Friday, February 22, 2013


The southern most region of Spain, Andalucía, has always been a socialist fiefdom but the centre right Partido Popular came very close to toppling PSOE from power in the 2012 regional elections.

Now nearly a year on the opinion polls put PSOE firmly back in the lead. The socialists account for 38 per cent of the votes, four more than the PP. This level of support would not allow PSOE to govern on its own; it would still need the backing of the far left Izquierda Unida in a coalition – the exact formation that governs Andalucía now.

These are the conclusions of a study by Capdea - part of the University of Granada - that shows the national collapse of support for the Partido Popular in Andalucía as elsewhere in Spain.

This dramatic collapse after the November 2011 general election triumph was first brought on by the PP’s handling of the financial crisis. To that has now been added the major corruption scandals engulfing the party at the highest levels. However Capdea took its soundings before the full implications of the Bárcenas corruption scandal became known. This fiasco surrounds the former treasurer of the Partido Popular after it became known he had secret overseas bank accounts and had made under-the-table payments to PP politicians. Without a doubt the fortunes of the PP have plummeted still further.

The reason the socialists are back in front has a lot to do with the fall of the PP rather than any major backing for PSOE whose approval ratings are dire. Indeed where voters have switched to the left it has been to the far left Communist-led Izquierda Unida which Capdea says commands 14.2 per cent of the vote.

PSOE now has 38 per cent and the PP 34.4 per cent. At the March general election PP took 40.6 per cent of the vote, PSOE 39.5 per cent, so both are down on that level. However the IU (11.34) has seen a boost to its popularity to 14.2 per cent.

So what’s the bad news for Spanish democracy? That comes with the major rejection of main stream politicians, their parties and institutions which is not only dire news for them but also for the democratic process. If Spaniards reject politicians it leaves the door open for a modern day Franco figure to emerge promising to clean up corruption and offering stable, firm government.

Capdea reports that 46 per cent of those people questioned would not vote if an election was held now: they would abstain is the terminology. Indeed the wide ranging survey shows the Spanish peoples’ disillusionment across the board with politicians, their parties and the major institutions. The only two to receive approval ratings were the universities and the Ombudsman who battle on behalf of the people.

The overriding findings are a thumbs down for all politicians. Despite the socialists returning as the major party in Andalucía and the increase in support for the IU: 51.9 per cent of people in the region believe the PSOE – IU coalition is doing poorly as against 23.8 per cent who approve of its efforts. The PP in opposition is rated by 68.7 per cent as doing badly with only an approval rating of 14 per cent.

At a national level both the PP government of Rajoy and the opposition led by PSOE are in serious negative territory. Seventy-one per cent of Andaluces rate the PP government as bad or very bad and 72 per cent rate the PSOE opposition of Rubalcaba as bad also.

In the Bárcenas scandal Rubalcaba has called for the resignation of Rajoy because he is seemingly implicated. However the PSOE leader has steered clear of calling for a general election for one simple reason: he knows that the socialists would suffer as badly as the governing PP. Spanish voters are rejecting both major parties leaving a vacuum in the nation’s democracy and that is very bad news indeed.

BÁRCENAS CASE: It is the centre-left Spanish national newspaper El País that has made much of the running in the case revolving around Luis Bárcenas.
El País has published secret ledgers that appear to show that Bárcenas was behind a slush fund at the PP, which saw thousands of euros paid out over a number of years to high-ranking members of the party, including Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. In addition as part of the investigation into Bárcenas’ role in the Gürtel kickbacks-for-contracts scandal it has emerged the former PP treasurer had up to 22 million euros deposited in a Swiss bank account.
The PP insisted it broke off relations with its former treasurer in 2009 but it’s alleged Bárcenas received preferential treatment from the party until this January with an office for his documents at the party’s Madrid headquarters plus secretarial support all paid for by the PP. He was also being paid a monthly stipend by PP till the end of 2012. If that wasn’t enough the party paid Bárcenas’ social security payments a decision, says El País that could only have been granted with the blessing of the prime minister and PP leader, Mariano Rajoy.
(The above article was published in the London Progressive Journal on February 22 2013).

Friday, February 15, 2013


If you have an image of a person who is an old school Communist mayor and trade unionist in Andalucía the chances are you would come up with a description of Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo.

He is also an MP in Andalucía’s Parliament for the far left Izquierda Unida and a professor in Spanish History. His union, the Sindicato Andaluz de Trabajadoes (SAT), has stated it is very satisfied that the Andalucía High Court – Tribunal Superior de Andalucía – has filed two cases brought against him. Had he been found guilty he would have had to resign as an MP.

The case against Sánchez Gordillo, who is also mayor of Marinaleda in Sevilla province, related to his acts on the picket line during Spain’s General Strike on March 29 of last year.

Manuel Rodríguez Guillén, speaking after the court’s ruling for SAT said the judicial decision showed that the actions taken by this union are “non violent” and that its members on the picket line had limited themselves to giving out information on the reasons behind the general strike.

It was claimed that Sánchez Gordillo had made threats to workers but Rodríguez Guillén pointed out that SAT was a “peaceful union” and that in all the years of its history “it has not harmed anyone.”

He added: “There may have been some commotion on the part of the picket or a scab in the heat of the moment but always the union has acted in a peaceful manner.” It is alleged that one of those who brought the case against Sánchez Gordillo had presented a “manipulated” sound recording of events and this had been taken in to account by the judges.
Sánchez Gordillo hit the Spanish news headlines in August of last year when the SAT union took food from two supermarkets in Écija and Arcos de la Frontera. The removal of the items was carried out openly and the food was then distributed to the needy. The supermarkets involved did not press charges.

Sánchez Gordillo not only looks like a traditional Spanish man of the left but the union is also a throw back in time. In this modern age which has been fully grasped by Spain since the death of Franco the SAT speaks for the agricultural workers of Andalucía.

Its members are the day workers and the labourers whose way of life has not changed for a century. They are the hardest hit by the economic crisis. Many rural communities are dependent on their income, often in subsidy form, and when that is withdrawn they have nothing.

Hence it is not surprising that when SAT occupied the unemployment office in Ronda last week the police agreed to take no action as long the protestors did not interfere with the work of the staff and left at closing time. Just up the road in the village of Arriate, SAT members occupied the town hall of this strongly Communist-socialist community with 200 locals in support.

Sánchez Gordillo speaks for the traditional Andalucía rural workers and their embattled families, regardless of their politics. However with unemployment at over 26 per cent and the youth jobless at over 56 per cent – the highest rates in the EU – Spaniards have realised that the mayor of Marinaleda and SAT also speaks for them.

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on February 14 2013)

Sunday, February 3, 2013


When I arrived on a week’s break in an apartment off the Rue Monge in Paris last Saturday I looked through the packed bookshelves for a suitable novel to read. I chose a book by Cara Black – her first as it happened – an Aimée Ledur investigative novel entitled ‘Murder in the Marais’.

Historically the Marais has been the Jewish Quarter of Paris. It starts on the right bank of the Seine opposite the Notre Dame: I strolled its streets and its ancient alleys, a one time ghetto. I say historically because today the area is a major Gay quarter packed with designer shops. I am sure there is still a Jewish presence but the fact is during the Nazi occupation during World War II the area was systematically cleared of the Jews – young and old – who were sent to the death camps. Needless to say, few returned. The Cara Black novel harks back to those terrible days.

Then on Monday I caught up in the media about Holocaust Memorial Day having been commemorated on the Sunday. It took me by surprise but suddenly the true events of the book hit home.

However I have a problem with the Holocaust in converting such a horrendous period of history into reality. Let us say six million people perished in the Holocaust – the majority Jewish but also the disabled, freemasons, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, gypsies and others. How do you make sense of a figure like that?

The largest crowd I have ever been part of was the 100,000 who crammed in to the old Wembley Stadium for the 1966 World Cup Final. It is said that one and a half million children were butchered by the Nazis. You would need 15 packed old Wembley Stadiums to recreate that figure. For the six million who died during the Holocaust you need to replicate the 1966 crowd by 60.

Then on Thursday the Holocaust was brought in to total chilling reality. As I walked along the Rue San Jacques I passed an austere looking building. On the wall was a simple plaque with a small bouquet of flowers placed there by the City of Paris on Holocaust Day. It is a memorial to the children of the school, who during the German occupation between 1942 and 1944, “were innocent victims of the Nazi barbarity with the active complicity of the Vichy Government. They were exterminated in the death camps.”

A tragedy indeed. Yet that is not the full story. The building is still used as an infant’s school to this day. As you read the plaque you can hear the sound of young children at play: today’s infants or the ghosts of the past? If you time your arrival right, you can see these mites being dropped off or collected by their doting parents in much the same manner as they were around 70 years ago.

Now you see the reality of the Holocaust. Not the six million dead but the small, innocent children taken from this place and sent to the death camps.

Now you fully understand the horrors of the Holocaust. It is there before your very eyes.

I have no shame in admitting I stood by the plaque with tears in my eyes.

“Ne Les Oublions Jamais”

(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on February 7 2013 and in other publications)


I sat in bed on Tuesday morning sipping my green tea with lemon and thinking of Gay marriage. I should explain this took place in Paris. “Ah, all is now explained,” you may say.
Well it is by the fact that on the same day France’s Parliament, the Assemblee Nationale, started the long debate to introduce Gay or same sex marriages which should become law by the middle of the year. Such laws are already the norm in Catholic Spain and Portugal. Indeed in the UK David Cameron is determined to extend the current civil partnerships to include religious services.  Hence it may surprise you that in France, which Anglo Saxons have always thought to be liberal in sexual matters, the introduction of this law has caused such acrimony and division.
The left in France has always had the bragging rights when it comes to bringing people out on to the streets over a political or social issue. Hence it is no surprise that according to the police 125,000 activists demonstrated in Paris in support of the new Hollande law on Sunday. The shock comes when you learn 340,000 opposed to the legislation were on the streets of the capital on Tuesday of last week.

Pierre Kanuty, who speaks on international affairs at the Parti Socialiste HQ in Paris told me, “There is a majority in Parliament to pass the law, so there is no serious risk.” Indeed that is so and whilst some PS MPs may abstain the measure is also supported by the Communists, the Greens and some centrists. Not only that but allowing Gay marriage was part of Hollande’s left wing manifesto during last year’s elections so in introducing this controversial measure he is merely honouring one of his election pledges.

The bill is a complicated one covering Gay marriage, Gay adoption and assisted pregnancy for Gay couples. A majority of French people support Gay marriage (55 to 60 per cent), it’s around 50 – 50 on adoption and a majority oppose assisted pregnancy.

The Catholic Church is obviously at the head of the movement to oppose the law. Pierre Kanuty observed: “In a crusade mood, the right wing reopened somehow, the traditional split between the church and the non believers. The law will pass, but probably for a while, this split will last until mentalities change.”

This is undoubtedly true but those who oppose the law surprised themselves by the widespread support they attracted. The coalition against the Gay marriage package, although supported by the main religions and parties of the right, promoted itself as a citizens’ movement. Bizarrely at the helm is a spokeswoman, a performer who goes under the name Frigide Barjot, who in recent weeks has never been off national radio or TV. Only in France!

To get a full flavour of the sentiments of those who oppose one has to look no further than Serge Dassault, the CEO of Dassault and a senator for the centre right UMP. He is quoted as saying “We’ll have a country of gays and in 10 years there’ll be nobody left – that’s stupid.” Cardinal Philippe Barbain, who is the Archbishop of Lyon, said the Hollande law would open the door to incest and polygamy.

Off course the wide ranging nature of the bill is another reason for the opposition given that the majority support one section, a majority then oppose another and the French are divided on a third. Also the legal requirements regarding marriage in France are said to have played a role.

Under French law all marriages have to be civil marriages. In other European countries churches have the right to conduct wedding ceremonies that are also legal acts. Not so in France: the marriage has to be civil and then you have the option of having it blessed in the religion of your choice if you so choose.

This means because all marriages are civil everybody is caught up in the legal change. In Spain, for instance, if Gay couples wish to get married they have a civil service conducted by the town hall. It is very different for the nation’s Catholics who are married in church and hence have no contact with a civil service or the indeed the Gay marriage process.
Much of the opposition in France has been generated according to Barjot by Hollande’s law that will “de-structure” society by “destroying the concept in law of mother and father” and changing the time-honoured essence of the family.
However supporters of the legislation, especially amongst the young, counter that French society has changed. The family today, they argue, is not the same as the family of yesterday. They say the nation has to rethink its total concept of what makes up a family.
What is certain is that France will change when the French Parliament passes the new Gay laws. It remains to be seen how long it takes society to catch up.
Final word on this issue goes to the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, who is one of France’s few openly Gay politicians. Perhaps another reason for Anglo Saxon’s to review their long held views on the French and matters sexual. Delanoe observed: “The majority of French people wants all couples to have equality in love and parenthood.”
This new law will ensure they do.
(The above article appeared in the London Progressive Journal on February 7 2013)