Thursday, July 05, 2007

The State Of The Opposition

Starting again after my latest absence from Madrid, I didn’t expect to be posting on the “state of the nation debate” that was held this week in Spain. For all my interest in politics, I find these staged annual parliamentary debates a bit boring, and with this being the last one before next year’s general election I thought it would probably be a tedious and content free event with a careful eye on not doing anything to upset the electorate. Well I was right, mostly, but what makes it worth posting about is the evident incapacity of the opposition Partido Popular (PP) to find anything at all to talk about other than the collapse of the government’s attempt to negotiate with ETA. We had a brief political truce with the formal end of the ETA ceasefire , and even though I never thought for a minute it would last, it is a little bit surprising that the PP should still seek to make it their sole theme for opposition. I should have known better, given that the combined intellectual might of the party machine and all their associated think-tanks could not come up with a single parliamentary question worth asking on any other topic.

PP leader Mariano Rajoy dedicated no fewer than 9 pages out of 22 in his keynote speech to ETA, he had no proposals to make on other issues; and very little of substance to say about anything else. All the recent talk of him presenting a more moderate, centrist image just came to nothing as he shrugged aside urging from his own party ranks to take on the government on other issues in the debate. Undoubtedly the PP will attempt to present this faked centrist image as the election gets nearer, but this was one of those opportunities where you would expect the leader of the opposition to try and present some kind of project to the country. It didn't happen, there is no project.

The aggressive, obsessive, insistence on putting ETA at the centre of the political debate just doesn't seem to make any sense, even from the PP's point of view. Between them, the PP and ETA have created a variety of mutual dependency - without the crutch of continuing terrorism the PP has no theme, nothing to offer, no issue to run with. If ETA doesn't carry out a major attack soon then where does that leave their strategy, they have succeeded in making terrorism the centre of political debate but despite their assistance it will only stay there if ETA manage to carry out a successful (on their terms) attack. There are some subterranean signs of unhappiness with this strategy even inside the PP, whose lack of internal democracy means that dissent is difficult to express openly.

The opinion polls are confirming the failure. Although polls often seem to reflect the political bias of those who commission them, in this case the pro-PP El Mundo published a poll that shows Prime Minister Zapatero with a clear advantage over Rajoy in the debate. Crucially, the sector that gave him that clear advantage was that part of the population not strongly committed to either party; the very voters that you would think the PP needs to reach out to if they are going to stand any chance of returning to power. Another voting intentions poll gave the governing PSOE a clear advantage. The current strategy of the PP seems to be based entirely around keeping their confirmed support angry and motivated, which only works if they manage to get enough of the other side to stay at home come voting day. If I cared for the PP I would be tearing my little remaining hair out in despair, fortunately I’m quite happy to see them trapped where they are – if they carry on like this they stand every chance of ending up as the authors of their own misfortune. Precisely what saw them thrown out of government in the first place. In the meantime, there have been interesting developments which could affect the South of Watford sweepstakes on who might be the next leader of the PP – but that’s worth another post.

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