Thursday, December 20, 2012


Just two weeks ago in the London Progressive Journal I wrote of the hundreds of Republican supporters seeking refuge at La Sauceda who were rounded up by Franco’s forces and slain at El Marrufo in Andalucía in the Spanish Civil War. That Saturday the first 28 who were tortured and executed at the cortijo were buried with dignity 76 years after they were shot and dumped in mass graves.

Theirs were the first bodies to be found in the seven mass graves that are known to be at the estate in the Valle de la Sauceda. In 1936 the estate was converted in to a torture camp for the hundreds of families who had sought refuge at Sauceda from the advancing Franco troops. Up to 800 could have been slaughtered.

Today I report on another burial that took place on Sunday. This was of the “17 Rosas” of Guillena in the province of Sevilla: women who were shot in the Spanish Civil War for being family members of Republican militants. Their bodies now lie in a pantheon in the town, 75 years after they were slain and ten months after their remains were exhumed from a common grave in Gerena also in Sevilla.

The words “Truth, Justice, Reparation” are engraved on the pantheon along with the names of the “17 Rosas”. Their remains arrived at the cemetery in 17 boxes escorted by two enormous Republican flags to much applause and the singing of the “Himno de Riego”.

In the cemetery awaited the family and neighbours of Manuela Méndez, the sisters Rosario and Natividad León; Granada Garzón and her daughter Granada Hidalgo, the sisters Tomasa and Josefa Peinado; Manuela Sánchez Gandillo; Ramona Navarro; Trinidad López Cabeza; Ramona Manchón; Ana Fernandéz Ventura; Manuela Lianez; Dolores Palacios; Ramona Puntas; Antonia Ferrer and Eulogia Alanís – the “17 Rosas”.

The burials took place ten months after the exhumation of the remains from a common grave at nearby Gerena had been completed. The process of identifying each of the remains was undertaken using the DNA of family members and an anthropology report was also produced.

The Asociación Memoria Histórica “19 Mujeres”, a reference to the 19 women who were first taken prisoner but two of whom were later pardoned, has worked for over ten years to find where the women had been buried. Aged between 20 and 70 they all had been physically abused before being shot in the cemetery at Gerena.

During the exhumation the archaeologists made some grim discoveries. One of the women had received two mercy shots in the neck and was found face down. Amongst the bones was found various coins. One of these was a silver duro, worth a lot of money, which may have been used by a woman in an attempt to save her life. Other items found included a shoe, a bullet, a comb and even a finger around which was a ring.

It has also been established that one of the “17 Rosas” was over seven months pregnant when she was shot. Beside her bones were the skeletal remains of her foetus.
The “17 Rosas” were taken prisoner and abused when their families fled Guillena after the military uprising of July 1936. The testimony of an eight year old boy who saw them being shot from an olive grove nearby was key to the experts being able to locate their common grave.

That child, now over 80 years old, is José Domínguez Núñez who attended the interment. He expressed his happiness that the women had now been laid to rest in Guillena but lamented he had not been able to find his own brother who was shot at the age of 22. At his now advanced age - "Ya no puedo buscar más" – “now I can look no more.”

María José Domínguez, a niece of one of the shot women and president of the Asociación “19 Mujeres”, was angry that since the “Transition” after Franco’s death that no government had been capable of complying with the UN resolution to bring to justice those guilty of these crimes against humanity. She added that it should be the responsibility of the State to retrieve the remains of these victims who “are still lying around like dogs in ditches.”

Between cries of ¡Viva la República! the president of the Asociación “19 Rosas” recalled that the children of the assassinated women, the “hijos de los Rojos”, were marked out for ever and were barred from the social canteens set up to feed the starving even though they had not committed any crime.

Attending the ceremony was the president of the Andalucía Parliament, the socialist Manuel Gracia. At the end of the ceremony whilst speaking to journalists he praised the work of these associations adding that from the parliament and other public institutions there is an impulse to find these lost remains because “it is the task of all”.

Indeed it is but it largely falls to the families of those who were tortured and shot along with the various Memoria Histórica associations who are dedicated to recovering Spain’s historic memory of those times. The far right and even the centre right Partido Popular would prefer these bloody matters were put to rest and forgotten. However whilst those who perished “are still lying around like dogs in ditches” the work will go on to give them a dignified burial and to remind the world of the ideals for which they were tortured and died.

Thursday, December 6, 2012


The Spanish Civil War. It will always hold a special place in the hearts of those on the left of politics. Those on the far right would prefer you forgot it ever happened.

Internationally it is fast becoming another date in history: an event that happened before World War II and which for Germany was a practice run. Yet in Spain the memories are still raw nowhere more so than amongst the thousands of families who lost grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, uncles and aunt, nieces and nephews, assassinated by Franco’s forces and who to this day lay in massed or unmarked graves.

It was over a weekend at the end of March in 2009 that I found myself pitched in to tragedy of that conflict. In the Cádiz village of Jimena de la Frontera, my home for the past 15 years, they held a conference on the Spanish Civil War and how it affected the local community. It reached its climax on the Sunday with a visit to La Sauceda about 25 kilometres from Jimena.

I wrote at the time: “In November 1936 Lieutenant José Robles of the Instituto Armado led his troops from Ubrique to La Sauceda were they rendezvoused with other forces. La Sauceda was a small mountain top hamlet that for generations had been a refuge for bandits. Now apart from the local population it was a place of hiding for the many Republican and communist supporters that had fled the advance of Franco’s forces.

“Several hundred people were sheltering there and the Nationalist force made up of the army, Falange, Guardia Civil and Militias crept up on La Sauceda through the woods. After an aerial attack in which many men were killed or fled the troops moved in and took the inhabitants prisoners.

“The women and children were taken to the nearby cortijo of El Marrufo in lorries where they were held in the chapel. The men were taken on foot. Many of the women were raped before both they and the children were shot and dumped in a mass grave. The grave beneath one of the buildings is as of yet unexcavated but along with the men's graves nearer Puerto de Galis they are believed to be amongst the largest in the province with hundreds of victims.”

Well time has move on and at last excavations have started to recover the remains from the graves on what is a private estate. It is a daunting task. However on Saturday the first 28 of the hundreds of people who were tortured and executed by Franco’s troops at the cortijo were buried with dignity 76 years after they were shot and dumped in mass graves.

Theirs are the first bodies to be found in the seven mass graves that are known to be at the estate in the Valle de la Sauceda. In 1936 the estate was converted in to a torture camp for the hundreds of families who had sought refuge at Sauceda from the advancing Franco troops.

The Foro por la Memoria del Campo de Gibraltar and the Asociación de Familiares de Represaliados por el Franquismo de La Sauceda y El Marrufo began the work last July to archaeologically excavate the cortijo. The 28 discovered were all shot. It is clear they had their hands bound with wire and were then shot in the head: all also have different impacts on their bodies. This all goes to confirm the horrors that had occurred at El Marrufo between November 1936 and February 1937.

The 28 bodies found in the first phase of the excavation were buried in the cemetery at La Sauceda. The village is now abandoned and the cemetery was in a semi-ruined state but has now been restored for these victims so they could be buried in dignity.

Andrés del Río of the Foro por la Memoria del Campo de Gibraltar said it was important not only to recover their bodies but also to establish the Republican values and the ideas for which they died. The ceremony was attended by the director general of Memoria Democrática, Luis Naranjo Cordobés, who read a manifesto setting out the ideals for which these people were executed at the cortijo.

The studies have not concluded as the DNA of the victims has been collected so that their families can be traced. It will be difficult because between 200 and 800 people disappeared in La Sauceda and the historians have only located twenty families so far.

Back in 2009 I wrote these words about the ceremony I attended at La Sauceda. The same words ring just as true today after Saturday’s interments: “It is at these moments that the politics, the facts and the figures are stripped away. It is then you are faced with the raw emotion felt by those who suffered these deeds all these years ago. It was not statistics that perished but fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. It would take a stronger man (or woman) than me not to have been affected by their openly displayed grief and I have no shame in saying my tears mingled with theirs on this hallowed ground”.

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on December 6 2012 and in other publications).

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


As expected the centre right Convergencia i Uniò (CiU) led by Artur Mas won the Catalan elections. However Mas has not lived up to his name which means more in Spanish as the CiU lost 12 seats in the process. That was not the outcome that the opinion polls had foretold.

Mas had stated that he intends to stage a referendum in this parliament on the issue of Catalan independence so does his loss of support make this more or less likely?
The answer is complicated because whilst the CiU is by far the strongest party in Cataluña it does not enjoy an overall majority. The other big winners were the Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (ERC), a left grouping, which has seen its seats rise from 10 to 21.

Even with the final adjustment of seats under Spain’s proportional representation system this means 71 MPs in the Catalan Parliament support independence. The problem is the CiU and ERC are poles apart politically so it is difficult to see them forming a coalition. However politics is the art of the impossible so we will have to wait and see.

Mas has explained his party’s drop in support on the hard austerity measures it has had to introduce in the past legislature. As has been seen elsewhere in Europe the governments that have had to introduce such harsh policies have been ousted at the polls.

Cataluña is one of the richest regions in Spain but is at present also one of the most indebted. Hence the tough policies will have to continue. The CiU needs a party to help it govern: Mas as leader of the largest party has the right to choose who that will be. He can choose the ERC or the Catalan arms of PSOE (PSC) or the Partido Popular. With the ERC he knows they share his independence ideals whilst the PSC and PP are strongly opposed.

Mas called the elections two years early in September after Spain’s Partido Popular Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had rejected demands from the Catalan leader for the region to control its own taxes. Not only did he call a general election but also stated his intention of holding a referendum on independence. This fed in to the Catalans demand for full independence after 30 years of autonomy.

The view on the streets on election night was that the CiU and ERC already have a deal on independence and the referendum. In addition Catalans believe they contribute an unfair percentage of the nation’s finances in tax and even pay more still on their toll motorways.

The PSC is traditionally the second force in Catalan politics and was one of the parties of government in the legislature prior to the CiU taking power. The socialists now slip to third with just 20 seats losing eight seats. The Partido Popular gained one seat to 19 but the performance of both is viewed as poor. The overall turn out was 68.63 per cent: 10 points up on two years ago.

Read the results as you will: one thing is certain is that the Catalans thirst for independence has not been quenched. The future may seem more complicated than previously suggested but an independent Cataluña, or at least attempts for form a Catalan State, now moves to the top of the region’s and Spain’s political agenda.

(Photo: CiU)

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 27 2012)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


At the weekend the Sunday Times gave a whole broadsheet page to French politics. Six columns were dedicated to a sneering report on Francois Hollande, to the effect that the socialist president’s popularity was in freefall and the nation could be soon seeking bailouts. The other column went to French tycoon Arnaud Lagardère who apparently has a fiancée much taller than him. It comes as no surprise then that the once most respected of British newspapers is today part of the Murdoch stable.

However the real story of political interest on Sunday wasn’t at the Elysée Palace or indeed at Chez Lagardère but at the election count for the next leader of France’s Conservative opposition party the UMP – Union pour un Mouvement Populaire. The BBC correspondent in Paris, Hugh Schofield, in his report described events thus: “Watching the results come in was like seeing a really crummy disaster movie. The events were terrible, but it was so bad you just wanted to laugh.” It is his turn of phrase that makes up this article’s headline.

First a bit of history. In Britain all our main three political parties are to say the least well established. The Conservative Party was formed in 1834 but traces its roots to the Tory Party which started in 1678. The Liberals grew out of the Whigs in 1859. Even the new kids on the block, the Labour Party, was formed in 1900.

In contrast in France whilst it has long established socialist and communist parties the groupings on the right change with the wind. I am old enough to remember De Gaulle’s splendidly named Rassemblement du peuple francais. He formed that party in 1947 but by the time he left politics in 1970 he had lead three different parties of the right: all anti socialist and communist. So when we talk of the fight to lead the UMP, the party of Chirac and then Sarkozy, we are speaking of one that is just a decade old.

The reason this election to choose the new leader of the UMP created such headlines is both candidates claimed victory a day before the final result was declared and then accused their rival of fraud and ballot-stuffing. The right-wing candidate Jean-Francois Cope finally came in ahead of former Prime Minister Francois Fillon by just 98 votes and the UMP has been badly damaged by the fiasco.

I asked Pierre Kanuty who is in charge of European and international relations at the Parti Socialiste in Paris for the left’s take on these events. Pierre also started with the historical context. He told me: One needs to understand that as a matter of fact, there has never been a true conservative party in France though we have a strong right wing party. All of them have been presidential organisations dedicated to ensure networks aimed at one man’s victory.

“In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Gaullist MP’s needed a political frame for campaigning so they created the UNR (Union for a New Republic), followed by the Union of democrats for the Republic.

“In 1976, Jacques Chirac organised his party, the RPR (Gathering for the Republic). His first success was to be elected as mayor of Paris. The rest of the history is well know, the RPR used municipal jobs to have manpower for the party and got money from many companies to fund the party and its campaign. They also cheated many times on local votes in Paris.

“The following year Valery Giscard d’Estaing, President of the Republic at the time formed his own party, UDF (Union of the French democracy).

“Chirac’s RPR was depicted by its founder as the “French social democracy” supposed to be more leftist than the UDF. The truth there was always a conservative – neo liberal wing and a centrist, pro-welfare state fighting each other within the RPR and the UDF.

“The rise of a successful conservative revolution in the UK with Thatcher and in the US with Reagan gave them hope, but the electoral cost was very high as the French conservative voters still wanted a strong state even if they were in favour of strong tax cuts.

“The crisis of the conservative leadership is a very long story, but as long as the parties were dominated by high figures like Chirac, or Sarkozy, it was easy to reduce it to childish games.

“In 2001, the RPR decided to merge with centre right UDF to form the UMP. Some of people from UDF refused to join, claiming there was room for a true centre party that eventually became the MoDem led by François Bayrou.

“Nicolas Sarkozy took over the party and he organised it as a war machine entirely aimed at the 2007 victory. Renewal of ideas, networks, activists, communication and media strategy, nothing was left behind. But the main thing was to assume a true neo liberal and neo conservative ideology.”

With the defeat of Sarkozy in May by Hollande and the defeated president’s subsequent resignation from the party leadership obviously the UMP had to seek a new leader. All parties after defeat lick their wounds, rally round a new leader and move on. What went so disastrously wrong for the UMP?

Pierre explained: “As long as Sarkozy was President, he was also the true leader of the Conservative Party, and obviously when he left, his succession had to be secured. But it is a tradition in the right, no heir, no successor. Conservative leaders like Jean-François Copé were too busy thinking about their own career, focusing on 2017 the year of the next presidential elections.

“François Fillon, former prime minister comes from a social conservative background, but as Sarkozy’s Prime minister, for five years, he implemented a neo liberal policy and, even if he ended his term with a better popularity rate that Sarkozy, he was symbolically defeated since his old constituency was won by a socialist candidate, Stéphane Le Foll who became minister of agriculture. Fillon decided to target an easier place to be elected in the “bourgeois” Paris’s 7th district and Quartier Latin as a first step for a further fight : being mayor of Paris in 2014.
“Jean-François Copé never left his home town, in a Paris suburb. With his “uninhibited right” he’s ready to do whatever it takes to grab the extreme right National Front’s voters.

“The vote of 18th November was a opportunity for UMP members to choose for the first time their leader without any electoral pressure as we are only six months after the presidential and legislative elections. The rules of procedures were very hard. Each candidate had to be endorsed by almost 8,000 party members representing 10 local branches at department level. The 265,000 party members could vote in 650 polling stations. Only 176,000 persons voted.

“The socialists with less party members (around 150,000) had more than 3,000 polling stations in their vote on the leadership one month earlier. This is one of the reasons of the mess.

“The means never matched the needs. Copé finally won with only 50,03 %, just 98 votes ahead.

“Such a small margin requires a huge effort to bring legitimacy to the new leader. If there is no surprise in Copé’s victory, it shows that the leadership crisis is not over yet since somebody can argue that the “minority” represents 49.97 % of the party.”

I leave the final word on this debacle to Pierre:

“In the 1980’s, there was a slogan saying “the French right is the dumbest in the world”. Seems it is still accurate.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 20 2012).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Back on October 5 I wrote an article in the Gibraltar daily newspaper, Panorama, in which I told how I got talking to a young politician by the name of Hadleigh Roberts at the Labour Party Conference in Manchester. He is a linguist and his skills saw him working in the Parti Socialiste offices in southern France. He was also a staffer on Axelle Lemaire’s campaign which saw her elected as the PS MP for the French overseas constituency, which stretches from the UK to the North Pole.  He is committed to Europe and spoke at conference on this theme.

I went on to say he asked me two questions that he had been putting to people he met. There is a possibility that after the referendum Scotland could leave the United Kingdom. If that is the case then treaties that are binding to the UK would not be valid for Scotland. This would mean if Scotland wished to be a member of the European Community it would have to apply for membership in its own right.

The first question was: would the UK government object to Scotland joining the EC?  The second question was this: would Spain block Scotland’s membership? Well, as I said, I never saw the second one coming but Hadleigh explained Spain might black ball Scotland’s application because it would not want the Scots to set a precedent for the Catalans or indeed the Basques making a similar application.

My answer to the first question was I did not believe the UK would block Scotland’s membership of the EU although that would largely depend on the fall out from the referendum and also what London’s relationship with Europe was at that time. Likewise in response to the second my answer was I did not believe Spain would interfere in a political matter that revolved around the remainder of the UK and a newly independent Scotland. I was wrong.

I did not appreciate what a panic the UK’s decision to allow Scotland a referendum on independence in 2014 would cause amongst the Spanish Partido Popular Government in Madrid.

The Basque’s in their regional government elections on October 21 saw both the two Nationalists parties take huge majorities over PSOE and the Partido Popular. They want out. Next up on November 25 is the Catalan regional election which again the nationalists are expected to win. If they do, they will hold a referendum on independence next year.

Against this scenario Spain’s foreign minister, Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, has been speaking out. He stated the “right to secession is not recognised in any of the constitutions of the EU” and hence neither the Basques nor the Catalans can follow Scotland’s lead and try to leave Spain. He also argues that any such move is against the UN Charter and EU Treaty.

Spain has nudged the EC Vice President, Viviane Reding, to back its stance. She is from Luxembourg and so you may have expected she would back the notion that small nations might be free”. Apparently not: she has confirmed that if Cataluña leaves the Spanish State it also leaves the EU. Be sure that Madrid has no intention of letting it back in but like the UK and Scotland eventually Spain might find it is better to have the Catalans on side rather than out in the cold. For now hard ball applies.

Spain’s premier Mariano Rajoy has also warned the Basques during their regional elections they would be isolated outside of Spain and the EU if they went independent: the same message has been delivered by his PP henchpeople to the Catalans.

Garcia-Margallo further commented that in the UK sovereignty resided with Parliament and it was Parliament that had authorised that the Scottish people could leave the Union if they decided “to navigate their own course”. He added that a referendum held without the approval of the British Parliament would have been illegal and have had no effect on Europe. Spain’s Constitution does not allow for any such referendum.

Now comes the key bit of the Spanish Foreign Minister’s argument. He says that if Scotland opts for independence then it will be outside of the EU and have to go to the end of the queue for membership. To finally achieve that membership it will have to obtain the backing of all member states. Hence there will be no fast track for Scotland and by implication Spain would block any attempt for special treatment. In all likelihood Spain would veto Scotland’s EU membership as it would be terrified that independent Basque and Catalan states would attempt to follow in its footsteps.

This pitches Spain into the debate over Scottish independence. Madrid may not have anticipated the angry reaction this will generate in due course from Edinburgh. Certainly an independent Scotland will not sit quietly by whilst the Partido Popular interferes in its future status. Also when the question of Scotland’s future membership of the EU is debated between now and 2014 expect the SDP to come out fighting against Madrid.

Rajoy and the Partido Popular have a fight on their hands with the Basques and the Catalans: now they can add the Scots too and indeed maybe the British Government. Meanwhile Gibraltar is sitting patiently by: it has been fighting a 300 year old war with its Iberian neighbour and has seen it all before. If the Spanish State breaks up it will work in the Rock’s favour. Be sure Gibraltarians will gladly add the Catalans, Basques and now the Scots to their side in their battle to self-determine their own future.

The Scotland question has been answered but the answer begs still further questions.

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on November 9 2012)

Friday, November 2, 2012


At the Labour Party Conference in Manchester I was talking to some delegates from Unite the Union. I was speaking about the Spanish Civil War and the Unite Memorial at the Karl Marx Memorial Library in London. It was at that point that a non union member asked – “Why aren’t our unions doing more to help Spain now?” A good question.

Everybody knows that Spain is in an economic mess: it was brought on in part by the collapse of the speculative property bubble but at the heart of the debacle lies the country’s abusive and in some cases criminal banks.

The banks have received massive bailouts and are still in line for more cash. Indeed Bankia, which is at the centre of the scandal, has in the first nine months of this year reported the highest loss in Spanish banking history - 7,053 million euros. It is waiting for a cash injection of 19,000 million. As this appalling loss was announced its former president Rodrigo Rato was summoned to appear before the High Court to answer fraud charges.

It is against this scenario that Spain’s jobless totals have now hit over 25 per cent – the highest in Europe, nearly 53 per cent unemployment amongst the young (the European average is 22.8), with an accompanying cut to the dole payments. Education and the health service are in crisis; pensioners are under attack and every day over 500 people are evicted from their homes yet still owe the banks thousands on their mortgages.

The major unions, the UGT and CC.OO, are behind the many industrial protests. A general strike will be held on November 14 unless the Partido Popular centre right government cancels its austerity cuts or holds a referendum to approve them. Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is committed to slash 150 billion euros over the next three years from State budgets.

Ignacio Fernández Toxo, leader of the Comisiones Obreras (CC.OO) said: “It’s up to the government whether there’s a general strike or not. If they were going to hold a referendum things would be completely different.” Expect the general strike to go ahead on November 14 – the same day as in Portugal, Greece and Cyprus with support from France and Italy in what will be a day of action and solidarity in the EU.

There is much more going on at street level. The people of Spain have given up on their politicians be they from the Partido Popular or indeed the socialist PSOE. It is Izquierda Unida, the far left alliance with the communists at their heart, which is making strong gains or the nationalists in the Basque and Catalan regions who are demanding independence. People are in uproar over the cuts, the corruption, the banks and the collapse of society.

It is a nation that is in despair and demonstrations of 60,000 people be it against the economic situation or the political system are now the norm. However the ghost of Franco lives on in Spain and there are many in the centre right Partido Popular who want to see an enforced end to all protests be they on the streets or over the social media.

The Spanish Government has been talking of a new law that would turn innocent protestors in to criminals. It is an attack on the heart of Spain’s democracy. It is using the isolated violent incidents that have occurred during these mass protests against corruption and the cuts to criminalise certain acts of peaceful protest. Indeed the very act of inviting a person to participate in a peaceful protest via Facebook would be against the law punishable by imprisonment. With the nation taking to the streets Rajoy looks to Franco for the solution.

A mass campaign has been underway in Spain to stop these amendments to the law in their tracks. Some argue they would not be permitted as they are against the Constitution. The key concern is that the Rajoy government is considering them at all because it displays a declaring of war on all who oppose their administration and at present that is the majority of the Spanish people. If Francoist repression cannot be introduced one way it will another.

Which brings me back to the question – “Why aren’t our unions doing more to help Spain now?” The Unite members were unanimous in their response that our unions should back their Spanish comrades. The fact is the crisis in Spain is far more than about the economic crisis, unemployment or the cuts, it is about the very foundations of democracy and free speech.

Many brave British trade unionists laid down their lives in the fight against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Many others such as Jack Jones fought, many were injured. The ghost of Franco is now stalking Spain: it is time for our trade unionists to support their Spanish comrades once again - not this time with their blood but certainly with their solidarity, words and deeds. Let us start on November 14. Ask your union today what it is going to do to support Spain’s embattled workers.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on November 2 2012)

Monday, October 22, 2012


France elected a socialist president in May and on September 28 his government delivered its budget for 2013 proclaimed as the “most important effort made for 30 years”. It has been praised because French President Francois Hollande with his Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, have kept their deficit reduction pledges. Others have questioned the balance of taxes and spending and the over optimistic growth predictions.
France hasn’t balanced a budget since 1974 but Hollande and his team says it’s determined to see a reduction of the government’s budget deficit by three per cent in 2013. I asked Parti Socialiste MP Axelle Lemaire, who was elected for France’s new Northern European constituency in June – a constituency that includes the UK – for her take on the Hollande budget.
Eade: Francois Hollande was elected on a promise of promoting recovery by growth rather than cuts: if France misses its moderate growth target how will this be achieved?

Lemaire: The proposed 2013 budget, unveiled last week, lays on two principles: responsibility and jobs. When François Hollande took office in May, he asked for a general audit to the politically independent accounting body Cour des Comptes. Its conclusion was much worse than anticipated, unveiling a tremendous 30 billion Euro gap in the previous government's budget estimate. Fulfilling France's European commitments of deficit reduction was an imperative for François Hollande, as much as supporting the economy, jobs, and the French welfare state. To a large extent, this Budget is a difficult but realistic balance between deficit reduction and measures supporting employment and demand. The aim is to promote competitiveness and social fairness while asserting France’s fiscal responsibility and credibility. Growth comes with jobs, innovation and access to credit, three pillars of this Budget. 

Eade: The other promise was to create jobs: Laurence Parisot, of the Medef employers group says he fears this budget as it will damage competitiveness – so how will Hollande’s government create jobs?

Lemaire: It would be surprising to hear something different as this Budget asks for a contribution from everyone, particularly large companies and well-off households. However, the budget Minister insists that these contributions will be limited in time, to cope with this difficult economic situation. An improvement of the economic climate and access to credit is good for French companies. The government will support SMEs, one the largest job creators in the country, through various incentives. The creation of a Public Investment Bank devoted to investments in R&D, infrastructure projects and SMEs aims to boost France's competitiveness, a key condition to growth. Hollande's pledge to protect jobs despite limited margins finds concrete applications with the creation of 340,000 subsidised jobs, the construction of 100,000 social housings, a renewed effort in education with 60,000 new staff. Supporting demand, jobs and competitiveness in these very difficult times against austerity, cuts or a dismantlement of the welfare state - that’s the responsible pro-growth agenda that the government has chosen. 

Eade: The 75 per cent tax levy on those earning over one million euros appears to be more symbolic than raising any major amounts – millions rather than billions. Is it a “we are all in this together tax” and do you expect to have new high wealth French citizens as constituents as they flee France?

Lemaire: Yes, as a nation, we should face these tough times all together. Job losses destroy families. Paying higher taxes exclusively on salary income, for a predefined, exceptional amount of time, does not. Some understand this very well, and set the example. I pay tribute to them. For the rest, the problem is not tax exiles, but tax competition in Europe and particularly tax-havens. A stronger harmonization is needed. Job creation, innovation, competitiveness and fairness remain the main focus of our action.    

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on October 20 2012)

Friday, October 12, 2012


The Spain of today is in a deep financial crisis. Rather than the country pulling together it is pulling apart. The core of Spain, still less than a year since it returned a Partido Popular government, is in revolt against Rajoy and his policies.

In the autonomous regions that revolt has gone a stage further with a stronger desire than ever to see a break with Madrid. Recently the President of the Generalitat, Artur Mas, met Rajoy in the Spanish capital determined to get a new deal for Cataluña. Not only did he leave empty handed he went straight back to Cataluña and announced a regional general election for November 25. This in essence will be a referendum on Cataluña’s links with Spain: but Mas has stated he will call an actual referendum in the next legislature on self-determination even though the State Government will not allow it.

At the weekend Mas spoke about a future independent Cataluña in the New York Times. He said his goal was for the Cataluña to take its place in a United States of Europe. He wants an independent Cataluña to be in the EU and Euro and points out the region will be 12 th out of the 27 countries in the EC on the basis of wealth.

Cataluña has an economy of 260,000 million euros which puts it on par with Portugal. An independent region would have a population of 7.5 million, meaning that Spain would loose 16 per cent of its residents in the process. Mas insists that Spain would not be insolvent without Cataluña but it would be more limited.

Under the Spanish Constitution Cataluña cannot hold a referendum to leave Spain. Neither can the Basque or any other region. However a constitution only holds good whilst it is accepted by the people. We have seen with the Arab Spring how by taking to the streets people have overturned governments and dictators. Make no mistake if the population of Cataluña, the Basque region, Galicia and other areas of Spain with their own distinct identity marched against the constitution and for independence Madrid would descend in to chaos: the Spanish State as we know it would cease to exist.

All of this is a very real possibility. The nation is already on the march against Rajoy and the Partido Popular because of his government’s handling of the economic crisis. They are angry at the high jobless levels especially amongst the young where it stands at over 52 per cent. On average 517 people lose their homes each day, 46,559 in the past three months. Since the economic crisis started over 185,140 have lost the roofs over their heads. During the same period the finance companies have issued 374,230 court proceedings over unpaid mortgages. There are savage cuts to education, hospitals and to the public services. The only people getting billions of euros in bail outs are the corrupt and abusive banks who are responsible for the chaos in the first place. Add to that the widely held belief in Cataluña that the region is being unfairly discriminated against which fuels further the demand for its independence. Stir in the Basques, Galicians and other regions and you have an explosive mix.

To this has to be added the recent call by the socialist president of Andalucía, José Antonio Griñán, for a federal Spain. Speaking on Europa Press Televisión, Griñán called for the development of a federal Spain, co-operative, where all are equal before the law and at the same time full respect is shown for the nation’s diversity.

The Andalucía leader stated “I think that the Constitution, that is the fruit of consensus, is the road and the solution to our problems as well.” He wants to see the country’s Magna Cart changed so it now meets the realities of present day Spain as it did when it was first drawn up.

Griñán said Spain had the opportunity to construct a nation of autonomous regions, for a phase of co-operation that will lead directly to a federal model based on the objective of a place for all, where employment is the priority and which gives hope to all. Griñán’s party leader, the secretary general of PSOE, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, who was the former Minister of the Interior, has also spoken since in favour of a federal model for Spain in line with that found in Germany. He pointed out he leads a federated party, why can’t there be a federated nation?

Whilst the radical Catalans and Basques want full on independence Griñán’s call is for a Spanish federation of independent regions. Needless to say both of these visions have the Partido Popular in panic because it is a centralist party and rather than cede power it would rather disband the regions with control returning to Madrid as in the days of Franco.

Recently the president of the Basque party, the PNV, and its candidate for Lehendakari (leader of the Basque Parliament), Iñigo Urkullu, made some startling comments. He believes that after the Rajoy Government has taken action over adjusting the nation’s budgets it will move to re-centralise Spain. If indeed he is correct and Rajoy takes back powers from the autonomous regions, from the Basques, the Catalans, the Galicians and indeed the people of Andalucía he will be returning Spain to a nation on the Franco model. Such actions would cause violent protests in Spain and would almost certainly see ETA take up its arms again - without wanting to be alarmist we could be on the verge of a major revolt against Madrid: certainly civil disobedience but one hopes and prays not civil war.

(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on October 11 2012).

Monday, October 8, 2012


“That is my faith. One nation: a country for all, with everyone playing their part. A Britain we rebuild together.”

You would have to be begrudging in the extreme not to acknowledge that Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour Party Conference on Tuesday was not one of the most remarkable of modern times. He had to speak both to party and nation to convince them both he has what it takes to be Prime Minister. In an hour long speech, without notes or prompts, he delivered that message without a hitch.

During his discourse Ed mentioned another speech made 140 years ago in Manchester close to where he was speaking. It was Conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli’s “One Nation” speech. “One Nation” conservatives believe societies exist and develop organically, and that members within them have obligations towards each other. In my formative years in the 1950s and 60s “One Nation” Tories were the norm.

Today that is not the case. When Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron said “we are all in this together” he wasn’t talking to the nation but his millionaire colleagues around the Cabinet table as he promised them a forty thousand pound tax rebate to be paid for by the country’s pensioners. In capturing the “One Nation” concept for Labour Ed has stolen the Conservatives’ clothes they wrap themselves in when wanting to deceive the voters in to believing they are not the “nasty party”.

However it is not the Disraeli speech I want to dwell on here but one delivered towards the end of the 2010 General Election campaign. I will quote from Rowenna Davis’ excellent book “Tangled Up in Blue”. Here she writes about Maurice Glasman who has been trying to persuade the Prime Minister Gordon Brown to address a London Citizens assembly shortly before polling day.

“In a moment of frenzied passion, Glasman wrote all the words he wished Brown would say. It was a speech grounded in the Citizens UK tradition – it was about Brown’s personal life, his motivation and his identity. It referenced his childhood and his upbringing. It went right through Brown’s campaign as a student to get a decent wage for university cleaners to the introduction of a minimum working wage during his time as chancellor. It talked about his role in pressuring authorities to disinvest in apartheid South Africa, and the power of the people. It was emotional, heartfelt and genuine. And it was sent directly from Glasman to Ed Miliband’s inbox three days before the assembly was due to take place.”

Well Glasman, with Ed Miliband’s help, did persuade Brown to make the speech and although some changes were made in essence it remained in the Citizens UK tradition. Such was the power of the speech that although Brown’s back was against the wall his popularity shot up six percent. Coincidently in the initial days after Miliband delivered his leader’s speech on Tuesday six percent more British voters believed he was prime ministerial than before.

At the time of writing Brown’s speech Glasman, who was not close to the Prime Minister, was associated with the “Blue Labour” movement. The title “Blue Labour” has now fallen by the way side but if the adherents to that philosophy had to choose a new name “One Nation” would do very nicely.

In contrast to Brown, Ed Miliband has remained close to Glasman and made him a Lord in February 2011. Hence the university political professor has become a professional politician but there are many voices crying out to be heard by the Labour Party leader and it isn’t always Glasman who has his ear.

However if there is one word in the Miliband speech de force that convinces me Glasman had some input it is the word “Faith”. Glasman was Director of London Metropolitan University’s “Faith and Citizenship programme”.  “Faith” is a word Miliband highlighted time and again.

“Hold on a minute” you might say, “Miliband is a confirmed atheist, as was his father, as is his brother. How can he have faith?”

I have long argued in print that atheists, as with people of religion who truly believe in their God, are all people of faith. The truth is until we die we do not know if God exists or not. The act of faith is to say when there is no certainty “there is no God”. Hence Miliband is fully entitled to speak of his faith and indeed he based his entire speech on it.

Here are just three examples: “But I do believe the best way me for to give back to Britain, the best way to be true to my faith, is through politics…..That is who I am. That is what I believe. That is my faith……And I know who I need to serve in Britain with my faith. It’s the people I’ve met on my journey as Leader of the Opposition.”

Rowenna Davis tells us that Glasman’s Brown speech was about his personal life, his motivation and his identity. It referenced his childhood and his upbringing. It was emotional, heartfelt and genuine.

Miliband in his speech said: “I want to tell you my story. I want to tell you who I am. What I believe. And why I have a deep conviction that together we can change this country. My conviction is rooted in my family’s story, a story that starts 1,000 miles from here, because the Miliband’s haven’t sat under the same oak tree for the last five hundred years.” He closed with: “That is my faith. One nation: a country for all, with everyone playing their part. A Britain we rebuild together.”

I am sure Rowenna Davis would use the exactly same words to describe Miliband’s speech as she did for Brown’s – and what’s more, they would be true.

PS: Benjamin Disraeli was Britain’s only Jewish Prime Minister. If Ed Miliband is elected to that high office he will be the second.

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on October 7 2012)