Wednesday, October 15, 2008

His Majesty's Loyal Opposition

They can't have been very happy in the headquarters of the Partido Popular as the Spanish government participated in the European Union's "help out our poor bankers" plan. The last thing on earth that the PP wants in this parliament is to be bound into any kind of pact with the government over the economy, after all this has been the sole focus of their opposition since the election campaign in March. Before the scale of the current crisis was fully evident the PP was already doing its bit to talk up Spain’s economic troubles, and this included several attempts to suggest that Spanish banks are not as secure as many assume them to be. This, of course, fitted nicely into the plan to try and pretend that the crisis was just a consequence of mismanagement by Zapatero's government, but even by the PP’s legendary standards they would still be hard pushed to try and claim that Zapatero is the cause of the global problems we have witnessed in the last few weeks.

More recently they have been faced with the same difficulty afflicting right wing parties in many countries. The evident failures of the liberalised market and the heavy price we all have to pay to dig the wealthy few out of their own hole don’t fit well with economic programmes based around more of the same. So the PP has instead opted for a brand of easy populism, even going as far as describing Zapatero as the banker’s friend whilst they pretend to represent the interests of the rest. At one point a couple of weeks ago they even suggested that any support for the government on the economy would depend on the proposed budget for next year being withdrawn. This was a throwback to the last parliament, making their support conditional on a set of demands which they know will never be accepted; the tactic was tried frequently with terrorism and now it is being tested with the economy. All of which throws into question the reality of the PP’s declared change of strategy, consensus has not been on show very much recently.

Now if Zapatero succeeds in leaving the PP weakened on the economy the question of how they adapt their opposition strategy is going to be a tough one. A refusal to support the government at all on this issue will leave them looking very exposed now that Spain is effectively doing what the rest of Europe is doing. Above all, they are keen to avoid the social issues like abortion which might leave them looking like the political wing of the church, and threaten their already unconvincing attempts to present a more open and modern image. Looks like they might have to invent another negotiation with ETA.

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