Thoughts From Madrid 30

I got back to Ramsgate last night, and I am trying to arrange to fly to Accra tonight. I pause to note down the train of thought that went through my mind as I left Madrid. I should start by saying I have no expertise on Spain at all; having by some strange chance been there less often than to any other EU country!

I was there as a guest of INSEAD, and in consequence living in great luxury at the Villa Real hotel, right next to the Spanish Parliament on the Plaza de las Cortes, and very nice it is too. Watching the politicians, lobbyists and senior businessmen in the expensive bars and restaurants of that area, and the ladies shopping in the designer boutiques off the Calle Mayor, there was no clue at all that Spain was in any kind of economic difficulty.

Except for one – the quite extraordinary police presence everywhere. There were more policemen than tourists in the Plaze de las Cortes, and more policemen around our hotel than around the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. There was an unmistakeable frisson in the air. The elite were living in – a description applied to the late Hapsburg Empire – a nervous splendour.

You did not have to move far from the centre of the city to get a very different picture. A Japanese visitor might get the impression that the Spanish word for shop is “liquidacion”. I knew that a proprty bubble collapse had been a major factor in the Spanish economic crisis, but I was shocked by the extraordinary number of empty homes for sale not only in new developments, but in old established communities. They represent not a loss to building speculators, but repossessed homes of families of the unemployed. The scale of the disaster is stunning to comprehend.

On a visit to friends in Toledo, I found the same thing apparent even right in the heart of the old town, with for sale and to rent signs eveywhere. Almost the entire distance of the motorway between Madrid and Toledo is flanked with vast modern stores and depots selling building supplies, home improvement products and construction equipment. Some were obviously closed down, some you could not tell immediately as you drove past, but certainly customer car parks were completely empty. It was like some strange post-apocalyptic scene; fifty miles of it.

On the positive side, my INSEAD hosts were not only delightful and generous, but were a great deal more open to radical or non-establishment thought than I would expect to find in a similar business-oriented group in the UK. We had a very good discussion. Of course, those of their members who chose to attend to hear me were a self-selecting group, but I was nonetheless impressed with their openness.

Something else nagged at my mind in Spain, I am not sure whether it was set off by my having watched “Pan’s Labyrinth” again recently. In Toledo I was horrified by the Army Museum, a dreadfully ugly concrete structure slapped right on the the Alcazar. If you can imagine encasing the whole North and East of Castle Rock in Edinburgh below the castle in a giant concrete bunker, bristling with vents and conduits, that would give you the idea.

Yesterday was a national holiday in Spain to celebrate Columbus’ “discovery” of America. A military ceremony and parade was the centrepiece. I found myself in the peculiar position of being one of the very very few non-military people allowed to walk in the Plaza de las Cortes, while Spanish families, many of whom had turned up with Spanish flags to wave, were being turned away in their thousands. I imagine there may have been other parts of the city where the public could watch the soldiers march by, but at the centrepiece it was very strictly invitation only, with large stands erected for the military officers and families and doubtless some of those I had seen as clients of the expensive restaurants and shops. Lots of uniforms. These things are a matter of feel – and the police who were turning away the ordinary people who came to support the event (and I saw no evidence of any coming to protest), were turning them away with a definite and highly pronounced air of hostility

Just a few days in Spain, viewed from the Bullingdon side of the metaphorical barricade. But it left me feeling that Spain’s elite sees Spain’s people as the enemy. Watch this space.

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30 thoughts on “Thoughts From Madrid

  • Strategist

    Remarkable testimony, very reminiscent of Paul Mason’s latest reports from Spain.
    Mason is the only MSM reporter who seems to be alive to the possibility that fascism/military authoritarianism is still there below the surface in Spain & Greece and could – and might be – returning.
    My brother is returning from Madrid tomorrow and I’ll post his take on the mood of the city.

  • James Chater

    ” But it left me feeling that Spain’s elite sees Spain’s people as the enemy. ”
    Quite. And absolutel typical of the elites of several western countries. One of the reasons I am sceptical that there will ever be a World War III is that at some point it started to dawn on elites that they have much more in common with each other than the people they rule, so it is much more efficacious and inexpensive to declare war on your own people than on the country next door. (Of course if the people have brown skins and live in far-way, resource-rich countries, that’s another matter.)
    The moment when Nancy Regan and Mrs Gorbachev started chatting to each about clothes – now THAT was for me a great signifier. Why wage war on your neighbour when you can screw your own people?

  • nuzothie

    The era does bear a distinct perfume of pre-revolutionary times. I reckon that the increasing economic inequalities and the secrecy of international politics (including palling with overtly undemocratic rulers) contribute to disconnect officials from the people.

    It’s the sort of thinking that Emirati Prince Bin Zayed displayed when he said,
    « If [Al Jazeera] can affect the grandson of a moderate leader like Shaykh Zayed this way, imagine what it can do to the uneducated or the lower classes. »

    It is always striking to see this mentality amongst officials of liberal democracies, who are supposedly both emanations from the people, and at its service.

  • Dick the Prick

    @Strategist – to be fair though, Paul Mason is an idiot who’s blitheringly schoolboy economic understanding has no place on the BBC’s flagship news programme. He’s myopic in his analysis and really should be pensioned off to Goldsmiths.

  • Strategist

    Courtesy of the excellent Yves Smith, more on Spain’s unfinished transition from dictatorship to democracy here

  • Neil Saunders


    What we have are only “forms of democracy”, and the concept of liberalism (as in, e.g., “liberal interventionism”) is now looking decidedly tarnished.

  • nuzothie

    @Neil Saunders: You are quite right. Here, I used “liberal democracies” as a better term than “the West” or “the American Empire”, but without prejudice to the list of democracy variants (
    here for instance). When a liberal democracy openly practices torture or unlimited detention without trial, the rule of law is stretched to the point where it becomes difficult to justify the term on anything else than habit.

  • Mary

    ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ is an amazing film and made a huge impression, so much so that I can remember it clearly from seeing it six years ago.'s_Labyrinth

    The military marchpast as you describe it reminds me of a visit to Istanbul about thirty years ago when there was a parade of thousands and thousands of troops and armoured vehicles to celebrate Ataturk. The elite were sitting in a covered stand with lavish decorations and floral displays. The ‘plebs’ or rabble as Mitchell et al would have them were left to bake in the sun.

    Agent Cameron is planning to have yet another celebration of war in 2014. Shops will be closed and public holidays will be called. Only £50m. Just in time for the next election. My Lords and Knights will be roped in to organize it:

    Italics The prime minister went on to say that these will be overseen by a “world class advisory board” chaired by the Ms Miller and supported by “my own special representative” Andrew Murrison.

    Other members of the board will include former defence secretaries Tom King and George Robertson, former Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell, former chief of the defence staff Jock Stirrup and former chief of the general staff Richard Dannatt.

    Historian Hew Strachan and author Sebastian Faulks, who wrote the World War I novel Birdsong, will also be on the board.

    Look Murrison up. Sounds rather dangerous considering he’s a doctor.


  • JimmyGiro

    In Britain, it’s more the police force, rather than the military, that has been politically reassigned to represent government policy as well as ‘law’; with their remit evolving from protection, to enforcement:

    And what is it with the new police commissioner control? Is this really a means of adding an extra layer of bureaucratic control, to reassign the police from their role of law enforcement, to government policy enforcement?

    The proof is in the exponential rise in victimless crimes; hence the change in media rhetoric to make every other person a ‘victim’, regardless of actual harm.

  • deepgreenpuddock

    The description here is reminiscent of a trip through Bulgaria after the collapse of the soviet empire in the mid nineties. About 60 miles of dereliction-factories empty, joblessness, desperation, prostitution rife among very young people, and mothers were turning the odd trick. Wages were very poor indeed, and public services were decimated and de-professionalised. There had been a period of near famine not long previously. There were many scams and criminal activities and a curious acquiescence of shrugged shoulders to the reality of the corruption and organised crime that was in place. Talented young people were leaving, by hook or by crook. the birth rate had plummeted, it was rare to see a child. Young women were being trafficked to places like Amsterdam for the sex industry.

    Was rather shocked by it all as the superficial appearance was not so different from other places although the most casual scrape of the surface revealed a lot to anyone not blind or stupid.
    I wondered at the time how this state of affairs could continue. Would there be some kind of uprising/revolution/civil strife?

    I thought so at the time, but looking back I see that the situation seems to have been ‘contained’. People are very resilient or die,-(so problem solved) and there is the awareness that the poorest and weakest suffer either way, whether by tolerating conditions or protesting them, and the rich and strong prosper regardless.

  • Mary

    At least Special Representative/RN Reserve Surgeon Commander Andrew Murrison does not appear to have an affilation to Israel but what is the RUSI Euro-Mediterranean Security Conference? OCP Group too?

    6. Overseas visits
    Name of donor: OCP Group
    Address of donor: 2-4 Rue Al Abtal, Hay Erraha, Casablanca 20200, Morocco.
    Amount of donation (or estimate of the probable value): £903.
    Destination of visit: Rabat, Morocco.
    Date of visit: 21-24 March 2010
    Purpose of visit: to attend the Royal United Services’ Institute Euro-Mediterranean Security Conference, and to meet with officials and Ministers.
    (Registered 12 April 2010)

    He was not in Iraq for long. Sept-Nov 2003

  • Dick the Prick

    @ Strategist – I don’t care what you think. However, at no point has Mason – who has a music degree! ever considered the implications of the yuan’s trading position, the dollar carry through Japan, the inordinate amount of debt that the Uk has racked up and the fact that the Euro was patently and irrevocably screwed from the start. Whilst you may consider Mason’s analysis a legitimate exposure by the MSM, most cogent economists believe it to be distinctly inept, biased and short sighted. If you can’t tell the difference between politics and economics perhaps you should change your name to tactician.

  • JimmyGiro

    “If you can’t tell the difference between politics and economics perhaps you should change your name to tactician.”

    Ouch !!!


  • oddie

    8 Oct: NBC: Visit Detroit at your own risk, police union warns
    The Detroit Police Officers Association is warning citizens and out-of-towners that they enter Detroit at their own risk, saying that the “grossly understaffed” and overworked police force cannot adequately protect the public in the increasingly violent city…
    This summer, city leaders cut the police department’s 2012-13 budget by $75 million, to about $340 million, in an attempt to reduce the city’s deficits, the Detroit Free Press reported. That forced the department to draw up a budget that will result in the loss of 380 positions through attrition and early retirement.
    Iorio told WWJ hundreds of officers have left the department since the start of summer.
    “Officers are leaving simply because they can’t afford to stay in Detroit and work 12-hour shifts for what they are getting paid,” Iorio told WWJ. “These police officers are beyond demoralized. … They can no longer afford to stay on the department and protect the public,” he said…
    Renee Monforton of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau told NBC News that it’s unfortunate that the police union is using such tactics to move its agenda forward.
    “It’s offering an unfair portrayal of a city that’s made a lot of strides in the past couple of years,” she said, noting that companies such as Quicken Loans have recently moved their headquarters and offices to downtown Detroit…

    “Quicken Loans” was not a great example to bring up surely!

  • Mary

    I rather wish we had not been told about INSEAD.

    From this, I see it as yet another EU-centric set up that provides the tools for the powerful to take control over yet more of our lives. It was founded in 1957 just after the Treaty of Rome was signed.

    And no wonder the hospitality was lavish. There is UAE money coming in and even a base in Israhell at Caesarea.

    INSEAD (the name was formerly an acronym for the French name “INStitut Européen d’ADministration des Affaires”, or European Institute of Business Administration) is an international graduate business school and research institution. It has campuses in Europe (France), Asia (Singapore), and the Middle East (Abu Dhabi), as well as a research center in Israel.

    Many alliances to universties in Amerika too.

    The graduates go off to be the very people we were wishing to shoot in the previous blog.

    Main employers of 2010 class MBA participants and the number of graduates employed were McKinsey & Company (127), Boston Consulting Group (60), Bain & Company (48), Booz & Company (40), Roland Berger Strategy Consultants (15), A.T. Kearney (14), Google (13), Johnson & Johnson (10), Standard Chartered Bank (9), Accenture (8), LVMH (8), Groupon (8), Barclays Capital (8), Eli Lilly (7), L’Oreal (7), Samsung (7), Goldman Sachs (6), HSBC (6), UBS (6), Morgan Stanley (5), Credit Suisse (5), etc..[17]

    INSEAD has a reciprocal agreement with Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business and Kellogg School of Management to share career services. Alumni of the four schools have access to job opportunities database of each other.[5]

    INSEAD also participates in the MBA Global Career Forum, together with other leading business schools.[18]

    The Dean has these connections:
    Dipak C. Jain also serves as an Independent Director on the Board of Indian Conglomerate Reliance Industries Limited which is also the largest refiner in the world at a single location. He has served as a consultant to Microsoft, Novartis, American Express, Sony, Nissan, Motorola, Eli Lilly and Company, Philips and Hyatt International. He also serves as a member of the board of directors of Hartmarx Corporation, Deere & Company and Northern Trust Corporation. He is also a former director at United Airlines and Peoples Energy.

  • Vronsky

    “Agent Cameron is planning to have yet another celebration of war in 2014.”

    He’s planning to celebrate the start of the war, not (as is customary and sensible) the Armistice. This timing has been chosen in the hope of spiking the Scottish referendum on independence with as much Union flag-waving jingoism as possible – Jubilympics all over again. Excellent piece here.

    Think you’re right, hope you’re wrong. Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will (Gramsci), and all that.

  • Phil

    Thanks for the link to the article.

    My great grandfather was a royal engineer in ww1. A decade back my gran, on her deathbed, told me he was, suffering shellshock, shot as a deserter. I employed a military historian who was unable to verify this. But even entertaining the idea got me slapped by a couple of cousins. You calling him a coward!

    Celebrating the start of a war is plain wrong but such is the success of the persuasion industry and so comforting the call of the bugle they will probably pull it off.

  • Katz

    I’m very confident that these commemorations of the centennary of the commencement of WWI will all be over by Christmas.

  • Bryan Hemming

    Please tell medialens commentators ought to give full links to pieces taken from other blogs. Far too often many don’t, which is disrepectful to the authors, who devote a lot of time to composing them. Otherwise they do a very good job of heightening awareness.

    A small point, “liquidacion” is often used in Spain as a term for the liquidation of that season’a remaining stock, and doesn’t necessarily mean the shop is going into liquidation. Otherwise your observations are spot-on as usual.

  • Moniker

    I second Mary’s thanks, and would like to ask if anyone can remember when the last gap between war commemorations and celebrations was.

  • Mary

    When you next hear Lord Patten of Barnes, BBC Chairman, mouthing platitudes about transparency and the need for honesty, remember this:

    BBC chief Lord Patten of Barnes, Bridgepoint and the Conflicts of Interest

    Lord Patten, the current head of the BBC has direct links to a company heavily involved in private healthcare.

    Lord Patten of Barnes is a member of the European Advisory Board for a private equity investment company called Bridgepoint.

    The company who also have Alan Milburn the former Secretary of State for Health under Tony Blair, as chair of the board, have been involved in 17 healthcare deals over recent years listed below. Eight of these companies remain as their current investments, which include four in the UK at a combined investment worth over £1.1 billion.

    One company acquired by Bridgepoint was residential care company CareUK in a £414 million acquisition in July 2010. CareUK made the headlines in the same year when it was revealed their chairman Jonathan Nash had donated £21,000 in November 2009 to run Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s personal office.

    Another deal saw Tunstall, a telehealth company with contracts in the NHS, acquired by Charterhouse Development Company for £555 million; who have another Lord Patten as their senior advisor. Four companies were involved in the transaction, including; Goldman Sachs, Clifford Chance, KPMG, and LEK, three of which have Lords in senior positions. Lord Griffiths is a director at Goldman Sachs; Lord Harris is a senior advisor at KPMG, and Lord Wakeham is an adviser to LEK.

    Further transactions for Bridgepoint and a private healthcare company involved Alliance Medical, who sold the MRI scan company for £600 million to Dubai International LLC in 2007. The sale was a weighty profit, following it’s original purchase for £90 million purchase made while Alan Milburn was working at Bridgepoint.

    Further investments by Bridgepoint into the healthcare sector look likely according to their website, which states: ‘We believe that there will be excellent growth prospects and consolidation opportunities for those private sector players that can offer flexible, efficient and innovative business models in this evolving environment.’

    Lord Patten was appointed to the Lords in 2005, and before being accepted as the head of the BBC was urged by Labour in March last year, to cut back on his business activities. This however didn’t happen, as he remains a stakeholder of energy giant EDF, a member of the advisory board of BP, advisor to telecom business Hutchison Europe, as well as his advisory role in Bridgepoint. Part of the concern of his appointment to the BBC was that as a member of the Conservative party his appointment would be a political placement at the top of the organisation.

    Lord Patten of Barnes didn’t vote on the Health and Social Care bill, but that he was allowed to if he so wanted to, highlights the democratic hole in the Lords rules, which fails to prevent voting despite clear conflicts of interest.

    Deals Bridgepoint have made in the healthcare sector include:

    Aenova Contract drugs manufacturer – Switzerland
    Alliance Medical Diagonostic imaging service provider – UK
    Attendo Elderly care home operator – Sweden
    Care UK Private healthcare services – UK
    Clinical Solutions Clinical decision support software provider – UK
    Corin Orthopaedic products manufacturer – UK
    Diaverum Dialysis care services group – Sweden
    Finagest Nursing home operator – France
    Firstpoint Healthcare flexible staffing agency – UK
    Healthcall Out of hours primary care and healthcare service provider – UK
    Medica Nursing home group – France
    Profile Therapeutics Inhaled drug delivery systems manufacturer – UK
    Pulse Staffing (formerly Match Group) Flexible staffing provider – UK
    Robinia Care provider for people with profound learning difficulties – UK
    Rodenstock Ophthalmic lens manufacturer – Germany
    Terveystalo Private healthcare group – Finland
    Tunstall Personal and home reassurance telecare systems provider – UK

  • Mary

    We are living under a very rotten system in a very rotten country.

    13 October 2012 Last updated at 23:02

    Ministry of Defence to investigate Sunday Times lobbying story

    The Ministry of Defence says it is to investigate claims retired military officials offered to influence MPs and civil servants on behalf of arms firms.

    The offers were secretly filmed by the Sunday Times, which says they were in breach of Whitehall rules on lobbying.

    During a three-month investigation, the paper set up a fictitious lobbying company to see if the retired officers would be “generals for hire”.

    The paper says all the officers involved have denied any wrongdoing.

    BBC Breaking News

  • Mary

    ‘The Ministry of Defence says it is to investigate claims retired military officials offered to influence MPs and civil servants on behalf of arms firms.

    The offers were secretly filmed by the Sunday Times, which says they were in breach of Whitehall rules on lobbying.

    Reporters posed as lobbyists for a defence manufacturer and approached four senior retired officers to ask if they would help them secure contracts’

    ‘In a video, seen by BBC News, Sir John (Kiszely) is shown saying he would be speaking to the prime minister, the defence secretary and the chief of the defence staff at a Remembrance Day event.

    “You are standing there waiting for the Queen with nothing else to talk about,” he is shown saying.’

    Quite so old chap. As you do. As you do.

    Are your vast state pensions not sufficient for your lifestyles then?

    Bastards. Five of their ‘boys’ are charged with murder in Afghanistan.

  • Mary

    Any comments on this Milords and Knights of the Realm?

    ‘Dannatt was appointed Chief of the General Staff (CGS) in August 2006, succeeding General Sir Mike Jackson. Dannatt faced controversy over his outspokenness, in particular his calls for improved pay and conditions for soldiers and for a drawdown of operations in Iraq in order to better man those in Afghanistan. He also set about trying to increase his public profile, worried that he was not recognisable enough at a time when he had to defend the Army’s reputation against alleged prisoner abuse in Iraq. He later assisted with the formation of Help for Heroes to fund a swimming pool at Headley Court and, later in his tenure, brokered an agreement with the British press that allowed Prince Harry to serve in Afghanistan. He was succeeded as CGS by Sir David Richards and retired in 2009, taking up the largely honorary post of Constable of the Tower of London.’ Dannatt Wikipedia

    His predecessor as Chief of the General Staff was Gen. Sir Mike Jackson 2000-2003

  • lwtc247

    Mary, Great to see you on such fine form 🙂
    In general: Sadly, fine things like the International Brigades, i.e. helping ones fellow man to overthrow very real and obvious evil, has suffered fatally from a loss of indignation inculcated by a diet of corporate media mulch and a prevailing view of do as thou wilt – as long as it’s meaningless.

  • Smokey

    I found Craig Murray’s artice rather surprising. I don’t know how many days he was in Madrid but I’ve lived here for over 20 years and I find Spain to be anything but authoritarian. An undemocratic political system, yes. An increasingly unequal society, that too. Severe economic and social problems, evidently. But authoritarian? Fascist and totalitarian undertones? Please. The main reason certain elements of Catalan society are rattling the sword of independence now is that central government is far too weak. They wouldn’t have shown the same “courage” if Franco was still in power. Back to the article, I suppose Craig Murray feels he has to write SOMETHING, but I can only say that he is way off the mark.

  • tony roma

    thanks mary nice to see someone working on patten
    let us not forget patten looking after the pope when he came to the uk.
    patten and his connections with paedo priests
    pattens help in discreet compensation claims from the catholic to child victims.
    who better than twatter patten bbc man to sort out multi million pound claims under Vicarious liability act.

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