Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Themes That Can Change An Election....The Economy

One of the most curious features of the last few years has been the way in which the economy has practically disappeared from the political debate in Spain. Some people have a straightforward explanation for this, the economy has been going so well that it's a waste of time for the opposition to dedicate much time to the issue if they can't damage the government. The decision by Zapatero to put the economy in the hands of the "safe" Pedro Solbes did contribute to the depoliticisation of the issue, as nobody is ever likely to accuse Solbes of being a crazed ideologue.

Even so, I don't really buy the argument that no headway could be made with the issue while everyone's house price continues to rise. There are always economic issues that can be raised, and in some ways the economy is one of the weaker areas for this government. The good times are when you have the opportunity to deal with the economic problems affecting the voters, nobody will do it when there is a recession. Yet Zapatero's administration has simply operated a laissez faire "let the good times roll" attitude which leaves many of those problems untouched.

The very high levels of job insecurity damage the future prospects of the economy. When people have more security they make more long term plans which lead to more spending, which in turn leads to more jobs being created. The number of people still scraping by on low salaries whilst prices have rapidly reached levels more appropriate for a richer country is also very high. I read this week that the real increase in salaries over the last 10 years has only been 1.4%, if we have really had such a massive increase in wealth in that time then it is not going into the pockets of the salaried workforce. Or maybe it has just gone into a very small number of pockets? Also, a recent opinion poll put unemployment back at the top of the list of issues which people felt most affected by.

The lack of interest shown by the Partido Popular (PP) in the economy is betrayed by the fact that they have left the issue in the hands of some of their least recognisable politicians. Who can name the person in charge of the PP's economics policy without looking it up first on Internet? An odd way to treat what is normally seen as a heavyweight position, but then the focus of the PP's opposition has been elsewhere for almost the entire parliamentary session.

However, more recently everyone has started rescuing the theme from the (Bill) Clinton campaign against Bush (pappy) - "It's the economy stupid!" The slowdown in the property market combined with a recent sharp upsurge in prices of basic foodstuffs, together with the proximity of the elections has meant that it is back on the agenda. We can add to this list the realisation by the PP that they can't talk about terrorism all of the time, occasionally they have to vary the tune. There are uncertain times ahead, perhaps the uncertainty has come too late to really affect seriously the outcome of the elections, but it seems very likely that the next legislature will not see the same disdain shown for economic issues as we have witnessed in this one.

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