Thursday, April 26, 2012


For the brief period during which I served my Queen and Country I was in the RAF. Part of that choice was family links. My great grandfather had been a founder member of the Royal Flying Corp and my father was in the RAF during World War II. My passion was flying.

The other aspect of the RAF was that nobody expected you to be any good at drill. The present day air force is very different to the one I joined but there was a casualness and rakishness about the Brylcreme Boys which didn’t apply to the other services.

Just as well as my sad attempts at drill were carried out well inside the perimeter fence at RAF St Mawgen. It was suggested I should take part in the Royal Albert Hall Remembrance Day ceremony and also a parade by the RAF Memorial near Whitehall. Sadly I pulled a leg muscle on both occasions.

So it was with some interest that I watched the Royal Gibraltar Regiment going through its paces on the war memorial side of the runway in recent weeks. What struck me as odd at the time was they were there in the morning and then in the afternoon. Well changing the guard outside the Convent, parades for the Governor and firing off gun salutes are meat and drink to these soldiers – so why the intensive training?

Well now we know. They have honoured Gibraltar by their precision and professionalism on the large parade ground outside Buckingham Palace with the world watching. However whilst we should be proud, we shouldn’t be surprised. The Royal Gibraltar Regiment was simply doing its job.

The RGR isn’t a Dad’s Army troop made up of local people who are prepared to defend the Rock if need be. They are as much a key part of the modern, highly professional British Army as any other regiment or unit.

The modern history of the then Gibraltar Regiment started in 1971 when conscription ended on the Rock. The Regiment was a Territorial Army unit supported by a small permanent cadre and was made up of a rifle company, an artillery battery and an air defence troop.

With the withdrawal of the British Army’s regular infantry battalion 20 years later the Regiment was reformed as an infantry unit and it assumed the role of the major army unit in Gibraltar.

Moving on to 1999 and the Queen conferred the ‘Royal’ prefix to the Regiment’s title. By this time the Regiment was a regular light infantry battalion with a TA element and it regularly undertook exercises around the world. Members of the Regiment frequently deployed on operations in support of the UK’s interests and the Regiment formed an excellent working relationship with the Moroccan Brigade d’Infanterie Parachutiste.

Whilst the RGR still has responsibility for defending the Rock is also has an important bomb disposal capability: the only British Army infantry regiment to do so. It sends training teams to African countries; its troops have been involved in the invasion of Iraq and on operations in Afghanistan.

In short the regiment may punch above its weight but it is as much a part of the modern British Army as any other regiment. Hence it is as capable of mounting an impressive guard at Buckingham Palace as it is of disposing of a bomb in Gibraltar or going on patrol in Afghanistan. It’s what the boys and girls of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment do. They made Gibraltar proud in London but in all honesty we should be equally proud of them all the time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


The PDP has one key strength and one major weakness: Keith Azopardi. Azopardi is a popular politician as can be seen in his personal vote that was way above the other PDP candidates at the last election. However he was also known as a card carrying member of the GSD and a former deputy chief minister to Caruana: so if you want to support a centre right party it is logical to vote for the real thing rather than the pretender. I will leave the PDP for a moment and move on to the GSD.

The big changes in the political scene between now and the next election are likely to take place in the GSD. To be honest it makes little difference whether Caruana leaves the political scene or not. He is a political dead man walking and the future of the party lies with his deputy leader and not him.

It is more in the interests of the GSLP Liberals that Caruana sticks around than the GSD. I know many on the centre left want to see the back of him but not nearly as much as a larger number on the centre right. There are many in the GSD who believe the party could have won the election if Caruana had done the decent thing and quit. Right now he impedes the party’s recovery and the setting out of a new agenda. In Parliament he is an embarrassment: Gibraltar’s answer to the bitter Tory Ted Heath. So as long as Caruana stalks around the better it is for the present government.

So let us move on to a post Caruana GSD which will come sooner or later: certainly not soon enough for Daniel Feetham. His brother, Nigel, is already a GSD guru but I suspect Daniel would like him alongside in parliament. I have a high regard for Nigel: don’t rule him out in the future CM stakes.

The current thinking is that the Feethams will dominate the GSD in the coming future: the very party that inflicted such pain on their father. Sometimes revenge is very sweet indeed.

However will the grand lords and ladies of the GSD willing follow the socialist Feethams? That is of course the key question of the next four years. Logically no: so we could see a return of Keith Azopardi to the ranks to calm their nerves or maybe Peter Montegriffo will ride in on a white charger – or being Gibraltar a rent-a-bike as once used by Joe Holliday.

There is of course an alternative: the PDP. There is only one GOP in Gibraltar to borrow the US parlance where it is the Republicans: the Grand Old Party here being the GSLP. All the other parties are relative Johnny-come-latelies. So when it dawns on the GSD rank and file that the political lunatics have taken over their asylum they can flee to the readymade PDP.

I have only crossed verbal swords with Daniel Feetham once and that was after the 2003 election which left the Labour Party with no seats. I suggested in writing that the Labour Party would not survive to see the next election: an angry Feetham countered Labour was forever. Well we know who was right and who was wrong: Daniel Feetham was and is a politician in a hurry and was never going to sit around nursing an unelected party.

However to Keith Azopardi’s credit that is just what he has done bringing the PDP to two elections without achieving a seat. He may have left the GSD in a fit of pique (is that what the Ps in PDP stand for?) as indeed did Feetham when he stormed out of the GSLP but when it came to founding a lasting party the laurels go to Azopardi.

Now Azopardi could find himself and his party on the verge of a major triumph. Whilst all the talk is of the former deputy chief minister rushing back to his former party and the subsequent collapse of the PDP here is another scenario. He stands his ground, the PDP opens its doors to the GSD members who know the ‘S’ doesn’t stand for socialist and the up to now fringe party becomes the new main party of opposition to the GSLP Liberals.

Too far-fetched? I am not so sure! If Montegriffo gave his support to his fellow former deputy chief minister, if an MP or two was tempted to defect, if the current party grandees decided the PDP not the GSD was the way to go we could witness a major sea change in Gibraltarian politics. It is certainly time for the PDP activists to hold their nerve and not drift away. Their future may well be bright: the future could be the PDP.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


I started writing my weekly Gibraltar Viewpoint column back in 1992 and over the years would happily stand aside and let my readers have their say. Sometimes I carried letter agreeing with my stance other missives taking me to task. Settle down Peter Richard C, it’s too late to send in a letter now!

When the row over fishing in Gibraltar waters started I referred to the verbal agreement by the former chief minister, Peter Richard C, to allow the Spanish fishermen to use and even abuse our waters. I also touched on the memories of the Icelandic cod wars. This has prompted a Panorama reader, PJH, to write to me with his memories on both events which I believe deserve a wider audience.

“Dear David, Fishing for trouble.  I remember (with startling clarity) the events at the end of the 90s which lead to Caruana dropping his trousers for the Algeciras fishermen.

There was the confiscation of illegal nets, the arrest of the Piranha and its subsequent return 24 hours later, to the chagrin of the RGP.

There was the fisherman’s secondary border (less than 100 yards inside Spain), where they examined passports whilst the Guardia Civil and Policia National sniggered and the fisherman refused entry or egress to just about everybody.

I remember the Linenses who were not allowed to go home and were put up at St Teresa’s church overnight.

Mostly I remember the meeting at Convent Place between Uncle Peter and Pedro Massa (spokesman for the fisherman’s cooperative) where Uncle Peter discovered that Pedro was a bigger and better bully than he.... resulting in him caving in totally and making the so called agreement.

One of the things often repeated at the time (but less so now) is that the whole affair centred around illegal nets.... not just illegal in Gibraltar’s marine nature reserve but also illegal in any of the legitimate commercial fishing areas of Spain’s littoral.  However, the Algeciras fishermen did not accept that - it seems that, as in Gibraltar, the law only applies to some people and not others - what is it they say in Spain?

Why hire a lawyer when you can buy a judge?

PS: I also have clear recollection of the mid 70s Cod Wars, which seems to differ considerably from the official version and perhaps from yours.

I remember the Royal Navy being sent to protect Icelandic gunboats from the Fleetwood and Grimsby trawlers who were dishing out a battering to anyone in range.

In particular I recall the Wyre Defence and Wyre Victory coming away with the Odin’s trawl cutting equipment and another gunboat (Thor perhaps) having all her bridge windows smashed by nuts and bolts fired from a bicycle-inner-tube-catapult on board another Fleetwood boat who mean times played Land of Hope and Glory over his tannoy.  The Navy had to separate them before the defeat of the gunboats provoked an international incident.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


When the fishing dispute started with the Spanish fishermen, be they from Algeciras or La Línea, I suggested that before long the issue would be the ownership of those waters. After all if Spain claims Gibraltar only has the waters of the harbour then logically the fishing fleets from across the border, in Madrid’s view, would be free to go where they wish.

Today I am going to go a stage further and ask whether Gibraltar’s waters are indeed Gibraltar’s or Britain’s?

I have seen the term used of British Admiralty waters and also that whilst Gibraltar has a three mile limit, where that is applicable, Britain could under international law impose a 12 mile limit. Needless to say the British Government, or more likely the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has not followed this up nor is it likely to do so.

Now when the mayor of Algeciras, José Ignacio Landaluce, came a knocking at No 6 he was wrong footed and I suspect shocked to find that the chief minister did not have control over the Royal Gibraltar Police. That honour goes to the Governor who holds office not because Gibraltarians voted him in but because the F&CO appointed him. In other words he is Whitehall’s man.

So we have the scenario where the waters are British not Gibraltarian, Gibraltar through its parliament has passed environmental laws governing those waters but the body responsible for policing it is the RGP which in effect is bossed from London.

Now I raise this issue because there are suggestions in the Spanish media that London will decide if the Spanish fishermen can operate in our waters and not the Gibraltar Government. Given the last thing London wants is confrontation with Madrid then it is a foregone conclusion that the fishing fleets will be given the green light: so presumably the Gibraltar Government and indeed all Gibraltarians (ok 98.48 per cent of them) will see red.

It could be that the Spanish press reports are mischief making but even so they raise an important issue: who governs in Gibraltar – the Gibraltar Government and Parliament or London? Are Gibraltar’s waters Gibraltarian or British? We know the answer from Madrid is the waters are Spanish but at least Gibraltarians thought in that battle they had the British Government onside but perhaps they don’t after all.

If the Gibraltar Government has taken the stand that the environment law passed by the then House of Assembly should be upheld surely that is what must be done? If the British Government intervenes and forces No 6 to bow to the Spanish Armada then it shames the Rock and weakens the very foundations on which our democracy is based.

The question is who governs Gibraltar: No.6 or the guy across the road, Gibraltarians or the sweet F&CO?