Magazine article The Spectator

Truth and Consequences

Magazine article The Spectator

Truth and Consequences

Article excerpt

In a democracy, the sovereign people are entitled to sack the politicians who serve them. But this was a dangerous moment for the voters of Spain to exercise that right. They have not only dispensed with a successful government that had a sound economic record in favour of an opposition that never expected to win and which can offer little more than slogans and vagueness. The Spaniards have also given an impression of weakness.

This is wholly misleading, but no less dangerous for that. Among Islamic fundamentalists it is an article of faith that Westerners are decadent and cowardly. The events in Spain will confirm that impression. In the short run, this is more likely to cause casualties in America and Britain, as the emboldened terrorists try to bomb Messrs Bush and Blair out of office. But it will now be widely assumed that it is easy to change Spanish foreign policy: just kill a couple of hundred Spaniards.

Yet that is a libel upon a courageous people. On Sunday, most Spaniards did not vote for peace. They voted for truth. The Partido Popular government lost office because of a last-minute revulsion at the way in which it seemed determined to exploit the Madrid bombings, while refusing to be honest about their nature.

From the outset, it ought to have been clear that this was unlikely to be an Eta outrage. The scale of the savagery suggested that it was the work of Islamicists, especially as the bombs went off 911 days after 9/11. At the very least, a wise government would have been cautious about imputing blame, if only because the reliable evidence which was still lacking could emerge at any moment.

But the PP ministers proclaimed Eta's guilt and brushed aside any doubters. Whether this was opportunism or merely wishful thinking - or a mixture of the two - it had a disastrous effect on the Spanish public's confidence, especially as a number of ministers were sounding increasingly hysterical. Some of the PP's final broadcasts were the most self-destructive electoral performances since Neil Kinnock's Sheffield rally. Eight years of hard work and good government were thrown away in a few hours of frenzy and dishonesty.

Yet the bombings could have been handled so differently. If the government had acknowledged from the outset that this might well have been revenge for Spain's support for the US, it should still have been possible to persuade enough Spaniards that the policy was right.

It should not have been difficult for ministers to insist that even those who had opposed the war ought now to recognise that events had moved on. The question was not whether Iraq should be invaded, but whether the coalition's efforts to build a nation and a viable democracy can prevent it from sliding into chaos. …

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