Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Zapatero Could Still Make More Friends At Home

He looks decidedly unhappy, these days, in the official photographs taken at European summits. José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, surrounded in the photos by people who he thought were his friends, but who have recently forced him to take decisions on cuts in spending that have led to him betraying his commitments on an exit to the crisis without further pain. The weekend brought bad news for him as a poll published in El País showed Zapatero's government 9 percentage points behind the opposition Partido Popular, just a few days after one that had showed the gap between the two parties at a slender 1.5%. All of this in the name of a failed economic orthodoxy, whilst the supposedly wise "markets" change their minds every 10 minutes about whether they like it anyway.

We still don't know exactly how the axe is going to fall as the government tries to manage the fallout in a way which they can sell to their core voters. The cuts in salaries of public employees are supposed to be done in a way which hits the higher paid more, but the details are still not clear. Although some might welcome the pay cuts for people who they regard as the stereotypical "vuelva usted mañana" funcionarios, the more mundane reality is that the vast majority of Spain's public workforce have real jobs to do in education, health and other essential services and are going to find it hard to understand why they have to pay for a crisis they didn't cause at the same time as those who did so well seem to be getting off scot free.

Then people look at Portugal where there are are equally brutal cuts, but where there is at least some small sign of the wealthier sections of society making a contribution. Or Greece, where tax fraud has to be taken seriously as it should be in Spain. Or France, controlled by the right, where plans are afoot to tax higher incomes to protect pensions. In Spain there is still no indication of any similar measures, and we have a now familiar confusing situation where some ministers float the possibility whilst others who take the key decisions act as if it had never occurred to them. I don't know whether PSOE strategists think this is clever politics, but it's happened with a frequency that suggests that is not entirely accidental. As things stand at the moment there seem to be few better ways of pushing their voters further towards abstention in the next elections.

Such a possibility is music to the ears of the PP, because that big lead in the polls doesn't come from people being attracted to the PP's absurd solutions for the economic situation of the country. Far from it, there are no signs of non-PP voters being in any way convinced by Mariano Rajoy and the PP's best hope is yet again to try and demoralise government supporters rather than attract them. The fewer that go to the polls the better is still at the heart of their electoral strategy. The other part of that strategy is of course to deny support to the government even when it has been forced to adopt measures which the PP have claimed were necessary years ago. The contrast with Portugal could hardly be greater, there the opposition has joined with the government in supporting the measures taken. That will not happen in Spain, regardless of what the government does, and many prominent leaders in the PP are pushing Rajoy to insist on early elections. Rajoy will use his traditional method of reaching a decision, and get back to them in a couple of years time.

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