Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Old And New Elite: Spain's civil service

If I tell you that on the first, last and only occasion when I could be bothered to actually go and watch the Boat Race (watch, as in go to a pub near to the start and see virtually nothing) Mike Smith was DJ-ing from the Capital Radio boat, then you will appreciate that it was quite a long time ago (I'm guessing 1984).

Living in London, attendance at the Boat Race was one of those things that you thought you ought to do, even if you didn't have the slightest interest in the race itself. I managed to put off this apparent obligation until finally I crumbled under the peer pressure of a good piss-up.

I am willing to concede that nowadays the Boat Race is between two teams that comprise genuine athletes who get degrees on the nod purely by virtue of being able to put themselves through hell by rowing four and a half miles along the Thames. But back in the day of Mike Smith and even further back in the day, the two teams consisted of toffs for whom participation in the Boat Race was a further notch on the CV to joining the board at a private bank or heading a civil service department.

For reasons that escape me, when I was a boy, I supported Oxford. Actually, I know the reason why. My father supported Oxford. My mother, and therefore my sister, supported Cambridge. Why either? Pass. Unlike other sporting rituals that began to come thick and fast (relatively speaking) once spring was about to spring or had sprung - the National and then the FA Cup Final - the Boat Race was an exercise in the utterly futile. There were only ever the same teams and one always won by a huge margin; any interest in the race was lost almost as soon as it had started.

More than this, we were supporting bunches of toffs, members of the elite. What on earth were we thinking of? Had it been mandatory to wear caps, then we would have been doffing them in the general direction of the black-and-white Bush TV while the combined aristocracy of the Oxbridge boats cruised past Fulham's football ground.

There isn't anything like the Boat Race in Spain. The country has its own idiotic sports, but there is no Boat Race because there are no two universities like Oxford and Cambridge. The University of Barcelona can boast that it is the country's number one university and in the top two hundred universities in the world, but a ranking of 176th among those 200 doesn't sound quite so clever; it has some distance to go to catch Cambridge in first place and Oxford in fifth.

Oxbridge was and still is, albeit to a lesser extent, the finishing school for the British elite. I realised that things were changing in the nature of who actually went to Oxbridge when I, in a somewhat foolhardy move on behalf of my school, was being lined up for Oxbridge. I didn't get there, but five of my peers, of whom none were anything other than good middle-class boys, did. At least one, though, went on to become a top civil servant.

It would be hard to think of him as being part of an elite, but the British civil service can still brag that it is an elite. However, it isn't in quite the same league as the Spanish civil service elite.

Social class in Spain has long been determined in a similar fashion to Britain. The nobility, of which there is still a sizable chunk, and the large absentee landowners of the latifundio of southern Spain (and this nobility and these landowners could be one of the same thing) comprise the upper class. But there remains a bourgeoisie of aspirant upper class that has long existed, one of the civil service.

The Spanish civil service owes a great deal to its French counterpart. Very elite therefore, even if its power has been eroded. And what has been eroded in particular has been the power of the "corps", groups of civil servants who acted on the basis of their own self-interests and with their own self-ruling capacity, independent of political power. Such was the power of the corps in Franco's time that they even had their own self-financing ability, i.e. they would charge citizens special taxes for services they provided.

The corps still exist, but governments, especially socialist governments, have sought to undermine them. But rather like the Catholic Church, a different type of elite, has proved to be resilient in resisting attempts to diminish power, so have the corps. The current government, seeking and implementing drastic cuts in the public sector, butts heads with this elite and does its best to further reduce its power and its cost. But elites, pretty much by definition, have a remarkable capacity for hanging onto their elite status.

The Boat Race now has a new elite, one of elite athletes. There is no boat race for an elite in Spain. Just boats. Expensive ones. And who pays for them?

Any comments to please.

Index for March 2013

Antoni Pastor and El Pi - 16 March 2013
Atlantic coast tourism - 19 March 2013
Attitudes towards tourism - 29 March 2013
Balearics Day and regional autonomy - 1 March 2013
Berlin travel fair: GOB protest - 11 March 2013
Bikini and tourism - 17 March 2013
Burka ban - 27 March 2013
Citizenship - 30 March 2013
Civil service elite in Spain - 31 March 2013
Club Med in Alcúdia - 3 March 2013
Entrepreneurialism and Spanish culture - 12 March 2013
Eurovision Song Contest - 8 March 2013
Gatamoix colony - 4 March 2013
Mallorca's tourism history - 15 March 2013
Palma merchandising - 7 March 2013
Partido Popular declining popularity - 25 March 2013
Pollensa Festival - 10 March 2013
President Bauzá and business affairs - 13 March 2013
Radio Calvià raid - 23 March 2013
Roundabouts - 24 March 2013
Russian tourism in Pollensa - 5 March 2013
Spain's politics in 1964 - 22 March 2013
Spanish economy recovery? - 14 March 2013
Spying - 21 March 2013
Teams - 18 March 2013
Temple Fielding - 2 March 2013
Tourism export - 20 March 2013
Tourism products - 6 March 2013
Tourist tax - 9 March 2013
Violence accusations against PSOE - 26 March 2013
Winter tourism initiative - 28 March 2013

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