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Madrid view: The narrative

Narrative. This is the new buzzword among politicians. “We aren’t capable of conveying a convincing narrative,” say some. “We need a story to tell,” say others. At first sight, we are just looking at the old story of weary politicos complaining that “we don’t know how to explain what we are doing.” The shift normally happens when the politico, instead of asking the voters why they are unhappy and subjecting his policies to debate, goes to a public relations agency to disguise his poverty of ideas under a new and promising, but in fact hollow, strategy of communication.
 
The expression “we are not explaining ourselves well,” as self-indulgent as it is recurrent, at least has the virtue of frankness - rather like the expression “well, that’s soccer” that used to be said with a shrug by coaches, back in the days when soccer, before it became a mass spectacle of astronomical cost, was

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Madrid view: And the Arab Street?

One of the most discouraging aspects of the Syrian tragedy, which has now taken some 18,000 lives, is the zero role being played in it by public opinion in other Arab and Muslim countries. In the past, the non-existence of this public opinion had a justification in the authoritarian nature of the region’s regimes. Practically the only demonstrations you ever saw in their streets had to do with the regimes’ whipping up of anti-Western feelings, against the Iraq War, or in defense of the Palestinian cause, particularly in answer to the latest Israeli punitive action in Lebanon, the West Bank or Gaza.
 
As a result of this skillful manipulation of Pan-Arab feelings — fomented by the official media or in mosques, as the vicissitudes of policy requires — the so-called Arab Street became a global political factor of the first order. Though some, not without reason, denounced the whole

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Madrid view: Well done, man

That, and “I’m really, really proud of you,” is the breezy congratulation that the CEO of Barclays, Bob Diamond, sent to Paul Tucker, on Tucker’s promotion to deputy governor of the Bank of England in December 2008. The latter’s reply sets all the alarm bells ringing. “Thanks Bob, without you I could never have managed it.”

Now fast-forward to July 2012, when Bob Diamond is obliged to resign, having admitted responsibility for tampering with the most important of the interbank rates, the Libor, used as a benchmark for the setting of contracts whose total annual value amounts to some 100 trillion euros, or about 100 times Spain’s GDP. The affair, in which other major European banks are involved, has earned Barclays a fine of 360 million euros.

A doctoral thesis resulting from months of patient work could hardly have produced better empirical evidence than the above email of the

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Madrid view: Totem and taboo

Twenty-four summits after the crisis began, the EU machinery is back in motion for a day, generating such a degree of uncertainty that observers differ as to whether Europe is on the edge of the abyss, or about to reach the promised land of political union.

For some, we are looking at the moment of truth, when the euro will start to self-destruct if immediate decisions are not made. In support of this view they cite the fragility of Spain and Italy and the fact that, with the present design of the rescue funds, there will not be sufficient resources to bankroll them if they enter into bailout programs such as those in Greece, Ireland and Portugal. They point out that Spanish leader Rajoy’s credibility is exhausted, and can only deteriorate day by day, as it is found that austerity measures not only fail to achieve growth and employment but cannot even keep the deficit under

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Madrid view: A three-way game

It is useful to look at this crisis as a three-way game between firefighters, architects and pyromaniacs.

The firefighters’ aim is to put out the fire, regardless of what the building will look like afterward, or what the inhabitants will think. Firemen are guided by immediate necessity: will this serve as a firebreak? Will it save lives? They work under pressure, waste no time bewailing the lack of contingency plans, and make do with the materials that they have to hand. They are not concerned with constructing a neat explanation — or, to use the current buzzword, a narrative.

The architect, on the contrary, needs to work things out to the very last detail, leaving nothing to improvisation, which is his worst enemy. He wants to design his building with time, weighing up all the alternatives, knowing the exact budget, the load the structure can bear, the use it will have, and who

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