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.