One of my other bloggy places, Tremr, is having a political writing competition that is well worth checking out if you’re into that kind of thing. Link below for those interested.
One of my other bloggy places, Tremr, is having a political writing competition that is well worth checking out if you’re into that kind of thing. Link below for those interested.
This post originally appeared on Tremr, go there to join the debate.
First things first, the race is not over yet, not by a long shot. The math is increasingly difficult, though not impossible, for Bernie Sanders to win the nomination for the Democratic candidacy come July. Results in Washington, Hawai’i and Alaska over the weekend are a significant resurgence for Sanders, and he could well come back to win it from here, despite Clinton’s strong start.
For the sake of argument, and for this debate, let’s assume it won’t happen. A Clinton win in July represents a potentially disastrous nomination for the Democratic Party, unless she plays a very clever political game from here forward. Ignoring the special place in hell that members of the Republican Party seem keen for her to occupy, she is also one of the least liked and least trusted candidates for the Democratic nomination in years, even among members of her own party.
The best way to claw back some of those elusive favorability ratings is with a perfect choice of VP, and Bernie Sanders may well be that man.
Now, there has been almost unprecedented hostility between the two camps, so perhaps it is an unlikely outcome, but for Clinton it could be a masterstroke. It would certainly be an unexpected, but fascinating move if she did choose to pursue it, and could end up being politically expedient for both sides if managed correctly.
Why Clinton Should Do It.
From her early position of strength, Clinton is facing a difficult run in to the nomination in July. Huge wins for Bernie Sanders in Washington and Alaska mean that her campaign may still be significantly upset, even if Sanders does not quite have time to snatch the nomination from her.
If she does limp over the line, damage control will be the priority item on the agenda. Her candidacy will be tainted by the close run candidacy, and she needs to immediately make concessions to prove that she has listened to the popular voice that has cried out to disown her. Putting Bernie Sanders on her ticket would be the perfect way to do that.
For many Sanders supporters, it is not merely about loving Bernie, but also hating Hillary. If she could get Sanders to endorse her, and even agree to run side by side with her, this would go a long way to repairing some of the damage her battle with Bernie has done to her image. I would imagine it would be difficult for a Sanders supporter to resist if he were to suddenly turn around and claim that, actually, Clinton is not so bad after all.
There has been so much hatred towards Clinton that she needs a win, she needs some of those disenchanted voters who may otherwise vote for Trump, or at least not turn out to vote for her. In short, she needs to capture a portion of the vote whom have been alienated from politics as usual. There are numerous ways to do that, of course, but why wouldn’t you go with the person who has already captured all that energy, in Bernie Sanders?
Received wisdom is that the best Vice Presidential candidate comes from a key swing state, for the excellent reason of practicality. Sanders’ popularity, however, particularly among the youth, could well extrapolate this to an even higher order of magnitude. Why limit yourself to one state when you have a man who may nationally mobilise thousands of voters who would otherwise stay well away from the polls to potentially run alongside you?
Hillary Clinton is the very definition of a pragmatic politician, somewhat too much of one for many people’s tastes, but it would be foolish to pass up such an easy way to gain a few thousand votes, and is the sort of opportunity you would expect her to take in a heartbeat.
Beyond the obvious benefits to voter turnout, there’s also that old chestnut of keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer. Clinton has very publicly battled with Senator Sanders in this primary season, and the two camps are not very fond of each other, to say the least. A VP nomination may be just enough to neutralize the threat posed by Sanders to her chance at a stable first four years in office.
To illustrate this point, let’s play a game. Two questions. First, name anything a Vice President has achieved that the President didn’t want to achieve while in office. Second, name any two Vice Presidents from before Al Gore. Not as easy a game as we would like to think, is it? Bernie as VP, then, could be an ideal outcome for Clinton; get Bernie’s voters and then put him in a corner office for four years and let him shout his ideas to nobody in particular, leaving her to get on with her dream job.
Why It Could Be Good For Sanders.
Of course, there’s always the chance that Sanders would not accept any invitation to run as Secretary Clinton’s VP , and there are a number of good reasons why he wouldn’t, principally the futility of the arrangement described above.
However, if he knows that going in, and prepares for it, then he can make demands before the campaign even starts, and with those guarantees be a much more effective VP, further forwarding the progressive agenda.
The main goal for Sanders would be to keep that agenda visible. Clinton is very much a flavor of the month politician, and with Sanders at her side, the economic inequality that forms the basis of his campaign and his support would burn much brighter and much longer than it might otherwise do. It is the perfect way to influence proceedings and make sure his campaign does not become a mere footnote to history.
There’s also the change that a Sanders vice-presidency might bring to the Democratic Party. If you succeeded at the second part of my challenge earlier, either you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of obscure politicos or, more likely, you picked a VP who ultimately went on to be President- a reasonably common outcome. Now, Bernie is probably too old for this outcome, especially if Clinton ended up as POTUS for a full eight years, but what it may do is open the door for someone in Sanders’ mold to run for president in 2024, and have a serious shot at winning.
This has to be Sanders’ aim. He has always been one to put the final goal, the ‘revolution’, before himself, and if he truly believes what he advocates is best for the country, then keeping it in the public eye at the expense of personal glory will be one of the major factors on his mind.
A cozy position as Clinton’s VP may well be the best way to do that.
What about the other candidates?
There are a number of other candidates for Vice President being bandied about, from Elizabeth Warren to Tom Perez to Julián Castro, and there are convincing arguments for all of them which I am sure my opponent in this debate will explore more thoroughly.
Frankly though, as much as Sanders’ supporters would have you believe that his election success is down to a love for progressive politics and a hatred of the establishment, the fact is that most of the enthusiasm is around the man himself- it’s basically a cult at this point. Warren makes sense in terms of her policies, as do a number of younger, minority candidates but, frankly, is it worth the risk?
This has been the most unpredictable election season in living memory, and it makes sense for all parties for Sanders and Clinton to be on the same ticket. With it, they have a good chance of beating Trump, without it, in a Trump/Clinton run-off, who knows?
Mrs Clinton must go with the candidate who has captured America’s imagination and desire for a hopeful message, something she herself has failed to achieve. And so, I say once more, if Hillary Clinton does win the Democratic nomination, her first choice of running mate simply must be Bernie Sanders.
The IS attack on France has sent shockwaves around the world. The appetite for decisive action against ISIS is at a record high, and yet there is no clear consensus on what should be done. Here’s your chance to have your say on the key issues. Click on the link below to join the debate
As someone who watched every single one of the recent debates leading up to the General Election in the UK, I like to consider myself something of a connoisseur of political debate. As such I sat down at 2 am last night to watch the first Republican debate of the season with a sense of exhausted anticipation, eagerly looking forward to a step away from the banal non-debates we managed to have in my own country.
And boy, did I get that. Nothing, though could have prepared me for quite how distinct an experience watching this spectacle was going to be. Before the candidates even came out from behind their curtain I realised this was going to be a completely different animal.
It wasn’t just the venue, a sold-out stadium in Cleveland obviously trumps a 200-seater BBC studio, but it was the people that filled it. Within the first five minutes of the show, there were perhaps three solid minutes of cheering, whooping and hollering as the candidates were introduced. And it wasn’t just one candidate, but every single one of them. Yes, even Ted Cruz got raucous applause. Think about that for a second.
Unsurprisingly the debate opened with Trump, who is apparently both a real person and ahead in the polls, throwing a spanner in the works by saying that if he didn’t win the Republican nomination then he couldn’t guarantee that he wouldn’t run as an independent candidate. Theatre at its finest, as the boos rang in from the audience, and the other candidates accusing him of pre-emptively supporting Hillary Clinton if he didn’t win. All this was merely an appetiser for the main event, which finally kicked off when Megyn Kelly asked Trump about his sexist comments, which can be found here by the way.
Trump responded predictably, further convincing me that he is Nigel Farage in a fat suit with a bad toupee, by saying that he says what he says and he doesn’t ‘have time for political correctness’ and casually threatening Ms Kelly that he wouldn’t be so nice to her in future. Cue whoops and cheers from the baying audience.
And this is where the true difference between debate in the UK and the US lies. As I realised very quickly, if you say something ridiculous and non-fact based in a US debate, there will be at least a portion of your audience that will vocally agree with you, whereas in the UK a hushed, embarrassed silence tends to descend over what little audience there is, as even those who agree are too ashamed to vocalise it. Hence why we get all the talk of ‘shy Tories’ over here.
It quickly became obvious that ten people was far too many for one debate, as some candidates had to wait far longer than reasonable to speak. Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who, ironically, appeared to be talking about stealing people’s brains to better understand foreign policy, legitimately only said one thing in the first 45 minutes of the debate, while Trump, Christie, Cruz and others took up much greater air time puffing their chests out and talking about how they were different to Obama. Mr Trump even had the audacity to claim that, before he came along, nobody talked about immigration, which is ridiculous to the point of nonsense.
And the nonsense did not end there, not by any means. Other highlights included Ted Cruz claiming Obama should be more like Egypt’s notorious human rights’ abuser Abdel el-Sisi, while Rand Paul said he would collect phone records from terrorists and nobody else, before basically shouting ‘listen to me everybody, I’m still relevant, I’m still relevant’ as the more refined candidates left him in the dust.
The final straw in terms of farce though, came at the end, when the candidates were legitimately asked if God had given them any advice as to what they should do on their first day. I have no words for my reaction to this, other than that obviously God should have absolutely no place in the political debate of a supposedly secular country, and the rather amusing fact that they didn’t let Trump speak on it, because presumably even God fears what The Donald might say about him.
Amidst the ridicule there were certain enlightening points of the debate, the Iran deal in particular, as well as the fact that Hillary Clinton was perhaps the single most mentioned name on the night. The candidates are clearly worried about her and spent much of the evening talking about how incompetent she would be, without doing anything solid to back it up. Of course, they also talked about taxes a lot, and there was more talk of red and black than you’d find even in your average Stendhal novel.
The debate was such a mishmash of comings and goings that it is almost impossible to sum up easily. It is too early, I think, to say that anyone won, but I would go as far as saying Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and even Rand Paul are now fairly firmly out of the running. Trump dominated, with almost twice as much air time as some of the candidates, while Jeb Bush and John Kasich also performed relatively well on the night, coming across as the more sober, sensible candidates, though whether that is a good thing for the GOP voters or not remains to be seen. All I know is, I eagerly anticipate the next one, while hoping fervently that the Democratic campaign does not stutter and make this a close race.
This post originally appeared on Tremr, which you should all definitely check out!
Two weeks ago, on the 13th July, Joaquin Guzman, better known as ‘El Chapo (Shorty)’, escaped his high security cell in an Altiplano prison. He fled in an underground tunnel to a safe house that had been purpose built several kilometres away, marking his second escape from a high security facility in the last 15 years.
It is expected that he will now resume his position at the head of Mexico’s biggest drug cartel, the Sinaloa group, which he has headed for a number of years. But who exactly is ‘Shorty’, what is the group that he runs, and what do we know about the drug wars in general?
A lot, and not much, almost simultaneously, is the rather frustrating answer. For the purposes of this article I am going to concentrate mainly on the conflicts and rivalries between various drug gangs, simply because the amount and levels of corruption that would need to be summarised are two long and complex for a piece such as this.
The Mexican drug wars have dominated the country’s politics for a number of years now, since then President Felipe Calderón took an official hard line on drug violence in late 2006, and it is he who has the ignominious honour of being branded the instigator of the conflict.
Sending the Mexican army into Michoacan drug territory politicised an industry that had been around long before the Calderón administration, and caused an all out war between gangs, soldiers, militia groups and civilians that has resulted in over 164,000 civilian deaths since the trouble began. Compare that with the 100,000 or so civilians that have died in Iraq and Afghanistan combined and you may begin to get a bit of a picture of the size of the conflict that Mexico is currently facing. At one point, in 2010 Ciudad Juarez was seeing as many as 10 homicides a day, most of which went unsolved.
A map of drug-related murders up to 2010
So how has this conflict developed, and who are the main belligerents? Well, unsurprisingly it’s a bit complicated, but to simplify things slightly, we will soon jump to the time period when the smaller gangs had been absorbed into each other to form collective alliances to fight both amongst themselves and the government. This process had begun long before the concentrated intervention of the government, but it certainly acted as a catalyst if nothing else. But in order to understand the position in 2009, we have to go back slightly to an action that would prove crucial to later events, the formation of the Zetas.
In the late 90s, the two most powerful cartels were the Sinaloa cartel (of El Chapo fame), and the Gulf cartel, headed by Osiel Cárdenas Guillén. Realising he was in a losing position, Cárdenas formulated the creation of a new ‘professional’ armed wing of the Gulf cartel, to be known as the Zetas.
As such, he bribed Mexican special forces soldier Arturo Guzmán Decena (known as Z1) to recruit around 50 fellow special agents to come to fight for him and his cartel. These men had the training, the weapons, and the brutality to beat back the encroachment of the Sinaloa threat onto Gulf territory, which, if nothing else, dispels the myth of El Chapo being the all-powerful, all-consuming figure as which he is at times portrayed, particularly when captured by the authorities. The Zetas were the Gulf cartel’s ticket to dominance in the region.
However, the drug game is a fickle one, and the rising power of the Gulf group was curtailed in 2002, when their leader (Cárdenas Guillén) was captured by the Mexican authorities. This coincided with the killing of Zetas’ leader Guzmán Decena by Mexican special forces in the same year, and ties between the groups immediately suffered, as the original ‘treaty-signers’ were removed from their respective influences in the group.
All of which brings us back to the present day, with Calderón marking the official beginning of the drug war by invading the Michoacan region near Mexico City. At this point, the two biggest cartels by area remained those that had been in power 10 years before, Sinaloa and Gulf, though the Gulf Cartel’s relations with its armed wing had been weakened since 2002.
Finally, in 2009, things came to a head, though few know the true reason behind it. Whether it was Gulf looking for a truce with Sinaloa Cartel, or simply internal conflict and disagreement, the Gulf Cartel did something to upset its armed wing, resulting in them breaking away and forming their own group, under the Zetas banner.
Unsurprisingly given their military background and reputation for brutality, the Zetas had soon taken over almost all of the territory from their former employers, and in 2010 the Mexican battleground was firmly pitched.
The Zetas very quickly became Sinaloa’s main rival in the country, earning a particular reputation for violence and brutality, along with their aggressive expansion along the east coast of the country.
All of which brings us inevitably back to El Chapo. There were whispers last year that the Sinaloa cartel was the U.S.A’s cartel of choice, due to their perceived reputation of doing things ‘the right way’. Whereas the Zetas had a reputation for violence that preceded them, the Sinaloa group had a myth surrounding them that they were only interested in the drugs. While this wasn’t strictly true, the image helped them to regain control and begin to push back against the Zetas.
Chapo became a sort of cult hero, particularly in the region of Sinaloa, where he based his reputation, and there are ballads of legend sung about him. His cartel gained the upper hand against their rivals, largely through the non-hierarchical nature of their structure, and the fact that the organisation could cope with its head being repeatedly chopped off, whereas the Zetas went through great periods of infighting and internal rivalry every time a leader was killed. As such, though they still technically hold more territory, there is little the Zetas can do to compete with their long-time rivals.
Everything, then, was going smoothly for El Chapo until his arrest earlier this year. Drug violence in general had declined, and Chapo had established himself as the head of a drug monopoly through Mexico, something that, while not the stated aim of the government, at least diminished the violence seen over the last decade.
Now, however, his operations face a new threat. Not only is he facing competition from Central American gangs that once served as suppliers, notoriously violent gangs such as Mana Salvatrucha, he is also facing a tangible threat from within his own borders.
Seemingly not having learned from the mistakes of their Gulf rivals, in the early years of the drug war the Sinaloa group created an armed wing to combat the growing influence of the Zetas in the East.
This group was known as the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and was created with the express purpose of fighting the Zetas for control around Jalisco. Predictably, however, since Chapo’s arrest and the uncertainty over Sinaloa, they have followed the example set by the Zetas and broken from their former employers, reigniting violence in the regions they control, which is growing fast. This is particularly worrying as a development for Mexico due to the group’s distinctly antiauthoritarian stance, which is perhaps even more extreme than that of its predecessors.
The war on drugs, then, has been a long and bloody one, filled with unsolved high-profile murders, corruption, and betrayal, but what stands out above all else is the effect it has had on the lives of everyday people.
While drug controlling regions such as Sinaloa have been made relatively affluent and safe through their activities, regions of territorial dispute such as Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, near the U.S. border, have been devastated by the violence that Mr Calderón’s crusade against drugs unleashed.
El Chapo was a part of this, he has always been a part of this, and, what with the emergence of the new challengers to his reign of the king of the Mexican drug scene, it looks unlikely that the conflict will be ending any time soon. Indeed, if the emergence of the CJNG is anything like that of the Zetas, then the cycle of violence may only just be getting ready to begin again.
The last month has been an interesting one for Brazil and its economy, if by interesting we may also imply the institutionalised corruption that has lasted decades which has recently been revealed in the country. For those who are unfamiliar with the situation, Petrobras, the state-owned former jewel of the emerging Brazilian economy, has been embroiled in a ‘kickback for contracts’ scandal after a former manager of the company, Pedro Barusco, told the country’s congress of the ‘institutionalised corruption’ that had been taking place. In fact, the scandal has become so bad that it has now expanded to implicate as many as 57 politicians.
Now, this has all been fairly widely reported in the past few days, but there was something that struck me about the coverage. The fact is, probably largely for logistical reasons, rarely do we get an accurate picture of public opinion in the country where these momentous events take place, so I am here to change that. I would like to offer a brief breakdown of what Brazilian journalists have been saying of the events, rather than making sweeping claims on what the Brazilian populace feels about its politicians’ corruption, so if you would like to come on that journey with me, then read on, dear reader, read on.
The first thing to say is that, whilst there has been some support for Dilma Rousseff herself, the general reaction has unsurprisingly been overwhelmingly negative. Ms Rousseff, the current President of the country, headed Petrobras for seven years and, while her name has not been directly linked to the scandal, there have been many questioning her leadership credentials, given that she has overseen both of the major parties involved in the corruption.
Journalists have at times been savage in their criticism of both Ms Rousseff and her government. José Neumanne, writing for the Estadão newspaper, lambasted her for her weak speech following the breaking of the news, saying ‘to ask for patience from a public that has only heard self-indulgent lies from her cannot fail to sound foolish, useless, arrogant and alienated’.
Strong language indeed, but he was not even the most vocal of her critics, the title of which goes to fellow Estadão writer Fernão Lara Mesquita who categorises Ms Rousseff as a farcical, incompetent, ‘supreme-leader’ type with delusions of grandeur. But he does not stop at criticism of Rousseff, going on to lament the whole political system in the country, saying that ‘those who play the political game must always be reminded who is in charge of whom – “Of the people for the people and by the people”‘.
Perhaps most significantly of all he questions the actual democratic nature of his country by claiming that you cannot call Brazil a democracy ‘without putting quotation marks around it’. Mesquita’s opinion and tone have been echoed by many, and a number of people have called for the impeachment of Ms Rousseff less than 12 months after she won the presidency once more, with mass protests planned for this weekend.
It is fair to say then, that politically this is one of the worst scandals to have hit South America in decades, but we must also not underestimate the economic impact of these events. It has been a widely held view that Brazil’s economy, which had appeared to be one of the rising stars in the world theatre, has stalled in recent years, and many commenters have linked this to the mistrust caused by the poor management of the state-owned oil company.
Fernanda Guimarães wrote soon after the news broke that ‘the poor governance of Petrobras was responsible for the exit of investors in all of Brazil’s economy’, while Míriam Leitão wrote in O Globo that the Petrobras situation was a tumour, and that ‘the economy is paralysed while Petrobras completes the surgery that it is having to go through’, which has implications for Brazilian business at every level.
Commenters then, have not held back their disgust at the way the news has affected their country, with wide-ranging economic and political criticism emerging as the scandal widens. It will undoubtedly have a huge effect on Brazil for many years to come. It remains to be seen how this will affect Dilma Rousseff’s presidency, or even if she will manage to hold on to her recently re-acquired power as more and more bad news emerges from the woodwork. What is certain, however, is that the words of Míriam Leitão offer the most poignancy here. Yes, it is a horrific abuse of power by those involved, and they should be summarily and swiftly dealt with, but the important thing for Brazil is to get its economy back up and running. To do this it is vital to find where Petrobras went wrong, fix the problem and make sure it never happens again. Easier said than done, of course, but we can only live in hope that this will be a learning experience, and that this will remain the biggest corruption scandal in South America for many, many years to come.
N.B. All Brazilian opinions were originally written in Portuguese, and the translations are my own. This post originally appeared on http://www.tremr.com
Late on Friday February 20th, European finance ministers emerged from what had appeared to be a problematic meeting with seemingly positive news. Greece had agreed to pay all of its debts, pending further conditions being met, and in turn been granted a delay to the deadline of those payments.
This superficially good news comes after a great deal of sabre rattling from both sides, with new Greek finance minister Yannis Varoufakis going as far as to tweet out a link to a blog post written by economist Phillippe Legrain stating ‘Greece should not give in to Germany’s bullying’. It is hardly the quiet, polite democracy to which we have grown accustomed.
Syriza has seemed a breath of fresh air to many Greek people since their election in January, but what does this deal actually mean? Certainly it is one step away from disaster for the EU, with fears of a Greek default shelved for at least another few months. The extension is currently four months long, but there will be further reviews in April and June to assess Greece’s progress.
Whilst a useful stopgap, however, it is hardly an ideal situation for anyone involved. Despite some claims that this is an ideal solution that has emerged from the talks, it is difficult to see that as any more than the usual political smoke and mirrors, as neither side will be entirely happy with the result.
First, let us remember that Greece wanted up to one third of their debt cancelled entirely. Indeed, that was one of the central policies upon which Syriza ran and were elected. An extension of their debt is hardly an ideal solution for the hard line anti-austerity party that they claim to be. With the agreed budget discipline that accompanies this extension, it is highly unlikely that Syriza will be able to meet their anti-austerity promises without upsetting the European Commission.
And that is the problem for the Eurozone as a whole. Whilst fears of a Greek exit have momentarily been allayed, there is nothing to stop Syriza deciding that, realistically they don’t agree with the terms of the extension, leave the Eurozone, and print Drachma tomorrow. And this is why the deal is not really something to be celebrated.
For all Varoufakis’s aggressive talk, then, Syriza have lost face here, and that is a dangerous position for a party elected on very demagogic principles to find itself in. If Syriza cannot even deliver on their one major promise, it bodes ill for them as a party for the future. They are seen by some as the new face of politics, doing away with the pretension of the three-piece suits and getting back to basics, but they have so far failed to deliver on those promises, thus making all the talk of doing away with the old regime largely irrelevant.
The issue has been swept under the rug amidst nominal concessions from both sides. The hope is that it will help the Greek economy to start picking itself up, so that it can deal with its crippling debt better when payment day comes, but there is an even possibility that that will not happen at all, and we will be having the same discussion again in four months’ time. The Eurozone still faces two potential domino effects. Either they play hardball with Greece, and risk them leaving the Euro, potentially followed by other heavily indebted nations such as Italy and Spain, or, they give in to Syriza’s demands. The risk here is that countries like Italy and Spain then see this as an opportunity to ask for leniency on their debts, which could cause further instability and a weakening in the Euro as a dependable currency. These issues remain unsolved, albeit temporarily delayed.
This is why the Eurozone, and Germany in particular will remain nervous. They will know that Syriza will not want to lose face many more times, and so, if faced with the same situation in four months’ time, a different result may well occur. Either way, it is going to be a very interesting first half to the year, as neither Greece nor the EU can afford to be entirely confident of its position, and we may find ourselves here again sooner than we might hope.
This article was originally posted on the-newshub.com
2014 was notable politically for the rise of two far-left, anti-austerity parties in Greece and Spain. In late January, Greece’s version, Syriza, swept to an emphatic victory in the national elections, and this week the Spanish Podemos held a rally at Puerta del Sol in Madrid, and this is the subject to which I am going to dedicate today’s post.
To put it simply, Spain is in a lot of trouble economically. It’s tourism driven economy imploded in 2008 with the rest of the world and it has struggled horribly to recover ever since. Successive governments have failed to reverse the downward trend, and youth unemployment is still over 50%.
Drink that in for a second. Half of the people in Spain between the ages of 18 and 25, many of whom will have degrees from prestigious institutions, simply cannot find work. In short, something has to give. And what gives could be the political system.
Many aspects of Podemos are admirable; there appears to be a genuine desire to improve things for everyone, to create a better Spain for all, and to follow Greece’s example by changing what they perceive as a corrupt system from within. Their support base has grown sharply in the past year and, if current polls are to be believed, they may well be swept into government next year on a wave of public adulation, and yet there is something that makes me doubt, despite their apparent good intentions.
The problem is this. So far, I struggle to separate my perception of them from a simple populist movement playing on people’s emotions with cheap rhetoric. There is a lot of talk about making the future better, and reflecting on movements of the past that achieved success to provide context of Leftist movements of history working for the people. There is, however, no plan, no thrust to the speech, only vague promises for a better future. Yes, Pablo Iglesias is an excellent speaker, but his party is going to need more than that if his party does take power later this year.
Iglesias (the party’s leader) cites Syriza’s victory in Greece, the popular uprising in May 1808 that opposed Napoleon’s invasion, along with several other movements to prove the efficacy of popular uprisings, and this works well as a rhetorical device, but once again there is no substance behind it.
The recurring refrain of the speech was the same as the title of this piece: ‘We dream, but we take our dreams very seriously’. Excellent in theory, particularly alongside the ‘Sí se puede’ mantra that reflects Obama’s victorious campaign in 2008. One thing that struck me, however, was an insistence on comparing Spain with Don Quijote as a positive example of a man who dreams of something better.
This to me was interesting, and the point I really want to make. Quijote is a famous figure in Spain, of course, and it makes sense to reclaim him as part of an ‘idealistic dreamer’ scenario to show off to the crowd. I wonder, however, if Iglesias (or whoever wrote his speech) has taken the time to read the book. Far from the dreamer of a better world that Iglesias claims Quijote as, he is very clearly a deluded megalomaniac who recklessly endangers those around him whilst searching for a golden past that he was never going to find. He repeatedly does damage to himself and others and ends the book renouncing his dreams, having dramatically failed to achieve them. I wonder if they would be so quick to personify the party and the country as Quijote if they looked at it like that? Somehow I doubt it.
If Podemos do get into power, I can only hope that this metaphor is not an accurate one, and that they do achieve the positive change, which they, and so many in Spain, are craving. Only time will tell, and in the meantime it certainly cannot hurt to dream.
In the spirit of inclusion, the television debates that will precede the general election in the UK this year have been expanded to include seven major parties in this country. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg will line up against Nigel Farage (UKIP), Natalie Bennet (Green Party), Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) and Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) to debate politics and policy before a final run-off debate between Cameron and Miliband.
So the broadcasters have bowed to popular demand and included some of the ‘fringe’ parties to challenge the monopoly of the big three. But which of these has the honour of being the biggest influence on Westminster, of holding the most seats outside of the traditional English parties? The answer is, surprisingly, none of them, but rather a party that has not even been invited to the debate at all; the Democratic Unionist Party, which holds a majority in Northern Ireland and has more seats in Parliament than the SNP the Greens, and UKIP put together.
It is a somewhat bizarre decision to include a party that is as important to its country as the DUP is. The argument from broadcasters is that Plaid Cymru and SNP have been invited because they are in direct competition with the major parties. This is easy rhetoric, but does not really make sense. The DUP takes its seats in Westminster, votes on UK-wide laws, and as such should have representation at the debates as the local majority party, just as the SNP and Plaid Cymru have.
There is something rather sinister in explaining away Northern Irish politics as ‘different’, as if excluding them from the debate is expected to make it more transparent and less often perceived as isolationist. Yes, there is no direct competition for the DUP for the three main parties, but this does not mean they should not be allowed to speak on national issues. If so much value is placed on being a Union, which it clearly was when Scotland almost left it, why is one part of that Union still ignored when it comes to the major press spectacle before an election?
Excluding Northern Irish parties because it would make the debate too complex lost weight as an argument when other parties representing individual countries of the UK were invited, and broadcasters should have the courage in their convictions to invite Northern Irish Parties, or to stick to their original plan of including the three main parties, and also leaving out the Green party and UKIP. It has gone too far for the latter, but I suspect, unfortunately, that the former will not happen either, and it is a shame for political discourse in this country. Many people may not like what the DUP have to say, or their background as a party, but as I have said before, they deserve a platform on which to say it.
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