Sunday, May 30, 2010


Let me start by saying that I bear no ill-will to Britain’s new Conservative – Liberal coalition. Indeed I hope it works because the country is in a dire financial mess and the Labour Party is currently struggling to function as an opposition let alone as an alternative government.

However I find rather curious the case of the Treasury Chief Secretary, David Laws, who resigned this weekend after it was revealed by the Daily Telegraph that he paid his partner some 40,000 pounds for the use of a room in which to stay out of his MPs expenses.

As he was now in change of making cuts to government spending and expenses it was clear that his remaining in office was simply untenable. On Saturday he stated: "I do not see how I can carry out my crucial work on the Budget and spending review while I have to deal with the private and public implications of recent revelations."

First he broke the rules with regard to claiming expenses for renting from a partner or close family member. He paid rent for the room from 2004 to 2009 but it was in 2006 that rules governing MPs were introduced prohibiting this action. He says he did so because he did not wish to admit he was in a Gay relationship. Fair enough but as he is one of the wealthiest MPs in the House of Commons why did he claim at all? If he hadn’t nobody would have been any the wiser.

Secondly he maintained that he was single but straight when that simply was not the case. This I find very puzzling as he is a Liberal MP – and if any party embraces Gays it is the Liberals.

You knew Brian Laws was in deep trouble when they wheeled out Lord Paddy Pants-down to defend him. It was the equivalent of asking Princess Pushy of Kent to speak up for Fergie.

Do I feel sorry for David Laws?

As a human being yes, 100 per cent, there but for the grace of God...

As a politician not one iota. This is a rich man who tried to hide his sexuality from all at the public’s expense. He says he didn’t benefit financially – but his partner certainly did. At best he shows a serious lack of judgement.

My real cause of concern surrounds the Daily Telegraph. The newspaper did a valuable service to democracy when a year ago it revealed the expense claims of MPs resulting in some sackings, decisions not to stand at the last election and in some cases prosecutions. Hence the affairs of David Laws must have been known then. So why has the Daily Torygraph chosen now to out David Laws? Are there those on the right at the newspaper who wish the Conservative Liberal coalition ill?

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Recently a Gibraltar St John’s ambulance was stopped as it took an elderly patient to a private hospital in Benalmádena – around 100 kilometres from the Rock.

It was waved down by a Guardia Civil patrol because the ambulance was flashing blue emergency lights and not the amber ones permitted in Spain. The driver was fined – but as he didn’t have sufficient cash on him – the amount was reduced – I kid you not!

Before I proceed I should point out that Gibraltar ambulances frequently cross in to Spain and indeed vice versa – but this is the first time there has ever been such a distasteful and potentially tragic incident.

Now Gibraltar’s Shadow Health Minister, Neil Costa, has dug up some intriguing information on the issue. It turns out the European Union standardised back in June 2007 the emergency lights to be shown on an ambulance capable of transporting at least one person on a stretcher. The colour is blue.

The EU took this step to ensure all emergency vehicles – ambulances, police and the fire brigade – showed a uniform colour – blue – especially as such vehicles had on occasions to cross the border in to a fellow EU State.

There are only two EU countries that did not comply with these regulations – Spain and Greece. In Spain only the police agencies can use blue – other emergency vehicles have to use amber.

Neil Costa added: “The Guardia Civil must have immediately recognised the ambulance was from Gibraltar when it was stopped and fined it so that it is not clear what purpose was served by such an unnecessary action.”

Indeed if the encounter between the Guardia Civil and the ambulance wasn’t so shamefully it would be laughable - but then life and death is never a laughing matter!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


There was a time when I was a monarchist. Admittedly it was some years ago and as each year now advances I can’t wait to be shot (pun intended) of the British Royal Family.

I bear the Queen no ill will but I do believe that when she dies so should this outdated institution. Sent packing with a million or two in their pockets should be her various relatives whilst her estates and the Duchy of Cornwall returns to the people.

If ever I wavered in that belief up pops Fergie – or the Duchess of York – to remind us all what a bunch of wasters they all are.

So she was willing to take 500,000 pounds to open the doors to influence her former husband. The fact the Sunday newspaper – the News of the World - believed she was ripe for the picking suggests that it had information that she has trod this path before.

We are assured that the Prince of Pork knew nothing of this. How do we know? Fergie and the Palace assure us that is so. Sadly we have long since ceased trusting either of their words – if we ever did.

Fergie is a commoner. OK her family may have more money than you or I but in Royal terms she is common. Yet she still insists in travelling around the world, staying at top hotels, sipping or swigging champagne and so on.

I have read – which doesn’t mean it is true – that she only receives half her husbands pay around 25,000 pounds a year. Well I know plenty of commoners who survive on well less than that.

“Her children are princesses”, you cry! Indeed they are so I do not expect their daddy or granny would let them go hungry do you? Fergie herself says she has been living off them of late – and let us not forget the Duke allows her to stay at his house too – for free.

As I half listened to Sky News yesterday some airhead was saying – “but she’s such a trouper!” What planet do these people live on? Where I come from they have a word for girls like Fergie but it isn’t trouper.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


I have had a keen interest in politics from my schooldays but have been a student of election campaigns since the late 1960s when my then advertising agency, which was Canadian, played a key role in that country’s Liberal Party’s political broadcasts.

So with the UK elections over perhaps for five years and Spain’s not due to 2012 my mind turns to Gibraltar probably in 2011.

I have been following politics on the Rock since 1993 so the next general election will be my fifth – and by chance could be the fifth successive victory for the GSD leader and current chief minister Peter Caruana.

Gibraltar has a small electorate and in recent years the polls have been fairly close. Indeed they were so close in 2006 that the broadcaster GBC called victory for the GSLP Liberal opposition after the polls closed only for the GSD to squeeze back in.

The next election will be special because it will be the first in which Joe Bossano, a former chief minister, does not lead his GSLP in to battle. ‘Old Labour’ Bossano is the GSLP’s greatest asset and liability. Half the voters worship him; the other half wouldn’t even poke him with the proverbial barge poll. To have him off-stage is an intriguing prospect. Will his traditional supporters still rally round his party? Will his exit attract new voters to the party’s colours? And more intriguingly – who will take his place?

For me to back a candidate would be the kiss of death for whoever I name. However the wise money has to be on Fabian Picardo who has been Bossano’s adjutant in recent years and scores highly in the opinion polls. A young talented lawyer he represents the new breed of Gibraltar’s politicians but there are others such as another legal eagle Gilbert Lucudi from the same Hassans internationally ranked law firm in the frame.

It is difficult to see the Liberal leader Dr Joseph Garcia ever taking the Rock’s top political job. He leads the junior partner in the coalition so would always be playing second fiddle. I always think of Joseph as being young – and indeed he is only in his early 40s. He has always been the Liberal leader in all the elections I have covered so obviously started out very young indeed. He is highly thought of in the international Liberal movement but it is difficult to see how he would become chief minister unless the GSLP and Liberals merge. However Picardo and Garcia come from the same political root stock so if they are both party leaders it could prove to be an intriguing combination. Indeed it would be interesting, nay exciting, to see how London and Madrid react to a Picardo – Garcia administration.

The Liberals went in to coalition with the GSLP for the 2000 elections (after the 1996 elections which were a feisty affair between Garcia and Bossano). Cameron and Clegg know that feeling well but the bond between the Rock’s parties is growing in strength – I wonder if British coalition will last for anything like so long.

I have always been puzzled at the coming together of the Liberals and GSLP - and although I have discussed it with both Bossano and Garcia am none the wiser. When the coalition was formed the GSLP had recently been the party of government and the Liberals just scraped along on a few percentage points of the votes (4.7 the same in 1996 as 1992) – so it didn’t even claim a seat in the then House of Assembly. By joining with the Liberals Bossano gave Garcia three of his seven GSLP seats – an act which I cannot comprehend. What was in it for Bossano? Well he gained access to the Liberals talent pool and given the tight nature of Gibraltar’s elections a few percent extra votes – however this was never sufficient to win back power. For the Liberals it was electoral manna from heaven with their percentage of the vote growing with the stature of Dr Joseph.

So what of the ruling GSD? Well as Bossano has been the GSLP the chief minister Peter Caruana is the GSD. He shows no signs of quitting and has indicated it will be the people of the Rock who show him the door (which the Gibraltar Chronicle opinion poll indicates could happen in 2011) and not his party. When the future battle for the leadership takes place it could revolve around the current Minister for Justice Daniel Feetham. He was a member of New Labour in the UK, joined the GSLP of his father on his return to the Rock, fell out with Bossano because he wouldn’t give a date to step aside, formed the Labour Party that did nothing at the 2003 election then scuttled off to join the GSD for whom he stood in 2006. He is a political carpetbagger, as a divisive figure in the GSD as he was in the GSLP and when the push for the throne comes, if he intends to be amongst the runners, it could split the party asunder in the process.

So roll on 2011! One thing is true if you have an interest in politics – you always live in interesting times!

Monday, May 17, 2010


Well the Spanish Government has published its latest sackcloth and ashes package for the people to fight the economic crisis. Public sector pay cuts, pensions freeze and labour reforms.

Original thinking!

After all wasn’t it the workers and pensioners who got us in to this mess? Hang on – no it wasn’t – it was the bankers who created the worst financial disaster in living memory. So have they had their pay cut? No! Frozen? No! Ah but surely those obscene bonuses have gone? Yes, right in to their pockets!

If that wasn’t bad enough who is coming over the hill to rescue us but Papa Smurf!

First writing in the London Financial Times the former Spanish Partido Popular prime minister José María Aznar has urged Zapatero’s socialist government to step down adding that no leftist government has been able to rescue Spain from an economic crisis in 160 years.

“The current Socialist government is incapable of resolving Spain’s problems and taking the necessary steps. Only a new government can do this. The sooner, the better.” Time to dig up Franco then!

Then El País published an opinion poll on Sunday showing the ruling PSOE had lost public support with its austerity plan. The poll showed the centre right Partido Popular opposition - led by Papa Smurf aka Mariano Rajoy - with a 9 point lead over the Socialists following the announcement of the measures.

The poll also showed three in four Spaniards think that despite 15 billion euros in extra spending cuts announced on Wednesday, the measures, including a freeze in pensions and a cut in civil servant pay, were not enough.

Well don’t worry. With Papa Smurf shooed in at the next elections these cuts will seem like a joy ride and those three out of four will get their wish. And as we all stand in the dole queue we can read in the paper about how the PP politicians have stuck their noses in the public trough just vacated by the PSOE snouts. Of course the followers of Rajoy have been getting in some good practice with a mountain of corruption cases stacked up against them. Time to sack another interfering judge then – he can join the workers and pensioners in our centre-right paradise where we’ll all know our place – skid row!

Oh happy days!

Friday, May 14, 2010


Regular readers will know that on a Wednesday I meet to chew the cud over breakfast with my good friend Prospero in the Vecina Bar in Jimena.

This is in preparation for the day that grows ever nearer when we shall qualify to chew the cud in the pensioners’ bar a few minutes walk away. Our teeth should last so long!

It is also a sobering fact to know that one of the two brothers who own the Vecina is also the village undertaker. I always put on a spurt of energy when he is behind the bar - eyeing me like one of the vultures that circle the skies of Jimena.

Prospero who is older and therefore I accept wiser than me is of the opinion that we are as old as we feel.

I concur except on my visit to London I felt older than my years as I sat down in Starbucks with a bevy of young attractive people – mostly female. I would have sought refuge behind a pillar but I suspected I may have looked like a voyeur. Not that anybody looked in my direction which in a sense made matters worse.

In Southend on Sea I decided to go on the pier – the longest pleasure pier in the world at well over a mile – a mile and a quarter I think. I asked the lady at the kiosk how much it was for a ticket – she told me the regular price – then looked me over and offered me the older person’s rate instead. It came as a shock to find that not only did I qualify but I had done for over a year. I wasn’t sure whether to feel insulted or elated.

I took the creaky train out to the end – but decided it groans sounded too much like me. So I hoofed it back beating the advancing storm clouds by a whisker. I then went to a cafeteria that attracts diners well in to their retirement and once again I felt younger than my years.

What ever your age – have a good weekend!

Thursday, May 13, 2010


One of the main planks of the new Conservative – Lib Dem coalition will be electoral reform. I have no problem with this, I am a democrat and putting my own political views aside I cannot accept that it is fair to the electors that 29 per cent of them voted Labour giving it 258 seats and 23 per cent voted Lib Dem with a resulting 57 seats.

Such an imbalance has to change but beware!

After Nick Griffin was defeated in Barking where the British National Party also lost its council seats it was widely accepted this signalled the end of this fundamentally racist party. I would say far from it.

The BNP polled 563,743 votes that’s more than the party of government in Scotland – the SNP with 491,386, more than the Greens, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein, the SDLP or any of the Irish Unionist parties. Under a true p r system there would certainly be a BNP MP at Westminster now.

There are those who argue that the BNP should be banned but it is not a course I would advocate. I admit that I have shown my support for banning the Falange – the former party of Franco – in Spain but with many misgivings. For it is a truism that if you seek to ban the parties of the far right then somebody in turn will attempt to ban those on the far left?

It is by creating a fairer society that the BNP and its ilk become an anathema to all. By changing our society for the better we will snuff out the despair and despondency that feeds the BNP trough. However part of that change to a fairer society also involves creating a fairer electoral system. Fairer doesn’t mean fairer to the party we support but to all sections of the community. The fact that it could result in a BNP MP is part of the price that has to be paid – it’s called democracy.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


On Election Day I did a radio interview with Peter Cochrane at Talk Radio Europe from Downing Street. I said I believed that the Conservatives would be the largest party with Labour and the Liberals vying for second place – with a hung parliament in the offing.

On Friday I talked with Peter again and like most people was totally stunned by the outcome. Sure enough the Tories had won the majority of seats and votes compared with the other two but insufficient to form a government on their own. The big surprise was the collapse of the Liberal support. When the BBC issued its exit poll showing the Liberals actually losing seats both Conservative and Labour politicians said they didn’t believe it – but that is exactly what happened.

This election was a puzzle in many ways. It was the first televised debate campaign in which Clegg was the media star but in the end couldn’t make the breakthrough with votes and seats. There was a local election because the British voter elects his MP on a constituency basis so parochial issues also came in to play. Curiously the MPs expenses row didn’t seem to have a major impact although many culprits had opted not to stand and former Home Secretary Jackie Smith was given more time by her electors to watch blue movies with her husband – but this time at their own expense.

I firmly believe that had Labour MPs the guts to dump Gordon Brown in one of the many failed coups then we could be seeing another term for that party with probably David Milliband at the helm. Their own cowardice will see them on the opposition benches for at least this parliament.

Even on Monday it seems that Brown along with the Lords Mandelson and Adonis was trying to bounce the Lib Dems in to a coalition by offering them untold offerings of election reform. They seemed to have learned nothing and it was the Labour MPs who had to haul them back to reality by pointing out that what they were offering – they would not accept.

It would appear that a Conservative – Lib Dem government is in the offing with events moving faster than I can type. Given the events of the last five days it is difficult to remember that this was exactly the outcome the opinion polls predicted on the eve of the election. Is this what Britons voted for? Probably not because given the wide spread of the nation different areas such as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had their votes elsewhere. Yet a new era of politics is upon the nation – its crazy polling system has guaranteed it.

Monday, May 10, 2010


I suspect I was always going to be a journalist because of the simple fact that from a very young age I was an avid newspaper reader.

The News Chronicle, long since departed, was the daily read at the family dining table.

By 1960 I was a commuter. I lived in South London but went to school in North London requiring me to catch the train to Charing Cross then the Northern Line tube to Archway.

On my way home if the pocket money allowed I’d buy an evening paper from one of the vendors crowding the station or the Strand outside. “Star, News and Standard” was the cry of those days.
I was a Star boy – a short lived one though because it merged with the Evening News in 1960. Come 1987 and the News was swallowed up by the Evening Standard which continues to this day. In theory at least.

Recently the Evening Standard became a free sheet – which is fine until you try to get your hands on a copy. On my recent visit to London there was not a Standard to be found nor any obvious sign of where you’d get one.

Gone are the vans that used to race round the streets competing to get their wares – the Star, News or Standard –to the vendors first especially if there was a hot story. Gone are the vendors themselves so much a part of central London life for generations. Even the newsagents have given up offering the Standard as since it went free there was no money to be made.

If there was a news story developing – such as the present coalition talks – I’d buy several newspapers a day to see what the latest edition had to say. As much of the newspaper remained the same I’d buy different titles then read each cover to cover. Last week – nothing – you can’t check the internet when you are hoofing around town. And I’m sorry – sitting in the pub or Starbucks checking the news on your Blackberry is no substitute for having inky paper in your hands.

Ironically I do have one source for the Standard close at hand. The Gibraltar daily Panorama takes the majority of its non-local news from that paper. So on the Rock I can “read all about it” – but in London itself – forget it!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


The British General Election is upon us and unless the opinion polls have it very wrong these are Gordon Brown’s last days in government.

I like to draw a difference between the man and the politician but in the prime minister’s case I am not so sure they aren’t the same thing.

I could say I am sure he was nice to his mother and old ladies – but after last week’s encounter when he insulted a pensioner who was going to vote for him I’m not too sure.

There are myriad stories about how unpleasant he was as Chancellor, as a Cabinet colleague, as Tony Blair’s next door neighbour, how he always went missing when there was dirty work to be done – Westminster tittle tattle or fact? I suspect the latter.

When your sole plea to the voters is – you may not like me but I’m good at my job – well, it sounds very desperate, doesn’t it? Especially with the disaster zone of the British economy that
was created under your stewardship.

The problem for the Labour Party is it has known for 18 months or so that even with the economic crisis the voters were more likely to support the party if they dumped Brown.

As we know from the various failed plots they never had the guts to finish the job – so they left Brown a wounded, angry beast.

For those acts of cowardice alone I believe Labour’s MPs deserve to be cast in to political oblivion. Nothing has ensured a Cameron or Clegg victory more than their indecision.

I now head off to London to witness their slaughter. I may even see the obnoxious Lord Mandelson humbled! Hope springs eternal. See you next week.