Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I don’t have a great deal to say about the Spanish election. I don’t have much insight beyond what you could get by reading the papers. I only look at the political circus occasionally, and I never watch the TV news. I am bored senseless with the soap opera that politics has become in Europe. A fawning and ignorant press run to take photos of their idols, and defend them fiercely from attack. News is determined by the image, not by the importance of a story. Simplistic narratives are created and maintained by reporters who have made little attempt to understand the facts that they purport to explain to the public, and no attempt to discover what the public might in fact want to know. Political journalism has become as lazy and salacious and false as the gossip columns. Perhaps it was always like that. The result is that I am not interested in the personalities and the details of who might or might not have meant what when they supposedly said, or will say, what to whom, and so I can’t give informed comment. But I can describe my own experience of the process.

The campaign has as its backdrop the departure of the sitting president, an incompetent figurehead propped up with varying success by his advisers for eight years; and a very severe economic crisis, with nearly 5 million unemployed, a stagnant, illiquid economy, and government debt, both regional and national, at levels which cannot be sustained even on paper for much longer.

It is almost certain that Mariano Rajoy, the leader of the Popular Party since 2004, will be elected President, and quite likely that he will have an absolute majority in Parliament. There is widespread perception that Zapatero made a mess of handling the crisis and his party will pay heavily for it. Rightly or wrongly, his hand was on the helm, and people want a change of pilot. The expectation invested in Rajoy is very great, and he is certain to disappoint many people, but if he can do enough, and the economy recovers sufficiently in the next couple of years (which two outcomes are not necessarily related) he may be in for a while.

There is no ‘indignao’ movement here, in this small city that is now my home. There was, from May to sometime in the summer, but it seems to have melted away. In the bigger cities it seems to have morphed into the occupy movement, and to have lost its original purpose.

At national level I can only refer to impressions and analogy, but here at least the ‘indignaos’ were not the usual bunch of hairy kids shouting and breaking things because they wanted other people’s money. They were mostly young and hairy, true, but their protest was considerate, peaceful, intelligently articulated and directed against the system of elections and representation, which works by closed lists and public funding of parties, essentially places all power, and a lot of our money, in the hands of the party controller. Thus the councillors and MP’s who represent us have in fact no loyalty at all to the voters. They owe everything to the party managers who decide who gets on the list and therefore who can enjoy a career of posing for the press at public expense. The parties have even claimed repeatedly that the seats belong to them, and not to the elected member (and certainly not to the electorate), replacing one of their team with another when they resign, die or are sacked.

The main complaint of the indignaos was that the parliaments are not truly representative of the people who elect them, and they are quite right. Not only are they right but they were able to persuade people that it mattered. And they have affected the election. A party founded a couple of years ago by Rosa Diaz, a woman who left the Socialist party to pursue her own path, is standing, and she, as the candidate for the presidency, is standing, on a platform that doesn’t look very socialist, and instead looks very much like the platform for electoral and representational reform that the indignaos and many others want to see. She won’t win, but she might get a seat.

The streets are full of posters. There is a set date about three weeks before the election when the campaign officially begins and the party workers spend the night hanging their leaders photos from lampposts. The city puts up billboards on roundabouts and parks and they stick them there, too. Vans with loudspeakers tour the streets making promises they have no intention of keeping. People you thought you knew hand out pot plants on street corners in the name of minor groupings you’ve never heard of. And in a town this size, one of the newly elected councillors is always a friend of yours who you had assumed had no politics worth speaking of and would have been on the other side if he did have them.

That’s the extent of the intrusion into my existence of the general election. The vans you just screen out, and beyond the fact that one side of the street is blue and the other red, you don’t have to notice it unless you want to. Until they start giving orders, of course.

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