Op-Ed: Crisis of Capitalism and Democracy

Welcome dear reader,

Happy New Year!

As you may notice I have included within the title the words, op-ed, which will indicate from now onwards that my intention is to give a less facts based and more opinion and observational based article.

This is I hope, the first of several. In this piece I would like to analyse and comment on what is going to be the tenth anniversary of the 2008 economic crisis this year.

Now, that year I was also preparing the end of my academic career and making the big transistional leap into the world of work and the beginning of my professional life. By the time I finished I had been fortunate to have been taught by a broad range of teachers and professors of differing political hues but who had all instilled in me (unwittingly or not!) the need to constantly challenge and review my beliefs and always approach those I met with an open and questioning mind.

However, there was a general acceptance amongst the academic and policy making community at that time that the John Williamson defined ‘Washington Consensus’ model of managing our economic lives was largely unquestionable and here to stay. There were some hiccups along the way, the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998, Argentina in 2001 and Turkey in 2002. In the end though these warning signs in history were brushed over and the guardians of the Washington Consensus orthodoxy, namely the IMF and World Bank, continued doling out the same policy prescriptions of ever more deregulation and privatisation as before. It represented the cosy and smug set of ideas that had complacently been accepted by thousands of policy makers and politics students worldwide. Although, often with an air of resignation by some opposing ideologues it must be noted, and they were usually tarred as being dreamy idealistic leftists or bigoted no hopers on the right.

I have to confess that I was one of the conceited graduates of the school of thought that believed Western style capitalism and the post war Kantian international order were where society would build and develop from in the foreseeable future. Multilateral cooperation, hand in hand with capitalism, would see institutions such as the European Union, IMF and World Bank, North Atlantic Free Trade Association, Asia Pacific Economic Community and United Nations, emulated and venerated globally and increasingly the focus of peace and security internationally at the expense of the withered Westphalian nation state. Socialism, Communism and Fascism were the romantic or fevered dreams of fringe groups who would always be consigned to the margins of power and their philosophies discredited by their past associations with the turbulent 1920s and 1930s and the horrors that reaped on the world.

Fast forward to 2018 and we now have a weakened world order to say the least. From the traditional bastions and main beneficiaries of capitalism and democracy we now see a multitude of differing voices questioning and doubting this way of working. You merely need to look in any self respecting bookshop or Amazon bestsellers lists to see the world grasping for a new fresh idea to heal this phase in our existential crisis. Why even I now have a copy of Mao’s Little Red Book on my bookshelf! From Trump’s USA, to Brexit Britain and Populist plagued mainland Europe the devotees of liberal democracy are on the defensive. They breathe a collective sigh of relief when talk of impeachment or the use of Article 25 in the US Constitution does the rounds, roadblocks in the negotiation of Brexit give rise to speculation of a halt being called on the whole unseemly proceedings of the UK’s exit from the EU, or Marine Le Pen in France or Gert Wilders in the Netherlands are denied the keys to the Chancelleries this time round.

These devotees of Adam Smith and John Locke, are now decidedly on the defensive. Why? What went wrong in this decade? The answer my learned friends are down to a myriad of factors which are being debated and poured over by modern day scholars. I shall endeavour as always to give some brief but I must add possibly simplistic answers to this!

Essentially, like any philosophy, it faced the vigorous challenge of cold hard human reality. Excuse me if I sound unduly Hobbesian!

The philosophers I made passing reference to above all  differed on certain issues but all believed in the goodness of human nature and the thought that we would always be led by good men (always men note!). Call me a cynic but I doubt this happened during our era my dear reader. The result is that like the 1920s and 1930s I alluded to earlier, we are scarred by ever larger inequalities in our wealth and societies. For example under Donald Trump we have the singular achievement in over one year in office of the passing of only one bill designed to cut taxes on large multinational companies, the former mantra of “we are all in this together” (espoused by the British government during the financial crisis in 2008) rings hollow as UK bankers see their annual bonuses recover to pre-crisis levels, AI continues to see the diminishment or abolition of many non-educated or unskilled jobs in factories or service industries, whilst outsourcing to Indonesia or Mexico sees the same effect for the same income group. Rising rents and college education fees leave young people stripped of the same opportunities of free education and help with their rents or house acquisitions that their parents and grandparents were granted by the state.

Wealth inequality is not the sole responsibility for this crisis to hit this millennial generation, globalisation also led to a backlash from previously entitled groups, namely white heterosexual middle aged males. With globalisation came the expectation that issues like abortion, the environment, LGBTQ rights, stem cell research, racial equality and opportunities for women would see the world come together as one and combat the prejudices and stigmas these issues and individuals had previously suffered. The so called ‘culture wars’ on these and other topics had been perceived as being faced with the same Francis Fukuyama style end of history fate. Not so, and coupled with the economic disparities, we had a full on assault on these values which liberal policy makers and the media believed had been settled. The backlash came in the form of Donald Trump, Brexit and populism across mainland Europe. This isn’t just a Western phenomena though, we see the clash continuing in Mexico, The Phillipines, Liberia, Turkey, Russia and more as societies become ever more fractious.

To resolve this all is an enormous chalkenge and one that human beings seem at least for the time being incapable of resolving without a strong dose of education and reform of the working classes worldwide. Referendums for a start should be banished from the political lexicon as we know it, as we have seen they are often hijacked by the narrow minded to push their own self serving advantages. We also need fewer spineless politicians willing to lead from behind and more who are able to stand upon the parapet and risk their jobs (and possibly necks) to fight the often clueless and ill informed sections of the electorate and the vested interests that continue to hamper our societies. These are not easy answers and I aware that I sound dangerously autocratic and Machiavellian but we need far less tolerance of the intolerant if we are to construct a society that benefits us all and corrects the injustices of the past.

Otherwise I fear we will see more of the political fragmentation we are seeing in nominally prosperous and successful democracies, such as Spain, Germany, Britain, Sweden and Italy which are experiencing hung parliaments and inconclusive elections. Political polarisation and groping for new, fresh faces and ideas are in vogue right now but this presents as much as a risk as it does an opportunity to reorder ourselves. We must recall the lessons from the 1920s and 1930s when we last attempted such a reordering.

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Iberia’s Spanish stalwart!

A cheery welcome to you dear reader! Thank you for your gracious perusal of my blog!

This will be the first article to appear dedicated entirely to the political situation in Spain since my adoption of this fascinating and often quixotic land as my home. As I write, I’m listening to La Isla Bonita by Madonna for added inspiration.

Since I arrived last summer, I have been struck by the similarities politically between Spain and the UK. Both are facing separatist challenges in Catalonia and Scotland. They are both governed by dominant conservative, right wing governments who prioritise austerity measures in handling their respective economic challenges and both have seriously weakened and divided left wing political parties.

However, I’m going to park the comparison for the time being and talk about Spain. Last month the long serving Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, was re-elected the leader of his governing Popular Party (PP) at a special party congress with a thumping 96% of the vote. He faced very little in the way of serious challenges to his iron grip on the Party. A phlegmatic, dour and stolidly stubborn man this unprepossessing politican has seen off many of his internal and external opponents and outlasted the predictions of many. Whether that is due to his and his advisers’ political skill or the self destructive tendencies of the opposition is a subject of much debate.

This crowning coronation as head of PP is a far cry from his situation a year ago. Faced with an inconclusive December 2015 election and questions about his political strategy  even some within the often obedient PP were beginning to raise concerns about his continued leadership of the country and Party. I’m fortunate in having spoken to a wide cross section of Spanish society, from investment managers and scientists to lawyers and students, and the general consensus is one of contempt and suspicion of not just Señor Rajoy but the political class in its entirety.

It often surprises me how weak and lacklustre the opposition PSOE, Podemos and Ciudidanos parties have been in taking on the Spanish leader. They had a golden opportunity following December elections but failed to make the compromises necessary to form a viable alternative to PP. Famously the PP merely sat back and watched, and the mercurial Prime Minister was able to return back to office in a following election last June.

However, the ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations) think tank, based in Madrid, recently dubbed him the ‘Merkel of the South.’ Undeniably he has survived in office for what passes as a long time in Europe nowadays (he has been in office since 2011) his counterparts in the U.K., France, Portugal, Italy, Greece and Poland have all chopped and changed. Only the previously referenced Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, has been around longer. He has plotted an economic course based on orthodox   Adam Smith inspired policies on economic growth and taxes. This fiscal discipline has arguably brought Spain stability and solid GDP figures. According to the latest data from the Bank of Spain, the GDP growth rate for 2016 was 3.2%, matching the 2015 statistics. Favourable low oil prices and buoyant tourism figures were seen as key contributors to this success El Pais, the respected Spanish newspaper, reported.

When Mr Rajoy took power in 2011, the economic crisis was biting hard and thanks to generous giveaways and largesse the previous Spanish government had been forced to begin talks with the IMF and European Central Bank for a fully fledged bailout of its economy. This, fortunately, did not come to pass but Spain still had to accept financial assistance for its banks from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM)  and take harsh public spending cuts and carry out tax rises to stave off a Greek style crisis. In this the Spanish Prime Minister can take some credit but it has come at a great cost for classroom sizes and the provision of doctors.

I will now elaborate a little further and show you that all is not rosy in Spain. Whilst overall unemployment is coming down, although it remains a shocking 18.2% (the second highest in the EU after Greece) youth unemployment in Spain is chronically and persistently high. Eurostat, the EU’s official statistics office, highlights an eye watering 42% of Spain’s youth remains out of work. The increase in tourism numbers should be welcomed but it must be noted that the jobs in this sector are often highly seasonal with little security and few long term prospects for educated graduates. The remedy for this shocking and truly wasteful situation is for serious labour market reforms, which include opening up the job market for young people and making it far more inclusive for them, in particular whilst they study. Unfortunately, given that the ruling party relies heavily on the older generations for votes it is unlikely to hurt its core constituency and undertake this fundamental reform any time soon.

Aside from the economy Spain also faces a D-Day moment with the constantly grumbling Catalan nationalists this year. The authorities based in Barcelona plan to hold a referendum on independence in September. Not only have the federal government in Madrid and the EU given a firm no to the plan but the Constitutional Court in Spain has also ruled it is a flagrant violation of the Spanish Constitution and declared the poll illegal. The Catalans seem determined to single mindedly pursue this disastrous course and the latest numbers from the regional government show that 45% support secession and 46% are against. The Spanish government strategy has been uncompromising and that is understandable but to really pull the rug from underneath the carpet of the Catalans it might worth calling the bluff of the secessionists and avoid making them into some form of martyrs. The polls show the government in Madrid might actually win such a high stakes gamble.

The last point I want to address is the international profile of Spain. Since the Eurozone crisis hit in 2008 Spain has been a pygmy on the international stage. Long again the Spanish government had established an Alliance of Civilisations which aimed to bridge the gap between the Western and Islamic worlds and Spain hosted several summits to this affect. It also remained the EU’s main point of contact with Latin America, via its Ibero-American Summits organisation. It has since, justifiably I feel, focussed attention on restoring its economy. However, with populism on the march in Europe and America, and the distractions of critical European elections in France and Germany (possibly Italy) Spain has a unique chance to help lead Europe. Mr Rajoy is charmless and drab but those could be qualities when held up against the unstable likes of Donald Trump. The appointment of Alfonso Dastis, a former Ambassador to the EU, shows Mariano Rajoy recognises this, and in subsequent telephone calls with the new US President Señor Rajoy has offered himself as an interlocutor between the US and Europe. It remains to be seen however, if the Spanish leader can rely on his still fragile minority government too keep him in power beyond the next year, let alone provide the much needed and testing leadership that we currently need in Europe.

The Trump Train!

Welcome dear reader,

It’s been a while and I apologise for that. However, now I’ve requested forgiveness it’s time to get on with the show as they say!

So, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks you might have noticed a change emanating from the USA. How different it all seemed just months ago, the USA was a beacon of progressive values, with an African-American President and a woman poised to succeed him.

Instead we have the oldest, richest and ‘white-est’ administration in history of the USA. Lead by President Donald Trump and his cronies. For liberals and progressives this is a nightmare. There are a number of points I want to address but I’d like to avoid intruding too much on your precious time dear reader and concentrate on what I consider the more salient points of this new Presidency.

Since it took office the Trump government has been a disaster. Policy missteps included the introduction of a botched ban on Muslims and refugees entering the country. It wasn’t just the idea of this ban that was crazy but the rollout was cack handed and clumsy to say the least. Foreign governments in Europe (most strongly France and Germany and sadly and somewhat belatedly the UK and Spain) and Canada condemned such measures and the European Parliament recently voted to scrap a visa free travel privilege for Americans visitors. As the excellent Young Turks online news show reported the USA already had an average of 18-24 months vetting process for new arrivals, one of the longest in the world. Questions were legitimately raised about the policy, as it targeted only seven Muslim majority countries (like Sudan and Iraq) yet it failed to incorporate notable wealthy Middle Eastern states, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, where it is speculated Mr Trump has a network of close business ties. The ban is now in legal limbo after the US courts intervened and suspended the implementation of the ban over possible violations of the US constitution. Chaotic scenes then ensued at airports around the country as officials struggled to catch up with the court orders. The government is now seeking to refine the policy and resurrrect it, however aside from the dubious moral reasoning behind this misguided policy the President has failed to see the obvious economic damage from such a scheme. Kayak, the online travel agency has reported dramatic declines in flight searches and bookings since Mr Trump’s January inauguration, some of about 50% and 30% to key US resorts such as Orlando and Las Vegas. The Global Business Travel Association has stated that the ‘Trump Slump’ has already set in and the USA has missed out on $185 million since January. Oh my goodness!

Alongside this a cloud has hung over Donald Trump’s and the Republican Party’s victory in November and substantive, damaging claims, made not least of all by the FBI, of Russian interference in the process to swing the result Mr Trump’s way. In February, the evidence laid out by the US’s own intelligence agencies claimed its first scalp when the New York Times first reported potentially indiscreet conversations between the US National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, and the Russian Ambassador, Sergei Kislyak. Mr Flynn swiftly resigned and Mr Trump went on a verbal tirade aganist the media and his own security services for leaking the information. His Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is now in the spotlight and feeling the heat over similar contacts with the the Russian envoy. He may yet be forced out too, if the opposition Democrats get their way. Mr Trump has not helped his case by equivocating on sanctions against the Russians over their illegal invasion of eastern Ukraine in 2014, and for his often gushing expressions of praise for the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin. This relationship it is rumoured is based on alleged serious conflicts of interest over Mr Trump’s business ties and the speculative allegation of inappropriate sexual behaviour with prostitutes on a trip to Russia four years ago. This has already provided rich materials for late night satirists and comedians, such as Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert, who have seen ratings for their shows peak in recent weeks. However, aside from the comical angle, it raises some serious concerns for European governments and the potential for Russian meddling in crucial elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany, where nationalists and populists are seeking to ride a wave of poisonous victories which began last year with the Brexit vote in the UK. A great source of shame for me as a nominal Brit.

The other concern is the repeated attacks against the press. Now, they are big boys and girls, and the truly experienced journalists can take the constant jibes about “fake news” by the President in their stride. Indeed, it would be strange to find any Western leader who enjoys the scrutiny the media brings and the media wouldn’t be doing its job properly if the relationship were too cosy.  However, tell tale signs of hostility and contempt for journalists were most vividly on display during the campaign when Mr Trump publicly and disgustingly mocked a respected reporter for his disability. Fast forward a few months and we now have cherry picking of selected right wing bloggers and story tellers (Breitbart and InfoWars comes to mind) for privileged access to the Trump team, and now the more serious barring of long serving and reputable members of the press (such as The Guardian, Buzzfeed, CNN and the BBC) raise serious doubts about the commitment to democracy by the President and his advisers.The First Amendment of America’s cherished Constitiuon has never looked more threatened.

It is not just me or the outside world who looks on with horror, at this car crash Presidency as it unfolds, but according to Gallup (the respected polling agency) 51% disapprove of the President’s job performance, against 44% who approve. This is a historic low for any US President so early into his term in charge of the country! Everybody fasten your seatbelt, the ride is about to get bumpy and lest we forget that we are only a handful of weeks into this “new era.”

 

Live from Lisbon!

Welcome back dear reader, a true privilege to once again be in contact.

Today, I have recently returned from a weekend sojourn to Lisbon, Portugal. An enchanting and beguiling city, it was magical to arrive at sunrise and have the sparkling Atlantic Ocean spread out in front of us. Packed with history and with a day of exploration before us, me and my friend ascended to the pinnacle of the ancient city, and absorbed the spectacular morning views of Lisbon from the ramparts of the medieval era Sao Jorge Castle. To add to the regality of the Castle we were treated to peacocks (including an albino one!) who ambled directionless around the grounds.

As well as the Castle, I also paid a visit to famous Belem Tower by the Ocean, the Sao Jerónimo Monsatery and also saw the famous Golden Gate Bridge sister bridge, the 24th April Bridge which glows a gentle red over the City.

Whilst the usual Lisbon tourist trail was well trodden by myself and my companion I have to say that the Portuguese capital has a a very different feeling to the other European capitals I have visited, such as Madrid, Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Dublin.

Even on the Friday night we spent there it had a fairly relaxed air about it and even the rush hour was calm and orderly by comparison with others I’ve experienced. Amidst the crumbling Renaissance style apartment blocks and ornate fountain squares which are sprinkled across this oceanfront metropolis, it had a distinctly sleepy atmosphere.

Maybe I’ve gotten used to the still relatively prosperous European urban centres I mentioned above but Lisbon had a shabby but chic vibe to it, and despite being hit hard by the economic crisis Portugal had (much like Madrid) retained a certain elegance and charm. The wealthy parts wore an impression of a gentle nod to the richness of the former Empire days which Portugal used to enjoy.

Politically and economically speaking, Portugal goes from strength to strength, the restaurants and shops were bustling and even in January, tourists were still plentiful in the cobbled streets and on the historic yellow trams. According to the Portugal News, Portugal’s unemployment drop 2% points to record a recent low of 10%. In the EU the GDP growth rate was the highest in the last quarter of 2016 and consumer confidence continues to remain robust. In terms of its politics, despite a forecast of it collapsing, the centre left coalition government under Prime Minister Antonio Costa has remained quite stable and carried out its debtor obligations pretty serenely and with little drama.

To finsh, after concluding a Southern European leader’s summit in Lisbon at the end of the month, the Portuguese PM stated that Europe must  “stand up for itself and it’s values after the change in US administrations.” This brings me neatly onto the next topic of my blog dear reader, the quixotic leadership the US now finds itself in under President Trump…………

A little bit of philosophy!

Good afternoon dear reader, to the next instalment of my blog. I hope the holiday season has left you cheery, in rude health, gregarious and prosperous.

Today, I crave your forgiveness for indulging myself in some pretty philiosophical discourse. Usually, I take the opportunity to use empirical evidence and or just plain ranting when writing but I hope, nevertheless, my musings  have some meaning and  chime with you in some way.

As an IR (International Relations) and politics student of old, for me the world we inhabit today is fascinating but also horrifying at the same time! You know how it is it is like observing a car crash or a very rotund person undressing, you know you should not watch but somehow you see it through to the bitter end without even batting an eyelid. However, this may say more about me than you dear reader!

Now to my indulgences! I am struck by the timeless nature of philisophers, people like Adorno, De Tocqueville, Foucault, Camus who identified the faults in society and with democracy exceedingly perceptively. We have most famously perhaps, Plato and Socrates, who wrote with such accuracy centuries ago about the flaws in our politics and democratic systems.

As Alexis de Tocqueville used to say “History is like a gallery where there are few originals and many copies.” Somehow, we human beings seem programmed to keep repeating the same mistakes and  blithely believe that we can obtain different results. I’m thinking of fascist ideas most prominently here but others can also cited. I have already expounded at length in previous articles about the modern day fascist wannabes who litter our American and European landscapes right now, and my feelings towards them, so I won’t go into further detail here about that!

What I want to dwell on is the increasing and troubling disdain we seem to have for ‘checks and balances’ and expertise in our body politic. The slick and nefarious used car salesmanship tactics of Trump, Farage, Le Pen et al has been used to misdirect the ire of the masses towards the minorities in our societies.

Take the example of Brexit, where those campaigning to leave the European Union (EU) narrowly won the referendum with 52% to 48%  but have behaved in a zero-sum fashion to the Remain side and treated their views and concerns with unabashed disdain and miserly contempt. Brexit highlighted the deep seated schisms in British society which had hiherto been papered over and allowed simmering resentments against foreigners, women, liberals and homosexuals to boil over  and see the light of day. The UK government is now in a defensive position and scrambling desperately to control the flames it fuelled when it called this ill fated referendum. Now those who won the referendum, the naysayers and merchants of doom I like to call them, believe they are empowered by this nebulous concept of ‘the people’ and bash the judges, diplomats, journalists, economists, academics, politicians and civil servants who dare to challenge and provide a check on the falsehoods that they peddle. No prominent UK politician has had the spine to stand up and defend these last bastions of reason and virtue in our politics, nor dared to even challenge and confront the ill informed and ignorant views of the right.

Across Europe, illiberal and populist governments in Poland and Hungary, but increasingly in the U.K., France, Spain, Italy and Germany governments are succumbing to the pressure of these enraged and bitter right wingers and are hurriedly pushing through measures to appease them. In my adopted home country, Spain, the government is trying to regulate gatherings of people and control the use of Internet memes. In France we see a Socialist PM desperate to scapegoat ordinary Muslims and banning the burkini (used by only  a tiny minority of people) to placate racist sentiments and win votes.

Now im going to steer onto a more unexplored philosophical territory which I have not touched on in my blog before.Theodor Adorno, who had fled Nazi Germany for USA,  was always an intriguing writer for me but his opinions always seemed to strike a chord with me. A left winger, he argued that the populace at large was kept dumb and distracted about politics by what he called ‘the cultural industry.’ He once famously described Walt Disney as the most dangerous man in the world! Through skilful advertising, flashy consumer goods, lowest denominator pop music, glossy gossip magazines and mind numbing, thoughtless TV programming the population was kept ignorant and simple about critical political, economic and societal decisions. This fed the rise of fascism and left society particularly vulnerable to the clutches and predatory nature of populism, even during economic good times. He even said we should be more attuned to the early signs of a fascist, whihc are often displayed in bullies, and ensure there was a thorough psychological analysis of such persons to make sure they were mentally stable and if so, that they were given the proper education to drill these habits out of them at an early age. This guy is well worth a read is all I can say, even if, like myself I must add, you don’t agree with him entirely.

In the same vein of thought, we have Emile Durkheim. A Frenchman with expert diagnostic skills of societal weaknesses he analysed the problems inherent in  modern capitalism and democracy. Rather than seeing setbacks and misfortune as a fact of life, modern society makes us see it as a sign of failure on our part if we can’t achieve the lifestyle or ambitions mapped out in countless magazines and TV shows. Similarly we as human beings need a sense of clan or community. We crave it apparently along with a sense of belonging. Tribes, religion, family and close friendships used to offer us those but with the advent of new technologies and consumer goods we have moved to richer, individualistic free thinking societies but are unable to process the many decisions we now have to take e.g. Who to marry, where to live, what job to have, what religion to follow etc. As a consequence we often believe that we are too busy, too unsure or too uninformed to make educated and rational decisions in our lives. If we fail in our decisions, capitalism can take a harsh a view, and we are said to have failed in life. We therefore, have more malaise and suicides in society.

Again, not everything is agreeable to me but it make sure for interesting reading and is worth a thought.

I can go on dear reader, but I shall leave you there and hope to be back again soon with some more of my thoughts and ponderances on our lives and politics! Till the next time!

 

My new life in Spain!

Good morning dear reader and welcome to a slightly frosty Madrid! The weather is a chilly minus five degrees Celsius right now as I gaze out of my bedroom window.

However, I am aware that my last posting was rather pessimistic and sobering for many of you so this will endeavour to be a more cheerful piece. No room for doom mongering here!

So, a few days ago I introduced you to my new life out here in Madrid and the great and the good of my lovely and blissful domestic life. Now I will talk a bit more about Madrid and the political situation in Spain. Before I get stuck in I want to acknowledge once again the contributions of my two amazing Spanish flatmates and now I’m pleased to say firm friends, Iker and Borja. They have educated, enlightened and illuminated my mind to new ideas and developments here in Spain and provided invaluable knowledge to me about Spanish culture.

Let’s begin!

I’m living in the south of Madrid and the city is enchanting and a firm favourite of mine. I feel proud to call it home right now. Flying below the radar of more high profile cities in Europe, such as London, Barcelona, Rome and Paris, the more anonymous nature of Madrid has allowed it to retain a more truly Spanish feel whilst remaining inviting and authentically cosmopolitan. Wondering the streets you will see an array of architectural styles, Art Deco, Gothic, Baroque and Haussmann but you are always feeling completely free of the pretentiousness and stuffiness of London and Paris. The barrios (districts) are all different and each displays its’  own character and unapologetically wears its’ heart on its’ sleeve.

Madrileños are lively and welcoming people who justifiably take pride in their city but are welcoming to newcomers. One can never be short of things to do in terms of entertainment, I myself am partial to a bit of Saturday night karaoke with my friends, and as Ernst Hemingway, the famous American author once said, “Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.” Nightclubs, bars, cafes, theatres, circuses and cinemas abound and I can often be found at the Cines Princesa which offers films in English with Spanish subtitles for those shamefully lacking the necessary Castilian skills set (I abashedly include myself in this category dear reader!).

Madrid is also a very verdant city, with the lungs of the city including grand parks such as Retiro, Casa de Campo and the Parque del Oeste. These are not the only ones by any means but they are certainly worth a visit. Retiro houses the beautiful and stunning Palacio de Cristal, Casa de Campo (the largest in Madrid) which contains Madrid Zoo and where I often went during the autumn to photograph the falling leaves, and the Parque del Oeste, with its crowning glory being the ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod, presented to Spain as a gift for help in protecting ancient relics and temples in the Nile Delta.

Museums are aplenty. Any culture vulture will feel they are in a veritable paradise. Alas, I have yet to visit the Reina Sofia, close to Atocha Station, which houses Pablo Picasso’s striking and poignant Guernica artwork but I have enjoyed a jaunt to the Prado where I spent almost a day in the labyrinthine corridors getting my full quota of Velazquez, Goya and El Greco and Bosch and yet I still feel I could have seen a lot more!

Shopping and dining out offer a wealth of tasty, yet affordable, treats compared to some other parts of our fair continent. There are the posh outlets in the Gran Vía, Serrano and Salamanca districts but for something with more ‘get up and go’ and to obtain a less staid atmosphere it’s well worth dropping by Malasaña or Moncloa for some bargains and quirky retail therapy and dining experiences.

All in all, I love this city and I would encourage you to visit – but I don’t want anyone else to uncover this hidden gem and force me to share it!

Now, to politics!

Before coming out to Spain I had read a good deal, and also written on this blog, plenty of articles and comments surrounding the politics of this country. Everything seemed quite rosy in terms of leadership and economic progress from the crash several years ago. What had singularly perplexed me all along though, was the lack of a strong far right political party. Of course, I welcomed this with open arms, but after talking to my friends and reading more about it I realised that whilst Spain is by and large a tolerant and open minded society there remain dark recesses of the far right lurking and waiting to find a champion (or demagogue in my humble view!) to herald their cause.

Unfortunately some of the young (and I stress some) are drawn to the disreputable remnants of the late Fascist dictator Francisco Franco’s supporters, but lacking organisation (and sadly finding themselves not just tolerated but indulged by the centre right) they have yet to form a fully fledged, united and successful far right political party. Much like the UK, Spain’s political system does not take kindly to upstart and new political forces and this also militates against them for the time being. Still us liberals and progressives must remain vigilant and ever watchful of such intolerant outfits.

As for the current government and the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, he has now entered his sixth year of running Spain and it is ironic that after two inconclusive elections (over the past year where Señor Rajoy was running Spain as a caretaker PM) Spain saw a strong return to a 3.2% economic growth rate! No qualms about no functioning government from investors!

After the second inconclusive election last June the PM has been able to outmanoeuvre his opponents and secure a grudging acceptance from the other parties and a wafer thin mandate to govern but my prediction is 2017 will see him fall. What comes after is anybody’s guess however! From my conversations here in Madrid Señor Rajoy has very few fans, even among the business community, but there is very little enthusiasm for any of the others and the recent surge in support for new leftists and progressives in the form of Podemos has started to ebb. The same for centrist Ciudadanos. What keeps the government going so far is the dysfunction among the socialist opposition and from what I hear it might be this continual disarray that has given the PM his longevity and his lifeline to remain ensconced in his official residence at La Moncloa. We shall just have to wait and see.

Keep reading dear reader and thank you once again for your continual appreciation for my humble effort and your unstinting support! Till the next time…

Why we should no longer tolerate the intolerant!

Welcome back dear reader, as always a pleasure to have you here.

First off, a happy New Year to you all. I hope your 2016 was a fruitful and enjoyable year and here is to 2017 being equally, if not even more, successful.

Unless you have been living under a rock we are all aware of the truly appalling and heinous acts of violence and atrocities being committed across the globe, ostensibly for religions, ideology, national sovereignty, economic advancement, racial protection. In fact you name it and there is someone gullible and ignorant enough to pick up arms to fight for their particular “cause.” Let me make very clear from the outset my unsurprising point of view, at least to those who truly know me, that this behaviour is never ever justified.

We have in the world, the thuggish and cult-like Daesh or ISIL terrorists, made up of large numbers of hardened criminals (which includes rapists, drug dealers, street brawlers and petty thieves) who suddenly believe they can claim some kind of “redemption” for their misspent and wasted lives by killing and maiming innocent people, both non-Muslim and Muslim. My rhetorical question to them is have they ever read any religious text (it is debatable if some of them can even read) or do they just believe the ramblings of some twisted guru or random video they see on the Internet? The latest New Years Eve bombing of revellers in Istanbul is just the latest in another example of their warped and delusional thinking. Attacks in Baghdad, Berlin,  Nice and Maiduguri only serve as a terrible reminder of this global scourge we must all unite and defeat.

It isn’t just Daesh we should be focusing on (although Daesh would gladly like it that way and so would right wing politicians in the West) but also the Buddhist nationalist terrorists massacring Muslim and animist ethnic minorities in Myanmar (Amnesty International has documented these minorities plight exhaustively if you wish to read more) or the record number of 16,000 child soldiers (according to latest statistics from UNHCR) being wontenly slaughtered for political purposes in South Sudan.

On the other side we have the less violent but intolerant views of right wing politicians. You know I’m talking about Donald Trump, Nigel Farage,Marine Le Pen, Frauke Petry and all the other wannabe demagogues stalking the plains of the USA and Europe. Their responses to the latest terrorist outrages is always wholly predictable and frankly breathtaking in its sheer audacity of political point scoring. By this I mean they automatically express condolences to the victims and then finish by blaming Angela Merkel, liberalism, the media, the “elites”, globalisation or religions. Yet, when we blame them for sowing the seeds of hatred and division they cry foul like little children.

My whole point in my piece here is to argue that we have to acknowledge human nature in all of this. I’m not absolving religions or ideology entirely for some of the blame but what we must understand is that ideology or religion, be it Communism, Islam, Buddhism, Fascism, Socialism, Christianity, or numerous others throughout history, have merely been used by unscrupulous individuals as a vehicle to power and to transport them to their ultimate destination. Namely power, wealth, control, domination for a handful of deranged and perverted individuals who have no morals or ethics. Whether these individuals truly believe what they espouse and feed to their untutored and unwashed followers is open to debate but we all know I mean people like Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin, Bin Laden, Kim Jong Un, Joseph Kony, Slobodan Milosevic, Mao Zedong et al.

What I would like to finish with is a call to action for liberals. For too long I heard, when I was in London especially,  from family and friends that we were in some kind of prosperous, democratic, post-racial, gender equal, open minded and enquiring world and that London epitomised this. I never succumbed to this post Cold War fallacy of an ‘End of History’, Francis Fukuyama inspired victory of our capitalist and democratic system over all others. For too long we liberals assumed the whole world thought like us and that we had achieved our goals of equality for all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability or non belief. Tolerance reigned supreme and we could all get down to the business of making money and freely expressing ourselves. However, it was always a fragile project and very much a work in progress.

It is important not to underestimate the smugness which previaled during the 1990s and early 2000s. When this system all came to a crashing halt in 2008 it took liberals and leftists a long time to snap out of this cosseted mindset and realise we still had much work to do. It is still why we see left wing and liberal parties suffering across the Western world and why we must never take what we have for granted and not allow those who wish us ill to make us willingly surrender it, and sacrifice ideals such as freedom of belief or expression on the altar of so called security. This is the inevitability of human nature which often seems doomed to repeat itself, as any goodness scholar of history will tell you. Socrates, the great philosopher, identified so many years ago the Achilles Heel of democracy (in his scenario of the sweet shop owner vs the doctor in a political contest) the doctor being the politician who tells you the truth about how sickly an excess of sweets can be and the sweet shop owner who promises you a tissue of falsehoods by saying you can eat as much as you like without consequences to your health. Now where have you heard that before dear reader!?

Season’s cheer and greetings!

Welcome back to my blog dear reader! It is a pleasure and an honour to be back in your company again.

I must start by apologising most sincerely for my neglect and my absence from the airwaves – which is more commonly referred to as the Internet. There is a reasonable explanation and for me personally a very, very exciting one.

First things first, I will briefly address the changing, and for the most part, disturbing and profoundly unpleasant developments in world affairs since we last touched base. June saw the UK depressingly vote to leave the European Union and November witnessed the election of narcissist in chief turned commander in chief, Donald Trump, as President of the United States of America. We have also seen a deeply tragic worsening of the situation in Syria, Aleppo in particular, and a number of high profile terrorist attacks in Brussels, Berlin and Orlando. It is no doubt a challenging time for the world, and progressives in particular, but as President Obama eloquently outlined we can proud of the fact that in no time in human history have we seen more democracies, fewer people in extreme poverty, advances in medical research and innovation, record breaking improvements in gender equality, and unprecedented numbers of human exchange and intermarriage (between varying cultures and same sex couples). More work always remains though.

This article will now be a break from my usual format, my esteeemed guest and reader, and the preceding paragraph represents my sole comment for the time being on world affairs. I would now like to be granted the opportunity to talk a little about me, and as the title suggests, bring a little of what I hope will be welcome cheer into our lives.

I now wish to tell the world that I am living and working in sunny Madrid, Spain. I have been here since my last entry in May and the city has quickly become one of my favourites on this fair planet of ours. Move aside, Los Angeles, Paris, Barcelona and London for I have a new beau. Madrid is packed to the rafters with art, museums, history, theatres, parks, palaces and nightlife (the latter of which I have sampled in a proportionately modest amount I can assure you dear reader!). My home life has been nothing short of perfection and exceeded even my high expectations. The apartment I occupy is, like any self respecting belly dancer, amply proportioned I am pleased to say, with an eclectic mix of furniture and knicknacks. My stellar housemates are a rich array of the bold and the beautiful, from a reclusive Chinese student to a larger than life guitar playing Basque. Let me introduce you to them.

In alphabetical order and with a one word adjective introduction we have:

Alex – heavyweight. Not a heavyweight in stature or size by any means but he does feel like a burden when he returns late at night and insists on collapsing on top of me whilst I’m reclining on the sofa. A sharply dressed Chinese student with a penchant for water colour painting (which in my opinion he underestimates his talent for!) he is a workaholic in his studies. When he is not studying however, he can often be found stressing out over his Ted X projects (to which he is a martyr) or traversing the grand sites of the Continent. He is a thoughtful and unstintingly pleasant individual and his claim to fame is replying “drawing….??” when he fails to understand you.

Borja – undiscovered genius. An engaging, intelligent and admirable stickler for true liberal values and reason, he gets thoroughly annoyed by intolerance and ignorance (which is not a criticism by any means as I merely choose to suffer in silence when confronted by such illiberal views!) and he challenges the opinions of the untutored at every turn.  As a fellow student of politics we have sparred over some issues but I have nevertheless never found his arguments lacking in intellectual depth or clarity. A truly kind and thoughtful guy, his English is virtually flawless and he is a kindred, forward looking spirit for me in cultural learning and mental advancement. To know him is to love him.

Iker – loco. My Spanish may not be perfected as yet but I know this word and it fits like a glove! Although technically no longer my flatmate (for which I have shed bucket loads of tears!) we remain close. A committed humanitarian he has on many a night regaled me with entertaining and sometimes heart rending anecdotes about his time working in a shelter for drug and alcohol addicts. A lover of life and a talented musician he remains, to this day, disgusted by my use of a knife and a fork to eat pizza! An effervescent and more friendly person I have yet to meet in spite of his constant desire to make me jump during horror films.

Flavio – bambino. The youngest in our household he is a trenchantly proud Italian and Roman (as his name may suggest!). He is a firecracker and since arriving has provided us with a crash course in the rich Italian vocabulary of curse words. He is a fundamentally kind and loyal person but please don’t get him started on politics. He was also disgusted by my typically British eating habits, this time when I had the audacity to buy microwave pasta! A party loving student the house is rarely quiet with him around. I once called him crazy but he ‘modestly’ replied saying “I am not crazy, just a little above the line.” I leave that for you to interpret dear reader.

Miguel – a Chinese student he is a somewhat elusive character. Rarely chatty or outwardly sociable his philosophy seems to be to hibernate the days away. He regularly disappears from the house on his travels and returns unexpectedly. Always relatively polite to me he is a housemate who I would have liked to get to know better.

Miguel, along with Iker, will be permanently leaving this month and we will have two new housemates but I will endeavour to keep you abreast of news in this exciting and exhilarating experience of mine and I hope you enjoy it. Politics will remain a passion  of which I hope to write more about but I hope you appreciated and enjoyed this detour into my new world. Until the next time dear reader…!

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Donald Trump and Europe….

Hello and welcome dear reader!

Always a pleasure to know you are happy, relaxed and ready to sit down with me for a few minutes of your time!

So today I thought I would combine my interest in the USA 2016 Presidential Election campaign with my evident passion for all things Europe.

We now know that the Republican Party has selected the controversial (read ‘absolutely mental’ in my English way of understating things!) businessman, Donald J Trump, as its candidate. Racist, sexist, fraud, narcissist call him what you will (and I often do!) many articles are out there about him but I want to look at what a potential President Trump will mean for our lovely continent of Europe. We already know what a likely President Hillary Clinton or President Bernie Sanders would look like for Europe but Trump is if nothing else a totally unknown entity with no clear policy positions in this policy arena.

So let us start with his first major foreign policy speech a few weeks back. It was characteristically superficial and ill thought out but reading between the lines he was essentially outlining a sentiment shared by some more moderate voices in America that Europe needs to up its defence spending. Since WWII America has maintained bases across Europe, in the UK and Germany most notably, but also along the eastern flank in Poland and Romania as well. In Mr Trump’s underwhelming speech he whinged that “after I am elected President I will call a summit with our NATO allies….we will discuss not only a rebalancing of financial commitments but take a fresh look at how we can adopt new strategies for tackling our common challenges.”

First Mr Trump’s breathtaking arrogance in believing he can just “summon” what are the USA’s oldest allies in Europe like naughty schoolchildren will not go down well.

Second as Sean Kay outlined in a Carnegie Europe article about this 2% defence spending pledge, made at a NATO Summit in 2014, increasing conventional defence spending might buy big tanks and long range missiles but they fail to meet the threats Europe faces today. Europe already has two nuclear powers and a formidable and competitive defence industrial base in Germany, Sweden, France and the UK. However, the threats to security in Europe come from refugee flows, terrorism, cyber attacks, Eurozone economic problems and Russia. Now the latter point, Russia, can no longer be met in a Reagan-esque style arms race. The Russians are using their  intelligence services and populist political proxies across the European continent to undermine a successful Europe and European structures from within.

When President Obama came to office in 2008 the strategic thinking was that the Asia Pacific region would be the new theatre for any instability. President Vladimir Putin of Russia abruptly changed that thinking when he invaded Ukraine and occupied Crimea in 2014. He has since aggressively dispatched Russian sorties into UK, Swedish, German, Polish and Baltic airspace and territorial waters. Mr Obama has since rectified to meet this new challenge and only last week sent top US fighter jets, the F22 Raptor planes (which travel at twice the speed of sound) to Romania, reports the US broadcaster CNN.

Now, Mr Trump, if he is truly interested in helping to refashion NATO into fighting terrorism and handling the migration flows from Africa and the Middle East (as he argues later on in his rather ham fisted monologue), then he should realise that the European Union (EU) is the perfect fulcrum for this, and it has led the way in finding resolutions to these challenges. For example, the European Commission has stated that it has spent a hefty €5 billion since 2011 to date on assistance to refugees. Yet, only today, on the UK’s Good Morning Britain programme, Mr Trump stated that Britain would be fine outside the EU! It beggars belief dear reader!

Away from his speech, which contains little else of interest to my purpose in this article, his crude comments betray his ignorance of world affairs, including Europe. In a show of utter contempt and disrespect, following terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, he labelled them “disaster cities” and said they used to be nice but because of their darker skinned residents they were no longer so appealing! If we look at the solidarity shown by European allies after the 9/11 attacks on America and the San Bernadino shootings we can see what kind of a ‘friend’ he’d be to his NATO allies in Europe! Utterly disgusting in my view. European leaders have courageously condemned his proposed ban on Muslims coming to the USA and recently London’s new Muslim Mayor, Sadiq Khan, condemned the proposal and called Mr Trump ‘ignorant.’

This is not to say the perma tanned, thin skinned American businessman doesn’t have allies in Europe. He is popular with his fellow neo=fascists in Rome, Brussels, London and Paris most notably.

In Italy, Matteo Salvini, leader of the Northern League, recently visited the USA and had his picture taken shaking hands with Donald Trump. His Twitter proudly displays the image and both share a sympathy towards Mussolini. In Brussels, Mischael Modrikamen, leader of the People’s Party, stated he “fully supports Mr Trump” and released a video defending the Republican Party leader. In the UK, Nigel Farage distanced himself from the ban on Muslims but said “that we are underestimating his (Trump’s) abilities.” Even though their leader might have held Mr Trump’s ban at a distance Mr Farage’s UKIP party supporters backed the proposal by a two thirds majority! In France, even Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, called Mr Trump’s ban “a step too far” but her father lavished praise on the American!

The American former reality TV star, has also made overtures to President Putin in Moscow. Arguably a grave, if not the gravest, threat to European unity and success, Mr Trump has said Putin is “widely respected in his own country and beyond” and Putin has described Trump in turn as “talented without a doubt.” A mural of them kissing has even been painted on the side of a Lithuanian restaurant, mimicking the infamous Brezhnev-Honecker embrace.

Conclusion

In essence what I have tried to do is to string together a vision (albeit a pretty scary one!) of what impact a Trump presidency could have for Europe. He would probably have poor relations with European leaders, akin to the Obama-Netanyahu relationship, where the evident loathing of one another would be obvious in summit after summit, and would serve to fray the strong economic, security bonds which have ensured prosperity and stability across the Atlantic for a generation.

I refuse to jump to the conclusion that the friendship would rip apart, as European leaders such as Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande are pragmatists, but there would be an obvious cooling and no chance of a TTIP free trade agreement. You can also imagine a fair number of justifiable snubs from dignitaries and raucous demonstrations by leftists and Muslims whenever the US President crossed the Ocean.

At least we know he would return the selfies with odious individuals such as Salvini and Le Pen Senior and he would feel more comfortable in the gold encrusted fortress of the Kremlin than the ultra modern Chancelleries and official residences in Berlin or Madrid.

I just hope and pray that this article will never come true and that this piece will be my proudest failure!

 

 

Ireland and Spain: A tale of two parliaments…

Hello and Hola!

This is going to be a double whammy today as I talk about two delightfully fascinating countries – Ireland and Spain. These two are very dear to my heart so I will be kind, never fear dear reader!

The similarities of the two in recent times is quite striking. Both are strongly pro-EU, open minded and prosperous countries who, until recently, were in pretty dire straits. Both, to varying degrees, had to be bailed out by the European Union (EU) when the 2008 economic crash hit. They subsequently voted in dour, centre right leaders with a mission to stablise the country and pay off their respective country’s debt through a dose of austerity measures and tax rises. Never a vote winner in the best of times there were indications things were on the up by the time the electorate next came calling. Then came hung parliaments in both Madrid and Dublin!

However, both have responded slightly differently to the hung parliaments that resulted from their respective general elections.

Let’s start with Ireland.

Ireland

Here a nail biting election resulted in a Parliament (Dail) which saw a huge increase in independent candidates. For decades politics in Dublin had seen either the centrist Fianna Fail or the centre-right Fine Gael come to power. For many years Fianna Fail had held the reins of power under the charismatic but controversial Bertie Ahern and his successor the hapless Brian Cowen.

Without getting into the details, up until 2009, Ireland had been known as the ‘Celtic Tiger’ with near 10% economic growth rates, low taxes, unprecedented foreign investment and a heavy dose of government spending. The skyline of Dublin attests to this era where several districts of the capital city were transformed into glitzy skyscrapers, flash apartment blocks and stylish restaurants.

Then came the crash and the moment of reckoning and the EU and IMF were eventually called in to bail out the country as it tried to swim through the heavy treacle of debt.  In came the smooth Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael, who swept to power in 2011, with a landslide victory and a comfortable majority, vowing to clean up Ireland’s finances and return the country to the good old days. In coalition with the Labour Party he pushed through a mixture of painful austerity measures, which included a cut of €18.5 billion worth of investment in healthcare over six years and a €1.3 billion cut in funding for local authority housing in 2013 alone, says the Irish Examiner newspaper.  There followed tax increases in cigarette duty and alcohol levies in the annual budgets. By the time it came to elections in February 2016 Ireland had seen 7.8% GDP growth in 2015 (the fastest in the Eurozone), unemployment rate drop to 9% and inflation of 0% according to European Commission statistics.

All this success on paper, which was widely applauded in Brussels and with the IMF in Washington, failed to convince voters and even though he ended up with largest number of seats in the Dail, Mr Kenny was still 30 seats short of majority to form a government. Labour had only a humiliating 8! Seven weeks of horse trading followed in the bucolic grounds of Leinster House, the seat of government. Just this week a deal was hatched between Fine Gael, the gaggle of independents and the urbane Michael Martin, leader of Fianna Fail which allowed Mr Kenny to take up his post again. Last minute wheeling and dealing over the future of the Irish Water utility and the divisive water charges saved the deal. The deal envisages a confidence and supply arrangement where there will be no formal coalition but an acceptance that Fine Gael can go for three budgets and reshuffles without a vote of confidence bringing it down before then.

In conclusion Mr Kenny lives to fight another day, for at least three years! All’s well that ends well? I leave that hanging with you dear reader!

Now, onwards to sunny Madrid……….

Spain

Last but by no means least, Spain is effectively the same play but with different actors. The mercurial Mariano Rajoy in place of Mr Kenny and the photogenic Pedro Sanchez in place of Mr Martin. Long a two horse race, rather than seeing the rise of an array of independents, the Cortes (Spain’s Parliament) saw the once dominant conservatives, Popular Party (PP) led by Mr Rajoy, and the Socialist Party, led by Mr Sanchez, record less than 50% of the seats in Parliament combined. Newcomers were Podemos, staunch left wingers, and Ciudandos, liberal centrists, and a variety of much smaller regional parties who also came to prominence.

For the PP it was punished basically because of a series of corruption scandals, which had seen the police arrest dozens of senior party officials, including the party treasurer, and again the pinch of austerity which had made Mr Rajoy less popular than he should have been.

Meanwhile, the Spanish have been voting with their feet and the National Statistics Institute (NIE) recorded a 56.6% increase since 2009 in Spanish citizens living abroad. According to the European Commission, GDP economic growth was 3.2% in 2015, unemployment a still high but falling 22% and inflation at -0.6%. Things were improving under Senor Rajoy but the lack of trust in the mainstream parties and allegations of corruption drained support and the Spanish electorate, justifiably, looked for alternatives. Much like Ireland.

A December 2015 election duly reflected that sentiment and until today the new look Parliament saw highlights such as a breast feeding deputy and an MP sporting dreadlocks (of course all from the radical Podemos I hasten to add!) and only one election, that of the Socialist Patxi Lopez, as Speaker. No government, unfortunately, and Mariano Rajoy has continued in a caretaker capacity, often avoiding the fractious Cortes altogether.

After many false starts, with Ciudandos and the Socialists signing an accord which ended up going nowhere, and warnings from economists that the markets and investors won’t wait much longer for a government to be formed the pressure was on. All efforts ultimately proved fruitless and in early May, King Felipe VI dissolved Parliament and called fresh elections for 26th June. This as warnings came from Brussels that Spain’s public deficit to GDP ratio has exceeded an agreed target  of 4.2% and hit 5% instead. Fines may be imposed on Madrid and a full in tray will await a new PM.

Let’s hope the next round will concentrate minds and keep Spain on the path of recovery.

Conclusion

Ireland did well to secure an agreement for government but it is fraught with danger and the pressure will still be on Mr Kenny over the next three years.

My hope is that Spain can emulate the same formula with either Mr Rajoy or another returned. Compromise may not be pretty but it will be necessary as the mood has changed little since the last inconclusive election, so we may end up with such a rainbow of party flags in the Cortes once again!

Rest assured Madrid and Dublin will not be dull over the next few years!