. No reply as yet. No surprises either.

Spanish Politics – Part 3: PSOE the Main Opposition “Socialist” Party

PSOE – Partido Socialista de Obrera España (Socialist Workers Party of Spain)

The PSOE is hardly a socialist party these days. Certainly not in the true Trotskyite meaning of the word. More like centre left, similar to the UK’s New-Labour. The more left wing voters in Spain already have other parties to fly their flag – namely the relatively new Podemos who recently joined forces with the older, established Izquierda Unida (United Left). The PSOE enjoyed obvious success immediately following the end of the Franco era. Since then PSOE has been one half of the two party establishment in Spain. Either the POSE or the Partido Popular (PP) has formed a government ever since.

A Party in Turmoil

Yet these are troubled times for the PSOE. Their leader has just resigned. The well-groomed Pedro Sanchez – he looks more like a film star than a politician – was forced to resign as more than half of the party’s executive committee had already resigned. So Sanchez, who once seemed destined for stardom, fell on his sword.

The party is divided. Sanchez did not want to form a coalition government with the ruling Partido Popular (PP). Instead wanting to try to win outright power for his own party. A noble gesture stance to take one would think. Not in the modern political arena however. His fellow MPs had other ideas the chance of a little slice of power was proving too much for many of them. The deal would have meant PSOE MPs voting with the PP on policies where they had similar objectives while abstaining on other policies. Effectively not supporting the PP on some issues but neither voting against them. A half-way house for a slice of the power pie.

Meanwhile there are others who thought that PSOE should try to form a minority government with Podemos (a more left wing party). Certainly a divided party right now.

A Possible Reason?

One probable reason that some in the PSOE want the deal with PP is that they do not want to see Spain go through a 3rd general election in 12 months. I suppose that is understandable as the country has been in limbo for over 9 months already. In any case they (all parties) have until 30th October to sort it all out otherwise the king has to dissolve parliament and call for another election. It’s the way it works. Constitutional (I think). So the PSOE need to get their act together quickly.

Shades of the UK Labour party’s in-fighting. Quite similar in many respects in that the parliamentary members seem out of touch with both their leader and the party’s grassroots members.

Closed to the Public…

I arrived at the PSOE offices not expecting to be allowed in and sure enough that was the case. The media circus was in full frenzy. All the main TV and radio networks were pitched up outside the front door waiting for the big payers to arrive for a meeting to decide the party’s future. Whenever a taxi pulled up the cameramen jostled for position only to discover that it was just more media employees with yet more cameras. This happened about a dozen times. Eventually a few known characters (not to me however) turned up and the media engulfed them like ants. It was quite funny for a while then it just got boring. So I left. I will return to the PSOE offices when this storm has calmed down.

While I was outside the PSOE offices I did manage to speak to a girl working for one of the TV stations. She did not seem to know exactly what all the party in-fighting was all about and she did not seem that interested either. Just doing her job. I suppose that tells its own story; modern politics versus the people.

Off to the Next Party

I left the PSOE in their own bubble and took the metro a few stops to the headquarters of the current “ruling” party – the Partido Popular.

To be continued…

Footnote:

The last leader of PSOE to win an election and become Prime Minister was José Zapatero (aka Zappy). While Pedro Sanchez may have the presidential looks for the big screen, this Zappy guy looks like Mr. Bean. I know it should not be all about looks and image but not only did this man look ridiculous he could not speak English. Amazing in this international world in which we live. Apparently he speaks French but who the hell cares about that? He won an election that took place only three days after the huge terrorist bombings in Madird, largely with the help of the then Prime Minister (the PP’s José Maria Aznar). A monumental PR blunder by Aznar effectively cost him the election. At the time Spain had been involved in the Iraq war in support of the USA and Aznar tried to blame the Basque terrorist group ETA for the bombings. It turned out that they were committed by muslim terrorists – probably as a reaction to Spanish involvement in Iraq. That gaff and the fact that many in Spain were already tired of the Iraq war involvement, allowed Zappy to win. He immediately withdrew Spain from Iraq yet, for some unexplained reason, remained entrenched in the equally unpopular war in Afghanistan – even sending more troops there! He also introduced same sex “marriage” and gave an amnesty to all illegal immigrants. I am sure that hardly anyone voted for either of those policies.

Incredibly this man won two terms in office while the more plausible Sanchez could not make a breakthrough. Such is politics and such is life…

Spanish Politics – Part 2: One of the New Parties

A Party for the Citizens…

Continuing my investigations into the Spanish political chaos I visited the first of the main political parties late last week. No particular order or preference was involved. Their offices just happen to be the closest to where we live.

Ciudadanos – Citizens in English. A very new party that only arrived on the scene in 2005. They only contested the regional Catalan elections in 2010 making some headway and burst onto the national stage in 2014.

C’s…The Logo.

ciudadanos-logo

The orange party!! “C’s” – a nice catchy little abbreviation and logo. But what lies behind their front?

It seems that the PP (one of the big 2 and current ruling party) is more to the right than the C’s. Rather than see themselves as right wing they see themselves as more central. Orange logo, centre/neutral. Could they be the equivalent of the UK’s Liberal Democrats? This is not what I had imagined them to be.

Poor PR

It was very difficult getting much useful information from their headquarters in Madrid. I was not invited to enter and sit in their offices. A young woman named Mari Luz spoke to me for only a few minutes in the lobby of their building. Hardly good PR to begin with but nevertheless she was pleasant enough and gave me an email and telephone number to contact with any specific questions. As if I wasn’t trying to ask them there and then. I could easily obtain these contact details on their website so I am not sure what help that actually was.

My first question was where does C’s see themselves? The answer I got immediately had me thinking of the Liberal Democrats. A party of the centre. Perhaps trying to be all things to all people.

Admittedly it shows my ignorance, but I was expecting the C’s to be more right wing than the PP. I have no idea why. Maybe that assumption was based on the fact that the other new kid on the block, Podemos, was clearly to the left of the socialist side of the big two.

Unanswered Questions

I wanted to ask them about their seemingly total commitment to the EU project and further European integration – they support the EU armed forces project for example.

I wanted to ask why there is no mention in their policies and rules about immigration.

I wanted to commend them on their stance on political and civil service corruption. An admirable set of policies and probably the main reason why Ciudadanos is now firmly on the political map. But I also wanted to ask them how they could be simultaneously so committed to the EU cause – possibly the most corrupt political system in Europe. Wasn’t that a complete contradiction?

Alas I never got the chance and I had the distinct impression that she was trying to get rid of me. So I took the handwritten email address & telephone number and went home to type my questions. I am now waiting for their response and will update if any further information is received.

Spanish Political Merry-Go-Round

 

Today I am starting a series of blog posts about politics.

I know. Hardly in the spirit of an old dad’s blog about bringing up a young child but here’s the thing…

Three General Elections in One Year?

In just over 15-years time Dani will be eligible to vote…. Now that could be in as little as 3 elections time (in the UK for example the second to last government declared a 5-year fixed term.) Currently the Spanish parliament can run for a maximum of 4 years; but that could also change.

That said and as incredible as it may seem, in Spain they are on course for their third general election in 12 months (this coming December). And they may still not have a government. Crazy eh? How did this happen and why?

Above all these parties will shape the future for Spain and for Dani.

How do you explain it all to a child who is old enough to understand the political system? I intend to start my own investigations into this. At least Dani can read all this stuff when he is old enough. I very much doubt that history will tell the whole story but I intend to. Or at least try.

Over the next week or so I intend to visit the offices of the four main parties: Partido Popular (PP), Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE), Ciudadanos and Podemos. I am more than a little intrigued as to what I might find.

What may happen…

If December’s general election does not provide a government then I have no doubt that the EU (more specifically the German chancellor Angela Merkel) will appoint a prime minister and tell the rest of the politicians to accept it – which of course they will. Such is the politics of the EU and more specifically the Eurozone. It will not be the first time or even the second. In recent years similar things have happened in Italy (at least twice), Greece (at least twice), Portugal and Belgium – the home of the EU and a country that went over 2 years without an elected government.

I intend to confirm those details but if you have any knowledge of what has been going on in these countries you will know that I am not far off the mark.

The PR system…

One possible problem is the electoral system. In Spain they have a Proportional Representation (PR) system. Considered to be The Holy Grail for some of the political classes. Unfortunately with such a system this present stalemate can be the result. On the other hand, if such a system was in place in the UK a similar stalemate would have saved us all from a decade and a half of the Blair project. There was a man, elected by just over 30% of the electorate but with a huge majority in parliament which gave him a mandate to do just about whatever he wanted – including the odd dodgy war or two. Under the UK electoral system unfortunately it did give him such a mandate. When the Blair era finally came to an end that same system gave the UK a shared coalition government which nobody actually voted for or wanted. Food for thought eh?

In the next instalments I will examine the main political parties and players in this farcical Spanish election merry-go-round.

Stop Press:

What a coincidence! While I have been preparing this post the main opposition party (the left of centre socialist part – PSOE) has imploded. Very similar to the Labour party in the UK there has been serious infighting and multiple resignations. I had intended visiting the PSOE headquarters today. With all the turmoil in that party at the moment I am not sure there will be anyone there willing to give me any of their time. We shall see….