Private Eye magazine has a regular feature called Dumb Britain. It throws up some gems but this one is priceless, from The Weakest Link:-
Anne Robinson: Castel Gandolfo is the summer residence of which religious leader?
I mentioned the other day I knew nothing about the lady – Beate Gordon – whom El País was running an obit on. Thanks to The Economist, I know now she was famous for writing the clause in the post-war Japanese Constitution which gave women equal rights. Or, indeed, any rights. She was barely 22 at the time. Life after that was a bit of an anti-climax.
There's been a fistful of comments from doyens and doyennes of the PP party today. On the latest corruption scandal, of course. Plus a threat to prosecute anyone who defames the party. I didn't know you could defame a political party, as opposed to the individuals in it. Nor do I think it would be possible to defame it right now, given what has emerged about the black cash swilling about inside the PP HQ. President Rajoy is still denying manila envelope practices but a colleague of the ex Treasurer-in-Trouble has confirmed that monthly 'bonus' payments were routine and that they were far bigger than the standard pay cheques. But we're all a lot closer to the truth now, as Señor Rajoy has said that internal and external audits will be set in motion someday soon. Meanwhile, the ex Treasurer's mate has revealed that, as suspected, the money came as donations from private companies.
Time for Spain to Clean up Its Act? I was going to write a bit more about corruption today but, as Guy Hedgecoe has penned a good article answering this question, I'll confine myself to quoting this:- There's a paucity of hope, a frustrated paralysis over corruption, cronyism and ego-driven politics. Nobody believes voting will change anything. . . Endemic levels of misery and apathy are tied to a popular conviction that politicians of all stripes will continue to serve an elite while ignoring everybody else.
Finally, this is The Economist's latest overview on Spain. It makes no mention of corruption but I'd bet my life on things being different next week:-
In Madrid ministers brag that they have turned a corner. Euro-zone bond yields have been hitting new low levels. Spain’s banking and labour reforms are now in place. Growth will revive later this year or in 2014. Jobs, the Spanish El Dorado, will eventually follow.
But that is surely too rosy a view. Exports are growing and the current account is now in surplus, but even the government sees GDP shrinking by 0.5% in 2013 (and most analysts talk of 1.5%). Spaniards are suffering an aching spell of record unemployment, at 26.6%. Austerity means worsening public services just as real wage and pension cuts make people poorer. The biggest asset for many families, their house, is plunging in value, with a further 20% price fall expected. Higher income, sales and housing taxes will hit spending power further. Business confidence and retail sales are in retreat. And a housing glut will take years to digest. Only 25,655 of what Fitch, a ratings agency, says are 1.2m unsold Spanish houses were bought in November.
Spain must eventually emerge from all this. But will Spaniards put up with extended pain? Or will they rebel against a political establishment that has failed them? So far they have been quietly dignified. Peaceful demonstrators have made more headlines than violent protesters. Yet days lost to strikes are at a ten-year high. A budget deficit of 7-8% of GDP in 2012 must be cut this year. The European Union has set a 4.5% target, though it may relax this. Investment has already been slashed so future cuts must fall on public health, education, pensions and welfare services.
Polls show most politicians in the doghouse. Barely half of all Spaniards back the two parties that have governed for three decades: the ruling People’s Party (PP) of Mariano Rajoy or the opposition Socialists. The communist-led United Left has surged to almost 16%, while Rosa Díez’s centrist Union for Progress and Democracy stands at 10%.
Spaniards blame the Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero for dropping them in the mess, and Mr Rajoy’s PP for failing to get them out of it, says Juan José Toharia of Metroscopia, a pollster. Only one in six Spaniards has confidence in Mr Rajoy.
That may also explain why he is so anxious to dodge the euro-zone bail-outs that led to changes of government in Greece, Ireland and Portugal. With bond yields heading down, thanks to the European Central Bank (ECB), the pressure has eased. As long as this holds, Mr Rajoy can avoid the new soft bail-out under which the ECB promises to buy Spanish bonds on the secondary market. Josep Comajuncosa of the Esade business school now sees only a 50% chance of a formal bail-out. Renewed market nervousness could yet force one; and a bail-out that slashed borrowing costs would speed recovery, even if it damaged Mr Rajoy. But his ministers still see it as a silver bullet that is all the better for being left unused.
Mr Rajoy has time on his side. He is only a year into a four-year term and enjoys an absolute majority in parliament. Catalonia is rumbling, but any stand-off over independence has been postponed two years or more. In electoral terms, he need fret about the economy only in 2016. He wants Germany to stimulate growth to help Spanish exports.
But Spaniards are shedding their enthusiasm for an EU that seems to impose austerity and prevents devaluation. Only 4% thought the EU was bad for Spain five years ago, but now 37% do. A century ago the philosopher José Ortega y Gasset declared that “Spain is the problem, Europe is the answer”. As the crisis drags on, Spaniards may start thinking the opposite.