Thursday, January 27, 2011


I was recently in London at a Fabian Society conference to see the new Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, deliver the keynote speech. At the same conference the Lib Dem Deputy Leader –and a good friend of Gibraltar – Simon Hughes was also taking part in one of the sessions. I had wanted to ask him what lessons the GSLP Liberal alliance in Gibraltar could learn from the British coalition should they win the forthcoming general election on the Rock. I soon realised this wasn’t the question at all – it was what Miliband and the progressive Liberals could learn from the GSLP – Liberals.
I had seen Ed’s brother a couple of times when he visited Gibraltar in 2009 for the ministerial meeting with the then Spanish foreign secretary Miguel Moratinos and the chief minister Peter Caruana. Caruana must feel a bit like HM The Queen who has been on the throne so long that she has seen numerous prime ministers and presidents come and go. Far be it from me to compare the chief minister with royalty but since he was first elected in 1996 he has seen numerous British premiers, foreign secretaries and ministers for Europe and their Spanish counterparts rise and fall too.
One of the key themes of Ed Miliband’s speech was the need to create a progressive alliance. He believes the British public want to see progressive politics and intends to position the Labour Party in the vanguard of that movement – indeed as its very standard bearer. He then held out his hand to those members of the Lib Dems who were unhappy with the coalition with the Tories. He is in the process of wooing Lib Dem voters to abandon their party and join with Labour instead. In that effort he is achieving a lot of success. However he accepts that many Liberals will want to stay within the party and fight for their beliefs – these he believes could be the coalition partners for Labour in the future.
There is extreme anger in the Labour Party towards the Lib Dems, not because they would not enter coalition with them but because by joining the Conservatives they are allowing Cameron and Osborne to push through their cuts and have also betrayed much of their election manifesto. Hence it was interesting to see Simon Hughes take part in a session – Challengers or collaborators? Can the progressives influence the coalition?
I have to be honest and say that I believe the idea of a coalition with the Conservatives sits uneasily with Hughes and he spent most of the session seemingly trying to convince himself that he and his party had been right. He lost his cool on a number of occasions especially when being baited by Labour’s then Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Douglas Alexander MP under the watchful eye of the chair, the Guardian journalist Polly Toynbee. Alexander played a key role in the negotiations with the Lib Dems after the last election and given his abrasiveness I am not surprised they failed. He is definitely not on my list as a companion on a walking holiday.
A split between Labour and the Liberals occurred in British politics over a century ago and before Tony Blair led New Labour back to power in 1997 he had spent several years along with Peter Mandelson trying to form an alliance of the left with the Lib Dems. For a variety of reasons that never happened but of course in Gibraltar it has.
Now whilst the GSLP and Liberals are very much Gibraltarian parties both have very close links with their British counterparts. Joe Bossano was closely linked with the British trade union movement and the Labour Party and it was a stalwart of the London Co-operative left, Alf Lomas, that helped him in forging the GSLP. The Liberals too have strong links with the Lib-Dems both in Britain and internationally.
So the very alliance that Miliband is trying to strike for the progressives in politics in the UK has been alive and well in Gibraltar since Joe Bossano offered the hand of coalition to the Liberal leader Dr Joseph Garcia ahead of the 2000 elections. I am sure there have been disagreements between the two over the last decade but I have certainly never heard of any rumours of a likely brake in the alliance unlike the constant media prattle over splits between the Tories and Lib Dems. Furthermore if Fabian Picardo becomes leader of the GSLP in place of Joe Bossano then the alliance is likely to be even stronger as both he and Garcia are from the same political stock.
Whether that leaves the GSD as the Tories in disguise is a moot point. One of those who would like to succeed Caruana is his minister for justice, Daniel Feetham, who is a socialist. Not only did he have ambitions to lead the GSLP but even formed his own Labour Party, so where his political philosophy fits in with the rest of the GSD is anybody’s guess.
So if the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition runs its five year course and in 2014 Ed Miliband wants some advice on how to bring his progressive alliance to reality then he should look no further than the GSLP and Liberals – who by then could have brought the art of a progressive agenda to government.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I have an account with the Gibraltar office of a UK building society –no name, no pack drill as they say. If I pay a cheque drawn on a British bank in to my account I have to wait for over two weeks for it to clear. Why?
If I asked the building society I would be told in a patronising manner about banking procedures, the distance, the need to establish whether the funds are there and so on and so forth.
There was a time when you might have taken what your bank manager said at face value. However in recent years two things have dramatically change the financial landscape so patronising homilies are no longer acceptable.
The first change has been the economic crisis brought about by our once trusted banks that at the best were woefully incompetent and at worst acted in a criminal manner. The second change is we are all now savvy with the all singing and dancing ATM machines and some people even have internet banking so we are more clued up on how things work.
Back in 2002 I paid two thousand pounds in to my Gibraltar building society account. The cheque just happened to be drawn on my UK bank. Forty eight hours later I was in the UK, checked my bank balance on the ATM and got a nasty shock. Whilst I still had the funds to meet the cheque my account was way down on what I thought the balance was – two thousand pounds lower! I then realised that within 48 hours of my having handed the cheque over in Gibraltar it had been removed from my UK account.
Given the speed the money was withdrawn from my UK account did it arrive in Gibraltar as quickly? Not on your Nelly – it took the full two weeks. So let us grasp this – my two thousand pounds went missing for 12 days – I didn’t have it in the UK, I didn’t have it in Gib – so who had it?
Have things improved over the years. The answer in short is “no!” Last week I paid a UK cheque in to my account. The word from my building society is and I quote: “You will need to allow 10 working days after the day you pay a UK cheque into Gibraltar Branch - before being able to draw against it.” So that is 10 working days, add four days for weekends and the day you paid it in – total two weeks and a day. Yet I happen to know the funds were drawn from the UK account within days. So who has it?
I decided to ask a man who should know – after all he is the CEO of the Financial Services Commission. Marcus Killick told me: “The UK cheque clearing process is a fairly time consuming procedure which is a legacy from the times when banks did not have computers - in fact the process is largely determined by how long it takes to move pieces of paper (i.e. the cheques) around the country. The system not only involves a number of main clearing banks   but also a very large number of agency banks (this group includes building societies, small domestic banks and subsidiaries of foreign banks). 
“The process involves manual intervention, manual checking and manual handling which can invariably lead to errors such as cheques getting mislaid or misread. Because of this banks/building societies often do not give credit for value (i.e. withdrawal) until a number of days has passed.  Since 2006 this length of time should not normally exceed T+6 i.e. 7 days.”

Well seven days it isn’t, it is 15 and in the electronic banking age as well. So why do UK cheques paid in to a Gibraltar building society take 15 days when the sum is removed from the account in around 48 hours? A cynic might say it allows the bank or building society to sit on it, invest it and earn a high rate of interest because it is lumped in with other funds in transit. Luckily I’m not a cynic

Footnote: In his comments Marcus Killick also pointed out that UK cheques will be phased out by 2018. This will mean that Gibraltar-based building societies that operate the payment book system will have to completely change their modus operandi as cash and cheques are the only straightforward method of operating. Clients do not have a banking account code so transfers have to go through a rather confusing system.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


So let me ask you this – who speaks for Gibraltar in Europe? You might suggest the British Minister for Europe, David Lidington. He certainly has the title but as Gibraltarians know all too well he speaks for and defends British interests which can be totally different from those of the Rock.
So we have to look to Gibraltar’s Euro MPs? So how many Euro MPs does Gibraltar share with the South West of England constituency? I have to admit I was one out in my answer, it is six. Now name them!
Ah, you are probably as baffled as I was – well except for one exception. Three are Tories – Giles Chichester (you have probably heard of him or at least his father), Julie Girling and Ashley Fox. Two are members of UKIP – Trevor Colman and the Earl of Dartmouth. The one I have heard of because he works hard for Gibraltar is the Lib Dems' Graham Watson.
Now with six elected Euro MPs in the European Parliament Gibraltar should be punching way above its weight but sadly the reality is rather different. Whilst Giles Chichester has been known to give a nod towards the Rock sadly his two Tory colleagues haven’t and for all the use Trevor Colman and the Earl of Dartmouth are, the latter might as well be a South West of England pub.
To Graham Watson’s credit whilst he represents all the people of the South West of England as one of their Euro MPs he also fights tenaciously Gibraltar’s corner in the EU. On numerous issues from the La Linea toll madness through to pollution he speaks for Gibraltar and the Rock is well served.
Graham Watson was first elected to the European Parliament in 1994 before the South West of England constituency existed as such and well before Gibraltar was added to it. The seat was then Somerset and North Devon and Watson romped home with a 22,500 plus majority – the first Lib Dem returned for a British Euro seat.
I guess he is now a Euro veteran having been elected for a fourth time in 2009. In this parliament he sits on the foreign affairs committee and is Chairman of the Parliament’s Delegation for relations with India.
I chatted recently with Graham Watson and said that I had always perceived that as far the EU itself was concerned it would rather Gibraltar wasn’t on its agenda and that Britain and Spain would sort issues and disagreements out for themselves. He said: “The Commission or Council would indeed prefer the two member states to sort it out but debate is easier in the European Parliament.”
I then wondered whether if in the European Parliament Spain offered a joint response on Gibraltar issues regardless of whether it was PSOE, the centre right Partido Popular, Izquierda Unida or the regional parties taking the stand? I was surprised to learn that: “Spanish MEPs do vary, the Socialists taking a softer line and the Catalans sometimes being pro-Gibraltar.”
The Lib Dems in the UK have always been very supportive of Gibraltar; the Rock’s right to self-determination and have close links with Dr Joseph Garcia and his Liberal Party. Now the Lib Dems are one of the two parties of government, but of course the party leader Nick Clegg is married to a Spaniard, so are they able to influence foreign policy on the Spanish – Gibraltar issue.
“To a point” was Graham Watson’s reply but more may be revealed on this subject in the near future. For now my lips are sealed but rest assured this Lib Dem Euro MP is working hard on the Rock’s behalf and will be arguing Gibraltar’s corner at a key meeting in the coming weeks.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Imagined by David Eade
My dear subjects: as you enjoyed seeing in the New Year on our beloved Rock my family and I have been in Andorra. It was a break to get away from the pressures of running our nation but more than that I wanted to see at first hand the status to which we, well I on your behalf, aspire too.
Although Andorra is set in the Pyrenees it has many similarities with Gibraltar. Tourism, banking, cheap cigarettes they are all here – it is like the Rock with the tide out. Yet we can also learn from Andorra. Now the curtain has fallen on the restoration of the Theatre Royal I will be dedicating myself to opening a ski slope on the Upper Rock.
Dr Joseph Garcia in his pre-Christmas broadcast talked about Gibraltar losing our Queen as the sole head of State if we adopted the Andorra model as she would have to share with a Spanish head of State. As you know I abhor personal abuse but quite frankly the good doctor should stick to medicine.
We have to be realistic here. Her Majesty is now in her 80s and cannot go on for ever. Therefore I propose, and I know I will have your support on this, rather than the British monarch be one of the joint heads of State of the Andorra-style Gibraltar I will take on the role myself. A Gibraltarian prince for a new Gibraltar. A Gibraltarian prince on equal status with the Spanish King. Of course if you wished me to become your king then I know you would find no objection from the GSD. After all I have ruled over them for many a year. The opposition? I take no notice of what they say – so why should you.
Another interesting fact that I have learned on my visit to Andorra is that it has the second highest life expectancy in the world. Andorrans live on average for 82 years and I see no reason why this benefit cannot be passed on to Gibraltarians. As you know I am a keen aficionado of Spanish dishes so I enjoy the benefit of the Mediterranean diet. There is an important point here because longevity means political stability so you can rest assured I will be your ruler for many years to come. The Sir Alex Ferguson of Gibraltar politics.
Now it is said these co-princes are not simple figureheads. It is said they exercise political power. It is said this includes the power to act of their own free will in issues like the appointment of some judges and the negotiation of and agreement to certain international treaties.
Fear not - none of these powers are powers that I would not have wished for myself or powers that I have not attempted to exercise during my holding the highest elected office on the Rock. So Gibraltarians rest assured if I was your prince, your king even, and if you followed my advice by adopting the Andorra model you wouldn’t notice any difference from the Rock on which you reside now.
May I wish you all a prosperous New Year and come the general election you know where your loyalty lies. Vote early, vote GSD.
(The above article and cartoon appeared in Panorama on Tuesday January 4, 2011)