The next two years, part 1

Chris Hanretty’s Medium post about the Portuguese elections, purporting to debunk the Telegraph’s write-up of the President’s remarks on forming a government, has been doing the rounds. I suspect there might be a little more going on than he lets on.

It is without doubt that Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, the author of the Telegraph’s somewhat hysterical piece, has selectively quoted the Portuguese President in order to give the worst possible spin on the outcome. What is also true is that Mr Hanretty has done the same in reverse. For instance, his post openly discusses the following paragraph:

“In 40 years of democracy, no government in Portugal has ever depended on the support of anti-European forces, that is to say forces that campaigned to abrogate the Lisbon Treaty, the Fiscal Compact, the Growth and Stability Pact, as well as to dismantle monetary union and take Portugal out of the euro, in addition to wanting the dissolution of NATO…”

And this is explicable fairly easily, as is his intent to ask the leader of the PSD to form a government first. However, unlike Mr Evans-Pritchard, Mr Hanretty fails to mention — quite deliberately, I think — the following:

“After we carried out an onerous programme of financial assistance, entailing heavy sacrifices, it is my duty, within my constitutional powers, to do everything possible to prevent false signals being sent to financial institutions, investors and markets.”

This, I think you’ll agree, is a much more explicit statement of the President’s apparent intent to use his constitutional powers to obstruct the formation of a government, perhaps even until new elections can be held a year from now. In other words, the President’s remarks have been reinterpreted by Mr Hanretty to ensure that any discussion of his agency and his particular political views have been quietly excised from the article. This is particularly difficult because most people will not read both the Telegraph piece and Mr Hanretty’s blog post, and will (because one tends only to read people and sources with whom one already agrees) end up with a one-sided picture of what the President actually said.

I have no idea whether this is constitutionally proper or not. In the UK, if the monarch refused to appoint a Prime Minister based on his particular political views, there would be uproar, but the same is not true of some European states (Italy comes to mind), and it is worth remembering that the Portuguese president is directly elected and indeed faces another election in January. Likewise, I do not know enough about the powers of the Portuguese parliament to be able to say whether or not the President’s actions are severe enough to actually stymie the formation of a government of the Socialists, Left Bloc and Communists.

In the meantime, though, it might be best to nip this sort of thing in the bud early on. The EU referendum will primarily be fought out in the broadsheets between fairly intelligent people capable of twisting and distorting reality to suit their preconceptions. So when Mr Hanretty says that

“…Euroskeptics like Hannan, and leftists like Jones, have chosen to interpret it in a way which fits their own views. When it comes to British Euroskeptics’ comments on other countries, they always think the song is about them.”

and follows it up with a link to Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’, I think it would be wise to consider some rather old wisdom on this point.

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