A very British coup: The Brits running for election....in Spain

A very British coup: The Brits running for election in Spain

26th May 2007
Daily Mail

They don't speak the language and insist on British food. But British expats on the Costas are so fed up with Spain's corruption and crime they're out to seize power in tomorrow's elections - and the locals are running scared.

Bob Houliston is an unlikely revolutionary in an unexpected setting. His clipped tones, neat shirt and immaculately pressed beige slacks suggest the career diplomat that he once was in postings as far apart as Brussels and New Delhi.

Expat: Don Falcone, from Wiltshire, lives in La Marina, Spain (right)

"This is a capital of corruption," he states, staring balefully from under a cafe parasol, across a picturesque beach, on which a number of his fellow countrymen are attempting to get an early-season tan.

"The current mayor can't stand again because he is under criminal investigation.

"The previous one was convicted of corruption, although he's managed to avoid jail, of course. We aim to shake things up around here. Get rid of the rotten political culture."

Tomorrow, as the head of a new party, Mr Houliston hopes to be at the forefront of a democratically elected root-and-branch change in the local government of a major European country.

A perusal of the candidate list may suggest that this is taking place in the Home Counties; Crawford, Blake, Edwards, Ince and Lewis are all found among scores of very British surnames.

But this is not Bexhill-on-Sea nor Bognor Regis. This is Orihuela near Alicante, and Britons like Mr Houliston are hoping to take office in town halls all along Spain's Costa Blanca and beyond.

Why? Because they believe that they can run this part of Spain better than the Spanish.

Until now, some 750,000 British expat residents here have not shown a great willingness to integrate with the local Spanish population or adopt their lifestyle.

Only a very small number speak the language, they still tend to mix with other expats and use British-owned shops and businesses.

In their "barrios Brittanicos",they used to take little part or interest in the local politics which determine the world around them.

After all, most had come to retire and forget about that sort of thing.

That apathy is changing in a remarkable fashion. They are becoming politicised.

After ploughing all they own into Spain - only to suffer rising crime, poor infrastructure, indifferent schooling for their children and above all iniquitous laws and official corruption linked to property ownership and the rapacious construction industry - many of the Brits here want to take action.

One of the biggest causes of discontent on the Costa Blanca has been the so-called "Valencia land-grab laws", which allow property developers to apply to local authorities for rural land to be redesignated as urban.

These bizarre regulations have seen thousands of expats with country homes facing the threat of compulsory purchase orders on their properties or large bills to subsidise the buildings of new roads and infrastructure around them.

Thousands of expats have also discovered that their properties were built without proper planning permission, often on land designated as green belt.

These are now threatened with demolition or confiscation by central government. Many new homes don't even have access to running water.

Yet expats are rashly buying them unseen "off plan". The common denominator in all this has been the venal relationship between builders and elected officials willing to turn a blind eye for a backhander.

Now comes the reckoning. As EU citizens, the British have been eligible to vote in Spanish local elections since 1999.

Tomorrow, when Spain goes to the polls for countrywide local and regional government elections, an unprecedented number of Britons - more than 100 - will be standing for public office.

Several hundred thousand more expats have registered to vote, mostly on the Costas and Balearic Islands where their communities are focused.

This is no statistical footnote. In 15 electoral districts along the coast here, foreign-born residents, mostly from the UK and Germany, now outnumber the Spanish. Multilingual posters and leaflets are everywhere.

And, as the expats' concerns and problems are shared and suffered by many of the native-born voters, a number of very powerful new political alliances are being forged.

Many of the Spanish are equally sick of the endemic political corruption and chicanery, which recently, for example, saw the entire Marbella local authority sacked after a scandal over property developments.

Through sheer weight of numbers - the system of election is proportional representation - the British have got clout and are, at last, about to use it.

But, predictably perhaps, as the decades- old status quo is being challenged by "the outsiders", the campaign in some areas has got very dirty indeed.

Anonymously produced pamphlets have targeted at least one leader of a British-dominated party.

Accusations that some Brits want to turn Spain into a Little England are muttered by those already in office.

Thousands of voter registration forms, which are necessary to allow expats to take part, have never been delivered.

The reason? "Buildings are going up at such a rate that many have yet to be approved and be given street names or numbers," says Mr Houliston.

"People live there but officially they don't exist, so they can't vote.

"It's scandalous for a modern European country."

The La Marina residential development near San Fulgencio, a couple of miles inland, is a strange and fascinating place.

Locals say that it is the largest of its kind in Spain, if not Europe. And judging by the five cranes hovering over the high-density mish-mash of architectural styles, it is still growing, with or without planning permission.

Typically Spanish it is not. Garden gnomes bask on front porches in the midday heat and elderly men in shorts walk collie dogs, perhaps later enjoying a burger and a pint at Dreams Bar.

At the supermarket, where "English bread" is on sale, the woman at the check- out says to a customer:

"See you later, love," and her friend replies: "Ta-ra, now." On the noticeboard, British plumbers, builders and electricians advertise.

La Marina has been described as a British ghetto. Most of the 8,000 or so residents were born in the UK and in tomorrow's election could play a crucial part in changing the balance of power in the San Fulgencio municipality, which has only 10,730 residents in total. In 1999, just 3,000 Brits lived here.

The current proportion of foreignborn residents - 80per cent - is the highest in Spain. And like elsewhere in the Costas, they are about to exercise their power.

A new political party called AIM will field 13 candidates, nine of whom are British. Among other manifesto pledges, they are lobbying for better schooling for their children.

More than half of the local school intake is English-speaking and some parents claim that if their children can't speak Spanish they are simply ignored.

As it is, they are taught in temporary cabins because there is not enough room.

The expats also want more police officers, better public transport and medical care, and, most provocatively perhaps, the town hall and school to be moved to La Marina, where 80per cent of San Fulgencio's population resides.

The target of their ire, sitting in his office in that disputed town hall, some three miles from La Marina, is the mayor of 12 years' standing - Mariano Marti Sanchez.

At first, when we meet, he is blandly welcoming of the new expatdominated party. But gradually his annoyance becomes explicit.

"When you move to another country, you should not try to colonise it," he says. "We have our own language, flag and culture and you cannot change it.

"I have spoken to the British Consul about the British failure to integrate and she said to me: 'The first stage is for them to learn Spanish, but they don't want to.' "

He fumes: "You go into English restaurants in La Marina and the menus are in English only, which is illegal. And it is divisive."

A little later, over at La Marina social centre, an AIM "fiesta" is being held. Petula Clark is belting Downtown from the PA and a large Union flag hangs next to its Spanish counterpart.

When darkness falls, there will be fireworks for the largely retired British gathering.

Over a soft drink, the party's mayoral candidate, Spanish-born Manuel Barrera Garcia dismisses Senor Sanchez's criticisms, and says: "Corruption is everywhere. The opposition want to stop us at any price.

"Someone has even been spreading pamphlets saying that I am a sexual deviant and a criminal, which is not true. We are not afraid of this mafia." (He has also been hauled into court accused of ripping down his opponents' election posters - a charge he also denies.)

His number two is Mick Blake, a retired civil servant, aged 59, from Cambridge. He says:
"Some residents have been encouraged to see us as outsiders by the authorities who have been running the place as a family business for decades and using us as a cash cow.

"There is no infrastructure here to reflect the money we have put into the country. We know where the money goes. . ." He slaps his back pocket.

"This place has got to be roused from its time warp." Not all the Brits agree with each other on who is to blame for problems.

Don Falcone, 46, moved to San Fulgencio from Chippenham, Wiltshire, a year ago with his wife and three children.

Two months ago he was behind a protest against poor schooling in the area.

He said: "We have been extremely disappointed with the secondary school. The primary school has been fine, but our two teenagers, aged 13 and 15, have had serious difficulties.

"Obviously, they spoke no Spanish when they arrived and we were told they would have special Spanish classes to ensure they picked up the language properly and did not fall behind.

"But they have just been left at the back of the class and, at best, ignored by the teachers.

"My 15-year-old daughter now won't go to school because she's so upset by the racism she's had to put up with in class - from the children and the teachers."

Tony Cabban, from Tonbridge, Kent, is sitting in a cafe in the charming Old Town district of Javea, which the Madrid elite has long considered to be the jewel of the Costa Blanca.

It is an hour's drive north from Alicante, past the high-rise disfigurement of Benidorm. You would struggle here to find a single "kiss me quick" hat or advertisement for egg and chips.

Yet today, of the 31,000 residents of the municipality registered, the majority are expats of 86 different nationalities. By far the most represented are the British, of whom there are 7,500.

Mr Cabban, a 65-year-old retired chartered accountant, is one. And, having in the past founded an organisation to fight the Valencia land-grab law, he is now the vice president of the Nuevo Javea party, which is fielding five Britons in its list of 21 candidates.

Why does he think that expats are standing and voting here in record numbers?

"It has nothing to do with integration," he says. "I would guess 99 per cent of the British here don't speak Spanish, other than to order a beer or a meal.

"The reason people are taking part in this election is that they are very, very disgruntled about the way things are run.

"On a basic level, the town is dirty, the transport system poor, the administration chaotic. And the political system is corrupt. A lot of Spaniards run for office to serve their own self-interest.

"We have a current mayor for whom the prosecutor is demanding eight months' imprisonment and a suspension from public office for seven years. The previous major is in the same position.

"All three main Spanish parties are mired in corruption involving building projects. A recording was recently made of two building companies bidding for a contract. Some 200,000 was offered in bribes during these meetings.

"I have lived and worked in the Congo, which was good training for politics in Spain."

He claims there is resistance in some quarters to the British and other foreign nationals taking part in the political process.

"But the people here have to remember that they got rich from selling land to us and building our houses.

"Most of us do not have any place back in the UK. We moved here and our home is here. We work, we pay our taxes, spend our money and have the same interest in things being right as the Spanish."

And that, whether the local political elite like it or not, is modern European democracy.

It remains to be seen whether, if elected, these sons of Albion can run another country's councils better than we can run our own.

The only way the British expats can positively influence this adopted land of theirs is to try and integrate ---something they obviously will not--or more accurately --cannot do. It is axiomatic that if one immigrates to another country one should learn the language. I suspect they lack the intelligence to do so. My sources in the Uk tell me that the british who go to Spain --and elsewhere -do so in order to escape crime infested ,dreary, rainy ,crowded decaying Albion--
I would have hoped that these turn coats--the expats --that is- should be gratefull that someone--anyone would take them in---I surely do hope that this wont turn out to be a case of --well- blimey -we -brits- have- raped- the- world- and-wrecked -our- country--(and we hate it so much we are leaving it rather than try to fight for it at home_--so -now- here- we- are- in- say-Spain-so -lets -wreck- it -Too!---well the fact is that the only way these sons of The butcher Henry the 8th can positively influence Spain -for example ---is to iether reject their dreary Albionic identities and its pernicious language( ie this one) ---and try to elevate themselves up to the level of say--a Spaniard --or a Frenchman even--they could do it --If they tried . I would also suggest that if they cant integrate due to --lack of initiative or intelligence they should
go back home and drown their sorrows in a pint of piss warm draught.

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