Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner

Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, the mayor of Madrid for the Partido Popular (PP), is an ambitious man. Not content with converting the Spanish capital into one of the world’s largest construction sites, Alberto has never made any secret of the scope of his ambition; he would really like to be Prime Minister. However, it is one thing to have the necessary ambition, and another to have a means of realizing that ambition. You would think that having presided both the city administration, and previously the regional government for Madrid, would be more than enough to set anyone on course for greater things.

Unfortunately for him, Alberto has one major obstacle in his path and that happens to be the political party he belongs to, the PP. After having carefully cultivated during years a presentable centrist image, socially liberal, Alberto now finds himself dramatically out of step with a party that is moving further to the right in its thirst for revenge for the electoral defeat in 2004. Gallardón has been very successful with the electorate in Madrid, but is roundly detested by the right wing hard core of his own party. Since the PP lost power his internal situation has worsened, he committed an unpardonable “crime” for many in the PP by suggesting that perhaps the PP should engage in some internal reflection on possible mistakes they had made which may have provoked their electoral defeat. Then he promoted an alternative candidate to preside the regional party organization in Madrid, an act that provoked a tremendous reaction in a party where internal democracy is not approved of; candidates for important posts almost always being chosen by the party leadership rather than the membership. More recently he carried out in person the civil wedding of two gay PP supporters, the PP has been completely against the reform which permitted gay marriage and this marked even more the difference between some of his positions and those of the party’s leaders.

Despite his differences, on the surface things are not going too badly for Alberto. It has been reported in the last few days that his will be the second name on the PP list for Madrid at the next general election, immediately behind that of the party leader Mariano Rajoy. Barring complete electoral catastrophe, this guarantees that Gallardón will be a member of parliament for the PP after the next election. In theory this takes him another step closer to achieving his ambitions, but the widespread antipathy towards him amongst many members and senior leaders of the PP means that the road to power will not be smooth. The situation of the PP at the moment reminds me very strongly of the Conservative Party in Britain after Mrs Thatcher was forced to resign. An embittered ex-leader, in this case Jose Maria Aznar, continues to dominate the direction of the party even when no longer officially occupying a position of responsibility. The Conservatives in Britain swung further to the right after losing power, as the Thatcherite wing of the party was unable to comprehend that they no longer had the sympathy of the electorate. A similar thing has happened to the PP, with Aznar’s appointees controlling the party machinery, and refusing even the slightest suggestion that they should moderate their all-out onslaught against a government they are unable to accept as legitimate.

Because of this strengthening of the right wing in the PP, Alberto’s prospects for reaching the leadership quickly are not looking good. Even if Rajoy were to lose the next general election and resign, something which is currently looking quite possible, the continuing dominance of Aznar and his supporters coupled with the absence of internal democracy in the party would almost certainly mean the replacement of Rajoy with another hard right candidate. If the PP wins the election, then again the path to the leadership would be blocked, probably for several years. In the end Gallardón’s best bet is for the PP to go down to a couple of resounding electoral defeats, which would force a renovation of the leadership as well as giving the membership something to think about. Just as the Conservatives in Britain needed three electoral defeats and several leaders before choosing a more centrist leader, so the PP in Spain seems to be going through a similar process. Alberto will have to play a long game and be very, very patient


Tom said...

Nice analysis. But do you really reckon that Cameron is more centrist? He's good at pretending to be.

Graeme said...

I agree, a lot of it is false - but he is centrist enough to worry the Thatcherite wing of the party