Incumbent Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso of the conservative Popular Party (PP) swept to a resounding victory in last week’s regional election. Not only did she win in the PP’s strongholds, but she also won in the so-called “red belt,” which has historically always supported leftist groups, in particular the Socialist Party (PSOE).
“Freedom,” or the fear of losing it, was key to how Ayuso turned the tables in the red belt, which is made up of the municipalities of Fuenlabrada, Leganés, Parla, Getafe and Alcorcón. Fear of Unidas Podemos founder Pablo Iglesias, who stepped down as a deputy prime minister to stand as a candidate, also played an important part. These factors combined created the perfect storm to lead Ayuso to a sweeping victory – albeit falling just shy of an absolute majority. Far-right Vox has already said it will lend her its votes to see her become premier once more.
Óscar Zafra from Fuenlabrada considers himself “on the left, but not the far left.” However, when the 18-year-old voted for the first time last Tuesday, he cast his ballot for Ayuso. He tells EL PAÍS that his decision was based on the conservative politician’s promise of “freedom” and a lax approach to coronavirus restrictions. “Being able to go out, go to bars, get together with friends… I don’t know, I don’t understand a lot because I’m still young, but Ayuso convinced me the most,” he says, adding that he made up his mind after watching the televised debate on April 21. His friend, Daniel Cáceres, who is too young to vote, agrees with his decision.
A total of 74.99% of residents in Fuenlabrada voted in the Madrid regional election and 35.95% made the same decision as Zafra. The PP’s success turned the political landscape of the area upside down – the party went from winning 10,810 votes in the last regional election in 2019 to 37,691 last week. The PP has gone from being the fourth-most voted group in Fuenlabrada to the most-voted, a title the PSOE had only lost previously in 2011.
Political scientist Alejandro Solís, who lives in Fuenlabrada, says “pandemic fatigue” is the main reason for the shift. Ayuso has been a staunch opponent to coronavirus restrictions, even though Madrid has one of the highest transmission rates in Spain. “People need hope. And this has been an important factor in the PP’s campaign,” says Solís. “It has played with freedom, with the idea of going back to how it was before. It has not been a purely promotional campaign, but rather one aimed at the idea of recovering our lives. Competing against that is difficult.”
Speaking to EL PAÍS at a café near his home, Solís explains that the idea of the red belt is a “myth” because left-wing and right-wing parties have been on even footing for some time now. According to him, one of the reasons for this is due to urban development in the area which “has grown very quickly in a short amount of time.” This has divided the municipality into three parts: the center, the traditional PSOE stronghold; the surrounding neighborhoods, where the leftist party Más Madrid made gains; and the new residential developments, which boast gardens and swimming pools. In the latter, the Popular Party has always held more sway – now it dominates completely.
Jesús García, a 66-year-old retired builder, is a longtime resident of Fuenlabrada and has always voted for the PSOE. “I am a man of fixed ideas and it does me good,” he explains. After making Social Security payments for 44 years, he now lives off a pension of €1,350 a month. It’s enough to go down to the bar on Castilla la Vieja street and spend the morning chatting with other locals as well as the bar’s owner, 82-year-old Marcelino Sánchez Mejías.
The bar is on the ground floor of a brick apartment building, where air-conditioning units have been added on and balconies sealed off. Just 10 meters away a new housing development is being built, complete with gardens and pools. “Who I am never going to vote for is [Santiago] Abascal or coletas,” says García, in reference to the leader of the far-right Vox and Pablo Iglesias, who is often called coletas – meaning ponytail – in a derogatory reference to his long hair. Following the PP’s devastating win at the election, Iglesias announced he was walking away from all of his roles in politics.
García is drinking beer with his brother-in-law Juan Flores, a 68-year-old retired soldier, who prefers red wine. Both complain of the politicians’ broken promises, the fighting between parties and the fact that the needs of the people are going unheard. The two share a particular aversion to Iglesias, whom they blame for the Socialist Party’s poor results. The central government is formed by a coalition of the PSOE and junior partner Unidas Podemos, a fact they believe hurt PSOE candidate Ángel Gabilondo at the Madrid polls. “Gabilondo is intelligent and cultured, but very slow to move,” says Flores, who preferred not to say who he voted for. “The girl has given him a push and there you have it,” he adds, referring to the fact that Más Madrid candidate Mónica García won more votes than Gabilondo at the regional election. Neither of them, however, anticipated that the PP would win by such a large margin. On the streets where they live, the conservative party won twice as many votes as the PSOE.
Meanwhile, further down the street, Roberto López, a 56-year-old who was given early retirement from communications giant Vodafone, is parking his car. He says he voted for Ayuso due to the “lies” and “broken promises” of the political class, as well as his “fear” of Iglesias. His first option was the center-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), which had been governing the Madrid region in a coalition with the PP until the early election. But, in the end, he thought that would be a “useless vote.” As it turned out, Ciudadanos failed to secure 5% of the vote, meaning it has been left without representation in the Madrid Assembly. He also decided against voting for Gabilondo on the grounds that the PSOE candidate would make a governing deal with Iglesias. He is pleased with the results of the election.
In addition to these two fears – the fear of losing freedom and the fear of a Madrid government with Iglesias – the PP was also buoyed by the growing popularity of 28-year-old Noelia Núñez, the PP’s leader in Fuenlabrada, says Solís. With more than 13,000 followers on Twitter, Núñez defines herself as a person who “defends liberalism at all costs, who defends that the state should not get involved at all in the life of the people.” The fresh-faced politician used an image of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher – who oversaw a wave of privatizations in the United Kingdom – to share her message on social media. “Social media allows you to reach many people,” she says, while adding that working with people on the ground is also important.
“Ayuso’s success has been seeing that the people want to work. The left did not understand that,” says Núñez, who will enter Madrid Assembly thanks to the PP’s strong results. “But I am not leaving Fuenlabrada, that’s my priority. I want to be mayor in 2023,” she says.
The sense of victory in the PP contrasts to the surprise of many of the locals in Fuenlabrada, who are still digesting what happened. Just 10 kilometers away in Parla, the same arguments in favor of Ayuso are repeated. “I don’t understand anything,” says David Jiménez, a 45-year-old employee of the supermarket chain Mercadona. “We have problems with schools that are not built which they have been promising us for years, we have problems with health centers, with everything,” he says angrily.
The city of Parla has a population of 130,000 and has grown in recent years due to a property boom that has made it harder to distinguish the left and right blocs. “On the street, people continue to be very much on the left,” says Vicente Guisado, a political scientist and Parla resident. But he adds that polarization is “mobilizing both blocs.” According to Guisado, the PSOE lost ground in Parla because its strategy to attract votes from Ciudadanos and Más Madrid failed. He estimates that between 5% and 10% of PSOE voters cast their ballot for Ayuso last Tuesday.
That wasn’t the case for Almudena Rodríguez, a 40-year-old physiotherapist and her husband, Daniel Guzmán, a 34-year-old Civil Guard officer, who say they have always voted for the PP. But they admit they know people who went from voting for Podemos to the PP or even Vox. “It’s an issue of castes and the revolving doors,” says Rodríguez. “They criticize and then they do the same. People are fed up.” According to Rodríguez, thanks to Ayuso’s lax approach to coronavirus restrictions she was able to keep her business open.
The physiotherapist is not the only one who supports Ayuso’s decision not to introduce tougher coronavirus restrictions. “She has defended us,” says 49-year-old Rafael Navarro, who is happy that he can still open his bar in Parla, Bar de Rafa. According to Navarro, just a few days ago members of the PSOE and Vox were having a meal together at the bar. The establishment is located in an area of Parla called La Laguna, where the PP went from being the fourth-strongest group to the first at last Tuesday’s election. Navarro, who previously voted for Ciudadanos, supports the PP’s management of the health crisis in Madrid. Not just for the sake of his business, but also “the fishmongers, fruit shops, butchers and Coca-Cola delivery person.” He says he knows the leaders of all political parties in Palara and gets along well with all of them. His only criticism is for Iglesias “who is guaranteed a salary for life, which I, as a self-employed worker, will never have.”
English version by Melissa Kitson.
Census 2022 – what difference does it make?
Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.
But what it is it all about?
At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.
The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.
The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.
Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.
Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.
And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.
Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture
Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”
The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.
At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.
During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.
When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”
He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”
“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.
During the commercial break, Will Smith is pulled aside and comforted by Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry, who motion for him to brush it off. Will appears to wipe tears from his eyes as he sits back down with Jada, with Denzel comforting Jada and Will’s rep by his side. pic.twitter.com/uDGVnWrSS2
— Scott Feinberg (@ScottFeinberg) March 28, 2022
The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”
On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.
House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022
House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.
Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.
The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.
Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.
This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.
MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.
It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.
“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.
“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.
“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.
“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.
He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.
Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.
Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.
The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.
“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”
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