Friday, September 17, 2010

 

Our Version of Local Politics

Years ago, some people from Murcia opened up a new bar on the beach. We got to know them – I think through their children knowing ours – and had a party there on one occasion. They didn’t do much business as a rule and the local people wouldn’t use the place. One day I asked Paco why he never had a sign outside the front door which would, it seemed obvious to me, help with the trade. ‘Oh’, he said, ‘the mayor told me that I could have a sign but only if I militated in his party’.
Should I make that clearer? In our small town some twenty years ago, if you wanted to get ahead, you joined the political party of your peers (although not, necessarily, your persuasion).
Have things changed in our Almerian pueblos? Well, sure, you can join the party you want, or none at all if it suits you, but answer me this – how will I know if you voted for me?
Politics is not a thing to take lightly. The future of your family can depend on how you vote. The local pretenders for positions on the council are generally there for reasons which have little to do with ideology and much to do with personal motives. They obtain power over their peers knowing that power is not just getting jobs or rewards for one’s friends, as much as sticking it to one’s enemies.
So the local people live in trepidation as deals are struck behind closed doors and, as often as not, governments fall with ‘transfugas’ (turncoats) crossing the floor with their pockets unexpectedly full. Our town has had four ‘mociones de censura’ (motions of censure) since the mid nineties. So who can you trust?
You vote for a list in Spain, the top few names get in, while the tail-end doesn’t. But one of the people near the top might be persuaded to change his allegiance. It’s just ‘politics’ of course.
There are a number of ways of attracting votes – since that’s the game we play. A five hundred euro bill is fairly persuasive, or a simple reminder that your rather useless cousin works in the town hall… at least, for the time being.
Our small town, with bitterly divided local power-seekers, united only in their worry of a non-captive ‘foreign vote’, pushed out thirteen parties in the last local election (a Spanish record) and looks like surpassing that number for the May 29th local elections for next year. Of course it is clear that an excess of strange little parties only favours the largest one, in our case, a party forced into a four-way coalition and, numbering among its voters, a better than 40% postal vote from, of all places, Argentina. It seems that the grandsons of our emigrants from the time of the Civil War still hold local citizenship.
Foreign voters are now divided into the newly enfranchised South Americans, the ones from Ecuador, Peru, Colombia etc who migrated here in search of a better life a few years back and now work for minimum wages in our hotels and kitchens – and will no doubt have a ‘boss’ to help them make up their minds politically; and the rather more complicated ‘European’ foreigners, who so easily could be a threat to the status quo, with their ideas of transparency, honour and civic pride, but luckily no one has had to take them seriously. Most don’t/won’t vote and those that do can be seduced into voting for a party ticket with some fellow called John or Bill way down the list where he acts as cannon-fodder, a useful shiny toy with no hope whatsoever of getting into the town hall.

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