I’ve just spent six happy days in and near Madrid, isolated through choice from news of the UK. A friend’s significant birthday was the reason for the jaunt, but as always I tried to keep my ears and eyes open for all that stuff that helps drive my work interest.
Here are some of the things I picked up.
Local and regional elections with an unusually high turnout of 70% gave the incumbent PSOE (socialist) party a drubbing and a large swing towards the PP (Partido Popular – conservative). An uncanny parallel to the turn and turnabout of UK mid-term local elections. More privatisation of local services are now expected with left-leaning acquaintances at least concerned about the allocation of contracts to politicians’ “friends”. My Spanish wasn’t up to asking about their public sector procurement procedures. Presumably not as rigorous as ours.
While much of the country voted, on a Sunday, thousands of young people in a phenomenon instantly dubbed Movimiento de 15M (15 May – the day it began) occupied major squares in a number of city centres (most prominently 25,000 in Madrid) to protest against, well, most things – youth unemployment at 40%, the PSOE/PP duopoly of power, a general sense of hopelessness about the future and frustration with the political class and their elders. As I write it’s not at all clear whether this will wither on the vine after the initial enthusiasm or become the precursor of more profound change in society.
It’s sometimes difficult to see a looming crisis in the wealth and vibrancy of Madrid. We ate one evening (late as is the Spanish custom) in a Japanese restaurant at the top of an elegant new shopping centre. Four floors below we had parked opposite the special bays reserved for Vehiculos ecologicas, electric or hybrid cars. You don’t see many of those in the UK.
Finally, on a completely different subject but one many readers will recognise, a friend told me she was unable to join us one afternoon because she had to be at a work meeting. This was how she put it in English better than my Spanish.
Erm, we have to go to a meeting, very important, for the division of my company, to see the strategy for the future. What should we do? Is looking at the problem ABC [name of a major worldwide consultancy company very active in the UK]. They come, all very young and suits to speak with us very much then they come back with the answers of what we have told them. This will be the meeting.
How an engineering company in Spain plotted the future for one of its divisions suddenly seemed very close to what innumerable British public servants have endured at the hands of the ABCs of this world. Perhaps the same children with MBAs commute back and forth to apply the single model of consultancy (not my model I need hardly say) throughout the globe.