Monday, October 26, 2009

Notorious Bandit Cornered In Caja Madrid

Full credit to Esperanza Aguirre, she never allows anything else to take priority over her own ambitions. When it comes to defusing a crisis you would never pick up the phone and dial E for Espe. Take the (still) ongoing battle for control of Caja Madrid, the regional savings bank and fourth largest financial institution in Spain. What began as just another example of Espe's empire building, handily combined with having a swipe at her rival Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, has now been transformed into a full scale confrontation between Aguirre and the Partido Popular national leadership. We're almost back where we were in the aftermath of the PP's general election defeat last year.

Having got her way in changing the law concerning representation in the governing body of the Caja, Aguirre has moved to propose one of her closest political allies - Ignacio Gonzalez - as the president of the bank. This has provoked a reaction from the PP's leadership who finally appear to have had enough of Aguirre's stealthy accumulation of power. PP leader Mariano Rajoy has made it clear that he thinks the job should go to former finance minister and IMF director general Rodrigo Rato. This is quite a shrewd move on the part of Rajoy, it's very hard for Espe to openly reject Rato as a candidate, he was the powerful figure in the Madrid PP before she took over and is widely respected within the party. There are suggestions that he is not really Rajoy's preferred candidate as the two men were rivals to succeed Aznar and are not said to get on well. Despite this, Rajoy is said to be determined to stop Gonzalez getting the job, amongst other reasons because the latter strongly criticised Rajoy's leadership when Aguirre was toying with the idea of becoming Mariano's successor.

So now it's a question of who will blink first, for the moment both sides are steadily maintaining the tension as the rest of the PP watches in bewilderment and dismay; as if Gürtel wasn't enough! Aguirre can impose her will, if she decides to gamble on Rajoy backing down. She has the power to push through whatever she wants in Caja Madrid. However, it's a high stakes gamble and the PP is not a federal party where each region can do what it likes. Ultimately, Rajoy has the power to remove Aguirre from her own position, although it's very unlikely he would choose to take things that far. He's not a person who has a reputation for standing firm, as we've seen with the farcical case of Ricardo Costa in Valencia who may or may not have resigned, depending on who you choose to believe.

The government has let it be known that they don't want Rato in Caja Madrid, officially because he walked out on the IMF to pursue the scent of money in investment banking, but probably more because he is too much of a heavyweight political figure for their liking. The Madrid section of the PSOE has been brought into line, a few days ago they seemed quite happy with the plans of La Lideresa as they had been promised some important posts of their own in return for supporting Gonzalez. The government candidate is a lesser known PP figure, Luis de Guindos, whose banking experience consists of having been boss of the Spanish division of, gulp, Lehman Brothers. Very confidence inspiring.

All sides loudly proclaim their intention of "depoliticising" the selection process, whilst at the same time pushing the politician of their choice. Not that too much attention should be paid to those who demand a more professional profile for the job. This is coded language for a banker. You know, one of these people who takes your money, multiplies it by a hundred, takes a good percentage of that as a reward for their efforts, gambles the rest on a dodgy package of someone else's bad debts, then tells you to ask the government for your money back. Frankly I think I prefer the politician, or at least one who would have the objective of making Caja Madrid serve the region. Gonzalez is obviously not that person, but the Spanish economy could use banks that do better things than just borrow cheap money from the European Central Bank to lend it back at a profit to their own governments.

Anyway, you shouldn't take any notice of what I write about Aguirre and her way of operating. It's much better to read direct testimony from within the Madrid PP, the priceless interview with Manuel Cobo published in this morning's El País. Cobo is particularly good on a favourite theme of mine, the difference between Aguirre's words and her actions. Manuel Cobo is the main political ally of Gallardón and this won him the distinction of being a prime target for Espe's gang of spies. He's clearly been waiting an opportunity like this to hit back and surely had the approval of Gallardón for what he has done. The reaction of Aguirre's supporters to the Cobo interview is, true to form, to threaten him with disciplinary measures. It all helps to demonstrate the sad fact that the most effective opposition to Espe in Madrid currently comes from within her own party.


ejh said...

I believe one of the papers today - possibly La Vanguardia? - has, if I understood it, Aguirre demanding that Rajoy expel Cobo from the party.

Graeme said...

It looks like she will demand Cobo's head on a plate in return for any concessions which she decides to make. El Mundo published one of their typically hypocritical editorials in support of Aguirre this morning - it's ok to spy on your fellow party members or smear them, but saying that they don't practice what they preach is just outrageous. So far, the PP leadership doesn't seem that bothered.