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Truth is the casualty as Spain’s campaign heats up

As the November election approaches, public figures are taking a woefully cavalier attitude to facts and figures.


González Pons: Three-and-a-half million jobs? No problem.

The last few days haven’t been good ones for truth and accuracy on Spain’s political scene. In fact, for those who follow the news closely, it’s been downright confusing.

Popular Party (PP) spokesman Esteban González Pons should shoulder at least some of the blame, after sheepishly backtracking on a pledge, made on September 7, that his party would create 3.5 million jobs over the next four years if it wins the November 20 general election.

It was a target that meant slashing Spain’s unemployment rate by 70 percent. 3.5 million? Of course not, González Pons said the next day, after PP apparatchiks were left scrambling to make sense of his boast. What he meant to say, he explained, was that the party “aspired” to create this many jobs, but was not promising to actually do so. “Maybe I shouldn’t have used that 3.5 million figure,” he told ABC newspaper.

Party colleague Esperanza Aguirre, the premier of the Madrid region, was infected by González Pons’s refusal to get the calculator out when she accused public school teachers of working “20 hours per week”. The charge, made during Aguirre’s standoff with school workers over budget cuts, was short-lived and she issued an apology. Her cavalier attitude to numbers was accompanied by a similar attitude to grammar, when a letter she addressed to 21,000 Madrid teachers, justifying education cuts, was found to be plagued with typographical errors (caused by “publishing pixies,” she insisted).

But conservatives will be relieved to hear that the PP has not had a monopoly on sowing confusion lately. Ignacio Fernández Toxo, the head of the CCOO union, said in a television interview on September 5 that the prime minister had told him in August that the country had been “on the edge of the abyss” and had come extremely close to needing an EU bailout, following savage speculation on the bond market. Cue “clarification” the next day, as Fernández Toxo explained that what he had said was “an unfortunate attempt to summarise the content of an emergency meeting” between union leaders and Zapatero.

You can’t help feeling that this rash of half-truths and U-turns is no coincidence: it’s the beginning of the election campaign, so the stakes are raised, politicians feel under pressure and silly things are said.

“Whoever has a mouth makes mistakes,” said Aguirre as she made her apology to teachers.

The irony of these cases is that most Spaniards would probably welcome more detailed figures and plain talking on the campaign trail and in public life in general. The problem is, González Pons, Aguirre and Fernández Toxo all betrayed a lack of seriousness and respect for their audience in rattling off these bursts of nonsense (although with Toxo it’s tempting to wonder if his clarification, rather than the original declaration, was disingenuous).

The great shame about González Pons’s Santa Claus-like job estimate is that finally it looked as if the PP was prepared to nail its colours to the mast and offer some hard-and-fast numbers to back up its incessant attacks on Socialist economic policy. But no, it was business as usual for party leader Mariano Rajoy at the weekend, as he sketched the following picture of the financial sector to supporters:

“We need credit, because without money, there’s no work. Some things have to be done. Some things have to be understood…” And as if that wasn’t nebulous enough: “We will have to talk to in depth and discuss and see what can be done, because they also have their problems, above all bad debt. I guarantee that the PP will talk to the banks and that solutions will emerge from that dialogue.” Who needs a manifesto when you offer such compelling policy detail?

The run-in to the elections has got underway and it’s been full of half-truths, no-truths and backtracking. But that’s nothing; just wait until November.

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Published: Sep 13 2011
Category: Iberoblog, Featured, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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