Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Spanish General Election 2008....Death By A Thousand Statistics

So the polls give it to Zapatero again in the second debate with Mariano Rajoy. Naturally I checked first with those who would most want Rajoy to be declared the winner, El Mundo and Telemadrid, but even their polls called it for Zapatero. Despite frantic spinning by the PP as soon as the debate finished they have been unable to create the sensation of their candidate being the winner.

Both candidates were better performers than last time, Zapatero because he was a bit less nervous and is naturally more expressive than his opponent. Rajoy because he had memorized his monologues this time rather than just reading them. Despite this, neither is likely to have enthused anyone except their most committed supporters as the debate raged over precisely the same issues as last week’s edition. The only difference this time, apart from the higher level of preparation, was that a bit more time was dedicated (at least in Zapatero’s case) to talking about proposals for the future.

Rajoy was every bit as aggressive as last week, and relied principally on the same three issues which he pressed in the first debate; the economy, immigration and terrorism. The main problem he has with this trio of issues is that he is very vulnerable to counter-attacks on all of them. A disproportionate amount of time was wasted on whether it was true that Rajoy had asked Zapatero about the economy in their first parliamentary session following the last elections. In reality all he did in that question was mention IVA (the Spanish VAT) in a list of issues. What is undeniable is that the economy then dropped out of the political battle until things started deteriorating at the end of last year. For well over three years the PP had nothing at all to say on the issue.

Their silence is not surprising in the sense that the economy was doing very well and because they were obsessed with exploiting terrorism. In reality, the bubble based around construction that has now been burst was precisely the model of economy that the PP boasted about so loudly in the years of Aznar and “España va bien”. If Zapatero is to be criticised for his handling of the economy it is because he has not done anything to change the model the PP bequeathed to him. However, that was not Rajoy’s angle, and he is forced into tremendous selective manipulation of statistics to try and present the case for economic catastrophe. Something is either wrong with me or with the figures he presented, because if the 43% increase in property prices under Zapatero is greater than that which occurred under the PP, then I am at a loss to explain how property prices in my area of Madrid have risen by around 300% in the last 10 years. Most of that rise occurred under the PP.

In case there was any residual doubt after last week’s debate, last night made it clear that social policy for Rajoy is simply a peg on which to hang his xenophobic messages about how immigrants are depriving decent Spaniards of their rights. Again he is vulnerable, because for all the bluster and nasty insinuation, the fact remains that Zapatero’s move to regularise the hundreds of thousands of immigrants the PP preferred to leave in unregulated limbo has been hugely beneficial for the Spanish state and social security system. To his credit, Zapatero has rejected making concessions to the PP on this issue and pointed out just how many Spanish pensions the contributions of immigrants are currently funding. It needs to be said more loudly so that the “they live better than us and what’s more my Polish woman doesn’t clean my flat properly” brigade are given something to think about.

Then there was terrorism, about which I have little more to add to what I wrote yesterday. It still amazes me slightly that the PP think they can argue that the ETA they claim to have left so weak was at the same time supposed to have been capable of the Madrid bombings. Rajoy got himself into a real mess over Iraq trying to claim that Zapatero was in favour of the war, I don’t think he made a deep impression on that point. He didn’t find the knockout blow he needed or even come close to it. Rajoy’s principal problem is that an already unattractive manner becomes doubly so when he ups the aggression level, something which he has always done when debating with Zapatero.

Then there was the finish! Mariano finished last week with a bizarre tale about his hopes for a little girl growing up safe and secure in Rajoy’s Spain. Nobody in the PP seemed to want to claim responsibility for this idea, so it was even more extraordinary to see him finish last night by telling us that this little girl was “in his head”. In both cases, the clash of styles between the debate and the closing statement could hardly be greater. Unless something quite dramatic happens in the next few days, or the opinion polls have got something seriously wrong, “La niña de Rajoy” may well turn out to be his only political legacy.


10 comments:

Erik Wirdheim said...

When I came to Spain I was extremely surprised to find a right-wing opposition which never seemed to take the time to talk about the economy.

Rajoy will never win credibility in my eyes, so let's hope for some major internal PP changes following their defeat coming Sunday.

And "la niña", that'll be a funny part of Rajoy's legacy. Didn't he see it coming?

Graeme said...

If they lose the election there will certainly be changes, but not necessarily for the better. Unless they get completely hammered the same hard right clique running the party now will continue to be in charge. As for the next leader to succeed Rajoy, I don't even want to think about it....

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that Rajoy was allowed to get away with the old lie about someone being fined for putting a shop sign in Spanish. There are no fines for this in Catalonia, only for doing in without also using Catalan, a requirement that seems an entirely reasonable one to have in Catalonia. This provocative and calculated deception by the right needs to be challenged every time it presents itself.

Graeme said...

If he can't tell the truth about the economy, terrorism or immigration, why should Cataluña be any different?

Tom said...

Yes, the next PP leader will likely be far worse than Rajoy... failure this time around will be all the 'proof' they need that centrism is the path to failure.

As to the Catalan thing: the PP are actually a minor party here in Catalonia, and have made themselves even more minor by dumping Piqué in favour of a nasty looking youngster. They're very happy to lie about this part of the world because they know it does them absolutely no harm whatsoever.

Graeme - where's this article about the Gallegos then? And did you know that the Gallego language wasn't repressed during the dictatorship like Catalan and Basque were? Wonder why that could be...

Graeme said...

"Graeme - where's this article about the Gallegos then?"

I'm working on it, but I can't work under pressure! I'm going to read the papers first. Then I'm going to have lunch.

The PP does have little to lose in Cataluña, although the predictions I have seen show them doing better this time. They still need to win a significant number of seats in Cataluña to have any chance of winning the election.

StarHound said...

It's the sheer nastiness of the PP and right wing in general that gets me. The recent Financial Times editorial as highlighted on the Badrash sums it up for me - they are still in denial over the end of fascism after Franco. The PP continue to march their troops up the hill but there is now nowhere for them to go and their bile and lies looks increasingly tired and scattergun.

Their attitude to the Catalans and Basques is contributing to the very division of Spain that they are complaining about. They will never encourage or protect 'Spanishness' with laws that force the teaching castellano, make the flying of the Spanish flag compulsory or by banning political parties.

I doubt they will have the wit to chsnge direction or even analyse themselves after what I hope is a decent election defeat. I think Espe's card is already marked for many though - look at the casual way this pensioner sticks it to her for a cheap cinema tickets scheme I don't even think she is involved in....Oh well...

http://www.elpais.com/articulo/madrid/teatro/mayores/muere/exito/elpepiespmad/20080229elpmad_14/Tes

Graeme said...

Our favourite regional president is already happily talking in media interviews about mechanisms for electing leaders and how it's quite possible to be simultaneously leader of the national opposition and president of a regional government such as - to pick a completely random example - Madrid.

The PP have attempted to disguise their cro-magnon politics by giving everything a fresh coat of Sarkozyite rhetoric. But they are still the same beneath it all. Almost anywhere else in Western Europe Gallardón would be considered to be a mainstream conservative, right wing politician. It says everything about the PP that he is so far on the left of the party that he almost doesn't belong.

Erik Wirdheim said...

Well, the re-orientation of PP will hopefully be more profound if they first have to go through some years with Esperanza as the leader.

And in the meantime we'll have free entertainment on the TV news every evening. Don't you think?

Graeme said...

I used to think like that Erik, but then I've realised that 36-38% of the electorate will vote for a brick if it has a label saying 'PP' on it. SO imagine a situation where the left stays at home because of economic problems or just because Zapatero has exhausted his appeal. That could give you a radical PP administration elected because of high abstention by their opponents. This is more or less what they have been seeking this time. Not a very enticing prospect, and as someone who lives in the area of Aguirre controlled Telemadrid I can assure you that the television news in her hands loses all entertainment value.