Category Archives: Democracy/Elections/democratic accountability/organized

Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, was a left alternative ever on the cards?

If ever there was a clearer example of why no politician should be allowed to serve more than eight years in office, it is Robert Mugabe, it was clear from his early days that this was a man upon whom power was never going to sit lightly. Never the less most of us on the left welcomed his victory in the election that followed the signing of the Lancaster House Agreement.[LHA] Sadly we were to be bitterly disappointed and watched helplessly as he gradually moved against all progressive opposition forces which had emerged from the national liberation struggle. Although in truth the signs were there from day one when the only other viable pole of political influence within ZANU, General Josiah Tongogara was killed in a mysterious car crash just four days after the LHA had been signed.

At first Mugabe moved against his opponents, real or imagined by either co-opting them into government or out maneuvering them into the political wilderness. However between 1983 and 1985 he ordered the Zimbabwean armies 5th Brigade into Matabeleland and the Midlands regions of Zimbabwe, resulting in the death of over 5000 people belonging to the Ndebele who had supported Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU during the liberation struggle. From that day on the die was cast.

Stephen O’Brien has an interesting article on the opposition forces within Zanu here http://links.org.au/node/481
whilst it is not perfect as it has some glaring gaps in the narrative it is worth a read.

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The Livingstone Mayoralty? What a wasted opportunity.


In many ways Ken Livingstone was an extremely successful Mayor of London, he was after all elected twice, I have no
need to point out his main achievements as he seems to be doing enough on that front without my help. * In all probability his main achievement will be using the 2012 Olympic Games to rebuild a large area of east London, that is unless his successor as Mayor Boris Johnson gets into bed with the developers and city speculators and turns it into another Canary Wharf.

However as far as the political left and rank and file political activism are concerned, from his first day as mayor there was a major flaw in Ken’s strategy. Unlike when he led the GLC, he made no attempt to put together a broad left coalition of the type which made him such a threat to the Thatcher Tory government, that it eventual moved against the GLC and shut it down. For those who at the time did not live in London or the surrounding area, it is difficult to explain what a political weather vane the GLC was for the left. Groups from right across the left progressive spectrum looked to the GLC and gained support from it, thus a thousand left projects bloomed. Nothing of this type of left activism occurred under Livingstone Mayoralty, nor was it encouraged by the Mayor or his small cadre of close advisers.

Indeed in many ways it was positively discouraged, as throughout his periods in office, Livingstone gradually moved away from the left towards London’s establishment. For all his talk of putting together a progressive coalition in reality the coalition he built was a very narrow beast. It basically consisted of what was left of the London Labour Party, the Greens and in the latter period NL and their backers in the City of London. True the level of left wing political consciousness was not at the high level that it was in the 1980s, and the New Labour government had placed checks and balances on the Mayor powers, but Ken is an able and wily political operator, but he made no attempt to play any role in helping to rejuvenate the left, indeed as I have already said he kept it at arms length throughout his time as Mayor.

I have little doubt that what remains of Livingstone’s ‘progressive coalition’ will move effortlessly into the orbit of the new conservative mayor Boris Johnson and in all probability will draw in the Liberal Democrats, who by shamefully refusing to call on their supporters to give their second preference vote to Ken, all but placed themselves in the Tory camp. Thus Ken’s so called ‘progressive coalition,’ will given time morph into a conservative coalition with a tint of green.

The seeds of Livingstone’s move to the centre where planted during his campaign as an independent mayoral candidate. Those who had volunteered to work on his first campaign gathered in an ad agencies basement only to be told Ken was to busy to come down and meet them. His absence was a conscious decision as he had no intention of building a broad left coalition, he simply wanted a group of individuals to do his leg work. Back then the only place he could find such a group was on the non LP left, thus a disparate group of campaigners worked hard to put Livingstone in office. However once there he ditched them and appointed a strange group of people, all of whom owed their position within the Livingstone administration to Ken personally, not one had a base beyond Ken within London’s community as a whole.

Thus an enormous opportunity was missed and the entire independent Livingstone Mayoralty was linked to the personality of Ken. Its purpose was two fold, to get him readmitted to the Labour Party and to see him reelected to a second term. In truth in his behavior, despite his fine public record when it comes to opposing imperialism etc, the post GLC Ken behaved more like a conservative politician with a small c. By this I mean all was centered on him. He was the arch apparacik and thus it was to ambitious bureaucrats he looked to maintain him in power. It became clear the last thing Ken trusts is the masses. In his second term, when he talked of building a progressive coalition it was with the leaders of NL, the greens and city of London, not with the rank and file members of the political left and Trade unions. Indeed during his second period in office at times Ken appeared to hate the trade union rank and file. The more so when they quite correctly tipped him bollocks, believing their own standard of living was a higher priority than a good headline for Ken.

There is little Ken did after he was readmitted into the New Labour Party that Boris Johnson will not be willing to live with, which just about says it all. The longer in office the more it became obvious Ken would not be reelected for a third term, for the simple reason that his popularity was based on him being outside the mainstream loop. Indeed Johnson’s spin doctors understood this only to well and portrayed their man as a candidate who has an individualistic streak.

What will Livingstone’s legacy be, I fear it will not amount to much, Herbert Morrison as right wing as he was, will still stand tall as London premier mainstream politician who achieved most for London’s working classes, For he built tens of thousands of council houses which made a start at replacing London’s horrendous slums, homes fit for working class people to live in. Perhaps there is a lesson here for future London Labour politicians.

As unfair as it may be, for many leftists Ken Livingstone’s Mayoralty will be remembered for his defense of Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, after Blair lied about the circumstances in which his officers shot dead Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station, south London, shooting him seven times in the head and once in the shoulder.

As to the London Left, during Livingstone’s period in office it has declined and fractured even further, which just about sums up Ken as a political leader. A great bureaucrat yes, but a leader of working class people in struggle, Never!

The Livingstone Mayoralty? What a wasted opportunity.

* http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/may/09/livingstone.boris

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Uniting the Anti-Fascists?


Below is a short piece written by anti Fascist campaigner David Landau in which he notes that the whilst there have been some progress in the struggle against the BNP, the fascist tide has not been turned and the anti fascist movement faces challenges after the BNP gained there first seat on the London assembly.

MH

Uniting the Anti-Fascists?

By Dave Landau

Much hard work, some of it good, some of it not so good, was done in
campaigning against the fascists. But the fascist tide has not been turned. Many
reasons some of which are to do with anti-fascists the campaigns. Problems:

Sectarianism Some of activity was done by independent anti-fascist
anti-racist groups, but much was done under the rival umbrellas of Unite Against
Fascism and Hope Not Hate/Together. Clearly there is a problem in being both
united and together! In some parts of the country people are happy link up with
both umbrella’s. In places like London however, differences are stronger.
South East Region of the TUC (SERTUC) played the role of a super-umbrella
supporting initiatives of both UAF and Together.

The absurdity of this particular split to me is that there are no substantial
differences – much is at the level of talking up differences or painting the
other in a version that does not reflect the truth. Now I am not for unity at
any price. If, for example, an anti-fascist campaign adopted the Beverley
Hughes/New Labour position that you need stronger immigration controls because
immigration feeds the BNP – yes there are people in the anti-fascist movement
(in my own local campaign) who are otherwise good in many other ways who think
this is the way to take the ground from the fascists – then I don’t think that
I could be part of it. But these are not the kinds of differences that
divide the umbrellas (see later on immigration). So one thing that I want to fight
for is to end this silly conflict.

Popular Frontism Both UAF and Together are into engaging with the Tories,
having them on the platform, whilst in some cases not having Left List or
Respect on the platform (not a great loss perhaps but the principle of the thing
when they are standing in the election but you have the Tories up there), an
emphasis on celebrity endorsements, using the phrases like ‘Defending the Britain
We Love’ (I had to swallow hard to give that leaflet out). Now I am not
dogmatic about who you involve – I was very pleased that the Bishop of Barking put
out a statement asking people to vote against the BNP, some would call this
popular frontism but I don’t care. Its when you don’t criticize the mainstream
whose policies have created the despair that feeds fascism and whose racism
maintains the framework in which the fascists operate.

We need a movement based on trades unions, grass roots communities and those
under attack from the fascists; the kind of genuine anti-fascist United Front
which stopped the fascists in Cable Street in 1936 and in Lewisham in 1977.

United Fronts are frayed at the edges A theoretical pause. United Fronts
are very dialectical creatures. Whilst we can have a strict definition of the
United Front as an Aristotelean category, going through a series of campaigns
and movements saying ‘this one is a united front whilst thats a popular front,
and those lot are bloody 3rd period sectarians’, the reality doesn’t work like
this. On the one (right) hand our partners in a united front will be class
collaborationists or at least their leadership is. Sometimes the social
democrats, even ‘left social democrats’, are running the local state. So in order to
form an alliance with them, we have enter popular front type formations and
try and make them into united fronts. On the other (left) hand defeating
fascism is conditional on a fight for a socialist alternative. We can argue that
this is the job of the (non-existent) workers’ party which should not foist its
program on a UF. However, a united front in action, can be the embodiment
of that socialist alternative – workers controlling the streets or linking with
other struggles which when added together are all about a socialist
alternative.

Immigration lies at the heart of fascist propaganda now and for always. So
the challenge to the legitimacy of illegality, them and us, national and
racial identities and so forth is fundamental to defeating their ideas. Now, it
would not generally be right to try and impose a position of no immigration
controls on a united front campaign. A mass campaign will necessarily embrace people
who have differing positions on this question (although a Nottingham
Anti-Fascist Conference agreed to sponsor the 29th March Conference against
immigration controls which is great). On the other hand it is down to the socialists and
other anti-racist campaigners to take these arguments up. In particular we
must fight against these campaigns adopting other positions on immigration such
as advocating ‘non-racist fair controls’. It was noticable that Strangers
Into Citizens were given a prominent position at the Love Music Hate Racism
Carnival. No One is Illegal, No Borders or Campaign Against Immigration Controls
were not invited to speak or to lead the march – no surprise there then.
SERTUC and Searchlight also work closely with Strangers….

Local Roots One of the big problems when UAF was set up was that it expected
local campaigns to simply fall into line. This was one of the reasons for
the acrimony and whey the Hope Not Hate/Together network coalesced around
Searchlight. UAF put out national material it expected everybody to use. More
recently Hope Not Hate has caught the UAF disease and groups tend to not produce
their own material but instead distribute material produced centrally by
Searchlight. Central material is a useful resource for local groups but we need to
produce stuff which addresses what the BNP is saying locally and relates our
campaign to local issues like a hospital closure or whatever. If the money that
the umbrellas both raise from TUs and other benefactors could be made
available to local groups to produce their material that would be very handy. Not
all of us have a local Trades Council and some of them are broke anyway.

So What Do We Want? The anti-fascist movement needs to re-group, needs to
relate to new forces. In London we face a big challenge with them having a seat
on the London Assembly. In places like Stoke-on-Trent there are similar
challenges. SERTUC or equivalents elsewhere to call a conference of all
anti-fascists to knock heads together but also discuss the POLITICS of the way forward.
Then some genuine differences of substance will come out but will hopefully
be debated constructively.

When Do We Want It? As soon as bloody possible.

Dave

PS Love Music Hate Racism have called a demo tomorrow night (Tuesday)
6pm at City Hall, the first London Assembly meeting with BNP member Barnbrook. Don’t know
who else is supporting it but we should be.

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BNP gain council seat at Tilbury



Unfortunately the British National Party (BNP} won a council seat in the Tilbury and Thurrock Park ward in Thursdays [1/05/08] local council elections. * This was hardy surprising as Tilbury has been hit hard by the policies of the New Labour Governments. Not least by its refusal to remove from the statute book the anti trade union legislation that was first introduced by Margaret Thatcher. Tilbury is a shadow of its former glory, once a thriving industrial area at the center of which was the Port of London. Which at one time employed thousands of unionized dockers plus many hundreds in the industries that serviced the shipping, ship repairing, transport, ships chandlers etc, all of which operated a close shop policy hence the wage rates were above the UK national average.

Today the Port of London has been totally privatized, even down to the abolition of the Port of London Constabulary; and is now mainly operated by non union labor. Although when the T@GWU closed down their local office it hardly helped instill confidence in the local workforce. Instead of closing its office down the trade union should have used it as a base from which they could recruit new members and raise wage rates in the retail parks like Thurrock Lakeside and Bluewaters and the warehouse complexes that service them that have sprung up on brown build sites in the surrounding areas. With government plans already coming into effect to build a super port down river on the site of the old Shell Haven oil refinery, at Stanford le Hope, the Port of Tilbury’s days are clearly numbered.

To the east of the town in the marshes near where Queen Elisabeth 1 made her speech, “I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too,” stood two large power stations. Tilbury A, which has now been demolished and Tilbury B, which is not operating at full capacity and is due to be decommissioned soon. With it will go hundreds of jobs plus those of the construction workers who periodically service and repair its massive generators and boilers. Whilst there is talk of a third Power Station being built on the site, that is all it is, talk!

The people of Tilbury are experiencing something not dissimilar to that which occurred up river at Dagenham, which has failed to recover from the chronic unemployment that was created when Ford Motor Company upped and left without a backward glance leaving social devastation in its wake, When the Labour Government was first elected in 1997 there were high hopes that the area would be rejuvenated, but when this did not occur and the government simply added to their woes Tilbury people became politically demoralized and very angry.

Due to its social desolation the area has some of the lowest house prices to buy or rent in the South east of England. Which in turn has attracted a mass influx of newcomers from overseas which has hardly helped build a sense of community, something that Tilbury was once famous for. Understandably many locals see the newcomers as competitors for the limited amount of council housing, local health care provisions and eduction that is available within the area. To demonstrate how limited some of these resources are, Tilbury people have to travel 14 miles to the nearest general hospital which is situated in Basildon. If you add in the lost jobs and factor in that the political Left has been unable to offer the people of Tilbury a viable political alternative, then as I said at the top of this piece it is hardly surprising that they have voted for the BNP.

That they did not vote for the Conservative or Liberal-Democrat candidates in great numbers is interesting and tells one that by voting for the BNP they are expressing their contempt for all the mainstream party’s, for they have come to believe that these party’s do not have there best interest at heart. Since the 1920s Tilbury has always returned Labour councillors, by voting BNP they are also telling the LP in very clear terms that they no longer regard them as honest brokers.

When the BNP last won a seat in Thurrock in the Grays Riverside ward it came as such a shock to the Labour Party, trade unions and the anti fascist movement that it acted as a wake-up call, which resulted in all of these organizations working hard over the following year within the Grays area. The outcome of this was that the BNP was defeated at the following years election.

Whilst a similar campaign will be needed in Tilbury if the BNP are to be stopped from using Tilbury as a bridgehead into other deprived areas of Thurrock. In itself it will not be enough, for unless the English left can unite within a single political party which will offer the most impoverished section of the working class a viable alternative to the BNP then these people may be lost to the Labour Movement for good. For the BNP have finally woken up to the fact that they can win seats within areas which are made up of socially deprived working class people and lower middle class owner occupiers.

Tilbury Riverside provided the disillusioned and socially deprived working class voters and Thurrock Park the lower middle class owner occupiers. The left will never win over the latter, but unless we regain the trust of the former the nazis will continue to gain support.

* Thurrock’s Tilbury Riverside and Thurrock Park ward.
Results.

CANDIDATE
VOTES CAST
OUTCOME
Emma Colegate
British National Party
530
Elected
Paul Martin
Labour
463
 
June Ann Brown
Independent
192
 
Lee Dove
Conservative
144

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Obituary: Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager,participant in the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler.


With the British National Party having gained a seat on the London Assembly in Thursdays local elections, I thought it would be appropriate to publish Deutsche Welle’s announcement that the last surviving participant in the 20th July 1944 plot to kill Adolf Hitler has died. Sadly despite the bloody legacy of fascism there are still organizations like the BNP that tout their filth and gain a degree of support at the polls. I for one would like to thank those anti fascist activists who campaign year in year out against the inhumanity that is nazism, for they are the true heirs of the likes of Philipp Boeselager, Sophie Scholl and her friends in the White Rose resistance cell and the millions of working class people who have stood firm against fascism down the years.

MH

Obituary: Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager,participant in the July 20 plot to assassinate Hitler by DW staff writers.

The last surviving participant in the July 20 plot against Hitler has died at age 90. Former army officer Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager provided the explosives for the unsuccessful attack on the German leader.
The bomb exploded but the Nazi leader escaped with slight injuries because an officer had moved the briefcase containing the explosives behind a sturdy leg of an oak table.

Von Boeselager was not executed unlike most of the other officers directly involved in the attempted assassination in 1944 because his co-conspirators refused to reveal his identity.

Von Boeselager advocate of Cruise film

Von Boeselager was one of the few defenders of the film about the 20 July plot
This chapter of German history is currently being turned into a movie with Tom Cruise playing Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, the plotter who planted the bomb.

Von Boeselager, who died early on Thursday morning (May 1), had welcomed the film, which has been controversial because of the involvement of the Scientologist Cruise, saying that it could help the Americans to understand more about the German resistance.

The former army officer had also been selected to assassinate Hitler in an earlier plot, but the plan — which was due to be executed on 13 March 1943 — was cancelled, when it became clear that Heinrich Himmler, whom the plotters also wanted to kill, would not be accompanying the German leader. He always expressed regret for not having gone ahead when he had the opportunity.

Von Boeselager, whose brother Georg was also involved in the resistance, always cited the Holocaust as his motive for wanting to assassinate Hitler. He told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily in one of his last interviews that he could not have slept if he had refused to take part.

He said that he first heard of the Nazi killings during his time at the Russian front in June 1942 — in this particular case the murder of Sinti and Roma.

Until shortly before his death, the former army officer had given talks and lectures in schools and other venues across Germany about National Socialism and the resistance organized by von Stauffenberg and Henning von Tresckow.

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London Strategic Voter; A progressive web site well worth a visit.


Recently I have blogged a couple of times about London’s May 1st Mayoral election, in the process I came across a very handy progressive web site called London Strategic Voter when one of their number visited Organized Rage. (http://www.strategicvoter.org.uk/doku.php?id=start)

This web site is well worth a visit as it gives a run down of the parties, candidates and the electoral process and by typing in ones post code it gives a brief account of how best to use your vote in both the Mayoral and Assembly elections. Apparently the people who run the site had a successful forum running at the 2006 London borough elections and if there is a demand for it, they hope to get a discussion forum going for the 2008 Mayoral election. In the main it is not telling people who to vote for but simply explaining their options and how to vote tactically.

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Ten years on: Time for the Stormont Assemble and Administration to be stood down and the building decommissioned.




Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and perhaps it is time we reassessed its effectiveness and questioned whether it can be a vehicle for progressive change. Whatever one may think of the GFA and its addendum the St Andrew’s Accord, if things stay as they are, there are real dangers that the ‘Northern Ireland Statelet’ will again become mired in sectarianism and political stagnation. By this I do not mean the Stormont politicians who live high on the hog at the UK tax payers expense, will revert to mouthing sectarian insults at one another. There is no likelihood of Gerry Adams crying “Up the Republic whilst Peter Robinson’s replies “No Surrender.” No; whenever a TV camera is to hand the political suits will continue to be sweetness and light itself. However unless there are major changes, the society they ‘govern’ on the UK governments behalf, will gradually return to the sectarian swamp, as the politicians and those they employ and service will increasingly become obsessed with defending there own sectarian fiefdoms.

Whilst there is a consensus amongst the Stormont clique of MLAs, it is not one that has emerged through argument and debate let alone by overcoming differences, it has come about through necessity. Thus it was perfectly logical for Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness when on camera to go around purring like a pair of Cheshire cats, but it meant little, for even the most dim witted viewer knows TV is far from the reality of life.

One only has to visit web sites like Slugger O’Toole and Politics,ie, that deal with the north of Ireland’s political scene, to understand that politics across the communal boundaries is still almost entirely based around sectarian debate. Threads become heated whenever Britishness or the ending of partition are put up, but only very rarely will there be threads that deal with the bread and butter issues of politics, education, health care, the economy, policing and foreign policy, etc, and that is not for the want of trying, for the owners of these web sites have attempted to steer there readers this way. It is a sad fact of life that when they do there will be few takers.

When the UK government negotiated the Good Friday Agreement they had only two thoughts in mind, to end the war with the PIRA and set the status quo in stone. There purpose was not to extend the political franchise nor bring democratic accountability to the north of Ireland. Thus they cobbled together a toothless Assembly and an administration that was made up of all the north’s political parties, whilst making sure it had no tax raising abilities, so it would be in perpetual hock to London; and so it is.

The British also made sure that under the GFA, the Democratic Unionist Party, Sinn Fein, Ulster Unionist Party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party leaderships who jointly make up the Stormont Administration, once in ‘power’ could never be voted out. There was to be no falling out over political differences of the type that regularly arise in the rest of the democratic world, as the funds available for such essential projects as the public funding for schools, hospitals, welfare benefits and the like, are set by London, and are shared out amongst the Stormont administration on a sectarian bases behind closed doors.

Thus at best all the electorate can do is periodically move the politicians they are asked to vote for up and down the greasy pole. The party who gains the most votes gains the Head Honchos chair, (1st Minister) and so it goes down the Stormont food chain. One does not need a Swingometer to know the makeup of any incoming administration, one simple counts the number of Protestants and Catholics who live in the North.

This being so, the over riding factor for these politicians is getting the vote out within their own community, a political program that improves the lives of all those they represent comes a distant second on their list of priorities. Thus it is hardly surprising that one in nine people in the North have their very own ‘community activist’ funded from the public purse. These people go under a variety of names and titles and some even serve their communities well. However as far as the Stormont politicians are concerned, they have only one real task, and it is to get the communal vote out on election day.

As there is no opposition within Stormont the local administration is never called to account in a parliamentary forum. Parliamentary committees operate at Stormont but they are a sham, as almost all of there members belong to the governing parties. The leading politicians at Stormont divide what spoils there are, favoring loyal aides and cronies with positions within Stormont or their constituencies, where they often work in the most sectarian way by stoking up differences and pork barreling the constituencies on the cheap. New schools, hospitals, policing, etc are not in their remit as London has the final say on such things, so they keep their supporters happy by pushing sweeteners there way, often financed out of Peace Process funding or central government regeneration projects and of course that old chestnut smoothing the way for planning applications, hence the glut of community workers in the north and an open season for new builds. These supporters repay this largess, as I have already said by getting the vote out on election day and between elections they are often used to smear their politicians opponents and to keep their man’s constituency clear of oppositional forces.

The end result of all this is whereas in the past the north of Ireland was a sectarian swamp in which the Protestants held sway at the expense of the Catholics, today it is becoming a sectarian swamp where the politicians hold sway at the expense of the population as a whole.

The GFA and the St Andrews accords, have out lasted any usefulness they may have once had, and if anything have become the main blockage which prevents the North from moving away from its sectarian past. If the last ten years has taught us anything it is due to the terms of the GFA/StAA, a vigorous multi party democracy can never emerge from within Stormont. It is time for the Stormont Assemble and Administration to be stood down and the Stormont building decommissioned. To be replaced by a new purpose built regional parliament, which has none of the sectarian baggage and trappings of Stormont and in which a fully democratic regional Administration might emerge; and before someone attempts to slap down the suggestion on the grounds of cost, the UK State was willing to waste millions of pounds to build a new regional headquarters for MI5 in the North, which is used to spy on the population of the UK and Ireland, so the very least they could do after decades of misrule is to provide a new parliament to replace the sectarian edifice at Stormont, or are the people of the north less worthy than the Scot and Welsh? The model of the Scottish and Catalan Parliament’s (Parliament de Catalunya) are there to be drawn from, as both seem to work well and the one thing one can say about the politicians who are members of these parliamentary assemblies, is they are not in hock to London or Madrid, but masters of their own house.

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