Saturday, 2 February 2013

We're going to catch a big one

We're going on a bear hunt. You can see us in the photo at the bottom of the poster, performing it last year: we're doing it again, but not until Monday, when I'll be pursued by a bear three times first thing in the morning. So much for "we're never going on a bear hunt again", a promise we'll have broken twice before we've been working for an hour.

Until then we have the weekend in Talavera, having spent Friday evening setting up our book fair in the school. During the Peninsular War, as the Spanish do not call it, it was the site of a battle, something I know from reading not Wikipedia but The Mill On The Floss, in which one of the characters often mentions that he fought there:
Mr Poulter, it appeared, had been a conspicuous figure at Talavera, and had contributed not a little to the peculiar terror with which his regiment of infantry was regarded by the enemy.
Talavera is best known for its ceramics, on display in shops of all the city and aslo on the walls of the Basilica, inside which the votive candles have been replaced by electonic versions, presumably for fear of fire. If one inserts a coin, a little red wick glows at the top of them, but no actual flame. Anyone who knows Dylan could hardly help but think of flesh-coloured Christs that glow in the dark.

Talavera was at its most prominent as a Roman city, and being situated in Castilla-La Mancha it's within the fiefdom of María Dolores De Cospedal García, regional president as well as secretary-general of the Partido Popular. If there is anything Roman about Cospedal it would be her arrogance, and if one were to compare her to, say, Crassus, one might also note their common loathing for opponents and for the plebeians in general, as well as a shared taste for power, and for wealth. As far as ability is concerned, Cospedal compares poorly with Crassus. So would most of us, perhaps - but Cospedal also compares poorly with most of us as well.

This is Cospedal, giving a press conference last Thursday.

You don't really get the best out of Cospedal from a screenshot: she has a most unnerving habit of looking all over the room, while listening to a question, yet without moving her body, as if she were looking through the eyeholes in a picture, or trapped in a sarcophagus. When speaking, however, she is decidedly less lively, her preferred technique being to repeat the same phrase several times with minor alterations, which may be effective if you are a master orator addressing an audience of thousands, but it is less so when you are addressing a press conference in a monotone. A monotone dull even by the standards of monotony.

Having used her victory at the last regional elections to do what rightwingers have been doing all over the world of late, i.e. to make gigantic cuts that appeared nowhere in their manifestos, Cospedal finds it hard to go out much in Castilla-La Mancha without being met by crowds of thoroughly unhappy and hostile people. Right now she is particularly unlikely to be made welcome in the twenty-one small towns whose medical centres she is currently trying, not entirely without difficulty, to shut to night-time admissions.

Fortunately for Dolores though she is able to spend much of her time in Madrid, performing party duties, and it was in that role that she was speaking to the press last week. This is not to say it was a wholly happy occasion, though, since the item for discussion was the story run by El País that very morning. According to the paper:
The ruling Popular Party's internal accounting between 1990 and 2008, to which EL PAIS has had access, shows that the conservative grouping's leading members were paid regular sums of money aside from their official salaries. The files, kept by former PP treasurers Álvaro Lapuerta and Luis Bárcenas, comprise a series of incoming items in the form of donations from companies, especially construction firms, and outgoing expenses, which include the payments to party leaders.

Among those who received payments on the side, according to the accounts kept by Bárcenas, is Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.
Good Lord. But do go on...
The PP president first appears listed in 1997, with sums of money next to his name that consistently add up to 25,200 euros a year, divided either in quarterly or six-monthly payments, and continuing up to 2008.
Bless my soul. Anybody else prominent alleged to be involved?
The party's current secretary general, Dolores de Cospedal, also figures in the papers, with two entries of 7,500 euros next to her name in the second half of 2008, immediately after she had been ratified in her post by the PP convention in June of that year. De Cospedal has publicly denied knowledge that these payments were made by Bárcenas to party officials.
That's Cospedal's name handwritten in the righthand column on El País's extraordinary Thursday front page. Rajoy's is in the lefthand column.

The handwriting is, apparently, that of Luis Bárcenas.

All this has gone round the world, of course, El País' yellow-highlighted story having found itself on many other websites and front pages since Thursday morning, and one would not need to be particularly interested in Spain to know that Rajoy denied everything in a statement at PP headquarters today: the same headquarters where Luis Bárcenas maintains an office despite having resigned as party treasurer four years ago. Outside, demonstrations.

Cospedal was there to see them, having consulted lawyers on Friday and promised legal action against El País. Many of the demonstrators, meanwhile, will have put their names to an e-petition calling for the resignation of the entire PP leadership, a petition which by the time I clicked Publish had accumulated 702,641 supporters.

This is all good fun, of course, as well as being conceivably the greatest political crisis since the attempted coup of 1981. (It's often the details, the little revelations, that one appreciates most, and I particularly enjoyed learning that others among the accused in the Gürtel case called Bárcenas "Luis El Cabrón", Luis The Bastard.) If we're lucky, it will lead to the downfall of the government and the disintegration of the Partido Popular. It ought to.

Not all of the PP's opponents are necessarily so enthusiastic, and not all of them for bad reasons. Tomás Gómez, who leads PSOE in the Madrid region, and is on the left in his party, said - before the El País story, true, but after the news broke of Bárcenas's 22 million euros in a Swiss account:
por cada Bárcenas hay mil concejales honrados
"For every Bárcenas there are a thousand honest councillors."

Why would he say so? Because, you might say, PSOE as well as PP has a lot to hide. Maybe. Gómez must know this, and must also be aware of corruption in his own party. But it may also be that Gómez is aware that the public are liable to see politics, and all politicans, as essentially corrupt, and that this is a dangerous trend in a democracy.

Moreover, what happens if the government falls - as it should - and the result is not just a political crisis but a more acute financial crisis, in which the financial markets demand to have the candidate of their choice, elected by nobody, imposed, as they did in Greece and Italy?

Gómez continued: propone sustituir el poder democrático de los ciudadanos por el poder tecnocrático de un experto se está debilitando el poder de la democracia.
"When...they propose to replace the democratic government of the people with technocratic government by an expert, democracy is weakened." Gómez asks who will oversee the representatives of money - a good question which will not be asked enough if such a turn of events comes to pass.

In the present, though, the ¡DIMISIÓN! placards are being waved in Calle Génova, and rightly so.

And I wonder - if Rajoy does have to go, who would the financial markets like to replace him? They have, of course, an ideal candidate available to them, a former government minister, a former head of the IMF and a leading banker.

They might have to give him a miss though. That's Rodrigo Rato's name in the lefthand column, just above Rajoy's.


  1. You're forgetting Rato's other qualification for being a suitable candidate to replace Rajoy - his involvement in the Bankia case. Should he be unavailable then I would see De Guindos as the obvious candidate. Having been the economy minister steering Spain into prolonged depression, and also with his past history as a senior executive with Lehman Brothers, it would be hard to find a better qualified person for the position.

  2. Is his name in yellow highlights in El País anywhere? I have yesterday's edition here, I might flick through it again later...

  3. No, I don't think so. He has never formed part of the party apparatus in the same way as Rato and Rajoy and being the complete banker that he is maybe never needed to rely on the envelopes to boost his income.