Saturday, 30 May 2015

Victory has many orphans...

A victory of King Phyrrus

It is remarkable, dear reader, how electoral results can be differently perceived by different cultures. Allow me to explain.

Last Sunday 24 May, municipal and provincial elections were held in Spain. The results were not surprising (since they had been pretty adequately predicted) but still represented a thorough shake-up of dusty things.

On a national scale, the governing PP, conservative, pocketed some 27 % of the vote. This was down about 10 % from earlier elections, both general and local, in 2011. The opposition PSOE, socialist, reached some 25 %, about 5 % less than in 2011. Two new upstart parties, scions of the economic crisis and popular indignation over widespread corruption, did not do too badly. The centre-left-yet-often-right-of-centre (yeah, square me that circle!) Cuidadanos party got almost 7 % of the vote nationwide, and the flamboyant, radical left Podemos, in so far as it may be calculated (for politico-philosophical reasons, they did not participate in every town and province), seems to attract anywhere between 10 and 20 %.

How would you read these results (assuming you are not yourself Spanish)? Well: in any northern democracy based on Proportional Representation, this would count as a resounding victory for the PP. Not only the party won the most votes nationwide, but it also ended up as the biggest party in most towns, cities and provinces. Yes, of course they lost a big chunk of the vote compared with previous elections; but their performance is not short of a miracle, considering that the party has been in office for four hard years; that its mayor accomplishment consists in not making the economic situation any worse; that, in order to do so, its government took from the poor to give to the rich; and finally that it is riddled with so many cases of astounding, shameless, mind-boggling corruption from the very highest levels to the lowest, that it might be said to be corrupt up to its bone-marrow.

But how are these results read by Spaniards themselves, on television, in the papers, and in the social media? Well, rather differently, to put it mildly. There is deep depression and near panic in the PP, and jubilant euphoria in all their adversaries, because the reigning party has suffered such a considerable setback. The crux seems to be, that losing Power Absolute, which the PP enjoyed in countless places and still enjoys in the national parliament, and which, apparently, is seen as the only manner of governing efficiently, equals total defeat, a thing of horrible shame, a catastrophe of epic proportions.

Meanwhile, the two new upstart parties tire not of pointing out that Change has now begun and that the old tradition bi-party system of the last 40 years, which divided and alternated power equally between PP and PSOE, has come to a final end. A fresh new rosy-fingered dawn is here to stay and usher in the Millennium…

On the bottom right: sour grapes

Where they get it from frankly beats me. For the above results - in the humble view of Alfred B Mittington - spell neither catastrophe for the PP nor the Glorious Dawning of The Age of Aquarius for our fresh new players in the Spanish political arena.

For starters: it remains to be seen if the unstoppable forward march of the new ‘third way parties’ indeed holds out, or if, in due time, things swing back, the ‘waters return to their riverbed’ as the Spaniards say, and ‘bi-partyism’ re-establishes itself once again. Podemos, for one, typically peaked last December, and Ciudadanos may have done well for a first time contender, but 7 % of the vote is not exactly a landslide…

More importantly still is the fact that Ciudadanos and Podemos did not arrogate to themselves the main part of their vote from the two traditional behemoths, but got their gains mainly from earlier ‘third way’ small groupings. Ciudadanos simply obliterated a party called UPyD, with whom it even tried to merge a few months ago; while Podemos absorbed an immense share of the vote from the old, senior far-left party Izquierda Unida. So much for Crucial Change.

Lastly, there is the little hurdle of Spanish electoral law which – much as I find it impossible to truly fathom – has all the qualities and pitfalls of Britain’s First Past The Post system, heavily favouring the bigger parties and local chauvinistic ones. If in the General Elections of next autumn, the results are numerically comparable to the ones of last Sunday, both new parties will attract a nice share of the vote, but will see their gains reduced to smithereens when it comes to seats in Parliament. This was always the fate of Izquierda Unida, which invariably got loads of votes nationwide, which then translated into a mere handful of seats; while localist and separatist parties, concentrated in a single linguistic and cultural area, got many more seats for far fewer votes (1). Just as in Britain (remember Ukip, the Greens and the SNP), the weight of your vote depends on where you cast it; almost as if different kinds of gravity were at work in different spots of the electoral landscape.

What next? Well, everything is really on hold until the next General Elections this autumn. Due to the splintered results, in all sorts of town halls and most provinces, coalition governments must somehow be welded together. This is no easy thing in Spain, where parties thoroughly dislike and despise one another and ruling by unassailable absolute majority is the greatest political pleasure. In some spots, where various national and local opposition parties have raked in sufficient seats, both traditional big parties may perhaps be kept out of local government. But in many others where either PP or PSOE made a strong enough showing, life is going to be a bitch. For neither Ciudadanos nor Podemos – whose very essence and trademark is the battle again the bi-party system – can for the moment afford to be seen as just another spineless coalition partner helping to power one of the big parties whom they always said they abhorred.

Naturally, Ciudadanos has it easier here than Podemos. The I’m-as-right-wing-as-I’m-left-wing formation can conceivably strike some deals with the PP and some with the PSOE, say something lofty about Governability and putting the Country First, and maintain their immaculate political virginity since they sleep with both opponents. Podemos, however, does not have that option. It can and will never strike a deal with the arch-enemy PP, and so has to reveal itself as the handmaid to the Social Democrats or, alternatively, open itself up to criticism of only wanting total power and not helping out to give citizens good governance. In short: whatever they do, they are doomed.

It will be a true mess over the next six months; but will there be true change? I doubt it. And so good old Alfred B Mittington, who has seen it all over a long long lifetime, predicts that there will be no earthquake at all next November. There will only be a minor landslide of mud.

(1) Essentially this system was designed back in the late 1970s to ensure the support of the Basque and Catalan nationalistic forces for the post-Dictatorship Constitution. As such it made sense at the time. The consequences are, however, somewhat wry. In the 2008 general elections, for instance, Izquierda Unida, with 1,000,000 votes, received 2 seats in the Cortes. The bourgeois-nationalistic Catalan CiU, with 775,000, got 11 seats. The left radical Catalan ERC scored 3 seats on the basis of 300,000 votes. And - top of the pops! – the bourgeois-nationalistic Basque PNV got 6 seats for a mere 303,000 votes, which means three times more MPs for a third of the votes raked in by IU… A factor of 9!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Hold your breath for the Hermaphrodite!

Oh Horror! Oh Tragedy! Oh Unjust and Undeserved Irony! On the very same day that Ireland voted overwhelmingly for the legalisation of gay marriage (congrats, ye Emerald Islanders; Ah, if only you showed such backbone, stamina and wisdom in your referendums on EU diktats and ukases!)… Exactly on that happy day, then, a Swedish homophobe wins the European Song Contest in Vienna!!

Is it a sinister revenge of Male Pig Chauvinism? Is it Karma’s cynical way to compensate an unexpected swing of mankind’s moral pendulum? Was it perhaps a rigged election, paid for by the taxes of the Tea Party? I can hardly believe it. But truly mindboggling it is, dear reader! For the ESC is now famously a gay love feast, an agape of alternative lifestyles. Over the last 25 years or so, it has developed slowly but most surely into a party of the pansies, by the pansies and for the pansies – to use the charming, if somewhat anachronistic, idiom of my youth....

The juvenile fool in question, by the name of Mans Zelmerlow, declared during his participation in a cooking program on national Swedish television (certainly one of the most macho activities that we know of…!) that he considered homosexuality ‘unnatural’ and ‘an abnormality’ and added that gays really should not be allowed to adopt children or produce them by way of hired surrogate mothers… He then added that he had absolutely nothing against homosexuals; an assurance which he repeated ad nauseam during the following days when the scandal broke over his not too well endowed little head…

For yes, you surely can imagine the outcry, reader dear! All along the line, Gay Rights activists denounced the young hulk, and the entire confederacy of Song Festival Soothsayers predicted that this would cost him countless votes and, most probably, the Prize. Well, surprise surprise: they were wrong. Indeed it may have cost the fellow votes (and just imagine what a landslide he might have enjoyed without that lamentable faux pas!), but he did rise comfortably to the top of the chards in the end, and the immortal laurels of a European Song Context victory were his… Soon, I expect, he will repair the damage done to his PR by appearing in public with a notorious, elderly, outspoken homosexual – Elton John, say, or Liberace – and with a little luck we may hear him say that some of his best friends are fagg---…. gays!

Yet the damage is done, dear reader, and it cannot be allowed to remain that way! The ESC badly needs to reaffirm its Gay Credentials after this most unfortunate incident! And there is only one way to go about it: a new, original, even more daring and audacious example of Alternative Lifestyles must be allowed to compete and win Europe’s yearly bonfire of good taste and musical talent. Unfortunately that is no easy matter. A simply Gay or Lesbian performer will no longer do the trick. That has become common, blasé, jaded even. The new figurehead needs to be far more eye-catching, flamboyant, and undeniably symbolic for the Triumph of Tolerance in the Fight for Equal Rights. But where does one find such a figure, after the 1998 success of Israel’s Dana International, a transsexual, and last year’s coup by Conchita Wurst, the crooning Bearded Lady? How many more variations of mutated, intertwined gender biology are out there, ready to storm the stage?

Well, take it from an old man, who has seen many splendours of human creativity flower over a long lifetime. There are still two such specimen available, who will live up to the task, and of whom I hope to welcome at least one in the Sweden festival next year. The first is a functioning, certified Hermaphrodite. This would, as a matter of fact, be my first choice, since it is only one step up the ladder from the bearded lady we already enjoyed. Unfortunately, there is a catch to that. In order for the world to really see and believe that it is a singing Hermaphrodite it is watching on the telly, that person would have to, well… show the various assets openly; and this may of course run counter to European rules of media decency which of late are getting no more lenient.

Possible flashy outfit of the next ESC winner

So, possibly, we will have to settle for the next best thing still waiting in the wings: the pregnant man. No, don’t laugh! Don’t scoff at poor Alfred B Mittington! For this jewel of the surgeons’ art is already a reality. Back in the States a few years ago, a transsexual gentleman, who had made sure that the doctors, during the necessary interventions and operations, left the existing feminine reproductive organs in place, gave birth to a child (the first of several as it happens). And it was recently revealed (see here) that in Australia, which yesterday for the first time was allowed to participate and to vote in the European Song Contest, no fewer than 54 babies were born to men.

So: for the Good of Diversity and the dignity of next year’s European Song Contest, let’s just hope one of those happy antipodean Heila’s knows how to sing and dance… !

Saturday, 9 May 2015

What if the electoral system were proportional?

Well… The electoral circus is behind us, the nation has spoken, and Mr Cameron is standing on a shiny new pedestal with the noose of a promised EU-referendum dangling around his neck. I wish him well for the next five years – if five years they be…

But now that the true event is behind us, it is time to contemplate in perfect calm the wondrous system which brought the Tory leader his unexpected absolute majority. As everybody surely is aware, this is the winner-takes-all ‘first past the post’ voting arrangement, in which the party most voted in any of the 650 electoral boroughs gets the seat in parliament, never mind if that party only received a tenth - or even less – of the ballot.

Of course there are things to be said in favour of this system; the most significant argument being that it tends to give the government a working majority in the House of Commons, and avoids the muddled time-consuming coalition negotiations and horse deals inherent in a proportional system of voting (see for instance Belgium, which last time around was without a national government for some 400 days; a period when, incidentally and ironically, the country was not governed any worse than usual…)

However, what cannot be said in favour of the present system is that it is fair. It blatantly favours the biggest parties – usually two – and flushes down the electoral toilet a tremendous number of votes cast for smaller, often more idealistic parties, whose voters effectively find themselves unrepresented for the next five years. Just so that you be aware just how unfair the system is, dear reader, Alfred B. Mittington has fiddled around with the numbers a little (he is good at that!) and offers you below a comparison of the composition of the House of Commons under the First Past The Post system and the alternative proportional representation, based on yesterday’s results.

Just so you can check me: the total of the electorate stood at roughly 46,500,000 yesterday. Of these, 66 % turned out to vote. So under the proportional system, it would take slightly more than 47,000 votes to gain a seat in parliament (30,700,000 of votes cast divided by 650 seats). And these are the results:

Soc Dem & Lab

Now, the British nation famously appreciates fairness; and so I dare say that anyone with a head on his shoulder and a heart in his breast will admit that – no matter one’s personal political preference – the present system is ruthlessly unjust to parties like the Greens and UKIP, while favouring all at once the big parties and the locally chauvinistic ones. Most blatant of all is naturally that the third biggest party in the country finds itself with a single seat for 12,6 % of the national vote; while a negligible pigmy like the Social Democratic and Labour Party (anybody know what they stand for or where they live?) rakes in three seats on the basis of 0,3 % of the ballot.

Say what you will and by all means do disagree with Alfred B. Mittington if so you desire; but you must admit that under the present system it clearly matters less what you vote, than where you vote! That is an unfairness which really ought to be addressed. But anybody who looks at the above figures for the dominant parties, will surely see at a glance why that will never happen…

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Get my Goat!

I am, dear reader, no fan of goats. I almost like them as little as rabbits (and you gourmets who follow my cook blog know what I think of them nasty buggers, don’t you?). Goats are ugly, they stink, possess a most unpleasant personality, and excel in horrid dietary practises, stripping innocent trees of their green sprouts, and occasionally devouring newspapers and  - worse – the 11th volume of my Collected Works (‘Brief writings on natural history and the meaning of the universe’), as one particularly vile and ghastly billy goat dared to do back in the summer of 1963.

But… no matter how ugly, stinking, unpleasant and wolfing goats may be, they do not deserve to be treated as they used to be in Manganeses de la Polvorosa – a charming little town in Old Castile, the pompousness of whose name is only surpassed by the imbecility of the locals’ character. To put it in a nut shell: every years during the village festivities of St Vincent, the most Christian brotherhood of the local church tossed a live goat off the bell tower, to the applause of the congregated village plebeians below. The idea was to catch the animal in a life net, held up fireman-style between a number of village toughs; but as all participants were inevitably stoned drunk, this often went a little wrong… which only increased the fun, of course!

Needless to say, the European Union, which bravely stands up for all the oppressed in the world (human, animal, plant or mineral), which has Commissions to battle every Global Injustice from the racial discrimination of chess pieces to the human rights of deformed cucumbers, never did anything against such village feast practices, because, you see, such goings on are Art, High Culture and Valuable Folkloric Tradition; and as such the rights of animal abusers in half the European nations are protected in and under the admirable European Constitution. It took the courage of a local mayor to forbid – in 2002! - this yearly pass time of drunk boors and juveniles, and to replace the breathing victim with a giant stuffed teddy bear.

Unfortunately, local mayors of such courage are few and far between in Spain. Provincial governments are too busy robbing the till or running from prosecution to be overly concerned with innocent fiesta fun. And the central government – be they left wing or right wing, it makes no difference – deeply loves and believes in regional folkloric traditions and would never lift a finger in the name of civilisation.

And so – while the goat no longer drops in Manganeses – Spain is still home to hundreds upon hundreds of crude, cruel, distasteful, sadistic and brutish fiesta practices that nobody cares to do anything about.

Ah, and they say that goats stink…!

AnimAl B. Mittington

PS: I am planning to compose a list of cities, towns and villages that continue in their barbarous fiesta ways, so that people of true Taste, Sophistication, and Culture may shun those spots on their holidays and not throw good money after bad habits. Suggestions from my readers are, naturally, welcome.