Monday, 29 June 2009

Ever noticed...

Ever noticed how the only comments ever published from Latin American contributors on the BBC are incredibly right-wing? Take this selection about the recent coup d´etat in Honduras, which are all busily waffling on about Manuel Zelaya being an evil socialist Chavez-a-like power-crazed megalomaniac for the truly awful crime of "buying votes with food" (well, if you´re gonna buy votes, feeding people in poor countries would seem a relatively harmless way to do it. Sounds like a win-win to me).

At what point do you look at stuff like that as a journalist and conclude that, perhaps, if he won his last election with around 50% of the vote, and was prepared to ask people in a referendum if they wanted to re-elect him, maybe 10 pages of hostile, english-speaking Hondurans with internet access is not exactly a representative sample...

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Ban landlords

I looked up the word for landlord in my English-Spanish dictionary the other day, and staring back at me were the words "hijo de puta". What is it about collecting money for sitting on your fat arse all day that makes people utter pricks?

It´s not like they have to do anything more than a token amount of work for a living. The sum total of repairs affected to the property over the duration of my tenancy was the replacement of one shower head, and the disconnection of one faulty extractor fan. That apart he just comes round to collect the rent (actually, he pays someone to do that, being a busy man).

Such is the case with most landlords, whose entire economic model is based on doing as little as possible, whilst spending the whole duration of the contact plotting to keep the deposit. Buy-to-let is a horrendously easy way to make money, and even then people can´t do it honestly. In all my years of renting, reasonable landlords have been out-numbered about 10 to 1.

But then, the people that disproportionately suffer from arsehole landlords are alternately the poor, and the soon to be comfortably off (students). Yet, the amount of activism around poor quality privately rented housing stock, either from students´unions or from anti-poverty groups is virtually non-existent. The mainstream left seem to restrict themselves to oblique, permanently unanswered demands to start building council housing, rather than any systematic attempt at addressing the system as it is and making real improvements in living conditions. Ah well, I´ll just have to muse that I´ve been taken for a lot worse than the €40 this chump conned me out of, and see if these people want any help...

el orgullo viene antes de la caída

I wonder if there´s an equivalent in Spanish for the expression "pride comes before a fall"?
I mean forget that most of the world regards the Confederations Cup as a bit a friendly knock-about and most of the teams qualify by the default of being the least shite of truly woeful confederations.

The Spanish media bollock on about "The Red Legend" like La Selección hadn´t been utter dross for decades prior to winning the European Championships. Most of them were already talking about "the final with Brazil" and they´re pretty much certain they´ll walk the world cup. Well, back to Earth with a bump after losing to a side that only sneaked out of their group because Egypt imploded. Should do them good mind, they could do with reminding that no European side has ever won a world cup outside of their home continent...

Friday, 19 June 2009

Iran: More Belarus than Ukraine

Seeing as comparisons are where it´s at in the world of international politics, can I throw mine in? It´s all very well getting excited about the prospects of the protests in Iran, but does anyone realistically see a threat to the Iranian regime from this movement?

Authoritarian regimes world-over have got to be pretty accustomed to colour revolutions these days, following as they do suspiciously similar patterns the world over. Ahmadinejad looks like his situation is far more Lukashenko than Yanukovych. Like with the former, Ahmadinejad and his supporters rig elections that they´d probably win anyway, just for power hungry control-freakery of it. As a result they´ve both got enough popular support, certainly amongst the police, the army and the establishment, to see off students and liberals camping in parliament square for a bit.

Ahmadinejad will survive, the battered and bruised protesters will go home. Not that their man is much of a threat to the status quo anyway. For what it´s worth my hope is that they´ll succeed, if only because the manner of doing so (street protests) will in itself create openings of democratic space in Iran. I´m not optimistic though.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Internationalism is...

Making sure that the struggles of every people in every corner of that globe, their liberty and civil rights, all are worth exactly the same thing ... namely... worth criticising George Galloway and the Respect party for.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Maths with Florentino

Real Madrid´s annual turnover: approximately €350m.
Combined cost of Kaka and CR7 transfers: €155m
Value of CR7´s 6 year contract: €115m
Value of Kaka´s 6 year contract: €60m
So that´s 1 year of their annual turnover on two players.
Necessary increase in revenue to break even: €55m per year. (16% of current turnover)

How did it work out last time?

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Europe moves right aka social democracy´s death-throes

The marquee social democratic parties in Europe are all fucked. The Party of European Socialists lost nearly a quarter of their seats in the last election and they were already a small minority in the European parliament. Look a bit deeper than that and you see that the big guns just fell apart; Labour Party 15.7% Parti Socialiste 16.5% SPD 20.8%.

In the three biggest European economies, all of which have governed their country (more or less) independently in the past, not one could convince in excess of a quarter of the electorate. The party still clinging to power in the UK did the worst, but the PS (in opposition) and the SPD (a junior partner in the governing coalition) did no better.

In fact, almost no PES affiliate Europe-wide actually came out of the Sunday as the largest party in their country (Greece, Malta and Denmark being the only exceptions), and only in a handfull did any of them poll more than 30%.

Now if it were in a few countries, then maybe I might think these had political explanations, just the usual toing and froing between the mainstream parties. But as a Europe-wide trend then it looks like the social democratic centre left could be going extinct.

Beneath the individual afflictions of different parties is their an underlying reason in our society for these parties to be drowning in the sea of history?

What sustained these parties over the course of the 80s and 90s was a mixture of things; the persistence, emotionally if not socially, of their historical base - the mass industrial working class - and the main other one was an ability to appeal to liberal-minded centrists in some sort of opposition to social conservatism and the worst excesses of neoliberalism. They succeeded by being a nicer version of the conservatives and hoping their traditional support didn´t notice.

Eventually of course their traditional support was going to notice that they were doing very little (if anything) in their interest, and either desert them, or (in the case of the younger generation) never turn to them in the first place. And the thing about all those centrists is that they´re fickle as hell, so they wander off as soon as something nicer and shinier comes along, or whenever it looks like this lot aren´t managing capitalism very well.

In the midst of a recession the problem gets exarcebated, because it´s their support that´s suffering, and they´ve nothing to tell them. Once you sign up for neo-liberal consensus there´s not a great deal you can do to support working people in a recession. So when it´s obvious the system isn´t working and you refuse to help people in any significant way, they start to leave you in even greater numbers.

With conservatively-minded people, especially economic, their support stands up even under globalisation and recession, because basically it doesn´t challenge any of their core beliefs. The problem are scrounging shower at the bottom, or, the mass of impoverished people who have now stopped voting. Your support base stays in tact and just asks that you do the same things only harsher. They wait for capitalism to sort itself out.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009


The BNP get two MEPs and the whole political establishment wets itself, and Left starts hysterically throwing blame around for whoever may or may not be responsible.

Let´s get a bit of perspective here. Nobody really gives a shit about European Elections, hence the 34% turnout. It´s an insitution with fuck all power, that´s very far away and that nobody ever pays attention to. Unless it´s doing something we don´t like. Of that 34% turnout, the BNP managed to muster 6.4%, giving them the support of wopping 1 in 40 of those eligible to vote.

And the truth is, no-one who wasn´t a fascist yesterday, became a fascist today. Putting a bit of paper in a box doesn´t fundamentally change who you are. So, there´s no point wailing now about people actually voting Thursday, the views that they held on Wednesday. The problem didn´t happen when people put their hands up and said "you know what, this anti-immigrant/foreigner/asians party is for me", it happened over whatever the hell is wrong with our country.

Nor would swamping it with other ballots change anything. So let´s say that a higher turnout sends someone less nazi to the European parliament. It doesn´t make this country any less racist, it doesn´t mean that we´ve changed even one mind about how our society is or should be. It just means we´ve drowned it out with someone desperately clinging to some establishment party to show how they personally, aren´t racist, or are bothered by racism or something like that.

The sky doesn´t fall in because the BNP have MEPs. It changes nothing, other than re-iterating what people have been saying for years, the real job is making our country less of a breeding ground for those kind of views, and until people take that seriously then they´ll continue making headway.

Monday, 8 June 2009

building sandcastles

In the midst of a global economic recession and not one left-wing party, Europe-wide, makes a significant breakthrough.

Am I the only one currently thinking that you might be best off just giving up?

Friday, 5 June 2009

ay, que calor

In four weeks time I´m taking a break from the heat and going back to England. However brilliant thirty degree heat, six months of the year might seem in theory, it´s better for lying on the beach than for attempting to control eleven year olds in a second language.

At the moment I´m wondering if there will still be a Labour Party by the time I get back. Between the Blairites disgruntled by, erm, Gordon Brown being mean to them, the prospect of more trade unions disafiliating and at least one trade union hesitantly moving toward founding a new party, it´s getting pulled apart in a lot of different directions. 

I always think though, however much slagging the left in the LP always gets/got for making the party unelectable (or potentially so), for always complaining about the leadership and basically acting like they didn´t actually want Labour to win or like them very much, it´s always the right wing that takes its ball home when they lose. Ramsay MacDonald, the SDP, now the Blairites, it´s always the "populist" right who think that winning elections means activists shutting the fuck up and doing as they´re told, that are prepared to royally shaft the party when it suits them.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Europeos al español

If it weren´t for the major parties habits of flyposting every available surface, and hanging flags from every tree, then you might struggle to work out that there was an election in two days time. In all my travels around the city I´ve managed to see a grand total of two stalls (one PSOE, one PP) and a van from one of the random "EUROPE´s fantastic, they give us loads of money" parties.

You can´t escape the idea that aside from the Europhile cranks, no-one really gives a shit round here. And if no-one cares here, where the EU is largely credited for making Spain a developed country after years of Franco, then no-one is really going to care anywhere.

As for the results, it´ll be as you were as the PSOE and PP both hold onto their votes, the former because Rajoy is one of the most unpopular opposition leaders in Europe and the PSOE is actually trying to help people through the crisis (being on balance, the most left-wing government in any major Western European country), the latter because Zapatero is, despite all that, a pretty uninspiring human being.

The Izquierda Unida will once again tread water, managing not to deteriorate as badly as their Eurocommie cousins over the water in Italy. Which, with the exception of Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste seems to happening all over Europe. The reality is, for all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the UK, the Spanish left is taking no more advantage of the crisis than they are.

Though the IU´s high tide was a good deal higher than any UK equivalent (for a variety of reasons, both historical and relating to the two countries electoral systems), the proof of the pudding in the Left-wing alternative pudding is in how its fortunes are changing in the face of the recession. Now, I´ve never said that it logically follows that economic depression equals a swing to the left. In fact often recessions produce a sort of stoic fatalism that makes people wait it out until the next upswing. If the consequences are global enough, local polite elites can avoid blame for them, even, as is the case in Spain, the effects are stronger locally than the global average.

More than that, if the recession really exposes the instability of global capitalism, and reveals how little it serves the general population, you should still expect a better hearing for those with an alternative. But not any old alternative. Preaching old-style social democracy seems to be no more convincing in bad times than it is in good ones. Neither do these parties seem to be able to articulate a fundamentally different vision of the future that appeals to anything more than the usual groups.

For years I´ve wondered whether I would join a functioning left party in the UK, if one existed. Well, the answer in practice seems to be no. The thought of desperately flyering for the bright mixed-economy nationalizations of the future makes me feel a bit queasy...