Thursday, November 24, 2011


I was strap hanging on the London Underground last Thursday next to two young students who were deeply in love. I know this because between each segment of conversation they embraced and kissed passionately. It was annoying because the lad, when coming up for air, had mentioned Gibraltar.
It transpired that one of his tutors was a Spanish lady who also happened to be a surgeon, so obviously he was studying medicine. The subject of the Spanish General Election had come up in a chat and he asked how Gibraltar played in to all this. She was obviously rather taken back and said it didn’t, it wasn’t even an issue. La doctora was obviously surprised he should think it would be.
Now I have often written here in the past that whilst Gibraltar may be a hot topic in the Campo de Gibraltar in wider Spain it isn’t. Indeed it is mainly only an issue for Partido Popular politicians and right now they have more than enough on their plate without worrying about Gibraltar.
This was underscored on the same day when El País carried a major interview with Mariano Rajoy ahead of Sunday’s general election. The questions and answers spread over five pages and covered such headings as cuts and spending limits, the budget, street protests, Europe, reforms, tobacco – abortion – gays, ETA and the law, foreign affairs, Europe and various speeds of development, change, corruption and Valencia. Out of all of that how many words did Gibraltar get: 15.
Question: Gibraltar. Rajoy: Yo no voy a renunciar a lo que creo que es nuestro, como es natural.
As widely predicted Rajoy will be the new prime minister of Spain. In his interview he did talk a lot about Cameron because both are now Conservative prime ministers. He discussed Cameron over a fifth of a page but never once mentioned Gibraltar.
He said he had not spoken to Cameron directly recently as Britain is not in the euro but stressed that the Spanish and UK governments were in contact continuously. Anyway Rajoy certainly doesn’t speak English, I am not sure if Cameron speaks Spanish but he does have languages other than his native tongue.
Apparently last October the media had carried interviews with Rajoy where he had praised the policies of Cameron since becoming British prime minister although he added some of what he said had been used against him in Spain. He added he spoke of Cameron not slashing spending on the health service or education and had ruled out tax rises all of which he strongly approved of – perhaps Britons would argue on those points.
However both Cameron on taking office and now Rajoy find their countries in an economic mess. He supported the British premier’s intention to slash the deficit and says that is what he will do in Spain. Rajoy pointed out that these problems were shared by the major European countries but being a politician added that the previous PSOE government had made matters worse.
Last October Rajoy was quoted in an interview saying: “Yo haría algo similar a lo de Cameron en España.” He stresses he isn’t going to cut education, the health service or raise taxes but criticises Cameron for cutting social welfare. Rajoy is going to continue with investment as that is necessary, he says, for Spain to improve pensions, education and its health service. But Gibraltar – just 15 words!

Thursday, November 17, 2011


The election campaign in Gibraltar is now truly underway and the four parties that we know are taking part have all named their candidates – but who would be a candidate?
People enter politics for a variety of reasons but I suspect the majority, of all parties, do so because they do not ask what Gibraltar can do for them but rather what they can do for the community. Of course there are those who are in it for themselves and the voter being much wiser than politicians give them credit for soon suss them out.
Politics should be about politics and it is but of course it is also about tearing apart the politicians themselves. The GSLP candidate Paul Balban has been accused on the social media as being a mere taxi driver. My goodness if that is the worst of his sins then he stands way ahead of many of us. I have yet to meet a taxi driver, especially in Gibraltar, who wasn’t a politician or indeed an ambassador. However it so happens that Balban has more letters after his name than I or he have in ours combined. So whilst I would be proud to hold my hand up and say “I am a cabbie” Balban is a taxista plus with university degrees; a distinguished professional life away from the wheel.
Over at the GSD Lianne Azopardi has set the social websites alight not because of her politics but because of her stunning modelling photographs. These were hastily removed from her Facebook page as soon as somebody in the party’s campaign team realized what hot stuff they were. Now the rumour is Lianne posed with a Spanish flag draped around her after Spain won the World Cup. True or false I know not but the hunt for a copy is truly on and nobody is interested in her opinion on sporting facilities on the Rock.
I have yet to learn whether photographs of a scantily clad Keith Azopardi exist and I known of nobody who is searching for them for which we should all be thankful. It could be, of course, that nobody is remotely interested in the peccadilloes of the PDP team which should worry them because it means they are not interests in their policies either. If the party is not a threat, why bother blacken the candidates’ names?
Of course for politicians the verbal thrust is all part of the game and many a British prime minister has battled fiercely with the leader of the opposition across the dispatch box in the House of Commons then gone on to exchange pleasantries once they leave the chamber behind the speaker’s chair. It is politics and not personal. However the vitriol liberally handed out by Caruana to one and all, including his own side, marks him out as a politician who has failed to grasp the basic human niceties.
Politicians have thick skins and take all this in their stride more often than not giving as well as they get. However it needs a special person to stand up to that public scrutiny and abuse and given that all four parties have full candidate slates it appears there is an ample supply of them around. However I would still beg the question – who would be a politician? Certainly not me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Gibraltar is a nation as too is Britain and Spain. However they are very different animals. Gibraltar is first and foremost a community and a nation second whilst Britain and Spain are nations in which there live many communities.

When it comes to politics this means that Gibraltar is or should be embraced by community politics. In contrast whilst Spain is also currently embroiled in a general election it is national politics that holds sway; the communities have their say on other days.

This is the first election in which Gibraltar’s parties have fought it out in the social media. Earlier this year the chief minister stood up in parliament and described Facebook and the nation’s addiction to it as “waffle”. Yet when last month he launched his party’s website he told Gibraltar the internet and social media have “transformed for the better” the way that politics works on the Rock. Nothing strange there: the chief minister faces two ways on many issues not least on Gibraltar’s sovereignty.

I have seen statistics that show 63.23 per cent of Gibraltarians are on Facebook which equates to just over 90 per cent of the online population. By now it is probably more. At first sight this is a strange fact given the closeness of the community where without putting yourself out too much you could see everybody you want each day. Yet if the medium has changed, the message hasn’t because Gibraltarians have always interacted with each other. Once it was on the doorstep that people swapped their news; now they still do but they also doorstep on Facebook.

It therefore follows that when it comes to an election the people of Gibraltar are far more involved than they are in Spain or indeed Britain. Virtually every issue impacts directly on our life be it the state of housing or the state of the economy. In a community the day to day politics is the politics of your life not what happens in some far off place or to other people.

Community politicians are a different breed to national politicians. They know the mood of the people around them, not in the New Labour mould through focus groups or in depth research, but because the electorate tell them face to face. They share the same experiences in their daily lives. They walk the streets, queue for the buses, dodge the puddles with the rest of us. National politicians stand out like a sore thumb in the community, they are strangers amongst their own people – and both sides know it.

The GSLP Liberal and PDP Facebook pages and websites give Gibraltarians who are on-line immediate access to podcasts and statements on current news and events. Yet you can engage with these politicians on the same issues face to face because they are of the community in which you live; they live on the same street as you live.

The problem for the GSD is that the chief minister’s description of Facebook as “waffle” reflected his strongly held view at the time. Hence it was the view of his party too. GSD MPs who were on Facebook discussion groups were ordered to cease their activity and suddenly became overnight non-people. Now the chief minister’s sister has taken to being one of Facebook’s heaviest users he tells us the medium has “transformed for the better” our political scene. Hence the GSD decides to embrace social media and is in the painful game of catch up. It’s not painful to them but it is painful for us to see as they do on-line today what others were doing yesterday, or the day before.

Nobody could argue anything other than Joe Bossano, Fabian Picardo, Dr Joseph Garcia or Keith Azopardi are community politicians. Four very different people but cast in the same community politics mould. They identify and empathise with the people around them. Sadly the same cannot be said of the chief minister who cannot even make it to the plane without having his official car drive him to the boarding steps. He is not of the people but above the people. A community politician he is not. It remains to be seen whether on December 8 he will pay the price.

Thursday, November 3, 2011


A series of three marches are taking in place across the border in Spain. The first, last Sunday, saw the protestors descend on the military base at Morón de la Frontera in Sevilla province – the 26 th year the demonstration has taken place. This Sunday the Plataforma Andaluza Contra Las Bases Militares will be protesting at the US naval base in Rota and the following Sunday it will be Gibraltar’s turn, or I guess La Línea’s as I doubt they will cross the frontier.
The marches are largely symbolic rather than of the style of the Aldermaston ‘Ban The Bomb’ protests in the UK of old. On Sunday the thousand or so participants (the actual number depends on whose figures you believe) tramped just three kilometres from the Paso de la Nena to Morón which took them an hour and a half. Never let a demonstration get in the way of making time for a good lunch.
At the gates of the US Air Base they read out the manifesto of this series of marches which in essence was the same as the first 26 years ago. It called for the dismantling of the bases and denounced the treaty between Spain and the USA allowing that country’s military to be housed on Spanish soil. The protestors have two aims: disarmament and peace; laudable enough objectives.
Of course the protest this year has an extra edge as the PSOE government in Madrid is allowing Rota to become a major cog in the USA’s and NATO’s anti-missile defence system wheel. This will see many extra military personnel and three warships based at the Cádiz naval station.
The banners held by the demonstrators make familiar reading: “OTAN no, bases fueras” and “Jamás Cesarán”. They also take a human rights stand arguing these bases are used in bombing campaigns to protect the West’s petroleum interests. For La Plataforma they represent a strategic military, political and economic control over the Med and Persian Gulf and are directly implicated in the crimes committed against Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya.
Whilst in the light of recent developments the march against Rota can be explained by the anti-missile shield not such case can be made against Gibraltar. It is not on Spanish territory unless you subscribe to the doctrine of “Gibraltar Español”. As the protestors are drawn from the left in Spanish politics the rights of the people of Gibraltar to self-determine their own future should surely be a paramount dogma.
The days of Gibraltar being first and foremost a military base are long gone. Indeed Spain itself has played a major role in this downgrading pressuring Washington to send its warships to Rota rather than the Rock and having NATO re-organise its commands so now that Gibraltar is primarily a British rather than a Western Alliance base.
Therefore we have the situation whereby protests at Morón and Rota, on Spanish territory, can be explained away easily enough. In addition given the enhanced role of Rota at the heart of the USA’s controversial policy to establish an anti-missile shield it could well increase the threat of attack, military or terrorist, on Andalucía and Spain. However not only is Gibraltar not part of Spain but the military establishment is no-longer in the front line. There are no RAF aircraft stationed here. Royal Navy warships and submarines are all too rare visitors. So why march on Gibraltar?