In the aftermath of the Madrid bombings, I'm finding it hard to re-start my semi-humorous scribblings so, for the two of you out there who tell me you check regularly, here's something on Spain I have just sent to the editor of the Spectator magazine in the UK:-
Like Dan Hannan [‘Peace without Honour’, 20 March], I attended one of the nation-wide displays of solidarity on the evening after the terrible events in Madrid. And I share most of the views he expressed in his article. But I take issue with the suggestion that the Spanish electorate acted shamefully and primarily out of cowardice.
Dan Hannan places a great deal of emphasis on the events of Saturday, particularly the government’s mistake in reacting so obtusely to the demonstrations calling for truth. And he is surely right to do so. But rumblings had begun on Friday, perhaps even on the very day of the explosions, once the evidence of possible Islamic terrorist involvement had been reported during the afternoon. At that time, the government’s adamantine insistence that it couldn’t possibly be anyone other than Eta had seemed to me to be merely stupid. By Friday evening it looked crass. Worse, cynically manipulative. And I very much doubt that I was the only person in Spain with this perspective.
So why did the Spanish government make such a horrendous series of mistakes and why did the electorate punish them so severely? We will never really know but I have a suspicion that everything stems from the earlier crisis of the Prestige oil spill. This, too, was badly managed by the government and involved blatant manipulation of the media. Nonetheless the PP party came up smelling of roses. Perhaps, then, it gave them a false sense of confidence in their capacity to manage information and to ride storms. At least for a few days.
As for the Spanish voters, perhaps on Sunday they recalled they had been duped once before and reacted with an anger that was all the greater for it. In effect, they did what electorates normally do in mid-term elections and registered a protest vote. If so, there are quite possibly more than a few voters who regret what they did and won’t do it again. Given how impressive modern Spain is in so many ways, it is easy to forget that democracy is not yet 30 years old here. Both governments and electorates have lessons to learn.
So, yes, the wrong message was sent to both international and domestic terrorists but I very much doubt that this was the message the Spanish electorate thought it was giving.