Monday, September 26, 2011


I am too long in the tooth to call an election before the votes are counted but this year’s opinion polls in Gibraltar make encouraging reading for the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party and their Liberal partners.

After four consecutive terms of a centre right GSD government under Peter Caruana the new leader of the GSLP, Fabian Picardo, has positive reasons to believe he could become the Rock’s next chief minister. The latest poll sounding by Vox gives the GSLP a 5.6 per cent lead over the GSD. It is the largest sample ever taken of Gibraltar’s voting intentions and was carried out on a household basis. As GSLP households tend to have more voters than GSD the actual lead could be larger still. However the outcome of the general election, which could come at any time, will depend on which party gets its share of the 21,000 registered voters to the polling station.

The GSLP should have a place in the heart of all British trade unionists. It is the oldest surviving political party in Gibraltar. Its grass roots are deep in the British Trade Union Movement because founder and outgoing leader Joe Bossano had lived in London’s East End where he was active in the Labour Party and union.

He returned to Gibraltar to become the District Officer of the TGWU which during Bossano’s tenure was instrumental in achieving parity with the UK for all workers in Gibraltar. Labour veteran Alf Lomas was Political Secretary of the London Co-operative at that time and active in the TGWU and the Labour Party. He told me: “There was no GSLP in those days and Joe and I had long discussions about forming a Labour Party. I helped to draw up the constitution and was made No 1 Honorary Member of the Party on its formation.” The GSLP fought its first election in 1978 and between 1988 and 1996 was the party of government.

Fabian Picardo was elected leader of the GSLP in April as Joe Bossano had signalled he would stand down before the next election. Picardo is now Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and a successful lawyer but started from humble beginnings and is a member of Unite, the successor to the mighty TGWU.

Gibraltarians are British subjects but it may surprise many readers to learn they do not share in the same basic rights enjoyed in the UK. The GSD government has done nothing in its four terms to rectify this sorry state of affairs indeed there is every indication it has no intention of doing so. Gibraltarians cannot appeal to the UK as they have their own government so their sole right to justice is via Europe which often sends the case to the UK.

Hence in the GSLP’s “Make the change” campaign Gibraltarians’ rights and open, transparent government are priorities with a Ministerial Code, Freedom of Information Act, Citizens Charter, protection for whistle blowers and the introduction of a 30 Year Rule already announced in policy statements.

So how has Fabian Picardo’s working class background shaped his political views. He told the MORNING STAR: “In every way. I am the product of that upbringing. I understand what it is like when people don’t have jobs and I consider myself a worker. My parents worked very hard indeed to enable me to become a professional; and I won’t allow anything to go to my head and make me think I am better than any other worker or anything other than a worker. I understand the need to make ends meet requires careful planning and that a wage sometimes needs to be stretched by working people. That is why I get so annoyed when I see taxpayers money wasted on frivolities or for what are clearly GSD partisan ends.”

So as the Gibraltar general election approaches what is his message to the voters of the Rock? Picardo is clear: “I do not want to be an all-powerful leader who uses Ministers like assistants as Caruana does. I want to strengthen democracy and accountability. I want to strengthen the civil service as an essential part of the structure of government. I am in politics because I believe in protecting the Gibraltar that I grew up in and making it stronger in the international community of nations. I want to see the quality of life of Gibraltarians improve and I want to see Gibraltar stay British as a guarantee for our future in respect of education, the rule of law and the quality of our democracy.”

The coming weeks will decide whether the GSLP Liberals take power in Gibraltar by ousting the GSD regime headed by Chief Minister Peter Caruana who rules the Rock as if it is his personal fiefdom. If Fabian Picardo takes office Gibraltar will again have a true socialist and trade unionist at its helm. When was the last time that happened in Britain?

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on September 27 2011)

Thursday, September 1, 2011


The accord between the ruling socialist party in Spain and the centre-right Partido Popular on changing the country’s constitution to limit government debt has met with stiff opposition from the far left Izquierda Unida and pro democracy groups such as the 15-M.

There are two main objections to the sudden move by the outgoing PSOE Prime Minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who has the support of the leader of the PP, Mariano Rajoy, who hopes to lead his party to government in November’s elections. The first is if Spain’s constitution is to be amended it should go before the people for their approval in a referendum. The second is the drastic effects the move could have on services such as health and education.

It would take just ten per cent of the MPs or senators in the Spanish Parliament to demand a binding referendum be called on the issue of reforming the Constitution to limit the public debt. The end effects could limit the access to health or education amongst other services for society’s most vulnerable – the rich won’t suffer as they can afford to pay for private care or teaching. By limiting debt the government is limiting its investment in society.

The Constitution does not demand that the people should be consulted for such a change to be made. However the pressure is on for ten per cent of the members of Congress and the Senate to demand a referendum on this key issue, which will have a profound effect on the future standard of Spaniards lives. This the Constitution does allow for – and the result will be binding.

Those activists who are agitating for the referendum say that Spain is the least participatory democracy in the EU. As the debt limitation measure would have a profound effect on the welfare state they argue it is scarcely democratic that it should be passed without the people having their say. Ironically Spain holds a general election on November 20 but as both the two main parties – PSOE and the PP – backed the introduction of the debt limit it will not be an issue.

When it comes to the Spanish welfare state it has one of the lowest levels of social public spending per capita in the EU. In addition whilst the debt limit applies to all government spending the areas that are being targeted are pensions as well as health, education, home care, social services, social housing plus the other components of the welfare state.

The change to the Constitution is being driven through Spain’s parliament with indecent haste. It remains to be seen whether the far left and democratic groups can halt this assault on those who depend on the welfare system in its tracks. It is tragic that the driving force should be a socialist government selling out the very people it was elected to support – and of course Spain heirs to Franco are right behind them.

(A version of the above article appeared in The Morning Star on Friday September 2 2011)