If anything was demonstrated by last week's "State of the Nation" debate here in Spain, it is that the Partido Popular intends to offer no alternative proposals of any kind for dealing with the economic crisis. The PP's leader Mariano Rajoy made Zapatero the focus of his speech and insisted that the only thing needing to be done is for elections to be called. The distance between Rajoy and the detail of the debate was such that he didn't even bother to turn up for the second day, claiming that he had work to do. A strange position for someone who receives a salary as a parliamentarian, and knowing his leisurely habits it is probably the least likely explanation of the absence that he could offer.
For Rajoy the job of opposition seems to have become one long siesta. The strategy consists entirely of letting the crisis drag Zapatero downwards. No concrete policies on what the PP would do in office are ever spelt out, nor is it likely that we will see any sort of detail this side of a general election. The PP is said to have learnt from the dip in support for David Cameron's Conservatives when they started talking with too much relish about what they would like to cut. Even too much talk of the crisis is being discouraged by the national leadership, who don't want to "agobiar" the electorate with doom and gloom. The softly softly approach even extended to the Constitutional Court's decision on the Catalan Estatut, the PP is not interested in offending Catalan sentiments in a year when they may have the chance to be the kingmakers following the regional elections.
The verdict on an uninspiring debate was mixed. Some polls gave it to Rajoy, others to Zapatero who has won quite clearly in previous editions. This result tells us virtually everything we need to know about Rajoy's relationship with the electorate, even when facing Zapatero at his lowest point he was still not capable of clearly winning the debate. This raises the question of whether he could win a debate with anyone or anything? Rajoy versus a plate of Callos a la Madrileña for example? The unwillingness to explain their policies is one of the reasons why the PP won't present a motion of censure against Zapatero, the norm in such situations being to explain what you would do differently. That and the current lack of allies to support such a motion.
In any case there is little need for the PP now that Zapatero's administration has assumed the role of implementing the cuts to public services. All that talk over the last few years of variable geometry for a minority government is looking a bit thin these days. The choice of partners for Zapatero on the economy comes down to the Catalan CiU or the Basque PNV, with the Catalans less willing to lend a hand than before for their own electoral reasons. There was a highly symbolic announcement yesterday when it was revealed that Zapatero would not attend the traditional union organised rally in the León mining village of Rodiezmo. This event has in previous years acted as Zapatero's launching pad for the new political year following the summer holidays. He has generally used his speech there to announce new social measures, but using it this year to tell everyone how he intends to cut pensions would not go down too well. So instead he will visit China where they know how to deal with those pesky unions.