Thursday, March 29, 2012


The “cash for access” row in the UK has raised the issue again of how political parties are funded. Should the cash come from party members, donors or the State?
The British experience is small beer compared with the obscenity of US political campaigning. In a nation with high unemployment countless millions of dollars are being spent in the primary process just to select the Republican nominee to challenge Obama. Then more countless millions will be spent as they battle it out to be president. Needless to say the majority of the cash comes from business and pressure group donors and rather than promoting policies it is all about character assassination. The US would have us believe it is the political system at its finest: sorry it is sewer politics and it stinks.
The main need for funding comes at election time but just to run a political office even with volunteers costs money. The Gibraltar parties are largely on a par with constituency parties in the UK. The Conservatives and Labour used to have a profession party agent running the local office perhaps with a paid secretary. For many constituencies that scenario is ancient history and now it is down to the activists. Yet rent, heating, lighting, office facilities and telephone – internet still add up to several hundred pounds a month minimum.
Ideally a political party should be funded by the many rather than the few. However a grass roots party may pay in to keep the operation going but if their leader is either in government or on the road to power then all sorts of major donors can suddenly surface hoping a large cash sum can buy them influence. In that scenario the activists are pushed aside with a people’s party bowing instead to the people with big pockets.
The positive point about Gibraltar political parties of all persuasions is that the politicians whether in or out of government have their professions outside of Parliament and their feet firmly on Main Street. This is in contrast to the UK where Cameron, Osborne, Miliband and Balls to name just four are professional politicians who have never had to earn an honest crust in the real world.
Gibraltar’s politicians get their ears bent by supporters and opponents alike as they shop, go to church, fill up the car with petrol, eat in a restaurant or stop for a coffee. There is no hiding place and it makes for healthy politics.
However leading British politicians live in a bubble completely separated from the people they represent: they are far more open to listening to somebody passing them a fat cheque with one view rather than a queue of activists clutching a fiver each with numerous opinions.
In some ways State funding does not help solve the problem. Certainly it should remove the millionaire donors but if the State is funding the party the professional politician has even less need for supporters and certainly no need to listen to their views.
I am also unclear how this State funding would work. Would it apply to all parties or elected parties? If I set up as a political party tomorrow would I suddenly be eligible for some dosh? Presumably not but would it be fair for the GSLP, Liberals and GSD to be funded and not the PDP because it has no MPs? Would the Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems, Greens and various nationalist parties in the British Parliament receive State funding but not the Monster Raving Looney Party and far from funny BNP?
Running a political party costs money and hence democracy costs money. Yet one party having more money than another and therefore better able to run a campaign is not democratic either. A party backed by a thousand activists each paying in a pound is easily out gunned by another party with a single donor handing over a million. It is a problem that needs to be solved but are politicians the people to do it?

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Last Thursday afternoon I walked down Main Street in the company of a well known politico and did a double take because walking towards us was the frame of Joe Holliday but surely it was somebody else. I asked my companion was it the former minister, he answered yes, I still wasn’t sure but he insisted it was. As they passed they exchanged muted greetings and indeed it was Joe Holliday.

Joe Holliday has always been a larger than life character but his face was of a man in shock. He has had a lot to be shocked about of late. He was dumped by the voters and then by his party as deputy leader: if the whispers in the corridors of power are true – there may be worst to come. I have always had a soft spot for Joe: what journalist could not love having a tourism minister called Holliday?

Now what has this got to do with Caruana? Simply this: I suspect he like his former right hand man is suffering from severe post-election shock. For as I passed the former minister the dumped chief minister was preparing to question his successor in Gibraltar’s Parliament. It was then in an effort to discredit Ernest Montado he wondered out loud if his appointment could favour the legal house of Hassan?

Ernest Montado is now acting, for free, as a consultant to the Government having for years severed as chief secretary with distinction. Caruana may be worried that Montado may spill many of the beans on his own years throwing phones around No 6: indeed is the former chief minister the Naomi Campbell of politics?

Yet Caruana’s reasoning lacks logic. The new chief minister, Fabian Picardo, was a senior partner at Hassans until elected last December. Hence if any impropriety were to take place Hassans didn’t need Montado they already had the head honcho on their side. However, and I here stress the however, Caruana had himself been a leading player in Triay & Triay before his own election. Furthermore his father-in-law is a senior legal eagle of that ilk. Surely nobody is suggesting that the Triay firm benefitted from Caruana’s long term in office – are they?

Far more to the point here is the role of the Feethams. When Caruana asked his bizarre question Daniel was sitting on his flank. Daniel Feetham is a partner at Hassans – does he believe his own firm will benefit from the appointment of Montado? Also a partner at Hassans is Nigel Feetham: an open GSD activist who may well have ambitions to join his brother in parliament. Does he support the word of his party leader?

The inference is they do not. In its statement Hassans said: “The suggestion implicit in Mr Caruana’s statement is unwarranted and unfair to both Hassans and Mr Montado. The Partners of Hassans consider it to be unjustified and unbecoming of Mr Caruana to have called into question the professional integrity and motivation of this Firm, and of Mr Montado, in whom we have complete confidence. Mr Caruana’s statement is entirely unprovoked and unacceptable and he should therefore withdraw it.”

The point here is that the Feethams, as partners in Hassans “consider it to be unjustified and unbecoming of Mr Caruana to have called into question the professional integrity and motivation of this Firm, and of Mr Montado.” Hence we have the deputy leader of the GSD and a leading party guru openly telling their party leader, Peter Caruana, that he has acted in an “unjustified and unbecoming” manner. Well that must be a first in this neck of the woods!

The logical conclusion is that the Feethams should resign from the GSD in protest at their legal firm being trashed or that Caruana should immediately stand down from his post. Rumour says he will go shortly anyway: better sooner rather than latter because whilst he is there in body his keen mind seems elsewhere. Now where have I seen that before?

(Photo: Sir Joshua Hassan – A QC and Gibraltar’s distinguished chief minister)

Thursday, March 15, 2012


“Extra, extra, read all about it. A Spanish politician wants good relations with Gibraltar! Read all about it!”

It’s general election time in Andalucía and so generally Spanish politicians from all parties tend to try and outdo each other in remarks or policies knocking Gibraltar. The voters’ minds are always elsewhere but it is a creed of honour amongst politicos that they bash the Rock even if in non-election periods they want to kiss and make up.

However bucking this trend is Pilar González. She is the Partido Andalucista’s candidate for the regional government presidency in the current elections and she has been defending a policy of good relations with Gibraltar.

Even more poignant was the fact that she made her statement in Algeciras. The port town is the fiefdom of Landaluce as both PP mayor and Cádiz MP and as we all know he never has a good word to say about Gibraltar. However he must have choked on his churros and coffee when he read that González had stated on his turf: “it is an essential line of action for the Andalucistas MPs to support convivial relations and being a good neighbour between Gibraltar and the towns of this area, especially La Línea.”

The Partido Andalucista’s No.1 candidate made it clear that the politics of confrontation can bring “negative repercussions” for the people of La Línea and for that reason “responsible politicians” are obliged to ensure there is not any campaign that can prove economically harmful to La Línea. However González defends the slogan “Gibraltar es Andalucía”: well come on you didn’t think it would all be good news did you?

Indeed González supports the sovereignty claim of the Spanish Government but insists it should be carried out within a political position of being a good neighbour to Gibraltar. Rather than employing policies to hit at the Gibraltar Government González believes Madrid and Sevilla should explore how both sides of the border can co-operate and how such measures can be put in to practice.

So ok on her heart Pilar González has engraved “Gibraltar es Andalucía” and I guess “Gibraltar español” but then so has every other mainstream Spanish politician. What marks González out from the others is that she is promoting good relations and being a good neighbour to Gibraltar.

The bad news is that the fragrant Pilar has a snowballs chance in hell of being the next Andalucía president or even an MP. Indeed if the opinion polls prove true her party will not even win one seat. To be the party of Andalucía and not to hold a seat in its parliament – for what will be the second consecutive term – is the ultimate political humiliation. Indeed what is the point of having an Andalucía party if nobody votes for it.

However closer to home the PA does rule in Los Barrios and is supporting the PSOE administration in La Línea. Both are financial and political basket cases but they are also our neighbours. Hence if their party leader promotes being nice to Gibraltar let us not knock it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


There is the ongoing debate about the new air terminal and the tunnel at the end of the runway which has the appearance of a World War I trench. However it is neither of these that I am going to touch on today but rather the runway.

There has been a documentary which I believe has appeared on a number of TV channels which rates Gibraltar as the fifth most dangerous airport in the world. I have no great faith in such analysis but it could be argued that having a giant Rock beside the runway, a town just yards away, a road crossing the runway’s centre, a very short runway by modern standards and the fact you have to approach over what at times can be hazardous seas could mark it out as not the safest place for an aircraft packed with passengers to land.

I flew back in to Gibraltar on Sunday in what appeared to be good conditions. However I was rather taken aback when the pilot told us as we passed over Málaga that Gibraltar had a very short runway and if he was not happy with his landing approach he would go to full power and come round again. In the event he didn’t yet several years ago I was in an aircraft that approached from the east in very stormy conditions. The pilot attempted a landing, aborted and circled the Rock before re-approaching. The winds were so strong I would have been happy for him to have diverted to Málaga but on the second attempt we landed smoothly enough.

Gibraltar’s economy now and in the future depends on tourism hence the airport is a vital factor in sustaining and developing that market. It is also necessary for the Rock’s security. If Spain sometime in the future decided to close the border again the airport would be the only viable way in or out.

The airport has primarily been an RAF base in the hands of the Ministry of Defence. It is now a shared operation with the Gibraltar Government but I wonder if the runway should be lengthened both in the interests of safety and also to allow larger aircraft to land? If it should: then who should pay? The MoD or the Gibraltar Government?

I asked an expert in the field of aviation, no name – no pack drill, about the runway. He told me: “Airports are heavily regulated as concerns the type and size of aircraft that can land and take off. There are substantial margins built in. As far as I know, no aircraft bigger than Boeing 737 can land at Gibraltar – the runway is 1,829m, but as it’s hard to imagine any airline wanting to operate a larger, wide bodied aircraft there, I don’t think it would be an issue.”

In recent years I have flown in and out of Gibraltar in various smaller Airbuses. However on more than one occasion I have flown in to Málaga on airlines that also use Gibraltar where indeed a wide bodies aircraft was used because of the large number of passengers onboard. That being the case when budget airlines plan their routes they know they couldn’t use a larger aircraft to get in to Gibraltar even if they wanted to and this could be a factor in opting for Málaga against the Rock when planning routes.

It is a fact that the runway is extremely short and perhaps when planning the new terminal and tunnel this should have been taken in to account. Mind you given the chaos that would ensue if two aircraft tried to discharge their passengers at the same time in to the new terminal perhaps what the airport needs is an airline that only flies Tiger Moths.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Working on the theory if you say something often enough it will eventually sink in it was the British Ambassador to Spain’s turn to reiterate his government’s position on Gibraltar. Giles Paxman (brother of TV hard man interviewer Jeremy) used a breakfast meeting in Madrid on Tuesday to deliver his message. He was addressing the Executive Fórum España and told the assembled company that Gibraltar would not come under Spanish sovereignty without a referendum being held on the Rock at which Gibraltarians would have the right to determine their own future.

The ambassador’s words were straight enough: “We won’t allow the inhabitants of Gibraltar to pass under the sovereignty of another country against their democratically expressed wishes.... It is a very strong principal for us.”

Paxman said he understood that the right of self determination was not something that was recognised under the Spanish Constitution but none the less the people of Gibraltar had the right to determine their own future. He went on to stress that the UK would not forget its promise to Gibraltar despite the insistence of the government of Mariano Rajoy that there should be a return to the negotiations on the sovereignty of the Rock that were interrupted in 2002.

In his address to Congress on January 22 the Spanish foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo had called on London to re-establish this dialogue “soon”. However the Ambassador rejected the offer of García-Margallo and made it clear there would be no negotiations unless the Gibraltarians wanted it. He stressed: “The British position is well known and hasn`t changed. On Constitutional themes account has to be taken of the opinion of the people.”

Under the 1984 Thatcher – Howe brokered Brussels Process between Spain and the UK it was stipulated that dialogue on sovereignty should be bilateral and that any eventual accord could not be vetoed by the population of Gibraltar. It is this two flags process that the Partido Popular wants to return too with the two flags being the UK and Spain but Gibraltar and the Campo de Gibraltar sitting in as part of their delegations. The Ambassador avoided any reference to this part of the García-Margallo big idea.

Whilst delivering a “no surrender” message to Madrid in Madrid Paxman also stressed the British Government wished to see collaboration between the authorities of Gibraltar and the neighbouring Campo de Gibraltar “for mutual benefit.” This mirrors the Gibraltar Government’s own desire to see cross border accords and co-operation on matters of shared interest.