Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Other Party Conference

It’s not just the Partido Popular that has had a national party conference here in Spain, the governing PSOE held their own conference over last weekend. A very different affair it was too, the difference that you get from being the winner of the election rather than the loser. With none of the protracted infighting that made the run up to the PP’s event so entertaining, the PSOE’s conference seemed to emerge suddenly out of nowhere. I don’t think very many people were expecting surprises from it either, although in the end it turned out to be slightly less anodyne than anticipated.

More than anything else the conference confirmed that Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is in charge of his party, more so than any of his predecessors. The vote to re-elect him as party leader reached a figure that Mariano Rajoy can only dream of, less than 2% of the delegates failed to give their support to Zapatero. He has also been able to appoint key allies to important positions in he party. We now know the destiny of at least a couple of those who were not handed important government jobs after the election, Leire Pajin gets the job of organization in the PSOE and former Justice Minister Juan Fernando López Aguilar gets to lead the PSOE campaign for the European elections. Pajin may be only 31, but she is now one of the most powerful figures in the party.

What did catch observers by surprise was an apparent swing to the left in the conference. Measures have been announced on giving the vote in local elections to non-EU immigrants, a revision of the abortion law, and legislation aimed at reinforcing the separation of church and state. Some of these announcements have been stolen from other parties, when opposition parties proposed the removal of the religious symbols from the swearing in ceremony of new ministers the government opposed any such move. Now they have adopted it. Likewise the proposal on immigrants being allowed to vote originally came from Izquierda Unida. The proposal to reform abortion law has been framed in such a way as to give the government maximum room for manoeuvre. However, the government is promising to act quickly to protect the identity and confidentiality of women who have had abortions. This follows a recent case of judicial persecution in Madrid which has come close to handing over names and addresses to an extremist anti-abortion group.

It looked very much as if Zapatero was taking care of his left flank, after appearing to place his government in a more centrist position following the general election. Whilst they go after the votes they lost in the election to UPD or the PP, the government does not want its more traditional vote to become disenchanted. With the ambiguity of their position on the European immigration and working hours directives, many on the left were beginning to wonder if the PSOE had forgotten to apply the brake on its rightward journey. The PP has quickly attempted to dismiss the new measures as irrelevant. Rajoy’s standard response now to any social legislation that he opposes, but where he doesn’t want to explain why, is to say that it is something the people in the street are not worried about. This from a man whose only real contact with the street comes in that brief moment between exiting office or house and getting into the car. If his ability to connect with what people really think was as good as he imagines he probably wouldn’t have two straight election defeats behind him.


19 comments:

moscow said...

Graeme,
Personally, I don't see anything wrong with Zapatero's 'identity politics'. Abortion, euthanasia, inmigrants' rights, the rights of the great apes and so on, are issues any government of any 'self-proclaimedly' civilised nation should address. And of course, Zapatero wants to be in tune with voters, and doesn't want to do anything that would upset them. But I have already lost my patience with the government's inhibition on economic matters. A responsible government is one that does more than just listen to voters. It does what needs to be done, whether voters like or not. And in this sense the governmet prefers to stuck it's head in the sand and hope for the best.
Spain has absurd labour regulations - which curiously stem from the Franco era - and which make sacking workers on 'indefinido' contracts highly prohibitive. I think it's ok to have a minimum salary, but not to have a minimum salary policy and collective bargaining all at once. Why does the government in Spain still make ships, run airports, produce bad TV, and dig for coal? Absurd? Pathetic. Privatise it all. A PP might not change all this once it is on power - because it will face stiff opposition from the bastards in the trade unions - but at least it's policies point in the right direction. Let the PSOE govern another 8 years, and soon you will regret living in Spain (if by then you are still there).

Graeme said...

Moscow, do you really think that the problem with Spain is that the state still has a stake in some industries? Let's suppose the PP come to power and privatise all of these things - they'll hand them over at a knock down price to some of their friends. What will have changed the day after this happens, apart from the fact that some businessmen close to the PP will have become suddenly much wealthier? What's your model for a country where privatisation actually changes things for the better of all - Russia? The economic model which Zapatero has left more or less untouched and which has now run its course is that which he inherited from the PP, based around a speculative housing and construction boom. Stripping the remaining public sector assets and sacking lots of workers isn't going to improve life for more than a tiny minority.

moscow said...

Colin,

Glad to see you are up and well this early in the morning.
I guess it's hot in Madrid.

Your take on this is too politicised and subjective for me to able to formulate a proper answer. The comparisson with Russia is totally out of order.

Iberia used to be a disaster when it was in government hands. It ain't perfect now, but at least it is reasonably efficient and profitable entity. Privatisations are always done for the benefit of those who buy in. Nobody would otherwise buy. Perhaps, your views are clouded by an inherent dislike of market forces and anything that smacks of capitalism. I am afraid I am unable to put forward a persuasive argument. It's a matter of believe. And yes, I think Spain's problems are linked to a lack of productivity, because of inefficiencies in the supply side of things. The medicine to cure the disease is one that is well known. But it is not one that voters in Europe would want to swallow any time soon.

Graeme said...

I do get up early occasionally Moscow, but that's no reason to call me Colin ;)

It's not just me thats subjective on this issue, this mantra that you liberalise everything and suddenly the garden is blooming seems to be treated as some sort of law. I just want to know what the country is that demonstrates the truth of this. Some countries have achieved (historically relatively short) periods of boom from doing this sort of thing, others have simply ended up with crap public services and not much else. Others end up with a tiny and very wealthy minority and the rest are just left to work long hours to make ends meet in their "free" market.

Graeme said...

Comment from Moscow copied to here:

Graeme,
Sorry. What a horrible mistake!
The last post was obviously addressed to you and not to Mr. Davies.

Graeme said...

It's not me you need to worry about, we'll see what Colin has to say about it!

moscow said...

Well, since you ask..... I am no texan neo-liberal myself. I believe a country should have well-funded health, education, transport and justice systems. And there is good reason to believe that R&D and culture need government support as well. Which doesn't mean that I believe there is no place for the private initiative in these areas, only that certain things are better organised centrally, and that someone's health and education level should not depend on his or her parent's purse. I think it is inefficient for the government to spread it's effort too thin, and that it would be best if it would focus on solving the problems with the justice system, for example, rather than run a rubbish TV station, build ships, and dig for coal. Business is always best left in private hands, even if these are someone's friends. Who cares? It's always like that, everywhere, anyway.

Graeme said...

Well maybe its just that the countries where businesses are handed over to friends of the government don't tend to be those that have decent health, education and transport systems. I don't think its just coincidence either.

moscow said...

Then according to your definition Spain is not one of those countries where friends get the free-ride, because it's transport system is actually very good - and lot better than that of that other country up north - and it has I believe a decent enough education system. Am I missing something?

Graeme said...

No, I'm talking about those countries where they really try to implement the full liberalisation agenda, which of course includes those public services like education, health and transport. Our good friend Espe is working on that experiment in Madrid.

Colin said...

What do you mean - "A horrible mistake"? . . . . .

Graeme, I may be wrong but didn't you refer to the lower vote for Rajoy as 'Not quite 'al bulgaro' or something similar? If so, [rhetorically] what does this make Z's achievement that you find so impressive?

To be more serious - Surely Spain has the opportunity to learn from the rush-to-sometimes-bodged-privatisation in the [very different]circumstances of the UK? And perhaps elsewhere. We're surely not talking black and white here. Who would disagree with you that it's just as bad being ripped off by a private, de facto, inefficient monopoly [Telefonica] as by a public monopoly? Especially if incompetent managers have made millions en route. Or even clever, competent, government-assisted venture capitalists, as in the case of Rover cars.

One major reason why New Labour was so welcomed by many was that they thought this would be the party to take the non-doctrinaire route. And for all his many, many faults, that faux-socialist Tony Blair might well have achieved this. But, of course, he was held back constantly by Brown. And just look where Brown and Britain now are as a result of a decade of this 'bi-polar' administration. Or 'bipolar' in the case of Brown, it might be said.

I'll now read the rest of the correspondence to see whether [on this at least] Moscow and I are more in agreement than we sometimes are . . . .

Colin said...

Yep, we are . . .

Colin said...

PS Don't you think it's about time you two let the rest of us know how ugly you are?

Or do you need to keep your real identities secret . . . .?

Graeme said...

Colin, you're quite right about Zapatero's Bulgarian vote level, but I could point out that Zapatero was originally elected in an open contest with rival candidates whereas Rajoy was originally elected by Aznar.

On the privatisation issue we could argue for years about it, but I actually think its irrelevant to Spain's current economic situation. The current crisis was not caused by a bloated public sector and selling everything off will not solve it.

On your last questions the answer is no and no - we don't need to frighten the children.

moscow said...

I would like to point out that judging from your picture I am actually a lot uglier than you, Colin. And there is the FSB to contend with....see what they did to Litvinyenko.

Well of course, Graeme, on the grounds that the present crisis cannot be solved by structural measures - in the medium term at least - we might as well not undertake any meaures at all. But then every new future crisis will be worse.

Germany and France are not suffering the consequences of the crisis to the same extent as the UK and SP - not yet, although there are signs that even that's coming to an end. Germany exports high value-added goods, and has a trade balance in the black. Zapatero and his advisers have recognised the problem, and have put themselves to cure the symptons, but not the causes.

Colin said...

Graeme, I do actually wonder whether you are happy - on balance - that things are changing in the PP. I should stress that I don't know enough about either party to know who I'd vote for, if I were allowed to. To flesh this out - perhaps you'd prefer to keep the PP as the bogeyman of old. Or not so old . . . .

Graeme said...

I don't think the PP has changed that much Colin - it's a change of the image they present more than anything else. Look at the way they avoid defining a position on any of the social measures proposed by the government, or that they still refuse to formally renounce the conspiracy theories about 11-M. It's just that Rajoy has realised the aggressive opposition of the last parliament frightened some votes into voting for the PSOE. He hasn't changed what he believes in.

Colin said...

Judging by his recent twopence-worth, Aznar himself thinks Rajoy's conversion is real. I'll ask him when he next comes home to Ponters.

Can one elect to have an 8 letter word verification?

BTW - Are you having difficulties [around meta tags or something] in posting to Blogger, by any chance?

Ta.

Graeme said...

Aznar is sore at seeing the ruin that was supposed to be his legacy. There are those in the PP who want to continue with the style of opposition of the last 4 years, and Aznar likes to be seen as their spiritual leader, but leaving the style of opposition aside I don't see the change.

I haven't had any problems posting to blogger, at least so far.