Monday, January 22, 2007

Demonstrating How Wrong You Can Be

Having boycotted the demonstration against ETA following the bombing at Madrid airport, the Partido Popular (PP) and their allies have now decided that the only appropriate response is to organise their own demonstration, set to take place on February 3rd. Officially called by one of the PP’s satellite organisations, the Foro de Ermua, the PP quickly responded by announcing their full support, together with the AVT and the Peones Negros. The difference this time, of course, will be that the demonstration will be more against the government than against ETA – with the official slogan focusing on opposition to any negotiated solution. This is the real reason for the boycott of the previous demonstration, the absence of any criticism of the government’s policy.

According to what I read in the Spanish press this weekend, the decision not to support the first demonstration came from (almost) the very top of the PP – its current leader Mariano Rajoy. Now there have been occasional suggestions that Rajoy is a prisoner of the hard right faction in the PP represented by Angel Acebes and Eduardo Zaplana (with Aznar lurking in the shadows behind them) – and that many of the PP’s hardline stances originate from this section of the party. Perhaps this opinion flourishes because Rajoy does not present such an abrasive, resentful image in his public appearances, but the reality of the situation does seem to be different. Rajoy was hand picked by Aznar to be his successor, and has always belonged to the more right wing side of the PP. The only thing that is likely to restrain him from adopting hard right wing positions might be the realisation that failure to attract enough support from the political centre is going to cost him the only chance he probably has left of winning an election as PP leader.

The PP has been unable to take advantage of any government discomfort over the breakdown of the peace process with ETA, and they reason they have been unable to do so is mainly because the Spanish public does not hold the government responsible for what has happened. The PP has badly miscalculated the situation and presented a sectarian, aggressive response which does not seem to bring them any benefit, apart from keeping their already committed supporters happy. This view is backed up by the most recent opinion polls, one in ABC that was carried out before last weeks parliamentary debate gave the PP a couple of points advantage. However, a newer one in La Vanguardia taken after the debate and Rajoy’s aggressive attacks on Zapatero shows the PP trailing several points behind the governing PSOE, and below the level they reached in the last elections. What happens on February 3rd could be further evidence of the extent of this miscalculation – close attention will be paid to the numbers attending given the already evident decline in previous mobilisations; in the end the street is not the place where the PP’s natural supporters feel most comfortable.

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