Monday, September 01, 2014

Doulas: Tapped; Corruption; Politics; More corruption; Good news?; And Rousseau's dog.

A few days ago, my friend Dwight introduced me to the word 'doula', in the context of the birth of his latest grandchild. It means a non-medical person who assists a woman before, during and after birth. Yesterday, I heard this new word again but this time in the context of an imminent death. Quite a coincidence.

Talking of English words . . . My younger daughter has introduced me to the word 'tapped' in its new guise of 'crazy'.

Here's a letter from yesterday's El País on the first or second concern of most Spaniards:-
Corruption a la Carte
Urdangarin and his wife, Princess Cristina, under suspicion. Barcenas, in jail for theft. Matas, in jail for the same thing. Jordi Pujol, a confessed fraudster. Aguirre, fleeing from the police. Cañete, recidivist. León de la Riva, sexist recidivist. The HQ of the governing political party searched by the police. The governments of Valencia and Andalucia questioned about irregularities in the recent past. A host of mayors, councillors and CEOs in the dock. Hundreds of public office-holders with charges against them, with most of them still free, without bail. Dozens of cases: Gürtel, ERE, Nóos, Brugal, Fabra, Pokémon, Palma Arena, Pallerols, Millet, Malaya, ITV, Baltar, etc. If they say that a political class is the reflection of a society, my God, what a society! Eliminating corruption begins with oneself, day to day. Let's see if we succeed in the the challenge set out in this newspaper by Judge Gómez Bermúdez: "To educate the next generation that, e. g. jumping a queue is unethical and reprehensible behaviour. The day we get our kids to understand this it will be much more difficult for there to be such a high rate of corruption." And if you are not so young, you should be reminded that it is one thing to get a few bottles of good Rioja wine for Christmas and and another thing to be made a venal shareholder of the winery.

And now Spanish Politics: Graeme of North of Watford has made a welcome, if belated, return to the blogosphere and his acute analysis merits reproduction, rather than just a citation. Scroll down if politics is not your bag. As they used to say.

Democratic Regeneration
Suddenly, Spain's government has decided that its priority for the coming months is what it describes as 'democratic regeneration'. These are words that few have ever associated with the Partido Popular and Mariano Rajoy but there's no need to worry; Spain's right wing hasn't suddenly caught the democracy 'bug'. The weight of that long political tradition is still sufficient to ensure that the PP regards anything smacking of greater democracy as something to be avoided at all costs.

Instead we are getting a response to the dismal results that Spain's two main political parties obtained in May's elections for the European Parliament. 2015 is a big election year in Spain, if everything is scheduled as expected the country will have municipal and regional elections followed a few months later by a general election. The shock of the European elections was twofold, firstly because support for the two main parties combined fell just short of 50% of the vote, and secondly because of the surprise emergence of Podemos as a potential threat to that two party hegemony.

The PP does not panic in a very public way, but results which had the party not even reaching 30% of the vote in their strongholds of Madrid and Valencia have had a profound effect internally. Were this pattern to be repeated in the municipal and regional elections then the PP faces the prospect of losing power in places where they have governed for decades. Imagine the bonfire of incriminating documents that might mean, assuming of course that any incriminating paperwork that exists hasn't already already been destroyed in the wake of all the corruption scandals of the last few years.

The PP has an abysmal problem in reaching agreements with other parties, and the prospect of either governing in minority or passing to the opposition is too terrible to contemplate. Something must be done, and that something appears to consist of manipulating electoral law to ensure they can still govern with fewer votes. Pioneer in the gerrymandering exercise has been Maria Dolores de Cospedal, who combines her job as secretary general of the PP with that of president in Castilla La Mancha. Using the excuse of austerity, Cospedal has pushed through a law drastically reducing the number of members of the regional parliament. The new law has the happy effect of both making it harder to dislodge the PP from power and of effectively excluding any smaller parties from representation unless they can overtake one of the big two.

Inspired by such an impeccably democratic example, Mariano Rajoy has announced that he intends to change the electoral law for the municipal elections so that the party which receives the most votes gets to govern regardless of whether they have an absolute majority or not. Although they talk of a minimum threshold necessary for a party to claim control of a city without winning the election, we will have to wait and see what the PP tries to get away with. Currently they talk of 40% of the vote, but that could easily be lower if the poll data they manage isn't looking good. Today's El Mundo poll has them on 30% nationally, a third of those who voted for Rajoy in 2011 have gone and many may not be returning. Rajoy seems determined to push through a major change in electoral law regardless of whether any other party supports it or not, and the talk of 'democratic regeneration' is merely the cynical touch the PP seems to feel is needed to decorate all of their measures. If that's still not cynical enough for you they also claim the change will help to avoid corruption.

The illusion of change in order to ensure that everything remains safely in the same hands seems to have become the trademark of Rajoy's administration and the management of the country's crisis. As the two-party system shows signs of weakness they change to law to try and prop it up. If someone like Pablo Iglesias becomes popular partly as a result of television appearances, then the PP has a solution; try to make sure he doesn't appear on television. It's the concept of the managed democracy they hoped for after Franco's death, sure people can vote but not just for anybody. Come on. This is not just the attitude of the PP, the whole establishment of the transition years gets intensely nervous at anything that might upset the cozy cronyism they have nurtured carefully for so many years.

There is a delicious irony in seeing all those who shouted in 2011 that what the indignados had to do was form a political party and present themselves for election changing their tune. Now that a section of the movement appears to have done just that and with a certain amount of success, not just the music changes as laws get quickly changed to preserve the status quo at any cost. This is not just about Podemos, new broader based civic platforms are quickly forming to present alternative candidacies in big cities like Barcelona, Sevilla and Madrid. The common denominator is a rejection of the old way of doing politics, and of those who administer the crisis in their own interests.

The emergence of Podemos, placed just behind the PSOE in El Mundo's poll, has had the effect of provoking some kind of crisis in almost all of Spain's political parties. This was most evident with the PSOE, who finally realised they had to renovate their image after over 2 years of steady decline rather than improvement in opposition. The unconvincing way they have done this, with all sorts of manoeuvres to try and fix the election of a new leader, doesn't bode well for a significant change of direction. The PP, who vilified Rubalcaba as being the epitome of evil, suddenly realised how much they will miss him as they become the only party of the 'old guard'. They were much more comfortable with the ritual 'y tú más' sessions that the increasingly rare parliamentary debates in Spain consist of.

Perhaps the party which has taken the biggest hit from Podemos has been Izquierda Unida, who found themselves pushed behind the new party in several regions. IU had benefited from disenchantment with the major parties, but not as much as they should have. Podemos come in a with a different language and fresher style, and the leadership of IU has been left wondering what happened. The dead hand of the Spanish Communist Party has damaged IU's prospects for years as many of those who could be attracted to the platform left to do other things. Those behind Podemos amongst them. 

Even Unión Progreso y Democracia, who presented themselves as a safe way to break the two party hold, have a crisis of their own as they are no longer in pole position to be the alternative. Still very much the personal project of Rosa Diez, the party machine reacts badly to dissent and those who favour a fusion or agreement with Ciudadanos are subjected to insults by the loyalists. Diez apparently believed she could eclipse the Catalan upstarts, but her right wing media allies seem to be in favour of the merger and have fanned the flames. Again, the emergence of Podemos leaves UPyD looking every bit as much a part of Spain's political establishment as the two big parties, a case that is supported by the reaction of its leaders to the new party.

The opinion polls differ greatly on just what is happening, and are also subject to ever greater manipulation as part of the, occasionally hysterical, counter attack. The attempt by El País a few weeks ago to spin a revival in the PSOE's fortunes following the election of Pedro Sánchez as leader was widely criticised because of the way in which they found a 10% increase in support for the major parties that no other poll seems to detect. The pollsters in general have yet to offer any explanation for how they got the voting pattern so badly wrong in the European elections, and given that there have been no elections since you have to wonder how they are adjusting their polls to fit the new scenario?

The European elections in Spain are special in that they are the most representative, despite the low participation. This is because it is a national vote and therefore doesn't suffer the sort of deformation present in general elections here, that which allows Rajoy to have an absolute majority in parliament with well under 50% of the vote. Precisely the sort of system he now wants to introduce in municipal elections too. Incidentally, if you think that the Spanish electoral system has been brutally unfair in past general elections, just wait and see what happens in the next election if the two major parties have a lower vote but are still clear of any rivals. That could really provoke some democratic regeneration.

If that wasn't enough to make one worry about the state Spain's in - or what kind of state it is - then there's this.

And this. Allegations of massive fraud - under 12 headings - at Getafe's airforce base.

But it's not all bad news . . . The relevant minister says he wants to respond to public outrage by reducing the number of politicians, etc, who are protected from judicial process from a staggering 17, 621 to just 22. The fact that this is still 22 more than in most other democracies doesn't seem to worry him. But Rome wasn't built (or disassembled) in a day, I guess.

Finally . . . Philosophical Thoughts – If somebody told you that one of history’s greatest writers, Jean Jacques Rousseau, had lived in Staffordshire, would you believe them? Well, he did. For a year or so, in 1766/7. And his stopover there is described in the book ‘Rousseau’s Dog’. 

Query: Do I now have to pay Graeme a 'Google Tax' for C&Ping his post?


Graeme said...

Thanks for reproducing the post Colin, I won't be chasing you for the Google Tax although it's not down to the individual publisher anyway. I suggest you donate the money to the mysterious author of 'North of Watford', he or she probably needs it more living in such grim conditions.

Lenox said...

The 'Google Tax', when the Senate passes it later this month, will be paid to CEDRIC (a bureaucracy that chases taxes and passes on a small proportion). The money will end up with the AEDE, the association of daily newspapers, regardless of where the original link came from. (Gotta keep those dailies supporting the Govt!)

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