15 March 2004

Spun out of office

When the bombers struck on Thursday morning, everyone knew that on top of the human misery there would be electoral consequences. The identity of the bombers was crucial. If they were Basque, voters would punish PSOE; but if they were al-Qaida, the PP would lose seats. Supported by a compliant state media machine which Vladimir Putin would be proud of, the government started spinning.

Following the golden rule that the first impression is what counts, the government set about getting their version into the public domain. So the prime minister quickly phoned round the editors of the four national daily newspapers, who dutifully responded by printing special editions reporting what they had been told: it was Eta.

This was followed by a series of press conferences from the interior minister who, without offering any hard evidence, insisted that Eta was responsible and poured scorn on those who had said otherwise. They were, he said, 'pathetic', and their alternative theories 'poisonous'. As a leftwing radio station started to produce a series of reports casting doubt on the official version, the government refused to acknowledge the Copernican revolution that was taking place around them. The spinning went on.

On the night before the election, a crowd of around 5000 surrounded the PP headquarters in Madrid chanting 'who was it?'. On top of the agony of the bomb, people were furious at government attempts to hide the truth. Yesterday, voters took their revenge.

Of course, what happened yesterday here in Madrid has no direct political equivalent in Britain. Nevertheless, Blair should take note. In contradiction to President Clinton's message, Spaniards showed that 'it's the economy, stupid' is just not enough. The Spanish economy grew by over 2% last year. Unemployment is at a record low. And the government that delivered that is today out of office.

One or two national leaders should give an ear to the chant from PSOE headquarters. Ganamos sin mentiras. We win without lies. And they should remember there was absolutely no warning of this loss in either the opinion polls or even the exit polls. The polls predicted a close result.

The BBC is quoting Zapatero as saying:

The war in Iraq was a disaster, the occupation of Iraq is a disaster.

Apparently Zapatero will stick to his mandate and withdraw the troops.

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