Thursday, November 22, 2007

Who Are You Calling Right Wing?

It's taken a long time, and the journey is far from over - but there are distinct signs that someone, somewhere in the headquarters of the Partido Popular (PP) has taken a close look at the opinion polls and seen a second successive election defeat on the horizon. Like an oil supertanker that takes hours to change direction, someone on the bridge has issued the order and bit by bit the monster starts to turn.

It didn't seem that way last Friday, on the first day of the conference the PP had prepared to project itself to the electorate. There were the same old faces, Acebes and Zaplana, droning on about ETA and the supposed surrender by the government to terror. It didn't look like the script had changed at all. However, the following couple of days were actually dedicated to presenting some electoral proposals. Nothing very stirring, nothing that suggests that too much deep thinking has been going on. What does a right wing Spanish party without a program come up with at the last minute? Why, tax cuts and a bit of populist nonsense aimed at saving the nation from those terrible Catalans and Basques. How will the tax cuts be paid for? Details schmetails, we’ll get back to you in January on that one. Nevertheless, a distinct change of emphasis and with honorary president Jose Maria Aznar hidden far away and out of sight in South America.

Then there was the Madrid bombings verdict. Despite a noisy rearguard defence of the little that remains of their conspiracy theories about the bombings, the PP has quickly realised that the unequivocal attribution of the bombings to Islamist terrorism means that they need to leave the issue behind them. Yet another reason for making sure that Aznar spends as much of the next four months outside of Spain as possible, as well as for keeping Acebes and Zaplana occupied stuffing envelopes to send to the voters. Perhaps the most curious case of all is that of El Mundo, the newspaper that has positioned itself over the last four years as cheerleader for the most right wing and vengeful (let's just call it Aznarist) sector of the party. The latest epistle on Sunday from its director, Pedro J Ramirez has left some of the enthusiastic members of that sector a bit confused. This is not the time to be out marching on the streets says Pedro, we need to appeal to the centre ground and stop hitting on themes like gay marriage or civic education. An ironic message from someone who has done so much to impose a different tune on the party, but also a clear sign that reality does occasionally intrude in his political thinking; even if it does only have a walk-on part.

Then there is the "civic rebellion", one the of the PP's chief fronts for mobilising its supporters on the streets. The man responsible for calling next Saturday's march, José Francisco Alcaraz of the AVT, has even complained about Mariano Rajoy not mentioning this previously unstoppable popular movement in his speech to the conference last weekend. It also emerges that Rajoy does not plan to attend Saturday's event, he is making sure that he is as far away as possible by claiming a previous engagement in Almeria. Instead, the PP will be represented by yesterday’s man, Angel Acebes. Nor are they pulling out all the stops to mobilise their supporters from across the country, as they did on previous occasions. At this rate the march won't even get wall to wall coverage on TeleMaguirre - if the TeleMadrid helicopter doesn't fly then the rupture will be complete, who will be there to claim that tens of millions of people have marched against the government. Well not to worry, TeleMadrid are covering the event although today it has been reported that they have been ordered not to film the PP headquarters as the march passes by. A sign of the times!

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