POLITICAL ROUND-UP – 14th July 2008

Reasons for mistrust

A lady came into the paper the other day to place an ad and, in passing, told me how much she liked this column, even though she found it a bit slanted. She was obviously referring to my well-known dislike of the prime minister. When I started writing Political Round-up shortly after the 2004 general election, I made no secret of the fact that I did not trust José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and he has done nothing since then to change my opinion of him. My mistrust started well before that election. From the parliamentary exchanges between Zapatero and former Prime Minister José Maria Aznar which were shown every day on the television news, I got the impression that he was playing to the audience he knew would be watching rather than making relevant criticisms of the government. I thought his refusal to stand up along with everyone else when the US armed forces marched past during the traditional military parade on October 12th, 2003, was puerile – but shrugged my shoulders as I watched it on TV, thinking: “Just as well he’ll never be prime minister.” But then the Madrid bombings happened just three days before the 2004 election, and the Socialists used it – unscrupulously, in my opinion – to bring out the younger, anti-war voters. The Spaniards were against sending soldiers to Iraq from the beginning, and it was the stupidest decision Aznar ever made. Zapatero made hay out of it for months, leading protests alongside well-known actors, actresses and film directors who backed him to the hilt, believing he would throw a lot of government subsidies their way when he became PM. He didn’t, and those same people are now conspicuous by their absence. They voted for him this year, but only to keep out the “fascists” – an image of the Partido Popular that Zapatero, his fellow socialists and loony left and nationalist supporters have been cultivating for the past four years. Conclusions: Zapatero is a fair-weather friend and not above insulting more than ten million of his compatriots to stay in power. In short, he’s even more of a user than your average politician. Until last week, he was using the Spanish language – very inventively at times – to avoid describing the current economic situation for what it really is – a crisis. But during a TV interview with three journalists, he forgot himself and let the “C” word slip smoothly of his tongue. He immediately added: “I use the word because you people are insisting on it” – “you people” being most of the 45 million people who live in this country. Watching the replays – and believe you me, there were many – it seemed fairly obvious that Zapatero has been using the word when thinking to himself or talking to those closest to him, while assiduously avoiding it in his public pronouncements . But it’s what he immediately went on to say that was so breathtaking. He said: “But a lot of people won’t suffer in this crisis.” I thought: “Of course, the rich can weather any crisis, as long as it’s not too prolonged.” But we weren’t talking about the rich at all. We were talking about workers and pensioners and a variety of groups who receive government hand-outs who, he claimed, wouldn’t suffer because his government had upped minimum wages, pensions and subsidies. It sounded good at the time but many people, like myself, must then have wondered: “But what about inflation?” I then had the ridiculous vision of wages and pensions going up every month, along with the rate of inflation, because that’s the only way to make sure workers and pensioners don’t suffer as their already small incomes are eroded by inflation, which reached a new high in June of 5.1%. But in real life, incomes tend to stand still and nobody, not even the PM, can control inflation because it’s essentially being caused by rising oil prices. These will continue to rise until September at least, when the oil producing countries are due to meet. But the latter are blaming speculators for the higher prices and the Americans are already making noises about doing something about them, although nobody has said exactly what. However, as more and more Americans are having to fork out $100 to fill their tanks, they are finally beginning to realise that something must be done about their – and the world’s – dependence on oil. Zapatero loves to be in the vanguard – Spain has just become the first country in the world to slap a ban on manufacturing cluster bombs – and he would carve out a huge niche in history for himself – he might even be beatified – if he found an alternative source of energy that could be implemented in the very short term. I can just see him stepping outside his house on a windy, sunny day, and snapping his fingers: “Of course, the sun and the wind!”


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