Renault and the marquess

Lady Casa Fuerte stretches her neck out and admonishes independence supporters

A Catalan PP old-timer —there are still some left, but they have retreated to the back benches— privately recounts how all repeated attempts by law-abiding politicians and the business establishment to persuade then-PM Mariano Rajoy to make a move on Catalonia during the Artur Mas and Carles Puigdemont administrations were to no avail. He explains how those tasked with handling the Catalan issue, led by then-deputy PM Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría and Rajoy’s chief of staff, Jorge Moragas, used to filter out any nuanced input, thus keeping the Spanish PM’s grasp of the Catalan crisis at such a basic level that it triggered the chain of errors which fuelled independence support in Catalonia.

Hubris was pervasive and the PP seemed immune to graft probes as it kept a tight grip on those who were supposed to keep watch. Traditional print media were in the pocket of the Rajoy administration indirectly through Spain’s largest corporations. They all knew that the main print newspapers could be choked to death because they were in dire financial straits due to plummeting readerships after news became a free commodity once the sector had gone digital. As for Spain’s TV networks, the advertising duopoly did the trick. Back then you got the feeling that there was a joint effort by the Rajoy administration and big business to ensure that Spain’s traditional press would become their mouthpiece. David Jiménez, the former editor-in-chief of Madrid daily El Mundo, has had the courage to explain just that in his new book, El director, which has recently been published by Libros del KO. Jiménez describes what the profession already knew: the emperor is naked.

Jiménez’s account of his year as editor of El Mundo is reminiscent of a character in the movie Casablanca, Louis Renault, the likeable prefect of police who shuts down Rick’s café as he shouts “I’m shocked, shocked to find out that gambling is going on in here!” while he pockets his roulette winnings. A true newsman, Jiménez joined El Mundo after an eighteen-year stint as a foreign correspondent and spending one year at Harvard as a Nieman Fellow, a prestigious scholarship. In an interview with ARA, Jiménez admits to being incredibly naive about Spanish politics and unaware of the degree of putrefaction attained by the Rajoy administration in Madrid’s corridors of power, which was intolerable by his standards and soon conflicted with his failed plans to build an English-language style newspaper: more informative, more plural and less partisan. Jiménez describes the media’s relationship with Superintendent Villarejo’s private spy ring, how he found out that their first conversation was being taped and how Villarejo had fed fabricated stories to journalists whom he had got jobs for in the newspaper or online “news” outlets that are used to spread political propaganda, bypassing the bothersome middlemen who would attempt to check their facts first.

The former El Mundo editor acknowledges that Catalonia is always the wild card and that, when it came to the independence movement, he didn’t experience the same discomfort he felt with the newspaper’s stance on many other topics. Jiménez reminds me of a Spanish minister who once admitted to me in private that, after the PP and the PSOE hand clinched a deal on key economic matters, only the Catalan issue left them room for disagreement and political confrontation.

Catalonia’s independence movement failed to maintain the strategic advantage it was afforded by the result of the independence referendum of October 1 2017. Prison and exile have fostered long-drawn self-criticism about its underestimation of the enemy forces it faced. The humbling lesson was and remains painful, but the vast majority of Catalans are now demanding a referendum and the chasm that separates them from this homogenous, unitarian Spain that seeks to wipe out diversity is as wide as ever.

The PP doesn’t seem to have learnt anything from the crisis, as it insists on haughtiness and hubris to suffocate dissent. Not only does it keep a tight grip on the press, but it continues to espouse a simplistic narrative about the independence movement, which it aims to suffocate with a heavy-handed approach. This is now represented by their Barcelona candidate, Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo y Peralta-Ramos, the Marquess of Casa Fuerte. Lady Casa Fuerte stretches her neck out and admonishes independence supporters with the same stiff upper lip with which she addresses her servants. Hers is a textbook case of enlightened despotism turned into the kind of moral superiority that is more despotic than enlightened and shows its poor grasp of reality with the insolence of someone who can never find adequate servants and must bother to answer the front door herself. She has never had to say “no” and she represents the self-titled liberal conservatives who make deals with the far right and brush away dissenters with the arrogance of someone who possesses the truth. Three years ago Álvarez de Toledo posted an infamous message on Twitter [on occasion of Madrid’s Epiphany street parade, which was given an unconventional twist by progressive city mayor Manuela Carmena]: “My six-year-old daughter: ‘Mummy, Gaspar’s outfit is not real’. I will never forgive you, Manuela Carmena. Never”.

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